With a focus on culture, CEO Bill Christensen is transforming JELD-WEN to drive worldwide success

Bill Christensen, CEO of JELD-WEN, speaks to UNC Charlotte students
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Christensen spoke at the Belk College of Business’s C-Suite Speaker Series

Under Bill Christensen’s leadership as CEO, global building products manufacturer JELD-WEN has embarked on a transformation journey to accelerate business performance across its operations in 15 countries. The Charlotte headquartered company, which primarily manufactures windows and doors, is focused on reenergizing the family-oriented culture that made it special when it was founded more than 60 years ago in Oregon.

"JELD-WEN founder Dick Wendt used to say if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and that will take care of your stakeholders," Christensen told UNC Charlotte undergraduate students at the Belk College of Business’s C-Suite Speaker Series on Feb. 13 at the Popp Martin Student Union.

Christensen took the students on a quick trip around the globe as he detailed his personal journey that began in Barbados, his experience as a student athlete in Winter Park, Fla., to running businesses in Europe to his current role in the C-Suite at JELD-WEN.

Since being named global CEO, Christensen has dedicated himself to leading the business and cultural transformation inside the company, tapping into his unique personal and professional history while fostering a workplace of inclusion.

Creating a culture of transformation

With Christensen at the helm, the JELD-WEN transformation journey builds upon his experience leading large-scale transformations at other organizations. "Our transformation is focused on three key pillars – people, performance and strategy," said Christensen.

Christensen said activating the entire organization is a key lesson for transforming businesses and improving performance. To create that culture of inclusivity, JELD-WEN engaged thousands of associates to bring their best ideas forward on how the company can improve. On a weekly basis, the senior leadership team reviews the progress on those employee-driven initiatives – from improving the customer experience to enabling the best culture.

"Many companies don’t harness the power of their organization," said Christensen. "It’s one of the things I’m most proud of. This past year we’ve built more trust across the organization." Christensen said he sees the benefits of engaging all levels of an organization to problem-solve and create a "think like an owner" mentality to drive strong results.

A Global Perspective is Extremely Important

"I grew up in a diverse ecosystem with different cultures," said Christensen. That created a desire to explore different environments and a willingness to move five times across continents since he began his professional career.

While in college in the U.S., Christensen had the opportunity to study in Europe for several weeks and that experience helped shape his future goal after he graduated. He took intensive German language classes and worked the night shift in a plant in Switzerland. "It’s all about the learning," said Christensen. Eventually, Christensen went back to get his MBA at the University of Chicago to achieve one of his long term goals to work in investment banking.

In today’s business environment, "having a global perspective is extremely important," said Christensen. He encouraged students to study abroad, travel and appreciate the diversity and opinions of different cultures.

"Diversity of thought, cultures and ethnicities create more views and better discussions," said Christensen.

Always be ready

Christensen’s rise to CEO at JELD-WEN came faster than he had anticipated. In April 2022, the company named him executive vice president and president of JELD-WEN, Europe. Eight months later, he was appointed global CEO, which was based in Charlotte.

Bill Christensen speaks with Belk College of Business students

The quick move to the top spot at JELD-WEN inspired Christensen to reflect on what he learned from earlier moves to Zurich, Switzerland, and eventually to Charlotte.

"Timing is never right," Christensen added. "As you go through your career, you will always be faced with opportunities and challenges that you weren't ready for…one of the things that has served me well is trying to think ahead...about what I potentially wanted to do but also some of the things that I didn’t initially want to do."

Christensen encouraged students to think about their career as a marathon and not a sprint. "Life is never a straight line," he said. "The long game wins so make sure you pace yourself."

When asked what he would like his legacy to be in a few short words, Christensen quoted German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, saying, "Everything is hard before it is easy."

More photos from the spring 2024 C-Suite Speaker Series