We just had to change the pace at which we learn. We had to find a different way of being able to really get to the crux of the information quickly.

- Simon Yeung

Leading Learners

The Best Questions Are About Questions

The Valspar Corporation is one of the largest global paints and coatings manufacturers in the world, providing coatings and intermediates to businesses and consumers. Since 1806, Valspar has been dedicated to innovation, quality, and customer service. They challenge themselves to answer marketplace demands, increase product performance, and design solutions that protect people and the planet. With more than $4.5 billion in sales and more than 10,500 employees, Valspar delivers advanced coatings solutions with best-in-class appearance, performance, protection, and sustainability to customers in more than 100 countries.

Simon Yeung leads research and development for Valspar’s consumer paint business. He’s responsible for understanding market forces, scaling laboratory formulation science to massive manufacturing, and supporting post-sales services. For Yeung and Valspar, learning plays a critical role throughout the R&D process. Yeung’s approach to learning is to be flexible and open to new ideas – to move quickly and nimbly in order to serve a constantly changing market. He’s a chemical engineer, leading a team of talented scientists, and he turns to top outside experts to fill in the gaps in his team’s knowledge – immediately. When Yeung talks to experts, he often asks them, “What are the right questions to ask?” or “What am I missing?” and lets what he hears guide his research path.

The piece that I love most about my job is the fact that I impact how people live their lives every day.

Paint is very emotional. That’s why I put color in people’s lives, and there are different colors for different people.

My name is Simon Yeung. I’m the Vice President of Research & Development for Consumer Paint at Valspar Corporation.

We make paints and coatings, and so if it matters, whether it’s from a protection standpoint, whether it’s from an aesthetic standpoint, whether it’s from a durability standpoint…if it matters, we’re on it.

My role as the functional leader for research and development really encompasses not only new product development but also what we call advanced concepts. We need to understand what actually motivate the consumers to buy paint. That’s the CPG version of our business….And then there’s the hard core formulation science. And then there’s manufacturing. My team is also responsible for making sure that the paint that we make in a lab is really going to be manufacturable and in large quantities we could scale it up, and you know, all the usual stuff, in order for us to really have a business.

From the standpoint of peer-to-peer learning, one of the things that I’ve come to realize, sort of at the early stages of that experience, was that we just had to change the pace at which we learn.

We had to find a different way of being able to really get to the crux of the information quickly. When we put a product like this out there, how will people actually look at it? That’s not something that you can actually buy a market research report, and it will just come out.

In traditional consulting firm projects, or in market research reports, you have a scope, you ask the questions that you would… You know what problem you want to solve.

You get what you asked for at the beginning, which is great, and there’s certainly applicability there. But if halfway through you say, that’s kind of interesting, I want to go down this path, or these anecdotes I’m hearing different things, so are there different sections of this market segment that I didn’t realize before? Well, it’s hard to change course. With peer-to-peer learning, one of the things that I have really come to appreciate is you have the ability to change course, to go down one path differently versus others, so you are almost designing and evolving the project on the fly according to what you find out and what you think the needs are, and it’s much more dynamic.

To be able to access today an expert in area A, and then maybe we discover that it’s really area B or market C that we needed to get into, well, through GLG we can actually do that pretty rapidly.

One of the things that I’ve told people, actually both at Valspar and other places, is if you work with a peer-to-peer platform like this, don’t limit yourself.

If you don’t know about something it’s even okay to say, “What questions should I ask so that I can begin to understand a field?”

I’m a chemical engineer by training, but I’ve worked on a whole bunch of different things.

I’ve had the luxury of going from market segment to market segment, technology area to technology area. That learning is one of the things that really motivates me and keeps me very excited.

And GLG is one of the key tools in accelerating that learning.