What makes a good leader? Wanek, Blumkin share insights with HFA

HIGH POINT — In a recent Home Furnishings Assn. webinar hosted by CEO Mark Schumacher, leadership and what makes a good leader were among the most-discussed topics in a conversation that touched on several industry talking points.

In introducing his guests, Ashley CEO Todd Wanek and NFM Chairman Irv Blumkin, Schumacher noted that Blumkin was the HFA’s 2022 Trailblazer of the Year and one of his nominators was Wanek. He asked Wanek what it is about Blumkin that makes him fit that title.

“Irv is a unique person in a good way. I’ve never met anybody in my life who’s more curious than Irv,” Wanek said. “He’s always looking at what’s going on in the marketplace. He knows more about his business than anybody I’ve ever seen. He’s got this tenacious, competitive nature about him that makes him a trailblazer.”

Wanek said one thing he admires about Blumkin is his tenacity. “You’ve got to have a relentless attitude. You’ve got to be like a dog on a bone and stay on it every single day. Irv’s got that attitude; you don’t give up. You’ve got to be relentless in your pursuit of that goal,” he said.

Blumkin said, in any business, innovation is a key aspect of leadership, and he likes to take lessons from companies like Apple and Tesla when it comes to charting new courses. He said think of the way the iPhone has changed nearly every aspect of life and business since it debuted.

“There’s no one perfect path, but you have to have an open mind. Where are the innovative things we can make a difference on? Innovation is a key core competency for successful companies,” Blumkin said.

“Everybody has their path to success. Some are big stores; some are small; some are specialty stores. Whatever it is, you can innovate within your category,” he continued. “There are a lot of successful small companies and big companies and all sizes in between. Innovation should be a core of how you think of things. Innovation for smaller companies can be different, but you better think about how I can better serve who I’m supposed to serve.”

Wanek noted that innovation should be at the heart of any company that expects to do business over any significant timeline.

“Every company has to be an innovative company, or they won’t exist over the long term. I’ve got this saying: If I walk into a factory and if it looks the same today as it did a year ago, we’re in the process of going out of business,” he said. “You have to look at ways to innovate for consumers. Innovating process. For us in manufacturing, it’s robotics, For Irv in retail, it’s creating recognized value for the consumer. Innovation is imperative for every company.”

And part of innovation is being unafraid of mistakes.

“You’ve got lead on one side of a pencil to write with, and on the other side you’ve got an eraser. We all make mistakes, but they’ve got to be productive mistakes,” Wanek said. “You’ve got to be able to learn from those mistakes.”

Handling criticism is another aspect of being innovative and being open to mistakes. Blumkin said he’s always happy to take criticism because it usually leads to a better place.

“You have to have an open mind. Most people, they’re trying to help. There’s a learning lesson; you can’t take it personally. If you have this learning mentality, there’s no one perfect way. I like it when people criticize what we’re doing because it’s a learning opportunity,” Blumkin said. “Where can we get better? How can we make sure we take away something from that?

“I can appreciate when somebody is honest and straightforward with you so you can take the opportunity to get better and improve.”

So how does one make their business profitable? Wanek said it’s all about paying attention to inputs. What you put into your company is what you get out of it.

“Profitability is an output, not an input. A lot of people look at profitability that it should just happen at the back end; I can raise my prices to get profitability. That’s not how it works,” he said. “You’ve got to be eliminating waste throughout the system. Are your people productive? Are you wasting materials? All of those things are going to determine if you’re profitable or not. If you focus on your inputs and make sure value is in place, you’re going to have a profitable company.”

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