A Candid Discussion With Former Rubbermaid CEO

The HBS Marketing Club hosted Joseph Galli, Jr. Wednesday, March 8. Mr. Galli served as CEO of Newell/Rubbermaid from 2001 to 2005, where he planned and executed a strategy to turn around a troubled company. Prior to that, Mr. Galli built his reputation as a marketing innovator over almost two decades at Black & Decker, where his work in growing the DeWalt brand made him a national business figure. At the age of 41, he left the company (where he was the number two person) to become president and COO of Amazon.

Although hearing from a high-level executive is nothing new to HBS students, Galli is certainly unique, and not just for his fiery personality. Many students were excited to hear from him because of his lightning path to the top at Black & Decker, where he earned 21 promotions in 19 years. Others wanted to hear about Galli’s experience building a team at Amazon, and many came to hear about the turnaround at Newell/Rubbermaid. None, however, were expecting such refreshing candor from such a successful business leader.

Galli spoke honestly about mistakes and lessons learned, and he stayed with each student’s question until he had answered fully. One student commented, “Obviously, it is always a treat to hear from someone like Galli, but the real treat was his attitude. I wasn’t expecting him to be so frank and straightforward with us. I feel like I got more out of this presentation than almost any other I’ve been to. I hope we get him to come back next year.”

His talk, “Lessons Learned, Moving Forward” centered on four important lessons he learned throughout his career:

1) Set the right expectations
For example, during his tenure as CEO of Newell/Rubbermaid, Galli made commitments to shareholders and the board of directors that did not leave enough “wiggle room.” As a result, when oil prices spiked, the target he had set for the plastics company was no longer attainable.

2) Even when things are tough, reserve emotional stability
The self-described “fiery, passionate crusader” advises future CEOs that leadership is about creating energy and excitement in others around the goals of an organization. Containing the negative emotions, no matter how tough things get, is a part of doing that.

3) Maintain humility
Mr. Galli stated, “Anonymity is a virtue of a CEO” and that humility is also an important part of leadership.

4) Communicate more effectively in a real-time manner
As CEO, you can never over communicate the goals of the organization to the people with whom you work.

Mr. Galli is now considering his next career steps and enjoying time to focus on his family. He left us with a final thought: “Above all, have passion in what you do.”

Visit //video.hbs.edu for video coverage of the presentation.