In this Leadership Insider series, Margaret Jaouadi speaks with senior-level business leaders to ask them what in their view are the top 3 leadership skills needed by the leaders of tomorrow to succeed in this changing world and why and what shaped them as a leader.
For this chapter, Paul Galanti, Head of Sector – Industrials, Americas at Pacific International Executive Search introduced Margaret to Mark Cluff, President, Global Operations at W. R. Grace, a leading global supplier of specialty chemicals within the Standard Industries family of companies.
Thank you for participating in our Leadership Insider series. Before we start, please introduce yourself and tell our audience about your leadership journey.
I earned my degree in chemical engineering many years ago and have since dedicated my career to the chemical, petrochemical, and natural gas industries. Over the last two decades, my focus has been primarily on operations, EHS (Environmental, Health, and Safety), and executive leadership. Working with remarkable companies such as Dupont, ExxonMobil, Williams and now W. R. Grace has been an enriching experience, and I have developed a deep passion for operational and EHS excellence, as well as a genuine dedication to talent development.
My journey into EHS began with DuPont, a multinational chemical company renowned for its historical commitment to safety excellence. Through various operations assignments, I gained a deep understanding of the critical role safety plays in managing operations effectively. Although I am fundamentally an operations leader, my knowledge and expertise in EHS were recognized when a CEO in the natural gas industry acknowledged my emphasis on EHS. This led to a pivotal role as the corporate officer for EHS, where I was tasked with consolidating EHS functions, developing management systems, and driving continuous improvement in safety excellence.
In the last 8-9 years, my leadership has been centered on structuring and steering EHS excellence in an executive capacity. I’ve been involved in expanding the EHS function beyond manufacturing and operations, recognizing its impact on other aspects of the business, including customer relations, community engagement, and board governance. In my recent assignments, I have had the privilege of working closely with boards to ensure EHS is integrated into strategic management and overall governance, with a close tie to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) considerations.
EHS, encompassing environmental health, safety, and security, extends its influence throughout the entire company. In my role, I have emphasized the importance of this holistic approach, ensuring that our strategies align with EHS principles. Recognizing its far-reaching effects, I believe EHS is not just a compliance matter but a critical component that contributes to a well-rounded, disciplined, and operationally excellent business. This commitment to EHS is not only vital for the well-being of employees and stakeholders but also results in a better company overall, impacting quality, customer relationships, and every facet of our business positively.
Having collaborated with many leaders throughout your career and being one yourself, could you share the top three traits that you find crucial for future leaders to be successful?
That’s a fantastic question, and it’s something I’ve pondered extensively throughout my career. First and foremost, I firmly believe that people matter most. The foundation of our roles should be built on genuine care for people and a commitment to fostering diverse perspectives within teams. It’s about how we engage with individuals, ensuring that our approach is inclusive and considerate. This principle is fundamental to everything we do; people are at the core.
This perspective naturally extends to the importance of talent and various other aspects of our work. Secondly, I emphasize the significance of leading by example. Setting high expectations for oneself is key, not just in terms of execution but also in continuous learning. Demonstrating an intellectual curiosity, always questioning, and engaging with the organization are crucial aspects of effective leadership.
The third trait is to believe in the value of active learning from failures and transparently sharing those lessons. None of us are infallible, and both individuals and companies make mistakes. The key is to swiftly learn from them, avoiding any attempt to sugarcoat or overlook errors. By acknowledging and addressing mistakes, we can focus on the valuable lessons they offer. It’s not about dwelling on the failure but leveraging it as a catalyst for continuous improvement. Through this approach, we not only become resilient but also strengthen our capabilities over time.
The advances in AI technology and its impact on the leader of tomorrow have prompted this interview series. How do you perceive AI?
I perceive AI technology as a significant opportunity to expedite the learning process. It serves as a catalyst for swiftly assimilating insights from our past actions and applying them to future efforts. This accelerated learning can be seamlessly integrated into overall strategy and execution plans, making AI a crucial component in shaping the trajectory of our progress.
I don’t fear AI. Instead, I view it as a tool with the potential to streamline data capture and present information promptly, aiding individuals in making well-informed decisions. In essence, I believe that people will always drive systems in some capacity. AI, in this context, becomes an invaluable resource for enhancing decision-making processes.
It’s essential to recognize that, for me, AI doesn’t replace the role of a human in making decisions or exercising sound judgment. The nuance of sound judgment stems from experience, which AI lacks. Rather than replacing human judgment, AI complements it by quickly aggregating and analyzing data, facilitating quicker and more informed decision-making. I see AI as a tool that empowers leaders and individuals to make better judgments, ultimately contributing to the prevention of potential failures and enhancing overall decision quality.
There’s no substitute for the excellence and engagement that humans bring to the table. For me, that’s always the most important factor in a company’s success. Sure, we’ll have advanced tools like AI and better data for smarter decisions, but I see them as aids to boost performance. Still, at the core, it’s the people and leaders who will continue to be essential in driving business success.
Excellent, thank you. Now the final question. Looking back at your career, what is the biggest thing from your past that shaped you as a leader?
Wow, that’s a fantastic question. When I reflect on my past, what stands out the most are the connections I built with leaders and colleagues—both those I followed and those I led. It’s the relationships, the teamwork, the successes, and even the failures that define my journey as a leader. Looking back on these diverse experiences, it’s the interactions with people that have truly shaped my leadership style and overall experience.
How would others describe your leadership style?
People often say I’m a leader who values people and thrives on collaboration. I find joy in engaging with others, and leading teams, and I’m genuinely passionate about my work. I do set high standards for myself, and maybe at times, others might feel the bar is too high for them. However, I hold everyone to the same expectations as I do for myself. Overall, I think I would be described as a highly engaged people leader.
Thank you very much, Mark, for this insightful conversation.
For a confidential chat about how Pacific International can assist you with your Talent Acquisitions and Diversity challenges, please contact Manuel Preg or one of our Executive Search Consultants specialising in your sector.
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