The best way to gauge the climate for business leadership in this era of change is to start with a newcomer to the top of the "C-suite"—and not simply in terms of the position of the office but in the size and heft of the organization that person represents. Steve Collis, CEO of AmerisourceBergen, fills both slots, having assumed his post on July 1 at the top of a company that delivers a fifth of all the pharmaceuticals consumed in the US, with revenues of more than $78 billion—bigger than the biggest of Big Pharma. Editor-in-Chief William Looney sat down with Collis at company headquarters last month to review his philosophy on leadership and where he plans to bring the company in the year ahead.
William Looney: As a newcomer to the top of the C-suite, how has your background helped you prepare for the CEO role? Did you plan it as the ultimate destination in your career path, or has luck and circumstance played more of a role in your transition?Steve Collis: I believe that personal background does shape your professional prospects. The connection is inescapable. I am South African by birth and an American citizen by choice. In South Africa, where I spent my formative years, I had the advantage of a good education, training as a chartered accountant, and the opportunity to apply these skills early as a military service conscript, where I filled a gap and specialized in ethics and governance work designed to root out fraudulent use of public funds. Among other tasks, I investigated Air Force military personnel engaged in Ponzi schemes or loan sharking activities against other recruits. I did not plan for that. The experience taught me the importance of transparency in managing complex information flows along with the impact of integrity, honesty, and fairness in projecting your "personal brand" to others; once you lose those good character attributes you never get them back. This is a critical lesson I have carried forward to guide my career here in the US.
WL: Was your designation as CEO the most transformative passage in your career?