Improving yourself as an individual is challenging enough as it is. That is why it calls for a celebration when achieved. Improving and fortifying your leadership is a whole other challenge as you have other people’s lives on your shoulder. Internationally renowned business leader and New York Times bestselling author, Doug Conant, believes that creating a high trust culture is key to being a great leader. Bearing 40 years of leadership experience at world-class global companies, he talks about his experiences throughout his career as a leader. Learn about the core foundations of leadership that you need to work on as early as you can in order to become effective as a leader.
Climate change has been a hot topic for years. Whether or not you believe it, everyone can agree that the planet’s situation can be improved. Dr. Walter Schindler believes that sustainable and impact investing is the solution to changing the world. He is the Chairman of Transformation LLC, and he joins Dr. Diane Hamilton this episode to raise awareness on the current situation of our planet regarding climate change. He gives his insights on the current mindset people have on the topic and explains why sustainability is the go-to strategy for improving our effect on the environment.
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Fortifying Your Leadership Model with Doug Conant
I’m here with Doug Conant. He is the only former Fortune 500 CEO who is a New York Times bestselling author, a top 50 leadership innovator, a top 100 leadership speaker and a top 100 most influential author in the world. Doug began his career as an entry-level marketing assistant at General Mills and held leadership positions in marketing and strategy at Kraft before becoming CEO and President of Campbell Soup Company. During his career, he also served as President of Nabisco Foods and Chairman of Avon products. Over ten years as CEO at Campbell’s, his employee engagement skyrocketed from being among the worst Fortune 500 to being world-class as measured by Gallup. As a result of this and other key transformational improvements, Doug led Campbell’s from a beleaguering situation in 2001 to delivering competitive performance in their top-tier of the global food industry by the time he retired in 2011. He is the author of The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. I’ve been fortunate to interview Doug in the past. I’m excited to have him talk to me about his new book. Welcome, Doug.
Thank you, Diane. I didn’t realize I had many wonderful credentials until you read them all. It was a wonderful long bio. I was basking in the glow.
That’s the shortened version too. I told you when we talked last time, I’ve taught thousands of online business courses. Your case study is mentioned in about every course I’ve ever taught because nobody has done what you did with Campbell’s. You’re a hero in the business world as you should be. It’s such an interesting look. Before we get into your book, I want to bring up the Campbell’s Soup thing because you’re known for writing many handwritten notes and getting people to feel like you cared about them because you did. I want you to think again about this one. How many notes did you write in the time that you were at Campbell’s Soup and who did you write them to?
To preface the comment, I spent ten years before I was at Campbell’s working in the world’s largest LBO at the time owned by KKR Nabisco. We were going from a beleaguered situation there to a top-tier food industry performance over that decade. I had a chance to develop an approach over that decade where I learned from some amazing people in that company that I could then apply to my next ten years when I went to Campbell’s. I had been in the trenches for a long time before I got to Campbell’s. At Campbell’s, we were a beleaguered company. I started writing notes to people because I found that for the most part, like all companies, our company was incredibly good at finding what was wrong but was never very good at celebrating what was right.
Even in the most troubled companies, 8 out of 10 things being done are being done properly. What I try to do wherever I work is to bring balance to the conversation. We celebrate what’s working while we deal with what’s not working. At Campbell’s, I found we were good at figuring out what wasn’t working. I said, “I’ve got to move the scales in a new direction.” I wrote 10 to 20 notes a day, six days a week, handwritten, and send them to people the very next day if not the same day. I’m talking snail mail all around the world. We were FedExing these letters to people all around the world every day.
In the course of the ten years I was there, I wrote over 30,000 notes to Campbell employees. We only had 20,000 employees. Wherever you went in the world, you saw one of my handwritten notes stuck up in a cubicle somewhere thanking someone for doing something that mattered. The only other thing on the note piece is I believe these notes shouldn’t necessarily feel as if they’re gratuitous. I always try and celebrate things of merit where someone has added value to what we’re trying to do so that they know I’m paying attention to performance while I’m celebrating their contribution.
What you put in note matters. I’ve known people who write the same note and give it to twenty people and it’s four pages long. They just copy and paste. It has no meaning. If anything, it does the opposite of what you’re trying to do. What you did was impressive. I have to bring that up so that they realized that you’re known for so many things and that’s one of them. I want to talk about your book because this is very exciting. You’ve written other things in the past, but this is your latest for 2020. It’s called The Blueprint: Six Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. What made you want to write another book?
We need to champion the notion of enlightened leadership in the 21st Century. The old hierarchies and structures that I started with are breaking down and the leadership models of the past aren’t holding up to scrutiny in the present. At the same time, the leadership models that are evolving in the present haven’t been well-developed or thought through. They are being led by somewhat immature leaders who haven’t got the experience necessary to lead them with the finesse, touch and insight that needs to come with that leadership challenge. I felt that I could bridge that gap and provide an enlightened approach to leadership that deals with all the idealism that we want to bring to this work, but does it in a realistic way where as a leader, you can act on it and do something.In most companies, people are good at finding what is wrong, but is never good at celebrating what is right. Click To Tweet
I have a lot of friends in the leadership industry and I admire them, but virtually all the people that write about this have never done it. They’re good. They’re students of it. They add a lot of value, but they’re not kept awake at 1:00 in the morning thinking, “How am I going to get through this board meeting or this meeting tomorrow?” They do the same thing every day, 365 days a year while they’re trying to raise families and do other things too. The change process that we’ve created with this book was one that meets the leadership challenge of the day and does it in a way that’s approachable for somebody who’s swamped and feeling like they’re trying to get a sip of water from the fire hydrant of life every day. They barely have time to say hello and goodbye to their kids and we’re writing books about, here’s how you’ve got to change your leadership life. They don’t have time to read them. They don’t have time to work with them. We’ve got to create a process. It’s a bite-sized process that acknowledges the reality of what these leaders are facing every day. We’ve done that with this book.
You bring up many good points with that as far as inexperience and different things and who has time for all this. I had a boss who would read two books a week. He wanted everybody to read two books a week. I’m like, “How do you have time if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing to read so much?” A lot of people don’t. I liked the bite-size aspect of that. When you’re talking about the reality of being in leadership, I had interviewed Keith Krach who was the CEO and Chairman of DocuSign. He said that when you decided to take that position, he warned his wife that he’s going to be in the fetal position every once in awhile on the floor under his desk. It’s what happens because the reality of researching this as a researcher versus living it is challenging. You’ve lived it and not everything was always wonderful for you. You had setbacks in your career. You’ve talked about it the last time about being abruptly unemployed. That’s how we put it. I can’t imagine anybody ever letting you go. Whoever did that probably had to kick themselves later. Can you tell a little bit about that story and how you used what you learned in this book?
This book is a combination of 45 years of leadership experience, 45 years in the trenches. We’re about to release a video on social media. I’ve been doing this for a long time. A lot of people write about it, but nobody has walked 40 years in the leader’s shoes as I have. I started at the very entry-level and working my way up to the C-suite to the Chairman role. I try and bring that to this work. I’ve made mistakes all along the way. I was let go ten years into my career in a challenging way, but I hadn’t done enough to warrant them keeping me. I don’t think I’d made any serious mistakes, but I hadn’t grown into the leader that I’m trying to become now.
Along the way, I’ve made tons of mistakes. I was one of those leaders that gave those books out, two a week and said, “You ought to read them.” I believe that when leading people, you’re on sacred ground. You’re affecting people’s lives and you need to take that seriously. You need to work at it. It’s like anything else. If you want to be good at it, you need to work at it. I was using that as an excuse to challenge people to do unrealistic things. That’s the piece that I’m trying to address with this work. In terms of when I lost my job, I went into work one day and the Senior Vice President called me up to his office and said, “Doug, we appreciate your service here, but it’s no longer required. Your job has been eliminated. You need to be out of here by noon.” I had been working for the company for almost ten years.
All of a sudden, my life felt like it was over in a snap. I had to go home and tell my wife with my newborn baby, our second child and a big mortgage, that I’m out of work. It was incredibly difficult. I went through several setbacks along the way as everybody does. I found that you need to develop a solid leadership foundation to weather the storms that are going to come your way. The time to work on that is before you need it. That’s what this book is about. It’s helping people fortify their leadership foundation. When they encounter these difficult things, which they will, you have and I have, they’ll be prepared for them. They can lead in an enlightened way when it gets tough and it will get tough. It only gets tougher the higher you go. This is all about proactively strengthening your leadership foundation so that you can show up and be the best version of yourself when you need to, when you face all of the adversity that you will inevitably face.
You bring up an important thing that I’ve taught in a lot of courses based on Stephen Covey. The first thing he wrote is to be proactive to change. If you’re not proactive in it, it’s very difficult once it happens to you. You talk about dealing with change in more of an incremental way. Being a doctoral chair, I’d have all my students look at this 200-page thing they’d have to write and freak out. If you look at it as little bits and pieces, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time approach. It’s a lot easier. Is it the same thing with change? Do we need to think of it in smaller bites?
There’s a lot of good work done on this. James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, talks about the power of incremental change. There’s another wonderful book called Tiny Habits, which is written by BJ Fogg. That is all about making incremental change. There’s another professor from UCLA, Dr. Maurer, who has written extensively on this subject. After the holidays, we all have these goals for diets. “I’m going to lose fifteen pounds and here’s how I’m going to do it,” and we lose momentum by week three maybe or week four. It’s hard to sustain because it hasn’t nested perfectly in the middle of my cockamamie life. If it fits in my life, as crazy as it is, I can see my way through to doing it.
Big changes do not nest perfectly in the middle of your cockamamie life. What my observation from experience and from the study is if we want change to happen, it has to nest perfectly in your cockamamie life. You can gently move it somewhere in a positive direction. As you move in that positive direction, you begin to feel better about yourself. You begin to have more confidence in your ability to change. Dr. Maurer, in his book about small changes having a big impact, he talks about a woman he was sitting in on a consultation with a general practitioner while he was doing his studies. He talks about a divorced woman with two kids and working. She didn’t feel good about herself gaining weight. She goes to the doctor. He’s sitting in on the consultation. The doctor is going to say, “You’ve got to carve out an hour a day for yourself to get in shape.”
I’m asserting this. I’m quite sure I’m not misrepresenting the idea. Dr. Maurer is sitting there thinking, “How is this woman going to carve out an hour of her day with her two kids and a job to go work out?” Dr. Maurer said, “Could we try something different?” It turned out she had a treadmill at home. He said, “For the next two weeks, can you go stand on the treadmill for two minutes a day? Stand on the treadmill. Get from wherever you are to the treadmill for two minutes a day.” Two weeks later, she comes into the office beaming, “I did it. I was on the treadmill for two minutes a day. I can begin to carve this into my cockamamie life.”
In the fullness of time, in a thoughtful and manageable way, she was able to carve out time incrementally in order to make the changes that she knew she needed to make. I have found if we make the changes too big and too unapproachable, we have a negative effect because we start to feel guilty about, “I’m not doing it.” It has the exact opposite effect of what you want to have. With leadership change, we suggest you develop small practices that are anchored in the leader you want to be. We have a whole process for that. You start to act on those principles on day one after you’ve been through the program. These practices start immediately to change your leadership life.
What’s interesting about that as I’ve been researching perception is how we all look at what’s reasonable and what isn’t reasonable in different ways. You can have two people do the exact same job. One person’s head explodes because it’s too much and the other person is like, “Yeah, it’s nothing.” How do we know how much is reasonable?
This is the beauty of what we do. I’ve landed on this. I’ve been teaching elements of this now since I was CEO of Campbell’s for many years. Everyone has their own personal leadership model. I don’t think any two leadership models are alike because I don’t think any two people are alike. The only person that can intelligently and smartly create a leadership model is you for yourself. What works for you? You need to bring some enlightened thinking to the creation of that model, which we try to facilitate in our book. I believe everyone has a different leadership model. The key is they start to show up being the best version of themselves, which I would call authenticity. Be authentic and be increasingly effective in their work in a way that is fulfilling for them in life.
I’m pushing for authenticity, effectiveness and fulfillment. The only way I believe you can do that is if you craft something that speaks uniquely to you. I’ve got in my library hundreds of books on leadership. None of them speak perfectly to me. There are elements in a variety of places that have informed me and helped me shape my journey, but nothing speaks to me perfectly. If it doesn’t, the odds of me derailing in my leadership development efforts are high. We have a process where we have them go through six steps. The first step is let’s become clear about what our purpose is as a leader. We have them go through some exercises to identify that.
The next step is let’s reflect on your life because I would contend that your life story is your leadership story. If you talk to any leader or all the leaders you interview and you say, “Tell me what’s had the most influence on you,” they all tell you a personal story. They don’t say, “I talked to this researcher and they gave me a blinding glance of the obvious,” or, “I read this book and it changed my life.” They all have a personal story. You start there. You have a clearer sense of purpose. You reflect on your life story and how it’s influenced your beliefs about leadership.
The third step is to study beyond the four walls of your own experience and learn from these brilliant minds that are helping shape the leadership journey of the world. You harvest some of those learnings as well. You envision, reflect, study, then you build your own personalized leadership plan, which is step four. Step five is to develop practices that bring that personalized plan to life in a way that nests perfectly in your cockamamie life.
The sixth step is to develop a continuous improvement process that allows you to go back through those same six steps easily and say, “How am I doing? Is my purpose quite right? Have I adequately reflected? Is there more to learn? Who should I be studying? How does that affect my plan? What are some new practices I could employ that might even help me become more effective? How can I improve on that? We have this continuous improvement loop that’s built around vision, reflect, study, plan and practice. Small bites that are anchored in who you are and who you want to become as a leader.
You talk about declaring yourself in your book. I found all that you’re talking about interesting because I studied emotional intelligence in my dissertation process. To develop relationships, you not only have to understand other people’s emotions, but you also have to understand your own emotions. All of this is for great interpersonal relationships. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by declaring yourself? Is that all that six-step process or is there something else?If you want to be good at something, you need to work for it. Click To Tweet
As part of declaring yourself, that’s a practice. You develop your plan and a practice is telling people what your plan is. Let’s step back for a minute. I shared earlier that we are all trying to get a sip of water from the fire hydrant of life and it’s overwhelming. What we tend to lose sight of is that our boss is dealing with the same issue. All of our peers are also trying to get a sip of water from the fire hydrant of life. All the people that work for us are in the same boat. None of them are spending a lot of time trying to read our minds and know what we think. You’re overwhelmed too. I contend that people are not mind readers. If you want them to understand where you’re coming from, you need to tell them. To me, this is Emotional Intelligence 101. Clarity is next to godliness here.
If you tell them what’s coming and where you’re coming from, the chance of them engaging with you in a more meaningful way is infinitely higher. That’s how we took employee engagement at Campbell’s from being the worst to being the best in the Fortune 500 over the decade. We would thoughtfully create how we wanted to move forward. We tell everybody not only what we wanted to do, but how we wanted to do it and how we were going to show up every day. We held ourselves accountable to that standard. We declared ourselves to the people, then we hold ourselves accountable to it. This notion of declaring yourself is all about creating accountability.
If I’m working on my diet again and that diet is between me and myself. I haven’t told anybody, my wife or anybody else. The odds of me sticking with that diet go down. As soon as I start to share it with my wife and my kids or the people I work with, the odds of me sticking with it go up. I feel more accountable. I come back to leading people. You’re on sacred ground. You’re affecting people’s lives. You better show that you care about that and you’re thinking about it seriously. You better create a platform for engaging with them, that’s meaningful to them. A line that I’ve used often is you cannot expect people to value your agenda as a leader if you don’t tangibly demonstrate to them that you value their agenda as a person.
It doesn’t work any other way. If you care about them, you need to tell them. You need to show them. You need to hold yourself accountable for showing up that way 24/7. Declaring yourself is foundational to that notion of you need to go public with your commitment to being a better leader. It serves every leader well. You have to honor that declaration. You have to show up that way. Many leaders are reluctant to declare themselves because they want the wiggle room. You can get away with that for a while especially some of our political leaders, but ultimately it comes back to roost. You need to stand up and be counted as a leader.
It brings to mind some of my work with curiosity, culture and some of the things I’ve talked to a lot of leadership experts about. We know culture comes from the top and we know that you have to walk the walk. For example, if you’d want a curious culture, you have to make people realize that their contributions matter, that no question is a dumb question. A lot of leaders are afraid to ask certain things or to show that they maybe don’t know all the answers as well. They lack the ability to walk the walk and show people that, “This is what I want to see from you. Look at what I’m doing. I’m being vulnerable too.” That’s a very hard thing for leaders to show that vulnerability.
We’re on Brene Brown territory here with a touch of Maya Angelou as well. Courage is essential here. I love Maya Angelou. She has a quote about courage being the mother of all virtues. You can’t do anything else unless with consistency, unless you have the courage of your convictions. The Blueprint is about helping people develop a fortified leadership foundation where they can have the courage to show up with conviction when they’re being tested. The reason people are reluctant is they haven’t thought it through. They’re not well-grounded in who they are and how they want to walk in the world. If you’re not well-grounded, you’re going to be incredibly vulnerable to the winds of change. We know the winds of change are blowing faster from more directions than ever before. I believe leaders need to be more fortified in their foundation. What’s my purpose? How do I want to walk in the world? What are my core beliefs about leadership? What’s my leadership model? What are the practices I’m going to use to show up that way every day?
Thank you notes, that’s a practice. At the core of my leadership model is to honor people. It’s at the center of everything I think about. A practice I have is handwriting thank you notes to people celebrating what they’re doing right. If it’s not working, I also have a practice of talking to them about what’s not working. You have to bring it to life. They know that my commitment to them starts with honoring people, inspiring trust and clarifying a higher purpose. Those are the first three elements of my Conant Leadership Model. They know how I’m going to show up. The challenge is to be so fortified in that foundation that when I’m challenged, I can show up that way with confidence.
When I lost my job, my outplacement counsel was ruthless. He was brilliant. He was a challenging fellow. He said, “Doug, you’re going to be a terrible interview. You don’t have your act together. I’m asking you these hard questions and you’re giving me all this mumbo-jumbo meandering around. You can’t answer these questions well because you haven’t thought it through yet. You have some work to do about where do you stand on these things.” What a life lesson and what a gift he was to me ten years into my career because I spent the next years thinking about it and refining it. Leaders need to be a little more reflective, be a little more well-anchored in what they stand for and have a plan with tangible behaviors that bring that to life and that nest perfectly in their cockamamie life.
You’re known for bringing engagement up because of this. I’m curious how you think curiosity plays into that. You mentioned asking them what’s not working. How much do you think curiosity ties into engagement and improving it?
It’s huge. I’m going to bridge over into some of Jim Collins’s work with his Level 5 Leadership model. He talked about what to differentiate. He was surprised at some of the lessons he learned when he did Good To Great. Some of these leaders, he was expecting they were all going to be Jack Welch type, hard-charging guys. He had never heard of any of these leaders. He said, “What’s going on here?” As he did the work and he did his Level 5 Leadership model, he said, “There are two distinguishing characteristics here. One is they have a fierce to advance the enterprise. It’s not about themselves, it’s about advancing the enterprise.”
The second thing he said is they have great humility. They’re always curious. They’re always asking. They don’t have all the answers and they know it. They share that with everybody, “What do you think? How could we do this better?” This goes back to 2000. When I heard Jim talking about it, I was thinking, “That makes so much sense to me because in my heart of hearts I had all the answers, but in my heart of hearts, I was a new CEO. I didn’t have all the answers.” I found there was much more power in bringing more humility to the conversation and asking more questions. We placed a premium on curiosity and how can we do things better?
A thousand years ago, when I was at Kraft, I had a boss who had this line. I didn’t understand it at the time. I do now. I’m a little slow. He said, “Doug, better is always best.” His point was let’s focus on continuous improvement and constantly trying to do better. We could be paralyzed while we’re in pursuit of being the best. Let’s do a little better now than we did before. Continuous improvement is the way of the world because large organizations can’t make giant changes on a dime. It’s all a continuous improvement process. The only way continuous improvement works is if there is unlimited curiosity in the environment.
Some companies are doing a great job of it. I’ve done some work with Novartis. They have curiosity month. They want people to read 100 hours a year. There’s a lot of great things we can do to make people more curious in that respect. In my research, I found fear, the voice in your head, technology, environment, all these things impact how curious employees are. Even if you’re a curious person as a leader, how do you get your employees to be more curious?
This is my personal philosophy. I talk about my leadership model and at the heart of it is honor people. The next ring is inspired by trust. I find that high trust cultures create high curiosity cultures. I’ve read all the books, Only The Paranoid Survive, and all kinds of other things. I’ve been in a lot of fear-based cultures and paranoid cultures. I don’t find them to have an endless supply of curiosity. Fear and intimidation is a slippery slope. You may create a breakthrough every once in a while because people are so paranoid that they come up with a breakthrough idea. In the fullness of time, the way you create a curious culture is to create a high trust culture where people can feel vulnerable. If you can’t feel vulnerable, you can’t create a high curiosity culture.
I go back to all roads lead to trust. Stephen M.R. Covey wrote his book, The Speed of Trust. He had the best tagline. The subtitle of that book is the best subtitle of all time. He said, “It’s the one thing that changes everything.” If I’m in a high trust team, I don’t care how dire the situation is. We’re going to find a way to get through it. If I’m on a low trust team, we’re not going anywhere. I buy the notion of creating a high trust culture and your odds of having a more innovative and more curious culture go up exponentially. That’s the path I traveled to get to curiosity.
You brought up Jack Welch earlier. I’m curious about what you think of trust in that setting if you know that the bottom 10% is you’re going to be gone. What do you think of those kinds of rules that you keep a certain percentage of people or there’s a certain amount of pressure to be the best?
You want that to a degree. Every company and every culture is different just like every leader is different. My family was the founding family of the town Jack grew up in. It’s in Salem, Massachusetts. Jack was retiring. I don’t know him well, but I know him. He was a God when I was becoming a CEO. He was the CEO of the 20th Century by Fortune. He talked about his book on the 4Es. One of those Es was edge. He brought edge to conversations. That can be healthy, with the bottom 10% have to go, because he’s forcing candor on an organization. I would like to encourage candor in the organization, but I’d like to do it in a more constructive way.Your life story is your leadership story. Click To Tweet
That 10% rule that he had, the bottom 10% challenged people to be very candid with the people that were working there as opposed to, “I thought the candor was healthy.” What Jack also brought to it was energy. One of his other Es was energize. Jack’s desire to do better was second to none in the world. He brought that into every meeting and every conversation, “How can we do better? What are we doing?” He was curious and he expected his executives to be curious. He modeled it. If you weren’t being curious and you weren’t being innovative, you did feel at risk. That worked for him for twenty years. Every culture is different. He created a culture that worked for an extended period of time. It’s not the culture I would create because I’m not Jack Welch. I know better than to throw stones at glass houses because I live in one too. It worked for him, but I believe he built high trust cultures that promised a more enduring promise of creativity and curiosity.
You have a kind nature that what you’ve written about was somehow influenced a little bit by some of the other things you’ve gone through that weren’t maybe the best experiences in the world. You had a near-fatal car wreck and you say that taught you more about love and leadership. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
A couple of other things that relate to this conversation, when I was part of KKR and Nabisco, they weren’t interested in love, “Let’s hold hands and sing kumbaya.” We had to pay down an enormous debt and get this thing out of private equity, hands back, on the public market. The leadership that you and I are talking about was not necessarily being modeled from above. I would tell you any leader if they build a solid leadership foundation can bring that to bear on the situation that they are managing. I was in the middle of trying to turn things around at Nabisco, which we did. I was the guy that was talking lovey-dovie Covey language.
You do have to perform. You have to be tough-minded about standards of performance. I would contend you also have to be tender hearted with people. Anybody can do this at any level. You have to perform and you have to take care of your people. Ultimately, that’s what this is all about. When I got at Campbell’s, we had to perform too. This wasn’t like, “We’re all going to love each other.” We turned over 300 at the top 350 leaders of the company in the first three years. To my knowledge, there is no Fortune 500 company that’s had that turnover led by a CEO in the middle of a turnaround. Out of the 300 that we turned over out of 350, we promoted 150 from within but we went out and hired another 150 leaders from outside.
There were a lot of changes going on in the organization while I was writing all those thank you notes. You do have to be tough-minded on standards, but you have to perform too. Let me be clear about that. My car accident happened on July 2nd, 2009. I was in the back of a car driving to my home in New Jersey. My driver momentarily lost his concentration. It was the 4th of July weekend on the New Jersey Turnpike, which is like the Indy 500. Everybody’s trying to get to the shore. It’s crazy. He was zipping home and wasn’t concentrating. We drove into the back of a dump truck going between 70 and 80 miles an hour. The dump truck didn’t move. Fortunately, we were in an SUV and our lives were saved.
He walked away. His airbag deployed. My torso was crushed. I am living proof you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Eight surgeries in several years now, I’m here to tell the tale. The day I went in, I went through about eighteen hours of surgery at the Trauma Center in beautiful Trenton, New Jersey. My wife was brought in and she was waiting for me to get through all the surgery. I was not awake. I woke up in the emergency room eventually and my wife was holding my hand. I was totally disoriented. Fortunately, I was on drugs. In this case that was a good thing. I’ve never been to anything like this.
She was holding my hand and she said, “I’m here.” Her love for me was palpable. It got me through an incredibly traumatic situation. In a way that even describing it now, I get a little choked up. We all metaphorically go through a car crash every day. Now it is a disaster, this went wrong, that went wrong. If I show up as a leader and I say, “I’m here, how can I help? How are we going to deal with this? Let’s figure it out,” I have found that we can move mountains. It’s all about bringing love and consideration into a tough situation where you got to perform it and you got to survive. These things are not mutually exclusive.
You can have a tough situation and the more love and consideration you bring to it, the more you adhere to high standards, the better off you are. That experience for me and all the experiences in the decade since have reaffirmed for me that caring matters. It’s insufficient but it matters. You have to be competent. You have to perform. I believe if you want to perform in an enduring way, you have to care. People need to know you care. That was my big a-ha moment. What a blessing that I had it, that I survived it and that I can now write about it and carry it forward.
I can’t imagine going through that. I appreciate that you shared that story. A lot of people have setbacks and they have horrible things happen to them. Even if they don’t even have that, there’s a lot of people who’ve gone through failures and you mentioned being let go. There are all these things. Failure and setbacks have been viewed differently each generation. We’re starting to see it as more of a learning lesson for, “What can we learn from this?” instead of something that was something awful. Do you see a change in that?
It’s inarguable as we’re dealing with what my friends at Harvard called the VUCA world, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The cycle times are getting faster and faster. Failure is a fact of life. You need to deal with it constructively. The concept of fail fast, fail often and learn from it is not wrong. I see that thing. There’s wisdom in that approach. You can’t be complacent with it. You can’t except failure. You need to accept and learn from it and do better the next time. I come back to what this leader who drove me crazy at Kraft a thousand years ago said, “Better is best.” I focus on, “What happened? How can we do better tomorrow?”
If only we had a blueprint, but we have it. Your book, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights is out there. Everybody has The Blueprint now. How can they find it? How can they find out more about it?
It’ll be available for sale. It was the number one pre-selling book on Amazon in the business wisdom category. There’s a lot of interest in this concept of developing your own personalized leadership model. It’s something that speaks uniquely to you in a way that is practical and something you can act on. Where we’re getting great traction with it is with people who can’t afford to go to Harvard or to go to some executive education program, but who hunger to do better in a practical way in the middle of their cockamamie life? This book fills that void. Don’t wait. Sign up for it right now.
Everything you write and everything you do has been an inspiration to me. This has been wonderful to get a chance to chat with you again. I can’t interview you enough because this is always fascinating. I do share a lot of the stuff that you do in my courses with my students because it’s so important. This will definitely be shared in my courses as well. Thank you.
This is not the last time we’ll see each other.
I hope everybody takes the time to go check out The Blueprint. Thank you, Doug Conant.
Investing In The Planet’s Future With Dr. Walter Schindler
I am here with Dr. Walter Schindler who is the Chairman of Transformation. He has a Harvard Law Degree. He has come from Yale. He has quite an interesting background. We got to meet through a mutual friend. I’m very excited to have you on the show. Welcome, Walter.You can’t do anything consistently without courage. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much, Diane. I appreciate it.
Can you tell me a little bit about Harvard Law, how you started in renewable energy, all your spinoffs and all that? That would help give a little background on you.
My background briefly is after being born and raised in New Orleans, I went on a full-academic scholarship to Yale. I went to Harvard Law School. My advisor at Harvard Law was Archibald Cox, right at the end of his illustrious career. When I graduated from Harvard Law, I went to the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. My first project was taking public the pioneer of renewable energy in the United States. Through the decade of the ‘80s, I worked on 35 renewable power and co-generation projects. We were the pioneers of the space. We sold the company at the end of ‘80s and ‘90s. I worked on a number of signature financial transactions, such as the spin-off of PIMCO from Pacific Life Insurance Company. At the end of the ‘90s, through volunteer work, I met the chancellor of UC Irvine, Dr. Ralph Cicerone who was a scientist on the team of Dr. Sherry Rowland who discovered the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.
I became good friends with Ralph through our common interest in environmental matters. Back in the year 2000, he taught me everything in the science world about the facts of climate change. He also validated my thoughts on pollution, which is also a large concern because even on a clear beautiful day, there are 30 carcinogens in the air that we can’t see. The air is more polluted than we think. We’re now discovering through studies that the water in the US is more polluted than we think it is. I moved essentially from a start in venture capital to solve these problems into a larger scale private equity mode. I have a company transformation that has the capabilities to do whatever’s required. Whether it’s venture capital, private equity, project finance, you name it, we can address the issues. I’m an investor in solutions to pollution and climate change.
That’s a hot topic. I want to get into that. You’re also on the Board of Directors of Fulbright?
Yes, I’m on the Board of Directors of the Fulbright Canada Foundation. That’s the largest Fulbright program in the world. We grant 350 scholarships to US to go to Canada and 350 scholarships for Canadians to come to the US. It’s a very large Fulbright program and the board has very illustrious people from Canada. The US appoints normal people like me.
You’re pretty humble about that. You said you went to Harvard Law. I realize that’s a JD as Dr. Schindler. Do you have another doctorate associated or is it JD?
Yes. I have a PhD in English and Literature from Yale.
My whole family went for English at Yale University. All my uncles were all Yale graduates. My dad didn’t go there though because he was born nearly blind. They sent him to a smaller university to get around a little easier. Marietta College is where he ended up.
I have a BA, MA and PhD from Yale.
Bachelors is ‘73, Masters is ’76 and PhD is ‘77. That would be all in English literature. My advisor was Maynard Mack, who was a Sterling professor of English. He was one of the great scholars of Shakespeare.
My dad was very obsessed with everything Ogden Nash ever did. I don’t know where he got into that. The whole background that you have was fascinating and our mutual friend, Sheila Barry Driscoll, had great things to say about you, as did Scott Amyx who’ve been on Scott’s show. I worked with him on some initiatives with TEDx and different things. It is a small world. What you work on in terms of global warming is such a fascinating topic because it’s a dividing thing for people where I’m surprised by that. I want to know what you think causes that division and how we can get people more aligned?
I do have some thoughts on that subject. I have a theory that in America, we tend to respond more readily to immediate catastrophes that all occur within a relatively short period of time. Since the news media likes to cover hurricanes, earthquakes, people getting run over by cars, people jumping out of buildings, if there are immediate catastrophes that occur in a short period of time, the American public and the media are very focused. When you get to pollution and climate change, the effects of both are very slow. People then wake up one day and discover they have cancer and they assume, “This must be genetic.” Most cancers are the result of environmental factors. There can be genetic propensities but there’s no reason you have to realize the propensity. The environment is what causes a lot of cancers.
As I said, there are over 30 carcinogens in the air that we can’t even see visibly on a clear day. That’s certainly true in Southern California. There are things we can say like particulate matter that causes emphysema and lung cancer. The US as a culture in general, has some resistance to the long-acting type of problems. You’ve got climate change. We’re going to survive fine for another ten years. In twenty years, I don’t think it’s going to be pleasant. We’ve already had years with fires up and down the entire state, but people are in denial. In Arizona, you will experience severe water problems. If you solve them, then California will have severe water.
There’s a certain amount of good drinking water and it’s not growing. I would say people do have difficulty reacting to slow-moving agents. The second thing is that people tend to be in denial about the reality of the situation because they say, “We’ve been around for thousands of years. It’s hard to believe that this could be the end of civilization.” People would like to stick their heads. The problem with that is all the solutions to pollution and climate change are very slow to be adopted. Even if we all agreed we were going to solve the problem, it would be decades before we turn the battleship.
Is it hopeless?
I was born an optimist and the idea that this is hopeless never occurred to me until these past years. I had an open mind about whether it was hopeless or not. I still haven’t formed a conclusion but it’s now one of the paths that I recognize could be true.The only way continuous improvement works is if there’s unlimited curiosity in the environment. Click To Tweet
It’s hopeless for mankind, not so much for the planet because it’ll correct itself once we’re gone.
There are planets that have no life on them. There’s no reason the planet earth can’t survive as a planet. Maybe a new form of life would emerge. I’m not saying it’s hopeless. I’m saying for the first time, if you’re drawing a diagram of the different possible outcomes, you do have to consider a possible outcome is unthinkable or used to be unthinkable. It used to not be possible but now it is possible.
How far out is that if it would be possible?
I would say my gut reaction from everything I’ve read is that we probably have about twenty years to turn it around.
Before it all crashes and burns?
It’s not necessarily going to all of a sudden crash. What’s going to happen is that the trends will become irreversible. We won’t be able to reverse. You have to remember that. The thing that took me a long time to face and caused me to move to larger projects is I discovered through my venture capital experience that large systems like energy, which is the largest market in the world, are difficult to change. First of all, energy is a complicated subject. It’s the world’s largest market. It’s hard to change entrenched links in the chain. For example, it’s hard to get rid of plastics, even though everyone knows plastics are polluting the ocean. There’s a continent of waste plastic floating around in the Pacific and you’d think people would rally. The problem is plastic is an integral part of the US economy because it’s the direct function of the oil refining industry. It’s very hard to change the oil refining industry because it’s a large system. Everything is interconnected in energy. In general, the energy industry is very resistant to change because it’s large.
A lot of people have a vested interest in things continuing that way. Is that what’s leading to the dialogue that this is not a real thing? Do you think people think it’s not a real thing or it’s in their best interest in their financial outlook to make it seem like it’s not a real thing? What’s that all about?
It’s the issue of denial that this could be a problem since we’ve been living this way for a while. There’s a general denial about the fact that this could be as serious as it is. That’s why you’ve got this rising tide of rhetoric. I call it the rising tide of sustainable rhetoric that you hear at places like Davos. You’ve got 1,500 private jets sitting in the airport at Davos, burning fossil fuels, carrying all these proclaimers of sustainability. There’s a lot of hypocrisy. You’ve got hypocrites everywhere, but there’s another problem that’s more subtle. There’s a lot of people who had major investment industries. BlackRock is the most recent example.
BlackRock decides they’re going to become more sustainable. That’s good. They give speeches that are great. In terms of reality, the actual people that they hire don’t have much experience at all if any in impact investing. They hire people who have a good reputation. They’re wonderful people. They’ve been involved in charity work for sustainability. They’ve been involved in working with the White House. They’ve been involved in working at the United Nations. They know a lot about all the international proclamations of sustainability. The reality is they have no experience in making an investment.
The way the world is going to be made better is by private directed impact investing. That’s what’s going to change the world. Applying ESG criteria to public portfolios in index funds isn’t going to change the world fast enough. That’s going to take 100 years to have an impact. What has an impact is when you make a specific investment. For example, a solar plant is built outside of Paradise Valley. It provides all the electricity and you can turn off the diesel generators. That has an impact. If you build wind farms in Texas, that has an impact. To change the world, you have to make specific targeted investments. All the major investment companies like BlackRock are all focused on public securities and public index funds. They have less than 1% of their assets focused on private impact investing, but that’s what’s needed. The reason I’m talking on your show is because most people don’t know what I’m talking about.
A lot of people might have seen An Inconvenient Truth or something like that. How accurate was that and how much of an impact did that make?
An Inconvenient Truth was ahead of its time. It was a little sensational at the time but now it’s looking more realistic.
Is it party-driven that we’ve decided one side is for this and one side is against that type of thing?
It looks that way superficially. In reality, I try to stay away from not only in politics but everything except science and facts. I have clients who are Democrats. I have clients who are Republicans. I have clients who are independent. I even have one client who doesn’t believe in climate change, but he believes that the world has a water problem. He hired me to help him invest in solutions to the water problem. He’s right, there’s a water problem.
Do you think it’s based on climate change?
It’s based on climate change in part, but my view is I want to help in every way I can. Politics is destructive.
They get to come up with alternative facts to some extent. Where do they get those?
It’s all nonsense that’s bought and paid for. I try to stay away from it. It’s self-destructive because what matters is that we face the facts and come up with solutions.In America, people tend to respond more readily to immediate catastrophes that occur within a relatively short period of time. Click To Tweet
What percent of the world believes in climate change, do you know?
I don’t know about the percentage of the world, but I know that 99% of the world’s scientists believe in it. That’s been true for a long time.
Did they agree with you that private directed impact investing is the key or are there other alternatives?
Ralph Cicerone was like this. He believed that his job was to establish the facts, the science and the truth. It was up to people like me to come up with the solution.
You go get the money and pay for it.
I generally avoid the solution.
Solutions are costly. I know I’m working on some of these TEDx Talks and different things with different groups. We are looking at family offices interested in investing and some of these startups that maybe could help in that respect. I don’t know if you deal with a lot of these family houses. I know Sheila Barry Driscoll, who was on my show, does. I know Scott Amyx, they deal with a lot of that. Do you deal with what their interest is? Is it a lot of this? Is it sustainability? Is it climate change? What is the big hot button right now?
The reason I’m in this interview is that I do think there is for the first time a genuine desire on the part of family offices who tend by their nature to be focused on the future. There’s a general feeling that family offices want to invest in solutions to climate change and pollution, but they don’t know where to go. They have this inner nagging feeling that somehow sticking their money in an index fund that claims to use ESG screens. I don’t think they feel like that’s going to change anything. They’re right. They would feel better and sleep better at night if they saw visible evidence that their investments were affecting specific projects. It doesn’t have to be energy. It could be purifying the lakes and rivers. The main focus of the Walton Family Foundation is the purification of lakes and rivers.
The issue you have with foundations is that they have an immediate effect on the specific situation they give a grant to, but they don’t create generally companies that continue to go on after them. That’s why I’m more focused on investment because I want to create companies that will go on after me and continue to do good things. We do have a foundation. The Transformation has a foundation called the World Sustainability Foundation. The reason for it is it provides clarity in our thinking as to whether a particular use of money should be for profit or for nonprofit. We have a dividing line. We invest only in extraordinary profit situations where there’s at least a market return on equity. If it doesn’t meet that standard, we do it through the foundation.People tend to be in denial about climate change since they believe global warming has been going on for a long time. Click To Tweet
If somebody was reading this and they were interested in what you do, I know you speak and we talked about you being the Chairman of Transformation LLC, what would you want them to connect with them about? Are you interested in having them join you in some a movement or have them connect with you to speak or what would you like?
We have a process that begins with a client focus, strategic needs assessment. In other words, if a family office listening to this interview says, “I want to look into this.” We will take on the family office as a client with no expectation other than we’ll listen to them and give them our honest opinion about what they should do. Based on that client needs assessment, we will recommend a foundation even if it’s not ours. We’ll recommend this is the right foundation for you to invest in. If it’s a for-profit thing that they want, we will show them our own investment capability. We’ll show them other investment capabilities and let them decide. We have a golden rule that the client comes first. One solution doesn’t serve all people.
If they’re looking for solutions and they want to contact you, I know you’re at TransformationHoldings.com. Is that the best place?
That’s our website for Transformation. Everyone in our firm, the email is the first initial last name. I’m at WSchindler@TransformationHoldings.com.
This has been fascinating, Walter. A lot of people could benefit from what you have to talk about. If they want to reach you, they have their way to reach you. I appreciate having you on the show. This was interesting. I wanted to thank you.
I want to thank you. I’m pleased that you’re such a quick study that you figured all this out so quickly.
I had a great time meeting you, Walter.
I’d like to thank both Doug and Walter for being such great guests. We get many great guests. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you’ve missed past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com, you could catch them all there. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Doug Conant
- Doug Conant – previous episode
- The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights
- Keith Krach – past episode
- Level 5 LeadershipAtomic Habits
- Tiny Habits
- Good To Great
- Only The Paranoid Survive
- The Speed of Trust
- Walter Schindler
- Sheila Barry Driscoll – past episode
About Doug Conant
DOUG CONANT is the only former Fortune 500 CEO who is a New York Times bestselling author, a top 50 leadership innovator, a top 100 leadership speaker, and a top 100 most influential author in the world. Doug began his career as an entry level marketing assistant at General Mills and held leadership positions in marketing and strategy at Kraft before becoming CEO and President of Campbell Soup Company. During his career he also served as President of Nabisco Foods Company, and Chairman of Avon Products. Over the course of his ten years as CEO at Campbell, employee engagement skyrocketed from being among the worst in the Fortune 500 to being world-class as measured by Gallup. As a result of this and other key transformational improvements, Doug led Campbell from beleaguered in 2001 to delivering competitive performance in the top tier of the global food industry by the time he retired in 2011. He is the author of The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights.
About Walter Schindler
Dr. Walter L. Schindler is the Chairman of Transformation, LLC. He is a lawyer, strategic advisor, and thought leader with 40 years of experience in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, public offerings of securities, and sustainability investing. His primary areas of focus are energy, agriculture, and water. As a corporate attorney, he worked 19 years at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and was the lead strategic advisor in over 60 mergers and acquisitions and 11 IPO’s.
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