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Electrolux CEO tells Charlotte businesses to focus on risk-taking, diversity

Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America, knows a thing or two about risk-taking.

It was risk-taking that brought him to Charlotte and Electrolux in August 2011, leaving behind 22 years at 3M Company, the Minnesota-based maker of everything from Post-it notes to stethoscopes.

And it’s risk-taking that Truong has tried to instill in his employees as a leader of the world’s second-largest maker of home appliances, after Whirlpool.

“Have you ever noticed that a 1-year-old tries to crawl and is not afraid of falling?” Truong asked at an event Wednesday hosted by the Charlotte Chamber’s Perspective in Leadership series. “The older we get, the more we tend to stay on the sidelines.”

“It’s so important that we stay externally focused, and be able to take risks and adapt to those changes – to make sure we stay relevant in the changing world,” Truong said.

Truong explained how it pays to avoid staying at a job that doesn’t offer opportunities for advancement and stimulation.

At 3M, Truong said, he reached a point where he saw little opportunity for future advancement.

“I said, ‘I need to be more challenged,’ and that’s when the Electrolux opportunity came up, and I took the initiative,” Truong said. “It’s about how to be happy and challenged in what you do.”

Truong was also questioned by moderator John Chen, with the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, about the scarcity of Asian-Americans in high-ranking positions in corporate America. Chen said Asian-Americans often find themselves near the tops of their classes, but in businesses, can’t seem to advance beyond a certain level.

“A lot of folks look at themselves as the victim, rather than taking control,” Truong replied. “Just don’t complain, just do something about it.”

“The world today is very different than it was 30 years ago,” he said. “People travel and move around. There is no such thing as a majority or a minority, and you must know how to take action of your life and your career.”

Truong, who grew up on the West Coast, remembers being the only minority in many of his grade-school classes. He said he was often whispered about in the hallways and picked last for basketball in gym class by kids who didn’t know he “could throw the nastiest elbow at somebody,” he joked.

But he said those experiences taught him the value of different perspectives – which are crucial for a successful corporation and becoming a successful leader.

“Diverse backgrounds are not just about race and gender, but also experiences and educational background of where the folks are coming from,” Truong said.

Electrolux sales have been boosted by a rebounding U.S. housing market. The Swedish appliance maker announced a 12 percent increase in first-quarter sales in April, even as it voiced concern about lackluster sales in Europe. Truong said Electrolux will center its next products around two trends in the marketplace – the first, that time is the currency of the 21st century, and the second, that the kitchen is the heart of the home. He said consumers should look for two new improvements from Electrolux: new induction technology that boils water in 90 seconds and refrigerators that offer better organization options.

Truong told the Observer that the most important part of his role is making sure Electrolux’s 14,000 employees are taken care of, including the nearly 900 employees based in Charlotte, where Electrolux holds its North American headquarters. The company was lured to the region from Augusta, Ga., in 2009 by state and local incentives up to $27 million – on the condition that the company would bring 738 jobs by 2015.

“We want the company to continue to grow, and to grow in a sustainable way, so that our employees can grow with their company – and so that their families are taken care of,” he said.

McCabe: 704-358-5197;Twitter: mccabe_caitlin
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