Joe Norena is the Managing Director at HSBC and the Global Markets Americas COO. From corporations to startups to corporate digital, his experience has run the gamut of organization. Joe has led a life of unlearning, and every new thing he learned he has applied to the next situation. In this episode, Joe and Barry talk about the pivotal moments in his career that brought him where he is today.
Unlearning Starts Early…
From the beginning of his life, Joe has been surrounded by people who modeled the type of behavior that would shape his success. His father, an immigrant who didn’t speak the language, began work in the mailroom of Citibank and retired as the Vice President. His mother always encouraged him to ‘just go and try it.’ Joe shares a funny story about nearly drowning when he tried out for the swim team in grade school. [Listen from 6:20]
…And Continues Through Life
During his time at Citibank, Joe continued to have powerful role models. First among them was Michael, a senior trade manager. Michael was willing to sit down with the most junior of employees – even graduates – and open his mind to new ways of thinking, doing things, and techniques. He was a true ‘unlearner’ who modeled that behavior for everyone around him.
Joe’s time at Bridgewater taught him another very important lesson: having a voice-based on principles rather than the desire to be right. Understanding that success might be revealed through another lens, or way of thinking, helps a company grow and remain sustainable. The debate then becomes about what the real issue or problem is, and what is the right thing to do. [Listen from 8:40]
Argue the principles over the practices. Getting your principles right aligns people with purpose, and frames the right practices to emerge — Joe Norena
You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; it’s the hallmark of a life-long unlearner. Joe experienced this several times during his career. First among those was the huge mind-shift he had to make when moving from being a trader to a COO. A trader knows whether he was an asset to the company at the end of the day; he only needed to look at profit/loss. But when Joe became COO, it wasn’t that obvious. It took 3-6 months before he knew if he was succeeding or not.
The second unlearning experience for Joe was at the hedge fund startup. Every day he had to deal with and make decisions about situations he had no experience in. He was also used to having many people to help him, but in the startup, he only had himself. In the end, they had to close the startup, but Joe brought all the new learning with him.
Joe’s time at the startup taught him about the need for lean startup principles, and he was able to apply that learning at HSBC. In effect, while leading a team of 30 people on a limited budget Joe looked at an experiment as being successful if it failed because he learned something. From those ‘failures’ came some of the greatest successes. [Listen from 13:30]
Learning comes from the bottom up, but if you don’t have support from the top, it becomes very difficult. The message from the top should be ‘we want to change, we want to try this out, and it’s okay.’ This doesn’t mean that C Suite managers need to know exactly how the change will occur or be a daily part of it; the tone they set will be the change maker or breaker. [Listen from 23:30]
A Principle for Business
In any decision that you make, it has to be about building a sustainable business model, which means it goes far beyond your own career. Joe admits it’s not easy, especially when you don’t know if you’re making the right decision for the future. He likens it to raising children. Another is that if you don’t speak, you lose an opportunity for teaching and learning. Joe shares how his office is set up to mirror that belief. [Listen from 26:00]
You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; it’s the hallmark of a life-long unlearner. Without that mindset it’s difficult to transformation your leadership principles — Joe Norena
Start Your Unlearning Journey
Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results by Barry O’Reilly
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