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Life Lessons From a Jet-Setting COO

I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Moriarty, Ph.D. Robin is a global business executive, speaker, author, adjunct professor, and thought leader for businesses and not-for-profit organizations. She is a pioneer in aligning corporate operations with business opportunities that create positive societal impact. In her prominent professional career with leading Fortune 500 companies, she has […]

I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Moriarty, Ph.D. Robin is a global business executive, speaker, author, adjunct professor, and thought leader for businesses and not-for-profit organizations. She is a pioneer in aligning corporate operations with business opportunities that create positive societal impact. In her prominent professional career with leading Fortune 500 companies, she has spearheaded cultural and business transformations driving sustained revenue and profit growth in international regions including North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Robin has lived on four continents, traveled to 60+ countries, studied five languages, and speaks two.

What do you stand for?

I fundamentally believe in the dignity and respect of the human experience. The dignity of work, of achievement, and the need to respect people for, however, they are contributing. If you can see that in people, and you can acknowledge that, then you can inspire people to go with you, to follow you, to want to work with you. To do something meaningful with you.

My dad grew up in a very poor family and went to the national guard in the 1960’s. That means he is one of the people pulling the police and dogs off civil rights protestors. He dealt with really serious issues about race and segregation. My mom grew up in a lower middle class, and my grandma treated her sons and daughter differently regarding expectations and opportunities. She always had a great sense of things being unfair. Both of my parents wanted things to be fair because both were in situations in which they or people around them were treated unfairly.

I credit them in instilling in my sister and me the sense of fairness, and how you treat other people. We learned the importance of empathy and understanding where someone is from or what they are going through.

What principles do you live by?

1. No one is better than anyone else. Treat the janitor the same as the CEO, and my dad led this by example. Fancy schools, fancy titles, fancy cars do not make you better than other people. Acknowledge and celebrate others more than yourself. Being a leading is not about you. It’s about the people around you. So many leaders forget that, and it is unfortunate.

2. Walk in someone’s shoes. Try to understand where they are coming from. If you do this, you’ll know what to anticipate, how to align or structure your communications and interactions different to get the results you want. You will learn how to connect and inspire.

3. “Ride in the truck.” I adopted this idea in high school from the governor of Florida. He would ride around with government employees to listen, to understand what they did, how they did it, and what they needed to do it better. In all of my jobs, I’ve done that. I’ve put on hard hats and driven around in repair trucks. I’ve sat in call centers and distribution centers and data rooms and a lot of other places to try to understand. It’s incredibly valuable. Do the same thing with your customers, consumers, and others in your industry and adjacent industries. I add so much value to my organization because I’ve worked in different functional areas and industries. That “cross” is huge.

4. Do what you think is best for the organization and even if you are wrong, no one will question your motives. Don’t play games or politics because people will catch on and it will catch up to you. Have what is best for the organization as your aim and make decisions accordingly.

What inspires you?

I believe every industry has something that is inspiring and game-changing, and it’s your job to find that in your industry.

Here are a few of mine:

Financial Inclusion Initiative

At my current firm, I was able to spearhead a financial inclusion program. It wanted to see how we can do better to push financial inclusion and access to credit. The new program provided financial and access to credit who would previously be denied, and 16 million people were able to get access. Most are women, and most have used it for entrepreneurial purposes. It’s good for the consumer, for the retailers, and for my company. That, to me, is what I’ve always wanted to focus on and be about. How to acknowledge and recognize and see the dignity of other people, and figure out how your position can be utilized to further others along.

Drug Enforcement Administration

One of my good friends works for the DEA and is an expert in money laundering. She used to be an Atlanta PD, and she was always one of the undercover officers. It’s a tough job. She once told me that the way she thinks of her job is this: if you could keep on shipment from getting through, that’s one kid who wouldn’t try heroin and get addicted. She’s keeping that one kid from getting their first hit of heroin, and it keeps her going.

Telecom Industry

In the ’96 or ’97, I read a Fast Company article on cell phones and Bangladesh. I hadn’t started working in corporate yet. This article was about people in the market and farmers in the field, and that there was a middleman. The middleman manipulated prices, so the farmers got together, purchased a cell phone, and started calling the market directly. That was the reason I began my corporate career in telecom. It was an industry that is putting power in the hands of people who can be exploited.

In whatever company I have worked for, I’ve always found a part of it that is inspiring. It’s so important to find that thing that is going to keep you motivated in what you are doing. It’s never about the money and profit. The inspiring part is how you are changing people’s lives. And the more influential you are, the more you have the power to divert resources to those kinds of projects.

Do you have any advice for up and coming leaders?

1. Leap and figure it out. I always jump in the deep end without knowing what I’m doing or how deep the water is. However, I know I’ll figure it out. Everyone else is figuring it out too. Use good judgment and logic to drive towards the goal.

2. Take the job that no one else wants to take. It will suck until you figure out how to make it cool. You’ll learn something, and it will give you a chance to make the mark

3. See life as nonlinear, and its always better to do SOMETHING than to sit still and be stagnant and take up space. I’ve gone into a lot of stuff as a result of that mindset. The benefit is that I have had a lot of exciting experiences and have collected insights for my personal and professional portfolio.

4. Resilience is key. People always talk about the glamorous part and the story after they have gotten to the positive side of things. I’m willing to say that the middle section can be difficult and messy and confusing and just plain hard.

Can you share some advice for those interested in the C-Suite?

1. You need experience and proof of driving result. And by driving result, I mean driving revenue and revenue growth. It’s essential to work in parts of the companies that are revenue generating and customer-facing such as strategy, marketing or sales. Have the experience and expertise in where the industry is going and capture that growth

2. Reputation. People choose different things to build a reputation on. Some choose to build on charm and charisma, and those may wear out. Some choose to build on so and so person, their relationships with someone else. I’ve chosen to build it on my intelligence, my ability to drive results, and doing what’s right for the business regardless of other relationships and politics. For me, it’s about being seen as someone who is smart, who can deliver results, do many things, have important things to say, and always doing what is right for the business.

The real difference in the C-suite is that it is more about the allocation of resources and the decision of where to allocate the resources than about implementation. There is also a lot of relationship management, which goes back to the empathy part and the awareness of other people. How do you sit down with people and work on a business together? How do you bring two perspectives together to move forward? How do you do what is best for the company?

What do you want to share?

I think things are rough for people in their 20s and 30s. There has always been much pressure from the outside on people about the choices they are making for their lives, but I think its more intense now with social media. The level of competitiveness on Millennials is rough. Without preaching, you have to figure out what you want, not what others want for you or expect from you, or what they are doing and how you compare to them. It’s what YOU want. And pursue that. Play your own game, instead of trying to win someone else’s game.

Moreover, support one another, help others in achieving their goals, rather than comparing and competing. Be secure enough in ourselves to cheer others on who is killing it at their own game.

Originally published in Medium

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