Ideas that inspired 8 CEOs

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

It was 100 years ago when Harvard Business Review (HBR) published its first issue with the aim of putting the world’s best management thinking into practice to benefit all practitioners. It is in marking the centennial that HBR invited eight current and former CEOs from among the world’s top companies to describe their particular careers and innovations.

This feature in the November-December 2022 issue of the Harvard Business Review seemed to be the best come-on for the issue:  “Eight Leading CEOs on the Ideas that Inspire Them.”

It was not an interview but the CEOs themselves speaking, making their words more noteworthy.

Stéphane Bancel of Moderna plans the future “backward.”  He recommends, as he did, thinking out the vision for five or 10 years and then “play the movie backward.”  Envision year 10 and think of what has to happen in year nine, year eight, etc. to make the vision a reality. Moderna was a start-up with no past to anchor to. More recently, this helped Moderna envision the delivery of an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in less than a year. “We want to become the most impactful life-sciences company on the planet, and playing the movie backward will help us get there.”

Anish Shah of Mahindra points out that since the founding of the Mahindra Group in 1945, it had been committed to guiding principles that emphasized not just business success in its wide range of businesses but also the greater good. It repeats that in today’s motto, “Rise,” or “Driving positive change, enabling people to rise.” Since the company’s early years, it knew the importance of diversity and inclusion. “We live in an unequal world that divides us from one another. Purpose-led businesses have the potential to create a more equal world. Only when we enable others to rise will we rise.”

For Roz Brewer of Walgreens Boots Alliance, listening is essential to good leadership and management. She has learned that active listening helps identify problems to solve, possibilities for innovation or policy changes, new product ideas, ways to improve customer service. When she does her regular store tours, she wants the team to know they have her full attention. Thus, she does not bring any mobile devices with her. “As management scholars have written in HBR for at least a decade, leadership is a conversation. Active listening can be one of your most powerful tools.”

Nicolas Hieronimus of L’Oreal says it is not globalization per se that the company found in 68 countries with a staff of 85,400 follows. While the company offers a full range of products in five categories – makeup, skin care, hair care, hair color, male grooming – its teams on the ground accommodate local trends and issues. An example is the concern about dark spots in Southeast Asia and Latin America. This allows partnerships with health professionals and health influencers in different parts of the world and support for local initiatives. “As the world becomes even more volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous (VUCA), not to mention fragmented, I remain convinced that our approach will give us the adaptability we need to continue to succeed. Whether you call it globalization or universalization, it can benefit any organization that strives to serve many markets.”

Joey Wat of Yum China, China’s largest restaurant company, is driven by continuous innovation. It has been able to expand by more than a thousand stores a year and launch, on average, more than 500 new and localized products each year. They have introduced new formats like delivery and takeaway services and are able to be present in lower-tier cities. “Yum China has been operating for 35 years and has grown with new generations of customers… thanks to a relentless focus on continuous innovation,,, we will keep exploring new ways to enhance customer and employee experience, deliver value and drive growth. Successful companies never rest on their laurels.”

Mo Ibrahim, former CEO of Celtel, leads with one major principle he learned from his African ancestors, the importance of caring for one’s neighbors. He strongly believes as an entrepreneur and a CEO that everyone who helps him achieve success should share in the rewards. He has often told his workforce, “It’s thanks to you that we landed this contract… If the company is making money, let us all make money.” Employees were paid handsomely and they, in turn, showed deep loyalty to the company. “Today, I lead the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which focuses on expanding good governance and principled leadership in Africa. My hope is that more companies on the continent – and around the world – will embrace the principles of inclusive capitalism.”

Ignacio Galán of Iberdrola is committed to ESG+F (environmental, social and governance goals and metrics plus finance) principles and reporting and the creation of the concept of “social dividend” to create value for its stakeholders – and yearly, it has become important to report on this. That is a way of shaping corporate culture and as proof that it wants to be both sustainable and profitable. Today, it is considered as a top performer by external ESG indices. “It is no longer just a matter of compliance. It is about being an active participant in the societal transformation that communities are demanding from private and public organizations. Reporting is a vital tool in successful management – and it is absolutely essential in the fight against climate change.”

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico, had the vision of “Performance with Purpose” during her 12 years as CEO. The goal was to deliver the great financial returns it has had, but with three additional imperatives: to nourish, to replenish the envirionment, to cherish our people. Thus, there were more nutritious products, reduced water and plastic usage, attracting and keeping the best talent.  “’Performance with Purpose’ wasn’t easy to implement and presented tough moments for me, including when one money manager exclaimed, ‘Who do you think you are? Mother Teresa?’ But skepticism faded when a collective mission took hold that included both the bottom line and much beyond. This was my hope from the start.”

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