Advice from three big-business big shots
You've had some ups and some downs since starting your small business, and when the going is particularly tough, you wish someone would just step in to give you some advice. It would be nice, too, if this mentor were wildly successful -- someone like Elon Musk, Brad Smith or Richard Branson. Those guys know how to do more than just run a business. They know the secrets to drive it to success. Not satisfied with "millionaire" status, these extraordinary businessmen claim standing in the billionaire brotherhood and are listed in Forbes 400 Richest People in America.
Running a billion-dollar company tends to keep a guy's plate full, so Musk, Smith and Branson don't have the time to take on protégés one-on-one. But they do like to give back, and don't mind sharing what they've learned about starting and running a business, and seeing it through to success.
Smith has been the CEO and president of Intuit since 2008, having dedicated his work to improving the financial lives of Intuit's customers. Before taking the helm of the company, Smith led the small business division and served around 7 million small businesses with Quickbooks, Quicken, Intuit accounting software and other financial tools.
Smith took his small-business savvy to head the company and lead it through a tough economy, keep employees happy while serving large and small companies with equal care. In a LinkedIn article, Smith wrote about the best business advice he ever received, which was from his father at his college graduation.
Smith wrote that when choosing the right entrepreneurial path, there are no make or break decisions. It's all about trial and error. He gives four guideposts to live by when faced with any business decision:
- "Do what makes your heart beat faster." Find something you're passionate about.
- "Surround yourself with people smarter than you." You will constantly learn and grown.
- "Volunteer for assignments no one else wants." Distinguish yourself from others.
- "Make sure you can pay your bills." Bills are like promises. Whether they are financial or not, always keep your promises.
Imagine being able to tap the mind of the man who's designed rockets and cutting edge electric cars. You'd think with such talent and genius, life would be a bed of roses for someone like Elon Musk, but you'd be wrong. Not that being CEO for Tesla Motors is a hardship, but Musk points to his early days with SpaceX, the spacecraft company he founded and made a success before moving on to the automobile industry. Elon Musk reports that the first three rocket launches failed -- that certainly puts any business's day to day difficulties into perspective. Musk's advice to entrepreneurs, as was captured in a recent Business Insider interview, is to expect tough times in the first few years and work through them. Focus your resources on one or two areas and don't spread yourself too thin. Musk also stresses the importance of building a supportive team of people who have an interest in your business and the ability to help you meet your goals.
Richard Branson is one of the most inspirational big shots on the planet -- soon to be in the universe. Already packing his bags to head off into space, Branson has led many businesses to success in the music, finance, telecommunications and now the space travel industries. The advice he gives entrepreneurs on Venture Beat is "Screw it -- just do it!" Branson likes taking on a challenge, and says if you've got a fantastic concept that will enhance people's lives, run with it. He doesn't deny that his company, Virgin, has seen its lean times, but he encourages business owners to fight through the hard times and come out on the other side, even if it means going up against the "big" guys. Branson says that focusing on the quality of the product or services you provide and staffing your team with quality people is the formula for success.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.