Oral Histories

Bill Margaritis

Interview Segments on Topic: Transition to Corporate World

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: Two follow-up questions. The first one is, can you talk a little bit about your political campaign experience and how that has informed or helped your work in the corporate sector?

MARGARITIS: I think political experience is very profound and valuable in the corporate communications world. And here’s why: first of all you have an outcome that takes place. You have a defined time frame by which to operate. You have multiple stake holders with issues and agendas at play. You have a competitor. And you have to apply a lot of research rigor to understand the makeup of the population you’re dealing with, whether it be at a local, state level, or a national level. So it forces you to move quickly, to have a strategy, to have a very clear execution plan, to be able to manage multiple aspects of a campaign—like a project management program would. And to use analytics to target messages, target positioning statements. Understand the use of polling and research—much like you would in business between two corporations whether it’s Pepsi/Coke or FedEx/UPS. And also the importance—and perhaps this may be the most important—is the power of volunteers, of really collaborating and inspiring and leading volunteers. People who aren’t getting paid but they believe in the cause. That’s so important when you become a manager, an executive in the business world because it trains you in how to really motivate people when they frankly don’t even have to be there. So I think in short that’s why political experience is very important. Plus, by the way, I think every executive from the CEO on down needs to understand how public policy and how legislation and how coalitions get developed. Because every company is exposed to some regulatory or political issue, whether it be in the U.S. or abroad. So if you understand politics at the grass roots level and how decisions get made and how coalitions develop, you can then understand how the elected official or appointed official is going to think through their position. And then what’s it going to take for you to connect with that person or persuade that person? So you have to find something politically palatable. It’s an art and a science.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything that doesn’t transfer? You’ve made a very good case about a lot of things that do. Anything that you can think of that doesn’t really transfer?

MARGARITIS: The one thing about politics that I have seen over the years that I don’t believe translates well in the corporate world is this all or nothing mentality. What I would call the polarized political animal who lives or breathes by a certain point of view, on either side of the spectrum. Whether it’s far to the right or far to the left. Because you alienate people that way. And you can’t succeed in a corporation if you’re alienating people or if you’re taking extreme positions. I think the lesson learned is to try to find a middle ground in politics and in business so that you can survive, so that you can be a consensus builder and negotiate, bring disparate views towards a common goal. But if you’re a hardliner on either side of the spectrum, I don’t think that particularly bodes well in a corporate environment.

INTERVIEWER: Another key part of your career development obviously, is your international experience from early on. I wanted to ask you to talk about that and how that’s influenced your work in your present position.

MARGARITIS: International experience is becoming very, very important now for corporate communications executives and frankly any executive. Because everything is global and the Internet has democratized decision-making. In my mind, the most important lesson of an international experience is that it teaches you how to adjust to change. If you follow the axiom: ‘success is how well one adjusts to change,’ you can apply that in life to relationships, to economic cycles, to moving (to different) towns or cities or schools or jobs. Success in life is determined by how well one adjusts to change. So when you go from an American dominated system to a UK or a China or a German culture; what works here and what brought you success here, may or may not translate well there. And what I notice is some people, when they deal with a challenge or adversity—and we all do because there’s always an element of surprise when you go into a foreign land—what they tend to do is fall back on their comfort zone. They tend to double down on what they have here in the U.S., thinking that they would prevail or overcome that challenge. That doesn’t work. I saw that first hand; rather than thinking through the situation, stepping back and finding an end around or coming up with a creative way. So it forces you and compels you to adapt and change your thought process, your behavior, your judgment, your tactics, your approach; depending on what’s appropriate in any particular culture. And if you can convey that in a very authentic way, people will work with you more. So I think you can be more effective that way. It’s certainly relationships in most of these countries that are really the most critical aspect of business. And if you don’t understand, let’s say, the nuances of how those relationships work or the etiquette or the norms and morals; then you will fail. So in essence, in life, we always have to reinvent ourselves. We always have to learn something new. And when you’re working internationally, you’re doing that constantly and it’s exciting.