Dr. Peter Piot about leadership: “What would the chameleon do?”

Dr. Paul Stoffels, Director R & D Johnson & Johnson talking about Dr. Peter Piot: “He has changed dramatically the course of AIDS in the world. He first has put AIDS on the agenda of the world leaders. Before him nobody cared. He then really worked hard on prevention and awareness. Finally, he has made therapy available together with the pharmaceutical industry for the poorest of the world. Now daily from 5 to 10 million poor people continue to benefit from cheap therapy thanks to him. Peter Piot is truly the Father Damien of our time. ”

Yesterday Peter Piot was honored by the Flemish Management Association (VMA) with the “Leadership Award” for his “sustained integrity, advanced management skills and inspirational leadership”. During the interview with Friedl Lesage he talked about his life and work. “Even as a little boy I had a dream to do something good for the world. I lived at 2 km from the birthplace of Father Damien. He was my hero.”

The strength of his personal dream and exceptional perseverance characterize the leadership of Peter Piot. “When I saw people of my age dying in Africa dying of this new disease I knew in a flash that it would change my life and the world dramatically. I wanted to dedicate myself to finding solutions for that disease. ” Before that he had already established his reputation as virologist by having co-discovered the Ebola virus. He also got a PhD degree from the University of Antwerp. Asked about the scope of his ambition he answered straight:” why go for the small if you can do something great? ”
Second feature of his leadership: entrepreneurship. “It has literally been given by breast milk. My mother was an entrepreneur in the construction industry. My father was a public officer with many contacts in Europe. We live now also in a time with a lot of uncertainty, but that gives opportunities. I always say: “never miss a good crisis.” His scientific fame, his vocation and his entrepreneurship brought him to the position of founding director of UN AIDS. Since five months he directs the Institute for Global Health in London. This top school has headquarters in London and employs more than 600 academics in +80 countries. He is also chairman of the King Baudouin Foundation.

How was it to take the step from science to politics? “I was not prepared for that step. For scientists details are very important. And we also have difficulty to come to conclusions. The analysis is very important. As a politician it starts with the conclusion. My background was an advantage to understand the matter of AIDS, but also a disadvantage. ” Peter Piot successfully negotiated with world leaders and the pharmaceutical industry. His recipe: “I step in the shoes of the other. I figure out his interests and weak spots. I am always prepared for meetings. At the same time I am an opportunist, a dealmaker, I know when to strike.”

Peter Piot likes no-nonsense and is down to earth. He shows in that way his Flemish roots: “Harvard has its use, but it like to keep things simple. One employee told me about a ritual in Mali. Boys of 12 years are given the assignment to  spend one week in the forest to study chameleons. This employee reported the following characteristics of the chameleon back First he does not move his head. The chameleon has a purpose. Second, his eyes turn 360 degrees. He scans his surroundings. Third, it moves step by step . Fourth, he uses his skin to adapt to the environment. And finally, he has a great sense of timing to strike. That sums it up for me. In complex situations, I often think: “What would the chameleon do?”

Peter Piot was also outspoken on people management: “To form a team, you need your whole brains. Competences and qualifications are important, but equally your gut feeling and instinct. Then I let the people much freedom. But I am very clear about the goals. Results must be excellent. You should not be too easily satisfied. It also features Bill Gates. He is inexorably in terms of results, not in the short, but in the medium term. Working for the short-term is one of the great problems in our world. ”

Captain of industry Karel Vinck, chairman of the VMA stressed the importance of leadership and breakthroughs in Flanders: “In this world where everything changes, we should strive for breakthroughs via the shortest route and the fastest way.” Peter Piot joined him wholeheartedly: “Globalisation is a positive force. Openness is very important. We, in Flanders, we need the world. On our own we don’t stand a chance. Our strength lies in hard work and perseverance, but we can be more assertive. ” He ended on a positive note: “Our youth has an international dynamic. I meet everywhere in the world small Flemish companies who are doing ok.”


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in English, Leader interviews & opinions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dr. Peter Piot about leadership: “What would the chameleon do?”

  1. Pingback: Leadership thought 9: Fools rush in where angels fear to thread (A. Pope) | Thefutureleadershipinitiative

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