The Evolving Leader: An interview with Jerome Faissat, Managing Director at PIL Membranes

The Evolving Leader: An interview with Jerome Faissat, Managing Director at PIL Membranes
Published: 26 October 2020

The Evolving Leader – Berwick Partners are currently undertaking a series of interviews with business leaders, to understand how the attributes required to be successful are adjusting to the increasing complexities of the world in which we operate. We are examining the importance of leadership DNA and the behaviours, traits and skills that are vital to develop as you progress your career.

In advance of the full paper we are publishing a series of individual articles on this subject, the latest of which is with Jerome Faissat. PIL Membranes Ltd is a global specialist in water vapour transfer products and part of the KL Technologies Group, headquartered in Norfolk. Their current Managing Director, Jerome Faissat, took time out to talk to us about the changing dynamics of leadership and the skills required to be successful. After a blue-chip career with the likes of British Sugar and Lucite, Jerome has evolved into a progressive SME manufacturing leader.

What is your view on leadership DNA?

I believe certain people start with a burning fire to achieve something, a relentless desire that comes from within, but otherwise it is experiences and learnings that shape your ability to lead. You may have some natural traits, perhaps a predisposed energy or the character and vision to take people with you, but you also need to adapt your style over time to be truly effective. Leaders must want to constantly and consistently challenge what’s next, regardless of circumstances and if the business is struggling or performing.  

We all start our leadership journey being ‘unconsciously incompetent’, whether you are perceived as a ‘natural leader’ or not, you still need to train and hone your skills. Great leaders become more aware of their own specific characteristics and work hard to improve.

What are the biggest shifts you have seen in leadership?

Everywhere I have worked the next year is always positioned to be a challenging year, whatever the market or industry. People who are able to see further and plan ahead are the ones that are most successful, regardless of your product or service. Great leaders share their vision, encourage input from all and create a culture that matches their ambition.

We will have an excellent year financially, despite the pandemic, and this has been possible by having the best cultural behaviours. I have four key characteristics when seeking senior members of my team; can they manage people, drive change, build relationships and achieve results. We have the right mix of people with complementary attributes, inbuilt resilience and development potential who will cope no matter what the outside world throws at us. You have to recognise each individual and never compromise on the quality of the people you surround yourself with. Effectiveness of team is critical, and positivity is very contagious.  We agree what needs to be delivered and then deliver it.

How do you approach hiring, do you look for known quantities or seek out of sector talent?

There are people who are the core of our business who have deep understanding of our particular technology and this is important. However, you must nurture a mix of competencies and skills. If you do what you have always done you risk ineffective evolution. Leaders have to challenge the norm and recognise no churn can be equally detrimental.

If you have no internal promotions this is a personal failure, you must recognise and develop talent, whilst supplementing this with external capability. This could be to ensure regulatory compliance, customer adaption, or marketing skills for the digital age as examples. As a group of companies, we are well aligned, with a coherent strategy and clarity of vision.

Do you use assessment when hiring?

I use the profiling of Thomas International which is very important at all our management levels. It is vital to spend time and effort on this when deciding who to hire into your culture. I believe that if you get it wrong rectify it quickly; but work hard in the process to get it right. I see every candidate that is potentially joining, seeking the right personal attributes from the start.

How have you managed your own personal development?

You have to get your network working; I have always kept a small pocket of trusted people who I can share problems with and seek input on what they would do faced with the same challenge. Confidantes and sounding boards are important as leadership can be lonely. I have a great relationship with the Group CEO, this is vital and can then be balanced with my own network. I reflect on my experiences, read extensively and always assess what I can do differently. Introspection is critical – what can I do better.

What challenges do you foresee in the future?

From a leadership point of view, keeping my people safe is always my top priority. People who are not in this kind of position don’t know how it feels to be accountable for a big group of people – its uncomfortable but this is a good thing as it ensures focus. This is particularly acute in manufacturing where you cannot rely on luck to keep people safe.

I am hugely committed to ensuring diversity of people and diversity of thought in my senior team and the wider business. The way you recruit is critical, and we will seek those that can search in talent pools to support us. We are a global business, so we need to reflect this in our teams.

How have your personal experiences shaped your leadership?

I am always conscious of the shadow you cast. For example, if someone is working for an aggressive leader it is likely they will develop aggressive traits. Behaviours become normalised from the top but confident and emotionally intelligent people will sense whether actions are necessary. I recommend you work with people who have characteristics you want to mirror. Integrity is fundamental.

Do you hire on skills or character?

Ultimately you have to hire the person who can deliver the role, who will be accountable, responsible, energetic and willing to develop. Your hiring matrix should reflect the skills required but also the values you seek so the answer is obviously both!

I have seen people who recognise they need to develop their skills and I have facilitated a platform of development, but it is their desire that has made this happen quickest. Often people need to be uninhibited too, if you are too constrained by worries about the future you won’t be successful. It takes courage to achieve, those who go furthest have the least fear of failure and are prepared to take risks.

What advice would give others?

Write down your goals, it is satisfying to be able to achieve what you set out to, then ask yourself what’s next. As a leader, ‘I really like working with you’ is the biggest compliment you can get.

David Thomas is a Partner at Berwick Partners, focused on supporting organisations with key leadership appointments within the manufacturing space.

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