Doug Stotlar: Leading on the path of higher ambition

Nature of Business Radio

Doug Stotlar: Leading on the path of higher ambition

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

There is something profound about speaking with CEOs of major companies on higher ambition leadership and my conversation this week with Doug Stotlar, CEO of Con-way, was no exception. Doug is at the helm (and has been so since 2005) of the $5.29 billion freight transportation and logistics services company headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. We spoke about his company, the way he leads it, and what extraordinary steps he had to take to move the needle from a company in a state of dysfunction to one functioning beyond expectation, and much much more.

Con-way, as Doug explains, is one of those companies that sits in the background of society yet supports everything that makes our daily lives possible -- hospitals, stores, manufacturers that make commerce. Con-way is also the third-largest surface-based transportation company, behind FedEx and UPS.

Certainly this role brings with it a great deal of responsibility. Doug looked at his role as CEO as a huge opportunity, as well as responsibility to extract synergies across the company right out of the gate by creating a shared common culture and vision. He essentially reset the tone of the company to one that strategically benefitted the whole company rather than a select few. And, in great part, because Doug had been at the company since 1985, he not only knew that a complete overhaul was in order, but that this was going to take time.

Major progress has been made at Con-way in the last 2 years, since they became more aggressive about how to move ball down the field by identifying four core values: safety, integrity, commitment, and excellence. And they brought together the three companies under the Con-way umbrella -- Con-way Freight, Con-way Truckload, and Menlo Worldwide -- by identifying similarities among them.

In doing so, they have been able to effectively keep the values of the company alive at all of their 500 locations. Some of the specific ways that Doug explained in our conversation are their Voices and Values Teams and Star Card.

We also spoke about the Center of Higher Ambition Leadership, of which Con-way is a Founding Sponsor and Doug is deeply involved. He explained how his involvement has immensely informed the work he does:

"It's a terrific concept. From the very beginning when I became CEO, our chairman really insisted that I become involved in organizations that gave me a peer group of other CEOs to bounce ideas off of ... [for example] if it's a new governance agenda coming down the pike ... to be able to talk to them about how they are implementing this.

It wasn't until I that met the CEOs that Michael Beer pulled together through the Higher Ambition conferences (and the Institute), that I started to recognize that there are CEOs out there who see the world very similarly to the way I see the world, as far as how you engage people, the role that culture has to play within an organization, how you think about talent on your team, and the type of perspective that leadership needs to play in a company. It really became the organization with which I found the most common in supporting the goals that we had here at Con-way."

And I loved Doug's answer to my question on aspects of his personal life that have formed the way he leads at Con-way. He said:

"I had a very good, solid family upbringing. When I started to come into positions where decisions I made had bigger ramifications outisde of just my own immediate job and potentially could get higher visibility ... I always looked at my decison-making ability and said, 'if my mom and dad read about this in the Wall Street Journal, would they be proud of me?' It has kind of been my litmus test ... am I making this decision for the right reasons with people's best interest in mind? And so it starts right there in my core."


George Papoulias edited this podcast.


Truck photo courtesy of Con-Way.