Audio production by James Ede, Be Heard

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Garry Ridge is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the WD-40 Company, a billion-dollar business with a 93% employee engagement index.

WD-40 has been making history when it comes to harnessing the power of organisational culture.

It has kept its values aligned for over six decades by making them the heart and soul of the company.

On its culture homepage, WD-40 has the following message for job applicants:

“Please consider employment with WD-40 Company only if you feel as strongly about our values as we do.”

In this interview, Garry shares what makes WD-40 culture so unique and how its tribal nature fuels the company’s impressive business results.

If you haven’t heard of WD-40 or of Garry before, you are in for a delightful surprise.

For starters, here’s a CEO who says:

The most powerful words that I have ever learned are: “I don’t know.”.

Then, he adds:

The thing that will kill any leader is when the ego eats the empathy instead of empathy eating the ego.

Garry lives and breathes his purpose and values. He is passionate about learning and empowering organizational culture, and his vision and leadership have impacted the WD-40 Company in both measurable and immeasurable ways.

His dedication to cultivating a great company culture stems from his belief that people deserve to have a positive work environment and that it’s the leader’s job to do everything in their power to provide it to them. Garry feels that it’s a disgrace that we create companies where so many people are disengaged and don’t go home happy. In our interview, he said: “Imagine if people went home happy. Happy people create happy families, happy families create happy communities, happy communities create happy countries and happy countries create a happy world. And, my God, don’t we need that?”

Here’s how Garry defines the role of a leader in the WD-40 company:

Our job is to make sure that we create an environment where our tribe members wake up each day inspired to go to work, feel safe while they are there and return home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work that they do, feeling that they have learned something new and contributed to something bigger than themselves.

Garry is very clear about the business case for creating a great climate and investing in a strong culture:

If we had the employee engagement like most companies have, we would need twice as many people to do the same job, which means that we would not have the financial results that we have today.

Garry stresses that sustainable success doesn’t come from focusing on just one thing in isolation:

You’ve got to have a very clear people culture, clear purpose, clear set of values, strategy, be great executor, embrace learning – it’s the combination of those things that will create an enduring company over time – you’ve got to put it all together.

Episode highlights

  • Garry’s early cultural influences
  • Why Garry refers to people at WD-40 “our tribe” and the reason we should be very intentional about the language we use
  • What are learning moments in WD-40
  • The secret sauce of WD-40’s extraordinary results
  • What Garry would do if he were to start afresh in a new company as its CEO

Listen to the interview in the player below, or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review and it may be featured on a future episode.

Prefer listening on iTunes, Stitcher or Spotify? Just click below.

More about Garry Ridge

Garry Ridge is responsible for developing and implementing high-level strategies, all operations, and the oversight of all relationships and partnerships for the WD-40 Company.

Garry joined the WD-40 Company in 1987 and has held various management positions in the company, including executive vice president and chief operating officer, and vice president of international. He has worked directly with the company in over 50 countries. In 1997, he was appointed the president and chief executive officer.

A native of Australia, Garry served in advisory roles for the Australian Marketing Institute and the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association. Currently, he serves as a member of the board of governors of The San Diego Foundation, and the University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration.

Garry is an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego where he teaches leadership development, talent management, and succession planning in the Master of Science in the Executive Leadership program. In 2009, he co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard outlining his effective leadership techniques titled “Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy called ‘Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.’ ”

Garry holds a certificate in Modern Retailing and wholesale distribution and a Master of Science in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego.

Books and resources mentioned on the podcast

Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A” by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge

Books that inspire Garry can be found here.

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