February 26, 2021

The Boss: Ballrooms and Boardrooms

My parents always dreamed that I would be a teacher, and so did I. From very early on, I did well in school; I was the valedictorian of my high school class, vice president of the student body, president of the math club and editor of the school paper.

I majored in math and classical languages at Canisius College in Buffalo. I received my master’s degree and started working toward my Ph.D. at the University of Buffalo. But then Kodak came in and started interviewing. I was hired as a software engineer, doing programming, and left graduate school. Within three years, I was promoted to supervisor and then advanced to senior levels of management.

Along the way, I became involved in educating people about leadership. Early on, I tried to understand what it takes to get people to follow you. How do you create a vision, and how do you inspire an organization? I learned how to motivate a diverse team of people and how to encourage it to go after a mission.

You don’t learn those skills in college. I think you learn by doing and you learn by having some great role models. I have been fortunate to have people who helped me build those skills. I’m close friends with my first boss at Kodak, John Gallenberger, along with my last boss there 20 years later, Carl Kohrt, who now serves on the board of my company, Kinetic Concepts.

I made a decision in 1988 that I wanted to put technology to use in health care; I wanted to do something that helps patients. I was recruited to Johnson Johnson in the late 1990s and ran two of its businesses — first in Tampa, Fla., then in Raritan, N.J.

Johnson Johnson is smack in the middle of health care, which is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s the same at KCI, where I’ve been the chief executive for about five years. We provide, among other things, regenerative medicine products and high-end wound healing products that use a technology called negative pressure wound therapy to remove infection, thus speeding the healing process.

I’ve been married to Frank Burzik, my high school sweetheart, for 40 years. We met while roller-skating when I was about 13. We have always liked to dance socially; we used to go to the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. We now go ballroom dancing together. In fact, we just built a house with a ballroom in it.

Ballroom dancing can teach you a lot about both life and business. You can dance well only if you’re connected; you learn the power of the partnership. I have to be so unbelievably connected, myself as the follower and my partner as leader. I have to intuit in fractions of seconds how to respond to a lead. So you learn to read a person’s mind.

I talk to my people at work about ballroom dance, about how to be connected, and to be aware of musicality. In a business sense, this means learning a three-dimensional presentation of yourself that allows you to understand how to harmonize with others in the organization, as well as with customers and patients. It gives you the insight and intuition to anticipate and take initiative quickly, and then to follow through in an informed way.

Once or twice a year, I invite my leadership committee members and their spouses over to my house and we dance. And they’ve turned out to like it. A few are even taking ballroom dance lessons now. I like to think it’s my influence.

As told to Abby Ellin.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ccb54c261b70f3fd9b4a646d504d34b0

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