7 Questions with Martin Mikiewicz
Name: Martin Mikiewicz
Current title: Chief Operations Officer
Current organisation: Outokumpu LP
For my entire working life, I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to work in many countries and cover several diverse industries including FMCG, Beverage and dairy, Mining and Metals, as well as consulting. During my time as a consultant, I gathered further insight into many more industries on a project basis. The key takeaway and learning for me was that it doesn’t matter what industry or part of the world you are operating in, you are most likely plagued by the same issues. It did not matter whether you make cars, ballpoint pens, or life-saving drugs.
Currently, I am the Chief Operations Officer at Outokumpu Long Products division. Outokumpu is a world leader in stainless steel production. One of the many positive things I could say about Outokumpu is that it is a business that truly does not forget about its responsibility to the environment. Circa 90% of our input material is made up of scrap. We are proud of this and are working hard to increase the scrap content even further.
While my journey has not been linear and varied there were a few common threads. The main one was one of continuously seeking ways to operate in a way that is safer, simpler, cheaper while minimising the impact on the environment and supporting all employees involved in their development.
I believe that all companies are built on people, by people. Being able to communicate clear targets and understanding of the big picture keeps people focused and engaged, leading to the expected results. Do the simple things right, every day.
Since December 2017, my family (wife and 2 daughters) and I have been living in Dusseldorf Germany and enjoying the many aspects of Europe that living in Australia could not offer. Apart from work my wife and I are constantly challenging our girls and creating development opportunities for them ranging from languages to cultural experiences.
To sum up I enjoy what I do. I wouldn’t consider what I do as work but rather a fun hobby.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The aspect of my role that I find most challenging is also one that I find most interesting. During the last 25 years, I have worked in many industries. The initial learning curve has always been steep with many late nights and discussions trying to learn the business. It was no different with my current role. However, being the new kid on the block allows you to ask the questions and confirm the current status of play while engaging with the management team. The current Covid-19 pandemic has presented some challenges that were not present prior. As the pandemic has an impact on everyone including suppliers, employees, and customers, every day has an element of uncertainty attached to it which can introduce a higher level of nervousness into the business. Keeping everyone focused on realising the strategy by focusing on their targets makes up the bulk of my daily plan.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
As I have a track record of improving businesses I was made the COO because my experience was seen as something that will add value to the current business. Previously I was already in the business working in close proximity to the operation and supply chain so it was an uncomplicated transition.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
The key thing here is balance. My calendar seems to fill itself. What I try to do is to block out some time during the day to give myself time to think, maybe go for a walk or bike ride (while continuing to think). During the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent more time working from home and less time travelling. This allows me to briefly see the kids in the morning at the breakfast table before they run off to school and again when they return in the afternoon. Of course, all this gets turned upside down if an unplanned event takes place that needs to be urgently addressed.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Respect others and don’t make assumptions. Respecting others is clear. Working within a multicultural team often presents situations in which all too often we conclude that agreement or a solution has been reached only to find that the understanding or level of urgency was very different to some people at the table. I have learnt to clarify and have a follow-up conversation regarding even the most trivial items that seem clear. I continue to be amazed by how often a potential misunderstanding can be avoided.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
It is very difficult for me to point to anyone's book. I remember specific snippets of insight out of many books that once combined give me clarity or raise further questions. Some of these books include Leadership and self-deception, The Goal, Build to Last, Good to Great, Everything I learnt about manufacturing I learnt in Joe’s garage. If I had to recommend one book to process thinkers out there it would be Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I believe in letting people do and supporting them in the process. This gives them the confidence to practice being problem solvers and leaders. In time I expose them to more challenging scenarios that will develop them into great leaders.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I thought long and hard about the mind-blowing story I can tell here. I could talk about the stock market listings, successful turnarounds etc but for me, the most relevant is the constant focus on the basics ensuring that they are done right each and every time and continuously improving on these. The culture change that goes along with the tiny and often perceived as insignificant changes is the story. Focus on the basics as they are often missed. If the business seems complex, simplify it. No business needs to be so complex that it cannot be explained to a small child. I actually test my own understanding of my own business by trying to explain it to my children. If they get it, I got it.