Spotlight on Association Leadership: American Cleaning Institute President and CEO Ernie Rosenberg - SmartBrief

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Spotlight on Association Leadership: American Cleaning Institute President and CEO Ernie Rosenberg

6 min read


Ernie Rosenberg is president and CEO of the American Cleaning Institute, which represents producers of household, industrial and institutional cleaning products, their ingredients and finished packaging; oleochemical producers; and chemical distributors to the cleaning product industry. ACI’s The 2012 ACI Annual Meeting & Industry Convention is Jan. 30 to Feb. 4 in Orlando, Fla. Rosenberg recently discussed his leadership philosophy, the convention and what’s ahead for ACI and the industry.

Describe your leadership philosophy.

I believe in delegating, trusting and doing the right thing. If a leader has good people, he or she needs to let them assume responsibility which means they have to take the risks involved in their work within reason. If there is too much oversight of work in advance and the work is supervised too closely, it tends to reduce the ownership that people take in their jobs and projects.

As a leader, you have to take responsibility and balance the risks to your clients (members in our case) with allowing mistakes. Reasonable mistakes have to be tolerated and corrected constructively. Of course, as one of my bosses told me, “It’s OK to make a mistake. Take responsibility. Correct it. And don’t make the same dumb mistake twice.” And openly acknowledge successes, even small ones.

Doing the right thing and being seen as doing so is essential. People need to take pride in the organization. They need to have confidence that it is ethical and has a purpose in providing service beyond their day-to-day duties. They also need to know that the leader will support them and do the right thing by them.

What leaders in the industry have influenced you? What about leaders in other sectors?

I have had the good fortune to have worked with many people from whom I have learned a lot and some of them are among the top leaders in industry and government today. We have had exceptional people on ACI’s Board of Directors who not only taught me about leadership and this industry, but also set an example of being thoughtful, ethical and caring. I do an injustice by picking only a few, but I have perhaps been most deeply influenced by Bob McDonald, P&G’s CEO; Bill Littlefield, now the CEO of Phoenix Brands; George Calvert, a VP at Amway; and Stan Silverman, formerly the head of PQ Corporation and now a trustee of Drexel U.

Andrew Liveris, Dow’s CEO, who was on our board for a relatively short time after I joined ACI (then the Soap and Detergent Association) was a big influence in helping me during a difficult period of transition when I was new to being an association president. My first job was moving the association from New York to Washington, having to hire most of the staff and working to develop an exceptional team largely made up of new employees.

Early in my career, during my government years, the person who shaped me the most was Eric Stork, for many years the head of EPA’s automotive program. He helped teach me lessons about government that serve me well to this day. From all of these people, I learned about getting the job done without losing yourself, with integrity and excellence while supporting your people in doing the same.

What is the biggest challenge your industry is facing this year?

ACI includes the companies that make finished cleaning products and those that make or distribute the ingredients and packaging for the finished products. We also are the trade association for oleochemicals, chemicals make from oils and fats that are not derived from petroleum. This means we have a number of distinct sectors in the membership, each with its own challenges. For most of our members, there are common challenges: continuing to innovate to improve product performance and make the products more sustainable while containing costs and maintaining supply lines.

What is the biggest challenge your association is facing?

At times when cost containment is a critical concern, member retention is a big challenge. We already represent most of the industry, including the best of its companies, so attracting new members is a challenge. We have to be creative in finding ways for the industry to demonstrate its commitment to and success in sustainability. Finally, we have to contend with slow growth in dues.

How does ACI’s convention help your association and the industry get a jump-start on 2012’s goals?

First of all, we get virtually all of the top players in the industry together. This makes it the premier business-to-business venue in our industry. The top executives from the cleaning product supply chain are in one place, at one time. The ACI Convention provides a business forum that is efficient, effective and valuable for the leaders of the cleaning products industry.

Our convention also is a global meeting and many developments that the industry in the United States has to contend with begin in other countries and the international agencies. Also, the heads of many of our sister trade associations from around the world come to the meeting and we get to collectively look forward to what our challenges and opportunities will be.

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

I would tell them to aspire to finding what they really love doing and then doing it to the best of their ability. Don’t just wait to be told what to do, look for what is needed and wanted.

Getting a job like mine involves a large element of luck. That’s certainly been true for me. I’m not being falsely modest. I’m good at what I do, but I’ve also had a lot of exposure and opportunities that put me in the right place at the right time. But I have been incredibly lucky, most of all by having parents who immigrated to the United States. I’m an American; that’s an incredible piece of luck.

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