CEO for a Day Stories

The AESC Quarterly magazine interviews Purolator's CEO and two finalists about their experience with CEO x 1 Day.

The President and CEO of Purolator describes his experience during the CEO X1 Day program:

What persuaded you to get involved in the program?
I was honored to be asked. One of the catalysts for me is that I have children at this age who have just finished their undergraduate studies. It’s a challenge coming out in this economy and getting started in a career. But it is also a responsibility for all of us to prepare the next generation of leadership.

I had a similar experience when I was getting started in business – I was hired by an individual because I wanted to do international business. He sent me to Europe and told me to get involved in a range of experiences and programs because he would need me in ten years. I had the good luck throughout my career of reporting to quite senior business leaders and people that I could learn from. What you don’t learn about in classrooms is people issues. You learn a lot of that through observations and discussions.

What lessons did you learn from the experience?
We spent the day together and the chemistry was very good. We had a lot of time where there were people around us,
in employee and management meetings, but also a fair amount of one to one time. I was so impressed by the questions that Jing [his partner for the day] asked, the insightfulness that she had. She asked me a lot about leadership and interpersonal things – the importance of people management versus just focusing on numbers.

I asked her how to attract bright young people like her and she brought some great ideas. We’ve actually launched a
management development program for university graduates, with Jing as the first participant. She has been on board since April and I actually continue to mentor her. We have a space that is highly confidential and I offer her a chance to talk about anything that she wants.

How important do you think programs like this are for capturing the imagination of the generation currently finishing fulltime education?
My confidence in the next generation was really reconfirmed after this experience. You read about this generation having significantly different expectations, but I didn’t find that at all. In our organization we have a lot of young people employed and they’re helping to transform the business right now. The younger generation is just as dug in and involved and interested as anybody else.

In looking into Jing, I really saw a lot of characteristics I see in myself: a desire for an international career, to make a difference, to do something that counts, and to be focused on experience, rather than position or title at this stage of her career.

The commitment that Odgers Berndtson has demonstrated to youth and future leaders is highly commendable.

Charu Jaiswal, paired with Elyse Allan, President and CEO, GE Canada describes her experience:

What interested you about the program?
I knew I wanted to get into business and I thought it would be really eye opening and exciting to shadow a CEO. I don’t normally have that exposure. I thought it would be a great opportunity.

Who were you paired with and what were your highlights?
I was paired with Elyse Allan of GE. It was really exciting and valuable to hear her perspective as a female CEO at a high tech company. I was interested in her philosophy of how to be a successful woman. I got a lot of great one on one time
with Elyse. I got to accompany her to a client lunch and it was really interesting to see her in action. A large part of what a CEO does is try to sell business and to see how that is done was really interesting.

Being an executive and CEO is a lot about relationship building. The things that I really remember are the softer skills that you don’t read about in Harvard Business Review. For example, I asked her how she makes sure that GE stays innovative and she said that one of the most important things to her is making sure there is an environment where people aren’t scared to voice their opinions.

What are you doing now?
The Odgers Berndtson experience taught me to follow my dreams and one of those is to be a leader. I have a Studio Y Fellowship at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and I’m trying to build a startup. Drones are increasingly being used in agriculture and we’re creating software to help farmers monitor the health of their crops.

Kaiz Alarakyia, paired with Nitin Kawale, former CEO of Cisco Canada, and current President, Enterprise Business Unit of Rogers Communication describes his experience:

What interested you about the program?
I wanted to understand the qualities necessary for a CEO, and then to shadow a CEO to truly understand what it takes every day to succeed. I realized that most CEO’s don’t fail because of the long term strategy or problems within the leadership team. If there was a problem with the company, it most likely stemmed from execution of this vision. I thought it would be really interesting to see how a successful CEO handles execution and the day to day management
of a large corporation.

What were your highlights?
My three biggest lessons were:
The People Factor: I learned how critical ‘the people factor’ plays into leadership and its direct effect on employee engagement and organizational performance. I believe almost all leaders today don’t fully recognize that they really need to care about what happens when employees go home at the end of the day. With this learning, I hope to
lead in a way that respects the individual, and often this comes down to the little things like coaching and mentorship that help to develop, motivate and retain people.

No Coasting Allowed: Another great takeaway from spending time with Nitin was learning how to lead a company that is
already performing at its peak. Nitin refuses to coast on the success of his organization but instead placed emphasis and priority on pushing Cisco to grow and develop even further, be an even greater company. This refusal to the status quo really speaks to me and I am very inspired by his dedication to this goal.

Interacting with others: Another key learning was to see Nitin interact with his employees. He treated everyone with
respect and gave them his full attention regardless of their levels or roles within the company. His willingness to really listen to their ideas and what they had to say impressed me immensely.

What are you doing now and how has this experience shaped your vision of leadership and your own development?
I will be completing my education at Western University and beginning work at a management consulting firm in Toronto. I hope to learn more about the problems companies face and develop a good understanding of key success factors in a business before leading my own company.