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Wed 24 Aug 2016 03:44 PM

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The power of asking questions: Lorenzo Milani, CEO of Electrolux Middle East

As CEO of Electrolux Middle East, Lorenzo Milani believes asking the right questions of yourself and your company is the key to success

The power of asking questions: Lorenzo Milani, CEO of Electrolux Middle East

As CEO of Electrolux Middle East, Lorenzo Milani believes asking the right questions of yourself and your company is the key to success

What's your business in a nutshell?

A journalist once said that major domestic appliances were a lost business: they are basic, and everyone has them. But Electrolux is trying to change all that through great products and a remarkable consumer experience.

What's the biggest challenge facing that?

For a premium brand like ours, if we're not able to demonstrate and communicate this remarkable experience, then it will drive people towards the cheapest price.

Where does your innovation come from?

While Electrolux is not the biggest maker of appliances, we have the most global portfolio. We have eight design centres that supply us with great ideas, and ones that are region-specific at that. An example of this is the invention of a wok induction hob that came from our Singapore centre. We also hold regular company-wide iJam sessions, where everyone in the company is encouraged to speak their ideas and suggestions for the company on a variety of subjects.

How do you encourage that way of thinking?

I ask a lot of questions. From the moment I wake up, I ask people questions. I am not checking their performance, but rather asking them things like, 'what do you think about this?' or 'how do you think this product will change over the next five years?' Part of my job is to stimulate people with questions so they start thinking outside the box. We embrace the alternative. There's a saying, 'If you drive the same road every morning, you're going to arrive at the same place'. At Electrolux, want to take a different road from time to time.

What's most important to your company? Its mission, core values or vision?

All of it is important. It's like when you have kids, you love all of them equally. It's the same situation within a company, because each of those three things are tremendously important. You can't be a visionary without values, and if you don't have a mission then you're just a dreamer (and prone to not getting anything done). So all three are important in the same way.

 

How do you make decisions?

I like to ask questions, as well has having the numbers in front of me. Not that I make decisions purely based on numbers, but it does help me understand the decision I have to make a little better. Leaders need to make decisions at the end of the day, so I don't dwell on them.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

The company's ethics and values. I could never work for a company without ethics. Electrolux doesn't just say it is ethical, it has been one of the most sustainably-conscious companies for several years now. I feel the company doesn't want to compromise this, and if it can't do something the right way then it doesn't do it. I like that my role has a level of freedom, people respect and listen to my opinions, before we discuss and make decisions together.

If you were to explain your job to an eight-year-old-boy, what would you say?

This happened to me the other day. I have a seven-year-old daughter, and she asked me what I do. She knew I was the boss, so she asked, "What does the boss do?" I said that I do lots of listening, talking and helping. That being the boss means you are at the centre of many activities – not on top – but in the middle, and you need to make sure that you motivate everyone around you. I didn't go into the details of manufacturing or anything like that, but I did say that I make sure good things happen to everyone at the company.

What would you say to a new employee about the culture in your organisations?

I would say that Electrolux is a good company to work for, because you can express yourself. I think young people especially benefit from being here, as Electrolux lets people express themselves inside the company. The culture here is very open, it wants to stimulate everyone who works here.

Let's say you're faced with two equally qualified job candidates. How do you determine who to hire?

It's very difficult sometimes. Interviews can last a few hours, and even then it's difficult to judge someone's character. I take recruitment very seriously, as does Electrolux. To hire someone, they need to have at least three interviews with three different people. If any one of them has concerns, we probably wouldn't hire that candidate. We respect these types of concerns, because hiring someone just to fill a positions doesn't usually pay off.

 

What are some characteristics every leader should possess?

It's very simple, a leader should be able to do three jobs: create a strategy, ensure daily results that moves the company towards your vision and to work with your people. If you don't do this every day, then you're not doing your job properly.

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out in a leadership position?

I would tell them to take their time. To reflect. And not to use the authority of leadership. Great leaders never use their authority, people give them authority due to respect.

What about someone just getting into business? Someone straight out of university?

One time I asked a new employee to prepare a strategy for a product. He came back with this big presentation, and I threw it in the bin without even looking at it. Again, after a few days, he came to me with another presentation and once again I threw it in the bin. A week later he came back in with a single piece of paper that had many questions on it. "Now, you've got it" I told him. I believe in life there are no wrong decisions, just the wrong questions. We need to ask the right questions, that's the most important thing to know.

What's your greatest fear in business?

There's no place for fear in business. Fear stops people from moving. When you are afraid you stop because you don't know what to do. In business today you can't stop. Instead of being afraid of anything, you should analyse the situation to form a solution. In the US they say, 'The only thing you have to be afraid of is being afraid'.

What's the best way to prepare for uncertainty?

No one can expect the type of changes we see today. Speed is everything, and the world is moving very fast. The best way to be prepared for this type of change is to be quick, so you need to have a lean and fast organisation. Companies tend to create processes that slow things down – so it's important to have the right balance.

 

What inspires you?

I like to get better every day. Not just in business – although I do enjoy helping my colleagues and company grow – but also on a personal level.

What's one thing most people don't know about you?

I tend to talk about my life quite a lot with the people around me, so they understand who I am. I think its part of understanding each other. Also, many people don't know I have humanitarian experience. I also played semi-professional volleyball.

What's the biggest luxury in your life?

My family. There are lots of nice things in the world, and we are here to enjoy those nice things. But in the last moments of our lives, no one reminisces about their fantastic car or wonderful house. They think about their kids, their family.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

I want to change something every day. I want to make a difference in the world. I don't go to work just because I need to, I do it because I think I make a positive change in the world, a little bit each day.

If you could tell an old boss one thing, what would it be?

To listen, because if you have a good team and they are not scared of you, they will help you even if you're about to make a mistake. However, if your team just says yes because you are the boss, you're going to get no help from them.

 

What do you work towards in your free time?

Right now, it's all about family. I travel a lot for work, so I find all my free time goes towards dedicating the right level of time to my family.

How do you manage a large company and still find the time for family?

You need to be very well organized, and you need to put up barriers. There are times when my phone is off, because if I start looking at it then I won't be able to look into the eyes of my wife. You need balance, a vacation day where your phone goes away.

What does a typical day look like for you?

With all my travelling a 'typical day' is very rare. I am a morning person, so I get to the office quite early and write down all the things I need to do during the day. Then I start talking to people, questioning them and looking at the daily agenda. If I am travelling, I try to work on the plane. I don't like wasting that time.

 

Let's say you stepped outside the office and found a lottery ticket that went on to win a million dirhams. What would you do?

You know, there was a great study done in the United States. A professor interviewed many students at a local university, and asked them what they wanted to do in their future. The answers were lawyer, architect, financial adviser, and the like. Then he asked what the students would do if they won 40 million dollars in the lottery. The answers changed, everyone wanted to be painters, musicians and artists. What the professor was trying to demonstrate was that in old times, when people didn't have anything (in the same way that we have things today), there was Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tiziano. They were geniuses that followed their talents. Today we suffocate our talents be concentrating on what we can earn by doing a certain job. It means we prefer to be a mediocre lawyer or financial adviser instead of becoming a genius in the arts. So what would I do with the money? I would probably try to express my talent. I know I am a good storyteller, and I know how to make people feel better. So I would do that.

Finish this sentence, "the world would be a better place if only…"

Everybody tried to be themselves, had good looked to help other people around them. The strongest energy in life is love, and if everyone tried to love each other a bit more the world would be a better place for sure.