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A Publication of WTVP

In the early 1990s, I was both an observer of and a participant in a Cinderella-like story that took place at Track-Type Tractors Division of Caterpillar Inc. I watched Jim Despain and other managers change from control-based to values-based leaders who built relationships and produced amazing results. The transformation began after Jim and leader team learned the division was losing lots of money. Total quality management, plant modernization, and other traditional means for turning their business around failed to produce the desired result. Jim’s team looked at the confrontational attitudes that abounded in the division and concluded that culture might be the problem.

It was then they asked each other, “What if the people of Track-Type Tractors shared common values and a vision and were empowered to succeed? How much better would we feel? How much more able would we be? Would satisfaction grow here because we were committed to each other and practiced real respect? Would customers notice better service? Would we?” 

And so began the journey to find, learn, and use common values to build a better workplace, a better product, and a better company. Jim and his managers listed nine values: trust, mutual respect, teamwork, empowerment, risk taking, sense of urgency, continuous improvement, commitment, and customer satisfaction. Each value was defined by a list of behavioral expectations. Leaders and workers alike were assessed based on how well they met these expectations.

Was leading with values easy? No. I heard Jim tell people values were like “a candle with a wet wick and my job is to light the candle every day.” I saw workers—with attractive wages and benefits—find ways to prove their value. Together, they made an amazing difference. They reduced total breakeven by more than 50 percent, increased productivity, and made their division very profitable again.

A book titled And Dignity for All – Unlocking Greatness through Values-Based Leadership documents the process that caused this change. Jim and I coauthored it to celebrate Caterpillar’s achievement and make it available to others. We hope companies large and small, in service industries as well as manufacturing businesses, will follow the example and create work environments that engage and energize people, build trust, and dramatically improve business performance.

Ken Blanchard said, “This might well be the best management book you ever read.” We hope it is. It’s certainly a different management book. It’s the story of a man who, because he had lived it and learned it the hard way, had a compelling story to tell. It tells how Jim began his career as a sweeper in a factory that makes the largest earthmoving equipment in the world and ended it as vice president of this $20 billion corporation.

He spares no detail as he reveals the personal highs and lows of leadership. This self-taught man is forever watching, listening, trying, failing, and learning as he travels from the factories in Peoria and Cleveland to Japan and Mexico and back to Peoria where he first began. It’s here he learns the biggest lesson of all—when you focus on people, business results happen.

Yes, cultures of achievement can be created. Jim’s story tells you how. It was written for those who want to go to work every day and feel worthy, appreciated, and able to make a difference. It was written for workers who seek a way to preserve their jobs and help their company succeed. IBI

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