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In an exclusive interview with Club Industry, former Precor President Paul Byrne discusses his accomplishments and failures at Precor, making the difficult decision to retire and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.
Taking the Lead
CI: How would you describe your leadership approach?
PB: With my team directly, I try to give them a lot of space. I think if you asked any one of them, they would say I'm like the opposite of a micromanager. I try to manage the way I like to be managed, which is totally hands-off. And I have to say as an aside how lucky I was in the early years of Precor to work with Bill Potts, who was president most of the time when I was here. Bill left me alone completely and also allowed me at the same time to be part of the senior team where I learned operations and finance. It was tremendous on-the-job training, so I think Bill was really, really critical in getting me where I was just with his style.
I appreciate that same style, so I try to give it to my guys. We agree at the beginning of the year what are the goals, what do you want to accomplish, and that's very clear. But once that's established, I let them run. We meet once a week and catch up, and if it's off course, I tell them. But I think my style is more questioning. I play devil's advocate a lot. I'll take positions sometimes that I don't even believe in, but I want to see if that direct report is going to fight back and how much he or she believes in their position. I don't like to be the Shell Answer Man. I think it's more important that they come up with the solutions and defend the solutions. If I felt really strongly about something, I'll tell them and pull out the president trump card, but that's rare. I try not to do that.
CI: What was the learning process like when you transitioned directly from vice president of sales and marketing to president in 2000?
PB: When you just look at it on paper, it looks like it was handed to you. But I started in 1985, so it was 14 years or so to becoming president. As I said earlier, working with Bill was fabulous because we had this senior team that we made all the decisions together, and it was a way for me to really learn business. So you had that kind of situation, and then you had just the fact that we kept changing over time. Being vice president of sales and marketing at a $19 million business that had one product that was selling through one channel is completely different when you fast-forward 14 or 15 years later to an international business with a much more full product portfolio selling through multiple channels, so I got to learn all that as I went along. I think I was really ready by the time I got to 2000 to take over.
CI: How has your leadership approach changed over time?
PB: When you first get into the role, you're coming out of a functional role. I think in the early years, it's hard to let go of being the one who directs, in particular, that area. You're president, so you're still in many ways directing it. It took me a few years, but I was able to back off completely and be a leader.
I'm watching Rob, who's taking over for me now, and I've counseled him that's one of the things you really need to be cognizant of. You're no longer the operations head of whatever area; you're the president, and those are really two different things. So the role has to be setting the direction, making sure you're surrounding yourself with a great team, understanding the importance of culture and buy-in and everybody moving in the same direction. That's about communicating on a regular basis, getting out and talking to people and making sure people are excited about what you're doing. That's completely different from being part of a functional area, and that's a transition that I think I was able to make. That's a fun, fun part of being a leader, and it's a part I'm going to miss quite a bit.