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Leadership: Learning from your Team

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • The importance of CEO's to stay close and learn from all functions within the business
  • The role of humility for leaders

Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Back to the role of the CEO and this all-encompassing understanding of cash flow, sales, HR — how did you deal with that?

I guess it comes back to all those leadership principles of, “Learn from your team while challenging your team, day in, day out.” Let’s say finance. I’m quite good at spreadsheets, but I never worked in finance. I would work with my CFO and say, “Okay, how should we work together?” When we talked about the goals, I wouldn’t say, “These are your goals.” I’d say, “What do you think your goals should be for the quarter?” “What do you think is the right dashboard?” “What should we talk about in our one-to-ones?” “We need to make sure this finance department is world-class. What does that mean? Let’s work it out together.”

Same with legal. I don’t understand legal. “How much should we do things proactively or reactively? Let’s work out some norms.” “What constitutes a crisis where you tell me straight away?” “What constitutes a routine legal issue that you deal with yourself?” “How frequently should we talk about stuff?” “What are the risks to the company? How do we mitigate them?”

With HR, again, what does good look like for HR? It comes back to a lot of those processes. Collaborate on, “What should your goals be?” “What metrics matter?” “What are your routines? What should our routines be together?”

Then doing things like the pulse lunches, where you meet with frontline employees and pick up all sorts of nuggets. Now and again, meeting with teams; HR, finance, engineering, product. It’s very easy as a CEO to only deal with your direct reports, or at least the heads of each functional team, but frequently going one level down is really good.

If I were to drop in on the CFO’s weekly finance meeting, people wouldn’t say, “Why’s Ben here? That’s weird. He’s the CEO. Is he worried?” They’d say, “Okay, Ben likes to come and find out what’s going on in the teams; today, it’s our turn.” If you get the leadership basics right, when you step into the CEO role, it’s more to learn, but it’s the same routines you’ve always had with your team.

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