Terry Leahy (Tesco) in “The Corner Office”

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Terry Leahy, the former C.E.O. of Tesco, the British supermarket chain. He asserts, "Stay focused, and your career will manage itself."
 
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
 
Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times
 
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Bryant: Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?

Leahy: I joined Tesco pretty much right out of college. And actually I turned down my first promotion because I didn’t think I was ready to lead.

Bryant: That’s surprising.

Leahy: It was a tiny marketing department in Tesco, with just a few people, and we were crunching data. A senior guy found me buried under all these reports and obviously saw something, and he eventually suggested that I lead the department. I turned it down. I’m by nature a shy person, and I’d never had any responsibility, and I was daunted by the thought of it. But the next time he asked me, about a year later, I said O.K. I figured I can’t keep saying no; it wasn’t really that I suddenly felt I was ready.

Bryant: So what was your approach once you started managing people?

Leahy: I suppose the contribution I made was energizing people by setting an objective and making a big personal contribution toward that objective. The other thing was probably that I always had an innate sense of justice and fairness, so I probably treated people O.K. Because I’m a little introverted, I’ve never had personal favorites, so people always felt that they’d be treated the same as anybody else.

*     *     *
 
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times' domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
 

 

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