Homework features AHAM members’ insights on careers, success, life outside of work, and AHAM membership. This month, we spoke with Lucian Strong, Commercial Vice President, Sales, CoorsTek.
What are your secrets to a productive day?
I have found I need to block time each day as “focus time.” I try to have this as the first part of my day to allow for thoughtful reflection on strategy and upcoming actions that require collaboration across functions, internally or externally. These times blocked on my calendar not only prevent meetings from being scheduled but also give me an opportunity to start the day with a clear head and prioritize what needs to happen that day.
The other change I have made to my day in recent years is turning off my phone as well as internal chat functions when I need to accomplish a complex task, develop strategy or have one-on-one conversations with team members. In today’s environment there are so many distractions that we call “productivity tools” yet constantly take us away from the work that really matters. While I don’t always stick to this technique, I do attempt to tune out the distractions to focus on the person or task at hand and give it my full attention. Multi-tasking is a fun phrase to use but is terribly unproductive and takes my focus away from what I need to be doing at that particular time.
What personal and professional goals are you currently pursuing?
Professionally I focus on developing new markets and acquiring new customers. Every organization has to have a balance of business development and account maintenance. My focus, which I need to intentionally force, is on business development and specifically into new markets. Here at CoorsTek we carry more than a century of operations in many markets. The continuation of successful operations comes through a culture of innovation and attempting to look beyond the horizon to remain on the edge of new technologies and trends. The day-to-day operations absolutely consume time throughout the day, but I try to allocate a minimum of 25% on the broader market. In the end, my measure of success isn’t only growing the existing base of customers, it is the new customers and new markets we have entered.
Personally I try to be a better husband, father and friend. I spent many years in my past chasing the next deal, next job, or the next title. With this never-ending pursuit things are lost or even dropped. In my case I saw my family suffer through the absence of a husband and father. What did they get out of my absence? A nice house, a vacation here and there, but a huge void of a complete family. Friends quickly take a backseat when things get busy and my situation was no different. Each year that passed, my social circle shrunk while my professional circle grew. This is not a trend easily noticed year over year, but upon looking back it becomes pretty clear that friends don’t just stick around when both persons are not participating in the friendship. A friend of mine who lost one of their parents told me how much he appreciated me coming to the funeral to support him. The thing he specifically said to me was “you find out who your true friends are in a time of loss or heartache.” Friendships and family are my personal focus, and where I find this to be the most challenging is forcing the time to be really good at it.
Predict an innovation that will revolutionize the next generation.
While it may not be an innovation in its true sense, remote working will reshape not only the professional environment, but will also have a huge impact on the home, and therefore directly on this industry. As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are working from home and learning that either 1) their home needs that update or remodel that has been discussed for years or 2) their existing home just doesn’t fit this new work environment.
Remote working will not only continue to change the home, the needs of the home, and space requirements to accommodate home offices -- but the entire landscape of talent acquisition will change as well. We have already seen the trends happening in high-living cost areas such as New York and California, where employees that no longer have to go into the office have moved to more affordable geographies while keeping their careers intact. Companies will have to determine what their physical footprint needs to be going forward, even after the pandemic subsides. The younger generations simply are not going to happily return to the office everyday when we have so far shown that productivity is equal to or better when working remotely. This will drastically change the commercial real estate market, as well as open up an entire global workforce for talent acquisition.
What lessons about leadership will you take away from 2020?
2020 brought challenges I had never anticipated. Not only from a leadership perspective, but from a personal point of view, as well. A global pandemic, which hasn’t hit the U.S. during my lifetime, brings challenges that are entirely new, and forces conversations related to completely uncharted waters. While I take pride in my connections with team members and colleagues, pre-pandemic, I found these connections simply happened without specific deliberate actions. With a pandemic, travel came to a halt along with the formal and informal engagements that we take for granted. What I found to bring the greatest challenge was the need for deliberate action to remain engaged with team members. Taking the time to specifically call and check in with each individual proved to not only keep employee engagement high, but also developed a stronger relationship. Calling to ask “how are you doing” without a specific business reason at first was uncomfortable, but over time proved to bring us all closer together.
What is the most significant consumer trend that you have seen accelerated by COVID?
COVID accelerated a lot of areas that could not have been predicted. There are the obvious ones like home offices, video conferencing and home fitness, but the one that I witnessed personally and professionally was the emergence of the home investment. Now that we are all home on a regular basis, those projects that have been on our to-do list or even on our wish list quickly bubbled to the surface as we now are in our homes seven days a week. The industry of home improvement has seen unprecedented growth. This, coupled with a global supply chain that remains significantly disrupted, created the perfect storm of out-of-stock and backorders across multiple markets.
How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
I have worked at large and small companies. Each brings their own version of culture, each building on the strongest aspects of their commitment that culture. What I have found across these companies is that some embrace mentorship and others have mentorship. The former creates an environment where mentorship is encouraged, supported, and expected[ while the latter simply is done to say “yes, we have a mentorship program,” but it is merely symbolic as opposed to effective. In either organization you will find strong mentors and assigned mentors. However, companies that are truly committed to mentorships create an outsized positive impact for the mentee, and a direct correlation to an engaging culture. It is my belief that a committed and supported mentorship culture is the difference between retaining the best team members and losing them to frustration and turnover. We should all strive to be strong mentors, but this is no light task. Being a true mentor is hard work, takes significant time and is a long game for both mentor and mentee.
What is the best advice about leadership you have ever received?
I have had some great leaders and mentors over the years, and my opinion of what is good advice evolves as my experiences unfold. The one piece of advice that has held true throughout came from my very first executive leader, later mentor and now a friend. He told me that his barometer to measuring success as a leader and mentor was to see those he helped grow into roles outside of their comfort zone, and ideally he finds himself reporting to his former mentee. Is this crazy? Should we strive to develop our teams to surpass ourselves in their careers? What if as leaders we all approached employee development with this view that removes politics and self-serving professional growth? Would we create an organization that truly develops our best and creates an environment that we all thrive in?
What does your company gain from its involvement in AHAM, and how do you encourage your employees to stay involved?
CoorsTek gains industry insights, government and regulatory updates and direct manufacturer feedback outside of our existing customer base through AHAM. These insights - along with AHAM market trends and reporting - are of critical importance to us and provide a roadmap for effectively engaging customers.
How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
Yes, without question this is the case. For the first time in my career, I have found a company that not only has values and a vision, but actually acts in ways aligned to these stated concepts. CoorsTek has what we call The CoorsTek Way, described as “Better Today, Better Together, Better Tomorrow.” I appreciate how the attributes within each of these categories are all statements beginning with “We.” This is not simply a piece of paper or a glossy statement on the walls of Corporate, it is how we operate as a company in all that we do. The CoorsTek Way enables a diverse workforce, fosters collaboration, and creates a shared sense of responsibility and values across individuals. Are we an inclusive workforce? I would surely like to say that we are, but we can do better and are committed to continuing to do better. As leaders it is our responsibility to push the limits and commit to diversity, inclusion, and ongoing improvement.
What would be your dream job outside of your current industry?
Mentoring multiple startups would be my dream role. As I am passionate about mentoring and employee development, I see this as a strong fit to balance my experience and passion around development. I would really enjoy gaining a broader perspective across industries and markets, as well as developing business plans and strategies.
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