After nearly 40 years as a CEO at Marriott, I love to read about how others lead. Recently, I blogged about Bob Lutz's new book "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters," which has many lessons from his tenure with General Motors.
My 13-year service on the GM Board ended about a year after Bob came aboard. But I've watched and admired him from afar. General Motors has weathered some tough times lately and I found Bob's commentary about the problems that they have faced as powerful. So I shared copies of his book with my senior leadership team.
The great concern I have, as a leader of a large corporation, is the risk of losing sight of the customer and their needs. All too often big corporations think they know all the answers and become arrogant and inward focused.
Bob understood that. He had a gut instinct for focusing on the customer. For example, at my first board meeting with General Motors, one of their senior leaders informed me that Cadillac was such a strong, wonderful brand there was no need to spend much money enhancing the design or improving the new cars. When Bob came on board, he paid a lot of attention to Cadillac, which is once again the standard of luxury cars around the world.
In his book, Bob stresses the need to follow your instincts and rely on your own experience in making big business decisions. He recognizes that there is a place for detailed financial analysis, spread sheets and power point presentations. But they should never be the driving force guiding the company.
Before he came to GM, Bob was a Marine Corps pilot and served in a Marine attack squadron at U.C. Berkeley. He described a change of command when the squadron was taken over by a modest, humble Lieutenant Colonel who received a battlefield promotion in WW II.
His name was Art Bauer and his day job was Hose Man #2 at the San Francisco Fire Department. The squadron was composed of ambitious graduate students at Cal and Stanford who were shocked that such an uneducated man would be their commanding officer. After the Change of Command ceremony, Colonel Bauer called his 20-odd junior officers together and gave the following talk as Bob Lutz remembered it.
Colonel Bauer said: “I’m going to stay out of your way because you are all more capable than this old officer. I don’t expect you to respect me for my flying ability, because it’s not at your level. But I do want and demand your support and respect. Not for me, but for the uniform I wear and the rank that is on it. You gentlemen, not I, are going to run this squadron and I don’t want you to let me down.”
Bob Lutz said the doubts and snickering soon stopped. And, in 18 months Bauer’s squadron was rated number one in the entire Marine Corps Reserve.
Bob wrote that in leadership, as in all things, less is often more. I hope that as time passes, Marriott leaders will remain faithful to a management style of humility and accountability, like Bob Lutz learned from his old squadron commander and from the mistakes that he witnessed at General Motors.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.
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