29 November 2012 18:48 [Source: ICB]
Large or small, chemical distributors can attract and prepare great leaders by providing opportunities, encouragement, and training
Greater emphasis must be placed on recruitment and investing in training
"Helping member companies get people into their organisations that have a general understanding of chemical distribution and its issues is an important focus of NACD," notes Andrew Skipp, NACD's chairman of the board, and also president of Hubbard Hall.
To that end, the association is developing an Emerging Leaders Program, which will help members gain access to a variety of training and educational opportunities, enabling their up-and-coming leaders to grow their leadership and management skills, some of which may be provided directly by the association, and others which may be provided through partnerships with leading university industrial distribution programs, such as those at Texas A&M, Florida State, and Purdue.
In addition to training for their employees at these programmes, members will also have better access to students in these university programs, so that these potential industry employees may gain a better understanding of the chemical distribution business and its unique issues by participating at NACD conferences or even through internships at member companies.
Attracting and/or finding good candidates is the first hurdle that must be overcome. A company like Brenntag, particularly in the current jobs market, has no shortage of resumes to consider when looking to fill positions; finding truly qualified candidates, however, is still a challenge, according to Bill Fidler, president and CEO for Brenntag in North America and Latin America.
That is why the company is very interested in graduates with some distribution education, and has developed relationships with Texas A&M, Penn State, and schools.
"This approach has been a successful one, and today we have a good mix of young people with good distribution education working with experienced and talented employees with a practical working knowledge of the business," says Fidler.
Research Solutions president Jeff Miller looks specifically to recruit people that express an interest in the range of activities that his company is involved in. "We share our passion for the business and look for candidates that respond appropriately. Most people directly out of school don't have any idea about the chemical industry and its impact on our daily lives, so we are interested in those that are willing to learn and seem to grasp our way of doing business, which is centred around continually finding better solutions, both internally and for our customers."
Offering a clear growth track is also critical to attracting good candidates, and in fact, is also integral to developing new leaders, according to Miller. In other words, recruitment and leader development are really just different aspects of the same goal.
Effective succession planning includes the development of both short-term and long-term strategies that address the leadership needs of the company. Having a clear plan for development of personnel not only ensures that the company is prepared for the future, it can be very attractive to top talent looking for a company that has a well-laid track for advancement.
Succession planning can also take different forms in different companies. In smaller, independent, owner-managed distributors, the owners are ultimately responsible for determining when it is time to transfer control, and they are generally actively involved in the development of future company leaders. A more formal process is generally in place at publicly owned companies, where typically the board of directors is responsible for implementing a succession plan.
For Miller, in fact, development of the future leaders of Research Solutions, which is a smaller chemical distributor, is his top mission. "It is critical that leadership candidates realise how important they are and that they need to learn as much as possible to be truly effective leaders in the future," he says.
Therefore, he tries to place those candidates in positions where they can model the leadership skills that they need to develop and have the opportunity to clearly demonstrate what they have learned.
At Brainerd Chemical Company, there is a preference for promoting from within for a number of reasons. Employees are aware that there are opportunities for advancement if they perform. In addition, when there is a shortage of trained and skilled people available on the outside, internal promotion provides a strong pool of candidates that are already familiar with the company.
Therefore, individuals that show a real interest in Brainerd, are energetic and innovative, and act as problem-solvers are identified and groomed for advancement, regardless of where they enter the company.
"We like to promote from within, because people with operations experience have a real understanding of how the business works," says Brainerd Chemical chairman and NACD treasurer Mat Brainerd.
Mentoring is also an important part of Brainerd's leadership development activities. The company uses the services of the mentoring organisation The Alternative Board (TAB) to help its future management learn from the experience of others.
Most notably, mentors are not just reserved for the very top management. "We believe strongly that mentors can be invaluable to any employee that has shown potential for real leadership, irrespective of their current position. We want to encourage those employees to learn as much as possible and perform at their highest level, and the use of mentors has had very positive results for use," Brainerd comments.
Brenntag, meanwhile, has a four-pronged approach to training of its leadership that begins with programmes specific to the companies in each geographic region of the world. In North America, Brenntag University involves mentoring and training with existing leadership, and the top five candidates in 2009 were selected to go through the masters programme in industrial distribution at Texas A&M. The impact of the TAMU Masters Program is currently under evaluation.
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The two-year-long Executive Development Program, which has been in place for many years, is another component of Brenntag's leadership development efforts. In this programme, the top 25 potential leaders from around the world are provided the opportunity to expand their knowledge of management issues in multiple areas through participation in programs directed by Insead University in France.
Finally, but definitely not of least importance, is diligent succession planning, which Fidler stresses is a major aspect of the company's leadership development activities. Each year, all top management personnel are reviewed in terms of their recent growth, demonstrated skills and abilities, areas where they require further development, and potential avenues for meeting those needs.
While not specifically included in Brenntag's leadership development programme, the company does highly value the opportunities that NACD provides to its employees.
"Membership in NACD is also a key component of our leadership development strategy. Our employees are strongly encouraged to actively participate in NACD programmes, including meetings, committees, advocacy activities such as the Washington Fly-Ins, at the board level, and with the Chemical Educational Foundation," Fidler explains.
"Such participation provides tremendous exposure to other industry leaders and to the issues that chemical distributors are facing today and can expect to have to deal with down the road," he says.
This viewpoint, in fact, is held by many members. "NACD helps tremendously by providing numerous networking opportunities and chances to have peer-to-peer interactions where employees can learn about best practices from people facing the same challenges they do," says Skipp. "Such interactions are an excellent way to help develop future decision-makers."
Activities such as these are very important for building trust in potential future leaders of a company. "For smaller, independent owner-managed chemical distributors, being able to transfer leadership of the company to the next-generation is a major issue that must be planned well in advance. Finding people in whom the necessary level of trust can be placed is not an easy task," Skipp remarks.
Despite the challenge, however, based on the success these NACD member companies have achieved with respect to the development of their leadership, it can be concluded that the use of mentoring, on-going training and education, and participation in industry programs, as well as creating opportunities for growth and advancement are all important components of an effective leadership development programme.
"It is quite simple, really. Our people are our most important asset," states Fidler. "The long-term success of Brenntag - and any chemical distributor - is directly linked to our ability to effectively develop our employees into future leaders."
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