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Concurrent Session I: Team Assembly and Strategy Building

Posted By Robert Wray, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Moderator Marie Quintana (Senior Vice President, Multicultural Sales, PepsiCo)
Karen May (Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Kraft Global)
Mel Parker (VP/General Manager NA Consumer, Small and Home Office Business Unit, Dell)
Deborah Sabo (Vice President of Marketing Services, The Walgreen Company)

Marie Quintara moderated the session with gusto, weaving in her apt knowledge of how to strategize for valuable leadership. You'd think the stories of such successful panel members would be cut-and-dry: model students who always knew what they wanted to do and went straight to work after college in the field they now dominate. Not so.

Karen May is a high-powered accountant by trade who ended up in HR, of all places. She likens her story to  "getting off the career grid and following her heart" (which had just a little something to do with giving birth for the first time at age 30). 

May talked about being offered a one-year stint in HR, which she ended up loving. "I had no background in HR. But it wasn't about being an expert,” she says. "Leadership isn't about being right or being the smartest in the room. It's more about what I can bring to the party and how I gather a really good group together."

May's main tips: Strategy is about defining an outcome, not a timeline or a process. The simpler the strategy, the better chance of getting there. It's all about clear definitions with leadership backing. Get the team rolling toward where they should be going. 

Next, Mel Parker shares how he came to his career position. He was in the military, jumping out of airplanes and "thinking soldier thoughts" before he made captain. Then he came to a point where he had to decide whether to be a super soldier or super dad. 

He'd worked extensively with an office product company, strategizing and pulling people together to achieve working goals, before he was approached by Dell computers. "I had zero IT experience in my background," Parker says. "But they were looking for leadership from me, not new ideas on how to store data. Leadership to help shepherd a company going through internal revolution." 

Parker's mantra: Great leadership revolves around building connections with people, really listening to people on the frontline and understanding their perspective. Going deep to strengthen the core of the company, cross-functionally. "People understand where the buck stops. You don't have to prove as a leader that you're always the smartest one in the room. You can sit back and listen, relax and let the discourse be interactive," Parker attests. "The team gets better, stronger. This is tapping into unlocked potential and you can connect that to the company's goals and make the vision happen."

Our third fearless leader, Deborah Sabo, starts with one word to define leadership: PASSION. "If you have passion, you're going to be a strong leader," she says. As for her particular passion, she started out as... an interior designer in a small town?? Yep.  Yet she ended up successfully peddling dental cleansers and toilet boil deodorizers (anyone remember 2000 Flushes?). 

Sabo's sayings: You have to have a roadmap, not just a vision. Don't always go for gold, but take steps toward the vision. Lastly, you're paid to think, not do. You must always strive for innovation, to define who you are in your field.

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