November 2, 2010
I recently enjoyed a small, informal lunch with Mickey Drexler, currently the CEO and Chairman of the Board of J. Crew.
Mickey is obviously a legend in retail. He has been through the highs and lows, and at lunch we talked about leadership and turning around businesses and brands. He was fresh, funny, wise, and a real joy to be with.
Here are some things I learned from lunch with Mickey:
- A leader always needs to begin with a “photograph,” a vision, a point of view. Mickey said if you don’t have that, forget it. I call that a “brand ideal,” others call it purpose. Whatever you call it, you need a reason for being that transcends a functional benefit, and inspires people to join you, and customers to choose you.
- On people, your first feeling is the right one. Mickey said he never fired people quickly enough when they were not working out. And that’s not fair to the business, organization, or the person. Mickey also said he interviews every employee who comes into his company, except those in IT, because “I don’t fully understand them.” In my research for my book, Grow, I am finding that the companies I am profiling for their best practices take hiring to a new level. They are highly disciplined on it, they consider it the management team’s responsibility, and they strongly feel that hiring the wrong person is “toxic” for the organization.
- Always work to reduce hierarchy. It’s right for the culture, and organizations tend to add hierarchy.
- Be careful as you get bigger, because smaller groups run better, innovate better, work better. When you get an organization above 150 people, it gets complicated and nearly impossible to know everyone. Mickey’s advice is to always think about small, accountable teams as you get bigger, and organize yourself around brands and/or geographies.
- You think better when you travel. Mickey says travel always help him be more strategic, and he feels he is more creative and more productive — especially when he travels to places very different from his experiences. The advice to get out of the office and into your markets is not new, but most leaders don’t do that nearly enough.
- Mickey feels American business needs to change dramatically. We talked about the book I am writing, and its focus on growth. He believes most organizations feel they are entitled to growth. And growth is hard, and demands strong leadership and relentless focus — and an activity system built around a vision, a purpose, an ideal.
For more about Mickey and his thoughts, here’s a great interview I recommend you read.