Robert Townsend


American Business Executive, CEO of Avis, Director of American Express, Author of "Up the Organization"

Author Quotes

If asked when you can deliver something, ask for time to think. Build in a margin of safety. Name a date. Then deliver it earlier than you promised. You'll be very valuable wherever you are.

Rewarding outstanding performance is important. Much more neglected is the equally important need to make sure that the underachievers don?t get rewarded. This is more painful, so it doesn?t get done very often.

If people are coming to work excited...if they're making mistakes freely and fearlessly...if they're having fun...if they're concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings...then somewhere you have a leader.

The artist must conceive with warmth yet execute with coolness.

If you don't do it with excellence, don't do it at all! Because if it's not excellent, it won't be profitable or fun, and if you're not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?

The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed. Idleness is its rust. Unless it will up and think and taste and see, all is in vain.

If you have to have a policy manual, publish the Ten Commandments.

These are stretch targets - they are not easy for us.

If you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, it's OK. But you've got to shoot for something. A lot of people don't even shoot.

They know they're very good issues to be fighting for. They all feel good about it.

[A good leader should] carry water for their people, protect them from distraction, and appeal to the best in every employee. They should be visible to the troops.

If you?re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here? [subtitle of UP the Organization]

To be satisfying a job should have variety, wholeness, autonomy, and feedback. In other words, no job description.

A good leader needs to have a compass in his head and a bar of steel in his heart.

In combat, officers eat last. Most people in big companies today are administered, not led. They are treated as personnel, not people.

To have a successful organization, you?ll have to give up being an administrator who loves to run others and become a manager who carries water for his people so they can get on with the job.

A good manager doesn't try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people. If you're the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong -- that's healthy.

Is what I'm doing or about to do getting us closer to our objective?

Top management is supposed to be a tree full of owls...hooting when management heads into the wrong part of the forest. I'm still unpersuaded they even know where the forest is.

All decisions need to be made as "low" as possible in the company. The charge of the Light Brigade was ordered by an officer who wasn't there looking at the territory.

It?s interesting that otherwise competent businessmen, capable of budgeting a complex operation, can't figure out that the cost of maintaining two women is twice the cost of one plus certain fringes. An early symptom of the mistress is a sudden surge of creativity in an executive's expense account. I once had a personnel vice-president who had taken up with one of our executive secretaries. If it had been outside the company I wouldn?t have minded unless it interfered with his work. But a personnel man with his arm around an employee is like a treasurer with his hand in the till? These guys are in the moment, so they can convince even themselves about what they?re saying.

True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders.

All organizations are at least 50 percent waste -- waste people, waste effort, waste space, and waste time.

It's a poor bureaucrat who can't stall a good idea until even its sponsor is relieved to see it dead and officially buried

Try calling yourself up to see what indignities you have built into your own defenses.

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American Business Executive, CEO of Avis, Director of American Express, Author of "Up the Organization"