Former Starbucks CEO to NECA Show Attendees: 'Never Be Bigger Than the Front Line'

Every year, the NECA Convention and Trade Show attracts the biggest names and leaders in the electrical construction industry. They come to both share their knowledge and learn from other experts what they can do to keep their businesses growing.

Jim Donald, who spoke before the second day of NECA Show in Seattle, has made an entire career out of taking businesses to the next level, and turning around struggling companies. He is most well-known for being the CEO of Starbucks from 2002 until 2008, but he was also key in growing Wal-Mart’s grocery division, and most recently, he revitalized Extended Stay Hotels, a company that was on the brink of collapse.

During the general session on Monday morning, Donald told various stories from his career of hopping from company to company, and went through some of his core philosophies. One of his most important points was that no company head should be bigger than the front line. As he said, when he arrived at Extended Stay, he saw a management group that was completely separated from the employees that were interacting with customers on a daily basis. Donald believes that CEOs, Presidents and other executives should be part of that front line, and only then will employees actually become invested in who they’re working for.

However, the most notable moment from Donald’s talk was when he revealed a prop that he has been taking with him everywhere since the 1990s: a fish. Specifically, he pulled a fresh salmon out of a cooler and showed the audience where their companies will end up if they don’t adapt and “swim upstream” through the changing business landscape.

Why does he bring a dead fish to every lecture? People don’t forget it. Whether he’s talking to a group of his own employees or addressing a convention hall full of electrical contractors, he knows when he shows them the fish, he has their attention. As such, he encouraged all the industry leaders in the hall to find their own “fish story.” Once they have an attention-grabbing symbol like that, they can begin to get everyone in their company on the same page.

About the Author

Matt Kraus

Senior Associate Editor
Matt Kraus is Electrical Contractor magazine's senior associate editor. Contact him at .

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