Properly communicate your decisions with employees: A lot of people see the CEO as the person who has the ultimate decision power. However, there are times when you really do not have that power because of larger corporate guidelines. As a CEO, you must make decisions that benefit the overall company versus the individual, which means you have to also learn how to effectively communicate with employees, so they understand that you are not just deciding against them but that the decision was for the benefit of the wider organization. When you are in a management position with a smaller team and a smaller scope of responsibility, it is easier to say the CEO made that decision and that is why I cannot do it. When you get to the CEO level, you do not have that ability anymore to blame it on corporate guidelines, so people need to understand why you are making certain choices.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fara Haron. Fara is the CEO of North America, Ireland and Southeast Asia & EVP of Global Clients at Majorel. She leads a rapidly growing team of customer service professionals helping companies with their global customer service strategy, providing top-notch customer engagement to some of the world’s largest and most respected brands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Fara! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I actually ended up in consulting a bit by mistake. I was an accounting major in university and submitted my resume to all the Big 5 accounting firms when I graduated. Arthur Anderson, who was a member of the Big 5 then, had a consulting arm called Anderson Consulting (now known as Accenture), and for some reason my resume also ended up there. I really did not know that much about consulting at the time, but it was a lucky situation because I found the job scope was much more exciting than going into accounting.
I ended up joining Accenture, which led me down my current career path. I worked on a lot of projects related to customer service — everything ranging from the technology that supports customer service processes to how do you actually improve things. After doing consulting for a while, I thought it would be really great to actually do the things I was recommending. Coming straight out of school into consulting, I had never been in an operational role, which eventually lead me to join Majorel, which has been a great experience. My path has been a little bit of following whatever opportunity comes ahead. It certainly has not been 100% planned, but it has worked out really well.
What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?
I love the fact that I get to do a lot of different things as a CEO and look over every single component of the organization. I work directly with clients, while also having the responsibility of building the team — down to even the most entry-level positions. When you are touching so many aspects of the business, it requires you to use a lot of different skill sets, which makes it exciting to come to work every day. The customer experience industry is changing all the time. With consumer expectations constantly evolving, there are always new challenges, so my work stays interesting.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As CEO, you are tasked with making the final decisions for a lot of the toughest problems in your organization. You have to stand by your choices even though you might be relying on information from a lot of other people to reach conclusions. In some cases, you might not have the same level of detail as the person who advises you, but at the end of the day, you have to be confident and take responsibility for outcomes.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?
I truly enjoy having the ability to see and be involved in all aspects of the business.
What are the downsides of being an CEO?
Because the responsibilities of a CEO are so broad, the day never really ends. There is a lot of pressure that you need to deal with in an executive position, so it can be challenging to achieve work/life balance.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO. Can you explain what you mean?
I think there is sometimes a misconception that CEO’s have a lot of employees behind-the-scenes doing everything for them. In reality, people would be surprised that I am still putting together my own PowerPoint slides and drilling through data in Excel. People might not realize that CEO’s may not always have a huge support staff. Beyond that, CEO’s are pretty much the same as everyone else. When the work day is over and we go home, we are still regular people too.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women CEO’s that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
It can still be relatively challenging for women to even get to this kind of position. This has definitely improved in the last decade, and today there are a lot of proactive discussions to enable and empower women in the workforce. However, there are still some biases around how female executives lead their organizations. For example, female executives are sometimes viewed as being emotional whereas their male counterparts, who react the same way, are seen as being passionate. There are still a lot of gender biases to overcome. Although, I will say we have made strides in this area since I started my career.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I have a lot less control in organizing my life and my day-to-day priorities than I thought I would have as CEO. You would think as the leader of an organization you would have the ability to create the structure; however, there are so many moving parts and a lot more topics that I deal with than I foresaw. There so many areas that require your attention from both the clients and employees, so you really have to be extremely flexible and adaptable in this role.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an CEO?
As I was saying before, flexibility is so important. To be a successful executive, you have to be ready to deal with a lot of different topics and people. You also need to be very resilient as a CEO. There are going to be a lot of ups and down that you have to face because nothing is ever perfect across the entire organization. While one project is working really well and delivering great results, there can also be an area of the business that goes terribly wrong at the same time. To handle the daily stress this role brings, you need to be disciplined enough to balance time for yourself and your work.
The best CEO’s can let things go and trust other people to handle initiatives because there is no way you will be able to deal with everything yourself. If a person is extremely detail-oriented and just wants full control over the situation, this job will present a lot of challenges because you just do not have the time or bandwidth to do that. If you are not a people person and do not like interacting with people on a regular basis, it will be hard to be a good leader. You can only drive an organization positively if you listen to all of your clients and employees and are willing to get out there and be the face of your company.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Do not be afraid to take on any opportunity that you are given. Even if you do not feel 100% prepared, be confident that you can do the job as well as any other person in the organization because you always be able to learn valuable skills on the job. Surround yourself with a diverse team, in terms of both talent and experience. Be open to learning from people with different professional backgrounds, as this will help you grow and become a better leader as well.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Early in my career, I am thankful to have crossed paths with one of my managers who led one of the big projects I worked on at Accenture. He was always very inclusive in how he managed the team both at work and on a personal level. He was there to support me and everyone equally, and there was truly no favoritism on the team. He had a balanced, equally supportive approach to everyone, and it taught me how to work successfully in a team. I took that lesson with me moving forward in my career. From him, I learned how to be very open to all the capabilities that the team can provide for you. It is never a single person or an individual effort that achieves long term success.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
In the beginning of my career, I was more inwardly focused on doing the best job I could do in any position I held. As I got further into my career and started hearing feedback from women and people of different ethnicities about how my success as female from a different ethnic background was an inspiration to them, I realized I had more of a responsibility.
Now, I make it a focus to support every employee to be as successful as possible. I want to ensure the doors at Majorel are open and everyone has an equal chance to advance in their careers because diversity and inclusion is something that we value.
As a truly global company, we blend many different cultures. With representatives from all over the world, it can sometimes be hard to get everyone on the same page. I try to leverage my international background to get people to work collaboratively and understand each other, so there is a more cohesive spirit and a high-level of respect for all employees throughout the organization.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You do not need to know everything: Early on, I would delve into the details way too much and try to understand everything. As a result, I ended up doing more work than I needed to since that work was already being done very well by the people who were actually responsible. It would have been great to have someone advise me on how to leverage other people’s expertise and distill that information without having to go into so much detail all the time.
- Be comfortable as the face of your company: I wish someone had told me how important it is to be able to represent the company. I definitely felt a bit under-prepared at the beginning. In prior roles, I did not have the same amount of exposure, so I think it is critical for new CEO’s to have insights into how they can represent their company better.
- Prepare yourself to manage a lot of new day-to-day challenges: As a CEO, the issues you deal with are a lot broader. Executives have to meet the expectations of many other stakeholders that you did not have exposure to in less senior roles like the board of the company. I would have appreciated insights into how to deal with people who are much further removed from the daily operations of the business but still have a tremendous impact on the ultimate decisions you make as a CEO.
- Be involved in all aspects of the business: The success of an organization is really about the overall health of the company, not just about how well the business is doing financially or performance wise. There are so many more parameters you need to look at to define success like employee wellness, employee engagement and how the company is marketed and perceived by the public.
- Properly communicate your decisions with employees: A lot of people see the CEO as the person who has the ultimate decision power. However, there are times when you really do not have that power because of larger corporate guidelines. As a CEO, you must make decisions that benefit the overall company versus the individual, which means you have to also learn how to effectively communicate with employees, so they understand that you are not just deciding against them but that the decision was for the benefit of the wider organization. When you are in a management position with a smaller team and a smaller scope of responsibility, it is easier to say the CEO made that decision and that is why I cannot do it. When you get to the CEO level, you do not have that ability anymore to blame it on corporate guidelines, so people need to understand why you are making certain choices.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to see a revitalization of a sense of global community. Working for an international company, I can see that there is a lot more divisiveness in today’s society. It would be great to see the world become more inclusive instead of looking for ways to separate from one another. There are a lot of global issues we need to tackle right now. Take saving the environment, for example. It would be much more beneficial and impactful if we worked together as a global community to tackle these issues than for individual countries to try come up with solutions that are siloed.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet Oprah. She broke through so many barriers and became extremely successful before the world had really started to embrace the importance of diversity and inclusion. It would be amazing to learn more about how she has built her massive empire and hear about her experience in defying the odds.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.