Eastridge Workforce Solutions is honored and excited to announce our newest board member, Garry Ridge! Garry is a coach of corporate leadership and culture, an author, and the Chairman and CEO of WD-40 Company.
Who Is Garry Ridge?
Garry Ridge has been with WD-40 Company since 1987, serving in a variety of leadership roles before his eventual promotion to CEO in 1997. In 2001, he earned a Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) from the University of San Diego. His participation in that program launched several other career-defining projects.
Most notably, he met and befriended Ken Blanchard, with whom he co-authored Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.” Through the same program, he met Eastridge’s CEO, Seth Stein.
Garry is also the author of Tribe Culture: How It Shaped WD-40 Company. He serves as a corporate culture coach through his company The Learning Moment, which hosts speaking engagements, company culture consultations, and coaching sessions with C-suite executives. Most recently, the San Diego Business Journal honored Garry with a Lifetime Achievement Award during its presentation of the 2022 CEO of the Year Awards.
As Eastridge celebrates our 50th anniversary as a company and our third year as an employee-owned company, we are eager to welcome Garry’s insight and expertise in leadership and corporate culture, geographic expansion, and marketing, among other specialties.
The timing is perfect for Garry as he enters a new chapter in his career. After more than 35 years with WD-40 Company, he plans to retire at the end of 2022, while still serving on the Board of Advisors at Gorilla Glue, coaching leaders around the world, and teaching as an adjunct professor for the University of San Diego’s MSEL program.
Garry’s background as a pioneer of company culture and values promises to enrich our employee-owners and promote Eastridge’s growth. To welcome Garry and celebrate him joining our board of directors, we sat down to speak with him about how his past experiences will inform his engagement with Eastridge, and what he thinks the future holds for the world of work.
Learn More: An Interview With Eastridge & Garry Ridge
Eastridge Workforce Solutions: When did you realize that company culture would be a defining focus of your career?
GR: “In 1997, I was given the opportunity and the privilege to lead the WD-40 Company as their CEO. I’d been with the company for 10 years, and I knew the business really well. I knew we had the opportunity to grow with most of the growth coming from global expansion—but I really didn’t know how to do that.
How do you build a culture that empowers people when the sun is shining on them and you’re sleeping at night?
Interestingly, I was reading some of the work of the Dalai Lama, and one of the statements I read became a defining purpose for me: ‘My purpose in life is to make people happy; if I can’t make them happy, at least don’t hurt them.’
What I saw in organizations were leaders that had behaviors that were hurting people because their egos were eating their empathy instead of their empathy eating their egos. They were selfish. I looked around and thought, how can I learn more about that?
So, I went back to school and that’s when I did my Master’s degree at the University of San Diego. Ken Blanchard, the author of the One-Minute Manager, was my professor and quickly became a dear friend.
I learned about the attributes of servant-leadership and I started to execute them. As I did, I saw how it empowered people and held them accountable.
A quote from Aristotle that is truly so on point for this idea is, ‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’
If we can create a culture where people enjoy what they do, they do better work. That raises what I call ‘the will of the people,’ which many companies simpler refer to as employee engagement. If you have a high will of the people and a reasonably good strategy, those two things will make the company successful.
Initially, it was during a time of being scared that I realized I didn’t know [the answer]. The three most powerful words I’ve ever learned in my life were ‘I don’t know.’ I’ve grown very comfortable with those words.”
EWS: What excites you about corporate culture?
GR: “You have the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s really what it comes down to. Again, my purpose in life is to make people happy, and if you can’t make them happy, at least don’t hurt them.
But more importantly, here’s the other side of that: happy people create happy families. Happy families create happy communities. Happy communities create happy countries. Happy countries create a happy world. And by gosh, we need a happy world!
Happy doesn’t mean free pizza. Happy means rewarding work, the ability to grow and learn, being respected, being applauded, rewarded for doing great work, and being coached in areas where you need to improve. That makes up the whole ‘happy cake’ if you will.
If we [as leaders] can do that, we’re making a positive difference in the world. Life’s a gift—don’t send it back unwrapped.”
EWS: You’re currently serving on the boards of other companies, WD-40 Company and Gorilla Glue. Why did you decide to join Eastridge’s board?
GR: “Eastridge is a people organization. One thing that’s important to me is the idea that leadership today has a true responsibility to create a workplace where people go to work every day, make a contribution to something bigger than themselves, learn something new, and feel protected and set free by a compelling set of values. When that happens, they go home happy.
Knowing Seth from MSEL, I know his values and his understanding of how important culture is. It opened up a conversation about how Eastridge can further make a difference in people’s lives. When I met the leadership team, I was even more impressed by their values-based, people-centered thinking.”
EWS: Describe your involvement on the board at Gorilla Glue. What led to that engagement, and what value are you providing there?
GR: “I’ve known the family [that owns Gorilla Glue] for a long time, and they first approached me because one of their strategic objectives was global expansion. One of the areas where I’ve spent a lot of time in my career is building businesses in different geographies around the world. WD-40 Company has offices in 17 countries around the world, and we sell in 176 countries—so we’re truly a global organization.
Secondly was my work around corporate culture. Marshall Goldsmith named me the number one corporate culture coach in the world. I’ve spent a lot of my time working on the elements of building a strong culture in an organization.”
EWS: What do you think is necessary to be a good board member, especially at an employee-owned company like Eastridge?
GR: “A good board member needs to be a good listener. They need to understand that they’re not there to run the business but to bring their collective learning to the table.
I wrote a book with Ken Blanchard and the motto of that was basically, ‘I’m not here to mark your paper, I’m here to help you get an A.’ So, I see part of my job as a board member to be figuring out what Eastridge’s ‘A’s are, and then doing what I can to help them win. Being a coach and bringing my scar tissue, if you will.
I see employee-owners as no different than any other shareholders. The owners of the company expect the board to guide the organization; to play the infinite game, not the finite game; and to truly build an organization that’s enduring over time and they are proud to be part of, but also something that’s giving them a return for the investment they’re making in the company.
I’m here to act in the best interest of the shareholders—and in this case, the shareholders are the Eastridge employee-owners.”
EWS: When it comes to learning the business, Eastridge is a service provider, whereas WD-40 Company provides products. What is transferable between a product mindset and a service or solutions mindset?
GR: “Interestingly enough, WD-40 Company is providing a service. Our purpose statement says, ‘We exist to create positive, lasting memories, solving problems in factories, homes, and workshops around the world.’ The product itself is part of providing that service of creating positive, lasting memories. We said a long time ago that we aren’t in the lubricant business, we’re in the memories business.
Our second value at the company is that we exist to create positive, lasting memories in all of our relationships. The brand helps us do that.
So, the question is, how do we at Eastridge continue to create positive, lasting memories with customers? That comes from exceptional service, meeting their needs, and delivering services of value.”
EWS: We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary as a company this year, and we’ve been revisiting much of our branding during this milestone. What do you hope to bring to Eastridge on that front?
GR: “When you think about a brand, you have to ask: What is the essence of the brand?
In other words, when people think of Eastridge, what comes to mind? What’s the promise that we make, and are we delivering on that promise?
In any marketing activity, it’s about ensuring the brand promise is clear, delivering on that brand promise, and making sure that the user of that brand uses that promise in a way that reflects that we’re delivering what we believe we have to deliver.
Consistency is very important around brands. One of the things I’ve learned at WD-40 Company over 35 years is that the blue and yellow can with the little red top is still the blue and yellow can with the little red top. You can show someone a blue and yellow can with nothing written on it, and they’ll still know it’s WD-40. They’ll tell you about, ‘I remember when…’ ‘I remember when I was working on the car with my dad; when I went to school and my parents put a can in my tool kit…’
WD-40. Because you’ve got to have it. Again, it’s about the brand promise, and whether we’re delivering on the brand promise.”
EWS: What are your thoughts on the new work environment caused by the pandemic, especially when it comes to remote and hybrid work environments?
GR: “It’s a work in progress. We’ve certainly learned a lot. We’ve learned that there are work tasks that can easily be done away from the desk.
However, I think our challenge as leaders is to make the drive to the office exciting. How do we do that? How do we, when people walk out the door in the morning, get them excited about going to the office that day?
I think hybrid work will remain. But as human beings, we need contact. If you think about when people get put into solitary confinement, it makes them crazy. To develop a broad opinion, you need input from others.
We’re in a transition period; we’re on a journey. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up, but I do feel that, certainly, five days a week in the office will not be the norm going forward.
However, we also need to think about the people who don’t have that luxury. Visiting the team at Gorilla Glue recently, there are 300-400 people working on the factory floor. They don’t have the opportunity to work from home. So how do we make sure we’re not creating a class system that we don’t want, where it’s ‘us’ and ‘them’?
There’s a lot to learn still, a lot of conversations to continue to have. But we have to make the drive to the office exciting and make people look forward to going to work, connecting with their teams, and having fun every day in their community.”
EWS: As the working world shifts more towards employee engagement, some companies are still stuck with a productivity-per-hour mindset. Any thoughts on where this is headed?
GR: “I think you’re talking about the will of the people. Aristotle said, ‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’ If you want to have high productivity, create a culture where people enjoy doing what they’re doing and are getting satisfaction out of doing that work, and your productivity goes up.
Companies focused on productivity-per-hour are probably focusing on the wrong end of that equation. If productivity is down, the question is, why? Research tells us that in some places only 17% of people who go to work every day are engaged. So why wouldn’t productivity be down? People are there, but they’re not giving their whole selves because they aren’t enjoying what they’re doing or being appreciated.”
EWS: Where do you see the labor market going through the end of the year?
GR: “I think people are a little scared right now with what’s going to happen to the economy, especially with whether or not we’re headed into a recession. Organizations are hedging their bets and weighing the difference between taking on a full-time employee versus a part-time or contingent employee. I think we’re going to see that continue for a while until there’s more certainty around what next year will look like.”
EWS: What are your thoughts on companies today engaging in political and social topics to attract and retain talent?
GR: “You can’t please all the people all the time, and no good deed goes unpunished. You’ve got to be very deliberate. One of the mistakes companies make is entering into those conversations on a social platform or network in order to be able to fly their flag. But at the end of the day, we have to be able to do what’s best for our people.
If you’re a global company, it’s interesting how people’s points of view are so different across cultures around the world. One thing I’ve learned is that just because something is an issue to people in the United States, it may not be an issue to people that work for you in China, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, or anywhere else.
As a global company, you have to be particularly sensitive to that. This is an area that I’ve struggled with a lot, and particularly, I think CEOs of public companies struggle with it, too. It’s something to be very thoughtful about.
On certain topics, people ultimately want to know where the company stands. So, if you stand in the middle, tell them that.
Diversity and inclusion are so important. Belonging is so important. Whatever position you take, some people in your organization are going to be at odds with it. You’ve got to be very deliberate about it.”
Final Thoughts: What Matters Most?
Garry ended by saying, “What’s important is the culture in an organization. And how do you get that? You treat people with respect, dignity, and a set of values. You have a leadership style where empathy plays a big part, and ego plays a small part.”
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