As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Smytka.
Dan Smytka joined Zep as CEO in September of 2019. He has more than 30 years’ experience as a multi-functional senior executive with global P&L leadership experiences in EMEA and Asia Pacific.
Before Zep, he was the President for Goodyear’s Global Off-Highway businesses. Previously, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer for Goodyear’s EMEA region and in leadership roles in Asia Pacific for seven years, including four years as President of that region.
Prior to joining Goodyear, he was President of the North American Building Systems & Services division of Carrier Corporation from 2007 to 2008. He previously worked for 17 years at the General Electric Company, where he held positions including President of its Engineered Systems division, President of the Asia Pacific Consumer and Industrial Group and General Manager of the Refrigeration business unit.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned a Master’s Degree in Corporate Finance from the University of Memphis. He received his Bachelor’s Degree with dual majors in Business Economics and Psychology from Creighton University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I was 22 years old, I was in the military. I was serving at the national training center, preparing for a defensive battle in morning against an opposing force. While doing night maneuvers, I passed an entire battalion without noticing. However, I found out later as they had defensively created obstacles to prevent our movement.
When we woke up the next morning, we were locked in place, and spent most of our time figuring out how to get out. Needless to say, we were not part of our counter offense.
The lesson I learned from this is that you must take time to stop and observe what is around you. In this case, I was so focused on my mission at hand that I didn’t zoom out to see what was around me.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Patrick Lencioni — The Advantage
I like this book because it focuses on how to build cohesive leadership teams, define organization clarity, overcommunicate organization clarity, and reinforce organizational clarity. It explains how to communicate as leaders and be accountable to your organization.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Zep’s purpose and mission is to make the world safer and more productive. We also pride ourselves in delighting our customers and consumers by being #1 or # 2 in every category.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Quite simply, I view every problem or challenge as an opportunity for a positive team outcome. Everything can be solved for a good team outcome. The power of the solutions sits with the team.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
This pandemic has impacted all of us. In my immediate family, my daughter, a nurse working in a medical environment, caught the virus. We were concerned about how the virus would impact her and her husband. Seven other people in my extended family have been touched — my sister, sister-in-law, nephews. We are fortunate that no one has been hospitalized and have been able to work through at home.
But, our normal has impacted. How we live our lives virtually, has changed. We have new ways of doing things. Thank God for Zoom, the internet, etc. for allowing us to connect.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our biggest challenge has been to ensure that our employees can stay safe, stay productive while meeting customer needs and maintaining business continuity. This has been challenging, particularly for our front line employees who can’t work remotely (manufacturing, distribution, R&D, sales people). How do we best keep their work environments safe while meeting mission of company?
Secondly, we have seen a shift in the focus of our company. Our traditionally core products are impacted, while we have been ramping up products that were not core in the past. Balancing those have been a big change for the organization.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I emphasize with my loved ones that it is important to understand what is in your control and what is not. You need to live and enjoy life, but now, we must be more cautious about how you do it. Control what you can — wash your hands, social distance, etc. But, don’t live in fear.
For things you can’t control, be prepared in case something happens, and know that you have family around to support you.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
For Zep, we see changes in cleaning protocols on B2B side of business — restaurant owners, small shops, corporate clients, auto dealerships. There will be strengthened protocols and an emphasis on ensuring environments are clean and protected, particularly in high traffic areas.
From a product perspective, hand sanitizers, hand soaps, and disinfectants will continue to be important, but with some assurance of clean with duration of time.
Productivity will continue to be important for our customers. So, what role will AI play in an environment where new protocols are needed, but they can’t be labor intensive or unsafe.
Cleaning will transform from what we have traditionally known and expand to ensure environments are secure and protected from viruses. Security is emerging as a trend for us.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
It is changing our traditional views of how we need to work and live. Going forward, remote work will be well accepted for professionals. Many companies will redefine work areas and offices spaces and make the world a better place by using less resources. Will be safer and more productive. Social distancing will be prevalent through our lives. Masks will be fashionable and mainstream.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Now is an exciting time at Zep.
We are making investments to grow our business and strengthen our global position in our industries of focus.
We are expanding our consultative services. Our customers expect more than just products. They want solutions.
We are expanding our product offering into categories that deliver cleaning, disinfecting, and protection protocols.
We are investing in our supply chain to support growth in disinfectants, hand soaps, hand sanitizers, and wipes.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Yesterday’s rules don’t dictate today’s game. Rethink your business like your personal life. Companies have to be more agile and collaborative on how they work and solve for their customer needs. Look at all aspects of your business: how you serve your customers, how you work with suppliers, and new partnerships. Zep has addressed all of these during the pandemic, and we are stronger as a result.
Post-Covid, the world will be different. Speed and collaboration will be more important than ever going forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Golden Rule — “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31)
It is so important to treat and respect others as that is how you want to be treated.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow Zep’s work at https://www.linkedin.com/company/zep-inc/