The Wathen File Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Born: Evansville, Ind.

Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering, Purdue University; MBA, University of St. Francis, Fort Wayne, Ind.

First jobs: I mowed lawns, and I also was the night manager at a gas station on the interstate when I was in high school. But what really mattered to me was that my father got me into the Teamsters union. I’m making $8 an hour in my first year out of high school working on a Teamsters dock. But the lesson is, we all knew better ways to do things. Let’s change the way we unload boxcars, the way we load a truck going out on a run. A couple of managers would listen to us for anything. I learned a lot about listening and how that can empower people to make changes. As a leader, you always want to listen to the people who know best how to run something.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Having consistency, and having a straightforward, simple approach to communication. Having a willingness to spend time with the people in your business and listen to them, recognizing that many of your best ideas are going to come from the folks in your business. My role isn’t to tell them what to do. It’s to enable them.

What universal truths have you learned about leadership?

Change is a constant, but you have to think about the pace of change that makes the most sense. Sometimes you need to expect change quickly and respond to change quickly, but you need to be able to judge what makes sense and stay on the ragged edge of your comfort zone.