Celebrating a Pioneer of Values-Driven Culture

By October 7, 2019

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn 

Today we’re celebrating the 94th birthday of a scientific genius and corporate culture visionary.

Jim Waters, the founder of Waters Corporation, is a legendary innovator and entrepreneur. He pioneered the field of gel permeation chromatography in the late 1950s, which led to liquid chromatography and the foundation of the global analytical technologies leader that bears his name and perpetuates his enduring principles.

When he founded Waters more than 60 years ago, Jim committed the company to a course of scientific and technical excellence. But there is something else about Jim that is even more powerful and enduring; he was ahead of his time as a cultural architect in creating a purpose-driven, values-centered organization.

Shortly after I joined Waters as CEO in late 2015, I called Jim Waters to introduce myself. Soon after, we began to meet for lunch on a regular basis, and have since developed a warm and genuine friendship. Jim helped me celebrate Waters’ 60th anniversary last year, and is now a key part of our signature leadership development course that I personally teach.



Beyond the amazing story of his early inventions, I’ve learned that Jim’s strong personal values are his way of life, and served as the seeds he planted in 1958 to initiate a culture of innovation, service and expertise. Jim’s three core principles are at the core of Waters’ culture today:

  1. Deliver Benefit – Jim’s two-word motto is a mandate to offer something of value in every interaction with a customer, employee or stakeholder. Jim didn’t only apply this principle to work; when I met his daughter, she recalled her father teaching her as a little girl to “deliver benefit.” I got a kick out of that story, and it helped me appreciate the authenticity of his core mantra. Whether it’s developing a technology that will help a customer create a groundbreaking medicine, or making sure Waters gives back to local communities, living by the deliver benefit mantra helps us improve the world in small and large ways every day.
  2. Successive Approximation  Jim ran Waters like a scientist, and he uses the term “successive approximation” to describe his strategy of learning from mistakes to continuously improve. “My path to success was my willingness to make mistakes and then adjust from what I learned,” Jim has said. “The reason I was successful in business is that I learned to make mistakes faster than others.” Jim’s idea of creating and improving is still at the core of Waters’ innovation culture.
  3. Find People with Extraordinary Attitudes – From the time he founded the company, Jim spent time in customers’ labs where he solved their problems in a hands-on way. Today, we still focus on people at Waters who, like Jim, spend time getting to know what their customers and fellow employees need, and go the extra mile to help them succeed. Jim believed that you can teach employees many business skills, but you can’t teach attitude. We still focus on hiring people who put other people first.

Our recent recognition from Forbes is a testament to the hard work and creativity of Waters’ employees in striving for innovation in all we do to serve our customers. But ultimately, it’s a reflection of what Jim Waters created. Jim established the mindset, culture and mandate for innovation that has sustained through multiple generations of the company, and will inspire us for generations to come.

Happy birthday Jim! And on behalf of all employees worldwide, I also want to thank you for your enduring gift of values and culture. We are proud to serve your legacy and deliver benefit in all we do!


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