Marginal: Gut Check

In the opening of The Driving Force: Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People (Leadership, Peter W.

In the opening of The Driving Force: Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People (Leadership, Peter W. Schutz remembers an early day on the job back in 1981, a weekly luncheon attended by the company’s 40 top managers. The conversations were mundane, about the weather and such. But he asked the assembled—and they had to listen because he was the top man—what was going on in the company that truly excited them. “There was an uncomfortable silence,” he recalls. “I realized I had put my finger on a fundamental problem. Not a problem that would show up directly on a financial statement, but an opportunity that could hold the key to producing positive results in the future.” The company in question was having financial difficulties at the time that he’d just taken over. But he discovered that there was no passion, no excitement, and that if they were going to get on the right track, they’d need it.

The company Schutz became CEO of in January, 1981 was Dr. Ing h.c. F. Porsche AG. Yes, Porsche. The “driving force” that helped crystallize the company’s attention was racing. While attending a meeting during which the company’s forthcoming efforts at LeMans were discussed, he got a lukewarm response from the engineering team about Porsche’s prospects. “I thought about their responses for about ten seconds and heard myself reply: ‘Let me explain something. As long as I am in charge of this company, we will never go to any race without the objective of winning!’” And that statement, italicized for emphasis in the book, is at the core of what Schutz describes as the “driving force.” It helped galvanize people throughout the organization, not just the racing team. Other decisions that he made—like saving the 911 from extinction, producing a cabrio, engaging the trade union personnel, and staying true to the essence of the brand—also contributed to the company’s turnaround. Schutz’s explanations of what he did and why he did them at Porsche are invaluable. If there is one book that should be read immediately by executives and managers at OEM and supplier companies in and around Detroit, this is it. Schutz emphasizes the importance of having people at all levels involved in deciding what needs to get done because without their buy-in, there is little chance of achieving excellence. His approach—counter to common practice—is for managers to decide like a democracy and implement like a dictator. Many executives in Detroit are seemingly doing their damnedest to alienate their workers; without involvement of all, there is little chance of their extricating themselves from the seemingly swift spiral deeper into red ink.

It takes more than a little intestinal fortitude to do the things that Schutz did at Porsche. Not having passion, not committing to things that would be truly distinctive and remarkable, is by far an easier approach than to pursue what matters. Schutz broadens what he said about racing to what should be a mantra of any company: “We will never participate in any commercial activity without the objective of being the best at what we do.” You may not always win, but if you pursue that approach, you will never be a loser. People in this industry are always concerned with checking the metrics. They ought to start checking, as one of my learned friends puts it, their gutrics. Excellence is predicated on passion. And a passion for what one is doing, no matter what one does, is truly the driving force.