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7 Questions with Ron Maxwell
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7 Questions with Ron Maxwell
Name: Ron Maxwell
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: VERTO
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
A lot of CEOs may point to dispersed teams and driving culture through a large geographically challenging workforce; however, I am not as fazed by those prospects.What I have found most challenging is managing decision-making fatigue.
In large organisations,this is a very real challenge as many complex decisions need to be made, often in quick succession. I recall reading that Barack Obama sighted this as a challenge during his presidency, as did Steve Jobs in his role as CEO of Apple. Interestingly, both leaders simplified the small daily decisions in their lives in response. For example, Obama wore only grey or blue suits because he didn’t want to waste his energy and decision-making capacityon less meaningful things. Steve Jobs took a similar approach, perhaps that’s why he always wore a black shirt.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I started my working career as a water filtration apprentice at my local council, but I quickly realised this wasn’t the career for me. I then qualified as an Office Equipment Mechanic, but my manager recognised I had potential on the sales side of the business, and I cautiously accepted a sales role. What followed was a 10-year sales stint, first selling photocopiers and then more complex print and software solutions. In this role, I developed some critical life and work skills, which helped launch me to where I am today.
Working in sales, I developed advanced negotiation andcomplex problem-solving capabilities, as well as the ability to overcome objections and the confidence to relate to people at all levels. This skill set helped me move into a managerial role, where I quickly realised that if I wanted to progress further, I needed to increase my qualifications and level of education.
I completed a Bachelor of Business and Economics, and then moved on to attain post-graduate qualifications, including an AICD Diploma. I then applied for a general management role in an entirely different sector, one that was undergoing significant transformation. The Board wanted someone with commercial skills to drive change through the organisation and they saw that in me.
From there, I moved to larger organisations,continually learning and taking on more senior roles, before joining VERTO. I was appointed to my current role to repair and refocus the organisation so that it would be in a position to grow. I am proud to say that I have achieved this goal – building a large organisation with a national footprint.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Each day, I rise early and meditate for about 15 minutes to ensure I start the day with a clear head. Then I read the daily news to keep up with current events. I also believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I make sure I eat well. When I get to work, I review my emails and get started. I eat a light lunch and stay focused on achieving my goals for the day.
After work, I do a 90-minute cardio and weights session at the gym, followed by debriefing the day with my lovely lady while we cook a meal together. After dinner, we listen to music, read, or watch a little TV before an early bed.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
You must never stop communicating and engaging with your frontline staff. Prior to COVID-19, this was something we did regularly and often, but at the height of the pandemic, the demands on our leadership team increased and it became difficult to keep up. This had a noticeable impact, staff began to feel distant and disconnected, and it really reaffirmed for me the importance of these lines of communication.
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?
‘Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success’ by Ken Segallhas had the greatest impact on my leadership so far. Ken helped Steve Jobs with Apple’s marketing strategies and worked very closely with him. At the time of reading, I had just started at an organisation that was in trouble. The book reinforced for me that complexity destroys organisations, and that the value and efficiency of every process and structure must be questioned – it must be hit with the ‘simple stick’. We reduced the size of key teams and set rules around meetings to ensure they were only held with specific objectives and attendance was on a ‘needs’ basis – not just because people felt they should be there.
These changes ruffled a few feathers when first implemented, but we persevered, and the organisation really took to this ‘simple’ approach.It had a positive impact on both results and organisational culture. To really embed the learnings from the book, every member of the leadership team was asked to read it and present at monthly meetings on how they had applied the principles in their division.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I once read a key piece of leadership advice from former US President Ronald Reagan to the effect of ‘surround yourself with the best people in their fields and keep out of their way’. This really resonates with me when it comes to building leadership capacity in a large organisation. As a leader, you must trust your executives and avoid micro-managing.People who work for you will makemistakes along the way, but when they take ownership and find solutions, these are important learning curves. In my time as a leader, I have fired people for incompetence or negligence, but never for making an honest mistake. Taking this approach builds trust, loyalty and builds leadership capacity from within.