Don R. Knauss

Don R. Knauss
Chairman and CEO, The Clorox Company

Headquarters: Oakland, California
Website: and
Primary Business: Consumer Packaged goods
Revenues: $5.53 billion
Employees: 8,300

2011 CEO in Action

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, gay or straight, tall or short. What does matter is the kind of human being you are – your character. Race, sexual orientation, expression or characteristics are not differences that should matter except for the richness and diversity of thought and experience they bring to the table. If you disenfranchise people for these reasons – or any other – you limit the genius of an organization. It’s about winning and keeping the best and brightest engaged. When people hold themselves back, you lose out on the best they have to offer and the unique perspectives they’ve gained from their journeys through life.

Cultivating an environment that celebrates diversity, that makes it comfortable and safe for each person to bring his or her whole self to work every day, is key. Not only is it the right thing to do, but failing to do so negatively affects productivity, employee engagement, retention and more.

Fundamentally, I believe great leaders – really, great people – share five key qualities: integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion and humility. Theses traits are the differences I believe should really make a difference in the workplace.

Integrity is at the core of trust. The single key to effectiveness in my mind is trust built from integrity. If I believe that you’re always going to tell the truth, I’m going to trust you. And when you trust others, things get done.

Curiosity. Ideas drive organizations. They drive innovation. They break new ground. You can only continue to get better at what you do if you are truly curious about your craft.

Optimism nurtures dreamers. Optimism creates possibilities. Optimists are problem solvers. Optimists speak up to create a better future. As Harvey Milk, the first openly gay supervisor of San Francisco and gay rights activist said, “Hope will never be silent.” Compassion is a key to trust as well.

Compassionate leaders put the concerns of others ahead of themselves. Humility. To me, humility is about being approachable and accessible. That’s how you learn what’s really going on and it’s how you promote engagement through making genuine connections with people.

Humility is behaving in a way that’s not arrogant and insensitive.

I believe that modeling these five behaviors shapes our culture at Clorox and has the power to create a trusting environment, which is fundamental to building the connections between people that go beyond tolerating diversity to embracing it. It’s about attracting and keeping top talent.

It’s my job to set an example and provide the leadership our company needs to continue changing for the better. I work to continually reinforce the standard that all employees are expected to be open to diversity of all types and to accept people who are different from themselves. It’s also my job to inspire people to live the leadership traits and realize a better future – a future of equality and openness for all our people at Clorox.

Education: Indiana University
First Job: U.S. Marine Corps
What I’m Reading: Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy, by Edmund Morris
My Philosophy: From the words of Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on others lives.”
Best Advice: Your people come first.
Family: Wife, Ellie; three sons, Jack, Mickey, Alec; and daughter, Kara
Interests: Golf, playing with his kids (football, soccer)
Favorite Charities: Don and Ellie Knauss Scholarship