…when you become a CEO, you move from an advisor role to the final decider role. I find it ironic that one of the attributes that help someone get into this type of role may not be the best course of action once you are in the position. People often move into these roles by being decisive and having a good grasp on the information in their domain. It becomes harder when you make the final call and you may not have all the information that you would have had in your previous role. You suddenly realize, you just were not part of those other decisions when you had limited info to offer! So, getting an understanding of how to solicit others’ views and organizing them into your final decision is a skill that I am trying to quickly gain.
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Mike Marusic. As the President and CEO of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America, Mike is responsible for the strategic direction and performance of Sharp’s B2B division in the Americas. Marusic has over 25 years of experience in both the document and computer peripheral businesses. Prior to his current position, he served as the Chief Operating Officer for Sharp Electronics Corporation and the EVP, Marketing, Operations and Technical Services for all B2B products. In these roles he was responsible for bringing new products to market, identifying customer needs, and improving operational processes to maximize Sharp’s business opportunities. Prior to joining Sharp in 2002, Marusic headed up the marketing group for Panasonic’s copier and computer peripheral division. He received an MBA from Fordham University and a BA from Siena College.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It is always funny as you look back on your career and try to ascertain how you got here. I went to college with the goal of entering politics. It was all I wanted to do from the time I was a small kid. During my years of internships in State Government, I realized there were parts of the role that I would never be comfortable with. It was time for a quick adjustment in plans.
My mother arranged for me to meet her boss who was the VP of Marketing for a large packaged goods company. It seemed like an area I would like, so I headed down that path. He gave me great advice; he told me to take accounting and finance classes to better understand the overall business. I did and was able to secure a position with Internal Audit at Author Anderson while I attended grad school. The understanding of the “numbers” side has been a real help to me.
Once I had my MBA, I joined Panasonic. At the time, I really thought I was joining to work on all the “fun stuff” but they put me in a planning role for their B2B business. A little bit of blind luck there but I have loved it and never looked back.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I think the major challenge was a personal one. I am more of an introvert than my predecessors and had always worked behind the scenes during my career. While I knew many of our key customers, I had not spent a lot of time in the field. There is a large expectation of being the “Face of the Company” and so I had to adjust. I basically hit the road and took advantage of any opportunity I had to be with our dealers and customers; conference speaking opportunities, customer events, dinners and even end user sales calls. If I was invited, I went. I quickly learned that there is more than one style to this role. I try to be myself, but I am also open to being out front and center more than I have been in the past. People aren’t expecting a certain mold, just be yourself.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
First and foremost is being prepared. I do a lot of reading. Early on, I read a lot of biographies of business leaders to get a wide variety of perspectives. I never really tried to mimic them, but their experiences were something to build upon. It is a way for someone with minimal experience to quickly get key experiences of someone with a 30- to 40-year career. Even today, I am always reading up on any topic that may impact our business. I can’t be an expert on all topics, but I like to have some understanding on all the topics that may need to be considered.
The second factor is an understanding of finance. Again, I am far from an expert, but I do like to consider decisions with an understanding of the financial impact. As my career advanced, it was not just advocating for what programs I may want, but also understanding that funds are limited, so I had to decide which would have the best impact overall. It certainly helps when you meet with the financial people in the organization and you can speak the language and have a respect for the importance they play.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
There are three things that stand out for me:
Number one; you get a ton of email. It was not as though I did not get a lot of email and solicitations before, but I have been surprised by how much comes through now. I want to answer everyone or at least read what was sent. But the sheer volume is daunting. I try to keep up, but it is not uncommon to have a day with a few hundred emails. Most are spam or solicitations, but you have to quickly check to make sure. I have missed some early morning conference calls or requests from our team in Japan by not paying enough attention. I feel really bad not responding to people, so I take this seriously.
The second lesson is that when you become a CEO, you move from an advisor role to the final decider role. I find it ironic that one of the attributes that help someone get into this type of role may not be the best course of action once you are in the position. People often move into these roles by being decisive and having a good grasp on the information in their domain. It becomes harder when you make the final call and you may not have all the information that you would have had in your previous role. You suddenly realize, you just were not part of those other decisions when you had limited info to offer! So, getting an understanding of how to solicit others’ views and organizing them into your final decision is a skill that I am trying to quickly gain.
The next is that people in the organization and the industry know a lot about you. It seems obvious, but when it is happening to you it is a little harder to grasp. As I said, I am a bit on the quiet side so having someone WANT to talk to me took some time to get used to. I am adjusting and trying to be more proactive.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I always look at work and business to be like sports. It is extremely competitive, and you really must give it your all during the “game.” At the same time, a game ends, the whistle blows, and you can take it down several notches. Have some fun with your teammates, laugh a bit and enjoy your down time. We work for the enjoyment in our personal lives. Make sure you enjoy those times; they are much more important.
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?
There are so many people I could thank who have helped me along in my career. But if I had to pick one, it would be a college professor I had. As I said before, I went to college to enter politics, so I was a Political Science major. I had one professor for every semester, all four years; Dr. Cutler (Siena College). To say he was tough would be an understatement. My classmates and I joked that if you had a particularly tough class and he kept on you, you were “Cutlerized.” It was here where I learned to be prepared. Do the homework, read up! For most college kids, taking a day off and being unprepared is a way of life, and it was no different for me in my other classes. But I would never walk into Dr. Cutler’s class unprepared. He was tough, but fair. Any well-founded positions or thoughts were celebrated. But, you could never get a feel for what he “wanted” as a position other than to have one and be prepared to explain / defend it. I can’t imagine a better prep for the business world, and it still is something I think of almost every day.
Fast forward 30 years, and I was invited back to Siena to speak as part of a lecture series in the business school. I had the opportunity to personally thank Dr. Cutler for all he did. I was honored that he remembered me. He even came to my lecture at the business school (probably a little proud to show the crossover of Liberal Arts to Business).
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
We have a lot of growth goals and business objectives, but I think they boil down to my goal creating the right culture for success in our company. I truly believe the culture of the organization is paramount to success. As I have said before, I like the numbers part of the business, so for me this is both a professional and personal goal. I want to ensure that we cultivate a culture where our people are happy and that culture drives the results — the numbers. This is by far the most enjoyable part of my job. We are making progress and I am optimistic that we can make Sharp one of the finest places for people to work and build a career.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I am not too sure I have to worry about a legacy. Business changes, the people change and I think worrying about how I am perceived after I have moved on doesn’t benefit the company. What I would love to see is that when my tenure is over, Sharp has a full bench of people ready to take on the next role. If I can accomplish that, then I guess that next group of leaders’ successes would be a great personal feeling for me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Well, thank you for this opportunity. I am most active on LinkedIn where we can connect at www.LinkedIn.com/en/mikemarusic . I am also on Twitter at @mikemarusic. Also, please follow us at @Sharp_Business.