Critelli's steady hand on the tiller

Pitney Bowes' Michael Critelli aspires to be a 'level five leader', a phrase coined by the writer Jim Collins to describe a business leader who displays humility.

by Knowledge@Wharton
Michael Critelli
Michael Critelli

Critelli says he wants the technology company's board directors to feel comfortable about challenging him. Also, you don't get the cronyism you can get with flashier leaders, he says. His management style is to create an atmosphere in which people can work well together.

In the past decade Critelli's task has been to transform an organisation to prepare it for market challenges, even though there were no obvious reasons to do so. He says it is much easier to enforce change when you are going through a crisis.

It's harder when you are successful, as Pitney Bowes has been. However, through quiet measures Critelli has changed the culture in the direction he wanted. For example, he has altered the company's executive compensation policy to reflect company performance rather than the performance of specific departments or units and he has encouraged the company to look for 'blue oceans' - new and uncontested market space.

He says there are three types of staff responses to change: some embrace it, some resist it and a large group in the middle is anxious. The leader should aim, he says, to move the middle group into the top one.

Once a hardware company, Pitney Bowes is now a diversified technology company. Its servers are used by eBay to arrange for all shipping, for instance. The company's core business is the "mailstream" - the mixture of mail, documents and packages going through the global economy and also the technology and processes needed to manage it.

Conventional mail, he says, is not going away. In 2005, 500 billion pieces of mail were sent worldwide and half of all mail in the US was junk mail, he says.

Critelli focuses on what the customers want but warns that you must measure what you can afford to do and for whom. For eBay, for example, the company will send people to its operations to observe them so that they can find ways to improve the service. It has two staff anthropologists who are paid to watch people work.

Pitney Bowes' Michael Critelli: not your 'celebrity CEO'
29 November 2006
Reviewed by Morice Mendoza

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