Bachelor of science degree, aerospace engineering, Georgia Tech; master’s degree in mechanical engineering and MBA, Stanford
Cleaning concrete forms at a construction site in South Florida. My father was in the construction business, and he wanted to encourage me to go back to school. He felt that the best way to do that was to have me clean concrete forms in the hot Florida sun.
I thought he was going to put me in the office doing something else, but he wanted to make a point. He made it loud and clear.
What is the biggest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
It might have been my first real general management job, which was running a waste company in Detroit. It was a highly unionized, antagonistic work force.
I was a young manager, and they all understood that I was probably the last man standing and why I was given the job, because I don’t think anybody else wanted to run this company.
I didn’t have a real good playbook. I was smart enough to know what I wanted to do, but I really didn’t understand how to get people motivated to do it, especially (at a company) that had had a very negative environment.
I’ve been lucky, and there’s nothing wrong with being lucky. I was fortunate to be lucky. In the absence of any other grand idea, I tried just straight talk with the group and explained to them why the changes we needed to make were good for me and why I was promoting them, but more importantly, why they were good for them.
To this day, even though it was a relatively small company, I’m proud of what we were able to do over the course of almost three years.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I have had some great bosses. It was really my first CEO that was responsible for the company I just referred to in the waste business. He’s the one who strongly encouraged me to spend some time in sales. His name is Steve Beck, and I thank him for that.
Subsequent to that, someone that I think has always operated with the highest of integrity was my boss later on, and his name is Bob Anderson.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a great run of bosses early in my career that have always emphasized ‘Do the right thing.’ I think they’ve had more influence on me than any celebrity CEO that might be on the cover of a book.