It is hard to be a student of history and not be fascinated by leaders. And as some of you may have picked up by now, I spend a lot of my spare time reading books and listening to courses on American History with a special concentration on Ben Franklin and the American Revolution. Starting about a week ago, I took a break from the 18th century and jumped into the mid-19th to try to fill a huge knowledge gap on the Civil War. As told by Professor Gary W. Gallagher, this is a story of leadership and often the lack there of on both sides of an epic confrontation. Ultimately, two leaders rose above the others, Lincoln and his final Commanding General, Ulysses S. Grant.
Now since you probably didn’t come here for a history lesson, let me explain why I’m talking about these two leaders before I introduce you to Rich Kylberg,Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Arrow Electronics. Well, first Rich and I talk about leadership and the challenges of reinventing and transforming Arrow, a 75 year-old company. Lincoln’s United States was just a decade older (“four score and 7 years”) at the time of his Gettysburg address, when he looked to transform the nation. Second, Rich seems very much a man of action, the very reason Lincoln made Grant his main man in March 1864, a decision that cemented the Northern victory just about a year later. Third and hopefully more to the point, Rich uses warfare as a metaphor in one of his answers paving the way for this grandiose introduction.
Given this history-rich if not historic preface, you may rightfully expect an enlightening interview and indeed you will find one below. Kylberg, for the record, was awarded the Leadership prize from The CMO Club late last year.
Drew: How would you describe your leadership style?
Optimistic, passionate, and entirely “out of the box.” Offering a teenaged German song contest participant 1,000,000 euros to alter her lyrics from a love song to a ballad about the nobility of engineers raised eyebrows.
Drew: Do you have any role models that you’ve admired over the years and if so, what did you pick up from him/her?
Mom, Dad, and Walt Disney: altruism, entrepreneurship, and creativity. I can’t walk through a Disney park without being stunned by the imagination and creativity brought to bear in an effort to create happiness (and, I suppose, cash flow).
Drew: Can you talk about some of the actions you took as a leader in the last couple of years that were particularly challenging?
Working to try to reinvent and transform a very large and already successful industry comes with a great deal of resistance, reluctance, and (when we get it right) reward. Over around 75 years Arrow revenue grew to over $20 billion with very few people knowing about the company; we built a brand message, architecture, and platform that resonates across all of our business units, all around the world.
Drew: How important is your peer to peer network to your on-going success? What are the biggest benefits of having a peer network?
My peer to peer network has been critical to my journey. These friends have flattened my steep learning curves, and kept me from going way off the rails. Participating within the best organizations in my profession (the CMO Club!), our industry (IBM Amplify), and the broader business community (YPO International) is essential to keeping me relevant and connected.
Drew: What’s the best advice you’ve been given to guide personal / career success?
Pick your battles. Win the war. I’ve had dozens of individual initiatives shut down within Arrow, I’ve seen my team grow from 6 to 70 and back down to 30, and yet our main focus on propagation of the united Arrow brand continues and only grows stronger.
Drew: What is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?
I’d like to expand the scale, scope, and impact of the great work that we do to continue to transform our company and make this world a little better place for us all. Last year to promote our brand we toured a race car that’s driven by a quadriplegic, and we built a computer lab in a shipping container for orphans in Tanzania –I encourage our small team of professionals to dream of what we can do in 2016 and beyond that will make life better for others, while further defining and disseminating the company brand.
[Bloggers Note: For those of you interested in more on Lincoln’s leadership style, I have a spare copy of the timelessly brilliant Lincoln on Leadership at the office OR feel free to borrow my copy of US Grant’s autobiography, a surprisingly fascinating and well-scribed book.]