Ask the CEO

Capital International Group
July 8, 2021

In May, CEO Greg Ellison invited staff to submit questions to him anonymously. Staff could ask whatever they wanted; there were no restrictions. A range of questions were sent in to Greg many of which concerned the company’s direction while others enquired about Greg’s own leadership ethos, career to date and future ambitions. All of the questions were then answered by Greg in May’s live staff update. We selected some of them to share with you.

When did your career start to build towards becoming a CEO?

At 27, I was working for a large retail bank in the UK when I was invited to attend a high potential assessment event which lasted three days. There were interviews, role-plays, psychometric tests - there was a team of assessors watching your every move! At the end of the three days, I received really positive feedback and within two months, I had achieved a double promotion and had started studying towards my MBA. I went from managing a team of 10 to a team of 100 overnight. That was my first big job and my career has progressed from there. It might sound like I was just lucky, but while some of my mates were out partying and going on holiday, I was at home studying and working. There’s no two ways about it – to succeed you just have to work hard.

What achievement are you most proud of from your time at Capital so far?

I’m asked this question quite often and my answer is simple: it’s our people. At Capital, we have a core foundation of people who have been with us for a long time: some for more than 20 years and some right from day one. We’ve made some outstanding hires and have grown to employ a diverse and talented group of people in recent years. There’s a mixture of youth and experience, varying backgrounds and a range of nationalities. It’s become a real potent mix. We are now attracting people to Capital who we couldn’t have hired 5 years ago. Capital has become “the place to be” in financial services and that’s something I am really proud of.

What’s the hardest part of being a CEO?

This is a tough question. Any CEO is going to have to deal with high pressure, a heavy workload, constant challenges and even a crisis every now and then. I think the difference between a CEO that does quite well and those that don’t comes down to judgement. The higher you get in a company the more uncertain your information is. You have to make decisions about things you can’t possibly know or predict like interest and inflation rates, future technology changes and consumer trends. The hardest part of the job is making the right calls using your experience and the limited information you have available to you.

What is your advice on becoming a great leader?

There’s one thing I did when I was younger that helped me a lot. When I saw someone who I thought was great at a certain thing, I would try and model that behaviour, whether it was how they spoke, dealt with people, presented or managed a team. In a lot of what I personally now do, I can see the person who I have picked the behaviour up from at various stages in my career. I think leadership is complex. It’s an art rather than a science. You have to communicate clearly where you are going, how you are going to get there and ensure that your people are motivated and willing to follow you. You can’t forget about having fun along the way either. I encourage you, if you have a boss or a friend or someone that inspires you, to model what they do.

What’s the best advice you have ever been given?

When I was at university, I visited Devon to visit a friend and in the evening we would go to the local pub. I got chatting to a middle-aged guy who had sadly just lost his teenage son. He told me that they had decided to have his gravestone engraved with “Never let your fears stand in the way of your dreams”. Hearing that gave me goosebumps and since then those words have been a maxim that I try to live by.

Do you have one person specifically who inspires you?

There are lots of people who inspire me for different reasons. Sometimes when I’m driving to work, I see a man with one grandchild on his shoulders and one on each arm.  He walks those kids to school come rain or shine with a big smile on his face and I just think he’s a hero! I find inspiration in lots of places, music, sport, art. There’s no one person that I specifically look up to.

How do you see Capital developing in the future?

I see capital developing an outstanding reputation for our service offering, our product innovation, our performance and as a place to work. I see more investment in digital technology solutions particularly within our investment business. I see us challenging the core boundaries between banks and investment houses with our unique, unified client experience, backed by a local team who are accessible to clients should they need them. In summary, I see an awful lot of growth and expansion, with lots of fun along the way.