Leadership Lessons from CEOs: Chad Holliday, Former CEO of DuPont
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.
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).
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Chad Holliday’s book Walking the Talk
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