Last Monday Christian Fischer, president and CEO of Georgia Pacific spoke at Oglethorpe University as a part of the Rikard Lecture Series. Mr. Fischer, who has worked with the company for over 30 years, discussed his unconventional path to becoming CEO, the importance of a liberal arts major and advice for young people entering the workforce.
Born and educated in Germany, Fischer started working at Georgia Pacific in 1989 as the sales manager and eventually relocated to Atlanta in 1992. He worked his way up in the company until he was named President and CEO in 2017. Unlike many CEOs today, Fischer entered the paper products company from the bottom and eventually gained the C-suite title through a combination of luck, the right attitude and knowing the right people.
However, Fischer discussed many of his own traits that allowed him to gain his eventual success. One of which included his involvement in the liberal arts. He believes that this type of education allows individuals to think in correlation with those around them and develop an understanding of successful communication tactics. These skills allowed Fischer to obtain great success within his career, leading him to constantly root for liberal arts degrees.
When asked if he had a mentor to help him through his career, Fischer stated that while he did not have one specific guide, he learned many lessons from those around him. These lessons included the importance of living out the values defined in a company’s culture. Fischer stated that while many companies will state their values, few of them succeed in acting them out to their full potential. Through his position as CEO, he strives to enforce a common philosophy that promotes diversity and a sense of humor even in dark times.
Fischer also discussed the common mistake in focusing too much on requirements for filling job positions rather than using a wholistic approach. While searching for candidates to fill roles at Georgia Pacific, Fischer disregards all boundaries (such as specific on-paper requirements) and prefers to judge candidates by focusing 70 percent on their values and beliefs and 30 percent on their skills. He believes that everyone is complex and forcing one to adhere to specific qualifications may neglect certain candidates who would thrive at a role.
Toward the end of the Rikard Lecture, Fischer discussed a few common mistakes that many young people make, including him at one point in his life. First, he stressed that valuing skill over character is a common issue in the workplace. While a company’s skills can be taught to a new employee, bad character cannot be changed and will ultimately lead to negative outcomes. Secondly, he jokingly discussed how students going into their careers should not believe they already know the ropes. Fischer stated that thinking one knows too much will bar them from learning valuable information and come off as cocky rather than confident. Lastly, he warned students in the audience not take early success as a definite indicator of how skilled they are in that career field. In all, Fischer warned students to always strive for growth and never settle in a position. One can only hope that this mentality will eventually lead them to gain a similar success as Fischer made for himself.