In each “On Leadership” column, Allen Lima Leadership Executive Director Matt Childers talks with a regional business leader. This week, he profiles Jeff Oravitz, the former president and CEO of MetoKote from 2011 to 2016 and president of MetoKote and vice president of PPG from 2016 to 2019. He currently works in private equity.
Matt: What were your early years like?
Jeff: I grew up in middle class family in Pittsburgh. Neither of my parents went to college. I was actually the first in my family to get a college education. I studied chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with honors. I started my career with PPG in 1985. I was working in the R & D labs in Pittsburgh.
Matt: What was that like for you at PPG in your first position out of college?
Jeff: I also got a great opportunity with PPG outside of R & D with customers and the business side, as I was working on my MBA. It gave me a great insight into the business side and gave me a great opportunity to work with customers. In college, I always thought I would be on the R & D side, but I really found the business side enjoyable.
Matt: Expand on that for me?
Jeff: If you are in business long enough, you learn everything starts with a customer. I tell people: Start with a customer, and work backwards. Getting an appreciation for that at a young age was very helpful. Also, it was helpful to work with teams of people and manage teams. It was a new experience for me (managing teams) but one I enjoyed very much.
Matt: What are the most important aspects of a good organization and good teams?
Jeff: It all starts with leadership. All good teams need good leadership. Leadership can come from a variety of directions. It’s not necessarily the “boss.” The boss plays an important role, but teams look for leadership and direction and support and connection throughout the organization, particularly in a large company. But leadership is also managed by the teams themselves. There is a difference between a team and a collection of individuals.
Matt: What do you look for when hiring?
Jeff: You want to look for people who have innate intellect. There is no substitute for innate intelligence. You also look for the ability to get along with others in a work environment as a contributor, a co-worker and leader in a positive way. Really successful companies hire people for the long term and are not as interested in churning through people. Churn can be very negative in an organization. In the selection process, is this someone capable of taking on new skill sets and taking on new responsibilities?
Matt: What do you look for when making bets on your people that you hire?
Jeff: First and foremost, leadership is not about the leader. It’s about everybody else. It’s enabling the team of people to be successful individually and working together as a team. If that happens… I will be just fine. Looking back on my teams at MetoKote and PPG, the teams helped shape our strategy and then execute that in the different departments. I also encourage our leaders to have a vigorous debate. The first layer in strategy vision is going to be. Then measuring that over a period of time, usually a year or two.
Matt: How do you measure accountability within your organization?
Jeff: I have always been a big believer in scorecard practices, the process of building a scorecard at the top level. Here are our objectives for the year. Then underneath the main strategic pillars, all of the various initiatives that have to be done by somebody or some group of people. This is done on one page. Simple and clear! This has been a very powerful tool for accountability and communication within the company.
Matt: What will the most successful companies look like in five years?
Jeff: I worked for only two companies in my career. I believe that has radically changed and will continue to change going forward. The most successful companies will have great leadership and be able to retain their most valued employees and team members to execute the near- and long-term vision.
Matt: For some of the next generations, what is your advice for those leaders?
Jeff: In order to be an effective leader, you have to be a servant leader. You have to recognize that you are in a position of leadership, and in order to be successful you have to serve the needs of the people around you. So how do you do that? Create a high-functioning team that is willing to tell you, as the leader, that you are crazy sometimes and take that as fair criticism. Also, stocking your team with diversity in cultures and experiences will bring much better ideas and points of view into the organizations. Diversity helps bring in ideas and points of view in an ever-changing global business world.