Hands Make for Great Hygiene
nothing Cliff Hudson loves more than working in the kitchen. When
Robert Silberman’s day job is complete he teaches night classes
while Jim Goodnight prefers writing computer code into the wee hours. Respectively,
Hudson, Silberman and Goodnight are the CEOs of Sonic Drive Ins, Strayer
Education and SAS Institute with combined annual revenues of more than
seven billion dollars. By
religiously keeping their hands
dirty these CEOs have taken great strides in insuring the hygiene
‘the preservation of health’ of their companies.
twenty companies in the US have achieved what the companies headed by
these CEOs have accomplished; greater than ten percent growth in both
revenues and operating profit for ten consecutive years. One of the
traits shared in common by the CEO’s of all these exceptional
organizations is that by keeping their hands dirty they stay closely
involved with the people and the real
business of the enterprises they lead.
Wisdom: Wrong Again:
business wisdom has historically promised that the higher an executive
climbs up the leadership ladder the less time they have to spend
dealing with the troops and with customers.
a couple of promotions the making of actual sales calls is often
replaced by a congratulatory lunch and hearty round of handshakes
after the dirty work of the deal has been done. In an
effort to further distance themselves from staff and customers a
growing number of executives dehumanize both and refer to them as headcount
and buying units.
executives have made themselves so inaccessible that they never have
to utter a single word to a worker or customer. Calls from employees
are handled by an outsourced Employee Relations Department and
customer’s calls for the boss are routed to someone in a noisy Call Center.
locked up in their corner offices these executives don’t have a clue
as to what’s really happening inside their companies or with the
customers who provide the revenue that keeps them going.
Different Ethic at America’s Best Performing Companies:
Silberman, Chairman and CEO of Strayer Education leads an educational
company whose thirty campuses serve more than 20,000 working adults
working to complete a university degree.
has a full plate managing a company that grew both revenues and
profits by more than twenty percent in 2004 but still makes time to
teach a management course at the University. “Why wouldn’t I
teach,” he asks, adding, “what other better way would there be to
remain in close touch with both students and faculty?”
Institute is the world’s largest privately held software company
whose products are used by 97 percent of the Fortune 100. One of the
reasons the company was able to post a remarkable twenty-five year
string of double digit revenue increases is because of founder Dr. Jim
Goodnight’s insatiable curiosity to determine what the company’s
customers need and then deliver it.
nothing I’d rather do,” says Goodnight, “than listen to our
customers and figure out what we can do to make their businesses more
Goodnight has finished listening to customers the fun really
begins,” says Keith Collins, SAS’s Chief Technology Officer,
adding, “because it’s not unusual for Jim to come over here, steal
away a handful of my best people and go to work with them creating new
grin Collins says that Goodnight’s projects often become the
rudimentary version of the firm’s highly successful offerings.
“We’ll take innovation anyway we can get it,” he says, “and
its great when your CEO is there working alongside you as a leading
Industries, another top performing company, manufactures and sells
nearly 100,000 medical and surgical items to hospitals and healthcare
providers. “Everyone here calls on customers,” says CEO Charlie
Mills, adding, “My cousin, his brother-in-law and myself are the top
three officers of the company and we all have our own customers we
deal with on a weekly basis.”
way the leadership team at Medline makes certain their collective
hands stay dirty is a company rule that dictates that none of the
firm’s 700 salespeople are allowed to say ‘no’ to a customer for
a salesperson’s response to a customer is ‘yes’ the issue has to
be escalated to a member of the senior leadership team,” says Mills
and he credits this policy to the company having become early adopters
of online ordering, making product changes and opening new warehouses.
of Sonic Drive In’s 3000 restaurants have the highest return
frequency of any national fast food chain. Surprisingly the company
doesn’t have a gleaming stainless steel test kitchen teeming with
cooks brewing up new concoctions.
us on the leadership team spend time in our restaurant’s
kitchens,” says Cliff Hudson. “Because everything we serve is
cooked to order we’re able to watch what the people who work in the
restaurants are preparing for their own breakfasts and lunches and
listen in real time to what our customers are inventing whether it’s
Swampwater (a murky combination of all the available carbonated
beverages) or Chocolate Covered Fries.”
Hudson credits keeping his hands dirty with one of the firm’s best business
decisions. “We had a franchisee,” he says, “who sold ice cream
products and instead of issuing a directive from headquarters to stop
we listened, watched and eventually rolled out dairy products which
today account for as much as thirty percent of our chain wide
that the CEOs and leadership teams of the nation’s top financially
performing companies are committed to keeping their hands dirty might
seem on surface to be simple common sense. But, then again, as we’ve
all repeatedly witnessed in the upper echelons of business; the most
common thing about common sense is how uncommon it is!
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