Advice for success from CEOs: Take big swings and never stop learning

CEOs of Verizon, Accenture, and a music tech startup co-founder share the secrets to winning the corner office and staying sane in the process.

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Suzy Ryoo, Tami Erwin, and Julie Sweet discuss the challenges of leading during the pandemic and setting ambitious personal goals during a Women in Tech panel hosted by Verizon.

Setting quarterly learning goals and balancing the need to achieve with the need to recharge are two crucial components to succeeding as a business leader, according to three top executives who have accomplished that goal. 

The CEO of Verizon Business Tami Erwin hosted the conversation with Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, and Suzy Ryoo, co-founder and president of Q&A, a startup focusing on modernizing music distribution. 

Sweet just completed her first year in the role leading Accenture's business goals and 500,000 employees. Ryoo is an investor and entrepreneur on a team of 30 people at a company that is not quite two years old. 

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The trio shared advice on navigating COVID-19, keeping up with technology, and knowing when to swing for the fences and when to ease up.

Coping with COVID-19 and constant change

COVID-19 arrived at the midpoint of Sweet's first year as CEO. She said she and her team have recently shifted how they think about the pandemic. 

"We are no longer navigating a crisis together, instead we are facing a new reality, and we have to operate differently," she said.

Accenture just launched a new brand called Let There Be Change, a reflection of the era of uncertainty and rapid shifts we are all living in. 

"It applies to each of us as an individual as well as a company," she said.

Ryoo said that one of her personal mottos is "Change is the only constant" as Heraclitus observed. She finished college in 2009 just after the financial crisis. Her plan was to work in the finance world so she had to quickly develop a Plan B. She has leaned on the skills she learned at that time to navigate both the rapid changes in the music industry overall as well as those caused by the pandemic. Record labels and artists have had to replace revenue lost to canceled tours and live shows.

"Our challenge is how do we reinvent models and use creativity to find hope where there's a lot of chaos," she said. "Our company has come out on the other side stronger and more cohesive and more mission aligned."

Q&A is developing new workflows for the business side of the music industry to replace the traditional financial arrangements and distribution channels. 

"Young tech companies are creating systems to get artists paid and music up on platforms, and then get data back to them because artists want to know who their fans are and where people are listening from," she said. 

Sweet said that during this fiscal year everyone at Accenture is completing a training course on the core technologies that the company uses with clients. Since March 2020, the technology services division has trained more than 70,000 people in cloud and remote collaboration tools. 

Sweet also sets quarterly learning goals for herself and her team to make sure everyone is up to date with current trends.

 "I build this goal into our agenda so it's not always about nights and weekends," she said.

Sweet said that early on in her career she established "The Why Rule" for herself. That meant every time something happened that she didn't understand or wanted to know more about, she followed up with a senior executive and asked to hear the reasoning behind the decision.  

"I have always had a focus on learning and that's how I learned technology when I was a general counsel," she said.

Developing the right mindset  

Sweet said that she has recognized over the course of her career that sometimes the place to be is the driver's seat and sometimes the right place is the passenger seat.

"Kindness to yourself is a really important part of your being able to manage it all," she said.

Ryoo said she follows the advice of Q&A's co-founder Troy Carter: "Thoughts become things." She has used this mantra to let go of negative thoughts and focus on her ambitions.

"Take big swings and bet on yourself because why not?" she said.

Both Sweet and Ryoo have made diversity and inclusion goals central to everyday business decisions.

Ryoo said her team takes extra time to find people of diverse backgrounds to work at Q&A while Sweet is working toward a goal of having a staff that is 50% women and 50% men at Accenture.

"Our goal is to hit gender equity by 2025 and we are at 45% now," she said. "You have to set goals internally and externally to make this happen."

Sweet said that the way to achieve this parity is to make diversity a business priority with the same importance as revenue goals.

"If it is, then you will set goals and have accountability and have execution plans and when you aren't achieving it, you'll adjust just like you would with revenue goals," she said.

Ryoo said companies should create an environment that encourages women to be ambitious and think big.

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