Endeavor Presents: Leading Through a Crisis with Marcelo Claure

By: Stephanie Bergin

In June, I had the opportunity to attend a live webinar interview with Marcelo Claure as part of the series Endeavor Presents: Leading Through Crisis. For me, listening to such a distinguished entrepreneur was rare, valuable, and full of insights. The following list consists of some of the points that resonated with me the most.  It was especially interesting to hear Claure’s take on managing through a crisis, the future of work, the value of respect, and the importance of entrepreneurial skills in different types of organizations.  I encourage everyone to listen to people of this caliber because their stories and experiences can provide us with unique insight.

  1. “Pretty much everything is achievable.”

Marcelo Claure was returning home to Bolivia after having studied in the U.S. when he met the president of the Bolivian Soccer Federation on his flight.  By the time the plane had landed, he had a job.  It was a job fueled by passion, but it did not pay.  His parents were a bit upset, especially since they had just spent savings for Marcelo to have the opportunity to study in the United States. But the Bolivian Soccer Federation had a dream – to qualify Bolivia to the World Cup.  With extremely strong competitors like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, this is nearly impossible to do.  They formulated a clear plan and leveraged their competitive advantage – altitude – and for the first time in the country’s history, Bolivia qualified for the World Cup.  This early experience taught Mr. Claure this important lesson.

  1. “But if I could do it different, I would try to raise less money, I would try to manage my cash better so therefore the value at the end is great.”

There is no doubt that Mr. Claure has led and continues to lead a remarkable career, but there is one thing he would do differently that is contrary to what many entrepreneurs do.  Many take private equity money early and expensive.  The first time Mr. Claure raised money for Brightstar was an exciting moment, but he acknowledges that it was done mostly out of fear.  Many entrepreneurs are facing the same fear of failure. The focus historically has been on high valuations, hockey stick plans, raising money, and basing everything on growth.  Mr. Claure did this for a while and became very good at building decks and pitching, but he believes the focus should instead be on building a great business.  He was very lucky.  He raised money and his business boomed, but he wouldn’t necessarily go about things the same way today.

  1. “It was amazing how we transformed a bureaucratic entity to highly entrepreneurial where we taught people our launches don’t have to be perfect…And we taught people that it was okay to innovate, to experiment and to do it fast…everything doesn’t have to be perfect. And we got to learn how to fail fast.”

Mr. Claure was previously Executive Chairman of Sprint, where he turned the company around and architected the successful merger with T-Mobile.  Sprint was a very old, large, and traditional company.  Claure describes it like an NBA team with no chance of making it to the finals – despite their best efforts, the employees had gotten used to losing.  They had to teach people how to win.  By winning little battles, building clear plans and expectations, creating a culture that allowed people to feel proud, and incorporating entrepreneurial principles, the company was transformed.

  1. “People will always respect you if you’re basically explaining why you’re doing this and what is the goal you’re trying to achieve and just treat people with dignity and respect.”

Leaders have to make tough decisions.  Marcelo Claure makes these decisions and then communicates them the right way – by being honest, transparent, and vulnerable with employees.  At Sprint, they had to let go of 30,000 employees.  In the past, executives had stayed home on the days they were letting people go, but Claure understood the importance of changing this tradition and doing the opposite by being present. As people were leaving, they would hear applause celebrating the parting employees for their service and often, they would find Claure standing outside to speak with them.  When doing these reductions in force, it is also important to help people on their way out, either financially or by communicating with other companies that are hiring.  Claure points out that there are always adjustments, so while one place is laying people off, others are hiring.  Claure always treats people with dignity and respect and overly communicates. People are watching your actions, so you need to always be an example.

  1. “So I think the future of work is going to be one in which we’re going to leverage what we learned – that we’re capable of doing work at home. The future of the headquarters are going to be diminished. There will be headquarters, but there won’t be the need for everybody to be in the same place at all times, and the need for satellite offices for a hub and spoke model is what we think is going to happen.”

Marcelo Claure serves as Executive Chairman of WeWork.  He felt the need to jump into the company to prove that it was a good idea and that it could be fixed.  Claure thinks that after a crisis, the leaders emerge and WeWork will come out strong. His involvement at WeWork gives him an interesting perspective on the future of work and workplaces.  We have learned that we are capable of working remotely, but the sense of community is still important.  These ideas must coexist in the new normal.  WeWork is seeing increasing demand for buildings close to where employees live to give workers the flexibility of working at home, the satellite office, or headquarters.  This increase in flexibility may continue after the pandemic.

  1. “I face Crises every day and what I learned is that sometimes, if you take a step back and get all the facts and do more thinking, you will arrive to a better solution.”

Marcelo Claure’s style was to jump into the middle of problems immediately and fix them, but lately, he has been trying a new style.  One where he takes his time, thinks, creates clear plans.  He can still jump in when he needs to, of course. Claure has learned throughout the crisis that he does not necessarily need to jump onto a plane either – a zoom meeting will have the same results.  This, along with spending time with his family, has been a positive learning from the crisis.

  1. “But those entrepreneurs that know how to manage through crisis, are going to thrive after the crisis. There are some that won’t be able to make it because they don’t know how to manage through crisis, but those that do, those that know how to [make] these tough decisions, trust me you’re about to build the world’s best company.”

Marcelo Claure does not want anybody to be discouraged.  These are tough times, but they only make us stronger.  He says, “If you can manage through crisis, you can manage through anything.”  Mr. Claure made it through the 2009 financial crisis and describes himself as unstoppable in the following years.  Now is the time to learn to manage through crisis and make the tough decisions.

Marcelo Claure and other leaders’ stories can teach us so many lessons and insights about our own entrepreneurial journeys.  To hear Marcelo Claure’s entire interview with Endeavor, follow this link. And to hear even more great speakers, check out the Endeavor Presents: Leading Through Crisis playlist on Endeavor Global’s YouTube page.  This is a difficult time as many of us live and lead through crisis, but I hope you also take advantage of the virtual offerings to hear from leaders like Marcelo Claure who have been here before and can offer great guidance and wisdom.