WD-40 Company CEO
People Success Insight
Creating a culture where “tribe members” feel safe and encouraged to innovate
When Garry Ridge became CEO of WD-40 Company in 1997, his mandate was to transform a popular, successful US brand into a globally beloved, go-to spray to remove “squeaks” around the world. Today, his customer success stories include a driver in India who used WD-40 to remove a python from the undercarriage of his bus. Meanwhile, 99% of his employees, or “tribe members,” report they’re proud to tell people they work for WD-40 Company. The secret to his success? He created and sustains a global culture in which tribe members feel happy, safe and supported to learn and try new things.
“One of the greatest joys people get out of life is learning things and then putting that new knowledge into practice,” he says. “The learning environment, as we have developed it at the WD-40 Company, creates a feeling of safety because it takes out the element of fear.”
At WD-40 Company, tribe members don’t make mistakes. They have “learning moments,” which Garry defines as experiences – both negative and positive – that they can then safely report back to their colleagues.
“We happily share the story of our learning moment with our fellow tribe members to help them avoid having the same unwanted learning moment themselves,” he says. “What do you have when fear is absent? Joy. Happiness.”
“Happiness is doing worthwhile work. In my role, this means creating an atmosphere where people can do their best and will feel good about how they’re investing their days with us.”
WD-40 Company employees consider themselves a “tribe” – a concept inspired by Garry’s Australian background and interest in Aboriginal culture. He also draws influence from great thinkers like Marshall Goldsmith, Ken Blanchard, Simon Sinek, and the Dalai Lama.
“I was particularly struck by [the Dalai Lama’s] line, ‘The purpose of life is to make people happy. If you can’t make them happy, at least don’t hurt them’,” Garry says.
He also admires Aristotle’s maxim, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
“As leaders, our job is to make sure we create an environment where tribe members wake up each day looking forward to going to work, feel safe while they are there, [and] return home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work they do, feeling like they’ve learned something new and contributed to something bigger than themselves,” he says.