News Stories · Leadership

“Leaders need to have fun”

Peter Voser, ABB Chairman and CEO, on life and leading
June 2019
 - IMD Business School

It’s day three of the climax of IMD’s yearly calendar – Orchestrating Winning Performance week – when 400 executives come to campus to get an intensive jolt of learning to ‘seize tomorrow’s opportunities’ for the rest of the year and beyond.

On Wednesday evening of a thought-provoking week, participants are treated to a lively discussion between IMD President Jean-François Manzoni and Peter Voser. The ABB Chairman and CEO shares what makes a leader of some of the world’s fortune 500 companies tick.

Voser – who was at the helm of Shell and who has been on the board of several other giants like IBM and Roche – paints a picture of a leader who knows how to stay calm during a storm and empower others to succeed.

If you think you need to second guess everything, you will go under,” says Voser during his keynote speech. “The most difficult part of being a CEO is to step back and let other people handle the details,” he admits.

On being a good manager and getting the best out of your people, Voser reflects: “You cannot regularly release your frustration in front of your team. If you do then you are not a good boss.

Also refreshing about Voser is his take on personal life. He talks about turning the phone off on weekends when he sets aside time to spend with his family while of course remaining available in case of emergencies. Even though you get a sense of someone who truly enjoys his work – “Leaders need to have fun,” he says – one of his best years was a sabbatical.

As a CEO and people-centric leader, Voser emphasizes looking at the big picture and strategy rather than focusing on details, which he delegates to others.

Strategy is not seeing the details. Strategy is seeing the big picture. I spend a lot of my time pushing things back down.

But a CEO needs to also be bold: “I think we are paid to take a few hits from time to time”.

Another lesson for top company executives from Voser is: “As a CEO you have to listen; Leadership is trust.”

Voser is staying at the forefront of the future of work. He discusses how his company reskills its employees and is working on a system of placing them with other organizations when their expertise is no longer relevant.

The famous triangle of governments, companies and society really need to work together on this issue.

Overall, Voser gives an inspiring vision about life and leadership in general.

It’s all about leadership. It’s all about people…I find that I learn about something every day.

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