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Management Lessons From Maxey Jarman

Maxey Jarman was a red headed, shy young man who was intrigued by science and raised to be a devout Baptist. He enjoyed working with radios and cars while attending a public high school in Nashville, Tennessee that had a program in engineering and technology. Maxey also helped start the first radio station in Nashville, WSM. After high school he became a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in electrical engineering. As he was finishing his junior year at MIT, Maxey’s father, James Franklin Jarman, asked him to come home to Tennessee and help start a new shoe store, eliminating his previous partner who had done unethical things.

His father had Maxey work, for a year as a laborer, in the Nashville plant to learn the shoe business from the ground up. Later Maxey worked in the shoe store of the new Jarman Shoe Company. After 9 years learning the shoe business, Maxey Jarman became President and his father became the Chairman of the company.

Maxey saw an opportunity for expanding their shoe business and decided on a logical step-by-step plan of how to do it. He changed the Jarman Shoe Company name to General Shoe Company during the depression and moved into retail. In Michigan, Maxey, “bought a tanning plant”, produced shoeboxes, and supplied his manufacturing plants with chemicals, cement, and finishes. He purchased other companies increasing his shoe line to include children’s and women’s shoes and apparel. He increased profits by selling his products through retail stores General Shoe Company purchased.

In 1959, General Shoe Company changed its name to Genesco, Inc. By 1968, Maxey’s Jarman’s Genesco, Inc. had reached a billion dollars in sales with 83,000 employees worldwide.

Maxey Jarman, President and CEO of Genesco was a devout Baptist who pursued many philanthropic Christian causes. For many years Mr. Jarman taught Sunday School Classes at his Baptist Church.

Fred Smith, Sr. came to work for Maxey Jarman at his General Shoe Company when he was 20 years old. Maxey became his mentor and friend for over 43 years. Fred Smith, Sr. became the mentor of Zig Ziglar and Dr. John Maxwell.

What are 5 of Maxey Jarman’s leadership lessons that you will want to remember?

1) Maxey Jarman “listened respectfully” and “stressed” clarifying ideas by putting them down on paper. When a problem comes up, write the problem down, and write a solution for solving it! When Fred Smith had been working for Mr. Jarman for 3 months, he came in with a list of problems that he saw at the company. Mr. Jarman said after listening to Fred’s list, “Fred, I want you to take the next three weeks and write out solutions for each and every thing you found wrong.” When Fred returned to see Mr. Jarman, 3 weeks later, he had no solutions to the problems. Fred Smith said, “Mr. Jarmen stuck his long finger in my face and said, “We want you here and we want your suggestions, even criticisms, but don’t you ever criticize anything until you have a better way worked out on paper to prove what you say and improve the condition.” Bacon said, “Writing makes an exact man.” Mr. Jarman worked on his personal development by making a list of the things he wanted to work on each year. He would put it in writing so it was specific and clear. In his company he said, “Emergencies were the evidence of poor planning.” He had few emergencies. He was reading to gain new knowledge every day and developing his mind.

2) Mr. Jarman was driven by responsibility, discipline and for getting results. You could always count on him. Mr. Jarman’s ” favorite story was how Jeb Stuart would sign his reports to General Robert E. Lee, “Yours to count on”, (YTCO). When Jeb Stuart wrote it he meant it and so did Maxey Jarman.

3) Mr. Jarman was always looked for opportunities for the future. He said, “Be grateful for all things.” He told Fred Smith, Sr. “It’s not the plants we have built, but the people we have helped develop that makes me the proudest.” Mr. Jarman was always helping others. He said, “Don’t try to strengthen people in their weaknesses; it’s less productive than utilizing their strengths.”

When someone said something about another executive saying, “He acts like he owns the place.” Maxey responded, “I’m glad he believes that, and I wish everybody here believed it and acted that way.” Fred Smith said, “He wanted everybody to have a genuine sense of ownership because he knew the motivation that develop”.

4) Before he made a decision he was open-minded. Once he made a decision he was decisive. Fred Smith said, “Mr. Jarman would quickly review a decision when he thought it involved a moral mistake. Once he had the books opened just to give an employee a $2.85 refund because “The question isn’t how much trouble, but do we owe it?” Mr. Jarman was honest, filled with character, and integrity.

5) Mr. Jarman did not believe in wasting time. He always stayed on the topic at hand and liked people to get to the point and be clear and decisive. His conversations were always business like and stayed on the topic.

What was Maxey Jarman’s mission statement for his company? “Genesco’s mission is to become the most customer-focused company in the footwear industry, with consistent performance in the top quartile as measured by market share, sales growth, return on assets employed and operating income.”

By following Maxey Jarman’s 5 lessons on leadership you will have a stronger company with happier employees.

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