Q&A with Celanese’s CEO and Holdsworth Board Member on culture shift and talent

Mark Rohr

Mark Rohr is the board chair for City Year Dallas.

Mark Rohr is the Chairman and CEO of Celanese Corporation, a Dallas-based global technology and specialty materials company that engineers and manufactures a wide variety of products essential to everyday living. Under Rohr’s leadership, Celanese has delivered record earnings growth and fostered a deeper commitment to corporate social responsibility and volunteerism.

Rohr grew up in Mississippi during a time of social strife. Though his family had little, his parents saw the value of education and expanded his worldview through travel and other experiences. Only later did he realize how much it shaped him and influenced the way he navigated life.

Today, Rohr’s background propels his philanthropy, which is focused on public education. In addition to serving on The Holdsworth Center’s governing board, Rohr serves as board chair for City Year Dallas and on the board of the Commit! Partnership.

His vision? That all children, regardless of background, have access to educational experiences powerful enough to change the course of destiny.

Q: Do you see the same inequity issues today that you witnessed as a child?

A: Yes. In Texas, the challenges of poverty and racism are driven by the lack of educational opportunity. In Dallas, the Trinity River is the line between the haves and the have nots. In areas struggling with poverty, you see schools losing half their kids before graduation and very few who graduate are ready for college.

Q: How do you move the needle for these children?  

A: I am a big supporter of City Year, an organization that brings mentors into classrooms with phenomenal results. The young adult mentors are near peers of the students — they come from the same background, speak the same language, but they go through an intense training to teach them how to provide academic and social-emotional support.

I also recognize that it takes much more than one model or organization. Girls Inc., Reading Partners– there are so many great people and programs that are part of the formula. For the gumbo to taste right, all the ingredients must be working together for kids.

Q: How do you persuade friends, colleagues and benefactors to engage with and support public education?

A: If I can get them into a classroom and let them meet the kids, it’s like a switch goes on. There are lots of people who care about public education, but far too many who think it can’t be fixed. That’s the perception we have to change.

Q: How does serving on the board of The Holdsworth Center fit with your personal mission to improve equity in education?

A: Educational leaders have a supreme responsibility for creating an environment where all kids can be successful. What Holdsworth is doing by strengthening school leaders and talent pipelines is huge, and it goes right to the root of serving all kids.

Q: Part of the Holdsworth model is to expose school leaders to businesses with best-in-class corporate culture and talent management practices. What role does culture play at Celanese?  

A: Many different factors have played into the company’s success, but chief among them is culture and the value people bring to the equation.

A successful business model is dependent upon people, and it becomes important how you develop people and engage them in the right way.

In terms of leadership, the people at the top provide clarity about where everyone is going and remove barriers or impediments that prevent them from operating at a higher level of achievement.

Schools are hugely dependent upon people, and the role of educational leaders is similar in many ways. Principals and superintendents can identify barriers to teachers’ success and knock them down.