By Steve Watkins
Cal Turner Jr. figures that Dollar General probably wouldn’t exist today if not for the doggedness of his grandfather, who launched the family’s first retail business, and his father, who founded what became Dollar General.
“My grandfather and father were two of the most persistent people,” Turner, author of “My Father’s Business” and retired CEO of Dollar General, told IBD.
Here’s how to get people on your team to keep grinding and battle back from adversity.
Turner’s grandfather, Luther Turner, opened a single store in the 1920s in Scottsville, Ky., where Cal Turner Jr. grew up. He led it through the Great Depression before his son, Cal Turner Sr., opened a wholesale business with his father in 1939 that later became Dollar General. They faced plenty of obstacles getting the business off the ground during World War II and later, including facing a Teamsters strike.
“Their mission was survival,” Turner Jr. said. “They always seemed to feel just a step ahead of going under. There was an intensity of work, where they felt they had to do it well and do it right. The company would not exist without the initial tenacity of Luther and Cal.”
Show the way.
Set the example for your people by refusing to give in when challenges arise and things go awry.
“Make sure as leaders you’ll persevere no matter what the challenges are,” said Pete Luongo, the Dayton, Ohio-based retired CEO of the Berry Co., a Yellow Pages ad agency. “You can’t lead where you’re not willing to go.”
Build a bond.
Give people a reason to care about the company, or the notion of persevering through tough times won’t spread through the organization.
“One thing common to all generations is people want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Luongo said.
Don’t point fingers when trouble arises. Instead, view the challenge as a way to learn how to do something better next time.
“When something goes wrong, we’re not going to look for someone to blame,” Turner said of his philosophy. “We’re going to look at it as a learning and development opportunity. If you don’t have that in your organization, your obituary is close to being written.”
Hire people who will persevere through tough times. After BellSouth acquired Berry in 1986, the firm lost several accounts, Luongo says.
“We said to our people, ‘If we don’t turn this around, we’re going to be out of business,’ ” Luongo said. “Every day was halftime, down 13-6.”
The employees fought to overcome the setbacks and rallied the company.
Don’t change your demeanor when problems arise. People tend to put on the pressure amid adversity. But Luongo says if you do that, your people will realize you’re acting differently and that you lack a process to manage through trouble.
“If the leader panics, they panic and lose trust,” Luongo said.
Deal with problems head-on.
Turner faced what he calls “the toughest decision of my life” in the late 1980s. His brother, Steve, was COO. Turner felt his brother wasn’t taking control of the company’s merchandising and operations as he should have. And they had frequent personality clashes. Steve wouldn’t resign. The company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Turner had to fire his brother even though it would hurt him and the family.
“When I understood what had to be done, I developed the spine to get it done,” Turner said.
Turner faced adversity when he took over as CEO. He felt as if he remained in his father’s shadow.
“I wanted to be my own man,” he said. “I handled it by saying, ‘I got this job because I’m the boss’ son. I consider myself unqualified, and I need your help.'”
He sought input from his people, who were inspired to pitch in.
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