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Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs

As the third decade of the 21st century progresses, it requires a special range of skills and traits to steer a multinational company to success.

Transform your career with these six lessons from top CEOs
Photo: Getty Images

Changing technologies, new consumer bases and geopolitical shifts mean that it’s imperative that those at the helm of multi-million dollar corporations understand how to lead effectively, and with high impact.

What does it mean to lead with high impact, however? Together with online learning provider GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, we examine the success stories of six leading CEOs. We identify the specific lessons you can learn from each of them – skills and lessons that are also covered in the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership and Business Sustainability Management online courses. 

Lisa Su, AMD. Leadership lesson: run towards problems

When Taiwan-born Lisa Su took the helm at computer chip manufacturer AMD in 2014, the company was in trouble. Lagging far behind their main competitor, Intel, the semiconductor maker was haemorrhaging money and shareholders were angry.

It was Su’s mantra of ‘run towards problems’, and her clear vision of where she wanted the company to be in the coming years that would bring the company back from the brink, and make it one that provides the chips powering not only our computers, but also Smart TVs and gaming consoles. Su’s rapid and revolutionary turnaround of the company’s fortunes demonstrates not only the role of leadership in creating organisational change, but also in business growth.

Discover the qualities propelling today’s changemakers to success, with the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from the University of Cambridge and GetSmarter

Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s. Leadership lesson: learn to unify people

From early childhood, Marvin Ellison, the African-American former CEO of J.C. Penney’s and current CEO of Lowe’s, took on responsibility for his large family while his parents worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. As he grew older, starting in Loss Prevention at Target and climbing the corporate ladder via such household names as Home Depot, he learned to use his unique standing within the predominantly white corporate world to bring considerably different groups together, in the service of business growth and the consolidation of gains.

Combining confidence, faith and trust in those around him, Ellison has inspired Lowe’s to new heights, almost doubling their share price in two years. Ellison’s career path, and his success are classic examples of how convictions can give leaders a deep sense of meaning, and how the concepts of fairness, honesty and inclusion positively impact business decisions.

Rosalind Brewer, Walgreens. Leadership lesson: efficiency equals sustainability

Former CEO of Sam’s Club, COO of Starbucks, and current Walgreens CEO, Rosalind Brewer has made innovation her watchword throughout her entire career. She is one of only two black female CEOs of companies in the Fortune 500. Brewer was instrumental in bringing in healthier options and organic foods to Walmart and Sam’s Club, leading the way for other American retailers. She also pioneered ordering ahead for groceries and coffee, at Sam’s Club and Starbucks respectively. Not only has this led to growth, but the resulting efficiency gains have meant changes to supply chains and the amount of food wasted, making both companies significantly more sustainable.

Brewer’s success is indicative of the gains that can be made when leaders challenge current practice, and carefully consider processes with an eye towards efficiency and sustainability. Such decision-making can massively reduce waste and inefficiencies, giving a company a valuable and well-deserved reputation for sustainability.

Develop the skills that the CEOs of some of the world’s most recognisable brands use to lead their company towards sustainability, with the Business Sustainability Management online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge


Photo: Getty

Dan Price, Gravity Payments. Leadership lesson: Rewrite the rules

Dan Price, CEO of payment processor Gravity Payments, stunned the world when he announced in 2015 that all employees of the company would receive a yearly salary of $70,000, disrupting the typically pyramidal structure of corporate salaries. Not only that, but he announced that he would be taking the same salary, something completely unheard of. Not only did this result in a considerable amount of positive media coverage, but a book deal for Price, allowing him another platform to outline his vision and ideas, not only for the company, but for society as a whole. He has become a lightning rod for discussions around wage disparity, and some have claimed him as a kind of ‘working man’s hero’. Increasingly, small start-ups are attempting similar moves, and changing the conversation around corporate power structures. 

Price’s actions in providing an equal salary clearly show the value of storytelling in leadership, creating a personal narrative that has had significant impact in his sphere of influence.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble. Leadership lesson: Turn loss into opportunity 

Despite making Tinder the world’s premier dating app, as Vice President of Marketing, Whitney Wolfe Herd was subject to online abuse and threats after she spoke out, regarding tensions with fellow executives at the height of the #MeToo movement. Following a lawsuit and a barrage of press, Herd refused to let this be the end of her leadership career and came up with Bumble, the dating app where women message first – a revolutionary idea at its inception. The app soon took off and became the world’s second most popular dating app, behind Tinder.

Herd’s resilience, and her talent for introducing innovative ideas and practices that create opportunities for business growth are the hallmarks of her career so far – who knows what trajectory her career will take from here.

Robert Bosch, Bosch. Leadership lesson: Remember you’re a part of the greater whole

Today Bosch is one of the world’s leading manufacturers, not only of household appliances, but of automotive components and engineering equipment. However, across Germany and in many areas of the developing world, the name is also synonymous with acts of charity and altruism. This is because, right from the very early days of the company, founder Robert Bosch ensured that company profits would be reinvested into hospitals, development programmes and progressive causes in his native Stuttgart and beyond.

Bosch is still known for his conscientious response to Germany’s turbulent twentieth century. Not only did he refuse armament contracts during the First World War, but he and his closest associates played a key role in resistance to Hitler, saving countless Jewish lives in the process.

Bosch’s story is a classic case study of the ways in which commercial success can be aligned with societal and environmental causes.

Learn more about the Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership online short course from GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge, and discover how to lead people and organisations to new heights of innovation and growth

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EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned on Wednesday that rising interest rates could lead to house prices falling "quite sharply". How likely is it that this will happen?

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

What financial circumstances might make it difficult for borrowers to repay loans?

With an increase in the cost of living, including rising interest rates and rising electricity prices, there are plenty of circumstances that may make it difficult for borrowers – especially those holding large debts in relation to their income – to repay their mortgages.

Households with large debts are therefore more sensitive to an increase in interest rates, according to the Swedish financial supervisory authority, known in Swedish as Finansinspektionen (FI).

The agency published its annual Swedish Mortgage Market report on Wednesday.

“Large debts also mean a higher sensitivity if you were to suffer unemployment during an extensive recession,” said Henrik Braconier, the authority’s chief economist.

Other factors that could stretch borrowers’ finances include rising energy prices, higher food prices, and growing inflation.

“Apples, oranges, tomatoes have gone up by 30 percent,” said Américo Fernández, a household economist at SEB. “Wheat is coming from Ukraine and it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of.”

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Will homeowners become unable to repay their mortgage loans?

Not according to Fernández.

“One of the last things Swedish households will fail to make their payments on is their mortgage and their houses,” he said. “They would rather decrease their spending on vacations abroad, or restaurants.”

The FI report noted that most new mortgages include margins that allow for fluctuations in the borrower’s finances. This means that mortgage holders have a cushion that allows them to handle financial changes.

“Our stress test shows that they can handle increases in the interest rate and also loss of income,” said Magnus Karlsson, FI’s director of macroanalysis. “New mortgages have margins in them calculating discretionary income, and will be able to absorb increases in interest rates and loss of income.”

SEB foresees an interest rise of up to three percent over the next two years, Fernández said,an increase that can be absorbed by most households.

Both Fernández and Karlsson agreed that if homeowners have to cut back on spending, those cuts will not come from debt repayment, but from their disposable income – the money they might ordinarily spend on entertainment, eating out, or travelling.

So while household spending may have to change, financial stability is not at stake for most households.

What’s going on with the housing market?

Right now, a record number of mortgage-holders have loans that are worth more than 4.5 times their income. This year, more than 14 percent of new mortgagors took on such large loans, compared to 6.3 percent last year.

A “low interest rate, increase in housing prices, increase in disposable real income and a housing market that is not functioning well” are all factors in the large debts that homeowners have incurred today, Karlsson argued.

Fernández noted that there is an imbalance between the low supply of housing and the high demand for housing, which is in part responsible for the high housing prices we see today.

He said a decrease in price of a few percentage points would not be surprising: “We’re coming from two years of exaggerated prices.”

Will housing prices begin to decrease after two years of increasing prices?

Calculations for three different scenarios tested by FI show that housing prices will decrease, Karlsson said.

While the agency does not predict housing prices, its report shows that under three different scenarios – the first an increase in mortgage interest rate, the second an increase in energy prices, and the third a combination of the first two with a reversal to pre-pandemic housing preferences – prices will decrease.

The Local Sweden reported last year about increasing housing costs in Sweden, spurred on in part by a desire for bigger homes further away from urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernández called the two years of increasing housing costs “surprising.”

“10-12 percent two years in a row, that’s historical in these uncertain times,” he said, noting that prices were still increasing in figures for March this year.

What sorts of housing will see the largest price decrease?

The FI report also included various scenarios of how the price of different types of housing may fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate.

One scenario assumed a 1 percent increase in interest rates this year and a 0.5 percent increase next year, and predicted that while the price of apartments owned in a cooperative – called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, the price of detached houses would fall by 10 percent.

Another calculation that accounted for rising electricity prices and a decline in new housing purchases found that the price of bostadsrätter and detached houses risked falling by an average of 30 percent.

Is there a plan to let borrowers end their mortgage terms early?

“We believe it needs to be simpler and more inexpensive for households to repay their mortgages early,” FI Director General Erik Thedéen is quoted as saying in a press release published by the agency on Wednesday.

To that end, Thedéen said at a press conference that the agency had sent a request to the government to change the calculation model for how banks are compensated when mortgages are terminated early.

“When you terminate a loan agreement and the bank incurs costs, it must be reimbursed,” Thedéen said. “But at present the banks are overcompensated, that is what our calculations show. If the government follows our line and changes the model and follows our line, then the banks must simply adapt.”

When asked about the likelihood of this request being granted, FI recommended reaching out to the Ministry of Justice for comment.

What does this mean for foreigners in Sweden?

If you’re already a mortgage holder, then as Karlsson and Fernández assured, mortgage calculations include a cushion that allow for changes in your financial circumstances.

If homeownership is in your future, housing prices may begin to decrease in the near future, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your local real estate listings.

By Shandana Mufti

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