Avnet CEO Phil Gallagher: ‘Be An Open Book’

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with Avnet CEO Phil Gallagher who draws on his football playing and coaching days to discuss the primacy of emotional intelligence in leading diverse teams. 

If football taught Phil Gallagher anything, it was that each of us responds to different kinds of motivation and a leader’s job is to find the key that unlocks each member of his or her team. When Gallagher was a freshman in high school, his coach told him he was too small to ever play varsity football. Gallagher responded by working his tail off in the weight room, ultimately captaining the varsity in his senior year before playing college ball at Westchester University in Pennsylvania.

Years later, as a volunteer high school coach,  Gallagher realized that the kind of tough love his old coach laid on him wasn’t effective for everybody. “Some kids need a kick in the butt all the time,” he said. “Others need you to throw your arm around their shoulders and nurture them a bit, and suddenly they’re a whole new person. It’s the same in the business world when you deal with a staff that’s very diverse.”

Football taught Gallagher that emotional intelligence is a better guide for leadership than IQ and he has made it the hallmark of his leadership style as the CEO of Avnet, a Fortune 500 technology distributor and solutions provider. Now in his 40th year with the company, Gallagher leads more than 15,000 employees across 140 countries and enjoys a remarkable 91 percent CEO approval rating from his employees on Glassdoor.

You don’t get that kind of reputation by holing up in the corner office and issuing directives through your minions. No, Gallagher has chosen, instead, to be an open book, whether he’s sharing with senior leadership what they can expect from him, or meeting with the latest crop of student interns to coach them on how they can best conduct themselves to be successful at Avnet—and throughout their careers.

As a motivator of others, Gallagher has risen through the ranks to lead an organization of Avnet’s size, scope and complexity by developing the ability to meet different kinds of people where they are, he says. And listeners to the podcast will learn the habits of mind and behavior Gallagher thinks work best in becoming a high EQ leader. Lessons include:

• 9:00  Why substituting the word “we” in place of “I” immediately builds trust.

• 11:30 The steps to a successful merger or acquisition.

• 15:30 How to prioritize your tasks in alignment with your values.

• 16:30 Why you need to walk into the office with good news, and run in with bad news.

Gallagher doesn’t believe in quick fixes and argues that integrity, the first among core values, has to be developed in the way we behave in the here and now—and over time. “There’s an old saying,” says Gallagher, “that people build trust penny by penny and spend it like a buck. You have to prioritize standing by your word.”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events