Over the next few months, I’ll be interviewing some great business leaders. They may or may not be leading Christian companies, but they will be high-level leaders in successful organizations. I think there are helpful things to learn for us in the church world from those leading outside the church.
I begin with Mark Schoenwald, President and Chief Executive Officer at Thomas Nelson. I have met Mark on a couple of occasions and each time he left a great impression on me in a casual setting. I understand he is a runner, which makes me identify with him, but I also gather from our causal encounters that he is professional, methodical, kind, and wise. Mark recently replaced the well-known Michael Hyatt as CEO of Nelson. From the outside, it appears Mark will approach the position different from Michael. I was interested in learning from Mark’s leadership.
Here is an interview with Mark Schoenwald:
How do you keep up with current trends and the market in your industry?
I believe to stay current you have to do multiple things. First, you have to understand history and the key drivers as history has a tendency to repeat itself but usually in a different format. Second, study the key current data; best seller lists, POS, Bowker consumer and customer information. Also, get out of the office and get into stores and online to understand the focus of merchandising and promotions. Lastly, ask the consumer. We conduct focus groups and surveys to gain insight into the key decision drivers as well as candid feedback on product and pricing.
How is your leadership style different than Michael’s?
First, I would like to start with what we have in common. We both strive to honor God in all we do as we lead this company. We believe in transparency, integrity and doing the right thing even if it is difficult or inconvenient. My hope is I am consistent with what Mike has worked to establish as hallmarks of leadership at every level at Thomas Nelson.
A primary difference between us is my initial tendency to learn by listening and communicating in person where Mike tends to thrive by speaking and active in social media.
I am direct with people, focused and motivated by competition. I tend to be more internally focused on our business and driving key initiatives and results. I encourage our people to expect, embrace and navigate change. I enjoy building and being on teams and being right in the middle of the action in terms of work, meetings, interaction etc.
What would you do or advice to give someone starting their career?
Your ability to see change coming and learn to navigate within a culture of rapid change is critical to your success. Second, get up, get out of bed and get going earlier than anyone else. The message is work ethic counts. Be willing to accept any job or assignment with enthusiasm. Once you have established a reputation of a strong work ethic and great attitude, people and opportunities will find you. Every leader wants that on their team. Lastly, listen and learn. Be a sponge and soak it all in. Mix all this together and that person will be successful in any situation, industry or business.
What is the greatest change you have seen in the workplace since you began your career? Does that change the way you lead today?
The speed of change is the biggest difference from early in my career. Phil Cooke said “if you don’t like change, you will dislike being irrelevant even more”. Change has become a certainty in life. But, the speed and magnitude of change continues to increase. We have to learn to accept uncertainty at times. You have to make decisions based on the information and time you have. The risk of delay or not changing is greater than what most people focus on which fear of the change itself. Failure is going to happen when change occurs this fast. That is part of life. So embrace the speed of change, don’t be afraid to make a mistake and if you do, learn from it so we don’t repeat it. I am not encouraging people to be reckless. Rather, be smart, do your homework, rely on your experience and make a decision. Speed demands this and if you can’t or won’t keep pace, you and your business will be left behind.
What are three words people would use to describe you?
Focused, Competitive, Loyal.
What is the hardest thing you have to do as a leader? What have you learned that has helped you in this area?
Delegate. I like to lead and like to drive initiatives. That is my natural bent so I need to learn to delegate and then support the process. I have learned the key is to find and hire the very best leadership you can find. Give people clear objectives and vision and then get out of the way. Be there for support and any guidance they may require but let them accept their responsibilities and perform the work. This is something I have to work on every day.
What motivates you to get up in the morning? What is it that keeps you pushing for more personally or professionally?
I pray daily that I am open and accepting of God’s plan for my life and for the courage to accept it. I am motivated every day to be the best husband, dad and business leader I can be. It is my responsibility to maximize the gifts, skills and situation that God has granted me. The responsibility and gift of the three kids God has trusted us to raise is awesome. The challenge and reward to guide the development of these kids and our family motivates me every day.
I am motivated daily to model leadership by example. To be humble and courageous. Due to my competitive nature, the motivation comes from the internal competition to do the right thing. Learn, listen, lead and grow spiritually, professionally and personally every day.
Great interview Mark….thank you!
Who are some other leaders you’d like me to try to interview here?