Icebreaker: Larry Sills On Career Success

Icebreaker: Larry Sills On Career Success

Sills can stand up in front of a crowd and banter with the best of them, and he makes it look so easy and natural. However, it's natural to no one, Sills says.

One would expect Larry Sills, chairman of Standard Motor Products (SMP), or any chairman of any company that’s been around 100 years, to be all-business. But in reality, Sills is seriously funny. He’s also serious about what can make or break any successful business person, and it all comes down to a few simple rules.

Sills can stand up in front of a crowd and banter with the best of them, and he makes it look so easy and natural. However, it’s natural to no one, Sills says.

Eric Sills presents his Father, Larry Sills with the AWDA Leader of the Year award in 2015.

“No one is a natural at it,” Sills says humbly. “Maybe one out of 100. It’s not as easy as it looks. Practice a lot. If you do it a lot, standing in front of 100 people is the same as standing in front of one person. It’s not at the beginning. Some people are petrified and would rather jump out of an airplane. But if you do it enough times, it does become less frightening and more natural.”

“This is a very underutilized, unappreciated skill and I think most people don’t seem to have it but I would urge it, and that is the ability to write clearly and to speak well in public,” adds Sills, whose lifelong dream was to be a journalist for the New York Times. “Those are two things that, to me, separate successful people from the rest.”

This is what Sills tells me when I called him at SMP’s New York City headquarters to ask him to share his best career advice with AMN readers. First on his list: Learn how to speak and write well, and practice makes perfect – great advice no matter what your industry or career path. 

Second? Treat everyone like part of the family and be genuine about it.

“Try to treat everybody like family – and you can’t fake it. It has to be natural and really from your heart. If you can do that, it’s worth it and the results are wonderful,” said Sills.

“What advice would I give someone else?” Sills asks. “Best advice I would give someone is have your grandfather start a company. My father used to give talks and he’d say, ‘I became president of Standard the old-fashioned American way – by marrying the boss’s daughter.’

“I was lucky. Lucky to have a family business that got off to a great start and had a very good foundation – that was the luck part. But I’d say that the advice I would give someone, certainly in my position, is to treat everybody like family. We are a family company although we are public. Try to treat everybody like family – and you can’t fake it. It has to be natural and really from your heart. If you can do that, it’s worth it and the results are wonderful. It doesn’t mean you don’t have high work standards, because you have to, and we do have them. But you put those two things together and it creates a nice environment.”

Case in point, Sills said this personal motto he’s used as his moral compass in guiding Standard Motor Products into its centennial has paid off. 

“We are celebrating 100 years and we’ve been having celebrations at all of our locations, which is a fair amount of locations, including in China, and Poland and Mexico, around the country as well. It’s been so gratifying. Everyone’s invited, including retirees if they are nearby, and they always use the same expression when they come up and talk to me, ‘You treated us like family,’ they say. So, if I had to pick one slogan for somebody on top, that’s the one I’d pick.” AMN

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