These two leaders stepped into their top jobs at a time of enormous challenge: worried workers, scarce resources, and demanding customers. Here’s their approach to setting the agenda for the future.

who Gary Kusin
title CEO, Kinko’s Inc.
home base Dallas, Texas

As an entrepreneur myself, I knew that the best thing to do was to go straight to the front lines to learn what makes this place tick. During my first six months, I went into every single one of our 24 markets in the United States, visited more than 200 stores, and met with more than 2,500 team members. I knew that our team members could tell me what Kinko’s needed to do in order to keep evolving.

The most important thing I heard was that our customers have changed. We used to be viewed as a simple corner copy shop. What became clear to me as I talked with people in our stores was that customers are now looking more for ongoing business partners. They don’t just need a quick turnaround copy job in the middle of the night. They want to know that they can partner with us to get digital solutions for bigger jobs. Right now, the biggest service we can sell is competence: the ability to listen to our customers, to understand their problems, and to apply our knowledge to come up with creative solutions.

When you hit a recession as we did in my first few months here, you need to do a lot of different things all at once. I focused on listening to and learning from our team members — that’s what leadership is all about. But I also had to focus on doing things to preserve our top and bottom lines. What this has shown me is that as far as running a tight operation is concerned, it’s always good to play very defensively. When things are good, people become lax. So we’ve taken this opportunity to get buttoned down. Then, even if the economy lifts — recession or no recession — we will not lose that focus.

gary kusin joined global document-solutions giant kinko’s as ceo in august 2001.