Peak of Perfection
An authentic leader with an open-door policy, Juliann Larimer chooses justice over peace when fighting for her company and employees.
Years ago, when working for a software developer, Juliann Larimer learned that a large, influential channel partner had been breaking the rules of the relationship. Calling out this behavior would have caused trouble. But Larimer reported the problem to her boss.
"He looked at me and said, 'I have six kids at home, and I've figured out that there are two kinds of people in the world—those who choose peace and those who choose justice. I choose peace,'" Larimer recalls.
That didn't sit well with her. "As I walked out of the office, I said to myself, 'I choose justice. As a leader, I want people to believe that I will fight for them.'"
Years later, Larimer leads supply chain systems integrator Peak-Ryzex in Columbia, Maryland, as its chief executive officer. She recently gave us a look at how she operates.
IL: What do you mean when you say "I choose justice?"
I like working with people who are aligned from a value standpoint. I always want my team to believe that if they have a strong conviction about something, they'll be supported. If I can't support them, it won't just be because I choose peace. They deserve more of an answer than that.
IL: When you were named chief executive officer of Peak-Ryzex in 2018, what were your top goals?
The first goal was to do no harm. I wanted to make sure we could continue the momentum the company had created prior to my arrival. The team had a plan, they were executing against it, and I would support them where I could.
The second goal was to look for areas where we could improve, especially with regard to structure, strategy, and talent. We restructured the company by reorganizing the leadership team directly below me and streamlining the sales and operations organizations. We started to look more strategically at where we were best positioned to create value for our customers, and we shut down lines of business that didn't serve that goal.
We also brought in a strong human resources leader to be my strategic partner on culture and talent. And we created a dedicated chief information officer position to make sure that our technology investments kept pace with customer demand.
IL: What keeps your customers awake at night, and how does Peak-Ryzex help with those concerns?
First, we help our customers keep up with the shifting demands of their customers. For example, we worked with a car rental company to implement a more frictionless checkout solution at airports.
Second, in a tight labor market, we help customers design solutions that will free up time for existing employees, so they can redeploy that talent in higher-value areas. For example, for a large retailer in the U.K., we deployed software that reduced the time it takes to receive perishable goods by 50%.
Third, there's the impact of e-commerce. Companies are shipping single items rather than pallets or cartons, which creates new labeling requirements to ensure visibility throughout the supply chain. One transportation customer has gone from doing deliveries six days per week to seven. We have to make sure they have true 24/7 up time, because they no longer have the luxury of not working on Saturday and Sunday.
IL: What are the first things that you check in the morning?
I check my phone for text messages, emails, or missed calls that indicate any immediate action items. Since our U.K. business is several hours ahead, I need to make sure there's nothing urgent going on there. Then I do an informal scan of private social media groups that our customers use to make sure there's no chatter indicating that people are not having a good experience. And, depending on where I am, I might call one of my direct reports or someone else to do a check-in.
IL: How do you nurture talent at Peak-Ryzex?
We have talent discussions at quarterly meetings, and focus on something different each time—succession planning, how we're doing on our quarterly engagement scores, or how we're doing in developing our high-potential employees.
We have clearly articulated values, and we reward behavior that recognizes those values. In 2019, we rolled out a mentoring program.
Finally, we remain deliberate and true to the performance management life cycle. We set goals at the start of the year and capture them in our human resources system. Then we hold every manager accountable for mid-year check-ins and a structured review process.
IL: How would you describe your leadership style?
Other people have described me as an authentic leader. You'll get transparency from me. My door is always open. I'm not afraid to say that I made a mistake.
I am also not afraid to hold people accountable. I very much believe in servant leadership. My job is to hire people who are way smarter than I am, give them the tools they need to be wildly successful, and make sure I help connect the dots where I can. I also take time to understand that we are human in everything we do at work.
IL: Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
The two words that come to mind are "family" and "faith." Being available to our twin daughters who are away at college when they need to have a conversation is important. Our son in middle school plays ice hockey, so that's a full-time weekend activity. I serve on the board at my church. For "Juliann time," I take some early morning spin classes at the gym. And I love taking our dogs for walks in the forest reserve near our home. n