Leadership Lessons from CEOs: Chad Holliday, Former CEO of DuPont

April 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm 4 comments

Former CEO of DuPont Chad Holliday spoke at the George Washington University School of Business as part of the GWWIB (Graduate Women in Business) conference. Below represents the key lessons, and questions from  the audience, during his talk. Mr. Holliday is also a former board chair of women’s research organization Catalyst.org.

What is the biggest factor for leadership success?

The biggest factor for your success as a leader will be how you interact with other people. You shine the light on everybody else. If they shine the light on you, fine.

What types of jobs should aspiring leaders seek out?

In your work experience, you must take on jobs where you could fail. Don’t take on the safe jobs. Take on projects that make you grow. For example, I was asked to take on business directorship of Kevlar. I wasn’t interested. My supervisor told me that to move ahead I would need to take on a position where I could grow. That is the story behind how I began running the Kevlar product line.

How does corporate America think of the Millenials and Generation Y?

First of all, the idea of “How does the new generation think?” Is not even on the top five list of issues in Corporate America. It’s about getting into China and big topics versus 15 years ago when there might have been a bigger concern about the incoming generation.

The way to get through to employers no matter what, though, is to get results and be a team player. What they really care about is about how you get along with other people and whether you are getting results. It’s much less about clocking in and out and what you’re wearing.

How can an employee feel comfortable enough to tell you bad news?

Work at it every day. The more senior the position, the more people want to come in to you with good news. You need to make people understand there is more of a penalty for NOT telling you the bad news than the other way around.

How important is mentoring?

Mentoring is absolutely imperative. These are people taking the time to tell me what I was doing wrong, and reinforce what I was doing right. It’s amazing how, if you seek people out they’ll help you. Create a culture where it’s accepted that people will do that. If you don’t ask, you’ll never receive the help.

Can you comment on DuPont and its values?

We lived by four values. If people need to look in the manual about those values, we’re in trouble. When people live out the values everyday, that is where we want to be.

What is your view on the difficulties of doing business in China?

Source: Excerpted from The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel transcription of Mr. Holliday’s speech.

What I found from my seven years in Asia dealing with some of the more challenging developing countries in the world is that companies like DuPont needed to provide models that would help those countries understand that if they want to attract business and assure better lives for their people they need to observe the highest ethical standards.

We had a unique situation in Hong Kong. Our first plant in China is in Shenzhen, which is about 50 miles across the border from Hong Kong. We frequently had to send vehicles carrying needed materials back and forth across that border. Like EZ Passes in the U.S., a special license plate will get you through in the fast lane. We applied for this special license plate because we clearly qualified since we had our headquarters in Hong Kong and a plant in Shenzhen, but our name never came up.

After checking around, we discovered that it took a $50 bribe to get your name to come up. We wouldn’t pay a $50 bribe, let alone a 50 cent bribe; that’s contrary to our standard of ethics.

So, people would make fun of our drivers, saying what a stupid company we had because they were waiting in line for an hour or two, sometimes two or three times a week, while for fifty dollars you could go right through. We held out for about a year and a half until a reporter for the South China Morning Post , the Hong Kong newspaper, found out about it. It then got a list of everybody who had gotten a license plate after we had applied. They printed it on the front page of the newspaper.

There were a lot of very embarrassed people, and we had a lot of very proud DuPonters because we wouldn’t pay that bribe. We could have bought corporate image advertising or talked endlessly about our training courses, but nothing can beat that story. I have told it many times. It’s the kind of thing that makes a difference because companies really demonstrate their ethical values in situations like that.


Discussion Questions:

1. Discuss leadership situations in which you’ve demonstrated the ability to work with others, and to stretch yourself, as indicated by Mr. Holliday above.

2. Conduct the alternative exercise “Yardsale Scramble.” What role did you take on? That of an informal leader, supporter, good team player. Examine participant behavior during the exercise and discuss. (The “Yardsale Scramble” exercise is free, register here, and see “Alternative” exercises).

More information

The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization promoting the importance of small business and free enterprise to the nation’s youth. More information is available at www.NFIB.com/YEF.  The Foundation is associated with the National Federation of Independent Business; NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals.

Entrepreneur In The Classroom. The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) supplemental curriculum exposes students to entrepreneurship and the necessary steps to take an idea and turn it into a business. The free curriculum can be integrated into classes teaching a variety of subjects including music, art, fashion, business and many more. You must be registered to view the full Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom curriculum.

Related links:

Chad Holliday’s book Walking the Talk

Follow NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Twitter

Follow NFIB on Twitter

Follow blog author Kathy Korman Frey on Twitter


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anne Perschel  |  April 27, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Finally someone tells us to get over all the chatter about gen x,y and z differences & fry the bigger fish.

    • 2. hotmommas  |  March 19, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Thanks for the comment Anne. I particularly like how Chad singles out “results” and “team player”. Just do this. It quiets the concerns people bring up generation after generation about “Does this generation understand hard work?” and social skills. With technology, social skills are changing. Upcoming generations actually could have an opportunity to straddle the fence and master multiple types of social skills. So, in terms of “results” – there are multiple playing fields and it’s exciting. But, anyone – no matter what age – should sit down and make it measurable. Then, it’s binary. You either hit the numbers and goals or you don’t.

      • 3. hotmommas  |  March 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

        P.s. People said similar things about the generation before (Generation X) – we turned out “just fine” work wise, perhaps too much so.

  • 4. hotmommas  |  March 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

    As a follow up on this – a couple DMs came in over Twitter. Apparently this is quite a hot topic right now. Here are two questions. “What do you do if they don’t hit the numbers?” and “How will someone react if they don’t hit the numbers?”

    :”What do you do if they don’t hit the numbers?”

    I think this is turning into a full blog post on leadership and cultural fit. Here are my initial thoughts having worked in larger organizations with direct reports and an HR department, as well as with two of my own companies with consultants who were both older and younger, more skilled and less skilled than I, as well as in government, non profit, and university environments. People are all the same everywhere – they want to be treated fairly. Sometimes, they might not see “fairness” when it is right in front of them, but, that is your “tough nougies” as a leader to deal with. It’s why they pay you the big bucks, it’s why the buck stops with you.

    “How will someone react if they don’t hit the numbers?”

    Over time – whether these are exact numbers or goals set up – this starts to spell “Not a fit.”


    There are many people at organizations today who are “not a fit.” Typically, the person is not going to dismiss themselves from the organization unless they have a life-altering circumstance or wake-up call. They will just grow to hate their employer, themselves, and their existence slowly over time. Research shows a shocking number of people feel this way about their jobs.

    What the employer can do: Release (Leadership required)

    The employer can play a benevolent role here, if strong enough to do so: Let that person be free to go where they are a better fit. Many employers shy away from these hard discussions out of a) laziness or b) fear of conflict. I view this as the opposite of leadership, and quite selfish. Don’t sign up to be a leader if you can only handle half of the menu. The employer’s short-term comfort (“oh, I don’t feel like dealing with this”) keeps the employee in a corporate prison of sorts. But, over the long term, it could impact their self image/confidence. Let them go out on a high on something they have done well and try your best to keep the relationship positive.

    How will they react? (Smart ones retain relationships.)

    You have no control over how they will react, but, someone who is mature and sees the writing on the wall will act with grace and humility and do everything possible not to burn bridges and maintain the relationship.

    Example 1: A personal example – I got one of my largest contracts out of a dot-com-gone-bust where, instead of feeling betrayed or “how could you do this?” I exited with grace and class. A very large contract literally landed in my lap from my contacts there months later.

    Example 2 – An entrepreneur I know had to fire all of his salespeople during a recession (one of the first ones – what # are we on now?). One of the salespeople took it pretty hard. His face got red, he was about to say something, and he stopped himself. He said, ‘I understand it’s business, and decisions have to be made that are about the business. I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me here.” He handled himself with such class, and the owner was so impressed, that within an month he’d acted as the salesperson’s personal outplacement firm and found him another job.


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