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CareerBuilder Leadership Series: Spotlight on Gregg Kaplan, President and COO of Coinstar

“Create an environment of respectful but robust debate and allow people to disagree.”

In the following interview for CareerBuilder’s Leadership Series, Coinstar, Inc. President and COO Gregg Kaplan talks leadership, philosophy, and leadership philosophies.

What is your philosophy as it relates to people and their impact on your daily business?
Hire great people and then get out of the way. Really ambitious, talented people will always be way out in front of you as a manager if you give them plenty of room to succeed. Some of the best innovations at Coinstar and Redbox have come from employees who were passionate about an idea and given the freedom to pursue it. I consider my best contribution to be finding the right people and creating the right motivation, and then being available to them as a resource, not as a boss.

How do you engage with and relate to your employees?
It is very important to get to know employees on a personal level to understand not only their professional goals, but also what is important to them outside of work. It is difficult in a large company to have one-on-one relationships with all employees, but I find doing brown bag lunches and skip level meetings pay back immensely. It is great to know the people who are working hard every day for your success and let them know who you are as a person, not just a figurehead.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Good ideas can come from everywhere and anywhere: Be open and listen; be clear and decisive; admit mistakes quickly and learn from them; and hire good, talented people.

How do you define Coinstar’s culture? As a leader, what is your impact on the culture?
Our culture is fun, informal, and non-hierarchical, but serious about hitting our objectives. This may sound like it is in conflict but it isn’t. We show up to work in the summer in shorts and flip-flops, but in the same day will have a serious meeting with significant debate and discussion. In fact, just recently on Halloween I found myself in a viking helmet engaged in debate with a race car driver and a butterfly! As a leader it is my job to simultaneously demonstrate fun and informality, but also hold us to a standard of thoroughness, thoughtfulness, and rigor.

Some people believe HR to be the only department with a responsibility for the organization’s people. How do you make your overall talent strategy a priority?
At Coinstar, we make a tremendous effort to qualify the right people before asking them to join our team. For example, when making a hiring decision, we often involve upwards of six people in interviewing, and we look for a person we think would fit our values and culture as much as we look for talent – in fact, we grade people during the interview process on fit with values and culture. Also, we often ask employees to go through case study interviews, presentations, and a variety of realistic work settings before we determine that they are the right person for the job. That emphasis on values, culture, and demonstrating performance truly lives across departments and is not merely an HR mandate.

How do you rally the team and reinforce your employment brand?
We make sure we take time to have fun, which is a key characteristic of our culture. Whether it is hosting quarterly meetings at movie theaters with popcorn served, or having free lunch in the kitchen, we want to continue the fun.

What do you consider the most important decision you ever had to make as a leader?
Early in Redbox’s history, we had experimented with lots of kiosk providers. None of them met our internal standards for quality. In 2005, we were set to do our first major roll-out, and several months prior to launch, we decided we had to be in control of our own destiny and own the software and hardware of our future kiosks. We made the decision to drop our existing kiosk provider and buy a small company who had just started producing a scalable kiosk for us. Three months later, we began rolling out these new kiosks, which at first had quality issues, but with a lot of around the clock work, we fixed them and that is the machine you recognize today as the Redbox kiosk. Had we not made this risky decision in midstream, I am sure we wouldn’t be here today.

What was the best hiring decision you ever made?
There are so many it is difficult to cite just one. Every time I pick someone with great values who is smarter than I am I consider that a great decision!

What advice would you share with your peers through this piece?
Create an environment of respectful but robust debate and allow people to disagree. Anyone in the organization, regardless of their role, should be able to share a strong argument and make their point. The truth and a well-supported argument should always win out over politics and hierarchy.

ABOUT GREGG KAPLAN: As President and Chief Operating Officer of Coinstar, Inc. Gregg Kaplan oversees: Redbox, America’s destination for movie and game rentals, and the innovation and strategy team responsible for creating and identifying new automated retail solutions for Coinstar. Prior to joining Coinstar as COO, Kaplan was the Chief Executive Officer of Redbox Automated Retail LLC, where he brought Redbox from incubation within McDonald’s Ventures LLC to a disruptive player in the movie rental industry. A founder of Redbox, Kaplan worked in the Strategy and Business Development Group of McDonald’s Corporation, where helped McDonald’s create and build new businesses. Before joining McDonald’s Corporation, Kaplan held roles at divine interVentures and Streamline. Before Streamline, Kaplan was an investment banker at Furman Selz. Kaplan has an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

ABOUT COINSTAR, INC: Coinstar, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSTR) is a leading provider of automated retail solutions offering convenient services that make life easier for consumers and drive incremental traffic and revenue for retailers. The company’s core automated retail businesses include the well-known Redbox® self-service DVD and video game rental and Coinstar® self-service coin-counting brands. The company has approximately 34,400 DVD kiosks and 19,500 coin-counting kiosks in supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchants, financial institutions, convenience stores, and restaurants. For more information, visit www.coinstarinc.com.

Jamie Womack

About Jamie Womack

As Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Branding, Womack directs the development of strategic marketing for the corporate marketing team and focuses on the recruitment needs of employers of all sizes. This includes overseeing business-to-business strategy including communications, advertising, promotions, events, and customer lifecycle and loyalty. In addition to leading corporate marketing efforts, Womack manages the sales training program at CareerBuilder. She works closely with her team of trainers to clearly communicate sales strategies, tactics, product developments and overall company goals to CareerBuilder’s sales force. Womack has been with the CareerBuilder organization for seven years. Prior to her role as vice president of marketing, Womack worked as a vice president in the sales training department and as a marketing team director. Before joining CareerBuilder, Womack worked in the real estate and mortgage industry. She has a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and is pursuing her masters of business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
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