HBS-NEO Harvard Business School Club of Northeastern Ohio HBS-NEO

Membership: Member Interviews

Patrick Prout

(Interview continued from e-mail newsletter.)

Q. Are there any core traits or skills that you think are in increasing or decreasing demand?
A. When the economy is in a downturn, with a business focus on cutting expenses, there's higher demand for financial people. When there's an economic upswing, you see a focus on the top line and more demand for people whose focus is the top line. But, one of the more enduring business trends we're seeing today is for women and people of color at the executive levels. Companies are asking more and more of the search firms to bring an inclusive slate of candidates to them. They are sometimes saying, "Bring me only women and people of color for this position as we have sufficient white males for consideration."
Q. Do the numbers bare out this trend?
A. Yes. The Prout Group has brought together a number of top organizations to research the numbers around women and people of color on Fortune-500 boards. We specifically managed the research around Fortune 100 companies, and the results are on our web site at www.proutgroup.com. You'll see that every single company in the Fortune 100 has at least one woman or person of color on the board. But, as you go further down the chain beyond the Fortune-100, the boards become more white-male-dominated. Alcoa is a good example of a company with a totally inclusive board.

Much of this change is being driven by CEOs who are open minded and who are of a new generation, if you will. They fully comprehend the business case for diversity and inclusion and see the value. Most are baby-boomers and Iím even more optimistic that as corporate leadership emanates from Gen-X and Gen-Y this will change even more because these generations grew up in an environment that is less segregated and more inclusive. People like Steve Reinemund (note to reader: Harvard. MBA who was running Pepsi Co. and who just stepped down) have done a great deal in this particular area.

Q. Which executive or leader in corporate America do you most admire?
A. Certainly Jack Welch. Putting aside all that has happened since he stepped down, what he did with GE is admirable. Jacques Nasser was ahead of his time at Ford and was doing an excellent job there. Time will tell, I think, that he was right for Ford. Ted Chenault, who is African American and heads up American Express, is also another driver of change, although a lot of what he does is somewhat behind the scenes in terms of getting other Fortune 500 CE0s to be more open minded about diversity and a diverse workforce.
Q. Who has been a mentor in your career?
A. I cannot say that I rose to the position of President and COO at Bank One by myself, because I didn't—I had help from people all along the way. Whether they were aware they were helping me or were doing it unintentionally, they were helpful nonetheless; I learned a lot from them. But I never had a formal mentor as such. I certainly understand that whole dynamic now, and if I were to relive my life again, I would entertain a number of mentors as well as sponsors to help me.
Q. Did you learn anything in Viet Nam that has been helpful in your business career?
A. My whole military training, particularly my stint in Viet Nam, helped me on the leadership side. It helped me understand people, I learned how to lead and developed good insights into people. As a platoon commander, I was responsible for people who came from varying backgrounds and races— black, white, yellow, brown, the rural South, the urban poor, and in some cases folks who came from the Ivy League and had come from some wealth. So, I had a plethora of different personalities and economic backgrounds – true inclusively. I had to deal with differences and I learned a lot about people, and gained good insight into their motivation and behavior.
Q. What's the best HBS-NEO event you have attended?
A. I certainly enjoy the Business Statesman Award dinners and listening to the folks who have made it in their careers. They’re very good events.

See other Member Interviews.