To say that Steven Didier is nattily attired would be an understatement. Dressed in a sharp blue three-piece suit, a pair of classy brown shoes and a lovely red, white and blue pocket square, the general manager international logistics solutions (MENA) of Masterpiece International, a global freight forwarding and management company, is the epitome of gentlemanly elegance.
But then being fashionably personable is clearly part of his job and lifestyle. ‘Being personable in my job is important in that when you are trying to build trust and a relationship with a client, you are being judged - for better or for worse - the moment you walk in through the door to meet the person,’ says Steven. In a job that includes finding cutting edge and innovative solutions to industry-wide issues - whether it’s to do with moving fine arts and antiquities for museums and galleries or finalising government logistic contracts with departments from aerospace to pharmaceuticals - trust is everything.
‘When basing a decision on a relationship, people often react a lot to details,’ he says. And in a sensory-charged world like today’s, a host of aural, visual and tactile cues combine to form threads that determine the strength of a bond between two people. ‘It’s akin to a dish,’ he says. ‘We eat with not just our mouth, but also with our eyes, nose, and sometimes even sense of touch. So plating and the visual impact of a dish would also have a bearing on our decision about the food as its taste.
‘Similar is the case with style. If you have a tailored, fitted suit made of fine material and accented with fine accessories, the overall appearance helps build confidence and trust,’ he says. ‘What is being subtly indicated is that if this person is spending time and effort on style and grooming, then he/she is going to be putting that same amount and more of effort and dedication in what they do for me whether it be in providing service or fine products.
‘That’s a reason I like suits by Ascots & Chapels,’ he says. ‘Elegance, sophistication, quality, the ability to be understated yet elegant... Ascots & Chapels ticks all those boxes.’
But being stylish is just one aspect of Steven, who’s broad experience not only encompasses developing and managing complex global supply chains and logistics and large scale projects in austere environments but also more than 27 years of experience as a government and commercial professional in law enforcement operations and military training - recognized as one of the premier international experts in use-of-force, tactics, combatives and geo-political risk consultancy in the Middle East.
His really firm handshake at the start of the interview and the confident persona he exuded convinced me that he was all of the above, and more.
So, what insight has he gleaned about people over the years of his vast experience in diverse sectors?
‘It has given me insights into behaviour and character, and of attaching values to what somebody says or does,’ says Steven. A good ‘people reader’, he looks for cues ‘like eye contact, how they sit, hold themselves, their responses to what you are saying... The cues are useful in that if they react with some anxiety to something you’ve said, then you guide the conversation to where you want it to be... to something that makes them relax a bit and ultimately want to do business’.
People shifting in their seat, giving you closed off gestures like crossing their arms across their chest, nervousness, looking away when responding to you during key phrases... all these are cues that a good ‘people reader’ can pick up on.
‘We see them all the time. I’m just taking these skill sets and expanding it to a business setting.’
So, what is his style of people management? Steven does not hesitate for moment: ‘Reward people well. And by rewards I mean providing quality space to work in, the tools they need, supporting them during family issues that may crop up in their lives...’
While he agrees that monetary rewards are important, ‘most people will forego a higher salary if they have benefits that give them a better quality of life’, he says.
He then makes a crucial observation: ‘The most important thing you can give somebody is time - time to be able to enjoy a special occasion with family, and to rest assured that if something goes wrong in their lives they know they don’t have to be worried whether their boss will allow them some time off or to support them in some way. Those are the kind of things that give people the security of being able to do their best.’
Empathy, Steven insists, is extremely important in business. ‘Today, it’s all about the business and the bottom line. But if you don’t have the support of your staff, you might be successful for a while but in the long run [the business] will collapse.’
In Steven’s book of management, leadership is not about power. ‘Leadership is not about ruling from your position. It’s about creating an environment where people allow you to lead them. If you can master that in your organisation you’ll see amazing gains.’
The general manager also does not believe in being a micromanager. ‘My priority is that you do the job. I can give you some guidance. I will get involved if I need to but I hired you because of you being smart and having the capabilities. So, you need to tell me the best way to do the particular job. If I have to come in and tell you that then I needn’t have hired you.’
He believes that recruitment process is crucial to an organisation’s success. ‘[The recruiting person] has to be able to ‘read’ people, ask the right questions, and ask the right questions over time. One interview just doesn’t cut it. ‘In the first meeting you are only meeting the ‘representative’ of that person - it’s the person the interviewee wants the interviewer to see. That may not be the real person. So you need to be asking the right questions over time ... to get beyond the representative. The role of a recruiting person is so important because if you don’t get the right person you are constantly scrambling around and trying to fill gaps and solve issues. That’s why I think the first impression may not be the best impression.’
Which brings us back to looking good and creating an impression. What do trends mean to him? I ask.
‘I don’t follow trends,’ says Steven, who prefers blues, blacks and charcoals for suits. ‘You can get too involved and too stuck by trying to keep up with style. I feel style needs to evolve with you as you mature and your tastes change.’
His style guideline is ‘to pick the highest quality clothes and accessories and keep them as understated as you can. If you do that you will also have a presence when you walk into the room and this is why I choose an Ascots & Chapels suit - it epitomises these features.’