A GLOBAL LEADER, A PERSONAL TOUCH
by Kendra Resler Friend
Charlie Fischer, president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences LLC, Indianapolis, remembers his early business career and how he felt when he arrived in Tokyo during his first international trip. "I left the airport with a scribbled sheet of Japanese words given to me by a friend so I could tell the taxi driver how to find my hotel. I recall being completely overwhelmed in a city where I felt so foreign," he says. "I was almost afraid to go more than a few blocks from my hotel, worried I would not be able to find my way back since I could not read any of the signs."
For someone who grew up on a dairy farm in Texas, the world became a much bigger place - something to explore and understand. Throughout his 35-year career in agriculture, Fischer has become a global leader in many ways, yet kept a personal touch in leading his business and helping advance the agricultural industry.
From his initial work overseas to his years abroad, Fischer's experience living and working in different parts of the world allowed him to develop a truly global leadership style. Having led Dow's Ag Division in Brazil and Europe as well as business in the U.S., and by traveling to other parts of the world, he appreciates the complexities of conducting business on an international basis. This insight has served him and his company well in interactions with customers, industry groups, public interest groups, media and regulatory agencies all over the world.
One answer doesn't fit all. Fischer knows the importance of respecting all cultures and seeing how Dow AgroSciences can best meet the needs of agriculture through innovation. For example, farmers in China have very small plots of land. Chemicals, often delivered in large glass containers, require that the farmer remix the product for application and carefully handle containers to avoid breakage. Under Fischer's leadership, Dow AgroSciences developed liquid sachets containing the proper amount of product for a small area to benefit the farmer and environment alike.
Fischer is very aware of the role ag company products play in protecting the environment. In fact, his company has been honored for products that leave a softer footprint on the environment. In both 1999 and 2000, Dow AgroSciences was named the ag winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award. This prestigious award recognizes technical innovation that incorporates the principles of "green" chemistry into chemical design, manufacture and use. In 1999, Dow AgroSciences was recognized for spinosad, a revolutionary compound for insect control, and in 2000 for the Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination System. The Sentricon System protects structures from damage caused by subterranean termites.
"We have to participate in agriculture in a sustainable manner, and that means understanding the needs of our customers around the globe," Fischer says. "We are not successful as a company if we create more problems than solutions for our customers."
Another honor recently bestowed on Dow AgroSciences illustrates this commitment to seeking solutions. Dow AgroSciences won two of the U.S. EPA's 2002 Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards. These awards recognize exceptional leadership, personal dedication and technical achievements in protecting the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer. One award recognized the company's long-term efforts and dedication in developing alternatives to methyl bromide, and the second honored work done developing and adapting uses of Telone® soil fungicide and nematicide products for use in Florida agriculture.
While one expects a CEO to be driven by results, Fischer leads in a way that connects with people. He takes his passion for understanding the numbers and business results one step further to understand root issues and causes. Throughout three decades with Dow, he has distinguished himself as one who helps others understand where the company must go to remain competitive. He currently leads major strategic changes at Dow AgroSciences as it positions itself for the future.
"Through an extensive analysis, we know that the industry will be shaped by E-commerce, consolidation, generic products, biotechnology, and public perception/regulation," Fischer notes. "I am leading Dow AgroSciences to understand how these drivers impact our business and to emphasize the agility we need to develop our strategies and respond to the marketplace."
EMPLOYEES ARE A FOCUS
Although he is CEO of a global company with more than 6,000 employees, Fischer strives to spend time with and interact with employees, sharing his experiences and vision for the company. He was instrumental in implementing the Six Sigma methodology in 2000. Six Sigma is a breakthrough process that focuses on product and service excellence, creating a culture that demands perfection and results in customer loyalty.
Fischer did more than serve as a major advocate for dedicating resources to develop this data-driven approach to problem solving, he also became involved in the process. He serves as a project member on a project addressing working capital issues because he wants to share and be involved with the people finding answers. He has embraced the Six Sigma approach to business - asking the hard questions about what Dow AgroSciences does and why - which leads to product and service excellence.
Fischer believes that a business' success is based on its people. That is why he is an advocate for the many benefits to be had from a diverse workforce.
"Dow AgroSciences has long recognized that the people who make up this company are the real source of our success. The talent, experience and know-how of our people are resources - business assets. And like any asset, if we fail to use our human resource to its full capability, we limit our opportunities to succeed. We fail in our mission to our customers, our shareholders and ourselves."
But Fischer recognizes that achieving gender and ethnic diversity to create a deeper pool of quality employees is not enough. "We are committed to the next step - a more difficult step that I think separates the companies who are simply satisfied with their diversity numbers from those who really seize diversity as a business tool to give them a leading edge," Fischer says.
This next step involves making sure that Dow AgroSciences doesn't just employ people from diverse ethnic, cultural and geographical backgrounds - but that it embraces the unique perspectives and vision that come from these diverse experiences. "We are trying to create a climate where we foster ideas and solutions that are the products not just of diverse people, but of their diverse thought processes as well," Fischer says.
He speaks to industry groups on the topic of diversity, and encourages understanding of different cultures and traditions. His practical approach helps the company focus on the importance of exploring a wide range of ideas.
Another area where Fischer's global perspective and personal style is evident is in his work actively promoting sustainable agriculture on a global basis. Fischer does this through innovative product development at Dow AgroSciences, and in his work with U.S.-based and global associations that have an impact worldwide. In fact, Fischer is the first person to serve his U.S. and global industry simultaneously as CropLife International president and American Crop Protection Association (ACPA) chairman. (CropLife International was formerly known as the Global Crop Protection Federation and the American Crop Protection Association is now known as CropLife America.)
During his tenure as ACPA's chairman of the board, Fischer led outreach to non-government organizations and other stakeholders. These include the World Bank and environmental groups dedicated to furthering the goals of agricultural sustainability. As a part of his focus on sustainability, he is committed to the highest standards of product stewardship. At ACPA, he championed key initiatives, which included support of the National Agricultural Aviation Association's Professional Aerial Applicator Support System, and sponsored ACPA as a partner association in the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care program.
Fischer is committed to productive public-private partnerships as a way to feed the world. He initiated such a partnership as part of the World Bank staff exchange program. Through this program he "loaned" a Dow AgroSciences financial manager to the bank for two years to assist with creating and evaluating commodity risk management programs for developing nations.
In addition, Fischer led the re-branding of the international industry's Global Crop Protection Federation and ACPA to become CropLife International and CropLife America. His approach to this change in mission and name motivated and energized the global federation as well as its regional member associations. Fischer garnered support from industry, participated in stakeholder and media activities, and worked to promote this change in industry's focus and philosophy.
As ACPA chairman, Fischer was a consensus builder on one of agriculture's most significant new issues - biotechnology - bridging the divide between companies with interest in crop production chemistry and those with interest in crop production biotechnology. His leadership facilitated the continued success of the association in advancing regulatory, legal and political issues for the industry and agriculture's benefit.
He makes time to discuss topics related to and promoting agriculture with business leaders, farmers, students and global audiences. During the past year, he has appeared before the World Agricultural Forum; the U.S.-Russia Business Council's Ag Committee; Purdue University's Executive MBA class and Top Farmer Crop Workshop; the Midwest Soybean Conference; the Commodity Classic; the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists and Michigan's Agri-Business Association, just to name a few. As you might guess, Fischer no longer worries about finding his way when he is travelling around the world, and is always ready to provide navigation tips for novice Dow AgroSciences travelers. Charlie Fischer truly exemplifies what a senior leader must do in today's world - provide a global perspective with a personal touch.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Being named president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences in 1999 was the culmination of a goal Charlie Fischer set for himself. Yet it was also a beginning.
"Agriculture has changed more in the last five years than it has in the previous 20," Fischer notes. "Leading a global company during these times of rapid change is full of both challenges and opportunities." Dow AgroSciences is indeed global, with approximately 6,000 people in over 50 countries dedicated to its business, and worldwide sales of approximately $3 billion.
During his tenure as CEO, Fischer has led the company through many changes and helped Dow AgroSciences remain a top-tier ag company. For example, the company was in the early throes of determining its biotechnology path when Fischer took the reins. "Biotechnology holds the power to provide tremendous benefits to society, through productivity of crops as well as the possibilities for the products themselves to be nutritionally enhanced," Fischer says. "But with the high reward comes high risk, and companies must determine the appropriate capabilities to develop biotechnology and how to go about doing it."
Dow AgroSciences has remained committed to a two-prong strategy that allows it to be a leader in the new era of agriculture: profitably grow its Ag Chem and Urban Pest business and make focused investments in the ag biotech segment for long-term reward.
Through major strategic efforts, the company is examining how it does business to enhance both areas of focus. This includes work in every part of the company, from the research and development area, to biotechnology to commercial groups that focus on how much it costs to serve the customer. To ensure that employees understand the company's strategy and the task at hand, Fischer dedicated a large portion of his time in late 2001 and early 2002 to training the company's leadership group and sharing his vision so it could reach all employees. He knows that in order for Dow AgroSciences to succeed, each employee must be involved.
"It is my great ambition that every individual in the company have a personal vision for themselves and for our company. This vision should be exciting and motivational, and provide a source of energy and commitment that will not only help us meet our financial goals, but also make this a great company in so many other ways," Fischer says.
He acknowledges that the ag industry faces tough times, with low commodity prices and global trade issues forcing farmers to make some very tough decisions. "I believe that people will need to eat for a long time to come, and we can constantly improve what is essential to human progress," Fischer says.
The company's acquisition of the Rohm and Haas Ag Division in 2001 illustrates the "can do" power of the company under Fischer's leadership. The acquisition, which has added $500 million in sales to the company and enhanced the company's fungicide portfolio, moved from announcement to closing in just three months. The company is on track to make synergy goals related to the acquisition, and is capturing value in many ways.
Innovation is the lifeblood of Dow AgroSciences, and Fischer focuses on leading the company to ensure long-term sustainability. "Our current strategic focus is pushing us to improve as an organization," Fischer says. "With a commitment to innovation, and with the people and plans in place, we are controlling our destiny and building a company that will be around for the long haul." AM