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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Leaders Have To Take a Risk

On paper, William Johnson had the perfect background to run H.J. Heinz, the $10 billion food company. He had worked as a marketer in the company's flagship ketchup business, then orchestrated turnarounds at its pet-food and StarKist divisions. But there's really no preparation for what Johnson, CEO since 1998, has had to manage through recently: a high-profile proxy fight with activist shareholder Nelson Peltz, followed by a punishing global recession.

In a recent interview with Newsweek chairman Richard M. Smith, Johnson talks about how his view of leadership has evolved during a long stint in the corner office. Edited excerpts -

'After more than 10 years as a CEO, are you a better leader? There's no comparison. I started out under the assumption that what got me to the position of CEO would work when I became CEO, and that is running the business and execution. That's not my job as CEO. My job is to lead the people and manage the process. It took me a couple of years to learn that, and [when I did] I stepped back from the operations of the company and really began to focus on leadership, on having the right people in the right place, and on making sure people were properly motivated, incentivised, and directed.

Your dad was a longtime NFL coach. What did you learn from being a coach's son?
It's a very black-and-white upbringing: you win, everybody's happy; you lose, no one's happy. I learned to avoid the peaks and valleys—you're going to have days you win, days you lose, and you have to manage them the same.

In 2006 Heinz came under pressure from activist investor Nelson Peltz. How did you respond to that?
It created a sense of urgency that we need to change faster ... It also helped me understand leadership, because it was a situation where we had to [deal with both] the shareholder battle going on and keeping the company operating. It was a process that opened my eyes, and Nelson and I are very good friends now. I talk to Nelson frequently, more at my instigation than his.'


Friendship and Compassion

Friendship and Compassion are values of Positive Leadership.

‘Friendship comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. A sincere liking for all.’John Wooden

‘Make no judgements where you have no compassion.’ Anne McCaffrey

Here are some reference materials which speak to these values: