The Executive Mindset – Pivot Point Group Interviews Sandy Costa

Q&A with Sandy Costa by The Pivot Point Group

Former President and COO of Quintiles Transnational Corp. Sandy Costa shares his views on the executive mindset.

As president and chief operating officer of Quintiles Transnational Corp. Sandy Costa was responsible for all operating divisions, as well as worldwide business development. During his nearly six years in this role, the corporation’s annual revenues rose from approx. $90 million to $1.6 billion During the extraordinary growth he also oversaw the successful integration of over 40 acquisitions ranging in value up to 1.7 billion. Also during his watch the company’s employee base increased from approximately 1,000 to 20,000 worldwide.

Prior to his tenure at Quintiles Sandy was Sr. Vice President Administration and General Counsel to Glaxo Inc. In total he spent nearly 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry. He is currently Of Counsel at the law firm Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell and Jernigan, L.L.P.

Sandy Costa is a thought leader and nationally renowned speaker and author of Humanity at Work : Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace. Sandy offers life supporting solutions for creating healthy leaders, organizations and communities that will create lasting positive change in your organization. For more, please visit

What do you consider the job of a CEO?

The generic answer most folks would give is that the primary job of a CEO is to lead an organization.  One definition of leading is to show someone the way to a place.  In that respect, it’s the job of a leader – certainly a CEO, to take an organization and its people to a “better place.”  To me, an essential element of great leadership is to lift the burdens of those you lead.  Robert Greenleaf popularized the term Steward Leadership.  To some, this concept is counterintuitive.  There are individuals who believe that as they rise up through an organization, the primary job of the folks under them is to help that anointed individual succeed.  The opposite is true.  The more senior a leader becomes, the greater the obligation to remove the obstacles that keep others from succeeding.  Then everyone wins!  I don’t often read sport books, but I just read a fascinating biography about Johnny Unitas.  Unitas is still an icon among NFL quarterbacks.  I learned that when Unitas came into a huddle and prior to calling a play, he would ask a question of the other players – What can I do to help you?  He wanted to know what play to call that would allow his teammates to perform as best as they could.  Imagine that!  Unitas realized that his success as a quarterback was embedded in the success of the other ten guys on his team.

What was the #1 surprise realization you had after starting your new role as a President years ago?

One aspect of the position that was not always recognized is that everyone pays close attention to the CEO’s actions.  Little goes unnoticed.  Naturally, one thing that is always noticed is if your actions line up with your words. This is not just a business issue. The fact that a leader’s words and actions are not always the same is a problem that permeates our society.  When a CEO or any individual says one thing while doing another they don’t stand a chance of being an effective leader. 

What a CEO says is of course important.  Sometimes more than we realize. Let me explain —

At times, a senior executive may not realize the powerful effect any pronouncement may have. What we might have thought to be wishful musing- “it would be great if we could get one more packaging line in that building”, will be taken by some as a priority assignment.  Finally, we need to be particularly on guard at informal gatherings. A senior executive needs to remember that he or she is not standing around with the Saturday morning foursome or their tennis partners.  Whatever you say will be widely disseminated, and you won’t be there to explain what you really meant.

In your experience, how can a CEO communicate and support the corporate values and ethics?

I found letters to our employees particularly effective.  Many of these letters are contained in my book Humanity at Work:  Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace. (Chapel Hill Press)

However you choose to communicate on this essential topic, do so often and in a variety of ways.  The goal should be as follows:  When a person in your organization has a moral or ethical dilemma, they must be able to answer this question – “What would our CEO do in this situation?” 

A consultant’s advice is easy to get, but we realize it is important to get advice from someone who has already done the job.  Have you had an experienced CEO to turn to for advice?

First of all, I was very fortunate to be a corporate counsel for a fair part of my career, as such I was able to observe a number of world class CEO’s.  When I became an executive with operational responsibility I had those lessons to draw upon.  I have also been blessed to have several close friends who rose to become CEO’s and I was able to bounce issues off of them.  The secret is to find folks who really know you the person.  That doesn’t mean they will usually agree with your plans and ideas.  Anyone who always agrees with you is the wrong advisor.  It simply means they will better appreciate how you came to your point of view.

About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at
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