If We Could Bottle This Up: A CEO Who "Gets It"

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Arunis Chesonis is a CEO who gets the power of communication as a necessary ingredient for success. If only other CEOs followed his recipe.

My radar is always up for examples of CEOs who understand that communication is necessary for business success. It’s difficult finding business leaders who do more than pay lip service to the idea of frequent, honest communication with stakeholders – especially employees.

Arunis Chesonis is a rare find. He is CEO of PAETEC, one of the few startups that survived the great telecom boom of the late 1990s. I first read about him in Fast Company magazine in February 2004. The article caught my eye because Chesonis has created a company culture where information flows freely, knowledge passes from one person to another and the dignity of people comes first. It’s a philosophy that works, too – last year’s article cited a 250 percent growth rate in the previous three years and it’s still growing at a rate of 120 percent.

Chesonis impressed me so much that I suggested him as a keynote speaker for the annual Corporate Communicators Conference presented by Ragan Communications in Las Vegas last week. The conference organizers like to find a CEO who can charge up the corporate-communication professionals in attendance – it can be demoralizing to work for some companies that believe the less communication the better.

My friend and fellow communication consultant Charles Pizzo wrote a blog from the conference and gushed about Chesonis’s address. Believe me when I say it takes a lot for Charles to gush about anything, so I knew the CEO’s remarks were powerful.

“This is a CEO who gets it,” Charles wrote, “who lives, breathes and exudes communication. “Speaking from the heart with no script, he is a communicator’s dream.”

That observation alone tells you how easy it is for a CEO to score points with customers, employees, or whomever, just by being real. So many business leaders are attached at the hip to a script filled with jargon and clichés, it’s no wonder nobody believes a word they say.

Charles summarized Chesonis’s remarks, which focused on his philosophy as a leader. “You cannot over-appreciate your employees. Give employees ownership. Show fairness in wages, perks and parking. Keep balance: work is not the most important thing in people’s lives. Flexibility counts: people have family and friends, birthdays and Little League. The culture is the company: create a sense of family. Support the community: encourage employees to develop pride while chasing their passions.”

What does this have to do with communication? Everything. So many business leaders fail to understand that actions – their individual actions, the company’s actions – communicate strong messages to people all the time. I have a friend who is close to burning out personally and professionally in his job for one of Richmond’s top employers. His boss doesn’t understand how her constant demands and unreasonable expectations communicate that he is a commodity to be used and tossed aside.

“Arunis makes so much sense, and is so refreshing, that we should bottle his essence and pour it over salads in corporate boardrooms all across the land,” Charles wrote. “His message is absolutely palatable.”

And yet, it’s on the menus of so few companies these days.

Robert Holland

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