Ghirardelli CEO emphasizes importance of leadership, communication in business talk

Vinesh Kovelamudi

Martin Thompson, president and CEO of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, offered career advice to students at an on-campus talk Thursday. Thompson emphasized leadership and communication skills as important qualities that distinguish high-level executives from other employees.

“Learn how to write, learn how to speak and learn how to work with people directly,” Thompson said. “You need to have a know-how, but what separates people are the things above the know-how.”

According to Thompson, students should focus their leadership development around courage and integrity.  

“You need integrity because people need to be able to trust that they can follow your lead,” Thompson said. “You also need courage, because you are going to have to do some challenging things.”

Thompson shared the questions he asks when hiring individuals, which he formed while working in the sales department at Clorox bleach company.

“Can they work with other people effectively?” Thompson said. “Can they communicate? What kind of energy do they have?”

Business honors freshman Sai Yeluru said the McCombs School of Business structures its coursework so that students are required to develop their interpersonal skills.

“One of the classes that we are required to take is BA 324, which focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills,” Yeluru said.

Plan II freshman Kavi Shah said he realized the importance of interpersonal skills, such as communication and teamwork, in the business world after Thompson described his hiring practices.

“I used to think that communication and interpersonal skills were important only on the surface level and paled in comparison to academic achievements,” Shah said.

Thompson explained his concept of “know-how,” or necessary business knowledge, that serves as the basis for his decisions on who to hire.

“A marketer needs to know [about] consumer goods: product, price, promotion and placement,” Thompson said.

Thompson said Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is his inspiration in the corporate world, because of Iger’s career path.

“He started as a weatherman, and it turns out that he is now running the biggest entertainment corporation in the world,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said his first job was carrying golf clubs as a caddy. He said Iger obtained the necessary skills to get to his current position.

“To go from one thing and ultimately grow, learn, develop and get broader perspective and end up in [Iger’s] position just says something.”