By Greg Spierkel, CEO of Ingram Micro (IM). Based in Santa Ana, California, Ingram Micro is No. 69 on the Fortune 500, with $35 billion in 2007 revenues and 15,000 employees in 34 countries. Spierkel, who stepped up to the CEO position in 2005, is also on the PACCAR (PCAR) board.
I'm frequently asked by students and new associates, "How do you get to be a CEO?" I smile, knowing that there's no simple answer.
But I've learned from some early personal experiences.
Even Rock Stars Do Their Homework. In 1979, when I was 22, some friends and I were traveling through France and decided to hit Cannes during the famous film festival. We were watching the paparazzi take pictures of all the stars when we noticed one guy who didn't look like all the rest. What stood out wasn't so much his long dreadlocks. It was his purple spandex jumpsuit. And even though he was holding a video camera up to his face, we could tell it was none other than Bob Marley.
We decided to walk up to him. And we were glad we did because this turned out to be of the most interesting moments of my life.
Marley hadn't achieved worldwide fame yet and couldn't believe someone actually knew who he was. In fact, he was so excited that he asked us to join him for coffee. We ran across the street to a beachside café and sat down for about 15 minutes. While you might imagine that we talked about music, we actually talked about what makes someone a star - what makes someone stand out. Bob Marley told us that he was there to film celebrities so he could study the footage and try to unlock the mystery of star power.
Now we all know that he solved that mystery. I learned from Bob Marley and others that raw talent and the right connections will get you only so far. Real success requires homework, ingenuity and learning from the best.
Embrace boring assignments. A few months after traveling around Europe, I started my first job out of university at Bell Canada, Canada's largest communications company. I was hired to develop a national e-mail service. This was back in 1979, the early days of desktop PCs. After three years of struggling to market the product, I volunteered to lead the sales effort. It was a job that no one wanted.
But I wanted the job because I had been a product developer, and I knew that my intimate knowledge would help me sell the product. Within a year, sales took off. After that, I was assigned to a number of low-profile projects that most people would have said no to. But I learned that doing a great job, particularly on a menial or unwanted assignment, was the way to stand out. Most people want to be put only on winning teams. I say look at all opportunities. Excel where people least expect you to.
Opportunities ignore personal lives. At 29, I was living in Ottawa enjoying a nice career working for Mitel, a multinational manufacturer of PBX, software and semiconductor products. I was asked to lead a small acquisition in Hong Kong. I was single with no kids but still had my share of fears. I didn't know the language and didn't have the deep experience I thought I needed. But within three weeks of getting the offer, I packed my bags and moved to Hong Kong.
This job led to a string of bigger assignments over the next 20 years, taking me through six countries. Along the way, I met my wife, Rhiannon. And although the discussions definitely got more difficult after we had kids, we moved with my various promotions - to Singapore, Belgium and the U.S. My two boys, 15 and 12, have seen more of the world than most kids. They also have a keen appreciation for other cultures. These guys are true global citizens.
"This is fantastic Internet property and it really doesn't deserve everybody trying to pick it apart. This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens. That's my Wisconsin coming through."
-- Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz in Tuesday's fourth-quarter earnings call with investors after the market closed.
Bartz's comments reflect the challenge of taking charge at a onetime tech darling that has been weakened by MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 27, 2009 6:56 PM ET
"You identify areas where you think you can be more efficient by assuming the worst-case scenario. Then you end up saying, Why don't we just do that anyhow?"
--Intuit (INTU) CEO Brad Smith, from the article "How to manage your business in a recesssion," in the current issue of Fortune. The article may be helpful reading for bosses reporting fourth-quarter earnings.
Alcoa (AA), one of the 30 companies that makes up the MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 12, 2009 6:36 PM ET
"We can't copy. If you want to copy somebody, you're going to be second at best, and always a step behind."
-- Doug McMillon, newly named president and CEO of Wal-Mart (WMT) International. He's succeeding Mike Duke, who is due to take Wal-Mart's helm as CEO Lee Scott retires.
When McMillon talked with Fortune's Geoff Colvin in "The Colvin Interview" last October about innovation and Wal-Mart's global growth prospects (click here MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 8, 2009 5:02 PM ET
by Jessica Shambora
When Ellen Kullman stepped into the CEO role at DuPont (DD) this month, she became the 13th female Fortune 500 CEO. That's a milestone. But Kullman's ascension passed with little fanfare. She addressed employees in a year-end video on DuPont's intranet site but has yet to address them as a group or to send out a company-wide email since the start of the year.
Why so quiet? Well, unlike MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 8, 2009 2:31 PM ET
"Clearly, the performance of Merrill's top executives throughout Merrill's abysmal year in no way justifies significant bonuses for its top executives, including the CEO."
-- New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, in a letter to Merrill Lynch's (MER) board of directors, regarding CEO John Thain's request for a $10 million year-end bonus.
It worked. The top brass at Merrill agreed today to forgo bonuses. The money-losing brokerage, whose acquisition by Bank MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Dec 8, 2008 6:18 PM ET
by Jessica Shambora
International representation on public company boards is stunningly low, as Pattie wrote on Wednesday. Besides Yahoo, Target and Pfizer, here are 10 more Fortune 500 companies that recruiting firm Egon Zehnder notes have no foreign nationals on their boards: Intel (INTC), Merck (MRK), Cisco (CSCO), Sara Lee (SLE), Marriott, Mattel, Viacom, Boeing, Halliburton and JPMorgan Chase. Given the global operations and ambitions of these mega-corporations, how does it MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Dec 5, 2008 5:36 PM ET
It's not about falling down. It's about getting back up. You learn that you can get back up and fail, and it's not fatal. That you can move on and even become stronger from that moment. It's about learning to take those risks. And it frees you up, so you're not afraid to fail.
I learned this when I didn't get a promotion that I was up for at Starbucks (SBUX). MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 6, 2008 2:24 PM ET
"A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful."
-- Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) CEO, has shared this advice before and offered it to readers of The New York Times in an Op-ed piece today (see cnnmoney.com for an overview). Buffett reasons that in fearful times, people are reluctant to invest their cash in the stock market. But cash, he MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Oct 17, 2008 4:41 PM ET
Where did America's richest man and one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs meet face to face for the first time after their $5 billion deal? The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, a three-day, invitation-only gathering of the world's most prominent women leaders.
So who let the guys in? Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) and Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein were two of just three men invited this year; MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 16, 2008 3:16 PM ET
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