Behind the career: Peter A. Ceribelli

November 3, 2013

Position: Chief executive officer of Apex Cos., a Rockville consulting and engineering firm involved in energy, water resources and environmental fields.

Peter A. Ceribelli began his career as a clerk and rose to chief operating officer of Weston Solutions, an environmental, redevelopment and construction firm. In those 30 years he has helped the company in major projects, including military base reconstruction, recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and construction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, he takes the helm at Apex Cos.

Aside from hard work, to what do you attribute your upward climb from clerk to chief executive officer?

If you see an opportunity, seize it. Always look for that next job that you could grow into. I also have a family that supports my career. My wife has been incredibly supportive of me for the last 30 years, and I wouldn’t have accomplished it without her and my kids’ support. Lastly, having that passion for what you do helps you grow.

How have you grown most as a leader over that time?

Understanding my individual strengths. It’s very liberating when you understand what you’re good and not good at. Don’t do things that you can’t do. I think in business there’s been transformation away from trying to develop skills that people don’t have the DNA for. The other thing is proactive communication. Bad news doesn’t get better with age. No matter how good or bad it is, you have to be able to communicate clearly and concisely to the team. Leaders don’t always have all the answers. The role of a leader is to take people from where they are to where they never have been. That doesn’t mean you as a leader have to have all the answers on how to get there. Engage your team and have them help you define how you’re going to get to where you are to where you’ve never been.

What’s your process for understanding your strengths?

There are a number of services that you can subscribe to that will give you better insights into your strengths.

Which ones have you used?

Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0.

What were the results?

My strength themes are competitive, responsibility, ideation, significance and self-assurance. If you look at the descriptions behind those, it’s me to a T. I have a portfolio sitting on my desk that has my signature strengths right in the front. It’s a reminder that authenticity is important as a leader. You have to be authentic. If you don’t, people see through that very clearly.

Do you have your teams take the test?

I’ll have them do similar surveys so I can better understand them and they can better understand themselves.

What else do you consider when placing people?

We have a success model that looks at three things. Do you have the basic skills, capabilities and competencies you need to succeed? Do you understand the expectations of that position? And is the context right? One of the things leaders overlook when they assign someone is context. Is that management position distributed? Do they have a number of offices reporting to them? That’s a different capability than all of the staff in one office reporting to the individual in that office. It’s critical to understanding the role and how that will impact the success of a leader.

What business book are you reading?

“Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy,” by Joan Magretta.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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