Jean-Claude Kihn: Former Goodyear President and Renaissance Man

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Jean-Claude Kihn: Former Goodyear President and Renaissance Man

Jean-Claude Kihn, Ph.D, is a renaissance man. A true global citizen, Jean-Claude speaks six languages and has lived all over the world. Jean-Claude’s professional successes are a result of his dedication and willingness to learn as well as his steady evaluation of self in order to improve. His constant learning and practice in leadership eventually led to his having held 17 different positions at Goodyear before ultimately being promoted to President of Goodyear for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He has now turned most of his attention to mentoring young executives and spending time with family and in nature.



Biography from, where Jean-Claude Mentors young executives.

Jean-Claude Kihn has extensive experience leading innovation efforts and bringing new technologies to traditional products. He is an expert in implementing a phase gate process to select the right innovation projects and drive them to a successful market introduction. As a former international executive, Jean-Claude has the unique “know-how” necessary to help companies grow in markets outside of the U.S.

Throughout his career, Jean-Claude served in a variety of R&D and senior leadership roles at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, including leading Goodyear’s Peru, Brazil, Latin America, Europe Middle East and Africa lines of business. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President of the company.

While at Goodyear, he championed the development of a new product innovation strategy by implementing a disciplined innovation process to ensure the right technology projects are selected and adequately funded to maximize the chances of commercial success. He encouraged open innovation to gain access to new technologies available around the world. Moreover, he focused on the development and implementation of lean R&D, enabling substantial improvements in development cycle times and on-time delivery.

Jean-Claude is a chemical engineer and has a Ph.D. from the University of Louvain, Belgium.


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Dave Douglas: Welcome to another episode of Up2. Eight years ago Up2 started as a live event series showcasing leaders who are as humble as they are successful. The humility piece is extremely important as we identify leaders who can inspire others. We try to focus our interviews on the non-business aspects of their lives, and in doing so have found that there is a real thirst to explore their hearts and minds in atypical ways.

Dave Douglas: Our host, as always, is Adam Kaufman and our guest today is Dr. Jean-Claude Kihn. Thanks for joining us, we'll be right back.

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Dave Douglas: Welcome back, and here's our host Adam Kaufman.

Adam Kaufman: Our guest today is Dr. Jean-Claude Kihn. Jean-Claude, which he insists on being called, earned his PhD in chemistry and biotechnology from the University of Leuven in Belgium. He was the president of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, one of the most recognized brands in the world for Europe, South America and the Middle East. Prior to serving as president, Jean-Claude was the chief technical officer and also headed Goodyear's innovation unit. Having spent nearly 30 years playing significant roles with this highly respected international corporation, our guest today has lived and worked in nearly every corner of the globe. A true global citizen Jean-Claude speaks six languages, wow, and he possesses a very informed worldview which we plan to explore today. He is a husband and a father, and now a too-young-to-be-retired advisor and consultant. Bonjour, Jean-Claude.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Bonjour, Adam.

Adam Kaufman: ça va?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Très Bien, et tu

Adam Kaufman: Très Bien. What have you been up to?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I think right now I'm doing as you said, just in the very generous introduction, I'm doing mentoring and I'm taking care of my family, I mean now my family, my children.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, they didn't see you for 30 years.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, not enough for sure. And then also reading. There are so many things you can read, especially now we are going through a crisis and it's good to be informed. And then as I said, mentoring. Mentoring, I do it with relatively young executives who I'm just mentoring now a CTO who was just appointed. And I think for him it's a new challenge, and I think he's appreciative of the advice that I can offer him based on my personal experience.

Adam Kaufman: What does mentoring do for you?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I think what is important is that you share your knowledge. I have I mean-

Adam Kaufman: You have a ton of knowledge.

Jean-Claude Kihn: I have knowledge, and I have experience, and I've made mistakes, many mistakes, so why should I not share that with other people?

Adam Kaufman: Absolutely.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Just like I was very fortunate that I had mentors in my life who helped me a lot through, especially through the most difficult periods. I think that is human nature, it is sharing and transmitting information and experience.

Adam Kaufman: Well how have you been spending your days during this unusual season of life that we all find ourselves in? What does a typical day look like for you during these COVID protocols?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I think for me probably since I'm retired now, it's not such a big change as it is for people who had to go to the office every day and suddenly work from home. That's a very big change. What I usually do, I do my email, the work that I have to do, I'm a morning person, I'm doing that, and then I'm doing whatever other stuff about the house et cetera.

Adam Kaufman: You're pretty active though I know. You're young to be retired, and I know you lead an active outdoor life too. Have you been doing some more physical activity?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, I'm usually walking every day. I'm really making a point to walk every day at least a few miles, whatever the weather. And also I did something I have never really done, at least not in the last 40 years of my life, it's backpacking. I did 50 miles of the Buckeye Trail, which is a trail that, a loop around Ohio which I had never done. And so you have to carry a pretty big backpack.

Adam Kaufman: 50 miles, by yourself?

Jean-Claude Kihn: 50 miles by myself, yeah.

Adam Kaufman: So how many nights were you sleeping solo along the trail?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Four nights, and I walked four days. It's about 12 miles a day, which is not that much, but I noticed the difference when you have a backpack, or say 35 pounds or so, that makes a huge difference versus walking.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, so you're carrying water and some food?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Water, a tent, a sleeping bag and food, and yeah water as you say. It adds up, it adds up.

Adam Kaufman: And did you listen to music or podcasts, the Up2 Podcast while you're walking, or how did you pass the time during your walking since you were doing it solo? It's really interesting.

Jean-Claude Kihn: No, I usually, or I almost never listen to something electronic or recorded while I'm walking. I think nature is so full of noises, the birds that are chirping, and the leaves that are rustling, and whatever other noise you have. And also the scent of nature, so it was so ... There is a lot there already to stimulate my senses. I don't need anything, I would call it artificial, so I'm enjoying the nature that I am in. Enjoy the present.

Adam Kaufman: You're wise to do that. I need to do more of that.

Dave Douglas: Can I jump in here for a second?

Adam Kaufman: Yeah Dave.

Dave Douglas: Jean-Claude, I am so struck by the fact that you didn't listen to anything as you hiked for 50 miles.

Adam Kaufman: That is remarkable.

Dave Douglas: I often listen to music or podcasts almost as a distraction, to fill up the time and space. Can you talk about that? Do you feel like you're at peace? Are you working things out as you're walking along? What are you doing?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well I'm at peace usually. I think that is what nature can bring you if you hear the birds chirping and the quiet noises. That is very pacifying, so that is why I do it. And I think it's also to be in communion with what is surrounding you. I think that's important.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Two years ago my two sisters came to the US, and with their husbands, and my younger sister had her younger children, and we went to different places. I showed them a little around, and we finished in Shenandoah, and there we did the Appalachian Trail which is really-

Adam Kaufman: Gorgeous.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Famous. We just did a few miles there, and I saw someone, he was walking very fast, he looked grim. He didn't have any eye contact with us crossing him. And I was saying, "What a waste." Especially Shenandoah, it's one of the most beautiful places-

Adam Kaufman: It's just gorgeous, yeah.

Jean-Claude Kihn: You can imagine, so look around you and appreciate nature, appreciate the wonderful things we have there for free. Okay? He was probably wanting to do, I don't know how many miles or so. And so I think he missed out on the most important part of doing such a hike.

Dave Douglas: Not even being able to allow himself to be in the moment, to enjoy it?

Jean-Claude Kihn: To enjoy it. And I'm also sure he must not have been ... How much is he missing?

Adam Kaufman: I remember when I introduced you to Philippe Bourguignon, another guest from our show. We met him over in Chamonix, France at the conference we attended together. And he always talks about meandering and letting your mind walk and meander, just as you're walking and meandering, and it sounds like you did quite a bit of that in 50 miles. Did you come up with any new thoughts or observations, or reflections that have stuck with you?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well I think you come in contact with people you would not come into contact. The first night I slept, it was a small place where you were allowed to camp along the Buckeye Trail, but no facilities, it was just the grass, and a fireplace, and a bench, which is already a lot. And as I was, I had just built my tent and getting ready to do my dinner, someone else came, a hiker actually, it's for bikers and hikers. And so we were talking a little bit. He may have had, I don't know, 45, 50 years, but then he told me that he was a drifter. He actually gave me a lot of tips for what I could do, should do, or should not do while I-

Adam Kaufman: Isn't it interesting, the drifter was mentoring you?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, he was mentoring me, yes.

Adam Kaufman: We can learn from everyone. That's one of the things I love about this show, excuse me, is that I'm learning from people. My guests always are thanking me for being on the show, but I learn from you, I learn from the guests, I'm a sponge around people like you, so thanks for being here.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well thank you for inviting me.

Adam Kaufman: More about your COVID activities. We happened to be at a conference in San Antonio together, which turned out being the last time we all traveled, early-March.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: Which I know I didn't expect it to be my last trip, but it was. You normally I bet, travel to Europe in the summertime?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, I travel to Europe, and I had also foreseen this year, a trip with my siblings actually to India. And I was wondering, and that was foreseen in the beginning of April, the first two weeks, and I was wondering in March, "Should I go? Should I not go?" Et cetera. And then the Indian government made the decision for me-

Adam Kaufman: Oh, you couldn't even have gone, you didn't have the choice?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Tourists were not allowed anymore, so it was just closed so that-

Adam Kaufman: Do you think you would've gone if you were permitted to go? That's an interesting question, because I know India had some early success, but later struggles with the pandemic.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well I think you should really not go too far during this time, especially if you're not that familiar. I have been to India once, but still, if you are not that familiar with the medical system and all that, why are you looking for a problem?

Adam Kaufman: Oh gosh, yeah being in a hospital in-

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: A rural part of India, my goodness.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, right.

Adam Kaufman: Actually, among your six languages, do you speak any of the languages of India?

Jean-Claude Kihn: No I don't.

Adam Kaufman: Okay.

Jean-Claude Kihn: They are all from the Western European branch, and they are all contemporaneous languages, so modern languages. I don't speak ancient Greek or Latin et cetera. So the-

Adam Kaufman: You're such a slacker.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Those languages, Spanish, English, German et cetera, Portuguese, they really resemble each other. I look for sometimes on YouTube, there is someone who is speaking about languages, and when you look at really different languages like Arabic or Basque, which is also a European language but it has nothing to do, it's really completely different.

Adam Kaufman: It's still very impressive. For those of us who grew up in America, where most of us only speak one language, it really is impressive. But let's go back in time a little bit before we get into your impressive career. You were born in Luxembourg, correct?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, correct.

Adam Kaufman: And what type of family were you born into? Was it a definite that you'd go into sciences, or was it in question early on? Talk about the early part of your life?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, so yes, I was born in Luxembourg, which is a very small country. It's not a city in Germany as you know. And I was also born and lived, raised, just next to the French border, less than a mile, so-

Adam Kaufman: Oh, less than a mile, I didn't realize that.

Jean-Claude Kihn: From the very beginning, crossing the border was something I did sometimes several times a day, there's no big deal. I grew up on a farm. My parents had a farm, so dad taught me a lot, in particular, to keep my feet on the ground. You learn there that you have to.

Adam Kaufman: That's probably why you still enjoy getting up early.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Probably, even though I think it's just the rhythm of every person, whether you're a morning person, or an evening person, or night.

Adam Kaufman: That's true.

Jean-Claude Kihn: I'm also the oldest of five siblings, which has taught me some lessons of leadership, because on the farm everyone has to work and help. And being the oldest, I mean now whether that was always a good experience for my siblings, I'm not sure. I'm actually sure it was not always very pleasant. But on the other hand, it allowed me to learn some principles of leadership.

Adam Kaufman: This is great. I planned on asking about leadership. What aspects of leadership do you think you learned early on? Like delegation because you had these other siblings working on the farm with you? Or was it more about consensus building, or being a good listener? What aspects of leadership do you think you learned early on?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well actually, I was not such an early on, such a person who was delegating or looking for consensus. I was more a command and control.

Adam Kaufman: A monarch?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Or dictator rather.

Adam Kaufman: Wow.

Jean-Claude Kihn: You had also a discussion with General Lenderman about leadership, and I think you learn to be a leader, to be especially a better leader. I think you don't just to be a leader, you want to be a good, or the best possible leader. And that is like any job, you need to-

Adam Kaufman: Improve.

Jean-Claude Kihn: To learn it. Even in big companies, you are really trained to become a better leader. They give you classes or knowledge et cetera, about how to really be the-

Adam Kaufman: Did Goodyear do that for you? As you were rising the management ranks, I know Jim Collins talks about a level-five leader being someone who has to be extremely ambitious, but also particularly humble, a rare combination with ambition. But did Goodyear spend time teaching you how to be a certain type of leader as you were ascending up to president of much of the world?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes. There are classes that I was sent to, to become a leader. But I think you still learn a lot by yourself-

Adam Kaufman: Real world?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Just practicing it, and also the feedback you get from other people, your subordinates, if they feel comfortable, if you're a dictator. I was joking, I was never really a dictator, I was maybe just a bit too commanding and controlling with my siblings. But getting feedback is very important and I think that is what you have to be as a leader, open to feedback- [crosstalk 00:15:45]

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, it takes a lot of humility.

Jean-Claude Kihn: If they are afraid to give you feedback, that is very bad because I think the other extreme is they just flatter you.

Adam Kaufman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jean-Claude Kihn: It's happening to leaders.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, and I-

Jean-Claude Kihn: They just get flattering messages and they are completely detached from reality.

Adam Kaufman: That's true, and I've actually had friends who've worked for two different US presidents, and they talk about the echo chamber. Everyone wants to just say, "Oh, that's a great speech." Or, "You did a great job." Or, "I agree with your policy position." Because they want to stay in good graces with the top leader. It's the rare environment that allows for true feedback.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, when you have a job where you have no peers, the number one, the CEO, I was the president of a business unit or the CTO, so I did have peers, we all reported to the chairman CEO, so you get open feedback from your peers.

Adam Kaufman: Sure, right. Well that's-

Jean-Claude Kihn: But it-

Adam Kaufman: That's healthy as you say though, it's-

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, that is good-

Adam Kaufman: Because you want to improve.

Jean-Claude Kihn: But if you are president, or chairman CEO et cetera, you don't have peers like that anymore. And then-

Adam Kaufman: Just the voters once every two or four years.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, right, right.

Adam Kaufman: Well, do you think leadership though can really be improved upon? I often have entrepreneurs in the podcast studio like this, and I ask if entrepreneurship can really be taught. Every school teaches it, but I feel like, this is just my opinion, that entrepreneurship is something that either someone has inside her or him, or doesn't. That risk tolerance and that ability to pivot.

Adam Kaufman: And I have similar views, not as strong, about leadership. I feel like folks are either born a leader naturally, or not. What do you think? Because you did have to learn how to manage more and more, eventually thousands of employees. Is it a teachable set of skills?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think it is teachable. Now, there are some people who have absolutely no desire to become a leader. And then I think it's a mistake to promote them to a leadership position, and they will never be a good leader. I think if you have a natural talent for leadership, that doesn't mean that you don't have to learn. It's just like if you have a talent to become a musician, well it only starts, after that you need to learn to play your instrument, and then you need to practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. And I think leadership is a little bit the same. I think you have a natural ability to be a leader, but then you have to practice, practice, practice until you become a good leader or better leader.

Adam Kaufman: Was that a big decision for you to move from the science side of your work, to the management, leadership side? Or were you a natural born leader, where that was an obvious path that you would be going down?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, for me it was a relatively obvious path. I made a, as you mentioned in the introduction, a PhD study, which is really, PhD thesis, which is really research. And then my first years at Goodyear were also, I mean not research, but development. But still as a single contributor et cetera, what I-

Adam Kaufman: What does that mean, single contributor?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well you don't have anyone reporting to you.

Adam Kaufman: Right. And so that was when you were in the chemistry or biotechnology-

Jean-Claude Kihn: That was in the chemical part. What I was doing, I mean developing new rubber compounds for tires at Goodyear, that was my job the first years.

Adam Kaufman: Because I looked up this morning, the person who has, the executive who has your role now, he doesn't have a PhD in any science, he has a bachelor's degree in history. It's just interesting that you had this heavy science training, yet you attained this high position. I just find it very impressive. Folks are often left-brained or right-brained. Not you, I guess you're all-brained.

Jean-Claude Kihn: That I don't know. But I think in a company it's good to have people with different backgrounds. I think if you have too many leaders at the top of the company who have the same background you don't get that wealth of experience, because a company frankly, it's everything together. It's sales, it's manufacturing, it's research and development, it's finance, it's human resources et cetera.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Goodyear used to have a rule that the chairman CEO was alternating. At that time the two important functions were sales and manufacturing, so they were alternating between a sales person and a manufacturing person, which I think is a very good idea.

Adam Kaufman: How long a term, I know they weren't terms, but how long before they would switch to the other type of leader? Two years, or 10 years? Or was it not systematic like that?

Jean-Claude Kihn: It wasn't systematic. I think it was, usually, I think five or 10 years I believe, or-

Adam Kaufman: How did you end up at a huge company like Goodyear? It's truly one of the most recognized brands in the world. How did you end up there? Did you have someone helping you early on? Sometimes it takes someone to really open a door for you.

Jean-Claude Kihn: In my case, life is in general, I believe it's a lot of coincidence. When I finished my PhD I needed a job, so I was writing resumes and mailing them to different companies, and sometimes I got an interview. And so by the end I had three offers, and I thought the one for Goodyear was the best one, even though I never thought that it would be good to stay in the tire industry for all my life, but I said, "This will be good for a few years."

Adam Kaufman: Stable business.

Jean-Claude Kihn: There we go. I spent 30 years at Goodyear, which I had-

Adam Kaufman: Tremendous.

Jean-Claude Kihn: I had never planned. But on the other hand, when you are working in a big company, you have so many possibilities, it never becomes boring. I had actually, in 30 years I had 17 different jobs, so that is an average less than two years per job in-

Adam Kaufman: That is a lot.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Research and development, and leading businesses, and also I worked in six different countries, so there is a lot of change. I never was bored at Goodyear for sure.

Dave Douglas: You're listening to the Up2 Podcast. We'll be right back.

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Dave Douglas: Welcome back. You're listening to the Up2 Podcast with Adam Kaufman. Our guest today is Dr. Jean-Claude Kihn.

Adam Kaufman: You've lived all over the place, in different types of countries too, not just in Western Europe for instance.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: Asia, South America, Europe, of course here North America, in the US. Where are you when you feel most alive do you think?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I look at it, every country has advantages and disadvantages. And I had a friend of mine at Goodyear who had also lived in different places. He said it's very easy. If you want to be happy you are looking at the good things in that country where you are, and you try to ignore what is not so good. If you do the other around, the contrary, then you're unhappy for sure.

Adam Kaufman: That's wise for all of us, no matter where we live.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, right exactly. And I think in general that's a principle to follow.

Adam Kaufman: Great advice. You've lived in Brazil, correct?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: You've lived in-

Jean-Claude Kihn: Peru.

Adam Kaufman: Peru.

Jean-Claude Kihn: And Thailand.

Adam Kaufman: Thailand, over in Southeast Asia.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right. And then of course the US as you said, and Belgium and Luxembourg, so those are the six countries.

Adam Kaufman: And at the height of your work, how many people reported up to you indirectly through your direct reports?

Jean-Claude Kihn: The last job that I had, that was to be the president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, so that was a little over 20,000 people.

Adam Kaufman: 20,000?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah.

Adam Kaufman: My lord. And how many tires, your final year as president, do you remember, did you sell?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think it was, if I remember, was 60,000,000 tires.

Adam Kaufman: I'm trying to give folks just a picture of the scale. 20,000 people, 60,000,000 tires. Is that what you said?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: So 60,000,000 widgets per year.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: And if any one of those, and I'm sure once in a while one of them malfunctioned or wasn't-

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Constructed properly. It could be a real problem for the end user.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes it can. And I think that is the critical aspect of something. The tire industry is part of the automotive industry and there are accidents, and sometimes they are fatal, so there's a huge responsibility for the quality of the product. And like any human enterprise, sometimes things go wrong and that creates a huge stress on the organization because people don't do it on purpose. Something went wrong and you can put lives at risk.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, and the history books are filled with examples of corporate leaders who responded well or poorly to things that go wrong. Good example, I'm thinking about Bill Weldon when he was CEO of Johnson and Johnson, and there was a Tylenol problem, and he pretty quickly took all the Tylenol off all the shelves, and that was great corporate responsibility. But sometimes folks wait too long to do a recall.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: Were there any big moments for you when you were president, that you had to make any kind of decision like that?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I think there were obviously one or the other quality issue during my tenure. But luckily I must say, I have never had a very, very big one, because I think that can be a trauma. If you think for instance 20 years ago, what Bridgestone, Firestone had with the Ford Explorer, which was a gigantic problem.

Adam Kaufman: What was the problem there? I'm not sure I remember.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, so what you had is the tread of the tire separated from the rest of the tire, and that made the vehicle very, very difficult to control. And since an SUV has a high center of gravity, they roll over quite easily. There were a number of fatalities that were related to that.

Adam Kaufman: I do remember that in the news. Was that more of an SUV vehicle problem, or the actual tires?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think it was both. It was a bad combination. And that is like usually when you have a disaster it's a combination-

Adam Kaufman: Complex, yeah.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Of problems.

Adam Kaufman: Let's go back to your ascension to president of Europe, and the Middle East and Africa. Were there other leaders that you leaned on as you were continuing to grow in your own skillset? Or maybe somebody who inspired you from afar, whether it was another business leader or someone from history? Do you have favorite leaders?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, I think I had favorite leaders, but not leaders like, I don't know, Alexander the Great et cetera, nothing like that. I had always leaders who were in a more modest function, and that I admired because they were good leaders, calm leaders, fair leaders et cetera.

Jean-Claude Kihn: The other thing that I believe is very important too is also to identify bad leaders. I think I, sometimes it happened that we had leaders that were just looking after their own good, at the expense of the company, at the expense of other people. And for me it has always been a lesson, I don't want to do that. I think-

Adam Kaufman: Good.

Jean-Claude Kihn: We should have role models, but also we should make clear in our head what we do not want to become, what we do not want to do.

Adam Kaufman: You mentioned calmness as a good aspect of effective leadership. What would be some negative components of bad leadership?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well if you are-

Adam Kaufman: Self-centered, or?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Self-centered for sure, you work for yourself, your own good rather than the company's good.

Adam Kaufman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jean-Claude Kihn: And then also the way you treat your people. It's a very stressful job. You don't have a lot of time. My meetings are very short and you go from one topic to the other et cetera. There is an easy temptation to be short with the people and to be impatient, and that makes people feel not at ease, and that is never good, when people are not at ease with you, because then you do not get the most out of their knowledge.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, you don't inspire them.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, right

Adam Kaufman: Right. I've struggled with how to verbalize it, but a leader has to have some level of approachability.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: There needs to be certainly roles, and delegation, and authority, respect for the position of authority. But approachability, because some of these corporations get so large, and I feel like the leaders can get so out of touch with the end user, the customer, let alone the frontline worker. And I'm thinking right now in current affairs, a former CEO of McDonald's, and I love McDonald's, one of our kids works at McDonald's, but right now they're reevaluating how he was maybe giving stock to subordinates who maybe he had extramarital affairs with. And you wonder how in a public corporation setting things like this can occur.

Adam Kaufman: But if you're not approachable, I feel like you can become this almost king-like, "I can do no wrong." But I just, I worry about the approachability or lack thereof, of leaders.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, I think that's very important. And another aspect that goes together, I'm thinking about one of my experiences, that is when I was the managing director of Goodyear Brazil, they had open offices, including I was the managing director, including my office was just, was maybe a little bit bigger. Okay?

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Jean-Claude Kihn: But it was open. And so that creates ... People see you and you can see them.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Jean-Claude Kihn: And I really think-

Adam Kaufman: And that's a positive?

Jean-Claude Kihn: And that is a huge positive, because you can't-

Adam Kaufman: That's approachability that I'm talking about.

Jean-Claude Kihn: It's the approachability, because they walk over to you more easily. And also you get a much better feel of how things are going at your organization, because you could see the sales people coming back. Are they happy or are they unhappy.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Jean-Claude Kihn: The body language, the camaraderie between some people et cetera. I found that actually very good. It has disadvantages of course. You sit among a lot of other people.

Adam Kaufman: Right, but the positives I think outweigh the negatives. I agree with you. And I think that's what's going to bring us back into the workplace post-COVID, those intangibles of body language, and the spirit of a group when a good sale gets closed.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, I think we are social animals. I think there was even a book written on that, The Social Animal.

Adam Kaufman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jean-Claude Kihn: We need to interact. And this is of course something that is temporary. It will go away, nobody knows exactly when, hopefully soon. But and then we go back to our normal way, we need physical contact.

Adam Kaufman: Absolutely.

Jean-Claude Kihn: We need to see each other, touch each other, that is jus the normal way humans are.

Adam Kaufman: Have you learned anything new about human nature during COVID, any corporate observations or just in your day-to-day life of going to stores? I feel like I'm analyzing society, not that I'm qualified to do so. Have you had any new conclusions about human nature?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I think it's a bit disappointing, I must say, how we have reacted as a society. And that includes the population as well as our leaders. I don't think we, in the West at least, have reacted well. And I have read a lot of books about previous pandemics, I mean bigger ones, I mean like the Spanish flu, it was a bigger problem, and the plague in the 1650s, and especially the first plague in the middle ages, in 1347, which killed about half the population of Europe. Can you just imagine?

Jean-Claude Kihn: That is also why, since I'm always an optimist, we have not reacted well, but this is maybe good that we have such a mild, an extremely mild pandemic with a low mortality rate, that we can set up our systems, prepare plans and also gather buy-in from the population. Because just imagine if the plague had hit us now with a mortality rate of 50%, if we discussed for six months what to do, what not to do, and as a society we cannot agree on it, well a third of the population is dead. We can't afford that if it is a real pandemic. Let's just hope the lesson is learned, and once-

Adam Kaufman: This is almost like a trial run, even though-

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: We're going to approach 200,000 deaths in the United States unfortunately.

Jean-Claude Kihn: But it could be 100,000,000. Okay? If it was the plague, it could be. Just imagine what that would be. I think that is good. Humans are forgetful, but hopefully this time we will not forget too quickly at least. We will develop plans and also we will get buy-in of everyone in society before, so that we just have ... Let's not discuss anymore when the virus is there, or the bacteria is there. Let's agree on that before, what we will do. Depending on how bad the disease is of course. You cannot have one standard plan, that's clear.

Adam Kaufman: How can we improve on our learnings? If we didn't learn much from 1917, 1918 to now, in human nature, how can we improve on our learnings, and therefore behavior for next time? Should we change laws? Should we apply more priority to science? How can we make sure that we do this better next time?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah.

Adam Kaufman: And it's a question I say without even, it's not even the politics, it doesn't matter who's in office-

Jean-Claude Kihn: No, no, it doesn't matter what-

Adam Kaufman: But how do we make this better next time?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think we need to have plans. At Goodyear, we had once a bad hurricane. I think it was Katrina, but I'm not totally sure, and several plants, polymer plants were badly hit and things didn't work so well because the phone was down and then we couldn't contact the people et cetera. It didn't go well. And then the chairman CEO at that time created a position which was the director for business continuity. Business continuity plans were developed, and also there were, it was called a tabletop exercise, so you simulate an exercise. Okay?

Adam Kaufman: Okay.

Jean-Claude Kihn: A hurricane-

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Hits a given plant, or there's a big fire at a big plant, or there is a strike, or whatever. So that is, I think you need to have rehearsals like anything in life, if you want to be good at it, you have to rehearse. And I think that is the same. Let's maybe sit together once this is over-

Adam Kaufman: Test runs?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Have people who are really very knowledgeable, bipartisan et cetera, so that it is not a matter of who is in power that moment, develop plans, and then we practice it. We practice it. We say there is a new virus, what are we going to do? So that we have-

Adam Kaufman: No, that's a good point. I haven't thought about it like that. We do the bank stress tests now after the 2008 financial crisis, we didn't do that before. Presumably now, to keep another financial crisis from occurring, or at least to limit it. We could do other kind of stress tests in a global health sense.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: I remember being in elementary school, we had to practice if a nuclear attack occurred. We had to learn how to go into the hallways, and bend down, and cover our heads and so forth. That's a good point, we should find ways, because as you said, humans are forgetful. And so, one generation later, this may not be a priority again.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, because they will believe like we believe, that this would never happen. We have science, we have medicine, it has made so much progress. The Spanish flu or like the plague, it could never happen to us. Well we see now it has.

Adam Kaufman: Right.

Jean-Claude Kihn: It's not as bad, but just because the virus is not as bad, it's not our own merit.

Adam Kaufman: And Bill Gates was talking about this more than a decade ago.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: And he was back then I think the world's most affluent individual. He still wasn't getting much attention on this topic. You mentioned you like reading a lot right now. Is there anything you're reading that you would encourage me to look at, or any thinkers that you've been listening to you more that's really captivated your attention?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well, I'm reading now a book on Truman's life. The four months-

Adam Kaufman: President Truman?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Just when he ... President Truman, when he became president in April, mid-April 1945, until I believe the surrender of Japan, which were probably the most important four months in the 20th century okay? Because-

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, that's some rapid crisis management.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right. And then also I think a lot of decisions were made that influence us until now. For 75 years the wold has been shaped in a given way, so he had to make many decisions, and not just decisions that were for the US, it was the entire-

Adam Kaufman: Global implications.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Global implications et cetera. And I think we are very fortunate as Americans, but also as citizens of the world, many decisions were right. And I think we can be very fortunate, because he had no experience.

Adam Kaufman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jean-Claude Kihn: He was not trained at all by Roosevelt, right? Roosevelt didn't tell him anything, so he had really to learn everything. And it was a huge challenge. And I think for such a huge challenge, he mastered it.

Adam Kaufman: What a leader.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Well, the mentoring that you do, I feel like those mentees, now a CTO, are very fortunate to have you. Do you ever talk to them about staying with one company? It's amazing you stayed with one company your whole career. That's pretty rare today. Do you think that's a good idea to stay inside one business as you reflect back?

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think it has advantages and disadvantages like anything. I think every industry has, there's a lot of knowledge that has been accumulated and that you need for a company.

Adam Kaufman: Right. Technology changes so fast now though, it's hard to keep up I bet, inside these big corporations. The innovation, and I know you were involved in innovation, is so important for a company to survive through generations.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes, but it's also just to know how things work, I think that's the advantage when you grow up in a company. You do the job, some of the jobs at least, at the bottom of the hierarchy, so you know how it works. And I saw that with other people who came in at a higher level. They brought of course a lot of new ideas, which were excellent. That was a great idea to bring people from the outside, but on the other hand, even basic things I was surprised they didn't know about the tire industry. And they made decisions without really always understanding.

Adam Kaufman: That's a good point. Yeah, the institutional history that can only come from being inside, from the bottom up. My favorite burger place, I must be hungry, I mentioned McDonald's and now this, but In-N-Out Burger out west, no-one can become a general manager of the In-N-Out Burger restaurant unless they started at the ground level, and that has served them very well, so that's kind of what you're talking about.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, I have also read, I don't know which families anymore, but they were very wealthy families, they had an empire, they forced their children to start at the bottom of the hierarchy. And the second thing is they made sure that people didn't treat them preferentially. Okay? They just had to do the same job, the same dirty job if it was dirty, than anyone else. And I think that is extremely helpful, that you know how things happen at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah. What are you most excited about right now as you look ahead?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well I think it's a crisis, it's a smaller crisis than the black plague, but I read, even though I have maybe a little trouble to totally believe it, but that the black plague in Europe in 1347 was critical in generating The Renaissance in Europe. The Renaissance is probably the most important period in western history.

Jean-Claude Kihn: I was mentioning Truman for the 20th century, but if you look at western civilization, it was really shaped in a decisive way during those 100 or 150 years. This is a smaller crisis obviously, but nevertheless, I hope that there will be a lot of new things. As they say, a crisis is an accelerator.

Adam Kaufman: I love that. The creativity and entrepreneurship, and in the arts, The Renaissance of course wasn't just about business at all. I love that. When does that start? Will you come back and let us know when we're officially in the new renaissance? Because I'm ready for that.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, that you can only say many, many years and decades later.

Adam Kaufman: Later. What would you say, I just asked about the future, what would you say going backwards a little bit, if you could talk to the younger Jean-Claude, maybe you're 21 years old, what advice would you give your younger self?

Jean-Claude Kihn: It's the kind of question I generally avoid, because I'm not a person who wants to get into regrets, because I'm a forward-looking person, not a backward-

Adam Kaufman: Sure.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Looking person.

Adam Kaufman: Well, you're allowed to have that as your answer. You don't have to talk to your younger self.

Jean-Claude Kihn: No, no, but I think what is important nevertheless, I think is that you do something that you like. I think you cannot be successful in life if you force yourself to become something that you are not really gifted for, that you don't want. I have always worked, if I like the job I will do a good job, and if I do a good job I will be promoted et cetera, people will recognize it. My most important advice to younger people would be do what you like.

Adam Kaufman: Do what you love doing?

Jean-Claude Kihn: What you love doing. Then you will be good at it, and you will be happy, and-

Adam Kaufman: I agree with that Jean-Claude. I don't read as many books as you do, but I did read a fair number of business books and Marcus Buckingham is my favorite thinker in this category, and he was an executive at Gallup, so Gallup the polling company, known for political polling, but they do polling in every industry. And his biggest finding was, and he calls it strengths, but it's a different definition. A strength in Marcus Buckingham's thinking is something that makes you feel good while you're doing it.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yes.

Adam Kaufman: Because there are some things that we can be good at, or competent at doing, but if we don't feel that rumble in our belly while we're doing it, it's not really something we enjoy.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right.

Adam Kaufman: So that's what you're talking about, is identifying what makes us really feel good on the inside when we do it?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, because finally we spend a lot of time at work. Okay? Most of us.

Adam Kaufman: Most of our time.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Right, yeah and if you don't-

Adam Kaufman: Sadly. Until the next renaissance starts.

Jean-Claude Kihn: And if you don't feel well, life is tough. Life is tough.

Adam Kaufman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jean-Claude Kihn: I think you should have also fun in life. I think that is what I enjoyed, and that's probably people are asking me what I miss most since I'm retired, and I would say it's probably the camaraderie, because at the end, even though they are your colleagues et cetera, it's not always perfect, but nevertheless there is a very big camaraderie-

Adam Kaufman: Absolutely.

Jean-Claude Kihn: In every team that I have been part of or that I have led, and that is great, and I think that is really what human nature is about, I think from, I don't know, 10,000 years ago or maybe 50,000 years ago. We were hunting together et cetera. We were traveling together et cetera so-

Adam Kaufman: We need to be connected.

Jean-Claude Kihn: It's deep, deep, deep in our roots. And so-

Adam Kaufman: Well, I love the camaraderie of this show, and I love the friendship that you and I have built, so I'm grateful that you have given us some of your valuable time today Jean-Claude. I'm really glad you were with us today.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Well thank you Adam for inviting me, and I'm very happy. I agree with you, we have developed a friendship and I really appreciate that. Those are the things that you cannot replace in life, so thank you Adam for your friendship.

Adam Kaufman: Amen to that. Jean-Claude that was great, we're done.

Jean-Claude Kihn: Oh thank you.

Adam Kaufman: Pretty painless, huh?

Jean-Claude Kihn: Yeah, it was better than the dentist for instance.

Adam Kaufman: Oh great, better than a dentist. Are we still taping?

Adam Kaufman: Hey Dave, I just listened to the episode with Jean-Claude, it's a couple days later, I'm actually in North Carolina now, but I wanted to call because I just thought there were some really meaningful takeaways that I wanted to highlight. The first one, he said early on, it is possible to improve our leadership skills, but the key to doing so is to being open to honest feedback, that's hard to do.

Dave Douglas: And Adam, around that same part of the conversation Jean-Claude also mentioned being able to identify bad leaders as well as good ones, so that you can take the positives and kind of shed off some of those negative things for yourself as a leader.

Adam Kaufman: Yeah, try not to do whatever behaviors you see them doing.

Dave Douglas: Yeah, exactly.

Adam Kaufman: Number two, being better at what you do is possible, but we must always practice. He said, practice, practice, practice, even the top athletes continue to practice.

Adam Kaufman: Number three, Jean-Claude said diversity of thought and diversity of experiences really enhance an organization, both the culture and the potential success of the organization.

Adam Kaufman: Number four, do what you love doing. We hear this a lot from successful people, so there must be some truth to it. Don't force yourself to work in an environment that doesn't light you up. We should really try to identify and then follow our passions.

Adam Kaufman: Number five, Jean-Claude talked about looking forward to a new level of creativity post-pandemic. Creativity both among entrepreneurs and also in the arts, similar to The Renaissance period a couple of centuries ago. I hadn't thought about that, and I love that he said that. Those are my takeaways.

Dave Douglas: And now it's time for this week's listener mailbag. Since Adam's out of town, I'm going to go ahead and read this one on my own.

Dave Douglas: "Just listened to the latest podcast Adam. Waverly is a cool dude, was extremely interesting and enjoyable to listen to. Thought the conversations were great and informative, especially for everything that's going on in the world right now. It seems like he's had a crazy life and it was just cool to hear how he's turned it around and been successful. Very inspiring." And that was from John Keebler, from Dallas, Texas, recent Texas A&M grad. Go Aggies, Gig 'em!

Dave Douglas: And thanks to all of you for listening to another episode, and we will see you next time.

Adam Kaufman: Up2 is a production Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our producer and audio engineer Dave Douglas. I'm your host Adam Kaufman, and thank you so much for listening to the Up2 Podcast.

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