When John F. Davis III’s team members told him that they needed to lay off 240 employees the first week of December, he said
absolutely not, even though it would cost $250,000 to keep them on until January. He wanted to do the right thing and not let people
go right before the holidays, so despite arguments from his staff, he kept the employees on. As word spread at Pegasus Solutions
Inc. of what he had done, the affected employees took the impending layoffs much better when they saw how Davis cared about
and fought for them. As chairman and CEO of Pegasus, a provider of booking services to the hotel industry, Davis is adamant about
leading by example, a style that has helped him grow the company to $170 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with
Davis about how he lets the Golden Rule guide him in empowering his employees as he sets an example for them every day.
Lead by example. You have to show people.
People follow leaders that are actually
During the summer, I like having Friday
afternoon off to go play golf, so I made a
new rule that everybody gets Friday afternoon off. If I left every Friday at noon, I
would expect everybody else to do it.
If you want people here at 8 o’clock,
you’ve got to be here at 8 o’clock. You want
people to work over the weekend, you’ve
got to be willing to work over the weekend.
Don’t just tell people to do it. The people
that come up here and work on the weekends, if they didn’t see me up here, by
about the third weekend they’d go, ‘Well, if
it’s not that important to him, why’s it
important to blow my weekend?’ Be willing to do it yourself. If you’re not, then
you’re just not the leader.
Empower people. I hire smart people and
count on them to get the job done. I have
what I call the big-boy and big-girl rule.
Everybody’s a big boy and big girl when
they come to work here.
I hired an executive vice president, and I
said, ‘We’ve got a meeting in San Francisco,
and he started in ‘What flight are you
on? When are you leaving? Who’s going to
pick you up? Where do we go when we get
there?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, big boy. The
meeting is at 3 o’clock in San Francisco.
Here’s the address. I assume you can get
there.’ Everybody’s a big boy [or] big girl.
They can figure it out.
It gives them a freedom to get it done.
They feel like they’re in control. Nobody’s
dictating to them how to get it done. Just
say, ‘Here’s what we need to accomplish,’
and you show them the mountain and hope
they get to the top through their own
If I have to go do it, why did I hire them?
If I really have to do it, then we have to talk
about splitting your salary with me. That
gets their attention.
Lead people away from micromanaging. Back
off don’t micromanage. Let people do
the job you hired them to do.
Everyone here is an intelligent person. If
they weren’t, we wouldn’t have hired them,
and if they’re not intelligent enough to get
the job done, we don’t need them anyway.
We have some people that still are dead
set on micromanaging and making sure
everybody knows exactly every step they
need to do to accomplish a goal. Forget it.
Keep working on them because people
who are micromanagers, it’s in their DNA.
It’s not something you cure overnight by
any stretch. It’s just how they are, so keep
reminding them to back off. We don’t do
training on micromanaging. You can’t train
them. It’s just a style. Hope they pick it up
Define the vision. Be very clear, concise and
specific. You cannot be vague. The vision
itself is, by the very nature, vague, but then
you have to take the next step.
What does that mean, and what do we
have to accomplish to achieve the vision?
You have to be extremely specific.
Let them ask as many questions as they
want to. I try not to speak to them too long
without, ‘Stop me anytime if you have a
question, you don’t understand or there’s
something that’s not very clear.’
Overcome cultural barriers in international business. The challenge is communicating enough, communicating the right message
and in the right form.
When you communicate, don’t make references that people around the whole
world have no idea what you’re speaking
of. You can’t use references like, ‘We want
to get the ball over the goal.’ They don’t
quite get that in Beijing. I started talking to
people face to face, and they’d look at me
like I was from Mars. It gave me a little hint
that they don’t have a clue what I’m talking
It also changes your jokes. Every time I
went to Europe, the employees would say,
‘OK, you’re not in the U.S. anymore. We
don’t think the way Americans do.’
You just have to force yourself. When you
get to a new country, go along with them. I
always have them take me out to dinner
and give me a tour. Just keep a smile on
your face, and go look at churches. I’ve
seen a lot of churches especially old
Own your ideas. I started a company called
800-FLOWERS years ago. I got the phone
number, went out and raised a bunch of
The guys that I raised the money from
decided I was too young to be the CEO.
They told me I had to go hire a CEO, so
we did. I brought this guy in, and he
immediately ran the company into the
If it’s your dream, your vision, you can’t
pass that on to somebody else. You cannot
translate that. You have to go with your
own gut. The guy who cares most about it
is the guy whose idea it is, so when somebody comes to me in the company and
says, ‘Here’s an idea for a new product,’ I
turn around and say, ‘Perfect idea it’s
yours. You go make it happen’ because
nobody cares more than the person that
has the vision and the idea.
You cannot go hire emotion. You can’t
hire drive. If it’s your vision, your idea, you
have to go do it.
HOW TO REACH: Pegasus Solutions Inc., (214) 234-4000 or