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Lessons from Pete Correll

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For this week’s Biz Coaching On Demand, Fran and Matt discussed Pete Correll, the former Chairman and CEO of Georgia Pacific, a manufacturer and distributor of paper products. Growing up in Brunswick, Georgia, Pete experienced tragedy at age 12 when his dad died, leaving him and his mom to manage a men’s clothing store as their only source of livelihood.
One remark Pete made early on in his career is how everybody understands the income statement, but few people understand the most important part of a business: cash flow. The importance of work ethic and cash flow never left Pete later on in life. Going on to study at University of Georgia and the University of Maine, which he chose over Harvard because he received a scholarship, Pete claims that going to school was one of the best decisions he ever made because he came out with a very specific skill in pulp and paper technology.
During his time at Georgia Pacific, Pete had the opportunity to meet the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. He learned from Bill that by talking to people, you can influence their behavior. Clinton served as a model to Pete for his willingness to engage others by asking questions and being sensitive to the needs of other people. As a CEO, Pete Correll made it a priority to visit the plants operating within his company and speak to the people working for him. He asked his employees how the company could do better to satisfy their needs.
The notion of openly communicating, building relationships, and being transparent was instrumental to Pete’s career success. As Pete Correll moved up the corporate ladder at Georgia Pacific, he didn’t always feel qualified to perform the work that he was assigned. But he went out and talked to people who were qualified in the areas he didn’t understand, and they became a cabinet of supporters who he could lean on for assistance. The more support you have, the smarter you’re going to be.
Some recurring themes throughout Pete’s career as a leader include work ethic, determination, and communication. Leaders must offer truth and transparency to their followers. People want to hear the truth, and they can see right through someone who offers them a phony answer. Rather than hiding the reality of a situation, Pete emphasized the importance of dealing with realities and uncertainties as they come about. Bad news does not get any better with age. We need to see the signs of reality and refuse to look the other way when bad news comes about. Engage yourself in bad news by dealing with it head on.
Published: September 17, 2013
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Business Coaching On Demand was formed out of the need to provide small business with expedited results in today's competitive marketplace. We recognize that sometimes small business is overlooked and when services are available, they are generally priced too high to be implemented immediately. We also realize that many small business people have no idea where to go for the help and support they need.

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