How to align global strategies with leadership development

02/03/2012

The second day of the International Advisory Board meeting began with a session titled "How to align global strategies with leadership development." The moderator, IESE Prof. Marta Elvira, commented that "beyond the cliché of celebrity CEOs, strategy and leadership are intrinsically linked" before asking the panel for their views.

Bruno Di Leo, IBM, general manager, Growing Markets, now based in China, said, "What sustains you as a company is your values and how you are perceived. It's what you do, not what you say, that matters. You can learn about leadership in school but turning it into something you actually live requires mentorship. Everything in leadership has to have a practical business purpose and outcome and has to translate into value for clients and shareholders."

In regard to dealing with corruption, he said that if you believe you have to involve yourself with bribery and corruption to grow in emerging markets, you shouldn't be there. "You have to lead by example and show that you won't tolerate deviation from your core values," he said.

Laurent Freixe, Nestlé CEO Europe, said, "We have 90 different nationalities working at head office. One of our principles is openness to and respect for other cultures. We make sure our executives are exposed early on to international issues and situations. We think it's important for top executives to have led international operations. You need to be curious and willing to step outside your comfort zone."

Denise Kingsmill, IAG, board member and member of the House of Lords, commented that CEOs are highly competitive and highly focused and this often does not leave much time for the rest of life. "It's lonely at the top, where you have a huge responsibility for other people," she said. "Your life expectancy as a leader in a top company is short and you have little time in which to prove yourself. All of this leaves CEOs with little time to examine their inner selves, and they do need help." She added that sometimes it's useful to be the outsider because this brings a different point of view. "You learn to live with a level of discomfort as an outsider but you also learn to see it as an advantage," she said.

Kees Storm, chairman of Aegon addressed the question of whether performance is portable? "Like football, not every player fits into every team," he said. "You have to find the right person for the right place. It depends above all on personality and whether a person can fit into a particular team. If you speak languages and enjoy different cultures, you are more transferable."

The final session, moderated by Prof. Pedro Nueno, addressed the question "What do top managers do to increase the impact of leadership development in a global economy?"

Ermenegildo Zegna, the CEO of Zegna, said "we are an Italian company but we consider ourselves world citizens." He added that they seek out Chinese staff not just for their China operation but elsewhere in the world. "All of our stores around the world have at least one Chinese member of staff. Fifty million Chinese are traveling and shopping."

Patricia Francis, CEO, International Trade Center, talked about helping establish links and understanding between government and private enterprise. "Governments in developing countries have to develop an entrepreneurial eco-system," she said.

Hans Ulrich Maerki, chairman of ABB, noted that "it's during a crisis, when your job and the jobs of thousands of others are on the line, that the real leaders show up." He added that the scarcest resource in any company is talented people.

The last panelist to speak was Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, who pointed out that "information is no longer power, it's how you use it. The marginal cost of information is close to zero, largely thanks to Google." He predicted a major shift in the organizatonal structure of companies. "At the moment the lion's share of the rewards still go to people operating in the traditional markets," he said. "This can't last."