Over the past year, appliance company executives have faced a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of unique and pressing leadership challenges. From COVID-19 to significant economic and political uncertainty, recent trends have touched every aspect of appliance manufacturing.
This special HomeWork series features interviews with top executives from AHAM member companies to share what they have learned from the unprecedented events of the past year, as well as their insights on important leadership issues like mentorship, diversity and inclusion, and recent consumer trends.
The fourth installment of AHAM’s HomeWork Executive Leadership Series features Joe Liotine, Executive Vice President, Whirlpool Corporation, President, North America Region.
Q: What lessons about leadership will you take away from 2020?
A: 2020 taught us to be extremely focused on what is most important, which was two-fold: first and foremost, safety of our employees and taking care of our consumers during a time when they needed us most. When we used that filter consistently, making decisions or taking actions was faster and actually much less overwhelming. We were reminded of this at least a thousand different times throughout the year.
Q: What is the most significant consumer trend that you have seen accelerated by COVID?
A: Nesting at home and a broader, multi-faceted definition of caring for your family emerged during COVID. The importance of home and it being a place where you feel safe, secure and productive has come through loud and clear as something consumers really care about. Whirlpool is in a unique position to make a positive difference in that regard.
Q: How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
A: Mentorship is super important as it ideally gives you a safe space to learn and grow. The key is a mentor/mentee relationship that’s based on trust, honesty and genuineness. When you have those qualities in the relationship, it is easier to give and receive coaching that might be difficult. You have to have that underlying trust that all feedback comes from a place of making another person better.
Q: Many companies have large numbers of staff working remotely. Has this presented any challenges or opportunities for your company?
A: The vast majority of our employees in North America are based at our manufacturing plants and I’m very proud to say they continued to work onsite through the darkest days of the pandemic to take care of consumers. For those employees outside of our plants, most are still in a remote work situation and they have proven that we can be successful regardless of where we are physically located. We’ve learned a lot about the need for speed, agility and resourcefulness so in many ways I think we are a better team having gone through this experience.
Q: What is the best advice about leadership you have ever received?
A: I’m not sure this is advice but I’ve been most influenced by others when I see someone making an extraordinary impact. That makes me dig in to better understand the dimensions in which they make it happen and inspires me to emulate those qualities.
Q: What does your company gain from its involvement in AHAM, and how do you encourage your employees to stay involved?
A: Over the years, AHAM has led the way on several pivotal decisions affecting our industry, including the laws governing federal efficiency standards, which establish and help protect a national market for our products. I encourage our team to be highly engaged throughout AHAM's boards, committees, task forces and workgroups. AHAM's strength depends on every member participating and sharing input, which is more critical than ever as legislative and regulatory impacts to the appliance industry continue to increase.
Q: How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
A: It’s important that our employee base mirror that of the diverse consumers we serve. We are striving to create a culture where everyone is welcomed, valued, respected and heard. Only in that environment will we innovate the best laundry and kitchen products in the world.
Q: If you could go back in time 20 years, what would you tell your younger self?
A: My team would not believe this but twenty years ago I was probably a bit conservative in advocating for a strategy or approach to an issue, maybe because I was more intent on watching and learning. My advice now would be to engage in a more direct way if it’s something you are passionate about. Don’t be shy.
Q: What would be your dream job outside of your current industry?
A: I would own an Italian restaurant in southern Italy right on the beach. My signature dish would be grilled octopus and of course a spicy pasta. And I would love to teach so maybe I’d have a side gig doing that too.
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