Managing a culture change

President and CEO of Underwriters Laboratories Keith Williams, center, poses with members of Bradley's MBA Association outside of Baker Hall.

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April 1, 2013

By Frank Radosevich II

With decades of leadership experience in global markets, President and CEO of Underwriters Laboratories Keith Williams understands the importance of a healthy corporate culture.

Williams began working at the product testing and certification organization in 2005 and helped refocus the company as it faced tougher competition and reworked its own internal training and leadership.

“Business success is the result of shared values and culture,” he told an audience of Bradley students and faculty. “And culture, whether in a company or yogurt, needs the right conditions to flourish.”

Williams gave the 37th McCord Lecture at Bradley, a lecture series sponsored by Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Company that features today’s top business leaders discussing the challenges of leading a major enterprise.

The talk was the first McCord lecture given since the passing of Michel McCord, the University’s former Board of Trustees chairman as well as the former CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Illinois Mutual. University President Joanne Glasser said the lecture series was important to McCord, both because it honored his father and because it brought the best minds and the brightest ideas to Bradley and to Peoria.

“Mike understood that there was much to be learned from great business leaders, men and women who could share their rich expertise, their vast experience, and many successes with our campus community,” said President Glasser. “We are committed to maintaining the tradition that he so strongly encouraged.”

Illinois Mutual also established the Robert A. McCord Endowed Professorship for Executive Management Development in 1990 to honor Robert A. McCord, the retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of the company.

The professorship, currently held by Dr. Joshua Lewer, rewards a Bradley faculty member who teaches students in the Foster College of Business Administration with creativity and passion and supports that faculty member’s research and professional activities.

After the lecture, Williams met for a question-and-answer session with Bradley MBA students where the group talked about UL’s expansion plans, ethical dilemmas, transitioning into a management position and life as an expatriate employee.

MBA student Miriam Gillan said she connected Williams’ points on company culture with her campus studies and said the opportunity to hear his real life business examples was enlightening.

“The McCord Lecture adds another educational layer to Foster College,” she said. “We’re here to learn how businesses work so meeting successful people and hearing their strategies and values is another experiential opportunity for us.”

Gillan, originally from Spring Mills, Pa., also visited UL’s headquarters with a group of MBA students during the fall 2012 semester. Bradley alumna and Vice President of the Public Safety Advocacy, Education & Outreach at Underwriters Laboratory, Barbara Guthrie ‘84, led the informative tour of the company’s Northbrook-based facility where it tests and rates the quality and safety of various consumer products.