Let’s Talk Leadership: Bill Hogg Interviews Don Walker-CEO Magna International PART 2

A businessman Pointing to a leadership button on a clear screen.

Ensuring that your team is aligned with your organization’s objectives plays an important role in improving employee engagement, building strong relationships with your team and achieving organizational objectives.

In this interview, Don Walker, CEO of Magna International, shares with Bill how they generate feedback and share information with their employees, the importance of transparency, and how they deal with people who are not aligned with Magna values.

A team that is aligned with organizational culture will deliver better results than a collection of individuals who are working in their own directions. One of the keys to achieving buy in from employees is to be transparent and share information with your team.

Don agrees: “Probably the most important thing is explaining to people how the business runs and what’s going on in their operating division.  Are they winning new contracts?  If they don’t win them, why not?  What’s coming up; launches.  Communication, having an open dialogue, listening to people’s suggestions.”

To share information with their employees, Magna holds monthly communication meetings at each one of their divisions. They also have recognition programs to recognize people’s years of service and accomplishments in addition to holding a number of social events throughout the year.

In a competitive market where you have to win business, it is essential to keep people informed and understanding why they are doing what they do.

“If you get people who understand that and they understand the realities of having to win the business competitively and treat the customer right and over-deliver to what they’re expecting, then you can get a lot of people really engaged and they see it as a part of their company,” says Don.

When it comes to sharing information, “If you have management that’s going to lie to the people they’re working with, then you’ve got the wrong management,” says Don.

One of the things about Magna is their values are pretty clear; they work hard, they share in our mutual success, they support one another.

Regardless of how inclusive a company tries to be, there will be people who are just not aligned with company values.  The reality is different people are always going to have different expectations for their job and also what they expect from life.  You’re only going to feel comfortable if you work in an environment with other people who share those values.

Don sheds some light on how Magna deals with people who are not aligned with the values of the organization:

I would say, like any other company, we have supervisory training and we’ll talk about how to treat people, so people in theory should all be highly motivated to take action if something is not working.  If anything, I would say our management team, because they have ownership and they get paid for profitability, sometimes they can be too aggressive.  We want to make sure you’re treating people fairly.  Somebody may have something at home they’re not feeling comfortable about, so we want to make sure that if somebody is mistreated, if there’s favoritism or if somebody gets fired unfairly, they can call the hotline and we’ll take a look at it objectively. I would say over the years I am hoping that we are continuing to get better, and that’s the feedback we get in most of the surveys.”

How a company hires is a key for ensuring employees fit your company’s culture. You can’t teach someone to smile.  If they’re not a happy person to begin with, no amount of training is going to change that.

When you start looking for people to fit within your culture, it’s important to establish the leadership competencies you are looking for. Magna has rolled out a leadership development system:

“We have identified the technical areas and the leadership capabilities that we’re looking for. We have defined it in various categories, and obviously, you want one type of person who is going to specialize in sales versus finance versus HR versus operations, but for our senior managers you want to have them fairly balanced.

“We are very strong believers in having pretty technically competent people run our plants because people can’t tell them a story.  The real balance act is finding a technically competent person who also a good leader who can deal with people, or get that balance in the management team,” says Don.

To ensure they hire for character over competence, the company uses a combination of thorough reference checks, they hold panel interviews with 2 or 3 individuals, and they include management in the hiring process.

Magna’s approach to generating feedback, openly communicating with their team and hiring for character first, ensures they have a team that is aligned with company values.


Part 3 of our conversation with Don Walker will look at Magna’s hiring process and employee training programs.

Watch the full interview on Bill’s YouTube channel


About Don Walker

Don Walker joined Magna in 1987 after spending his early career at General Motors.  He was appointed President and CEO of Magna in 1994 and was named Co-CEO and member of the board of Magna International in 2005. Don is also a recipient of The Top 40 under 40 Award and was named Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1998 by the World Economic Forum.

About Magna International

Magna International is truly a global success story. Frank Stronach started a small tool and die company in Toronto in 1957 which subsequently grew into the production of automotive components. Today, Magna is a $28 billion dollar global automotive supplier that designs, develops, and manufactures components and systems for the world’s leading auto makers. Magna’s management philosophy is known as fair enterprise based on a Business Charter of Rights and a Governing Corporate Constitution. You can find out more about Magna at www.magna.com.


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