Portuguese CEO Gave Lecture at the Carnegie Mellon through the Engineering Leadership Speaker Series
Rodrigo Costa, CEO of ZON Multimédia, SGPS spoke to an audience of faculty, staff, and graduate students about key aspects of effective management and the growth of his company on April 19, 2011. His presentation was entitled “Innovate, Compete, Motivate.”
Costa was a visionary as it relates to the development of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, “who made it happen” said the Dean of CIT Pradeep Khosla, who introduced Costa. “He was a person with execution.”
ZON is currently the largest Triple Play operator (TV, Broadband Internet, and Fixed Telephony) in Portugal. The company has over 700,000 customers in the area of Broadband internet and has made innovative advances with the launch of its 360 Mbps and 1Gbps ZON Fibra bundles. The company launched a 3D channel in April 2010 making it a pioneer in true 3D technology. ZON emerged as a spin-off of Portugal Telecom.
Costa noted that in its earliest years, ZON was largely regarded as a poor customer service organization. He joked that people doing case studies would often find common ground in their shared opinion of just how “terrible” the service was. However, the company has only grown in size and influence being the only telecom company in Portugal that grew in revenue in the last three years. In April, this year ZON is ranked as one of the top performers in the Portugal stock market.
How did Costa ensure his company’s subsequent improvement? He says that he took to carrying comment cards with him so that every time a disgruntled customer complained to him about bad service he would have them write it down with their contact information, promising that he would personally see to the problem and then follow up with them. This is the kind of transparency and customer service that he strives to maintain even as ZON continues to grow.
“I probably give more advice than I take,” he said. “but overall … I think I am a good listener.”
Effective management also plays a key role in the success of any company, according to Costa. He said that good management requires thorough understanding, thoughtful planning, and “making sure we can understand all deviations” from that plan. There is a time and a place for chaos, he said, but that the key is in knowing where chaos can occur.
Costa is team-oriented and sees working with others as a reward. Collaboration and human resources were a key topic in his presentation. In Costa’s business philosophy, every individual who contributes has the potential to be a key contributor and/or leader. He encouraged audience members to respect and reward employees, to give them reason to have positive feelings about the company.
“Life is not just about money; life is about many other things that people value,” Costa said. “We need to feel good about the system we are creating and maintaining.”
Costa also commented on the importance of understanding people’s weaknesses and strengths as well as firmness in making all of the difficult decisions that come along with hiring, firing, and running a company. At the same time, he emphasized the importance of facilitating innovation and creative thinking among employees. He encouraged the audience to see every experience as a learning opportunity, to “make your brain work.” This is especially important as it relates to management and leadership.
“Let people talk,” he said, “let people dream. Create an environment that breeds imagination and creativity.”
Costa cited competition as a key factor in growth and innovation. He told audience members that his philosophy was not just to do “better,” but to do “different”—really give the competition a run for their money. Competition is universal, he said, and he has tried to use that to his advantage.
“I have a ten times better company today just because I had competition,” Costa said. “You die if you don’t move.”
This lecture was part of the Carnegie Mellon Engineering Leadership Speaker Series, a recent Carnegie Institute of Technology initiative. The series aims to bring two to three CEOs to campus every semester to offer insights into effective leadership. Following the lecture was a panel discussion with Costa, Pedro Ferreira, Assistant Research Professor at CMU, and Rahul Telang, Assistant Professor of Information Systems.