Welcome to The 6 a.m. CFO, where finance chiefs share how they jump-start their days and engage with the tasks that are in front of them.
Today, Johnson Controls’ CFO Olivier Leonetti shares the importance of being a lifelong learner, the power of a good team, and the key to effective meetings.
- Offers smart, healthy, and sustainable buildings.
- Founded: 1885
- Size: Over 100,000 employees
- Annual growth or revenue: FY’22 revenue $25.3B
Weekday wake-up time and the first thing I like to do: Weekday mornings typically begin at 4:30 a.m., followed by email while enjoying a cup of coffee. Our teams are global so there is usually a lot to catch up on overnight from Asia and Europe.
The last part of my wake-up ritual is a daily meditation. Transcendental meditation grounds me and gets me mentally ready for the day ahead.
How I usually spend the first hour of my day: The first hour of my workday is typically spent planning for the day ahead unless there are meetings on the calendar first thing.
In the first hour of the day, my mind is the freshest and if there is a project or a challenge that needs deep brain work, this is when I would do it. Morning is my preferred thinking time.
Coffee, tea, or other morning beverage choice? Espresso. Much to my team’s dismay, I’m probably over-caffeinated.
Best advice for writing an effective email: Effective email is an important part of today’s corporate culture. I have a few pieces of advice that I have put into practice.
First, avoid sending an email if you are in an emotional state — if that is the case, wait until tomorrow, if possible.
Second, if it’s a particularly complex or difficult topic, consider if the email should be a phone call.
Finally, I recommend ensuring empathy. What do I mean by this? It can be as simple as asking how someone is, or closing your email with “take care” or “hope to see you soon.” It doesn’t take much more time, but can really humanize our electronic communications.
How I structure my morning meetings: My answer is not so much about how I structure meetings, but more that I think planning for effective meetings and allowing people time to be prepared is the most important part of meetings.
Time is precious and I do my best to give as much notice as possible. Of course, emergencies happen, but in my experience, the most effective meetings on my calendar are ones where the participants are prepared and we’ve planned the agenda, points of discussion, and captured tangible outcomes.
Favorite quote or mantra: The position of CFO can be intense, and the performance standard is very high, and it should be, but I am constantly reminding myself that, “I am very privileged.”
It helps me put the day-to-day challenges in perspective and remind myself of my priorities.
Favorite leadership lesson: There are a few leadership lessons that resonate with me. First, I remind myself and my teams that “it’s a marathon.” If I look at my career, my family, and my accomplishments — nothing was fast or easy. I had to train, put in the work and this all took time. This goes for work and life — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The second lesson is “You can if you really want.” I grew up in a world where I had many opportunities and I knew if I worked hard enough, I could achieve many of my dreams. This is something I pass down to my children and instill in them as they grow up. No dream is too wild, no idea is too bold. It will take hard work and good timing, but anything is possible.
Finally, “failure is where we learn and grow.” I’d be lying if I said my life is all successes and no failures. I am guilty of bad ideas, bad jokes, and bad recipes. I use all of these failures as opportunities to grow myself and do better next time.
Something important to know about me that you wouldn’t know from my business bio: I am a lifelong learner! Outside of the financials, I am a naturally curious person. I am also very young at heart – I honestly do not feel like I’m aging! Not sure if it's my kids, my love of soccer, or good genetics, but I feel so sharp.
What was the last job you did at your company that fell outside your traditional scope of work? Is there really a traditional scope of work for a CFO? On any given day I can get pulled in many directions — discussing long-term business strategy, mentoring early career professionals, meeting with customers.
One non-traditional part of my role is my board position with All-In Milwaukee, a local organization helping limited-income, high-potential students graduate college.
Recruiting and mentoring the next generation of employees is a passion of mine and it's particularly critical that we reach the widest range of diverse and talented students. I firmly believe diversity is the key to building the best teams and I am so passionate about the work that All-In Milwaukee is doing to help students to overcome roadblocks to college completion.
Can you share one way in which you have learned to manage work-induced stress: The biggest way I’ve found to manage stress at work is to leverage the team. All problems can be solved by a great team.
If I’m feeling particularly stuck or stressed, I like to bounce ideas off the team. Many times, they might have faced a similar situation and had success or might have advice that I didn’t consider. The power of a good team is invaluable.
When do you take time for learning and reading: I am trying to be a lifelong learner, I set aside a specific amount of time to make sure I’m learning by meeting our customers, spending time with our front-line employees, and speaking with other CFOs.
I dedicate time to reading on Saturday. I have also a daily routine, at the end of the day I reflect on my day: did I do what I wanted to achieve, was I the leader I wanted to be, what worked, what should have I done differently, and get ready for the following day.
Favorite app on my phone that is not related to business: My family has a shared photo stream and all day long I’m getting pictures from my kids. It’s a crazy amount of cat pics and I love it!
Favorite number: Five. It’s the number of people in my immediate family, the most important part of my life.