The Difference Between the C-Suite and a President // With Marcela Miguel Berland

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Written by Pete Sena,
• 3 min read

Pete Sena: You’ve worked with more than 12 presidents. Help me understand the similarities between a large company CEO or c-suite executive, juxtaposed with the president. I want to understand how those challenges are the same because when the team was doing some research for this talk, you saw the parallels there. I just wanted to have you dig into that for us a little bit more.

Marcela Berland: Well there’s a lot of similarities and also there are some differences. When you are a president, you’re in charge of an entire country, and when you’re the CEO you’re in charge of the entire company. In the past the corporate world used to move slowly and you could make mistakes and they will go unnoticed and nothing will happen, particularly with multinationals.

I’d remember earlier on in my career, I was working for an oil company and they had a natural disaster in Ecuador. I flew down there and I said “What are you going to do? We have to do something.” And the local president said “We’re not going to do anything” and I’m like, “What do you mean you’re not gonna do anything? This would be a huge scandal in the United States.” He said, “Well, but here nobody cares.” And I was so upset for Latin America.

Nowadays, we’re fortunate that that doesn’t happen. Usually, if you have an issue somewhere in the world you have to respond very quickly. So there are a lot of similarities in that respect. Also, nowadays, your private life is much more public. If you have an issue with, for example, sexual harassment, or any type of personal issues, it can affect your career. And we’ve seen this, particularly in the last two years, people having to leave. You have to be very careful with everything you do, everything you say. And in the political world, it’s the same.

You also need to be very in touch with your constituents. In the case of a President, your voters. And with a CEO, both internally and externally, you need to be aligned. And in both cases, I don’t believe it’s about the person alone. It’s about the team. And I’ve seen it over and over again. You can have the brightest person on the top, but if you don’t have a good team, if you don’t have an external voice, either an advisor or a group of advisors, telling you things as they are, there’s going to be a problem.

One of the biggest issues I see in both cases is CEO’s and Presidents tend to surround themselves with people who say everything is wonderful. They say that everything is great and perfect, and then we see horrendous mistakes coming from CEO’s.