There are Times When You Should Leave Your Swim Lane

John Hillenbrand encourages a judicious use of your personal influence to drive what truly matters
John Hillenbrand, Retired Vice President, PET Engineering and Development for Graham Packaging
John Hillenbrand, Retired Vice President, PET Engineering and Development for Graham Packaging

John Hillenbrand recently joined the talent acquisition firm The Chatham Group, after closing out his 37-year industrial career spanning four companies and multiple industries, most recently as Vice President – PET Engineering and Development for Graham Packaging. Prior to joining Graham Packaging in February 2019, he was Vice President of Research & Development and Design for Armstrong Flooring, from 2016 through 2018. Mr. Hillenbrand served as Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer for Owens Corning from 2008 to 2015. Before joining Owens Corning, he spent 23 years at DuPont, where he worked in a variety of global innovation, corporate venturing, product management, technology, and operations roles in DuPont’s polymers, advanced fibers, and elastomers businesses.  

Mr. Hillenbrand is an Adjunct Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Fox Business School at Temple University. He continues to stay engaged with Virginia Tech, serving on the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board since 2000, as a former member of the College of Engineering Advisory Board, as an appointee to the College of Engineering Committee of 100, and as a member of the Monogram Club. He is an active Emeritus member of the Innovation Research Interchange, where he has served on the board of directors and as Board Chair. He serves on the Board Standing Committee on Executive Compensation for the American Chemical Society and was elected Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 
 
Hillenbrand received his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, all in chemical engineering. He currently resides in Lititz, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Frances. They have three children and two grandchildren. 

“Never underestimate your own level of personal influence.”  

Having had the good fortune to work with, and learn from, many outstanding people throughout my career, this simple – yet powerful – guidance has stayed with me for the past 25+ years. It was a phrase that a former leader and mentor of mine at DuPont, Bill Nau, was fond of saying. As someone who has a natural inclination to take on responsibility (which was confirmed in my StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment), this phrase has resonated with me and has influenced how I tackle challenges, and address both issues and opportunities.

It can be all too easy – particularly in large organizations – to simply shrug your shoulders at decisions or situations that are beyond your control. While there are clearly benefits to staying focused on what IS within your control, if all you do is keep your head down and stay in your lane, NOTHING will change.

I’m not implying that we should take on every issue as a personal crusade. It’s essential to be selective in committing to personally drive what truly matters and would make the greatest, most lasting impact.  

As you develop and hone your personal influence skills, it will become more natural for you to expand your impact in a purposeful and effective way. Change is hard – don’t miss an opportunity to make a real difference!  

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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