Let the Hollywood wise guys top Bruce Willis on
Not only was Willis starring in the "The Sixth Sense," being
shown inside his Liberty Theater in Hailey, but Willis was "starring" in the
lobby behind the candy and popcorn counter the other night.
Yep, a theater staffer didnt show. So Willis did what once was
common in businesshe showed up (in signature jeans and T-shirt) and pitched in to
keep customers happy and his small business humming by dishing out confections.
Willis inevitably gets a world of good out of occasionally communing
with the nickel-and-dime crowd. Understandably, he struggles to maintain humility when
hes paid more per minute of film time than many executives are paid in a year.
Hands-on CEOs who stay in touch with plain folks, and not rely on vice
presidents to keep them informed about the real world, seem to have the best run American
When I was a teenage office boy for now-defunct National Airlines at
its Florida headquarters, and later as a cub reporter at The Miami Herald, wise and
venerable mentors offered advice Ive never forgotten: Find ways to stay in touch
with customers and employees who make a company what it is.
I tried applying that wisdom throughout my career. As a newspaper
editor and publisher, I answered my own phone. I spent less time in my own office than in
other departments, including the nighttime pressroom and riding on circulation trucks, and
tried to accept as many speaking invitations to small groups as possible.
One of my fondest memories of a hands-on executive is of
multi-millionaire Edward W. Ball, in his 80s, trustee of the duPont estate (which included
the Florida National Bank chain, Florida East Coast Railroad, St. Joe Paper Co.), who
lived alone in an ante-bellum mansion, Southwood, on more than 10,000 acres outside of
After a destructive hurricane churned through his property, Ball hired
woodcutters to chop fallen trees into firewood. He placed an ad in the local newspaper
offering it for sale and listed his home telephone, whereupon he answered the phone and
And theres Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines: his company
regularly tops lists as being best managed, highly profitable and with exceptional
Kellehers secret is he never loses touch with customers or
employees. He insists on goofy voice messages on Southwest reservation phone lines where
people get a chuckle while waiting. He periodically takes Southwest flights to visit with
passengers and serve peanuts.
Pity that too many politicians have forgotten hands-on public service,
except when running for office and they need votes. Most of the time they hide behind spin
doctors and press secretaries who take the heat and tell us what Congressman Blowhard