Dave Kier Leadership Tip: Lesson From The Big Mack

IBEC Board member Dave Kier writes a regular “Leadership Tip”  using stories from his career as a business owner.  This one includes several principles which apply to us all and he uses a real-life example from a well-known company.

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures


I am starting to write my memoirs from 52 years in business. To do so, I am reviewing my annual “Manager Analysis” reports. It was my practice, at the close of every year, to write my analysis or synopsis of the previous year. I am a fact-based person, so I used tables and charts I maintained over the year in my “Manager’s Notebook”, which I have spoken of before. There are narratives as well with the first a devotional and then a one-or two-page analysis of the entire company. The analysis is like a chapter out of the company history book. Data and charts depict performance from “in the beginning” as I log another year’s events on an actual “Timeline of DFS”.

In this analysis, I am an open book discussing both victories and disappointments as I reveal progress, or lack of in various areas. I believe a good leader will take time to not only see via stats the fruit of his or her labor, but also to discuss the intangibles, such as the overall mood of the company (workforce), the satisfaction of the customer base, and the company’s reputation in the community and with suppliers. Every year or two, I would add studies I made of our customers’ industries listing the major players in the nation. Our company consisted of several entities, so I would calculate what percent of the industry we touched via one or more of our entities.

This analysis took time, as writing it caused me to do research and to ponder where we are, why we are where we are, and where I thought we should be heading. I would ask suppliers how they liked doing business with our company. I would ask government inspectors if my staff treated them with respect as well of any emerging industry trends. I was often with the customer asking them how we were doing. Such questions were asked throughout the course of the year, and notes were kept in my “Manager’s Notebook”.

Initially, I put this information together for myself, but then I began sending it to our board members, bankers, attorney, CPA, and financial advisor.  I am not one to “blow smoke” or to make things sound better than they are, but instead to be as Sergeant Friday on the old television show, Dragnet, would say – “Just the facts. Only the facts.”. I am not fearful of criticism, so I ask for comments at the subsequent board meeting, meetings with the banker and the others. What I learned was that by honestly providing this information, I earned more of their confidence. Especially important for board members and bankers was their observing that we had control of the company. This is where facts or data come in. A great indication of a company either in control or out of control is if they are improving and how often they meet their own projections.

In one of my Manager’s Analyses, I referred to an article on the Mack Truck Company. This truck manufacturer was founded in the 1900’s, and became a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks. Known for their quality and for manufacturing their own components, even their engines, their trucks were the most durable. By 1980. they were making strong profits, had obtained 20% of the USA market share with 17,000 employees. Thinking they “arrived”, they built an elaborate headquarters, began paying executive’s huge salaries and bonuses, purchased their own corporate jet and other frivolities; things that didn’t yield a return.

By the end of that decade, their market share dropped to 13%, the number of employees dropped to 6,500 and they lost $185 million. To raise funds, they went public only to have a competitor start buying large blocks of shares. What happened to cause such a rapid decline? A former CEO of the company wrote the article admitting the blunders they made. They are listed below.

By 1991, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, and then begin waking up. They sold their perks, such as the corporate jet, and closed the executive dining room. They formed improvement teams, once again including employees on the production floor, and they returned to managing by facts or by data. They mended relationships with suppliers.  Even though they lowered hours to produce a truck by 41% and sales increased, they weren’t strong enough to endure an industry wide slowdown in truck sales. This once proud company became wholly owned by a competitor.

Why would a CEO be so truthful about his leadership? He was humble enough to admit his company’s costly errors to warn others to not make the same mistake. You see, many growing companies, big or small, get caught up in the hubris of success. Startups can get caught up as “wannabees” instead of knowing who and where they are. The early indications he wrote that proved Mack was heading down the wrong road, included that:

  • They went from a company connected with the worker force, suppliers, and customers to become a top-down management company.
  • They segregated leaders from the workers, and when they did meet with the workers, they spoke more than they listened. Describing a low point in employee relations, the CEO wrote that one day while in one of the plants, a worker threw a bolt at him.
  • They quit looking at metrics, or possibly ceased gathering them, to instead write flowery reports for Wall Street investors. The CEO admitted that quality slipped because they quit measuring it. I would assume they quit measuring costs to produce components.
  • They took their suppliers for granted, possibly thinking that their early struggles were temporary and since they had been a good customer for years, their suppliers would have to grin and bear it until they got refinanced – again and again..
  • They quit counting the cost before building or acquiring stuff.

You will see in the Mack Truck story several violations of scripture, such as servant leadership, counting the cost before you build, owe no man anything, know the condition of your flock, and over all, humility. Often, we hear Christian owned businesses state something like “I know this or that is the Lord’s will” in referring to a decision they made.  Years ago, I heard one such businessman say this while his operation continued to struggle. I asked him why he thought he was in the Lord’s will when he was violating scripture.

May I advise that you to honestly critique not only the state of your organization, but also your leadership style. Scripture is the plumb line you hold both against. There is an old saying that goes “If you don’t write it, you don’t know it”. Start creating your own “Managers Analysis”, even if you are a pastor or missionary. It’s a healthy exercise, and will help you hold yourself accountable to others.

When you think you have “arrived” you have only begun to fall.


“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall”. 1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT®

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