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Management – How to Be a Great Manager
By Ed Kugler

How would like to be a great manager? I mean a really great manager? Of course we all would but what does a great manager look like? It was years ago when first stumbled over a really great manager and boy I didn’t want to admit he was great. Let me explain.

It was 1970 and I was driving truck for my Father’s company, a small trucker with a hundred trucks serving the building industry. There wasn’t much money in the business, the margins were razor thin and hauling clay pipe, brick and steel coils wasn’t too glamorous. The company had three terminals at this point, one in Chicago, one north of Philadelphia in Pottstown and the home terminal in Akron, Ohio.

I just wanted to learn the business so I spent some time as a mechanic and was now on the road with some long term drivers. All the drivers hated going to Pottstown because the Terminal Manager there, Spencer, was as they termed, a real ball buster. Now I had heard from my father that he was the greatest guy to walk the earth. Umm?

Over the next two years I went in and out of Pottstown and Spencer, which was his last name but the name everyone knew him by, was always there when we refueled. He’d come out, never in a particularly good mood, and make really small talk while he walked around the truck. If there was one dent or scrape that wasn’t there the last time you were in, you heard about it. You could say, Spencer was engaged.

When I started out I was talking trash about Spencer just like the other drivers. My father would always respond, “Well, he always makes me money.” For my father, that was the overriding criteria. But as time went on I noticed something else. Spencer’s drivers had been with the company for a long time. In Akron, the home terminal, they never made money, had high turnover and the place looked a wreck.

Over the course of those two years it became apparent that Spencer indeed was doing something right. Then one day I realized in the office that he didn’t even have an office. He had the same amount of drivers working there doing the same volume of work as Akron and had less than half the support staff. And get this … he didn’t even have an office or a desk. He just sat at the end of his dispatchers desk and long before it was popular he managed by wandering around. He knew the business better than anyone that worked for him.

Over the years I became friends with Spencer and a finer man you wouldn’t meet. I worked hard to understand what his ‘secret’ was and you know what, I figured it out. He didn’t have a secret he just did three simple things:

1. He knew the business better than anyone who worked for him. More importantly they knew he knew.

2. He truly managed the place as if every dollar he spent was his.

3. He cared. He cared about the business, the people in it and my father, the owner.

Spencer became a dear friend and my ultimate example of what a great manager really is. It is rare today to find someone who fits the bill of ‘manager’ like Ernest did. It took me a couple years to get over the fact that he didn’t have an office, let alone a desk. He didn’t have a lot of things but what he did have was the ability to deliver the mail, as my Dad used to say. He didn’t have a lot of things but he did just get it done and that makes him a great manager.

Ed Kugler has been living change since the jungles of Vietnam where he was a Marine Sniper for two-years in the Vietnam War. He came home to a country he hadn’t left and began work as a mechanic and truck driver. Since then he has worked his way into the executive suite of Frito Lay, Pepsi Cola and Compaq Computer where he was Vice President of Worldwide Logistics, a position he achieved with no college degree. Ed left in 1997 to consult and write. He is the author of Dead Center – A Marine Sniper’s Two Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War and five other books and counting. He regularly consults with some o the nations leading companies on organizational change and coaches individuals to make the most of their lives. Ed is the father of three, grandfather to three and has been married to the same woman for 38 years and counting.

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