Daniel P. Burnham was named Chairman and CEO of the Raytheon Company in 1999 at age 53. He joined Raytheon in 1998 having previously served as Vice Chairman of AlliedSignal, Inc. Mr. Burnham received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Pepperdine University at the December 1999 Graziadio School Commencement Ceremony where he delivered the keynote address. Dr. Robert Fulmer, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graziadio School, interviewed Mr. Burnham in January, 2000 for the Graziadio Business Review.
Dr. Fulmer: What do you consider to be the most important principle for a businessperson in managing his or her career?
Daniel Burnham: Ultimately, what matters is that you contribute to the creation of value in your enterprise. You are measured and ultimately rewarded based on what you get done as recognized by the customer, the shareholder, and fellow employees. To have the ability to write the perfect memo, to have the perfect quip, to relate well to the boss, or to have a jaunty air are all terrific but, at the end of the day, it’s what gets done that really matters.
Number two is that business is a social enterprise with economic ends and, therefore, one has to work with and through others. That means, among other things, that you respect the very heart and soul of the person you’re dealing with. You treat people with the full respect they deserve. People can typically spot a fake very quickly so, if you act in a manipulative way, you are likely to be smoked out so that you become ineffective. There’s no substitute for believing in what you say. If you say teamwork is important, then it means you really have to treat people with integrity and respect. So it’s One – Result, and Two – Integrity.
Number three is having a sense of who you are and what your aspirations are. Aspirations change over time. Your aspirations in your first job ought to be different than they are in your third job. In all cases, you ought to have a sense of where you want to be in two, three, four or five years – not in the context of money and stature so much as accomplishment and challenge. Then you can translate your goals into the experiences that you ought to start having now in order to position yourself for the future.
GBR: It’s interesting how many people think you really can fool a corporation over a long period of time.
Burnham: You really can’t do that. You have to be clear about what your expectations and your capabilities are. These things are amenable to fact-finding and hard data. You know the 360 degree process is now widely available so you can get input from bosses, subordinates, and peers. Listen to this input and get to know clearly who you are and what your aspirations are. Keep working on narrowing the gap between your capabilities and your aspirations, and have a defined program to get there.
GBR: As you know I still teach the “Dan Burnham Case,” and one of the things that comes through is how many times you really listened to feedback that people gave you and made changes as a result of it. Have you ever had a bad boss?
Burnham: Oh sure I have. Absolutely. But you learn from the good and from the bad.
GBR: Can you say something about learning from the bad because I know that’s a theme that a lot of people get frustrated with.
Burnham: I once had a boss who didn’t want me in the job. He had somebody that he preferred for that position but his boss overruled him. So, while he was always polite to me, he made it known that the right guy for the job was this other fellow. My boss never told me this directly. I only heard about it through the grapevine. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable position to be in.
So I concluded to be direct with subordinates whether or not I have nice things to say. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t play games, don’t play politics…just be straight and direct. That was an important learning for me. To see a boss play a game and manipulate is an awful thing. I lost respect for him and the organization, and I vowed I’d never do anything like that.
GBR: What boss have you learned the most from?
Burnham: Larry Bossidy without any doubt.
GBR: What was the major lesson you learned from him?
Burnham: Well you’d have to write a book on it. Someone probably will – and he deserves it. It’s to be able to articulate how good we can be in a way that both fills you with pride and gives you a meaningful dose of, “Oh darn, this isn’t’ gonna be easy. I’m not fully sure I’m up to the challenge, but I’m gonna give it the best I’ve got.”
You came out of Larry’s meetings with a combination of drive and ambition, but also with cold recognition that there’s a tremendous amount that has to be done and, darn it, we’re gonna do it. How he did it, I can’t really say – you can’t write it down. He was generally not prescriptive. He didn’t get in and try to do your job. But, every time you walked away from him, you were filled with that sort of duality, if you will, of ambition and “oh boy!”
GBR: Both humility and a sense that you’re going to get it done?
Burnham: That’s exactly right.
GBR: One of the things you mentioned in your commencement speech at the Graziadio School, that is often associated with Larry Bossidy, is the importance of Six Sigma. Of course, I’m familiar with it as a corporate initiative to raise quality standards. What about a recent MBA graduate? Are there any principles that are more personal?
Burnham: Well, certainly the precursor of that is that Larry was open to learning. Six Sigma was new to him when he was sixty years old, or whatever, and he took to it as eagerly as a twenty-five year old. He didn’t say, “Well, we tried something like that before and it didn’t work.” He was like a kid with his openness for learning. He took it and embraced it. So the first thing is to be open to all sorts of ideas.
Secondly, a manager or executive can apply Six Sigma to whatever challenge he or she may have. Let’s say you’re running a department or you have a task to do. Sit down and define perfection with respect to your area of responsibility, with numbers and specifications, whether it’s a financial analysis responsibility, a marketing responsibility, or a program management responsibility. Work with the folks around you. Certainly, if you have subordinates, sit down with them and define the “end state” as specifically as you can. Then, with the same specifics, define where you are today. There are tools to help you do that. Process mapping is one. But it’s those principles…Define the end state, define where you are, and then establish your priorities for moving from one to the other. That’s basically what Six Sigma is and anybody can use it.
But you can’t be proficient at it until you’ve learned all the tools. You might not be able to take on highly complicated things, and your process map may be awkward, but the principles are the same and anybody can get started on it right away.
GBR: Well, obviously the impact gets to be greater as you move higher in an organization and that’s the next question. One of the things that was said about you back at AlliedSignal was that you’d really never been sufficiently challenged.
Burnham: It wasn’t true then and it’s certainly not true now.
GBR: What are the challenges associated with being an outsider when you come into an organization that requires, one would assume, significant change?
Burnham: The first thing is that it just takes time to learn about a large organization and really understand the situation. It’s not that people are intentionally misleading, but the English language can be very imprecise. Someone may explain a situation to you as clearly as he or she can, but you might hear it in the context of your prior experience. Then, when you dig deeper, you realize that something was meant differently.
Like, what does the word “stretch” mean? Or what about, “I have a gap, but I’m confident I can fill it?” What do those things really mean? It can take awhile to learn the lingo and to really smoke out the facts. And the bigger the job, the tougher it is. You just have to persevere and not accept what’s given to you at face value – not because people are misleading you, but because of the nature of our language, their desire to please and, perhaps, their own lack of thorough understanding.
GBR: We’re just beginning a new year, decade, century, and millennium. What do you think is going to be the most important management challenge that we’ll be dealing with in the next few years?
Burnham: It’s to manage through the information revolution when all of the precepts change. All of the hooks to power are different now. Hardly anybody can define the “end state.” We have to keep asking ourselves over and over, “What’s it going to be?” And it’s a different answer every day.
That’s scary, especially when you’re not immersed in the technology as is true of almost anybody over forty.
The perception of what is fair and equitable compensation has radically changed, and attracting talented individuals has become a major challenge for institutions. I have to believe this is a big problem for elite academic institutions. It’s true for consultants, it’s true for business, and it’s true for lawyers. I was just talking to a partner of a law firm who said he’s having a heck of a time keeping his young lawyers. They’re all running to where the money is. This bubble is bound to burst.