March 6, 2021

Corner Office: Peter Löscher : The Trust That Makes a Team Click

Q. Do you remember the first time you were in a leadership position?

A. I was captain of the volleyball team in high school and then in college.

Q. And did that role come pretty naturally to you?

A. Yes. It came naturally because, at the end of the day, it’s about fostering the best performance from the people on the team. It’s less a question of how you train and your physical conditioning. The difference between a good team and a great team is usually mind-set. When you watch great games in sports, you see there’s a moment, all of a sudden, when the team clicks. It’s something that’s always caught my attention — why and how that happens with teams.

Q. And how do you make those moments happen?

A. When you’re in business, I think the underlying principle is trust. How do you establish within a team a blind trust so that each person plays for the other? Business is about lining up a leadership team or a group of people and you rally them behind a cause or a certain direction. But the underlying strength is the trust within the team — so that you actually are no longer just playing individually at your best, but you’re also trying to understand what you can do to make the team better. And for me a defining moment in this regard was when I arrived for the first time in the United States, and had my first leadership role running a whole company.

Q. Tell me more about that.

A. It was an agricultural group, and I had the responsibility to lead a team that stretched from Mexico to Canada. There were three different entities but one leadership team. So all of a sudden I find myself in cultural situations where I start to recognize that even though two people are speaking English, there’s a distinct cultural difference. So the challenge was how to lead a diverse team, and this was always one of my interests.

My forefathers are from Italy, my parents are Austrian, my wife is Spanish, two of our children are American and the third is Spanish, so I have the United Nations at home. You have to adapt to a diverse environment and appreciate the diversity.

My career has allowed me to hone this skill. I’ve worked in Asia. I’ve worked in Europe. I’ve worked in the U.S. When you start to run a global business you must appreciate the different environments you’re operating in and then try to combine them. When I arrived at Siemens, the global leadership team was mostly Germans with a certain cultural background, with a certain experience. Now we have a much more diverse team. The last thing you want as a leader is to have clones of yourself.

Q. Any other lessons learned from starting so many new jobs as you’ve moved around?

A. The most important thing is, when you arrive somewhere new, that you come in without a preset agenda. I didn’t join Siemens with a leadership team in mind. I’m just the 12th C.E.O. in the history of the company, which was founded in 1847. So the culture of the company was actually formed over a long period of time, through longevity of leadership. So for me the important thing was to come in and say Siemens doesn’t need a revolution. We will go for an evolution but with speed, speed, speed.

And I said I need 100 days. Obviously the first expectations are: What are the first decisions? What will he do? I said I need 100 days because I want to talk to as many people as possible, and go around the world so that I really understand what is on people’s minds, what the issues are. I went from China to India to Japan to Brazil to the U.S. Slowly but surely the agenda was formed, and then you move forward, and you work closely with your leadership team and all the changes that we have initiated.

And then I went through a complete assessment program for the top 100 positions. We benchmarked everybody against outside candidates, and it was a totally open process. You have to think about how you develop an agenda together with your team, and how you build trust. And one element of building trust is transparency.

Q. You did this benchmarking assessment, but certainly chemistry with you is part of it, too.

A. Absolutely. This was very important. At the end of the day, there must be chemistry, there must be a sense that this is the team that I want to create, with people who believe in its totality. Because you can have a great team of superstars, but it’s by no means certain that they will actually be a great team.

Q. How do you hire for key leadership positions in your organization?

A. The most important thing is to look for diversity in your career path. I will look for passion, because I think that’s a very important element.

Q. And how do you get at that?

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