Steve Brass, the new CEO of the iconic WD-40 Company joins Marcel to discuss succeeding the legendary Gary Ridge. Brass speaks candidly about the many lessons he learned from Ridge, and his own plans for keeping the servant leadership culture strong at WD-40. We end with Brass sharing some rather secret, and very cool, WD-40 hacks (who knew?). Brass notes that this is his debut podcast conversation and we’re honored to be the first show to feature him.
A Pioneer in Servant LeadershipFormer CEO and global thought leader, Gary Ridge, has retired and he can be noted as the catalyst for the incredible culture and employee engagement at the iconic company WD-40. Gary, as a leader and role model, provided mentorship to Steve Brass since he was 25 years old. As Steve takes over as CEO, how will he follow? “My role is about sustaining success going forward, there is nothing that needs to be fixed. It’s really about taking this wonderful business, this wonderful culture, and building on this huge legacy.” [11:08]
Succession Planning“If it’s not properly executed, then the culture suffers.” [14:42] Marcel explains how well-planned and executed succession is so important in leadership transitions for huge companies like WD-40. Steve Brass calls this process “Talent Management”. Where high-level leaders nurture, grow, and support the talent of their teams. Steve explains the direct transition with Gary Ridge and how the planning, training, and responsibility began over 8 years ago!
CultureWhat makes the WD-40 Company culture so special and a competitive advantage? “We have clearly articulated and lived values, the critical piece is in living them and leaders demonstrating them.” [21:05] Steve shares how leaders quarterly write down and discuss how they are living and demonstrating the company values. He explains the inverted organization at the heart of the Servant Leadership Mentality, where the CEO is at the bottom of the structure serving all of the stakeholders above them.
Learning MomentSteve explains the way Gary Ridge created immense psychological safety in this global company with “Learning Moments”. At WD-40 they don’t play the blame game, when mistakes are made there is something to be learned. Marcel agrees that the evidence behind the learning culture, “One of the top reasons people come to your company [WD-40], is because they are seeking career growth and development.” [23:50]
Leadership in the Pandemic“Looking back at the pandemic, it’s going to be one of the biggest periods of learning we’ve ever had. The agility we’ve learned by pivoting on a daily basis to meet the challenges of the pandemic is just incredible, and we’re a better business because of it.”[28:46] Steve explains the changes, adaptations, and challenges they faced during the Pandemic. Now post-pandemic during the Great Resignation, Steve explains they have not experienced a loss of employees because of their positive culture and highlight on employee growth. They have in fact actually strengthened because of remote tools and hiring possibilities.
WD-40, Weird HacksDuring his research for the episode, Marcel found the WD-40 Fan Club in which they shared over 2000 uses for the product. One is removing pythons from a bus in Thailand!! Steve shares his favorite WD-40 hacks, some recommended and others not so much. “We get people writing in, they use it for arthritis, they use it for their joints…that is not a recommended use by WD-40” [32:55]. Some more practical uses…removing crayon marks from your walls, and bugs from the front of your car!
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