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The art of multitasking Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Henry Ford once said, “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste time.” Mary Petrovich, CEO of AxleTech International, is living proof of that philosophy.

Petrovich traces her talent for multitasking to her childhood.

“My mother, a hairdresser, was a widow with eight children at the age of 30,” she says. “Learning to be efficient was essential — it was a matter of survival for me. There was no way I could meet my goals in life without being highly focused.”

AxleTech International is a global manufacturer and supplier of axles and related products for vehicles in various markets.

“Four years ago, we had a $150 million business that was losing money on most of its customer base,” Petrovich says. “Since then, we have driven profits up 10 times and sales up two times without an acquisition.”

Smart Business spoke with Petrovich about the art of multitasking and the challenges of leading change.

Q: How do you lead change?

Get out from behind your desk and ask as many questions as possible.

It is easy to recognize when your company is not operating to its potential. The difficult next step is to analyze where and how you are falling short. You need to identify the issues driving performance and determine the three to five things that need to be done.

Then, develop a systematic plan and stick to it. Much of this comes down to pure discipline. Listening to peers, customers and employees is essential. You have to figure out what it is you don’t know before you can move forward.

Q: What was your most memorable business mistake, and what did you learn from it?

Not moving fast enough on the people issues. If someone does not display results-oriented behaviors and a sense of urgency, it does not matter how much customer and product knowledge or experience they have ... or how nice they are.

You have to be willing to make the tough calls and not look back or question yourself. If your management staff cannot lead and get results, you must get them out of the way quickly. This is particularly true in a turnaround or an organization requiring dramatic improvement and cultural change.

Q: How do you get employees to buy in to your vision and help make it a reality?

First, you have to create a burning platform or reason to change. Then, you need to lead by example and get some wins that show your leadership style.

These successes will demonstrate that the results under your watch are going to be much different than in the past. The people begin to trust you — you have to earn that. Early success breeds confidence and buy-in.

The culture had to change in order for AxleTech to be a success story. There is no pride in losing money. We had to revamp our sales strategy early on.

As a smaller, more focused organization, we had to move quicker and lose the large corporation mindset, which can be sluggish.

Q: What advice would you give a new CEO?

Surround yourself with high performers. Recognize your weaknesses and make sure your team does not have the same ones. For example, if you tend to overanalyze before making decisions, employ a management staff that moves quickly and is not paralyzed by data. Strive for a culture of execution and accountability, with a high bias for action.

There is no magic formula for success. It’s a matter of common sense and mastering the fundamentals like blocking and tackling. However, the saying, ‘Common sense is not so common’ is very true.

Great leaders have undying persistence and handle setbacks by coming back twice as strong. They do not recoil or lose confidence when things don’t go as planned.

Direct and regular communication is essential. I host town hall meetings with a ‘State of the Business’ address along with time for Q&As. I do this at both the HQ and plant levels.

Q: How do you make decisions?

I manage by fact and make decisions quickly with the right small group of informed leadership team around me. We make decisions much faster than our competitors and move much more aggressively. It is a true competitive advantage for us.

We are responsive. We also keep things simple: An attractive business opportunity is one that enhances our core competency and carries with it the potential to make lots of money.

HOW TO REACH: AxleTech International, (877) 877-9717 or www.axletech.com

The Women in Business series is presented by Smart Business through the support of Comerica Bank.