Business Leadership Culture More Human Podcast

Justin Woodard: Making the Invisible Visible (Ep. 5)

September 12, 2018

Justin Woodard: Making the Invisible Visible (Ep. 5)

Like many of his generation, Earl Woodard heeded the call of his country in 1941.

He joined the armed forces and within months, the young man from Farmington, Missouri was a Navigator on a B17 flying missions over France and Germany. His plane was shot down over occupied France in April of 1944. Relying on the kindness of groups of strangers and his own wits, he escaped on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains and into Spain.

Earl Woodard
Earl Woodard

And, after he returned home a Purple-Heart decorated veteran, he bought a service wagon, some brushes and soap. He and his wife started cleaning St. Louis-area homes and businesses. They co-founded Woodard Cleaning and Restoration. Today, the business that bears that name employs over 200 people. It is a pre-eminent brand in the organization. But just a few years ago, this company that was founded with entrepreneurial grit and can-do attitude faced a cross roads that spell the end for even the most well-managed of organizations: it was handed off to a third generation.

There is a common proverb that describes this in business lore that describes this:

“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

The common business wisdom sounds something like this: An entrepreneur with determination starts a business. The second generation witnessed that determination and applies it to increasing the scale of the company. Then, the spoiled-brat third generation assumes that the company will always be around, makes poor strategic decisions and kills the company.

There is, of course, quantitative evidence of this phenomenon.

Less than one third of family businesses (businesses that make up a majority of our gross domestic product) survive the transition from first to second generation ownership. And half of those remaining won’t survive the third generation.

As an antidote to that proverbial wisdom, we have our interview with Justin Woodard, the third generation CEO and president at Woodard Cleaning and Restoration.

Justin has taken a leadership approach that has all of the makings of reversing the forces that work against the third generation. He is creating rituals and practices that reveal what is most valued and unique about the humans that make up the Woodard network. As opposed to an authoritarian approach, Justin’s role within his organization focuses on creating an environment for emerging leadership.

In this episode, you will hear ways that you can begin to experiment with ways to make the values of your organization more visible and how that process can add meaning to everyday employee and customer experiences.

Full disclosure: Woodard is a client of Bigwidesky, the company that sponsors the Be Human Project.

Justin Woodard

Who is in this episode:

Justin Woodard


Woodard Cleaning and Restoration

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Music Credits:

Shofunkan by Snarky Puppy

Night Owl by Broke for Free, Creative Commons

Feathersoft by Blue Dot Sessions, Creative Commons

Heliotrope by Blue Dot Sessions, Creative Commons