Leadership is more about who you are as a person vs. your technical ability. I always go back to the simple lessons I’ve learned, that frankly started with my parents, about respect and treating people the way you want to be treated. Active listening is another people trait that makes a huge difference. People appreciate when you take time to hear what they have to say, and it is in those moments that I often hear great ideas from others that stimulate my own ideation to the next level.
I had the pleasure to interview Manuel Guzman. Manuel is president of CAS, responsible for driving innovative business and product strategy to create growth and novel solutions to business challenges. He joined CAS in 2013, bringing diverse global experience and a passion to help others succeed. Prior to joining CAS, Manuel held various executive positions within the information industry including EVP of Learning, Research Solutions & International for Cengage Learning; President and CFO of Thomson Learning’s Career & Professional Group; and co-founder and CEO of Monument Information Resource/MIR Management Corporation. Manuel has a B.S. in accounting and an MBA in Finance from Seton Hall. CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, partners with R&D organizations to provide actionable scientific insights that help them plan, innovate, protect their innovations, and predict how new markets and opportunities will evolve. Scientific researchers, patent professionals and business leaders around the world across commercial, academic and government sectors rely on CAS’ solutions and services to advise discovery and strategy. Learn more at www.cas.org.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my career to earn roles of increasing responsibility and to draw valuable insights from others along the way. I had spent most of my career in the Information and Publishing industry in Finance and general management roles prior to joining CAS. The business needs of this highly respected information business and my desire to continue growing as a leader, crossed paths at the perfect time.
I was intrigued instantly by the opportunity to join CAS. In my heart this would not only be a great professional challenge to serve as its leader, but it also afforded an opportunity for me to make a tangible difference for both the organization and the people within CAS. I was highly motivated to join this mission-driven organization with a large-scale business as a part of it. I was compelled by the ACS vision of improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry, and I knew that I could help this organization and this would be a place where I could truly make a difference.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I found CAS to be an amazing organization, as I had anticipated, yet I was surprised to discover that people had been managed in somewhat of a traditional command and control fashion for an extended period of years. In my experience, proactive leadership or “leaning in” had been a requirement of success throughout my history, yet the notions of extending oneself, of cross-team collaboration that had been intrinsic to my work experience were not instinctive behavioral characteristics at CAS. And as a result, many of the challenges the organization faced weren’t getting tackled.
By design, the strategy to maintain independence across functions may have been useful previously, but I knew that would not get us where we needed to go as an organization today. To the extent this could be remediated, CAS had a tremendous amount of untapped potential, both for the individuals who had been somewhat siloed and for the organization itself in terms of growth and how we could better serve our customers. The challenge was the lack of experiential knowledge necessary to figure out how to bring the progress they knew they needed to make.
The greatest differentiator for CAS is that it is chock full of amazingly bright people who are highly motivated to do the right thing. Given that collaboration hadn’t been encouraged, they were simply missing the experience needed to connect to dots. Being able to empower our team to see a new path forward has been one of my most rewarding experiences as a leader.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
The success story truly lies with the people of CAS. Because they are so intelligent and so motivated to do what’s right, they were able to pivot quickly. This team has demonstrated an admirable and genuine willingness to embrace change, and any success we’ve had as an organization lies in our ability to leverage existing tenured staff, along with new processes and talent who bring supplemental skills we need to chart our path forward.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
This one is tough, as I value that I had experiences prior to joining CAS that helped me be prepared for this experience. Still, there are great learnings that continue to happen along the way…
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have fun and help others do the same! If you’re having fun, you don’t mind the “burn.” When you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it’s easy to share that passion with others.
In reality, there may be times when you sense you’re becoming overwhelmed. You owe it to yourself in those times to have a deeper conversation with yourself about whether you’re engaging in the right ways. Intervene to do a self-imposed reset. Remind yourself of your priorities, what they are and why you appreciate your opportunities. Remember that you are ultimately in control of your life and choices. And when needed, take advantage of the many resources for help available to you. You don’t have to go it alone!
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have a couple that spring to mind.
Hard work pays off. I grew up in a great family from a blue collar background with a strong work ethic. My parents worked very hard; my dad worked two jobs to make our lives better. I didn’t realize at the time the value this experience would provide to my career. When I started my own journey in the workforce, I had a great boss who was a hard-nosed, get it done, tough-talking guy, and not a lot of compliments were coming my way. Still, I kept my head down and worked hard. About 8 months into the job, he called me into his office…I wasn’t sure what was about to happen…but his purpose was to promote me. At that point, I realized how much hard work and a strong work ethic pay off. It validated the skill and talent I knew I had, but until that point, I wasn’t sure if it would be enough. That single confirmation that hard work pays off set me on a professional journey where I am all in, all the time.
It’s okay to be a leader and still be a good person. About 5–6 years into my career, I starting to find increasing success in financial roles. I was a young guy, moving up quickly in the sometimes cut-throat financial world, and I encountered a situation where I was interacting with a leader who was three levels above me in the organization. I was the person who always arrived early (thanks to that work ethic!), and one morning I heard footsteps in the office at an unusually early time. I saw a flash go past my office door. The footsteps stopped and came back toward me. Turns out, it was this high level leader who had come back to say good morning once he realized I was there. Another lesson…in that environment, which at the time was very intimidating as colleagues were jockeying for position in the organization, it was remarkable to see someone retrace his steps to simply say hello. This validated my belief that you have to be a good person, first and foremost, to be a good leader. You have to connect with people at all levels, and that he was so thoughtful was highly motivating and inspired me to do the same with others.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
At CAS, our definition of success and great leadership is the ability to maximize our organization’s economic potential while simultaneously striving for operational excellence and enabling individual professional and personal success.
Simply said, I genuinely want CAS to reach its full potential, which includes helping our customers reach their full potential. And I need for the very talented staff in the organization to have the support they need to reach their career aspirations. It’s not enough for the organization to be successful…our people have to achieve success as well.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I want CAS to be an organization that is sustainable with or without me in this position. I want to establish an infrastructure where the organization transcends individuals. If you think of the organization as a car and me as a wheel that falls off, my goal is that CAS keeps rolling along!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I want everyone to be optimistic about people’s intent and their ability to be successful. If we inherently believe everyone we encounter is good, we’ll be happier in our lives, and we’ll make the time to invest in understanding one another and in helping others achieve their goals. With this, doing the right thing will simply become intrinsic. My goal is that we live in a world where we are all naturally predisposed to helping each other, and with that, we share success across any perceived boundaries.
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