Practice what you preach
The Financial Times Guide to Leadership is Marianne Abib-Pech’s first book, which she presented in Luxembourg at an Ernst & Young event. This inspirational entrepreneur has led a highly successful international career in finance and experienced that the male way is not the only way to play the game.
“Women rarely make dates to play golf” or “men are the main breadwinners”. Marianne Abib-Pech has certainly heard all these quotes from alpha males but is too smart to reply on the same intellectual level. She has learned that reality is too complex to narrow it down to a black and white approach. Marianne admits to being the pure product of corporate America but started her career in Luxembourg before joining Motorola, General Electric, and Kodak and well before being promoted to Chief Financial Officer at Shell Aviation at the age of 35. It is a career for which many men –and women – envy her. At the same time it is a huge motivation for people who believe in the non-hierarchical leadership style typical of women, an attitude that should not be mocked.
When working for Shell, she created their leadership program for emerging leaders in finance. For the people she had on her team, it was barely their first or second experience in management. It took some time for them to adapt, so she decided to create something to help them get through their journey more quickly. This program was a smart move because motivated and efficient people on the team helped her focus on what she needed to do from a CFO perspective and made her life easier.
While interviewing Marianne, one specific trait pops up straight away: she is passionate about helping people. She reveals where this desire comes from. “Over the course of my career I have always had an interest in leadership because I have always had the desire to nurture people around me. I think this comes from my family background, because they are all doctors; we have this longing to help others. It is all about inspiring them and giving them the tools to bring out the best in them”.
Equipped with a positive mental attitude, Marianne admits that she was extremely lucky when she was the CFO of Shell Aviation because she benefitted from her excellent relationship with the CEO. When she finally left, there were no hard feelings. “He said that I had turned into a real business person and that was the biggest compliment he could give me. It is an immense motivation to be endorsed by like this when you are a finance person”.
The only constant in Marianne’s life is change that is probably why she decided to leave Shell – a twenty billion dollar business with half a billion in net income – after five years to join the entrepreneurial movement. “Two years ago there came a change in career. My husband and I have the same type of career and have an agreement to ensure the other’s career flourish as well. He had the opportunity to take his career to the next level with a move Hong Kong and asked me if I wanted to go with him, stay in London or commute. I decided to go with him. I realised it was a good time for me. Even though I was always in finance, I have always thought, acted and spoken like an entrepreneur. I like to create things by pushing the envelope and I like the decision-making”.
Always looking for a new challenge, Marianne scratched her head and asked herself what to do next. Rummaging through libraries, bookshops and the Internet for books about diversity and women in high business positions is one thing, finding satisfying results is quite another. “I found nothing on that topic so I decided to write a book myself about women trained to be successful every day and doing it in a way that was not the Alpha male way. For whatever reason, publishers told me women didn’t seem to sell as a topic, which is why I decided to write about leadership in general”.
She wasn’t frustrated by that response though, because she believes in timing. The book on women will simply be published in the coming two years after the release of her FT Financial Guide to Leadership. A fighter and connector on many fronts, Marianne is also the founder of a brand called Lead the Future, that includes a business advising platform specifically focusing on Energy, a global leadership consultancy and think tank operating in Europe and Asia.
Her work as entrepreneur encompasses three dimensions: what she likes, what she is interested in and what she is good at. “First of all, I want to be a business catalyst. I want to use my experience in finance to understand the trends that are shaping the future. The second pillar is creating a community and a platform where people can reconcile their business mind and their creative side. It is all about writing inspirational articles and ideas. I use this platform to promote my own ideas on women, entrepreneurship and leadership. The third pillar is a leadership consulting firm which is pretty much about change in corporations to develop the leaders of tomorrow”.
Right now, there is an inherent lack of leadership when you see where society is going and how fast everything is changing; that is why leadership has to be reinvented. That is Marianne’s opinion. Though most of the leadership models – both in politics and business – are autocratic and static, it is not enough to cry and complain about the status quo. With the emergence of technology and diversity there is a call for a new type of leader, she argues.
“Nowadays it is more difficult to be a leader or a manager than ten or twenty years ago because you are not in problem solving mode; you are managing uncertainty and complexity even more than before. Technology has completely changed society and what is happening within a company. You are connected all the time and you can share all sorts of information; this creates a completely different environment for managers and leaders”.
Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Kohl, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; they all were great leaders and charismatic politicians who attracted the masses. Mrs Thatcher, who broke from the perception that a leader needs to be loved, particularly impresses Marianne. At the same time, she deplores that nowadays Europe is lacking leaders who make decisions, even unpopular ones when needed. This is worrisome at a time when the world – Europe included – is in a complete state of transformation.
What should the profile of this leader be? “The main quality of a leader today is authenticity; it means that you know yourself, what drives you and are brave enough to show it; it is about establishing a deeper, more emotional connection with your people”.
Marianne Abib-Pech is a lady with clear statements and arguments. She wishes for people who practice what they preach. “Take actions, push the boundaries, care about others and have an impact: this is the leader I am looking for”, she concludes with a big grin on her face. CW