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Robert Uhler

About Robert Uhler

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So far has created 48 blog entries.

Saving Private Ryan Companies

 

Last month I had a very lucrative, but sad day.

I spent nearly four decades in the same private employee-held service sector company, the final eleven years as its CEO. Over my career, I witnessed it achieve world-class status in its focused sector of global water infrastructure. Three years ago, I left the management for an independent consulting practice but, as did other senior retirees with large holdings, retained a stock position in a multi-year sell-down allowing the company continued use of my investment capital.

Since I left the management team, the firm repeatedly told its employees of its exciting future as evidenced by its ever-growing record backlog, strategically enhancing acquisitions and improving internal efficiency. They credited much of the success to the dedication and care of employees who were also the sole owners.

But last fall, the Board quietly self-initiated a structured sales process with about a dozen self-chosen firms and sold this spring to a public company—to the surprise of its shareholders, employees and the industry. When the deal closed I benefited through my residual stock’s escalation, but it was a depressing day for me. Another mid-sized, privately held, services company was gone…this time; it was the firm to which I had dedicated my career.

As a result of the acquisition, many of the latent ambitions of both individuals and the company’s leadership, that was not possible before the sale, may now be achieved with the new configuration. The buyer is an established public company in the infrastructure space with proven leadership and better accessibility to growth capital. All this may be true, but sadly, the merger results in the rapid evaporation of my former company’s enterprise legacy and independence. And that change is irreversible. There is […]

By |May 3rd, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Finding a Support Base for Change

How many times is a new leader asked to change the status quo of the unit they inherit? If not, how many new leaders think they have to change the status quo just to symbolize taking charge?

In the course of management succession, a new leader is constantly elevated and expected to show immediate competency with equal-to-better ideas than the last person. Not only is the new leader asked to come up with a different strategy or changed environment, they are expected to carry it off with majority support as the first test of their abilities. The test sets the tone for their tenure.

Every unit can be improved in some way. The strength of one leader is usually matched by some weakness in the last individual in that position, that got less attention. So, coming up with a set of changes to ‘take charge’ is not as difficult as it would seem. When you have no good ideas to improve your market position, try re-branding with a logo or ‘refreshed’ color combinations…just kidding, as you must have something better than optics!

Seriously, change is stressful for all. It shakes the power structure into the unknown. Obviously identifying change issues that improve your business competitiveness or performance culture would be best, but you will really be remembered by whether you could sell your idea and overcome resistance to take charge. Mediocre ideas that are ‘sold’ well are superior to the greatest idea changes you never get concurrence for. New leaders, especially if coming from outside the organization, usually do not have an established constituency. Most all inherited subordinates are polite and act politically supportive in their surface behavior to a new leader. But there are a wide […]

By |May 2nd, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Best Client Service Advice

The best client service advice I ever received was given to me by a colleague 20 years my senior. I’ve always admired the quality and depth of his business relationships. His clients had a tendency to be demanding, but they were also his personal friends. One day, I asked him how he did it, and his answer stuck with me.  So, what was it?

His advice: Always work to get your client personally promoted to a higher job level, study what their bosses or organization value and then help your client deliver impressive on-target results.

Now, at first glance, one might say that this concept is no different than delivering the scope of work on time, on budget and with good quality, but nothing could really be further from the “promotion theory.” Over the years, I’ve found that my clients  get credit by solving issues or enhancing an image outside of the scope of work.

Finding the necessary characteristics that lend themselves to your client’s success takes work. You cannot initially be so direct, but by building a relationship and studying the way others get promoted, you can better understand the values of the individuals within the organization who are responsible for promoting.

For example, one project I worked on was relatively straightforward in scope, but I realized that my client’s boss wanted to be recognized in the industry for innovation. As a result, I wrote a technical paper on the project and convinced my client to jointly submit our paper into a professional conference. We then asked his boss to also co-author the piece, eventually convincing him to attend the conference and present it. It was no surprise that the boss thought it was a fantastic project and […]

By |May 1st, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Leadership Diseases and Their Cure

Two executive leadership management styles I am occasionally requested to consult on are by-products of the base motivation of the individual leader. The problematic symptoms are very different, and one needs to address the ‘disease.’ Unless you can get the executive to understand their particular disease and have the desire to want to modify the behavior, you cannot mitigate the symptoms.

Popularity

The first disease is an underlying need to be popular while supervising people. This need is rarely admitted, but clearly manifested by actions. Executives that want to be liked have trouble making timely decisions that would upset anyone. They even go so far as to physically disappear so that decisions are delayed or solved by others. These executives rationalize that time will cure the negative emotions a decision may cause. Delayed response may even make a needed, yet unpopular, decision immaterial as it becomes stale. This is not a person who makes principled-based decisions, but one who tries to come up with the most diplomatic answer that puts them in a good light. Their decisions are made with their interest of staying popular in mind, without regard to consistency or what’s best for the company.

An executive whose personality requires approval is vulnerable to one-on-one lobbying resulting in decision reversals. I often hear when dealing with these popularity seekers, is that there is a competition to be the last lobbyist in order to be the most influential before a critical meeting. Lobbyists learn that if you cannot get the leader to a decision you want, the fallback is to request to freeze the decision to another meeting. The executive concludes that it is better to have a late decision rather than an unpopular one.

Investors don’t pay […]

By |August 14th, 2018|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Turning Fear into Success

About six months after I stepped down from being CEO of a global company for nearly a decade, someone asked me how I was doing. I said the first thing that popped into my mind: “I am celebrating sleeping again.” It was true. I was sleeping at least eight hours a night for the first time in a very long time, and it felt very different. My burden of fearing failure was dramatically lowered with the absence of the responsibility that comes with being in that position.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was coaching another CEO. I asked him how he slept, and he answered, “I have always had no trouble sleeping. Frankly, I sleep like a baby.” Eventually his company stalled, and in short order, he decided to sell his business before its value totally collapsed.

Another client requested me to talk to a promising lieutenant who seemed de-energized and unmotivated. I asked the lieutenant how he slept, and he said: “Great.” In both this and the previous case, I was stunned at these individuals’ answers. I asked myself how they could not worry at night when they had such a responsibility to make things happen? Yet, looking back, I too, was always fearful that my subordinates were not worried enough!

It made me ponder why I felt my burden of the office was so heavy 24 hours a day. I was not frozen by fear but instead motivated by it. Was fear actually an important success driver? Why did it not have the opposite reaction by freezing me in my decision making?

Since my childhood, I feared failure. It manifested itself in worry and a resultant effort not to shame myself or my parents […]

By |July 6th, 2018|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Importance of Reading Offices

When I first entered the consulting world in the mid-1970, there was a process in my company where new junior project managers were indoctrinated into the company’s client service culture. They didn’t learn this information via a class or some literature, rather, through on-the-job training. You would be paired with a more experienced project manager, who acted as your mentor and trainer for six months to a year. Your role as a junior project participant was not only to assist on assignments, working with others as a team, but also travel and meet clients with your mentor. Your role in these client visits was to stay quiet and observe how the senior colleague handled clients.

In this article, I want to share one of the invaluable lessons that I learned from this training experience, which has served me well throughout my career. I call the lesson: “reading a client’s office.” (Later in my career, as I became more senior, it led to reading my colleagues and employees’ offices.)

To learn this skill, you must visit a client in their personal office or space. As I was in the midst of this training, the car ride to the client’s office generally served as my preparation time from my senior colleague and the return trip was used as a debriefing. In the debriefing session, I was grilled on what I saw and was asked to think about what it meant in both developing a relationship and delivering the project. The practice forced me to become much more observant about my client’s personal life.

Your client’s office is a physical reflection of their value system, their points of pride, their interests and hobbies, their families, their accomplishments, their organizational […]

By |December 11th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments