Clearwater Beach, Fla. — John Saxon has made his share of mistakes in his business career, and he's not afraid to talk about them.
Having a healthy attitude toward failures can allow both employees and companies grow and ultimately succeed, he believes.
"Anyone who tells you they never makes mistakes isn't being truthful," said Saxon at the recent Plastics News Executive Forum in Clearwater Beach. "You have to allow failure to grow your organization because people have to grow. So you have to push decision-making to the lowest level possible to be the most efficient organization you can be."
These days, Saxon is managing partner at JPS Legacy LLC, a family investment firm. But he is best known for being the longtime CEO of automotive parts supplier dlhBowles Inc. of Canton, Ohio, which was sold to ABC Technologies Holdings Inc. last year.
"I would not be where I am today without having made some mistakes because you have to learn from them to grow," he said during an interview at the conference. "If you have somebody in your organization that fails, the first thing you have to do is you have to address that they were taking action, because I would rather pull the reins back than have the cattle prod moving forward.
"Encourage them moving forward. If they make a mistake, help them diagnose where they went wrong. Don't kill them. That's not very efficient. It's not going to be very good for your organization. And you are not going to foster the open, collaborative environment that is necessary for truly transformative growth in a company," he said.
But that's not to say employees can have carte blanche when it comes to messing up.
"If you aren't making mistakes, you are not doing enough. If you are making the same mistakes, that's an issue," Saxon said. "If it's an intentional, catastrophic failure, that's different."
And some mistakes that are so big, such as those that cost other people their jobs, also cannot be overlooked, he said.
Employees sometimes see failure in what is actually success, the former CEO said. That was true when one worker came into Saxon's office to share that there was a mistake in specifications for a particular project and that was going to cost $60,000 for new tooling.
Saxon, however, viewed the situation as a success because the project, despite the extra cost, ultimately still freed up employees to do other work and saved money in the long run.
"What he thought was a failure was actually a success," he said.
"I've had managers and mentors who allowed me to fail. I think we're all products, to a certain extent, of our education and maybe more importantly our experiences and the bosses that we've had that have helped us along the way," he said.
Saxon also was part owner of dlhBowles before the sale to ABC Technologies last year.
"I've got an ultimate success story. But I've got a lot of failures along the way. And I mean tons of them. If you are not making mistakes, you are not doing enough," he said.