Seven members of Mark Steiner's Business Strategies class answered the call to research a company, seeking to find the secrets to its success. They also sought to determine the role the chief executive officer played in that success. The company was Stryker Corporation and the CEO was John Brown, who, along with his wife Rosemary, are FHU alumni as well as the naming donors for the building in which the students are studying business.
Dubbed the Stryker Task Force, the team looked at Stryker from 1977, when John Brown became the CEO, until his retirement in 2010. The task force was comprised of Amber Pippin, accounting major from Dickson, Tennessee; Kellen Beard, accounting major from Centerville, Tennessee; Joel Hayes, accounting major from Frankfort, Kentucky; Tanner Hoffman, finance major from Spencer, Wisconsin; Ben Moon, accounting major from Montgomery, Alabama; Casey Overturf, finance major from Palatka, Florida; and Lanie Sewell, marketing major from Millington, Tennessee,
The students first presented their research at University Scholars' Day, Nov. 6, and then gave a more complete report Nov. 8 in the Brown-Kopel Business Center with John and Rosemary Brown in attendance.
As part of their research, students read three books on leadership by Jim Collins: "Good to Great," "Great by Choice" and "Built to Last." Next they researched Stryker and John Brown. They lesrned that Stryker is one of the world's leading medical technology companies, particularly in orthopedic devices, and that it had experienced phenomenal growth during Brown's tenure.
In their reading, the team learned the characteristics of a Level 5 leader. A great leader, according to Collins, is humble, does not seek success for his own glory, shares credit, accepts blame for mistakes and is fearless when making decisions. Collins' formula for Level 5 leadership is Humility+Will=Level 5. "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality," he said, "modest and willful, shy and fearless."
Students also read "Great by Choice" by Collins in which he identifies three traits of great leaders. They are: fanatic discipline, productive paranoia and empirical creativity. John Brown meets all criteria for a Level 5 leader, students say. The author apparently agreed; Brown and Stryker are mentioned several times in the book.
Students also met with the Browns in Atlanta and learned more about his business practices. He said he had urged consistency regardless of the conditions. He was ethical, telling employees, "Don't lie, don't cheat, and don't steal." He advised honesty in dealings. "Always be forthcoming," he said. Brown also said to think before acting, to value quality over margins and to always be respectful, even of competitors. Finally, he said, "Surround yourself with quality people."
Early on, Brown set a goal of 20 percent annual growth for every division of the company. They met that goal consistently. Divisions failing to meet it were presented the Snorkel Award which they had to display in their work area. It served to remind them "they were underwater."
Although Stryker's growth was helped because of the business environment during Brown's tenure, students in their report credited much of the company's enormous success to the character of Brown and the culture he set for the company. "Stryker didn't just succeed," Moon said, "They set the bar."