Starting with the question “Why?” can help individuals and companies sharpen their course. “What?” and “How?” are next.
That is the path Don Knauss takes in leading The Clorox Company, where he has been chairman and chief executive officer since late 2006. He recently encouraged a group of Full-Time MBA students at Mays Business School to take a similar approach. “It’s the difference between leading with your head, where you do project leadership and envision the future, and leading with your heart, where you lead people and energize others in the future. It seems to drive better employee engagement.”
Knauss has overall responsibility for directing the company’s worldwide business, which produces products ranging from cleansers to cat litter, salad dressings to lip balm. It generated revenues of $5.5 billion in fiscal year 2012. “My guess is if you haven’t used one of his products in your lifetime, you are in sad, sad shape,” Mays Dean Jerry Strawser said when introducing Knauss. “They make just about everything you need in your everyday life.”
In fact, the company’s motto is “We make everyday life better, every day,” and its goal is to gain the strongest percentage of consumer lifetime loyalty, Knauss explains. That starts with pre-purchase marketing, he says, because at least 60 percent of shopping decisions are made in the store.
The company is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a feat Knauss says only ½ of 1 percent of companies ever reach. “We are a leader in mid-sized categories and in a sweet spot with the larger categories, but our company is small enough I can get my entire leadership team together within 10 minutes.”
Knauss is a former Marine officer who spent 12 years with The Coca-Cola Company before joining Clorox. He previously held a variety of positions in marketing and sales with the Frito-Lay and Tropicana divisions of PepsiCo, Inc. He began his business career as a brand manager in the paper products division at Procter & Gamble. He sits on the boards of directors for Kellogg Company and URS Corporation.
His long-standing commitment to promoting workplace equality and embracing diversity was rewarded in 2006 when he was given The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s ROBIE Award for industry achievement. It is the foundation’s highest tribute to an individual who has promoted and expanded opportunities for minorities in the corporate world.
A native of Highland, Ind., Knauss holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Indiana University. One of Knauss’ personal passions is promoting education, which includes serving on the Morehouse College (Atlanta) board of trustees and the Marine Corps University Foundation board of trustees. In addition, he and his wife Ellie launched in 2007, and continue to personally fund, the Knauss Scholars Program that provides 15 children of Clorox employees as much as $10,000 each toward higher education.
Knauss describes real leadership as “taking the people and the assets they are entrusted with and making them more productive and valuable than they were.” He encouraged the MBA students to exude integrity, curiosity, optimism and compassion. He also urged them to be humble and to focus on their employees. “Use authority, not power. Be approachable, and you’ll learn what’s really going on.”
About Mays Business School
Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.
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