Fostering strong personal connections empowers teammates
Some might remember Pedro Cherry as an Auburn wide receiver from 1989-91, hauling in passes from Reggie Slack or Stan White. Today, he is executive vice president for customer service and operations for Georgia Power, where he directs thousands of employees at one of the nation’s largest energy corporations.
“As a leader, I strive to inspire a shared vision, serve, listen, lead by example, and cultivate a culture where everyone can grow, excel and feel appreciated,” says Cherry, who earned an MBA from the Harbert College of Business in 1995 after earning an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering in 1993. “I try to get to know my teammates personally and professionally by spending time with them and communicating often.
I have an open door, email, social media, text and phone policy. I’ve never denied a request for a one-on-one meeting with any employee.”
Cherry, who has spent much of his career in executive capacities at Southern Company since 1997, feels strongly about his three tenets for building trust in professional relationships:
Capability: “Having and exhibiting the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve the expected results.”
Judgment: “The ability to make
the right decisions more often than not when faced with alternative solutions to choose from.”
Intentions: “Consciously and consistently have positive intentions to achieve group and organizational goals. You do the right things for the right reasons.”
Authentic. Servant. Players’ coach. That’s Cherry’s leadership style.
“I set clear aspirational goals and empower and support my teammates to achieve those targets how they deem best,” he says. “This Steve Jobs quote resonates with me: ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.’”
Cherry referred to lessons learned from Coach Pat Dye: Put people first. Be disciplined and accountable. Work hard. Teamwork. Be humble.
“We knew that he cared for each of us as people and then athletes,” says Cherry. “Therefore, we were willing to run through brick walls for him.”
But leaders often fail. Why?
“The first thing that comes to mind is failing to do adequate planning,” Cherry responded. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Failure isn’t always bad, though. “Failure is often the best way to learn and advance at an accelerated pace. It is a great experience which leads to intuition, intuition leads to great discernment, which is a harbinger for success.
“However, you need to learn from failure. Failing at the same thing twice is true failure.”
As chief financial officer of Mirant’s international division when the Southern Company subsidiary went bankrupt in 2003, the process brought trials and tribulations to Cherry, but also learning and growth as a leader. Cherry was charged with making significant adjustments to the company’s organizational structure and trimmed five of 14 talented officer positions.
“It was the most difficult business decision that I’ve ever had to make,” he says, adding that the employees affected are doing well and the business is performing as envisioned.
The first thing one notices inside Cherry’s Atlanta office is The Auburn Creed. “I love the Auburn Creed and quote it often,” he adds. “I believe in honesty and truthfulness . . . it’s always the best policy and frankly I don’t have the time or energy to do otherwise. I expect and hold people accountable for honesty, so I must give honesty and truthfulness.
“I believe in hard work. I never fail because of lack of effort. My mom cleaned houses and businesses for a living, sold Avon, cooked three meals a day and ensured that her five kids never needed anything. She’s my role model and inspiration.”