Big Think Interview With Amanda Mesler
Amanda Mesler has over 25 years of extensive international leadership and general management experience at CEO and board level and held leadership positions as CEO, COO, Chief Client Officer, and Corporate Strategy Officer. Currently, she is a Non-Executive Director for Pace, a FTSE 250 company and Ensygnia, a technology start-up. Mesler is also a coach and Chapter Leader for Lean In and the Chair of Women Can Ltd., a social enterprise devoted to helping women succeed.
Amanda Mesler, CEO Logica North America.
Question: Cost cutting: what the first things to go?
Amanda Mesler: The first things to go are things that are typically done in our own operations. Though absolute last thing to go is anything that touches the customers. You need to be able to, especially in these times, add more service to what your clients’ business is all about. And so what we do is we look internal to the company, how can we save on travel, how can we save on unnecessary expenses around the office, how can we use more, smart working, if you will, rather than office space. We’re going through a lot of that study and research right now. But it’s always back office first. Nothing that touches the customers.
Topic: Mistakes in cost cutting.
Amanda Mesler: I had an example but which of course I won’t use the name of the company, but there’s a lot of things that this company needed to do to be more competitive. It’s very difficult right now, not only is the economy very low, but competitors are coming from out the woodwork to try to go and get customers. And so what this one client of mine did, was they scaled back on sales resources and marketing resources and really the folks that position your products out into the marketplace and it severely handicapped them. Yes, they save on their SG&A [Selling, General & Administrative] expenses, but absolutely lost clients because another competitor came in and gave them better service.
Everybody is in cost cutting mode and we’re not any different than that. And so what we do is we actually go to the employees and we have what’s called a thousand dollar challenge, where we try to get ideas from the actual employees that are working in the front office or the back office, working with clients or working in our own operations, to determine how can you actually really cut cost without cutting service to your clients. So the employees come up with a lot of ideas, a lot more than just the executives sitting in the rooms sometimes.
We have the luxury right now that we are growing in a downed economy. We’re growing by leaps and bounds. We can’t get enough individuals and employees to join us actually. So for us, it’s a bit different. We do have anxiousness, especially with folks that have been in a company for a long time that I think; we need new skills maybe there going to be [ousted] out. So you’ve got to continue to show them that clients are what matters, growth of Logica is what matters and that’s what creates job stability for them. So we talk a lot about Logica’s growth, service of the clients and it helps all of them really bond together to work out the anxiousness that they feel.
Topic: Downsizing and sabbaticals.
Amanda Mesler: We did go through some downsizing in specific areas and internationally. We’ve done no downsizing in North America, but I thought it was done quite well.
First, we have a new CEO that joined us in June ‘08. As part of our strategy of being more competitive, we were looking at ways to be more efficient. So, it wasn’t a true downsizing because of the economy, it’s how you can make your company more efficient.
So, the company has done many things, first they try to find folks other jobs where there are, is potential and mostly again it’s dealing with customers around projects. But they’ve also done some really unique things in offering very key folks that may not have work right now - sabbaticals. So I have a very good friend of mine who’s been with the company for a long time and she just took a three-month sabbatical. So we do a lot of unique things like that because we do see that the market’s going to return.
Topic: Advice for employees who have been downsized.
Amanda Mesler: “Always re-tool yourself, always learn!” If an employee, regardless of what title, what level, what company, if they’re constantly improving themselves, constantly looking at ways to get training and education.
And this doesn’t have to cost you anything. You go on go on the internet learn just about anything these days. But if you constantly are trying to better yourself and improve your knowledge and experience through education, you’re going to be able to have all types of opportunities at your fingertips. Even now, even in this down economy there are people that are looking for right folks to employ, I certainly am.
Amanda Mesler: We’re seeing some trends in North America right now around what we have, I guess we didn’t label it, we got it from another research company that’s labeled that “re-shoring”.
North America, they started their outsourcing movement. There wouldn’t be Indian offshore companies if it wasn’t for North America, specifically the US. But now with jobs being lost we’re seeing a resurgence of Americans wanting American jobs.
And so what we’re looking at and seeing, I think GE [General Electric] just announced a big acquisition or building of a plant in Detroit, Michigan because they’re trying to revitalize the labor force in Michigan and that’s very low cost resources, very high talent around the auto industry.
So we see the trend of being re-shoring and blended delivery which basically means local resources as well as some offshore resources as well. So it’s not the traditional outsourcing where you completely take it offshore or completely give it to a partner anymore.
Topic: Moral and ethical dilemmas in business.
Amanda Mesler: We had a sales executive, just a phenomenal individual, and top sales person in our entire company, and we just found out that he was a turning in expense reports that were a bit false. That had some made up names, made up individuals on them. Wasn’t trying to get a lot of money out of Logica, just went to lunch with you know, his friends, and put down a client and again a hundred dollars, a couple of a hundred dollar type of thing.
It was very difficult, I do not believe at all in lying. I don’t believe in stealing in anyway.
And yet, here’s this high top performer, the biggest performer that we have in the company, when you’re trying to grow a company as well. Very, very difficult situation. My head went out, the way I run my business went out, and we ended up letting the individual go, but it was a very difficult thing because you could have done a slap on the wrist, you could have done some other punishment, if you will, to fit the crime, a couple of hundred dollars, but we were really are trying to build a very professional high integrity company, and just one thing like that could sow many bad seeds in the company.
Question: What lessons have you learned from bosses?
Amanda Mesler: I’ve actually had the luxury of working for many, many great bosses, who have helped me breed who I am as a leader.
But I certainly had one individual in particular, there was a very poor boss and he was very, very visionary really. He was the CEO of a very large company. Very visionary, really wanted to take the company places and he had executives around him who just wanted to pull the company down.
And at the end of the day you can be visionary, but you’ve got to follow through when you’ve got to execute. And this particular executive did not execute and he did not follow through and he really, in my words, he had no backbone to really pull the company forward. Then the employees and shareholders suffered because of that.
So the biggest thing is that you got to be visionary, you got to follow up with the execution and you got to have a backbone. This is not an easy job being a CEO, but you’ve got to carry it through.
Topic: Women in business.
Amanda Mesler: Yes, you know it’s very interesting because I grew up actually working for GE. I’m very young and I had responsibility for Asia. So a woman selling to the Japanese in my twenty’s. So you can imagine all of the kinds of challenges, as well as just fantastic memories I had at that time.
But I never thought of myself as different in the workplace. But over the year, especially as I coach other women coming into the workforce, there’s absolutely differences in how you are treated. You know it’s true when they say you’re a good leader, a man is tough, and a woman is a name that we won’t mention.
I am a very tough, demanding individual, demanding, no different than my colleagues that are successful that are men. But I’ve heard the names, I’ve heard, you know how you supposed to be quiet in this way or that. Absolutely, labels come with a very strong successful female that you don’t get in a man’s world.
So, all you have to do, do your job, you know. Affect your shareholders, employees, clients positively and that’s all that you can do.
Whether you’re a man or a woman quite frankly you’ve got to go for it. And you really got to learn put in what it takes in order to be successful across any field, especially the business field. But I don’t think, yet, women believe that they can go all the way to the top. There are very few role models at the CEO level, and even internationally even less role models. So you just have to, you have to get good mentors, you have to really plug in to the networks. I myself, never plug in to the women’s networks or anything. I’m now quite involved with that because I do believe in it and I think it’s one way to help individuals get mentored and be able to grasp all the way to the top if that’s what they want.
Topic: The life-work balance.
Amanda Mesler: I have three girls and a fantastic husband and it is quite a challenge to balance at all. I balance or I spend as much effort balancing personal work life than I do, being a CEO, that’s how challenging it is.
But I absolutely have a wonderful support system, couldn’t do any of these without my husband, he’s just my rock, my best friend.
My children are growing up understanding what the world is, what business is, so I’ve including them in on the things that I do. We went to France to visit a client so they got to go on vacation and learn the French culture and how things work over there. So, include them; include my family in as much as I can with work and then also just incredible support system from my husband.
A conversation with Logica North America CEO.
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