Carl Byrne, third generation CEO of Byrne Dairy, presented a message entitled “First Who, Then What” at the April meeting of the Phi Beta Lambda Business Club at Cayuga Community College. Byrne spent an hour meeting with students, answering their questions, and telling them what he looks for in successful enterprises.
“When someone brings a new idea to me, my first question is ‘Who?’” Byrne said. “Who is this person? Do I trust them? Can they do what they say? Then, I ask, ‘What is the project that this person wants to accomplish?’ If you have the right people on your team, you can succeed in any business,” he continued. “That’s why I always ask ‘Who’ first, then ‘What.’”
Byrne emphasized the need for quick decision-making. “You need to know your break-even point on everything you sell. I can usually do a rough break-even calculation in my head, in a few minutes,” he said.
Once a decision is made, however, you should remain open to change. “My initial decision isn’t always 100% correct, but that’s OK. I make corrective actions as other factors change,” he said. He noted that while he is always looking for new products and markets, he also reviews his existing product line. “You can’t be afraid to kill off products that aren’t selling anymore,” he said.
When asked about preparing to become president, Byrne said, “I think that many people could become CEOs of their companies with a two-year degree. Just as important as your education is your work ethic.” Byrne added, “I have travelled around the world and I can tell you that the work ethic in Central New York is among the best in America, and one of the best in the world. Although many of the small farms have gone, the work ethic is still here.”
Byrne also shared his guiding principles of leadership. “First, be kind and true,” he said. “Second, treat everyone you meet with respect and integrity.” He told students to look for these qualities during job interviews. “Is the interviewer treating you with respect? Do you sense that the company has integrity?”
Byrne’s final advice to students was to get a mentor. “Find someone who’s already in the business that you want to pursue. Learn all you can from that person.”