Boss' lesson: Curb your temper

Carl Ortell explains some of ARI's technology at the fleet management company's office in Mount Laurel. ARI, which employs 2,800, was ranked 27th among Fortune's Top 100 Places to Work in 2014. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)

Carl Ortell admits it -- he had a temper, but in order to succeed as a top executive, he had to learn to control it. "I used to raise my voice," Ortell, the president of Automotive Resources Inc., told me in our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "I did lose my temper as a young man pretty inappropriately. I learned that lesson pretty quick that you don’t want that ever do that."

Ortell heads Automotive Resources Inc., a fleet management company based in Mt. Laurel. I asked him what changes he made to curb his temper.

The first lesson came from one of his bosses who trotted out the old adage about "attracting more bees with honey." Somehow that took hold.

Ortell also uses an executive coach -- the same one, Ortell pointed out, used by top executives at Ford Motor Co.

"He has said things to me like, 'Never let anyone leave your office upset. Never do that. Anybody who ever leaves your office for any reason should be happy. [They should be] better than when they walked in.'That’s my goal," Ortell said. "Is it always possible? 99 percent of the time it is. There’s no reason to make people feel bad. If there’s a coaching opportunity or there’s a lesson to be discussed then you [still] make them feel good leaving the room."

I asked Ortell what else he has learned from his coach.

"`Be an Olympic listener.' That was probably the most profound thing he ever said to me," Ortell said. "As a leader, be the last one in the room to talk. Don’t be the first one in the room. If there are six people in the room, don’t be the one to impart your great wisdom. Instead, be the last person to talk. Look people in the eye and listen to what they have to say, even if you think what they have to say is garbage.

"I was struggling with my CEO, the guy before me at the end in the transition. He would like to talk about things for two hours so he could think about it and circulate it and all that. I told my executive coach, `I can’t take it any more.'

"He said, ‘You will do it. He has treated you very well. He’s going to give you advice and 90 percent of it you can throw in the trash can and 10 percent will change your life, so listen to him.' I’ve taken that. Be respectful in those situations."

Another lesson?

"Never threaten," Ortell said. "Always back up and re-approach if you are in a bad situation.  Say, OK, I need to think about that."