30 Jul A view on leadership with Ted Manning, CEO of Ibex
Ted Manning is the CEO of Ibex, the Vermont-based merino wool activewear and lifestyle apparel brand. Ted has been a friend of New Normal Consulting’s partners for decades. NNC recently visited Ted and his team at the company’s White River Junction headquarters. We were struck by the level of leadership, empowerment, and focus Ted expresses and he agreed to this interview with him on just that topic — leadership.
NNC: During our visit we were so impressed with what we saw in your organization, in the team’s energy and creativity and in the level of focus you appear to have on empowerment, communication and leadership. What are the principles that guide you as a leader?
Ted: First off, it’s not about me, nor should it be. It is not necessary for me to be the one in the room with the right answer. My job is to make sure the right answer is in the room. This shifts the focus to people, and to ensuring they have the time, tools and resources they need to succeed. And lastly, I believe that momentum rules the day. I favor action. When in doubt, move the ball forward and trust the rest of it will catch up and sort itself out.
NNC: How would you describe your leadership philosophy — Participatory? democratic, authoritarian?
Ted: In the spirit of transparency, this language I stole from Will Manzer (former Eastern Mountain Sports CEO). I think of my philosophy as a benevolent dictatorship. Surround yourself with the right people, give them tools and time to succeed, act with absolute transparency and include them in decision-making. The goal here is to create consensus and buy in, flatten the organization and keep the place really motivated. This is the benevolent aspect. But in the event that consensus is not reached, the call still needs to be made, and the leader still needs to make it.
NNC: Operating with the level of communication, team orientation and participation you seem to employ can become less efficient. How do you manage spending this extra time to engage with your people?
Ted: There are likely more efficient ways to organize. If efficiency is the main goal, then this is not going to do it. On a longer horizon, leadership, empowerment and engagement are the way you get to “one plus one equals three.” The authoritarian method only gets you to “one plus one equals two”, or less. But frankly this is the only way I know how to do it. Pick the right people and support them. Respect them. My Dad gave me a quote, I believe came from Colin Powell that goes something like, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”My mission, when I came on, included the challenge to connect culture with brand in order to ensure future success. I am very fortunate to have a board that truly values culture and energetically includes considerations for people in their decision-making.
NNC: Are there benefits to operating in this fashion that you feel open to share with other CEO’s?
Ted: I certainly draw benefits every day. I get a daily sounding board from staff that helps me steer Ibex. I am held accountable, and am able to hold others accountable. There is truly an ‘open door’ policy here, people feel safe bringing ideas, concerns and issues forward. What really happens is the creation of a platform for success, with everyone invested and pulling serious weight. You enable an environment where leadership comes from within, not exclusively from the top.
NNC: What about drawbacks?
Ted: There are a few, which include the need for a level of vulnerability that can be challenging. Not everyone is up for that. You have to be willing to expose yourself that way. The amount of time you commit to people is greater. Finally, you have to create the space for consensus and vulnerability, but also, and most importantly, be willing to make that call and know you will disappoint some people. But if you engage people, and they are involved, this doesn’t have to be a negative.
NNC: Your company clearly values “giving back” or “paying it forward” through various initiatives and associations. What drives this level of social commitment?
Ted: For starters, CEO’s don’t create culture. At best we enable and nurture it. You can’t walk into an empty kitchen and prepare a meal, ingredients have to be there, and you have to know how to put them together. The desire to act philanthropically has been at Ibex a lot longer than I have. Our people embody it and want it. I make sure we align our efforts with business and brand values, but I mainly get out of the way. We choose to make this a part of our mission and commitments, and are sure that as we continue in this way, we will continue to draw the best people to our brand and our values.
NNC: You shared with us your current effort to have Ibex certified as a B Corp. This suggests to us that your vision and commitment certainly pivot on leading and managing a sound business both financially and competitively, but also to contributing something greater than quarterly earnings.
Ted: I believe that businesses have an obligation to do well in order to be able to do good. This was part of the EMS philosophy and it’s part of my DNA. The needs in the world are self-evident, and we can and should be a force for making things better than we found them. Being successful is how we are able to do that.