Pittsburgh Steelers and the Titans of Wall Street

Wow. Pretty much snowed in here today in NE Ohio. I was supposed to take an early morning flight out of Cleveland to DC, but it was canceled last night. I expect it was the snowy weather forecast, but I don’t know the specifics about why Continental pulled the plug so early. In any event, it was a good thing. And I credit Continental’s customer service staff with handling the matter extremely well.

Thought I should say that. People writing blogs — myself included certainly — tend to look at problems, focus on things that fall short of what we consider excellent or even acceptable and dwell on the negative. Then — at least from time to time — we try to turn those examples into “teachable moments” and offer some perspective based on personal experience or the views of others.

For instance, yesterday I wrote about the Cleveland Browns and how that business handled the firing of a dozen or so administrative employees last week. My view: The situation speaks to an organization that is poorly managed — and its product (football) suffers as a result. And if the “ten minutes and you’re out of here” policy as reported by the Akron Beacon Journal really is accurate, then it speaks to an organization that has a long way to go to if it wants to cultivate a culture of trust and loyalty.

I wouldn’t be writing about this again today except for two stories I read in The New York Times yesterday. Both stories — from totally different perspectives — focus on management, leadership, trust, loyalty and business success. Both stories warrant a quick read.

The first — and maybe no surprise here — involves Dan Rooney and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s written by Holly Brubach, “Steelers Owner Dan Rooney Turns His Business Into a Family.”

Brubach weaves together a portrait of Rooney as a strong leader and manager, someone who puts his employees (players and staff) first and someone who is not consumed by personal wealth or power. From the article:

Rooney walks to the Steelers’ home games, on a broken sidewalk, past an abandoned gas station and underneath the overpass for Route 65.

For away games, he travels with the players. “I wasn’t used to the owner flying on the plane,” said the backup quarterback Charlie Batch, recalling his surprise when he arrived to play for the Steelers after leaving the Detroit Lions. “And not only was he on the plane, he was sitting in the seat that doesn’t recline, in front of the bathroom.”

Rooney goes to Mass every morning, then commutes to the Steelers’ training facility on the South Side. He drives a Buick. In the office by 8:15, he checks in with the coaches, the players and his son Art II, the oldest of his nine children and the team’s president. He watches practice. He eats lunch in the cafeteria with the players and the staff.

“Some owners treat you like a rental property,” said defensive end Nick Eason, who has played in Denver and in Cleveland. “They have some maintenance guy to take care of it, they just come by to check on it, they look and they leave. Mr. Rooney comes around, he always sticks his hand out to you. ‘Hey, Nick’— and I’m like, he knows my name?”

Nose tackle Casey Hampton said: “A lot of owners, this is a hobby, but for him, this is his business, what he does. He’s here, shakes your hand, talks to you every day. Every day.”

There’s more — but what you see is a model for business success. You have strong leadership and management, a leader who defines the organization’s values and then brings them to life through personal example and conduct, and someone at the top of the organization who has empathy for employees, customers and the community. Not a bad management and leadership case study here.

Then you have another story in The Times yesterday that demonstrates almost the polar opposite. Andrew Ross Sorkin writes, “The Titans Take It on the Chin.”

Here you have profiles in hubris, where the best and the brightest went to Wall Street with  eyes primarily focused on the big bucks during an era of self-entitlement and self-enrichment. (My words, read the story.) The result: a financial meltdown with millions losing their jobs and savings and even the former Titans of Wall Street diminished in stature and riches.

The big money is disappearing, and with it some status and power. Yes, the highest of high fliers are still rich, some spectacularly so. But their stature seems to sink with every point of the Dow. The whole cult and ethos of Wall Street, which lured so many bright minds, is in retreat.

The wounds were mostly self-inflicted, of course. News last week that John A. Thain, the fallen boss of Merrill Lynch, spent $1.2 million redecorating his office as Merrill hurtled toward its end seemed only to confirm people’s worst suspicions about money and the hubris it can breed. His $35,000 “commode” might strike some as a bit over the top.

Even Tom Wolfe, who chronicled an earlier era of Wall Street excess in his 1987 best seller “Bonfire of the Vanities,” says he is a little shocked. And he knows about the Masters of the Universe: He coined the term, after all.

“The idea of ‘Masters of the Universe’ on Wall Street just went kaput,” Mr. Wolfe told me the other day, as Wall Street was digesting the news of Mr. Thain’s ouster. “The whole order of things has changed.”

“Just went kaput.” Let’s hope so. As a nation we don’t need any more Masters of the Universe, any more Titans of Wall Street. But we sure could use some more leaders and managers like Dan Rooney. Perfect? No. I’m sure that’s not true. But from what I have read, heard and seen during the past 40 years, he’s a manager who inspires the best and creates a working environment that thrives on trust, personal integrity and treating people with dignity.

I hope the Steelers win the Super Bowl Sunday. But more importantly, I hope our nation once again embraces the values exhibited by Dan Rooney and many, many others like him.

New era of responsibility anyone?

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2 responses to “Pittsburgh Steelers and the Titans of Wall Street

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Trust for February 2009 | Sales Excellence Sales Blog

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Trust for February 2009 | Ian Brodie’s Get More Clients Blog

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