- Stacey Cunningham, head of the New York Stock Exchange, spoke about her career for an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success.”
- She said that a book that’s left an impact on her leadership style is former SAP CEO Bill McDermott’s memoir, “Winners Dream.”
- McDermott said that the basis for being a great salesperson is empathy for your customer, and that the best leaders place relationship above all else and do not compromise their values. He also said that it is best to serve a cause rather than a detailed career path.
- This story is part of C-Suite Insider, a collection of exclusive interviews about management and leadership.
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Since taking over the New York Stock Exchange as its president last year, Stacey Cunningham has overseen an aggressive push to maintain its No. 1 spot among competitors through the adoption of cutting-edge technology and the acquisition of the biggest IPOs.
In an interview with Business Insider for our podcast “This is Success,” Cunningham told us that the leadership style she takes to this challenge is built on more than 20 years of experience in the industry in various roles. And in a clip that didn’t make it into the episode, she said that another influence has been Bill McDermott’s 2014 memoir, “Winners Dream.” Since reading it, she’s frequently asked herself, “What would Bill McDermott do?”
McDermott is best known for his nine years as CEO of the software multinational SAP, which he grew to have a market cap of around $165 billion. He stepped down this past October and is now the CEO of the cloud computing company ServiceNow.
“Bill is a fantastic leader and a fantastic salesman, and the reason why he’s such a strong salesman is he really understands what his customers need, and he is very clear on how you can have that clarity and approach, listening to both your team and your customers,” Cunningham told us.
We’ve collected some of McDermott’s fundamental leadership lessons that he explores in the book, and that he has brought up in multiple interviews.
Have empathy for your customers.
McDermott built a reputation for being an excellent salesman because of what he refers to in his book as his “empathy” for customers.
As he told CNBC in 2018, when he was pitching a potential corporate client SAP’s products, he wasn’t just selling them technology, but the vision of how it would elevate their business. “So they know they’ve got the dream, they’ve got a feasible plan, and it makes sense financially in the boardroom,” he said.
His empathy, in this case, is getting inside the head of his potential customer’s head, and that’s done through research and close listening. The sale needs to be based on a long-term vision with real examples of how the product is going to fit perfectly into their existing plans, and not just have generic benefits that could apply to any customer.
Serve a cause rather than getting caught up in specifics.
At an SAP event in 2017, McDermott broke down key lessons from “Winners Dream.” He said that when, early in his career, he was offered a job to run Xerox’s Puerto Rico office, its worst performer, he realized something about careers. He told the audience:
“There’s two types of people in the world. One person has to get it just right for them — perfect job, perfect pay, perfect conditions. The other one is an all-weather athlete. They go into any set of circumstances because they’re in service to their company and they’re in service to a cause. And that’s the one I wanted to be.”
Cunningham gave us similar insight in our podcast interview. “I didn’t lay out personal goals throughout my career, and that just wasn’t my style,” she said. “What I was always driven by was, ‘How can we be a stronger team? How can we achieve more together? How can we improve this whole process and how can I help?”
As his book title suggests, McDermott is all about pursuing a dream. But he said that even though you should never give up on yourself, you need to have “a certain agility” to your dream, with the expectation that it’s impossible to plan your career out perfectly.
Place relationships above all else.
McDermott said that relationships “are the only things that matter” to a leader.
Choosing that Puerto Rico job turned out to be one of the best decisions McDermott made, but years later, it’s the connections he forged that matter most to him. He took the team from last to first place within Xerox, which brought him to a new stage in his career. When he returned 20 years later on a trip, his old team reunited to greet him, and the office was still performing well. “As great as it was to be No. 1, the enduring cause of a leader’s life is to go back 20 years later and realize that you built something with great care, and the people 20 years later were actually glad you were there,” he said.
Never compromise your values.
McDermott shared a story from his book with his SAP audience, from when he was only 22 years old. He was competing to be the top salesperson in his firm, and was excited by the prospect of closing a significant deal that would bring him closer to that. His potential customer told him that he’d make a deal, but only if McDermott added $1,000 worth of free office supplies under the table. McDermott declined, even though it hurt to do so. As he headed out to walk back to his office, McDermott said, the man caught up and said he’d sign the order, without the off-the-books perk.
That moment has become symbolic for his whole career of sticking it out without compromise, McDermott said.
“I won the right way, and it never would have felt like a proud walk if I won the wrong way. Do it the right way. Accept defeat if it must come your way, graciously and with class. Because in the end, your reputation will follow you all around the world for the rest of your life. And you want that to be the best reputation.”