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The value of giving young, skilled workers a chance

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 29, 2014

Writing a weekly column on effective leadership for publication in the Philadelphia Business Journal is a team effort between my editors and me. My editors are two Drexel University undergraduate English majors, Julia Casciato, the former editor-in-chief and managing editor of Drexel University’s independent student newspaper, The Triangle, and Alexa Josaphouitch, a co-chief copy editor of The Triangle. Speaking with both of them over time, I learned how each has gained valuable leadership experience as undergraduates.

In their role as editors, what do Casciato and Josaphouitch do? They are a set of eyes beyond mine. In addition to checking spelling, tense, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, they check for inconsistencies and ensure that the ideas and concepts I present tie together in a logical way. In addition, they check for AP Style, which is a set of writing conventions for newspaper articles. They comment on the tone of the article and if I am effectively delivering my message to the reader.

I interviewed both Casciato and Josaphouitch to learn about their leadership experiences as undergraduates at Drexel, and what they have learned editing articles for my weekly column. They both shared that by editing my column, they are exposed to leadership issues that they would not normally be exposed to as undergrads.

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The journey of a former CEO: From boardroom to columnist on effective leadership

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 22, 2014

Many of my readers have asked why a former CEO and current director on for-profit and nonprofit boards decided to write on the subject of leadership, and how I became a weekly guest columnist in the Philadelphia Business Journal. This is my 23rd article, and I think it is time to share the story of my journey.

Last March I visited Silicon Valley with Donna De Carolis, founding dean of Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship, six of her staff members and 16 Close School students. We visited Apple, eBay, PayPal and numerous incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces in San Francisco. After watching De Carolis interact with and inspire her students, and witnessing the creativity and innovative spirit of those students as well as the entrepreneurial drive of those we visited, I decided I needed to undertake something new. It had been three years since being named as the chairman of the board of the Drexel University College of Medicine, which gave me the opportunity to learn about the business of medicine as well as the academic and experiential learning requirements of medical education. It was time for a new challenge.

Having served in many leadership roles as an executive rising through the ranks of PQ Corporation and as a director on numerous boards watching other CEOs in their roles, I decided to start writing on the subject of leadership. There are many writers on this subject: there are those who do academic research on leadership, as well as some very experienced practitioners who have years of experience. I am in the latter category. I try to differentiate myself by sharing my perspectives and experiences in an impactful way to my readers.

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Philadelphia as East Coast energy hub: What about the environment, health and safety?

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 15, 2014

Since the publication of my article Dec. 8 titled “Philadelphia’s incredible potential to become the East Coast energy hub,” I have received a number of comments from readers concerning the adverse impact of Marcellus shale drilling, fracking, rail transport and refining/processing on our environment, health and safety. I appreciate these comments and thank the readers who have taken the time to write them. The comments generate conversation which is part of the process to establish public policy and adopt laws and regulations that balance risk vs. benefit not only for the energy industry, but every aspect of modern society.

In that article, I outlined the very significant benefits of increased supply of domestic oil and natural gas for the residents of the Philadelphia region and the country. The decline in the cost of gasoline over the past two months is a direct result of higher oil production. The cost to heat one’s home has significantly declined over the past few years due to the production of Marcellus shale natural gas. New electric generation plants that will be powered by natural gas instead of coal or oil will result in significantly less greenhouse gas emissions per kilowatt of electricity generated. Lower energy costs will attract manufacturing back to the U.S., resulting in more jobs. The U.S. will be energy independent by the end of the decade, which will have a very significant favorable impact on the balance of trade and economic growth.

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Philadelphia’s incredible potential to become the East Coast energy hub

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 8, 2014

Much has been written about Philadelphia’s economy being driven by “eds and meds,” shorthand for education and health services, as well as entrepreneurship. There is another leg to the Philadelphia regional economy that is only starting to receive significant press – energy, which has the potential of even a more significant impact on employment and economic growth.

I attended the “Greater Philadelphia: The Next Energy Hub Summit” at Drexel University Dec. 5. I heard industry, labor, government, education and investment leaders speak about the incredible potential of Philadelphia’s close proximity to Marcellus shale natural gas production and the region’s unique infrastructure – oil refineries, pipeline systems, world-class ports, an extensive freight rail network and highly skilled workforce.

The benefits of economical Marcellus shale natural gas are already being felt in the Philadelphia region. Over the last decade the cost to heat one’s home with natural gas has significantly declined. Many homeowners over the past few years have converted from oil to less expensive natural gas to heat their homes, this writer included, realizing significant savings and a rapid payback on the investment to convert.

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‘Educational ecosystem’ is driving Philadelphia entrepreneurship

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 1, 2014

In their recent Philadelphia Inquirer article “Philadelphia, the Innovator,” Tom Ridge and Jay Williams wrote, “Hey Philadelphia, you are a national leader when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship … that will drive job creation in the region for the next 20 years and beyond.” This recognition of our city is well-deserved. The entrepreneurial mindset has not always been here. It is now.

A key segment of Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is its educational ecosystem consisting of Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship, the Pennovation Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute of Temple University. These universities provide places for students to develop their ideas as well as learn the leadership and other skills needed for success. The synergies between the Close School and other schools and colleges at Drexel provide an educational ecosystem within the University for students who want to learn entrepreneurial skills as well as develop their ideas and launch their businesses.

This educational ecosystem benefits not only students who go on to launch startups. All students benefit from developing an entrepreneurial spirt – a mindset which values persistence and self-reliance, risk taking, undertaking innovative initiatives and achieving results. This mindset helps all students manage their careers and differentiate themselves when they search for jobs, regardless of the careers they pursue, whether it be with an established company or a startup.

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Advice to the next generation of leaders

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 25, 2014

A major responsibility of any leader is to help develop the next generation that follows. Many of us have had mentors at various points in our careers, and we know how valuable their guidance was to us.

I advise many current and future leaders. As chairman of the board of the Drexel University College of Medicine, I had a special opportunity to share some thoughts with newly minted MDs and PhDs at their commencement last May. I thought about the most important career advice I could share with them. An excerpt from my remarks follow:

Standing before you is a chemical engineering graduate from this great University, who just happens to be the chairman of the board of your College of Medicine. Now, how does that happen? How does an engineer become the chairman of the board of a medical school?

I can look back to the first day after my commencement, and see all the dots I created along my career pathway. The dots do not lie in a straight line. They zigzag. I took advantage of opportunities to accept assignments outside of my comfort zone. I looked for and implemented new ways of doing things within my areas of responsibility. I looked at problems in new ways, and found new solutions. I stepped out and did new and different things. I took risks. Sometimes I failed, but I never let that stop me from moving forward. It is said that those who never fail never do anything. Failure is painful when it occurs, but it develops resiliency and helps you tackle larger challenges in the future.

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Leaders: Here’s what the ‘profit engine’ needs to thrive

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 17, 2014

The “profit engine” of every company delivers products and services to its customers or clients. It runs on a set of finely-tuned policies, procedures and practices that are designed to efficiently generate revenue and profit. Innovation, continuous improvement and customer focus are the fuels that keep the profit engine running at peak performance. These are critical for long-term competitive success.

Companies that do not strive to deliver a world-class experience to its customers do so at their peril. Competitors will take advantage of this, and gain market share at the company’s expense. At PQ Corporation, we always strove to provide the market with world-class customer service, technical service and value. It was what differentiated PQ from the rest of the industry. As a provider of products and services, you want to be so good at what you do, that when a competitor learns that it is your company that they are competing against at a particular customer, they think, “Oh no, not those guys!”

Innovations range from improved operational procedures, to new capital investments in the profit engine, to launching a new business initiative. Occasionally, to successfully start a new business, a separate new business unit needs to be launched. The leader of the new unit and their team can more easily change paradigms and will exercise a level of creativity and innovation that established business units are unable to exercise because they are focused on their profit engine. The formal and informal organization of the company must fully support the new business unit to maximize the probability of its success.

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Do you work for a tyrant? Do you have one working for you?

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 10, 2014

Tyrants who disrespect their direct reports cause untold damage to the performance of their organization as well as make life miserable for those who work for them. These managers tend to micro-manage, blame others for their mistakes and sap the creativity, initiative and vitality from the workplace. They also adversely impact the ability of people to make decisions without “checking with the boss.”

No one can effectively do their job in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. No employee should have to work in such a toxic environment. The best people don’t put up with it, and they eventually leave the company, resulting in a significant loss of talent that will adversely impact the firm’s performance and potential for growth.

I once worked for this type of manager and learned how to deal with him. One day, he was ranting about an issue, and I politely told him that I was going to leave his office. I said that when he calmed down and could discuss the issue in a rational way, we would again talk. I told him he could come to my office, or call me back to his office to discuss the issue. I don’t think anyone had ever said anything like that to him before. And yes, I was concerned about being fired for insubordination, but it was one of those moments when I had to change the dynamic between us. Twenty minutes later, he came to my office and in a calm and business-like manner, we discussed and decided on a strategy to resolve the issue at hand. He never treated me like that again.

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Leadership, teamwork and athletics

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 3, 2014

Watching a grandchild grow each year as an athlete is a gift. My 10-year-old grandson Andrew has played baseball, basketball and soccer since the age of four, and excels in all three sports. Watching him grow as one of the leaders of his team brings a special pride.

Earlier this year, Andrew’s basketball team was behind by 14 points at the half. He took a leadership role and told his discouraged teammates that on a prior team on which he had played, they were down by 12 points at the half, but won by two. Andrew rallied his team, and told them they could win this game. The team came back and won the game by six points.

I have watched time and time again as Andrew drives the soccer ball up the field, swarmed by his opponents. Rather than take a low probability shot on goal, he passes off to a teammate who scores. Andrew knows it is more important for his team to get the goal than for him to score. He gets credit for the assist. His teammate – the other forward – does the same when he has the ball. This is teamwork at its finest – watching two well-coached 10 year-olds who have the maturity and presence of mind do what some adults never learn – accomplish more as a team than you can as an individual.

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Hey board members! Your job is governance, not operations

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 27, 2014

One of the key lessons that board members must learn is not to cross the line between governance and operations. The most important job of the board on which you serve is to hire the CEO and hold them accountable for results. By crossing the line, you interfere with the ability of the CEO to do their job.

This is a lesson that many newly appointed directors and trustees without prior board experience need to learn. Experienced board members should be reminded of this periodically, as I was reminded last week when I crossed the line from governance into operations because I felt passionate about an issue. I should have known better.

So, what are the duties of a board member? Your job is oversight, not operations. You are a fiduciary and must exercise the duty of care and loyalty to the institution. You must put the interest of that institution above your own interest or the interest of management. If it’s a for-profit company, you represent the interests of the company and its shareholders. If it’s a non-profit, you represent the interests of the institution and those that the institution serves. Throughout this article, I use the term “CEO” to describe the chief executive of the organization, whether it be a for-profit or non-profit organization, and the term “director” to include “trustees.”

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Ebola’s mission critical imperatives

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 20, 2014

On Oct. 19, those individuals who had contact with Ebola victim Thomas Duncan completed their 21-day self-monitoring period. Duncan’s family and fiancé, who were in very close proximity with Duncan, have also ended their 21-day quarantine. No one has shown any indication of illness. This may lead to more rational and less extreme behavior by the public in dealing with the risks of exposure to Ebola.

I believe that the events of the past three weeks point to three mission critical imperatives in dealing with Ebola:

Hospitals need to step up their game.

Hospitals need to step up their game a number of levels. They need to be ahead of what may come at them by adopting the right protocols, training and equipment, to safely deal with this disease. Barclay Berdan, the CEO of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s parent company Texas Health Resources, publicly apologized for the errors that occurred in a letter published in the local news media. He acknowledged that Ebola training had not yet been fully implemented at the time of Duncan’s emergency room visit, and therefore the hospital was not yet prepared to handle Ebola patients. Accusations were made by the nursing staff that they were not sufficiently trained to care for Ebola patients, they had insufficient protective suits and that their concerns were ignored by hospital administrators.

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How one woman is changing the world of entrepreneurship education

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 6, 2014

Earlier this year, I watched an incredible exchange between a student of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and the Vice President of Retail for Apple, as they discussed the risks and challenges faced by an entrepreneur in launching a new business venture. At that point, I knew I was witnessing the very significant influence the Close School has on the education of Drexel students.

I had the privilege of visiting Silicon Valley with Donna De Carolis, the Founding Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel, along with six of her staff and 16 of her students. In addition to visiting Apple, we visited eBay as well as a host of startup ventures.

The Close School of Entrepreneurship is the first freestanding degree-granting school for entrepreneurship in the United States. It is not part of any other school within the University – different than schools of entrepreneurship at other universities. Its mission is to offer all Drexel University students a path to entrepreneurship and to provide students from across all fields of study the opportunity to take courses to learn and to practice entrepreneurship skills. Whether a student starts their own venture or goes to work for an established company, these are skills useful in managing one’s life and career. The Close School is a safe place for a business concept to fail, and for the student to move on and pursue another idea.

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