Denis John Healy Jr. Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
With six decades in business and a firmly entrenched culture, revamping Turtle Wax Inc. was no small chore for CEO Denis John Healy Jr. It may now be known as one of the best-selling and most recognizable brands in the car care products market, but the company that would become Turtle Wax was founded in a small Chicago Avenue storefront in 1944 by the man who invented the chocolate-covered banana. A year-and-a-half ago, Healy began a fundamental transformation of the company’s business model, which also required a makeover of the company’s culture. Early results are positive, with Turtle Wax posting revenue of approximately $175 million in 2006. Smart Business spoke with Healy about why leading change requires planning, monitoring and communication.


Embrace innovation. Change has to be part of every organization at all times. If a company is not always changing, always innovating, always improving, you’re going to be stagnant.

It’s not necessarily looking at whether a company is not changing enough, it’s really that a company must always be changing, looking for new opportunities and new ways to innovate, update culture, forward thinking. A more team-oriented, discussion-based and less top-down approach where the entire organization is actually contributing to creating and fostering change in the organization is really where an organization needs to be.

The dangers of becoming stagnant are really all over the headlines these days. If companies do not continually change, they’re not going to be able to seize opportunities. This world is changing so much that a company that does not reward risk and change and new ways of thinking are really going to be beat up by competition and fall by the wayside.

Plan and monitor changes. With all this change, we’ve been a company in flux. We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and distribution, and we have moved offices, so the culture has been really in transition over the past year and a half with all this fundamental change.

The culture that we’re focusing on now is one of continual improvement, of collaboration, one that rewards proper risks and one that inspires enthusiasm and energy.

It really starts with laying out a clear direction of what the desired goals and objectives are for the business as a whole, for each department and for each individual. Then, on a continual basis, you monitor that, looking at specific metrics to make sure we are following the right path toward that new direction or goal, whatever it may be, on an individual basis and a companywide basis.

Keep everyone up to speed. People, on a basic human level, are not always open to change. We have to make sure people in the organization and the culture itself is open to taking risks, looking at continual improvement, challenging themselves, challenging the individual, challenging the team, challenging the organization in order to continually improve.

We have several mechanisms on an ongoing basis to evaluate and develop our people through performance appraisals and other methods. Having great people is really where it all starts, and that has been my greatest challenge.

We’ve had a lot of people in the organization over the years. It’s been a family business, and sometimes in family businesses, you have long-term employees, which is great, but really making sure that every employee is up to speed on the most current business strategies and tactics, using executive education courses or reading materials, whatever it may be, to make sure that our employees are up to speed and continually developing their individual assets.

Use a multifaceted approach to communication. A leader has to be there. They have to be in the trenches, and they have to understand what’s going on in the organization — not to get bogged down in the details, but to understand and recognize the enormous change that is going to be taking place, guiding his or her troops through that change while also being able to keep one eye on the future, saying, ‘Are we there? Are we getting there?’ It’s all about being present, being available and continually monitoring the progress toward that goal, that strategy, the overall direction and then communicating that effectively on a regular basis using a multifaceted approach.

A leader can’t just have one address or state in an e-mail that, ‘We’re going to change, and this is the direction.’ The frequent and continual communication of what that new direction, goal or strategy is going to be through various methods — e-mails, newsletters, postings throughout the company, town hall meetings — and also changing the organizational structure.

In our example, that meant a more team-oriented, matrix structure really helped not only change the culture but also made sure we were always on the same page. The organization is always aware of where we’re heading and what our progress is.

Seek feedback from all employees. Successful leaders have to be present, they have to be there, they have to be open to new ideas, they have to be honest, frank and they have to communicate. That kind of all ties together in being a cheerleader, coach and teacher. You’re always there, always assessing the organization and making sure that you have the right people, the right culture in place. If the leader is not open and real and honest and frank, it can be difficult for any leader to really harbor the right kind of culture in the organization to move the organization to further success in the future.

Open and honest communication from anyone in the organization at any time, properly handled, can really foster a culture in which the whole organization is aware of where we’re going but also can contribute to any adjustments needed on that direction per any findings an individual might have at any level.

Certain individuals in an organization may be privy to certain nuances of the business that may not be readily visible to an executive or CEO. Having that communication open from multiple levels of the organization as a two-way street is very important.

HOW TO REACH: Turtle Wax Inc., or (630) 455-3700