How Are Modern Leaders Being Built

Innovation and entrepreneurship drive change, but people are what matters the most, WU Executive Academy are convinced

How Are Modern Leaders Being Built
Автор: Mirela Vavova

The biggest online trader, Amazon, officially joined the trillionaire club after the company's shares rose to a record of USD 2,050.50 on 4th September 2018. Thus, the market capitalization of the giant exceeded USD 1 trillion, and Amazon became the second American player to cross over the psychological border right after Apple that was the first to do it a month earlier.

These are two of the most successful contemporary companies, and we can also add the names of Google, Tesla and eBay, for example. The common thing among all of them, apart from their focus on innovation, is that they are practically young. “Becoming successful so quickly is something that was impossible for companies 50 years ago, for example,” says Professor Nikolaus Franke, Head of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation of Vienna University of Economics. He explains that today’s reality is quite different from the one at those times, and the organizations themselves are incomparable.

This can be seen if we take a closer look specifically at Amazon and Apple; the companies themselves are not at all what they were 15 years ago, Franke says, emphasizing the change. Today's leaders not only innovate, they create the so-called “disruptive innovation” that turns the environment upside down. The small revolutions that they bring to the world are the result of the changes they go through purely on an organizational level.

An example of the opposite is the photo giant Kodak. The company has been at the top for many years, but obviously this is not a guarantee for success in the future. The producer of photographic equipment fails to get in the rhythm of digital change and the lack of transformation condemns it to failure. “In today's turbulent times, if you do not lead the changes, you are lagging behind or even dying,” Nikolaus Franke concludes. He also says that “the mistake that many big companies make is to think that after many years of success, it makes no sense to change now.”

According to him, success is the result of innovation and entrepreneurship, which are “the two sides of the same coin and cannot go one without the other.” Behind all of this, however, are people, says Franke who thinks that every idea needs a person who would believe in it and make it happen. 

In this regards, Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, turns the attention to the technological revolution by giving as an example things such as the massive digitalization and the penetrating artificial intelligence. She thinks they are inevitable, so the role of a modern leader is to prepare the company for them. She is convinced that no matter how advanced the technology is, the need for a human element in the whole process will never disappear.

Anastassia Lauterbach, entrepreneur and guest lecturer at the WU Executive Academy of the Vienna University of Economics, also agrees with that. Nowadays, there are a few things that define a good manager, she says, emphasizing the visionary point of view. Lauterbach gives as an example artificial intelligence, which is the inevitable future of mankind, but not everyone manages to embrace it. She is sure that in order for a state or company to be adequate to the reality in a decade or two, it must necessarily invest in fundamental researches today. “Otherwise, it will pay a high price then,” the entrepreneur says.

Lauterbach also emphasized one more thing. “The most important skill that leaders need to have is the pursuit for self-education,” she is convinced. Only in this way they can keep up with reality and lead their team forward. An advantage for today's managers is that while living in a world without borders, they have wide access to resources. This includes the specialized MBA programmes that are offered by more and more universities. This type of education helps managers develop their leadership skills, but also get in touch with business practices around the world, as well as significantly expand their contacts. One such programme is the Global Executive MBA programme at the Vienna University of Economics.

“I learned to be bolder, despite my feminine nature,” says Anita Kirilova from MetLife, who successfully completed the programme in June. She tells that for the few months during which she left her comfort zone, she managed to become even more critical, which, on the other hand, significantly helps her in her job.

“It is also very important that we were able to get to know the upcoming trends,” adds Martin Gikov from UniCredit Leasing Bulgaria, also an alumnus of the MBA programme. He reminds us that being in a small country, we are used to adopting novelties with a few years delay. Thanks to the Global Executive MBA of WU, “we are seeing them now and we, as managers, can take action much earlier and be more prepared for the future,” Gikov points out.

One of the biggest advantages of programmes such as this one is its multicultural character, Emil Botusharov, Managing Director of ITA Group Bulgaria, believes. He points to the different view of the Americans and the Chinese, for example, on how to do business. “Thanks to the MBA programme, we had the opportunity to get in touch with both of them, as well as to visit companies that otherwise we would never have access to,” he says.

According to Anita Kirilova, an important conclusion to the whole adventure is the confirmation that Bulgarians are just as competitive as anybody else. The only difference is the scale, since we are a small country and there is no way for us not to feel that.

The modern generation, however, has the opportunity to grow and conquer heights much earlier than its predecessors. “Size is of less and less importance,” believes Nikolaus Franke, who pays attention to the flexibility of today's companies and their access to international markets. Cycles are becoming shorter and shorter and leaders are becoming younger and younger. “Look at the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who is 31 years old, or the 40-year-old French President Emmanuel Macron,” exclaims Jan Mühlfeit, guest lecturer at the WU Executive Academy, who worked for many years alongside Bill Gates at Microsoft.

Today, Mühlfeit gives lectures about positive leaders. According to him, much of the personal success lies in “not living as a copy, but being more like who you are.” “You cannot change people, but you can help them find out who they are," says Mühlfeit, which is one of the most important roles of modern leaders, who, besides thinking about themselves, should also consider the well-being of the whole company. And it follows the formation of the best team that can walk the path to success together.

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