The Lemmon file Featured

12:00pm EDT March 21, 2006
Born: 1942, Afton, Wyo.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, accounting and finance, University of Utah; and post graduate work at Northwestern University and completed an executive program at Northwestern University.

What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
To be an outstanding leader, you need three elements. People want to know where they’re going. The first element is, you’ve got to have a strategy. You’ve got to have a mission. You’ve got to have a vision. You’ve got to excite your work force about where they’re going.

The second element is, you’ve got to have a bias for action. You’ve got to do something. One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt. He said (that) in any given situation, the best thing to do is the right thing, the second best thing to do is the wrong thing and the worst thing to do is nothing.

I think companies are not willing to learn enough from their mistakes, and they’re not willing to takes some risks and step out. I have a strong bias for action. That’s the way you learn.

The third element is to say thank you. If employees perform, you’ve got to reward them. You’ve got to uplift them. You’ve got to motivate them.

My three steps, are tell them where you’re going, lead them — via a bias for action — and tell them thank you.

What is the greatest business challenge you’ve ever faced, and how did you overcome it?
The most stress I’ve ever been under is when the telecommunications business turned south and I’d just invested $68 million in a company called Pathnet.

It was a telecommunications company out of Washington, D.C. It’s purpose was to build a broadband Internet loop around the United States. I donated my rightaway and I contributed financially to that. In about 1999, it was part of our diversification growth strategy.

You know what happened to the dot-coms. We were not built out and we didn’t have enough cash. We went into Chapter 11 and we went into Chapter 7. I ended up getting the rights to my right away back so there was no loss there, but it was an expensive lesson.

I went in with some trepidation, not knowing the business. I did all the research I could. If I’d done it five years earlier, it would have paid off very well. Timing was a disadvantage to me.

That was a lesson in investing in an industry that I didn’t know a lot about. It was hard to take, but I was committed to overcoming it and growing the company to earn that $68 million back to my company. I think we’ve increased shareholder value here by several hundred million dollars. I think I’ve made that back.