The Palmer file Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

Born: Indianapolis

Education: Purdue University, Krannert School of Management, bachelor of science degree, management; Xavier University, master of business administration degree, finance

What is the biggest business challenge you have faced?

I started in the business in 1980. That was when Lee Iacocca was asking for a loan guarantee and Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy. People didn’t even know whether the car you were manufacturing, whether they were going to be in business. Our commercial loan rates were around 18 percent. Those were really dire times. Most of it was luck. The K car showed up and the mini-van showed up, and we were able to have some products that really helped us turn the company around. You learn to really pinch pennies. If you had employees that weren’t productive, you had to get rid of them quickly just to survive. Those survival days were really good training for today’s times.

What is the most important business lesson you have learned?

Defining your focus and sticking to it. In our business, you have to be very focused on customer satisfaction, and you have to be very focused on operating profitably. You can’t have too many employees, and you can’t have too much in the way of expenses. By being focused on satisfying the customer and being focused on keeping our expenses as a percentage of our revenues, that has helped me keep on track for our results.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

My father. He started as a school teacher. He formed a business and has been extremely successful at hiring good people. At one point in time, he had lots of different locations and lots of businesses. His ability to select people and manage people is uncanny.

What was your first job?

Working at a lawn and garden store. I was 14. I learned a lot about working hard and enjoying what you do. Just the value of work.