GSI Case Study
Leading manufacturer of agricultural systems for grain storage and handling as well as swine and poultry production systems. Annual sales exceeding $700 million, 2,500 employees primarily in North America, Asia, and Brazil.
Centerbridge Partners, a private equity firm, purchased GSI in 2007 and hired CEO Scott Clawson to lead the company. Centerbridge had lofty goals to provide excellent returns in a short time frame. Clawson estimates that in the original top team, only 2 of 9 qualified as A Players.
Having worked at Danaher, a Topgrading company, Clawson was familiar with the Topgrading methodology and its results. When he started as CEO at GSI, he asked Gary Parkinson, the head of Human Resources, to:
- Require all managers to read Topgrading, 3rd Ed.
- License the Topgrading software
- Have Chris Mursau, President of Topgrading, train all key managers
- Require managers to use the Topgrading Interview and reference check approach
- Use Topgrading Professionals to interview candidates for senior positions
"Topgrading was not just useful, but essential to our success."
- Scott Clawson, President & CEO
Using the Topgrading professionals’ assessments, 90% of the candidates hired to the executive team turned out to be A Players.
Mis-hires occurred where managers circumvented the Topgrading process, so Clawson and Parkinson instituted a system to measure not just hiring results, but the extent to which all the Topgrading processes were used.
EBITDA quickly improved from $71 million to $122 million. The company was subsequently sold.
Best Advice to Would-Be Topgraders from Scott Clawson and Gary Parkinson
- Use Topgrading interviews and assessments to assess current managers at the start of the change process to nail down who are the A, B, and C Players. It is critical to identify the A Players but also to understand and surface the issues of having B and C Players in key jobs.
- Don’t just fire underperformers. We found that many who were struggling were in the wrong job and turned out to be A Players when moved to the right job. Topgrading Interviews can help figure out when a square peg has been hired to fit in a round hole.
- Carefully balance the need to change rapidly (to satisfy investors) and the need to get buy-in for change. By design, top managers over-communicated with listening, teaching, and coaching in order to move fast, but not too fast for people. You can drive change faster with a lot of communication than if communication is sparse.
- Be cautious in hiring managers from sophisticated companies, expecting them to fit a less progressive culture as Lean Manufacturing and Topgrading are rolled out. We made some mistakes in this area; not all A Players elsewhere could be one at your organization, initially. Tandem interviews and reference checks uncover the mismatch.
- Although the CEO must drive Topgrading, HR must be fully on board, well trained, and able to persuade managers to embrace the methods. Parkinson was key in installing and driving Topgrading, and being sure managers did not cut corners.