When I was in New York recently I had the great pleasure of meeting with Marty Holleran, a senior GE executive during the Jack Welch era. We talked about moral courage, moral leadership, and how he had resolved moral dilemmas. Over a couple of hours together Marty enthralled me with stories from a long and successful career, laced with much humour and laughter, and demonstrating both business savvy and care for people.
Marty spoke about having the courage to remove a non-performer who had everyone bluffed about his connections to head office. Wasn’t true at all. He spoke about navigating the many grey areas encountered in business and life and finding clarity. He spoke about being truthful with employees, even when they may not want to hear it (eg–“you are not going to become CEO”).
Marty told me the extraordinary story of two of his grandchildren being diagnosed with Pompe’s disease, a severe neuromuscular disorder. The search for a cure, led by his son-in-law John Crowley, has been the subject of Harvard business cases, books, and a feature film, Extraordinary Measures, starring Harrison Ford. When the diagnosis was made Marty had just become CEO of a listed firm which was about to embark on a capital raising. He then had to manage the dilemma of family and business both requiring total focus and commitment. His clear set of timeless human values served as a beacon and guiding light.
Throughout our conversation Marty repeatedly said “it was the right thing to do” when speaking about decisions made and actions taken. He credited this to the influence of his parents and the family environment, and in particular his mother.
“I was given a moral compass second to none,” said Marty