If you ever need an ego boost (and what CIO doesn’t?), I highly recommend a trip to China.
Last year, I went to Guangzhou, where Hot Wheels are made. When I got to the plant in the middle of downtown, there was a 20-foot banner hanging on the front of the factory saying, “Welcome, Mr. Joe Eckroth!”
I was a celebrity, a rock star. Every few steps, I was posing for a picture with an employee. I don’t even think they really knew what my job was, but I was important to them. The next day, I saw myself all over the Chinese newspapers. I’ve got more pictures and press clippings from China than I know what to do with.
Most of the employees were women. They work in our plants for a few years until they make enough to go back to their province and live out their lives in relative prosperity. As I walked the line, I could feel them looking at me. (You never catch them looking at you; that wouldn’t be polite. Whenever I looked at them, they’d blush and turn away.)
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One worker I saw had to complete three motions to pack a single set of toy cars. I was awestruck by how fluid she was. She did this 10 hours a day, but each time it was as if it were the first; that was the importance she placed on her task. I was impressed. But I knew if I tried to compliment her, it would embarrass the heck out of her.
When I got back to headquarters, I arranged for her to receive an employee recognition award. It comes with $100. (We adjusted the amount for China.) It was a huge deal. She made all the newspapers. I know it embarrassed her, but I also knew what that money could do for her. And I wanted her to know that I thought what she did was impressive and important. In my eyes, she was the rock star.
—As told to Stephanie Overby