Stan Speed received a BS degree in Chemistry in 1963 and a PhD in Chemical Physics in 1967 from The University of Texas. He then spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow working with Professor H. S. Gutowski at the University of Illinois. In 1969, he joined ExxonMobil Chemical Company where he worked in the polymers division, principally with polyethylene. He was involved in ExxonMobil Chemical’s development and commercialization of metallocene technology. He retired in 2000 and began a consulting career focusing primarily on polymer related intellectual property.
Following are some reflections from Stan on leadership, and succeeding in an industrial career, that he wrote a few months prior to his retirement from ExxonMobil in 2000.
On working in an industry environment:
- Be sure you understand the overall business and technology picture, the overall directions and currents at play, so that you can better understand where your contributions can be best applied.
- Remember that you are working in an industrial environment, being paid to take only enough of the right kind of data, which when combined with your judgment, convinces you and subsequently others of the conclusion. Acquiring all the data, closing conclusively every possible alternative, reducing the possibility of error to zero is almost always not affordable and wasteful of both time and resources.
- It is certainly true in all organizational matters and in many other activities as well that patience is a necessary virtue. Rome was not built in a day neither was it changed in a day, but it was built, and it did change.
On understanding yourself:
- The harshest critic you have is yourself. Set high goals and demand the best from yourself. Understand the necessary compromises that inevitably result and be happy with them.
- Satisfy yourself first. Then let the chips fall where they may. If an insufficient number of chips are falling in positive territory, back off and re-evaluate.
- Have confidence in and respect for yourself. Adopt the view - “I can do it. I can make a contribution here”. Always operate with class. Refuse to participate in the “Ain’t it awful” game. Do not get angry. Maintain an even response. Focus on the issues, being confident that a satisfactory resolution can be achieved.
- Know yourself and remember that you are unique and the contributions that you can make are unique. There has been no one like you - ever - nor will there ever be in the entire history of the universe.
On executing your job responsibilities:
- Understand what your job is, develop a clear and common understanding with your supervisor. Determine what your next job goal is and what is required to be considered for that position. Begin developing and demonstrating those capabilities ASAP.
- Remember what an excuse is - the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. Recognize an excuse for what it is.
- Remember that you spend your time on what you deem to be important at that moment. “I did not take time to do X” is a more effective and accurate statement to yourself than “I did not have time to do X”.
- Remember Newton’s famous statement: “If I have been able to see farther than other men, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” Find your giants and figure out how to get on their shoulders.
- Cultivate, nourish, continually pursue the simple joy of finding things out. (Feynman)
- Try to view and treat everyone equally - with respect, with due regard for that person’s ideas and opinions, being quick to validate that person’s contributions while at the same time being candid but diplomatic in your responses.
- Invest in people.
On looking for opportunities:
- Look for opportunities of the “floating vacuum” variety. There is always an inventory of things that, if done, would lead to substantial benefits but for a variety of reasons have not been done (e.g., overlooked, ignored, not in anyone’s specific area of responsibility). Recall the aphorism - “Great men/women are great only because we are on our knees. Let us rise up!”
- Look for opportunities at the seams in organization. The cellular mode of operation is often at play - i.e., organizational components can easily operate as separate entities; however, it is frequently the case that linkages are needed to get the job done effectively.
On communicating in the workplace:
- Develop an ability to express your ideas in compelling, correct English - at a level that is commensurate with the audience’s background.
- Make clear what are facts and what are your interpretations or opinions based on the facts.
- Use the power of logic - in the open, in a non-confrontational way - in preference to the power of position, the power of knowledge access, the power of personality, etc.
- Let “Thank you” come out of your mouth often. Make extra effort to recognize good work, a good deed, etc.
- Read “An Introduction to Scientific Research” by E. B. Wilson, Jr. - a classic book available from Dover.
On ‘we’ vs. ‘they’:
- In the work context, there is no we/they. There is only we.
“He drew a circle that shut me out. Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took him in.“ - Edwin Markham
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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