Selling Change: A New Way to Lead

Speaker Name: Charles R. Eitel
Speaker Title: Chairman and CEO
Speaker Company: Simmons Company
Simmons Company Website

Charles EitelGood afternoon -- It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to be here today. Ken, I want to thank you and your staff for your hospitality and to you, Harlan, my warmest congratulations to you and your family for your many years of dedicated service to this fine university.

Even though I know that my bio is printed in today’s program, I would like to take a few moments to tell you a little more about my family and myself. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1971. One week after graduation, my wife, Cindy, and I were married and next year, we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

We live in Atlanta, Georgia and have three grown children, Jennifer, Stephanie and Chuck. Jennifer is a graduate of Baylor University, is married and lives in Dallas, Texas. She is a Christian recording artist and owns her own company called "Pathways Music."

Our younger daughter, Stephanie, is a graduate of SMU and lives in Hollywood, California and is pursuing an acting career. Our youngest, Chuck, is a junior at the University of Georgia.

My wife is also in college at 50 years old and is completing her degree in Interior Design.

I mentioned Cindy and the kids because in life, we really only play three games - that of a parent, a partner and a professional. If you foul up your responsibility as a parent or make a mistake selecting a partner, you may well spend the rest of your life trying to recover from these choices.

The easiest game to change is one’s profession, and it is for this very reason I am making this point early in my comments this afternoon.

Over the past 30 years, I have had the honor and pleasure to lead five companies, ranging in sales from $75 million to $1.3 billion.

In January of this year, I joined Simmons. If I could take a moment, I would like to tell you a little bit about our fine company.

Simmons was founded in 1871 and is the eighth oldest corporation in the state of Georgia. We are the number one branded bedding manufacturer in the world and the number two manufacturer in the United States. Our sales this year will exceed $700 million. We have 18 plants located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

Many of you know Bill Creekmuir, who serves on the Advisory Council of the College of Business. Bill is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of our company and is here with us today. We employ approximately 3,400 people, including about 200 at our manufacturing facility in Charlotte.

At Simmons, we employ an acronym we think best describes our company, which is "choices." The words in the acronym reflect our company values.

"C" stands for "caring." - One of my favorite quotes is "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

"H" stands for "history." - There aren’t many companies that have such a rich history as Simmons. Earlier this year, Simmons was admitted into the Smithsonian Institution as one of America’s great companies.

"O" stands for "opportunity." - which is our way of saying that you can be whatever you want at Simmons. We promote people on performance and nothing else.

"I" stands for "innovation." - Simmons has more bedding innovations under our belt than any bedding company in the world. Examples include (1) the first production wire mattress, (2) the pocketed coil technology still core to our business today, (3) the electric blanket, (4) the hide-a-bed, (5) the wall bed, (6) the queen and king mattresses, and this year, (7) the Beautyrest® 2000, which "never has to be flipped," and as recently as last week, (8) a new size mattress, "The Olympic Queen," which is 6" wider than a queen.

"C" stands for "customers." - for years we have had loyal consumer/customers. I don’t know if you know the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer. A satisfied customer will quit buying from you when they are no longer satisfied. A loyal customer will tell you when you have problems and will even help you fix them.

"E" stands for "empowerment," a subject I will talk about more in a moment, and finally,

"S" stands for "support." - We all need support when things go wrong, and as we know, things do go wrong. It’s how such difficulties are handled that counts.

The title of my speech today is, "Selling Change: A New Way to Lead." Frankly, that is what I do for a living is sell change, focused on two very basic goals:

  • To create the kind of company where every one of my associates wants to get up and go to work.
  • To create the kind of company that other companies want to do business with.

In order to create this kind of business environment, I continually commit myself to four initiatives that I want to share with you, that are core to my message today.

The first initiative is centered on my personal commitment to be available, approachable and accountable to every associate in our company. I call this style of management, "getting in the fishbowl." True leaders spend their energies mentoring other leaders. If you aren’t in the action, you may as well be a figurehead.

The second initiative is to ensure that my senior leadership team agrees on priorities. We can’t be everything to everyone -- we must figure out what we want to be, and be it.

Lee Iacocca wrote in his book, "My most important job as Chairman of Chrysler was to select the right people and set the right priorities." Speaking of Iacocca, some people are just destined to serve in certain roles in life. How about this acronym? "Iacocca: I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation of America." Admiring Lee Iacocca as I have for years, one day I tried to create an acronym for "Eitel." My wife, Cindy, rolled her eyes when she heard my idea, but I did it anyway. Here it is: "Empowerment Is The Essence of Leadership." My job is to get rid of power. After all, that is what "empowerment" is all about. I must say it is quite difficult to convince people to empower themselves, unless you give them:

  1. Purpose
  2. Permission
  3. Protection
  4. Process and
  5. Payoff

At Simmons, we are in the process of rolling out a very different approach to empowering our people, focused on the five Ps mentioned above. We call it, "Playing the Great Game of Life," led by Wilson Consulting. Capitalizing on our values, we are in the process of continually reinventing ourselves. One of the initiatives we are in the middle of right now is, "Creating the kind of company that, if it existed, would put us out of business," - with a goal to become that company.

"Playing the Great Game of Life" is a process whereby we use experiential activities to regularly push associates outside their comfort zone into their learning zone.

The leadership of our company is committed to being sure we set the right priorities by being sure that we facilitate a process to find out what is right and wrong in our company, by ensuring we listen to four groups - those who are (1) making, (2) counting, (3) selling and (4) buying our products and services.

Our purpose is to provide the world with "Better Sleep,&quot using The Great Game of Life format. My job is to ensure that we grant the permission, protection and process, which will result in the payoff for each individual and therefore, the company.

As I said earlier, Iacocca said his two main jobs at Chrysler were to set the right priorities and select the right people. Following this point, I want to take a moment to give you the five characteristics that I look for in selecting people:

  • People who don’t have to be managed. They do a good job even when they don’t feel like it. They have a sense of purpose.
  • People who are ethical. They view their work as a self-portrait. "People who are ethical automatically assume that everything they say or do is likely to become public knowledge."
  • People who are accountable. They get things done on time, and often ahead of schedule - they do what they say they are going to do.
  • People who are driven. They often produce beyond their natural limits.
  • People who are visionary. They won’t conform to the status quo. Visionaries are never copycats.

At Simmons, one of our core values is to never knock off our competitors’ products, which reminds me of my favorite quote from Kipling - "They copied all that they could follow, but they could not copy my mind, and I left them all a’stealin and a’sweatin, a year and half behind."

So, once again, the first initiative focuses on my commitment to be available, approachable, and accountable.

The second: To be sure my leadership team agrees on priorities.

The third and clearly core to my comments today is centered around a goal to simplify everything you can.

When I was beginning to envision my first book, "Eitel Time: Turnaround Secrets," the first thing I did was write the title of the chapters before I wrote the book. Since the book turned out to be sort of an autobiography, I fast-forwarded my thoughts toward the potential title of the last chapter and asked myself, "How do I want my story to end?" By back casting, I was able to arrive at the answer to this question- "Peace of Mind," so that became the title of Chapter XII, the last chapter of the book. Then I began to ask myself, "What do I need to do to achieve peace of mind?" From that point forward, the title of the other chapters began to unfold, which are:

  • Making A Difference
  • Doing What is Right
  • Trusting Intentions
  • Playing To Win
  • Walking Your Talk
  • Building Your Team
  • Helping Others
  • Taking Care of Yourself
  • Having Fun
  • Being Accountable
  • Reflecting Time
  • Peace of Mind

This thinking is what led me to explore more deeply how important it is to simplify everything possible in both our personal and professional lives. While writing "Eitel Time," I began dreaming about how the perfect organizational structure might look.

I have always struggled with the effectiveness of the traditional organizational model. Such structures work in the military and particularly in war, because everyone must know exactly what to do or people may die. Counter to this structural thinking, I would like to point out to you the first principle listed in the Marine Corp. code of behavior - "Aim for a 70% solution. It is better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it is too late." And I might add, the second principle, "Find the essence." When it comes time to act, even the most complex situations and missions must be perceived in simple terms.

So being a non-linear thinker, I began to envision the most effective organizational structure as a circle, with the customer right in the middle. You will notice my wheel printed in your program. It has been a "work in progress" for the last five years. You will also notice the customer in the center. From there, we wrap four key resources around the customer.

  1. Human Resources
  2. Product Resources
  3. Service Resources
  4. Environmental Resources

You can think of this value wheel as a clock if you like, with the 12 stations representing the values of the organization, starting with the Human Resources and the first value Leadership, the second Education, and the third Empowerment. Most people will not accept being empowered if they don’t have the training and education; or put another way, the Permission and Protection to be empowered through the process, which is education.

Moving on to Product Resources, all good or bad quality products start with Design. If the Design and Technology match up, then you will be able to produce a product with the least amount of waste at a lower cost.

Service Resources are what you may think of as the selling function. Sales people will always be more effective when they act as consultants. That is why I call this quadrant, "Consultative Sales." Fulfillment is all that we do to ensure the product is delivered on time, properly packaged with "0" complaints. It’s about creating the kind of company other companies want to do business with.

The last quadrant in the Service Resources is Reclamation. This is all about being accountable for what we make. We often design products to be so durable that they are almost impossible to disassemble in order to recycle the raw material exponents back in the food chain. The end game is to be responsible for all non-renewable resources and to reengineer and recycle them back into their respective food chains. In nature there is no such thing as waste. One species' waste is another species' food. Yet in business, we design products that more often than not end up in a landfill, and this nonsense must stop.

So there you have my view of how a simple organization might look, focused on the customers as the center of its universe. So in a sense, you wrap your values and resources around your customers. This takes a total commitment and this is why I have encircled my wheel with this important word, "commitment."

This wheel was designed before I joined Simmons with the belief that it will work in any organization. Try changing any of the words you like and see if you can make it work for you.

This brings me to my fourth and final way I sell change and that is to be committed. Commitment is best communicated through one’s actions. It’s called "walking the talk."

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to hear Robert Galvin, Chairman of Motorola, speak at a conference that I attended. After his presentation, he took questions from the audience. One of the questions he was asked was, "How do you decide who gets promoted in your organization?" His answer was simple and very powerful. He said, "We simply ask one question. Is he or she a role model?"

"Respect always follows good habits." "The best way to be a role model is to quit judging others and do the best you can to set the right examples through your own actions. Role models don’t send mixed messages between what they say and how they behave." Ask yourself, "Would I follow me?"

Look at it this way. You are all "President of Yourself." Ask yourself, "How do I want to be seen? How do I want to be talked about? How do I want to be experienced?" The only way to sell change is to be the change you are trying to create. Ask yourself if you are trying to prove your ego self or your true self.

I know many of you students in the audience are struggling with what you plan to do for a career, so I want to close with a little advice to you that may be of value. Here it is, "Figure out what makes you happy and become great at it."

You know, as we look back to the post World War II era, most employees and employers believed that happiness was all about security, so most people were focused on money. Then along came the 60s and 70s, and people said, "Now I want more, I want growth and development." So then more emphasis was placed on leadership. Now in this new century, what people want more than ever is happiness and meaning in their lives, so leaders of today must care about their teams. This is about as good as it gets.

A few years ago, I had a chance to hear Lou Holtz speak. I assume most of you know Lou is a highly respected football coach, who is completing his football-coaching career at the University of South Carolina. I might note that last year, he went 0-11 and this year has lost only one game.

Lou Holtz’s coaching career is quite unique. He is a leader who cares about each and every one of his players. He says that he always asks these questions of his players and asks that they ask the same questions back. These questions actually apply to other relationships such as how you relate with your significant other, parents, children or spouse, so here are the questions:

  • Can I Trust You?
  • Are You Committed?
  • Do You Care About Me?

I want to thank all of you for being here today and close with one of my favorite thoughts to leave with you.


Plant a thought

Reap an act

Plant an act

Reap a habit

Plant a habit

Reap a character

Plant a character

Reap a destiny

Thank you.