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Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs

As the third decade of the 21st century progresses, it requires a special range of skills and traits to steer a multinational company to success.

Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs
Photo: Getty Images

Changing technologies, new consumer bases and geopolitical shifts mean that it’s imperative that those at the helm of multi-million dollar corporations understand how to lead effectively, and with high impact.

What does it mean to lead with high impact, however? Together with online learning provider GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, we examine the success stories of six leading CEOs. We identify the specific lessons you can learn from each of them – skills and lessons that are also covered in the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership and Business Sustainability Management online courses. 

Lisa Su, AMD. Leadership lesson: run towards problems

When Taiwan-born Lisa Su took the helm at computer chip manufacturer AMD in 2014, the company was in trouble. Lagging far behind their main competitor, Intel, the semiconductor maker was haemorrhaging money and shareholders were angry.

It was Su’s mantra of ‘run towards problems’, and her clear vision of where she wanted the company to be in the coming years that would bring the company back from the brink, and make it one that provides the chips powering not only our computers, but also Smart TVs and gaming consoles. Su’s rapid and revolutionary turnaround of the company’s fortunes demonstrates not only the role of leadership in creating organisational change, but also in business growth.

Discover the qualities propelling today’s changemakers to success, with the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from the University of Cambridge and GetSmarter

Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s. Leadership lesson: learn to unify people

From early childhood, Marvin Ellison, the African-American former CEO of J.C. Penney’s and current CEO of Lowe’s, took on responsibility for his large family while his parents worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. As he grew older, starting in Loss Prevention at Target and climbing the corporate ladder via such household names as Home Depot, he learned to use his unique standing within the predominantly white corporate world to bring considerably different groups together, in the service of business growth and the consolidation of gains.

Combining confidence, faith and trust in those around him, Ellison has inspired Lowe’s to new heights, almost doubling their share price in two years. Ellison’s career path, and his success are classic examples of how convictions can give leaders a deep sense of meaning, and how the concepts of fairness, honesty and inclusion positively impact business decisions.

Rosalind Brewer, Walgreens. Leadership lesson: efficiency equals sustainability

Former CEO of Sam’s Club, COO of Starbucks, and current Walgreens CEO, Rosalind Brewer has made innovation her watchword throughout her entire career. She is one of only two black female CEOs of companies in the Fortune 500. Brewer was instrumental in bringing in healthier options and organic foods to Walmart and Sam’s Club, leading the way for other American retailers. She also pioneered ordering ahead for groceries and coffee, at Sam’s Club and Starbucks respectively. Not only has this led to growth, but the resulting efficiency gains have meant changes to supply chains and the amount of food wasted, making both companies significantly more sustainable.

Brewer’s success is indicative of the gains that can be made when leaders challenge current practice, and carefully consider processes with an eye towards efficiency and sustainability. Such decision-making can massively reduce waste and inefficiencies, giving a company a valuable and well-deserved reputation for sustainability.

Develop the skills that the CEOs of some of the world’s most recognisable brands use to lead their company towards sustainability, with the Business Sustainability Management online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge


Photo: Getty

Dan Price, Gravity Payments. Leadership lesson: Rewrite the rules

Dan Price, CEO of payment processor Gravity Payments, stunned the world when he announced in 2015 that all employees of the company would receive a yearly salary of $70,000, disrupting the typically pyramidal structure of corporate salaries. Not only that, but he announced that he would be taking the same salary, something completely unheard of. Not only did this result in a considerable amount of positive media coverage, but a book deal for Price, allowing him another platform to outline his vision and ideas, not only for the company, but for society as a whole. He has become a lightning rod for discussions around wage disparity, and some have claimed him as a kind of ‘working man’s hero’. Increasingly, small start-ups are attempting similar moves, and changing the conversation around corporate power structures. 

Price’s actions in providing an equal salary clearly show the value of storytelling in leadership, creating a personal narrative that has had significant impact in his sphere of influence.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble. Leadership lesson: Turn loss into opportunity 

Despite making Tinder the world’s premier dating app, as Vice President of Marketing, Whitney Wolfe Herd was subject to online abuse and threats after she spoke out, regarding tensions with fellow executives at the height of the #MeToo movement. Following a lawsuit and a barrage of press, Herd refused to let this be the end of her leadership career and came up with Bumble, the dating app where women message first – a revolutionary idea at its inception. The app soon took off and became the world’s second most popular dating app, behind Tinder.

Herd’s resilience, and her talent for introducing innovative ideas and practices that create opportunities for business growth are the hallmarks of her career so far – who knows what trajectory her career will take from here.

Robert Bosch, Bosch. Leadership lesson: Remember you’re a part of the greater whole

Today Bosch is one of the world’s leading manufacturers, not only of household appliances, but of automotive components and engineering equipment. However, across Germany and in many areas of the developing world, the name is also synonymous with acts of charity and altruism. This is because, right from the very early days of the company, founder Robert Bosch ensured that company profits would be reinvested into hospitals, development programmes and progressive causes in his native Stuttgart and beyond.

Bosch is still known for his conscientious response to Germany’s turbulent twentieth century. Not only did he refuse armament contracts during the First World War, but he and his closest associates played a key role in resistance to Hitler, saving countless Jewish lives in the process.

Bosch’s story is a classic case study of the ways in which commercial success can be aligned with societal and environmental causes.

Learn more about the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge, and discover how to lead people and organisations to new heights of innovation and growth

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BUSINESS

Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

When Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess joined Twitter in January, he used his first tweet to warn pioneering electric car maker Elon Musk that he was coming after him.

Is Germany's Volkswagen becoming 'the new Tesla' as it ramps up e-vehicle production?
ID.3 cars in the Zwickau, Saxony production plant in March. Photo: DPA

The bold proclamation raised some eyebrows, coming from a carmaker better known for its 2015 “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal than its green credentials.

But all that has changed since the German group announced an offensive to dominate the electric car market globally by 2025, vowing to set up six battery factories in Europe by the end of the decade.

“Volkswagen is the new Tesla,” declared the Financial Times, referring to the now dominant Californian e-car group founded by billionaire maverick entrepreneur Musk in 2003.

“Our transformation will be fast, unprecedented and on a scale not seen in the automobile industry in a century,” Diess said at VW’s inaugural “Power Day” last Monday, where he fired off a flurry of announcements.

READ ALSO: Volkswagen to spend 60 billion to transition to electric cars

Industry watchers say it’s a credible bet. Bloomberg Intelligence auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida said Volkswagen “has (the) potential to overtake Tesla’s number one position… in a few years”.

Karl Brauer, an analyst with CarExpert.com, said VW’s “combination of financial resources and manufacturing capacity make it a prime challenger for Tesla’s dominance” — even if catching up with its US rival is “not going to be easy”.

‘Saving face’

Diess, who has headed the 12-brand VW group since 2018, has never hidden his admiration for Musk, whose brash and unconventional ways have a habit of disrupting markets.

The two men have a friendly relationship and regularly exchange emails, according to an insider.

If the aim of Diess’s carefully choreographed “Power Day” was to capture some of the enthusiasm of a Battery Day Tesla held late last year, particularly in the United States, it appears to have worked.
Diess’s announcements saw US investors flock into Volkswagen shares, including many small traders using online platforms.

In just a week, the Wolfsburg-based car giant gained 15 percent on Frankfurt’s blue-chip stock exchange, giving the group a market capitalisation of more than 130 billion.

The rise puts Diess’s 200-billion-euro target within reach but he has a way to go before matching Tesla’s $619 billion valuation.

VW’s “forced transition” towards more environmentally friendly cars has now been “recognised by the market”, said Eric Kirstetter, an auto sector expert at the Roland Berger consulting firm.

VW ironically owes its change of course to the dieselgate scandal, which forced the group into “a face-saving dive into an all-in electro-mobility strategy”, said Germany-based industry analyst Matthias Schmidt.

The Volkswagen E-Golf in production in Saxony in March 2018. Photo: DPA

Industry watchers note especially its decision to focus on developing a single platform for all its brands which could well be the game changer for the German giant.

The platform was used for the first time on the ID.3 model which launched late last year. UBS analyst Patrick Hummel called it “the most significant bet on electric vehicles made by any legacy carmaker to date” as VW’s competitors are using mostly mixed platforms and a combination of technologies.

READ ALSO: Volkswagen to slash up to 5,000 jobs to fund electric vehicle drive

Not Apple but Samsung

VW’s move is aimed at achieving economies of scale for its 12 brands.

“Tesla is learning what is takes to move into high volume, whereas companies like Volkswagen already have volumes and it’s just a matter of switching volumes from one platform to another which they have done routinely in the past,” said Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

But VW’s size also comes with its own disadvantages — consensus has to be found for each major decision not only with the powerful head of the workers’ committee but also with managements of the group’s various brands.

Beyond the core electric technology, Volkswagen is also playing catch up with Tesla on the just as important software.

Ben Kallo, an analyst at US investment bank Baird, believes Tesla will remain the market leader on electric cars because of its advances in battery cell production and autonomous driving.

“VW might not be the Apple but the Samsung of the electric vehicles world,”UBS said in a report.

On Twitter, Diess is still 49 million followers short of Musk.

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