Todd Wille, Turnaround Leader Extraordinaire, A Cooperative Leader

Todd Wille returned to his previous employer, Unify Corporation, a California-based application development, database and migration products company. The date was August 21, 2000 and Unify was in terrible shape.

The former CEO had committed securities fraud & the FBI was investigating.

Major international customers were taking their business elsewhere.

If current trends continued, the company would run out of cash in 90 days.

The stock had dropped from a high of $42 to $1. Employees were demoralized and afraid.

It is interesting to watch great managers rise to the occasion when events are so incredibly stacked against them. Todd adopted many cooperative intelligence practices as he delved into the company’s severe problems and seeked solutions with urgency!  Cooperative intelligence integrates leadership, connection and communication and so many of Todd’s decisions and actions blend these together.

Cooperative Leadership

Todd had to act with urgency since the company couldn’t even afford to pay legal fees to file for bankruptcy. He set his priorities to stop customer defections and earn the trust of his employees. He took immediate steps to regain customer’s trust and confidence and maintain the trust of his employees.

Cooperative Connection

First he appointed the head of customer service to be VP of sales. Who better to connect with customers since he already had earned their confidence and trust?

Second, Todd personally met with key customers and listened to their concerns.

Third, he insisted that product development connect with customers instead of just supporting old products, and use customer input to build new products.

Fourth, he connected with employees weekly during this difficult period.

Cooperative Communication

The VP of sales called, listened and reassured customers that the company was putting practices in place to save the company.

Todd listened to his customer’s concerns and acknowledged them publicly. He put himself in their shoes and mentioned if they changed vendors it could be a long, complicated process.

Todd communicated the absolute truth without filters in his weekly employee meetings with the entire company. Remarkably only 1 staffer left voluntarily during this difficult 18 month period.

A key moment was how Todd handled himself when a customer told him, in front of a large group of other customers, that he was uncomfortable, “signing a $100,000 contract for the following year” since he wasn’t sure Unify would still be in business the next year. Using the full array of cooperative intelligence skills – leadership, connection and communication–Todd answered, “You’re right to feel the way you do. But if you don’t sign your contract, I will be out of business, and your worry will become reality. Then your company will have to find another supplier for database development tools, and it will unfortunately be a long, complicated and potentially expensive process.” His customer agreed to stay with Unity right in front of the group; as did many other customers in time which brought in the badly needed cash flow to survive.

In the last three years, Unify has made 3 acquisitions that have tripled its size, added software tools and solutions and expanded its customer base, which now includes a who’s who of the most admired global companies.

The American Business Association named Todd Wille, CEO of Unify Corp, the best turnaround executive for 2008. Cooperative leadership works!

Read people’s comments on this great turnaround story in Marketing Profs.

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