Friday, April 15, 2005

Leadership - "Vision & Culture" Mr. John Rakolta CEO & Chairman ...

At the invitation of a friend I attended a speech given by Mr. John Rakolta – Chairman and CEO of Walbridge Aldinger Co. (International Construction Management Firm) at one of the private colleges in Michigan.

What gained my interest the most was the topic “Vision and Culture.” I’m always interested in these types of topics because it provides me the opportunity to benchmark other companies as well as to see if the leadership team is truly behind their quality effort.

Prior to the meeting I searched the Internet ( for information on Mr. Rakolta. In addition I visited their web site for some additional background on the company. Most of the main points (core vision, core values) Mr. Rakolta spoke about are found on the web site. I urge you to visit this site and note the many many community and national non-profit organizations supported by Walbridge. Clearly a company that gives back as much as it receives.

Mr. Rakolta spoke about the Right of Passage and that he followed in his father (John Rakolta Sr,) as chairman and CEO. He certainly paid his dues by having many jobs. I believe his father would be very proud.

I was impressed with his sincerity about vision and trust that must be accompanied by honest and integrity. He spoke about ethics from the time of Plato to what has happened today at Enron and other companies.

Throughout his speech, I found many of the quality principles used are also found in many other companies. For example; Stakeholder (company, customer, employees) vs. Shareholder. Every employee receives 40 hours of training each year. It costs 10 times more to keep a customer. And, what the customer wants most is competitive price, world-class quality and timely delivery.

There is nothing wrong in having similar values and visions, the key is, are they integrated into the way a company does business and does management lead the way by participation and example.

It is very hard to know in a 50-minute speech if a CEO is saying the right words or truly believes and has integrated the vision and values throughout the company. My bet the CEO leads the way.

I was one of three people who were able to ask questions within the 10-minute time frame (Mr. Rakolta had another engagement). I asked a question about their quality journey, because he used so many examples (i.e., Deming, Motorola, Kaizen, etc) did his company evolve through this, or did they start and stop many times as a new effort was introduced. He liked the word “evolution” and spoke a few minutes about Quality within his company. When I asked about the “Lean” effort currently underway I was directed to an individual sitting in the office who handed me a card (5S and 8 wastes of Lean) that all employees carry. The 5s and 8 wastes (muda) are standard when you follow Lean concepts. If you are not familiar with the concepts the following site can provide some quick definitions and examples -

Overall reception from the audience was positive. While I too found it interesting, I believe the following would have made it better:

Handouts of speech (before/after would be fine)
Reference Web Site (much more information on the topics and the company)
Allow more time for questions, if not enough time was scheduled (1 hr) or was cut off for another engagement, let this be known up front. I felt a letdown at the end.
Reception – Even though the CEO had to leave, representatives should have stayed and mingled or answered questions. After all, this was held at an institution for higher learning. Potential customers are everywhere.

Thank You Mr. Rakolta, and yes indeed "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes." Rock On Bobby Vee!


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