What he said, and the way he said it, enabled Paul Stebbins, entrepreneur and now chairman and chief executive officer of World Fuel Services Corporation, to enthrall an audience of 100 people when he spoke on the topic “Ethics, Innovation, and Risk: Reflections on Building and Managing a Global Enterprise,” at the first Herbert A. Wertheim Lecture of the 2006-2007 season.
Stebbins’ professional credentials would be enough to captivate any group. Prior to joining World Fuel in 1995, he founded Trans-Tec Services, Inc., in 1985, serving as officer, shareholder, and director until World Fuel acquired his company. Headquartered in Miami, World Fuel boasts $8.7 billion in revenues, $40 million in net profits, and employs approximately 600 people in 43 offices in 23 countries. But his ability to communicate and his modesty in light of his achievements gave an additional dimension to the lecture.
“Using metaphors and quotations from literature and philosophy, Stebbins revealed himself as a well-read man who applies ethics to the day-to-day operational activities of a large global corporation,” said Ed Glab, director, Knight Ridder Center for Excellence in Management. Glab, who spent 25 years in the energy business, not only was impressed by Stebbins’ insights, but also by his communication skills, another area of expertise for Glab, who teaches seminars on handling the media.
“This was one of the best lectures I’ve ever attended,” he said. “I tell my students that studies and surveys show that the number one characteristic businesses look for in a person is his or her ability to communicate well. Stebbins is a very able communicator, in part because he draws effectively on his own experiences and personalizes what he says.”
For example, Stebbins revealed that he was rejected two years in a row when he applied to business school. He also talked about the fact that the longer he is in business, the less he feels he knows.
Lecture offers insights into wide-ranging set of issues.
“When he spoke, you could hear a pin drop,” said Natalia Sol, director of corporate relations, who attended the October 23, 2006, lecture. “He is very humble because he feels there is so much he doesn’t know. That attitude has led him to ‘hire good people and get out of their way.’ He also talked about how he sees people as the biggest assets of World Fuel and how he believes that, in his company, the best leaders are the ones who’ve made the most colossal mistakes—because that leads to learning and growing.”
“He made it clear that ethics begins at the top,” said Constantine “Gus” Kalogeras, professor, Department of Finance, and coordinator of the banking courses within the department. “You can’t be a leader who browbeats sales people to bring in sales any way possible and then expect ethical behavior from them.”
Stebbins shared his perspective on other timely business subjects as well.
“He covered the waterfront,” Kalogeras said. “He explained how innovation improves the lifeblood of a company, and he talked about the necessity of creating an environment where risk is permitted.” To view a podcast of his presentation, visit http://business.fiu.edu/Spotlights/wertheim_lecture_series.cfm.