by Brian P. Watson, Dan Roberts

Keys to anticipating the road ahead

Apr 20, 20155 mins
CIOIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

In the first installment of CIO Confessions, Procter & Gamble’s Filippo Passerini offers advice for the next generation of CIOs and IT execs on success as he embarks on his next professional adventures.

For many years, Filippo Passerini has evangelized a key competency that’s becoming an absolute necessity for IT executives: anticipation.

It’s one of the many things that elevates the longtime Procter & Gamble executive to the highest echelon of CIOs. For one, he’s been so successful in anticipating —

blending a compelling mix of gut instincts, business acumen, and, of course, a healthy dose of data analytics — which trends would impact his business. So much so, perhaps, that many people can’t fathom the idea when they hear him talk about it. For them, it’s impossible to attain — they simply can’t imagine envisioning the future.

So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to find out he’s been doing a little anticipating in his career planning, as well. Passerini had decided that when a few criteria come together, he would step away from P&G. He wanted to complete his mission, he wanted to maintain his thirst for knowledge and personal growth, and he didn’t want to stay too long.

Late last year, that time came, and the company announced he would step down in June 2015. Notice that we’re not using the term “retirement” here — that might be the technical designation P&G puts on it, but Passerini doesn’t plan to slow down.

During our recent conversation with him, Passerini spoke excitedly about his future, as opposed to highlighting his past accomplishments at P&G. He focused most of his energy, though, offering advice to the next generation of corporate executives.

Characteristics of great leaders

In his eyes, great leaders carry a few notable and distinct characteristics. They might sound simple to the casual observer, but the context he puts behind them offers aspiring leaders a formidable checklist to pursue (in addition to anticipation): Discipline, vision and passion.

“Whenever I came across a person who was not effective, I could always trace back to at least one of these characteristics,” Passerini said. “If people have these, they will be successful, always.”

Discipline, he said, is one of the more undervalued traits of leadership. It’s about operating with excellence. It’s about completing what we do to the last mile. It’s at the very heart of how successful leaders operate.

Vision is one of the more misunderstood values, he said. Too often, we decide that one person is more successful than another because we think they have a vision. Passerini boils it down to the way people think — it’s more about creativity mixed with anticipation, and how they strike the right balance between what is possible and what is not.

Passion, Passerini said, is, in fact, something that you can cultivate, despite many who say that people either have it or they don’t. When people ask Passerini how they can harness their passion, he asks them what they think about when they’re driving, or when they stand in the shower. Where does your mind go? Answer that question, he said, and you’ll be halfway there.

What’s next for Passerini?

So where does Passerini plan to channel his passions post-P&G? Another corporate officer role isn’t in the cards, but working with private equity certainly is, as is taking on selective consulting projects.

“It is great in life to have the opportunity at some point to welcome new possibilities,” Passerini told us, just a few short months before his exit. “I am very, very fortunate to have the possibility to do that, and…I feel very, very good about it.”

But it won’t all be new. He’ll continue serving on the board of United Rentals, the $5.69 billion construction rental equipment company for which he’s been a director since 2009. And he’s open to taking on more board opportunities.

He’ll also continue to teach at an impressive array of graduate programs and business schools, a passion of his over the last several years.

That’s another part of Passerini’s repertoire that we’ve always appreciated: not only is he a lifelong learner, but he’s been eager to help educate up-and-coming leaders in whatever ways he can. That’s one of the reasons we were so pleased that Passerini agreed to be part of our book, Confessions of a Successful CIO.

And thinking back to that interview almost two years ago in the context of Passerini’s current transition, we were struck by another anecdote of his: When Passerini thought his career at P&G was over.

Back in 1991, he moved to the United Kingdom to tackle his first leadership assignment at P&G. One of Passerini’s first orders of business was to lead the rollout there of P&G new order-to-cash system, a critical initiative for the massive consumer packaged goods company.

Long story short: the project was a failure — so bad, in fact, that Passerini went home and told his wife they probably needed to move back to Italy, since his career at P&G was probably over.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Passerini went on to become head of one of P&G global divisions and one of the most celebrated CIOs in history. As he prepares to leave P&G on his own terms, we’ll be looking forward to what his discipline, vision and passion will generate next.