Born: Salisbury, Md.
Education: B.A., Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky.; MBA, Harvard Business School
First job: I had a very large paper route delivering the Pittsburgh Press when my family lived in Pittsburgh. My family was often concerned about me getting up and delivering the paper at 5 or 6 in the morning, but that job taught me a lot about self-discipline. If you’re not up that early, the paper doesn’t get delivered.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
The obvious one is integrity. You always take the high road; you never compromise on the mission and the principles, even if the cultural norms in another part of the world say it’s acceptable. I’m known for repeating that it’s a very small world out there and you have to protect your integrity.
Second, you need to set high standards, expecting everyone to work up, not down, to those standards. I have a basic belief that people either work up to those standards or work down to them, so prefer to ask them to work up to those standards.
The third thing would be consistency. It’s important for leaders to not just expect consistency from others but also from themselves. The fourth and final is that you need to be willing to embrace change and encourage constructive debate. If you don’t embrace change, you can’t expect others to embrace change. Leadership isn’t what you know; it’s what you do. You have to set the example and not be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the work.
What is your definition of success?
I’ve got to tear it apart and break it into three phases of my life. The definition of success is really going to change for everybody over time. For me, ashamedly so, I have to admit that earlier in my life, it was all about personal accomplishment. Then as I moved toward the middle part of my career, it moved more toward delivering on the expectations of corporate stakeholders and of my family, people close to me. As I move to the latter part of my career, success more recently and in future years, I think, is going to incorporate a broadening circle of people and constituents, people who benefit from the achievements both at a corporate and a personal level.
I’m starting to feel more of a commitment to working with people less fortunate, who haven’t been able to enjoy the successes that not only I’ve had in my career but my associates at VWR have had as we’ve been successful as an organization. Again, I go back to leadership not being about what you know but what you do. If I set the example and I’m part of a community effort or helping other people, hopefully our associates would follow.
The meaning of success is an interesting question, and someone who gives a simple answer probably just doesn’t know how to answer it.