By Melissa Smith and Lorraine Grubbs
Frank Granara, CEO of General Insulation, sets the example that anyone with a desire to learn and grow can do so. Over the years, many of his employees who showed initiative and an ability to learn have been promoted into more challenging roles, which allows them to move up the ranks. Frank is an avid reader and applies much of what he learns to his business. He’s spent thousands of dollars giving employees books and supporting their learning and development. His personal library boasts thousands of best-selling business, historical, and educational books probably rivaling the library at Harvard.
This month’s “Culture of Commitment” article features GIC’s Commitment to Learning. We are highlighting three employees who are a great example of the learning opportunities presented at GIC.
Frank Granara Jr., General Manager, Malden Branch
Learning is alive, well, and promoted at GIC (the apple didn’t fall far from the tree)
GIC’s culture promotes learning. Anyone who wants to work hard and has a desire to learn can start at any level and move up. As the General Manager of the Malden Branch, I’ve seen this happen over and over again. For example, our Operations Manager, Tom Delgado, started with no industry experience and proved to be a very hard worker with a great attitude. He quickly moved up from working in the warehouse to inside sales and is now the Operations Manager for the branch. Another great example is Jamie Prudden, Outside Salesman in Malden. He took an interest in state-funded retrofitting programs and did so well that he is now the National Sales Manager of that business sector. Both managers will tell you that they learn something every day.
In 2015, having recently graduated with a master’s degree from Babson College and working as a General Manager, I was selected to join the newly formed GIC Leadership Academy program. It turned out to be one of the best learning experiences of my life. I had been a student most of my life and was used to a traditional learning environment. I couldn’t then have imagined how the GIC Leadership Academy would challenge my “traditional” way of thinking and learning. It became a real evolution for me as this two-year program pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow.
During the program, I met human performance expert, Jamie Wheal, who continues to influence me today. While trekking through the Rocky Mountains at 13,000 feet, we held many discussions about life, leadership, and learning. He encouraged me to look for peers outside of my industry as he shared his own journey, from his humble beginnings to the influence he is making on entrepreneurs in his quest to change the way business leaders think. Through Jamie, I would eventually meet “thought leaders” like world-renowned American journalist Cal Fussman, best known for his interviews of the rich and famous. I also met Gary Vaynerchuck, media guru who challenges entrepreneurs to quit monetizing poor business concepts. I was introduced to authors like Tim Ferris, who wrote Tools of Titans, a thought-provoking book that describes habits of really successful leaders.
As a result of the Leadership Academy, I met a whole ecosystem of leaders and entrepreneurs I never would have on my own. It was a two-year series of continuous learning, and those of us that embraced it with an open mind continue to benefit both GIC and ourselves greatly.
I am always eager to read inspiring stories that I can learn from. One day I received a book from my business associate Jim Law, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win written by former Navy Seal, Jocko Willink. It taught me the lesson of accountability. I came to realize that anything that goes wrong in my branch is my fault, and therefore my responsibility to fix. When things go awry I now ask myself, “What did I do to cause this to go wrong?”
Learning for learning’s sake is great, but it’s what you do with it that counts. During the Leadership Academy, I wanted to bring my knowledge back to my branch and push my own team out of their comfort zones. While I couldn’t take the team to the Rocky Mountains, I wanted to recreate something locally. I invited the team to take off early one Friday and we headed to the Charles River, where we rented kayaks. Several people were extremely nervous but everyone eventually participated and we had not only a great team building experience, but those that had been dreading the experience later admitted they benefitted from pushing their limits. It was a better outcome than I could ever have anticipated and brought the team closer together. Since then, we’ve participated in building a house through Habitat for Humanity and a 5K run with one of our customers.
The Malden branch is an incubator for new employees to train and transfer to other branches and departments. Thus, I consistently find myself with a new team. My role as leader/coach/mentor is never done. I will continue to seek ways to push them out of their comfort zones and help people realize that lessons learned through challenge are the ones that they’ll always remember.
That’s the uniqueness of GIC. Most of the executives in the company rose through the ranks; proof that we are challenging the norm set by the business schools that encourage outside hires. I believe it works due to our learning culture. Our latest formal initiative at GIC is the GIC Academy. I’m excited that we are putting together a structured learning program for all employees so as we continue to grow, we can count on consistent and uniform learning. And, the Dean of the Academy used to be the top salesman at Malden…go figure.
Mick Clinger, Vice President Industrial Sales
Learning leads to confidence
It was 2011 and, as the VP of GIC’s Florida region, I was struggling to overcome the tough economy. My branches were not doing well and as the VP, it was my job to figure it out. One day that spring, I got a call from my CEO, Frank Granara, who announced all VPs would be undergoing a two-year leadership training program to help us work more closely as a team and to learn to think more strategically and big-picture. Little did I know how life altering the next two years would be. I figured we would read a few books, apply the lessons learned, and move on. I could not have been more wrong. The journey, which later became a book called “Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone”, says it all. It was like being in a two-year boot camp. We were challenged physically, mentally and emotionally, and when we graduated, we were different leaders.
Our first three-day session showed us no mercy. We had been assigned characters prior to the session and told to read about their lives. We didn’t know we would be dressing up as our characters. In one day, I dressed up as the Greek God Hermes, then moved onto Adolf Coors, and later, Nelson Mandela. I learned a lot about these leaders and their lives. They taught lessons about overcoming failure, taking risks, and having courage. This “Magical Mystery Tour” as we fondly referred to it, was the introduction to a new way of learning.
At another session, we went to NASA where astronaut David Wolfe, a Space Station veteran, taught us the importance of having a Plan A, B, C, and even D. “Failure is not an option” became NASA’s mantra as Kevin, one of the Senior Directors at NASA, taught us. Big picture? It doesn’t get any bigger than space.
Looking back now, (though I wouldn’t have admitted it then), during these first two sessions I was struggling just to keep up. I felt I was in over my head and just hanging on for dear life. By the time the Gettysburg session came around, I began to wake up and realize the value of what we were being given. In Gettysburg, as we studied the challenge of troop movement and leadership under the harshest conditions, I began to relate it to GIC’s competition. They often outflanked us and tried to put us out of business, and it was up to us as the leaders to rally the troops and come up with a plan and strategy to defeat the enemy.
And so it went for several more sessions – Jackson Hole became about communication and teamwork as our team of middle-aged individuals struggled up the mountain to the summit. Costa Rica taught us that as a team we could survive the seven layers of “Dante’s Inferno” despite no money, no language, and no direction…as long as we stuck together.
Upon graduation, Frank Granara gave me a new role. I was the new Vice President of Export & Industrial Sales. As I walked out of the meeting, wondering what on earth I was going to do, I ran into Al Zaepfel, newly appointed “Vice President of Strategic Thinking”. Al and I decided to collaborate and he helped me come up with a plan to take the industrial sales to a whole new level. It worked. With help from great people like Larry Murphy, Scott Campbell, Dave Adamski, and the entire “Industrial Sales Team”, along with Kathy Crawford in Houston, we have grown exponentially and our fledgling business has become 12% of GIC’s volume.
Life is a learning journey. It’s about trying and failing and then picking yourself up and doing it better next time. I remember when my daughter was in the 5th Grade and wanted to run for president of her class. I bought her a book, “Leadership Matters”. We read it and she ran her platform on leadership principles. Her opponent, the daughter of the 5th Grade teacher, won the election hands down by giving out lollipops. Lesson learned.
Frank Granara has been a huge supporter of learning and he does it sometimes in ways that you wouldn’t anticipate. He asked me to make a PowerPoint presentation to our group one day, and when I look back on it, it was pretty bad. Shortly after returning home, he sent me a book called “136 Effective Presentation Techniques”. I got the message. Today, utilizing many of the ideas in the book, I have become a much better presenter. Now, when I see others struggling the same way, guess what I mail them?
18 years ago, GIC made an investment in me to run a branch. 10 years ago, GIC promoted me to Regional Vice President and put me in a leadership-training program. 5 years ago, GIC gave me the opportunity to start an industrial and export division. I am grateful for the faith GIC has placed in me, and to Frank for always believing that I could succeed, long before I knew I could. As I remember back to that first day of the Magical Mystery Tour, walking in to ask the Wizard of Oz for the “one thing”, I realize I was spot on. Confidence became my mantra and it has taken me far at GIC. My team and I are still having fun!
Frank Costa, SVP/Dean Leadership Academy
Investing in Our Future by Empowering our Employees Through Learning and Development
I joined GIC in 2014 as an outside salesman for the Malden and Auburn branches. As Frankie mentioned, Malden is considered a training ground for other branches around the country. After I’d been in my position for some time I began to get requests to train salespeople from other branches. I’ve always enjoyed helping others and I immediately accepted the responsibility. For the next few years, I probably worked with and trained over 20 sales reps. Over time, I became more familiar with the GIC business model and the culture of the company, and I found I wanted to do more. With a strong background in analytics and business management, I felt I was ready for my next move at GIC.
Timing is everything. I ended up talking with Frank Granara and discovered he was considering putting together a team to start a companywide learning initiative. His goal was to standardize the way things were done and improve safety in the branches. GIC had grown to over 500 employees spread over 50 branches across North America. Frank saw an urgent need for a consistent approach to training in order to get everyone on the same page and prepare GIC for the new generation of millennials that were entering the workforce. Frank asked if I’d consider taking on this new initiative and, despite my lack of training experience, I accepted his offer.
While the initial focus of the Academy is to give new hires the tools they need to do their jobs, our vision is “To have GIC become a Continual Learning Organization where all employees have a repository of tools, libraries and resources to learn relevant, job-related topics and historical data and stories about GIC.”
Frank asked me to start with the largest portion of our workforce – drivers and warehouse related employees, totaling over 250 people. Previous research had revealed that the majority of injuries in the warehouse occur due to slips, trips, and falls and during the loading and unloading of trucks. Distracted driving and various forklift mishaps were also very high on the list.
Our work was cut out for us, and in August of last year, we started working on the Warehouse Orientation and Safety module. This would become known as “Module One”.
It took a village to get this project off the ground, and if I had enough room in this article I would thank each person who helped; there were many.
After developing the first module, we started working on an Order Picking module to improve the accuracy of pulling customers’ orders. When orders don’t get pulled correctly, it causes issues for our drivers, sales folks, people who handle the paperwork internally, our customers, and our inventory management.
After the Order Picking module was developed, we tackled the Product Knowledge module. Some GIC branches have over 2000 SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units) covering multiple products. It takes a long time for a new hire, especially those without industry knowledge, to become familiar with these products, and we wanted to shorten their learning curve. We also included an illustration of “The Life of a Sales Ticket “ as a visual representation of what happens to our tickets along the way.
To date we have developed the following 5 modules with one more coming soon:
- Warehouse Orientation and Safety
- GIC Delivery Truck Driver Orientation and Safety
- Forklift Operator Orientation and Safety & Certification
- GIC Product Knowledge
- Order Picking Process
- Warehouse & Operations Manager Training (coming soon)
The results so far have been excellent with lots of positive feedback received from GIC participants over the last several months. By mid-March over 350 GIC employees, with newly assigned GIC Academy logins, will have gone through the modules. We are pleased that our training platform has held up very well under the stress of many existing GIC employees going through the training at the same time. Our insurance carrier, Travelers, gave us very high marks for safety training and improvement initiatives and has GIC under consideration for various grants that could possibly include proximity sensors for our forklift and warehouse safety vests with built-in sensors to help guide in proper lifting techniques.
Where does the learning go from here? The Inside and Outside Sales groups are up next on the learning block. I love working on this initiative and have learned much more than I thought I would about the inner workings of GIC. It’s been gratifying to have help anytime I asked. I look forward to the GIC Academy improving the new hire onboarding and development experience, reducing our insurance costs due to safer work practices and once again proving why GIC is a trusted employer who invests in their employees’ development.