Robert J. Kohlhepp is an interesting character. On the one hand, you’d expect the cliche of the appropriately self-satisfied, three hundred and sixty degree opaque businessman hardened by years of experience rising through company ranks until necessity to answer to some higher-up or echelon representative is all but nonexistent. It’s a change traditionally seen in just about anyone who is in a corporately competitive position. There’s a certain flintiness, a certain removal that – at least in the face of mounting public relations depending on one’s attained popularity status(es) – no matter the attempt to literarily purge or turn on its head is a tough act to follow through on.

At least, with respect to the act coming across as authentic, and relatable. However Kohlhepp, despite recently retiring as Chairman of the Board for Cintas Corporation in the last four years, never misses a beat. In fact, there isn’t even a necessity for counting hypothetical said beat(s). Kohlhepp is effortlessly humble and charming with how he conducts the prose of his new book, Build a Better Organization, providing an A-to-Z unfurling of his long established, corporate philosophy. “At the heart of our culture was our people, or our partners, as we preferred to call them. Only through their efforts could Cintas achieve its principal objective…,” Kohlhepp writes. “Although every organization has a culture that is the product of the people, their attitudes and behaviors, and the priorities of senior leadership, very few organizations formalize that culture by committing it to writing. We wanted to capture our ideal culture on paper so that we could continue to foster its development within Cintas.


The first element of our culture, our principal objective, defined how decisions should be made. It made clear what our priority was—customer satisfaction—as well as our desired outcome—maximizing long-term value for our shareholders and working partners.” He finishes this particular passage with a poetic citation of the company’s motto: “We will exceed our customers’ expectations to maximize the long-term value of Cintas for its shareholders and working partners.”

Like any great leader and public profile presenter, Kohlhepp is adept at making genuinely likable aspects of his personality simultaneously exemplary of the effectiveness of said tactics. In the spirit of many other, modern-minded corporate leaders, Kohlhepp states the real keys to success lie in good communication between employees, and a sense of communal value that a corporate enterprise possesses with respect to its varied employee bases. Whether you’re at the top of the food chain, or a gentleman working maintenance, Build a Better Organization’s messaging is ultimately for everyone.

“While nearly every organization would likely proclaim that its people are its greatest assets, too few companies actually invest the time in creating a process and a system to manage that asset,” Kohlhepp articulates on this. “The well-managed ones do, of course, because they recognize the value that can only be created by leveraging the talents and knowledge of their workers. By managing I’m referring to a systematic process of providing feedback…”

By explaining the daunting process of what it means to be a leader, Kohlhepp hits a literary home run. By unpacking heady concepts, he articulates the heart of the matter in its simple

glory. It is, after all, very simple. Empathy in the corporate workplace is no longer a bad word.

Garth Thomas