Derek Glanvill didn’t arrive in the United States hoping to become CEO of a multi-billion dollar construction company. He just wanted to broaden his horizons a bit by leaving his native South Africa and getting a look at how things worked on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“I literally came to the United States with $200 and one suitcase and started from there,” says Glanvill, president and COO of St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Companies Inc. “It was the classic immigrant type of story. I think the thing that attracted me was the tremendous amount of opportunity. If you worked hard and made a difference, you would be recognized and you could achieve. I really took to that very quickly.”
He did indeed. Five years later, he was 30 and president of a $200 million company.
“My next couple of career moves always put me as the youngest person there,” Glanvill says. “The opportunity was always there and I was always able to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Glanvill credits his father for his strong work ethic.
“I still feel to this day that he is the hardest working person that I’ve ever met,” Glanvill says.
While Glanvill believes leadership is a trait that some people are born with, he says you don’t need innate talent to be a great leader.
“Leadership can be taught and it can be learned,” Glanvill says. “There are many people who have learned it who are not necessarily as effective as those who have natural skills. But I don’t think all great leaders have natural skills. There are some who have learned to be great leaders.”
If you find that your business is struggling at developing leaders, perhaps it’s because you’re not focusing enough on career advancement in your organization.
When business units at McCarthy meet, they must bring in their organizational charts.
“It’s color coded in terms of people who are doing well and people who are emerging leaders and people who are ready for advancement,” Glanvill says. “We not only force them to do it on what today’s environment looks like, but we get them to show a future org chart three years from now and what it’s going to look like. Who are the potential candidates to fill those roles?”
Glanvill wants employees to be thinking strategically about both the business and about the personnel who will conduct that business and plot the direction of the company.
“You have a process that migrates talent in the organization and it creates opportunity,” Glanvill says.
“Identification of the high-potential people that are in the funnel, you have it on a spreadsheet and you talk about it often. One of the columns that needs to be filled is, what is their next development step? Where are they going next?”
MARK SCOTT is a senior associate editor at Smart Business Magazine. He is responsible for content in the Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis editions. He welcomes feedback and ideas for CEOs to speak to with great insight on leadership. You can reach him at