The Core Quality of a Leader, According to Ally Financial CEO

August 1, 2017, 5:44 PM UTC

When it comes to leadership, Jeffrey Brown says he was influenced by two men: his father and Hugh McColl, the entrepreneurial banker who built Bank of America into the one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S.

When Brown was tapped to run Ally Financial in 2015, it was the first time he ever led a company as CEO. He stepped in at a difficult time for the financial firm. It was in tough negotiations with General Motors about its auto leasing arrangement. Ally was also getting pressure from activist investors to take immediate action to boost the firm’s weak stock price.

Brown says he tried “to keep it simple for leadership philosophies” and relied on the basic advice from his role models.

“My dad, as a small business owner for forty plus years,” says Brown, “has always emphasized when you give someone your word, they depend on it.” At Ally, Brown created a value system that has “an honest culture, an ethical culture” and he says he constantly reinforces that with every employee.

From Hugh McColl, Brown says that he learned the importance of followership. “While Hugh was this incredible hard charger and singular individual, he recognized that success and to accomplish that dream of coast-to-coast banking in the U.S. was not going to be accomplished by Hugh alone,” says Brown who worked at Bank of America for more than ten years before joining Ally. “People were willing to run through brick walls for that man because they believed in him. They believed in him at his core as the person more than the leader. That followership was probably the one thing I learned more than anything.”