Corner office Q&A: Verizon president Eric Cevis

Eric Cevis, president of Verizon Business Solutions, has been with the company for more than three decades, holding eight different positions since he joined the company in 1986. He started right after college after passing a competency test, and rose through the ranks from an entry-level sales support role, up to sales director, and ultimately, president of a business unit. Here, he talks with Monster about his journey, diversity in the workplace, and why it’s important to bring your A-game at work.

What elements were in place to help you succeed in your career?

It’s never an easy journey, but there were times when there were things standing me up. For example, I got put in an executive leadership development program. That was powerful because that was an opportunity for industry exposure and to get to be known. It was a partnership with Wharton Business School. It was a great opportunity.

There were employee resource groups (ERGs). That gave us an opportunity to take on leadership roles outside your day-to-day job, so you could get comfortable with running larger teams and going after results that didn’t impact your day-to-day business.

Our HR team also put me in several talent management opportunities, like the Yale CEO Summit. I got to go and do the two-week program there. I would say continuous learning helped.

What barriers did you encounter along the way?

In terms of challenges, you were always competing for who’s going to get that next promotional opportunity. I saw others around me who had lower results than I did, and they got promoted before I did. I kept my head down and kept delivering on results. We had what we call Annual Performance Agreements that we sign that say, ‘Here are the things we’re going to do.’ I was constantly hitting 200% of objectives. When you’re a repeat winner year over year, it got easier for people to take a chance on me for the next leadership role and next promotion opportunity.

I would tell folks on my team, ‘We all have our opportunity to get our slice of the PIE – Performance, Image, Exposure.’ We spend a lot of time on the ‘P’ and I was blowing those results out, but I didn’t promote as quickly as I thought I should have until I started caring for the ‘I’ and the ‘E,’ getting in front of larger audiences. I didn’t just stay in the sales lane, I got to be known in legal, in financial, in network operations. Then when your name would come up, it wasn’t just a singular group of folks who knew who I was.

What’s better/easier for diverse candidates today, and what’s harder?

I believe it to be a little easier in today’s environment because of the heightened awareness around equality and trying to care for the gender imbalance and address how females aren’t paid at the same level as males. I’m not aware of a company, particularly in the Fortune 500 space, where they’re not measurably looking at this issue. I’m in a group of 30 carriers across the globe, and we’re looking at diversity and inclusion best practices. So to me, that’s the easier part, the fact that there’s greater awareness and a tension being put upon it, particularly based on recent events.

The harder piece…there was a stat the other day: If there are 10 qualifications needed for a job, a woman will have eight of those qualifications and she will not apply, but a man will have five of those qualifications and he will apply for the job. That’s the harder part. And I still believe there’s this feeling that a woman or person of color has to work two or three times as hard for the same level of acknowledgment and the same level of pay. Do we come in with biases? We have this term called ‘unconscious bias’ and that is a big training program a lot of companies are doing.

We’re having what we call ‘courageous conversations.’ The CEO is now opening a dialog and letting people know it’s safe to have these conversations and you will not be put out of employment because you expressed a thought or opinion you have. But to me, it’s a strong balancing act to be of color, to be a woman. I still feel we’ve got work to do.

Have you noticed any measurable impacts from having a more diverse workforce?

I joined a Global Leaders’ Forum, where I sit with 30 other carriers across the globe. We published our first whitepaper on gender and balance this past year in 2020. We really thought it was good for people to understand that you do see a measurable difference. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes business sense. Say you have a woman leading your marketing efforts to move a product or services that you have. A female will come to that conversation a little differently than a male would come to that conversation. Or a person of color, because they all have different experiences. There was a data point that said that by increasing women in the workforce, you actually see a GDP increase because you have a more diverse workforce. If anything, you’re going to increase your sales results.

How can recruiters and HR professionals find diverse talent?

Individuals at my level are now ambassadors to various colleges in the HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] community, and a part of that work is that we go out and talk to the school, we show them leadership in motion that looks like the student body in every functional area. Then we go forward with a number of internships that we’re looking to fill with a diverse slate of candidates—women and people of color. We go with job vacancies.

We have a program we call WOW—Women of the World—looking at your top talent and investing in them with training, development, and exposure opportunities. And we have a lot of mentoring programs. Not only is the issue recruiting talent, but how do you retain talent so it’s not a revolving door?

We’re also getting a lot more flexibility—to make sure people have more flexible schedules, they have the time they need to go vote, to pick children up. This is why Verizon has come up as a top employer of the year, because we allow those types of flexibilities.

Those are the things companies can do. I talk about the Global Leaders’ Forum. That’s one of the things we hold ourselves accountable to. We’re building a library where other companies take a look at the work that’s done and look at what they think are best practices and figure out how to duplicate that on their own.

What can a person of color do early in their career to set themselves up for longevity and a potential path to leadership?

I was raised to believe hard work always pays off—just do the work, go the extra mile, stay the extra hours. I cannot suggest that those things did not help me, but I would say other things like expanding your network, seeking out mentors and coaches, sometimes even in your own family, there are people who are in jobs that you’d like to have, but you’ve never had a conversation with them. Friends you went to high school or college with—reach out to them so you can better position yourself.

The other thing I would tell people is be a continuous learner. Be a reader. It’s okay to look up a book, if there are key topics in your world or your industry, to find out more about them. Be inquisitive.

In every job, it’s very clear what the roads to recognition are. They tell you, ‘Do these things, you get bonuses.’ I really had a focused goal on how do I get those public displays of recognition that the company is offering, what does it take to get those things? I always tell people, don’t wear it on your sleeve, but in the back of your mind, know that you have to show up this way and have this level of performance. How do you consciously look at ways to make yourself more visible? Show up, ask a question. Be part of the conversation.

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