Leadership Talks | Designing Effective Leadership, Eugenio Sidoli

23 January 2023

by Ana Marinovic 

This year’s last BBS Leadership Talk was focused on Designing Effective Leadership, and welcomed Eugenio Sidoli, CEO of Max Mara srl, as a guest speaker who shared his experience and lessons on leadership, life and career.

Sidoli has been CEO of Max Mara srl since January 2022, leading business transformation, ESG, commercial development, HRM and communications. To fulfill this role, he returned home to the Emilia-Romagna region after a long and fruitful international career at Philip Morris International

He told the audience how working at Philip Morris International changed his life profoundly and boosted his vision and career.He started his professional journey as Business Analyst in Sales and Marketing, working in a small local consulting firm in Italy. He joined Philip Morris International as a Brand Manager in 1993 and stayed for 27 years, climbing up the corporate ladder, moving jobs and countries and expanding as a professional and an individual. At the age of 39 he had his first assignment as Managing Director in Serbia & Montenegro. He then lead Philip Morris Spain and Philip Morris Italy.

While he developed his core competencies in Marketing, Sales and Business Development, his best learning in Leadership came from his General Management positions. In that role, he could prove his vision, entrepreneurial spirit and ability to give value to people, processes, and organizations. He pointed out that multinational companies are an excellent platform for professional development. In fact, they are a great place to train your “leadership muscle” and to develop practices such as flexibility, mobility, and an open mindedness.

He pointed out that we should remember two things from his lecture: that, as a Leader we will have to learn how to “move” the needle, to trigger “change”, to challenge the status quo and that it is important for our development to find a Mentor, someone who can give us advice, who will push us and motivates us. “Beware of supervisors who pretend to be mentors but only use you for their goals and career advancement. Real mentors spend energy and time developing others, raising successors, and helping them along the way. They do it for free and celebrate others’ success.” He shared that he had three mentors throughout his life. The first was a family friend and a former General Manager, with whom he still talks today on various topics even though he’s 83. The second was one of his University professors, who helped him during some turbulence in his private life. The third was his former boss at Philip Morris International, who taught him how to develop himself and how to lead others.

One insight in his career is his engagement in “social responsability”, action beyond his business tasks. “Reach out outside your chosen industry, learn how other businesses and organizations operate, get involved with NGOs”, said Sidoli reflecting on his active involvement as a Board Member, Vice President and President of various associations and initiatives in social development, education, and foreign investment.

Sidoli believes there are several prerequisites and stages you must go through if you wish to grow into a Leadership position and influence others:

  1. Learn how to live with yourself and be independent, confront yourself, deal with your frustrations and grow self-confidence. If you can’t deal with your own frustrations, you won’t be able to deal with other people’s frustrations. Every leader should be able to help their team deal with stress and anxiety and help them when they are in a difficult situation.
  2. Learn how to trust, delegate and manage people. Trust is the strongest motivation tool. Direct people on how to do the work needed and inspire them with your own good example. You are there for them, to lead and develop them, not primarily to build your career – always remember that.
  3. Speak a language everyone understand, communicate openly, and give celar guidance. As Managing Director, you need to provide clear instructions so that your team can execute effectively.

When speaking about his personal drivers in life and career, Sidoli said that he always had a passion for his job. Passion helped him work hard, stay focus and find a reason to stay, which led him to be promoted often and reach a status of a well-accomplished professional. He also learned how to manage his frustrations, which was crucial, as pointed out earlier. He realized that through challenges and suffering, he learned faster. He also learned fast by moving often outside his comfort zone and used this to his advantage because it enabled him to deal with stress and learn through trial and error. Finally, he recommended to always shoot for the long run: “always do a proper seeding, don’t rush your executions, seed well, and trust the harvesting will be rich.”

Throughout his fruitful career, having served in various Leadership positions, he developed what he calls his own 10 Leadership Commandments:

  1. As a Leader, you have to stand out and walk in front. When you’re ahead, you may not always know the way. Sharpen your attention and ask for advice outside your domain – people who think and claim they know everything are dangerous.
  2. Know your WHY and be able to say NO. Always ask yourself WHY you’re doing something. Be able to say NO when you reach a limit beyond which you won’t go. Integrity is paramount. Sometimes this may put you in a difficult situation because you may need to challenge what your supervisor or company wants. Still, you need to be able to say NO to keep accountable and coherent.
  3. Embrace uncertainty. “Learn how to love it, swim in it and enjoy it”. Sidoli learned how to stand up and move first. A good Leader stands in front of the team and helps others accomplish their goal. 
  4. Put yourself out there, be accountable and acknowledge your mistakes. Do not be afraid to say “I am sorry, I made it wrong.”
  5. Do it your way. Be authentic and honest; listen to others, act and ask for feedback. 
  6. Select people better than you. Do not be afraid of hiring People with talent. That will always give you great results because “Great people = Great accplishments”. Select them carefully, trust your people, listen to them, and help them along the way. 
  7. Great Leaders are “predictable”. Their people need to know where they are going and that they will be there for them. A predictable Leader gives clear directions and enables the team and the organization to move fast. A great leader balances the track, the path, and the speed well.
  8. Network, always. Get to know others, mingle, and embrace diversity.
  9. Leave a trace. A job is not a thing. It’s your life. Nurture it and leave something worthy. 
  10. Write down what you learned. Learn to live with yourself because the higher you go, the lonelier you will get. Learn how to share your experience and do it… 

When asked how he manages fear, Sidoli responded that he is a risk taker but hates fear (as most people do) and manages to cope with it by influencing his attitude and increasing his resilience. “Never give up, be resilient, try to look for good news and ask for help if you can’t see the good around you. Attitude makes all the difference in the hardest situations.” 

We couldn’t think of a better way to end the Leadership Talks series for this year. When thinking about the possibilities and challenges ahead of us in 2023, we will undoubtedly approach them as Eugenio Sidoli suggested: like architects of our futures!


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