Carnegie Mellon University
May 12, 2022

W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: Meaney Stresses Transformation Comes ‘When We Put Ourselves In Uncomfortable Situations’

William Meaney (MSIA 1986) understands that leaders need to step outside of their comfort zone to fully embrace transformation and discover ways to implement change. “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

This mantra guides Meaney in his work as President and CEO of Iron Mountain, an S&P 500 information management and data center company. Meaney’s varied, multinational career spans the CIA to the airline industry.

Recently, Meaney shared his wisdom and observations with students and alumni as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series at the Tepper School of Business.

Meaney explained that statistically, only 25% of current S&P 500 companies will hold that ranking in 25 years.

Despite Iron Mountain’s profitable core business, Meaney continues to push for the development of new products and services. “We realized that business is not going to last forever and that we have to make ourselves a little bit uncomfortable in order to grow and remain relevant for years to come.”

That means taking risks and challenging the status quo. “People gravitate toward more familiar things,” Meaney said, “but we really learn and grow when we put ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable or different than we’re accustomed to.”

Meaney stressed his philosophy’s relevance to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “Social impact is a deeply important outcome of DEI work, and any wise business realizes that at the end of the day, it comes down to making business better. We know that if we want to transform as a company, we can’t double down on people from the same schools and neighborhoods, or you’ll create the same product again. It’s getting the whole organization to reach outside of their comfort zone; that’s when we grow as a company and as individuals.”

When the conversation turned to skills that are crucial to Iron Mountain employee success, Meaney highlighted personality traits:

  • Curiosity: “You have to be deeply intellectually curious – about everything.”
  • Optimism: “Nobody wants to work for a coach who says we can’t win.”
  • Resilience, purpose, and reason are critical to long-term success.

Meaney also believes that adopting a strong set of values will help leaders navigate any challenge.

His early career as a CIA special operations officer taught him this philosophy. “You’re always dealing with messy situations,” he said. “You have to have a very strong North Star.”

When asked how his experiences at the Tepper School shaped his career, Meaney instantly replied, “Hard work. It’s about getting stuff done. There’s no shortcut to that.”

When asked about his varied career, spent almost entirely overseas, Meaney said, “If you have the opportunity (to work internationally), I would absolutely seize it. It forces you into new situations, challenging you to adjust your style, learn from different people, and listen differently. It’s an opportunity for personal growth.”

The W.L. Mellon Speaker Series enables students to interact with global leaders, CEOs, and management experts in student forums that encourage insightful and lively dialogue.