Sir George Buckley, who was chief executive of Post-It note, chemicals, materials, mining and machinery conglomerate 3M, says there is no substitute for working hard - not even brains.
Speaking at the EEF Yorkshire and the Humber manufacturing dinner at the Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield, he also revealed his habit of never revealing his ignorance.
He said: “There should never be a second chance in your working life to be ignorant. If you’re in a situation where you hear a word, phrase, or topic you don’t understand, keep your mouth closed for now. But make sure that the next thing you do when you leave the meeting is to find out what it was you didn’t know. I’ve never stopped that habit to this day.”
He also said over-delivering was key.
“If your boss has asked you deliver seven units of something by Friday, make sure you deliver nine units by Thursday.” He went on: “This next one is a bit controversial to some people - but make yourself a tool of the corporation you work for. Corporations need people to solve problems. If it has a problem in Timbuktu and asks you to go and work there for a while, don’t say ‘I don’t like the food there’ or ‘I think it might be too hot and dusty for me’, just ask which day you should turn up to start work.”
On a more serious note, Sir George warned aspiring leaders never to compromise their values and do something unethical, illegal or immoral.
He added: “It never works and it’s always found out. Think of Volkswagen if you are unsure. I’ve also noticed that really smart people only do really stupid things for one of three reasons, power, sex or money. These items and your work life don’t mix well, so avoid them like the plague.
“Always retain a bit of childlike curiosity and be optimistic. Nobody ever created anything new without first being optimistic. Moreover, co-workers don’t like to be around somebody with a persistently lazy or negative attitude. Stay positive. It works.
“Laugh a lot. See the humour that exists in almost everything in life, laugh at circumstances and laugh with others at yourself. It makes you much more human and authentic. It’s just a lot easier.
“Stay abreast of new technology. To some degree this requires a little bit of picking and choosing because there’s so much. I can personally design you a moderately okay computer and then use it to solve problems requiring thousands of simultaneous differential equations - but I’ve never found a use for Twitter.
“Remember that the best resource of any corporation is its people. Surround yourself with people who are better at what they do than you are at what you do. And never be jealous of them.”