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AACC Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition
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Leadership Award

 Robert Lawless 

Chairman, President & Chief Executive Oficer
McCormick & Company, Inc.
St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technolgy, Ontario, Canada

By Evelyn Kent

You can’t get more normal than Bob Lawless. He’s a nice guy, easy to talk to. Loves God, family, country and job. Tries to be home for dinner every night. Has a kid who’s a schoolteacher, a wife who reminds him every day to be himself.

But when you start talking about Robert Lawless you begin to see where the extraordinary is based upon the ordinary. Robert Lawless is the chairman, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer of McCormick & Co., a $2.5 billion, publicly-traded firm with operations in 19 countries.

In today’s climate being a CEO might not strike one immediately as impressive. But consider: Lawless took the top spot at McCormick, the world’s leading spice company, in 1997. And “we’ve been very blessed in the last five years to be the No. 1 one performing company in the food industry in terms of shareholder return,” he said. For anyone who’s counting, those five years have been under Lawless’ tenure.

That’s no mean feat in a time of economical and corporate upheaval. To avoid such disturbances at McCormick, Lawless stresses personal and professional ethics. He has and is a mentor. He makes important decisions quickly with no dithering. He avoids the limelight and fights against the seduction of his position. “I don’t know how you make decisions if you’re breathing that CEO air up there.”

And all of this with one, count it, one degree -- in chemistry from Western Ontario Institute of Technology, now St. Clair College in Ontario, Canada.

Lawless said that how his education lead him his current success is the topic of a lengthy speech, but singled out a few outstanding lessons:
--Sports taught him the importance of teamwork. He was the male athlete of the year for St. Clair, where he played hockey, golf and track and field. “Sharing success with others is my mantra and what I believe in.”
--Sports also honed his competitive spirit.
--People are his company’s most important asset. “The education background that I had equipped me to understand that it isn’t all about degrees, it’s all about people.”

Apparently McCormick agrees. Lawless began working at the company in 1977 as a distribution manager. There he encountered the multiple management philosophy, which stresses the value and dignity of the worker and sharing the rewards of business success. As CEO, he continues to practice the philosophy. 

“Multiple management was part of McCormick for 50 years, and it was a natural fit into my style. We chose not to change much of that,” Lawless said. Instead he put more of an emphasis on accountability of employees and now ties incentives to compensation.

But basically he asks of his employees what he asks of himself. “Our value system is honesty, integrity and no compromise.”

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