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I’m really excited to be here today with everyone. I have with me somebody that I’ve known and that has known me ever since I was a kid. I have with me Fady Chehade who is a family friend, an old neighbor and today is a very respectable business professional as Vice President and General Manager – Global Business for Gojo Industries.
I am going to start off with a small question. How did you go from Lebanon to where you are? I know it’s a loaded question, but you can dissect it in any way, shape or form you would like to do so.
I’m glad to be here, having to see you and talk with you Ramez. As you said being an old friend, I’ve known you as a kid. It’s almost like my brother that we reconnect every once in awhile, when we’re in Dubai.
The story is a little bit interesting for me personally. As we know, most of us Lebanese, we grew up in the war and that was very tragic for a lot of our people and our friends. That’s probably one of the main reasons that made me leave Lebanon and go to the U.S. I was probably one of the fortunate ones that had a US citizenship and a passport because I was born in the US. That allowed me a little bit more flexibility and easy to move back to the US.
Wonderful. Now you’re in the US and did you finish your education there? How did you go from getting to the US to then moving into Gojo Industries?
My education started in the American University in Beirut where I finished my Bachelor in Mathematics. Then I came into the U.S. to do my MBA in Kent State in Ohio.
How did things start for you from a professional perspective?
After graduating from MBA, I always had a passion to be an international, always wanted to do some international business. At the time, choices in the area were little bit limited from international companies in Cleveland, Ohio. So I started my career in a couple of banking industries and insurance companies. And then an opportunity opened up in the international business at Gojo Industries, which is the maker of Purell hand sanitizer. When I saw that it was an international opportunity, I jumped on that opportunity. I got it and I started as one of their Export Manager in their operation and work my way now to a Vice President/ General Manager of their international business.
I know in that process, you got married. You had a beautiful surprise when Cindy came home and said, “honey, we’re having triplets”.
I was with her at the time and it was a shock and a surprise, and not to believe it at the time. Having three, as much as an exciting now, but it was a shocked back then. There was not much excitement, was more of a shock to have that.
I wanted to bring that in because I remember visiting you in one of the summers and you had like a factory in your kitchen.
They were new born back then. There were 36 feeding bottles every other day.
I remember going to your kitchen and saying “what is this”? You just have to feed one, the other ones are waiting and there’s always one waiting because you and Cindy can only handle two kids at same time. Thinking back at those days when you were starting your career then of course having to balance such an important responsibility together with your lovely wife, Cindy and raising your awesome children. What are some of the biggest hurdles or challenges you had to overcome? How did you deal with keeping your eye on what’s important, both the family and work from that perspective?
Throughout our personal and career life, we have challenges that we do not anticipate. Most of us anticipate having children, if not everybody. But when you’d go down that path and say we’re going to have kids, you anticipate one then second and maybe whatever you decide to have. But you know, we were dealt a hand of heaven, three at once. So you had to learn to be more organized. I give a lot of credit to Cindy my wife, that was a nurse back then and she was very disciplined about keeping track of what’s going on in the personal life of the babies at the time. You have to balance; everything in life is a balance. You take what you have in your personal life and try to balance it with what you have in your professional life and you keep it at a balance. But that balance is never always what we call fifty-fifty. Some days, it’s more on your work life. That is 70% or 80% and your personal is twenty and then sometimes you try to flip that. As long as in the end, you have a little bit of a balance. That’s one way of keeping it.
The second thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. I’ve always tell people that work for me, “If you get up in the morning and you don’t like what you’re doing, come and talk to me”. “We can find ways, we can find different career path or maybe different companies to help you work because you don’t have to live in a world that you constantly getting up every morning and you’re not happy”.
I love that. Come talk to me and we’ll help you weather it’s internally or externally. Today, a lot of people are afraid of talking with their managers, bosses, people that they work with.
That’s why I emphasize every 6 months from your hire date, I come and talk to you and every time I get a chance, let me know if you’re waking up in the morning. Some morning when you wake up because you’ve got issues going on, but in general, if you keep miserable at what you’re doing at work, come and talk to me. Let’s find out how we can help. If you were hired within an organization that means the organization saw something good in you. So let’s try to explore that. Sometimes it’s not a match.
Amazing. They say identifying a challenge is half way solving it. By not talking about it, ignoring it doesn’t go away but when you talk about it, it does.
Ramez, you are absolutely right and this is part of the communication that you put in with your employees. Don’t be afraid. Your door is always open whether you’re a Manager, an Employee, a Vice President or Director, whatever it is, you have to have your door open to the people around you.
I want to dive into your role in export. I don’t know this part of the business. I’m just making an assumption in here based on my experience working with other organizations that have an export division. Normally, the export team consists of a very few people. Sometimes it’s just the export managers themselves, and then they go and build an external network with other markets. Then slowly but surely nurtured that and then find ways to drive business on an international level. My question is what type of the structure you started with? What type of structure you are with the right now? I’m trying to gauge your working with an internal team or is your team mainly in all these wonderful countries where you have whether direct sales contact, people on the ground or you’re working through third-party distributors.
In general, Gojo Industries, we were not the P&G of the world and the conglomerate of international. So we had always a hybrid model. When I started with the company, it was a very small hybrid model that we’ve grown in the last 20 years. The model was basically, you rely on some distributors around the world and that you and your team keeps going out and tries to find those distributors. Then you start putting boots on the ground and put in companies within areas.
The model that we have now is, the team consists of about 72 people. Some of them are spread out all around the world. Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, and there’s some in Europe to. The 72 are excluding Europe but some of them are on the ground on those countries. Some of them are locally here in Ohio and they all support International distributors and international customers. The model works where the local boots on the ground work with the distributors directly and they look for support from corporate for any resources. Then the markets that we don’t have anybody representing us, we deal directly with them from here, from corporate.
When you look at your organization today and getting to where you are, what do you feel have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced, whether it’s people challenges, structural challenges or any type of a challenge? If you were to look at the biggest hurdles, what lessons you could share with us from those challenges and overcoming them?
Couple of different challenges, you’ve got what we call the cultural challenges and then the business challenges. So the business challenges, as you have known me because I’ve been with Gojo Industries for 30 plus years. Back then the company was not well known internationally. Everybody here in the US knew Gojo, then, they got to know Purell. But internationally, we’re still what we call the new kid on the block. We are the new company. We are the company from the US that nobody knew about.
The first challenge was not to assume that everybody knew your company. You had to build some of your business about that assumption then teach them and let them know who we are. So that’s one on the business side.
On the cultural side, it’s always important when you’re dealing with different cultures and different languages to allow time for communication, twice than you normally do when language is not a barrier. When language is a barrier and you have culture that’s different, you have to be more attentive and more in tune on what’s going on. I always tell my sales team God gave you two ears and one mouth. You listen twice you talk once. At some point you have to learn to listen because if you’re talking to somebody that English is not their first language and they’re translating as they’re speaking, you have to pay attention to what they’re saying because they’re trying to give you as much understanding as they can. You have to try to then translate what they’re saying and then sit in and then respond to them. It’s very important to listen to your customers, listen to your sales team that are overseas, listen to your distributors, and don’t be afraid to answer the question with another question. “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you were trying to say”. “I didn’t quite get it, is this what you were asking me”? Facilitate that and not assume that the first thing that comes out of their mouth is exactly what they were saying especially when you start getting into a little bit of a conflict situation. Culturally, you have to do the language and you have to be open to adaptation because of the cultures are different.
I love this. I think you’ve brought in a really nice angle. One is people don’t know who we are. I think a lot of organizations that want to expand sometimes might have the wrong assumptions. Starting into meetings or conversations with the same positional power or perceived power that they might have from any local players. Yet, that is not the case. In terms of building the relationship, building the trust and giving an opportunity for the other party to get to know not just the brand, but the value of the people. Your values, the way you do business, your reputation, what you stand for and then finding ways on how do we co-exist. How do we bring who we are and who you are together and we make this even a more successful partnership.
It’s very important from a co-existing, that as an individual, you try to establish a relationship with a distributor or a customer. You don’t want to come across that you’re the one who knows everything and you’re coming to impose or trying to sell him or trying to give him what you know. You don’t want to come as this American English, whatever Lebanese arrogant that’s coming to sell me something. You want to come across that I’m a person and I have some knowledge but I’m here to help you with that. I’m not here to impose and I’m not here to tell you how it needs to be done. I’m here to tell you how it was done in certain countries, but let’s see how it can work because you’re the expert in that country.
I love what you’re saying because a lot of time some of the principal organization I’ve worked with looked at international as the dumping ground. Whenever you stop growing in your local market, let’s just find new places to simply ship stuff and help us hit our targets. That is one approach. If I might say a lot of the smaller organization find that just selling the quantity might be appealing in the short-term. But in the long-term, if you send the quantities to the wrong markets and you have the wrong partners on the ground, you can end up doing a lot more damage to the brand and to the entire goodwill that you have built.
One thing that really makes music to my ear is the concept of partnership. The concept of choosing the right distributor, the concept of even being aware of the lack of potential, communication gaps, due to cultural and linguistic capabilities. You have double complexity.
The message that I want to highlight here is that once you enter into a distribution relationship with an international player, it needs to be an ongoing relationship. It’s something where you need to set a common goal, a common objective. What are we going after on both sides and what can we do to help you out? What can you do to bring this mission and vision to life in your local market?
Maybe the question is around selecting those relationships. When you go into a market, it’s a clean slate. Are there any tips from entering multitude of different markets that you tend to gravitate towards a certain type of structure or certain type of psychographic within a certain organizations? What do they value that would help you in selecting and choosing the right partner?
It all starts from the mission of the company. If the mission of the company is very centric into growing into one country, in the US, this is where they don’t care about the branding. Internationally, they will dump the products and they will sell the products here and there and that can hurt him in the long run.
So if you follow the mission and the mission says, we want to be the global leader in the industry. So then you have to start looking at customers and distributors and partners that start sharing some of your same vision, mission and objectives. So when we start looking at a partner, whether it’s a distributor or a customer or even hiring people at the local level, we start saying, think globally and act locally. You have to act as a local. The problems around the world are the same so you think global.
The pandemic has taught us. Look at how fast Covid spreads. Everybody had the same problem. Patients dying, patient needed ventilations, people can’t go out, people in the restaurants can’t eat out. The problems we’re the same but the way you give the solution might be a little bit different based on the country and the structure of the country. Not just from the structure of logistics and building but even the culture and how they do business and how they interact within pandemic. Some government is stricter than others when there’s a pandemic like that. So you have to be aware of these things. Not just in pandemic, in normal days, you have to look at a partner that can share some of the visions and some of the missions that you’re trying to accomplish. If your mission is, for example, for us is health and well-being solution and somebody is selling cigarettes, that don’t work from our standpoint. You have to look at some partners that have some commonality from what you’re trying to accomplish from a mission and a vision.
This is very insightful. Many individuals sometimes might have smaller organizations where their mission and vision, might not be fully aligned or fully developed. They might know what makes them thick on the inside yet highly recommend doing mission and vision exercises to help uncover what you are all about and where you’re going. There’s a quote out there that says, thoughts are things, things have gravity and gravity attracts. So the moment you can verbalize your mission and vision you then create a path in which people with similar values, similar beliefs similar goals start lining up and there you are getting your potential partners. Then it’s all about building that relationship and see what works and what doesn’t.
You are absolutely right Ramez. Lot of time you deal with customers that don’t have a clear written vision and mission but if you talk to them and listen to them you can feel it, you can sense it and they can express it, but they’ve never put it on a paper. And you can see from their behavior around in the organization, around their employees, around their customer and that’s more of an indication. That’s where the action is a lot stronger than words on a piece of paper.
As you describing that I’m thinking sometimes as you said, you can sense, you can feel from the interaction that the values are right. It might not be on a piece of paper and sometimes people have things on a piece of paper and they acted in a different way. So it’s just that alignment.
Have you ever had an opportunity to find such partners where maybe they were not as elaborate? They didn’t have things very well-documented and clear yet you could sense from the way they’re interacting, from what they’re saying, what they’re doing, they actually were the right partners and you’ve embarked on that journey and where things are and maybe vice versa? And a situation where you’ve thought you had good partners, which maybe didn’t end up in the best locations?
Yes, that’s always happens. It’s what we call a day in the life of a market developer. You go in and you might have all the right things ticked in and you might think that this is the right distributor. But then within a year or two something happened and things don’t work out because of the clashed in what you’re saying, in the culture, or the mission, or what they’re trying to accomplish. Those are things that you learn as you as you go along.
I’ve had multiple successes and multiple failures from that perspective. Customer comes in and say we want to be partners and we want to do everything with you guys, but in the behind-the-scene, they had different motives and different intentions and you don’t uncover those until little bit later. Sometimes you get into an organization that whether it’s a smaller, a lot of them are not the number one in the country and they have a lot of the same values and the same things that you believe in. Never written on a piece of paper, but as you meet and start to understand them, it’s easier to see that and you feel very comfortable with that. None of them are in immediate failure or success. They all need to be nurtured, they all need to be taken cared of and supported all the time.
From describing that a day in the life of a market developer, we all have these good days, good decisions and sometimes not so good days and not so good decisions yet at the end, it’s about confronting why it’s not working. It’s about spending the time communicating similar to what you started by saying if things are not working, come talk to me. And that concept of nurturing, the relationship, the more you spend time with your markets, with your people, the better you are in servicing them.
You said there are multitudes of different countries, how do you as an international leader priorities your time? I think that could be a great insight for people that have similar aspirations or similar role.
It’s important and this is very important in the early process of hiring people to take plenty of time to get to know the person and then have different people interviews them to get to know them very well because I want dimensional interview. I can interview Ramez Helou and I get to know him from one dimension that I’m asking for but if we bring other people interview Ramez, we’ll get a little bit more dimensional. Hiring the right people sometimes might take a long time and people get frustrated but do it once and don’t do it every 3 to 6 month is the best thing you can go after. Yes, it might take longer to find the right person but once you find him, then you provide him with the tools, provide him with the training, provide him access to you whenever they feel a need, and then you’re the support for that. The days where you demand things from your new hire to go and do things are a little bit different now. You say, look, I’m here to support, you tell me what you need and what are some of the obstacles you have and let’s see how we can work that together. Then you start building that relationship, you’re building the knowledge in them and then you’re building a trust. Then you go let him do what you hired him to do. Let him go do it and let’s see how good they are, but you provide them with the tools, and you just support him.
Right. That’s, a whole topic in itself. The opportunity to go perform as supposed to just being on top of them and choking them to death in some occasions. I talked about the EDIF principle, you Educate, you Demonstrate, you let someone Imitate and then you give him Feedback. That vicious or continuous loop set objectives. Do they know how to do it? If not, let me give them that first, second, let them do it, give them feedback, make sure that it’s going in the right direction and then let them fly. Then they’ll surprise you if you do it right.
Absolutely. You have to let them do what they do best that you hired them for. And you provide them with education.
I’m going to shift a little bit on the topic of selling, the topic of dealing with a complex organization. I guess, in your case, you deal with hospitals, with clinics, with industries with the whole bunch of different channels out there. Looking at it from an international perspective, so you have your troops on the ground, your distributors, and your direct sales teams. What do you see are some of the patterns that people maybe in the U.S. might say, well this is the way that things are in the US but you’re seeing the same thing happening maybe in other parts of the world? Some of the same challenges and in a way it’s going to be universal language that sales professionals, business developers would need to be aware of.
From our industries, what we’ve always said the problems are the same around the world. One example in healthcare, patients are sick. That’s the same. Nurses are taking care of them; healthcare people are taking care of them once they feel better. Then you take a step more, nurses always wants to keeping things healthy, keeping things clean and sanitized and making sure the patients are taken cared of. When you look at that, that’s a worldwide problem. In the food industry when you’re making food for selling, you try to avoid contamination. It doesn’t matter if you’re making it in India, Japan, China, the U.S and U.K. What you’re trying to do is deliver clean healthy food that people can consume.
So when you identified that the problems are the same but the solution might be a little different. The way you build the solution has to be tailored to that country or two that market-specific. It might be the same product, but it may be in a different format to be delivered. It might be a different fragrant, it might be a different color. Those are things that you can solve for after you understand what the problem is. And if the problem is universal and then the solution has to be different that’s the way to get to the market.
Can you elaborate on some examples that can bring this topic to life?
In our world of hand sanitizing, let’s take in the hospital setting. Everybody wants to sanitize, wash their hands and sanitize it whether it’s a nurse in Japan or a nurse in Dubai or a nurse in the U. S. A nurse before they walk in to see the patient, they need to sanitize and wash their hands.
In the U.S. and in a lot of the countries, you have a dispenser on the wall, you sanitize your hands and then you can go in and see the patient. Dispensers on the wall, simple. You go to Japan, same problem, right? They want to sanitize their hands. But in the Japanese culture, they don’t like to put things on the wall or the walls are not accessible to put dispensers are. So how do you deliver this? You put a bottle that the nurse carries all the time with her and it’s on her body with a little bit of a purse and she use it every time she walks in the place. That was a solution that was only specific for Japan because that’s how they operate. Same product, one is in the dispenser, one is in a bottle, but it allowed us to fulfill the same problem in two different markets or different countries.
I would say if somebody were not as open to that idea, how would we do it? They say the answer a lot of time is not in the box, it’s out of the box. You just have to redefine, go back to the drawing board and see what are the behavioral patterns of people in Japan? What is acceptable there and what isn’t that could allow this specific problem to be solved? And you innovate it; you came up with the right approach. If you give a pouch to a nurse in the U.S., they’ll be like, “excuse me, I’m not carrying some extra weight with me” but it makes perfect sense on the other part of the world. Did you guys start the trend? Did you guys start that innovation or was it there in some way, shape or form and have improved upon it or anything like that?
It was more improved upon because in Japan, the nurses were used to carrying a lot of things. Even in the U.S., you got the pens, you got your papers, you got the pockets and all that. The important thing was to listen to how they were trying to give us a solution not us saying you have to put the dispenser on the wall and this is what the regulation says. They came up with I carry a lot of things in my pockets, in my jacket in my uniform so another thing, as long as it’s not weighing a liter or two liters is okay. You just go back and see what’s the right sizing for a nurse carrying this, or healthcare provider weather that’s a doctor or anybody else? That’s how we came up with a pouch.
In a way, in Japan do as the Japanese and in the Rome, do as the Romans. Just be open to that. I didn’t expect such a live story. That’s a little bit of culture, that’s little bit of openness, that’s a little bit of it’s not our way or the highway, it’s about adopting your ability to do business in that market.
That will make you more successful from in international standpoint. Trying to understand that the problem is the same, but the solution to that problem might vary by country.
Just if we were to look at your responsibilities as a leader of a significant team, looking at managing your team and maybe some of the biggest lessons that you had. I know you’ve spoken about being open, but are there anything else that you could give us as tips and advice for current leaders of international markets to be on the lookout for as they evolve and move on in their international roles.
Something that quickly comes to mind is somebody that can wear multiple hats. As you get into the international world and even though if you’re responsible in one country, you have to be able to pivot and move pretty quick. You have to be nimble. Looking for somebody who is adjunct, interested in wearing multiple hats because not everybody can be very effective wearing multiple hats. You need both at the same time, but in the international world when we’re looking for people, we are looking for people that are agile, have no issues wearing multiple hat, jumping from one project to another and not doing the same thing again and again and again.
As you describing this, I’m going to ask you and it’s going to either be a difficult question to answer. It might be like, come on Ramez you’re putting me on the spot in here. But let’s see what comes up. Somebody once asked me, Ramez, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in running your business? What’s the biggest mistake Fady you’ve made in running your business or the business that you’re in? How did you come out of it?
A biggest mistake, is it in dollars or in monetary, or is it in person? There’s a little bit of different in that. As a young career person moving into the business world, I’ve made a couple of mistakes. The one that comes to mind pretty quickly, we were invoicing internationally and I was responsible for some of the invoices in the shipment and I completely made a calculation mistakes. At the time it was about $10,000, which is a big number. My Manager and the Vice President came right away and says, what did we learn from that? And how do we avoid doing that? And that’s the main thing is, when you get into those mistakes, you asked, what did we learn from it and how do we avoid that in the future? That was one of my biggest mistakes because back then, 20 plus years, this is going to be like, I’m done. I got to find a different job because it’s a lot of money when you’re trying to grow in an organization. That’s for me a big monetary mistake. It’s not millions of dollars, but at the time it felt to me like it was a million dollars.
Some of the other mistakes that I don’t know, if I call them big or not is if you end up hiring the wrong person after you’ve done your due diligence and everybody interviewed them. It could be a mistake and sometimes it cost me because you have to redo the whole process to training and all that. That happens and I’ve done some of those and some of it because I didn’t listen to my team. They gave me the sign that it may not work and I ignored it. Now, I’m more in tune with the team that when we’re doing an interview and hiring and they say to me “oh there’s a flag up”. I try to dig into that and try to understand it more before we make that decision. Where in the past, couple of mistakes I’ve done is I met somebody and I get interview with him and said, okay, you’re hired. To find out three months or 6 months that this was not the right fit.
I know it’s not an easy question. The $10,000 mistake is a $10,000 investment that your leaders at the time redirected that on what do you learn from that. I had a situation where a Managing Director of a distribution company lost the principal that’s bringing the distribution company about 25 million dollars of yearly sales. And that was a 25 million-dollar mistake. When he went to submit his resignation to his board, the board went back with the same answer. They said, look, we just spent 25 million dollars on a PhD or master’s degree in learning what not to do. Regarding your resignation, we understand why you do that. We believe in you and we want you to actually find us a partner that will bring us double this value and we’re confident you won’t make that same mistake again. And you can imagine that feeling that’s on the inside when you have a board basically cheering you on and telling you we live and learn. Learn the lesson forget the details. Just dust yourself up and move. Mistakes are much more valuable when they are dissected and understood.
Another great quote I live by is life is always live looking forward yet life is understood looking backwards. When you look back and start analyzing things and say what am I taking away from this and how am I going to be a better version of me moving forward.
This is just a beginning of hopefully more of such conversation. Next time you’re in Dubai, maybe we’ll have it live interaction vs. live zoom interaction. Any last comments that you’d like to share with our audiences? Any last tips and points of wisdom that you’d like to offer.
Just listen twice and talk ones. This is very important. Everybody’s different but it’s very important to listen to what the person across the table from you is telling you. They have a reason they’re there. They have a reason they’re telling you that. It’s not all about what you want to tell them.
Wow! That’s been our session today. Before we keep going, I just want to say thanks for everyone. Until next time, sell more, sell faster and profitably. See you again.