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Take the ball

Rooney didn’t expect the company to change immediately, but the role its top executive played did the second he came on board.

“There has to be a CEO who has got a feel for this type of leadership,” he says.

To do that, you have to clear your schedule of everything that doesn’t have to do with driving change.

“I have three jobs as the CEO,” Rooney explains. “I get to set the culture, which is the dynamic organization. I get to set the vision of the company, which is to be the best in customer service and satisfaction. And I also get to get rid of the ‘becauses’ — when someone comes to me and says, ‘I can’t do what you want because …’ then I get to go back in my old operating role and knock down the ‘becauses.’ I had a good COO here that could work on the other stuff. It’s a question of letting other people do the things that they’re good at and then making sure that I’m doing the things that I’m good at.”

So while Rooney let his chief operating officer handle the operations, he went out and made clear presentations to senior leaders.

“We really took the leadership at that time and told them what we expected of them. We had a fairly intensive effort for the first six to eight months that I was here to put the playbook out there and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ and make it clear to them that they either subscribe to this or they were gone,” he says. “Many of them looked at that and said, ‘Well, this is the flavor of the month,’ and that they were going to outlast me. They didn’t do that.”

They certainly didn’t. Of the top 50 people Rooney originally introduced to the dynamic organization, he estimates fewer than five survived the transition.

“That’s the way things are; you have to just be intolerant of people that say, ‘I don’t want to live this way,’” he says. “They don’t want to live this way, fine, I don’t care. People have their choices, but that choice then says you don’t live here.”

As he explained these things to his senior leaders, he also went out to the front lines and shared the behaviors he was preaching.

“I went out to the front-line associates, who really are the most important people in this company, and I told them, ‘Here is what I want your leaders to be like,’” he says. “And then they were very intolerant of leaders that didn’t act that way.

“I didn’t want them tied up in a lot of bureaucracy, and we expected them to be proud of their company, and you can’t be proud of a company where there’s not a very strong sense of ethics. I promised them, ‘If you are being asked to do something by your leader that you think is a problem, you come right to me, and we’ll take care of it.’ In some cases, they did. And we also told the leaders, ‘Don’t try to interfere with the channels of communication. If you do, you’re going to get walked right out of here.’ And we had to do that, too, a couple times.”