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Take 5: Q&A with Stephanie Streeter, CEO, Libbey Inc.

Oct. 9, 2013
"You don’t survive in a competitive world for 200 years or 100 years without having a lot of good stuff going on."

In August 2011, Stephanie A. Streeter took the helm of Libbey Inc., a manufacturing company that has been synonymous with glass-making for well over a century.

A former member of Stanford University's women's basketball team, Streeter's previous engagements include serving as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors (and interim CEO for a year) and chairman, president and CEO of Banta Corp.

She recently spoke with IndustryWeek about manufacturing longevity, leadership and the competitive spirit.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I'm very direct in how I approach things, so what you see is what you get. There's very little politics or gamesmanship. It's very much right down the fairway. I like to be involved -- not to the tune of micromanaging, but I ask a lot of questions and I read incessantly.

Q: Athletics is a big part of your background. How has it impacted your leadership style?

There are so many ways, from knowing what it means to win as a team -- how you have each others' backs when you're on a team, meaning someone can make a mistake but part of your job is to be there to make sure the mistake isn’t catastrophic, that you don't lose the game as a result.

How to win as a team and lose as a team is very important, and it's not just about good sportsmanship. It's about how you require each other to reach different levels that maybe you didn't or weren’t able to reach by yourself.

And that whole competitive spirit. When you are in business, you are out there to win. There's no two ways about it. How you win is as important as winning, so is the character that you displayed and the sportsmanship that you have, but you are definitely in it to win.

Women Scarce in Leadership Roles

Q: There were not many women leading businesses when you were coming up. There still aren't large numbers today. Did that ever give you pause to think, "Can I do this? Can I get here?"

Never. I never considered it, and I think -- it sounds corny -- but it starts with my parents saying, "Whatever you are going to be, be the best at it." To me that meant you could be a CEO. To all of the people who were my bosses along the way, encouraging me, they never said I couldn’t do anything.

It's the confidence, the courage -- some of it inspired by sports -- where you want to play in the big leagues. You want to play at the highest level, and you do everything within in your power to do it nobly. Hopefully that's the case. I'm a woman. That is who you are. You use your strengths and your weaknesses just like anyone else.

Q: The history of Libbey goes back more than 100 years – in Toledo, Ohio, since 1888 and another 70 years in Massachusetts prior to Ohio. What is the biggest challenge in leading a company of that great age?

There are actually two. To have been around for 195 years and in Toledo for 125, you have a lot of people who are long tenured and either will say, 'Oh, we've always done it this way' or 'Oh, we tried that, and it can't be done.' So there is that aspect of it, overcoming that inertia.

And the other is this balance of other people who have carried the water for us. You don’t survive in a competitive world for 200 years or 100 years without having a lot of good stuff going on, so it is figuring out what is the secret sauce from the past that you can use but making it more relevant for what you are going to face in the future.

It is much more challenging to do that, I think, than it is to create something from whole cloth, just brand new.

Q: What is the most important thing you can do to make sure Libbey is around for another 100 years?

Create the culture that is around innovation and courage so that we can continue to be the industry leader that we have the right to be.

Glass has been around for 3,000 or 4,000 years in some way, shape or form. It’s molten sand, it's round, it's got a hole in one side, it's got a bottom, and as long as it doesn’t leak, it's okay. But we're really trying to make it exciting and trendy, and make sure we exceed the consumer's requirements as well as our customers'. That is what I mean by being relevant.

Check out IW's complete "Take Five" series, a regular section featuring interviews with top executives.

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