Jeff Nemeth, CEO for sub-Saharan Africa region, Ford Motor Company
1. What was your first job?
I was a petrol pumper at the gas station. I learned to work as a mechanic, tow truck driver, and cashier while helping pay for my studies in university.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
One of the biggest factors to my inability to quickly fall asleep at night is balancing the company demands with my workers’ needs. It’s always difficult when something is expected of you from stakeholders higher up, but you have a responsibility to people who you work with. What do they require to not only come to work every day, but also to enjoy and get excited about the place that they work? Achieving that means your colleagues and workers can be successful because they enjoy what they do and don’t bemoan or disdain the job they have.
Another part of the sleeplessness is questioning whether or not I am achieving enough for the company to be successful and achieving enough for my workers and colleagues to be successful. And what have I done well up to this point, what can I improve, what have I failed at, and need to do better on.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
That is a really tough question. I have had mentors along the way that helped and guided me through times where the going was very tough and my early lack of experience was not going to aid me at all. These people have been an invaluable source of knowledge and advice, but if it comes to the most direct impact on where I am today, my answer would be my wife and sons. Without my family I would not have had the honest feedback or been pushed as hard as I would have been on my own.
They are always driving me to do more and be better than I was the day before. Additionally, moving around the world throughout my career has been a strain on everyone in the family, but the sacrifices they have made to ensure we stay together as a unit has enabled me to continue my career. Some who know our family well would argue that I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for my wife pushing me so hard. And my eldest son always says: “Behind every great man is a greater woman… usually yelling at him.”
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Take care of yourself first. Make sure you are healthy, not stressed, and happy with where you are. If you can do that, everything in your work life will fall into place. You will be motivated, productive and inspired in work if you take care of yourself outside of work. If you have your health, you have everything you need.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Personally, I believe it is because I genuinely care about the people I work with and am responsible for, as well as their families. I know having an exciting career in a vibrant business is important for not only the employee, but their families as well who are also affected by the success of the business. Another reason is that I excel at taking seemingly complex issues and distilling them down to two or three action items – then communicating how these actions will move the business and the team forward. The clarity motivates and inspires the team to deliver.
6. Where is the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job, big time. Business school teaches you how to consider aspects of a problem and formulate solutions, how to channel your thinking when working with different data and issues. But it does not prepare you to be a leader, how to inspire the people around you, or how to address the complex inter-related challenges regarding customers, employees, and product. Even if you learn how to address complex problems and think critically, there is no business school teaching the process of motivating and inspiring the people around you to believe in what they are doing.
7. How do you relax?
I spend time with my family, find some outdoor activity to do, and eat at one of the many great restaurants in Johannesburg/Pretoria. I play games and sports with my sons on the weekends, as well as go out with my family to enjoy the amazing and beautiful South African landscapes. My favourite activity is golf, despite the fact that no matter how much I play I never seem to be as proficient as I want to be.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
My desk is usually whatever space my laptop and phone happen to coexist. One of the aspects of this job is that I am constantly tuned into what is happening at my plants as well as the global Ford business, and I can never turn it off. Therefore, I’m working throughout the whole day, before and after I get to my office. If I had to put a time on when I like to be at the office, I’d say 7am and no later.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
How do you think this job can help you become the person you want to be?
It is surprising how few people can answer that question – but when they sit and think about it for a moment and get their head in that space, the rest of the interview is a breeze for both people.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Don’t compromise on your dreams and goals, but understand the main ingredient in success is hard work. It is so important to be inspired, motivated and defined by what you spend your day doing. Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.