When Eric Seldon joined Aflac in 1999, his CEO said something that stuck with him. He puts God first, family second, business third, and everything else would work out after that. For the last 14 years, Seldon, Aflac’s senior vice president of business services and president and CEO of Communicorp, has lived by those priorities and expanded them to share with the professionals he mentors.
1. What are the three most important pieces of advice you give a mentee?
When mentoring leaders, I talk to them about their ability to have vision. Then I talk to them about integrity and how important character is for a leader. Finally, we talk about perseverance. It’s easy when things are going well, but leadership is tested when things are not going so well. I try to be an example by putting those things into practice.
2. One of your biggest achievements has been transforming Communicorp from a printing company to a marketing-solutions provider. What steps did that take? How did you incorporate mentorship?
First we had to transform our way of thinking, from the bottom floor to the president’s office. Our sales team was used to selling print. They had to move outside their comfort zone and learn to sell all Communicorp had to offer, which meant that they had to learn a lot more about the business. Early on, we sent subject-matter experts with them, so they could step in and help the customer understand all that we had to offer and to help them learn how to sell end-to-end marketing solutions.
3. What were the impetus and strategy for making Communicorp an end-to-end solutions company?
Printing companies in America are going out of business at a rapid rate. We had to offer something more than just commercial print—we had to become a full-service provider. We had all the pieces, but they were not integrated nor marketed as a total solution. You maintain customers by being the one-stop shop with great customer service. Now that we can provide total solutions, from creative to fulfillment, everyone else can follow our lead.
4. How have you shaped your talent to complete this transformation?
I apply the same philosophy to our people as I do to our business model. I want my mentees to bring end-to-end solutions to their jobs. A word I live by is “preparation.” Preparation is derived from two Latin words: apto, which means to make ready, and pre, meaning before time. My goal with mentees is to make them ready before time, so when an opportunity arises, they are prepared to step into it, even if it takes them outside of their job description or their comfort zone. When I see those people excel in those positions, I know my job is done.
5. How do you empower people to make their own decisions?
I allow them to make mistakes. I’m not the autocratic leader who stands over your shoulder every step of the way. I’m the leader who’ll make sure you understand your job, that you’re accountable, and then I’ll allow you to do your job. And I know by doing that, you will make some mistakes. Then you’ll learn from those, and then we will move forward. I’ve had some people who couldn’t handle empowerment. My responsibilities are too broad to stand over their shoulder, so they usually don’t work out with me.
6. In what ways can suppliers be coached?
When I mentor suppliers, they are usually diverse businesses or small businesses. When we started the supplier-diversity program at Aflac, I felt [suppliers] could benefit from mentoring, because alone, many of them were too small to do business with Aflac. At the same time, many were unwilling to collaborate and merge their resources. I try to help them understand that when they’re approaching big business, they have to think like a big business, which involves a willingness to adapt and revise your strategy to earn business.
7. Why is it important for Aflac to mentor diverse and small businesses?
Aflac started as a small business—sometimes we forget that it started 57 years ago with three brothers equipped with a dream and confidence. When you look at our portfolio today, we insure a number of small businesses, many of them are diverse. So it makes good business sense for us to support small, diverse suppliers.