“When starting out, focus on your strengths, not your heart.” - Vodafone Ghana CEO speaks at Ashesi
On Thursday, 25th April 2013, close to a hundred students, staff and faculty gathered to hear Vodafone Ghana CEO, Kyle Whitehill, share life experiences from playing as a professional athlete to his role leading one of Ghana’s telecom giants, Vodafone Ghana.
Whitehill focused his lessons on business leadership, and the things students needed to do to help them identify the experiences that would help shape them into becoming leaders in any organisation.
“When starting out, focus on your strengths, not your heart.”
Whitehall gave an entertaining narrative of his life, sharing stories about his childhood and family, and how different experiences and teammates helped shape and inspire his career. Having worked in different companies (from L’Oreal to PepsiCo) around the world (from Hungary to India), the Vodafone Ghana CEO explained to students that early on in their careers, they would have to focus on roles where that they would be strongest in, but may not be equally passionate about.
"You are going to have decisions in your life where you have to follow your head, because your heart will make absolutely no sense. When you are young, making 'heart' decisions is difficult, because you have not had enough experiences to follow your gut."
Whitehill went on to say that complacency was always a threat that had to be actively avoided throughout one’s career. “You need to be able to work hard,” he said. “Lionel Messi did not become the best footballer by lying in bed and dreaming about his future. He worked hard to achieve it. Ashesi will get you the interview, but you have to get yourself the job.”
“Learn to communicate effectively.”
Speaking on the important things that he looked out for in anyone he worked with, Whitehill explained that he put communication skill above all else. “This is the thing that is most badly required for any young person's career: the ability to communicate in a professional and constructive manner,” he said. “If you cannot do that, it does not matter if you graduate with first class honours from Ashesi or Harvard, you will not get ahead in your career.”
Whitehill also invited his assistant, Ashesi alumna Phoebe Acolatse ’11, to share her own experiences after she graduated from Ashesi, explaining that she had been remarkable in her work since he met her. In 2011, Phoebe was named a Vodafone Global Hero, for pioneering a customer relations programme at Vodafone Ghana. She spoke about having to engage in different roles at Vodafone, and how being able to adapt quickly had helped her.
“Even though Ashesi gave me the best preparation, I had to quickly accept my limitations, and work to improve them,” Phoebe said. “I found that there was so much more I had to learn, and being able to work with Kyle has helped me become much stronger.”
(Students also got the chance to interact with Kyle Whitehill)
“Continue to be a part of something revolutionary.”
Concluding his discussion, Whitehill touched on the importance of doing meaningful work, and asked students to "choose to engage with something that is changing the world."
“You are all very smart, and you are being well educated," he said. "I love Ashesi's learning goals, I love the focus on ethics, and I love the sense of community here. My advice to you, is that don't settle for anything that will not help you stay on this journey."
While on campus, Whitehill also met with Ashesi President, Dr. Patrick Awuah, exploring different ways in which Vodafone could engage with, and support Ashesi's mission.
Kyle Whitehill was educated in Scotland, and has worked in the UK, Central Europe and India, with companies like L'Oreal, Guinness, and PepsiCo. He joined Vodafone in 2001, and moved to Vodafone Ghana in 2009. Later this year, he moves to Vodafone Qatar.