Reality HR: CEO Dixon Thayer on Resolving


Dixon Thayer, CEO of Greenleaf Auto, uses a powerful simulation exercise to train

managers to resolve the paradoxes around making money versus doing the right

thing. spoke to Mr. Thayer. Tell me a little about your background.

DT: I’ve spent over 30 years as an operating leader, in everything from small business,

to a couple of Fortune 500 companies, and even a Fortune 5 company. Most recently, I

led a leveraged buy-out of a division of Ford Motor Company.

In many cases, I've had to work in fixing a broken business or helping a business find its

profitable growth curve again. To fix a business you need to create what I call, “effective

profit cultures”. What is the key to getting a profit culture?

DT: Everyone speaks about leadership standards and re-establishing values in

organizations. However, very few people address a significant issue in change

management that foils many change initiatives—the matter of paradox.

There is a lot of talk about "balance" and that word suggests that there are two or more

seemingly polar business imperatives. The problem people have is in making the right

choices between those competing imperatives. Many people look to their leadership for

resolution of the paradox; they ask, "What do you want profit or growth?” "Do you want

profit or customer satisfaction?" A leader may say, "I want it all", which at first sounds

like strong leadership but is really no help at all. You’ve left the boat rudderless.

Somebody asked you to resolve a paradox and all you’ve done is to throw it back in his

or her lap. Tell us more about the paradoxes managers face.

DT: The mother of all business paradoxes is maximizing profit versus doing the right

thing. Doing the right thing could mean taking care of customer satisfaction, investing for

strategic growth, developing employees, or any number of other issues.

When it comes to profit, there are only four ways to make more money: sell more, get

more for it, sell the right stuff, and spend as little as possible doing so. Unfortunately,

knowledge of this isn’t enough. This tells you the what but not the how. If I have one

more financial analyst walk into my office and say, "I’ve done a great deal of analysis

and your costs are too high", I don't know what I'll do. What value does that add? As

operators, we all know this. The hard part is how.

Some organizations try to help managers handle the paradox of making the right

decisions by providing financial training for non-financial managers or have corporate

sermons on governance DOs and DON'Ts. But financial training for the non-financial

manager is learning how to read the gauges instead of how to pull the levers.

Sometimes people are taught case studies of winners and losers, and sometimes there

are benchmarks to show how poorly you’re doing. Again, all you’ve been taught is how

to be a financial analyst. The corporate sermons about, "Let's have more of an HR

focus," or "Let's have more integrity" are just reflecting the macro thoughts of how to be

an honest decision maker when what you really need is to show people how to make

those tough choices effectively. What do you do to help people make those tough choices?

DT: We've taken a different approach. We created an interactive web-based simulation

tool called Profit Master. I’ve used it in several large corporations, a couple of small

corporations, and now my own organization.

In Profit Master, we’ve created a fictitious company of some scale that has all of its

moving parts. People can learn new tools that help them make the right choices. They

can actually make decisions and then see how their choices affect the results of the


The simulation deals with the actual tools of paradox navigation. One tool is being able

to identify a paradox—to define the two polar states and find a way to frame it so that

they are not polar choices. We give people "what-if" tools in the gaming world so they

can drive success, not just look at the 'gauges' after the fact to see if they were

successful. It’s teaching people, in a controlled environment, what happens when they

pull the levers.

In this process, people also unlearn some of the business decision-making tools that

created this problem of not understanding how to reconcile making money with doing the

right thing. We hear a lot of interesting but untested new ideas. It seems that this

teaching tool is something you've used for a good numbers of years in a variety of


DT: Yes. I have successfully used the system in product-based industries, distributionbased

industries, and service-based industries. We developed this with Norm

Smallwood of Results Based Leadership. Of course, it’s not just the model; it's the whole

process that integrates with that model that has been a great aid to helping people

handle this mother of all paradoxes.

I sit on the board of a couple of companies, and the Sarbanes-Oxley issues are real.

Resolving the paradox of making profits versus doing the right thing is not just theoretical

musing, it’s really about getting companies to function within that new world that’s been

defined for us. What kind of lessons might someone walk away with after having done

this kind of simulation?

DT: These models usually can take a person's specific issue and let them run several

different scenarios—to take several different approaches—and grind out the financial

implications. For example, a manager may face a paradox around where to cut costs

without hurting their customers. They can try various approaches in the model.

A manager's issue might be, "What do I do about my best customers?" If you think about

it, a customer who calls and says, “I love you very much and will always buy your

product”, usually gets the highest price. In the simulation, you can model how to build a

different loyalty relationship with your customers and see the financial results. So someone might have a specific issue about how to handle pricing

issues and could go into the model and play around with different pricing


DT: Absolutely. They can play with pricing, product mix, product development, cutting

costs, and so on. One of the most powerful levers is mix. People are always wondering if

they should increase prices and they forget that shifting the mix of the products, and the

mix of the customers you do business with, will dramatically affect your bottom line.

When people can do that, you’re not forcing them into the kinds of choices that get them

into trouble.

This tool creates a fun competition. If you think about the attraction of ‘PlayStation’ and

‘Xbox’, it’s very much the same kind of thing. Participants in the learning process try to

outscore each other by getting better financial results while still playing within the rules of

the game.

One thing that happens in the game is, they can get past false barriers, such as, "I could

never change that price". People have all kinds of false ceilings around what they can

and cannot do, but when they’re playing the game, they have the opportunity to try all

kinds of things.

While people are in that mental state, we slip in the actual metrics of their business.

When they’re done with the gaming process, they’ve actually created a specific action

plan for their business, with a measurable financial impact. So when you're done you'll be thinking, "Was this a training game or was

it a business planning exercise?"

DT: Yes. Why should they be separate? Usually action plans that come out of training

are quite abstract, such as, "Here are my top five priorities". What you really want during

the learning process is to create a specific action plan, where people have already seen

the financial benefits that come from doing the right thing. We translate this right into

their bonus—we say, "Here are the results of your actions and look at how much bonus

you would make by doing the right thing". Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

DT: The development of this process is on going. I am very interested in others who

might be interested in sharing where we’ve gone, because, it enhances the model and

improves results within my own company. People are welcome to contact me at my

Greenleaf auto address:

Dixon Thayer is the founding partner of ab3 Resources inc. and a

member of the Duke Corporate Education Academic Network.

Dixon has over twenty-five years experience in direct leadership of line management.

His areas of expertise are business turnarounds and regenerative growth, change

management, leadership and value creation. He has led the acquisition and integration

of numerous businesses, supported a successful IPO on NASDAQ, and led two

significant divestitures. He has held several senior leadership positions in large

organizations in the US, Europe and Latin America during critical times of change.

Dixon recently completed the leveraged buyout of Ford Motor Company’s GreenLeaf

Auto Recycling division, and serves as President, CEO and Board Member. He also

currently serves on the “i-Trax” Health Management Solutions Board of Directors as the

Audit Chair and member of the Compensation Committee (AMEX). He also serves on

the Board of Speakman CRS, a market leading plumbing & appliances business. Dixon

also advises two Private equity firms regarding potential acquisition opportunities.

Dixon has written a number of articles and lectured on topics including “Teaching

Elephants to Dance”, “Paradox Navigation”, and “Creating Value & Distinctiveness in

Commodity Based Industries”. He has been a guest lecturer at the University of

Michigan, the American School of International Management, the London School of

Business, the Duke Fuqua School of Business and The 3M Annual Senior Officer


Dixon is hoping to be able to present at's Power of the People Event October

24-26th on Creating effective “Profit Cultures” in the post Sarbanes Oxley age.