Warren Bryant, MBA ’82
Warren Bryant, MBA ’82, chair, CEO, and president of Longs Drug Stores Corporation, discusses creating an ethical corporate culture, his definition of success, and answers the question, “Do nice guys finish last?”
Who has been key in shaping your business perspective?
Like most of us, my business and life perspective have flowed from how I was raised. The things I learned as a child have served as a foundation for my life – I learned to be accountable, responsible, to tell the truth, and do the right thing. These fundamental values follow all of us throughout our lives – if you don’t get it as a child, chances are you won’t get it as an adult.
Of one my first recollections of learning these formative life values was when I brought home a lousy grammar school report card. As kids do, I started making all kinds of excuses like “it wasn’t my fault,” or “they didn’t ask the questions I’d studied for.” Well, this approach didn’t go over too well with my folks, and I got into big trouble for not taking responsibility.
Guess what? My next report card was greatly improved!
How do you encourage an ethical corporate culture?
Well, there are two primary ways to do this. First, incorporate it in your mission statement and statement of values. Second, make sure you talk about your mission statement and corporate values.
At Longs, one of the things we have at the top of our values statement is the Golden Rule – do for others as you would do for yourself. We constantly talk about our ethical obligations and our legal obligations. We follow the law, we tell the truth, we do what’s right, we treat people the way in which we would like to be treated. We talk about that constantly.
And then, most importantly, those of us in senior leadership remind ourselves daily that people pay attention to not only what you say, but to what you do. We conduct ourselves fully aware that we are role models.
Another method we employ at Longs is to talk about our obligation to one other. We’re all on the same team, and when one of us enjoys success, we all have a hand in that. On the flip side, when there are frustrations, we must work to resolve them.
What do you think about the old adage that says “nice guys finish last”?
I think just the opposite. The most successful people are the ones who empower other people to succeed. I think that nice guys finish first.
Ultimately in business, things are accomplished with and through other people, particularly in large corporations. None of us does it alone. When you help others achieve their goals and ambitions, you’re actually building a more successful business – it’s a win/win situation.
I like to think of it in these terms: when you conduct business as a “nice guy or gal” you gain a great sense of personal satisfaction because you’ve invested in others through mentoring and helping them achieve success in their careers.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Well, this is a question that could be better answered by the folks I work with. I like to think of myself as participatory, soliciting a fair amount of input before making decisions.
I know that I have high standards and expectations of myself and those who work with me. So, in terms of standards and expectations of performance, I think people would say I might be fairly demanding. I’m also a high energy person and expect the same of those around me.
I’d like to think that people think I’m fair, even though I might have high expectations. It’s very important to me that the people I work with feel they help shape the decisions that drive this company.
Can you relate some of the growth and improvement under your leadership?
One of my biggest highlights is the leadership team I’ve been able to assemble. The team I work with is a tremendously strong retail team with high energy and a high commitment to the success of this company. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
Through this team, we’ve had significant success in earnings improvement, customer perception improvement, and stock price improvement. So far it’s been pretty successful, but we have a lot more to do. I think this is energizing though because it’s about responding to change and making things better.
You define business success through the people you’ve worked with and mentored. Obviously, financial results and performance play a significant role in defining business success. But, at the end of the day, when you finally close the door on your business career, it isn’t about the financial success of the companies you worked with – it’s about the relationships that you’ve had.
When they write your epitaph, you want to think that every step of the way the business you were involved in was bettered because of your involvement. And, in some small way, maybe the world was bettered too because you were there.