Both parents were important in different ways. My father was a chemist in the flavors and fragrance industry. Our house was filled with books about science and dad would bring home chemistry sets and other tools of the trade that I found fascinating. From him, l learned to be curious about the world and how things worked and why they worked that way. My father was also a very positive individual who always saw the best in others, and I seek to do the same. From him I also learned to lead by vision and purpose, and to empower.
I have a brother who is learning disabled, and my parents worked in support groups. They taught me so much about patience, encouragement and inclusion. They also taught me the value of building consensus while being decisive, a tricky combination. I credit my mother, who brought joy and warmth with her, for teaching me to have fun and share my true self with others while working!
I come from a farming background, and my parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic, through their dedication to their jobs, family and local communities. They always met their commitments, acted with integrity and were respectful of others. I have been grateful for the values that they instilled in me, and the anchor of family that stays with me today. My father was a true scholar too, reading avidly to continue to grow his knowledge on business as well as the countryside in which he worked, and that dedication to self-motivated, continuous learning has always inspired me. We sit in control of our own learning.
Karen Carter, Chief Human Resources and Chief Inclusion Officer, Dow Chemical Company
I am proud to be raised by an amazing mother who raised three successful women on her own after our father unexpectedly died when I was 12. She not only encouraged all three of us to do great things, but she expected us to do great things. At an early age – I learned how to be honest about my strengths and weaknesses and reject the messages I knew weren’t true.
As a leader, I am passionate about helping people achieve even more than they think they are capable of. I strive for excellence and hold myself to a high standard, even if I don’t achieve it all of the time. And I hold others to the same standard...not striving for perfection, but for continuous improvement. And like my mom, I love to celebrate other’s successes.
These are my best days, when I can witness someone achieving something they may have thought impossible. That is what leadership is about – walking alongside someone, nudging them through support, feedback and opportunity towards their personal definition of success.
My leadership style has been shaped by a variety of people over time and my parents definitely played an important role early on. I got my natural curiosity from my dad, who was a mechanical engineer. He was always reading, learning and discussing a wide range of topics.
My mother had a long career as a well-renowned classical musician and performed all over the world. Her consummate professionalism taught me to never take anything for granted and to always be prepared. Regardless if performing at a small chamber music concert or in front of 2000 people in a symphony hall, she always was ready to perform at the highest level.
Both of my parents were incredibly hard workers, and women always contributed at the same levels in the family business as the men did. My mom was essentially a math genius and served as a corporate officer for decades. So, they led by example and had an incredible influence on me.
It was ingrained in me from the beginning to be tough and to be loyal. I always emphasize having clear expectations, open communication, and informed decision-making. I listen and learn a lot constantly. It’s important to bridge different teams to hit company-wide targets. All of this is rooted in the influence of my parents and my family in general.
My parents come from a very modest background in France. They taught me the value of money and how to be happy with what you have and not what others may have. They taught me the values of trust, honesty and hard work. My mother taught me kindness, giving people a second chance and always assuming the best in people. My father worked two jobs to be able to build our home, has a great business acumen, and is a real craftsman who can build anything with his hands and his head. I try to draw from this happy childhood in my leadership style, trying to be honest and open with people and always treat others as I would like to be treated.
Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech
My parents have had a great deal of influence on me, and I think that has been reflected in my leadership style. They showed me the importance of being inclusive and of accepting others. They had an optimistic outlook that helped me take on tough challenges, including taking risks.
As a leader, I believe in taking risks, especially when knowing that what we are trying to do must be done and that there is no downside to failure; the only downside is not trying. This is something my parents showed me. They were incredibly courageous as they moved our family from Colombia to the US. That was a huge risk, as they were leaving their friends and family and entire support network to take their kids to a better place.
My father was a psychiatrist, and his focus on asking questions, understanding people and their motives and drivers, and his passion for science had a huge impact on the path that I chose. I disliked being the subject of his analysis at times, but he taught me to recognize and better understand (and value) the styles, perspectives, and drivers of others.
My mother’s passion was art and interior design, but from her I inherited an interest in travel, embracing other cultures, and looking at life as an opportunity for continuous learning. My stepfather was a huge influence in my teen years and beyond – his career in marketing and entrepreneurship brought business more to the forefront, and I think significantly influenced my path in industry vs academics.
Margaret Faul, Vice President in Process Development, Amgen
I was very driven to advance my education from an early age. To support me, my parents were committed to ensuring that I had the right education, breaking down barriers when required, to ensure I had the opportunities to take the advanced science and math classes I wanted to study. Thus, it is important for me to ensure that staff have the right opportunities to be successful.
My father was a true gentleman. I had the opportunity to work with him for a few summers during college. I was always amazed at how he knew everyone he worked with, on both a personal and professional level. He had immense trust and respect of his staff, and they of him, and those relationships survived long past his retirement. I have taken these values of trust, respect, openness and opportunity instilled in me and I am committed to demonstrate them with my teams every day.
Dan Sutherlin, Vice President of Discovery Chemistry, Genentech Research and Early Development
My parents are even keeled and unflappable in the face of challenges or conflict, a characteristic that has definitely rubbed off on me and is part of my leadership style. This trait has served me well as a scientist, member of a team, and a leader on many occasions when unexpected events, data, or differences of opinion can have the potential to create uncertainty and tension. I do have to guard myself against defaulting to this tendency in all situations however. An easy going attitude can be perceived by others as a lack of passion or drive, proof that leadership traits that are often valued can also be overused, depending on the situation.
Jag Reddy, Vice President, Strategy and Growth, Grace
Interesting that you ask about my parents. My parents instilled in me the importance of education, hard work, and respect for others. Many of the mentors I look up to gave me a sense of purpose and accountability. These values have stayed with me and I trust them to help me navigate complex challenges.
I grew up in a blue-collar family environment here in Pittsburgh. My parents were humble, hard-working, compassionate people with a very strong set of values. I try my best to live and demonstrate their core values in both my personal life and my work life.
Emma Parmee, Global Head Discovery Sciences, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson
From a very young age my mother showed me the importance of putting other people first, of always thinking about others before myself. Although at the time she did not realize that this lesson would have such a significant influence on me, it has defined me as a leader in many ways.
With people development, I try to ensure I focus on what is in the best interest of my reports. I hope that they know that I will work hard to help them grow and flourish in their careers. Additionally, empathy is a crucial trait for effective leadership, especially when we are going through difficult times, as we have been the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding that folks may have family-care considerations or health concerns and being as responsive as possible to each person’s individual situation has been uppermost in my mind as I have supported my organization through the pandemic.
Last, what my mother taught me has profoundly influenced my decision-making over the years. Sometimes we must make hard decisions as leaders, and it is important to take off the “what is best for me” hat and try to wear the “what is best for Merck” hat. While this is not easy for any of us, when I have those decisions to make, I try to actively acknowledge where my motivation is coming from to ensure I make the decision that is best for Merck and my colleagues.
Emma Parmee worked for Merck at the time this ACS Boss Talk was published. In November 2020, she left Merck to become Global Head Discovery Sciences at The Janssen Phamaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
William Provine, Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer, Delaware Innovation Space
My parents taught me early on that you need to enjoy your work, the work environment, and the people that you work with to survive and ultimately prosper. This has led me to connect with people as people, not just as employees, colleagues, vendors, partners, or customers. Everyone has a story, passion, or drive that is well beyond what they do for work. The goal is to work to draw synergy from these personal passions and apply it to progress the business forward.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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