Gary Harber: A Window Into Success
Gary Harber is distribution manager for Milgard Windows and Doors, a residential window and door manufacturer based in Tacoma, Washington.
Responsibilities: Managing a fleet of vehicles along with several warehouse, driver, and office teams, and overseeing product shipments.
Experience: Owner, Tuff Harber LLC; operations manager, Walmart; program manager, troop commander, assistant operations officer, executive officer, and platoon leader, all with the U.S. Army.
Education: M.S., Organizational Leadership, Columbus State University; B.B.A, Business Administration, Bellarmine University.
Going through Army Ranger school, an extreme combat leadership program, I repeated every phase at least twice. Instead of graduating in the usual 62 days, it took me about 200 days. That was a humbling experience.
But I was 100% determined that I was not leaving without a Ranger tab. I tried to learn from my failures and bounce back. I was still fortunate enough to graduate; the graduation rate is only about 50%.
In the military, I served as an executive officer—basically, a logistician for about 100 people, forecasting consumption rates for fuel, ammunition, food, and other items. I excelled at keeping my team equipped with everything they needed, before they knew they needed it.
The Army also provided an opportunity to lead and work with different types of leaders and people, and taught me the importance of the human element. I won’t ask somebody to do something that I won’t do or haven’t done. I give everybody the same respect; I don’t talk down to people.
After the Army, I talked to Boston Scientific about a sales role, and to Walmart about an operations manager position. The operations position would also allow me to teach leadership. I jumped on that role and was with Walmart for about four years.
Empowering my team to take ownership is 100% the direction that I run. For example, when I joined Milgard Windows, I noticed a collection of spare items and junk collecting in the back lot, taking up space where the fleet should park. Plus, if I brought visitors here, that’s what they would see first. It was like a handshake from our operation. I did not want that reflecting on my team.
So, one of the first projects my team and I took on was to clean this area. When it’s hard to know where to start, cleaning and organizing is always a good point. It helps you organize not only your space, but your mind.
We also focus on using data and leveraging it to plan our work. For instance, if items are breaking on the truck, we ask: “Which routes? How is the driver securing the loads?” We look for the true root of the problem, rather than just react to it.
Once a month, we come together as a team to celebrate birthdays and do team-building activities. Everyone now takes more ownership and it shows. For instance, we cut the percentage of outstanding invoices by about 77%.
Leadership style and engagement drive the culture at Milgard. We tell employees, ‘These are your boundaries; this is your target; get to your target and stay in the boundaries.” That allows autonomy so everyone can develop their own way to reach the goals.
Just a few minutes ago, I had an issue on the floor and asked one of the workers responsible for the area to handle it. He told me things I didn’t know and said, “I might try something like this.”
I learn from my team every day.
Gary Harber Answers the Big Questions
1. Of all the places you’ve traveled, which one left the biggest impact?
South Korea. I was there from fourth through sixth grade. It was cool to be culturally immersed and learn the language as a kid.
2. If you could throw a dinner party with anyone in the world, who would you invite?
Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan was in office during a time when he was successful. I’d like to hear what he’d say about what is going on today. Schwarzenegger was in the military, he rose to governor, and he did the whole Hollywood thing.
3. You’re suddenly able to time-travel. Where and when would you go?
I would love to transport myself to ancient Egypt to see the pyramids, or to see how the Incas made Machu Pichu. I’m a nerd about understanding the engineering of ancient sites, such as the statues on Easter Island or Stonehenge.
4. Do you have a hidden talent?
I was a college cheerleader. I typically don’t advertise that too much, but it happened and it was cool. It’s even on my LinkedIn profile now.