Interview with Kevin Freiberg
High Country Business Review
Q: What inspired you to start writing?
A: I think what inspired me was the desire to make a difference. I think there are two institutions in the world to effect change, individually and collectively, and that’s business and the church. If you can get a business leader to adjust his thinking about leadership, customer service and different aspects of the world, you can effect change.
Q: How has it been working with your wife, Jackie?
A: “We’re on our third book, launching in October and our fourth book is on how to write four books without getting divorced. We’ve been married for 20 years. She thinks differently than I do, which creates healthy conflict. It just works.”
Q: What comes next?
A: The next book is called “Blow the Doors Off Business as Usual.” It’s based on the idea that 75 percent of the workplace is not engaged or is actively disengaged. We call it “dead people working.”
In our book, we include seven choices that can help people get out of that mind set. It’s scary when you think about global competitiveness. People in Asia are buzzing and people are running 90 mph with their hair on fire. When I juxtapose that with the situation here, it’s unnerving. When you’ve been the big dog on the hill for as long as the United States has, it’s easy to get complacent.
Q: What’s different about each book?
A: We cut our teeth with Southwest Airlines (“Nuts!”). Jackie and I both wrote our dissertations on Southwest Airlines. It’s a study of culture and leadership. They break a lot of rules, but it works.
“Guts!” is about 20 different leaders and case studies. Some are introverted and quiet, but they’re all doing something unconventional and it’s working. All the companies are so focused.
“Before we started “Blow the Doors Off Business as Usual,” we had a lot of people coming up to us and telling us stuff like “my boss is a jerk,” and they had this whole victim mentality.
If there’s a mantra to this third book, it’s “maybe you’re not the CEO, but make a difference anyway.” Don’t put your happiness in anyone’s hands but your own. So many people have said “I would have made a difference if someone would have let me.”
We want everyone to realize that you are designed to choose and be defined by your choices. It’s how we respond to circumstances. Our philosophy is: You’re really a product of your choices rather than your conditions.”
Q: What are your goals with these books?
A: In all of our books, we think there’s a very strong business case to be made between happy employees and loyal customers. The first two books were about how to create a culture. In other words, how do you get people show up to work awake and ready to rock n’ roll? How do you create a workplace where customers walk away turned on and evangelistic?
In terms of goals, we want companies to create the best places where the best people can do their best work. That’s our mission. To bring hope to companies, where people really think that what they’re doing matters. One question we raise in the book is how many people in a company think that what they’re working on now in five years will anyone give a damn? We want companies to create places where people want to stay. The need for it is throbbing. There’s a huge void in terms of understanding how to create these kids of cultures.”
Q: Got any stories?
A: USAA is an insurance company that was started by 22 retired military officers who couldn’t get insurance. Now, it’s a $75 billion business with 6 million members. It’s one of the most customer-oriented companies I’ve ever seen. They’re so well connected. They know who is serving where. I call it romance after marriage. In most companies it’s we sign you up and once we have you, we take you for granted. But at USAA they’ve figured out a way to care about their members long after their members.
So a guy calls to update car insurance, and customer service agent sees he needs health insurance. He explains to the man that if he fills out some simple paperwork, USAA can get him insured. The man sends in all the paperwork but doesn’t send his first payment.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, USAA sent a crisis team to the World Trade Center. His widow finds the company and asks them if there is any chance her husband actually finished the process of getting life insurance. A USAA representative looked up her husband’s name and found that they did in fact have all the paperwork, he just never sent in the premium payment. In most companies, that would make the contract null and void. USAA granted $250,000 to the man’s widow.”
I talked to the CEO of USAA and he made it very clear to me. He said, “Our customers are members and we have a sacred bond with our customers.” That’s how every company should be.