7 Questions with Paris Philippou

Name: Paris Philippou

Current title: Vice President, Ecommerce & Digital

Current organisation: Massdiscounters t/a Game Stores (a Massmart /Walmart Company)

I started my career as a business owner and entrepreneur, navigating my way through various ventures and learning some hard lessons along the way.
I am passionate about digital, commerce, innovation and strategy, and have carved out a niche for myself in my professional career.
Fortunately, I have been headhunted into every role I've had since after being an entrepreneur - most often to digitally transform businesses, and to help optimise and vastly improve their online and digital commerce business models, strategies and operations.
I bring an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset into a corporate world, where I actively seek out change, rather than waiting to adapt to change.
I am constantly evolving, growing and always learning.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

In my line of work, being predominantly focussed digital transformation, innovation and digital commerce, it has to be navigating the challenges of legacy systems and thinkers.
The world is moving so fast, and being part of businesses which are decades old and have earned their place in the market means it is sometimes harder to help shift the business. Often, the gap you must try to bridge is not always senior leadership (board members, Group CEO, etc.), but rather the people, systems and processes between us.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I was fortunate to find myself passionate and working in a niche space, where, at least in South Africa, there is somewhat of a lack of senior/executive talent with experience across the business value chain.
After leaving my own businesses in search of new challenges, I was headhunted into roles which gave me full ownership of the entire value chain, in particular for ecommerce business units, omni-channel and innovation.
With so many others coming from consultancy firms (building and not running) or being too specialised (like digital marketing or operations), it meant I was able to stand out a bit more.
I've also had a thing for taking on the tough roles - helping large businesses looking for change, which comes with lots of risk, but even more reward when you can add value.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I normally kickstart my days with some physical training. A cup of good coffee, while I scan my emails, and check my calendar to plan the day ahead, then I get stuck in.
We normally have a short team huddle early in the day. That allows us to align on key focus areas.
Our Exco meets regularly too, so there's always time where we cover key areas of the business, from operations to marketing, and focussing on trading that is best for our customers.
I also set some time aside to get through admin and revisit my business plans when I can, putting 'blocks' in my calendar to attend to what I need to.
After my work day is done, I try spending as much time as I can with my wife (Jolene) and two beautiful little boys (Gabriel 5yrs, and Jordan 3rys), having dinner together, etc.
I often end my night by checking on the day and week plans ahead, and ensure I've thought through how I plan to tackle the next day, etc.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Being resilient, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I don't mind being that guy, who when times are tough and morale is down, reminds everyone enthusiastically of what we have achieved so far and what we still stand to achieve.
Another key lesson, not so recent, but which stands out to me is that you get what you manage!

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?

Legacide, by Richard Mulholland. It talks about how innovation is about changing your mindset, and that it is not about not doing something new, but rather stopping doing something old.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

You need to be a great communicator, at any level of the company, and somewhat forgetting hierarchies in the process.
You need to build and earn trust - doing what you say and leading by a real example of the culture and values you want to build.
You also need to build a rock-star team, allowing you to focus on the right stuff, and building others while you rise too - this is so important.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Instead of telling a meaningful story, I would rather talk about the value in meaningful stories.
As noted earlier in this interview, I have had the honour and tough tasks of being a part of businesses which had their back against the wall in many situations, and I was part of leadership teams trying to turn things around.
In each one of those situations, I can remember incredible stories being shared by more senior leaders or my peers, meant to remind us and inspire us to keep pushing and doing great work, despite the noise and challenges we faced. Each story was one of tough situations with seemingly now good end in sight, yet, the results were almost always positive.
The lessons learnt in tough times makes us better leaders. It is easy to lead when times are easy. It is incredibly tough to lead when times are tough.