This book is a story about building World-Class Teams and is based on the author’s life, work, and leadership experiences over a forty-plus year career in business. Most of those years were spent with IBM and Apple, and spanned over six decades of time, from late 1969, until retiring in 2010. The book captures the real life story and experiences of the author from a young boy growing-up in rural Minnesota to a business leader with IBM and Apple. He takes the reader through the personal and business challenges he faced as a manager with IBM and Apple, and the ten core beliefs and principles of leadership he learned and practiced in building world-class teams.
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Read an Excerpt
Beginning My New IBM Career, 1969
Thus, the next chapter in my life began. Little did I realize what this career shift would eventually bring into my life. With the beginning of my business career and marriage — two major life events within months of each other — it was full steam ahead. At least that was what I thought. Little did I understand the learning curve ahead of me in both business and in marriage.
I had a clerical job at IBM in St. Paul, Minnesota, collecting money from our customers. I had a ton to learn about the business and our customers and products, the process and procedures. It was a bit overwhelming at times. I had trained to teach children, not deal with this task called accounts receivable. At the same time, I was trying to be a husband, learning how to share this new life with another person day in and day out. The job also brought a structure to my life I had never experienced before. It was a lot to digest and to grow into in a very short time. I was happy to be married and to have a job, but it was also like being thrown into the water and learning to swim. There wasn't much of an option, and there was no turning around.
As time went on, I realized I wanted more. I looked at the managers at work and observed something I really wanted to do: manage people and lead them in their work. I also realized I needed to know the work and the functions I would someday manage, so I had a lot more to learn about the jobs people performed. I wanted to learn, so I moved to different functions over the next three years to learn the work that hopefully I would eventually manage.
Jan and I, in the interim, bought a house and had our first child. Jan wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, so I was now the sole breadwinner. Money was always tight; we never made a lot of money when both of us worked. But we made the sacrifices together and made things work.
Eventually, I grew very restless at work. I had performed the various functions and felt qualified to be a manager, but those opportunities were not coming my way. Though frustrated, I was also determined to get the opportunity. In the meantime, I went back to night school. The college I graduated from offered an MBA program for people who worked but wanted to get an advanced degree in business administration. I thought it would be a great opportunity to build knowledge around my now-chosen career in business. Working a full-time job, being a husband and parent, and going to night school was, to say the least, stressful, but I was determined to succeed.
I was in my fifth year of working at IBM and still doing a clerical job. I received several promotions, but I had not become a manager and was becoming very impatient. I saw others performing that job, and though I felt I was ready, I wasn't given the chance. I must have been driving my managers nuts. I continuously asked them what I needed to do to be promoted to a management position. There was never an answer except to be patient. Well, my patience was running out. I had a second child on the way; I had done everything I knew to prepare me for management responsibility but still nothing.
One day I walked into my boss's office and asked him who decided who would be offered management positions. He replied it was the responsibility of the regional manager. I asked him if he would set up a meeting for me to discuss the matter, and he agreed. A couple of weeks later, I had my meeting. The regional manager and I talked, and she basically said they were trying to find homes for managers due to cutbacks and the economic environment. They weren't creating any new management positions.
At the end of the interview, she asked if I had a few minutes to meet her manager. Of course I did. I went into his office. He looked at me and asked, "What are you doing here?" I told him a quick story about why I was there, that I had worked for IBM for five years, had performed many functions so I could be a manager. I had a family and another child on the way and was going to night school to get my MBA. But I still wasn't achieving my goal of becoming a manager. I told him I was very frustrated and on the verge of leaving IBM because I felt I wasn't getting the opportunity to do more.
He said, "If I were you, I would have left a long time ago." When he asked why I hadn't, I said I thought IBM was a great company and wanted to stay. But if things didn't change for me, I probably would have to leave to achieve what I believed I could become. He closed the conversation by saying, "I think you made a smart decision to come here to meet us today." That was the end of the conversation. It probably lasted fifteen minutes. I left the office and went back to work.
One week later, my boss got a call from the regional office. The manager I'd had the short interview with wanted to talk to me about an open position. Thirty minutes later, I was on my way to meet him. He said there was a job working for him as a financial analyst in the regional office. He described the work, and even though it wasn't a management position, I knew in my heart this was the opportunity I needed. I would work for the people who decided who was going to be a manager. It was my big break, and I couldn't wait to get started. One week later, I started my new job, and two weeks later our second child arrived.
In many ways, this was the end of the beginning. From then on, things happened really quickly with my career and our family. It had taken close to six years to get to this point in our marriage and my work at IBM, and things really started to speed up.
I was in the new position for only six months. I loved the work and was finally getting the visibility I needed within the organization with the key decision makers. I was like a sponge, learning everything in sight. It was the best I had felt about my job in years. Unbelievably, after six months, my boss asked me to take a job as an administrative operations manager in one of the local sales branch offices. I thought, finally, my dream to be a manager — a leader — is coming to fruition. I was thrilled. All my hard work and persistence had paid off. I was off and running.
My First Management Positions, 1977
As I recall, I had about ten people reporting to me. We were responsible for the order fulfillment and accounts receivable functions for the customers that branch supported. I loved the work and the people, and time flew by. I was still going to night school toward my MBA, and I was also trying to be a good husband and father to my children. Looking back today, thank goodness Jan was taking care of the home front and the children; I didn't have much of my energy focused there. Learning to manage and lead people, helping them to do the work, and dealing with the concerns of my team became all-consuming activities. I wanted us to be the best and for my staff to enjoy the work as much as I enjoyed working with them.
We got off to a great start. The results we produced were excellent, and I couldn't have been happier. My management team thought we were knocking it out of the park; things couldn't be better. I was having a blast, and my team was operating at an exceptional level. My first management position was just what I had dreamed it would be. It was incredibly stressful, but I was learning. I loved the interaction with my team. I felt alive and, for the first time, that I was making a difference in people's lives. I was a teacher again, helping people grow and find success. I had finally found what I was looking for. I was then in my seventh year with IBM. What happened next was unbelievable, not only to me but to Jan.
I had been in my first management position for eight months when I was called into the branch manager's office, along with my boss. He said I needed to get on an airplane that afternoon to go interview for a management position in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a significant promotion, and they wanted me to interview for that operation's landlord administration manager position. I couldn't believe I was being asked to interview for the job. After all the time it had taken to get to a management position and a place where I was happy with my work, these events were happening in such quick succession. It was a great deal to believe and digest.
I headed home to pack for the trip and tell Jan the exciting news. She was in disbelief. I had no way to prepare her for the news because I wasn't prepared for it myself. She was in shock. This couldn't be happening after all the time we'd spent getting to this point. It wasn't real. It also meant moving, leaving family and friends; we had spent our whole lives in Minnesota. But there was no time to discuss things. I had a plane to catch. I was determined; I wanted it to happen. I'm sure I left Jan wondering, what just happened?
I had the interview and was offered the job. I accepted it on the spot. We were headed for Madison. Like the trouper Jan always was, she loaded up the kids, and we started our first move with IBM.
I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew if they wanted me to take this job, I would figure it out. I was announced to the people in the branch as the new administration manager in the office classroom. I noticed people filing out the back door, and very few people welcomed me to my new job and to Madison. My new boss walked up to me, and I said, "I noticed the people walking out the back of the classroom." And he said, "That's your new team. They really don't think they need a new manager, and they aren't interested in welcoming you." He said, "I'll take you around and introduce you to them individually." He proceeded to walk me to their work area. It wasn't exactly the welcome I was looking for, but I knew I had the job because changes needed to be made to the operation. My first major challenge had begun; not only did I have an enormous amount of learning to do about the responsibilities of the new job, I had a major employee morale problem to deal with on day one. To say the least, I had my hands full, but I was determined to make this new assignment a success.
As the landlord administration manager, I had an IBM-owned office building to manage that housed about two hundred people. I was responsible for all the financial operations for our organization, plus the customer sales fulfillment activities for our branch office. It required getting to know all the various staff and managers in the facility and ensuring the operation ran smoothly. For many of the things I was now responsible for, this was my first exposure to them, so I had an enormous amount to learn. I also had to get my family settled into their new life and their new home. Talk about being thrown into the water without a life jacket!
It was a rocky start, but as time went on I built relationships, and we made the changes needed. I got help; another manager was assigned to me to help with the work. I was hanging on by my fingernails, but we eventually turned the corner. After three years of incredibly hard work, getting through many personnel issues and changes, the office was functioning at an acceptable level. Operational excellence returned, and employee morale was at an all-time high.
The major lesson I learned, among many in that job, was the importance of achieving business objectives. Early on, I focused on the people and morale, getting the work done and keeping the facility running. However, one more aspect became crucial to success. I learned the hard way about halfway through my assignment that you have to consistently make your business objectives. We were not achieving all our goals, and much of that was caused by other parts of the business in our branch that were not operating very efficiently. Company assets were being wasted and revenue lost, and inordinate expenses were being incurred due to poor execution. I didn't have direct responsibility for those groups, so I didn't take ownership of their activities — until their mistakes became my problem when my performance was impacted. My manager made it clear to me that, as the financial manager, I was responsible. It was my job to make sure those sales managers didn't make the same mistakes again. Even though they didn't report to me, it was my job to make sure they made good choices and that I influenced their decision making in a positive way. I took his direction and said I would take that action, but if they came to him to protest my involvement in their sales activities, he had to be supportive and back me. He said he would. I was on the edge of success or failure, and I knew it. I had to change the environment and the results, or I was going to lose my job.
Fortunately, things changed course. We turned the corner and started changing behavior and accountability, and the results showed it. It wasn't easy; some feathers got ruffled, but my boss backed me and gave me the support I needed. I had learned incredible lessons about my responsibility as the financial leader of the organization, which lasted for the rest of my business career: nobody operated on an island; you took total ownership for the success of the operation, and it was your job to ensure people were making good decisions, whether they reported to you or not. Leadership had a responsibility to the organization to make sure good business decisions were being made. Very tough lessons, but the changes marked a turning point in my career. I learned a lasting lesson about taking ownership and the responsibility one has to the business for successful outcomes, whether you own that function or not. In business, we are all in this together, and I played an important role in ensuring that all business objectives were met or exceeded.
Jan and I had made a new life in Madison. After three years, we had the house of our dreams, our kids were happy, Jan made some nice friends, and we had lots of fun living in the university town. Madison was a great fit for things we enjoyed doing. We loved sports and had a fun social life with good friends. Our life was starting to feel under control, and my work life was in balance for a change. It was a tough three years, but it seemed worth all the work, effort, and tears we had put into making this change in our life a success.
We Move East, 1980
At this juncture came another major opportunity with IBM. I was asked if I was interested in a position in divisional headquarters in White Plains, New York, working for the divisional controller's business controls function. My manager thought I should take the position; I deserved the promotion, and he thought it was a key stepping stone in my career. I had to go to headquarters for that business exposure. Jan wasn't sure where this was leading, and nor did I, but I got on the airplane and interviewed for the job.
I was offered the position and accepted. I wasn't sure what I had just gotten us into, but I knew it was the next logical step in my career progression. We were heading to New York — did I say New York? Yikes! This small-town kid from rural Minnesota was going where? I was leaving a place we loved and a job that had finally had become manageable — was I crazy or what? However, I said yes, and then reality hit. It was 1980. Interest rates on homes were 14 percent, and housing was incredibly expensive. We looked at houses that were very different from our house in Madison, and we would pay a lot more. Jan and I were both upset. Jan cried the whole time we looked for housing. We found something in Danbury, Connecticut, forty-five miles from my work. That seemed like a nightmare. My Madison commute was three miles. Though the community of Danbury was nice, it wasn't anything close to what we had in Madison. Jan was not happy, and I started to wonder what had I just done, but there was no turning back. We made the move, and I started my new assignment on the business controls staff in White Plains, New York. There were lots of tears along the way, but we started the transition.
My function on the staff was a total change. People no longer reported to me. Instead, I supported the controller for our division. My territory responsibility was operational, audit, and asset management oversight for the eastern regional sales offices. This included all regional offices along the East Coast of the United States. It meant making sure company assets were being used efficiently and company audits were passed. It also meant I traveled to various locations frequently to review operational performance and conduct audits. We assembled teams to go into an office and review their activities and report our findings to management, up to and including the president of our division. It was some heady responsibility. I loved the work, and this time I felt totally prepared for the work after the lessons I learned in Madison. I was given lots of support by the divisional controller. He couldn't believe I was so prepared for this assignment. I took him through what I had learned in Madison, and he commented that not many managers he had seen who came from my ranks had that kind of management maturity and business acumen. I was off to a great start.
Excerpted from "A Journey to World Class Team Leadership"
Copyright © 2017 John A. Leffler.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Beginning My New IBM Career, 1969, 1,
Chapter 2 My First Management Positions, 1977, 9,
Chapter 3 We Move East, 1980, 19,
Chapter 4 A Major Career Shift, 1992, 33,
Chapter 5 The Road to Apple, 1995, 37,
Chapter 6 Welcome to Apple: The Challenges Ahead, 49,
Chapter 7 My Journey to Leadership Felt Complete, 63,
Chapter 8 Ten Core Beliefs and Principles of Leadership ..., 69,
Chapter 9 Reflections on the Lessons Learned, 87,
Chapter 10 Family and Living in Austin, 91,