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Frank Foti talks truth, Trump and Tillerson

Frank Foti is driving to Sea-Tac International Airport. The chief executive of Portland-based Vigor Industrial has spent the day grappling with work at the shipbuilder’s Seattle-based properties. It’s late. He’s rushed. But he wants to answer a particular question carefully.

The question is about the suitability of chief executives for governmental office. 

“Until recently,” Foti says, “we had a Secretary of State who was CEO of a major global corporation.

“How good of a job did he do? How bad of a job did he do? Let’s take that as an example of a businessman who ended up in the public world rather than more polarizing choices.”

Foti was referring to Rex Tillerson, who was chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil before joining President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump fired Tillerson in March, and post-mortem news analyses of Tillerson’s State Department tenure have been uncomplimentary. 

As for the “polarizing choice,” as Foti called it, that would be President Trump. Foti declined to talk for this story about the suitability of Trump to be president. But he said employees at Vigor’s companies are free to share their views on that subject and any other political topic in the workplace – within limits. 

“Truth is truth,” Foti says. “Speak your truth – and consider what your impact is when you share that truth.”

Vigor, with 2,300 employees spread among nine shipbuilding and repair companies, “has plenty of people with different world views,” Foti says. “A worker living in Happy Valley sees things very differently than workers in Seattle, or someone in Southeast Portland.”

What they share, he says, is respect for Vigor’s four corporate values: truth, responsibility, evolution and love. Foti, who bought Vigor Industrial in 1995 and has led a steady expansion, referenced those values often when talking about his company’s approach to collaboration, change and diversity.

“There’s nothing unique about our four values,” Foti says, “except that we try to make them unifying principles that can have foundational values that can stand the test of a rapidly changing world.”

This article is part of a feature package on leadership and culture change that appears in our May 2018 issue.  Click here for more in the series.

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