What was it like being CEO for a day?
It was really busy. From the minute that I walked into Cisco, it was go, go, go. As soon as Nitin arrived that morning his assistant gave him his schedule. They would then add things to it throughout the day. You could tell that this was the norm for him.
What part(s) of the day did you enjoy most?
I really enjoyed seeing how Nitin works in his environment and how staff respond to him. He makes these calls about once a month, via video conference, where any employee can contact him – from entry level up to director level. Employees are encouraged to speak about any issues they are having. I was able to sit in on one of these calls. It was surprising to me that he would make time to be available to all of the company's employees and that he felt it was time well spent. You could tell that if an issue was brought up, he would ensure it was escalated appropriately.
What were the most important lessons you learned about leadership?
The most important lesson I took away from the day was the fact that even though Nitin is president, he always has time for those entry level employees. You could tell that for him every employee was as important as the next.
Was being a CEO different from what you thought it would be?
One thing that surprised me was how Nitin seems to have a very good work-life balance. He talked with me about going home that night and having a party with his wife and friends. He is also an active dad. I always thought that if I were a CEO, this would be the one thing I would miss – life with my family. It was good to see that Nitin has a life outside of work.
What did you learn about yourself though the process?
I learned that I think I have the leadership skills needed to succeed in a CEO role. But I also learned that I need to work on fine-tuning my listening skills.
How did the day influence how you look at your own career?
When I originally applied for CEO X 1 Day, my plan was to get into sales in a company and work my way up to a CEO position. But being at Odgers Berndtson and learning about search made me realize that recruiting would be a better fit for me. Going through the actual search process, including the personality tests and the speed interviews, really drew me in. So when I graduated I took a job as recruitment specialist at Talentcor, a contingency search agency. I love it. I get the best of both worlds – helping candidates during an important transition in their career, while also interacting with clients. It utilises all of my skills.
Have you applied anything you learned in your life or work?
Nitin showed me that everyone in his company is important and I have brought this to my current role. Every single person who walks through my door gets treated the same.
Why do you think initiatives like this are important for students?
CEO x 1 Day gives you a chance to get real-world experience – something that is lacking at university. It teaches students about themselves and gives them a real insight into where they might fit in the work place.
Any last thoughts?
Being part of CEO x 1 Day was a very valuable experience. I was asked about it in every job interview I went to. It definitely gave me an edge.
About the programme
CEO × 1 Day matches third and fourth-year university students with some of the host country's leading CEOs. It gives students an opportunity to take in-class learning and apply it to real world situations and equips them with the tools and skills to start building their careers.
The CEO's participation shows an organisation's commitment to supporting young people by helping their career development.
Odgers Berndtson has been running its CEO × 1 Day programme for more than seven years. Apart from Canada, the programme is also running in countries as diverse as Italy, Spain and Germany, with Brazil about to launch.
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By Paul Butterworth MNI, Global Head of the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson