The Tale of Two CEOs

by: Colleen Kelley

During a recent offsite strategic planning retreat that we facilitated with our client Calian Group , we had the opportunity to listen to two enormously successful, yet vastly different CEOs provide the Calian executive team with thought leadership on various strategic topics.

On the first day, we met Michael Tamblyn – a relatively quiet, classically-trained musician who is the current CEO of Rakuten Kobo.  A great Canadian success story, Kobo has successfully navigated international markets to become a top E-Reader company while competing with giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google.  Interestingly, Kobo’s strategic approach to intentionally stay away from the US markets, while the giants went toe-to-toe, allowed Kobo to successfully grow significant market share elsewhere – namely Europe and Asia.

On the second day of the retreat, we had the opportunity to meet Art Mesher – past CEO of Descartes Systems Group.  When Art took the stage, it was like a tornado came in and hit us – we were swept up into his energy. His charisma and presence filled the room in ways I have not seen in a long while.  A super smart guy with photographic memory, Art regaled us with the turnaround story of Descartes and his insights into managing markets and strategy.

Both Michael and Art are very interesting people with Canadian success stories to learn from. What really struck me, though, was how drastically different these two very successful CEOs were – and yet so deeply similar in their authenticity and effectiveness as true “LEADERS”. We learned that much of this effectiveness stemmed from having a vision that they could clearly articulate, admitting when they made mistakes – yet holding strong to their beliefs and visions, and the fact that this passionate leadership naturally drew-in talented people who were interested in being part of their teams.  Like all of us, I am sure they have imperfections – but being “real” and embodying authenticity made them very unique and compelling leaders.

There is so much written about leaders and leadership, but we keep coming back to the age-old question: is leadership inherent or learned?  In my observations, leadership skills are inherent but can also be enormously improved with training and experience.  Today, looking back on my experiences last week, I am reminded of that.

For the Calian executive team who is led by their own dynamic leader, Kevin Ford, this retreat was a great opportunity to look outside of their day-to-day tasks and be inspired by some amazing talent and success stories.

Thank you, Michael Tamblyn and Art Mesher, for your generous contribution of time and for sharing your stories, insights and experience.

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