Adam Coffey’s effort to engage his team is reflected in the company’s growth

Blue-collar leadership

Coffey considers himself to be a blue-collar CEO.

“I started at the bottom,” Coffey says. “After high school, I was a private in the U.S. Army. There’s no lower form of life than private in the U.S. Army. So I remembered after the service as I worked my way up through my career in the Fortune 500 world that I had good ideas when I wasn’t a CEO.”

One of the things that shaped Coffey’s career was the tutelage he received at General Electric Co.’s famed John F. Welch Leadership Center in Crotonville, New York.

“I had a corporate mentor who was an ex-professional football player named Mike Martin,” Coffey says. “At the time, I was an engineer. I was planning my exit from GE and I was going to start my own business. Mike was a general manager at the time and he helped me. He said, ‘Adam, what are you doing?’ He took me under his wing.”

Coffey set aside his plans to become an engineer and went to work to become a business leader.

“It was Mike who inspired me to want to cross over from engineering into management and to compete and excel at being a manager,” Coffey says. “He gave me the opportunity to run the worst business unit within GE Medical Systems in order to see what I could do with that unit. He honed my skills.”

Coffey concluded that there is a good reason why the Crotonville experience is so revered.

“It was world-class leadership and management training,” Coffey says. “It was during the time period of Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt. It was the culture at GE that taught me how to be a leader. And Martin was the guy that made it happen.”