How to become a successful leader according to Louis Chênevert, CEO of United Technologies

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louis-chenevert_opt (1)Each year, the McGill – HEC Montreal EMBA Program invites a leading business executive to take on the role of class patron. This year’s patron is Louis Chênevert, CEO of United Technologies. Mr. Chênevert rose through the ranks at Pratt &Whitney, to eventually lead United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney’s parent company. United Technologies touches all of our lives. The company is #45 on the Fortune 500 list, with 212,400 employees and sales of $62.6B. The elevators they’ve produced move the equivalent of the world’s population every 3 days and at any moment there are 10,000 UTC parts somewhere in the air.

As part of the EMBA orientation day, Mr. Chênevert shared his insights and advice on how to become a successful leader, which included the following:

  1. Be willing to go out of your comfort zone and to take risk. The bigger the risk is, the bigger the success will be, if you do a good job.
  2. Be willing to take on jobs and problems that other people shy away from. Take on tough jobs with a smile, they are the best opportunities for people to notice your abilities.
  3. Neglecting a problem never makes it better – take action to solve problems when they arise.
  4. Talk to the front lines – those are the people who know what the real problems are and what good solutions would be; they need a leader to help get those solutions in place.
  5. Don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you are. Education is key. People who keep learning are often the ones being promoted. Based on his experience with the United Technologies education program (more than 36,000 degrees earned since 1996 and more than $1.1 billion invested), Chênevert explained that those who pursue further education are 3 times as likely to be promoted as those who don’t.
  6. Motivate and inspire your employees by being inspired and motivated yourself. Go to work every day as if it was your first day.

Mr. Chênevert also welcomed questions from the class. Here are some of their questions and his answers:

What is a CEO’s job like?

It’s always on. At a multinational company like United Technologies, you are rarely at the office; you spend a lot of time on the road. Most of the things that people come to a CEO for are the problems that they need help resolving, so there are new challenges every day. Even the CEO has a boss; you have to report to the board and to the stakeholders, and you need to keep their interests at the forefront.

How do you manage the discrepancy between the need to create shareholder value and the long term health of the company?

It’s a balancing act; you don’t want to compromise the long term for short term results, so it’s important to be very transparent with shareholders to let them know how your plans and investments will lead to long term value. Research and development, sustainability and ethics, and education programs for employees are among the areas where it would be easy to cut budgets, without feeling any negative impact in the short term, but it could be very damaging in the long term. You need to think about tomorrow to stay ahead of competition; shareholders tend to understand this.

How to become an inspiring leader?

It’s all about personality and self-confidence. You need to be able to listen, to really understand problems before working with your people to solve them. Great results inspire people. Mr. Chênevert is clearly following his own advice – he’s definitely as enthusiastic about his business as he was on his first day.

Louis Chenevert 2_opt (2)