CEOs and senior leaders reveal the secrets
of their motivation — and how they use that passion
to build better companies
By Kari Richardson
A CEO's fiery speech can rally shareholders
and motivate the company faithful to reach for the next goal.
Their passion for the firm often seems unwavering, even as
they work days that stretch late into the night.
When crisis visits, they remain the company's
bedrock, never appearing in doubt about the firm's strategy.
And when they must shift gears in response to market dynamics,
you won't find them griping to co-workers about the latest
Where do senior leaders find the inspiration,
insight and counsel they need to make difficult decisions?
We asked some Kellogg School alumni in top leadership roles
to share their secrets.
A special passion to lead
For Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89, founder and CEO of Nia
Enterprises, the key to remaining inspired is working toward
a goal she believes in. Her company, founded in January 2000,
provides marketing data that helps companies target their
products to African-American women and their families. She
says the firm boasts one of the largest consumer advisory
panels of African-American women, who test products and provide
Mayberry McKissack began the company to fill
what she perceived as a gap in the marketplace. "I really
consider my company my life's work," she says. "My
interests are building new leaders in the ethnic space and
using technology to connect people. When I look at what I
do, it's not hard for me to remain up."
'62, managing partner of Edward
Jones, agrees. He says that the social dimension of his work
— helping people tackle their financial planning worries
— keeps his enthusiasm high. He adds that the firm's
high growth rate, which has forced it to reorganize about
every four years, has created a sense of excitement that is
Bachmann, recently announced he is stepping
down from his chief executive role at the end of the year
and will serve as a principal with the firm.
In the typical CEO fashion of passing along
praise to others in the organization, Bachmann and many senior
leaders credit their staff for keeping them inspired.
Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain is quick
to note the importance of collaboration in achieving a collective
goal. Despite his marketing and leadership expertise, Jain
insists he "does not run alone" but as part of a
strong team of faculty, staff, students and alumni who have
worked to elevate Kellogg into the top echelon of management
"My efforts are supported by a network
of outstanding colleagues with whom I exchange ideas,"
says Jain. "Leadership to me is about inclusivity. Each
of us contributes our particular talents to help elevate everyone
around us and produce the best outcome for the Kellogg School
Richard Lenny '77, chairman, president and
CEO of Hershey Foods Corp., says he keeps his finger on the
company's pulse through regular meetings and consultations
with staff from different divisions — from research
and development to marketing and sales.
"My enthusiasm comes as much from the
people with whom I work as it does from my own passion to
inspire my colleagues," Lenny says. "If you stay
connected, it matters little where you are within the organization."
Other top leaders, such as Bill McDermott
EMP-37, CEO and president of SAP America Inc., a provider
of business software solutions, speak of a passion for leadership
itself. McDermott, who established and ran his own delicatessen
in Amityville, Long Island, during his high school and college
days, says he's always been driven to reach for — and
beyond — his personal best.
"Leaders are absolutely seized with a
special passion for getting the job done, whatever the job
is, whether it's business, sports or the arts," says
He adds, "My drive comes from my my desire
to create teams of winners who perform to their potential."
Who can you trust?
Though their enthusiasm for their companies is great, it's
not enough to ward off the challenges that inevitably crop
up in any industry, these leaders say.
‘hen they need to make difficult decisions,
chief executives can seek direction from an executive committee,
board of directors or other group of top managers. But many
times, the CEO's is the final voice.
"I think with time you become more discerning
about who the trusted advisers are and, in many ways, the
further you go, the fewer trusted advisers you have,"
says McDermott, who cites his wife, his executive assistant
and a few key advisers as the people he can count on to level
with him in any situation. "That's part of the pressure,"
McDermott says he often returns to his deep
entrepreneurial roots — he worked as a paper boy even
before his days as a deli owner — to examine the situation
from a customer's point of view.
Others rely on peers or former associates
when they need advice. Mayberry McKissack says she values
the opinion of fellow entrepreneurial women. Hershey's Lenny
taps the insights of several former Kraft and Nabisco colleagues
who are now CEOs of other organizations, including Bob Eckert
'77, now chairman and CEO of Mattel Inc., whose career has
followed an astonishingly similar trajectory.
Lenny befriended Eckert during their first
year of studies at the Kellogg School. After graduation, both
began new jobs at Kraft Foods Inc. on the same day.
"There's a ready reservoir of friends
and former business associates who share commonalities,"
Lenny says. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses
and we won't pass judgment. We have such a high degree of
respect for each other."
Bachmann, of Edward Jones, frequently looks
to academicians for the underpinning theories that help him
better understand his field.
"I've found that studying and spending
time with educators who are doing original research is extremely
valuable," he says. One of those he finds the most helpful
is Kellogg School marketing guru Philip Kotler, the SC Johnson
& Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing.
In particular, Bachmann values Kotler's insights regarding
Also helpful, he says, is attending industry
roundtables and trade association meetings — not always
as a keynote speaker or panelist, but just to observe.
Fred O'Connor '86, a consultant with the retained
executive search firm DHR International, finds a valuable
sounding board in longtime friends.
"We know each other — our strengths,
weaknesses and aspirational values," O'Connor says. "They
don't candycoat their comments."
O'Connor also confers with his parents, mother
Ellen and father James J. O'Connor, who served for two decades
as CEO of Commonwealth Edison.
"They taught me to remember where I came
from and to conduct myself so that if my actions were written
about on the front page of the newspaper, I'd be proud to
see them there," O'Connor says.
But when it comes right down to it, the power
of a "gut feeling," honed by years of experience,
provides a beacon for some, including SAP's McDermott.
"The thing I never forget in any decision
is my instincts," he says. "People tell me to go
right, and at the last minute, I'll take all the data, discard
it, and go left. Every time I've fought against my instincts,
I was less likely to make a decision I was comfortable with.
In the end, the right decision is the one you believe in."