Education: Bachelor of arts degree, marketing and economics, Oklahoma State University College of Business
First job: At a candy stand when I was 7 years old. I was a partner with this little kid who I caught stealing from me. I stole his wagon as bailment. His mother came and wanted to know why I stole his wagon. I said, ‘When he returns the 80 cents he stole from me, I’ll give him the wagon back.’
She said, ‘My son doesn’t steal.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got the wagon, so tough potatoes.’ I got my 80 cents back, and he got his wagon back.
I’ve been on my own since I was 17. My first real job, I was 14. I was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs six days a week, nine hours a day at a country club, covered with grease every night when I went home. I made about $150 month.
What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t get too full of yourself. Nothing fails like success. When things are going really well, that’s when you need to be extra careful because that means complacency is probably going to follow. Also, the most important word in business is ‘No.’ You can’t be all things to all people. You can’t do everything yourself.
One of my quotes is, ‘The customer is always right, but everyone’s not a customer.’ You just have to accept the fact that there is no such thing as perfection; there is no such thing as getting everything right. As long as your intentions are good and your heart is in the right place, when you make mistakes, people will forgive you.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
In 1987, I took over a company called Collins & Aikman Floor Covering. It was a division of the parent company, which was about a $1.3 billion company. The division that I was recruited to run was about an $80 million carpet-tile operation. The top eight people had been sent home pending a criminal investigation that they had altered data on flame and smoke standards in the carpets.
There was an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that said Collins and Aikman’s floor covering division may have shipped up to $360 million of faulty carpet over the last 10 years.
I accepted this job to take over this business. It was losing about $25 million a year on $80 million in sales. Even though I didn’t screw it up, I thought it was something we could come together as a team and fix.
It was an incredible crisis. (I was) flying all over the country trying to calm customers down. I had 50 attorneys in conference rooms around my office complete crisis management. Even though I didn’t screw it up, I took a lot of accountability for it and didn’t blame other people. I said, ‘Let’s fix it.’ And we did.
That company went on to be sold multiple times and today is very, very successful and probably the most profitable floor covering operation, maybe, in the world.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
The man I admire most in the world is George (Herbert Walker) Bush-41. President Bush-41 is just a leader. Even though he only served one term, he’s one of the greatest presidents who ever served the United States. So, as an individual, it would be him.
I look at George Bush-41 as the ultimate servant leader. If you look at presidents, why they’re there, why they run and why they fill these positions, some of them have been true servant leaders versus ego leaders. I think President Bush, who’s become a friend, exemplifies that.
If you look at his background chairman of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to China, head of the CIA, vice president for eight years not to mention he served in the Navy he’s a hell of a guy.