Last updateTue, 26 May 2020 7pm

Highlights from VMA’s 2019 Leadership Forum

John HillenDr. John Hillen of George Mason University’s School of Business advises leaders on how to adapt to a changing company.Valve industry executives gathered in Toronto last month to network, exchange ideas and learn about diverse topics relating to their leadership, including economic issues, digitization of enterprises and how to adapt as a leader in a changing organization.


“This is not about how to become a leader but how to stay a leader,” said Dr. John Hillen, the executive in residence and professor of practice in the School of Business at George Mason University.

There’s a big difference between management and leadership, Hillen said. For a leader, most of the job is strategic and interpersonal. Management is more in the technical and tactical realm.

He pointed out seven “stalls” leaders may encounter when they:

  • have failed to provide a purpose
  • let their team splinter
  • neglect stakeholders
  • fail to lead change
  • lose authority
  • focus time and energy in the wrong places
  • can’t keep their leaders from failing

Hillen offered ways to get out of stalls. Creating a team charter, for example, is the single most critical success factor, he said. A charter provides a shared understanding of why the team exists, what it is trying to accomplish and how it will work together.

“How many people make plans to change [the] business but don’t make changes to their leadership?” Hillen asked. What Happens Now?, a book Hillen co-wrote, offers answers and solutions with guidelines for “reinventing yourself as a leader before your business outruns you.”


Jessica BushellJessica Bushell of A.W. Chesterton responds to a question from the audience.“Wages, benefits and flexibility will be key to attracting and retaining employees,” said Jessica Bushell, director of global HR partnership for A.W. Chesterton. A formal 12-week mentoring program open to all employees at her company helps both mentee and mentor develop specific skills, network within the company and share their learning.

An employee value proposition (EVP) describes the balance of rewards and benefits employees receive in return for their performance in the workplace, Bushell said. A realistic and attractive EVP can be beneficial in recruiting and retaining staff, especially in a competitive labor market. Features that attract and satisfy employees include good pay and benefits, of course, but also consider development opportunities, real-time feedback and offering different mixes of pay/flextime/paid time off.


Three speakers from Canada covered aspects of their country’s economy and industry.

Craig Wright, senior vice president and chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, offered “a more uncertain and moderate economic outlook,” an economic overview of Canada and the world. Global trade is down for the first time since the global economic crisis. He cited rising protectionism as a threat to the global economy. As for Canada, after GDP growth of 1.8% in 2018, he predicts rises of 1.5% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020.

Craig WrightEconomist Craig Wright of the Royal Bank of Canada discussed a more uncertain and moderate economic outlook.Wright presented data on Canadian, U.S. and worldwide economic indicators, such as unemployment (at a 40-year low in Canada), consumer spending (60% of the Canadian economy, compared to 70% in the U.S), investment and exports. The global economic policy uncertainty index has been trending upward since the 2008 economic collapse. Though he presented some positive indicators, the prospect was not entirely rosy. There’s nothing imminent, Wright said, but it looks as if we may be getting closer to a recession.

The chemical industry has been thought of as old, outdated and dirty, said Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada. “You need to change perception of the industry.” In many countries the chemistry industry is a major component of the economy. Not so in Canada, he said. The petrochemical industry in Canada is strong, but “we really don’t have a domestic chemistry industry.” Given the scale of the economy, he would expect some $30 billion of investment in Canada for the chemical industry. It hasn’t been there.

Some investment has come from a petrochemical diversification program started when petroleum prices went low and producers needed to get rid of their propane. A bigger bump is coming from Nova Chemicals, which announced a $2 billion investment, including some advanced manufacturing, scheduled to start up in 2021.

Canada has the third largest oil reserve in the world, said David Sword communications and outreach advisor for Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). He proposed a five-part vision for energy prosperity in Canada:

  • International: The world is open to Canadian energy. In a worldwide survey, a majority of the respondents agree Canadian oil and natural gas imports are preferred over any other producing nation’s natural resources, said Sword, quoting Jeff Gaulin, vice-president of CAPP.
  • Infrastructure: Pipelines build Canada’s prosperity, Sword said. • Investment: More than $25 billion in private capital is ready to invest in the sector.
  • Innovation: An alliance of oil sands producers is investing more than $1.4 billion in technologies and innovations. Biofuels and other products are being developed use waste carbon dioxide, waste heat and wastewater.
  • Indigenous participation: Indigenous people are well-represented among the employees at facilities such as the Fort McMurray oil sands operation.


Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 was designed to address the intersection of national security and imports, said Eric McClafferty, partner at Kelley Drye & Warren. The March 2018 imposition of 25% tariffs on virtually all steel mill products and 10% on aluminum triggered substantial opposition from trading partners, defense and foreign policy establishments, and consumers, as well as many members of Congress. Legal challenges are pending.

Retaliatory tariffs targeting around $20 billion of U.S. exports have been imposed by many steel and aluminum exporting countries, including China, Mexico, Canada and the E.U.

Requests for exclusions of products, including valves, are being made. The U.S. Trade Representative has the latest information.

What will happen with all this? No one knows, McClafferty said.


The digital transformation of manufacturing started in the 1980s, said Steve Armstrong, vice president for Plantweb Technology at Emerson Automation Solutions.

At first, distributed control systems and field devices allowed for connected processes and process control. The advent of microprocessors paved the way for a digital environment in the factory. Next instrumentation got into the game. Wireless offered additional options for connection. The growth of Cloud capabilities in the 2010s set the scene for process automation vendors to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 for improved operational performance.

What are the advantages? Improved sensing technologies, cost-effective connectivity, and advanced computing and analytical methods.

Part of the evolution is the need for operational and information technology organizations to work together. This can be a challenge, as their traditional interests can be at odds:

  • Strategic mindset: “Run the process” vs. “Run the business”
  • Technologies deployed: purpose-built vs. open and connected
  • Security objectives: Ensuring control vs. ensuring confidentiality
  • Digital transformation competencies: Domain expertise—where to target new applications vs. technology expertise—how to implement new technologies

Armstrong showed how the digital transformation could “close the loop” by providing sensing, interpretation and action/adaptation in a typical connected system. He offered real-world examples: monitoring the condition of valves in a refinery, calling for repair or maintenance only when needed; and wireless monitoring of steam traps in a chemical plant to detect failures, which reduced steam loss and energy use.

The prospect of digitizing a plant or enterprise may be daunting. Armstrong offered some basics to keep in mind when digitizing a facility or enterprise, including, “The opportunity for transformational results is real but the technology is mostly evolution not revolution.”

The next VMA Leadership Forum will be held in New Orleans in March 2020. Attendance is limited to members. For information on membership, go to VMA.org/AboutVMA.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is editor in chief of VALVE Magazine and VMA director of education. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is web editor for VALVEmagazine.com.  

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