An interview on taking chances on people and navigating mergers
An interview on taking chances on people and navigating mergers
This video and the following Q&A do not depict the entire interview.
Learn how S&P Global improved its talent outcomes by embedding talent conversations at the board level and taking calculated risks in elevating and supporting rising junior talent. This enabled S&P Global to successfully merge with its top competitor in early 2022.
Doug Peterson has served as president, CEO and a member of the board of directors of S&P Global since 2013. He joined the company in 2011 as president of its credit ratings business. Peterson has repositioned S&P Global to power global markets of the future with data, analytics and benchmarks. In early 2022, S&P Global completed a transformative merger with IHS Markit to create powerful new insights for customers. Before joining S&P Global, Peterson was the chief operating officer of Citibank, N.A., Citigroup’s principal banking entity. Over his 26 years at Citigroup, he served as chief auditor, CEO of Citigroup Japan and in leadership roles in Latin America.
Very early in my career, I was given an assignment to be a country manager at Citigroup, something that was new for me. I had an opportunity to roll up my sleeves to learn how to manage an entire franchise in a country, how to manage an organization and how to deal with external auditors. It gave me a set of leadership skills I never would have imagined I would have.
People took career risks on me, and one of the most rewarding things for me and my career has been taking risks on people. You see people stretch; they learn, they grow, they do something they might not have thought that they could do, and they always end up becoming better executives, better leaders along the way. So I think people leaders and managers should take risks on people.
One thing I love to do is feature our broad set of talented people as much as we can by doing product demonstrations and floor walks for our board of directors so that they don’t only see the executive committee. They see the great talent we have across the entire company.
How an organization thinks about people starts at the top. And in my case, I work closely with the board on our talent agenda, thinking about diversity, leadership development and succession planning. At almost every single board meeting, we have an agenda item to talk about talent, to talk about people.
Very importantly, in our company we took what was the Compensation Committee, and turned it into the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee. We’ve made that committee a place where we ensure that we’re always thinking about our talent, and leadership development is part of that. We think about our top people, we review our top people, we bring them to the board.
By changing the mandate of the Compensation Committee to the Compensation and Leadership Development Committee, we now think about our talent pool in a holistic way. We don’t just think about benefits and compensation and how we’re going to do year-on-year numbers and year-on-year planning. We really think about the talent equation for the entire company. We’ve had deep discussions about technology talent, the competitive environment and what’s happening with attrition.
The board and the committee supported us as we went into the pandemic with new ideas to ensure that we could inspire and engage our employees. The committee has been a nexus between the management and the board in a way that we can have a deep dialogue.
After I’d been a CEO for three or four years, we’d consolidated our strategy and had a company that was moving to the future with technology investments, with strong capital and with a strong business proposition. I realized that I needed a different kind of partner in our people partner, and I decided to change the name of the role from CHRO to CPO — chief people officer. I wanted a partner who was going to be thinking every day about inspiring and motivating our employees.
The table stakes were benefits and compensation, things that we obviously have to get right. We have to be competitive. But what’s most important is that I have somebody who’s my partner, that together we’re always thinking about how we inspire and motivate every single person in the company, and that they understand the role they play and how important it is to the success of the company.
As a result of our merger with IHS Markit I was thinking about the role the people partner could play and created a new role we call the chief purpose officer. This role goes beyond people. It now includes communications, branding and how we think about working with the community. It’s enhanced and expanded our diversity role, so not only is it now the inspiration of our people but it also goes into the markets and how we think about protecting and growing our brand.
We obviously had to start with the board. And the board wanted to understand the industrial logic of the merger (which we got through very quickly) and whether we have the financial capacity to take this on. But to me, the most important question is, do we have the people capacity, the leadership capacity, to take something like this on? And does the other company we’re looking to merge with have the people? Will it actually enhance our talent pools so that we can be a stronger company together? This means that the talent equation is actually maybe even more important than the financials.
After we agreed on the transaction and really got to be able to plan, we deployed every single best practice we could find. We got together with a group led by our chief people officer to understand: What was everything we’ve ever learned in the past, including lessons learned that are not good ones? And how can we make sure that when it comes to people engagement that we’ve really thought through what we need to do?
One of the first things we did was name an executive committee right away, and then that team started meeting as a group to define a strategy, a purpose and values. We started defining the organizational structure. We were able to look at the executive committee, the executive-committee-minus-one, and an executive-committee-minus-two structure. We were able to do all that before the deal even closed.
First is you’ve got to move fast on social and people decisions. You don’t need to wait until the deal closes. You can start understanding the organization structure. A rule that I’ve used in the past, and I used this time, is “no co-heads.” You can’t have co-heads. You need to make sure that accountability and authority are aligned. If you can go shop around to which manager is going to give you the answer you want, then you lose that accountability and that authority.
Another lesson learned is that you need to communicate, communicate and communicate over and over and over. One of the things we did — which was a little bit risky — was, within one month of when the deal closed, we brought together 200 people to provide them with a vision for the company. And we did workshops with them so they could be the leaders of the entire organization to talk about our advantages and what excites all of us about the merger. It was risky to do it that fast, but it really worked out well.
Beyond thinking about shareholders, you have to get the people equation right. That means you have to move fast on people decisions, right out of the box. You can’t wait around very long before you start making those people decisions.
And, most importantly, you need a really strong partner in your chief people officer. Someone you’re in and out of the office with every day, all the time. Someone you’re calling at night, you’re calling in the morning, you’re comparing notes with on what’s going on. Because people are what is going to make a difference in your success.
Watch this on-demand webinar to understand how CEO Talent Champions make decisions differently and gain practical guidance on how CHROs can partner with their CEOs to improve their organization’s talent outcomes.