Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Learning to Lead, with the Help of Luck

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Learning to Lead, with the Help of Luck

Article excerpt

An interview with Richard Solomons, chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group.

Richard Solomons is chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group.

Q. How did you become a chief executive?

A.The founder of our business was the creator of Holiday Inn, Kemmons Wilson, who was this amazing entrepreneur out of Memphis. The title of his book was "Half Luck and Half Brains." I think that sort of sums it up.

You do have to grab opportunities so you get noticed. Also, you've got to be clear about what your corporate purpose is. If you understand what interests you and turns you on and inspires you, then you don't need to focus on what your job title is.

Q. What kind of opportunities did you seize?

A.I started off in accounting and then went into investment banking for seven years, and when I got asked whether I would like to go to the U.S., I just went. I literally locked the house up and went. It was a great opportunity.

I then ended up joining Bass Hotels & Resorts in the U.K. and got the opportunity to work with what was then the smallest division. I effectively took a job that was a step back because I was self- aware enough to know that I didn't know enough about real business. As a kid, my father had a small business, so I kind of understood business at that low level, but I didn't really understand business. It was the best thing I ever did because I literally went from being a theoretical person to suddenly working with a dozen of receivables clerks in the north of England. You just learn a lot.

Q. What, for example?

A.You spend your life with a lot of people who have been through higher education and are very self-motivated, and you suddenly go and find a way to talk and motivate people who have a very different perspective. Theirs is a 9-to-5 role, and it's not so much a career but a job.

Q. Do you believe in making career plans, even if you change them along the way?

A.I think it's helpful, but I would combine that with personal plans. Often chief executives end up there because of circumstance. So I think it's helpful to have a direction. You have to know what you want to do. We've got a management development program here called "Leading with Purpose." If you're not clear about your own personal purpose, it's very hard to lead, because what do you stand for? It's very hard to follow somebody if that person doesn't know what they stand for.

Q. Can you explain that a bit more?

A.Leadership is about authenticity. You say, "Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was fantastically successful, and I want to be like that." But that doesn't work. You have to be you and make clear that you're authentic. Generally, most people are pretty smart, and if somebody stands in front of them and is not believable, it's just not credible. …

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