In 1988, DeLyle Bloomquist (MSIA ‘88), then a young manager at General Chemical Industrial Products Ltd. (GCIP), was giving a presentation when the CEO cut him off mid-sentence.
“Whose brain-dead idea was this anyway?” asked the CEO, a tough-talking former Navy SEAL. Silence filled the room.
Finally, Bloomquist spoke up: “It was my idea. It’s my fault and my mistake.”
As soon as the mea culpa came out of his mouth, Bloomquist figured his young career at the chemical company was pretty much over.
But the CEO looked at Bloomquist and said, “At least he’s honest.”
Not only did Bloomquist survive, but the businessman who earned a reputation as a “Boy Scout” thrived, rising through the ranks to become president and CEO of the company. He also led GCIP to high profits in 2004 and 2005 after it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization. When the company was sold to Tata Chemicals Ltd. in 2008, Bloomquist became the parent company’s President of Global Chemical Business.
“I am here to tell you that being a Boy Scout is not a bad thing,” he told Tepper School of Business students in October during the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series. “Honesty is the only policy. It is an absolute. Don’t spin the bad news. In fact, I used to oversell the bad news.”
Drawing on his own experience, he also advised students to seek out “the bad and the ugly” assignments as they launched their careers.
“Everybody wants a sexy job,” he said. “What people don’t want are those bad and ugly jobs, those messy jobs. Those are the jobs that keep your manager awake at night. I took on a couple of those assignments. If I fail, then no big deal. If I succeed, then I’m a bit of a hero to my boss.”
He also encouraged students not to try to do everything alone, a lesson he learned at business school at Carnegie Mellon University. When the sheer quantity of work was overwhelming, he quickly mastered the art of teamwork, a skill that crosses over to the business world.
“You may be the smartest guy in the room, but you don’t know everything,” he said. “You can’t be everywhere. If you try to make all the decisions, the whole decision-making process slows down. The opportunity may dissipate.”
His ability to delegate was crucial during the extremely complicated process of restructuring GCIP after bankruptcy. “There was no way one person could possibly direct that alone,” he explained. “It sucks a lot of air out of the room.” But a skill he learned in business school -- taking a complex problem and breaking it into discreet tasks -- helped him guide the company to a position of strength.
He also advised students to act decisively within rapidly changing business environments and not to get stuck in “analysis paralysis,” the tendency to over-analyze situations and miss short-lived opportunities.
While cleaning out his bookcase two years ago, Bloomquist said he found 21-year-old notes from his organizational behavior class and realized they were still relevant. He urged the students to take the course seriously. “I wish I would have paid attention and memorized my notes,” he said. “That class was spot on in terms of the things you need to do to motivate employees.”
Don’t preach to employees, he told students. Instead, be a mentor and listen. “They are the ones who really run the business,” he said. “I provide the guidance.”
He also advocated using rewards to motivate people. Not just accolades such as “good job,” but monetary rewards that make a difference in their lives and inspire them to work harder. To maintain a strong workforce after bankruptcy, when many workers were looking to jump ship, he gave generous financial incentives to star employees.
In fact, he has been known to throw a $300,000 to $400,000 bonus at an outstanding employee who makes $100,000 a year. “The words I used were, ‘Let’s make them rich,’” he said. “It’s just magic how that can motivate people.”
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