How and why almost any organization “can be a growth business if you have the right people in the right place”
The extended metaphor that the title of this review implies is developed by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great. Basically, Collins equates an organization with a bus and stresses the importance of getting the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus, and in the right seats. I prefer the bus metaphor to the train metaphor because a bus is not limited to ”tracks.” Both need a leader (driver or engineer) and both need to be headed in the right direction toward the right destination. At a time when change is the only constant, however, today’s “right people,” “right seats,” and/or “right direction toward the right destination” may need modification, perhaps even replacement. Hence the great importance of hiring and then retaining people who are either the very best or can become the very best. Collins stresses the importance of “A players” but duly acknowledges the importance of “B players” in less essential “seats.”
All this is directly relevant to a book written by Morton L. Mandel with John Byrne’s assistance. In it, Mandel shares the most valuable lessons he has learned about business and about life. Given the scope and depth of his background, he has an abundance of experience to draw upon. Mandel is a leading philanthropist, business leader, and social entrepreneur. With his two brothers in 1940, he helped create Premier Industrial Corp., one of the more successful companies in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. As chairman and CEO of Premier from 1957 until 1996, Mandel brought the company public in 1960. He then led Premier to record profit and revenue for thirty-four out of the next thirty-six years. Mandel now serves as chairman and CEO of Parkwood Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary Parkwood Trust Co. He also serves as chairman and CEO of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation.
What intrigues me is the fact that the most valuable lessons Mandel the businessman has learned have also proven to be most valuable to Mandel the philanthropist…and vice versa. In both domains, however, he has been — and continues to be — purpose-driven. He embodies and exemplifies all of the principles that Robert K. Greenleaf affirms in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. Mandel’s is a life of meaning in service to others. Near the conclusion of the book, he reflects: “What would I do if I could do it over again? I would focus even more attention on finding, recruiting, and cultivating the A players on my team and on creating a great place for them to work. Early on, I settled [for less] too often…In an economy powered by ideas, A players make all the difference in the world.”
Like Mandel, they must be results-driven but also values-driven. They would be “authentic” people. As Bill George explains, they are guided by their True North: “the internal compass that guides you as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership.” This is the “moral compass” to which Mandel refers in the Prologue when recalling his mother’s influence on his personal growth and (yes) his professional development.
Mandel himself contradicts the subtitle of this book when acknowledging the importance of several people to his development as a leader. He was “hardly “self-made.” He refers to his mother as “the single greatest influence” on his life and also acknowledges with obvious gratitude countless others within the family and among business and social sector associates from whom he learned, and, from whom he received rock-solid support when it was needed most.
John Byrne shares his favorite story about Mandel, one that involves the only time one of his businesses suffered a work stoppage. Over a four-day period during the 1990s, in freezing weather, strikers picketed outside Mandel’s plant in Wooster, Ohio. His response? He saw to it that the company sent a pick-up truck filled with sandwiches and Thermos bottles full of hot coffee and tea, making sure that the employees striking against him were well fed on the picket line. “Mort considered those employees members of his extended family. Some of them had worked for Premier for twenty-five years. Sons followed fathers into the plant. ‘Why wouldn’t we treated them well?’ asks Mort. Why, indeed.”