Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 1, 2021.
As a nationally syndicated guest columnist on leadership for the Philadelphia Business Journal’s parent company and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success,” I am often asked to describe an early-career experience that had a significant impact on my professional development. That experience involved getting out of my comfort zone to do something new.
When I was the business manager for one of my company’s products, a chemical used in industrial metal cleaning, we faced stiff import competition from Rhone Poulenc (a large multi-national French company) at a price significantly below their home market price. We felt this was a violation of U.S. dumping regulations, which are designed to protect U.S. industry from unfair international trade practices.
I received approval from my company’s CEO to file dumping charges with the U.S. International Trade Commission. If found guilty of dumping, the remedy would be the assessment of dumping duties on imported product from Rhone Poulenc.
The attorney retained by our company’s general counsel insisted that my product manager and I be the public face of our company’s case. We knew we would be way out of our comfort zone. Our attorney wanted to create the optics of a small, privately-owned, domestic company competing against a foreign company many times our size, dumping product in the U.S. market.
The preparation for the hearing in front of the ITC was very intense. Over a period of many months, we responded to numerous questions from the ITC investigative staff in preparation for the hearing. We were honest and factual. Whenever we realized that we had provided information to the staff that was inaccurate, we immediately corrected it, even if it hurt our case.
The hearing in front of the five ITC commissioners was held in a chamber very similar to that of the Supreme Court. Somewhat intimidating! A pivotal moment occurred when the Rhone Poulenc business manager misrepresented a meeting they had with us, accusing us of improper marketplace behavior. The chairperson of the ITC asked him if he had notes of that meeting. He responded no.
I whispered to our attorney that we had notes of that meeting which countered their testimony. He asked me to pull the notes, and as he read them, a smile crossed his face. When entered into evidence, our meeting notes undermined much of Rhone Poulenc’s credibility.
When the ITC commissioners announced their decision, they unanimously ruled in favor of my company and against Rhone Poulenc. They assessed the highest dumping duty on any chemical imported into the U.S. as of that date. My product manager and I felt as if we had won gold medals at the Olympics.
So, what did we learn from this experience? We learned to operate under pressure and to get out of our comfort zone. It was a rewarding experience. We also learned that when dealing with others, you develop credibility by being honest and factual. This will differentiate you from those that are not. Credibility builds trust and confidence, and this will favor you in borderline decisions.
Leaders, expose your employees to new, meaningful experiences. Get them out of their comfort zones. There is no better way for them to develop.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.