Those who have been with NCR during the AT&T merger days, remember Jerre Stead, the CEO of AT&T Global Information Solutions, as NCR was renamed at the time.
I would like to write a bit about Jerre, since he left a bit of a scar on the collective psyche of NCR during his tenure there.
Jerre had a distinctive management style, usually full of flair and flamboyance. It has so many characteristics,including that of a TV Evangelist with great presence, big words but little substance. It was sort of like the empty slogans of the Commuist Eastern Bloc, they sound great, but never applied, and the outcome is disaster. Some bestowed the nickname: "Jerre Swaggart" on him.
I recall the then General Manager commenting after the video cast of Jerre's All Employee address : "This is a revolution".
Here is an article that quotes Jerre, among others, extensively on management issues in his own words.
Jerreinvented the "Juice with Jerre" sessions since the 1970s. At NCR, hewould have sessions with 25 or so people informally over juice. Thisearned him the title "Jerre the Juice".
He also advocated anOpen Door policy. He even removed the doors from executive offices inNCR's World Head Quarters in Dayton, Ohio. The forced removal of EltonWhite's door was one of the causes he retired in 1994.
Casual dress policy was also prescribed, all part of the feel good campaign. To be honest, the trend was starting to catch on corporate America anyway.
Then came Customer Focused Teams (CFT) and the Customer Focused Business Model. This had some advantages, but sidelined the functional managers greatly. It was not nice to have a salesperson, who often had no management experience at all, manage professional services and customer service people.
Then it was time for "Our Common Bond", recited and plastered all over the company like a mantra, or like slogans from Orwell's 1984.
Managers had to change their titles and be either "Coach" or "Head Coach". This of course comes from baseball terminology. This did not sit well with many US based employees, let alone others around the world. For a General Manager to go and meet a customer with a business card saying "Head Coach" was unsettling for many.
Then it was "Associate" instead of "Employee", all part of the feel good campaign.
Jerre often made fun of management to gain the sympathy of employees. At one instance, when there was a conference call problem, he said: "The problem is in Dayton", taking a shot at NCR's World Head Quarter.
Finally, he encouraged open communication and asked people to send him email, which was a nascent technology at the time. He assured everyone that there will be no retaliation of any sort, and this is all for the best of the company. One young naive person got in trouble with his managers for speaking his mind off in an email to Jerre, only for the email to be routed back to the managers, like the old days!
Jerre had a colorful and varied career. He graduated in business at the University of Iowa in 1965.
His first top management position was head of Square D.
He then was head of a business unit at AT&T prior to the merger with NCR.
Jerre then moved to NCR in 1993, after its 1991 merger with AT&T. He succeeded Gil Williamson.
In early 1995, Jerre resigned from AT&T Global Information Solutions, the renamed NCR. He went to software company Legent, which just a little earlier got to provide the TCP/IP stack on NCR System 3000 servers replacing Wollongong's stack. By late 1995, he would make 16.5$ million exercising stock options when the company was sold to Computer Associates.
I recall that this was the subject of an investigation (or rumor of one) by the SEC, but I don't think any wrong doing was found.
He then moved to IngramMicro, the largest computer distributor in 1996. By 1999, I read in a trade magazine that he said "I goofed" in a meetingwith Ingram Micro Canada employees in Mississauga. His departure was covered in the press, like this The Register article, and this Sept 1999 Wall Street Journal article.
Author of Books
Jerre has co-authored several books, mostly with James Belasco. Most are in the motivational / management category. His writings contain some sound advise, as well as empty buzzwords at times.
NCR people will remember how Flight of the Buffalo was made mandatory reading for everyone in the company. The basic idea here was to compare a flock of geese to a herd of buffalo. According to this animal behavior study, when geese fly, any one of them can lead the way, as needed. Buffalo on the other hand, just follow the leader, even if he is leading them over a cliff to their collective demise.
The idea of this book is to energize NCR (the herd of buffalo) to be as agile as a flock of geese, hence the buffalo would fly!
Overall, the ideas in the book are not bad. What left a bad taste was the disconnect between the idealism stated as opposed to the reality on the ground (another instance of Communist Eastern Bloc analogies).
Other writings of Jerre, all in the motivational arena:
- Soaring With the Phoenix
- The Engine in Reengineering. An article in Directors and Boards.
- Seize Tomorrow, Start Today : Renew Your Vision, Revitalize Your Organization, and Stay Ahead of the Future. This is one other book that he co-authored with James Belasco. Here is another overview.
- An Interview with Jerre Stead and James Belasco in Business Week in 1999.
- Leadership Unbound. Again Co-author.
"We know exactly where we want to go because our customers will show us the way"
"I measure customer delight by talking directly to customers."
"Remember: there is no ego, there is we-go"
Links and Resources
- An interview with Stead when he was CEO of Legent. Labels him as an EXCEL Award recipient.
- Jerre has actually got some recognition in his Alma Mater, U of Iowa, where a media center is renamed after him . In April 2003, he and his wife annouced that he would donate $25 million over seven years towards establishing this center. Here is a glowing biography of him from that center.
- An article from the Daily Iowan on how Stead made it from trailer park to $25 million donator.