Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Kimberly Clark on the value of inclusiveness


Kimberly Clark on the value of inclusiveness
Kimberly-chief Clark's research and development (R&D) officer, Robert Long, is dedicated to improving consumers' lives through innovation and inclusion. We spoke with Robert about his childhood leadership lessons, the importance of seizing opportunities and investing in others, and the legacy he wishes to leave.

Q: How did you spend your childhood?
RL: I was raised in a single-parent household in Washington, D.C. for the first 14 years of my life. My father was not involved in the day-to-day activities of our family, and my mother kept everything together. She was our guiding light. I'm the second youngest of seven children, and because my mother worked around the clock to provide for us, we had to learn to grow up on our own in many ways.

My mother taught me several lessons throughout my childhood. She was constantly challenging us, and her example taught me the value of hard work. She was also extremely resourceful, finding opportunities for us that we would not have discovered on our own.

All of these characteristics have followed me into adulthood. In fact, it was because of her perseverance that I ended up at a prestigious, predominantly white boarding school in Virginia during my high school years, and the people I met there changed the course of my life.

Q: What drew you to continue your education at Princeton University?
RL: For high school, my mother enrolled my brother and me in a very exclusive boarding school. My brother was one of the first Black students to attend this all-boys school, and I graduated as the only Black student.

This experience changed everything. I grew up in an all-Black neighburhood, and then I found myself surrounded by people who didn't look like me. While it was difficult and lonely at times, this experience taught me that I could absolutely achieve what others could - regardless of my skin color.

I participated in sports and excelled at track during that time, eventually becoming one of the school's best athletes. Mr. Vasquez, my Spanish teacher, saw athletic and academic potential in me and encouraged me to apply to Princeton University for college. I was later accepted and offered a full-tuition scholarship, which allowed me to attend. His belief in my abilities was a watershed moment for me.

Q: How has your professional experience shaped you as a leader?
RL: I studied chemical engineering at Princeton and had a summer internship with Procter & Gamble (P&G) as a sophomore to gain a better understanding of the chemical engineering profession. I got a full-time job after graduation and worked for P&G for a quarter-century. I then worked for Coca-Cola for nearly 20 years.

I lived all over the world during this time, including Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America. These experiences taught me the value of inclusion and the critical importance of having a diverse range of voices and backgrounds present when testing and evaluating potential materials and products.

At this point, I've had the honor of working with and leading three of the world's most established consumer goods companies, and I've learned a lot about myself and others in the process. I learned to advocate not only for myself, but also for others - that's inclusion at its finest.

I also discovered the power of stepping outside of my comfort zone. In one chapter of my career, I left a great job in a foreign country to take a role in the United States that no one seemed to want. It was a difficult transition and a job that constantly challenged me, but that decision ultimately strengthened my skill set and led me to where I am today.

Q: Please tell us about your family. What impact has fatherhood had on your career?
RL: I have four children, three daughters and one son. My two oldest daughters are from my first marriage and are both successful professionals in the financial and communications fields. I've been married to my wife for almost 17 years, and we have a 16-year-old special-needs daughter and a 12-year-old son.

Overall, my children have influenced how I present myself in both my personal and professional lives. They have demonstrated to me that people want to be noticed and recognized. They, too, want to be nurtured, and they recognize when they are being ignored. Nurturing others is the best and most profitable investment.

Q: Has having a special-needs daughter changed your perspective?
RL: My daughter's condition is unknown. She didn't walk until she was four years old, is mostly nonverbal, and has very limited mobility. Being a father to a special needs child has not only taught me a lot about inclusion, but it has also shown me that no matter what obstacles you face, there is always hope and a chance to make your own way in the world.

It's also important to give people chances to achieve things they may not realize they can do, just as my mother and former high school Spanish teacher saw my potential and invested in me. People have given my daughter chances to try new things, many of which I never imagined she'd be able to do.

She can now read, which is a true miracle, and she has a great ear for music. She has even introduced me and my friends to musical artists we would not have considered otherwise! My daughter makes everyone around her happy.

Q: What drew you to Kimberly-Clark?
RL: Our CEO Mike Hsu's leadership and our company's purpose of Better Care for a Better World, which is our technical team's rallying cry, struck a deep chord with me. We're on a mission to bring more environmentally friendly products to more people without sacrificing affordability or quality.

I was planning to retire in 2020. But then the tragic death of George Floyd, a Black man in the United States, occurred, and I knew I had to change my plans. Those of us who were excelling and progressing professionally needed to be more visible. I realized that if I retired and sat on the sidelines, I wouldn't be able to serve as a positive role model for people who look like me.

I felt obligated to demonstrate to others that it is possible to overcome life's obstacles and achieve a fulfilling, high-level career. By joining the Kimberly-Clark team, I will not only be able to help develop innovative products that will improve the lives of millions of people all over the world in a sustainable manner, but I will also be able to advocate for others who are looking to advance in their careers.

Q: You are an executive sponsor for the African Ancestry Employee Network at Kimberly-Clark (also known as AAEN). What have you learned from this role, and how do employee resource groups like AAEN benefit the company?
RL: These employee resource groups provide an opportunity for team members to be understood, valued, and supported. Everyone wants to be seen, both professionally and personally, because we all have an innate need to feel valued and wanted.

For me, it all goes back to feeling valued as a child when people noticed and included me. It's also prevalent in the special needs community. My daughter may not be able to express it, but she can tell when people are paying attention to her or ignoring her.

As an AAEN sponsor, I've had the opportunity to meet more of Kimberly-incredible Clark's talent than I would have otherwise. Through my involvement in similar groups and communities, I've formed relationships with people that have lasted throughout my career.

Q: How important is Black History Month to you?
RL: Black History Month is an excellent example of people rising up, refusing to back down in the face of adversity, and changing their circumstances. In my line of work, innovation is all about making tomorrow better than today.

This month serves as a reminder to everyone that there are always ways to overcome your current situation, and you don't have to stay in it. There is optimism for a better tomorrow.

Q: What kind of legacy do you want to leave at Kimberly-Clark and in your community?
RL: I understand what it's like to start with nothing and build something you're proud to call your own. I want my life to be an example of what it means to never give up, no matter what the obstacles are.

I was the only Black student in my high school's graduating class, and I was completely out of my element. I hope that people will look at my life experiences and think, "If he can do it, so can I."

I also want to demonstrate to others the power of recognizing and discovering one's passion and purpose...and then sharing it with the rest of the world. Everyone can make a positive difference at work and in their community, and when their efforts and accomplishments are recognized, people feel empowered. I want to inspire those around me to pursue their passions while also helping others.