Lessons Learned from a Low-Profile CEO

By Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D.

Is there something Project Managers could learn from CEO’s that may not have an over-the top personality?

I enjoyed reading this USA Today piece about a company that makes candy and other products; Nestle. Nestle’s CEO Paul Bulcke  (pronounced Boolk-eh) does not, according to the article, have the over-the-top personality of a Richard Branson or Donald Trump….colleagues say he is well-known and well-liked at the company. When they learned in 2007 that he would be CEO, employees at the Swiss headquarters publicly signaled their approval.

“There was a standing ovation when it was announced internally, which I had never seen before,” former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe told Fortune magazine. “I didn’t get a standing ovation when I was announced.”

Employees describe Bulcke — who became CEO in April 2008 — as low-key and traditional. But they also say the Belgian-born CEO has a quick sense of humor and will hit the dance floor at company events.

That transition between being a buttoned-up corporate executive to a regular fellow is one that Bulcke easily makes, says Nestlé USA CEO Brad Alford. “Paul is as comfortable with heads of state as he is with factory workers,” says Alford. This ability to establish one-on-one rapport is a strength of introverted leaders. This strategy has obviously earned Bulcke respect.

The article says that Bulcke, a 31-year Nestlé veteran, has helped the firm to maintain its reputation as a conservative yet strong entity.

“It’s a well-run organization,” says Paul Weitzel, a managing partner at retail consultancy Willard Bishop. “It has solid people and solid thought leadership.”

The thoughtful, quiet approach of successful introverted leaders (including Project Managers) can lead to outstanding business results. Despite the bumpy economy, Nestlé said recently that its nine-month sales rose 4.1% to about $85 billion. Pretty impressive.

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