20 Questions with Dave Swift, CEO of Goodman Global, Inc.
Originally published: 12.01.09 by Terry Tanker
Publisher Terry Tanker met with Dave Swift, CEO of Goodman Global, Inc., at their company headquaters in Houston, Texas. They discussed leadership, managing growth strategies and cultivating employees.
1. You studied math, electronics and physics, did you want to work for NASA?
No, actually I thought I wanted to be a doctor.
2. What happened?
After dissecting several animals I knew medicine wasn’t for me.
3. You’re an amateur photographer. What drew you to that?
My first job with Eastman Kodak. I had finished the coursework for a Ph.D. in optics, and wanted to go into business. I was advised to talk with Kodak and they sponsored me for graduate school. I took a position with them and ended up running Kodak’s Asia business in Shanghai for about 4 ½ years.
4. What is the most memorable meal you ate while you were in China?
It was called three squeak mouse, and we won’t go beyond that.
5. What is the best event you had an opportunity to photograph?
The Nagano Olympics in Japan and the Australian Olympics. To see the U.S. basketball team in Sydney from the sideline with my camera was fantastic.
6. You left Kodak to run North America for Whirlpool. What attracted you to the opportunity?
They wanted to grow the business and become a more customer-focused organization. They liked the fact that I had a branding background and that I had the global perspective they were looking for. They also wanted to inject new blood into the organization, so it was an attractive fit for me.
7. Recently you joined Goodman. What influenced your decision to move?
I was with Whirlpool for about six years. I took the North American business from $6 billion to $14 billion through growth and acquisitions (Maytag). I was on the board of directors, and my boss, the chairman, who is only two years older than I am, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
8. What is the leadership philosophy at Goodman?
The contractor is the brand — he is the representative that the customer deals with. Second is a focus on being lean. Third is how quickly we can respond to the business environment. If you think about it, that’s the ultimate competitive advantage that any company has whether it’s a contractor or a manufacturer.
9. Where will you focus your growth strategies?
Product innovation, global opportunities, and serving our customer base—we want Goodman Global to be the easiest company to do business with, that really is core to our vision.
10. What advice could you give to contractors about managing growth?
Know your customer, offer an innovative solution and deliver a valuable service beyond what your competitors do. How? Manage your costs, quality, and employees so that you don’t have a lot of turnover.
11. Is that the ultimate key to success?
In the time I’ve been here, I’ve met with hundreds of contractors. The ones that seem to have a continuous record of success also tend to have low employee turnover—that, to me, is not coincidental.
12. How do you integrate your values with a new company and its existing culture?
I think, any time you join an organization, you have to assume that there is an implicit culture that already exists. You have to do a check to see if that fits with your set of values. Then, you start off with what are the good parts of a culture, and finally, what do you have to do to add on to that.
13. How do you put together your management team?
It starts with understanding the situation the company finds itself in. The process of proactively managing talent is probably one of the most important things. Look for areas where you need to cultivate new talent, recognize the people that it would just absolutely cripple you to lose, and, again, consider whether you’re doing all the things you need to hold onto them.
14. What qualities are you looking for when hiring?
First, how well does the person fit the environment? Will the person align to the growth objectives of the company. I’m looking for people who are leaders, people who are willing to take what we’ve got today and extend that.
15. How do you identify candidates with the right qualities?
There are a lot of questions you can ask in an interview. For example, tell me a situation you were in that challenged your ethics? Or, tell me a situation that you were in that you did something your boss would not have done and why? I think too often people rely on qualifications on paper and not enough on the personal interaction.
16. How involved are you in internal and external communications for the company?
Communications is what keeps people most engaged in your business. I write a monthly column in our internal magazine, and I’ve started doing a lot of employee meetings at all of our locations. In our headquarters, I meet with employees in groups of two or three people just to converse and talk about the business.
17. How do you dedicate your time? Is it strategy, finance, product development?
First, it’s customers, because if we don’t have the customers it doesn’t matter what else we do well. The second would be strategy: where are we trying to take the company two, three, five years from now. The third piece would be execution— what do we have to do to deliver the business in the time frame that we’ve committed goals.
18. How do you manage innovation?
It’s a little bit about strategy but it’s more about a mindset. You can become so entrenched in what you’re doing well that you miss some of the trends that the marketplace is telling you. So the leadership team should always be asking, how do we make ourselves better?
19. What do you struggle with, and how do you improve?
For any CEO I think one of the biggest challenges is getting the most out of all of your people. I try to give them opportunities to contribute ideas and make a difference in how our organization is being run. And then, recognize and reward them accordingly.
20. If you could have a conversation with any three people, who would they be?
Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci — I’d love to ask what inspired him every single day. The third person would be Abraham Lincoln — I’ve often wondered if he knew what he was really up against.
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