I’ve worked for some great companies, including four Fortune 500 corporations. Along the way I met outstanding management teams. However, one team stood out in my mind above all others, the Emerson Electric, (RIDGID) Sales and Marketing Management Team, they are the prime example in my career of a company who lived their parent company’s values and culture.
I encourage readers to please: like, share, and comment if you also have great experiences – working for other great Emerson companies, or if you want to give someone much needed recognition for creating a winning company culture. I’m not being paid to write this, I hold up Emerson management principles as my own gold standard to measure all management excellence by.
Emerson Core Values (http://www2.emerson.com/about/mission-and-values) “Emerson’s corporate mission and values are expressed in the company’s brand promise…Our mission as a company is to create long-term value for our shareholders, customers, and employees through a passionate commitment to excellence and a disciplined management process…We achieve success by developing industry-leading technology…Our values are deeply rooted within the company and reflect our internally disciplined character. Emerson is committed to being a well-managed, results-oriented, engineering-driven organization whose people have a passion for progress and a commitment to excellence…Emerson’s disciplined management process enables the company to focus on creating shareholder value while anticipating changing economic and industry environments.
This management process emphasizes current and long-term planning, disciplined control, and clear priorities…We know that everything we accomplish rests on the skills, integrity, commitment, and dedication of our employees. We offer challenging, fair, and rewarding employment for our employees and set high expectations for performance. We seek to create an environment where people can make a difference…Everything we do reflects a commitment to the highest standards of personal and corporate ethics…” See more at: http://www2.emerson.com/about/mission-and-values#sthash.veBLUmhb.dpuf
RIDGE TOOL COMPANY (RIDGID) Management – Exemplified Emerson Core Values
I knew RIDGID products always delivered best in class tools and technology, they were designed to perform as promised, with professionals in mind. My confidence in RIDGID tools, is restated in the Emerson brand promise.
Emerson lives up to their core values. RIDGID products were indeed excellent. The Emerson management process also shared the same rigorous dedication to thoughtful design and purpose. Emerson demand planning was very thorough. Their regional sales planning meetings were equally detail oriented, and purpose made to produce a reliable product. Meetings were productive and would very often deliver actionable field intelligence.
RIDGID’s Proactive Management Style
Once in a discussion about a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform, our Vice President of Sales (Mark Downie) remarked the system was designed to mine data from the field during our work day. I remarked the new call entry process required many more keystrokes than our previous iteration, a simple sales might take 10 – 15 minutes to enter. At first that seemed reasonable, but when we began to tally each entry over a: day, week, month, it became evident that we would have to make less sales calls.
I remarked “are you guys (RIDGID Management) OK with us (Salesforce) doing three to five less calls every week to faithfully enter this information in the field, sacrificing productivity?”
Mark Downie immediately replied, he would look into that issue and made note. I forgot all about it, as we all did I’m sure. The truth was, I hated logging calls during the day and would have been quite happy to leave the CRM procedure alone altogether. In other companies a case like this would probably never be resolved, the issue would remain unresolved.
Not so at Emerson/RIDGID, Mark did in fact look into the CRM procedure as promised, inside of three weeks, he had developed a new procedure. He not only reduced keystrokes, but added GPS functionality attached our customer lists. He proactively acted to solve one productivity problem, then innovated and improved the system in another way we had not even thought about. He over-delivered on his promise and acted on field advice. It was a great example of how productive management was there – they used information from meetings to leverage improvements and lead by example. It actually made sales call reporting very easy and was much more effective and widely used.
Management Leveraged Data and Analysis
The management team would come to regional planning meetings in person and fully prepared to speak to any element of the plan. Their knowledge of the historical data, trends and the precision of strategic targeting was second to none. The Emerson management expectation was you would be rigorous in your analysis and ready to defend any assumption (Believe me, they paid attention to the numbers, noticed any assertion that seemed out of line and did not meet a reasonable standard)
I have to admit, sometimes I thought to myself these targets are too high, but I found if I worked hard, at the end of the year – I indeed met those targets, if I worked the plan – I would reach the strategic goals. The Emerson management team, watched market trends, used accurate data and had excellent analyst that could marry data, trends and logic to estimate accurate assumptions. Something much easier said than done.
We offer challenging, fair, and rewarding employment for our employees and set high expectations for performance. We seek to create an environment where people can make a difference…
The longer I’m away from the company the more I recognize the excellence of the Emerson management process. Looking back on meetings and discussions I realize they were on the leading edge of many emerging trends and technologies. There analytical process was so good, they actually knew my business even better than I did.
Management Delivered on the Value Proposition
RIDGID products were state of the art, also often the most expensive consumer option, but our value proposition was easy to represent, all products made by: RIDGID, RIDGID Kollman, RIDGID ProPress, RIDGID SeekTech were in fact like Emerson’s mission statement says,
“industry-leading technology…delivering results for customers”
My customers gladly paid more for RIDGID tools, because they represented real value and innovation. Professional plumbers used RIDGID tools almost without exception, they knew they were made well and would perform and never fail them in the field.
Once a customer remarked “I hate your basin wrench – I use it like crazy but had to replace it twice in four years”
I replied “I’m not sure why you would have an issue, in fact I never had a single complaint about our basin wrench, it’s the best one available on the market – out of curiosity – if you dislike my wrench so much, why are you still buying it?”
He smiled, then quickly replied “Because I tried your competitors wrench and went through four or five a year!”
While I worked for RIDGID, I had several wonderful opportunities to participate in the development of tools and several policy discussions. It was a continuous improvement process that revolved around making higher quality leading edge products, and to improve ourselves and our business systems. I strived to meet the high standards established by leadership and exemplified by our management’s behavior. My immediate supervisor, Eastern Regional Sales Manager, Jim Zajdel, was an excellent salesman who used common sense approaches to translate strategic vision into actionable guidance.
His boss, the National Sales Manager for the Americas, Cliff Wells, was also very good at delivering clear direction, and annually setting a course to us all to follow to our common destination. He was a really straight forward guy and one my favorite people in the company. Easily approachable, polite but also honest and direct about strategic direction and the corporation’s goals. He would be tactfully self-deprecating if he needed to correct someone, often using himself as the example of a mistaken approach. Rather than saying “you’re doing that wrong” he would say “I once did that wrong once too, this what I did to fix that issue”. A clever approach that demonstrated his sensitivity and understanding of human-nature.
Management’s Moral and Ethical Leadership
When I worked for RIDGID, my Father suddenly became gravely ill and was hospitalized. His condition serious, I thought I better notify the national sales manager (Cliff Wells) to ask advice on arranging an emergency leave or ask when I would need to offer my resignation, if his illness required a prolonged leave of absence.
Having no idea how much time might be required or how much support my Dad might need. I knew my business had to continue uninterrupted, despite my family hardship, I did not want to put Cliff or the company in an awkward position, if it would become necessary to replace me after a prolonged absence to nurse him back to health. I was frantic about my Dad and worried about my job at the same time.
Without hesitation, Cliff replied “attend to your Dad, and don’t worry about the company – we’ll (the RIDGID family) will attend to any immediate needs in your sales territory, don’t worry about leave right now – attend to the family”. That meant the world to me, at that moment it lifted a tremendous burden off my shoulders, allowing me to focus my attention on my Father’s health. My boss, Jim Zajdel answered my calls during the day and notified me about what needed my attention. I would work the phones and answer my email in the afternoon and at night.
…Everything we do reflects a commitment to the highest standards of personal and corporate ethics…
My Dad did recover from that incident but sometime later when my Father passed away, my boss, Jim Zajdel walked into the funeral home to pay his respects. Knowing where Jim lived I recognized he was using many hours of his own time and going out of his way to pay respects to my Dad and to support me, in person. As Jim had never met my Father, I appreciated this sympathetic act, very much. Jim was (and still is, I’m sure) a very decent and kind person. This kind of difference to my Father’s memory and emotional support in a difficult time meant a lot to me. It was emblematic of his character and his treatment of his employee. It was also directly in line with Emerson core values.
…We know that everything we accomplish rests on the skills, integrity, commitment, and dedication of our employees.
As I sorted through the flowers at the end of the day of my Dad’s funeral I saw many arrangements from my friends and colleagues from RIDGID. This behavior was a demonstration of their personal character but it was not the exception, it was the rule. It was emblematic of a high moral and ethical standard of behavior we aspired to live up to, and saw demonstrated daily by our management team and our senior leadership at RIDGID.
Management Focus on Employees
The greatest things about RIDGID, hands down, were the people and the company culture. A feeling of familiarity and caring you find in a good family. I never heard anyone remark “not my job or that’s not what I do”. If you asked someone to do something outside the scope of their responsibility or functional area, usually they would go out of their way to redirect the issue to deliver solutions. A very collegial atmosphere full of great, hardworking people.
If you fought about something, you did so respectfully – usually venting frustration – about an issue that could not be easily resolved. I really had the feeling people at the company have my back. If you disagreed, you weren’t disagreeable. Leadership had expectations of excellence but managed a process all the way to the finish line.
If a salesman individually did not achieve his or her goal, there was a simple resumption of the process of improvement, retooling a new approach. Proactively addressing issues rather than reacting and blaming. Making problems teaching moments rather than rebukes or opportunity to shift blame.
There were many opportunities to find good mentors in the company. Many employees had longstanding careers with increasing levels of responsibility moving into management over time. Our President, Fred Pond had started as an entry level employee himself, years prior. Many department heads also worked their way through the ranks with hard work and dedication.
Fred Pond took the company in a new strategic direction during his tenure.
Introducing new tools and technologies keeping RIDGID on the leading edge of innovation and technology. I was very fortunate to have joined the company during this period of transition. At an annual company dinner, I heard our former sales leader speak about the changes Fred Pond had made. He compared our company to a large ship that needed to change course. He remarked how the effort to change direction had to be deliberate and consistently applied in order for the new direction to take hold, if you took your hand off the wheel it could lurch back and move in the direction from which it came. It was a fitting description, the management team had taken the company from a tool company to a tools and technology company that was on the leading edge of new innovative designs and technologies.
…We achieve success by developing industry-leading technology…Our values are deeply rooted within the company and reflect our internally disciplined character. Emerson is committed to being a well-managed, results-oriented, engineering-driven organization whose people have a passion for progress and a commitment to excellence…
I was very also fortunate to meet and get to know the owner of Deepsea Power and Light/SeekTech, Mark Olsson, a brilliant scientist and inventor who helped RIDGID differentiate a radio frequency locating technology and methodology using unique and innovative new features. The designs for the RIDGID camera, monitor, locater, recording system and the dependability of our technology and systems – were second to none, thanks to men like Fred Pond and Mark Olsson.
We also had a wonderful sales secretary that somehow would organize Cliff Wells life and get us all in line, she managed the administration of the whole sales for and she did so cheerfully, Patty Barnhart was and still is, a force of nature and a wonderful employee.
The biggest influence in my professional career was our Vice President of Sales for the Americas and e-Commerce, Mark Downie. Mark in many ways reminds me of my brother, John F. Walker Jr., an executive director at Johnson Matthey, England. They both have the ability to use data and logic to cut directly to the heart of issues. They have the ability to use: data, facts and logic to “sanity check” assumptions on growth or business development very adroitly. It forced us all to prepare thoroughly, knowing Mark would not pass over slides without questioning and inquiring about our assumptions.
I learned a great deal, observing him forming opinions during our sales presentations and reviewing our assumptions in the annual sales planning conference. He could very quickly develop a merit based counter argument derived in his head, on the spot. He would develop a quick statistical analysis of our numbers, calculate figures, then reciting averages or quickly recognize trends our assumptions implied. If they made sense he would agree and move forward, if they did not he would question until a better result was developed.
Later I would employ these same techniques myself to confirm my own assumptions or to retool estimates in proposals. I became a much better analyst just watching him research and develop his counterclaims at the Emerson/RIDGID sales meetings and planning conferences. I used this experience to improve my sales assumptions, pricing models, research methods and to do contract price escalations, proposal development strategies and I still do. He taught me to ask hard questions and to check my assumptions to make sure I was getting to the heart of the truth in the data.
I will be forever in the debt of the Ridge Tool Company for the free master class on how to lead a corporation properly from the front, by example. How to take a strong position, respectfully and buttress a claim on sound basis of rationality and analysis. These skills and many other I learned there. Not from being taught these things per say but by watching others do things well and share that knowledge and understanding to grow a winning organization.
Certainly, there were difficult days at RIDGID too, issues would come up from time to time like anywhere else. Eventually I was offered a job at another corporation that represented new challenges and an opportunity to grow professionally and I left RIDGID. Both of my parents passed away while I worked for the company and it was one of the most trying and difficult times in my professional and personal life, but my friends and colleagues carried me through this time with an amazing amount of support and encouragement.
Although I did develop many new skills subsequent to my departure from Ridge Tool and have had many other great professional success stories. I feel the foundations of my later success was built and buttressed by the culture of excellence of Emerson Electric exemplified by the Senior Management and leadership staff at RIGID. I thrived and grew as a person and a professional watching them and tried my best to follow their lead.
In today’s climate of back biting, complaints and derision, I thought it might be nice to offer this simple expression of my gratitude, to all my friends and mentors back home in Elyria OH. Thanks to all the hard-working folks at RIDGID – making it happen every day! All my best to you all continued success.
Andrew J. Walker PMP
Andrew J. Walker, is a highly accomplished professional with long-standing management experience, including key positions of increasing authority and responsibility at four prominent Fortune 500 Corporations.
A strong business development leader who managed networks of independent distributors as large as 300 and a diverse international staff of 45.
Seasoned contract and project manager with successful background in proposal and contract development inside large alliance partnerships.
Historically managing more than 26M dollars in contracts for two large metropolitan investor owned utilities (IOU’s) as well as developing proposals as large as 470M dollars.
In recent years concentrating on proposal and contract development, operational excellence, and integrated supply in program management and professional and technical writing.
Connect with him on LinkedIn.