International Federation of the Red Cross’ (IFRC) Simon Missiri talks to QS Insights Magazine about serving in the humanitarian field, going back to school and how he leads more than 70 employees around the world.
By Afifah Darke, Deputy Editor
Simon Missiri is a man of many hats. 14 to be exact.
Dialling in from the headquarters of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva, Missiri tells QS Insights Magazine that he has been working at the humanitarian aid organisation for 35 years.
“It sounds terrible,” he chuckles at the number of years, but clarifies that he has been involved in “very different jobs” since 1987, his first year in the organisation. “I could never imagine [that in] my future professional life, I will be linked to just one place… this is my 14th assignment.”
Today, Missiri’s role is Special Representative IFRC and Director of Global Humanitarian Services and Supply Chain. “We need to find a better way to describe this,” he laughs while shaking his head at the mouthful of job title. In his current role, Missiri is responsible for providing support for relief supply chain and services for IFRC’s member national societies and international teams in times of disasters. The Swiss national acknowledges that it is rare to stay in an organisation for so many years, especially against the context of the job-hopping trend in recent years. “The world is dynamic, people move from one organisation or cooperation to another. I stayed in one.”
What is interesting though, Missiri notes, is that he had never applied for any of the 14 roles and attributes his achievements to “being open to opportunities”. He says, “If you’re doing [your job] well and it’s acknowledged, then your skills and your profile suddenly become in demand. The jobs will start running after you, not you chasing the jobs. That’s what happened with me, in a very strange way.”
Back to school
When asked about his age, the 64-year-old says that numbers are just figures. “I feel like there is this mathematical age, and then there is your inner kind of age. I feel like I’m 54, 53,” he smiles.
Not one to miss any opportunities to keep his mind – and heart – young, Missiri went back to school in 2000 when he enrolled in the International Master’s Program for Managers (IMPM), founded by McGill University and Lancaster University, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Management, Yokohama National University and FGV-EBAPE in Brazil.
“I remember distinctly I was on mission in Rome with the World Food Program, where I was the relations manager with them, and then I got a call from our Director of Operations, who said: ‘Simon, would you like to join the programme?'” It was an immediate yes.
Designed by Canadian management expert Henry Mintzberg, the IMPM is designed with senior managers’ schedules in mind. For Missiri, this was one of the winning points of the programme, he says, as he was able to balance work-life and studies. Students had the option to live and work in their home countries, with 53 days of out-of-office time over the 18-month duration of the programme, which also includes a managerial exchange.
During the course, Missiri observed that even though his classmates were from very different career paths, leadership skills was a basic essential for any manager. He learned that even if one did not know the intricate details of an industry, what matters more is how a leader communicates with his team.
A leader in the real world
With a team of around 75 people based in different parts of the world, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and China, Missiri does not take his job as a leader lightly.
“When people are motivated and inspired, they (can) go through walls,” he says. “You need to take care of them, be very humane and appreciative and adapt to their situations, to their needs.
“The role of the leader is to help your employees to find that balance between the organisational needs and your private aspirations and family. We’re all human.”
Even after more than three decades in IFRC, Missiri is content on staying put and has even declined major companies who have approached him with attractive benefits. “It’s this thought about being at peace with yourself,” he explains, emphasising the importance of having a job that one can look back and feel proud of.
“If it is just paying your bills and not leaving something behind, then it becomes boring,” he says simply. “We all know examples when it’s a bit of a suffering and obligation (to go to work). You need to (want to) run to work.” The work that IFRC does is “a world of high meaning”, he adds.
“[Your job] needs to be touching the right chords in your heart, in your mind. And the humanitarian world is definitely on the right side of things.”