A Leader Focuses on Growth and Community Culture in a Post-COVID World
A conversation with Catherine Jones about her career and experience in the Executive Program for Growing Companies
Catherine Jones, CEO of Creative HQ in New Zealand, attended Stanford’s Executive Program for Growing Companies to hone her strategy and leadership skills to help her achieve the ambitious growth plans of the innovative services company she leads. She came away with valuable new perspectives and frameworks as well as greater insight into the importance of building company culture following the pandemic.
What challenge prompted you to attend an executive education program at this stage?
My company is in growth mode right now, and my mandate as CEO is to achieve that growth. I compared a few different executive programs and EPGC looked like it ticked all of the boxes. It was the most aligned for where we are right now and what my strategic mission is as CEO. And I’d heard that Stanford was the best in the world at residential executive education programs.
What were your goals coming into the program?
The first was learning more about how to grow my particular company. I had brought in a problem statement that I was looking to get some feedback on and, perhaps, some challenge to the thinking I’d been doing. The second goal was to make new connections to help myself and the company to grow, and the third was to get academic training and hands-on experience in terms of leadership, strategic thinking, and building a modern culture within the organization.
How did EPGC meet your goals and expectations?
EPGC was hands down the single-best academic experience I’ve ever had in my life. The program provided me with new thinking, and I definitely benefited in terms of the connections I made. As a result of participating in the program, I’ve brought in a significant amount of new business to date.
What were some of your key takeaways from the program sessions?
My biggest learnings were around leadership strategy and culture building. In a post-Covid world, everybody’s trying to recreate a workplace culture that’s sustainable and attracts and retains people. People can do hybrid or remote work now and expectations have changed around work-life balance and what it means to be well and healthy. …We also talked about the need to adjust our services for our customers in the context of that by asking, “How can we be relevant?” and for us, “How can we use innovation to lead other companies to be innovative?”
Were there any sessions that stood out to you in particular?
Instead of using slides, Professor Jesper Sorenson led a session on leadership challenges using a library of video interviews of leaders at well-known companies. He’d give us a challenge, such as how to handle a difficult staff member who had a skillset you needed, and he’d say, “Let’s see how [company X] handled this,” and play the interview. It was really relevant information and it was amazing to see these leaders thinking through issues and to recognize that, as CEOs, we all face similar situations. And I felt like I was getting to view something from an exclusive library that I wouldn’t have had access to if I wasn’t doing the program.
What were you excited to bring back to your team?
I brought the technique of using video interviews back to our team to use with startups going through our acceleration or incubation programs…our startups want to hear from local startups that have made it big, our own unicorn companies. We plan to capture videos of them and show them to the next startups going through. It has really inspired staff here.…I’ve also replicated some of the hands-on, team building activities we did using my own versions – they are practical, little tools that have worked really well for us as culture building activities.
What would you say to someone considering this program?
I would not hesitate to recommend it to anybody else. In fact, I’d like all of my executive team to come and do a course at Stanford, and I’m in the process of enrolling one of my colleagues. My advice for them is to throw themselves into it and soak it all up.