MANILA, Philippines — The morning of Good Friday, I woke up, found myself going to the firing range, and discovered I have pretty good aim. Most of my shots clustered just a little off center—not bad at all for a first-timer. It was one of those rare adrenaline-powered moments that you do not want to end.

I sometimes get that way during an interview. As a reporter, I hop from one press conference to another, and what keeps it from becoming a mind-numbing routine is the knowledge that somewhere in every organization—even the mundane ones—you’ll find men and women who have a fierce attachment to what they are doing, making them a rich well of insights and inspiration. The moment I find myself in the presence of these people, I want to extend that moment for as long as possible.

One of the more noteworthy events of late was a “Leadership Voices” forum organized by the Women Business Council of the Philippines, where not one but four of the most interesting women global leaders held its audience captive with their success stories—one of whom was Kay Koplovitz, the visionary founder of USA Network, whom I had the privilege to write about in Business Agenda’s last issue (April 25, 2011).

The Art of ‘Rehearsed Calmness’

What I find most remarkable about these superwomen was not the perfect lives and careers they seemingly lead, nor the fact that they looked like they’re in control over every little detail of their multimillion dollar businesses, but it was the driving factors that scored them such awe inspiring results. And their answers weren’t exactly the usual motherhood statements I often hear on the radio from our local public officials.

For somebody whose achievements include representing bestselling authors like James Patterson, Marcus Buckingham and Ann Coulter, you would think that Joni Evans is speaking bullsh*t when she admits she’s never had any confidence. “I ran on fear my entire life. I was always afraid I’ll lose, and that’s what has always driven me,” shares Evans, now the CEO of Women on The Web (wow-o-wow.com), named among the top 100 female websites by Forbes in 2009.

“I grew up in a community that’s called ‘country club comfortable,’ and my parents’ highest ambition for me was to marry rich,” Evans says, “but I’ve always had an instinct for what would be a good book, and when I found myself in publishing, I realized that one of the more important things about leadership is just to make a decision. Even if it’s the wrong decision, make it.”

It’s a sentiment Anne Sutherland-Fuchs shares. “As a woman in business, it really reminded me about the many times I was mortified with my shoulders up to my earlobes in a room full of men. But I felt that I had to take that fear and turn it into a strength, and eventually turn it into a state of ‘rehearsed calmness.’”

Pushing Innovation

The former publisher of Vogue and SVP of Hearst Magazines, Sutherland-Fuchs shares that her great experiences in leading different magazines—“Elle”, “Marie Claire”, “O!”—were all primarily driven by innovation. “How many of you have actual groups of innovation in your companies? How do you inspire innovation when all you have is order and goals to meet the bottom line?” she asks the roomful of entrepreneurs in attendance.

Indeed, without innovation, how do companies move forward? In today’s solidly connected world where technological gadgets now come a dime a dozen, how do you stay on top of your game? Sutherland-Fuchs answers, “It’s really ensuring that there was a group of people—a collective sharing and pushing of innovation, a collective with which I shared everything and didn’t close the door.”

In a country where bureaucracy reigns supreme, it’s an oft-common practice among local companies to keep its people out of the loop. I, myself, have experienced this in a previous company where nobody knew what would happen next. Even with an acquisition happening the next day, nobody knew about it. Sutherland-Fuchs reproaches such practice, as it keeps people from “heading west.”

“As a leader, I wanted everybody on my side, and the only way to do that is to open my doors,” shares Sutherland-Fuchs. “It’s all about getting everybody to focus on what we can do differently—what can you do with ‘Vogue’ when it’s already at its 100th year? How do you make it true ‘Vogue’ and yet drive its business, drive that particular issue in that particular year? I couldn’t have done it without a group called innovation.”

I think that innovators around the country—whether those working for large multinational companies or, as with most of the women in that event, entrepreneurs set on creating the next great business—would do well to heed these women’s advice. Some local companies tend to focus so much on the bottom line that they end up skipping on engaging their people. Innovation, as demonstrated by Sutherland-Fuchs and Evans, isn’t just about focusing on building good products—it’s about building beautiful business models and finding new ways to create, deliver and capture value for both your customers and your people.

Send your comments and reactions to mb.businessagenda@gmail.com.

Published in the May 2, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

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