Born: Roanoke, Va.
Education: I went to an extension of Virginia Tech called Roanoke Technical Institute for two and a half years, but I didn’t graduate. I’m a product of great training. I’ve worked hard, and that’s one of the reasons I have such respect for people at the bottom of a company when they’re trying to work their way up. Are they acknowledged for their results? I was fortunate to work for companies that did acknowledge people getting results. It was a major shape to my leadership style.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
Probably building the bridge of connectivity between people and leadership because of the somewhat mistrust we’ve built up over the years. Thirty or 40 years ago, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it is today, so I think when you walk into a new organization that’s had constant change in leadership or visions, to build that connectivity of believability and trust with the leader.
What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Respect people in all walks of life, color and education. I worked heavy construction for that two and a half years (of college). I worked with people with sixth- and seventh-grade educations out of southwest Virginia, and I worked with people trying to earn college degrees. They had similar values they loved their families, they worked immensely hard, and they wanted to do a good job. I think you carry that forward and apply it in your life as you become more and more successful.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I always thought Jack Byrne, who turned Geico around back in the ’70s, is one of the more fascinating leaders in the business. I worked closely with him for a period of time, and he was a big man soft, warm, extremely intelligent and a common-sense business mind. He could rally people, and I have great respect for him.
What was your first job ever?
I was a clerk in a hardware store in Roanoke, Va., at age 16.