By Karen Cortell Reisman
I'm speaking with someone who was once on the cover of Sports Illustrated — Dick Nowak, graduate of West Point, and the current President of ElkCorp embodies the qualities of leadership. When I keynoted for ElkCorp in 24 different cities, I saw these qualities firsthand. His ability to influence and communicate are particularly impressive. Recently I asked him about his journey from Sports Illustrated cover to COO of ElkCorp.
1. How did you get on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
Life is taking advantage of luck and opportunity.
Our team, Army, was playing Penn State. I was on the sideline with our coach, Paul Dietzel, talking over the defensive scheme and somebody snapped our picture. Accompanying our picture on the cover was "Paul Dietzel prepares Army for upcoming encounter with Navy."
I was having a good game. And I was in the right place at the right time.
2. What did you learn about effective communication from your football coaches?
My high school football coach was my role model. There was minimal critique. Heavy focus was on how well people played as opposed to the negatives.
He was sincere, direct, focused, and motivating.
3. When it comes to improving communication at ElkCorp, if you could wave a magic wand, what would happen?
Everyone - across the organization - would understand our vision, "To be the supplier of choice," and how each job perfects that vision.
4. You are a graduate of West Point. What communication lessons did you learn from this experience?
The ability to listen to what's said, and what's not said.
I'm not sure I'd teach others the way I was taught; but, I learned how key it is to have a deliberate intent to listen AND understand the situation.
5. What's the best mistake you've ever made in business ... the one you've learned the most from?
After 7 years in the service, I worked for two large organizations, not unlike the military. In these larger companies the Plebians (like me!) had little understanding of where the overall company wanted to go. From this mistake I learned that I prefer a smaller organization with less bureaucracy and more of a chance to really make a difference.
6. Where do you want ElkCorp to go?
We want to achieve total customer satisfaction by developing and manufacturing superior roofing and building products with consistent quality and by providing value-added services which help our customers meet their objectives. That's our mission.
Do you have a company vision and mission statement? Do you have a personal vision and mission statement? When you're 'having a good game' are you taking advantage of your opportunities? Do you focus on positives or negatives?