The Executives' Club Of Chicago

Member Spotlight: John Akalaonu

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John Akalaonu is Senior Vice President, Customer Delivery of CDK Global and a valued member of The Executives’ Club of Chicago. When asked why he joined, he explained the value of expanding his Chicagoland professional network and hearing from leaders he admires through Signature Series Programming. In addition to his interest in accessing relevant content, John has enjoyed the ability to connect with individuals he may not have met before through networking at programs and attending the Annual Holiday Party with fellow members. Like so many of us, John looks forward to the opportunity to attend in-person events as soon as we are able. Read on to learn about John’s career journey and the ways he is navigating remote work.

What about your work, company or role makes you most proud?

I think the last few months have been my proudest at CDK as we have responded to COVID-19. The team I lead is responsible for installing all the software and networking products that CDK sells to automotive dealerships across the US, Canada and the Caribbean. The majority of our installs happen onsite at the actual dealership, which means we have 300+ employees traveling across North America any given week. With COVID-19 and the rapidly changing reality of stay-at-home orders, mandatory quarantines for out-of-state travelers, closing of all non-essential businesses, it could’ve been easy for this team to grind to a halt. But within 72 hours of the first state stay-at-home order, this team designed a fully remote install model and were executing it the next week. This allowed us to continue to be able to continue to deliver for our customers in new and innovative ways that would’ve been thought impossible just a week earlier.

What is your favorite binge-worthy show or podcast?

I enjoy dark, gripping dramas like Narcos or Breaking Bad.

What was your first job? What lesson did you learn that you will carry with you?

My first real job out of college was serving on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. I served for just over 4 years and left active duty as a Captain. I deployed to Iraq in 2004 and participated in the Battle of Fallujah. Leading Marines, both in and out of combat, shaped the foundations for my entire approach to leadership and business. Most of the lessons I learned in the Marine Corps are directly transferrable to the business world and has helped me progress in my career.

Who was the best boss you ever had and why?

It’s hard to pin down one. I’ve worked for some great bosses that had traits that I wanted to emulate as I developed as a leader and other bosses who were “great” because they were so bad that they showed me a lot of the things I wanted to make sure I didn’t do as a leader myself.

Can you share a time when you had to reinvent yourself, your product/service or your brand?

I have worked for 5 different companies since leaving the Marine Corps. Each company was significantly different than the others (industry, product/service, organizational maturity, etc), so I’ve had to reinvent myself each time to learn and align to that new industry/company and effectively translate and apply the skills that made me successful in other industries.

What’s your best “work from home” life hack?

I am on almost constant videoconferences during the day with my door closed, so my office can quickly feel like I’m completely disconnected from the outside world. I have a TV on the wall in my home office that I keep on during the workday on mute tuned to some live TV (sports, news, etc). I don’t actually watch the TV, since it’s on mute without captions on, but it helps me feel a bit more connected to the outside world to see someone else doing something, anything, live on TV somewhere else in the world besides my office.

What drew you to Chicago as a business or personal home?  

I was born and raised in Chicago and love calling it my personal and professional home.

Among the people you work with, who inspires you and why?

My employees inspire me. They deal with so many challenges on a daily basis, both internal and external, yet find a way to overcome them. They are a dedicated group who will find a way to get it done. They truly care about our customers and take it very personally if we let them down.

John reminds us how important it is for leaders to acknowledge the successes of their team members when times are tough, strategies to adapt to new companies and positions when making a professional transition and the value in creating your own sense of normal while working remotely. We would love to hear from you and highlight your achievements and tips in our member spotlight. To be featured or to recommend another member of The Executives’ Club to share a spotlight, please contact our team at programs@executivesclub.org