They are the new kids on the block, so to speak. Every year, Arkansas sees executive turnover in a way that brings newcomers to Arkansas. How do these C-suite executives navigate their new terrain? What triggers their trust levels for assessing their work environments? And what adjustments are made to account for their vision of improving the bottom line?
Talk Business Quarterly profiled seven new Arkansas executives who have been in their roles for less than a year. Their emergence on the business scene in Arkansas will lead to transformative approaches to traditional business models in state and abroad.
Acxiom Corp. CEO
“There’s a saying in football: ‘you don’t want to be the guy who replaces John Elway. You want to be the guy who comes in after Bubby Brister.’
This was an organization ready for change. Acxiom is a 40-year old company, and it had 20 years of just-sustained growth, followed by a period more recently during which it hasn’t done all that well. What’s interesting is that the Acxiom I walked into, many of the senior managers had been there both for the times of incredible growth and the times of real disappointment. It wasn’t a situation where they were an unsuccessful team; it was a team that had known a lot of success, but some hard times as well.
It’s kind of textbook, I spent my first three months just listening, reading, analyzing … I talked to all of our largest clients. I had one-on-ones with the direct reports I inherited. More importantly, much deeper in the organization, so even before I started — from the time I was announced on my first day at the job — I think I traded nearly 500 to 600 e-mails with associates. Many of them started off with ‘Dear Scott, I’ve been at
Acxiom for 17 years and this is what I believe to be true …’
I talked to partners and competitors to get their perspective of Acxiom. All this to say, when I started, my real focus was on building rapport, building a knowledge base, building credibility and building trust, along with building my own conviction for the things we would need to do.
I’m a big believer that once you’ve charted the course, move quickly. Take time to figure out the path, but once you have, move quickly.”’
Arkansas Medicaid Director
“I think that management concepts and leadership concepts apply often times universally. So a respect for your staff, a sense of humility about the challenges you face, a sense of respect for differences I might see here from other places I’ve been … I think beginning with that amount of respect is a key ingredient.
You need to know what you’re doing, you need to know your program, you need to know your setting and you need to reach out to the participants and those affected by your decisions — if you’re going to run your program well.
I would also say you always want to use your advantages. I have an advantage, coming in being able to compare almost everything I see to an experience I’ve had in the past. They’re not all the same, but that is an advantage. It’s an advantage to be the new kid, to be the new guy and to some extent, there’s a grace period, a honeymoon. You can use being new to break down barriers or positioning that may have built up over time.”
Winthrop Rockefeller Institute CEO
“I think it is important to bring a fresh eye to any organization and to be willing to ask tough questions. Many organizations get stuck in a mindset of ‘because we’ve always done it this way.’
We live in a fast-paced and constantly-changing world. It’s important to constantly look for ways to adapt and improve any organization. Business as usual can be a path for failure and even obsolescence.”
Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas CEO
“First of all, I had some pretty good advice: do not to come in and try to make changes. Let’s first learn what’s going on with the organization. I spent time with each of my direct reports and supervisors and had them tell me what’s going on; what are the most important issues; what are the hot-button, front-burner issues that really need to be dealt with; where would they see changes if they were me?
We had a staff retreat within the first month and threw all the ideas on the wall, did a sorting exercise where we voted as a group on what the top items were, and you could tell the primary things floated to the top. That gave us a game plan for the first year, one that we were all in agreement with.
Trust is the currency of change. You can’t have change if you don’t have trust … It takes time. You might sense that you trust somebody, and everybody gets that immediate reaction. Your gut tells you a lot. Then you have to verify that through several months of observation. There are a lot of good, trustworthy people here.”
Verizon Wireless South Central Region President
“What you have to do, when you move into a position like mine, is in the first 30 to 60 days, listen a lot, you observe a lot. I’ve often said you listen about 80 percent of the time and you talk about 20 percent of the time; and you just learn things along the way and get familiar with the team.
Every situation is going to be different, for some reason. I came into a pretty good situation here. Sometimes you’re going into what you might call a mess, and when you do that, there are other things you have to do to get things going.
Anytime you have an integration, when you bring two companies together, there are a lot of things you have to do to get the business where it needs to be. Here in Arkansas, it was already there.
There is a misconception about Arkansas. I’m very much an outdoors person, so I love it here. Anybody I talk to in the company, I tell them I’m the luckiest new guy out there.”
Heifer Project International EVP Marketing & Resource Management
“I think the most important thing to do in leadership of a new organization is to listen. I have found people react to different management styles and elements of change, and simple historical reference may not always be a clear indicator of the future. It is critical to understand the landscape of the past, but it’s also important to view it with a lens of understanding, not as a prescription for future endeavors.
Change is never easy, and I fundamentally believe the best way to create momentum is to do so from a place of motivation and understanding. As a new leader, initiating big change immediately has the potential to incite fear and resistance. It is important to gain insight prior to moving too quickly.
I have also believed people are the greatest asset to any organization. Embracing strengths and weaknesses and allowing people to grow in ways that unleash their best talents is critical to high-performance organizations. Initiating cross-functional efforts allows for growth and development that ultimately increases collaboration and excitement. You can only understand those aspects after spending some time building trust and mutual respect.”
University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Sam M. Walton College of Business Dean
“In my experience, leaders transitioning to new assignments need to fully explore and understand their organizations’ DNA before making critical decisions. I’ve always ‘hit the ground listening,’ before acting.
When asked to consider the Walton College of Business, I did extensive research on the University’s and the Walton College’s strengths before accepting an on-campus visit. It didn’t take long to see the fit with the organization.
During my campus visit in February, I presented an action plan, which showed a period of time dedicated to listening to those in the college and to all of its constituents, such as university partners, supporters and friends.
After my assessment, I will engage key constituent groups to help build on the college’s strengths as we enhance the college’s and university’s national and international prominence.”
Read more on these executives biographies and check out their photos at this link.