GE Leadership Series: Early Career Advice for Success at Work
All the so-called secrets of success don’t work unless you do. That’s why today, we’ve asked six senior GE executives in the region to share some of their recollections that helped shape how they work today.
People are always intrigued about the early careers of successful executives. Sometimes getting into the heads of these leaders – and hearing the advice they were given, what surprised them about the working world and what expectations they carried – can provide aspiring professionals with valuable direction.
“Keep your name clean and make a difference,” is the advice that Nabil Habayeb, President and CEO of GE Middle East, North Africa & Turkey, received from his father on his first day of work. “Because when you leave this world, the only thing you take with you is your name and the only thing that people will remember you by is the difference you have made.”
Nabil says his first big accomplishment was as a field engineer on a site. “I solved a whole logistics problem that accelerated the execution of the work which was recognized. Simple, out of my scope, but needed for the team.”
Azeez Mohammed, General Manager, Power Generation Services, Middle East & Africa at GE Power & Water, also experienced early accomplishment in his first job as a project leader and research scientist in the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York. Along with a colleague, he invented a mechanism to be used in GE’s gas turbine combustion systems that increased the mechanical life from one year of continuous operation to three years.
“This resulted in a patent for GE. It was very motivating because I felt that any good idea was valued in the company and you get recognized for it. Moreover, publishing a patent had been a long-time dream of mine, and I got to do it in just the first year on job. I received a very nice brass medal, which I presented to my parents,” he says.
Isam Moursy, Vice President Sales, Middle East & Africa for GE Aviation, also touched on “out of scope” enterprising. “Do what you’ve committed to do and do it to the best of your ability. And you need to try to do more. If you just do what you’ve been asked then you’re satisfactory. If you want to be excellent you need to do more.”
On relationships with colleagues in your first jobs, Isam says, “Extend your hand to everyone. Listen very well and learn. Learning is the most important thing for someone new. Everyone has his or her own tasks to do; no one will feed you information. You have to ask for it.”
Maher Abouzeid, President and CEO of GE Healthcare Middle East & Pakistan, also supports the admonition to listen and ask. He was advised: “Listen… observe and listen! Don’t talk if you have nothing to say. Ask questions; there are no stupid questions. The first manager I shadowed said, ‘Ask at an early stage to avoid embarrassment at a later stage.’ You need to work on yourself to become a ‘super duper’ person. Listen to people who have done this before and accept that you will fail from time to time.”
When asked about the first shock working as a fresh university graduate, Maher says that you get a new shock at every phase of your career, and in so doing, learn something new. At the beginning, “when you’re finally on your own and excited to go out and sell, you meet clients and you pour out all the information, and then you realize that you haven’t listened to what your customer actually wants.”
Later, you are given responsibility for more markets and “culture” is the second shock. “Because the people are different and the way you sold products and the jokes that worked in the earlier markets don’t work anymore. So you learn that each culture is different and what makes a good salesperson in one country may not work in another.”
Then the next shock is when you get to a new stage where “you believe it’s easier doing it on your own, and you start spreading yourself too thin until you can’t do it anymore. So you learn to manage people.”
For Maher, the most important lesson he learned at his first job was: “Don’t underestimate people around you. You think you know everything but you don’t. Don’t underestimate any task you get, do it at your best. And don’t overestimate your capabilities.”
Josephine Ford, Managing Director Risk for GE Capital Middle East, Turkey and Africa, says that an early mentor advised her to “think of your career in building blocks. What skills do you need to be successful in the career path you have chosen and what jobs or projects can you take on that will help you get those skills or building blocks. Don’t worry so much about the job title – evaluate an opportunity more on how it’s going to help broaden or deepen your skill set.”
The other key piece of advice she received early on (from a professor) was: “You don’t have to like the person you are working for, but you should respect them. You’re not there to be friends, but make sure its someone you can learn from.”
Speaking of university, Josephine says she learned three valuable skills as a student: time management, meeting deadlines and networking skills. “I had two jobs while I was in university, so I was always running from one thing to another, which meant I had to be quite organized. I don’t know if that’s why today I find I’m much more effective when I’m really busy. I know I can’t put things off! Also, I went to a university where they really encouraged students to speak up and have a view – a lot of the lectures where very interactive. So I was used to speaking up and sharing ideas, and I think this has helped me.”
Azeez, General Manager at GE Power & Water, adds that university was “where I learned to be confident about accepting my own knowledge gaps, seeking help, approaching anyone (I used to be shy!), and having an open dialog on problems and solutions. This helped me come up the GE learning curve fairly quickly. I still follow this approach with every new location or business I go into. You should try this as well!”
University provided Khozema Shipchandler, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for GE Middle East, North Africa & Turkey, with useful professional skills, particularly how to think and communicate. “I studied in the liberal arts – biology, English and economics. I didn’t bring any hard skills to my job but learned what I needed to know along the way. However, those degrees gave me a much broader perspective.”
One of the most important lessons he learned from a mentor early in his career was that leadership matters. “It’s not about being in charge of something. It’s about inspiring people to solve difficult problems, helping them do that, rewarding them when they finish and giving them another chance when they fail.”
Khozema’s first shock in the workplace after graduating from university was “that it was nothing like TV. I expected to have to call people ‘Mister’ or ‘Mrs.’ and wear a suit and tie every day. Instead, it was much more friendly, but no less intense an environment [than expected]. It also became apparent that I wasn’t going to be CEO in two-three years….”
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