Tom Willis in conversation with Garry Ridge
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Garry O. Ridge is president and chief executive officer of the WD-40 Company headquartered in San Diego, California. WD-40 Company is the maker of the ever-popular WD-40, as well as 3-IN-ONE Oil, Solvol and Lava heavy duty hand cleaners and X-14, Carpet Fresh, Spot Shot, 1001 and 2000 Flushes household cleaning products.
Garry has been with WD-40 since 1987 in various management positions, including executive vice president and chief operating officer and vice president of international. He has worked directly with WD-40 in 50 countries. A native of Australia, Garry has served as national vice president of the Australian Marketing Institute and the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association.
Garry received his diploma in retail/wholesale distribution from the Sydney Technical College in Sydney, Australia. Garry received his Masters of Science Degree in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego, CA, in June 2001.
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Gary ridge welcome to the podcast thanks for joining me today. Hey Thomas it's just an absolute pleasure to be with you. Gary is from Australia so let's start there Gary maybe give us a little bit of your background before you became the CEO of wd-40. I'm from Sydney Australia born in Sydney grew up in middle class. My father was a fitter and turner engineer. My mum was a stay-at-home mom.
I'm the youngest of four 12 years difference between me and my my next brother um went to just a normal public school in high school. Actually I left school at the age of 16 and became a management trainee with a retailing group in Australia so did that and went to night school at the same time. After that I was invited to join a wholesaling company that actually happened to sell wd-40 and from that I learn.
I met the distributor of wd-40 in Australia and from that I met the people in the us so years went on and eventually they asked me if I'd like to join them. I opened our Australian subsidiary in 1987 with a fax machine under my bed because we were just starting a company and that was a lot of fun. Starting something from scratch is always great and uh in 1998 uh we opened wd-40 company Australia and I primarily worked in the Asia pacific region a lot of work in Asia.
I then increased my studies in marketing and sales um and in 1994. I was having a conversation with our then CEO and I said hey do you want me to do some more work he said would you like to move to the US. I said to do what he said to help us expand globally you happen to have a passion for what we want to do which is to take the blue and yellow can to the world and could use some help and i said well sure disrupt yourself hey and so we packed up our toys and moved to san Diego and three years later he retired and i became CEO and 25 years later i'm sitting here wow that's fascinating.
You have a a distinct competitive advantage we'll get into how culture is a distinct competitive advantage but your accent is really unfair for most of us you know peon leaders who don't have that australian accent i've got a good friend who lives down the street also from sydney also a ceo and i always thought that was unfair of him to to use that um so maybe we could jump into that because i know you you believe strongly in culture you know you you've been named the number one culture coach um by marshall gold goldsmith is that right yeah and um uh so let's let's jump right into culture and talk about you know this is the culture eats everything podcasts why is culture important to you well aristotle who was born in 384 bc said pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work so dur isn't it our job as leaders to put pleasure in the job and what does pleasure in the job mean it means imagine a place where you go to work every day you make a contribution to something bigger than yourself you learn something new you're protected and set free by a compelling set of values and you go home happy happy people create happy families happy families create happy communities happy communities create a happy world and my goodness we need a happy world so why is culture so important because we as leaders in organization have an enormous opportunity to make a positive difference in the world if we create cultures where people are treated with respect and dignity learn a lot and uh every day uh engaged in a place where they feel safe so you know there are two things in business tom that are really important strategy and the will of the people what do i mean by the will of the people.
If we look at the employee engagement numbers globally and during the pandemic of kobe they went down to 16 which means 84 of people who went to work every day were disengaged or actively disengaged do you think they were enjoying their work no do you think therefore they were doing their best work no do you think they were going home happy no that's proven because we've now gone into what they call the great resignation which i call the great escape because people are escaping toxic cultures so our job is to create that culture where people do go home happy this is simple it's not easy time is not your friend it's very deliberate but it's so important so we as business have the opportunity to make a positive difference on the world.
One of the quotes that i read many years ago that really meant a lot to me was from the dalai lama and they the dalai lama said our purpose in life is to make people happy if we can't make them happy at least don't hurt them and when i looked around businesses we were hurting a lot of people and we're better than that we can do better than that i love that and uh um you know the great escape i like that language we're actually writing a book right now called the the great resignation with resignation crossed out and and then the word engagement so the the great engagement and ultimately it's the work of the leader to engage the people in the work you know to give them fulfillment and so they can go home as you said and make a difference in not just their work environment but their families and their their communities and it's the in our opinion sort of the ultimate antidote to the great escape as you said is is engagement i'm curious what do you what do you think about that idea.
Well sure you know and and here's why i call it the great escape tom is before covid people went to work and you know work was okay a lot some people were engaged some people were moderately disengaged at the end of the day they went home and life was kind of stable and normal so if you package that all together things were kinda okay then covet hit and now the work situation actually deteriorated because now they were separated from what we need which is that physical connection that mental emotional connection you know one of the biggest needs we have as human beings is to belong that human interaction so that was taken away and a lot of them were in these toxic cultures that you know leaders were you know creating and they went home and their life was also disrupted because we're in this stage of total uncertainty and something had to give and in some cases unfortunately home life was the one that gave up you know the number of people i know that have had broken relationships during covid a lot more than i've known before but then also a lot of people said i i'm going to escape this other toxic culture which is the one that i have to go to work to every day i want to go somewhere to quote you where i can be engaged respected you know treasured you know everybody who goes to work every day is someone's precious son daughter husband wife auntie uncle cousin so we need to respect that and engagement is really important but the key to engagement is belonging do i feel like i belong and and how do you do that you know gary for all the young leaders out there maybe this is their first ceo job um and they're looking to create that high level of engagement and belonging how do you what advice do you have for them well there's four pillars the first one is care so do you care for your people and this is where your empathy eats your ego instead of your ego eating your empathy so the number one is do you care for your people are you do you love them enough to not only reward them and applaud them when they're doing great work but are you brave enough to redirect them when there's times that they can be their better self are you committed to the fact that as a leader you're there to help them step into the best version of their personal self so the first one is do you care and a lot of people unfortunately their ego eats their empathy instead of their empathy eating their ego the number two one before you go to number two gary what let's let's dive into that a little bit because i think it's not a rhetorical question because i think most leaders would say well yeah of course i care but they don't actually stop and think are my actions aligned with that do i do i care in the way that that gary is talking about caring so say a little bit more about how does that how does that show up what does that actually mean to care about your people well you know firstly there should be attributes in you in you as a person where you can ask yourself am i being the caring leader i want to be today and what does that mean do i show gratitude am i do i show empathy am i communicating do i take time to ask people how are you am i rewarding them for and applauding them for doing great jobs you know it's a shame that most people only know they're doing good job because no one yelled at them today so you know am i throwing sunshine not a shadow am i dedicated to their learning am i bringing their true coach and think about what is a true coach a true coach never runs on the playing field where micromanaging ego leaders want to run onto the field pick up the ball play the ball play the game for that person why so they can go to the podium and pick up the prize so you know that's not caring for your people so caring is not free pizzas and popcorn in the office caring comes from the heart am i truly wanting to do what i need to do to be a servant leader and when you think about the attributes of a servant leader they love and involve their people they're always in servant leadership mode they're expected to be competent they're connected they show emotional intelligence they love learning they have a heart of gold and a backbone of steel they're champions of hope they know micromanagement isn't scalable they do what they say they're going to do and they love feedback love it love it so go on to number two canada no lying no faking no hiding i believe most people don't lie i believe they fake and hide why do they fake and hide because of fear so who creates fear that the person who creates fear is this you know and i've called it the soul sucking ceo the soul-sucking leader who sucks out of the business because they're they're creating fear and what are some of the attributes of a soul-sucking leader they're the master of control they're it all their corporate royalty i have climbed up this corporate ladder therefore thou shalt worship me they think learning is for losers their ego does eat their empathy it's always about me me me me they have all the answers they don't you know don't don't think i don't have all the answers they love a fear-based culture they think micro management is essential they don't follow through with their commitments and they hate feedback so you know that's what creates fear which has people fake and high so care for your people be candid and don't live the attributes of the soul-sucking leader or the soul-sucking ceo all right so we got cairo on board we got kander on board and the the opposite of candor which is that that soul-sucking fear-mongering ceo what else what are the other two accountability are we clear about what we're holding we're going to hold each other accountable for now i wrote a book with ken blanchard the one minute manager called helping people win at work and the tie line is we're not here to mark your paper we're here to help you get an a and accountability is about helping people get a's most people let people down because they're not clear about what we're going to hold each other accountable for so it's important for us to be very clear about what we're going to hold each other accountable for and to have a clear agreement that we feel safe calling each other on our accountability
love it i love it it's um it's one of those words that in our work we find is got a lot of baggage to it you know you bring up accountability and immediately people don't think of you know disneyland and lollipops um they they think probably something more in terms of okay someone's about to be fired you know someone's about to be blamed um and so i love that idea of accountability i think what i hear you saying is really about how do we help people get an a exactly and if you don't know what an a looks like which is accountability how do you get there so accountability to us is tom this is the situation if an a walked in the door today what would it look like all right are we going to hold ourselves accountable to that a and it's a two-way street because i as a leader i am as much accountable for helping you get that a as you are and getting the a if this is a two-way this is not a one-way this is a two-way communication
all right what's number four responsibility so we wrote a a pledge in our company called the maniac pledge and this is a pledge we take about responsibility and let me read it to you i am responsible for taking action asking questions getting answers and making decisions i won't wait for someone to tell me if i need to know i am responsible for asking i have no right to be offended that i didn't get this sooner and if i am doing something others should know about i am responsible for telling them so that's our pledge of responsibility which takes away all of the things that it i never knew i could you know people hide behind the the the thing that they weren't told well ask the question you know go for transparency so that is our pledge of responsibility i am responsible for and why maniac
uh funny story uh when we first wrote that i had a poster hanging in my office and it was of um greg norman and uh he used to be have a a symbol which was a shark on his hat and it was the maniacal shark and i thought well why not call it the maniac pledge i love it from golf to hats to to wd-40 pledge of of uh responsibility that's great so pledges like that are great you know they're great symbolisms but you know the words on the paper aren't worth much in our opinion um because sometimes the best you can get is is you'll get compliance which is very different than commitment and my guess is knowing knowing you knowing the quality of the team you've built you've created a culture of commitment not compliance where people just sign it because i have to if i want to keep my job i got to sign this maniac pledge um how do you do that how do you create a true buy-in to the ideas like that by living our just cause and our just cause is a group of people that come together to protect and feed each other that's our just cause our why that we exist is we're in the memories business we exist to create positive lasting memories solving problems in factories homes and workshops around the world and we know that if we live our just cause to protect and feed each other by acting on our why then we are going to build an enduring company that will protect our people over time and you know we've been doing employee opinion surveys tom since the year 2000 our employee engagement score is 93 globally 98 of our people globally say they love to tell people they work at wd-40 company 97 of our people say they respect their coach now who is their coach their coach is their manager because we don't call people managers here everybody is a coach their responsibility is to coach the people they lead into their best game 97 of our people say they are aligned with our values and we've been tracking this as i said since the year 2000 and so it's not about compliance it's about creating a place where people come to work are treated with respect and dignity achieve great stuff and are rewarded and applauded and go home happy and and they're so the the fundamentals of that is you're living what you're preaching you're you actually create a culture where people are are being what you espouse to it's not just words on a paper or words on a wall no and you know we in the book that i wrote with ken blanchard we talk about our it was all really based on on how awful employee feedback was within organizations when ken was my professor at the university of san diego he told a story about when he was teaching at one of the top universities in the u.s he used to give out the final paper at the beginning of the class and the academia and administration would say what the hell are you doing blanchard giving out the final paper he said not only am i going to give out the final paper what i'm going to do is teach people the answers so he said life is not about some normal distribution system it's about helping people get a's and i thought wow that's exactly what we don't do in organizations we don't help people get a's we have these antiquated review systems where we sit down once a year and we talk about the history instead of what reviews should be which is feed forward not feedback and so in our in our review system it's really about us having these ongoing conversations and half of it is about our values so when we sit down with people the first part of our review system is the essential functions this is the essential functions related to your job this is what an a looks like i'm going to help you get there the second part is some short-term goals the third part is our values and we list our values in in our in our review system and we ask peop our tribe members because we call ourselves a tribe not a team to tell us how they've lived our values in the last 90 days we only have two measurements you either live them or you visit them and we don't want a lot of visitors so our even though in one room in this building and in other rooms in our buildings around the world our values are up on the wall where they really are is embedded in that conversation that we have at least every 90 days and i want lots of coffee stains on that piece of paper i want lots of scribble on that piece of paper but more importantly i want lots of dialogue between our tribe member and the coach about how did we live these things that are the foundation of our business on an ongoing basis and those are our values so your your um your system of of sort of coaching and building people up i think what i heard is 90 days and it's it's a it's an ongoing dialogue not a one-way feedback train um of here's what you did wrong last year yeah exactly and and what happens is after we've agreed what the a is in this review cert process it's the tribe member who tells us where are you are you tracking to an a and you know i've had conversations where people i've coached said you know i'm tracking to a b and i would ask them this question so what's getting in your way um what's what's stopping you what what do we need what's the stallers that are getting in your way what kickers do we have to put in place to help you get to where you were because we need to get those out of your way now it could be a competency issue which we may have to bring in some help with it could be a collaboration issue it could be an external environmentally but let's get them out on the table and talk about them yeah let's proactively identify the the barriers between us and the future that we're all committed to yeah the kickers and what are the killers
yeah it's it's so um counter and counterintuitive i think the way a lot of organizations do it you know i one of my personal missions in life which i'll probably never get to is to to put a a death stake in the heart of every performance evaluation system that's out there because they as you said they're they're very much rear view mirror looking um and they're very a lot of them are kind of gotcha moments as opposed to you know ongoing productive conversations if you can truly create a coaching culture then you don't need performance reviews because everyone knows exactly where they stand at all times and you have to have a clear set of values to help trigger the conversation around what you need to to coach and let me tell you an example show you an example on that so our second value in the company and our values are hierarchical there's six of them the number one value has more weight than the number six value the number two value is we value positive lasting memories in all of our relationships whether that be with our tribe mates our colleagues our customers our shareholders and even our competitors we want to we want to create a positive lasting memory so not at some time ago i was in a meeting in in our office here in san diego and someone who i know and love was in that meeting and they weren't creating positive lasting memories they were having a really bad morning and you could feel that toxin kind of coming out it was affecting the room you've been in those meetings tom i'm sure oh yeah what do you do in that situation well if you're you know a soul-sucking leader you might stop the meeting and you reprimand that person and you know tell them to get their attitude in order that's not going to do any good but if you really want to coach that person there's a different way to approach it so the meeting ends and i say to this person tom let's go for a walk so we walked outside of our building and i start looking behind a truck and in a car and in a trash can and behind a tree and he says tom says to me what the hell are you doing gary so i'm looking for you tom what do you mean tom the you i know and love was not in that room today what's on your mind what's getting in your way how can i help you which triggered a conversation based on one of our values that allowed me to hear hear what was getting in his way that day and the bottom line was tom was just having a bad day so we know we kind of got all of that out of the way and we talked about you know how does he think his influence in that meeting either positively or negatively impacted the tone of the meeting and he agreed it wasn't too good so at the end of it there's a learning moment we don't make mistakes at wd-40 company we have learning moments so we said that's a learning moment you know high five hug tom goes back into the building goes to a couple of people says hey sorry they said tom that wasn't you are you okay mate yeah yeah i'm okay thank you i just had a bad morning what happened the next morning i see people going to tom saying hey tom just want to check in with you you okay today there's using our foundation of values as a trigger to have a coaching conversation that's not full of fear that is beneficial to the person it actually reinforces who we are and we move on to the next thing so what do you say to those leaders out there who say that's a bunch of soft hui you know that whole empathy thing that uh you know i couldn't agree more with you gary personally but what do you say to those folks out there who are saying no that's not for that's not for the business environment we're here to get results and you know we don't have time for that stuff there was nothing soft in that conversation it's much easier to praise someone than to redirect someone secondly here's the if you want to talk about the bottom line 93 employee engagement equals a market cap over a period of time that's gone from 250 million to nearly three billion dollars we've six x our our sales globally expanded and grown year over year and at the end of the day what do we do we sell oil in a can no we create positive lasting memories and it's all about a culture that's a competitive advantage because we have high will of our people because it's a place where you go to work every day you make a contribution to something bigger than yourself you learn something new you're protected and set free by a compelling set of values and you go home happy and you come back tomorrow and the happiness you know that's an interesting one because um i've always i've always wrestled with that myself you know that is it really the the job of an organization to make their people happy or should we be more focused on maybe it's not either or but more focused on helping people live a fulfilling life a life where they can come and they can contribute because happiness is a little more uh subjective a little more sort of up and down depending on the day you know i'm just curious what's your thoughts on unhappiness tom isn't happiness the outcome of a fulfilled life no i'm not always always but i can see that i could i mean i get your point yeah yeah i mean if your life is not fulfilled the chances of you being happy are pretty low so fulfillment is important which is self-development learning teaching appreciation belonging all of these things that are so important to us yeah yeah and it does it does um communicate i think most people understand sort of the essence of of happiness um and the the opposite that which is the soul sucking you know ceo in that that culture well what what has you excited about the future gary we've got a few minutes left here and i'm just curious what what what has you excited about the future of yourself for the organization or just maybe the world in general um what has me excited about the future uh the possibility that i'm going to wake up tomorrow it has me very excited but more importantly you know we as leaders have a job to do more than ever before and if we can do our job to build cultures that you know really enhance people's lives and enrich them we're going to make the world a better place so you know life's a gift we have no right to send it back unwrapped we've got to get this thing unwrapped as quick as we can and uh and we can make a difference to do that it's simple it's not easy time is not your friend you know it's this is not the soft stuff anybody can be a soul-sucking arrogant dominating leader but it's really hard to be a servant leader who cares about their people and respects the fact that we're here to build an organization that has a thriving economy so people can benefit from that yeah it's the it's uh it's it's a responsibility i think it's a good way to put it that we leaders have a responsibility to lead through these challenging times and i agree it's not um it doesn't need to be terribly difficult in fact i think many ways a lot of the business books that are out there make this so heavy you know they make the subject of leadership so confounding lots of buzzwords um and at the end of the day it's really just about being human and about being real you know and allowing your your humanness your empathy to to show because that's what that's what people want they want leaders who are human just like them the best book you can ever read everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten by robert fulgrim i read it every summer say please and thank you pick up after yourself if you go out at night take a friend don't steal clean up your room you know take all of that and to and execute it in a business you're done well my next question is usually my last question maybe you just answered gary which is what book recommendation do you have for the audience well there it is that's my one of my most favorite but there's a few uh that i really love uh you know i'm a big fan and a good friend of simon sinek i love his book um the infinite game start with why i've just finished atlas of the heart by brene brown which i really like i love leading with gratitude written by my friend chester elton uh and then marshall goldsmith's got a new book coming out called the earned life which i've been fortunate enough to see a preview of and that's going to be an absolute you know wonderful read so excellent excellent typical overachiever gary i asked for one book you gave me like three or four i love it i love it well thank you i appreciate your joining us today and for all the wonderful insights i'm i was furiously taking notes over here so i appreciate the gift to my leadership journey as well more than welcome [Music] you