If there’s one person you should look up to, it’s your boss’ boss. Business students and careerists alike can benefit from the inspiring words and actions of those they aspire to be. Mirroring your heroes and studying those in higher positions are excellent ways to develop desirable traits, and to learn the stories and values of those in the business world. Consider these seven inspiring executives — they have some energizing words of advice!
Ken Powell is the beloved CEO of General Mills. He boasts a 96% approval rate and the coveted title as America’s most beloved CEO. A proponent of corporate philanthropy, Powell lives and believes the General Mills mission: “Nourishing Lives.” In an interview for Leaders magazine, Powell stressed that the measure of success in his business is sustainability and impact. “We set very specific goals in the area of sustainability and then measure our progress against them,” he stated. Having a commitment to social responsibility, Powell believes, is “not only the right thing to do, but it’s smart for business.”
“Eccentric nerd” Bram Cohen founded BitTorrent, and turned the Internet world on its head. But the executive and computer programmer suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a specific type of autism. Cohen sees the world differently than most of us, and his unique vision has transformed his industry and produced incredible results. Cohen lets business associates know that he has Asperger’s soon after meeting them to avoid any misunderstandings in his speech or body language. If you’ve got a different worldview or a learning disability, know that you have much to offer to the corporate world.
The Dallas native and CEO of WellPoint since 2007, Angela Braly has been busting glass ceilings for a long time. The insurance executive, complete with hefty salary and responsibilities, is certainly an inspiration to businesswomen. But she has words of wisdom for all. “The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed is not your gender, it is you,” says Braly. “Nothing will drive you to that end more than your own resolve. Be open to opportunity and take risks. In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment you can find and then take control.”
The Australian CEO of Carnival rose to her position when things were looking awfully bleak for the international cruise ship company. The former banker knew that she had to change things — it was sink or swim. And swim she did. Widely credited with revolutionizing and invigorating her entire industry, Sherry believes that clear vision is key to success: “Move over if you do not have a view. Move on.” Risk aversion, Sherry contends, is for the weak.
This inspiring executive is the CEO of Korn/Ferry International, the top executive recruiting firm in the world. He’s the CEO of a company that recruits current and future CEOs; it’s his job to define and recognize the qualities of effective corporate leadership. He believes that “empowering, motivating, and inspiring people” are the top qualities of a good executive, and he recruits those of like mind for job placement. “Leadership is about making others believe,” says Burnison. His book, The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, has even more great advice for those looking to enhance their executive traits.
The CEO of Contour, a company that makes helmet cameras designed for extreme sports photography, won $20,000 in an entrepreneurship contest held for students at The University of Washington. He wisely used the money to begin implementation of his business plan with his friend Jason Green, and the rest is history. Barros can survive the pressures and time commitment of executive life because he’s been a lifelong sportsman and fan. “As an athlete you push your body and your mind far beyond where you think it could go, and as an entrepreneur it’s the same thing,” Barros states. High energy, focused work, and a commitment to working harder and differently than most makes this executive inspiring.
The CEO of Zappos, one of the world’s leading online shoe and clothing stores, quit a great job at Oracle to do his own thing. His leadership and company philosophy for Zappos is, “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Hsieh values collaboration, and sees himself as the “architect of an environment that enables employees to come up with their own ideas,” but firmly believes that all employees should “grow the culture and evolve it over time.” Resilience in the face of continual change is also a paramount value. “If someone is self-aware,” says Hsieh, “then they can always continue to grow. If they’re not self-aware, I think it’s harder for them to evolve or adapt beyond who they already are.”