At a "town hall" meeting with employees of St. Louis-based Insituform, a $600 million firm that repairs sewer, water and other underground piping systems, someone asked CEO Tom Rooney, "What do you people in corporate do? Aren't you just overhead while the people in the field do the work?"
After his initial irritation passed, Rooney realized the employee's question spoke to an issue that disturbs him-the low esteem in which CEOs and other top executives are now often held, thanks to the likes of Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers and others. Rooney realized the question offered an opportunity.
In addition to improved worker safety and product quality, the Insituform CEO has made raising the productivity of his work force a key goal of his three-year turnaround plan. So he and his executive team decided to set up a national competition. The work crew with the best productivity improvement in the first quarter would get a week off, and be replaced by the executive team, which would work however many hours were necessary to match the average amount of pipe laid in one week. A work crew in Mobile, Ala., won the competition.
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