Aspiring corporate leaders first learn to build and implement visions for their individual business units. But as they advance in their careers, executives also must learn how to lead with an enterprise perspective.
Anat Gabriel is managing director and chairman of Unilever Israel, a relatively small operation that sells the usual array of Unilever products but also has two categories of its own, a breakfast cereal brand called Telma and a line of snack foods that are unavailable anywhere else. She calls them “local jewels”; they account for about a third of the Israeli unit’s business.
Unilever, the world’s second-largest consumer goods company, operates in nearly 200 countries and owns brands including Dove soap and Lipton tea.1 It expects Unilever Israel to promote the company’s global brands, but the local unit is still expected to make its numbers, which means that Gabriel must also invest in the local products such as Telma cereal. Gabriel’s team doesn’t always understand the trade-offs she has to make — decisions to support global brands inevitably take away from local initiatives. “To be successful,” she said, “I must work with my team to align our agenda locally in Israel with the broader Unilever enterprise agenda. I need to help my people see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
Gabriel is a sterling example of an “enterprise leader” — an executive who is as successful at serving the needs of the enterprise as she is at growing the unit she heads — and CEOs want more leaders like her. A survey we recently conducted of top business executives from major international organizations found that 79% said it was extremely important to have leaders who act on behalf of the entire organization and not just their units.2 The rest said it was very important. And nearly 65% of those surveyed said they expected at least half of their senior and midlevel managers to behave as enterprise leaders.3
The reasons are obvious. Customers increasingly want integrated solutions instead of products,4 so different business units need to work together seamlessly. Companies are also attempting to share resources more efficiently across functional, geographic, and business unit boundaries.