What I learnt working with 50 CEOs from 7 countries for 3 days

Make Things, Make Sense Podcast
Episode 21
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Hey everyone and welcome to this episode of Make Things Make Sense. On today’s episode, I’m going to discuss the benefits of joining a peer group or being around a larger group of business leaders, managers, being around like-minded people of your standing or the people that you want to be with. I’m part of Vistage, also known as the board you can’t afford, and it really helps us work on the business rather than the day-to-day grind of in the business.

It’s not only helped my company, but 27,000 other companies out there. What it’s really done for me is helped my personal growth. One interesting thing I’ve realized is that the longer we run this podcast, the more I reflect and the more I think about what I want to share is that my own personal growth is really what’s helping drive the company to new innovations.

The way that Josh grows, the way that I grow, the way that we’re learning, whether it’s from coaches or therapists or being part of peer groups or going to conferences, that information is what we’re downloading. By the act of turning it into content to share with you all, we’re internalizing it further and sharing it with our teams.

If you have the opportunity to join something like Vistage, which is all over the world, just being every month with a group of people that think and are dealing with similar problems to you, I’d highly advise it. I’ve been part of it for two or three years now, and I really, really can see the value in it.

Vistage EMEA Summit

So we had the very first Vistage EMEA Summit, and that was 50 CEOs for three days from seven different nation. None of us really knew each other. All coming together to discuss, brainstorm, workshop, and essentially agree on what we all need to do individually to weather the upcoming storm. So whether we’re talking about the recession, whether the bounce back from Covid, you know, life is not as it once was.

It’s always getting more complicated. In this podcast, I’m really going to merge my experiences from the last few years and the learning from the EMEA Summit to give you what I feel is the key value.

Through this summit, I had the opportunity to ask top people from Amazon Hard Questions while also working with CEOs of multimillion dollar companies. It was a really big mix of people that created this team that we all work together and we all felt united in. We were diving deep into what matters most to a group of business leaders. And I have to say the responses were a lot more human than I ever imagined. One thing I did feel was kind of strange is that for a group of business leaders, we rarely discussed profit or money.

It was actually all about the people that drive the business and how attracting the right people and leveraging those people is what’s most important. At the end of the podcast, I’ll share the results I got from an incredible one-to-one. I had with. He’s a superstar, but I’ll leave that to the end.

Net Zero Future

This podcast is being recorded in the year 2022, and if you haven’t heard of the Paris Accord, open a new tab on Google or on your phone, wherever, and Google it and start learning about net zero, because if we don’t accomplish it by 2050, we’re gonna be in way deeper troubles than we’ve ever, ever been in.

So one of the key items is that everyone is very, very conscious about is net zero. What is net zero do you ask? Well, it’s a target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in layman’s stems.

Unfortunately, the science is very, very clear. If we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius and avoid the worst effects on climate change, we as a planet, as business owners, as human beings, need to half the carbon dioxide emissions in this decade and reach net carbon emissions by 2050.

So that’s gonna require a rapid transition to a low carbon economy, as well as scaling of projects and technologies that will remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Although we have seen quite an impressive focus on climate change recently, the current pledges around the world fall short of the actions needed to reach the 1.5 degree Celsius goal.

I’m just putting that out there because as part of this summit, it was a really key item that we all need to be more sustainable in how we do business. It’s a big buzzword at the moment, but whether that’s being eco-friendly, less waste, the way that we do business, and I’m gonna dive into that, we need to think about it.

If you are a business owner or you can create any form of impact as a person, do look into it and see where you can start reducing your own emissions lesson.

Amazon’s product development

What was really cool is that there were some top guys from Amazon who shared some incredible ideas with us. The main one I want to go over with you is how Amazon works backwards to develop customer centric products.

They start by pretending that they are six months into the future, they’re about to release their product and they’re creating a press release. It’s really for internal use only, but they are writing what their future customers would benefit and enjoy. For those of you that don’t know, Amazon Web Services releases 3000 products per year so they’ve got a lot of new things coming out, whether that’s in their data centers, whether that’s do with AI, whether that’s for their suppliers. There’s tons of products that are always building.

So to do this, they always start from the same way. They have a one page document, so they’re mitigating powerful presentations and all of that kind of stuff. They’re creating what they call a PRFAQ, which has a one page press release, which explains why the customers gonna benefit from it. Then a FAQ part follows, it’s usually about up to five pages of FAQs, which could be coming from the customers, shareholders, the design team. So whoever needs to know anything about.

Why they do this is that if, for example, Jeff Bezos were to walk into any department and want to know what they’re working on, he simply picks up this PRFAQ and he’ll know exactly what they’re building and it’s done in a customer-centric way. By having it as the written document it’s just based on the idea, it’s not based on the presenter, it’s not based on their charisma, it’s purely on how someone is going to receive the message on the written word, which they’ve called an effective mechanism for customer centric production.

A few of the questions that they ask

  • Who is the customer and what insights do we have about them
  • What is the prevailing customer problem or opportunity? And what data informed us on this?
  • What is the solution? Why is it the right solution versus alternatives?
  • How would we describe the end to end customer experience? What is the most important customer benefit?
  • How will we define and measure success?

So those are a few of the key questions that they dive into when they’re creating this press release and into their FAQs.

Once they’ve created this PRFAQ, they then set a two hour meeting to discuss it. And what was really interesting is that on this PRFAQ they’re numbering all of their lines so that they can discuss it. But they start off with 20 minutes of silence and that’s something that the team at Amazon have gotten used to. Might be a little weird the first time you do it, but everyone has 20 minutes to read the document.

You assume that no one from the team has. As people read it, they’re taking their notes, they’re adding like which lines they want to discuss, and then they go into a discussion to make it the very, very, very best version possible.

They sometimes spend 70% of their innovation time simply writing this document, and until it’s perfect, they don’t move forward, which I thought was really interesting, and what they said is, you know, it has to be perfect for the client and the stakeholders. If we don’t get the document perfect, we’re gonna waste so much more resources and not look too great in front of our clients. So everything they do is thought out and they do know they failed in certain cases, but they learn from those failures and they moved on.

Future fit

What was very interesting to me is, through the discussion, , with all of these different people from all these different nationalities, from so many different sizes of companies all doing different things, there was one main issue that we were all struggling with, and that is how are we going to be future fit?

So what does future fit mean?

It’s an aspirational state in order to remain relevant and generate value in an increasingly resource constrained, carbon intense reality. So the guys at Amazon actually gave us a really good breakdown of this, and they explained that a future fit company is going to be sustainable, circular, and inclusive. It’s going to create value for a broad group of stakeholders, and it’s gonna leave things better now than the way that we found.

We spoke about the future with a prediction that in five years, 80% of all our company’s revenues will come from technology that doesn’t exist yet. And a really interesting quote that they brought up was, and I love this, I really do.

The purpose of business is to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and the planet and not to profit from producing problems for people or the planet.

So I’m just gonna read that again because I thought it was really powerful.

The purpose of business is to produce profitable solutions to solve the problems of the people and the planet, and not to profit from producing problems for people or the planet.

We then discussed how the sustainability landscape is evolving from bolting on ideas to building in ideas:

  • Before it was about doing the right thing, now it’s about doing the smart thing.
  • Before it was how do we do less harm and now we need to focus on doing more good.
  • It was about being risk driven, and now it’s about being opportunity led.
  • Before it was about managing past impacts. As we all know, the world is changing so fast, so now it’s about being forward looking.

And on that forward looking note, I met an incredible entrepreneur called Warren. He amazed me by having gone to 71 countries across the globe. But what was really cool is he runs a company called Future World, and their entire purpose inspired me so much. Their main tagline on the website reads:

We build future-ready businesses with extraordinary value propositions that completely change the game.

I’m definitely gonna be researching this further, but as just one of the amazing businesses I learnt about that I wanted to share on this podcast.

The Workshops

As the work in the summit continued, we broke out into multiple workshops where 50 of us from seven countries, and I keep repeating this just because it was so amazing to be with so many different people and different mindsets.

It was crazy that all of the discussed topics, no matter what languages people were speaking in, we all kind of came down to the same similar thoughts and fundamentals. We all had our way to express them, but from the 50 of us, a lot of us were just discussing how things need to be purpose driven with the right people and how we need to think about things from a very human angle.

If you want to deeply understand all of the concepts we were talking about and to understand everyone’s mindset, there are three key books:

  • Thinking Fast and Slow
  • Start With Why
  • From Good to Great,

During the conference, one of the directors of KPMG Malta gave us incredible insights into behavioral economics. I have to admit, he blew my mind. All I could think about was I gotta get this guy on the podcast to share his message with our audience. He turned what appeared to be simple optical illusions into extremely impactful methods of understanding data and the effect that has on the economy. I know that doesn’t sound quite correct and I will do no justice whatsoever explaining further in that. So let’s just keep our fingers crossed that he accepts the invite.

Nathan Farrugia, the president of Vistage Malta, took us through a workshop called Surrounded by Idiots, and I love this as something I’m sure you’ve all heard me talk about is understanding personality types.

I’ve done this in many of the podcasts and I’ll continue to do so as it’s really important to me. In this case, we went for the simplified version of people profiling red, blue, yellow, and green Personalities. We ran through the exercise and found our types. We then split into groups of our individual colors  and teamed up to try and understand our opposing colors.

As I’ve mentioned before I am the director, the pioneer, the E N T J, so that meant I was a red. We teamed up as the group of reds and tried to please the greens. I won’t go too much more into this, but know that even for 50 CEOs of all different levels, ages, backgrounds, experiences, they all showed and they all discussed how knowing yourself and the self-awareness, being able to identify your personality types and other people’s personality types, is so important to developing long-lasting relationships.

We all expressed that knowing yourself and having self-awareness and being able to identify the personality types of your peers is one of the most important tools we can think of because the future is people and building relationships. It’s going to be about leveraging human creativity to manage AI tools. It’s about becoming as human as possible in business so that we can succeed as humans together while all these incredible new technologies do the work for us in ways we can’t imagine.

A fellow red

One of the main highlights for me was the breakout session at the very end, where we were all teaming up with the person we were sat near. So we were in groups of eight, and we all teamed up with one person on the table in a room full of incredible people.

I feel so lucky to have spent the time with a fellow red Miguel Pardo Calvo. He’s built businesses across multiple continents, hired thousands of people, and had an incredibly inspiring story to tell from the age of 16 to date. Currently he’s the president of Vistage and Portugal and a chairman of Vistage Spain, as well as a serial entrepreneur, but really he’s a human with an incredible story to tell the scars, the show for it, and a deep desire to help people grow, something I realized a lot of people in that room shared together.

Importance of values

We told our stories and from those stories we helped one another find out our true values as leaders, another thing that if you’ve been listening to our podcast, you’ll know I don’t really shut up about. So to me, to be with 50 CEOs in a room, all focusing on what our core values are this was so inspiring because I know they mean a lot to me, but I didn’t realize how much they meant to everyone else.

It was deeply reassuring to see people who have been in business for 40 years, who were elevated when they realized the times they had been being true to their values, how when they weren’t, how negatively impactful it was to them and to their businesses.

An incredible thing that I think we agreed on is there is no such thing as work life balance, especially when it comes to your values. Your values help you define what is a good and a bad choice for your life in general.
If you follow your values and you end up with negative impacts on either your work or personal lives, then you need to be mindful of those values and understand their negative consequences.

I can personally tell you the weekend gave me deep insight into how following my values has actually created negative impacts in my personal relationships, but helped me succeed in business, and that’s something I’m gonna reflect on. Although I felt I always do the right thing, it was the right thing for me and maybe not the right thing for us. I’ve got some work to do on my values, but in due time I will share some more insights.


This is everything that we learned:

  • we touched on personality types
  • we touched on values
  • we touched on trying to be future proof
  • we learned about net zero in a deeper level
  • we learned about innovation from a customer-centric point of view.

Those are the four or five key insights that I really wanted to share with you, and they will definitely be diving deeper into.

As always, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and please share this with one person you know that needs to hear it.

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