Reference no: EM13758591
The DuPont Company got its start when Leathered Irene du Pont de Nemours fled France’s revolution to come to America, where, in 1802, he built a mill on the Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware, to produce blasting powder used in guns and artillery. In 1902, E.I. du Pont’s great-grandson, Pierre S. du Pont, along with two cousins, bought out other family members and began transforming DuPont into the world’s leading chemical company. In its second century, DuPont Corporation would go on to develop Freon for refrigerators and air conditioners; nylon, which is used in everything from women’s hose to car tires; Lucite, a ubiquitous clear plastic used in baths, furniture, car lights, and phone screens; Teflon, famous for its nonstick properties in cookware and coatings; Dacron, a wash-and-wear, wrinkle-free polyester; Lycra, the stretchy, clingy fabric used in active wear and swimwear; Nome, a fire-resistant fiber used by firefighters, race car drivers, and to reduce heat in motors and electrical equipment; Corona, a high-end countertop used in homes and offices; and Kevlar, the “bulletproof” material used in body armor worn by police and soldiers, in helmets, and for vehicle protection. You became DuPont’s CEO right as “the world fell apart” at the height of the world financial crisis. Fortunately, you had early warning from sharply declining sales in DuPont’s titanium dioxide division, which makes white pigment used in paints, sunscreen, and food coloring. Sales trends there can be counted on to indicate what will happen next in the general economy, so you and your leadership team began working with the heads of all of DuPont’s divisions to make contingency plans in case sales dropped by 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, or more. Many DuPont managers thought you were crazy, until the downturn hit. It was difficult, but with plans to cut 6,500 employees at the ready, you were prepared when sales dropped by 20 percent at the end of the year. But when that wasn’t enough, salaried and professional employees were asked to voluntarily take unpaid time off and an additional 2,000 jobs were eliminated. In all, these moves reduced expenses by a billion dollars a year. But one place you refused to cut was DuPont’s research budget, which remained at $1.4 billion per year. One of the ways in which the Board of Directors measures company performance is by comparing DuPont’s total stock returns to 19 peer companies. Over the last quarter century, DuPont has regularly ended up in the bottom third of the list. This makes clear that you have one overriding goal: to restore DuPont’s prestige, performance, and competitiveness. The question, of course, is how? Before deciding, there are some big questions to consider. First, given sustained weak performance over the last quarter century, do you need to step back and consider DuPont’s purpose, that is, the reason that you’re in business? After transitioning from blasting powder to chemicals, DuPont’s slogan became, “Better things for better living … through chemistry.” Is it time, again, to reconsider what DuPont is all about? Or, instead of an intense focus on DuPont’s purpose, would it make more sense to make lots of plans and lots of bets so that “a thousand flowers can bloom?” In other words, would it be better to keep options open by making small, simultaneous investments in many alternative plans? Then, when one or a few of these plans emerge as likely winners, you invest even more in these plans while discontinuing or reducing investment in the others. Finally, planning is a double-edged sword. If done right, it brings about tremendous increases in individual and organizational performance. But if done wrong, it can have just the opposite effect and harm individual and organizational performance. With that in mind, what kind of goals should you set for the company? Should you focus on finances, product development, or people? And should you have an overriding goal, or should you have separate goals for different parts of the company? If you were the CEO at DuPont, what would you do?