What can brown do for you? UPS, the world’s largest shipping carrier company in the world, is a top leader different from the rest rooted in democracy with a small d. Michael L. Eskew, former chairman and chief executive officer of United Parcel Service from 2002—2007 and board member of UPS, shared a wise man’s story of how a leader dynamically evolves to the global marketing environment through life lessons over time at the Terry Executive Center.
Mike didn’t always play by the book, but things like the purpose and mission change for a brand over time. That taught him his first life lesson:
1. Take the initiative, challenge the organization.
The values of the core organization should never be changed. In turn, the company should do things the right way. One thing I really enjoyed about hearing Mike speak was when he came down to floor to humble himself with the rest of the audience—I could have reached out and touched him. UPS has a presence in 200 countries and 400,000 employees with 15 million packages, exactly 6% GDP of the United States and close to 3% of the world GDP. Mike said “I learned stuff wrong once, and then figured out why do you do it this way to make it right. I got out of my comfort zone, had lunch with people that I didn’t know, and was always becoming more diverse.”
He talked about launching an international market in Germany in 1976. It was a 3 phrase process as he would come to tell us, even though he had no idea where the 3rd phase would lead to. That would be his second lesson in life:
2. There are growing pains to understanding cultures.
UPS is a regulated industry of rates for each state and Mike wanted them to be the best operators. How? Measure everything. “If it didn’t move, we kicked it and moved it,” says Mike. Measurements are used to manage business. You don’t tag things as “the worst,” but better worded with “least best, most help needed.” The key was measurement—how can we make this better. He used things like the balance scorecard measurement to rank and rate things for a better compensation. Measurement is vital and without it you can’t improve operations. This would teach him his third life lesson:
3. Help other people be successful, stand back and let others take credit.
People notice these things. By having every person accountable for measuring performance and metrics you’re creating your own “ground support equipment.” After the company’s huge success in Germany, Mike began to look into 747’s. He was debating to buy American Airlines carriers for $25 million a piece. It was a risky move and all of the facts weren’t in place. This taught him life lesson four:
4. Deal with ambiguity. You always have to make decisions with lack of information.
Mike knew he had a vision with his network planners. How can you get big sources for business? Move to where the business is. Whoever gets the next technology spread, runs quality operations on the ground, and is forward-thinking moves markets. You tell people you are concerned about them and made them have great reputations for creating better performance. “We can’t do it without you” was a motto UPS lived by. The movement of commerce changed over time at UPS though:
INFO (orders) –> GOODS (production) –>FUNDS (u owe me)
E-commerce taught him to find ways to come up with solutions to disruptive technology. He evolved through understanding package management, alternative choices for consumers, new product innovations, using CRM’s for unique services, keeping acquisitions separate, and using the internet to act small. This would teach him his last life lesson:
5. Solutions are better than products.
That is UPS’s differentiator. How did they enable this you ask?
- Build capabilities with acquisitions
- Change brands and colors: “What can brown do for you”
- Think about customers and segmentation
- Move Technology
- Have a “We can’t do it without you” attitude
Where is postal service headed? According to Mike, as a visionary in international commerce, the future of labor unions and company relationships will continue to ask workers to become “teamsters” and to not take everything so personally. The future of the post office does not have a sustainable business model. The business model needs to be changed and that’s why they are currently voting on it in the Senate. The post office needs to not be so bullish! It has to see it’s GDP increase without the use of “Junk Mail,” so many different organizations, implementing a board of directors, and setting a plan for how much mail needs to be delivered for sustainable business.
Final Thought: “Blood, sweat, and tears make the light.”