CNH Capital Pres. urges students to set big goals
Steve Bierman, CNH Capital & the Big H.A.G.
When CNH Capital President Steve Bierman came to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus he gave students some advice about setting goals.
"Don't be afraid of the 'Big H.A.G.'" he said, referring to the business expression that translates to Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
Bierman provided this and other wisdom gained over the course of his career to our students while serving as the UW-Parkside School of Business and Technology's 12th Executive In Residence (EIR). His topic, "Effective Leadership Today, With an Eye on Tomorrow," was peppered with anecdotes from a resume that includes stops at General Electric and the banking firm of Fremont General before coming to CNH Capital in Racine.
While working at GE Capital with legendary CEO Jack Welch, Bierman came away with some business practices he would later put to use when he himself became "The Boss."
"Jack Welch used to say that his main job at GE was to develop talent. Out of all the things he did, he said that was his most important task," Bierman recalled. "He also had three principles he used as guidelines. He said simple solutions get implemented faster, fix the hardware--meaning get the people and equipment in place to give you the opportunity for success, and strive for operational excellence."
Bierman left GE to join Fremont General, a company that bought bank debt. He spoke with pride about his first "Big H.A.G." of taking a part of Fremont's business that was a loser and turning it into a winner; a Big Hairy Audacious Goal at which he succeeded. He was "rewarded" for his effort by being told that he now had to sell that part of Fremont to another company.
Although he admitted to knowing very little about information technology, during his tenure at Fremont, Bierman was appointed the company's Chief Information Officer or CIO. Bierman said the title actually meant "Career Is Over" saying that being the CIO was a thankless job with a life expectancy of about 18 months.
"I think things have improved. I think the average stay for a CIO is up to 20 months," Bierman added.
Then he got the call from CNH Capital, the financial services arm of CNH Global, the parent company of Racine's Case Manufacturing. This offer gave him a chance to work with another business legend: Fiat's Sergio Marchione.
"This was a great opportunity, an unbelievable opportunity for me," Bierman said. "So, I left behind my Mountain Dew and red tennis shoes [the caffeinated beverage and footwear of choice at Fremont's California offices} and moved to Racine."
At CNH Capital, Bierman was given another Big H.A.G. by Marchione: to put up big hairy audacious numbers with the company's financing, leasing, insurance, and asset management services. Bierman's charge came from a man in Marchione who had pulled off one of the biggest, hairiest H.A.G.s in business history by reviving the moribund Italian car maker Fiat. Fiat owns 90 percent of CNH.
Falling back on some of Welch's principles--simple solutions, fix the hardware, operational excellence--Bierman started by keeping the number of initiatives CNH Capital attempted to a manageable number.
"A company can do four to seven things well. Try to do more and you're doomed to fail," he said. "You have to make sure you don't drown your organization."
Bierman's principles and practices have worked. Helped by the ethanol boom in the farm equipment business and despite a slump in the housing market that has affected construction equipment sales, CNH Capital recently enjoyed the best business quarter in the company's history.
"These are exciting times for CNH Capital," Bierman stated.
During the question and answer session, Bierman said the attributes he looks for in potential new hires include capabilities, self-initiative, and persistence with the last two qualities being the most important. He advised students to learn a foreign language, saying not doing that and not getting an MBA were two things he regretted in his career. And he advised students to pack their resume with experiences gained outside the classroom through volunteer and extracurricular activities.
That, he said, would help prepare students to face the business world. And, some day, meet their own "Big H.A.G."
UW-Parkside School of Business and Technology Dean Fred Ebeid said Bierman's advice found a receptive audience with business students.
"We were very pleased and privileged to have Mr. Bierman serve as our Executive-in-Residence this fall," Ebeid said. "The EIR program was created to provide a forum for business leaders to share with our students their experiences in dealing with the challenges they faced when working in the global business environment. Judging from the comments received, his remarks were well received by the students in attendance."
Bierman spoke to students and faculty during two morning Executive-in- Residence presentations on Tuesday, Nov. 6.