The Gartzke file Featured

10:15am EDT August 30, 2006
Born: 1943, Blue Earth, Minn.

Bachelor’s degree, economics, University of Minnesota, Duluth; master’s degree, economics, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
How important the people are within the organization and also how critical it is that they understand their importance to the vision of the company. (It takes) communication, communication, communication.

What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
I was never contemplating, nor did I have any interest in being a CEO of a company. I was a CFO for a long time, very successful, with a great team — having a significant role in the financial portfolio strategy of (ADESA’s) parent company.

We made a lot of good investments, and we made some that weren’t so good. We certainly had a hell of a good time doing it.

When this opportunity came up for me to become CEO of the parent company, it was an incredibly different experience. What makes it so different, difficult, is you become an island. The relationships that you had in the past are different. The communications you have with everybody in the building is different.

At first, I didn’t get that. I walked around the building as if nothing had changed. Many people approached me and said, ‘Dave, you don’t get it; you don’t understand it. You’re the CEO of the company now. You are the chairman of the board. The people in the community, the investors, the customers look at you very differently than they did before.’ It took me awhile to understand that and adjust to that.

What I did to help me adjust to that was to try to identify and locate a CEO coach that I trusted and I could work with. To this day, I’m still using that same individual.

He’s a trusted friend and I can any anything I care to say to this individual. He’s heard it before. He listens, and sometimes he gives me advice and sometimes he doesn’t. Most of the time, he tells me to trust my instincts.

When somebody tells you that over time, you begin to trust your instincts more and more, and you’ve got more self-confidence. It’s an incredible adjustment, even if you don’t see it coming and you’re not prepared for it.