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E112 | How WD 40 Company Is Making Life Better with Garry Ridge

Everyone’s heard of WD 40 company, it’s been a dependable staple of every garage and DIYer for over 50 years. The distinctive blue can with its yellow label and red cap has been oiling and lubricating homes across the globe for half a century, creating memories and lasting relationships. 

But it isn’t the spread of this product that CEO and chair of WD 40 company board, Garry Ridge, is renowned for. 

Yes, when Garry took over as CEO he transformed the business from an American manufacturer of WD 40, to a global supplier and manufacturer of all things oil and lubricant. But he’s also known for building a workplace that people are queuing up to work for. For bringing out the best in his team. For placing such a high value on core values. 

“I think one of the biggest opportunities we have at the moment is to really get a message across to leaders that it’s all about the people. If we can create environments where people go to work every day, they make a contribution to something bigger than themselves, they learn something new, they feel safe, and they go home happy.”

On today’s podcast:

  • Why Garry’s view of company culture is rare
  • Garry’s algorithm for culture
  • Why WD 40 company have managers not coaches
  • Hire first for values
  • The journey from WD 40 to creating memories
  • What WD 40 company learned from COVID


The Journey From WD 40 To Creating Memories with Garry Ridge

“Aristotle said in 394 BC, pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. It’s time leaders realised that was true.”

Meet Garry Ridge, ‘the probably wrong but roughly right’ CEO and chair of the board for WD 40 company. 

Garry has an incredibly rare view of company culture and his role as leader of a company:

“I’m amazed that most leaders don’t realise that our role really is to create an environment where people actually like what they do. And if they like what they do, they’ll do it better than if they don’t like what they do.”

In fact, Garry is so sure of the positive impact on a company’s output, that he’s created an algorithm for culture:

“Culture equals, and the equals sign means happens when parentheses values plus behaviour, close parentheses, times consistency.”

I.e. Culture = (values + behaviour) x consistency

How does this look in real life?

Garry says, “If you have an organisation where you have a compelling set of values, you have leaders who are brave enough and love their people enough to firstly applaud great behaviour and redirect inappropriate behaviour, and you do that consistently, you will build a very strong culture. And it’s the culture of the organisation that will actually drive performance.”

This sounds simple in theory, but it’s not easy, says Garry, time is not your friend. 

If you’re struggling with how you might implement a culture like the one at WD 40 company, take a leaf out of Bob Chapman’s book and treat everyone at your company like they’re someone’s precious child. I.e think about what you can do to help them be the best they can be personally. Don’t just treat them as a number on a payroll, have their best interest at heart.

Hire first for values

WD 40 company has just 6 values, and they use these values to guide their hiring. 

Their values are hierarchical, with the first one being value doing the right thing. Number two is value creating positive lasting memories in all relationships. 

“So whether it’s a relationship with an end user, a relationship with a customer, or a relationship with a competitor, we’re about creating positive lasting memories.”

Number six is value sustaining the WD 40 company economy. 

What does that mean? It means looking at their ‘why’ statement – why they exist. 

According to Garry, WD 40 company exists to create positive lasting memories, solving problems in factories, homes and workshops around the world. Their just cause is to make life better at work and at home. And that doesn’t mean simply creating a product that makes people’s lives easier, it means having a company that values its employees.

“We call ourselves a tribe, not a team. And the reason we do that is one of the biggest desires we have as human beings is to belong.”

WD 40 company have been running employee engagement surveys for 22 years, they’ve found they have 93% employee engagement, 98% of their global tribe say they love to tell people they work at WD 40 company, and 97% of people say they respect their manager. 

And what results does this bring about?

“Over that period of time [22 years], we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of total shareholder return of 15% a year, so our market cap has gone from $300 million to $2.7 billion. And we’ve 4X revenue. And we only sell oil.”

So how has Garry achieved this? By embracing the power of three simple words – I DON’T KNOW. 

The power of I DON’T KNOW

“The three most important words I ever learned in my life were ‘I don’t know’, and I got very comfortable with that.”

So how did those words build WD 40 company? Because Garry is proud to admit he’s consciously incompetent and as such he surrounds himself with people who enjoy what they do and who bring competency to the table. 

“If you’re working for an organisation that isn’t aligned with your values, and you’re not going home happy, you deserve to be happy. So find somewhere to work where you’re happy.”

And the result of creating happiness at work? Global happiness. 

“We often say that happy people create happy families. Happy families create happy communities. Happy communities create a happy world. And by goodness, we need a happy world.”

Why there isn’t a war on talent

Garry says the war on talent is a myth, perpetuated by employers who aren’t good to work for. Every great company he’s spoken to has no issue hiring great people. 

“We have established a reputation of being a values based organisation that cares about our people. When we go out to hire, the line is long.”

WD 40 company’s successful retention rate is down to the fact they hire slowly, because they’ve learned that the right hire is all about organisational fit. And with a very high retention rate and with 70% of their development positions filled internally, WD 40 company really does have the magic sauce.

“We are an organisation that is extremely proud of our success. Our number six value is – we value sustaining the WD 40 economy. So if we sustain the WD 40 economy, what’s the outcome of a very strong and vibrant economy? All the constituents in that economy benefit.”

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