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INSIDE CI: Defining Leadership

October 1, 2004
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The monthly roundup from CI Editor Kristi Grahl.

It's no secret that the U.S. ceramic and glass industries have been struggling. Ask anyone why, and they're likely to point to the surging levels of low-cost imports-and a federal government that is allowing the situation to continue unchecked-in response. But while the U.S. trade imbalance is certainly putting an enormous amount of pressure on today's manufacturing companies, another reason lies buried just below the surface. Look closely at any company that has failed, or is failing, and you will probably find outdated equipment and manufacturing processes, untrained employees, and a general sense of being caught unawares. For decades, many U.S. companies have been largely satisfied with the status quo, while company leaders have become increasingly focused on the bottom line and short-term stock prices.

"Companies often don't even realize they're in trouble until it's too late. They're being run by bookkeepers who don't understand what they're buying or how the operation should be run; instead, they're focused on the short term and on how to get the stock price up, and that's all they care about," said one industry consultant. "What the industry really needs is leaders with a vision, who can drive that vision down into their organizations."

In other words, leaders who are not afraid to make a difference.

Convinced that such leaders still exist, Ceramic Industry set out to find them. We solicited nominations from the industry and followed up with our own research, looking for individuals who had incited positive change within their organizations. It didn't take long. In fact, in many cases we had to choose between several highly qualified candidates.

The seven executives highlighted this month all come from different backgrounds and have varying education levels and management styles. Some have been profiled by national business magazines and global television networks, while others are well known only within their own industry circles. Some lead multi-billion dollar corporations owned by even larger global conglomerates, while others run small family-owned businesses headquartered in the U.S. But they all have one thing in common: They define the very essence of leadership. They possess key character traits such as honesty and integrity, embrace change as a necessary component of success, and empower their employees to share in their companies' futures. They relish their ability to "think outside of the box," and they view competition as a motivation to improve rather than an excuse to fail. As a result, despite numerous challenges, they are leading their companies to new levels of success-and inspiring others to do the same.

It seemed fitting that we pay tribute to these individuals in our annual Market Overview and Forecast issue. As we look to the future of our industry, it is undoubtedly those with a vision-and the courage to pursue that vision-who will lead the way.

P.S. We believe there are other visionary leaders in our industry, and we plan to profile other individuals next year. If you know of a company president or CEO who deserves recognition for their leadership abilities, please e-mail me at grahlk@bnpmedia.com .

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