Company Culture is An Important Piece of the Employment Puzzle: TalentTalk with Marty Furman, Executive Vice President & CEO designate, Wagner Die Supply and Julie Weber, VP of People, Southwest Airlines

Date: December 17, 2013

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Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2. Talent Talk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  Talent Talk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and company culture, both creating and transforming it. 

Today’s guests include Marty Furman, Executive Vice President & CEO designate, Wagner Die Supply; and Julie Weber, VP of People, Southwest Airlines.

Despite starkly different backgrounds, Furman and Weber both underscore the importance of one simple yet powerful theme: treating your talent well to unlock their potential as individual contributors to an organization’s bottom line.

MARTY FURMAN marty furman

A chemical engineer with an MBA, Furman spent the first half of his career in manufacturing for major companies such as P&G, but always wanted to run a business. He found that he had been typecast as a technical professional, “so I had to reinvent myself,” he recalls. He became VP of marketing at Trojan Battery Company, and later COO of both Pentel of America and Toyo Tires.  Most recently, he joined Wagner Die Supply as EVP of Operations and CEO designate.

Seeking Out Feedback

Furman aims to meet with as many employees as possible. Since that is a tall order in larger organizations, he offers: “Seek out the thought leaders who influencer the rest of the organization.”  He also solicits feedback from customers, asking them: “Who’s your best supplier?” – in hopes it’s Wagner, but if not: “What do they do that’s different?”

Talent Traits That Can’t Be Coached

When it comes to selecting talent, Furman has discovered “that there are some things as a leader…you can coach, and some things you just can’t…you cannot coach personality, you cannot coach people to be curious, you cannot coach people to have a desire to succeed…to be able to work in a world of diversity.”

Furman adds: “It always helps to have a blend of experienced people within a company who…know where the bodies are buried…and new people who can bring best practices from other experiences.”

Listen & Learn

First and foremost, Furman emphasizes the need for continually evolving as a leader.  “It’s amazing how many people I’ve met that have been in business or out of school for 20 years, and you ask them what they have done to increase their skills in the past three years, and they can’t answer.”  To develop as a leader, Furman has learned to “ask lots of questions and then shut up and listen and learn.” 

He also emphasizes the strong need to treat talent with respect. “You can get great results in a company by treating people the right way.”

What are you Reading?

Furman just finished reading On China by Henry Kissinger, underscoring the “importance of really understanding the other person’s point of view” in diplomacy.

How Can I Connect with You? LinkedIn is the best way to reach Furman.

JULIE WEBER julie weber

Weber has been in human resources for more than 15 years, having spent the past seven years with Southwest Airlines.  Prior to Southwest, she worked at a software company where she learned the impacts of both positive and negative leadership. The negative experiences taught Weber how critical it to “make sure that the leaders that you hire…will model the values you have as a company.” Fortunately, Weber also saw the other extreme with a manager who believed in her potential early in her career and gave her a promotion, allowing Weber to showcase what she’s capable of.

Sky-High Talent

When it comes to keeping top talent at Southwest, they don’t take their low turnover rate for granted. In fact, Southwest has a “best place to work committee” that focuses on ensuring that they remain competitive as an employer of choice.

Commenting on how Southwest built a brand known for its friendly people, Weber implores: “Get to know the folks that work for you…build a relationship of trust.  Have that open door…where employees can come in and talk to you” about everything from mistakes to advice.  This is a great foundation of trust that allows managers to share critique when needed.  Having these crucial, direct conversations, however, is a skill she needs to continue to work on, and encourages others to work on as well.

The People Department

Weber works to ensure that every employee in the “People Department” knows how vitally important they are to Southwest, as the team that selects frontline talent that has come to be Southwest’s differentiator. The airline only hires talent “who want to put others first.”

Once hired, Southwest encourages all employees to bring a level of personality to their jobs.  Southwest is famous for saying they have guidelines instead of rules, and “as long as the employee is leaning toward the customer,” the company gives them the “bandwidth to do the right thing.” 

What are You Reading?

The Weekly Coaching Conversationby Brian Souza is a fable that teaches that to be a good leader, you need to be a coach – a philosophy aligned with the servant leadership model employed at Southwest Airlines.  She cites a quick quote: “‘In order to get your team to be coachable, you have to be coachable.’”

How Can I Connect with You? LinkedIn is the best way to connect with Weber.

The company culture can make a difference in the way employees perform their jobs, and also what types of employees a company attracts.  A company culture helps to define the organization or company, and gives the employees an identity of being a part of something worthwhile.

Tune into the show next week, and remember, do what you love….and show the world how talented you can be, today.