Workplace culture is one of the things that can ultimately make or break your company. A workplace without happiness, laughter, or love is a workplace devoid of passion, inspiration, and motivation. This is why John Beeder has created a culture of happiness, laughter, and love in his capacity as Chief Executive Officer at American Greetings. John joins Steve Farber to prop up the value of promoting values that uplift employees in a workplace. After all, working from a place of love is a surefire way to get your farther in the game.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
A Workplace Culture Of Happiness, Laughter, And Love With John Beeder, CEO Of American Greetings
In this episode, I’m going to bring you a wonderful presentation from the CEO of an iconic company called American Greetings. If you haven’t heard of them directly, you’ve absolutely experienced their products. They are a greeting card company, thus the name American Greetings. They’ve been around for over 100 years. They have about 25,000 employees and John Beeder was the President and CEO. He has since retired. I’m sharing this presentation from our Extreme Leadership Experience. He took the stage and he rocked the house. He told the American Greetings’ story. He explained how love is a big part of what they do. Afterward, I was talking to one of his people, who was in the audience and I said, “John killed it. He was amazing.” The response that I got was, “Yes, he did. He is inspiring. We are going to miss him.” I said, “What do you mean you’re going to miss him?” He said, “Didn’t you know he’s retiring?” I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe it. I found John and I said, “John, why didn’t you tell me that you’re leaving?” He said, “I didn’t want anybody to know because I didn’t want this talk to be about me. I wanted it to be about the company. I wanted the attention to be there.” That’s my man, John Beeder.
Let me tell you a little bit about him. He joined American Greetings in 2008 as Senior Vice President, Executive Sales and Marketing Officer. He led product sales and marketing efforts for North America. He worked at Hallmark Cards, which we consider to be the great rivalry, Hallmark and American Greetings. He and the head of Hallmark are close friends and work together in the past. He has been in the greeting card industry for many years. He is passionate about it. When he decided it was time to move on, it’s simply because he was ready for focusing on his family. He was on a roll. American Greetings was doing great and he decided it was time to move on. We were fortunate to have him present this great American Greetings story to us. I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you. Here he is, my friend and soon to be yours, John Beeder.
Can I ask a couple of questions? How many people here are certified coaches? How many people here are from businesses, who have to help their business implement a lot of these concepts? How many people are executives who accidentally came in here and said, “I’m going to the Rotary meeting?” I did. I accidentally went to the Rotary meeting. I think we all are coaches in some form or fashion. What I’ve learned at American Greetings is to do this right, to get the culture right, everyone in the organization has to be a coach in their own way. A little bit about me. I have the opportunity to lead a greeting card company. We do about $2 billion worth of greeting cards and other stuff a year and about $0.50 apiece. That’s a lot of greeting cards. We operate all over the world, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, we sell everywhere. We have 17,000 associates. That’s going to be important in my conversation.
The first thing you have to realize when you have a role like mine is 17,000 associates means nothing can be about me. Nothing can be about our management team. It has to be about the people who work for our company because if it’s not about them, we’re not going to get everyone aligned against a common goal. My goal simply is I want to work for the best company I can. I have devoted my entire career to making every company I work for the best possible company it can be. We have applied a lot of tools to that. We are a communication company. I hope you get that feeling when I’m done with my presentation.
How do you get people rallied around something? There’s not a magic formula. There’s just a lot of sweat, a lot of hard work, some effort and trust. You’ve got to trust this idea of love. I met Steve in Orange County. I’ll confess immediately that I am a former non-believer in this stuff. I am a hardened financial, operational, accounting executive. I’m a trained journalist. I’m the son of a journalist. The one thing I inherited from my father more than anything else is a real intense BS detector. I’m instantly on guard and defensive. I used to believe that business was about profit, productivity, ROI, ROA, RO you, RO me. That’s what I thought business was about. You get it. I’m going to tell you a story about a journey and about how our company did the journey and getting Steve’s help. We’re going to bring Steve and his team back in again because we’re looking for the next leg of our journey. We needed something to accelerate us into the second stage of our rocketship ride. We’re going to begin working with a leap to do that.
I would have never met Steve if I hadn’t had an uncomfortable meeting at our headquarters in Cleveland. I was casually talking about our upcoming sales meetings and the head of our field organization told me that we were going to have a keynote speaker who was going to talk about love and business. It was after lunch and you know after lunch, you miss things occasionally. I said, “What did you say?” He said, “We’re going to have a keynote speaker who’s going to talk about love and business.” My first thought and I swear it was, “Why are we having a sexual harassment seminar at sales meetings?” What I learned was it is the same thing that we have been trying to do for many years, which is finding our purpose. We talked about the why and I want to talk about that in some detail, helping people find meaning in their work. I’m going to make an assertion here. I think that this is the beginning of an important movement in business. I think you guys do too. It is the embryonic part of that. I’ll share a couple of reasons why as I talk. This is going to be the 21st-century version of productivity back to my hardcore operating thing.
This is how you get productivity in the 21st-century workforce. Every company is going to have a different answer because we’re all different. We all do different things, but it’s all going to come from the same kernel, the same core. What is going to make a boring twentieth-century business-like greeting cards hip in the internet era of the 21st-century are all the concepts that you are talking about here. I’m going to show you how we applied them to American Greetings. I go to Steve’s presentation and I am thoroughly impressed. I love the Warren Buffett quote, “I don’t want to hire people who love money. I want to hire people who love their business. If they don’t love their business, I don’t want their business.” That is true. That is Warren talking about purpose and people understanding their purpose.
Our culture is basically life’s too short. We spend 2,000 or 2,500 hours a year in our jobs. That’s an awful lot of time to spend doing something that you don’t like. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to be productive. You’re not going to be engaged. You’re not going to do your job near as well. You’re wasting your time and you’re wasting the company’s time. There’s a commercial reason to do this, but it’s all rooted in the best of intentions. If you can make both those things line up, your company is always going to win. I’m Steve’s age, I’m 92. I’m going to digress because in my many years in business, I’ve come to learn and believe in a couple of things. If you told me, “I believed these many years ago,” I told you I was crazy.
I believe in karma. I believe in coincidence. I believe in happenstance and it all happens for a reason. You make your own luck. If you treat people well, they will pay it forward back to you. They may not do it the next day, they may not do it on a ROA basis, you may not get your ROI out of it but good things will happen. I’m a reader, a browser and a lurker on the internet. I’m one of these guys who has a Facebook page and never posts but reads all my friends’ posts. I was prowling on the internet and of all places, The New York Times has decided that our movement here is important. If you read The New York Times magazine, they have a long article on the future of work. I was reading it as I was flying out here and I said, “That is a coincidence, or is that happenstance, or is that karma?”
Let me tell you a little bit about what they say. It was written by a Harvard Business School alumnus. He’s fifteen years out of school. He had gone to a reunion and he was talking about his classmates’ professional development. They’ve left Harvard Business School thinking they had it made. “We’re all going to make $1 million. We’re all going to make a fortune.” After he talked to his classmates, after fifteen years, what he walked away understanding was many, if not most of them, had no sense of accomplishment. They were making money and the money had trapped them in unpleasant jobs. Many of them told them they were wasting their lives. “If you spend twelve hours a day doing work you hate, no paycheck should be big enough.” Think about that. That is what’s wrong with American capitalism.
What’s right about American capitalism is there’s going to be a whole array of companies that are going to emerge in the next 15 to 20 years. They’re going to be environmental, but they’re not just going to be environmental. They’re going to be with a purpose, but not just a purpose. They are going to have great new products and services, but they’re going to operate around a new value system. That value system is going to emerge in the next 10 to 15 years. I can tell you why. It’s because of the old way of managing kills productivity. It kills the spirit of an organization. It kills your business momentum, all three at once.
You heard a story about it. Mitch, you had to undo all of that because the momentum in your business had been destroyed. You probably feel like you’re getting your legs underneath you. What I’m going to do is I’m a sales guy. I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you. I’m going to tell you what I’ve got to tell you. I’m going to tell you what I told you. I’m going to talk a little bit about change. It’s all the change that’s happening in the world is creating all this fear. The organizations that win are going to be able to manage that change. That’s what I came into thinking. I’m leaving, saying that all the organizations are going to be able to mitigate that fear.
I’m going to talk to you about finding a purpose and how we found our purpose. I’m going to show you some stuff you’ve seen before, but I want to put it into a different context because I want to talk to you about how we communicate this message to 17,000 people. I’ll tell you a little bit about my company, American Greetings, AG’s journey. I’m going to try to knit that together for you. I’m going to tell you a couple of truly remarkable outcomes that have embedded this concept in our organization for the next 50 years. I’m going to talk to you a little bit about how this purpose is going to defeat all the changes that we are fighting in the marketplace. Does that sound like an agenda? I’m going to break this up. I do have some videos. It’s not going to be PowerPoint slides. My team from AG is here. I’m famous, I hate PowerPoint. I’ve got out of meetings, but there’s no other way to communicate some of this, so bear with me.We are all coaches in some form or fashion. Click To Tweet
Motivating business transformation. I hate language like that. I put it up there on purpose. Transformation, isn’t that like the 21st-century business word? What does that mean? There are three ways people learn. Some people learn by seeing, some people learn by reading and some people learn by hearing. I’m going to do a little bit of each because I’ve got some of everybody in this room. Transformation, a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance. How many people work with companies that that has happened in the last few years? That’s more than two out of three. You can see all the synonyms. I love all the synonyms. Being a journalist, I’m into dictionaries. I still have one on my desk. This is my code language for, “Brace yourself, people. Something crazy is about to happen.” I’ve done this when we’ve done reorganizations. It’s like my billboard. There’s change ahead. I hate some of the languages in the American media. They use it and they devalue the language.
How many times do you hear exponential? Do you know what exponential means? Unbelievable, I can’t even hear the word anymore. If you take 30 linear paces, you’re going to go 30 meters. You take 30 exponential steps, you’re going to go 26 times around the world. I don’t think people understand what exponential means. However, I do think for many people they feel like there is exponential change happening in their world, in their jobs, with their families, with their kids. I don’t recognize the education my kids are getting. We don’t teach math anymore. A lot of us are feeling there’s an exponential change going on around us. The exponential change equals fear because that creates uncertainty. You don’t know if you’re going 26 times around the world in 30 steps. What’s happening? You’re going awfully fast. It’s getting too fast for people. You can build organizations. You can coach leaders like me who didn’t get it. You can coach them if you hit them appropriately in the right places with the right logic. You can coach them into behaving better. That’s the disruptive stress opportunity. That’s another way of looking at exponential versus linear.
The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 is decreased from 67 years in the ‘20s to 50 years now. I don’t believe that. I think it is less than that. For years, it’s predicted that 40% of the future 500 companies will no longer exist. I don’t believe that. I think it is less than that. Here are the largest US companies in the United States in 2008 versus 2018. I’m surprised. I’m not surprised. Isn’t that interesting? The top five in 2018, maybe one of them will be around in 2028. It is hard to imagine, but they’re going to systematically explode something else. That’s what exponential change means. Can you imagine living in a world like that? That’s the world we live in. We’ve got to give a tether to our people who work in our organizations so that they know they have a purpose in what they’re doing because things are changing fast. You’ll lose track of what you’re doing almost every minute of every day.
Here’s another way to change. I had the privilege of working with the Kodak guys when they were starting with digital photography. This was in the early ‘80s, the first digital camera. I’ve met Steve. He’s an interesting cat. That’s $10,000 for that first digital camera. This is the digital camera everybody has now. More pictures are taken on these than Kodak did in the ten biggest years combined of when they did films. That’s exponential change. What happened to Kodak? Can you imagine inventing the digital camera and going out of business? These guys co-opted it. That’s because they had a different purpose. They knew what their purpose was. Kodak lost track of theirs. They didn’t see the exponential change coming.
Nearly two out of three CEOs and CFOs anticipate business model change due to the digital business. I look at that and I immediately ask a question, “What’s wrong with that one out of three? Everyone thinks Darwin has this idea of evolution that it’s about strength or the most intelligence. It’s not, it’s about adaptation. If you are going to survive, you’re going to adapt. That’s not the CEO of a company adapting, nor is this board of directors, nor it is ownership. It is about the rank and file, it’s the people, it’s the associates of the company. They’re the ones who are going to have to adapt. The question is, what is going to tether their adaptation to what their core purpose is and what are they going to adapt to? It only works if they do the adaptation. I can’t do it from my office. I’m going to talk to you a little bit about how we did that.
I only look back because history is an interesting teacher, but if you get totally rooted in your history, you’re going to fail. Every day is the intersection between the past and the future. Every day, you get a chance to reinvent yourself. If you take that opportunity, you might be able to keep pace. This is the slide that I think Andrew had a much better one, the survive and thrive chart. That’s what this is trying to explain. This is too much business school language. If you have a growth mindset, what you’re doing is you’re saying, “I might be able to transform my business because I’m trying to make it something different. I’m trying to grow. I’m trying to meet new needs. If I’m fixed, I’m worried about all this stuff that I’m throwing away and I’m trying to keep as much as I can to protect my investment.” What I love about this group is I’ve heard at least 40 stories. The story is the way that you can communicate and motivate people and get them tethered to your purpose.
I joined American Greetings many years ago. I was a member. I had joined a broken industrial company in the early twentieth century. We hadn’t evolved at all. We were running on fumes. The chairman of the company had asked me to join because he knew I had some controversial ideas about business. He hired a guy at the same time who was the last of Sam Walton’s proteges. Walmart had long evolved by this point and Sam was long gone. He’d been dead for years, but his protege came in and he sat for two years and listened about our business. After two years, he spoke up one day and he says, “Maybe I can help now.” Whenever I visited a company, the one thing that I always looked for when I bought products from a company for Walmart is I always evaluated what I called the smell of the place. In five minutes, you can figure out a company by the smell of the place. It’s how it looks, it’s how people act, whether they smile. It’s a million little things but it’s from practice, you could figure that out.
He said, “American Greetings can adjust this culture if we can change the smell of the place.” The chairman of the board said, “Do you think the place smells bad?” He took away the management team for a day. We had a day-long seminar where we talked about culture, what Walmart did and how that might be able to help American Greetings. I walked away from that. You can see the blank looks on the executive faces. He said, “That’s the last time they’re going to invite me back.” I said, “Give it some time.” I put it away to the side. Remember at this point, I’m an ROI, ROA, RO you, RO me guy. I figured out, “We’ll see what happens.” That was an interesting day. I learned a lot about Walmart. About six months later, a group came to me and they said, “John, we’ve been thinking about what Doug told us and we think we have an idea on how to proceed.” I’m going to show you how we proceeded and what that got us. It got us to an interesting place because we let the thing fertilize.
The steps to cultural transformation. When you’re a journalist, you are told that you are going to write a story and in the first paragraph, you need to do the who, what, where, when, why and how. You wouldn’t believe how many stories don’t have that anymore. That makes me crazy. I’m going to talk about who, what, why and how. I’m going to talk to you about this in a different way. I’m going to talk to you about how we did our journey. Some of this stuff, you’re going to be familiar with. What I want you to think about is not so much the content, although if the contents are interesting, please do. I want you to take in how we communicated. If you’re coaching, communication is almost as important as the content that you are trying to communicate. You know this guy. I’m interested in the why, Mitch, in terms of what you are doing. I met this guy at one of these TED things and he blew me away. I started doing things on the internet and prowling again, browsing. I’ve decided that when you get stuck, go to YouTube. I’m going to show you a video. I’m sure most of you have seen this, but I want you to think about using it with 17,000 people and what it says.
“Why, how, what, this little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. Let me define the terms quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100%. Some know how they do it. Will you call it your differentiating value proposition or your proprietary process or a USP? Very few people and organizations know why they do what they do. By why, I don’t mean to make a profit. It’s always a result. By why, what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious we go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing, but the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations, regardless of their size, regardless of their industry, all think, act and communicate from the inside out.
Let me give you an example. I use Apple because they’re easy to understand and everybody gets it. If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this. ‘We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly, do you want to buy one?’ That’s how most of us communicate. That’s how most marketing and sales are done and that’s how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, how we’re different or how we’re better and we expect some behavior, a purchase, a vote or something like that. ‘Here’s our new law firm. We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients. We always perform for our clients. Do business with us.’ ‘Here’s our new car. It has great gas mileage. It has leather seats, buy our car,’ but it’s uninspiring.
Here’s how Apple communicates, ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We happen to make great computers. Do you want to buy one?’ That’s totally different. You’re ready to buy a computer from me. All I did was reverse the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don’t buy what you do. People buy why you do it.”
“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” That is the fundamental premise of 21st-century business. That’s the core of this movement. They buy why you do it. The hard part is, what’s our purpose? Back to my friend from Walmart. We internalize this and we showed this to about everyone we possibly could show at our company. If you listen to the press, they’re starting to talk about purpose-driven companies all over the place, but for not the right reasons. They think it’s a marketing ploy like Steve challenged me on. It’s not about marketing. It helps your marketing, but it’s not about marketing. It’s about a much higher calling than that. I loved Andrew’s chart much better than mine. Companies that are purpose-driven do better in the marketplace because they execute better. I can speak 100% with conviction from that because my company is doing much better since we started doing this.
Our business is about ideas. All those cards that you have, there is no computer in the world that can write those cards. Our intellectual property walks out of our building every day. I cannot automate our processes. Without people who are engaged, we have no business. That is something that our associates intrinsically understand. Our values are well done. I’m proud of our company. Our graphics, they must have spent a month getting the graphics right. Creativity, innovation, collaboration, success and people, we always treat our people with respect. We have all of this and my team comes to me and says, “John, we are lacking a mission statement.”
My company’s history is we’ve been owned by a family for 110 years. The great-grandsons of the founders were the two chairman, vice chairman, that type of thing in our company at the time. They do understand the heart and soul of our company, but we needed a mission statement. I wanted a mission statement that the associates will understand, our culture would embrace and as important is that the family would embrace. This is where the story gets a little out of control. I said, “We need a mission statement.” They said, “How are we going to do that, John?” I said, “We’re going to have Zev and Jeff write the mission statement.” They aren’t what I would call the writer type of people. I got Zev and Jeff together and I said, “Let’s have lunch. We’re going to talk about some stuff.”
I have lunch in plastic things brought into this little conference room and we sit down in the conference room. Zev and Jeff said, “There are only two lunches here. Are you not having lunch, John?” I said, “No, I’m not.” They said, “What are we going to do?” I said, “You two are going to have lunch and you’re not going to leave the room until you write a mission statement for me based on these beliefs and values.” I got up and I locked the room. Luckily, they’re good friends of mine. I don’t know if I’d gotten away with that with some other guys.
I went and sat across the hall while they were writing their mission statements. About ten minutes later, they jiggled the door and they couldn’t get out. I go, “I hope they don’t have to go to the bathroom because they’re not leaving.” They knocked on the door and Jeff goes, “John, we’re done.” Ten minutes after all of this. Here’s what they wrote, “You do my business as long as I do 30 some years, you know when it’s good like that. I know when an ad is good. I know when a card is good.” I looked at that and I said, “We’re done.” They go, “Don’t you want to edit it?” I go, “No, you wrote it. We’re done.” Our company has taken this and run with it. Everywhere I go, I have people. We don’t say regards anymore or sincerely on letters. People write, “HLL,.” I was impressed with all the cards that we passed out were sent in our shipping boxes. Our shipping boxes, someone in our distribution centers, we now deliver happiness, laughter and love.
It’s on the walls as you walk into our building, giant happiness, laughter and love. It becomes the calling of the company. It has become our purpose. It has become the central icon of what we are doing. Amazing and crazy things have happened since we did that, all because I locked them in a room for ten minutes and I wouldn’t let them out until they write me a mission statement. I want you to meet Zev and Jeff. You’ll get a better feeling for this. Do you know why I always give you the time? Because I don’t want you to think that I’m holding you hostage to a twenty-minute video. You can brace yourself, I’ve got a video here that is Zev and Jeff and a couple of our key leaders talking about this when we rolled it out.
“To me, the mission is what drives us. The mission is what we wake up to do every day. The vision is where we’re headed. Something that gives us our compass and sets our direction of where we want to be seven, eight years from now. Value starts to give you some more specifics as to the behaviors that we want to drive within our business.
For a creative company like American Greetings, there are going to be values that are unique to us.
It is a defining year for us as a company.
We’re the leader within the industry. We have to make sure that our vision, our mission, our values properly portray where we’re going and who we want to be.
The best way to create a mission, vision, and value statement was to reach out to every single associate.
Everyone that essentially exists under the American Greetings umbrella is part of the mission, vision, values.
We had lots of tools in place for the organization to participate in. They could write and they could illustrate.
We came up with an idea where we would create these templates.If you do twelve hours a day of work that you hate, no paycheck should be big enough. Click To Tweet
We used a fun, whimsical look to those templates.
In order to reflect the culture that we wanted a template that was inspiring.
We could see what they felt was important about AG now and where they wanted to see AG in the future.
What I was most amazed about was the amount of feedback that we got from associates all around the world.
As a writing team, that became a challenge because we tried to capture the voice of all that input into the actual language of the document. We want it to be a statement that reflects who we are and is inclusive. We want it to be about who we are and about what we do. What we do is we create happiness, laughter and love.
Now, more than ever, having the entire company aligned behind the mission of the business and having a clear view of where the vision is going to be so that we’re all pulling in the same direction is critical.
Each of us needs to integrate them into everything that we’re doing.
If someone asks you what you do at American Greetings, you want them to say the mission. We want them to say that because it’s inside them and they believe in it, not because we tell them to say it. At the end of the day, I’m showing up for work every day to create happiness, laughter and love, and that’s not bad at all.”
We have a great ad agency, but they didn’t do that. We have an internal group, a couple of people. Our rule is to make it great, whatever you want to do, communicate what we want to do. That was done internally on a shoestring. It was awesome. It is rewarding to work for a creative company like that. That’s how we communicated like, why all this was happening to our associates? That was a few years ago. Our golden circle is we’re going to make the world a more thoughtful and caring place. We’re going to help people build meaningful connections. We’re going to do that with greeting cards, gift wrapping, whatever. Everyone has grabbed that purpose. I’ve talked about why, how, and what. Isn’t that interesting how Simon organizes it? The hardest part of this is the “who.” The “who” is all over the place.
We began by trying to communicate to the outside world what our purpose was in a more direct way. On the back of every one of our business cards say, “We make the world a more thoughtful and caring place.” Everybody who passes out a business card from American Greetings will share our purpose with who they are dealing with. When you are me and you’re the CEO of a company, you’re responsible for all the constituencies of your company. I don’t think people think a lot or enough about this who question. Let me talk about my constituencies because that’s important when you coach. My most important constituency is my customers. That’s part of my job responsibility is making sure that we’re aligned for them. For me, the second most important constituency is our associates or our employees because our IP walks out the door. The third is the ownership of the company. We used to be publicly owned, now we’re privately owned. Our ownership has changed over time.
The fourth constituency is the suppliers. I call them my bankers suppliers. The bankers who lend to us, they are suppliers of money. I treat them like that. As long as you pay your loans and don’t break your covenant, you’re going to be okay. Finally, the fifth and this is important. Many CEOs forget this and this is the core of the movement here, is your community. The community is everywhere we operate. It is the people we touch in our stores. It is what we do public relations-wise representing our company. Its customers, employees, ownership, suppliers and community. I’ve got to have a 360-degree communication plan for all of those people or we’re not going to be effective in implementing our purpose.
How do you do that? I’m going to ask you to indulge me and let me digress. This is Steve Jobs rolling out the iPhone in 2007. If you haven’t seen his roll-out of the iPhone, it would be informative. If you want to know how the world has changed in the last years, put the YouTube up of him rolling out the iPhone and iMac in 2007. It’s amazing what the thing is developed versus what his original vision is. You can see the change happening in our world around us. Do you know that we check our phones 150 times a day? I think that’s light. I don’t know if this is smart, but my daughter sleeps with her cell phone under her pillow. Do other people do that? I’ve told her to put it to the side.
87% of people always have their smartphones on their side day and night. I believe that completely. People are communicating on these smartphones and that is threatening to my business if you look at it as a challenge. If you are a great salesperson, you think of it as an opportunity. That’s where the Millennials come in because they are the big smartphone user leaders in the world. They have dramatically different buying behaviors. They are the largest consumers of greeting cards. Did you know that more greeting cards are sold to the Millennials than anyone else in the world, including in the United States? Isn’t that a surprise? They believe about access, not ownership. They’re multicultural. They account for nearly 1/3 of all Consumer Packaged Goods or CPG spending, which is Walmart and food stores and all of that. They’re important to us.
They have destroyed the newspaper business. They don’t understand why you need to waste all of this paper. I can read it on my iPad. There are 75 million of them. They’re the most educated. They have different values. They have social media. They make a difference. This is the most important thing in our business is they write. Think about those greeting cards that you have. Every one of them is going to have to be written and what we are finding is the Millennials are using greeting cards as their alternative to social media. No one wants to be a Facebook friend. Everyone wants to be a special friend. When it’s a good friend’s birthday and you’re part of her inner circle, you’re going to want to do something different than putting a post up on her Facebook that says HBD. What we are finding is they go to Target, Walmart, grocery stores and they go on the internet to buy greeting cards.
When you walk into a Target store, particularly between 10:30 and 1:30, I guarantee you’re going to find one woman sitting in the Starbucks coffee shop, carefully going through her $8 card. Can you believe that? Those cards we gave you at $8 a throw. I never thought I’d see that in my career. She’s carefully going through it and practicing what she’s going to write on that card because that card is a gift. It’s not a communication to the Millennials. We’ve rethought how we do it and that’s why all the cards are fancy because they want to give the gift of their words. They are much more articulate than their mothers were in writing greeting cards because they have all this practice with the texts, with Facebook, with the blogging. I don’t think this stuff their English teachers are going to like a lot if you look at the language, but it means a lot to them. That’s why our business is going to transition into the new generation.
They’re not going to buy stuff from you if you don’t have a purpose. It matters to them. They believe the companies that they buy from need to have a sense of purpose. They believe the companies give back to society. We have to offer more ways to share their opinions. They’re interested in helping products who have products and services to do that. Not only do we have to create a purpose for our company, but we also have to create a purpose for our consumers. That’s why you have to have the 360-degree writings. What we did was we said, “We create happiness, laughter and love. It is great for us, but what do we tell people who work with us?” We moved to a new city years ago with our new headquarters. I had to meet with the mayor. The mayor sits there and he went, “What do you guys do?” We make greeting cards, but I didn’t say that. Instead I said, “Our goal is to make the world a more thoughtful and caring place.” He went, “Welcome to Westlake. It is nice to have you.” You wouldn’t believe how that unlocks opportunities with any constituency that you’ve got to deal with in your company’s way. It’s the why of the business.
This thing has found its way into our benefits program. Everything we have is “branded” with the purpose of the company. That creates special obligations on me and the management because when we do our healthcare program, we roll-out our benefits every year, they better reflect that value that we’re thoughtful and caring. We have all kinds of things. Our healthcare benefits, our increases are less than average for the last several years. We’re trailing the average in terms of what we’re charging for healthcare because we have created an obligation on ourselves to make sure that we’re thoughtful and caring, not only for our associates but for their families as well. Here’s Mr. ROI, ROA guy comes in again. I’m going to tell you another story. This is where it gets out of control. We’ve got all this good stuff going. The company is running. We’re gaining market share in the marketplace. We’re making tons of money we never thought we were. The old industrial General Motors of greeting cards is turning into this Millennial greeting card machine.
We’re all starting to grow together. We’re all balanced. I’ll show you our associates and we have a new slogan for our operating guys, “Better beats best.” I stole that from the Blue Angels and that seemed to have caught fire in the company. Being the family goes, “This is great. We like the way the company is going. We’ve got this great idea.” I go, “What’s your great idea?” Being a ROA, ROI, RO you, RO me guy, I don’t like things getting carried away systematic. It keeps things under control. They said, “We would like to transform the company permanently into this.” I said, “How are we going to do that?” They said, “We’re going to build a building. We’re going to build a new headquarters building for American Greetings that are going to do this.” I said, “That’s great.” They went, “We’ve already hired the architects. It’s going to be 600,000 square feet.” I said, “That’s big. That’s out of control big.” They go, “We think we can do it for about $100 million.”
I said, “A $100 million for a building.” They said, “We’re going to build it fit for purpose. We’re going to let the creative people work all over the building in all kinds of places. We’re going to create a town square where everyone can gather. We’re going to encourage collaboration. We believe that a caffeinated company is a productive company. We’re putting coffee everywhere in the thing. We’ll have the world’s biggest Starbucks in our building. We’re going to lock this culture in.” I want to take you to the building and show you what it is. You’ll get the feel for what we’re doing. This is what we did at the completion of the building at the grand opening for all of the politicians in Ohio. We had to get zoning permits and all this kind of stuff. It describes what happens when you push. I didn’t plan on building a new building. I didn’t plan on having my boxes with happiness, laughter and love. This thing took off on its own. The family did this.
A little mission statement written in a room over lunch turned itself into something that institutionalized, cemented our culture for the next 40 to 50 years. Let me talk about the center court. This is a back to, do what you say, say what you do and follow-through. Jeff Weiss made a profound mistake of surveying the creative people and asking them what they would like in a new building. I told them that but he said, “That’s okay.” They said they wanted direct sunlight. That doesn’t seem too outrageous of a demand. To get direct sunlight into our creative people, we are going to need 87% of the floor space having access to windows, which is difficult in a large 600,000 square foot office building. Ergo the donut architectural trick. If you’d put a donut in, you can get light in from both sides. That little park with all those cool little chairs in it is on the third floor of our building. There was a lawn that we have put on the roof and I can’t tell you what the hydronics are on keeping that lawn watered.
Our $100 million building turned into about $130 million building. We spent $30 million so Jeff could follow through on his promise of direct sunlight. The building is gorgeous. It is spectacular. That is a building built for our purpose. In architectural terms, they call it fit for purpose. They don’t know quite what we meant when we said purpose. That’s happiness, laughter and love building. That’s a building that’s going to be great for a greeting card company for a long time to come. Cool things have happened. We haven’t been able to recruit young Millennials to Cleveland. Does that surprise you? The best artists in our business are mostly between 25 and 40. We try to get them to come to Cleveland and they go, “I’ll work remotely.” We don’t get half of the value from the artists if they’re not sitting with us every day. Once we got the building up and we started bringing them in there, we already have an 80% acceptance rate from people wanting to move to Cleveland. We showed them where we are, the shopping center that we are part of, the housing around and all of a sudden, we have become hip. It has helped the business. That’s the beginning of the second leg of what we’re doing.
I could talk about it all day. I’m going to make one more story and I’m going to share with you one more thing that absolutely emerged from all of this. It was a complete transformation of my company’s raison d’être, the reason for being. We were a consumer company, but we weren’t much of a marketing company. We challenged ourselves, how do we reach the Millennials going forward? We brought in an advertising guy. He’s the guy who did Flo from Progressive, Alex Ho. We hired him to be our advertising guy. He said, “We don’t do TV, not in this business. We’re going to do all the internet and all that.” I said, “That’s great.” Alex came to me and I was at a meeting one day. He said, “John, we want to do our first real big advertising campaign.” I have some experience in advertising at Hallmark over the years. I knew how this works.
He came to me and said, “Here’s our brief,” which is what you do for an ad. You design a brief so the creative people can execute it. It was a want-ad. I go, “Okay.” He goes, “Can we shoot it?” I go, “How much is it going to cost?” You always ask that. He said, “$600,000.” I said, “That’s a lot of money. How long is the ad going to be?” He said, “4.5 minutes.” I don’t know if you know how advertising works, but most ads are 30 seconds or 1 minute, but 4.5 minutes. He said, “It’s going to be great, John.” Part of our culture and our vision statements is we trust our people. I said, “$600,000 for an advertisement we’re going to do off of a want ad.” He said, “Okay, I got it.” He went off and shot the ad. They brought me in to review the ad the day before we put it up on the air. Alex Ho and Christy Kaprosy, we saw this video together and said, “What do you think?”
If you’re in the business long enough, you know when you see it. I looked at it and I said, “You guys are going to con.” Alex knew what that meant, but Christy went, “Huh?” She hadn’t had a lot of experience with advertising. What we did is we designed an advertising campaign that was going to be what we call a modern marketing approach. We invented brands from Millennials build from our purpose. We did this advertising. Do you know what the Effie is? They’re the Oscars of advertising. We won every Effie you could win. We sat right next to Procter & Gamble. They never invite me to anything, but they invited me to this. I was pleased. The Procter & Gamble guys are sitting next to us having done some $200 million advertising campaigns. They thought they were going to win all these awards and they had the Grand Effie for the Best Ad of the Year. They’re all getting on stage and get their Oscar or whatever they were going to do. We’re sitting right next to them. We had no idea.
They said, “The winner for the Grand Effie is,” and the Procter & Gamble guys are already up, “American Greetings.” Everyone goes, “What?” What happened was our advertising group grabbed the happiness, laughter and love vision of what we did. The idea that creative has driven by our associates. They created something truly remarkable in advertising that we’ve been able to reproduce 4 or 5 times. It has helped our company. I would show you the ad. You may have seen this. I hope you have. It is the most popular ad every Mother’s Day.
“Give me one second. I’m sorry. Two minutes, thank you. Good afternoon, sorry about that.There are going to be values that are unique to your company. Click To Tweet
It’s nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you as well. Have you ever done one of these interviews over the camera?
Let me tell you a little bit about the job to get started with. It’s not just a job. It’s probably the most important job. The title that we have going is the Director of Operations, but it’s more than that. Responsibilities and requirements are quite extensive. The first category for the requirements would be mobility. This job requires that you must be able to work standing up most or all of the time. You are constantly on your feet, constantly bending over, constantly exerting yourself and a high level of stamina.
That’s a lot.
For how many hours?
That’s 135 hours to unlimited hours a week. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I’m sure you’ll have a chance from time to time to maybe sit down here and there.
Do you mean like a break?
There are no breaks available.
Is that even legal?
There is no lunch.
You can have lunch, but only when the associate is done eating their lunch.
I think that’s a little intense.
This position requires excellent negotiation and interpersonal skills. We’re looking for someone that might have a degree in medicine, finance and culinary arts. You must be able to wear several hats. The associate needs constant attention. Sometimes they have to stay up with an associate throughout the night. Being able to work in a chaotic environment. If you have a life, we’d ask you to give that life up. No vacations, in fact, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and holidays, the workload is going to go up and we demand that with a happy disposition.
That’s almost cruel. That’s almost a sick, twisted joke.
Will there be time to sleep?
There is no time to sleep.
It’s all encompassing almost.
That’s exactly right.
That’s 365 days a year?
No, that’s inhumane.
The meaningful connections that you make and the feeling that you get from helping your associate are immeasurable. Let’s cover the salary. The position is going to pay absolutely nothing.
No, nobody is doing that for free.
It is a pro bono. It is completely free. What if I told you there’s someone that currently holds this position? Billions of people.
They meet every requirement, don’t they?
Moms are the best.
No pay for 24 hours and they are always there.
I’m thinking about my mom.
What are you thinking about her?
I’m thinking about all those nights and everything.
Thank you so much for everything you do. I know it doesn’t seem like I appreciate all of it, but I definitely do.
Mom, I’m going to say thank you for everything that you’ve done. I love you very much. You’ve been there through thick and thin. My mom is just awesome.”
For all you coaches out there, here’s the lesson. If they had told me they were going to make a 4.5-minute ad and that they’re only going to run on the internet. They’re going to spend $600,000 on the thing and the brief was a help wanted ad, I would have told you, “No way we’re going to do that,” but because I had been properly coached, we had enough momentum in our culture, around what we were doing, around our purpose and our why. My advertising person said, “This is exactly the type of thing that we need to be doing.” We did the ad. There are 67 ads in the Advertising Hall of Fame in September. This will be number 68, remember we beat all the ad. This is from a company that is continually competed with a competitor who does all the advertising. First time out, we did that. The rest of the advertising is as strong but that’s what culture will do for you. That’s when you start seeing your transformation getting traction.
Let me tie this up. You’ll notice the logo is different. It is all lowercase. We went and told the family that we are changing the logo. They told me the last four people who tried to change the logo are no longer with the company. I said, “If you are all caps on your logo, you’re screaming at them on the internet.” They said, “Change the logo.” That’s what happens. That’s the type of thing that starts happening when your company starts trusting itself. The associates trust the company, management trust the associates, and you get that virtuous circle starting. The world is changing at an accelerating pace. The purpose and the why helps you manage it. It is important going forward. I believe purpose is the movement of productivity in 21st-century businesses and you are right at the front of this. Agility, resilience and engagement to create productivity for you, your colleagues, your team and your company. If you’re a coach, you have to tell everyone who’s a decision-maker. That’s what the formula is.
You can take the meanest, toughest industrial company and you can transform it if you find the right why. We have a container company and you have a creative greeting card company. You can’t have two companies farther apart on the polls of the types of businesses that we have. This is what you need executive leadership coaching for your leaders. If you make yourself available, if you make yourself vulnerable to listen, a lot of executives will listen, but they’re not vulnerable. They’re not listening. If you make yourself vulnerable to listen, you might be surprised by the outcomes. You might end up with an advertising program that you didn’t think you were going to get.
However, you articulate this love thing works. Every company will adapt it in a different way. It is not about sexual harassment. It’s about the productivity of your business. I am absolutely convinced that this purpose, this why, the leap is the anecdote to the poisonous change that is running across our culture. It will meliorate most of the fear that we see in a lot of the people that we work with. Thank you. We’ve got a few minutes before we take a break for any questions, comments, concerns or emotional outbursts. Dean, your hand went up fast I could barely see it.
That was amazing. I want to thank you for being a leader that listens to your people. I think that of all the messages that I’ve heard here, the one thing that stands out is the listening part of the executives. I know at my company they don’t listen. I told all my leaders I was coming to this and then right before I left, I asked all of them if they remembered what I said about the leadership thing that I was going. I called it a leadership thing because that’s how I felt they heard it and none of them could tell me what I told them. My direct manager, I gave him a printout of the experience itself. The reason I know he wasn’t listening was because he left it on the table in the room that we were meeting in. I put it on his keyboard and he still didn’t know. He sent me an email that said, “Can you let me know where you are and what you’re doing?” I responded back, “I told you not once, but twice.” I attached what I gave him and I said, “It’s clear to me that you weren’t listening when I explained it.” To hear that is like, I want to work for American Greetings because I’d rather be in an environment where everyone’s like-minded than to be not. Thank you for that.
You should have left him a card.
I’m Carrie. How are you doing? What I realized is that we have many things in common. One of the things that stands out with this whole group is we’re all evangelists together for bringing love in the workplace. One of the things I was intrigued by was the fact that you were not a believer at all. What I’m interested in knowing because this will help me be a better evangelist, is for someone that didn’t believe in this at all, what was the tipping point in getting you to change your mindset on this?
It was how people were reacting to it. It started slow. Don’t let me think that this was spontaneous. When it started, I put it to the side and I let it develop in the organization. I was ROA, ROI-ing it. I was not getting into the cultural thing. I saw people responding to it. Zev, he’s not the most emotional guy in the world. He’s a sweet guy but he doesn’t get worked up about stuff. He started talking about happiness, laughter and love. We have these associate meetings. We’re the only company I know of 17,000 employees who still have all company meetings. It’s crazy what we do. We try to be a small company still. Zev started crying. Everyone else started crying in the audience.
When you saw people reacting to this and how it was motivating them, I started getting all these notes with HLL on it. I’ve seen the distribution guys putting it on the boxes, you could see that it was getting traction. What you then wanted to do was not get in the way of people. That made me a better executive because I’m letting the company breathe a little bit in terms of what we were doing like making a $600,000 ad without seeing anything. It’s on me, if it doesn’t work but the way things are going around here, that’s probably going to work great. I didn’t realize it was going to work as great as it is. They start slow. They gain momentum. You have to give your leaders the patience to think about it. I have my good days and my bad days listening. My guys will tell you that. Some days I’m good and some days I’m not as good as I could be. We’re also a polite company. We don’t leave the paper behind the conference room. I would grab it, then throw it away. I don’t think there was one tipping point. It was more of, “This is resonating with people.” That’s when we knew we had it.
It strikes me that we tend to interpret listening in a literal sense. “You’re telling me something and I’m hearing from you. I can repeat it. I know where you’re going to be because you told me.” You do this amazing, massive organizational listening to the tune of $30 million. When people say we want natural light, that’s like, where’s Mitch? That’s a $30 million ice machine.
It better be crunchy.
That is full-on organizational, not just listening but listening with the desire to fulfill what it is that you’re hearing and that’s powerful.
John was in development and came through on a rotation through the finance department. Our company was run by a Ford CFO and we were financially focused. John would come down with all this energy on what was called the fifth floor. We had a budget meeting and it’s a multimillion-dollar budget. John was in there and he was a being John and all these finance people in there. We were talking about the numbers and John mentioned, “This is about people’s families and their livelihood and we have a moral obligation to these people.” I’m listening to what you’re saying and thinking, “You sound like you’re a hard guy up there, but you’ve had this for a long time.” I walked out of that meeting a different person because I listened to what you said and I thought about that.
Thank you. That was beautiful.
What I saw demonstrated was not just with you, but especially with you, was the importance of connecting the head and the heart. I watched speakers come up here. I’ve watched people brought to tears and I know that one of the things is we’re afraid to show our hearts. We’re afraid to share our feelings, but that was undeniable. We could not not feel that. I want to thank you immensely for that and I also got the best hug from my son.
My name is Rachel. I have the privilege of working in that building that you saw and creating happiness, laughter and love every single day. I wanted to tell you about a few things. John has definitely set the precedent for our company and that meaningful connection, not just out when somebody gets a greeting card and gives it to somebody, but between our colleagues. It doesn’t matter what level you are. One, it is a million percent impossible to walk through those doors, regardless of how your morning has started and not be in a good mood when you get there. It’s impossible. The building generates an energy that is exhilarating, whether you’re having a meeting about some struggles that might be happening in your department or situation or whether you’re coming up and creating new ideas. It’s an amazing place to be.
The other thing is he mentioned the 17,000 employees. Myself, Brian and Melissa, we work in the largest part of American Greetings where we have about 10,000 merchandisers and then our managers and things like that. One of the things that we’ve done, which has been great is to give everybody a voice. We have these all-hands meetings through a thing called pigeonhole. Our leadership is great because they’re always open to saying, “You can ask anything you want to. If I know the answer, I’ll tell you. If I don’t, I’ll let you know that I don’t know the answer. If I know it and I can’t tell you, I’ll let you know that I know it and I can’t tell you.” It’s an amazing place to work and open communication and the meaningful connections are not through the greeting cards, but through all of us, that walk through the door.
Thank you, Rachel. A round of applause for John Beeder.
About John Beeder
President and Chief Operating Officer (Retired)
John Beeder is President — Chief Executive Officer of American Greetings and a member of the Company’s board of directors.
John joined American Greetings in 2008 as Senior Vice President, Executive Sales and Marketing Officer. In that role, he led product, sales and marketing efforts for North America while American Greetings significantly grew its market share in the U.S. and Canadian markets. In 2012 he assumed leadership of a core operating group aligning the Company’s product, marketing, production, procurement, distribution, sales and planning activities into one organization.
John has worked for more than 30 years in the greeting card industry—a business he is passionate about. He has held executive management positions in marketing, product development, supply chain, finance and new business development. Prior to joining American Greetings, he had served as managing partner and chief operating officer of Compact Clinicals, a medical publisher in Kansas City, Missouri.
He is a former president of the U.S. Greeting Card Association. John has served on the board of directors of Dean Operations, a real estate company in Kansas City, as well as enterprises owned by his family.
John earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Editorial/Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University and his Master of Management degree in Marketing and Finance from the Kellogg
Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
John and his wife, Stephanie, have two grown children, Christy and David.