Michael L. Eskew
Chairman and CEO, UPS Inc.
On the one hand, Mike Eskew, 56, is your basic dyed-in-the-brown-wool career UPS guy. Like his eight predecessors as CEO, he came up through the ranks, starting as an engineering manager in his native Indiana. But consider this: Since Eskew took charge in 2002, the shipping giant's international profits have soared. And "Brown's" revenue from "supply-chain solutions"—running other companies' operations for them—has more than doubled. The truck drivers still make UPS tick, but Eskew understands that today, complacency is his biggest enemy.
I have never forgotten my time delivering packages. That experience was absolutely invaluable. In every decision we make, we have to think, "How would the driver do this? What would the customer think about that?"
Employees need to feel important because they all are. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, our immediate focus was on our people—finding the more than 2,200 people working in 22 buildings across the region. We offered support through interest-free loans, extending benefits, and eliminating out-of-network health-care charges. Then we found ways to put them to work at new locations—on either a temporary or permanent basis.
There really is no limit to what people can do when they work together. I see it all the time. Fifty-three UPS sites lost their primary data networks after Katrina, and 31 lost backup networks. In some cases, we reconfigured routers so data could be transmitted via our private voice network. In a few areas, DSL or cable modems were brought in. And a few employees saved package data to CDs, drove them to a neighboring facility that had network access, and transmitted to our data centers.
If you don't make a few mistakes, you really haven't pushed hard enough. When we were moving into the air business, American Airlines was selling six 747s for $25 million each, but you had to take all six. I knew where we could use four. But it was either six or nothing. I said, "We'll take them." I couldn't sleep for a week, thinking I had ruined the company. But we filled up not only those six, but 280 others. We found a way to grow this business and take us around the world.
I don't dwell on disappointments. I've had thousands of them. You live with them for a while and then move on.
We look for people who can energize and relate to people. Even if you're a midlevel IT manager, it boils down to people. All IT managers can write code. They understand architecture and inputs and outputs. The real question is, Can they solve problems? Most of the time, that requires interactions with people.
For most of us, UPS has been our only job since our paper routes. Promotion from within has created the loyalty we have. But it also can make us insular, so we work hard at renewal. I'm on the boards at IBM and 3M because I want to know how great companies with global presences stay innovative and think about customers. I also spend time on college campuses, talking to students. I take as many opportunities as I can to hear what people think about our problems.
The strategies change and the purpose changes, but the values never change.
You want to be constructively dissatisfied. When you're a 98-year-old company that has done great things, the biggest challenge is complacency. You need to fight that. We always think we can do better, be better.
People want to accomplish great things. They want to make a difference. Leaders need to say, "This is where we are going," and then, "this is why we need you. We need you to deliver packages as only you can, write code as only you can, or create marketing campaigns as only you can, otherwise we can't get to where we want to go."
A version of this article appeared in the November 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.