Making tough decisions is part of the package when you lead a large corporation, but for Mark Speese, the 55-year-old chairman and CEO of Plano based Rent-A-Center, one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever made came early in his career.
Twenty-six years ago, Speese left his job at the original Rent-A-Center to move to another state and start a competing company, Vista Rent-to-Own. It was a risky move, but it paid off—big time. Vista Rent-to-Own grew large enough to acquire Renters Choice in 1993; two years later, the company went public. In 1998, it acquired Rent-A-Center and rebranded to that chain’s name, bringing Speese full circle.
Today, Rent-A-Center employs more than 18,300 and has more than 3,000 stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. More international expansion is under way, with locations coming soon in South America.
Typical day: I’m usually in my office by 7 a.m. The first thing I do is review yesterday’s results. I spend a lot of my time in meetings or getting updates from different departments in the company. Every quarter I hold town hall meetings with our workers in different areas of the country, and I also do a lot of store visits.
First job: I had a newspaper route when I was 12. It was the perfect job for an early riser.
Worst job: In junior high I worked for a country club, in the locker room. Like the tips, the fresh air was in short supply.
Best advice you’ve ever received: “Do it right the first time,” my father was fond of saying. “If you don’t have the time to do it right, how will you find the time to do it over?”
Management style: Servant leadership. I prefer to focus on the needs of my co-workers and those they serve.
Strengths: Professionally, I know the business inside and out. I’ve done nearly every job at one point or another. And I still have tremendous passion for it. That’s always a key to success.
Weakness: Chocolate chip cookies.
Biggest pet peeve: People being late. Was it Shakespeare who said, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late”? Those are words I can live by.
Effects of the slow economy: For us, a sour economy cuts both ways: On the one hand, tightened credit draws new consumers seeking greater flexibility and manageability in their purchases. But financial pressures force some consumers out of the marketplace altogether.
New initiatives at Rent-A-Center: We’ve launched the RAC Acceptance kiosk program with third party retailers. Let’s say a customer wants to buy living room furniture from a retailer, but they don’t qualify for credit. The customer can rent the furniture via the RAC kiosk inside the store. Rent-A-Center buys the furniture from the retailer, who otherwise might have lost a sale; the customer is able to get the items he wants, and Rent-A-Center gains a new customer. The program has more than 900 sites, and we plan to add 400 new sites in the next two years.
Family: I’ve been married to my lovely wife Carolyn for 31 years. We have three grown children: two daughters, ages 29 and 21; and a 25-year old son.
Weekends: Saturday mornings I’m at the office, then catching up with Carolyn. Some weekends we travel to visit our children. And there’s an occasional round of golf.
Reading material: Usually, I lack the extended stretches of time needed to lose myself in a great book. Other times, I can’t sit still long enough. So for me, it’s mostly periodicals.