Fred DeLuca, co-founder of Subway, passed away this week. Fred was a remarkable man, by any definition of the word remarkable. He was brilliant, witty, quick, passionate, compassionate, kind, considerate, and many other adjectives way too numerous to mention here. For 50 years, Fred established and built his company into a powerhouse in the industry. Fred was Subway, and Subway was Fred. No one could ever argue that.
I was privileged and grateful for having known him over the last 5 years, and to have spent quality time with him, listening to his outlook on life and leadership, learning from a true master. I share with you 14 golden nuggets from my time with
- Eliminate Silos – Get people to work together. The team is more powerful than a set of individuals. Stress teamwork in everything you do.
- Recognize High Achievement in the team and individuals – Reward it. And then most importantly, figure out how to teach High Achievement to others using the high achieving team’s example. Replicate this throughout the organization.
- Be Creative in How to Get Things Done – Analytical, and project management skills are important, but nothing beats creativity for getting something accomplished. This means that at times, you put aside the tools of management, and you put on the leadership hat to think out of the box.
- Think Big, but Start Small – Then tweak and build on it. If you start small, and it doesn’t work well, the tweaking is easier, and you have not invested a great deal in the effort, even if you have to tear it down and start again, or scrap it as a bad idea.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Fail – Fail fast, so you learn from the failure, and then move on. (He also added, “try not to fail TOO much” and laughed).
- Place Some of the Burden of an Initiative on the Recipients/Stakeholders – But not too much. He called this “having skin in the game”. If people don’t have skin in the game, they won’t really accept the solution, and won’t see the true value.
- On Any Initiative, Examine Who Is Struggling, Because They Don’t Have the Required Firepower – Then, help them get the firepower. There is nothing worse than someone struggling and feeling they are failing, because they don’t have resources or the wherewithal to get something done. Don’t stand idly by and let this happen!!!
- There is a BIG Difference Between Leadership and Management – Learn when to manage something, and when to just plain lead people. Good people are looking for leadership, and won’t always need to be managed. They will often know HOW to do something, they need leadership on WHY and WHAT to do.
- Keep Your Eyes Open – This seems obvious, but in thinking about it, it is not. I am reminded of
the “beach ball” story. A beach ball’s colors are different depending on where you are standing, and you can only see the totality if you step back. Fred was saying, “look at things from different perspectives. Look at it from your customer’s perspective”. Problems will be easier to see and to solve.
- On Communication, Pick the Lowest Level Possible – A Brilliant nugget! He was saying two things here. One, Simplify your communications so that it is clear and concise, and then make sure you communicate things to the level of people for which it is truly important so they know and understand what you want them to know. Otherwise, higher levels may not share the message, or will water it down to the point where it is not useful and does not hit the intended target you were aiming at.
- Whenever Possible, Give People the Keys to Do Things Themselves – This is Fred’s flexibility mantra. He was always looking for ways to give people more flexibility and autonomy in getting things done. What is material? How much flex can we allow? Flexibility, with some structure and guidelines. Observe and learn.
- When You Are Going to Miss a Commitment, Warn as Quickly as Possible – We always want to avoid missing our commitments, but Fred was a realist and knew that not everything was going to fall into place every time. Keeping people properly informed and engaged was always on his mind.
- Think About Total Chaos – This one threw me for a loop. We were talking about this in the context of a global implementation (more than 100 countries, and 44,000 stores). He said, “don’t think about global from a HQ perspective, think about it from the local perspectives in each country. If you think about it from our tiny HQ location in Milford, Connecticut you’ll miss the mark. Think about the Total Chaos you will cause if you don’t think about it locally! Use local resources to help you think through and resolve the potential Chaos. The local guys KNOW! Wow is all I could say.
- Always Quantify How Your Solutions Help People Be More Efficient, Be More Profitable, Lead Better Lives. – Help people to see the value. If we can’t do that, we don’t have real solutions. This is our ultimate reason for being, period.
Some of these nuggets were shared with me over the time I knew Fred. Most were shared in a 2+ hour, rapid fire meeting that Fred had with myself and a colleague back in November of 2014. Even though he was already stricken, he was in great spirits, and was so energized, I had trouble keeping up to take notes. And I kept meaning to go back and write these up to share them, but, things got busy (sound familiar?), and I was stricken with my own illness, so it was placed on the back burner. Fred’s passing brought me back to that meeting, at 5 o’clock, back in November. An impromptu meeting (he was in our Miami office and dropped in on us at 5 PM), and lasting well over 2 hours, Fred kept asking, “are you guys OK on time? Do you have somewhere you have to be?”. Are you kidding me?, I laughed to myself. There is nowhere I’d rather be than here, listening to you! I had no idea, until I distilled my notes into these 14 nuggets, just how blessed I had been to have known him, and to have learned directly from Fred.
Fred, I only knew you for 5 years, but I will miss you, your smile, your wisdom, your intellect, your energy, your passion, your drive, and your desire to make the Subway world, and the world in general, a better place. You have set a stellar example for us to follow. Rest in Peace Fred DeLuca, comfortable and fulfilled in the great legacy you have left with us all.
If you knew Fred, or are familiar with him and his story, I’d love to hear from you.
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