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Racing towards business success

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - It's no secret that getting the most out of a company's employees is the key to gaining a competitive advantage in today's business environment.Former Porsche AG chief executive o...

DON'T FIGHT IT: Coping with change is the secret to success, says Schutz.
DON'T FIGHT IT: Coping with change is the secret to success, says Schutz.

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. – It’s no secret that getting the most out of a company’s employees is the key to gaining a competitive advantage in today’s business environment.

Former Porsche AG chief executive officer Peter Schutz knows first-hand the importance of getting a team of workers to shift into high gear, and he was at the Alberta Motor Transport Association’s (AMTA) management conference to share some of his insight through his speech: Extraordinary Results from Ordinary People.

There’s no arguing with Schutz’s track record. After stints with Caterpillar Tractor Company and Cummins Engine, Schutz took over the reins at Porsche as the company flirted with financial ruin.

During his tenure with the company, he brought the automaker back to respectability, increasing revenues by more than 400 per cent while dominating sports car racing’s premier event – the 24 Hours of LeMans – for seven years straight.

Schutz’s speech, laced with humor and anecdotes, outlined how he managed to get thousands of employees striving for a common goal, increasing the company’s productivity and leading it to new heights.

Several themes were prevalent throughout Schutz’s speech; credibility, motivation, implementation, authority, power, cooperation and influence were among the key words he stressed.

He insists that good ideas happen all the time.

“The tough part of the job is implementation,” he says. “A flawed decision that is well-implemented will result in more than the best plan that does not get implemented.”

Step one to setting change in motion is establishing credibility with employees, stresses Schutz.

In Germany, large companies require their executives to make themselves available to the employees for several meetings each year.

The meetings take place on the employees’ terms, and as CEO of Porsche, that meant Schutz could be called out off the carpet, in front of up to 4,000 factory workers at any given time.

“There was no time limit, and no place to hide,” recalls Schutz. “I learned how to give short, clear, easily understood, completely honest answers to questions. I developed credibility, which is a fantastic foundation upon which we, as an organization, could address issues.”

Although he doesn’t recommend holding German-style meetings with staff to establish credibility, he says there are other ways to get there.

“It is not about big meetings. It’s about you, the manager, voluntarily putting yourself in a position with your people where you are vulnerable,” he says.

But credibility has a short shelf life, warns Schutz, and the next step is to keep the communication lines open and encourage participation in decision-making from front-line workers.

In order to effectively implement change, he says it’s crucial everyone works together.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in pit lane, where he spent much of his time with Porsche.

He witnessed his first pit stop at the 12 Hours of Sebring race in Florida. From that first racing experience, Schutz was hooked. And he quickly learned to apply what he learned at the track to the office.

“When it is time to implement, it is not a time to talk or discuss, it is a time to do,” points out Schutz.

“On race day, don’t come to me with a new idea on how to build a better engine. That’s wonderful, but stuff it.”

With change becoming more and more prevalent in today’s business world, Schutz advises managers to be on their toes.

“If there is no change, there is little need for management,” points out Schutz.

“(Change) is going to continue to accelerate and your role will become increasingly pivotal and the penalty for mismanagement will continue to escalate.”

That means cooperation within the company ranks is the key to getting things done effectively, and efficiently.

Schutz drew an analogy between the workplace and an assembly line, where any factory worker can stop the line by pressing a single button.

He encouraged the AMTA delegates to make sure their employees have a button to press if they see something wrong.

By increasing their involvement in the process, he says they will be far more productive.

“The only competitive edge that I have ever enjoyed of a lasting measure is, as a manager, to learn how to get extraordinary results from ordinary people,” reveals Schutz.

It certainly worked on the racetrack for Porsche. And Schutz insists trucking companies and other associated trades across the country can do the same.

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