I have worked in many industries with many clients on the agency side, but the one common thread has always been Miller Brewing Company. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Miller was always one of the big “North Star” companies in town, so I always had an appreciation and fondness for Miller Brewing Co. in the Milwaukee community. Additionally, I’ve always been interested in the beer category as it is very fast moving and interesting, with a very unique dynamic given the highly regulated nature of the business.
Loyalty matters a lot to me as a leader and to Miller as a business. Establishing trust, building the right culture, and having mutual employee-to-employer trust and loyalty are vital components of our company’s culture and values.
As a leader, I want to take advantage of everyone’s brain because, most often, people have additive ideas. I encourage my team to think out of the box and take chances, because maybe their ideas aren’t so outrageous after all. I always urge participation in client meetings and brainstorming sessions. I never want to create a hierarchical situation where my colleagues don’t challenge ideas. I want a young person who is fresh out of college to come up to me and say, “Pete, you are a moron for thinking that is a good idea and here’s why.” I want to influence and develop people who are bold, confident, and want to push the organization forward.
When I think about what success looks like for our function, I consider two key principles: influence and impact. I ask, “Do we influence the company the right way?” and “Do we have the opportunity to make a positive impact?”
To do that, I want to make sure our team has the right enterprise mindset where they are empowered to recommend and suggest ideas that will drive the company forward. I want them to understand finance, marketing, and sales. I want them to take their understanding of the business and deepen it over time, and develop ideas that are influencing the progress of the business. When I talk to my team, I challenge them to consider that dichotomy of “What is here and now?” versus “What is coming?”
If you want to foster corporate trust and a good reputation, then you have to make sure that you are always telling the truth. Being honest, authentic, and transparent are musts for any leader. I also think it’s critical to “understand the business.” Be commercially savvy and business-literate. When I look at hiring people, I look at people across three dimensions: attitude, aptitude, and ambition.
I also think it’s important to be good-humored and calm. In times of crisis, you can prove yourself incredibly valuable just by being measured and calm, and laughing some things off when the time is right. I want smart people, but I also want our team to be a team of high-energy individuals looking to make an impact while having fun doing it. If you’re not having fun or enjoying the people that you work with, go find another place to work because life is too short.
I have had the pleasure of working with great people and some not-so-great leaders, too. You learn just as much in both situations. There are a lot of people that I continue to connect with on a regular basis who have much more career experience than me, and I seek their advice on many decisions. There are a lot of people on whom I lean for advice and from whom I seek counsel. I double-check my intuition with them when making a decision. They help me look at it from a different perspective, which is critical for me.
My most influential mentor is Dick Strup, a longtime executive at Miller Brewing Company. He has consistently been there for me with great advice and perspective throughout my career.
In today’s digital world, it’s essential to have a strong understanding of what you stand for, who your audience is, and what you are trying to communicate on a consistent basis. Technology has obviously boosted expectations for how quickly people want to get information, whether they are consumers or employees. Before we came out with a video series about 15 months ago called MCTV, we communicated with text-laden emails. MCTV is a better way for us to create and effectively communicate information through visual storytelling, and has been a great improvement for us.
With the rapid growth of technology, you must assume that everything that goes on with the enterprise is going to be ultimately seen in the light of day. So, you have to be prepared to deliver messages of great authenticity and unquestionable transparency. That is a challenge, because many companies are still transitioning into being constantly in the spotlight. Educating and guiding companies towards having greater transparency is one of the biggest opportunities for communication leaders. We are all in a big fish bowl!
I love the term intellectual curiosity. Read an actual newspaper every now and again, and read things about the business you are in and industries that you want to be in. Express yourself in a way that reflects your point of view, beliefs, and opinions. Try not to judge yourself against too many of your peers – you’ll drive yourself crazy. Just do what you think is the right thing to do. Strive for differentiation because you have a unique point of view, and because you have a great perspective to offer somebody. Just be your authentic self, and have confidence in your ability to succeed.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Common sense is the least common of all senses.” Be pragmatic. If you can help your company avoid self-inflicting wounds through pragmatic decisions, you will be invaluable.
Another concept I’d like to address is leading by fear. I would much rather my team say, “Pete’s a great guy, I love him and I don’t want to let him down,” as opposed to “I am scared about what he is going to do if I don’t do this.” I would rather motivate by saying, “You’re an important part of this team. And I want you to want to do this because you love the company and your team.” People don’t make the right choices when they feel like they have to do something. Most people give high effort, and that additional one or two percent of passion that awakens in an employee makes all the difference in the world when they really want to accomplish something.