20 Questions on Leadership

Sergio Corbo

SVP Marketing & Communications, Veolia North America

November 26th, 2017

 

LEADERSHIP

  1. What is the difference between a leader and a manager?

A leader gives direction: WHAT should we do? A manager tells you exactly HOW you should do it.

  1. What motivates you to be a leader?

The team. Working together to grow the business. 

  1. What is the most difficult part of being a leader?

Being tough. I don’t like it. It is not me. I do it because sometimes is needed to get the team back on track. When I am tough I feel like I am a manager, someone that has to tell people HOW to do their job. I prefer to lead.

  1. What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?

I show up. I say yes and then figure it out. If I want my team to be great I have to be the first to try. Truth is, they are all better than me.

  1. Describe a time you influenced without the authority of being the manager.

Every day. Every day we all have to carry forward tasks with no direct authority. We do it by talking to people, we socialize the ideas, the vision and then we figure out a way to make it happen. Together. 

MAINTAINING VISIBILITY AND NETWORKING

  1. What was your biggest challenge from a corporate function standpoint when you transitioned into the CMO role? And how did you go about resolving?

Someone told me that leadership is a LONELY experience. I dwelled on the concept. I almost saw the point. Over time I realized that leadership is something that at times required to be ALONE, to think, to build the vision, the direction. When I am alone I synthesize and come up with a plan. If I am clear with myself I can be clear and inspiring to others. The time alone helps me with that.

  1. As a CMO and someone who is inherently visible, how do you make a point to maintain that visibility and also get to know your employees at all levels of the organization?

Yes. I always walk the alleys. I like to meet people and learn their stories, their motivations. It is inspiring. There are so many people that believe in what we do. Success starts from there. If I believe it I can definitely make it happen. 

  1. How have visibility and networking impacted your career?

Visibility is a double-edged sword, so I don’t particularly seek it. It just happens. Networking is paramount: without the network, I can never achieve anything. The power of US is infinitely greater than the power of just me. 

  1. What sort of leader would your team say that you are?

I don’t know! Energetic, PASSIONATE, FAST. I value speed over precision. I have the luxury to be free from precision in the role I have. To be a growth leader you have to lean forward, accept imperfections. Of course, I would never sacrifice the basics. Safety is paramount to our business. So, in the case of safety only one outcome is acceptable: zero injuries.

COMPETITION

  1. Is competition among a team healthy? Why or why not?

It depends. Healthy competition focused on elbowing each other into greatness, into results for the Customer, is very good. WE ALL RISE, we all get better.

  1. What advice would you offer in a competitive situation, when everyone wants to make a name for themselves?

Don’t focus on yourself. Focus on the Customer. The true competition is with yourself. Do something that makes you better and help others, which, in business, is the Customer. 

SUCCESS

  1. How do you measure success?

In its most distilled version, business success happens when we make money. I make a point of this. I am now a functional leader. I don’t have a P&L. However, we are all part of making money here. I work every day to be part of it. I always ask myself what things do I need to do to help the Customer and make money for the Company. 

MANAGING TEAMS

  1. How do you go about gaining commitment from your teams?

Commitment is gained every day by inspiring the team to do something meaningful. People want to win, they want to do the right thing. If they understand WHY they are much more prone to do it. They will know HOW to do it much better than me. I lead with WHAT, I gain commitment with WHY and then I let them take the lead on HOW.

  1. How do you encourage the development of your employees?

Education. I value education. It may be because of the teaching of my parents: learn every day something new, it may be useful. In truth, there is no magic in it: the biggest value of education is the personal experience. It makes you THINK. And when people think, they come up with very interesting things that make our world better. At Veolia, we live this every day: we are here to make the world better and make a living in the process. How inspiring!

  1. How did you a handle a time when you had to make an unpopular decision?

I raised prices for my business. We were alone. No competitor followed. The sales team thought I was crazy. I took the time to explain why we were doing it. I found people that agreed, that saw the logic. I enlisted them for help. Together we reached out to customers. Some customers understood. Then few more. Then many more. It was a great snowball effect.

GENERAL

  1. Explain a time when you had to make a decision without all the relevant facts.

Every day. If I wait for ALL the relevant facts out customers will be gone. I try to get as many as possible of the relevant facts in the shortest possible time. Then I go forward with a decision.

  1. How can a leader fail? Tell me about a time when you failed as a leader.

A leader fails when he/she does NOT LISTEN. Years ago, I wanted to make changes in my team because we were not moving fast enough. The team tried to convince me otherwise. I was NOT LISTENING. So, I went ahead: I pushed hard. I saw the team change. Turn dark. I was losing them. I called everybody and asked them to tell me again what they had tried to explain the first time. This time I listened. I apologized and changed my mind. It turned out great, but it was a tough lesson. I had pictured myself as the conductor of an orchestra. For the first time in my life I realized something that had been in front of me all along: the conductor does not make a sound. It is all about the orchestra. The team. They make the magic.

  1. Given that you have reached the pinnacle position of CMO, what are your plans for future career growth?

I want to do something good. I have this thing in me about kids and STEM. I want to leave something valuable for the next generations. STEM is the single biggest tool for success in life. Being in a company so rooted in applied science as Veolia is the right place to learn how to do it. 

  1. What is the most significant change that you brought to an organization?

I mentioned that success in business is measured in terms of profit. I was very successful the time I helped the business make $100 million in price increase without any loss of market share. That money was all profit. 

  1. We’ve asked all the professional questions, but what do you like to do in your free time and how do you make sure there’s a balance?

I exercise. I sweat it out to stay healthy and happy. I love art, music from rock, to country to classical. I go to the opera. I meet friends: we walk around town and dwell into endless conversations about changing the world. I ride my bicycles. I always say that home for me is a place when I have a bike. I have three in Boston!

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