CEO Networking Associations: Helping leaders thrive
As Chief Executive Officer, you’re responsible for making the vital decisions that can affect the short- and long-term success of the company. Where can you turn for unbiased advice or ideas to drive your business? Executive associations provide a platform for business leaders to exchange ideas, advice and solutions within a community of their peers in an environment of trust and respect. As a result, their members thrive, making confident decisions and becoming better leaders within their industries.
“In today’s global world, changes that affect your business can come from anywhere, so it’s vital to be well-connected throughout the world,” said Jill Belconis, 2010 -2011 Young Presidents’ Organization International Chairman. “You may sell exclusively to the U.S. market, but your supplier in Mexico may have an issue that obliges you to find a manufacturer in China.”
CREATING VITAL CONNECTIONS
Executive associations, such as the Women President’s Organization, the Young Presidents’ Organization and Vistage International, are comprised of business leaders from diverse industries around the world. Meetings are held monthly with CEOs and presidents of non-competing companies. In each of the aforementioned organizations, members meet monthly within local chapters to share ideas, experiences and resources to improve their businesses.
Vistage’s members spend an average of 10 hours a month participating in meetings with the Chapter chairs. “This is an opportunity for them to take their toughest issues and be with other people whom they respect, and it helps them figure out what to do,” said Rafael Pastor, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Vistage International, the world’s largest for-profit CEO membership organization.
“It is a fertile ground to learn about ideas that can help to accelerate the growth of the company and enhance its competitiveness,” said Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., President of the Women President’s Organization. As a peer-advisory group, WPO meets monthly to share experiences and expertise, and to learn from one another in a respectful environment of other entrepreneurs. Members use their challenges to drive the agenda of the meetings, which are led by a paid professional facilitator.
“It’s a personalized approach to business experience and business development,” said Firestone.
According to the WPO’s survey of its members, over 82 percent of WPO members expect an increase in revenue in 2011. Similarly, Vistage members have grown their businesses 5.8 percent from 2005 to 2009 as compared to the average Dun & Bradstreet company in the United States. This growth is often credited to the peer advisory model.
Sharing common challenges is important for several reasons. First, many of the same issues arise in business, regardless of the industry. Executives can hear how another CEO handled a similar problem and adopt a version of the solution to fit their own challenge. “It’s not so much that they network with one other; they get together to solve problems together, which goes beyond just networking,” said Pastor.
Second, the meetings involve business leaders from non-competing businesses, creating an environment of safety and trust in which the people are more likely to share their business challenges. Executives are more likely to open up and discuss business problems with respected leaders who do not have a stake in their company. “With a trusted platform of business leaders who are committed to one other in more than 100 countries, it’s easy to see the incredible advantage of solving an unfamiliar problem with two phone calls rather than spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to research the issue yourself,” Belconis noted.
Third, a sense of community is created when business leaders come together to share information and experiences that can be used to help others tackle challenges in their own businesses. Trust runs deeper when connections are made in person, a benefit that sets it apart from social networking websites, where executives may never meet in person. “We bring the human dimension into the conversation. Because it’s rare, it’s valuable,” said Pastor.
INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING
Though social networks such as LinkedIn provide a platform for executives and business leaders to network with one another, personal interaction away from the computer isn’t necessarily encouraged. Vistage sees social media as a supplemental component to the greater organization for member generation, to promote events and for webinars. According to Pastor, Vistage does not allow the use of social networks to replace the heart of their organization—the human connections made between executives. “Social media supplements the knowledge that’s delivered inside of the Vistage group meeting,” Pastor said. “We’ve been connecting people offline for a long time.”
“There are a lot of opportunities that are presenting themselves now. It is [the businesses’] best chance to make the most of these opportunities by being creative and involving their teams in dealing with the challenges. If they can do that they end up on top,” Firestone said. Executive associations provide the opportunity for business leaders to meet with others who have faced similar challenges and find solutions to prosper as the economy recovers. “The basic point about Vistage, and I’m very proud of it, is that in good times, bad times, or in transitional times, it plays a very important role in making our members better leaders who make better decisions and achieve better results,” said Pastor.
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.