Leading Globally: Applying Organizational Development and Coaching


Ron Ettinger is the VP of Human Resources at Quaker Chemical and specializes in global organizational development and executive coaching. Since 1918, Quaker Chemical has been a multi-million dollar company and has been establishing and maintaining relationships with leading enterprises in every major manufacturing country in the world. It’s publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Quaker has a long track record of financial consistency and strength. As the company entered the 21st century, Quaker began a major strategic action to better meet the changing needs of customers. Now as a global, knowledge-based company, they provide services, technology and product resources to all their customers around the world.

While working hard to meet customer needs, Quaker strives to keep a strong sense of responsibility to all the associates, to the communities in which they operate, and to the national environment. Ron will share his insights from over 2 decades of OD, HR and coaching.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Ron and I met many, many years ago when I was with a company called Computer Sciences Corporation and we were doing a large-scale re-engineering project for a major utility company where Ron was the lead for the human transformation component. I’ll let Ron tell you his side of the equation, but you know, people go through very different episodes of change and they handle change sometimes well and sometimes not so well. In this particular situation we had a lot of people who were handling change on many different levels. Ron did a masterful job of keeping up with all of them. Ron spent the first 12 years of his professional career as a psychotherapist with active clinical practices in both the Philadelphia and Washington Metropolitan areas. In addition to providing ongoing treatment to clients—just a myriad of needs—Ron was the developer and principal of a training company that offered professional development workshops which, by the way, provided practicing clinicians alternative techniques and approaches to conducting psychotherapy.

After numerous corporate roles in management, organizational development and training, Ron established his very own consulting and training firm. As a founder and principal of the Excalibur Consulting Group, Ron had the opportunity to bring together a core group of outstanding professionals who focused on design and implementation of large scale culture change and leadership development initiatives that targeted workforce revitalization.

For the first ten years of Ron’s life as a practitioner, he worked in large companies doing many different things. But for the past 10 years, Ron has worked for Quaker Chemical Corporation, initially in the role of Global Director of Learning and Organization Development and later being promoted to become the Vice President of Quaker’s Global Human Resources Group. Currently in his role as Vice President, he has full responsibilities for managing multi-national/multi-cultural staff with oversight for all of the traditional HR functions worldwide, plus many other functions.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Ron, how did you make this transition from working in a clinical practice, we were talking about the training in family therapy which looks at culture, into a bigger culture at Quaker Chemical?

Ron Ettinger: I think sometimes economic need drives you in directions you never would have considered before. But, somewhere in the 80’s about the time that the HMO system was coming into play, I was in clinical practice and had an opportunity to do an employee assistance clinical directorship in the Philadelphia region. During that time I became involved in some organizational issues coaching; actually doing counseling work with some of the executives who, at the time, were dealing with some restructuring in their own corporations that created a lot of stress. I brought them into the clinical practice and during that time they liked what I did enough to bring me into their companies to work with their executive teams to help them deal with some of the stress related with the restructuring.

During that time I got a very good taste of the world I had never touched before which was corporate organizational life and over a few years gravitated in that direction and had opportunity to work in a local utility as part of their executive and management development staff. With the HMO insurance transitions I decided it might be time to look to further my career in a different direction. One thing led to another and after about three years I left clinical work entirely and was deep to my knees in organizational work.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So, Ron, one of the questions that we really like to ask everyone who comes on to the show is something about how you have been influenced in your career, perhaps some individuals, whether they be parents or teachers, or first bosses; anyone who has influenced who you have become and your fondness for anything they may have done to instruct you  putting you in the direction that you have now taken advantage of.

Ron Ettinger: Thinking about mentors, I happen to be an avid reader, so there are many authors who have helped shape my thinking and in some ways my direction. If I think about live humans I had a clerical mentor when I left University and had my degrees and went off and started my clinical practice in Washington; there was a gentleman that had studied Ericksonian Hypnosis of all things, and had been instructing clinicians in the skill and art of hypnotherapy. I had always been intrigued with Milton Erickson, not so much for his hypnosis but more for his ability to look at alternatives ways to approach human change and to influence behavior.

I began to study with this gentleman whose name was also Ron, and we became good friends as well as intellectual colleagues. We joined up and started the training company, Cathy, that you had mentioned earlier and began to teach professionals with hypnotherapy as well as some other things that broaden their perspective of psychotherapy.

From a clinical perspective, he was probably a mentor that I recall, probably most influential for me.

For a professional one; funny, I moved into my first corporate job which was actually at PECO Energy, then PECO Electric Company-Philadelphia Electric Company, here in Philadelphia. My boss at the time was Corbin McNeill, who I believe is now long retired, but he was an ex-Navy Admiral who had moved into the Nuclear Utility management realm after his Navy career. He again was one of those very dynamic leaders, strong visionaries who not only had the ability to look ahead and see what’s coming, but also to galvanize organizations behind him. I worked for Corbin but also became a good student of some of the ways that he approached organizations and organizational change. We became good partners for the next 7 or 8 years working together in the utility world. Those are probably the two that come most strongly to mind.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Ron, that’s fascinating and I think in some ways you and I have a little similar background working with groups and families and then transforming that into working with organizations. I think we also work with populations that are fast moving. Can you tell us a little bit about the global nature of Quaker Chemical and what your role is today with human resources? We talked about this from dealing with Ericksonian and change, and Cathy and I talked about this; probably the big arena for most leaders today is managing change. That’s where all the skills have to come together of developing others, getting followers, and having a vision. Maybe you can talk a little bit about your role as a global leader.

Ron Ettinger: First of all, just a little bit about Quaker because the context is always interesting and sometimes even important. Quaker is an old specialty chemical company that’s been around for 96 years or so. Originally and still based in Philadelphia; we are actually sitting in my office which is near the original factory that the company started. There’s been a little rehab and a little modernization, but there’s still a lot of history.

Quaker, I guess in the 50’s and 60’s had an early expansion into doing some international work. They began to have joint ventures and affiliates in other countries, mostly European at the time, and then as you fast-forward, up to the 90’s they began to really look at transitioning from just a company that does international work in multiple countries to really a global company that has a common framework, a common set of philosophies, structures and systems as well as culture that can work not just internationally but almost work as one company that happens to do business multi-culturally across the globe. It’s an interesting company in that they made the transition from being international to truly global, probably in the mid to the end of the 90’s, which is actually a bit early.

The company has a good footprint in it’s space, in it’s chemical space which is always good, so at least from a business perspective, it’s very sound.

My role in human resources is an interesting one. We’ve chosen to structure our Human Resources department really with a balance between local autonomy and global consistency. So, I have local HR Directors and staff in each of our core regions around the world and each of them try to address the local issues in very autonomous way. The culture and the legislative demands of each region differs so greatly it’s good to give them their head and know that they are the real experts in that region. But what we do try to create consistently is our approach to creating culture and systems as an HR group. So we look to train, develop, organize and pay our people consistently around the globe.

That’s more my job: to really help monitor and direct the HR leaders and the corporate leaders so that we have that kind of global consistency.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So when you partner with these divisions in these globally distinct regions, do you have people that you hire specifically to play those roles or do the businesses actually help you hire those people to play those roles?

Ron Ettinger: That’s a good question again. I work in partnership with my executive VPs, my colleagues. So when I go to hire an individual I’ll typically look for qualities that are kind of a given; they have technical savvy and expertise, long-term experience in HR. Also I find critical, especially at the higher level, that they have business savvy; that they understand and enjoy the nature of doing business which is one of the key qualities that gives them acceptance in the organizations in which they work.

Probably at the highest level I look for them to have good people skills; the ability to engage and endear trust among their clients. If I look at the qualities and competencies I probably run them in technical, experiential business and then people at the top of that list. My colleagues, my regional vice presidents are critical of my hires since they are the key client, I will ask them for their involvement in the interviewing and in the final selection.

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