Let’s Talk Leadership: Don Walker CEO Magna International PART 4


You are only as good as the team with which you surround yourself. As an organizational leader, whether you are the CEO, a territory manager or department head, you have to realize that you cannot do everything yourself. You also need to realize that you are not always the smartest person in the room.

For some, this can be intimidating and make them fear for their job, but great leaders understand that they don’t always have the information they need or the answer for a solution.

In this interview, Don Walker, CEO of Magna International, shares their approach to hiring smart individuals and how to treat them fairly.

As a good leader, what we really should be doing is trying to hire people who are smarter than us.  This is something that Magna is very conscious about and considers when hiring new people.

Frank Stronach used to say this, and he’s very right: ‘There’s no such thing as a bad employee; there’s only bad managers.’  You have to make decisions in business, if you don’t make decisions, everything gets stalled.  All you can try and do is make more good decisions than bad decisions.  When it comes to people, you want to spend a lot of time on it.  If you can pick 10 people and 8 of them work out well, that’s an extremely good batting average. If you’re the smartest person in the room and you’ve hired everybody else in the room, you haven’t done a very good job hiring,” Don says.

He adds, You want to have people who are good at what they do, partly because it makes your own job easier.  The objective of any manager should be put yourself out of work.  Have people who grow up to take on the challenges, take a load off you, it can basically run without you.  That will free you up  to start thinking more creatively, to dig into other areas, to do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do.  If you hire people and you have to do their job for them, then it’s certainly not value added.”

Leaders, especially when they are new in their roles, need to understand they need to make the transition from being a doer to a thinker.  There’s a great difference between doing the tasks and managing the people.

There are lots of managers who lead but still want to control things. They still want to be the person who makes all the decisions.  The great managers or leaders are ones who want to step back. They allow their team to make decisions while providing guidance.

Magna has become known for being enlightened business leaders who actually appreciate employee engagement.  While numbers are a leading indicator of profitability and bottom line results, they’ve actually closely linked employee engagement to bottom line results.

Don explains:

“I think we’ve got to be careful as business leaders to do what’s right for your customer and your employees.  If you handle those two parts right, then the profitability will come.”

He continues:

If you’re doing what the shareholders want all the time, you may be frustrating people they’re not treating fairly or you’re cutting corners to your customer.  It can be very short lived.  We look at 3 stake holders: the employees, the customers and our shareholders.  We look at them equally.”

Social responsibility is also in important factor not only for the company’s success, but also for employee engagement and the community. Magna regularly holds social events across their divisions, and they give back to great causes in the community such as their internal disaster relief fund to help employees who have had something bad happen, the Neighborhood Network, Belinda’s Place, and many others.

“We have criteria for what we will support and what we wouldn’t support.  It goes through a committee, also it’ll go to the board at the end of the year.  That’s something new we put in to make sure we’re being fair and making good decisions.  It’s a privilege to be part of a company that’s successful and everybody works hard and hope that everybody enjoys coming to work.  People might not want to work, but if you’re going to make a living, you want to come and try to enjoy what you’re doing,” says Don.

Magna truly is a leader in so many aspects of the business.  Not only in profitability but also in terms of the way they treat their people. Thanks again to Don for sharing his insights and experiences with us so freely.

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 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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