Auto industry veteran Dick Cross cites elements of leadership at ASRW

Consultant and former Carstar CEO notes need for vision, strategy and execution.


Attendees at Automotive Service & Repair Week (ASRW) in New Orleans, La. who were seeking ideas about becoming more successful got a good dose of wisdom from the keynote speaker, Dick Cross, a long-time industry consultant. Cross, who began his career as a mechanic and became chairman and CEO of Carstar before starting his own consultancy, offered more than an hour’s worth of advice to the standing room only crowd at the opening session. The presentation was sponsored by DuPont Performance Coatings.

His presentation focused on the secrets of being a successful CEO and was titled, “Unlock your hidden greatness.” “Your job at the top is the single greatest determinant of success,” said Cross, who operates The Cross Partnership, Ltd.

He began by stumping the audience with a question, “How do you run a business?” Acknowledging that most people can’t answer the question quickly or succinctly, Cross said success in running a business is half character and half thinking.

“We never think explicitly about this single greatest determinant of the success of the business,” he said. He noted no school has a course dedicated to this topic.

“A business is but the product of the CEO’s thoughts,” he said.

Cross said his consultant work has focused on developing models of thought. “Thinking is the hardest work that we have to do,” he said. “Thinking is hard when you don’t have frameworks to guide you along.”

Cross noted that many people assume that businesses, like living things, live through life cycles that eventually end. In his research, he learned there were companies that escaped this cycle by transforming into different types of businesses. These were companies led by people who not only had vision, but could execute it.

Most businesses start out in what Cross termed the “execution stage.” They identify a need and execute on meeting it. For the business to succeed as external conditions change, however, the leader must see beyond his traditional way of viewing things.

Other key elements besides execution, Cross noted, are strategy and vision.
The business world in general became aware of the need to strategize before it discovered vision. Cross noted that many companies worked hard to develop strategies but were unable to execute them successfully. This is because the people in charge of executing the strategy were not able to do it.

“We don’t make the linkage between this strategy thing and execution,” he said.

Cross said companies led by people who spend time focusing on the culture of the company are able to instill a sense of enthusiasm. Focusing on the culture is closely related to having a vision for the company. When vision comes into play, the link that had been missing between strategy and execution becomes possible.

Leadership, unlike management, is the ability to create vision and make people comfortable in a way that supports the company’s goals. “There hasn’t been a successful leader in history that didn’t have vision,” he said.

Management is about assembling resources to execute the strategies that deliver the vision.

“You can do this stuff. It’s not hard.”

Vision includes a company’s core values and purpose. At Carstar, Cross said the purpose was defined as follows: “We help people through a crisis in their lives.”

“Once we’ve got vision in place, the strategy becomes a lot simpler. If strategy is clear, then execution becomes even clearer.”

Turning his attention to character, Cross noted it has become imperative for CEOs to have good character to be successful. He said good character includes nine key elements:

1)      Patience. “Go slow to go fast.”

2)      Kindness. “It is making yourself available to people to whom you don’t have to.”

3)      Generosity. And not the material kind. “It’s about expecting people to be good.”

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