Five Leaders on What It Takes to Get to (and Stay at) the Top
Whether you are scaling the world’s fourth-highest summit, running the world’s second-largest company, or trying to restore the tarnished reputation of a government-backed mortgage securities company, some leadership traits seem to be universal. These include, for example, a belief in teamwork and the ability to look beyond the moment to map a course for the future. In this section, Knowledge@Wharton reports on recent conversations with, or presentations by, a diverse group of leaders, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; Thia Breen, president of Estee Lauder Americas; Richard Syron, CEO of Freddie Mac; Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehman Brothers, and Rodrigo Jordan, chairman of Chile’s National Poverty Foundation and a world-class mountaineer.
For Microsoft, 2006 was a year of new product introductions: the Windows Vista operating system, a new version of Office and the Zune music player, to name a few. For Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — who spoke at Wharton recently as part of the school’s Leadership Lecture series — these new products serve as a reminder of his goals: Convince customers that Microsoft’s latest products are ground-breaking, transform a company with $44 billion in sales into an agile innovator, compete against new business models and recruit enough talent to keep the software giant relevant 25 years from now.
In her keynote address at the 28th Annual Wharton Women in Business Conference in Philadelphia, Thia Breen, president of Estee Lauder Americas and head of Global Business Development, told the audience that she was nearly fired from her first job. “That was the moment I started to understand: I am totally responsible for my own success,” said Breen, whose first job out of college was unloading shipments of toys at Marshall Fields.
Richard F. Syron, chairman and CEO of mortgage-securities giant Freddie Mac, says he remains “bearish” on the housing market and sees a rising tide of mortgage defaults and foreclosures on the horizon. He doesn’t believe a rebound will happen until late summer 2007 when the nation’s housing inventory, bloated from weak sales, gets whittled down. Syron spoke with Knowledge@Wharton before delivering a Wharton leadership lecture.
When Richard “Dick” Fuld took charge of Lehman Brothers as CEO in 1994, the firm was famous on Wall Street for the bitter internal feud between traders and investment bankers that had cost Lehman its independence a decade earlier. Fuld, who had sided with fellow traders in the battle, knew he would have to make peace with the bankers and create a culture based on teamwork if the firm wanted to compete in a new era of integrated financial services. “The early Lehman Brothers was a great example of how not to do it,” he said in a recent Wharton Leadership lecture.
Rodrigo Jordan, a management professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, is a world-class mountaineer. He has led, written about and filmed Chilean expeditions to Mount Everest, K2 and Antarctica, and has drawn on these experiences to found Vertical S.A., a company that uses outdoor education to teach leadership and teamwork. Jordan was recently named chair of Chile’s National Poverty Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to social development. Knowledge@Wharton offers an edited version of an interview with Jordan on leadership, tackling poverty and his recent climb up Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest summit.