A Culture Built on 40 Years' Experience

March 13, 2010
Joe Gingo has a small sign in his office with a big message. It reads: "Train, Train, Train. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate." Gingo received the sign from one of the units he managed during his 40-year career at Goodyear Tire & Rubber. The ...

Joe Gingo has a small sign in his office with a big message. It reads: "Train, Train, Train. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate." Gingo received the sign from one of the units he managed during his 40-year career at Goodyear Tire & Rubber. The emphasis on communication is one of several management tenets he has brought to his job as CEO of A. Schulman, a supplier of plastic compounds and resins headquartered in Akron, Ohio.

Gingo fulfilled his ambition to become a CEO by taking the top job at A. Schulman in January 2008. Since then, he has established a corporate global strategy and made a series of moves acquisitions, facility closings, product line decisions to put that strategy into effect. But in a recent interview, Gingo made it clear that he has put an equal amount of emphasis on establishing a corporate culture that would support and enable his team's efforts.

A psychologist who spoke to Gingo's management group summed up the culture Gingo wanted to instill in three words open, honest and listen. Gingo admits to a streak of impatience, one he has learned to tame by making a conscious effort to listen to what others have to say. And he did that when his team suggested he add "accountable" to the description of the corporate culture.

After having worked for a number of dynamic CEOs, Gingo is sensitive to his role as the 800-pound gorilla in his organization. On the one hand, he wants to be sure that his ideas are not the only ones given consideration. "I'm often concerned that if I start out in front, there will be no other opinions," he says. So when he holds monthly meetings with his business leaders, he works to promote a non-judgmental atmosphere in which participants know that they can and should bring up both the positive and negative things happening in their operations.

"If there is a problem and somebody brings it to you, you have a chance to resolve it. What is the use of getting mad at people? There is no point it is not constructive," says Gingo. "We want people to bring the problems to the table and the only way people will do that is if you don't shoot the messenger."

But Gingo also believes that once opinions have been heard and a course of action determined, it is time to move ahead. "I'm a big picture guy," he says. "I need people who can fill in the details for me because I am not a detail person. I am good at collecting data, getting contributions from people, being able to sort that out and say this is where we are going and be decisive. You do have to be decisive."

Gingo also stresses that business unit managers should be held accountable for their decisions and performance. "I am not going to make the decision for you. If I have to make your decision for you, I have a cost-cutting program in mind and it doesn't include me," Gingo quips. "I have seen CEOs who would say here is what to do. Then people had the tendency to come back and report on how the CEO's program had done. They never felt they were accountable; the CEO was."

In a fast-moving world, Gingo says decisiveness shouldn't be confused with intractability. Facts change and managers should not be so wed to prior decisions that they can't adapt to new conditions. He says some managers worry,"If I back off this, I'm showing I'm not a leader," but Gingo's response is: "So what? Things change."

Perhaps the confidence to change your mind when you think conditions warrant is one of the benefits that comes with a long apprenticeship in the executive ranks. You're now free to worry about the job at hand, not the resume you need to build.

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