Leadership from #Ford: Remember your roots . . Look to the future

As we looked out over the Ford complex they affectionately call The Rouge, my daughter said “It is really cool how they are committed to the environment and creating such a nice place to work”.  My comment back was “Yeah, but remember how dirty and polluted this place used to be.  They ruined air and water for a long time.”  Her response, “But it looks good today.”

We toured the Ford complex in Detroit where they make the F-150 truck, and there is a lots there to talk about.  Ford does a great job sharing the real history (including beating of union organizers) and painting a vision for why this facility means so much to the company and the people.  It is also amazing to watch people build a great product in an extremely clean and nice environment.  Worth the time if you are in Detroit. We live in a knowledge economy, but I still get the chills watching people assembling a physical product.

My big take-away from the tour is how both my daughter and I heard the same message, saw the same things, but initially had a different perspective.  I wanted to make sure she saw the past and she wanted me to see the present and future.  Who is right?

Knowing and acknowledging the past is important.  George Santayana once said Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  It provides context for decisions today and gives us a strong Why for current direction.  People need leaders willing to talk about history.

Living the in past is a problem.  Constantly reminding people of past sins as a form of punishment or reason for not believing in a future vision is being a bad follower.

Leaders, acknowledge the past and challenge yourself and others not to live in it.  Followers – ditto.  Many thanks to my daughter for reminding me of that.

Lessons in Leadership: Chris Ilitch

Recently I had the opportunity to see Chris Ilitch speak about the Little Caesars culture and success. He is the son of the founder, Mike Ilitch. Some basics on this organization is that it is a privately held $4.2B company that derives income from 11 different organizations that includes pro sports (Tigers and Red Wings), pizza (Little Caesars), food distribution, entertainment, and gambling.

Here are the key values/beliefs that he titled – Secrets to the Sauce.

  1. Think Big / Set Goals
  2. Creativity and Innovation (remember Pizza Pizza? They started that craze)
  3. Courage and Risk Taking
  4. Perseverance and Commitment (“Not all risks pay off. Mistakes will happen.”)
  5. Humility and Character (“Don’t get to high. Don’t get to low.” “If you do something good people will find out about it.”
  6. People and Giving Back

Every speaker leaves you with something.  For me, the thing I took away was how long it took to build this organization and how diverse it has become.  The first store opened in 1961, the 100th in 1988, and the 2000th in 1989.  Overnight success?  Hardly.  Now their businesses go way beyond pizza, and yet what has not changed is a commitment to a struggling city (Detroit) and a state where it all started.  Chris ended the presentation with that reminder that their key has been to define what is important to them(this list) and then stick with it.

No family or business is perfect, and I am sure the Ilitchs are no different.  It is a great story and Chris Illitch does a great job telling it.