You mentioned how the CEO role is the chief culture officer. How do you think about culture?

Culture is the religion of a company, which means that you believe in a few things. There are things which are allowed and things which are not allowed. There are things that you can do and things that you cannot do. Therefore, what you need to have are very clear core values. This is what is going to guide the culture. You have core values, you have leadership behaviors and, of course, you have a vision and you have a mission, to frame all of this. But core values are extremely important.

When I arrived at Sealed Air, we rewrote the core values. There is a core value about ethics, that every day you are committed to what is right. Right, not only legally, but right, ethically and morally. We had a core value about empowerment and I loved that one because it was saying that we are empowered to do what it takes, to deliver what we promise. This is a quote. That was core value number two. We are empowered to do what it takes, to deliver what we promise. No excuses. We promised, I, as an individual, we, as a team promise to do something. We are all completely interdependent with each other. If I don’t do my part, the team cannot do its part. If the team cannot do its part, the company cannot achieve the expected results. This was taking it back to a no-excuse religion, or culture, where we are empowered to do what it takes, to deliver what we promise.

I am empowered to do what it takes, to deliver what the team promised, if the team is failing. I will not use excuses for not delivering. That was a very important point, in our core values. The last one, which is very important, was about innovation. It was saying that we are surprising our customers, with revolutionary solutions, which make them win. These are innovations, which make them win. The idea there was, if our customers win, we are going to be able to charge something, because they win. If they win, we will win, with them.

Culture is about the values and it’s the religion. The issue is, when an organization lets the culture be loose. What I demanded from our people and what I was applying, often was, are we sticking to our core values? Are we doing innovation for our customers and are they winning out of it, so they have a reason to adopt this innovation? Are we empowering our people and are we demanding a no-excuse attitude? Are we imposing collaboration? Then you could ask, in meetings, is this consistent with our core value number two? Or is this, again, excuses for not delivering? You can question those things. In town halls, you can remind people and say, by the way, can anybody here recite core value number two? Very often, you would have a blank. Then you say, guys, we wrote those core values for us to respect them. If we can’t remember them, then it’s just like the 10 Commandments in the Catholic church if you can’t say, you shalt not steal and you don’t know that it’s wrong. You have to know the core values and you have to abide by the core values. This is our religion; this is our culture. Then, with time and persistence, you get it done.

How would you compare the culture at Dow, versus Sealed Air?

It’s difficult to compare a $50 or $60 billion company, with an $8 billion company. The great advantage of smaller sized companies, what I would call medium-sized – I would call medium-sized, a $5 to $10 billion company – is that you can be very agile. The issue of very large corporations is bureaucracy and this idea that the system prevails. Because it gives the excuses to everybody, to act as civil servant. Dow was clearly not a civil servant type of company. But you have, by definition, more bureaucracy than in a smaller, medium-sized company.

When you think about it, what is the ideal company? The ideal company is the one which has the agility and the individual employees’ ownership of a start-up, and the finances of a multi-national, very large company. This is the ideal. But by definition, employees and leaders of a start-up, will breathe, everyday, the growth, the winning aspect of a start-up. How can you make sure that every employee, when the employee comes and badges at the door of the very large multi-national, how can he feel that if he is tempted, should I badge this morning and what if I don’t come? Am I making a real difference, or am I just a number?

This is how you can engage employees. You need to really tell them why it is so important that they are unconsciously obsessed with making their company win. Why is it important that they do that and why they have a very key role? Unless you explain to them that they are part of something grand, they are part of a great project and unless they are conscious of all of this, they’re just not going buy your story.

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