A tale of two CEO’s and their unusual relationship to elevators


Didier Marlier

February 24, 2017

From Disruption to Engagement

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The title of this new post may have you thinking of this clip which has been around for a while, but it is totally UNRELATED! But just for the fun…


Now, more seriously, the tale relates to two organizations and how their leaders used the elevator in a totally different manner. One could almost say that the relationship of the CEO to the HQ’s elevator is a strong and accurate prediction of the organizational culture:

The first organization appealed to “la crème de la crème” in their area. The culture was very much “doesn’t suffer fools gladly”, distance and coldness prevailed, elitism and arrogance seemed like virtues. I was rather amused to hear that the CEO’s P.A. had decided, out of good intention, that her boss reading of the newspaper (do you remember these cumbersome paper pages that were too tall or too small, wouldn’t open at the right page and leave your fingers full of ink?) was so crucial to the fate of the company that he shouldn’t be disturbed in his daily worship of the financial news. She had therefore agreed with his driver and the security that, he should call her when arriving at the office, which would trigger her call to security which, in turn, would keep an elevator free and ensure nobody would get in except the CEO. That way he could go, undisturbed, to his office without having to talk to people.

A few years later, I was in a completely different organization and country. The HQ hosted 5’000 people in a single building with 6 elevators. The atmosphere was convivial, warm, fearless and even joyous. The CEO there made it a point to take the lift with everybody else in the morning and engage into discussions which would continue, with the people he randomly met, in his office. And the story said that it wasn’t unusual for the CEO to pretend to arrive three times in a row so he would connect with as many people as possible in the morning and pick all the stories, not out of the Wall Street Journal but of his people.

This tale of two CEO’s and their relationship to elevators seems a perfect illustration of what Power Distance is about and what it creates in organizational culture and business results.

Each national and organizational culture differ. No leader’s personality can compare. Whatever you will attempt to do, in order to reduce that Power Distance, has to be undertaken with Authenticity and Credibility. It has to match who you are.

We frequently help and support leaders who have decided to engage into transforming their company’s culture into one that will bring results and who realize that they should set the example first. Do call us if you wish to explore what could be done for you.

I hope that the next time you get in your elevator, it will remind you of Power Distance and the impact your behaviour has on your organization’s culture. Enjoy the ride (to the 25th floor)!


  1. Tritia

    Love the clip! And you’ve a great point. Whenever I visit a new company I always observe the behaviour of the people in the elevator. It always tells a lot about the culture.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Treets 😉

  2. Marie

    Loved this post, reminded me of a director of sponsorship in a large Telco, and a mentor, who when she wanted something approved was sending one of her team members to spy on the parking door to get a call when the CEO’s car was arriving. She then casually would meet him and it would give her the opportunity to remind him she was waiting for his signature for the project she was leading.
    She once told me her trick and swore me to secrecy. At her funeral the CEO gave an eulogy and he mentioned the trick, apparently someone had spilled the beans.

    • Didier Marlier

      Moving story Marie. Thank you for taking the time to share it!


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