Armed with a PhD in Economics, Giovanni “Gio” Giovannelli would seem like an unlikely candidate as president of English Language Learning at Pearson, a global learning and assessment company. But in addition to this and his OPM (Owner/President Management) qualification from Harvard Business School, Giovannelli believes that his “diverse background has been a tremendous asset” in both his professional and personal life.
In a way, language learning became for him, an indispensable part of the latter. “I have been a migrant twice in my life,” he recalls: “First to the US where I pursued my PhD and worked at a bank, then to Brazil where I got married (to a Brazilian) and became a father.” Over 17 years in Brazil meant he was “exposed to a wealth of experiences, perspectives, values, and beliefs”. It is this background that has helped him in his present role at Pearson, to connect with people across languages and cultures.
This is important, with his responsibilities being directly related to different markets around the world. This is especially case with India, for example, which is a big market for the company, especially given that 2022 saw a 68 per cent rise in Indian students (about 750,365), according to the company, successfully going overseas for further studies. Pearson’s foresees that this trend is only going to continue, given an increase in awareness and spending power in the market.
All of this means that there is only going to be a sustained, if not increased, demand in English language education and test-taking, via both online and offline solutions, especially vis-à-vis English proficiency tests, is a must for most applicants. According to the company, the “Pearson Test of English (PTE) test volumes were up by 90% and underlying revenue up by 72%.” This was “particularly driven by border re-openings (since covid lockdowns) and gaining market share in India”.
In their Noida office a few weeks ago, Giovannelli talked to Mint Lounge about the sort of work culture he encourages at Pearson, why he is an advocate of reverse mentoring, and how learning is a lifelong process. Edited excerpts.
I am a strong advocate of reverse mentoring, which provides a wealth of benefits. By learning from my team members, I gain fresh perspectives and keep up with the latest trends while developing new skills. Additionally, this approach fosters better relationships, which leads to both personal and professional development.
By encouraging a regular reverse mentoring program at Pearson, I have not only gained valuable insights and knowledge but also built stronger relationships with our teams and fostered a culture of continuous learning and growth. Ultimately, this has led to increased innovation, better problem-solving and improved collaboration and teamwork.
Being a mentor to me means being a good listener, a sounding board, and a source of support and encouragement for colleagues who are looking to grow and develop in their professional lives. As a mentor, I strive to create a safe and supportive environment at Pearson where my mentees can share their challenges, goals, and aspirations.
My mentoring style is focused on active listening and building empathy and rapport with the mentees. This might at times involve providing feedback on communication style or substance, sharing insights and advice based on my own experiences, or introducing them to new resources or networks that can help them achieve their goals. Another key aspect is patience, that is, recognizing that everyone learns and develops at their own pace and that setbacks and building resilience and confidence are a natural part of the growth process.
My morning routine typically starts at 6.30 am. I meditate, exercise, get up to speed with the main news and then try to prioritise my tasks for the day to come up with a plan of what I’d like to achieve.
The pandemic forced me to find new ways to stay connected with my team. The one positive work routine I developed then was scheduling regular virtual check-ins. I made a conscious effort to touch base with each team member individually and as a group regularly, not just to discuss work-related issues, but also to check in on their well-being and to provide support where needed. This helped maintain a positive team culture, and ensure that everyone felt valued and supported.
I strongly believe in continuous learning. Learning is a lifelong process, and staying curious and open to new ideas is key to personal and professional growth. To put this into practice, I make a conscious effort to reach out to inspiring people. I have often seen the combination of humility, drive and empathy in many of the people that inspire me.
Jim Collins’ book Good to Great is a big source of inspiration to me as it helps in understanding the key characteristics and practices that differentiate great companies from their peers. The book is packed with insights and actionable ideas that can be applied to any organization, regardless of industry or size. For example, the concept of ‘Level 5 Leadership’ has been particularly impactful for me, as it emphasizes the importance of humility and a focus on the greater good of effective leadership. The ‘Hedgehog Concept’ is another powerful idea from the book, which encourages organizations to focus on what they can do best, what they are passionate about and what drives long-term economic value. By applying these and other ideas from Good to Great, I have been able to develop a clearer sense of purpose and direction in my work and to make more strategic and informed decisions that have contributed to my personal and professional growth.
When it comes to unwinding, one of my favourite ways to relax is by listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks allow me to escape into different worlds and stories, while also giving my eyes a break from screens and text. Three of my favourite subjects are science, history and spirituality.
I’m also currently learning Hebrew using Mondly, a language-learning app owned by Pearson that allows anyone to learn up to 41 different languages, with the content and user experience all delivered in their native language.
Focus, applying my mind, energy and passion intensely and solely to a few things (ideally no more than 3) at any given time, has proven to be a critical productivity booster for me.
Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.