Not Failure But Mistake | An Interview with Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher, president of the Stevie Awards, interviewed with the Korean magazine, Leaderpia.  This article was originally written in Korean and has been translated into English.

What measures are needed to enliven Korea? Last year end, I met Michael Gallagher, president of the Stevie Awards who create the Stevie Awards none the less for many oppositions at the time that corporations ethics in USA were criticized sharply because of Enron scandal. And he has made the growth of the awards that more than 10,000 companies in more than 60 nations submit entries every year. -Editor Seung-hooh Shin

MGallagherweb“I do not use the word ‘failure’… it is a mistake, not failure. People achieve success through mistakes. Failure is a word used only when someone has fallen completely.”

Michael Gallagher, president of the Stevie Awards, suggested this statement based on his perception that “leaders should shed away from dichotomous thinking of the concepts of success and failure.” He further goes on to explain that if the word ‘failure’ is transposed as a ‘mistake’, individuals will be able to stand up from frustration and the urge to back down, gaining energy for improvement and innovation.

Most people emphasize to do not fear failure. Their logic is that failure is the way to learn how to succeed. They explain that failure is a kind of station that everyone passes when heading towards success. There is a opposite side. The others say that failure is simply failure. This is a logic that marked a dot in these days phenomenon. President Gallagher interpreted that these two perspectives could be hardly free from criticism based on its extreme measures.

What is the leadership, according to a leader who has developed an organization considering failure as a mistake? President Gallagher is assured that ‘leadership is an ability that creates a vision for success no matter what the obstacle is and to realize this vision based on firm expression and communication.” He especially emphasized the importance of communication; he explained communication is the most important thing for inspiring passion and allowing individuals to voluntarily work for achieving visions.

The conversation with President Michael Gallagher lasted for 2 hours at the Chosun Hotel Business Center on December 2 last year. The conversation wrapped up with each person rooting for their favorite soccer team’s triumph.

Seung-hoon Shin, Editor-in-Chief of Leaderpia (Shin): According to the speed of technology development increased more and more, the competition of corporations is getting severe. So, traditional sector distinction by industry is lost the meaning. To have business leadership, how the corporations prepare the future?

Michael Gallagher, President of Stevie Awards (Gallagher): The key to survival for all enterprises is to not be wedded to the past. Especially for older organizations with rich traditions, it is difficult to shed the past to prepare for the future. But it is necessary to succeed in an environment of rapid change. Of course, the answer to that question is different if one is speaking about very large enterprises. For small and mid-sized companies it is much easier to inspire and make change. But it is much more difficult to change organizations that are very large.

Shin: In Korea, the word ‘BRICS’ used for a while to represent the emerging market after the word appeared in the Goldman Sachs Report. Among them, Chinese companies grows fast these days. What do you think about the reason of Chinese corporations’ growth?

Gallagher: Chinese growth, like all real economic growth, is about population growth. China is a nation of billions of people who are moving from an old, feudal, agrarian economy to a modern middle-class economy. That means many people buying homes, buying cars, educating their children, buying the conveniences of modern life, etc. All of those purchases stoke the Chinese economy and drive economic growth.

Shin: You will know Korean companies well. What is the merits of Korean corporations compare to other global companies?

Gallagher: One of the things I admire about the Korean economy, and Korean companies, is how well the Korean government supports Korean companies at home so that they can succeed abroad. Large Korean companies such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung have become successful international brands because they were nurtured at home, in Korea, where they were allowed to grow and learn and develop the skills and the resources to succeed internationally.

Shin: What factors Korean government should overcome for economic growth?

Gallagher: The challenge for Korea is to inspire entrepreneurship in young people to start their own businesses. Most job growth comes from small and mid-sized businesses, not from large multinational companies. The best students coming out of Korea’s universities are drawn to jobs at the chaebol companies, when many of them instead should be joining together to start new businesses. That is not just a Korean concern. It is a concern for all modern economies.

Shin: As you pointed out, there are many cases that the standard of occupational choice is economic stability. Actually, it is parent’s hope.

Gallagher: I think there is a cultural difference compared to US that consider it is desirable excellent students challenge more to new business. To change the society and culture fundamentally, to have a lot of interest to education could be a good method.

Leadership is the Ability to Bring a Vision to Life

Shin: What is your definition of Leadership? Please explain the reason.

Gallagher: Leadership is the ability to create and articulate a vision of success and to bring that vision to life regardless of all obstacles.

Shin: As a CEO, what is your score of your leadership? And why?

Gallagher: I don’t rate myself as a leader because people respect me, or compliment me, or do what I tell them to do. I rate myself a leader because I succeeded in bringing my vision to life despite all obstacles.

Shin: What helps you to make your own definition of leadership and leader?

Gallagher: I read a lot of history and biographies of successful people, and I’ve seen that all great success has been achieved by the unique visions of individual people, and their relentless determination to bring their visions to life. That has shaped my own definition of leadership. I created the Stevie Awards out of whole cloth, as we say; meaning that I had a vision for it and I made it a reality, and I convinced many other people that my vision was achievable and valid.

Shin: Recently, leadership stirred up controversy in Korea. Especially communications has been a much debated topic. What means the communications for leaders?

Gallagher: Part of being a leader is being able to communicate the vision to others, so that they can visualize it as well as the leader can. Enabling others to share the vision permits them to share in one’s excitement for it, and encourages them to join in the pursuit of it. If a leader doesn’t share the vision, they view attempts to steer then in any direction as coercion or manipulation. They will understand it to drive them out same direction.

Shin: Korean leaders also pay attention to rationality and efficiency in western world. But sometimes they suffer a sense of incongruity with existing organizational culture that emphasize humane part. But in the end, it isn’t connected to higher performance. How should they overcome in this case?

Gallagher: For better or worse, young people in all cultures around the world have assimilated many western values through technology and social medial. Values such as individuality, freedom of creative expression, and the rights of individual choice. All businesses worldwide, if they are to successfully employ the talents of young people, must make room for these values in their organizations. They must allow young people to believe that their individuality, creative expression, and rights to make choices for themselves are valid, and they must provide opportunity for growth and advancement that promote these values.

Dreams Are Not Fixed

Shin: What was your dream when you were a teenager? What did you prepare to make the dreams come true?

Gallagher: I wanted to be a newspaper reporter when I was a teenager, and I studied journalism at university. But in my opinion at that time, the future of media industry seems not that bright. My goals changed substantially many times over the years, from university until I started the Stevie Awards in 2002.

Shin: There are many people who change their dream(goal) when they become an adult. What do you think about to change dreams upon your personal experience?

Gallagher: I believe that all experiences are valuable because the sum total of those experiences make each of us unique. For me, every job I ever had taught me valuable lessons and skills that I synthesized into the person who started the Stevie Awards. I was able to succeed because I had many valuable skills and experiences that were relevant to that challenge.

Shin: What is the reason to make the Stevie Awards?

Gallagher: We created the Stevie Awards in 2002 in the midst of some big business scandals in the USA. We thought it was unfortunate that the reputations of all businesses and business people were being tarnished by the actions of a very few people, so we decided to create an award to honor the achievements of organizations and people who are doing good things to improve their own enterprises, their communities, and the entire world.

Shin: Were there a hardship in the process to make and develop the Stevie Awards? Please introduce some episodes.

Gallagher: Many challenges, especially in the first year, when everything had to be done for the first time. All of the many processes and systems we now rely on as a matter of routine, year after year, had to be invented that first year. It was very difficult! I have continuously improved it.

Shin: Do you have any experience overcome a failure?

Gallagher: I do not use the word ‘failure’… it is a mistake, not failure. People achieve success through mistakes. Failure is a word used only when someone has fallen completely.

Shin: Do you think you are happy now? And why?

Gallagher: I AM happy now, because I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am happy because I am able to do that with the Stevie Awards. I come to work every day full of passion for what I do. I speak to student groups often, and I tell them that all great businesses are created from the intersection of the founders’ skills and loves. If you want to start a business, you should make an inventory of all of your skills, of all of the things that you are good at. Then you should make an inventory of all of the things you love, of all of your passions, your hobbies, the things you enjoy doing. If you create a matrix of those two inventories, there is likely to be a great business idea in that matrix. A business idea that you, uniquely, can make successful, because it combines your skills and your passions.

Shin: What is the most valuable virtue for businessmen like CEOs and executives? Would you recommend 3 virtues?

Gallagher: First of all, it is be humble. Business leaders rarely need to be told this, because the world makes them humble anyway. CEOs are assailed by investors, government regulators, customers, employees… so humility is beaten into them, if they were not humble to begin with. But humility is a virtue. It makes you appreciate your successes, and it can help you to be more empathetic toward other people.

Shin: The expression “assailed” is very meaningful considering realities of Korea that talks a lot about pro-business or con-business.

Gallagher: Second is to be visionary. This is easy to say and much harder to do. Many companies hire good managers as CEOs. I think COOs need to be good managers. I think CEOs need to be great thinkers. The COO should lead for today. The CEO should lead for tomorrow. And finally, it is to be indispensable. Great leaders are indispensable. Steve Jobs was indispensable. Elon Musk is indispensable. These are visionary leaders who led for tomorrow, not just today.

Shin: What type of sport do you like? There are many cases where leadership is cited from sports tournaments, based on the fact that winners always change.

Gallagher: I enjoy watching baseball and basketball by purchasing season tickets; however, my favorite sport is soccer. I play soccer every week with my club members, and I am an ardent supporter of England’s professional soccer team, Arsenal. I am also supporting Tottenham Hotspur, a team loved by my good friend residing in London. Ah! I am also aware that Heung-min Son, a South-Korean player, has joined Tottenham from this season. I am excited to watch his performance. From a leadership perspective, I believe that sports leadership is a trend. These days, many professional teams are gathering star players with tremendous amounts of money to win the league competition. The managers of such teams are simply mediators and administrators, and I believe that they are not serving the role of a higher leader.

Shin: Do you have any words for the subscribers of LeaderPia?

Gallagher: I’m a great admirer of Brand Korea. I think Korea as a whole has done a wonderful job of building world-class global brands. I think it is important for Korea to develop a world-class system for encouraging the development of and supporting mid-sized technology companies that can succeed at home and abroad. I don’t see why Korea should not have a vibrant startup culture to rival that of Silicon Valley in the USA.

Article was originally written by LeaderPia Editor-in-Chief Seunghoon Shin.

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Nicole Kelly

I serve as the External Relations Coordinator of Advancement and Alumni Relations for George Mason University’s School of Business. In my role, I seek to connect alumni and friends of the School of Business with a variety of projects and initiatives in an effort to support the mission of George Mason University.

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