Do you think that your venturing out of LP world for a while helped you in any way with the job that you do now?
Absolutely. Today I’m a better VP because I understand the operations and supply chain thanks to my previous roles. I know their challenges and worries, and this enables me to fulfill my mission better: increase sales, enhance customer experience, keep our people safe, and reduce shrink.
One thing I keep hearing about you consistently is that you are a very humble person. How does a humble man succeed in the corporate world?
I’m extremely competitive. I live every day to do a better job than my competitors. And I try to make myself a better leader. I will never stop trying to be a better leader. I’ve made my mistakes and learned from them, and I up to the day I retire I will strive to continually improve.
What are some mistakes you wish you could have avoided? Or, what advice could you offer to up-and-coming LP managers?
When I became a VP and had to deliver tough news I was too soft because I didn’t want to hurt the person. Softness led to a mixed message. Took me ten years to understand it. Michael Rouleau helped me a lot, Bill Warden too. They taught me to not jumble the message, to be very direct and forthright when you have to deliver bad news. But to also deliver it with empathy.
Advice? I always tell people don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There’s nothing you can do that I can’t help you with or help you fix. That lifts so much pressure off people. Another piece of advice is that you’ve got to be accurate. If you don’t know something, admit it. Have the expectation that people will react quickly to what you say as a manager. People below and above you will call you out if you’re wrong. If it’s just an opinion, then be clear about it.
People also call you a maverick.
I’m passionate about the industry. I don’t have a fear of trying new things. I love the words “testing” and “pilot.” I use those words frequently.
I’m the knucklehead who brought ink tags to the US. I read a small article about ink tags overseas. At the time, Guess jeans were all the rage, and they were being stolen from our stores at an enormous rate. So I suggested ink tags, and everyone started laughing at me, saying, “What are you thinking, thieves are going to spray ink everywhere in the dressing rooms.” I said, “Well, you are considering pulling Guess jeans off the shelves completely because of the shrink, and that will costs us sales; what have we got to lose?” Ed Mangiafico finally backed me, and we tried the ink tags in three stores.
“I always tell people don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There’s nothing you can do that I can’t help you with or help you fix.”
The day they showed up was a horrible day. As it turned out, you needed an air compressor to take them off. And air compressors are not small. Implementing those tags was a lot more complicated than imagined. But they worked. And the theft stopped overnight, and sales went up.
I also fought for color cameras. I read a study that showed that people could watch twice as many hours of color footage than black and white. This meant that we could double the productivity of our personnel that were watching the monitors. So we implemented color cameras. And after I proved their effectiveness, everyone wanted color cameras.
I heard that you are not the type who insists on zero shrink. Instead you seek to minimize it and control it.
I don’t like locking stuff up. Customers don’t want that in their retail experience. They expect to be able to handle the product. That’s where USS has played an instrumental role, developing solutions that allow customers access. USS has helped us develop layering solutions to drive sales and enhance customer experience. We’re not locking stuff up.
I heard the first time you met someone from USS something funny happened.
After our initial meeting I thought they disappeared! I told them what I wanted, a website that allows my managers to order products directly, and USS guys sat there, and asked questions, and listened. And then they left, and I didn’t hear from them for a few months. I almost forgot about our meeting. But then they came back and asked, “Is this what you wanted?” And they showed me exactly what I asked for. They took the time to build the solution that I needed. That’s why I love companies like USS, who listen and are flexible. These are the vendor partners I love going to battle with.
I’d like to turn toward the personal side of Bob O. You are a man of faith and your family means a lot to you.
I was fortunate to go to a small Catholic high school. My grandmother was my rock and very religious. She took me to church and took us away from home difficulties. I was blessed with nuns and coaches to keep me in line. As I grew up, I got further away from my faith. Then I came to realize that it wasn’t me, it was Him that was in charge. Everything I’ve had was because He blessed me with it.
“I don’t like locking stuff up. Customers don’t want that in their retail experience. They expect to be able to handle the product.”
My wife has been my rock who takes the edge off because she’s funny and realizes when I’m stressed and takes my mind off it. I have two stepchildren; one who’s 13 and has Down Syndrome. She’s an incredible inspiration. She’s a swimmer, she won the state competition, and is training hard to qualify for the U.S. Special Olympics team.
But every blessing in my life has been because of Him. I’m a better manager and leader the closer I get to my faith and the more I work on myself. And I’m still a work in progress.
Who are your heroes outside the business world?
My heroes are the people who serve this country. The men and women in uniform, they are the real heroes. On 9/11 I was in a grocery store… Those firefighters and cops who ran into those buildings – those are the heroes.
Pope Francis – he is an incredible leader. I think God has selected the perfect man to lead in this time. If you listen to him, he’s talking about inclusion. When they asked him about people who are gay, he said, “Who am I to judge?” Pope said that. Remember when we talked about diversity? That’s what he’s talking about too. And he says, our job is to serve the Lord; our mission is to help people find the Lord. He lives in a modest apartment, not at the Vatican palace, and rides the bus with other passengers. Imagine being that humble and still being a leader. He is leading by example.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud of my children and my legacy of being a mentor. There are14 people who are now vice president or higher that I’ve had the pleasure of being part of their career. There are 4 people today on my team who are gonna be VPs. That’s what I am proud of. That I’ve helped others.