Bill Sandbrook, Army veteran, Wharton grad, and CEO of U.S. Concrete leads one of the year's top-performing public companies. U.S Concrete's stock price has meteorically risen 2,400 percent since Sandbrook took over in 2011.

I expected textbook leadership answers behind the turnaround given this CEO's background.

But his approach surprised and impressed me.

I may have even saluted (something my wife's been trying to get me to do for years).

Certainly, smart acquisitions and selling off low margin businesses contributed mightily.

But it's the unconventional wisdom Sandbrook's applied that's the real magic.

Here's what he told me:

1. The hundred-day plan is hogwash

Sandbrook didn't come in with a turnaround plan, and doesn't see how anyone can ("you come in believing your own b.s.," he told me).

In his first 100 days, he listened more than he talked and only then began to build a plan. "And the whole plan doesn't have to be one piece of paper--it can be incremental over time," Sandbrook said.

So before you walk in with a piece of paper, walk around and listen.

2. Culture isn't something you address after fixing things-- it's what fixes things

The CEO moved headquarters to change culture. He personally reaches out to as many people in the company as he can to affect culture. He's made culture a top priority.

You should too.

3. Make failure personal

You normally hear the opposite.

But this isn't your ordinary CEO. Sandbrook strives to connect with his team so deeply that when they know they've let him down, they take it personal and want to do better.

You can induce the same loyalty by striving to deeply connect with your team.

4. Turnarounds don't happen at HQ

"HQ doesn't make any money", Sandbrook said, "The ones selling/manufacturing in the field do."

And yet HQ viewed the field as an impediment and had made themselves a controlling gate. Need breaks for a truck or a gear reducer for a conveyor belt? Clear it with HQ first.

That changed. The role of HQ was redefined: they were now enablers that serve the field, not the other way around.

So in your business, ask who serves who? Reverse the flow if needed.

5. Be effusive with small wins

Waiting to lavish praise at big junctures doesn't make sense to Sandbrook.

"Give employees a taste of what real appreciation feels like and they'll want more," he said. "It will make it more likely they'll achieve that big juncture."

6. Don't be too pleased with calm waters--it may mean you're irrelevant

If you aren't experiencing any adversity or pushback, you may not be worthy of the tension.

After the Army veteran's first earnings call as CEO, his team was congratulating themselves on not getting any questions. Sandbrook passionately pointed out it simply meant that U.S. Concrete wasn't relevant.

His team got the message.

Don't just bask in quiet periods. Ask yourself if it's because you're not doing anything worth rattling.

7. Presentations to brass don't matter--being fully present for your team/customer does

The unconventional CEO has little tolerance for presentation driven cultures. He says having a good presentation and looking good for the boss becomes the sole reason for being.

I've experienced this in my corporate life. People were more afraid of a bad meeting than a bad result.

No one presents anything to Sandbrook. Instead, he encourages focusing on team effectiveness and satisfying customers.

8. Empowerment doesn't always go hand in hand with accountability

Just because you empower the troops, don't assume they're eager to be held accountable.

A cultural norm of pointing fingers at HQ greeted the CEO upon arrival--and zero sense of ownership along with it. He had to prod front line managers to own their decisions now that they were being given the freedom to make them.

At times, you might need to reintroduce accountability to go with the autonomy. Do it.

9. It's not the money, it's the meaning

Again, I didn't expect this from a man who went to West Point and Naval War College.

Being able to give the nice compensation increases that high performance affords is powerful, Sandbrook told me. But what he really strives for is a place that people want to come to every day--a place that fosters meaning for the employee.

I can only add: "Amen."

Published on: Nov 10, 2016
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