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People person: Charles Holliday

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  • "If you're aligned with your customers, you can get through anything"
  • "The competitors are not the same as they used to be"
  • "As long as they are playing by the laws and the rules, that is fair game"
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(CNN) -- Charles Holliday may not have known what he was getting himself into when he joined DuPont in the summer of 1970 as a mere intern. Little did he know that only a few decades later, he'd be in charge of the world's second-largest chemical company, boasting some 60,000 employees.

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Charles Holliday, CEO of DuPont

He prides himself on getting the most out of his workers to keep DuPont competitive on the global stage. Holliday speaks to The Boardroom's Maggie Lake about his international vision, his concerns for the future, and why he's keeping a close eye on his competitors in China, India and Russia.

Lake: You are one of the few big industrial U.S. companies left. How are you doing it? Are you finding a strain with labor costs with some of the issues that have driven other competitors out of business or off-shore?

Holliday: We think our people are our most valuable asset. We introduced sigma across our entire company, it has been in place now for seven years, where we are trying to use the talent and minds of every employee we have to be more productive and use things more effectively. If you're aligned with your customers, you can get through anything.

One area of growth for DuPont is bio-science... including bio-engineered crops. That division now has revenues of more than a billion dollars, but it has proved controversial in Europe.

Lake: Europeans are very concerned about genetically modified foods. There has been a lot of resistance there. If you were going to sit down with a European household, what what would you say to convince them that this is safe food to eat?

Holliday: We have done a number of focus groups in Europe, where we bring a group of people in a room and ask them what they understand about the subject, and within about 1 and 15 minutes, we get a majority of the room at least saying this is something that should be considered, if not ready to adopt. So it is just a lack of understanding of the fundamentals behind it.

Lake: What is your greatest strength as CEO?

Holliday: Knowing it is getting it done through people. I have the idea I will never make all the best decisions, but it is my job to assemble a team, create an atmosphere where they can grow and be successful. What I have to do is figure out how do you find the right person for the right job.

Lake: You have spent a lot of time working in Japan. What did your experience there, how did that maybe change how you think about management?

Holliday: I was in Asia for six years, living in Japan, traveling to China from India. So a lot of my mentors and teachers were Asian leaders, not Western leaders, and I found the value of relationship was very important. The credibility that a company has and keeping your word. I found a lot of Asian companies have a longer-term view, and they are out to do the right thing. I found tremendous respect for our company because we are so old, and because of what we do and our values, we are kind of naturally respected in Asia, which is a great feeling.

Lake: What is the biggest challenge you face as CEO?

Holliday: The competitors are not the same as they used to be. When I started with the company, competitors were names I could spell and places I have visited before. Although they were tough and dynamic, you understood them. I find the competitive set today is coming from China, India, Russia, and they are coming in with tactics that we are not as used to.

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Lake: Like what?

Holliday: Like they will have a money-losing operation for years, just to get a foot in the door, and they are very aggressive with their practices. As long as they are playing by the laws and the rules, that is fair game. That makes us all better at the end of the day.

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