David Gochman, 35
Present life: CEO of Academy Sports & Outdoors, a $710-million chain of 51 sporting-goods stores in the Southeast, based in Katy, Tex.
Former life: In 1988, while a grad student in Chinese Studies at Harvard, Gochman spent the summer in Taiwan, teaching English to executives at an international tire-rim manufacturer. Three summers later, he returned to Taiwan and worked as an associate at a large law firm.
Lessons learned: That "you can't assume anything" when it comes to communicating with staff. "I used to write out legal documents for a secretary to type up," Gochman says. "The secretary couldn't speak English well, but since she could read my handwriting and punch the correct letter keys, it didn't matter that much. Or so I thought. Then she'd spell-check the document and automatically plug in the first suggested correct spelling -- even if that suggestion was the wrong word."
Last year Academy began expanding to markets beyond Texas. "When we open up a new store, generally the store director is the only employee with experience working for us," Gochman says. "That has caused some problems because the new stores haven't been as lenient with customer returns. The new employees haven't understood that having a liberal returns policy is a calculated financial decision on our part.
"So we began a campaign to spell out the returns policy to new employees. Our director of training created a notebook that included almost every possible customer-return scenario. It even had guesstimates about how much money we'd lose in a year if an upset customer never came to the store again. We also developed a simple slogan: 'No problem.' We gave out 'No problem' stickers to all the associates. I make a conscious effort to put the slogan in companywide E-mails every few months. And now, whenever I visit stores, I make sure to always bring it up."
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