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Here's How You Impress the CEO of Toys 'R' Us

July 25, 2016 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated April 29, 2020 17:47 PM UTC

He’s looking for competitive winners.

Dave, you've been the CEO of a direct mail company, of a pizza company, the head of an athletic department at University of Michigan, and now of a big retailer. What does it take to be a great leader? What I'm good at is I have an eye for talent and I have an eye for the kind of talent that can join me and the rest of the group and create a chemistry and a trust level and a passion for accomplishing something bigger than any of the rest of us, in a way that brings great value to shareholders. And you're making a lot of changes at Toys R Us that makes people uncomfortable. What are you doing to inspire people and to energize them to follow along with all this changes? I'm a big believer in what gets measured and gets done. So I have tools that I bring with me to measure the culture and find out exactly how does the culture think about teamwork and about collaboration and about customer focus and about reacting to change. Once I know that, I know how I need to change the culture to get it to where I want it to be. Because I want nimble. I want a team orientation. I want customer focus. And that's what I've done virtually at every one of my jobs. Because I feel like if I get my team right and I create a culture that is inherent or indicative of a high-performance mentality within the company, I've done a big part of my job. So you had to hire a whole bunch of new people. What is the key question, the one question that you ask that you know you've got someone good that's going to be a leader potentially? The thing that I look for are people who are highly competitive. And so I look for things in their background, whether it be in their personal life or in their professional life. It's indicative of somebody who wants to lead. They want a responsibility. They want the authority that comes along with it. And they want to win. I want winners. You know obviously when you're making changes, some things work. Something's wrong. So what is your message to your staff about trying new things, taking risks, making mistakes? One of the things that I've had to do is come in and really be the ambassador of risk taking. And the first thing you have to convince people is if you take a risk and it's a considered risk, not reckless risk, you're not going to get rewarded for it. But if it's a considered risk and it doesn't work, you're still going to be rewarded for that. If you're not willing to take a risk, now you're talking about jeopardizing your role. Because particularly in the world of merchandising and in a fast-changing world and in a fashion business like ours, if you're not prepared to stick your neck out, put a stake in the ground, take a risk and go out there and try to make something happen, you're going to lose. Dave, you've held a lot of critical leadership jobs in your career. What's the best leadership advice that you ever got along the way? The best leadership advice I ever got was from my father, who I get most of my good advice from. And it was when I got promoted my first job in leadership and I called him very proudly to tell him that I was going to be the boss tomorrow. And I asked him point blank, what advice can you give me? And the advice my dad gave me is, Dave, you should find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way. And I just thought that was very, very wise. And I can tell you, three decades later, I still think about that advice often. And I really work hard to make sure that I'm adapting my style of leadership to the people that I'm trying to lead because I know everybody's got their own hot buttons and the things that they respond to.