Instead of getting the job done yourself, get it done through other people. Leadership is all about how you make others feel when they can perform at their full potential. If you want to solve real problems within a company, you have to start at the bottom. Work your way through the company so that you know everyone is working at their full potential. Engage with them so that you can fix any communication problems. That is how you truly become a leader.
Join Ben Baker as he talks to Bret Packard about what he learned about leadership from working around the world. For nearly 30 years, across 30 countries, Bret has worked with companies like Citi and Barclays. Now, he is the Founder and CEO of The Packard Network, where he teaches leadership lessons so you can be the best you can be. Learn how to be a leader today, despite all the adversities.
Listen to the podcast here
What Leadership And Management Look Like Across 30 Countries With Bret Packard
[00:01:02] In This episode, I have got a good friend on the show. Bret Packard and I have been LinkedIn buddies for the better part of the pandemic. We have learned and we have talked to each other. We have had lots of conversations online and offline, and we are going to talk about 30 countries in 30 years. What did you learn? Bret, welcome to the show.
[00:01:25] Great to be here. Thanks for having me. I have been looking forward to it. I’m quite confident that we can give your readers and subscribers some great teachings.
[00:01:37] I think we are going to have a great time. I want to let you tell your story. You came from the banking industry and you spent 30-plus years in the bank industry all over the world, doing different things. Give people a little bit of a history about who is Bret, where did you come from? Where are you now? Then we’ll get into where we are going.
[00:01:57] I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but grew up in a small town of roughly 3,000 people in Southeast Oklahoma. Everybody knew everybody. To give you a sense of the size of the town, I graduated with 82 people in 1982 from high school. To my knowledge, I think four of us have left the state of Oklahoma since those days. Lots going on. A lot of people back there are some of the best people in the world. I had always had a dream to get out and make a splash somewhere doing what I didn’t know, but I wanted to get out and make a splash.
I grew up in the ‘70s where radio was big. TV was there too. A lot of my philosophy and business were driven by old-fashioned radio antennas and receivers, so we can talk a bit about that. There were no computers, no internet, none of that stuff growing up. I learned things the old-fashioned way. In the ‘70s I went to junior college in North Texas for two years pre-Engineering.
Then went to the big university, Oklahoma State University, and last to ten days and dropped out. We can talk about that if you want. I dropped out. I couldn’t take it. Everything was wrong with that school except for me, and I wasn’t the problem. Everybody else was a problem. I went back home and my dreams were shattered and got my head back together over the next six months.
I fired up and went to a smaller university that I could handle. I went to university with Dennis Rodman, the famous ex-NBA basketball player, Southeast Oklahoma State University. I got my degree in Banking and Finance in 1987. Roaring and ready to go. I looked for jobs in Dallas, Texas, and back in ’87, that’s before Texas diversified. The price of oil was in the tank and banks were failing left and right.
Fresh out of college with a degree, I was going to conquer the world. I went and applied at 24 different banks in the Dallas area, 24 declines. That was it. I remember scotch taping those decline letters up on the bedroom wall at home with my parents and it fired me up. After 24, my dad and mom basically said, “Bret, you probably should do something a bit different. Let’s take the hint of 24. That’s more than ten. It’s more than double tens. Why don’t we do something a little bit different?”If you can impress not just your boss but your boss's boss, it will pay you big dividends down the road. Click To Tweet
They said, “Let’s flip a coin. Head, East Coast. Tails, West Coast.” We flipped it and it was tails. Bound for LA. My mom and I got in a car and on the way to LA, we stopped over in Las Vegas and checked into a hotel. That night we were driving around and saw this huge Citibank facility out there, and I said, “What a cool building. It’d be great to work there.” The next morning, I went and applied there, and then we were going to head to LA. Surprisingly, they said, “We are a credit card operation. We don’t think that there’d be anything for you, but we have a little tiny retail bank. Why don’t you come in for an interview?”
To make a long story short, I hit it off with some interviews. They made me an offer of $19,000 a year. 2 or 3 weeks later, I started what turned out to be a nineteen-year career with a Citibank. There was the old Citi Corp. I started out there as a cashier from the very ground up in banking and worked my way into a management training program. After five years, I got a call from somebody in San Francisco and they said, “We’d like for you to come to the Bay Area and open a new branch up.” I went up and did that. That went really well. They gave me 25 branches to oversee in the East Bay of the San Francisco area.
I did that and a number of other jobs for seven years in total in the Bay Area. My job was eliminated. There was a change at the top and the job was eliminated. Within 24 hours, I got a call from an ex-boss that had been promoted to run a big part of several countries in Asia from Singapore. This was back in 1998, but in ‘97, the Thai Baht had blown up in Thailand, which caused something called the Asian Financial Crisis, the AFC. “We need somebody to come out here to Singapore and install an organic sales process similar to what you did in California in Asia because we don’t want to be dependent on boom and the peaks and valleys of recessions, shocks and that kind of thing. Come out here and build the sales process.”
I did that went well. 1 of those 10 or 12 countries, one of those was Japan and they had a resignation one day and I was sitting in the office in Singapore. I remember it was 6:30 in the morning. I got a call from one of my bosses and said, “I need you to come up to Japan. Take the overnight flight tonight. Just resign and I’d like for you to come oversee this wealth business for a period of time.” I said, “How many days of clothes should I pack?” “Three or four.” I get up there, packed 3 or 4 days of clothes. I was there for three weeks. That’s the real world. That’s one lesson learned. If your boss tells you to pack clothes for three days, do it for three weeks.
[00:07:36] At least make sure that you have enough money of the Visa card to buy new clothes when you get there.
[00:07:40] In Japan, of all places where everything is expensive but better quality. It’ll last a lot longer. I did that. I got a job offer. This is 1999 now. Singapore, it didn’t last very long. I got a job offer to run the wealth business. I was up there for six years, and it was some of the best six years of my life. We built a wealth business basically from scratch.
My predecessor, who had resigned, had laid the foundation, but there were basically a few customers, and we had built that thing up to several billion dollars in assets under management of 22% market share, number one in the country at the time. Japan was bigger than China, and it was the second-largest economy in the world, and now it’s the third because China passed it, but it was big business. It was great.
A lot of great experiences up there. We can talk about any of those that you want to. Then I got promoted down to Singapore again to run the wealth business for twelve countries. This is in 2005. I did that for 18 to 20 months, and then I got a call from an ex-boss again. All of my jobs were calls from ex-bosses.
[00:08:55] I was about to say I didn’t hear a resumé going out in one way, shape, or form over this period of time.
[00:09:02] That’s one of my pieces of advice to people that as you are working, if you can impress not just your boss, but your boss’ boss, it will pay you big dividends down the road because they will know who to call when they need somebody. Instead of you having to look, they will look for you. Thanks to a lot of hard work on my part as well and delivering, that I always got the call from people, so I never had to make the call myself. That was thanks in large part to my hard work and delivering.
I then got a call from London from one of my ex-bosses, and he said, “Why don’t you come over here? You can oversee 2,000 people in the UK.” That was a tough decision because I was nineteen years with Citi, and when he first called me, I said, ‘I can’t leave this place. I’m married to this company. I can’t do that.” Golden handcuffs and the whole thing, but he worked on me. He drilled me and convinced me to do it, so I went over there.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but in hindsight, best decision ever made. I went to work for Barclays in the UK. One of the big four banks in the UK and learned all about leadership over the course of my three years or so there as well. I learned about leading large teams of people. Transforming cultures. That’s what we did.
After that, I got a call from not an ex-boss but an ex-peer and said, “I need you to come to Dubai. Would you come to Dubai? We have got some work to do in emerging markets.” By that time, I had developed a reputation for being a cleanup person. “If there’s a problem, call Bret, and he can clean it up.” Don’t tell anybody this, but it wasn’t by design.
I like and love telling people that I designed this part but didn’t. I developed a reputation by cleaning up businesses that were in trouble with messes and things like that. I worked along the Northern belt of Africa, across the Middle East, Dubai, Pakistan, and different places along that. India, Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Then there was a crisis. I got a call from another boss, and he basically said, “I need you to take an overnight flight to Zambia.” It sounded like deja vu back to my Japan days, and I said, “How long do you need to be down there?”
[00:11:27] Did you put three weeks of clothes in the suitcase at that point and time?
[00:11:30] I did it. I was gone every bit of two weeks. We were living in Dubai at the time. I left my wife up in Dubai. I went there. To make a long story short, I lived in a hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, for roughly a year, and I commuted every couple of weeks back to Dubai to see my wife on the weekend and would fly back down. It’s not an easy trip because, in Africa, one of the challenges is there are no direct flights or hub airports. It takes all day or night to do that.Stop blaming yourself and others and understand that your business problems are not of cosmic importance. Click To Tweet
[00:12:04] You got to bounce around the world, which is incredible. You focused on a lot of things. You focused on leadership, culture, and problem-solving. I think those are the things that I think I want to focus on because you are looking at a situation where, “I got picked up by here. Somebody called me. I moved.” This is everything.
First of all, you had the guts to pick up and go. It’s a lot of things where a lot of people don’t. A lot of people say, “I have got this comfortable place. I’m managing 25 locations in San Francisco. I’m good. I have got a house here. I have got kids here. I have got grandkids here,” but you had the wherewithal to be able to sit there go, “Why not? Let’s go.”
I want to focus on how did you build up the problem-solving skills and the leadership skills because those are the things that are desperately needed throughout any organization. How did you sit there and make yourself known as the person who comes in, looks at a mess, and figures out how to fix it? Those are the skills that probably everybody needs and everybody desires.
[00:13:14] If you look at companies now, you and I have had many conversations outside of this one about some of the challenges companies have communicating with their people. We’ll talk a bit about that as well. This goes back to the part of the story I didn’t dive into it too deeply of. When I went off to the university after junior college, I lasted ten days and dropped out.
It was an adverse situation for me because the real reason I dropped out was I couldn’t take it. I’d never lived away from home. Growing up in a small town, I got up to the big school and was uncomfortable. I couldn’t deal with it, and I started blaming everybody other than myself.
When I went back home after dropping out, I started reading some books and I don’t remember which books I read, but I started reading about adversity because that’s what I had gone through. My dream was shattered and I’d only obtained half my college university degree, so what was I going to do? I stumbled across this concept called adversity quotient, AQ.
Everybody talks about IQ and EQ, but I would attribute most of my success over 30 years, 30 countries to AQ and that’s the following. What’s an AQ? All you need to know about what an AQ is that you want a high number. How do you get the high number? That’s what everybody wants to know, and I’m going to tell your readers right now how to get that high adversity quotient.
Number one is quite simple. Don’t blame other people. Don’t do what Bret Packard did when he got up there to university like a fish out of water and started blaming everybody. Don’t blame any adverse situation on other people. Don’t blame yourself is rule number two for the adverse situation. A lot of people do blame themselves, and they say, “Maybe I’m not cut out to do this,” or, “I’m comfortable in the East Bay of San Francisco running 25 branches. Don’t talk to me about something that’s overseas, because why do I get myself in this situation where my stomach is churning at night?”
Fortunately, I had learned about this back in the mid-1980s when I went through that agony at the university. I learned it at a young age. When I would get thrown into these situations, I would learn not to blame others, not to blame myself. The third and final one is to understand that whatever crisis you are dealing with in business, it’s not of cosmic importance.
It’s important. It’s critical with the pandemic being the most recent one, but it will be arrested over time. Hopefully, we are starting to see that now with the pandemic. At least there’s a way to travel again, for example. Back to the Asian financial crisis, the other crisis I dealt with in Japan was 9/11. That created a financial crisis, and the third one was the global financial crisis in the mid to late-2000s, when I was in the UK and London. Having a high AQ through these three steps, don’t blame others. Don’t blame yourself and understand that it’s limited in size and impact. We can deal with this problem.
Having that mindset enabled me to go into the Middle East if there was a problem there. When I get a call from London, I go in, sit down and talk to the CEO of the country. Go visit some branches, understand what’s going on the ground, and basically, you and I have talked about Egypt before. I remember a trip to Cairo, Egypt. This is before the uprising.
This was during the Moravec era as well. We are building a franchise there, and I went to Cairo and I said, “I want to go to Alexandria.” They said, “Why do you want to go there?” “It’s beautiful there, and with water and stuff. I want to get away from the head office, and I want to go to one of the most remote places and understand what’s their interpretation of your strategy.”
That’s another piece of advice I will give your readers now. If you are dealing with retail businesses or something where you’ve got communications from the head office, don’t go to the branch downstairs in the steel building because they are getting communication daily from people. Go the furthest away, and then you’ll get a good understanding of what’s going on.
I think my ability to apply a high adversity quotient to any complex circumstance got to the point that I would look for trouble. I wouldn’t cause it, but I would look for it because it was intellectually stimulating for me to work my way out of a problem if there’s a toxic culture or a global financial crisis. Go back to Japan. If you look at the performance of the Nikkei 225 in the early to mid-2000s, it’s pathetic. If you look at the trajectory of our business, it was an inverse correlation to how the local market was doing. Why is that? It’s because we were able to manufacture and bring products from all different parts of the world into a zero-interest rate environment.
Back in the early-2000s, that was a big deal. Now the world’s used to a zero-interest rate. It was unheard of, but not in Japan. Japan had that for a long time. We were able to bring products that would yield 5% to 6% in foreign currency. You had foreign currency risk, but that was my job. It was to help people understand the risk of that as well.
We would manufacture and bring in those products off the back of 9/11 when people were nervous about markets, but it enabled Japanese people, consumers, to obtain a decent return in a deflationary economy. The impact of their returns potentially was enormous, and that equated to major gains in market share. You are dealing with people reading the Nikkei every day and saying, “The market’s crashing. What’s going on?” Over here at Citibank, the business is booming. This is why it was booming. We figured out a way to deal and to bring some sunshine to a rainy day.Talk to those people closest to the customer first before you go to the managers at the ivory tower. Click To Tweet
[00:19:51] It’s all about the ability to problem-solve. I like what you said about going furthest away from the head office, from the mothership. I call the head office the mothership. You are right. When you are around the mothership, you hear everything. You see everything and you have the proximity. People come downstairs, they talk to you, whatever.
When you go to the furthest regions and ask people the same question that you would, when you are right next to the mothership, you will get a completely different answer because they don’t have that proximity capability. The other thing that I’m looking for is what you said about looking for problems. The problems are there. There are always problems. Most people gloss over them and say, “It’s not my fault the market’s crashing. The market is crashing. There’s nothing we can do.”
There’s always something that you can do. It’s about being creative, resilient and looking for like, “These types of things are happening. How can we mitigate it? How can we help people succeed, whether the economy is going well or poorly, challenges inside the company?” You are looking at being a problem solver. It sounds like you’ve been a problem solver your entire career.
How do you go about assessing a situation? First of all, understand what the true challenges are and not what people are telling you what the problem is because it’s not usually the same. Second of all, being able to get buy-in to be able to make the changes necessary in order to be able to get out of the situation that people find themselves in.
[00:21:30] First of all, what I would say is the diagnostic. You call it mother ship. I used to call it the steel building syndrome. Everything going on in that Ivory Tower or whatever you want to call it, is dreamland. It’s not necessarily a reality in most big companies, including the ones that I led. I remember flying into Hong Kong and I told the driver that picked me up at the airport. I said, “Take me to a branch.” They have a presentation waiting for you in the head office, so we need to be there in an hour.” I might want to go to another one depending on how that goes.
I will then go to the presentation because I wanted a sense. I didn’t want to be brainwashed first. I wanted intelligence. Your first question is, talk to the level of employees that is touching the customer, if it’s a customer contact business, which my business was. I would always talk to frontline employees. If we want to talk about a coffee shop, go to your local Starbucks. Talk to the employees about what is happening with customers.
Talk to a couple of customers. Get a translator. Most of the countries I worked in, English was not the primary language. I’m resourceful. I get a translator with me and I’d say hi to some customers. They thought it was great. They said, “Where are you from?” We’d have a little conversation. “How are we doing?” Talk to customers. Get a little bit of a feeling of what the atmosphere is like. Are they upset, angry, happy, or do they call out?
One of the employees, that type of thing as well. Talk to a couple of the employees, low level. Not necessarily the branch manager, then get to the branch manager, then go into the Ivory Tower because you’ve got a little data point. That’s the first answer to your question. Talk to those people closest to the customer.
If it’s a manufacturing business I have never been involved with, go to the line where they are making the product or the device. Go to the front line and talk to the union members. Talk to the union. I dealt with a couple of the heaviest unionized countries, maybe. I’d have to be fact-checked on this. It’s probably Korea.
Korea was one of my countries, so the union had a lot of power in Korea. If they wanted to punish the bank for something, they would say, “We are not going to sell any wealth products for 30 days,” and that happened. We had customers that wanted to purchase a wealth product. We said, “We are sorry. We can’t do that because they are on strike.” They will sell you a savings account or a loan, but they won’t sell you a wealth product for 28 more days. We had to learn how to deal with those kinds of issues to work that way.
In Zambia, it was a more friendly union, but nevertheless, you had to find out about the union. This is getting to your second question and a little bit of the first question. One of the first things I did within a couple of weeks of arriving in the country, we needed to transform the culture. I said to my senior executive team, “We are going to have a town hall. I want to fill it up with 300 people and we are going to put twelve chairs up there. I’m going to be in the middle.” I was the MD, the CEO of the country at the time. “You all are going to sit there with me. We are going to face these 300 people and I’m going to ask them what the problem is.” “We can’t do this. We need to think about this because the union, we don’t know how they will react. I’m not so sure that we won’t get attacked.” I said, “It doesn’t matter. We are the leadership team. This is our village. We need to take care of it.”
We have the town hall in three hours and first, they wanted to do it, “Can we do it in 30 minutes?” We did three hours. Two hours, we are going to get a microphone. They are going to talk and tell me all the problems, and you will have to face them because these people had been there and I had not been there. I had not been there, so I wanted to know what was going on. It was one of the best things we ever did because we faced the music. They told us for two hours what was wrong with customers, policy, the way that people were paid, and all of this stuff.
For the one hour, I spoke about what we’re going to do about it. Now I’m going to get to your second question. The first question is, get the diagnostic from people doing the work and then go up the management leadership chain. You are probably going to get stuck somewhere in middle management because that’s typically where the big part of the problem is. That’s where the bottleneck is. I call them blockers. Not all of middle management.
For those of you reading, it’s not all middle management, but typically if there’s a problem with communication or culture, it’s typically a subsection of middle management that is blocking the change that you are attempting to make. Not in all cases. I’m not saying the majority. Readers, don’t get me wrong if you are in middle management.
That’s the answer to your first question. Just keep going until you get to the top. Your second question, I will go back to Zambia as a living example. I said, “You’ve me 60 things that you want done differently.” I remember Martin Chanda. He had a laptop and I said, “Martin, I want you to document every single one of those. We are going to track them, and we are going to solve every one of these 60 issues.”
“You might not be happy with what I decide or what we decide on some of them, but we are going to decide. We are going to close these issues out, but this is what I want from you,” and this is to the 300 people. “I’m going to do these 60 things that you told me that you want to do, but this is what I want you to do. We are going to talk for the next hour. I want to know now about three things that you will commit to me to do differently in exchange for completing these 60 things. I’m going to call on some of you at random.”You need software to make a phone work. That's what leadership is: software. Click To Tweet
[00:27:50] Expectations versus accountability.
[00:27:53] Exactly, and it’s a two-way street. We are going to shake hands on these matters. I called on people at random and we went through. People were stunned. Many people didn’t know what to say, but we got on the same page. The union representation were in the room as well and it was one of the best things we ever did.
Everybody got reconciled. Everybody was humbled. Everybody came down and we reached an agreement. Some people were bold enough to commit three things that they would do. Fast forward. 12 to 18 months after that, this business was humming along. The price of copper, what happened is Zambia is the copper country and the price of copper had crashed in when I got a call to go down there in 2009. They made a bunch of loans to copper miners and it went belly up. It was between £10 million and £50 million Sterling in defaults. It was a significant number.
It hurt the Barclays’ financials for Africa. Fast forward eighteen months, we had the place back in positive profit territory without those loans. We had recouped it. We have been driven by favorable customer scores and favorable employee engagement scores, all above HPO. It was amazing. It was all done by this simple philosophy. Basically, the two questions you asked, that was the recipe for getting this going. It’s diagnosing the problem and then making that exchange and accountability. “I will do this for you that you. What are you going to do for me?” Everybody owns it at the end of the day, and then you’ve got a tight engagement, and then you can march on the journey together when that happens.
[00:29:40] There’s so much that we could do with this. We could go forever on this, but the time’s getting tight. I want to ask you two questions and then I’m going to let you go. The first question that comes to mind is, over 30 years in 30 countries, what’s the one overarching lesson that you learned that you would want to pass on to somebody starting that journey that would put them in the best stead to be able to help people across those different countries?
[00:30:07] I think what it is that I learned my own definition of leadership through pain. The one thing that we didn’t have a chance to talk about was the nineteen years that I was with Citi, they had a very unique ecosystem. When I went to Barclays in the UK and in Europe for the first time, I was in a different ecosystem, the same things that I had done for nineteen years at Citi didn’t work very well at Barclays.
I had an engagement problem. People weren’t following me, and my boss had hired me. He took me to dinner one night and he basically said, “I hate to tell you this, but the problem that you’ve got with your people is that they are not following you and they are not following you because you are a good manager, but you don’t know very much about leadership.”
He taught me. I agreed with him. He had a vested interest in my success because he had hired me. “I’m going to teach you about it if you are willing to learn, and you can do it if you have an open mind.” I was willing to learn because I was starting to sink and was very uncomfortable. He taught me the difference, and this will answer your question here about the difference between management and leadership. It’s like a smartphone.
The smartphone is a beautiful piece of hardware. You pick the color you want, but if you turn it on and you don’t have a SIM card or a computer chip inside of it, it’s not going to work. That’s what leadership is. This is software and you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have the hardware. You’ve got to have the management, which is your processes, your compliance, making sure that you are operating within the law and all of this hardware stuff as well.
The software is things like culture. How do people feel? How do you get the job done through other people instead of getting the job done? The soft things come into play as well. Empathy, AQ, which I knew about, but I didn’t know how to transfer my knowledge of AQ to 2,000 people, so I learned how to do that.
Over the next eleven years of my career, once I learned the software components of leadership, which is the greatest lesson, here’s my definition and answer to your question. Leadership, to me, is only about how you make others feel when they are able to perform at their full potential. That’s Bret Packard’s definition of leadership. I learned it the hard way, and it’s a beautiful definition. I wish that all leaders would practice this model because 30 years, 30 countries, that’s my answer.
[00:32:45] The best way for people to get in touch with you is probably through LinkedIn.
[00:32:48] LinkedIn, Bret Packard. I’m also on Facebook, but less so, but hyperactive on LinkedIn. You can get me through LinkedIn and we can start there.
[00:32:57] The last question I ask everybody, and this is a question I ask. When you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you are not in the room?
[00:33:08] I want to be remembered as somebody that impacted and as a relevant person, even if it’s not in business. If it’s in business and it’s a meeting, I want them to think, “That was a good use of my time,” or, “That person, they are relevant.” That’s what drives me. That word relevance and being important, making an impact on everybody I come into contact with. That’s what has driven me for 30 years and it will drive me for 30 more.
[00:33:40] Thank you for your wisdom. You never disappoint. I always love our conversations and I can’t wait for the next one. Thank you for being a wonderful guest.
[00:33:48] It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me and thanks to everybody for reading.
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About Bret Packard
Bret Packard grows leaders that grow leaders, transforms cultures and connects people around the world. His proven methods often saves others years due to his extensive international experience and direct access to a global team of professional experts.
For nearly 30 years, across 30 countries in international banking and wealth management at Citi, Barclays and the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group, Bret has run large, complex, high-growth businesses and an array of product lines while serving as Executive Director on subsidiary boards. As a country and regional CEO, Bret has successfully transformed cultures, reconstructed/strengthened leadership teams, improved diversity and revamped faltering businesses to sustained profitability in both benign and crisis market conditions.
Bret has also grown profitable product lines/teams in complex, multiple regulatory jurisdictions and has extensive experience meeting corporate governance requirements including the build-out of internal risk management detection systems, risk process frameworks and compliance teams. He has an established track record of building highly-engaged, productive teams that deliver world class client experiences with efficient cost bases.