Raj Gupta’s View from the Top at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business

Rohm and Haas CEO, Chairman and President Raj Gupta outlined his leadership philosophy to an audience of 200 last week at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, part of the school’s “A View from the Top” speaker series.

In marked contrast to the celebrity CEO who jumps from company to company, Gupta worked at Rohm and Haas for nearly three decades before being named to the top position, becoming just the fifth CEO in the specialty materials giant’s 97 year history.

“I’m certainly not flashy,” Gupta said, adding that he strives to be a “steady, consistent and credible leader.”

As a company, Rohm and Haas can be described in similar terms. Despite employing 1,650 people worldwide and making products that are likely to be in every household, it is not a household name. Gupta said he had no idea what the company did when he was hired by it 34 years ago. Rohm and Haas materials are in every single computer chip that is manufactured, but its best known consumer product is Morton salt.

Flashy or not, Gupta and Rohm and Haas have achieved some impressive results for their shareholders. The company had about $8 billion in revenue last year. Gupta, who received his MBA from Drexel and is a Trustee of the University, said that since Rohm and Haas went public more than half-a-century ago its long term return for shareholders (over any five or 10 year period) has consistently been 11 percent.

While introducing Gupta, LeBow College Dean George P. Tsetsekos pointed out that the CEO was appearing the same week his company announced its per-share earnings for 2006’s first quarter were a whopping 29 percent higher than for the same quarter of 2005.

How can a company and its CEO maintain steady success in today’s uncertain, fast-changing business world? In highlighting his 10 “core beliefs” for leadership, Gupta explained how he accomplishes this difficult feat:

  • The value of the organization and the individual must be totally synchronized
  • Business is all about people, and people respond best to leaders who lead from both the heart and the mind
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Learn from both good and bad experiences
  • Look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone
  • Sometimes lead from the front, sometimes push from the back
  • Be totally transparent – say what you do and do what you say
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – in both good times and bad, especially bad
  • Be realistically optimistic
  • Speak up when you have something to say

Along with leading Rohm and Haas, Gupta serves on the boards of Tyco and Vanguard. He joined the former after the Dennis Kozlowski scandal. Gupta said that despite all the post-scandal emphasis on complying with accounting regulations, company boards should focus their effort in two main areas: being active participants in company strategy, and planning for succession. A board that does those two things well, Gupta said, will be keeping proper track of a company.

Gupta said several major trends – the economic emergence of the developing world, the commodification of specialized skills, the Internet, and the increasingly competitive worldwide business environment – should be driving the strategy of all companies regardless of industry.

Boards that bring in “hired gun” CEOs from outside demonstrate “a failure of the board to plan for succession,” Gupta said, joking that his experience working his way to the top from within might make him biased.

Gupta also stressed that CEOs need to maintain their curiosity and not become deluded that they know all there is to know about their industry just because they have reached a position of power. He said he never aspired to be a CEO; he just worked to do the job in front of him as best he could; and after 13 jobs and 18 bosses, his time had come.

“This is a journey, not a destination,” he said of any successful career. “I’m still learning. I’ve been in business for 37 years, and hopefully I’m growing every day.”

Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business presents regular public events featuring top executives, business authors and business researchers. Visit www.lebow.drexel.edu/events for an updated calendar of events.