Articles & Insights

Lessons in Leadership Series: A Conversation with Markus Bucher

Markus Bucher is C.O.I.’s Dallas-based Executive Search Business Partner.

Markus commenced his career in finance with the global apparel company Bally, rising to CFO in the USA before joining Holcim as a Senior VP. He was then appointed Executive Director (President) in charge of all Southern African countries with a cement conglomerate, before founding and leading as CEO his own highly successful I.T. company. His company was the first SAP certified company offering a HR Business Process Outsourcing Solution in Africa and managed close to 150,000 employees for multinational companies at the time Markus sold the company.

Educated in Switzerland at top schools including INSEAD, Markus speaks 5 languages.

C.O.I’s Rowena McAllister chatted with Markus about his career, his challenges and insights for others embarking on an international career, or involved in business in general.


Q: Markus – you started your career in finance, then moved into sales and general management. What was the most challenging role & function – and why?

A: Building from scratch an IT business process outsourcing company (today called outsourcing in the cloud) and doing that at the beginning of this century, on the leading edge of the industry. At that time the word “cloud” computing did not exist. Another challenge was to operate successfully within South Africa but also in the rest of Africa with all the governmental issues.


Q: As a member of a number of executive boards over the span of your career, what advice can you provide senior executives on how best to influence corporate strategy at the highest level, and communicate the vision of the company to the board?

A: I think the most important is to remember the roles of each partner – executives are executing the Board members are governing. The Board must be responsive to the stakeholders including, of course the owners, government, regulators, customers, suppliers and communities the company operates in and serves.

One of the most important principles, is to remember that governing is always forward looking, do not waste too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. Always look for causes, do not be distracted by the symptoms and always ask questions and be curious.

Be careful to not confuse and mix corporate strategy or governance with business strategy or governance. Over the years in business, I have learned that there is no “BEST PRACTICE” only ‘BETTER AND WORSE PRACTICE’. And, finally, KAIZEN spirit… a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, which comprises mainly two things: cheerfulness — the conviction that, no matter how tough things are today, tomorrow will be better. In spite of everything, we’ll keep improving and solve our most difficult problems and Go See — the desire to experience life first hand, to get out of the office and into the world.


Q: What would you say is the key to developing successful, long-lasting business relationships?

A: I would say the most fundamental thing is to accept others as they are and be who you are.

And, if I were to list the key attributes and behaviors that bring success they would be:

  • Share goals and values
  • Building mutual respect is important for a growing relationship
  • Support others through difficulties & challenging times
  • No gossiping or unnecessary conversations
  • Connect and network with the right people
  • Be willing to share experiences
  • Go out and do something fun with your team (art, theatre, music, sport)
  • Be open minded, have realistic expectations but never assume.


Q: What was the greatest challenge in your career?

A: I would have to say reorganizing the Cement Group in South Africa after Apartheid.


Q: What advice would you give someone who has suffered a setback career-wise, how can they transform this into an opportunity?

A: Take responsibility. It’s easy to blame others if things aren’t working out. However, you cannot improve a situation if you can’t see your part in it. If you make a mistake, admit it. Then find out how to fix it. Think about what you learned or gained from that setback. Apply what you learned to improve your work. A positive attitude will help you recover from setbacks.


Q: How significant is the role of mentorship and business coaching?

A: A coach or mentor can help a new employee adjust to the culture in an organization. Young professionals may not be accustomed to an organization’s practices and acceptable behaviors. The coach can provide the new worker with information on the corporate culture, organizational structure and procedures that will help the younger professional settle into his role in the business, so a mentor is a wonderful asset in someone’s career.


Q: During your career, when you have disagreed strongly with a business approach, how have you handled this within a professional environment? Do you think confrontation can be good for business? If so, how?

A: Never engage in unethical behavior in business and ensure every person is responsible for their own actions and the consequences.

People think confrontation is bad. I want to declare that confrontation is a good thing, and it is one of the most important skills you need as a leader!

Leaders need to respond thoughtfully and immediately to issues that arise and that may impact business results. Thoughtfully, because one needs to take into account potential culture differences (low and high context countries), but always act and never let anything simmer.

By Rowena McAllister