Changes needed to be made at Bridgestone Retail – and Stu Crum didn’t shy away from them

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Stu Crum is used to being thrust into situations where he feels the pressure of everyone watching him. Before he began his career in business, Crum spent three years as a placekicker in both the now-defunct United States Football League and the NFL.

“As a kicker in football, a closer in baseball or the person at the free-throw line at the end of a basketball game, you have to have ice in your veins,” Crum says. “You have to be able to turn everything off around you.”

Alas, Crum says it was his inability to maintain the ice in his veins and tune out that noise in those pressure-packed moments that ultimately kept him from a long career in football.

“I had the athletic ability to compete at the next level, but sometimes, I let the little things get in my way,” Crum says.

When Crum was named president of Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC in August 2013, he again felt the eyes of those around him. His predecessor had been with the company for 38 years and the shortest tenure for anyone on his leadership team was six years.

“It’s philosophically been the strategy of this organization to promote from within,” Crum says. “The real challenge I have is how do I lead this organization knowing that I’m an outsider coming in for the first time. How do I gain their trust? How do they trust me knowing in the past, it’s always been an insider taking the big job?”

Crum wasn’t new to the automotive industry. He came to BSRO from Shell Oil Co. where he served as president of Jiffy Lube International. But he was new to the company and had to get up to speed with his segment, the 23,000-employee retail business division of Bridgestone Americas Inc., which operates more than 2,200 company-owned tire and automotive service centers.

He also had to understand what Bridgestone Americas was looking for and make sure he was on point with their expectations.

“I had to become a really good listener and spend more time listening and very little time talking,” Crum says.

 

Listen and learn

One of Crum’s first actions as president at BSRO was to put in place a 90-day rule that only affected him. The purpose of the rule was to keep Crum focused on listening and learning more than on operational changes.

“There were a few safety changes I made immediately because I felt it was important that the team know how important I felt safety was,” Crum says. “But other than that, I wanted to be empathetic, understand the culture, respect the culture and never denigrate the culture. It’s important that you’re very positive and appreciative. No. 2, you need to be a very good listener and be a sponge.”

Crum asked questions and attempted to convey an attitude that was more curious than managerial.

“One of the greatest mistakes you can make is to come in and say, ‘Well, I see you do it this way. We used to do it this way at my company, and it’s a better way of doing it,’” Crum says. “You start pitting people against a culture that has behaved in a certain way over the years.”

As Crum listened and gathered feedback, he wasn’t operating with a completely blank slate. The process needed some structure, so Crum gave each of his six zone vice presidents a template that included 15 items ranging from payroll to marketing to safety programs.

“It’s been a fascinating experience,” Crum says. “Some are very good in one area and spend more time covering those areas. They may not have focused on another area, and they put a little less emphasis on it. It’s allowed me to take a look at those vice presidents and each of the businesses on an equal basis and make assessments based on that.”

Any good leader understands the value of feedback from his or her team, of giving your people some freedom to say what’s on their mind. But it doesn’t hurt to put a little structure on part of the dialogue to ensure you learn about specific operational aspects.

“You’re always looking for strengths and weaknesses and assessing the talent and leadership in your organization,” Crum says. “That’s why you do so much listening and ask so many questions. You’re quickly trying to assess it so that as you develop long-term strategies for your organization, you’re making decisions based upon being informed.”

 

Keep your team informed

As Crum reviewed the feedback he got, he came to the conclusion that his team had become a little too entrepreneurial for its own good.

“It’s good from the standpoint that people are very driven to succeed,” Crum says. “We have a very strong performance-driven culture. So that’s the good part of having an entrepreneurial organization. But there’s also a downside. The six zone vice presidents were managing their businesses in six different ways.”

For a national chain that often has customers bringing business in the door from different parts of the country, that’s a problem.

“As a national chain, the way you develop a world-class value proposition is by having consistency,” Crum says. “I was finding a lack of consistency as a result of them having a little more autonomy than I would desire as the leader of the organization.”

Crum didn’t want to take all the spirit, passion and creativity out of his team. But he needed to get team members to work more closely together and make decisions for the good of the team, not just themselves.

It became a tricky proposition when Crum realized that his predecessor at BSRO had actually encouraged independent thinking.

“What I couldn’t do is go in and say, ‘You’ve been doing this for 20 years, but you’ve been doing it the wrong way,’” Crum says. “What I did was suggest that if we’re going to bring this business from good to great, we had to change a few things. Not all, but a few of the things about the way we go to market with the customer.”

Crum didn’t keep secrets, didn’t hold back information and didn’t blindside anyone with sudden changes in direction.

“They are being brought in on the new process and new decisions,” Crum says. “They won’t be told what to do. They will be brought in and involved with the decision-making of how we make this more systemic and how we develop better processes and have one team. It’s a collaborative approach.”

 

Harness your team’s energy

Crum meets with his team on a monthly basis, and it’s through those meetings that important decisions are made with regard to the future of the company. Just like all his actions as the leader, there is structure to these meetings.

“The first thing you do is assign a timekeeper and a facilitator,” Crum says. “You could take a vigorous, rigorous or robust approach, however you want to describe the tone you want in the meeting. They can go on for four hours if you let them.

“There have to be time-bound discussions. You start off by saying, ‘So and so is going to facilitate this. Here is the subject and we have an hour and a half to discuss it.’

“’We’re going to spend the first hour going around the table and getting opinions. We’re going to spend the next 20 minutes debating the best solution and the final 10 minutes coming to a conclusion.’”

Crum felt strongly about becoming a little less entrepreneurial, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice the input of his team to get there. By adding structure to the meeting, he felt everyone would go in with a clear understanding of what was on the table.

“If you don’t set those boundaries and clear expectations, people get frustrated and feel like they don’t have a chance to interject and get involved in the process,” Crum says. “If they are not involved in the process, they become disengaged.”

Thus far, Crum is pleased with the engagement of his team and with the direction of his company.

“We have a mantra of, ‘One team, one direction, one focus,’” Crum says. “I’ve had six vice presidents that have kind of done things their own way. And we made it very clear we’re one team with one direction focused on the same things. We’re no longer six zones. We’re one team headed in the same direction.”

And unlike those days as a placekicker when the outcome of the game hung in the balance, Crum says he prefers not to wait for such dramatic situations to take actions that will positively affect the future of his business.

“When your business is good, that’s the time to make changes,” Crum says. “We don’t have a burning platform. We’re just trying to go from a good company to a great one.”

 

 

Takeaways

  • Think before you act.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to change everything.
  • Keep searching for ways to get better.

 

The Crum File

Name: Stu Crum
Title: President
Company: Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC

Born: San Jose, Calif.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing, University of Tulsa.

How did you become a placekicker? I always loved football, but at the age of 11, I realized I wasn’t going to be big enough to play at the next level. I played soccer, but at the age of 12, I started kicking a football. At 13, I started kicking a football 100 times a day. My goal in high school was to be an all-state player and to get a scholarship. I achieved that. My goal in college was to make the team as a freshman, become an All-American and get drafted in the NFL. I made that goal too.

What did football teach you? I had a chance to chase the dream and live the dream for three years. You should always pursue your dreams. You never want to look back on your life and say, ‘Gee, I wish I would have done this,’ because you can’t go back.

Who is one person you’d like to meet? Jesus. The way he lived has caused so much division in this world, so much good and so much bad. There have been wars over the birth of this man and the way he died. I’d be fascinated to sit down and talk to him, because he was a true man. I’d like to find out what it was like to be so loved and hated at the same time. It would be a great study in human understanding of how you deal with that. This one person who came to Earth changed so much.