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Bringing Army efficiency to business: Lt. Gen. Pagonis

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Allied Forces commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once called Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis the “logistical wizard” of the first Gulf War. Now Pagonis applies his wizardry to the business world.

From 1993 to 2004, he was instrumental in the financial turnaround of Sears Roebuck & Co., as executive vice president of supply-chain management. These days he consults and helps manage two small family businesses.

What the Army taught him about business:

Take care of the troops. “What they teach you in the military is, number one, take care of your troops and train them, and the job will get done,” he says.

At Sears offices, Pagonis emphasized enjoying the work, knowing “the mission” and valuing family. “I would not see anybody at Sears after 5:30 in the afternoon,” he says. He shooed employees away to take care of important family matters, saying “If you train your subordinate properly, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Use chain of command to streamline logistics. Pagonis served as the single point of contact for logistics in the Gulf War—and he made himself the same at Sears.

“I could consolidate,” he says. “When the heads of all the distribution centers were reporting to one person, there was greater coordination.” By the end of his first year, he’d saved the company more than $100 million, without firing anyone.

Keep daily updates tight and targeted. Even before Twitter, Pagonis put a premium on brevity. Four days a week at Sears, he held short stand-up meetings at 8 a.m. for supply-chain representatives. And he asked direct reports to send updates, concerns and other operational information in a strict format.

“If you have a 20- or 30-page report, nobody reads it,” he says. “If you're working for me, I ask that your reports fit on a 3-by-5 index card. If it’s longer than the front and back of a 3-by-5 card—and I do have index card formats for email—I won’t read it. And I tell my managers I won’t read it.”

— Adapted from “Army Lessons That Apply to Small Business,” Joseph Rosenbloom, Inc.

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