Learning from visitors


Source: Flikr Creative Commons

One of the privileges of teaching at CSB|SJU is the opportunity to hear from a variety of visitors. The governor came to campus last week, a distinguished scientist spoke in February, a former senator gave the McCarthy Lecture in October; there’s always an event to attend where I know I’ll learn something.

Paul Grangaard, chief executive officer of Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation, gave two talks yesterday under the auspices of the McCarthy Center’s Mark Kennedy Frontiers of Freedom Lecture Series. Four points stuck with me:

  1. Grangaard walked us through the turnaround at Allen Edmonds but almost never used the pronoun ‘I’. That resonated with me; when he spoke about teams and community using ‘we,’ it was clear he meant what he said. The turnaround, as he remarked at a number of points, was about saving the company for the employees and the customers, not him.
  2. He pointed out that if you want to be a leader you’ve got to put together 5-7 key commitments or goals and make sure everyone on the team knows them by heart. This isn’t an exercise in vanity, like Mao’s Little Red Book, but a pledge that everyone takes and promises to make real.
  3. “Shareholder Returns are Derivative.” I wrote this down as soon as Grangaard said it because it’s critical to any endeavor. Do the right things (treat employees well, exceed customers’ expectations) and rewards will follow.
  4. He used one of my favorite scenes from A Christmas Carol to illustrate his management philosophy. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a Christmas Eve when Scrooge was an apprentice to Old Fezziwig.  Fezziwig tells Scrooge and his fellow apprentice, “no more work tonight boys,” and holds a Christmas party in the office.  The Ghost asks Scrooge if the scene is accurate, and Scrooge replies, “He had the power to make us happy or unhappy, to make our work a pleasure or a burden.”  Fezziwig chose to make it a pleasure, and Grangaard noted that he always wanted to manage like Fezziwig (and not like Scrooge.)

Next week, one of our visitors will be Liz Fedor of Twin Cities Business.   She will be our ninth McCarthy Center resident since 2008.  Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will join Liz at 7 pm on Monday (in Gorecki Center, CSB) for an interview and Q & A session, and I’ll talk with Liz on Tuesday at 5 pm (in Brother Willie’s Pub, SJU) about the presidential candidates and their economic policies (with, of course, free pizza along with lots of questions from the audience).

Join us and share in the bounty our visitors bring to campus.