Oral Histories

Bill Margaritis

Interview Segments on Topic: Strategy/Strategic Thinking

Bill Margaritis Biography

Bill Margaritis is the executive VP of corporpate affairs at Hilton Worldwide. Previously, he was corporate vice president for global communications and investor relations for FedEx Corporation.


INTERVIEWER: Can you clarify the term kaleidoscope thinking?

MARGARITIS: Kaleidoscope thinking is, from what I understand, an idea that was born through a Harvard professor years ago. The idea is that when you face a problem and you hit a wall on something, most people tend to go back to their repository of knowledge and try to find a way through that wall. It could be a process issue or what have you. And what it means, what it says, is if you change the kaleidoscope, you’ll note the colors in the light will vary depending on how you change the lens. So it’s important to try to draw upon maybe a lesson learned in a whole different industry. In our case it could be maybe something in the biotech world that happened or in the software world that happened that we can apply to a problem or a challenge that we’re facing here.   And it may be kind of related when Steven Colby says his, ‘step back and sharpen the saw’ as well. To take a clean, fresh sheet approach to a problem or an opportunity.

INTERVIEWER: You’ve talked about corporate culture. I wanted to find out from you, what is your role in shaping and reinforcing the corporate culture in FedEx?

MARGARITIS: I think corporate culture is arguably the most important asset that a company has. It is the connective tissue to reputation and brand. And if you have a strong culture, you will invariably have a strong reputation. The two are complementary and intertwined. Our philosophy is, you start inside before you can win outside. And particularly today in culture it’s so important because as businesses become more and more commoditized, and there is a race for intellectual capital—particularly because we’re dealing in free agent societies—people and workers are so mobile now. They’re not as loyal as they used to be. Employees can be either your best ally or advocate, or your worst enemy. All of these reasons--recruiting retention, discretionary effort, the ability to engage people and empower them to be your advocates over the Internet--to me demonstrate the fact that culture now is more important than it’s ever been. And if you can put that front and center as an executive—and we’re fortunate enough to do that here so it’s a real pleasure to work in a company that really shares this philosophy—corporate communications people can find immense opportunity to add value.

INTERVIEWER: The recent ethical lapses in business, CEO missteps. Failure to pay attention to perhaps safety of employees, safety of the public, etc. across the corporate landscape in the U.S. How has that impacted the public relations profession in the modern media company?

MARGARITIS: The corporate malfeasance that we have witnessed in this past decade or so and the sort of flashpoints of executive largess, whether it’s incredible packages that people get—parachutes to leave companies or a lack of integrity around pay for performance and the meltdowns of some of the companies—has created a level of distrust. That certainly has, I think, had a downstream effect on a lot of really good corporations that are doing the right thing. And what it has done is, is it has made it more difficult for companies to be effective in advocating. Whether it be policies to create and stimulate jobs or growth, or to improve our competitiveness—and you’re seeing that right now. The corporate voice in Washington, I think, is inhibited and stymied a bit by the fact that there is a populist sentiment out there that corporations can’t be trusted as much as they used to be; that executives are living large and that there is this unfair divide between them and the frontline worker. And these flashpoints, these sort of egregious examples if you will; because of the visibility and transparency that people have, because the way the news media operates now, I think have had a downstream effect on us. It has diluted the power of the voice in policy making. And history has shown that business is the locomotive for job creation and growth. So right now you have this tax reform debate. Should rates go up, should they go down? Well business is up there saying if you bring the rates down to competitive levels, vis-à-vis other countries around the world and you incent businesses to spend their capitol on equipment and software and things that create jobs and durable goods and stimulate activity, then we will find a better way out of this. Well guess what, that’s a tough sell these days. Because the political folks are trying to read the sentiment of their constituents. And if you look at the research, a lot of these constituents are saying, I don’t know if we trust corporate America anymore. They’re already living large, don’t give them any breaks. This creates a significant problem.

INTERVIEWER: And a big challenge for corporate communications.