A CEO Style to Admire

Tom Aaker, a friend and relative, is a CEO with an exemplary professional style very different from that of Steve Jobs whose style I recently wrote about, and a personal lifestyle that rivals that of Richard Branson of Virgin or Larry Ellison of Oracle. The combination has worked as he has advanced at Standard Chartered, a British banking company operating mostly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. After successful CEO tenures in Zambia and Qatar, he moved to Indonesia three years ago, which is one of the firm’s largest operations with over 4,000 employees.

His professional style was recently captured in an interview by Sudibyo Wiradji in the Jakarta Post. A few illustrative quotes:

  • “If I hire 11 people for my top team who are very talented, then I can let them go. I don’t need to be looking over their shoulder every minute. Each does his or her job and I don’t have to worry about it.” I once asked him how he kept in touch during a two week absence. I expected him to tell me that he always kept his cell phone on and a held a regular phone meeting, but instead he explained that he expected that his team could handle any problem, and only an extreme emergency would warrant their contacting him. A sharp contrast to the Jobs micro-manager style.

  • “My job is about coaching, mentoring, thinking about strategy, meeting with government officials and clients and thinking of bigger issues.”
  • “Keeping employees excited and motivated…will make customers happy.”
  • “I emphasize the importance of having a life-work balance to keep fit and healthy while working enthusiastically.” He tries to leave work at 6:00 and encourages others to do the same.

His personal lifestyle, which centers around training for and participating in extreme athletic events, was summarized in an article published by the Wall Street Journal. He has run a marathon around the North Pole in minus 40 degree temperatures (he said he was glad he did it, but also that it was the one event he would not repeat,) participated in the six-day, 250-kilometer Sahara Race in Egypt (four days later he was fresh as a daisy), has biked the Paris-Brest-Paris 6,000-kilometer race five times, completed five Ironmen competitions and much, much more.

His training for these events is mind-boggling. One of his weekday workouts starts at 5:30 a.m. and involve an 8-mile run followed by two hours on a spin bike. On a Saturday, he will cycle 60 to 100 miles, then run for an hour and follow that up with a 12 to 20 mile run the next day. When traveling he is selective about where he stays so that he can get his workouts in.

Tom proves that putting a top team in place, delegating responsibility, coaching, and maintaining a life/work balance can work after all. Many CEO styles can succeed, but it is nice to see Tom’s as one of them. I suspect his success is related to his extraordinary “hobby,” because the discipline he demonstrates and his selection of such challenging goals surely carries over to the office.

Posted November 28, 2012 / Permalink / Subscribe (e-mail) / Subscribe (RSS)
Tags: ceo style leadership management standard chartered tom aaker


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