Jerre Stead: NCR's CEO under AT&T

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.

Management Style

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!

Career

Jerre had a colorful and varied career. He graduated in business at the University of Iowa in 1965.

Square D

His first top management position was head of Square D.

AT&T

He then was head of a business unit at AT&T prior to the merger with NCR.

NCR

Jerre then moved to NCR in 1993, after its 1991 merger with AT&T. He succeeded Gil Williamson.

Legent

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.

Ingram Micro

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:

Quotes

"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

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Comments

Jerre Stead

I must agree with this author , I started to smell something fishy when we went to a rally at the Waterloo Canada plant. During this event he constantly repeated the people are the single most imortant resource that the company has.

I started to see that he was all sizzle and no steak. His "FIX" for the company was to sell off profit making operations to goose the bottom line that year then to bail out before the organic fertilzer hits the high speed ventilator.

He orchestrated all the hacking and slashing then bails out leaving others to pick up the mess. NCR in 1991 was valued at about 7 billion, in 2005 at about 6.9 billion and this level took some time to achieve by a lot of people.

I wish the people of NCR well but to the mismanagers to mucked it up.....a plague on their houses

I still believe that anyone who comes into a company initiating a hack and slash program, must stay for five years and make it work. Then there may be some long term thinking applied

My Memories of Jerre Stead as Pat Russo takes over Alcatel

I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Jerre Stead.

I worked for him at a division of AT&T 1991-1993 before he went to NCR. I was a member of the small business division when Jerre took it over and merged it with his Business Communications Division (BCS) to create "Global BCS".

Yes, he had a formula. He did all those things with us first. The speaches. The terminology. The coach and associate. Changed appraisals and pay cycles. No doors for executives. Open e-mails. Lots of meetings. Dress down. His speaches. The VALUES plaster everywhere. All had input to everything. No value free words or actions. And the customer/customer/customer (one thing he DID get right). It was all new to us and very un-AT&T except the customer bit. Oh yes, and we did have juice with Jerre. When I met him there he look to the next person as he shook hands with me - just like a politician.

I was part of a big project to transform GBS by selling off the base in low market share areas and turning them into Joint Ventures. It was great. Jerre killed it and transferred our visionary leader and Vice President.

Pat Russo took over after Jerre. A BIG change. A manager not a visionary. A very hands on sales leader. Not the pentecostal preacher type at all. It was more like back to the old AT&T.

I think I am a better manager and leader (and now consultant and coach) for having lived through and worked for Jerre Stead.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Lucent and Pat Russo post Alcatel merger. She will have her managerial hands more than full and will need to tap some real visionaries.

Respectfully,

George F Franks, III
Franks Consulting Group
http://franksconsultinggroup.com
http://careerandleadership.com

I was at NCR when Gerry Stead

I was at NCR when Gerry Stead took over. He was there for about a year (as I recall) and it was a complete disaster. I remember he came with a reputation of always making his numbers. Well, towards the end of his first year it was clear that he was not going to make his numbers at NCR. It was at that time that word came down from the executive ranks that we were to start looking for company assets that could be sold for a profit. Shameful! Stead left before the year ended, thus avoiding missing his numbers. He left the company in total chaos. I agree with the earlier post -- he should have been forced to stay at least five years to see everything through. Instead, he jumped ship as it was sinking and went on to earn a fortune at his next company. He represents some of the worst of American style capitalism and business leadership.

NCR_Steade-CFTeams

I was actually the lead consultant for the Customer-Focused Team initiative that was sourced out of NCR Marketing (which became AT&T GIS and then NCR again) in 1993 on Gil Williamson's watch. As a small training and consulting organization in Detroit, I was doing modest yet good leadership development work at NCR and received an RFP for CFTeam work. Unsure if we qualified and wanting to avoid a roadkill with solid yet formative relationship with NCR, I brainstormed with my team in our Detroit office about a solution strategy for the proposal and then, asked NCR Marketing to roadtrip to Detroit to see our thinking and determine if we qualified to submit a proposal. To cut to the chase, we did and won against 2 internal AT&T consulting groups as well as external groups. Later the Detroit Crains Business wrote an article entitled, "David befriends Goliath." The initial scope was to only focus, as a pilot and test of the design, for 24 CFTeams...some in U.S. as well as Europe, A/P, Middle East to evaluate everything as we rolled out the initiative. We co-trained NCR facilitators with our hand-selected, sub-contracted facilitators in a 2 week train-the-trainer in Detroit. Elton White was our first Executive sponsor for our first CFTeam in NewYork during the March 1993 blizzard that practically shutdown the city. In spite of weather, we rated the pilot a “B”...a success with very specific areas to improve.

The design was 5 days where non-co-located, cross-functional team spent two days building as a team and preparing for a customer visit (e.g., customer CIO and team from large bank, etc.) to have either a listening or shared expectations session on Day 3. At end of the day the CFTeam and customer team with clarified and prioritized with measures/scorecard their expressed issues for CFTeam to address in next 90 days.

I or colleagues would facilitate and as prepared NCR team members (from day 2), they bit their tongues a lot...very hard to do. Day 4 and 5 was facilitating the CFTeam with the use of planning process leveraging various tools to develop plan with metrics to address issues in 90 days for Day 5 post-lunch presentation to the NCR Executive Sponsor.

With the buy-in of NCR Leadership and help of Boston Consulting Group (also hired by NCR, along with James Belasco, John Whitmore, etc.), 30% of each executive’s variable compensation was put “at risk” and tied to the success of their assigned CFTeam. CFTeams also had a bonus structure so it wasn't exclusively (and historically the NAM and Systems Engineer getting the big bucks only). We (us and NCR) were experiencing some very good results over 6 months of piloting with two-thirds of the targeted teams completed by Fall of 1993.

Then, Jerre Steade came. One day I got a call from my Marketing counterpart in Dayton and he told me, we were going to roll out CFTeams globally to up to 400 teams. His team and mine actually from Day 1 decided to be a project CFTeam and "live" everything we'd put field teams through so we were tight and of course, joked a lot. My response to him over the phone was BIG Laughter...and repeated laughter the next two times he told me until he yelled at me in anger. I apologized and realized this was not a joke. He was serious and then, so was I.

He said new President Jerre Stead wanted this big rollout. What may seem uncharacteristic of a consultant who'd you think would shout with glee, I pushed back hard. I knew we were piloting and the CFTeam organization design was for 1 CFTeam and 1 large focused customer for 24 CFTeams not 400 teams...at least not for a while. I said there was a lot of risk and a likely body count and mess. My colleague agreed and said as much pushing back himself internally and was told we could clean up the mess later.

We had marching orders. Jerre wanted to go big and the new terminology/titles came (e.g., coaches, head coaches, etc) and some rah-rah which was intentionally avoided by our CFTeam strategy to avoid "flavor of the year" and focus our decisions and plans on sustainability of the CFTeam initiative internally and wean NCR off of us as consultants. That's what excited us. It was now at risk.

To wrap it up...we worked wonderfully with our NCR project teammates over the two years to do everything we could to contribute value to the organization and the CFTeams themselves. We also knew that the often ignored middle manager needed intentional and genuine input as to their issues and their role as enablers in the process upfront when strategy was being developed and not as an after thought. That was a special "win" yet it was certainly not without issues as everything was executed. These managers were giving up some of their best people in their respected functional areas (e.g., sales, engineering, HR, manufacturing, customer service, etc.).

The 1994 CFTeam implementation helped measurably contribute to a 69% increase in sales per employee, 20% increase in orders, 11% increase in revenue, 21% increase in customer satisfaction and a 22% increase in associate (employee) satisfaction. It was bumpy at times yet one of the most gratifying engagements with such great people at NCR who collaborated, challenged and supported the effort for betterment of all customers, employees and of course, NCR.