“When you listen to your employees, it’s hard not to be successful,” says Brian Gamache, Chairman of the Board and CEO at WMS Industries Inc. In the following interview, Gamache reveals the interactive technology company’s culture of fearlessness, the importance of maintaining a work/life balance, and why having a little insecurity can be a big benefit.
How would you describe the culture of WMS? Our culture is the “secret sauce” that drives our company. This company is for people who aspire to be great at all that they do. In this high-performance culture, we expect people to overachieve—and when they do–the recognition and the rewards follow. At the end of the day, our industry is about two things: It’s about talent, and it’s about intellectual property. We’re always searching for the best talent and the best intellectual property, both of which enable us to create differentiated products.
Innovation is also a big part of the culture at WMS. What is the ideal WMS employee look like? Our employees are fearless. They’re not afraid to fail. Our company is committed to pushing the envelope. And you know what? When you take calculated risks, you sometimes make mistakes. But that’s okay. That’s what innovators do. By failing, we get one step closer to that next incredible opportunity.
What do you do to keep your employees engaged? Our employees typically rank us at the highest level in all employee opinion surveys, and that’s because we do a lot to thank our people. We want them to feel appreciated, and we want them to be inspired. One of the things we encourage at WMS is work/life balance. I don’t want people in this company working 18 hours a day. I want them to have a family life, a personal life, a spiritual life, and I want them to be fulfilled. If they’re fulfilled outside of their jobs, they’ll be able to be much more effective in their jobs.
Under your leadership, WMS has been ranked one of the fastest-growing companies by Fortune. How do you stay connected with your employees when you’re growing so rapidly? I go out of my way to interact with our employees and communicate aggressively about our company goals and our expectations. Every week, I meet with a group of employees for something called “Bagels with Brian” to talk about company initiatives and discuss any concerns I have. Then I ask them questions to get their feedback. Some of the best things we’ve implemented in the company have come from those discussions. When you listen to your employees, it’s hard not to be successful.
As a leader, what are the top three values you try to implement at WMS? Number one is integrity. Without integrity, there isn’t a foundation on which you can build a sustainable business and culture. Second would be passion- you have to have passion and tenacity to plow through the daily obstacles that are inherent in today’s business environment. The third value is empathy. People with great empathy typically are great leaders. When you can put yourself in the shoes of people you’re leading and those with whom you’re trying to do business, you’ll be much more successful.
Leading a successful organization doesn’t come without its pressures. What keeps you up at night? I feel that any great organization has a sense of insecurity. You never want to take for granted your success. We’ve seen a lot of great organizations crumble. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies a lot of companies that aren’t in business today because they rested on their laurels. I think the lesson there is that success is not an entitlement. You have to earn success every single day, and you do that by managing your people, inspiring them and giving them a culture where they feel appreciated.
If you could go back 10 or 15 years and give advice to your younger self, what would that be? With time and with seasoning, you get to be a better manager. Today, I listen more actively, and I’m much more patient. When you’re young, you think you know all the answers. The older you get, you realize you’re better off doing a few things and doing them really well, and you learn to pick and choose your battles.
What advice could you offer to other executives in terms of creating a culture of innovation? Innovation is not a switch you turn on and off. It’s a way of life; it’s a process of continuous improvement – it’s about asking, “How do we make it better?” We take innovation very seriously here. It’s part of our culture. Not only do we expect it—we demand it. We want people to think differently. We strongly encourage our employees to solve problems and create solutions that benefit our shareholders and customers.