The Bond Of Leadership Requires Clarity Of Vision, Inspiring Followership & Caring About Your People with Thilo Semmelbauer
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Dave Carvajal: Thilo, what is the impact of some of your greatest achievements? What are you most proud of?
Thilo Semmelbauer: Yeah, well I mean, I think at Weight Watchers, the whole brand is around helping people so that’s something I really connected with. I mean, helping people lead healthier lives, lose weight, make personal transformations.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Weight Watchers had been doing that for 40 years but we were trying to bring that into the online experience as well and I think one of the most exciting things that happened after we built and launched the product was seeing people purchase it online. I mean, watching the ticker that people were actually buying what we built.
Thilo Semmelbauer: But, I think that paled in comparison to hearing stories of people months later and over the years that had success with it, with either right in or…
Thilo Semmelbauer: I would meet users, after having millions of users, it was not so hard to people who would just come up to me and say, “Wow, you were involved with Weight Watchers online. It really helped me, I lost 30 pounds. I became healthier. This happened, that happened.” And to hear those stories that people’s lives changed in some way, that made me feel great.
Thilo Semmelbauer: But once we blew it out and got a lot more users on the platform and made the product better and improved the content, one woman came up to me who’s a customer who said, “We used Shutterstock so much we’ve turned it into a verb. In office, when we have a creative problem we say, ‘Hey, let’s Shutterstock it.’
Thilo Semmelbauer: And they go on the site and they got lots of ideas. And I had never thought about Shutterstock that way but the fact that it was getting such heavy use and had such appeal for creative people. That was very powerful.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And I think Shutterstock, being a marketplace business, equally powerful where some of the stories on the contributor side. I mean, photographers, videographers all over the world.
Thilo Semmelbauer: One woman, I remember we invited her into the office, who worked from her home in a small town in Siberia halfway around the world selling her images and her illustrations to customers all over the world and she was making a living doing that.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And there’s probably no way she would be able to pursue that passion without Shutterstock, so again, maybe small ways but important ways of touching people’s lives. I mean, that’s exciting.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Well, I think leadership always starts with a vision, a plan, I think. It can come from great inspiration or it can come from hard analytical and strategic work but it always starts with clarity of vision.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And I think the second part is getting other people on board. And that ultimately, I think, great leaders have a way of getting to know the people around them and motivating them.
Thilo Semmelbauer: You can’t motivate people who are all motivated by different things unless you get to know them, which requires listening, learning, observing, communicating–all those things to really connect so you can’t do it by yourself.
Thilo Semmelbauer: So I think it’s that combination of knowing where you want to go and being able to, at the end of the day, get others to follow. I think that’s what leadership is all about.
Thilo Semmelbauer: There’s a deeper thing perhaps underlying leadership that I didn’t mention and you’re making me think about it now. I think it’s kind of at the basic level of caring. So what does that mean?
Thilo Semmelbauer: I mean, caring about people. The people are going to help you. The people, together, are going to make it happen. And if you don’t care about them, it’s not going to work as well. It’s only going to work for a short time period.
Thilo Semmelbauer: So there’s something I don’t know quite to how to put words around it. But the teams that I have built and the people I’ve worked with, it’s like a relationship. I care about them, I want them to succeed, they want me to succeed, and there’s a bond there, I think, that makes it special and sometimes makes it work and you can build magic together.
Dave Carvajal: And it’s amazing how that leadership, Thilo, has inspired so many people in their own leadership growth and how they choose to lead and the active decision that they make in understanding how to be a better leader, creating value in the world.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I hope so. There’s a lot of people that I’ve worked with over the years that I’m still in touch with that are in leadership positions and they call me and ask for advice and I give them what I can.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Most of it is within them and they maybe need some help bringing it out. And that’s very gratifying, to see people move on and do amazing things. That’s part of the fun for me.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Yeah, it’s building great products and having impact on people’s lives but it’s also the relationships with the people you work with that is very gratifying.
Thilo Semmelbauer: You know, there are stylistic differences and cultural differences across the generation but I think what makes good people in a workplace is largely, I think, has not changed significantly. I would argue, I will argue.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think simple problems are easy problems in a company can be solved by one person. Hard problems require people to work together.
Thilo Semmelbauer: Well, if they’re going to work with each other successfully, they need to have an ability to respect each other, they need to communicate well and they have to have some shared goals.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I think that is evidently possible and I’ve seen it over and over again across generations. So I put the commonality across generations of people who are effective in a workplace. To me, that is the most important thing.
Thilo Semmelbauer: And yeah, of course, then you’re getting to some of the stylistic differences and it’s common today that you go into a meeting and everybody has some sort of a screen or device in front of them.
Thilo Semmelbauer: 15 years ago, that was considered bad behavior because you could be doing something else instead of paying attention. But today, it’s a way of paying attention. Maybe people are taking notes on their laptops, who knows.
Thilo Semmelbauer: So those things, I think, are more superficial. For me, on the precipice of my 50th birthday, I love working with young people. For me, it’s very energizing.
Thilo Semmelbauer: I remember there was a moment at Shutterstock, I won’t go into the whole story but suffice it to say that we needed to get a hold of some BitCoin. And all of the 40-year olds were looking around the table like, “Uh, I don’t know how to do this.” And of course, the 25-year old that the company wound up producing the account and knew exactly how to navigate that world.
Thilo Semmelbauer: That’s one plus one equals three when you have that diversity around you and you can tap into different generations.