Robert M. Winget

When Robert M. Winget saw that TSC Apparel wasn’t doing as well as expected in its western market, he didn’t waste time
pointing fingers. Instead, TSC’s co-president and CFO sat down with his people and did a candid appraisal of the market.
Listening to honest feedback from his people in the trenches, Winget realized that what the company needed was more sales
staff to improve customer relationships. With that change, the apparel wholesaler has continued to grow in a very competitive
market. And that willingness to give and receive candid opinions is a point of daily business for Winget and his co-president, Jim
Eaton, in dealing with the company’s 115 employees. Smart Business spoke with Winget about telling the truth and admitting
his mistakes.

Encourage candor for perspective. It’s just a
matter of trying to be honest. Everybody
can look at the business through rose-colored glasses and see everything in an
opportunistic way and say, ‘Hey, we’re not
where we want to be, but maybe we’ll get

It’s trying to get people to be more realistic around the business and more realistic
about our expectations. For years, we
would come up with kind of pie-in-the-sky
plans and we weren’t listening to those
people that are down in the trenches fighting it every day — people that know what
the problems are.

But a lot of times they’re reluctant to
share that information; they’re afraid it
won’t be received the right way. What
we’re trying to create is an environment
where people can speak what’s on their
mind and share information and not feel
like there’s going to be any fallout from

That’s why I don’t mind at all telling people the mistakes that I make, because I
make them every day and it’s just trying to
encourage people to be honest and open.
Sometimes it’s the stuff you don’t want to
hear, but at least they’re getting it out on
the table.

Don’t push the blame on someone else. Most of
the time when things aren’t working
around here, I look to myself and to the
senior management team to try to be honest about why. Most of the time, we have to
look to ourselves for the answer. We’re not
perfect and we make mistakes and we
have to be willing to accept candid feedback without letting it get to us or thinking
it’s personal.

I tend to be a real straight shooter with
the people who work for me, and I expect
them to do that to me, as well. None of us
want to hear that we’re doing terrible, but
we have to be fair about it. I’ll tell them flat
out, ‘I made this decision last June, and it
was a mistake.’ I don’t want them to lose
confidence in me, but at the same time, I
don’t want them to think I’m afraid to
admit when I’m wrong.

Prepare new employees for your candor. When
someone is new here, there are a couple of
key points that I hit on. One is the fact that
they’re going to appreciate us being honest
with them, and I always tell them, ‘You
wouldn’t want me coming to you one day
and saying you’ve been doing a terrible job
here for the last six or 12 months, so we’re
going to make a change and you’re out.’

By the same token, we don’t want to hear
an employee come in and tell us that
they’ve not been happy at the company and
they found another job. We want them to
tell us if they’re unhappy.

I always see it as a real failure on our part
when we have someone that we feel good
about that just comes in and quits for
another job. The key thing that we try to
communicate to people upfront is that we
want to hear what’s going on.

Treat criticism as a building tool. I always tell
people, ‘Nobody is perfect. I’m not perfect,
the company is not perfect, we all need to
be open and willing to accept criticism and
feedback to get better.’

If at any time we do a review and we don’t
tell people what they’ve done wrong, or
what they could do better, we’re really failing them because then we don’t give them
anything to work on to make themselves

We’ve got to give them feedback, or we’re
not helping them any. Our job is to help the
people that make a difference because, at
the end of the day, I never quote an order,
take an order, pack an order, I don’t do any
of those things, so my sole purpose for
being here is to try to help the people that
do those things, and the only way to do that
is through some sort of open and honest

Listen to employee feedback. Sometimes I’ve
gone so far as to take an e-mail and read it
verbatim in a company meeting to say,
‘This issue has come up, and here’s what
somebody felt.’ We understand what
they’re saying, and we’re willing to say that
in front of everybody to validate their comment.

With our people on the front line, who
know where we’re winning and losing, if
you hear a common theme from them,
like a problem with our deliveries, we
have to hear them. We have to acknowledge it internally and say it in front of our
people and tell them we have these problems and we need to get them fixed, as
opposed to just thinking that we do a pretty good job.

Use different opinions to spark new ideas. The
director of operations may have the best
idea about how to solve a sales problem.
We all have our paradigms around how our
piece of the business works and how it has
to work, and you really need people to
challenge that. Some of the breakthroughs
we’ve had come from somebody outside of
that discipline. They’re sitting there, a
smart person, and they’re in the session
and they come up with some different
approach to solving it.

That’s what makes candor work.
Otherwise, people tend to get defensive,
and it can create a rift between people. But
if our director of operations says something to our VP of sales, the VP of sales is
going to listen, and vice versa.

HOW TO REACH: TSC Apparel, or (800)