Stephan Liozu

Monday, 30 April 2012 20:01

Stephan Liozu; Information intake

Since my arrival at Ardex in 2008, I have focused at least 50 percent of my attention on people’s learning and development. We have adopted a culture of learning that focuses on boosting and energizing our organizational memory. At Ardex, excellence from our people is a must, and they deserve to get the skills and knowledge to reach it.

Books, magazines and academic papers being distributed to the extended management base materialize this learning culture. Employees are invited to participate in lunchbox sessions, departmental training programs or advanced external programs.

Budgets for learning and training are protected from cutting initiatives during tough times, since the skills needed to face ambiguity and uncertainty require specific traits and behaviors.

Your organization has a long-term memory. It includes collective beliefs, behavioral routines and official standard operating procedures as well as formal and informal work routines. Scholars state that memory relates to a repository for collective insights contained within policies, procedures, routines and rules that can be retrieved when needed. It is stored information from an organization’s history that can be brought to bear on present decisions. But how do new things get added and accumulated in that memory?

Skills and capabilities get added to memory through the learning process.

Organizational learning is the development of new knowledge or insight that has the potential to influence how people interact, do things and accomplish goals. Learning is cumulative. New things come into the memory and get added to prior knowledge, which then in turn confers an ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it and apply it to commercial ends.

Generally speaking, barriers to adoption of new learning and best practices lie in the recipient’s lack of absorptive capacity, which means that new things do get absorbed but do not stick. Organizational memory is the backbone of a learning philosophy.

Based on leadership experience and the multitude of books I have read in the field, I can share the following lessons with you:

Learning needs to be a philosophy and part of the business culture.

Check how much you have in your annual budget for training and learning. Compare that to how much cash you spend on your fixed assets in plants, computers, tools and equipment. Now think about this – why would you not invest more in your people assets? Does your collective memory contain state-of-the-art concepts, insights and theories relevant to your industry, your people and your products?

Learning needs to become a strategy to leverage your people’s strength.

Do you have a purposeful and strategic view of how much your people learn and what they learn? Your employees are eager to learn and become better contributors. In a climate of learning and experimentation, they will strive to be the best they can be.

Learning does not have to be expensive.

You can leverage the knowledge of your internal experts, your network and your local consultants. You can get trained yourself and become a trainer.

Learning is for the long term and cannot stop and go based on economic conditions.

Make it a sustainable and strategic initiative, make smart investments in it and champion the process yourself.

Learning is not the same for everyone.

Some people learn by doing and experimenting. Others like to read and summarize materials. Some people like classroom training, and others like practical training in labs. So your training strategy will have to respond to a variety of learning styles.

Learning has to be aligned with your strategic goals.

Business is complex and dynamic. Train people on the competences and skills you need to support the strategy, and custom design your overall approach to these focused areas. My experience has shown that embracing a learning philosophy improves the organizational climate, your employees’ sense of belonging, their sense of commitment to the strategy and their overall productivity. Give it a try. You will see the amazing potential that lies in your people.

Stephan Liozu is president and CEO of Ardex America Inc. (www.ardex.com), an innovative and high-performance building-materials company located in Pittsburgh. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Stephan Liozu: The global phenomenon

I watch the news every day and can only conclude that the world is experiencing an era of economic, social, political and sometimes existential turbulence. During periods of crisis and disruption, world politicians and institutional leaders spend a fair amount of time trying to identify their causes and promoting alternative roadmaps and policies. There is a lot of finger-pointing as a consequence of these introspections. This time around, globalization has generally been identified as a major cause of the world’s pains. The financial crisis, the increase in inequities, the polarization of the political parties, the strengthening of extremism, the damage to the environment and other pains of our time have been related one way or another to the globalization developments of the recent couple of decades.

For some, globalization is evil and works against the interest of the human species. While I agree that globalization has brought some pains and challenges to some categories of people and to some countries, in general the world and its inhabitants have benefited greatly from globalization and its implications. I am not saying that it’s a perfect system or that it’s not without its share of abuse, waste, and inequities.

A mindful and pragmatic approach is to embrace what has become inevitable in our lifetime: internationalization and globalization are not going to disappear. The globalization phenomenon will evolve and reinvent itself as cultures and people change, countries grow and evolve, institutions become more efficient, the system improves, and technology creates new possibilities.

Despite the current economic challenges and the state of misery described by many, there are strong indicators suggesting that globalization is permanently engrained in our way of life, is irreversible and can only grow in speed and intensity. This will create tremendous opportunities for regional businesses as global networks expand their webs. Look for the following indicators as opportunities to get involved.

  • There will be continued penetration of the already globalized sectors and industry: many industries, sectors, technologies have not yet fully penetrated the world scene as cultural and economical barriers are removed.
  • Look to start building your global network and projecting your products and service in the global arena. Join the regional international bodies and get involved in international activities.
  • Keep an eye out for incremental diversification from corporations seeking pockets of demand growth in emerging and developing markets. Growth opportunities will be pursued by accelerating geographical expansion and internationalization of marketing offerings.
  • You should study emerging market phenomenon, evaluate and select attractive targets and design unique strategies to internationalize your business offerings. The creation of new democracies on the world map will contribute to world growth and the internalization trend and will offer unique and rapid opportunities to these new economies.
  • Research economic treaties and investment opportunities post stabilization. Join regional economic delegation and representation on overseas trips and gain first-mover advantage.
  • Stay aware of the innovation power of the emerging countries and the movement from east to west, accelerating the penetration rate of new products and services. Emerging markets will play a stronger role over the coming decades in the field of innovation. You have to identify technical and innovation partnership opportunities with companies in emerging markets. Anticipate fast track emerging technologies that could threaten your business and join regional technology-related organizations to benchmark what others are learning.
  • Watch for the institutional development of countries and an increasing global stock of knowledge that is available to developing countries: tens of thousands of students from around the world are getting trained at Western universities every year and returning to their homeland to join institutions and businesses, create ventures and spread knowledge. The next generation of global leaders will be much more internationally focused and will more easily adopt the principles of globalization.
  • Hire local international students for internships and promote international exchanges with foreign subsidiaries. You also have to be willing to create an open and international culture.

Globalization is here to stay, is irreversible and will continue to evolve. It might take different forms and have different dynamics at each of its stages of mutation. How do you capture the tremendous potential the next wave of globalization will offer? How ready are you to develop your business model on the global scene?

Stephan Liozu is President & CEO of Ardex America Inc (www.ardex.com), an innovative and high-performance building-materials company located in Pittsburgh, Pa. He is also a PhD candidate in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

Tuesday, 03 January 2012 14:04

Stephan Liozu; Oil dependence

Much has been written on peak oil theory and the depletion of our oil reserves. From the apocalyptic views at one end of the spectrum (Olduvai theory) to radical denial at the other end (Cornucopian theory), an abundant number of references and theories are readily available on the subject.

Experts argue that traditional oil production has peaked although large reserves remain. Peaking means that the rate of world oil production can no longer increase. From there the rate of production will decrease with time, while oil demand continuously increases with a world population nearing 7 billion.

Obviously, there are profound disagreements between the two sides. If you’ve read Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” you could conclude that our petro-civilization resembles many aspects of failed civilizations, especially in the area of resource drain and the lack of a collective response to the key issues. Our civilization is driven by an economic system that expects continued and limitless growth. However, during the summer of 2008 when the price of a barrel of oil reached $147, we reached a tipping point for our global economy. The impact on the transportation system and on micro economies and the collapse of global financial systems created a worldwide wakeup call.

We, as a civilization, are totally dependent on oil and fossil fuels. During the summer of 2008, I personally heard the wakeup call and asked my top leaders to gather in our executive conference room. I had a simple question for them. What would happen to our business when the price of a barrel of oil reaches $250? What do we look like in terms of raw materials costs, supply and profitability? Our analysis and relevant contingency planning showed that the business would collapse and most likely disappear if we adopted a wait-and-see strategy. As a team, we then decided to shift some R&D and strategic resources and to embark on a 10-year plan to become less reliant on oil and its derivatives. Today we see the first outcomes of these actions, with products being sold in recyclable boxes instead of plastic buckets as well as with the launch of products containing up to 50 percent natural components.

If you run a business today or sit at the executive decision-making table, have you run this analysis? Do you know how reliant on oil and fossil fuels your business is across the board (transportation, packaging, formulation, etc.)? Have you projected your costs and profitability for when oil does reach $250?

At the macro level, the mitigation discussion (replacing oil with something else) is an important one to have. Current models show that initiating a mitigation crash program would take 20 years and would have potentially severe consequences on population levels, poverty rates and the sustainability of our economic system. Depending on whether you think oil peak theory is fraud or not, the clock has already begun ticking. In a 2006 edition of Money Week, Dr. Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, a well-known oil expert, proposed four phases of transition away from oil. Each transition phase covers an average of three to four years. At that time, he forecast that oil prices would reach $150 per barrel in the “not too distant future.” He wrote: “preparation should be carried out on individual, familial, societal and national levels as soon as possible. Every preparative step taken today will prove far cheaper than any step taken tomorrow.” In the end, he was right. Oil did reach $150, and it is only a matter of time before it reaches that level again and even higher.

Don’t wait any longer to run this analysis and to lead your business in this long and tenuous process of transformation. You might not be able to fully mitigate the need for expensive chemicals or fuels, but you can make the necessary investments now to render your business sustainable for the next century.

Stephan Liozu is president and CEO of Ardex America Inc. (www.ardex.com), an innovative and high-performance building materials company located in Pittsburgh. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

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