Executive Special Edition: Expert of the Week: Alan McLenaghan

Alan McLenaghan

CEO: Saint-Gobain, SAGE Electrochromics

What is your professional background?

 I trained as a scientist, gaining a PhD in a narrow field of Polymer Physics.

 I moved into industrial research in the field of polyester film and enjoyed many interesting roles and challenges with I.C.I. (no longer in existence) and DuPont before being recruited into Saint-Gobain in 1998.


As Chief Executive Officer, what’s your average day like?

 Is there such a thing as an average day? :)

 Let’s give it a try….

 It is a balance of relatively immediate issues / spending time with as many people within our organization as possible and the longer term issues of planning the future of the business.

 I try to get out in front of potential customers regularly. This involves global travel and significant internal (US) travel. It helps me close jobs, it allows me to share my passion for the company and experience their passion. It helps me personally experience the PAIN POINTS they experience when dealing with SAGE and our people. Then I can create plans to eliminate those pain points.

 I support our commercial teams by attending tradeshows.

 I host events with architects, building owners and influencers in the glass, glazing and controls industries.

 Days are always long but never dull.

 I don’t start super early but I do work late. (We all have to find our rhythm and companies need to be able to adapt and flex in order to get the best out of people.)

 My day starts around 7am. I check incoming mails and calls over breakfast.

 During the “normal” working day I like to spend as much of my time with SAGE team members before commencing more focused work after 6pm when the hours in my day haven’t been organized by my “super – efficient” EA ( Executive assistant), Laural.

 I spend most of my week days away from home.

 This is true even when I am at the SAGE HQ. It is in Minneapolis and my home is in Indianapolis. (Long story!)

 So my week invariably starts at 4am each Monday – catching the 1st flight to MSP at 7am. AND it ends with me catching the 7:30pm flight out of MSP on Friday night back to Indy. The time zone change means I get into my home around 10:30pm.

Sunday’s are my day to prepare and send out my weekly message to the >250 SAGE team members globally. I call my message PERFORMANCE ONE and it is part business update / part personal experiences of the week. Members of my senior leadership team also write a PERFORMANCE ONE once or twice per year – giving me about 10 weeks off and giving our teams a different leadership perspective.


What has been your greatest accomplishment at Saint-Gobain, SAGE Electrochromics?

I haven’t accomplished anything!

 That is not a “soundbite” – I believe it.

 If I ever start to think I have “achieved” something then it will be the beginning of the end.

 I am motivated by fear of failure.

 And that is a completely different discussion. :)

 One best had with a psychologist I think.

 We are ONE team.


Together, as a team we can be rightfully proud of 4 things:

 The culture of excellence and “amazing experiences” that we strive to deliver.

 Amazing experiences for our customers, for our partners and for each other.

 The growth in acceptance of electrochromic glass and SageGlass in particular.

 Achieving 250% to 500% growth each year and with the next 2 years on track for the same.


Entering into new countries with the SageGlass product:

 USA, Brazil, Canada, France, Switzerland, UK, Nordics, Germany, Australia, South Korea, the Middle East, China, Japan

 The improved manufacturing performance and focus on the customer from EVERY member of our team.

 Reduced lead times, improved OTIF, reduced costs, improved quality, the welcome a visitor gets when visiting our establishments – WOW!


Conducting our business with a true CODE OF CONDUCT.

 Clear code: Principles of Conduct and Action in all that we do.

 Principles are long term – not today’s fad!

 They don’t change every week!


What are the most common mistakes that CEOs make with managing their firms?

 I honestly don’t feel qualified to answer that.

  I am not a fan of CEO’s who lecture others on what to do and how to behave.

 All I know is that, as a part of the Saint-Gobain Group, SAGE has a clear and well articulated vision.

 A key part of what I do is to “walk the talk” on that Vision and those behaviors.

 Our product is “soooo cool” and improves the experience and comfort that we, as occupants of buildings, can have in our indoor spaces. I never want to reach a situation where my team members or I take our amazing product for granted. I want us to feel proud and excited about it every time we talk about it.

 We have it installed throughout all of our own facilities – so that we get the benefit from it.


Except in some areas ( such as my office) where I use blinds and shades so that visitors can get a comparison as to how much better SageGlass is at managing heat, glare and light without compromising the connection to the outdoors.

 When orders go through our facility – they don’t go through as numbers, characters or barcodes – they go through as building names.

 The name of the actual building that we are helping create.

 The image of the building is displayed on screens throughout the facility as the SageGlass for it is being made. Months later when the building opens, we share photos of the finished space that we helped create. We stay connected to why we are here and what we are delivering to our customer and to the people who will occupy or use that customers building.


Do you utilize any management software? If so, what have you found to be most effective for your needs?

 Lots of management tracking tools for the various parts of our business.

 I particularly like SALESFORCE for our CRM.

 But I always try to keep the KPI’s simple and aligned to the “raison d’etre” of the business.


What trends in business do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

 I am always interested in the global megatrends.


Saint-Gobain strategic planning does an amazing job on these.

 Water scarcity and cleanliness


 Population age profile changes

 Emerging technologies


It is my role to marry the mega trends with the macro trends that might affect my business

 Energy saving

 Comfort in buildings

 Human productivity and wellbeing

 Digital and connectivity


And focus our resources on being ready to address these issues just before they become main-stream. Not long before – JUST before :)

 Eg LEED building certification. Wellbeing standards, changes to legislation


Longer term – we face the challenge of welcoming an additional 2 billion people to the planet over the next 30 years. Housing them, helping them out of poverty, ensuring they have access to clean water and abundant nutrition and ideally allowing them to feel valued, respected and equal.


Inequality is a huge issue that, in my opinion, is at the heart of most conflicts – local, national and global.


As you travel internationally, what is your favorite country? Do you have any favorite locations you like to visit?

No favorites! I find there is always something fascinating about most locations. There are certainly many things fascinating about all cultures and people. I enjoy the tiny details more than the macro’s.


I am so fortunate to be able to travel so much, meet so many different people with different challenges, skills, agendas. But when I show them a SageGlass sample darken and clear under control from SageGlass app – I get a universal response: WOW!


Seeing a video or a photo today means nothing. Amazing CGI and cinematic effects numb us to everyday miracles. When a person see’s and feels SageGlass cut out heat, light and glare and then let it back in – all under their control – it is so cool to watch even the most hardened individual smile, sit forward in their chair and utter “ WOW”.


 What books/blogs/materials about leadership would you recommend?


GENERAL: Find the influencers you respect and follow them on linked in and their blogs.



Nancy Duarte http://www.duarte.com/blog/

Guy Kawasaki http://guykawasaki.com/blog/



Why Smart Executives Fail (Sidney Walter Finkelstein)

 Multipliers (Liz Wiseman)


Most important for me: The discussions with, and guidance of, my wife. Now it might be hard to get hold of that material if you aren’t me :) – but I have learned so much from her about leadership and management throughout our life together. She is invariably the 1st and last person whose perspective and opinion I seek.


What advice would you give to a rising executive who wants to become a CEO?

 Treat people fairly.


 Never start to think you are better than anyone else.

 Get results.

 Be seen to be a “go-to” person.

 Give credit where it is rightfully due.

 Regularly take a look at the future. Your future!

 Think 3-5 years out.

 Write down exactly what your life looks like.

 Describe every aspect of it.

 Share it with your manager / your mentor / your partner / whoever you feel is important to you.


These are two Halloween images Alan shared with me.

Steve's Commentary

In speaking with Alan, I learned he is incredibly humble and generous.