by Ryan Westwood

5 factors that form a formidable business leader, according to Oracle CIO Mark Sunday

Jan 22, 2018
IT Leadership

Consistency is key in remaining competitive over time — especially in an era of fast-paced change.

Oracle headquarters
Credit: Magdalena Petrova

Lead, but follow. Be transparent, but discreet. Be caring, but tough. Be fair, but strategic. It seems that current business philosophies change with the days of the week.  But for me, I look to Sunday for an inspiring example in leadership. Mark Sunday, that is. As Senior Vice President and CIO at Oracle, Sunday has seen his share of shifting business trends. Where other leaders may scramble to adapt, the secret to his success is his consistent execution of five dynamic strategies day in and day out.

1. Make sure your goals and values are aligned with those of the company

Some claim that loyalty in the workforce is dead. In some ways, that’s true. But in the process of scrambling to improve work culture, many companies discovered that a manager who is authentically loyal and receptive to the staff’s needs is an essential part of company morale and staff retention. “Authentic leaders can be counted on to say what they mean and do what they say,” says Harvey Deutschendorf. “They’re the same person to their staff, their own superiors, their customers, and their partners.”

Early in his career, Mark made the decision to never place his own interests before the interests of the company or his department, and he has never wavered in that commitment. Academicians call this “organizational identification” at its best. When he understands the motives and long-term plans designed by the CEO or president of a company, Sunday is better able to mirror and implement them.

2. Stay connected with your customers

Instituting customer service practices is a fundamental part of maintaining a business. But when you hold a genuine interest in the needs of your customers — well, that really makes things happen. Christopher M. Litster, a senior VP at American Express, calls it “customer engagement” rather than just providing a service. “Customer engagement is about delivering more personalized experiences based on authentic relationships with customers,” he says, adding that the more business leaders know about their customers, the more personalized the customer experience will be. “This, in turn, leads to repeat sales,” says Litster.

Mark maintains a real interest in his customers and makes a point to be accessible to them as much as possible. Staying in touch with customers provides valuable feedback about the company’s products, services, and overall performance. Keeping contact with your customers, regardless of your management level, will tune you in to what works within your company and what may need to be adjusted.

3. Hire employees who know more than you do

The ability of an entrepreneur to recognize his or her own limitations and hire people whose strengths augment the company as a whole is a rare quality — and requires a degree of humility. In a quote frequently attributed to business tycoon Richard Branson, “It’s all about finding and hiring people smarter than you. Getting them to join your business, and giving them good work. Then get out of their way, and trust them,” the quote goes. “You have to get out of the way, so that you can focus on the bigger vision.” Mark’s team is comprised of people from several different countries, so he takes a global perspective when it comes to finding and investing in talent.

4. Be ready when opportunity strikes

Sunday is well aware of the amazing opportunities that have come his way, and he feels a huge sense of gratitude for the career he has built and enjoyed. Much of that success comes from seizing the opportunity in all facets of one’s life. In fact, Mark once stopped talking to a colleague mid-sentence to walk over and introduce himself to a beautiful woman — who became his wife. He said, “I now have an incredible wife because I seized the opportunity at the right time and place.”

5. Stay focused on the big picture

It’s tempting to get distracted by the immediate circumstances surrounding a business. Financial strains, employee relations, and an uncertain future for a company all may affect immediate business decisions. It’s wise to avoid that temptation and focus instead on the big picture.

It means focusing on macro management. “Time and effort spent on macro management enables leaders to be as clear, decisive, and disciplined at the macro level — on the big strategic questions the organization is facing — as their managers are at the micro level, i.e., about how these decisions might be implemented,” says Harvard Business Review contributor Elsbeth Johnson.

Mark has been able to effectively bridge corporate silos and encourage real communication about long-term strategy. Entrepreneurs who follow suit can focus on the big picture and not be alarmed or bogged down by things that come up on a daily basis.

Mark Sunday’s business practices have enabled him to be one of the most successful CIOs in the industry in addition to making him a very interesting man, overall. By staying centered on what’s best for the organization, being accessible to customers, hiring the right people, demonstrating gratitude for opportunities, and remaining focused on the big picture, entrepreneurs can follow Mark’s good business sense and build a productive, positive, and profitable company.