Whether leading a team of 100 employees or merging four companies onto 100 acres, executives face similar challenges in today’s business landscape, according to Voices of Experience speakers Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota and Gary Rozier, senior vice president of Ariel Investments. The men were the featured panelists at VOE on April 27, hosted by the Daniels College of Business in the Seawell Ballroom at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.
Daniels Dean Brent Chrite, served as moderator for the event and began by asking the panelists what keeps them up at night.
Rozier, who pointed out that Ariel Investment’s mascot is a turtle, said his biggest challenge is to ensure the 24-hour news cycle and onslaught of information doesn’t cloud his team’s decision-making.
“Most information is noise,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of being clouded by information flow. We play a long game with retirement plans. The turtle is our mascot for a reason.”
Lentz said his current challenge is moving four of Toyota’s affiliated companies to Dallas into a new facility on 100 acres.
“Not only are we relocating, but we’re also realigning the organization,” he said. Lentz explained that each location had its own HR, PR and finance departments. He has to ensure the facility is ready for their 40,000 employees, while also merging their cultures.
Vail Resorts is known for its distinct culture—and finding and retaining the right people to fit that culture is what keeps Katz up at night.
“People have more choices about where they want to work,” Katz said, noting that Vail Resorts employs 6,000 full-time staff, which means they have to hire nearly 33,000 seasonal employees each year.
“How do we develop leaders, not only at the most senior level, but lift operators, the person bussing tables? A very high-level guest experience is at the core of what our company stands for. We have to find those people who are truly passionate and willing to go above and beyond.”
Rozier said his company hires for culture as well and emphasizes diversity and inclusion.
“We make better decisions with diversity,” he said. “We ask, is everybody in the room and does everyone have a voice?”
Lentz said Toyota’s culture emphasizes the same thing, but they call it kaizen, a Japanese word that means continuous improvement. Lentz said their workforce needs to know it’s always safe to speak up and they find better solutions with diverse ideas and options.
While every panelist agreed that he tries to prevent crisis, it’s not always possible.
Lentz shared how he thought Toyota might be out of production for a year when the tsunami hit Japan in 2011. The company relied on one supplier for a part they needed in every car. Now, he knows exactly where Toyota’s tier one and tier five suppliers are and the company spreads its risk.
The panelists emphasized that how a leader and company responds when a crisis happens is equally important.
“In our company we talk a lot about owning your own mistake first,” Katz said. He explained that sometimes leaders are only 5 percent at fault and don’t want to own the problem. But, it doesn’t matter, leaders need to own a mistake, no matter how much of it is theirs.
Katz has been CEO of Vail Resorts since February 2006 and has been involved with the company since 1991. Rozier, who joined Ariel Investments in 2006, is responsible for institutional business development and client services with a special focus on registered investment advisors. Lentz is CEO of Toyota Motor North America, Inc., and is a member of the executive advisory board for Daniels College of Business. Lentz earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics and a MBA in finance from DU.
The Voices of Experience speaker series at the Daniels College of Business brings CEOs and significant leaders to the DU community to share lessons learned from their triumphs, mistakes and decisions as they navigated through their leadership careers. The series is sponsored by U.S. Bank.