Wednesday, May 25th 2016

Consummate Leader: AmEx CEO Chenault Stresses Innovation

August 11th, 2015 in Leadership by


The average tenure of a CEO in corporate America is just shy of 10 years. Despite the accolades, the glamour, the publicity (or perhaps, because of it) being Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded company is a tough job. The quarterly grind of meeting earnings expectations and satisfying shareholders chafes away at the staying power of these business leaders.

That’s why it’s so impressive that Kenneth I. Chenault remains firmly ensconced as chief of American Express after 14 years. I’m certain a succession plan is in place (that’s what good leadership teams do) but to see Chenault, now 64, you’d think he’ll be at the helm for another decade. Despite the rigors of leading a modern financial services company, and despite some speed bumps and missteps, his gait remains vibrant, his demeanor positive, his insight sharp. I fought through the crowd at Chicago’s Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel recently to greet Chenault, who was in town to promote the value of small business. When his eyes caught mine, he smiled warmly and shook my hand as if we were treasured brothers. In that fleeting moment, he made me feel good, important (that, too, is what good leaders do).

After working the crowd better than even the best of politicians do, Chenault assumed his role for the day. He moderated a conversation with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the gigantic Chinese online commerce company Alibaba, which was, astonishingly, a small business itself not too many years ago. (more…)


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Chalk Talk: New Managers Must Learn To Let Go

August 10th, 2015 in Business by

Will LucasWilfred J. “Will” Lucas is President of the W. Lucas Group, Inc., a leadership development and executive coaching firm based in the Chicago area.  Previously, he spent nearly 25 years working in various corporate executive positions, including leadership positions as divisional general manager of Allegiance Healthcare, a unit of Cardinal Health, and also corporate staff leadership roles at Baxter Healthcare.  As a business coach, Lucas works with high potential middle managers and senior leaders in a cross section of industries.  He has engaged with numerous clients — at companies from BMO Harris Bank to Blue Cross Blue Shield — to help them leverage their individual gifts to achieve personal and company goals.  The strategic “chalk talks” Lucas will present here are designed to help readers develop the leadership skills which can propel them to the next level.

By Will Lucas

What happens when you have just been promoted from individual contributor to your first job as a manager? Suddenly, you are not just responsible for your own contributions to the organization, but you are responsible for the contributions of others too.

So, now what? Typically, no one offers inside information on how to work with and manage others. In fact, much of what leaders learn is learned on the job. People are not born with every skill needed to lead others. It is a learned process, a journey.

As new managers embark on their leadership journey there are a few important lessons to take into account. Consider the example of a very successful individual contributor at a financial institution, who was promoted to her first supervisor role during a time of crisis. (more…)


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The Truth About Race In The Workplace

July 30th, 2015 in Diversity by


Amid the controversial events in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and Charleston, Americans are expressing concern over racial discord at a rate nearly unseen since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Every night, it seems, the evening news informs us of another tragedy – a beating, a shooting, a death. And all too often, these disturbing incidents reflect racial conflict: White Policeman vs. African American or Trump vs. Mexican Immigrants. Social media is abuzz with chatter about the degree to which prejudice is at work. Dinner tables and back porch barbeques pulsate with opinions about who’s right and who’s wrong. But the discussion is mostly among races. It’s rarely between races. And the one place where we spend most of our time – at work – is noticeably bereft of dialogue. As white and black employees (Latinos, Asians, Indians, Native Americans, Gays and Lesbians, too) we avoid asking questions of each other or holding constructive conversation about our differences. Sometimes we even avoid each other altogether, and that hurts our ability to work together effectively. In the end, as communication deteriorates, productivity suffers.

Earlier this year, I sat with three influential professionals who manage race and diversity initiatives in their organizations: Steven Barth, a partner at the law firm of Foley & Lardner, Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens. The lively and refreshingly candid panel discussion, held at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago and co-sponsored by the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, raised several important truths about race in the workplace and the critical importance of making time to address it. The consensus agreed to by blacks and whites in attendance: every workplace should hold such discussions. Below is the edited transcript:

Roger Crockett: It’s 2015. We’re a long way from the Civil Rights Movement and the Selma March for Voting Rights, but are race relations really better today than 50 years ago?

MetClub_Selma-Chicago2015_Ferguson1Steve Pemberton: If a really creative movie director were to juxtapose some of the images from Selma – confrontation on Pettus Bridge and the like – against what we saw in Ferguson (picture to right) you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I think that we have become a society retreating from the challenges of our time. We have become at times distracted. The 1960’s generation was unequivocally not distracted, and they knew the challenges of their time, and they were willing to sacrifice it all. Not for themselves, because a lot of times they didn’t think it would manifest itself in any means that will change during their lifetime. They were doing it for future generations. But we have become this purposely segregated society. What was once legal segregation has now become voluntary segregation. We retreat to the world in which we live and operate, retreat to our sanctuary. And so we are looking at the challenges of our time almost from a distance, almost as if that has nothing to do with me.  And we build these walls around ourselves and we are surprised when we see all this extraordinary civil unrest. When I think of younger generations, I would answer the question [are we better off?] with an unequivocal no. It is not better, not better for them.

Crockett: What about for women? Women have a unique challenge (more…)


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The Charleston Reality: Perspective From A Native

July 20th, 2015 in Business by

Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, S.C.

Mother Emanuel AME

There are moments in American history so unspeakably tragic they crush our hearts, crater our souls. Certainly, “9/11” was such a time for all Americans. But “6/17” was yet another heartbreaking day for most African Americans. Wednesday, June 17, 2015, to be exact. On that day, racist Dylann Roof gunned down nine innocent, unsuspecting people – all black – inside historic Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who had waged a hard and patient battle against the Confederate flag’s presence in South Carolina.

For many of us, that day brought a mix of mournful and enraged tears, not unlike those that welled up on September 15, 1963, when dynamite planted by the Ku Klux Klan blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young, black girls. Or, frankly, on August 9, 2014 when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot multiple times and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Or earlier this summer, when unarmed African-American, Spencer Lee McCain, was gunned down by police in Baltimore.

I am reminded of James Baldwin’s exceptional essays in his best-selling 1963 book, The Fire Next Time, a response to America’s social and racial injustices of the time. He wrote then, that “we, black [people] and white [people], deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation.” In the face of racism’s evil, blacks and whites have a history of supporting one another. In that spirit, Baldwin’s plea applies still today, more than 50 years later.

As many of us wrestle with America’s protracted problem of racism and the need to unite, I asked my friend, a native Charlestonian, to help by relating his experiences and knowledge of South Carolina, and his feelings in the aftermath of that state’s divisive events. My hope, and his, is that they provide a bit of perspective and peace so that we land upon a rainbow and not a fire next time. His essay follows.

By Damian Joseph

Damian Joseph

Damian Joseph

After that day, June 17th, the nation’s eyes focused on Charleston, S.C. There was shock, panic, outrage, grief, finger pointing, sadness and abhorrent celebration.

Immediately, the country unleashed a frenzy of communications. In what has become the closest our society comes to having a conversation, citizens shouted at each other from their computers, phones and studios.

Welcome to Charleston.

The nation got a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in a place like South Carolina, where the conversation on race is vivid, alive and evolving. Yes, it is true that generally speaking, more racists live in the South. But what is also true is that the South, in many ways, is the frontline of the battle against racism. (more…)


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Selma’s Inspiration: Biz Leaders Spark Dialogue About Race

March 18th, 2015 in Diversity by

I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you … [but] we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, days before his death in 1968.












It was a vision to see, a Kingian dream come true: On March 7th, 2015 — 50 years after peaceful protesters trying to cross a bridge in Selma, Ala. were bloodied by billy-club wielding police and choked by tear gas — Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, led a bipartisan, biracial march celebrating the conviction and triumph of those who marched so courageously in 1965 for the right to vote.

The anniversary celebration of that famous 1965 march was a joyous occasion. It commemorated the effort that led to the successful passing of the Voting Rights Act into law. An estimated 40,000 people, mostly African-American, gathered on a sunny, warm day in Selma. Many reportedly lined up as early as 6:30 a.m. to make sure they got a glimpse of the commemorative activities. Proud attendees waved posters of President Obama and Dr. King.

But this was more than a nostalgic celebration of long-ago events. As one journalist wrote, it provided “a moment to measure the country’s far narrower, and yet stubbornly persistent, divide in black-and-white reality.” Amid the recent conflicts in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY, Americans are expressing concern over racial discord at a rate nearly unseen since the 1960s. (more…)


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Fast Food Restaurant CEO Shares Attributes For Leadership

March 18th, 2015 in Leadership by

A Segment in the Series “Leadership Insights: Interviews with Global Leaders”

in partnership with the Executives’ Club of Chicago

Aylwin Lewis grew up in Houston, Texas, in a modest, working-class household, and has gone on to achieve impressive credentials as a leader in corporate America. He is now Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Potbelly Sandwich Works, a growing network of fast-casual sandwich shops based in Chicago. Under Lewis’ leadership, Potbelly has surged from about 200 restaurant locations to nearly 350 throughout the United States, plus a few in the Middle East. Soon, Lewis will lead Potbelly’s further expansion into Europe.

Before taking on the CEO role at Potbelly, in 2004 Lewis was recruited to take over as CEO of Kmart Holding Corporation, making him at the time the highest ranking African-American executive in the U.S. retail industry. As if that wasn’t enough, his former boss, Edward Lampert, Kmart’s and Sears’ investor chairman, quickly named Lewis CEO and President of Sears Holdings (Kmart’s parent). Sears was then the third largest retailer in the United States, but one struggling mightily to keep customers. It was a daunting assignment, and Lewis left Sears in January 2008 amid the embattled company’s restructuring.

Now he is firmly in command at Potbelly, which he took public a little over a year ago. In total, Lewis has over 29 years of executive and restaurant experience. Before he came to Chicago, from 2000 to 2004, he was President, Chief Multi-Branding and Operating Officer of YUM! Brands – the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. He was Chief Operating Officer of Pizza Hut from 1996 to 2000, a period which one analyst, alluding to Lewis’ leadership, called “the halcyon Pizza Hut years.”

In addition to his Chairman & CEO roles at Potbelly, Lewis is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and he currently serves as a trustee of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Lewis sat down with me after a recent presentation to the Executives’ Club of Chicago to share his views on leadership — from the courage and conviction strong leadership requires to the critical role that mentors play. Click the video image above to see our conversation.


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Talentism: Unlocking the Power of the New Ecosystem

March 12th, 2015 in Business by

Ashford_HollandPres By Orlando Ashford

Mr. Ashford is President of Holland America, an award-winning cruise line with a fleet of 15 premium vessels carrying approximately 850,000 guests annually to all seven of the globe’s continents. The Holland America line is a division of Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise ship enterprise. Ashford is an executive on a meteoric rise, who has become an expert on talent. Prior to joining Holland America, he served as Coca-Cola’s Group Director of Human Resources for Eurasia and Africa, Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer for Marsh & McLennan Cos., and President of Mercer consulting’s Talent Business Segment. The following is an excerpt from Ashford’s book expressing the urgent need to close the talent gap by embracing what he calls a “new human ecosystem.”

“Talentism” is a term I first heard used by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic forum; it refers to the notion that human capital fundamentally drives growth for both business and societies. The old model of capitalism, in which capital was the most valued and necessary resource for businesses, is being replaced with talentism, with talent being the critical factor driving growth for both business and societies.

In the past, the most critical resource for businesses was financial capital. An entrepreneur could not start a factory or a steel mill without large amounts of capital to buy the equipment and pay for the facility. But in today’s economy, human capital — not equipment or the money to buy it — is the critical resource. Talentism therefore can be viewed as supplanting capitalism. People and the skills that they bring are the critical resources, and critical talent is getting harder and harder to come by.

Today, more than one-third of employers worldwide cannot fill all available jobs. Yet, an estimated 202 million eligible workers are unemployed across the globe. (more…)


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Chalk Talk: Being Too Smart Undercuts Office Relationships

March 4th, 2015 in Leadership by

Will Lucas

Wilfred J. “Will” Lucas is President of the W. Lucas Group, Inc., a leadership development and executive coaching firm based in the Chicago area.  Previously, he spent nearly 25 years working in various corporate executive positions, including leadership positions as divisional general manager of Allegiance Healthcare, a unit of Cardinal Health, and also corporate staff leadership roles at Baxter Healthcare.  As a business coach, Lucas works with high potential middle managers and senior leaders in a cross section of industries.  He has engaged with numerous clients — at companies from BMO Harris Bank to Blue Cross Blue Shield — to help them leverage their individual gifts to achieve personal and company goals.  The strategic “chalk talks” Lucas will present here are designed to help readers develop the leadership skills which can propel them to the next level.

By Will Lucas

A young client of mine who works as a financial analyst in a large company, recently complained to me about how he was having trouble influencing some of his constituents in the business. His role is to be a business partner to the marketing managers responsible for building product and creating marketing strategies for the company’s product lines.  These marketing managers do not report directly to my client. He is not their boss. His role is to help them manage overall profitability of the product line, and his challenge has been to influence his marketing colleagues – to get them to accept his recommendations – even if they don’t have to listen to him.

It’s a difficult challenge that many professionals face, but they don’t always handle it as deftly as they should. Consider what happened with my client: The marketing manager proposed a pricing strategy that would have produced profit on paper, but according to my client’s analysis it would not have been accepted in a highly competitive market place.  So, my client raised strong objections. The problem is that he did it in an open meeting with the manager’s peers and supervisor present.

For everybody to hear, my client contradicted the marketing manager. He told everyone that the profit forecast made by the marketing manager was not very realistic. This caught the manager off guard. He likely felt embarrassed and perhaps betrayed. So he defended himself, declaring that despite my client’s opinion, he did not have a final say in the matter. My client may have appeared smart, but the move defeated his purpose by straining a relationship he had hoped to bolster.

Here’s the lesson learned: (more…)


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The Corner Office: Profit By Paying Off Student Loans

February 23rd, 2015 in Business by

MartySinger2Martin “Marty” H. Singer is Chairman and CEO of PCTEL, which develops antenna, scanning and other solutions for wireless networks. Before PCTEL, Singer served as President and CEO of SAFCO Technologies, another wireless communications company. He was also a Vice President and General Manager at Motorola and held senior management and technical positions at Tellabs, AT&T and Bell Labs. With a Vanderbilt Ph.D in experimental psychology, Singer is a trained thinker. He shares this space with other distinguished executive thinkers, who offer occasional musings from “the corner office.”

By Marty Singer

About 18 years ago, a young Venezuelan-born engineer – let’s call him Fred – approached me. He had been working for our Chicago-based company for about a year and he had bad news. His college bachelor’s degree from Penn State had been funded by the Venezuelan government; and, unless he returned to Venezuela he needed to repay $40,000. He wanted to stay in the U.S., but he had no choice but to give me notice that he would be resigning his position.

After a brief discussion with our parent company and my CFO, we offered to pay off the loan in return for a commitment that Fred would work for us for four years and reimburse us if he left early. Indeed, I left the company before Fred. After his four years, though, he joined the team at my current company, PCTEL, where he is one of our most highly-valued associates.

Our policy now is to approach the top, young performers at the company and inquire about their college loans and continuing debt. (more…)


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How to Fix Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

January 9th, 2015 in Diversity by

SiliconValley Image3

What’s missing from this image of four young white men and one Pakistani-American? Well, women for one thing. Blacks too. Not to mention Hispanics. But the sad truth is, the promo pic for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” the sitcom about a handful of engineers who write code for a killer app and launch a startup company in the heart of techdom, is actually true to life.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the problem: Internet companies in Silicon Valley, and now I’m referring to the region in northern California where many of the world’s most innovative and dominant tech companies call headquarters, are remarkably bereft of ethnic and gender diversity. At LinkedIn, for instance, just 2% of the work force is black, and 4% is Hispanic. Google is 70% male, with 91% either white or Asian. The percentages at Facebook and Apple are similar. When it comes to executive leadership positions or representatives on boards of directors, the figures get far worse.

With a record of inclusion this shabby, the time has come for action. (more…)


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