William F. Jones Jr. Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
Leaders at DaimlerChrysler Insurance Co. want to look internally first to fill a position, they also see the benefits of looking outside the company to fill a need. When you do go outside, you want people that are going to cross-pollinate the organization and bring in things to share and to talk about, says William F. Jones Jr., president and CEO of the $117 million insurance company that employs 45 people. Smart Business spoke with Jones Jr. about how to find the people who will buy in to your vision and how to avoid the pitfall of thinking you have all the answers.

Hire people who are going to endorse your vision. You flesh out a resume. It’s a snapshot. When you conduct an interview, it’s, ‘Tell me more about X and tell me more about Y. Tell me about your motivation.’

I don’t think there is a right answer, but the quality of the answer and the commitment behind the answer [are important]. Somebody says, ‘Yep, I went to college. Yep, I studied accounting.’

Why did you study accounting? What was it about it that excited you, or what bored the hell out of you? You can probe a little bit deeper in the course of questions. What are people about? What do they do? Do they like their family? Why did you come to Michigan? Were you born here? It’s about establishing some type of common basis to have a conversation.

Don’t show up to an interview unless you have questions of your own. An interview should be a dialogue not simply a presentation of answers you’ve already prepared.

There isn’t a prescribed answer. Truly smart and motivated people are going to take you in a lot of different directions, and maybe they’ll even surprise you with something.

Body language helps convey confidence. It can make you less assured of a person’s qualifications if they have difficulty and struggle with basic and simple questions. As an organization, we don’t automatically exclude somebody on the basis of appearance, unless it’s obvious from the way they come in here they aren’t serious.

This isn’t the type of environment where you show up in sneakers and cut-offs with a skateboard under your arm. But you don’t have to show up in a three-piece, button-down with wingtips, either.

Communicate your vision. We talk to our employees and conduct surveys. The feedback is anonymous, but you can tell if they are getting it by the way they respond. We have core values we live by: integrity, passion, discipline, openness and respect; financial and social responsibility; inspired and empowered people; customer focus; and commitment to excellence.

When people challenge you on the core values or challenge themselves, you know that they are bringing the passion and the understanding to the situation that you want to have in the organization.

Find interests other than your business. We all have outside interests. There has to be something you are passionate about. I’m a sports nut and love to play golf. So that’s one thing.

You have an outlet. I enjoy friends and music and daydreaming about some wild idea or reading something off the wall from time to time that makes you think in a different direction.

Some folks, what they do is what they love to do. No matter how far they try to stretch, the outside and inside are going to blur.

There’s people that love to ski and look forward to skiing. What is it that makes people interesting? It’s not what they do. It’s what they like. It’s a tremendous ice-breaker to begin with. If you are a Pistons fan and you encounter another Pistons fan, right away that’s something in common.

Allow employees to be open and honest. When it’s tried out, and it will be, you have to do what you say you are going to do. If I say we can have open and honest communication, and the first time someone walks into my office with bad news, you shoot the messenger, that’s B.S.

It’s, ‘I appreciate you bringing that to my attention, now let’s find a solution.’ You can’t say it and then not do it. You have to communicate it and execute on that basis. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

Learn from mistakes. You can’t learn from things by burying things. Once again, open and honest. Hopefully, we made a mistake for the right reasons, or made a mistake trying to do something better for the company, not a mistake because we are trying to cover something up.

We take that as a learning opportunity and move along. You’re much better off getting to that sooner than later. The company has a lot of people, and a lot of people know what is going on, so you can’t hide things from your employees. You learn from it, digest it and move on.

Never think that you have all the right answers. I think the greatest pitfall would be not casting as wide as you can to explore opportunities to solving problems. If you singularly think you have all the answers, then you are heading for failure.

Ask questions and listen. Even if you haven’t asked the question, listen. Go to folks, talk to them about it. Talk to people inside the industry and outside. The whole idea of gathering intelligence is a 365-day-a-year type of situation. You can learn from anybody, anywhere, anytime. If you remain cognizant of that, I think you have a better chance of success. Even the most successful people in the world aren’t right all the time.

I may think I know the right answer, but if we are having a discussion, it’s about validating. Let’s push, probe and see if it makes sense. If nobody is challenging you, then you have to say, ‘We’re about to make a big decision here. What are the risk and opportunities around it?’

That fits in the realm of proper due diligence around any type of significant decision-making. If you get there and you don’t feel right about it, then you shouldn’t put an artificial timetable on it.

HOW TO REACH: DaimlerChrysler Insurance Co., (800) 782-9164 and press 3, or www.insurance.daimlerchrysler.com