February 2020

Leadership is More than Execution

by Rolly Dessert

As he reflected on the early days of his career at Geiger Ready-Mix, Bill Geiger showed his usual candor in a self-assessment. Having worked in various roles in the company since the age of ten, he expressed a keen awareness of Geiger's roots with a sense for how to compete for business. He drew energy from getting jobs done, faster and better than the competitors.

As a newly appointed President at age 25, Bill Geiger tended to do it all himself. "I thought good leadership meant getting new jobs, getting trucks out, delivering product to those jobs, and satisfying the customer. Now, I see that this was execution, and that leadership is more than just executing or getting things done." In the first 15 to 20 years, Geiger was growing the business but was also learning that a single-handed approach was unsustainable.

Geiger saw a growing demand in the market for quality and consistency in delivery of a product that was becoming increasingly complex. He recognized that systems and processes are essential to holding a competitive advantage and building a market position. Geiger started on a new path, acknowledging that he had to lead differently, "I got my work done through other people. I delegated. This was very hard for me to do."

Changing to a new way of operating was difficult, but Geiger worked with his leaders to create a statement of purpose: The Geiger Way. "In every endeavor, we will add value to the lives of our customers, employees and suppliers in a positive and professional manner." They also developed core values:

  1. We will be "On Time and Hustle"
  2. Honesty and Integrity will guide us in all we do.
  3. We will seek continuous improvement.
  4. We will compete for profits that are necessary to reach our goals.
  5. We will show respect for our community and environment.

Over time, Bill Geiger succeeded in communicating these values as well as his vision for a continuous, coordinated effort across all of Geiger Ready-Mix. Long-time managers were used to the old way of doing things and resisted change. In Geiger's mind, the old way was no longer relevant, and had to change. He saw that performance was improving but if Geiger Ready-Mix was to meet its potential it needed to be one team. He faced major challenges.

The role of the Geiger DP is vital to this new way of operating. Once the mix is in the truck, the DP has a 31-step checklist to follow before departing the plant. At the job site, the DP engages a customer, shares expertise, and communicates core values with a mindset of mental hustle — to move quickly and effectively, but not hurriedly, through all steps with a posture of anticipation, engagement, and focus. Bill Geiger and his team of plant managers communicated these high expectations to the DPs. This was raising the bar to a new level.

A recent job supporting the construction of a major manufacturing facility illustrates the success of the new Geiger Ready-Mix approach. This job involved ten separate pours of 50,000 square feet each, every one of which was completed in five hours. This required delivering 200 cubic yards (400 tons) per hour using 25 trucks, starting at 2:00 am. In this large, demanding pour they would unload two and sometimes three trucks at a time. The most impressive aspect of this job was the precise timing and coordination of batching, loading, quality checks, travel time, set-up, pour, rinse-down, return to the plant and load again; while preventing bottlenecks and gaps in the flow of delivery. This takes a true team of teams — cooperation and collaboration at the highest level.

Geiger rightly pays tribute to his people for the company's record of success. "I used the core values to show our employees and customers how Geiger was different, how it competed." Once Bill linked the vision and the core values, the response was positive both externally in the market and internally with the Geiger culture — a team of teams. In Geiger's view, "Doing all of that allowed me to develop a more effective level of leadership."

Bill Geiger deserves credit for humbly recognizing the need to change his approach, and for having the courage to follow through. His company is clearly on a path for future growth.

Bill Geiger is the Chairman of Geiger Ready-Mix in Kansas City, Kansas. This article is based on excerpts from Geiger Ready-Mix: Built to Last by Rick Tirrell, 2018.