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More Lessons From A Car Guy

Posted:02/20/2012 2:08 PM

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. Bob Lutz

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.

Bob Lutz's Book

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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Steve Jobs: Relentless Pursuit of Excellence

Posted:01/30/2012 3:49 PM

Recently, I had an opportunity to read the story of Apple’s Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  I found it fascinating and well done.  
Steve Jobs Cover

We all know that Jobs changed the world with his many creations at Apple and Pixar Films.  Isaacson wrote, “Steve Jobs became the greatest business executive of our era. The one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford.  Was he smart, no, not exceptionally; instead, he was a genius.  His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times, magical.” 

I‘ve always been interested in why some businessmen and women are successful and some are not.  There are several sound business principles that Jobs executed that all business people should study.  Isaacson wrote, “Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture; others do so by mastering the details.  Jobs did both relentlessly.”  And relentlessly is the key word.  

When my father would hire someone, he would always look for a person who had a lot of drive.  Jobs was relentless in pursuit of excellence.  He never, never gave up until he met his objective.  And, even then, he was never satisfied.  My father was also a perfectionist and worked hard for perfection in everything he did.  We always say in our company that ”success is never final.”  This is a phrase my father came up with.    

Jobs was a good judge of people and surrounded himself with “A” players.  He had a fantastic team and held them accountable.  I found his leadership style with his team extremely demanding which is ok.  But he was often mean, overly critical and quite unfair many times.  This is not ok.

Jobs realized the great importance of focus and when he returned to lead Apple in 1997, he fixed that company by cutting all except a few core products.  His basic focus caused his Apple team to work intensely to perfect and create just a few truly great products. 

Along with his intense focus, there was a dedication to simplicity – not only in the end product but also with the team at the home office.  Jobs’ products were his motivation.  And his motivation was not profits.  

My father and I had frequent heated discussions about quality versus profits.  In my early days, I accused my Dad of being very unreasonable in his intense focus on great food and service but also wanting increased profitability.  I learned you can do both and that is, in my opinion, management’s ultimate challenge.

Dad believed, as Jobs did, that if the product is perfect, the profits would be there.  And for Apple, they certainly were.  Isaacson wrote that, “In May 2010, Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company and by September 2010, it was worth 70% more than Microsoft.” 

Steve Jobs – what a guy!  

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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Making the Tough Call

Posted:08/22/2011 3:28 PM

 

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I bought President Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points, a while ago and during some quiet time over the Fourth of July weekend had an opportunity to read it.

Decision Points Cover

It was obvious that President Bush wrote the book himself.  It included many wonderful, personal stories about him, his courtship of Laura, his drinking problem in his early years, and his very strong, loving relationship with this mother and dad.

I was anxious to learn about the background for his decision to invade Iraq, in search of weapons of mass destruction, since none were found after the fall of the country.  

Bush said he relied on the strong recommendation of the NIE, National Intelligence Estimate, that emphatically stated that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions.  If left unchecked, he believed Iraq would have had a nuclear weapon during this decade. 

In the fall of 2002, Congress supported his congressional war resolution.  The Senate passed it 77 to 23, the House 296 to 133.  Later that fall, the UN Security Council passed a similar war resolution unanimously, 15 to nothing.

Reports of Iraq’s WMD continued to pour in from around the world.  When Bush made the decision to invade, he wrote: “Given everything we knew, allowing Saddam to stay in power would have amounted to an enormous gamble.  I would have had to bet that either every major intelligence agency was wrong or that Saddam would have a change of heart.  After seeing the horror of 9/11, that was not a chance I was willing to take.  Military action was my last resort.  But, I believed it was necessary.”

My major learning from reading Decision Points was the great difficulty the President had in gaining consensus from his White House staff and his cabinet on major decisions that confronted him.  

Frequently, his team ended up with conflicting recommendations, leaving the final decision to the President himself. 

As we know, he was willing to make some tough calls – mostly without the full support of his team.  Many decisions were good and he freely admits that some were not.  But he made the call and he stuck to it.  

While many Americans are still critical of the President’s decision, after reading the book, I believe history will be more kind to him for his strong leadership. 

I’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer.  Send me some recommendations.  

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.

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 P.S. Here's what you've been reading.  It's compiled from your comments. -- Bill 

"Nothing to Fear" by Adam Cohen; "Try Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfeld; "The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World" by Chris Stewart; "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot; “Lion In the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt” by Aida Donald; "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett; "The Kennedy Legacy" by Edward "Ted" Kennedy; "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand; "1421 - The Year That China Discovered America" by Gavin Menzies; "The Mastery of Love" by Don Miguel Ruiz; "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl; "Cleopatra" by Stacy Schiff; "Goodbye To A River" by John Graves; "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham; "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett; "Abraham Lincoln" by James M. McPherson; "The Ark of Millions of Years" by E.J. Clark and B. Alexander Agnew; "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese; "Enchantment" by Guy Kawasaki; "John Adams" by David McCullough; "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald; "Beyond Basketball" by Mike Krzyzewski.

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"Hands-On" Teaching is Key to Success

Posted:07/18/201111:17 PM

 

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When I served on the General Motors board, I had a chance to work with Bob Lutz.  Bob came on board as Vice Chairman of General Motors, primarily working on product development.  He’s written a new book, which has been covered in The Wall Street Journal.  The excerpts tell about how Bob came on board GM … found that their culture was somewhat stifling.  They had a lot of meetings, they didn’t make a lot of decisions, everybody was nice to everybody, but not much got done.  

Bob Lutz's book

Then he compared the General Motors management style with that of Ferdinand Piëch, the chairman of Volkswagen, who was an autocrat who ordered people what to do and they got it done whether they thought it was right or not.  

Bob then went on to talk about how he tried to put in a new approach to management at General Motors.  He said working in product development he got some cars in from the competitors -- some of the best: Audis, Toyota and Lexus -- took his people into the shop floor and showed them how to better design products for General Motors.  His bottom line was: it’s better to teach people and train people, rather than to order them around or to sit around and talk about this project without making decisions.  

His bias for teaching and training is a similar bias that we have had at Marriott for some 84 years.  We know that if we train and teach our associates, not only do they serve the guests better, but they also do a much better job of staying with the company.  They feel comfortable in their work, they feel that they have entered the ladder of success and can go up that ladder to newer and better positions.  

GM Flint Engine Plant

 

In my opinion, Bob’s on the right track.  Teaching and training is far better than sitting around and pondering and not doing very much … or being an autocrat and ordering everybody what to do.  

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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You Can't Lead With Your Feet on the Desk

Posted:03/02/201111:33 AM

You Can't Lead With Your Feet On The Desk Ed Fuller, our president and managing director of international lodging, knows first hand that you can’t lead with your feet on the desk. You’ve got to get those boots on the ground, as Ed says, and I agree with him.  Ed has shown that by just returning from Egypt where we have seven hotels.  When the recent civil unrest unfolded, he knew there was no substitute for being there in person to help our hotel owners and associates through this very difficult, challenging time. 

Ed has just written a new book called — what else? — You Can’t Lead With Your Feet on the Desk.  Among the many great management tips he shares are three that I recommend to you:

One: to respect is to inspire.  The hotel business is all about service, which means it’s all about motivating our frontline people. We can see to it that you get a comfortable bed, but if the person at the front desk hasn’t made you feel very, very welcome, the bed won’t feel great. A salary won’t motivate people to deliver service; they need to believe that they will rise through the organization and find new opportunities if they really take care of our customers. The respect we show our people through a policy that “promotes from within” pays dividends in the experience that our guests enjoy.

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Analysis Is the Key to Making Good Decisions

Posted:11/05/2009 6:32 PM

IStock_000003767147XSmall I recently read a book about General George Custer, famous for being annihilated in Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn before the turn of the 19th century.  Custer was a somewhat impetuous, but brilliant, officer.  At the age of 23, he was made a Brigadier General in the United States Army and was an important contributor to the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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A Book I Read This Past Summer

Posted:10/07/2008 1:35 PM

IStock_000006652619XSmall Since I spent my boyhood years growing up during the Second World War, I've always been fascinated with its history.  I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and I was exposed to a lot of the military people coming and going, and to a lot of wonderful parades of returning war heroes.

My search for history has led me to George Arrington's bookstore in Ogunquit, Maine.  I've found some fascinating old books, many written in first person by the men who fought in World War II.  This past summer, I plowed through the war memories of Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein, who was labeled Germany's most brilliant general.  Since I've come to believe that military leadership can offer many lessons to help anyone who is trying to lead a group of people in business, politics or any other organization, I found these memories very instructive.

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I'm Bill Marriott, Chairman & CEO of Marriott International.

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