Titanic and Caterpillar – What They Can Teach Us

31
March / 2021

A couple of years ago, I read an interesting commentary from an educator who resided in a communist nation. As part of his comments, he spoke about the importance of religion in a free society. Without an authoritarian government to monitor every area of our lives and punish us for acting against the  “common good”, the thing that keeps us functioning as a society is the self-driven belief that we must act in a way that is fair and just – not because the state requires it of us, but because we believe it’s simply the right thing to do. If this were to break down in a free society such as the United States, chaos would ensue because law enforcement agencies are simply not set up to handle a large scale, frequent disregard for our fellow man. 

If we apply this concept to business, what then is incumbent on our leaders? What must they do to ensure that our workplaces are places worthy of the large number of our lives that we will spend there?  It cannot simply be meeting the bare minimum. As Simon Sinek details in his outstanding book Leaders  Eat Last, the owners of the HMS Titanic chose to include the only ¼ of the lifeboats necessary to save all passengers in the event that the ship foundered. This was not because they were inherently heartless people – it was because the rules at the time (which were written largely for ferry boats operating near land) stipulated a certain number of lifeboats. The Titanic’s owners could rightfully claim they were operating within the law, but does anyone dispute that they were also tremendously negligent as well? 

Leaders owe their employees a company for which they can be proud to work – not simply because it follows the rules, but because it holds itself to a certain code and because the work that the company does is work worth doing, so to speak. A few years ago, the equipment company Caterpillar developed a slogan – The World is Counting on You. Count on Cat. I’ve always been fascinated by that slogan because, in two sentences, the company elevated the concept of moving dirt to a larger societal good that the company’s customers were doing, and the company’s employees were enabling. 

At a more micro level, the environments that leaders create for their employees must not simply be tolerable, or just within the laws and norms. They must create an environment of excellence, where every employee is proud to work there, treats fellow employees the way they would want to be treated, and does the right thing – even when no one is looking. In great organizations, employees do this not because they are required to, nor because they fear being punished if they don’t, but because they feel compelled by the ethics of the organization to which they so proudly belong. They will even sacrifice what might be best for them because they care deeply about the organization. In other words – that’s just how we do things around here. And when you get a group of people to embrace and uphold a  standard of excellence and care for one another, the job of a leader becomes much simpler. At that point, much like a free society, things happen the way they need to because the members of the organization see to it themselves.

About the author

Shane Walsh
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Shane Walsh brings deep and successful operational, business development, leadership, and management experience spanning six different industries that includes military service. Shane is the son of a Founder who built a small industrial equipment rental company in Houston, Texas and sold the company to a large private strategic acquirer shortly after Shane joined the business. While transitioning and scaling the company from a family-owned business to a multi-site corporate enterprise with no employee turnover, he rose to the position of Division Vice President and led the business through two private equity sales and two recapitalizations over the next six years. Shane oversaw the growth of the business from 14 to 50 employees, and revenue growth from $4M to more than $18M. During this growth, the company introduced new products and services and expanded its footprint into new geographic territories, including three new regional offices.

During his tenure, Shane identified, interviewed, hired, and trained each of the additional personnel in the company; designed and executed all of the personnel training programs; and developed expansion plans for new employees and new regional offices, all of which led the organization to significant profit increases in their first years of operation.

Shane later served as Senior Vice President of a Houston-based oilfield services business and supervised the well service and water transfer businesses in Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and California. His division included 200 employees and generated revenues of over $45M. After relocating to Austin in 2013, Shane served as Director of Business Development for an Austin-based software company specializing in RFID-enabled asset management.  He was also recruited to serve on the Board of Directors of a venture-backed technology company.

Shane also gained valuable leadership and management experience as a Field Director for a nationwide financial services company, where he identified, assessed, recruited, trained and led a team of investment professionals providing structured products and services. His personal production ranked in the top 5% of his peer group, and his team rose to become the top ranked unit among his peer groups in the Southern region of the United States.

In 2015, Shane co-founded a venture capital firm with another Army veteran to invest in Texas-based technology companies with significant early traction and a proven product.  Most importantly, the firm based investment decisions largely on the leadership ability of the team in place – not simply on their intelligence or ability to innovate.  Shane built all of the firm’s processes, procedures and infrastructure and served as the operating partner of the firm.

Most recently, Shane served as the Chief Operating Officer for a large commercial real estate firm in Austin. Shane led efforts to build structure and sustainability into the business during a period of rapid growth, and simultaneously launched a new investment fund to invest in Austin-based commercial real estate projects.

Shane currently serves as President of Rent Equip, a private equity-backed company headquartered in Austin.  In his current role, Shane oversees all company operations as well as the company’s ambitious growth strategy across Central Texas and beyond.

Shane received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship and earned a BS in Marketing at Boston College. He subsequently served in the United States Army with the 1st Infantry Division as a Tank Platoon Leader and Tank Company Executive Officer. He is an avid triathlete and has completed over 30 sprint, Olympic, and half-iron distance races. Shane resides in Austin, Texas with his wife and two sons.

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