“Your greatest fear as a CEO is that people aren't telling you the truth.”
Mark Costa, CEO of Eastman Chemical Company, was speaking to a classroom full of second-year MBA students at the Harvard Business School in the late spring of 2018. The students were paying unusually close attention; there was something about his confidence, his energy – and indeed his taking the time to share his insights with them – that exuded “role model.” An alumnus of the school, Costa had spent many years in strategy consulting before taking an executive role at Eastman – from which he was later promoted to run the company. Now four years into his tenure as CEO, he clearly relished both the opportunity and the responsibility of leading the $10 billion-dollar global specialty chemical manufacturer headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee. Under Costa's leadership, the portion of sales accounted for by innovative specialty products rather than commodity products had steadily risen, consistent with a crucial strategic goal he'd articulated for the company. Financial performance was correspondingly strong. To accomplish this, engaging the expertise, ideas, and market knowledge of Eastman's 15 000 employees around the world had been mission critical.
For the benefit of the students for whom diplomas and new jobs were imminent, Costa reflected on what he had learned in the quarter century since he'd graduated from business school. As the quote at the opening of the chapter ...