Joe McAleese, president and CEO of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC: Talk With the Boss – cleveland.com
Joe McAleese has been president and chief executive of Elyria’s Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC since 2003. Under his guidance, Bendix has shifted its focus from air brakes for commercial trucks to more complex safety systems such as antilock brakes and stability control systems. McAleese has spent his entire professional career at Bendix. These are excerpts from a recent chat between McAleese and Plain Dealer reporter Robert Schoenberger.
The Question: You’ve spent your entire career at one company. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that?
The Answer: I know the business from a relatively deep level. I know people in the business from all throughout the organization, people who I’ve known for 20-plus years. I tend to know details about what we’ve gone through in the past and issues that we’ve gone through in the past that we can bring to bear on current issues.
I’ve been a Bendix guy for 27 years, so I haven’t seen some things that other people have seen. That’s why it’s critically important on my leadership team that there are some people that are from the outside.
The Question: Do you think it’s a good idea to try to spend your career at a single company?
The Answer: The issue with staying with one company, it doesn’t happen that often, you have to find a way in that one-company environment to do different things, to get different experiences, to broaden your horizons. You have to stay through a couple of business cycles to really learn and make decisions and see the ramifications of the decisions you made.
A lot of people find it’s easier to do that by jumping to different companies. I went to different parts of the company to get different experiences.
The Question: What did you learn from your first management job?
The Answer: Facts and data really rule the day. It’s really what should drive decision making. It takes emotion out of the situation. We had a very emotional manufacturing manager in the plant [where McAleese was the controller]. We’d get into arguments from time to time. But if you went and gathered the facts, brought him the facts of what was going on on the shop floor from your standpoint, you got past all of that.
The Question: What do you look for when you’re hiring people? And do you prefer to promote from within or to look for outside talent?
The Answer: It’s critically important that we find the right person who fits in with the team. I try to spend a couple of two-hour interviews with them. So I can not only query their background and get a feel for the skills they have for that function, but also a feel for their style. Half of my people are internal Bendix people. Half are people we’ve brought in from the outside.
The Question: During crisis years, such as 2009, how do you balance the need to keep the business afloat with your long-term goals?
The Answer: My fear is that as we get down the road a couple of years, we’re going to find a lot of businesses that survived 2009 but lost the long-term fight.
Every single year, we go through and say, What do we have to do, what do we have to accomplish as an organization to let us move toward that vision for five years down the road? We take that single-year set of objectives and make that visible to people throughout the organization. That ends up being the framework for all decision-making throughout the organization.
The Question: What’s the best part of being the boss?
The Answer: Being able to drive the vision of the future, being able to work with my team to establish where we want to be three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. Then, set priorities for the business, drive the business to achieve that vision. I’m a long-term Bendix person so I have a passion for this business and a passion for the people in this business. To be able to set down the vision for the future that is a better future for the business, for the people in the business, for our customers. That’s just very exciting and very rewarding to me.
The Question: What’s the hardest part?
The Answer: We had to make extremely difficult decisions last year. The economy collapsed, our end market collapsed, our revenue collapsed. Knowing people throughout the organization increases the difficulty in making the decisions [such as cutting wages and benefits]. You recognize the impact of what you’re asking for. You’re asking people to take an impact personally to let the business succeed.