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7 Questions with Don Woodring
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7 Questions with Don Woodring
Name: Don Woodring
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Mentorship.CLUB
Luckiest man in the world. Mentored by some of the best business minds in the world. Grew up under very meager beginnings and later became the CEO of a public company at the age of 39, one of only about 12 in the country at that time.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Balancing the short term desires of wall street and the longer term benefits for the business.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was fortunate enough to be selected by a Fortune 500 company as their top national recruit after college. After that tremendous experience, I transitioned to a smaller company, where I quickly broadened my skill sets becoming a country manager at 29. That company later was acquired by DHL. In fact, my first Mentor was the CEO of DHL.
I later went to work for a public company, SDI who was in a real financial and operational turnaround situation. The CEO was a gentleman named Ron Whitaker. Ron used to be the CEO of Colt and was a well known turnaround CEO. I learned so much from Ron. I was Ron's number two and when Ron left the company, I became the CEO.
Ron was a great Mentor for me, teaching me so much. Our chairman was Bill Berkley. Bill started a company that today is WR Berkley, a Fortune 500 company. What I learned from Bill was unlike anything that I learned from Bruce (DHL) or Ron.
I later started Mentorship.CLUB to leverage my connections to provide World Class Mentorship services to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to have them.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I typically structure my day the night before to prepare for the next day. I'm very fortunate in that I only sleep 4-6 hours per night, so that leaves me a lot of productive time for work, but I've learned (the hard way) that balance is very important in life. But I also know myself, so I organize that into my day. I also try to leave open time in my days for the inevitable interruptions every day.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Always be good to people and treat everyone with respect. I learned that from when I was very young and very poor and have always carried that with me since then. That has always served me very well.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
While I've read a lot of books, the answer to this question is not a book, but rather from a movie and life lessons that I've learned. I was lucky enough to live outside of the US for 8 years, 3 of which were in Mexico, where I was the one with a different skin color and I was the one discriminated against because of that. That was one of the greatest life lessons I learned when I was very young. It had a big impact on me.
The Movie is "Do The Right Thing." It speaks to a similar topic, not only race, but broader than that, right and wrong. So, whenever I make a decision, before I make it, I ask myself, "Is this the 'right' thing to do?" That is always a great check of a leader.....to make sure that you are making a decision that is not only good for the business but that it is also the "right" decision.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I love this question as it is an important one for any enterprise. You must always maintain a balance of workers who are happy in their current positions, those who want to advance and those who are ready to advance. To not have an understanding on that balance can get you into trouble in succession planning.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I had always been proud of SDI and the culture we eventually built there. We developed new core values such as Generous Listening and Standing for Each Other's Success. We truly embodied them.
During my tenure, I needed a pancreas transplant. During my travels, I got stranded due to inclement weather in Dallas. At 3 am, my phone rang. It was my hospital who had told me that they had a "Cadillac" pancreas that was a great match for me. I couldn't find a way to get to Pittsburgh, whether by any combination of planes, trains or automobiles. My wife at the time told me to call Bill.
My boss at that time, was our Chairman, Bill Berkley, who was the Founder of WR Berkley and a billionaire. I didn't want to call Bill at that time of the morning, but I did. Not only was Bill instrumental in getting me a plane to get my pancreas, but the unbelievable support that I received from our team at SDI made me so incredibly proud. In fact, my General Counsel had told me that he had never seen such a display of loyal support around a leader. Nothing could have made me prouder of our team for embodying our core values.