“If you don’t take yourself too seriously and remember having fun is not outlawed, it makes you a more robust leader.”
Halstead/Metroflor CEO Harlan Stone only has one regret in his life—not seeing Bob Marley in concert. Every other “can’t” he’s faced he’s viewed as an opportunity.
Stone, who was thrust into the family flooring business—with little warning—at the age of 23, was recently named a Global Sustainability Hero by the Business Intelligence Group. “I have my heroes and to be called a hero is very humbling for me,” he says. “Sustainability is the word that really stands out. It makes me think I am a good person. I am listening. I am in-tune with the 21st century. I am very proud.”
He has made it his life’s work to break the mold of the flooring industry and achieve sustainability transparency. Halstead/Metroflor is a leading producer of sustainable flooring options, and their Chinese factory is the first-ever to receive the JUST label.
Stone recently shared some of his leadership expertise with gb&d.
gb&d: What makes a good leader?
Harlan Stone: To be a good leader you must listen, inspire, honor, and be willing to have a vision to share with others. If you have all those qualities and work hard and believe in what you are saying, you can get people to follow you. You can change your daily process to something more important, more meaningful, and more valuable to the world.
gb&d: How have your leadership strategies evolved over time?
Stone: Strategy is what leadership really is. Mine has evolved and changed a lot as the world has become smaller and the opportunity greater. I think more about leading the industry than our own company. I look at the industry as a whole and feel that perhaps I can do something there. It’s about keeping the industry engaged in what the customer wants, and not just profitability and shareholder value. Those things should be driven off the value to the customer. It’s a huge opportunity. I think less and less about myself and more and more about our customer.
gb&d: What kinds of questions does a good leader ask?
Stone: Am I adding value to the supply chain? Is the product exceeding the expectations of the consumer? Are you delighting customers? Is your product safe, sustainable, and responsible? Does your product help other people do more? Give more time back? Increase the experience of the user, installer, seller? What is missing? How do I make it better? Ask those questions every day and you get to lead the conversation.
gb&d: Are you a “rule breaker” or “rule follower?”
Stone: I am definitely a rule breaker. It has been my personality since I was a 5-year-old. I always question what is. If you see only what is, rather than what can be, you will never be a leader. You always have to look past the present and current limitations. I don’t accept limitations. Breaking the rule of “staying in your lane” has helped me grow the company 70-fold in the years I have been in my role. As long as you are respectful of other people’s needs, expectations and rights, and desires, you can break any rule you want.
gb&d: Who inspires you? What drives you?
Stone: I love to talk about my three heroes. Dr. Martin Luther King, who was surely a rule breaker. He was a man of honesty who fought for the wellbeing of others. Muhammed Ali and his incredible desire to win and stand up for his own values. His life epitomizes something great in America. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter because he always worked hard and had such a dedication to his craft. My inspiration is winning. Those three fought with everything they had to win. They believed in what they were doing and inspired others.
gb&d: What do you tell someone who is just starting out in this industry?
Stone: Number one, first and foremost, this industry should not just be work. It should be fun. Number two, stay true to yourself. Just because you are trying to sell flooring does not mean you should compromise your values. Everything makes a difference. Number three, believe in yourself. If you don’t take yourself too seriously and remember having fun is not outlawed, it makes you a more robust leader. If you believe in your values they will become part of your life. That has certainly been true for me.
gb&d: What is a challenge you have overcome that made you a better leader?
Stone: The greatest challenge I overcame was surviving cancer. Being sick humbles you incredibly. When you get better you become a better leader. You are more conscious of the finality of life and the gift you have. I feel I am a very lucky man. I need to respect all the people who are alive on this Earth today and think of their situation.
gb&d: In a previous interview, you said “things that are difficult are good.” What do you mean by that?
Stone: If you take the easy street everyone else will take that street and you won’t do anything important. When someone says, “That can’t be done,” I get excited. When someone says, “It’s so complicated, so difficult,” I think if I can make even one part simple for another, that is really good. That’s something you should try to accomplish. That’s bringing value. It’s an opportunity to make money and change expectations. I look for the things people want to run away from and try to make them easy to do. “Make the complex look simple” is one of our company’s mottos.
gb&d: Your company has accomplished many sustainability firsts. What are you most proud of?
Stone: More than anything else, we are really proud to have the first factory in China, the first LVT flooring manufacturer, to receive a JUST label. It is not just about flooring but about your ingredients, your processes, how you manufacture, and how you treat your employees. The modern world requires transparency. It takes trust, commitment. It’s about more than the bottom line. This was my dream, my goal, and we were able to do it very quickly. Everyone thought I was nuts, but it is one of the most important things I have done in the sustainability world.
gb&d: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from working in the sustainability community?
Stone: Don’t ever even think about lying. Just learn how to tell the truth about everything. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t skip the details. The sustainability community is very smart. They dive deep and demand full transparency.