Lessons from a Fortune 100 CEO

by jeffhilimire on July 1, 2013

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During my Leadership Atlanta experience my classmates and I were able to spend time with CEO’s and Presidents of major companies in Atlanta. A group of us, usually 20-30 of my classmates, would have an hour to pick the brains of these great leaders. I wrote about several of them, including our time with the CEO of Sam’s Club, the President of Coca-Cola Americas, and Delta’s President. There was one CEO that we interviewed that I never received permission to write about, though I was never told “no”, so I decided to finally post this and just make it generic.

Here are some of his comments that resonated with me:

As a leader, its important to be clear and consistant, and reward people for achieving their goals. The “clear and consistant” theme is something I’ve heard from so many leaders lately and from what I can tell, its one of the hardest things to achieve. This CEO seemed very focused on simple messages and creating a clear path to success.

He takes great pride in the fact that people can find a real home at his company. They have a culture that allows people to move within the organization, fostering individual growth and new challenges. “You can start anywhere and succeed”. 

He shared a great quote from the founder of the company with us as he was moving into the CEO role. He was told, “You will find that you will become a lot funnier as CEO”. SO TRUE. When you rise in an organization, it becomes more and more difficult to know what people really think because most people feel like they are constantly auditioning when they are around the leader. To combat this, one of his focuses is to always being inquisitive. He strives hard to know what is really going on within the company and pushes to get to the truth on issues.

“Simplicity is far more difficult than complexity.” Back to the simplicity theme, he talked about the good thing – and the problem – with a large company is that everyone wants to and can add value. However, there comes a point when too much value-adding can be a distraction and can complicate the issue further. He works hard to get the right amount of input (not too much, not too little) before making a decision.

He has had the opportunity to work with and learn from not only the founder of the company, but also Jack Welch. He said as he was leaving GE he spent a half day with Jack to get advice before taking his current CEO role. To his surprise, Jack spent the entire time talking about “people”. They talked about the importance of diversity in hiring and not hiring people that “look like you”. Absolutely invaluable advice, according to the CEO.

True to form with the other CEO’s we interviewed, he talked about his biggest mistakes being around managing people. I could tell from his comments throughout the morning that the people at his company are his biggest focus and he really cares about creating a great place for people to find a career (vs. a “job”).

If you ever get the opportunity to sit down with a leader like this, I highly recommend it.

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