- Corporate Culture
Otis Worldwide Corporation is in the business of moving people, literally and figuratively. It is the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems—elevators, escalators and moving walkways that transport 2 billion people a day. All of those people trust Otis to get them where they are going—safely and reliably.
When Judy Marks, Chair, CEO and President, first took the helm at Otis, she made a firm commitment to the company’s values. At the Page 2022 Annual Conference, Judy spoke with Otis CCO Randi Tanguay about how that commitment has guided the Otis strategy and important decision making in the wake of macro global challenges. Those challenges have included, but are not limited to, separating from the parent conglomerate to become an independent, publicly traded company at the outset of the COVID pandemic, a divestiture in response to a crisis and humanitarian tragedy across Eastern Europe, and social unrest in the U.S. and abroad. Partnership among the C-suite, CCO and other leaders, Judy said, was central to the company’s resilience, agility and continued success.
Randi: I’d like to talk about our Absolutes—which ground us in understanding who we are and how we make decisions. Can you speak to what they are and how we use them?
Judy: Most companies say their core values guide them. For some, these values are simply targets—secondary to the pursuit of business objectives. But for Otis, our three guiding principles are referred to as “Absolutes” because that’s exactly what they are.
Our Absolutes are table stakes. They are very simple, and every Otis colleague can repeat them. They are Safety, Ethics and Quality. They are not just values—they are sacrosanct and absolute. In fact, I've taken the step to exit executives because their actions stood in contrast to our Absolutes. We must all commit to safety, to ensure that zero is the only acceptable statistic for fatalities or serious injuries. We are in the life safety business. When working on high-rise construction, or even a two-stop elevator, protocol must be followed, rules cannot be broken. Colleagues are authorized to stop work if they feel unsure, unsafe or concerned – the alternative is someone can get hurt, or worse.
Our second Absolute is Ethics. I'm sure most of you have a code of conduct. We used to have a code of conduct that was written by lawyers—and try translating that into 22 languages. You know, rule of law is critical, but not everybody understands it. Now if you go to our website and look up our Absolutes, you'll see we've published a book. And it's not legalistic. It just simply but effectively explains who we are, how we operate, and if you're a partner, customer or a supplier you're going to be part of the same ecosystem of expectations.
And the last Absolute is Quality. I assume all of you are happy that we really care deeply about quality. Exceptional quality means you don't need to think twice about getting on an escalator, moving walkway or elevator. As an engineer, I love where all these autonomous vehicles are going. Well, we've been there – as an autonomous transportation option - since the 1950s, when we no longer needed elevator operators. You trust us with your lives, as do 2 billion people—every day. It’s a tremendous responsibility, which is why quality, like safety, is so important.
Randi: The Absolutes are critical to our decision-making process. One example is our decision last year to divest from Russia after the conflict with Ukraine began. Not everyone agreed with us, but when we communicated how it was rooted in our Absolutes, it was an aha moment for a lot of people.
Judy: We knew divesting was the ethical, right thing to do—for our colleagues, our shareholders and one another as leaders. Ultimately it was also the safe decision for people in Ukraine and in Russia. Due to supply chain disruptions and mounting regulations, ownership of our business in Russia was no longer sustainable. We sold our operations to a Russian company because we cared about the safety of passengers and the quality of service for the 50,000 elevators and escalators we were servicing there—and about the livelihood of our 2,000 colleagues in Russia. Manufacturing, selling and servicing equipment locally was the only path forward.
Randi: Let’s talk for a few minutes about how we approach managing and communicating. We must always come at it through a global lens.
Judy: Exactly. Please recognize that only 10,000 of our 68,000 [now 69,000] colleagues are in the U.S. We look very different from many global companies that are U.S.-headquartered.
We have a diverse Board—57% women and minorities—and a diverse executive team as well, with over 50% women or minorities. Going through diversity statistics with Board members, there was always this little asterisk for minorities, because the metric was for the U.S. only. And they challenged me—how is this truly reflective of your diversity?
Globally, diversity means different things in each country and region. We needed to find a way to understand and measure it that worked for Otis. We used 2022 as a benchmark year. From Malaysia to Mexico, we asked, “how do you define diversity?” We asked each leader to recommend two to three relevant categories where they can measure diversity. China’s response might surprise you. For them, it was colleagues who are handicapped, and new college graduates/early age workforce. Unemployment in China is high among the 10 million college graduates each year because they are seen as not having experience to contribute immediately.
Once each group defined diversity, we set a baseline so we can improve in every country. That’s the challenge when you’re this global. In every country we need to ask who are you, and who you want to be so every voice can feel safe, welcome and heard.
Judy: As a newly independent 169-year-old company, we need to communicate internally and externally, representing the brand and taking care of our shareholders. Across 200 countries and territories, we care for our passengers, we care for our customers, we care for our shareholders, we care for our colleagues and we care for our communities—and all of that requires communications. It needs to be well-thought through and requires teamwork, which it is with Randi. It’s fun working with you. And it’s all about partnership.
Judy and I have worked together closely for four-plus years now. And one thing I learned very quickly is that she is an expert communicator.
The first time we met was during my interview in DC. At that time, Judy had an office there and we had a lovely conversation. And at the end of the conversation, I asked her how I could fail in this job?
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “don't ever keep anything from me.” And that has been a lesson I've taken with me and a promise I have kept to her. It really articulates the trust and transparency needed between a CCO and a CEO. And I've never forgotten it.
The last piece I want to share is a commonality that Judy and I share. We repeat it to each other sometimes—all words matter. And that's important because we work side-by-side every day, sometimes all day, lots of hours together. In everything that we do, we are careful that our words meet our objectives, but most importantly, we are careful that our words – every word - really hit our audiences in the way that they need to.
One aspect of the Page Society’s white paper, The Authentic Enterprise, that has gotten little com…
Like nearly every industry, COVID-19 sent cruise lines into uncharted waters. Here is how Carnival C…
At 72 pages, the heft of a recently published overview of the state of Corporate Responsibility (CR…