Born: Anchorage, Alaska; raised in Arkansas
I went one semester to the University of Arkansas when I got the famous phone call: I was mowing yards as a kid, saving money in order to fly, and unbeknownst to me, the guy whose yard I was mowing was Eric Clapton’s chief pilot. I already had my pilot’s license at this point. So I’m in school for one semester mowing yards, stocking shelves, painting fences, trying to get grades, and I got this call from this guy whose yard I used to mow. Two days later, I was flying Stevie Nicks on her world tour. So I kind of quit school.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
One of the great leadership-related lessons I learned: One size does not fit all. There is a time and season for having a servant mentality, but that’s not my only tool in the tool belt. There is a time when you have to go from farmer to hunter. When I first started the organization, I didn’t realize it, but I was a micromanager. I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to be a micromanager, I wanted to be more inclusive. So I went to a more inclusive model and about wrecked the business. I kind of had to go back to the micromanaging for a while and put in the systems and training and culture to support this nonmicromanaging environment. If you’re a micromanager, that might not be wrong. There is a time for that; there is a time not to. There is a time to be assertive and a time to be inclusive. If all you have is a hammer in your toolbox, not everything in life is a nail. I think it is natural for there to be a change in season and styles as you are navigating the change of waters in a business.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
Probably my favorite poster is the persistence poster: Never give up. There are a lot of days as leaders where they’re not kidding that it’s lonely at the top. There are a lot of days where you as a leader are questioned, whether it’s from subordinates, teammates, employees, investors. CEOs or business leaders, you’re the man in the arena, you’re going to be booed and applauded. You’re not in the audience; you’re not in the crowd. It takes quite a bit of self-motivation, self-discipline and persistence to be a leader.
What is your definition of success?
Success is enjoying what you do. I don’t care if you are sweeping floors, picking up trash or flying an airplane, you can love your job. When I was at a Ritz-Carlton, it was impressive to see maids loving their jobs. If you’re reading this magazine, you are a ladder climber and overachiever. There are a lot of people in your organization who won’t read this magazine, who won’t be interested in it. But they’re not failing because they’re enjoying being the maid in a hotel chain. You can find a way to celebrate them and help them see the importance in their role to where they get great fulfillment in that. We do tell people all the time, you spend a third of your life at work, a third of your life in bed, and the other third really isn’t yours because you’re driving to and from work, running kids around, grocery shopping, laundry. So the moral of the story, besides have a really good bed mattress, is you’d better love your work.