Kellogg Magazine  |  Spring/Summer 2015




In the first six months, building trust with employees is critical. Trust is the foundation for the company’s next 50 years — and if you don’t build it, it’s not going to work.

So on day one, we get in front of the broader group of employees so they know who we are, what our plans are and how they’re personally going to be affected. Then we ask them for their opinions and engage them in the changes. You have to be very honest with them. Even if you’re delivering negative news, you’ve got to be completely up-front about it.

Our corporate headquarters has 12 people — that’s it. We’re not that stereotypical bureaucracy; we don’t come into businesses and take over. We’re here as a resource for companies. Our responsibility is to get the right people in place, allocate capital and manage risk from an enterprise perspective. Then it’s up to the individual business units to make the operating decisions, enhance their competitive position and drive continuous improvement in everything they do. We really want entrepreneurial executives and an entrepreneurial-run business, so we push all of that decision-making down to the business level.

Larry Gies founded Madison Industries, one of the largest and most successful privately held companies in the world, after running predecessor Madison Capital Partners for 20 years. Madison builds entrepreneurially driven branded market leaders that are committed to making the world safer, healthier and more productive by creating innovative solutions that deliver outstanding customer value.

With the businesses we work with, the ideas are already there. The problem is usually that they’re unfocused. It’s up to us to make sure we’ve got someone in place who’s going to focus on the one or two things that are going to delight customers and engage employees the most. If you don’t have the right leadership at the top, the business isn’t going to reach the levels it’s capable of reaching.

We also find that getting the top management team personally invested in the business — literally, with their own money — is a powerful part of what we do. Not only does it ensure they’re focused on the same things the ownership is focused on, but more importantly, they feel a connection to the business.

If you talk to any of our companies, they would tell you we’re very data-rational.

Cash is the best measurement tool because you can’t mess with it. But if you’re solving issues for your customers and engaging your employees, the financial success will be there. That’s how you really know you’re doing good work.

NEXT: Make the tough decisions »