Barbara Bush… In Honor and Memoriam

Not everyone admired Barbara Bush… because not everyone met her.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, and haters are gonna’ hate, but it’s not that far from the truth.

We at Triangle Performance aren’t so pretentious that anything we say about “The First Lady of the Greatest Generation” could compare with the tributes from her family and friends. Those accolades beautifully express the admiration of so many from around the world and from every walk of life.

No, we’d like to express our admiration for her leadership style(s) – as the First and Second Lady, family matriarch, and tireless champion of literacy.

Barbara Bush was never the CEO of a Fortune X00 company, never held elected or appointed office, and never commanded troops or fought in combat. Nonetheless, you knew she was a leader by the devotion of her followers.

In the White House and Naval Observatory, her leadership power came partly from her role as FLOTUS and SLOTUS and partly from the respect and admiration that came from being such a gracious, caring person. At home – whichever home her family gathered – her nickname “The Enforcer” pretty much says it all. In those roles, people desired to gain her approval and sought her counsel accordingly.

It was in her philanthropic efforts that her leadership relied solely on her ability to influence and inspire her loyal army of volunteers and followers. None of them worked for her, but they trusted her to lead them in their fight against literacy. Schools, libraries, parenting centers, hospitals, and the Houston Literacy Foundation, to name a few, all bear her name as a testament to their commitment.

In her memoir, Bush wrote “… a more literate America would benefit every single thing I worry about: crime, unemployment, pollution, teenage pregnancy, school drop-outs, women who are trapped into welfare, and therefore poverty, etc.”

A leader who can articulate a vision and inspire, motivate, and empower others to achieve that vision is a successful leader indeed. But a leader who can do that without being in charge is something extraordinarily special.

We are both honored and humbled to name Barbara Pierce Bush our April 2018 Leadership Leader.

Leadership Leader – April 2018

Barclay E. Berdan, CEO of Texas Health Resources, one of the nation’s largest faith-based, nonprofit health systems at 24K employees and $4.5B in revenue.

Normally a calm man and methodical leader, imagine his surprise when just after assuming this role he was found himself smack-dab in the middle of the first case of Ebola ever diagnosed in the U.S. Welcome aboard, Barclay. Don’t mind those 40+ television and satellite trucks in the parking lot; nothing to see here…

A brief side note: he was criticized for hiring a PR firm for the Ebola nightmare. I think it was one of the smartest things he could have done. Sorry, but I doubt (before this) that hospitals had an Ebola Contingency Plan to dust off. CEOs must be accountable, but they are not necessarily clairvoyant.

Berdan’s focus on strategy – he calls it “climbing transformation mountain” – is all about THR reinventing itself and becoming more than a sum of a suite of free-standing hospitals and ERs. And by the way, continue being a top-notch outfit all the while we’re slogging through this reinvention stuff.

Did I say top-notch? I’m not prone to hyperbole when analyzing leadership, but this guy gets it. THR has been on Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For every year since Berden’s promotion. And not just that; they have also been awarded <deeeep breath>:


Best Workplaces in Texas 2017 (ranked 1)
Best Workplaces for Women 2017 (ranked 1)
Best Workplaces for African Americans 2017
Best Workplaces in Health Care 2017 (ranked 1)
Best Workplaces for Parents 2017 (ranked 47)
Best Workplaces for Diversity 2017 (ranked 9)
Human Capital 30: Companies that Put Employees Front and Center

50% of company execs are women, 11% are minorities. THR regularly has facilities ranked in the Top 100 Hospitals.

Berden’s style of leadership drives employee engagement, satisfaction, and their discretionary efforts. THR avoids that child-hood game of “telephone,” as senior leaders conduct regular “rounds” to check in with the departments implementing their plans. Face-to-face exchanges focus on work-related issues and inform how executives solve problems.

Flexible schedules, opportunities for community time off to give back, fitness and health programs etc., lots to really shows the commitment to the employees. THR does an excellent job of promoting from within. They created pipelines to develop employees for next-level roles, and actually have no-kidding tools and resources to assist those who are in leadership roles to be more effective. I only wish that wasn’t such a uniquely admirable trait.

You can read Barclay Berden’s recent holiday memo to his team. Heart-warming and sincere. Easy to see why he’s respected, and why he’s this month’s Leadership Leader.

He keeps climbing Transformation Mountain.

2017 Survey of Senior Leadership (SSL)

> We just completed the survey in late November 2017. Not too many surprises from other years, or from our general expectations. Some of the results can act as a decent reminder for us all.


The top five business challenges began with Operating Cost Management. This remains consistent as #1 or #2, year after year. After speaking with many of you participating, it’s become clear to us that frequently this is mentioned as the result of challenges elsewhere. You may be concerned about operating costs, for example, because your management team is missing productivity or effectiveness targets…

…which is a great segue into the #2-ranked business challenge: Management and Leadership Performance.

Something near and dear to our hearts, obviously, and it seems to be a priority in your world as well. A couple of things stand out, particularly after a few follow-up conversations:

  1. Succession planning is still like the pea in Princess and the Pea; a continued challenge obscured by twenty layers of present-day priorities. We have to get better. Naming a potential replacement at the last moment is not “announcing a succession plan,” it’s replacement planning, and frankly, shows a lack of planning in general.
  2. Leadership pipeline development, the next-level from succession planning, is on many minds. Consider constant aging and retirement of boomers coupled with developmental shortfalls with our younger generations, and we’re headed toward a perfect storm. Someone must lead the rabble.

Individually (personally), your top challenge was managing change while maintaining focus. Gone are the days where each change gets summarily vetted through the organization prior to implementing, ensuring wide swaths of buy-in. No, we’re discovering what it’s like to change the oil in a car while driving down the road. At 80mph. In the rain. With our mother-in-law sitting in the back seat telling us to slow down.

It won’t get easier, though I do hope we can get better at it. Leading change is a learned skill, and though generalizing a bit, appears to be a key characteristic of some of the younger generations. Maybe join forces?

Staffing challenges will not lessen any in 2018, it seems. 36% see a slight increase in staffing for 2018, almost 10% see a significant increase with 44% staying the same. That leaves only 10% looking at reducing staff size in 2018. The war for talent rages on.

We’ll provide more detail from the survey throughout the year. Please download and utilize as you see fit and let us know if we can answer any questions. We’re here to help.

Leaders & Laggards for 2017

When we reviewed the 2017 Leaders and Laggards “Naughty & Nice” list last month, we thought we’d see how our winners and losers are poised to make a splash in 2018.

These three represent the best… and the worst:

Leadership Leader

Our leadership Leader for 2017 is Charles Butt, CEO of HEB groceries, headquartered in San Antonio Texas. He easily took the Leadership Leader mantle in October, after donating both personal funds and corporate support to Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

HEB is #12 on Forbes Largest Private Companies list, and #1 in Texas, with $23B in revenue and over 100K employees at 330 locations in the U.S. and Mexico. Founded in 1905 by Charles’ grandmother Florence, the company was named after his father Howard E. Butt, one of the Butt brothers. I freely admit to having an occasional chuckle at the sound of that last sentence. As my wife is fond of saying, you’re only young once but you can be immature forever. Moving on…

The sheer size, success and longevity could be enough to make a leadership leader, but it’s the process taken that has our attention. This massive growth is entirely organic—they don’t go around buying up other grocers in that insatiable quest to be bigger. They simply plant seeds and water them. Locally.

And here are some of those leadership “seeds:”

  • HEB gives 5% of the organization’s pretax profits to charity.
  • Charles is a Glass Door Top 20, with a 97% CEO approval rating.
    • 85% would recommend HEB as a place to work—validated by their Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 55+, impressive for anyone who follows those things.
    • The company culture and career advancement are most frequently named as reasons for that loyalty.
    • Jeff Thomas is a great example. Hired as a bagger 41 years ago, he’s held 22+ positions and moved nine times. He’s currently SVP/GM of the Central Texas region, leading 20K+ employees. From teenage bagger to leading 20,000 people. The pic on the right is Jeff, congratulating three sisters; two retiring with 50+ years of HEB service, and one sticking around since she just has 43 years. Seems they do something right to avoid typical retail retention challenges.
  • Charles recently provided a $100M investment to create a new institute dedicated to training school principals and superintendents, focusing on leadership styles to boost student performance and talent development.

Charles’ right hand, COO Craig Boyan: “[HEB’s] success stems from its investment in its employees…” “It’s our goal to pay as much as we can, not as little as we can. It’s hard for some to understand… that those who invest more in their largest cost item — people — can be those that win.”

Whole Foods founder John Mackey clearly admires Charles, saying that “HEB is one of the best-run companies I’ve ever seen.” Not grocer; not retailer. Best run company.

Besides, any CEO that has a company that has a mascot—a real mascot—has to be freakin’ amazing. It wasn’t a difficult decision, making Charles Butt and his HEB Triangle’s Leadership Leader of the Year.


Leadership Milquetoast

Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ CEO, had a tough 2017. Much of it he brought on himself.

We had almost given up on United as a perennial Laggard, when Oscar Munoz started pulling them out of the gutter. His actions were so un-United-like that in February 2017 we declared him “Almost a Leader.”

After his horrendous April response to United’s man-handling of a passenger, he fell to Laggard status.

By September, with United still not being able to stay out of its own way, Munoz climbed back to the Milquetoast category with a common sense approach to adhering to self-imposed rules.

As 2017 came to an end, the only thing we were sure of is that he’s absolutely tone deaf when it comes to his customers and United’s investors.

For instance, during the third quarter earnings report, Munoz scared the crap out of analysts when he acknowledged the hole the airline had dug for itself. He said his management team was working on a plan for success. Really? Just now formulating a plan? That might be just after the nick of time. We weren’t alone in that assessment; United’s stock plunged more than ten percent that day.

When the flight attendants’ union joined the #metoo campaign, Munoz declared his support and said United needed to have a policy about sexual misbehavior. You think? That’s certainly not leading-edge thinking. He publicly joined the better-late-than-never club on preventing idiotic behavior.

And then there was December’s bump of a first-class passenger, innocently of course, so that a Texas congresswoman could sit up front. He said – she said aside, the airline’s response (blaming the passenger) certainly didn’t reflect the airline’s publicly declared “we care about our customers” mantra.

Come on, Oscar. We’re rooting for you, especially if you can get your airline to give a snot about its passengers. We see how hard you’re working to convince your employees that you’re a people person, but the rest of us are people, too. And we’re the people that pay your peoples’ wages.

Hollow promises are the hallmark of a milquetoast leader, and we’ve decided that Oscar Munoz has been the milquetoastiest of Triangle’s Leadership Milquetoasts in 2017

Leadership Laggard

As much as we thought Steve Ells, former CEO of Chipotle and July’s Leadership Laggard winner, displayed poor leadership in 2017 during the continued outbreaks of various maladies at his restaurants, he didn’t make the Worst of the Worst cut. Maybe because he knew when to step down… better late than never.

Instead, we picked a CEO we haven’t mentioned since September of 2016, “Fast Eddie” Lampert of Sears Holding Corp (SHC) infamy. The announcement that more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores are going to close in 2018 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We predicted a bankruptcy ‘I told you so’ moment if he didn’t change his ways, and his performance during 2017 didn’t disappoint – us, anyway. Fast Eddie loaned the company another $600 million to stay afloat in 2017, while Sears and Kmart closed another 358 stores (with 63 more closing this month).

Damn. What am I missing? Can someone tell me what Lampert’s game plan is?

Lampert, the hedge fund manager who engineered the merger of Sears and Kmart in 2005, has managed to lose the company more than $10 billion in the last six years. Lost SHC, that is, since his hedge fund controls Seritage Growth Properties, the REIT that Lampert spun off to own and manage the properties Sears and Kmart now lease. And with every closing, Seritage gets to lease the property to someone willing to pay more than Sears and Kmart are paying under the current structure.

Oh, and then there’s the Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, a slimmed-down version of Sears primarily focused on selling home appliances, lawn and garden equipment, tools, and hardware. They seem to be doing better than the SHC big box stores, so Lampert bought another 95+K shares last month, after buying almost 220K shares in November 2017. Between him and his holding company, they control the majority of shares of the only profitable endeavor SHC has going.

Not to paint a grisly picture, but Fast Eddie kind of reminds me of an assassin bug (you can look it up). The bug impales its prey and sucks it dry, then attaches the entire corpse to its back. Never again let it be said “you can’t get blood out of a turnip” … the SHC board and investors seem perfectly willing to tolerate Lampert draining the lifeblood out of a company that survived two world wars and the Great Depression.

For being worse than the worst of all our 2017 Laggards, we have to declare Edward “Fast Eddie” Lampert Our Leadership Laggard of the Year.

Breakthrough Innovation Through Diversity and Inclusion Leadership

Written by Simma Liberman, The Inclusionist
Creating inclusive workplaces where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business.

According to findings of the Center for Talent Innovation “The engine for serial innovation is a diverse workforce that’s managed by leaders who cherish difference, embrace disruption, and foster a speak-up culture. Inclusive leader behaviors effectively “unlock” the innovative potential of an inherently diverse workforce, enabling companies to increase their share of existing markets and lever open brand-new ones. (more…)

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