I Spent A Day With The CEO of a Billion Dollar Company— Here’s What I Learned

Learning Decision-Making and Evaluation Process’ with Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar.

Imagine a door. Now imagine this door belongs to Linda Hasenfratz’s office.
I was outside of that door at one point. Then I walked in.

Left: Linda Hasenfratz. Right: Me.

A few hours later, I literally walked back out of that door, almost a whole new person.

What happened when I walked inside? I spent my day with Linda, and I got a TON of knowledge like… how to make different types of decisions, the importance of ambitions, and what it means to be the CEO of a billion-dollar company.

This image of Linda laughing is a pretty accurate image of her state in the office! Getting stuff done, but with high energy

Linda is the CEO of Linamar, one of the world’s largest auto parts & manufacturing company. Her story is fascinating: she turned a $1B company into one worth $8B. She’s also on the Board of Directors of CIBC, has been awarded the Order of Canada, has one of the 13 seats on Canada’s NAFTA Council, and is a mom to 4 really awesome kids (I’ve met some, and really, they’re great).

Lesson #1: Don’t Make Decisions Because Something “Just Makes Sense,” Have A More Structured Way Of Thinking.

As the CEO of a billion-dollar company, Linda is making decisions every day. I asked her what frameworks and mental models she uses when making these decisions, and here’s what I learned.

1. Gather Facts.

Understand what decision(s) you need to make really well and why. Gather data and analyze it before you make the decision, and not after — to prevent justification.

I’ve been pretty hell-bent on not going to University next year. From all the conversations I’ve had with really smart people, the goals I’ve set out for myself, and validation from external companies on the skills they value when hiring— it (yikes) “just doesn’t make sense” for me to go.

But, after this conversation with Linda, and everything you’re going to read bellow about making decisions, I’m going to gather even more information: have multiple conversations with recruiters + employers, and have discussions with people who have gotten full-time jobs through Udacity. *Sidenote* Since writing this I’ve taken a full-time role in operations at TKS, and I’m loving it)

2. The amount of time you spend making a decision should be directly correlated to the impact this decision has.

If Linda needs to make a decision that will impact a small subset of her company and is something that is highly feasible, she’ll make that decision quickly. (Deciding which equipment to buy for a plant? Decide that within a few days. Deciding which next company to acquire? This one’s going to take a while).

If it’s a decision that’s going to impact the direction of the company in the next 5 years, she’ll spend more time making that decision. During this time, she’s gathering more facts and analyzing data that will help her make an informed decision.

In my case, not going to University at all is a big decision, and I think, initially had made it way too fast.

Check out the diagrams below for the exercises you should go through when making certain decisions.

How Linda decides the amount of time she needs to take to make decisions. Each circle represents a task

It was really interesting that Navid Nathoo, co-founder of TKS, had taught me something similar on how to make decisions on the goals and tasks you need to complete for the day. The graph below helps explain this better.

Method for making decisions concerning tasks and goals.

Note: Make sure to come up with clear metrics to define “Impact.”

Linda also makes long-term decisions for opportunities you might want to pursue based on feasibility and impact:

3. Think of who’s going to be impacted by this decision and how. In Linda’s case, it’s her stakeholders.

Not only is this step important in making the decision, but also in figuring out the explainability of your choice. How are you going to communicate this to those people it affects?

Lesson #2: Don’t Get Comfortable.

Amazon upended Walmart by having a clearer vision of changing choices and cost structures.
Netflix reinvented entertainment.
Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized media.

Why isn’t Walmart winning? They got too comfortable. They weren’t thinking ahead. But Linda is.

When I was doing research on her goals for Linamar, one article mentioned that Linda had created a 100-year plan for the company:

Her vision, to expand into serving the Aging Population. 

This vision surprised me, especially considering that their company is focused on auto-parts.
So I asked, why would you focus on the Ageing Population??

Linda identifies it as a huge opportunity to innovate on. She also knows that one of Linamar’s strengths is being a great manufacturing company. Hence, as the need for prosthetics and innovative health equipment grows in the ageing industry, there is lots of potential for Linamar to be a part of the disruption that happens in this market.

How did she make this long-term decision?

First, she did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, and Threats) analysis. She lists all the things concerning Linamar that fall under those buckets, and figures out which areas need a) improvement and b) research. But, what’s even more important is what she does after she’s done the Analysis. Linda tries to derive implications using the threats + weaknesses, and threats + strengthens (along with opportunity + weakness, and opportunity + strengths).

Lesson #3: Be Ambitious

After our 40 minute talk, Linda had a one-hour interview with Bloomberg. She spoke about what she’s learned through her experience at Linamar.

The following is one of my favourite quotes from her:

“If you have small goals, you’re going to have small achievements. If you have big goals, you’re going to achieve bold things.”

Linda Hasenfratz

This makes sense as the majority of Linda’s role is future-planning, and helping to execute these future-plans. To grow a company to $8b, you need to think ambitiously.

Lesson #4: Stoicism, Kind-Of

Linda mentioned in a fast-paced and forward-thinking company, you can only celebrate your wins and losses for 24 hours. After that, you must move on and continue to focus on growth. This applies to life generally. People tend to dwell much more on their emotions and worries instead of being productive by being strategic in how they can get out of their situation, and grow).

What Are The Small Things That Makes Linda Different Than The Average CEO?

  1. Linda listens really well and asks good questions. We had a meeting with the Dean from UBC, she picked up pieces of the conversation easily and asked questions to show that she was attentive + present, and interested in learning more. What’s important to note is that her questions were very straight to the point, and gave her exactly the information that she needed to know.
  2. She’s prepared for anything. During our meeting with the new MP (Member of Parliament) of Guelph, she, of course, had a presentation-deck to present to him on Linamar’s current priorities. But more importantly, she pulled up other slide-decks (that weren’t intended to be used as the presentation deck) when asked challenging questions. She even offered to send him both decks for later reference. Preparation is key for helping you stay on the ball 🔑.
  3. Linda is super effective in letting people know what it is that she wants. She’s very direct with her assistants when she needs help. When the MP asked for what it is that the government can do to support innovation in Canada, Linda straight-up asked for funding, clear metrics for R&D progress, and overall was very clear with her recommendations.
  4. She’s really really really enthusiastic and has an incredible amount of energy! Throughout the entire day, she was laughing, making jokes, and made people feel really comfortable around her. When we went on the plant tour, instead of seeming intimated or nervous by Linda, the managers of the plant were very friendly and excited for her to be there. This is such a hugely overlooked skill. When you are energetic, it allows the people around you to want to work with/for you and listen to you.

Bonus Point: The Reason Why Linda Said Yes To Me Spending The Day With Her

Relationships are everything.

Investing time in relationships with people who are ambitious is important. There could be a day in a few years when Linda calls to ask me about my opinion on a particular topic/problem.

Walking through that door was the best decision I could have made. Linda taught me so many invaluable things:

  • Make informed decisions and make them in a timely manner. Figure this out by measuring and depending on the impact of your decision.
  • When you’re evaluating something, understand the implications of the evaluation.
  • Be proactive and be prepared.
  • Ask for the things you need/want, and make sure you’re being clear.
  • Have GREAT energy!
  • Invest in building relationships with people you want to learn from.

Takeaway?

Go through all the doors that lead you to smart people, especially people that are smarter than you.

Some of them will completely change your life and the way in which you live it.

Help other people learn more about how they can make better decisions, or help me understand if I should share more of my learning experiences with you by giving this article a clap, or sharing it with a friend/colleague.

nazra@Theksociety.com'

Author: Nazra Noushad