Willow Creek Interviews TOMS Founder, Former GE CEO

LANDOVER, Md. – As a gifted entrepreneur, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie wanted to amass tons of money, then give it away when he reached 60 or 70 years old.

Be successful, then give back, he thought.

"I knew I'd be blessed from that. I thought 'that is life,'" the 33-year-old Californian said Friday during The Global Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill.

But after four years of delivering over 600,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world, and seeing smiles on the faces of children and parents and lives changed, including his, he wouldn't revert back to that initial dream he had during his freshman year in college.

"I would have had to have waited until I'm 60 or 70 to have the blessings I have today if I had done that," he said.

Mycoskie founded TOMS Shoes as a for-profit company in 2006 after he came across volunteers in Argentina who distributed to the needy slightly used shoes that were donated. Though the group's effort was commendable, Mycoskie felt it wasn't a sustainable model because it solely depended on donations.

"I didn't want to start a charity," he explained to summit attendees at Willow Creek Community Church and to tens of thousands of church and corporate leaders across North America through videocast.

Instead of looking at charity to solve the problem of shoeless children who often get serious infections and disease, Mycoskie wanted to start a business.

And from the get-go, the company would apply a "one for one" model.

"I think that TOMS represents a lot of different biblical principles but the one that I kind of go back to again and again is in Proverbs, where it says 'give your first fruits and your vats will be full,'" he said.

"We didn't start a business, a shoe company, make a bunch of money and then start giving," he explained. "Day one, we started the business so that we could give away shoes. For the first couple of years, the company was operating in the red. But Mycoskie refused to abandon the commitment to give a pair of shoes away for every pair that is purchased."

"We were losing money and still giving away shoes," the smiling, curly-haired Chief Shoe Giver said. "And because we did that and stayed true to our one for one model, we've been incredibly blessed. We really did give our first fruits."

He offered fellow young leaders some advice.

"What I would say to young leaders is it's never too early to start giving, to start service. You're going to be so blessed from it."

Jack Welch

The live interview with the laid-back yet impassioned leader preceded a pre-recorded interview with a 74-year-old businessman who amassed millions from his highly successful 41-year career with General Electric Company.

Jack Welch is said to be the most studied CEO of the 20th century. Leadership Summit organizers have tried to get Welch in the speaker line-up for over a decade.

This year, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church was able to interview the former CEO at First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Known for his own brutal candor, Welch emphasized authenticity and candor in leaders.

"You've got to be yourself. You've got to be comfortable in your shoes," he said. "You've got to not portray yourself as something other than what you are. People can see through a phony in a minute."

Rather than waste time on powerpoint slides and carefully planned meetings, Welch encouraged engagement and conversation and learning from one another.

When there's more candor, there's speed, less bureaucracy, less paperwork, and less meetings, he said.

Welch defended his 20-70-10 system where employees are ranked and paid accordingly and the bottom 10 percent get laid off.

With candor as the foundation, he said the differentiating system lets people know where they stand in their performance.

"I don't think any leader ... in any organization can ever go to work and have people working for them that don't know where they stand. I believe that," he said. "The fact that it's done isn't cruel."

"I can't think of a better way to build a better team," he said. "I'm sure there's a lot of biases in [this] ... On the other hand, how else do you get an organization to know where they stand and to move forward?"

Providing a simple analogy, Welch said baseball or other sports teams (winning ones) would not tolerate differences in performance among its players.

While many companies spend time trying to "fix" the bottom 10 percent, Welch said bluntly, "[They] can't get better."

Such employees often have low energy and are "acidic," he explained.

"Nothing is worse than negative energy," Welch stressed.

Meanwhile, the top 20 percent are those who are filled with energy and likeable, who love to reward and celebrate their people, aren't mean-spirited or cheap and aren't afraid to have great people around them, he said.

The mean-spirited hide the good people. But the top workers don't have a lot of envy.

"Envy's a terrible thing," he pointed out.

(The middle 70 percent are hard-working but not as gifted as the top.)

Addressing the criticism that the top percentile of workers receive overly generous salaries, bonuses and stock options, Welch said it would have been a "heck of a lot harder" to grow the company if he hadn't rewarded employees the way he did.

While such high compensation isn't available to people who work in the church, Welch noted that in place of that, people "get some feeling of a spiritual sense of satisfaction."

Welch isn't a Christian but he has been attending First Presbyterian Church for the past several months after he was hospitalized for 104 days for a spinal infection called discitis.

When asked if the health scare opened him up to things of God, he said, "Maybe."

"Maybe it was the sickness; I don't know what it was .... who knows why I met people of this church, who knows why I ran into Lucky (Rev. Walter B. Arnold III) preaching."

What he said he is certain of, however, is: "I love this church."

The Global Leadership Summit was held Aug. 5-6 and hosted at some 190 sites throughout North America. The summit will be broadcast later this year to people in more than 70 countries.

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