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Book Review: Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver by Ron Wallace

Ron Wallace writes, “We promote from within to ensure that the company can pass on our legacy and culture seamlessly from one generation to the next.”

The management team at UPS, including the CEO and management committee, started as drivers, part time loaders, car washers, and clerks. Ron Wallace writes, “We promote from within to ensure that the company can pass on our legacy and culture seamlessly from one generation to the next.” In 1966, Ron Wallace was hired to be a UPS delivery driver. He would then move up the corporate ladder occupying many leadership roles. He was the head of UPS North German district for six years and then president of UPS Canada for three years and then President of UPS International before retiring in 2002.

“88% of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 are now dead and buried. So how can a company that traces its roots back to 1907 still be going strong today?” In Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver, Ron Wallace goes into detail on why UPS has succeeded for 100+ years. As Wallace would say, it’s because they have a culture of we, not me.

UPS culture was driven by its founder Jim Casey. In 1929, Jim Casey, added to the company policy book that UPS people would always be addressed by their first name. Casey was known for knowing all of the employees first names down to those that washed trucks. “He had genuine interest in people whenever he met someone, he wanted to hear their stories and ideas on making the company better. He would never rush a conversation and would give the person his full undivided attention.”

Ron Wallace tells the story of his first encounter with Jim Casey in the late 1960’s at a UPS building in Seattle:

It was late in the day, and I was the only person around. I was focused on hooking up a charger to a dead battery in one of our package cars when I suddenly felt someone standing next to me. I turned, and there he was, Jim Casey himself. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I’m sure he saw the look of shock on my face.

He stuck out his hand and said, “Hello, my name’s Jim. What’s yours?” Fortunately, I could remember it.

Then he said, “Here, let me help you, I’ll hold the cables if you want to try to start it.”

For a few seconds I thought I was dreaming. Here was Jim Casey, our founder, a legend, and a man I idolized, getting his hands dirty while working alongside me at the very end of the day.

After the car started, Jim asked if I could take a few minutes to talk with him. He motioned toward a bench, where we sat and talked for about thirty minutes. During this conversation, he asked me what I thought about “our” company and what ideas I might have to help us better serve our customers and become more efficient in our operations. Jim treated me as if I was his mentor, instead of the other way around. It was a day that I’ll never forget and an experience that shaped my approach to leadership for the rest of my career.

Former UPS CEO George Smith said that Jim Casey taught him that great leadership is made up of just four basic things:

  1. To Teach
  2. To Coach
  3. To be Taught
  4. To Learn

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