2017 Outstanding Business Leader honoree Carol Williams shares advice with student leaders

At Northwood University’s recent Student Leadership Awards, 2017 Outstanding Business Leader honoree Carol Williams shared some “words of wisdom” with student honorees. A full transcript of her talk is below:

Northwood University does a tremendous job at developing the future leaders of a global, free-enterprise society….. and this is the group of students that are being recognized as Student Leaders.

I wondered – What could I say to this group that would spark your interest – and try to be memorable.  I was preparing these words as I was sitting at one of Michigan’s beautiful lakes and thought I would share some words of Leadership as – Advice from a Lake!

First words of advice from the Lake – Make Positive Ripples – Many times, we wonder if we will ‘make a difference in the world’……but I can tell you that each of us CAN and WILL make a difference with the people that we interact with – at work – at home and in our communities.  All we need to start with is – making a positive ripple.  Often these ripples begin to grow and can make such a difference in many people’s life.  Starting with the “glass half full” to look optimistically at a challenge to allow the ‘positive ripple’ instead of the negative response can make a world of difference.

Second words of advice from the Lake – Look beneath the surface.  As leaders, we often wonder why our people respond a certain way….or we wonder why we are working on this topic when other topics seem more important.  Take time to ‘look beneath the surface’ or to ‘walk a day in another person’s shoes’ to try and understand their perspective.  It can often help you tremendously.  Your employee may be having family challenges or an illness which is causing them to behave differently.  And your leader may need you to complete something and they are not able to explain why at that time.

Our next words of Advice from the Lake – Be Clear.  Sometimes leaders need to deliver difficult news – a plant shutdown, loss of a job, change in direction.  The best way to address this type of situation is to ‘be clear’, make the words understandable and be direct.  If you ‘beat around the bush’ the person may actually NOT realize what you are saying.  One time, I had to go to Fort Saskatchewan Canada in February to tell a plant that we were closing the factory.  However, I took the time to explain the company decision using language of buying a house and paying for the mortgage.  I explained that the company would have to borrow the money and the payback was less than you could get in a Money market account in the bank AND you had the market volatility that added uncertainty even to this.  One of the men that worked in the plant told me he was sorry that I had come – because now he knew the reason and understood it, but he still was mad that he was losing his job.  Be Clear – it brings understanding.

Our fourth words of advice from the lake – Take Time to Reflect.   Often on a project, we get so busy with delivering future deadlines that we forget to reflect on how far we have come from the initial starting point.  Make sure that you Celebrate milestones along the way with your teams to remind them of how far you have come – and then take time to remind them about the next milestone.  It will help to keep your team aligned and motivated.

And our final words of advice from the Lake – Be full of Life!  We ourselves want to be on a winning team.  Make sure that you are bringing excitement, understanding of the goals and engagement to your teams.  Be full of Life and make sure your team builds this same excitement about the project.  When you show your passion for something, your team will also begin to be ‘full of life’!

So remember these words of wisdom from the lake as you build your leadership legacy – Make Positive Ripples, Look beneath the surface, Be Clear, Take Time to reflect and Be Full of Life!  It will make a difference.  Thank you for the chance to share these few words of wisdom as a part of your Leadership Awards Reception.

About Carol Williams

Carol Williams retired in early 2015 after serving as a special advisor to the Chief Executive Officer at Dow Chemical Company, a diversified chemical company headquartered in Midland, Michigan. Prior to her special advisor role, she served as Dow’s executive vice president of Manufacturing and Engineering, Supply Chain and Environmental, Health and Safety Operations.

Carol joined Dow in 1980, starting as an engineer in research and development for plastic films and foams in the Granville Research Center. Throughout her 34-year history at Dow, she assumed increasingly more significant management positions in research and development before moving into numerous executive leadership positions within the company.

Carol was named senior vice president of Basic Chemicals in 2009 and president of Chemicals and Energy in 2010. She accepted her role as executive vice president of Manufacturing & Engineering in 2011. Carol was named special advisor to Dow’s chairman and CEO in 2014. She joined the Board of Owens Illinois-a leading glass manufacturing company in 2014, and Olin Corporation in 2015. Carol was named Chairman of the Board, Owens Illinois in 2016. She is also a member of the Olin Chemical Board of Directors.

Professionally, Carol has served on the United States Department of Commerce Manufacturing Council, and on the board of directors for Sadara, Dow-Mitsui Chlor-Alkali LLC., and Zep Inc. She served on the Board of Trustees for Carnegie Mellon University until 2016, and continues to serve as an advisory board member for the Engineering Department and a member of the Energy Futures Institute Presidential Consultation Committee. Carol is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She has received a Woman of the Year Award from the National Association of Professional Women and received a Junior Achievement Mid-Michigan Laureate Award. In 2009, she was selected as an Alumnae of the Year at Carnegie Mellon University.

Carol earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and completed Executive Education at Indiana University.


About Northwood University

Northwood University is committed to the most personal attention to prepare students for success in their careers and in their communities; it promotes critical thinking skills, personal effectiveness, and the importance of ethics, individual freedom and responsibility.

Private, nonprofit, and accredited, Northwood University specializes in managerial and entrepreneurial education at a full-service, residential campus located in mid-Michigan. Adult Degree Programs are available in multiple states and online. The DeVos Graduate School offers accelerated, evening and weekend programming in Michigan and Texas. The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity and Enterprise provides system-wide expertise in family enterprise, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and new business development. International education is offered through study abroad and in Program Centers in China (Changchun and Wuxi), Malaysia and Sri Lanka.