Pittsburgh region's best CEOs know they are part of a team
Best leaders Rob Cochran, Kim Tillotson Fleming and Harvey Pollack.
'If you say something, you follow through,' says Rob Cochran, center.
'You lead by example. It has to come through your actions,' says Kim Tillotson Fleming, center.
'Client service is the most important thing we do here,' says Harvey Pollack, center.
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A general is just as good or as bad as the troops under his command make him, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, and so it is with CEOs. A good business leader is competent at his or her job. But great leaders know their own individual competence is often dependent upon, or reflected in, the performance of the team around them and below them.
It's no surprise, then, that when asked about their roles as CEOs, Rob Cochran (#1 Cochran), Kim Tillotson Fleming (Hefren-Tillotson Inc.) and Harvey Pollack (PT Marketing Group) were quick to deflect credit for their accomplishments and recognition to the teams assembled around them.
Those three were selected as the top CEOs in the region, according to the Post-Gazette's annual Top Workplaces survey, which polled more than 22,000 employees at 142 companies in the Pittsburgh region. The pollsters at WorkplaceDynamics, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm, asked employees, among other questions, if they have confidence in their company's leader and if so, why.
According to those polled, confidence in the CEO stewardship and vision is a key driver of workplace satisfaction - employees place more importance on "CEO confidence" than on their own pay and benefits, or whether they get regular skills training, or how they are treated by mid-level managers.
Earlier this month, the Post-Gazette chatted with all three leaders about their views on business leadership this month. Video from that interview can be viewed at www.post-gazette.com/businessnews/topworkplaces.
Q. Employees want to trust their leaders. How do you build up that trust?
Cochran: "I think it's a couple things. One, you're authentic. You don't try to be someone you're not. Second, you earn their trust with both character and competence. ... If you say something, you follow through."
Fleming: "You lead by example. ... It has to come through your actions. I don't expect anybody to do anything that I wouldn't be able to do."
Q. Part of being boss is bearing bad news - discipline, firings, pay cuts. How do you handle that?
Pollack: "We handle bad news the same way we handle good news. Once a week, we have a Monday morning meeting - if there's bad news, we gather everybody 'round and talk it through ... We tell it like it is. When we lose clients, for whatever the reason, we announce it. ... When 2008 came along, [we] needed to have a frank discussions - let a couple of people go or take some pay decreases. They voted to keep everybody working."
Fleming: "My role is the spiritual leader, almost, through the tough times. When the markets were down in 2008 and 2009, [people] really worked harder than normal. ... These are times we need to make sure we are available to clients, responsive to their concerns. ... It's agonizing. People care so much about their clients and worry about their futures, [but] we got through that period."
Cochran: "[During the recession], the industry had dripped 30 to 40 percent of the volume. ... How you deal with it is with candor. You get all of the information so it's as clear and black-and-white as possible. The biggest problem I have is misinformation or ambiguity. That drives me nuts."
Q. How do you make employees feel valued?
Fleming: "I'm a huge note writer. I write several notes a day. Many of them are to employees, random recognition for things that they have done."
Pollack: "Every year, in the month of a person's anniversary, I take that person out to lunch. It's wonderful. We don't talk business. ... We learn about their families, they learn about mine ... you get to know people over a period of time."
Q. CEOs are always on the clock, right?
Fleming: "I actually come into the office pretty early, 4 a.m. ... Sleep is overrated. I don't need it. [You] see some interesting people on the street at that hour."
Q. Being the CEO can be restrictive in some ways, no?
Fleming: "[Employees] don't see my more playful side. ... Day to day, I have to maintain a professional attitude."
Q. Two of you are in charge today, at least in part, because your fathers (Bob Cochran and Bill Tillotson) were also the heads of the company. The other was brought into the business via a son-in-law. Did that create any challenges?
Cochran: "When I was really young, [I had] challenges leading people that were two and three times my age. ... I wanted to do things differently, [but] there was a general resistance of, well, we've always done it this way."
Fleming: "When I first joined the company, I felt I needed to work harder than anyone."
Pollack: "I'm not a youngster. When I came into the company, people didn't quite understand who I was and what I was all about."
Q. What's the hardest part of the job?
Pollack: "Generating revenue is always the toughest part. That's not easy to do in tough times. Putting together the opportunities for growth has been a challenge ... client service is the most important thing we do here."
First Published October 25, 2012 12:00 am