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Leadership: Influencing without Being a Leader

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • How to influence a team without being the CEO
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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

What about influencing people in an organisation when you’re not the CEO?

That’s really important. In any leadership role, except for the CEO, a lot of your success depends on other departments or teams that you don’t control. That’s fine, it’s just something you have to live with, but it’s a critical part of leadership. A lot of leadership focuses on, “How do you lead your team?” but a big part of leadership is, “How do you ensure your team gets the support from other people’s teams?” which is a lot around collaborations, etc.

I’ll give you an example from Google. I was the COO of Europe, and the primary thing we were doing was trying to build a professional sales, account management, and partnerships team — very much a commercial team — to generate revenue, country by country, vertical by vertical, for big companies and small companies, working with advertising agencies, etc. That was our job.

You didn’t hear the words “product” or “engineering” in there at all, but clearly, product and engineering are essential. Without it, you’ve got nothing to sell. When I got to Google, there was a lot of chaos, a lot of broken or non-existent communication between the ads-product team in California and the commercial team in Europe. The first thing you need to do is get to know people and then work out how you are going to do something amazing together. That required creating a framework because there wasn’t one. We created this thing called revenue trees, and we said, “For search, YouTube, maps, local advertising, etc., what are all the levers that can drive revenue?”

A lever might be how you increase the cost per click, how you increase the number of ads served per day, or how you increase the clickthrough rate of an ad. Then we’d say, “What are the levers that can drive those?” For example, you can increase the clickthrough rate by making the ad more relevant, adding some colour, or having an image instead of just text. There was a whole load of things. What we did was agree on the revenue trees, the theoretical revenue we could make from this product, and the actions we could take. Everyone said, “Yeah, that’s a great tree, a great framework for thinking about life,” both us in Europe and the ads team in California.

Then we said every quarter, let’s work out which levers we’re going to push and actions we’re going to take, which was a fun process of discussion, collaboration, prioritisation. Then we said, “Okay, now we’re going to have more maps in the search results. Who needs to do what on the product and engineering teams? The commercial team needs to find ten clients who will test this. The small business team needs to find some small businesses who will fill out a new profile,” whatever it might be. We worked out a real cadence of working whereby we all had this framework for revenue generation, a quarterly process for prioritisation, and weekly processes of product reviews, testing reviews, launch timeline reviews, marketing reviews, etc. that all fitted with the plan. We went from chaos to working seamlessly together in six to nine months. Google was already a multi-billion-dollar company, so that was quick. Friends who are still there say that’s still the way it operates now.

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