Education: Bachelor of arts degree, management, University of Illinois; associate’s degree, information technology, Illinois Central College “So yes, at one time I was a geek, a bits and bytes guy.”
First job: My father was a service manager at a Pontiac garage, and he’d been there for like 25 years in that position. He was very well known in the region and across Pontiac as being a premier service manager. So dad, of course, being of German descent, wanted to give me all the rotten jobs; he had me come in after school.
He taught me how to change oil and told me you need to put your time in to advance. So, I got to do things like wash cars out on the lot in the middle of December, even though the water was freezing on the car. And he also gave me my first introduction to service parts there.
During the summers, I worked a lot in the shop and supporting the parts department of the dealership. And that’s really where I started to admire and desire a career in the area of service parts.
Career moves: I started at Caterpillar and had a 25-year career at Caterpillar. I started in IT. After about four years of that craziness, I then moved into a fast track in terms of skipping various management positions and learning all aspects of the service parts and parts logistics business. Caterpillar is world-renowned in terms of their ability to keep vehicles running on behalf of dealers and also their customers. If you think about an education in service parts, certainly Caterpillar would be known as the premier university. Part of those positions I held on that fast track was to understand remanufacturing and to support the development of the Caterpillar remanufacturing program.
Boards: I’ve been a member of church boards, which I’m active in. One board I’m particularly proud of, during my stay at Central Illinois while at Cat, I had 20 years’ experience with board experience with the Boys and Girls Club. I think that’s very important. Youth is our future, and that’s why I was very devoted to that club and driving forward the capabilities that that club offered to the boys and girls of Central Illinois.
What is the biggest business lesson you’ve learned?
One is get the right people in the right positions, and get smart people in those positions because they can help you deliver on the strategy. The second thing is develop a strategy in concert with those people and get their devotion to that strategy, and things will go well.
If you don’t have the right strategy and the buy-in, and then you don’t have the right people to execute it, you will fail.
What is the biggest business challenge you've ever faced, and how did you overcome it?
I would go back to Ford. I took over an organization that, over time, had not been nourished the way it is should have been nourished, and therefore, it was performing at a worst-in-class level. The challenge there was to get the people to believe that they could be best-in-class and putting the right people in place.
I got great support from Ford upper management to do that. How I overcame it was some reshuffling of people to get them in the right position; count on people with gray matter to really help you deliver the strategy. Develop a strategy that has them reach for the stars.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I don’t think I’m going to pick on business. I’m going to pick people that coached people, stayed in the background and gave the glory to the team.
If you think about a Vince Lombard or a Tom Landry of the Cowboys, Larry Brown with Detroit these are fairly lower profile people when they’re at their job, and they really concentrated on success of the team. I think that is the way you deliver success. That’s what I’d like to emulate.