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7 Questions with Sebastian Oppermann
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7 Questions with Sebastian Oppermann
Name: Sebastian Oppermann
Current title: Vice President Marketing
Current organisation: IONOS SE
Sebastian is an international and awarded CMO with a diverse background across classical wholesale business in FMCG/CPG (P&G, Mars), DTC in Cloud and e-commerce (STRATO, 1&1 IONOS) as well as omni-channel (WMF Group). He has worked across brands (e.g. Pampers, Pantene, Pringles), categories (e.g. food and non-food, personal care, tableware, consumer electronics) as well as most countries and regions across EMEA. Besides his home country Germany, Sebastian has lived in Israel, Russia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. He is an industrial engineer by education and a sports enthusiast by heart.
Importantly, Sebastian has a small private zoo at home, consisting of 2 ponies, 4 guinea pigs and a dog, that his daughters and spouse convinced him were absolutely necessary to have.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Probably two things that are somewhat related:
1) Advancing the organization and its culture to not only accept and promote diversity on a rather superficial level (e.g. gender, ethnicity) but to value AND effectively use diversity well beyond this level, i.e. way of thinking, personality types, etc. How can we appreciate and effectively leverage the unique strengths of the individual and at the same time accept his/her characteristics and behaviors that are not “so mainstream or easily to handle” and by thus become a more diverse, stronger and more innovative organization (instead of producing and promoting clones of a certain (stereo-)type)?
2) Making other leaders listen more to their teams. To quote Olivier Sibony:
"If you expect others to agree with you, why aren’t you trying more often to agree with them? Why do so many people, especially in leadership positions, seem to believe that their role is to express a unique, distinct, even original point of view on what needs to be done and, at the same time, find it troubling when others don’t agree with them?"
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
1) One job at a time.
2) Doing what I love and thus being able to bring the whole me to work (heart, brain, hands): Passion and dedication, excellence and learning/curiosity, guided by values & principles (doing the right thing)
3) Great bosses (role models) and coaching.
Biggest change and challenge for me was when moving from manager of a self to manager of others: even though I had the best intentions I initially wasn’t a great people manager/leader. I had to learn it the hard way and learn from others. At Mars I had an outstanding coach (Maria Valdes) who made a big difference in my life. She helped me to clearly understand who I am, what is important to me as well defining my leadership point of view, incl. my beliefs about leading and motivating people.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
1) I aim to do some sport directly after getting up (or at least somehow during the day).
2) If I am at home, we prepare the kids for kindergarten and school (breakfast, etc.).
3) Stand-up with the team to share and discuss the day or week ahead.
4) I aim to do creative and thinking work in the morning and importantly, leave space for that in the calendar.
5) I usually block noon time for joint lunches as well as a buffer for unexpected stuff.
6) Meetings in the afternoon.
7) Family & friends in the evening
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I believe that we need to focus and leverage the talents and strengths of a person (vs. fixing him/her) to achieve greatness and happiness. Thus being in the right job is key.
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?
To name just one is really tough! Probably it is “First, break all the rules” by Marcus Buckingham, who also wrote “Now, discover your strengths”.
As explained above it helped me discover the importance of focusing on the (individual) strengths of people. How talent is more important than experience or brainpower. To spend the most time with my best people. To treat people differently (and not the same) and especially not to treat everybody like you want to be treated but how THEY like to be treated. The book and its underlying thinking and research are nicely interwoven with Gallup’s Q12.
Other important books were “Leading at a higher level” by Ken Blanchard, that helped me define my leadership point of view, and Nelson Mandela’s “Long walk to freedom”.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
First and foremost it is what the leadership of a company does and how they behave/interact, but also also what they don’t do and say. Net, leading by example is for me the #1 leadership principle (walk the talk and talk the walk).
2nd, you have to give (and expect) responsibility to (from) the front line and every individual as of day 1. People won’t change later on or suddenly learn about leadership as of a certain seniority level. Every decision should be taken at the lowest level possible AND always have the input and recommendation from the true experts (esp. if it is taken at senior level).
Last but not least, clear values and principles that are lived and talked about.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Picking one story is impossible! Not only because I do not have stories of the magnitude of Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs, but also because every story and personal interaction is important and has its personal meaning. It is like the question “Whom of your kids (or parents) do you love the most?”.
While we had great business successes where leadership was central, e.g. the turnaround of the Pampers business in Israel 2001 til 2003, Pringles in Europe in 2005/06 or the growth and successful sale of STRATO, in the end it boils down to making a meaningful impact in somebody’s live, to positively influence their career (business results usually follow) by giving them the right job and/or tasks, replacing insecurity with confidence or working together with an employee to remove a ceiling or barrier (which usually is combination of how the employee goes about things as well as the image or story others have in their heads about this person). Seeing their continued success, impact and happiness afterwards is just priceless.