Life on the edge of the comfort zone

October 8, 2014

Federico GrossoOne Adobe Latin America leader takes the path less traveled in business and in life.

Imagine this: You’re a new hire at a global, highly influential organization. You’ve come into a leadership position where you’re responsible for an enormous geographical region, and you’re expected to do great things. Some people in that situation might try to shake things up on day one, hoping to make the mark that everyone expects.

But when Federico Grosso joined Adobe as its head of Latin American Operations for Digital Media and Digital Marketing, he took a completely different approach. He watched. He listened. He asked questions. After the first month, he had a clear understanding of the people he was expected to lead—and they knew they could trust him.

“When you come into a new situation like this, it’s time to leave all your preconceived ideas at the door and allow curiosity, interest, and empathy—your emotional intelligence—to guide your conversations,” he says.

Federico says he joined Adobe because of its iconic brand and for the way its products cover both the art and science of media and marketing. But the biggest reason, he says, is the caliber of people.

“People weren’t just high quality,” he says. “They were high quality across the board. The benchmark is very high at Adobe, and it’s exciting to join a team like that.”

Federico’s leadership ideas have formed over a 20-year career in technology and media. But they have roots in a very different place: He served as chief of a tank in the Italian anti-aircraft army in his 20s. He had already started a promising career at Yahoo! in Italy, but compulsory military service required him to put his career on hold. For nearly a year, he was in charge of 200 soldiers—soldiers who turned his views of the world upside down.

“When you work or go to university, you’ll find people from different backgrounds, but in the army it’s an especially unusual combination of people,” Federico says. “I listened to great stories, moving stories, and terrible stories, and in the middle of that I had to make sure things were running smoothly. I learned to shut down every possible judgment and go with the flow.”

The leadership lessons Federico learned in the army have continued serving him well today as he manages Adobe teams across diverse countries and cultures.

“I have learned to walk into every situation and culture with an open attitude, knowing that people are trying to do their best,” he says.

Outside the office, Federico spends time with his wife and 5-year-old son, cooks for friends and family, and plays golf. He loves music and was the executive producer of a critically acclaimed Latin jazz album, “Brazil in Black and White,” in 2012.

These eclectic experiences—especially the ones that made him feel like a fish out of water—all add up to a life well lived, Federico says.

“I think it’s important to be bold and to live at the edge of your comfort zone,” he says. “Most of the choices that have taken me to where I am were not necessarily within my comfort zone, and people looked at me like I was crazy. But I’ve discovered incredible things, and that’s where magic happens.”