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Staying Close to the Frontline

Former Chief Executive Officer at Sealed Air Corporation

IP Interview
Published on April 30, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How leaders can stay close to the frontline
  • How to drive engagement with frontline staff to gather feedback and generate ideas
Executive Bio

Jerome Peribere

Former Chief Executive Officer at Sealed Air Corporation

Jerome was CEO and President of Sealed Air Corporation, the global leader in food and protective packaging, from 2012-17 where he grew the business to over $7bn in revenue. He led Sealed Air’s transformation programme to regain position as industry leader and increased EBITDA margins from sub 10% - 15%. Jerome previously worked at The Dow Chemical Company for 35 years, one of the top 3 chemical producers globally, serving in a variety of leadership roles throughout the world. He spent most of his career in Dow AgroSciences, before serving as President and Chief Executive Officer of Dow Advanced Materials, a $12 billion revenue unit of Dow serving customers in more than 130 countries.

Interview Transcript

How did you stay close to the front line at Sealed Air, where you said the information about the business, typically was?

Sealed Air, when I arrived, was a great company which had, in my mind, lost it. Therefore, the best way to change a company is to engage the employees in that change. To engage your employees in that change, you need to travel a lot and go and tell them. Tell them that we can do better. Listen to them and give them hope that, together, we can do it.

Step number one, is that you think about what you want to change and you need to draw a picture of who you want to be, as a company, in five and 10 years from now. Then, you’ve got to test it, you’ve got to listen to employees and you have to give them hope that it is possible. For that, you need the face to face contact. You need to touch them – not very popular today, with Covid-19 – but you need to tell them, yes, it is possible; I need you engaged and tell me what bothers you. Tell me what it is that we have to do and, if you believe, let’s just go on and get it done. So you have to travel a lot, in order to learn and to preach. That’s what you have to do when you want to change things.

You have to go down in the trenches. My email address was completely open to all employees. We had 25,000 employees at Sealed Air and I was in the town halls and I told them, all the time, if they have a question, if they have a comment, if they have an idea, if they want me to think about the question or the idea, I would be open. From time to time, people would just send me a comment, a criticism, constructive or not. Guess what, I would always, I swear, always answer. One day, I was in Canada, at a town hall and an employee said, “By the way, this is not a question, it’s a comment. I’ve been so surprised, Jerome. One day I sent you and email and you answered. You gave me your perspectives on this and that. I was very impressed and I showed it to everybody. I was so amazed.” I looked at the guy, in front of about 30 or 40 people, and I said, “Wow, you worry me because you sent me an email and I answered. Are you telling me that when people send you emails, you don’t answer all the time?” He said, “Oh, I do, I do.” I replied, “So do I.”

People see you as the CEO, as a semi-God. They don’t see you as a normal person. What is very important is to engage people into that conversation and that connection, which allows you to say things as you see them. By the way, you are human; you are a human being. Then it relates. I used another metaphor. The metaphor I used, very often, was to compare life in a company and life at home. I would say, think about it and you’d be so surprised. So surprised to see that, in a company, you do things because you believe in them and because, sometimes, things have to be done. Just like at home. In a company, there is no democracy; somebody has to decide, at a point in time and it is decided for what is perceived as the good of the company. Just like at home.

At a point in time, things have got to be done. All of those things go fine, as long as there is trust and respect. Just like at home. You can’t tell your children, at home, do this and you do exactly the opposite.

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