Fletcher CEO's cult of personality

SIMON ESKOW
Last updated 05:00 15/04/2013
mark adamson
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Fletcher Building CEO Mark Adamson.

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Mark Adamson loves promoting unheralded talent.

Sometimes that mean the talent follows him to the ends of the earth, or even New Zealand, where Adamson relocated from the US last October to fill the CEO vacancy left by Jonathan Ling at Fletcher Building.

“I find the guys that I like to work with,” Adamson said in recent presentation to the Institute of Directors. “I do have management teams that have tended to follow me. It’s somewhat of a personality cult. We work together and enjoy success together.”

Adamson paints a picture of a leadership style bent on building a “winning culture” and putting the right people and structure in place to succeed. 

Earlier last week, Fletcher announced it would bring its Australia plumbing business, Crane, under the general building group, a consolidation effort that could be seen as staunching the flow of recent losses for Crane’s business - or a reflection of Adamson’s ideas about leading a company that has seen bumpy times.

“Fletcher has made three profit warnings in the last couple years,” he said, adding it had seen drops in its market share. 

Part of his response has been to institute programmes under the rubric of FBUnite, which includes training managers, especially at the customer-facing end of the business. He expects the programme is “probably worth $75 million to $100 million” without added cost.

“This isn’t about headcount reduction,” he said. “In the next three years, we think we can drive that improvement with the right people, the right focus, a company that’s light on its feet, responds to customers and grows the market share.”

Among the improvements Adamson is instituting is bringing IT services and procurement responsibility, for example, up to the corporate level, and consolidating structures to take advantage of scale. 

“We run a very decentralised business model,” he said. “I’m all for autonomy. You’ve got to be as close to the market and customers as you can. But do we really need 53 ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems? Do we really need 20% utilisation of 800 trucks in New Zealand?”

Adamson says he is bringing a business philosophy from his previous role heading Formica Corporation in the US, where he undertook an “aggressive programme involving headcount reductions”, and improving pricing, costumer engagement, and product improvements.

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The efforts helped Formica move from a $50 million business in the 2008 fiscal year to a business that generated between $70 million and $80 million in 2012.

Adamson said when he took the CEO role at Fletchers, he brought a few members of that “personality cult” with him to New Zealand.

“There is nothing like recruiting and developing good talent. When I get the structure and culture in place and find the people to populate that, that’s when I can put my feet up,” he said. 

He says at Formica he was able to tap underutilised middle managers, which he is repeating at Fletcher. 

“The exciting thing about recruitment within the business is those unpolished gems who, for whatever reason, were stuck,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t go to the right meetings, or say the right things. Or shake the right hands. I didn’t care.”

Eighty percent of the Fletcher management team has overseas experience, he said, but he plans to make that 100%. Adamson believes that experience will help Fletcher avoid re-inventing the wheel by having people on board who have seen how things work in other countries.

Adamson's top management tips:

  • Hire the right people. “Unless you have people who get it, you’re not going to succeed.”
  • You don't necessarily need to keep long-time employees. “I don’t really care if you’ve been on the job 20 years. It does not interest me in the slightest. It’s what you did in that 20 years. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but by and large I want to know what you’ve achieved, not how long you’ve been on the job.”
  • Celebrate wins. “A culture of winning is good. One of my regrets about leaving the US is that is a culture that knows how to celebrate success. At whatever level, it doesn’t have to be a manager, you can’t drive improvements if you don’t celebrate success.”
  • Learn from people's global experience. “We have some great people. Most have worked in at least two countries. And that brings a breadth of experience to executive management, financial management from other places. Why invent something new when you can copy it?”
  • Get the structure right from top to bottom. “Most structures I see are too deep, they have too many layers between the CEO and the customer. There’s no way you can have customer relations from the head office.”

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