John F. Davis III Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
When John F. Davis III’s team members told him that they needed to lay off 240 employees the first week of December, he said absolutely not, even though it would cost $250,000 to keep them on until January. He wanted to do the right thing and not let people go right before the holidays, so despite arguments from his staff, he kept the employees on. As word spread at Pegasus Solutions Inc. of what he had done, the affected employees took the impending layoffs much better when they saw how Davis cared about and fought for them. As chairman and CEO of Pegasus, a provider of booking services to the hotel industry, Davis is adamant about leading by example, a style that has helped him grow the company to $170 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with Davis about how he lets the Golden Rule guide him in empowering his employees as he sets an example for them every day.

Lead by example. You have to show people. People follow leaders that are actually doing something.

During the summer, I like having Friday afternoon off to go play golf, so I made a new rule that everybody gets Friday afternoon off. If I left every Friday at noon, I would expect everybody else to do it.

If you want people here at 8 o’clock, you’ve got to be here at 8 o’clock. You want people to work over the weekend, you’ve got to be willing to work over the weekend.

Don’t just tell people to do it. The people that come up here and work on the weekends, if they didn’t see me up here, by about the third weekend they’d go, ‘Well, if it’s not that important to him, why’s it important to blow my weekend?’ Be willing to do it yourself. If you’re not, then you’re just not the leader.

Empower people. I hire smart people and count on them to get the job done. I have what I call the big-boy and big-girl rule. Everybody’s a big boy and big girl when they come to work here.

I hired an executive vice president, and I said, ‘We’ve got a meeting in San Francisco, and he started in — ‘What flight are you on? When are you leaving? Who’s going to pick you up? Where do we go when we get there?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, big boy. The meeting is at 3 o’clock in San Francisco. Here’s the address. I assume you can get there.’ Everybody’s a big boy [or] big girl. They can figure it out.

It gives them a freedom to get it done. They feel like they’re in control. Nobody’s dictating to them how to get it done. Just say, ‘Here’s what we need to accomplish,’ and you show them the mountain and hope they get to the top through their own devices.

If I have to go do it, why did I hire them? If I really have to do it, then we have to talk about splitting your salary with me. That gets their attention.

Lead people away from micromanaging. Back off — don’t micromanage. Let people do the job you hired them to do.

Everyone here is an intelligent person. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have hired them, and if they’re not intelligent enough to get the job done, we don’t need them anyway.

We have some people that still are dead set on micromanaging and making sure everybody knows exactly every step they need to do to accomplish a goal. Forget it. Keep working on them because people who are micromanagers, it’s in their DNA.

It’s not something you cure overnight by any stretch. It’s just how they are, so keep reminding them to back off. We don’t do training on micromanaging. You can’t train them. It’s just a style. Hope they pick it up by watching.

Define the vision. Be very clear, concise and specific. You cannot be vague. The vision itself is, by the very nature, vague, but then you have to take the next step.

What does that mean, and what do we have to accomplish to achieve the vision? You have to be extremely specific.

Let them ask as many questions as they want to. I try not to speak to them too long without, ‘Stop me anytime if you have a question, you don’t understand or there’s something that’s not very clear.’

Overcome cultural barriers in international business. The challenge is communicating enough, communicating the right message and in the right form.

When you communicate, don’t make references that people around the whole world have no idea what you’re speaking of. You can’t use references like, ‘We want to get the ball over the goal.’ They don’t quite get that in Beijing. I started talking to people face to face, and they’d look at me like I was from Mars. It gave me a little hint that they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

It also changes your jokes. Every time I went to Europe, the employees would say, ‘OK, you’re not in the U.S. anymore. We don’t think the way Americans do.’

You just have to force yourself. When you get to a new country, go along with them. I always have them take me out to dinner and give me a tour. Just keep a smile on your face, and go look at churches. I’ve seen a lot of churches — especially old churches.

Own your ideas. I started a company called 800-FLOWERS years ago. I got the phone number, went out and raised a bunch of money.

The guys that I raised the money from decided I was too young to be the CEO. They told me I had to go hire a CEO, so we did. I brought this guy in, and he immediately ran the company into the ground.

If it’s your dream, your vision, you can’t pass that on to somebody else. You cannot translate that. You have to go with your own gut. The guy who cares most about it is the guy whose idea it is, so when somebody comes to me in the company and says, ‘Here’s an idea for a new product,’ I turn around and say, ‘Perfect idea — it’s yours. You go make it happen’ because nobody cares more than the person that has the vision and the idea.

You cannot go hire emotion. You can’t hire drive. If it’s your vision, your idea, you have to go do it.

HOW TO REACH: Pegasus Solutions Inc., (214) 234-4000 or www.pegs.com