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Spotlight on Association Leadership: Propane Education & Research Council’s CEO

Roy Willis is the founding president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council, a congressionally-authorized program promoting the use of propane throughout the U.S. through research and development, safety and training, consumer education, agriculture and engine fuel. I talked to Willis about his thoughts on leadership.

Describe your leadership philosophy.

A leader in my view has three important challenges. First, what some people call “vision” or building clarity around what needs to be done — the goals, expectations, and metrics. Second, providing the resources and marshaling the right people to do the job and then getting out of their way. Finally, measuring and holding yourself and others accountable for producing results.

When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide if someone is right for your team?

I start by considering an individual’s education and experience to decide who to interview. Then, in the interview I am looking for attitude, a passion to do good work. Next, I ask them questions about information on our websites to see if they have initiative and genuine interest in the work we do, rather than just looking for a job. Finally, I reflect on a lesson I learned from, of all people, a drama professor, who convinced me of the essential importance of ¬†building “the ensemble,” or bringing together individuals who have the potential to feed off each other’s skills and personalities and create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

What is the biggest challenge your industry faces this year?

The economy, generally, and especially weakness in new home construction, which historically has been the industry’s primary source of new customers. So the real challenge is developing new markets that offer growth opportunities beyond the residential sector.

What is the biggest challenge your organization faces?

Finding the right manufacturing partners that we can support with research funds to build clean, efficient propane appliances, equipment, and vehicles that will open new markets and expand existing markets for growing domestic supplies of propane.

Looking outside of Washington, D.C., whose work do you admire most?

Steve Jobs, who built a niche computer company and when it looked like it had peaked, morphed it into a successful, innovative consumer products and information services firm. Also, Chris Duncan, who leads Convene, a CEO peer group that combines business excellence and spiritual leadership, or what I call “success with a soul.”

If a recent college graduate came to you and said they one day wanted your job, what advice would you give them?

Throughout your career, nurture the mindset of “make it better.” Whether you’re working on a product, a service, or a process, constantly ask if there is a way to make it better. And when you get the chance, make it better. People will notice. And, by the way, the first place to apply that “make it better” approach is with the man or woman in the mirror.
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