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Retired ConocoPhillips CEO, Archie Dunham

Retired ConocoPhillips CEO, Mr. Dunham
Archie Dunham
Recently Bill Cooper of had the privilege of meeting with successful Christian business leader Archie Dunham of ConocoPhillips about the challenges, responsibilities and accomplishments involved in leading this large corporation.

Today's business leaders face great challenges. Archie Dunham is no exception. When asked about what he felt his biggest challenge was he replied "My biggest challenge is to consistently meet the demands and expectations of all our "stakeholders," not just shareholders-which includes investors, customers, employees and the communities where ConocoPhillips operates. This must be maintained on a very consistent basis." Archie Dunham feels his most important responsibilities as CEO or Chairman is to be a good leader and an effective delegator. Meeting and maintaining the demands as a leader of a large organization requires a plan of action. Archie Dunham's plan first insures that he has good people around him. "Then you must trust, empower and motivate your people. It is imperative that a company have positive leadership, a favorable environment and conditions where employees can do their jobs effectively."

Leadership within ConocoPhillips has many aspects. Each level of leadership has differing responsibilities. The senior management leadership is responsible for developing the vision and strategy for the company, as well as for developing skills and latent talents in all the people-not in just the senior management team. Mr. Dunham feels every company should have a "people development" process. Personally, he believes everyone could benefit by having their own personal development program, whether it is learning a new skill or developing a good habit. The leadership teams at ConocoPhillips are also accountable for establishing and implementing the overall values of the company. "Values are critically important because they stay with the company for decades long after the Chairman or CEO retire."

Archie Durham is a man who values honesty and lives by moral principles, which are rare commodities among the business community today. Archie Durham expressed his views this way, "Integrity and ethics are among the responsibilities of all our corporate leadership, especially myself. Integrity and ethics must be evident in not only our personal lives, but also in our professional conduct before they can be instilled in our employees worldwide. Leading by example is how we do things here. In my case, these values are shared with business partners, customers and suppliers, as well as with many international heads of state."

Archie Dunham gave an example of how these values operate in a global environment by telling a story from a trip he made to Syria. "In the mid-1990's, I was in Syria speaking with President Hafez al-Assad (who died in June 2000), the father of the current President, Bashar al-Assad. Our company was endeavoring to make a series of investments in Syria, where no other United States-based company had been allowed for about 40 years. In speaking with the President, I began by telling him about our company-not about the project we were proposing. Projects are pretty much the same across the industry. I wanted to share with him our values and the culture of Conoco and about why we should be allowed to invest in his country. I told him about our experience in Venezuela and how we contributed to the people there. After I left, he picked up the phone and called the President of Venezuela and, in essence, said, "Hey, this guy Dunham has been here talking about Conoco and telling me all about the things they did in Venezuela. Did they do it?" Now that is accountability. In response, the President of Venezuela said Conoco had done exactly what they said they would do and, as a result, we were given the opportunity to do business in Syria. The reason I know about those conversations is because Vice President Cheney, who at the time was Chairman at Halliburton, met with President Hafez al-Assad a couple of weeks after I met with him. President al-Assad was the one who told him the story and one of Cheney's VP's relayed it to me."

Although Archie Dunham has no formal method of accountability to prompt employees and management, these principles are rewarded at ConocoPhillips. "Accountability is interwoven throughout the whole process of our daily activities and is part of the compensation program for employees and management. A company must be "out front" with this message to everyone; and, as a manager, you cannot over-communicate it with your people. You cannot over-communicate when you are a leader or manager and you must use each of these occasions as an opportunity to reinforce the values of your company." Dunham believes that "it all starts with the President, Chairman or CEO and runs throughout every level of our organization. Values should stay with the company even though there are organizational and/or personnel changes."

Handling situations in other countries where ConocoPhillips employs local people can sometimes pose problems. If they don't have the same high work-ethic standards held by ConocoPhillips, Archie Dunham was asked how he handles the situation. "Well, you have a real job of training in those situations. I remember when we first went into Poland and Eastern Germany, there were instances of employees cheating on expense accounts and we had to address that problem directly. We had to give them an understanding that, if you cheat in our company, you get fired. It was a simple matter of their understanding that they were now working for a great U. S.-based company where cheating was not acceptable. After speaking with them, we leaned that under the prior corrupt communistic rule, that procedure was entirely acceptable-even the Vatican had approved it. We explained that, under a democracy, are different. We have ethics, standards and values that they would have to abide by-if you work for our company, you have to be honest. Obviously, we do not pay bribes. We leave countries and/or we do not go into countries where bribes are required in order to do business. We are very clear "up front" about our values and we do not abandon these values for any reason. There are no exceptions-period."

As a professing Christian, Archie Dunham openly shares and exhibits his faith publicly. He frequently speaks and candidly shares his testimony about his "journey of faith in hopes that it encourages other executives and managers in their journey to faith. They can see that a person can be a Christian, work in the business community and be successful without giving up their integrity and ethics."

Archie Dunham's personal faith has played an important role in his success. When asked about the importance of his faith, he replied "God's guidance in my life has been the major reason for the success that I have achieved in my life. The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a perfect plan for every one of us. The NIV words it like this: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord..." That plan may not always lead to riches; it may not lead to being the CEO of a big company, but there is that perfect place for you where you can have joy, peace and happiness. Those things are really important in life, but the key is making Christ the Lord of our life and then encouraging others to do the same."

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