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Movin’ on up

Charles Harwood tells how he climbed the ladder

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Charles Harwood spent 10 years as president of N.V. Philips’ integrated circuit company in America. Under his watch, the division’s annual sales reached $700 million and it built up to 10,000 employees.

For Harwood, self-awareness is the key to success. Each of his seven major promotions resulted from his ability to know what his bosses wanted and exceed their expectations.

In this interview Harwood, now retired, shares his insights into getting ahead.

WS: Was your goal to become president when you started out?

Harwood: I went to Harvard Business School, where everyone assumes you’ll be the president of something! But I didn’t really think that way. I was too busy running around keeping up with my bosses, who kept saying, “Harwood do this, Harwood do that.”

WS: Did you map out a career path?

Harwood: No. I started at Corning, the glass company, as a shift foreman. I supervised 25 people. After two years, I was a general foreman with 400 employees. Then they made me plant accountant. From there, I became a sales manager and then a division manager. I could never have mapped out all that.

WS: What was your toughest job?

Harwood: The hardest thing was managing those 25 employees right out of school. I had never supervised anyone before. They were all older than me, but I just leveled with them and tried to set an example.

WS: When you were in management, how did you spot winners?

Harwood: I would visualize how an individual would respond in a higher-level job. I contend that people often are one job away from where they belong. It’s only the superstars who are two or more jobs away from where they belong.

WS: Can you give an example?

Harwood: If a guy was a production superintendent, the next job up was plant manager. Then came division manufacturing manager. I remember weighing whether to put a production superintendent on the fast track. I sat down with his manager and asked, “Do you see this person not only as a plant manager but as a division manufacturing manager?” Neither of us could see him doing the job two levels above him—ever.

WS: But can’t you sell someone short that way?

Harwood: That’s a risk. But with some top people, you can see them stepping into positions two rungs up the ladder and doing a great job. You see if they take a routine assignment and do unusually good work. They may cut costs no one else thought of or come up with great ideas to use equipment better. They’re the ones who would push me around, even though I was their boss!

WS: Did you see yourself as being able to do jobs two rungs up?

Harwood: To some extent. I knew that when I became president of the U.S. company, the ultimate move up from there would’ve been president of the parent company, N.V. Philips, which is in Holland. I could rule that out. At the time, they wanted a Dutchman in charge.

WS: What’s the No. 1 skill that a middle manager needs to break into the executive suite?

Harwood: You need to hire people to replace you. There are otherwise fine managers who just can’t tell a horse from a cow. These managers make bad hires. You need to be able to make up your mind after 90 days that a weak hire isn’t going to make it. And then act fast and get rid of him.

WS: So what’s the secret of your success?

Harwood: I’ll tell you my secret. I heard John Madden (the football coach) say something I never forgot. He said he spoke to every player, every day, about something. He wanted them to know he liked them as human beings. That way, he could chew them out on the field and they’d know it wasn’t personal.

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