We had the privilege to discuss at Guild Talks with Mitch Barns, former CEO of Nielsen, a global data and analytics company operating in 100+ countries with over $6 billion in annual revenues. We discussed about organizational culture characteristics of successful companies.
Mitch Barns is former CEO of Nielsen, a global data and analytics company operating. He is an expert in business, working in a variety of business leadership roles in the USA, Europe, and Asia.
- 40,000 Employes
- 100+ countries operations
- $6 billion in annual revenues.
- “Top 40 Companies for Leaders” by Chief Executive magazine
- “Most Innovative Companies” by Forbes magazine,,
- “Top 50” company for diversity and inclusion by DiversityInc magazine,
- “JUST 100” company by JUST Capital,
- “Best Run Companies of 2018” by the Wall Street Journal.
The panel discussion was moderated by Daniel Lar, Managing Director Yonder.
We would like to know more about who you are as a person, besides the business part?
I am a husband, and I have been for 33 years, my wife would say 25 good years out of 33, happily married and devoted husband to my wife, Sharon. We have three children, 29, 26 and 24; all of them are working in different parts of the country, two in Chicago and one in New-York City. I am a devoted Christ follower, I’m originally from Cincinnati, USA, but I’ve lived outside the US several times in my life, I lived in Brussels, Belgium for about 5 years and also in Shanghai, in China for almost 4 years (2008-2011).
How did you get to the top management of Nielsen leading more than 40.000 people?
It was never really my goal to become the CEO of such a big company and I think that was one of the keys to the fact that I did become the CEO of the company. I want to always be learning and I want to work in an environment that has values that align with mine and as long as I am doing that, whatever that leads to, I’ll be ok with that.
I also just said yes all the time. I was never really afraid to take a risk and to fail, so I think that helped a lot, I got involved in some really interesting things really early in my career
I think that many people are not fully aware of just how big a role luck plays in our individual success. luck plays a much bigger role than a lot of people are aware of or are willing to admit.
Many people think that if you do what you love that should be easy all the time. How do you see that?
Usually, for me, the things I am interested in aren’t the easiest things, I’m just the kind of person that tends to be drawn to a challenge, a new learning opportunity, I consider an ideal role one that I’m not qualified for and then I have to work really hard and as fast as I can to become qualified for the role that I’ve already been given.
What does it feel like to run a company of 40.000 people?
One thing that I realized early on is when you’re named the CEO of a big company, six and a half billion dollars in revenue, 106 countries of operations, 40000 employees, the day you’re named CEO, suddenly your jokes are funnier. The biggest thing I had to learn early on, was that, you don’t get the people to tell you the truth so you have to go more proactively, draw people close to you who are willing to tell you things that you need to know, that aren’t necessarily so positive.
I always wanted to convince people that they should be leveraging the environment of the company as a platform, to help them not only be successful in their work, but to also enrich every other aspect of their lives. When you do that, it suddenly becomes a relationship, they have a sense of membership in the company.
How can you create a healthy organizational culture? What are the basic ingredients of an organizational culture?
Every business or every organization has to be governed, it has to have a certain set of controls or rules or policies, it has to be directed in some way, shape or form. There are two sources of that governance: one is rules, policies and controls, the other source of governance is social norms, organizational culture.
The stronger an organization’s culture is, the less they have to rely on rules and policies and controls, all the stuff people don’t like. But the weaker your culture is, the more you have to rely on rules and policies and controls, because you have to have 100% of the governance required for the organization to function.
Culture is usually built brick by brick, step by step, word by word. Every single day, the culture of this organization is either going to get stronger or weaker, and I need not only for myself to be investing for this culture but every member of our leadership team and so I’ve got to get them on board as well.
The culture it’s mostly conveyed through the values and the actions that you take as a leader, as a leadership team, and those things are ultimately sending signals every time you take an action or make a decision.
What are the values that you instill in the organization when you define a good, healthy culture?
I was always looking for people who were going to do their assigned role very, very well. I think it’s important in high-performing organizations that individuals have to be accountable for the role that they’ve been assigned to play in the organization.
I was looking for people that are not only in their own personal success, but also the success of the other key people around them. It creates the self reinforcing sense of energy and momentum and strength that you can never get when everybody is simply looking out for themselves.
How much is the leader’s role or responsibility in helping somebody change and when is time to replace the person with somebody else?
Anybody can fire somebody, that’s actually the easy way out, often it’s the lazy way out, it should almost be your last resort to fire somebody.
I need to try everything I possibly can to try to improve that person’s performance before I simply reject them from the organization.
I’m being very clear, very direct with the person about what is expected of them and holding them to very high standards, often they get removed from the organization but not by me, they remove themselves
The only time I really feel compelled to simply fire somebody right away is if they have an integrity violation and it comes down to these three – lying, cheating and stealing. When you do find it, it’s essential that you fire the person from the team and send an important message to the rest of the organization.
Let’s assume you are 30 again. What advice would you give to your own 30 year old self at that point in career?
Stay intrinsically motivated, stay true to your values, always be learning, always be somebody who is willing to look in the mirror and ask yourself the hard questions, stay true to that set of ideas and stay on that path.
You’ve stayed on with the same company for 22 years. What are the pros and cons of staying with the same company for a long time?
Being at the same company for so long helped me build this community of colleagues and friends and experiences. The company is just people, so you’re falling in love with people and the experiences and the memories that you’ve accumulated with those people, all the things you’ve learned, all the things that you experienced together – it’s a very rich experience
If you’re always leaving a company after two or three years, you’re leaving really before you have to fully live with the consequences of your decisions and you won’t be having the same learning experience.
The biggest downside with staying with the same company for a long time, is you can miss out on some vitality. One of the things I enjoyed about Nielsen is moving to all these different roles, but it probably could even be a richer and a higher vitality experience if I were not just moving to different roles in the same company but actually experiencing different corporate environments and different industries.
How do you find a good mentor?
We’re all being mentored all the time by the people around us. One of the most important things we can do in order to grow in our leadership is to build a relationship with the mindset to make the most out of that mentoring relationship and minimize the influence of some of the not so positive mentoring relationships around us.
What are your methods to motivate employees, except money.
The big concept in the corporate world as far as motivating people these days is this idea of engagement. The strategy is only as good as your ability to execute. You can make this fantastic strategy but if you can’t execute that, if your team can’t execute that, that strategy is worth nothing. It really comes down to execution.
The key to execution it’s having people in the organization who are fully engaged, crystal clear about what it is that they’re supposed to do, how their role in that team or in that organization contributes to that bigger picture.
People want to be known, they want to be assured that their role in the organization is important, it’s relevant and they want to be accountable, they want to be measured, they want to be able to see for themselves the contribution to the bigger picture.
How are you able to disconnect your thoughts about work when getting back home?
When you can find leaders who can have success in their career and do it in the context of a balanced life, to me that’s one of the most inspiring things. For me managing your energy is a way better idea than managing your time.
What gives me energy is time with my wife, reading things that I find intellectually stimulating and cycling. So when the work-side of my life would go heavier, I would go ride farther and faster. That’s balance. When the work-side gets heavier, I would protect my time with my wife even more aggressively.
How do you manage success? How do you stay sane having the success that you’ve had?
I was the CEO of a very big company but it was never my goal, I’ve said to myself that if I become a CEO, that’s great, but if I don’t, my life’s still pretty good.
You have to take it on in a mindset of service, not in a mindset of “I’m now the king/queen”. As a leader you are there to serve them. When you’re trying to hold on to something and you feel and fear the loss of it, that’s a very different way to live your life and a much more difficult way.
We invite you to a discussion about essential strategies of crisis management.
Date: May 21st, 17:00
Location: Online – Live on Facebook and Zoom –
Special Guest: Mitch Barns, former CEO of Nielsen, a global data and analytics company operating in 100+ countries with over $6 billion in annual revenues. He is an expert in business, working in a variety of business leadership roles in the USA, Europe, and Asia.
Moderator: Daniel Lar, Managing Director Yonder
Book it now! Reserve a place: