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Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs

As the third decade of the 21st century progresses, it requires a special range of skills and traits to steer a multinational company to success.

Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs
Photo: Getty Images

Changing technologies, new consumer bases and geopolitical shifts mean that it’s imperative that those at the helm of multi-million dollar corporations understand how to lead effectively, and with high impact.

What does it mean to lead with high impact, however? Together with online learning provider GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, we examine the success stories of six leading CEOs. We identify the specific lessons you can learn from each of them – skills and lessons that are also covered in the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership and Business Sustainability Management online courses. 

Lisa Su, AMD. Leadership lesson: run towards problems

When Taiwan-born Lisa Su took the helm at computer chip manufacturer AMD in 2014, the company was in trouble. Lagging far behind their main competitor, Intel, the semiconductor maker was haemorrhaging money and shareholders were angry.

It was Su’s mantra of ‘run towards problems’, and her clear vision of where she wanted the company to be in the coming years that would bring the company back from the brink, and make it one that provides the chips powering not only our computers, but also Smart TVs and gaming consoles. Su’s rapid and revolutionary turnaround of the company’s fortunes demonstrates not only the role of leadership in creating organisational change, but also in business growth.

Discover the qualities propelling today’s changemakers to success, with the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from the University of Cambridge and GetSmarter

Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s. Leadership lesson: learn to unify people

From early childhood, Marvin Ellison, the African-American former CEO of J.C. Penney’s and current CEO of Lowe’s, took on responsibility for his large family while his parents worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. As he grew older, starting in Loss Prevention at Target and climbing the corporate ladder via such household names as Home Depot, he learned to use his unique standing within the predominantly white corporate world to bring considerably different groups together, in the service of business growth and the consolidation of gains.

Combining confidence, faith and trust in those around him, Ellison has inspired Lowe’s to new heights, almost doubling their share price in two years. Ellison’s career path, and his success are classic examples of how convictions can give leaders a deep sense of meaning, and how the concepts of fairness, honesty and inclusion positively impact business decisions.

Rosalind Brewer, Walgreens. Leadership lesson: efficiency equals sustainability

Former CEO of Sam’s Club, COO of Starbucks, and current Walgreens CEO, Rosalind Brewer has made innovation her watchword throughout her entire career. She is one of only two black female CEOs of companies in the Fortune 500. Brewer was instrumental in bringing in healthier options and organic foods to Walmart and Sam’s Club, leading the way for other American retailers. She also pioneered ordering ahead for groceries and coffee, at Sam’s Club and Starbucks respectively. Not only has this led to growth, but the resulting efficiency gains have meant changes to supply chains and the amount of food wasted, making both companies significantly more sustainable.

Brewer’s success is indicative of the gains that can be made when leaders challenge current practice, and carefully consider processes with an eye towards efficiency and sustainability. Such decision-making can massively reduce waste and inefficiencies, giving a company a valuable and well-deserved reputation for sustainability.

Develop the skills that the CEOs of some of the world’s most recognisable brands use to lead their company towards sustainability, with the Business Sustainability Management online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge


Photo: Getty

Dan Price, Gravity Payments. Leadership lesson: Rewrite the rules

Dan Price, CEO of payment processor Gravity Payments, stunned the world when he announced in 2015 that all employees of the company would receive a yearly salary of $70,000, disrupting the typically pyramidal structure of corporate salaries. Not only that, but he announced that he would be taking the same salary, something completely unheard of. Not only did this result in a considerable amount of positive media coverage, but a book deal for Price, allowing him another platform to outline his vision and ideas, not only for the company, but for society as a whole. He has become a lightning rod for discussions around wage disparity, and some have claimed him as a kind of ‘working man’s hero’. Increasingly, small start-ups are attempting similar moves, and changing the conversation around corporate power structures. 

Price’s actions in providing an equal salary clearly show the value of storytelling in leadership, creating a personal narrative that has had significant impact in his sphere of influence.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble. Leadership lesson: Turn loss into opportunity 

Despite making Tinder the world’s premier dating app, as Vice President of Marketing, Whitney Wolfe Herd was subject to online abuse and threats after she spoke out, regarding tensions with fellow executives at the height of the #MeToo movement. Following a lawsuit and a barrage of press, Herd refused to let this be the end of her leadership career and came up with Bumble, the dating app where women message first – a revolutionary idea at its inception. The app soon took off and became the world’s second most popular dating app, behind Tinder.

Herd’s resilience, and her talent for introducing innovative ideas and practices that create opportunities for business growth are the hallmarks of her career so far – who knows what trajectory her career will take from here.

Robert Bosch, Bosch. Leadership lesson: Remember you’re a part of the greater whole

Today Bosch is one of the world’s leading manufacturers, not only of household appliances, but of automotive components and engineering equipment. However, across Germany and in many areas of the developing world, the name is also synonymous with acts of charity and altruism. This is because, right from the very early days of the company, founder Robert Bosch ensured that company profits would be reinvested into hospitals, development programmes and progressive causes in his native Stuttgart and beyond.

Bosch is still known for his conscientious response to Germany’s turbulent twentieth century. Not only did he refuse armament contracts during the First World War, but he and his closest associates played a key role in resistance to Hitler, saving countless Jewish lives in the process.

Bosch’s story is a classic case study of the ways in which commercial success can be aligned with societal and environmental causes.

Learn more about the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge, and discover how to lead people and organisations to new heights of innovation and growth

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BUSINESS

EU finds Italy’s Alitalia loans ‘illegal’ but airline free to keep money

The EU's antitrust authorities ruled Friday that Italy's 900 million euro loans to long-struggling airline Alitalia were "illegal", but cleared the country's new carrier to get state funding and avoid paying back the money. 

Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP
Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP

“Following our in-depth investigation, we reached the conclusion that two public loans worth EUR 900 million granted by Italy to Alitalia gave the company an unfair advantage over its competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules,” said EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“They must now be recovered by Italy from Alitalia to help restore a level playing field in the European aviation industry.”

But the authorities in Brussels simultaneously said new flag airline ITA – set to start flying next month – was not liable to reimburse the money and that 1.35 billion euros being injected into the firm by Rome did not breach state aid rules.

“Italy has demonstrated that there is a clear break between Alitalia and the new airline ITA, and that its investment in ITA is in line with terms that a private investor would have accepted,” Vestager said.

“Once ITA takes off, it is for Italy and ITA’s management to make use of this opportunity once and for all. And we will continue to do our part to ensure fair competition in the European aviation sector.”

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Loss-making Alitalia was placed under state administration in 2017 but Italy has struggled to find an investor to take it over. The situation was only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that grounded airlines worldwide.

The Italian government gave the company two loans for the amount of EUR 600 million and EUR 300 million in 2017, as Alitalia scrambled for liquidity without access to the debt market.

Earlier this year Italy said it had reached an agreement with the European Union for a bailout that creates a new debt-free company to take over some of Alitalia’s assets – ITA.

The board of directors of ITA last month approved a binding offer for 52 of Alitalia’s aircraft, related airport slots and other assets.

The Italian government has created a 100-million-euro ($117-million) fund to reimburse Alitalia customers.

Italy provided state loans to Alitalia totalling 1.3 billion euros between 2017 and 2019.

In July, it approved another 700 million euros for ITA.

Further sums are expected in 2022 and 2023, bringing the total to 1.35 billion euros.

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