L Brands CEO Wexner shares leadership lessons from storied career

les wexner
Les Wexner’s September keynote attracted a record audience for a COE event.

Even as an icon in leadership circles who’s built a thriving, multibillion-dollar retail business, L Brands Founder, Chairman and CEO Les Wexner stays true to his roots – and is quick to acknowledge them.

“But for The Ohio State University, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college and get the basic education that helped me so significantly in my career,” he said, opening his featured keynote at the Center for Operational Excellence’s September seminar. “Every time I come back on campus, I smile to myself.”

Wexner came back on campus to headline a leadership seminar that attracted nearly 300 attendees, making it the largest in COE’s nearly 25-year history. Here’s a look back at some of his best insights over a wide-ranging discussion that covered his personal philosophy on leadership – what he called “a lifetime executive education program you have to master for yourself” – along with his outlook on the retail business and his verdict on crucial past decisions he’s made:

On the value of leadership education: “I firmly believe leadership is not just an important thing – it’s the most important thing, and it’s undervalued in high schools, colleges and universities. If there’s a single thread of teaching and learning that I try to influence at our university, and influence other educators to think about, it’s the importance of leadership as a subject.”

On what makes a great leader: “Leaders come in all shapes and sizes with virtually every characteristic and kind of personality, but they all have the ability to influence, and influence is the foundation of leadership – whether it’s by pushing from behind, coalescing the middle or being an insurgent, General Patton-type. I always default to the front; I like to churn things up and say, ‘We can take that hill, let’s charge.’”

On the virtue of adaptability: “Leaders that continue to grow are optimistic but they’re professionally curious about society and they think about adapting, trying new things, and understanding things they can’t so they can be continually relevant in their own lives. … In my thinking, the only way to test my adaptability is to do something different. It’s very important mid-career not only to have a good understand of yourself, but to think about how to exercise that curiosity muscle between your ears and be adaptive.”

On why brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay: “We’re pack animals. People like to be with people; that’s part of the human condition. It’s what they buy that changes, and one of the things that’s interesting to us is how the Internet has changed lifestyles, communication, and the consumer. … Still, we find that shopping has to be fun and interesting, and we’ve been experimenting with that for several years.”

les wexnerOn his game-changing decisions to spin off brands such as Abercrombie + Fitch, The Limited and Express: “I believe in life cycles. I look at those cycles and say, ‘OK, when’s the next wave coming, and is that a good or a bad thing for us? Those were very tough decisions I thought over for a long time. I gathered in my own mind the information and had to suck up some courage to do it. It turned out to be the right thing to do and it did take our business to a better place.”

On the inevitable challenge, and opportunity, of risk: “Leaders have to have a pretty good instrument on risk. We remember generals that won wars, not the ones that got killed doing foolish things. There’s that notion of knowing yourself, and leadership is about change, taking people to places that haven’t imagined. That means risk. … Leaders have a vision that’s a little different than the one that’s popular at the moment, and in that you have to assess failure. If I didn’t screw up some things, that means I didn’t push hard enough.”

On why aiming high matters: “I try to encourage our enterprise to really dream. If you don’t have a dream, you can’t have a dream come true. Still, you have to focus on ambition, in part, and separately think about the resources you need, and the risks. … The world’s changing while we’re here and it’s just going to get faster in the future. Are we stimulated by that? I am.”

On how he stays busy – and grounded: “What I worry about is running out of work – it would just be a terminal thing. I like the idea of work, and I have a substantive to-do list that’s more than I can finish. … I made a decision in my early 40s that I could make more money but I couldn’t make more time. Nobody can make more time. If I was effective and efficient, I could do more with the limited time I have.”

On why he enjoys leading: “People ask me when I’m going to retire, and I say, ‘When I’m unhappy.’ I like the people I work with, the challenges, the changes. Leaders have to be happy with themselves. If they’re not, they can’t lead themselves, let alone others.”

On the ultimate test of a leader: “The simplest measure of leadership is this: Did you actually take people to a better place? Are we better off today than we were yesterday, whether that’s in business, family or community? It’s not about how many people followed you blindly. Did you actually improve things in hindsight?”

Employees of COE member companies can revisit Wexner’s full keynote, along with the morning “Authentic Leadership” keynote by Fisher Prof. Tony Rucci, by logging into the members-only area on our website.

(Author’s Note: Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed)

Fisher collaboration brings op-ex tools to realm of education

An unconventional effort to reform Ohio’s K-12 education system is sending a new pack of leaders out with more than an MBA from Fisher College of Business and a certification to serve as a principal.

They can wield some foundational operational excellence tools, as well.

bright student fisher mba
BRIGHT fellow Shaun Mitchell, right, shares the results of his A3 problem-solving project.

Fisher this summer graduated 30 students as part of the BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools program after they spent nearly a year working as administrators in high-poverty schools around the state and completed an accelerated MBA program at Fisher. The program, launched in 2015 with $3.5 million in state funding and help from Fisher and the Ohio Business Roundtable, takes business professionals from a variety of backgrounds – largely non-education – and deploys them throughout the state as principals. BRIGHT fellows, as they’re called, must serve as a school administrator for at least three years after graduation.

At a presentation prior to graduation, a number of BRIGHT fellows showed the results of their work tackling the A3 problem-solving methodology, one of a few tools Center for Operational Excellence Executive Director and BRIGHT educator Peg Pennington introduced to the curriculum.

“The BRIGHT program itself is an experiment, so I thought to myself, ‘Why not do an experiment of our own here?’” Pennington said. “These problem-solving skills – A3s, root-cause analysis – are powerful tools anywhere, and I think they can really help cut to the heart of some of issues that plague our education system.”

For the BRIGHT fellows, those issues included lagging math and reading scores, a lack of collaboration between upper- and lower-grade students and educators, truancy, and discipline referrals, among others. Pennington in her classes with the BRIGHT fellows showed how the A3 and root-cause analysis can properly define the problem and, medically speaking, move past managing symptoms to truly treat the underlying ailment.

David Maile, a longtime plant farm owner who transitioned out of the business two years ago, signed onto the BRIGHT program and found himself as an administrator at Highview 6th Grade Center in the Cincinnati suburb of Middletown, where the poverty rate has jumped from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent in about 15 years. Maile leveraged root-cause analysis and A3 problem-solving to improve math scores in the school, where he said much of the challenge was in bringing a level of consistency and precision to data collection.

Other process-improvement projects were of a more qualitative nature. Jeff Greenley, a lawyer by training, worked in the Switzerland of Ohio School District in Appalachian Ohio, the highest-poverty region in the Buckeye State. Greenley’s school housed a wide age range of students that rarely interacted, in large part because they didn’t see the value in it. Greenley did.

After defining the problem via an A3 and enacting countermeasures, Greenley finished the school year with more than four in five upper-grade students helping out and interacting with elementary-age students. The A3 process, he said, was eye-opening.

“There are not a lot of tools at our disposal in education to think about operational problems,” he said. “This is a hammer we can use to hit the nail.”

Regardless of the challenge, the BRIGHT fellows discovered very quickly that data was a crucial asset in their problem-solving journey – even if it wasn’t used as such in their schools. Astrid Arca, an economist for the state of Ohio, served in the same Appalachian school district as Greenley and took on the challenge of improving reading and math schools in a student population with a high percentage on so-called individual education plans. The data needed to cut to the heart of the problem, Arca found, existed – but weren’t being analyzed to inform instructional practices.

“There was almost a fear of the data,” she said, “and most of my job was removing those barriers.”

BRIGHT leaders are hoping that spirit has a transformative effect in the schools where its graduates are heading this fall and beyond, even if the difference in background for many fellows hasn’t gone unnoticed. Deborah Copeland, a BRIGHT principal coach with a nearly 30-year background as an elementary school principal, acknowledged a level of skepticism around “outside” people taking a leadership role in education. Often, she said, it just takes spending time alongside the fellows to see that they have the skills and capability to drive change.

“It’s been a joy watching these fellows coming in with a different perspective, full of hope and promise and not weighted down by the barriers that those of us who’ve been in the trenches often get blinded by,” Copeland said.

The BRIGHT fellows themselves are the source of a telling data point: About 90 percent had K-12 principal or assistant principal jobs locked in at the start of the school year.

Fisher students in 1st wave of new professional certification

A group of undergraduate operations students at the Fisher College Business bear the distinction of being the first in the world to earn a new professional certification seen as a stepping stone another key resume-booster.

A total of 15 Fisher students recently passed a version of a new exam through the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) to earn the “Global Supply Chain Associate” (GSCA) designation. This brand-new designation is the culmination of a year’s work among faculty at several universities nationwide, including Andrea Prud’homme, a clinical faculty member at Fisher who also serves as an associate director for the Center for Operational Excellence. The Fisher students took part in a test launch of the program, which is set to roll out internationally this fall .

Prud’homme said a key motivation in creating the GSCA designation was the fact that undergraduates often don’t have the time or money to pursue the well-known Certified Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) designation.

“This gets them started should they wish to pursue CPIM certification,” Prud’homme said. “Additionally, many of the companies that hire our undergraduates provide incentives and support for new hires to become CPIM-certified.”

‘Joy Inc.’ author, former summit keynote Sheridan returning in May

Miss last year’s Leading Through Excellence summit? Looking to revisit one of our most popular keynotes?

Rich Sheridan during his keynote at Leading Through Excellence 2015
Rich Sheridan during his keynote at Leading Through Excellence 2015

The Center for Operational Excellence is partnering with Fisher College of Business’ Master of Business Operational Excellence program to bring to campus Rich Sheridan, CEO of award-winning software developer Menlo Innovations LLC and author of Joy Inc. Employees of COE member companies are invited to join MBOE program alumni the morning of Friday, May 13, for a keynote by Sheridan, who kicked off the 2015 Leading Through Excellence summit and led a half-day workshop.

A programmer by trade, Sheridan entered the corporate world and found at the midpoint of his career that he no longer experienced the joy that had drawn him to the industry. After losing his job as a software development executive when the dot-com bubble burst, he founded Menlo Innovations in 2001, saying the company’s purpose was to “bring joy to the world through software.” Menlo has gone on to win the Alfred P. Sloan award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for eight straight years and has earned five revenue awards from Inc. magazine.

In his keynote, based on Joy Inc., Sheridan will offer an inside look at the culture that’s flourished at Menlo over the last 15 years that leverages visual management, an open and collaborative workspace, and a “fail fast” ethos that has garnered attention nationwide. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of Sheridan’s book, Joy Inc.

Click here to register for this limited-capacity event.

Team building, problem solving take center stage at 2016 COE summit

The Center for Operational Excellence’s flagship annual event has more than a few things in common with the fast-paced racing world featured in the kickoff to the fourth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit.

In the span of three years, COE’s April Leading Through Excellence summit has grown to a gathering of nearly 400 process excellence leaders from around the world: 50 companies, a dozen workshops and tours, 20 breakout sessions, four dynamic keynote addresses, and countless insights across three days aimed at helping organizations harness the power of process improvement.

Here’s a look back at the event:

PIT action

Leading Through Excellence began with a bang as nearly 100 attendees plunged into the high-paced world of pit crew racing, guided by Mooresville, N.C.-based training ground Performance Instruction & Training (PIT). The session’s focus on handoffs, coordination and standard work drove home the importance of having a high-functioning team for Cheryl Cole of KeyBank, which sent 17 employees to the conference. “We can all benefit from what we experienced from PIT,” she said. “Teams tend not to be aware of the significance of being in sync.”

PIT team
Team-building emerged as the heart of Leading Through Excellence, where a number of companies brought upwards of 15 employees. “Getting a team together, you start bouncing ideas off each other,” said attendee Linda Schaefer of COE member Clopay. “You get more people involved, the excitement builds, and great things always come of that.”

Markovitz

Operational excellence isn’t bound by the Japanese words that make the foundations of lean. Author Dan Markovitz (A Factory of One, Building the Fit Organization) in his workshop offered a jargon-free look at continuous improvement that’s at the heart of his own passion to break down barriers to understanding. “If we could speak to them using analogies and metaphors that make sense to them, all the sudden we don’t have to go uphill,” Markovitz told COE in a pre-summit interview.

Cardinal

Longtime COE member Cardinal Health Inc. hosted a “train the trainer” workshop hosted by Luis Loya (pictured, middle) that modeled the health-care company’s own best practices in teaching lean practices.

SRI
Off-site tours during Leading Through Excellence ranged from a trip to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s massive Columbus brewing facility to a trip through the production line at COE member Abbott Nutrition. Here, Ohio State’s own Spine Research Institute demonstrates its trailblazing work in studying back problems, a hugely costly yet widely misunderstood workplace ailment.

Ben Cook
After hosting two high-paced rounds of pit crew training simulations on the first day of Leading Through Excellence, Performance Instruction & Training’s Ben Cook took to the stage to kick off a full day of breakout sessions. Before a crowd of nearly 400 people from 50 companies, Cook illustrated PIT’s “think inside the box” philosophy, that’s hinged on driving precision from a highly functioning team and reducing human error as much as possible. “The problem is the human element – that’s what happened with us as pit crew members. If we break down, then we lose the race; the car’s not gonna lose the race for us anymore.”

Hagene
True leaders don’t bark answers – they ask questions that help dig to the root of the problem. Attendees practiced asking effective questions in a packed session hosted by lean expert Margie Hagene.

Guru
More than half of all breakout sessions at Leading Through Excellence are hosted by industry leaders, sharing stories of what worked, what didn’t – and how we can all learn from it. Pictured is Guru Vasudeva, SVP and Enterprise CTO at COE member and summit sponsor Nationwide, who shared his own “day in the life of a lean leader.”

Aravind
The balance of the breakout sessions at Leading Through Excellence are hosted by Fisher College of Business faculty members sharing their own research. Pictured is Prof. Aravind Chandrasekaran, who offered insights he gleaned from working with high-tech manufacturers facing sudden – and potentially cataclysmic – shifts in project scope.

Dumas
Matt Dumas (pictured, above) of COE member Honda R&D said the summit is “a great event for a team. To have more of the organization thinking about lean and understanding these principles makes it that much easier to take it back and work together to apply it.”

Catapult
Lead summit sponsor MoreSteam.com gave attendees a hands-on taste of process design principles with a catapult workshop that had participants taking a “MacGuyver” approach and facing off in friendly competition.

Murli
Longtime lean leader Joe Murli in his keynote address offered his decades-in-the-making perspective on the lean management system. Of the summit, he said “this isn’t just leading-edge thought, but edge of the envelope thinking here. It’s little things that we can pluck off the tree and bring back to put into what we’re already doing. That makes it much more powerful.”

Kalman
Connecting an organization’s purpose and mission down to day-to-day work can be a formidable challenge for any company. David Kalman of Root Inc. in his popular breakout session showed attendees how visuals can help close that gap.

Gino
Harvard Business School researcher and professor Francesca Gino, author of the book Sidetracked, guided attendees through the wild world of decision making, where our hard-wired instincts often stand in the way of the right calls. “We are human beings,” Gino said. “Often we start with a plan, a clear goal, and we take the time to come up with a clear action plan. When we look at the outcome, we’re often a little bit off target.” Knowing how to counteract the unconscious biases and instincts we possess, Gino said, can lead us to better decision making, she said.

Volunteers
The behind-the-scenes action at Leading Through Excellence was fueled by more than three-dozen Fisher College of Business undergraduate students, graduate students and staff members, who served as volunteers and introduced speakers throughout the event.

Henry
Accidental Creative founder and acclaimed author Todd Henry closed out Leading Through Excellence, urging the audience to ask: “How are you bringing yourself to the table every day as a leader? A brilliant idea is not enough – in order to succeed, you have to develop your voice as a leader and you have to help your team develop its voice.”

Want to see more? Check out the full album of summit photos on our Flickr site. And mark your calendar for Leading Through Excellence 2017, April 11-13.

Going, going … : The latest on COE Summit 2016 registration

The good news? COE’s fourth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit is less than three months away, and you still have more than two weeks to save up to 15% on registration.

The bad news? Seats are selling fast – we’re already half-booked – and some tours and workshops are either full or approaching sell-out.

On the fence? Now’s the time to act to ensure you have access to the most options. Here’s a look at where our popular, limited-capacity options on the first day of the summit stand:

Too Late: The Tuesday, April 12, morning tour of global brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev is completely sold out. Luckily …

Nearly Sold Out: Limited seating remains for the Tuesday afternoon Anheuser-Busch InBev tour. Another tour offered Tuesday afternoon, to Cardinal Health’s Fuse software development operation, has a scant few slots remaining.

Gaining Steam: Planning on taking part in our marquee workshop for this year’s summit, The Pit Crew Experience? A number of seats already are pre-booked, while additional tickets are selling quickly. We expect this option to sell out by late February. Another tour gaining popularity among registrations is the trip to longtime COE member Abbott Nutrition, whose massive Columbus operation employs thousands in the region.

These are only a handful of the day-one options at Leading Through Excellence; capacity remains for a number of morning workshops and afternoon tours.

Be sure to check out the full summit site for details on our featured keynote speakers, our still-growing roster of breakout session hosts, and discount pricing.

Ready to register? Click here.

COE leader’s podcast appearance offers crash course on center

Looking for a crash course in the Center for Operational Excellence and how we’re partnering with our member companies?

peg penningtonExecutive Director Peg Pennington recently visited the Ohio Manufacturing Institute to talk COE on its Manufacturing Tomorrow podcast, a twice-monthly sit-down with leaders in the trade.

Pennington’s wide-ranging chat with host Kathryn Kelley touches on COE’s philosophy and its mission in the context of the needs of today’s business world.

“If you ask most leaders today what they want in their people, they want problem solvers and they want people that are going to learn and adapt quickly and build problem-solving processes,” Pennington said.

Pennington also explores where some companies go wrong in their efforts to drive continuous improvement: A lack of shared purpose.

“Companies sometimes come at this by picking a tool, saying, ‘Oh, we have to standardize work.’ All of those (tools) are great but they have to be nested together in this complex organization, and associates in that system have to understand the ‘why.’”

Pennington’s visit to Manufacturing Tomorrow, which you can stream in full here, was followed by another COE-affiliated leader, Norbert Majerus of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Majerus and Pennington are among seven COE-affiliated podcast guests who have appeared since the show launched last year. To visit the full back catalog, including Majerus’ appearance, click here.

Goodyear, Nationwide leaders behind two new ‘lean-driven’ books

Leaders at two Center for Operational Excellence member companies have taken their lean transformation stories to the publishing world.

booksNow for sale online and on shelves are Lean-Driven Innovation: Powering Product Development at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and The Lean I.T. Field Guide: A Roadmap for Your Transformation. Lean-Driven Innovation was written by Norbert Majerus, the driving force behind the remarkable turnaround of Goodyear’s R&D shop. Tom Paider, an executive at Nationwide and the champion of COE’s I.T. Leadership Network, co-wrote the Field Guide with Mike Orzen, co-author of the I.T. operational excellence staple Lean I.T.

All three authors are familiar faces to COE audiences. Majerus spoke at COE’s spring seminar in 2012 and has brought insights from Goodyear’s ongoing lean journey each year to the center’s Leading Through Excellence summit. Another op-ex champion at Goodyear, Chief Technical Officer Joe Zekoski, brought leadership insights to the center’s fall seminar just this month.

Paider, meanwhile, helped launch the ITLN in 2012 and has served in a leadership role ever since, helping bring a wide range of speakers to the popular event series. Orzen, who kicked off the first-ever ITLN event as the featured keynote, has since joined the COE as a senior adviser.

Both Lean-Driven Innovation and The Lean I.T. Field Guide are available on Amazon and other book retail sites.

Authors, visionary leaders make keynote lineup for 2016 summit

With registration for the Center for Operational Excellence’s fourth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit set to open next month, we’ve unveiled the featured keynote line-up for the April 2016 event.

Leading Through Excellence will take place April 12-14 in Columbus, Ohio, and feature its signature mix of plant tours, industry and researcher-led breakout sessions, and dynamic keynote speakers. Registration opens Monday, Dec. 7, with a 15% discount in effect until Jan. 1, 2016.

Joining the summit next year as keynotes are:

ben cook pitBen Cook, program director, Performance Instruction and Training (PIT) – Cook, who kicks off Leading Through Excellence on Wednesday, April 13, is a leader at PIT, the award-winning corporate and pit crew training operation in North Carolina that draws pit athletes from around the world. A veteran of the racing world, Cook works with organizations to absorb and strengthen the team-building concepts crucial to the high-octane realm of the pro-racing pit crew: Communication, handoffs, and a culture of accountability.

Cook’s organization will be at Leading Through Excellence next year on the summit’s first day, April 12, to host an exclusive, half-day pit-crew experience workshop that allows attendees to hone those skills in an actual pit-stop setting!

francesca ginoFrancesca Gino, professor of business administration, Harvard Business School; author, Sidetracked – Gino is a researcher and author whose work has been featured in The Economist, the New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and others. Her research focuses on on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Her book, Sidetracked, looks at how decisions in work and life get derailed and how we can stick to the plan.

Gino has received research awards from the National Science Foundation and the Academy of Management. In addition to teaching, she advises firms and not-for-profit organizations in the areas of negotiation, decision-making, and organizational behavior.

todd henryTodd Henry, author, The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words Henry, whose keynote closes the summit April 14, regularly works with companies on how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks internationally on creativity, productivity, leadership, and passion for work.

At next year’s summit, Henry will be drawing on his two latest books. In 2013’s Die Empty, he identifies the forces that cause even the brightest, most skilled people to become stagnant in their life and career, and introduces practices that help them build a body of work they can be proud of. In this year’s Louder Than Words, he teaches how to build a body of work that creates value and resonates inside and outside your organization.

billy taylor goodyearBilly Taylor, director, Commercial, Off-Highway, and Support Manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. – Taylor is a respected, motivating and natural visionary leader with over 20 years of diverse experience in all phases of operations management. He took on the role of Director of Commercial, Off-Highway, and Support Manufacturing, North America, at Goodyear this year, after serving as Director of North American Commercial Manufacturing. Past roles at Goodyear include plant director and plant manager.

Taylor is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt business leader with a proven track record of accelerating revenue growth through strategic and tactical development and implementation of operational excellence systems and people engagement processes. He has his MBA from Baker University and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Prairie View A&M University.

For more details on the summit, click here

Upcoming women’s event explores communicating, connecting in digital age

The rapidly evolving digital world is changing how we communicate, how we process information, and even how we add and network with members in our organizations, raising many questions:

Is my LinkedIn profile opening or closing doors? Are my internal presentations truly selling my ideas for change? What can I look at online when hiring a candidate? How can I build a value-adding network with other women in my organization?

We’re tackling all these questions next Friday, June 26, with a dynamic trio of speakers bringing the latest best practices in digital communication and the development of corporate women’s networks. Featured at this members-only Women’s Leadership Forum are:

debra jasperDebra Jasper, founder, Mindset Digital (10 a.m.) – Jasper in this opening session will share her insights on the biggest shifts in digital communication, highlighting new ways to showcase expertise and determine what’s most essential to convey as attention spans shrink, whether managing up or down. She’ll chart the course for helping women leaders create powerful messages and connections inside their organizations and across the broader business community, offering vital advice on managing your “digital footprint.”

kailee gooldKailee Goold, attorney, Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter (11:15 a.m.) – Goold leverages her legal expertise to walk attendees through practical considerations that arise amid the rising use of social media in the workplace. That extends to using social media during hiring decisions, managing employees’ use of social media, and workplace liability issues.

mike kaufmannMike Kaufmann, CFO, Cardinal Health Inc. (1:30 p.m.) – Following a networking lunch, Kaufmann will take the stage to share his experiences as the executive sponsor of Cardinal’s women’s network group. Using the success of Cardinal’s network as a healthy and innovative one for employees, Kaufmann will offer up key advice for other companies, including engaging men – a unique approach that is gaining popularity in corporate America.

This event, open only to employees of COE member companies, has limited seating available. Click here to register.