Wow. That’s going to work! An Interview with Rick Dow

Any conversation with Rick Dow is a fast drive through seemingly unrelated stories that all come back to some key notions that he has – and that I think he is honestly not aware of until you ask a couple questions.

I met Rick many years ago when we served on a nonprofit board together. At the time he was at Northwest Airlines. He left NWA before the Delta acquisition and moved on to very different assignments at equally different types of organizations: Thomson Reuters, Burger King, and Midas International. Today his LinkedIn profile simply says “Marketer,” which I love, and which is totally Rick. It also, in a word, explains his passion for scaling emerging businesses and reinvigorating brands. If you look at the names of the places he’s been, he’s had a lot of experience in both.

Rick and I suffer from the same affliction: everything is interesting. Curiosity, a key characteristic of all BOLD leaders, is off the charts in Rick. Through his stories you learn that he goes way further than most to learn about the things that catch his interest. Just ask him about his love of music sometime. When he shares, it is an actual history lesson of where and how and who developed, adopted and shaped music in any form – bluegrass, jazz, classical, R&B, and more. That same curiosity and music passion drove him into his first business adventure right out of Notre Dame – opening a bar and night club in South Bend called Vegetable Buddies with one of his friends. That adventure only lasted a couple years and, in his words, “was an aesthetic hit, but business failure.” Although for the record, before he moved on, he paid everyone back any money he owed them! And Vegetable Buddies is open again, under new ownership, should you be driving through South Bend and interested in some “Live Music and Real Food” as the website says.

I reminded him that he once told me, “Boy, if I’d really have known how much some of these efforts were going to take, and how long, I wonder if I’d have started?” But, of course he would have. There is no way to know everything – especially when you’re taking an organization to new places, which is what BOLD leaders do. It’s what a marketer that loves scaling and reinvigorating businesses does.

As Rick describes, “I don’t always have clarity about how I get s**t done and sometimes, in the moment, think, Wow. This is going to work!” He continues, “Things occur to me, ideas I can piece together. My instincts are about results. That’s what I measure.”

Rick explains, “An idea without an effective, highly detailed operating plan is hope heading to failure.” At Midas, he spent over 18 months engineering a complex operating solution to a customer need aligned with legacy brand virtues that they were able to bring to life. They created an integrated, highly-engineered customer experience, an industrially engineered process of services that ensured timely and profitable outcomes for the dealers and metrics that would allow every step to be observable, measured and taught. Without that effort and significant specificity, it would have failed. “Frankly,” says Rick, “the easy part was figuring what we wanted to do. The difficult thing was building a ground up process of doing it.”

Midas was a transformation that Rick says took twice as long as he originally expected (9 years instead of 4 or 5!). He says, “I had to make it work.” He was all in.  He knew about 6 years in that he was at one of those, “Wow. This is going to work!” moments.

Prior to Midas, Rick had to do the same extended work in the turnaround of Burger King.

Over the arch of time, Rick commented that sure, he had not thought of everything, and some choices didn’t work out. But because he thinks in possibilities, and enrolls others, he persevered to get the result he was after.

Winning over others to accomplish your vision often requires a culture change before behaviors change. As Rick describes, “No BS posters for changing culture! What you do has to be real, sincere, in the interests of your stakeholders and practiced by everyone.”

We’re an impatient world these days so people often ask me, “How long do transformations really take?”

Rick’s perspective is, “In my experience, the arc of culture and commercial changes of real magnitude begin to be manifested and observed on a small scale within 6 to 8 months. Then staying the course can be observed at scale within 18 months, gain sustained traction at 36 months. And then, any progress has to be nurtured actively or it seems to regress at about twice the pace of growth.”

Like others I’ve interviewed, with Rick there is no rethinking, no regretting – only learning, putting new ideas together, and finding a path forward to success.

True transformational change can take a very long time. Years. Progress along the way is essential. Not surrendering when everything doesn’t work as anticipated is critical. Having a healthy dose of curiosity and finding the patterns in the data to support instinctive ideas is a must. And when you arrive at that “Wow. This is going to work!” place, nothing feels better.

When have you been in the middle of a change wondering when success will arrive? What keeps you going to find your way through to success?  

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As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.