The Last Word: Sir Stephen Tindall

These days Sir Stephen is no longer part of large, structured and formal organisation. He heads the Tindall Foundation, more amorphous group that spends time thinking, researching, strategising and kick-starting all manner of promising enterprises and struggling organisations. He and his team offer their many years of experience and knowhow to encourage others to deliver on their skills, causes, ideas and visions of how things might be.

In describing his leadership style, Sir Stephen, like most thoughtful leaders, credits his accomplishment to surrounding himself with “the right people”. Choosing and motivating them to perform is, he thinks, personal gift. “I was good at selecting people who had better abilities than I did in specific areas. Then I gave them the mandate and the room to perform.”

Reflecting on his leadership style, Sir Stephen tells an apocryphal story from early Warehouse days. “A new employee who attended number of management meetings said he was surprised that I did not dominate the meetings and was just one of the participants. That is how I have always seen myself – as adding to the whole by being simply participant.”

He is disciple of management guru Jim Collins and his books Built to Last and From Good to Great in which Collins stresses the need to ‘get the right people on board and the wrong ones off’. “In my experience that is hugely true. Selecting the right person is massively important but you inevitably make mistakes. If the individual does not fit the organisational ethos then, sadly, he or she has to go and be replaced by someone who does.”

Sir Stephen’s business philosophy is, in large measure, encapsulated by his belief that actions speak louder than words. “A leader must have support from others, otherwise they are not leader,” he says. “Leaders are those with proven track record of doing things that other people admire.”

And they must embrace change. Those who don’t adapt and change are driven by “ideology rather than vision”. And ideologies lock people in, becoming “crutch” and an inhibitor to progress. “Everything I have done I have asked myself, how can I make this better? We created successful formula at The Warehouse, based around the mandate of making the desirable affordable. This was particularly relevant in the 1980s when times were tough for many people. We satisfied demand and burned off the competition and became big company.”

Tindall’s shareholding in The Warehouse now generates super profits which go into the Tindall Foundation and the export-driven companies and community organisations it funds. “I have always believed that you should use your resources to do better things – to make the world better place,” he says. “When we were building The Warehouse I had this really strong ambition to provide people with products they could both use and also afford. People who, like those we help through the Tindall Foundation, for one reason or another were economically deprived.

“The philosophy was simple. We should try to help people do things. Help our customers, our employees, suppliers and service providers, the community, the environment and the economy. I thought that growing very successful business had positive spin-offs for all those people.

“The biggest thrill that anyone can get from creating something successful comes from putting something back.”

From an interview with Reg Birchfield for Leaders Magazine. www.leadershipnz.co.nz

 

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