Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel, has worked his way up through the telecommunication industry to become a very well-respected rock star in the industry. Not only has he successfully run the company, his trustworthy face has been representing the company in a Sprint ad series for years. Like many of our readers, I want to know how he worked his way to the top.
The Global Townhall is honored to welcome Dan Hesse in our CEO interview series. Dan talks with us in a three part interview about leadership, economics, parenting and how the modern day CEO makes a decision on which products to adopt in a rapidly changing technological world.
Gabrielle Reilly: With the intent of helping to develop our future generation of leaders... what has contributed to your success?
Dan Hesse: Well Gabrielle, I would say hard work, motivation and knowing your industry well.
I've always worked hard in my 34 years in the telecom industry to learn the business. I took many different types of assignments throughout my career, including jobs in network operations, engineering, marketing, sales, strategic planning and human resources. There is such a tall learning curve when you start to do something that is completely different, so you're signing up for more work when you take an assignment in a new area.
I think it is crucial to know all aspects of your business well. Especially with your people on the front lines, they know when they see an empty suit, and you don't want to be that person. You need to get your hands dirty. Knowing your business thoroughly gives one the confidence to be decisive and to make decisions quickly - which is especially important in a fast-moving industry like wireless.
As I look at leaders of any company, and as I think about what has contributed most to my success; it is hard work knowing the industry and the business well. Really make the effort, and it does take a lot of effort, to keep up-to-date and know your business thoroughly.
Gabrielle Reilly: What is your leadership style/philosophy and how did you develop it? How do you lead people?
Dan Hesse: I've been fortunate in that I have worked for some great leaders and mentors throughout my career. What I noticed of them, and what I've tried to emulate, is that they are very good communicators.
In particular, they communicated a strong sense of competitiveness and focus on achievement, combined with a real sense of optimism for team victory. They also delegated well and empowered their teams.
Communicating well, communicating often, and injecting the team with the competitive spirit with a sense of optimism around victory is a leadership philosophy I have seen work and I believe in.
Gabrielle Reilly: How many hours a week would you typically work?
Dan Hesse: I would say I am probably down to 70 now that I have kids (our kids came along in my early 40's). A lot of people think that you work more hours as you move up in your career, and that is generally true. But during the middle management stage of your career, you have to be willing to put in more hours to move into those top rungs of management. The "pyramid" begins to narrow rapidly. So in middle management, I put in around 80 hours a week, and now it is "down" to approximately 70 hours a week.
Technology, you could say, is either a blessing or a curse, for example wireless technology like cell phones and blackberries. On the one hand you can live a richer life and get your work done from outside of the office, but on the other hand, you rarely have the opportunity to get completely away from work.
Gabrielle Reilly: Do you have recommendations for good leadership/business books?
Dan Hesse: When I have time to read, I don't read business books because I'm immersed in business all the time, and without intellectual diversity, the brain can become dull. I tend to read books on other subjects. The most recent book I have read was called "Manhunt: The 12 Day Hunt For Lincoln's Killer" which was about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth who killed Abraham Lincoln.
I do read books that I believe I can learn something from for my career, but that you could not classify as a business book. I recently read a book "The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement" by David Brooks. It is about understanding people. Understanding human behavior, team behavior, leadership, team work, collaboration, persuasion, motivation, what makes people happy. It helps you understand people and organizations, as well as parenting. When I was reading this "pleasure" book, I was thinking about how to be a better leader and how to motivate people.
Gabrielle Reilly: Now when you say you "read" the book, did you mean you physically "read" the book or did you listen to it on audio?
Dan Hesse: I read the entire book on my Amazon Kindle powered by Sprint.
Thanks so much Dan.
Interview Part II - focuses on decision making within the telecommunications industry, choosing consumer products and budgets.