In Memoriam: Craig Sullivan’s Legacy of Leadership

By Clorox Chairman and CEO Benno Dorer

Craig Sullivan, 1940-2017

What makes a great leader? There’s no set list of attributes, but we can always look to the people who precede us for guidance and inspiration. For me, and for so many of my 8,100-plus colleagues at Clorox, one exemplar of leadership was our former Chairman and CEO Craig Sullivan, a longtime member of our Clorox family who passed away last week.

Here are some common themes about Craig’s leadership that emerged in remembrances of Craig shared by Clorox employees:

Has a vision for the business

During 11 years as our chief executive, Craig established a clear direction for the company and set priorities that still resonate with us today. He was the driving force behind the single-largest acquisition in our history, First Brands, which brought Glad® products into our fold and doubled the company in size. He also oversaw our international expansion into markets in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Australia.  And he made the difficult but necessary decisions to divest the company of businesses that were not considered a good strategic fit over the long term.

In addition to financial performance, Craig embraced the importance of our employees and our communities. To set us on the right path, he identified the five Ps — Portfolio, People, Pace, Performance and Public Responsibility — as his focus areas.

With a clear idea of where you want to go, it’s easier to map a blueprint to get you there.

Has a passion for people

Many Clorox employees commented on Craig’s warmth, sense of humor and approachability.

Someone in IT talked about how a fellow employee — who turned out to be the CEO himself — helped him when he was lost in our headquarters building on his first day on the job, establishing a longtime bond in the process. A plant employee shared the story of how Craig, a Boston College alumnus, sent him a congratulatory note when he learned his son had earned a Clorox scholarship to attend Notre Dame, starting a friendly sports rivalry between them.

Another one of his many legacies at Clorox was his articulation of the company’s values — the core set of beliefs held by Clorox people everywhere that, still today, form an important part of the company’s culture: Stretch for Results, Do the Right Thing, Take Personal Ownership and Work Together to Win. He believed one of the things that set us apart from other companies is that Clorox employees live these values every day.

Because he cared deeply about the company and its people, Craig also offered helpful advice and perspective to me throughout my career — especially after I became CEO — even though he didn’t have to.

Connecting with people makes them feel valued and part of a larger team committed to achieving your shared goals.

Shows humility

When asked by a young regional sales manager whether Craig thought he’d be CEO when he was his age, Craig said, “Absolutely not,” attributing his professional success to good luck. While luck helps, it was Craig’s ability to embrace and apply lessons from his own mentors — lessons about taking personal ownership, not making excuses, not wavering on your principles, stretching for results, seeing opportunities from challenges and always doing the right thing, among others — that truly propelled Craig (and us along with him). True to his character, he had the ability to deflect attention away from himself and give credit to others.

Humility shows the people around you that you believe in the collective power of your success.

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Vision, a passion for people, and humility are three of the many leadership traits that Craig brought to Clorox. They continue to reflect who we are today and where we want to be tomorrow. And they can serve as a model for how to approach business — and life — beyond our own company’s walls. We all can continue to learn how to be better leaders, and people, from Craig’s example.