Opening Comment: Karl, you bring a lifetime of considerable success, notable achievements and substantial contributions to our discussion. We thank you for doing this interview with us and sharing your deep insights with our audience.
A: My pleasure, I started my career in IT in the late 1970's with IBM and spent a dozen years in the industry, starting out as an System Engineer, today I am still teaching with IBM in the Europe and North America. After over 25 years associated with IT, it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to talk to the broader IT community.
Q1: Profile your role with McGill and what you hope to accomplish?
A: I moved to McGill from England a little over six years ago, mainly in order to work with Henry Mintzberg, one of the top management thinkers and professors in the world. We co-direct the McGill Advanced Leadership Program, this has resulted in a greater focus on leadership, with more of my research, and consulting being in the area of leadership. What I hope to do is help make executives more effective in their leadership roles.
Q2: Which prior roles are you most proud of?
A: I very much enjoyed my years with IBM, it was an exciting time in the industry and we helped customers bring new technology to benefit their customers. I enjoy the action orientation and doing part of being in business, I miss that at times in academia. On the other hand, the world of ideas which is my main focus these days is an equally alluring one, I guess I am hard to satisfy!
Q3: You are a co-director with Henry Mintzberg, of the North American Advanced Leadership Program (ALP). What do you hope to achieve in the future with this initiative?
A: What we are trying to do through our three leadership programs, the other two being our International Masters for Practicing Managers, which we run with 5 other universities and our new International Masters for Health Leadership, is rethink management/leadership education and help the hundreds of individual mangers who go through the programs. On one level we are trying to change how leadership development is done, which is on a global level, on the other we are intimately connected with real managers in real jobs, many of them here in Canada.
Q4: Where and how have your contributions shaped business thought in the past and into the future?
A: What my contributions have been and will most likely continue to be around are in two topics. First, is understanding globalization and the evolving role of the multinational in the globalizing world economy, as this is of particular importance to Canada and our future. The second is around my work with Henry about how leadership is becoming postmodern and how do we best provide university programs for those leaders.
Q5: In your view, what are the most serious roadblocks to business success?
A: At the moment three particular roadblocks to business success are at the top of my mind. First, a lack of focus, being all over the map and not choosing to go after a particular part of the market space you want to play in. Second, a central ability of a business leader, which is a strong ability to drive execution, that is to know what are the things which drive success in your business and spend the vast majority of your time on those things. Though senior people particularly need to step away on a regular basis to reflect on what is changing and how to appropriately respond to those changes. Finally, the ability to listen to your people and give them space to contribute, particularly in the area of innovation and creativity.
We have a Shakespeare actor and director work with our global Advanced Leadership Program in England. He tells how when a famous actor joins a production of a Shakespeare play they most often hang back and listen to the wonderful, creative and sometimes silly ideas of the younger, less experienced actors, they realize if they speak it is rather intimidating to the other actors who are in awe of this great "name". But if you want to do Hamlet in a "new" way it is very powerful to tap the ideas of more junior people, this strikes me as a salutary lesson for senior mangers.
Q6: Which two corporations do you hold out as significant models and for what reasons?
A: Any great corporations I have worked with, IBM, Nokia and Motorola, come to mind particularly, have had good and not so good periods in their histories. I hesitate to name any one firm because they will undoubtedly have problems in their future. Nevertheless, I am particularly impressed with Wipro, a giant IT company from India, I am working with some of their senior executives as a leadership coach at the moment and they are quite impressive. I particularly appreciate their ability to maintain growth and successfully move into new areas. Closer to home, another company which seems to be particularly strong is WestJet, they have some missteps with their spying on Air Canada but have done a superb job of developing a very positive and industry relevant culture.
Q7: Which two business leaders are models for others?
A: Like great companies, there is considerable danger in putting forward leaders, so with that caveat, let me suggest two in Canada.
Marc Tellier, CEO of the Yellow Pages Group: he was Bell's youngest V.P at 29 and is one to keep and eye on. I recently interviewed him on McGill's CEO speaker series and spent about 3 and a half hours with him. Very impressive. He knows his business and executes extremely well but at the same time has taken them in some interesting and lucrative new directions, that mix of execution and strategic vision is compelling.
Another is Alain Bellemare, the CEO of Pratt and Whitney Canada, the 10,000 plus employee strong aerospace giant. I have spent time several times a year with Alain over the last five years. He has done a spectacular job with his team to deliver great things at PWC and I fully expect he will eventually end up in a bigger global role within their parent Pratt and Whitney. A couple of things really stand out with Alain; driving results with inspiring highly energetic leadership. Not every one can do this, it is a blessing from nature to have that level of energy but the rest of us can work on maximizing our energy by looking after ourselves and by using what energy we have to do the right things. What those right things are depends on your position and your goals.
Q8: What are the critical external issues executives should be monitoring?
A: Two key issues are at the top of my mind right now. First is the process of globalization and how it is morphing into a somewhat different shape from year to year. Thomas Friedman published a great book, "The World Is Flat", in 2005, within about a year; he came out with a revised version with additional 100 pages or so to bring it up to date. Perhaps this was just a way of selling more books but I think it speaks more to the nature of globalization. If it impacts your firm, and I would be hard pressed to think of many firms which are not impacted by globalization, whether by competitors, suppliers or customers, you should keep a weather eye on globalization.
The other critical issue is that of demographics and particularly the differences in worldview of the Millennial Generation. They are postmodern in their view and this is having considerable impact on how to work with them and how to lead them. I recently have been giving presentations on my interviews with 150 or so young leaders from Canada and the U.S., this seems to be really tapping a concern of HR managers in Canadian firms.
Q9: What are the key priorities behind organizational emotional capabilities and passion?
A: This comes back to the issue about leading and working with the Millennial Generation though I think it also resonates with other generations. It may also be due partly because of more women in the workforce, but regardless, postmodern management must put a big stress on emotion at work and giving more thought to how we as managers and as organizations bring a fuller recognition of the power of emotions at work. People now are more and more wanting to create meaning at work, and not just make money to support themselves and families, if they have one. It is still in its early days but this is something you will be hearing more and more about.
Q10: Which are your top recommended resources?
Closing Comment: Karl, we will continue to follow your significant contributions to the global community. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with us.
A: A pleasure, if anyone has comments I would be happy to receive e-mails from them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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