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Alex Molinaroli, ideamensch Interview

Alex A. Molinaroli grew up in Charleston, SC after his family relocated from Parkersburg, WV where he was born. Following high school, he attended the University of South Carolina as a member of the school’s prestigious Honors College. He graduated in 1983 receiving a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Later he earned his Master of Science in Business (MBA) from Northwestern University.

Immediately upon graduation, Molinaroli started his career as a sales engineer for a Fortune 100 company Johnson Controls, where he enjoyed a 34-year career. During his first two decades with the company, he held increasing levels of responsibility within its Building Efficiency Group and ultimately served as its Vice President and General Manager, Americas. While at Building Efficiency, Molinaroli led initiatives that led to step-change improvement in both revenue and productivity and spearheaded strategic initiatives that reshaped the business, including the acquisition of York International.

In January of 2007, Molinaroli was promoted to lead the company’s battery business. As president of the Power Solutions Group, the global leader in the development, manufacturing, and sales of automotive batteries, he oversaw its renaissance. Profitability and topline growth increased dramatically – driven by investments in China, the development of advanced battery technologies and investments into battery recycling and separator technologies.

In 2013, Molinaroli became Johnson Controls’ Chairman and CEO where he led the company through its most significant transformation in its then 130-year history. The strategic remaking of the company ultimately led to the formation of a new Johnson Controls through a merger-of-equals with Tyco International.

During his tenure as CEO, Molinaroli changed Johnson Controls’ capital allocation process, institutionalized global operating processes and principles, and reshaped the company’s portfolio, transforming it from primarily an automotive supplier to a top-tier industrial company. Multiple initiatives were undertaken, including formalizing the Johnson Controls Operating System, expanding the company’s presence in China, and driving a new diversity and inclusion culture.

In 2016, he divested the company’s automotive businesses, including the sale of its Electronics businesses, forming a joint venture of its Interiors business and spin-off of the Seating business. These businesses comprised over half of the company’s forty billion dollars in annual revenues.

While divesting the automotive businesses, substantial changes were also being made to augment and improve the remaining business. He drove initiatives and changed the portfolio to streamline business operations and improve margins, including the sale of Global Workplace Services, acquiring of ADTi and the forming of a global joint venture with Hitachi. The portfolio and operational changes dramatically improved the business fundamentals ultimately leading to the merger with Tyco International in September of 2016. Molinaroli retired from Johnson Controls in late 2017

As a corporate leader Molinaroli served as a board member for Johnson Controls, Interstate Battery, Battery Council International and as a trustee for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). As a founding member of the Electrification Coalition, he also served as a member of the Business Roundtable, US Chamber of Commerce and World Economic Forum (WEF).

A prominent and visible leader in the Milwaukee, WI community, Molinaroli served as a Board Member for the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), and Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County United Way where he also served as Co-Campaign Chair for its 2015-16 campaign.

He continues to serve as a board member, advisor and investor to various startups and technology companies. Molinaroli resides in Marathon, FL with his wife Dr. Kristin (Ihle) Molinaroli. Together, Alex and Kristin have five children.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

Our Venture Capital firm was born from a shared belief with my partners that four seasoned executives with unique backgrounds could be distinctly successful at identifying talented entrepreneurs and unique technologies; and even more importantly we were well equipped to assist these startup companies to successfully support their business growth and success. Our shared belief binds us, and our diverse backgrounds make us a strong team.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I am an early riser with a repeatable routine. My most productive time is early. First thing each day I catch up on daily news and financial markets skimming the Wall Street Journal with my morning coffee; followed by either an hour-long brisk walk or bike ride. Normally I have scheduled calls before our routine partner meeting. My afternoons are when I follow-up on business and personal to-dos and commitments. Evenings are family time and chore time.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas are only interesting thoughts unless they include purpose, goals, and action. What is the problem you are trying to solve or a new opportunity you are trying to create? What does ultimate success look like and what are the measurable achievements along the way? What activities and resources, including a timeline are required?

Without a simple framework or at least a mental model and action, even the best ideas likely remain as just ideas.

What’s one trend that excites you?

An ever-increasing overall pace of change – aided by the availability of timely and organized information and innovation. Technology applications are reinventing how we live and is being enabled by the availability of data, the emergence of artificial intelligence and power of cloud computing

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My most important habit, ‘my superpower’, is that it is my nature that I’m able to stay focused and on-task usually, ‘no matter what’. I’m usually able to remain steady and calm regardless of external distractions or adversity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Spend more time with the people and things you care about. Time is the only resource that you will never get more of….

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

You will be more successful and fulfilled in life following and developing your talents and passions versus chasing the goals that someone else or society has decided for you.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Find people to work with that have a similar value system and a shared vision but are smarter and more talented than me. Surround myself with individuals with different life and business experiences than me.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Work to build trust and alignment with everyone I deal with (customers, vendors, partners, team members). If we are all pulling in the same direction and all trust each other, our combined efforts are many-fold of what we would have accomplished as individuals.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

By nature, I am extremely confident and have learned to rely on my intuition and experience. However, more than once I have fallen in love with my own ideas and ultimately failed. I now realize I’m better with others than on my own.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I gave a few $100 to a random school teacher in rural Wisconsin to outfit her entire class with pens, paper, markers because of a school budget shortfall. I received a picture from the teacher of the kids thanking me for the gift – priceless.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

“ZOOM” seeing people face-to-face vs just talking to them is invaluable in building and maintaining personal and business relationships.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a book about work processes and systems that explains basic productivity, bottlenecks, and constraints.

What is your favorite quote?

“Pigs can’t fly” Don’t try to make something or someone do something that they won’t do or can’t do

Key Learnings:

  • Personal learning and growth are continual

  • Believe in people

  • Family is most important

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