Michael Portz | Leadership Development and Cultural Lessons From Working at Vodafone

Michael Portz is a leadership coach and the Co-founder of CoA Academy, which helps leaders succeed with ease through remote leadership programs. Michael has more than 25 years of experience as a manager, serial entrepreneur, and coach. He has lived on almost every continent, established various brands, and led teams of up to 2,500 people. He also helped scale a company to 400 people with a turnover of $500 million in sales within four years. 

Michael is the author of Chief of Anything and Six Situations of Feedback. He is an angel investor, a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), and an EO Accelerator trainer. He also served as President of the EO Qatar Chapter for two years.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Michael Portz, a leadership coach and the Co-founder of CoA Academy, about leadership development and the value of people skills. They also talk about Michael’s experience working at Vodafone, his entrepreneurial ventures, and why he started a leadership academy.

Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy

Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How working at Vodafone inspired Michael Portz’s leadership approach
  • Michael’s experience teaching music as a teenager 
  • Michael talks about working for Vodafone in South Africa and Qatar, the cultural challenges he faced in Qatar, and how the death of Grahame Maher impacted the company
  • The lessons Michael learned from his startup, Misha Shisha
  • Harvard Business School studies about Vodafone and Michael’s business
  • How Michael became a business coach and got involved in the EO Accelerator program
  • The peers Michael acknowledges for his success

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution. 

We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

What do you need to start a podcast?

When you use our proven system, all you need is an idea and a voice. We handle the strategy, production, and distribution – you just need to show up and talk.

The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.

We make distribution easy

We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

Are you considering launching a podcast to acquire partnerships, clients, and referrals? Would you like to work with a podcast agency that wants you to win? 

Contact us now at [email protected] or book a call at rise25.com/bookcall.

Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show, and I get to talk to interesting people from all around the globe using this podcast every week, and I love doing it. We love bringing you the great stories and experiences from smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs. From all kinds of companies and organizations, you can check out our archives, we’ve got Netflix, Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, so many great stories and experiences there. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today is Michael Portz. He’s done so many different things in his career from leadership coaching, angel investing, serial entrepreneur, started companies in the Middle East, corporate executive management consultant, even a paramedic and a professional musician, I don’t know where that came from. But that’s in there, too. And he’s lived all over the globe as well, we’re gonna talk about being the co-founder and CMO of a startup that went towards a $2 billion IPO. This was in the telecom space in the Middle East back in the late 2000s. And he’s also been a business angel investor and heavily involved in EO Entrepreneurs Organization, which I’m also involved in as well. So we’ll talk about that involvement. And he’s the author of the books Chief of Anything and The Six Situations of Feedback. And so we’ll talk about those as well. 

Of course, this episode brought to you by my company, Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn all about what we do at rise25.com. Michael, it’s such a pleasure to have you here. And I want to ask you about this experience, one of the most fundamental experiences that shaped who you were. So you were kind of plucked out of Vodafone, you’re working for Vodafone in a variety of different roles. And you were someone saw something in you because they you were chosen to be part of this four year Leadership Program, which you in your words taught you a lot about leadership. So talk a little bit about that experience. How it shaped your approaches towards leadership today.

Michael Portz 2:52

Hey, John, thank you so much for having me on the show. It’s a pleasure and an honor. I’m humbled with hearing who all has been here. So I hope it will be contributing in a meaningful way. Yeah, well, what happened there was you know, I had been in my professional career for about 10 years. And before that, I was working in a consulting firm, first known as Andersen consulting, later now known as Accenture. And at some point, I did what consultants occasionally do a change from the consulting firm to the client. And you know, that was my intention all along. I never went into consulting to make the lifelong career. I went in there to learn a lot, because I felt after uni that I hadn’t learned anything useful for real life. So consulting was good for that, because it got me around. And eventually it was clear now now it’s time to make the change that was about five, almost six years into that consulting job. And the reason why I was keen to join this big global telco group Vodafone, was because while I was working with them as a consultant, they had these posters on the rooms where they kept the printers and photocopier machines. And these posters showed a person climbing up a mountain all in full climbing gear, and I will not a mountain near but that poster struck me hanging there and full size in that photocopier room. And then above that, it said something like, be one of our future leaders. So if you want to become a future leader of this organization, if you want to be one of the CEOs in this group, at the time, there was about 25 CEOs it’s a worldwide conglomerate, then joined this program to develop into becoming such a global leader. And I thought, wow, yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do. I always loved the world. I loved other countries. I love that Vodafone was such a group in different countries and that it offered the opportunity to get around and this idea of becoming a future CEO. I went yeah, that’s exactly What I want to do, and I applied for the program, now the chances to get into the program at the time were very slim. We had about 70,000 employees worldwide, and they took in up to 20. Every year. Right? Yeah. And they were looking for a very specific profile. And to make it worse, they said, and sometimes we don’t even fill up the 20. Because we only take exactly the people with the Profile we’re looking for.

John Corcoran 5:27

That’s like, adding insult to injury. It’s like, yeah, we only took six people, we didn’t see anyone else good.

Michael Portz 5:32

I had no expectation that this was going to happen, but I was definitely keen. And I was definitely willing to take the chance. And so I agreed to hire on an employment contract with Vodafone, in order to be able to apply for that program. And they waived the requirement that I had had to be at least one year as an employee, because I had worked with them for two years as a consultant. So that said, probably smilingly, yeah, yeah, sure, you can apply. Anyways, probably is what they were thinking, the bigger their minds. And then I applied and the miraculous thing happened, I got in. And it changed my life. And ever since then, this idea of leadership development, and the learning those skills, those people skills, and honing people’s skills over time, to be a great leader that has become my sole purpose in my doing now in my work. And it’s, you know, what I have developed out of this is an understanding of there are these elements of leadership, it’s about leading myself, it’s about leading others. And then comes to the obvious part, which is leading teams, and leading bigger organizations. And what happened ever since then, as I’ve been building this curriculum of leadership development tools, and ever since I started in the program, I started teaching my teams. So you know, it wasn’t the failure. Okay. Michael has been to a training, here we go, we’re going to have a session, and he’s going to tell us what he learned. And that’s what I have been doing. And what I noticed maybe 1012 years later, is that actually, I enjoy that the most teaching and coaching and mentoring other people in their leadership roles and helping them to acquire those people skills that can help them to be super successful.

John Corcoran 7:16

I’m also fascinated by when people realize something in themselves later, that was present earlier. So to take a step backwards, you actually at age 12, or 13 years old, started teaching others how to play piano, you were really good at piano. And someone saw leadership potential in you, in a sense, right? It was a local music store owner, who said, I could see him leading others teaching others to play the piano, in many ways, similar quality on a wider scale.

Michael Portz 7:49

Yeah, good point. I like how you you picked up on that. Thank you for the question. So you know, I was interested in music from age six. And what I thought I was interested in was the technology. Because I had seen somebody on TV, you know, those kind of those those electrical organs.

John Corcoran 8:07

Yeah. And synthesizers Landau levels to them. Yeah,

Michael Portz 8:12

I saw this guy on TV, he was playing on a three layer electrical organ. And it was like a $50,000 price tag, it was on television. And it looked like Star Trek. And that’s the other thing. I love Star Trek. So you know, I was five years old. And I saw this thing. And I knew Star Trek, and I saw it in Oregon. And that sounded like what Star Trek look like in the stories that Star Trek told. So I was sold. And then I begged my parents to to learn piano, not while I want to learn the organ, they gave me an old piano to start on, which was good, because it’s a great instrument to start learning. And then that happened and evolved into that whole story until six, seven years later, in the music store, where I was spending most of my free time hanging out test print, playing with all the instruments. I’m a musician at heart. I just ended up in business by coincidence. And the older asked, well, you know, would you play really well? Would you consider giving lessons for me? And the guy was probably 50 years old. You know, he was an old man in my eyes back then I was 13. And I couldn’t believe it, that somebody was asking me to teach other people. And I was shaking. I was very nervous. I said, Yeah, I can try it. I’ve never done this and that’s okay. You will do fine. He was very encouraging, you know, very positively affirming me in the strengths that he had seen. And then I didn’t know of, which apparently was more than just, you know, playing piano oil and Oregon well, but also something intrapersonal because I mean, the first student that he gave me was a 60 year old gentleman. And so here’s this 13 year old teaching a six year old and I was super humbled by all that. And the other thing is, this was my first business no first money that I made independently, and I made a ton of money. I did this two days in the afternoons and it was a fun time. Has the globe as a teenager always had more than enough cash in my pockets?

John Corcoran 10:05

That’s great. So let’s flash forward then from that experience. So you do the leadership program through Vodafone for your program. And at some point, they kind of pluck you to be an executive as for this startup that they were going to go into the the Qatar market, Vodafone Qatar, and you’re going to be cmo and ultimately become Zeno. $2 billion IPO but But talk a bit about what that experience was like, especially at this time, you know, we’re recording this in January 2023. And the World Cup just occurred in Qatar. But the country has changed tremendously in the last 1517 years since you were there. What was it like going into that market at that time?

Michael Portz 10:52

If I may, I’ll add one step in between, because it was an important while way of getting ready for that experience. In Qatar, I was first sent to South Africa for two years to manage call centers. And I chose that deliberately because I wanted to get lots of people management experience and going into customer care means working with hundreds or 1000s of people. And that’s exactly what happened. And it also meant that for the first time, I encountered coaching, and I had a professional coach who supported me to be successful, successful in that role. Her name is Bev and I’m eternally grateful for her she supported me. And it was also her who for the first time asked me that great question. What’s your purpose in life, Michael? And that turned out years later in Qatar to be fundamentally important for what happened there, then tiny little things that question, what’s your purpose in life? And my answer was, I have no idea. So I went back for four months, and then came back to our next session. And I had an idea, but it was very vague. And so anyway, so you know, I wasn’t customer care, I didn’t manage hundreds. And in the end, two and a half, 1000 people and I built up all this people management experience, and including stuff like you know, that there were what’s it called when there were strikes, you know, we have had situations with that, and so forth. So, you know, in South Africa was really exciting. And it was a fantastic place to live still is I love the country, I go back as much as I can possibly.

John Corcoran 12:24

And you are in Cape Town and Johannesburg. All right.

Michael Portz 12:27

So I was based in Cape Town. And this is where I lived, which paradise. Our call centers were also in Johannesburg.

John Corcoran 12:36