Kitchen & Bath Design News annually sponsors the Industry
Leadership Awards to recognize leadership excellence among kitchen
and bath industry professionals. According to the criteria for
entries, “the categories focus on skills in business management,
marketing, the use of showrooms, industry/community service and
The Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) was
recognized in 2003 with first-place honors for providing a unified
voice to represent the opinions and ideas of decorative hardware
and plumbing professionals in the kitchen and bath industry. DPHA
created a community that previously did not exist and contributed
significantly to the industry’s increase in stature and
DPHA’s early successes are due, in large measure, to the
leadership provided by Jeff Burton of The Bath and Beyond, located
in San Francisco, CA. Burton understood passionately DPHA’s vision
and was able to convert his passion into accomplishment. Under his
leadership, DPHA became the premier organization of decorative
plumbing and hardware professionals in the nation and produced
deliverables that for many years had only been discussed as wishful
In as much as I am following in Jeff Burton’s footsteps, I write
about “leadership” with some trepidation. Nonetheless, having
gotten my chops in the industry by re-engineering a 75-year-old
company Colonial Bronze by observing many leadership styles, and
being somewhat of a student on the subject of leadership, I have
some irrepressible thoughts on the topic.
There is no uniform
model that enables an individual to lead a company, an organization
or a nation. Leadership styles vary depending upon the
personalities of individual leaders. Some leaders are not very
charismatic but are nonetheless capable of leading effectively.
Alternatively, having excellent communication skills doesn’t
automatically translate to leadership ability.
Two figures who have gained much public notoriety because of
their leadership styles are my old boss, Rudolph Giuliani, and
Enron’s Ex-CEO, Kenneth Lay. I worked for Rudy in the early 1980s
and had the opportunity to experience his style of leadership
firsthand. Giuliani has come to be viewed as a tremendous leader
due to his ability to rally New York City in response to an epic
crisis. Ken Lay dominates headlines because he was at the helm of
the largest bankruptcy in the history of the U.S. Both Giuliani’s
and Lay’s leadership styles teach important lessons.
I frequently think about what makes for an effective leader.
Inevitably, I find that leaders must have a genuine concern for the
well being of those they lead. Integrity and sincerity are
absolutely critical and a rock-bottom minimum. Most of us developed
early the ability to spot the disingenuous and phony.
At the heart of effective leadership is the ability to
communicate a vision. People are willing to follow if a leader
provides a clear sense of direction. Similarly, people won’t follow
if there is not an understood and shared purpose or a reason to do
The “Vision Thing,” as General Electric’s highly respected CEO
Jack Welch called it in his autobiography, Jack, Straight from the
Gut, generated $450 billion in market capitalization during Welch’s
tenure as chief executive officer. But, for Welch, it was not
simply about making money. He wrote, “I wanted GE to become ‘the
most competitive enterprise on earth.’ My objective wasto build an
organizationthat would be high-spirited, more adaptable, and more
agile than companies one fiftieth of our sizeI wanted to create a
company where people dare to try new things where people feel
assured in knowing that the only limit of their creativity and
drivewill be the ceiling on how far and how fast they move.”
Welch became one of America’s most admired CEOs by being able to
visualize how his enterprise differed from everyone else’s and by
communicating that message throughout all levels of the
organization. This ability to differentiate and communicate is
critical to effective leadership. Corporate visions must be clear
and continually reinforced so that they permeate the entire fabric
of an organization.
Walking the Walk
I spend a significant
percentage of my time focusing on my company’s vision and our
corporate values. Our company’s vision is to produce uniquely
designed, superior crafted products that enable us to create
balanced partnerships between our company and the showrooms that
carry our products. I know that if we can help our customers become
successful, perforce we ourselves will succeed.
Showrooms are conduits to our ultimate customers, the end users.
To reach these ultimate customers, we strive to become the most
important supplier of our lines to showrooms that carry our
products. We want to be thought of first when a showroom looks to
expand its offering of cabinet and architectural hardware. We want
showroom sales staffs to recommend our products first because of
our quality and our ability to meet and exceed their customers’
expectations. We want to create new products that enable our
showroom partners to become more successful and more important to
Some so-called leaders spend most of their time focusing on a
particular aspect of a business, such as the financial
considerations of their enterprise. When that happens, the clarity
of the vision more often than not becomes cloudy, ala Enron.
Capital is the commodity upon which a business is built. It is not
the sole reason for a business to exist.
Our vision is simple and easily understood and helps
differentiate us from our competitors. Our company focuses on being
the best at what we do living up to our corporate values. We have a
seven-point company Code of Conduct establishing our values, for
which I thank Art Burns and the Wiremold Corporation:
- Respect the individual.
- Tell the truth.
- Be fair.
- Try new ideas.
- Ask why.
- Keep your promises.
- Do your share.
I try to communicate our vision by spending considerable time
not only talking the talk, but also by walking the walk with
everyone in our organization.
I can’t imagine leading my company by sitting behind a desk and
merely “crunching numbers.” I would find it impossible to reinforce
behavior that is consistent with company values if I did not spend
a considerable amount of time visiting the showrooms that carry our
products. When I’m not on the road, I am on the factory floor,
talking and working with employees. When I see something that looks
great, there are lots of pats on the back and compliments. When
performance does not meet the company’s standards or values, I, as
a leader, need to be tough.
The same holds true when
showrooms look for one-sided partnerships in which our interests
are considered subservient. It’s important to remember that you
can’t succeed in the long-term with win-lose relationships or
without a clear appreciation of each other’s goals.
Visiting showroom partners sends a message that you care about
their success and the satisfaction of their customers. I find
visiting showrooms to be very helpful because it helps to keep the
organization focused on why we’re in business in the first place.
It also serves to keep my fingers on the pulse of my industry. The
people closest to the customer know best their needs and wants.
Venturing regularly onto the showroom floor lets me get close to
the showroom sales staff and also helps to pinpoint problems.
Additionally, spending quality face time with customers and their
staffs makes them realize that you are genuinely interested in
But, it’s not just me. The agencies that represent our products
also must understand and communicate our vision. The message we try
to relate over and over again is that our reputation is our most
important asset, and we depend on our employees and representatives
to protect and enhance that reputation.
The ability to communicate corporate values to everyone who
works for you is not enough. You need to not only talk the talk,
but also walk the walk. “Do as I say, not as I do” is chump change
in the scheme of values. You must live those values daily. When you
do, a mutual respect develops between those who fashion the vision
and those who are charged with its implementation. Employees are
willing to listen to corporate leaders if they trust and respect
This leads us back to Rudy Giuliani and Kenneth Lay. We may
never know all that happened at Enron. The lesson we learned from
Enron’s failure and Giuliani’s success is that leaders of an
organization must be able to look people in the eyes and assure
them that we are working for them as long as they are committed to
the embodiment of the company values and mission. In light of
debacles such as Enron, it’s probably not a bad time to remind your
staff and your customers of that commitment.
While you are at it, take a good, hard look in the mirror.
Jamie Gregg is the CEO of Colonial Bronze, a 75-year-old
manufacturer of decorative accessories headquartered in Torrington,
CT. Colonial Bronze is a founding member of the Decorative Plumbing
and Hardware Association, of which Gregg serves as DPHA’s 2004