Connect magazine - March 2014

The buck stops here

A look at leadership through the eyes of three alumni CEOs

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Leadership. There’s little debate that it’s critical to any successful venture, whether a business, a government, the military or the local PTA.

However, try to define leadership and the responses are as wide-ranging as the people you ask. A quick search on returns more than 100,000 titles on the topic of leadership. Barnes & Noble offers more than 700 volumes on “leadership theory and practice” alone.

We explore the meaning of leadership with three of the more than 250 EY alumni in North America who serve as CEOs of major companies. Our executive trio largely agrees on the core components of leadership, including the ability to inspire, unite and strategize. They also concur on such leadership prerequisites as deep knowledge of their given field and outstanding management and interpersonal skills.

The differences among our CEOs’ perspectives on leadership are subtle, perhaps amounting to a matter of emphasis. For example, Cindy Taylor, CEO of Oil States International and recent appointee to the board of AT&T, approaches her role primarily as that of a team-builder and enabler.

Mike Strianese, CEO of L-3 Communications, says what’s most important in his industry is setting and upholding a culture of ethical excellence. For Monique Leroux, CEO of Desjardins Group, leadership is about positive feelings and the ability to convey a passion for excellence and team spirit to everyone in her organization.

In the course of our conversations, all three CEOs, without prompting, mentioned that within their respective organizations, the buck truly does stop with them. They’ve all agonized over difficult decisions. One went so far as to say, “If you’re not careful, it really can be lonely at the top.”

However, all agreed that being in a position to drive an organization — and the people in it — to grow and succeed is the joy and passion of their lives. They wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s what makes them all leaders.

EY - Monique Leroux

Monique Leroux: leading from the heart
Leadership is one of Monique Leroux’s favorite topics. She loves reading about it, learning about it and talking about it. But, as leader of Desjardins Group, the largest cooperative financial group in North America, what she most enjoys is inspiring leadership in others.

EY - Michael Strianese

Michael Strianese: the best offense is a good defense
For Mike Strianese, chairman, president and CEO of L-3, the ninth largest aerospace and national security contractor in the US, the essential aspect of leadership — the trait he most strives to embody and project throughout his organization — is that of integrity.

EY - Cindy Taylor

Cindy Taylor: energizing her team
When defining leadership, Oil States International CEO Cindy Taylor mentions words you might expect to hear, such as character and trustworthiness. But then she adds an attribute one doesn’t always hear associated with the term: humility.