Home Leadership Lessons The Best Advice I Ever Received

J. Phillip Holloman
President & COO
Cintas Corporation


“Sometimes you have to get out of your own way in order to advance.”


That sage advice comes from a lesson J. Phillip Holloman learned early in his career at Cintas, where he has served as President and Chief Operating Officer since 2008. The company designs, manufactures and implements corporate identity uniform programs and provides a wide variety of products and document management services for about 900,000 businesses on four continents. With revenues of more than $4 billion, Cintas employs approximately 30,000 people.

Having graduated with a B.S. degree in Engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and after working at several engineering firms as well as P&G, Phillip joined Cintas as Vice President of Engineering/Construction in 1996. In 2000, he was named Vice President of the Distribution/Production Planning Division and led his team utilizing Six Sigma methodologies, a strategy that helped transform the division from carrying a $7 million deficit to operating $2 million in the black.

Phillip was initially reluctant to take on the next role the company needed him to perform. In fact, he turned down CEO Scott Farmer several times when urged to accept the newly created position of Executive Champion of Six Sigma Initiatives. The main responsibility of the position was to deploy the problem-solving methodology across the company. Phillip did not want to move back into a staff position; instead, he wanted to continue in operations. Scott Farmer’s final response was, “I understand the problem here. You think this is a question.”

“As it turned out, it was a great assignment for me and, more importantly, for the company,” says Phillip. “I had the opportunity to work on projects with all departments, learning about every role and each of our businesses. I just had to get out of my own way! To date, the Six Sigma Initiative has driven more than $175 million to the company’s bottom line in savings.”

Understand Your Relevance

“When I was Vice President of the Distribution/Production Planning Division, I recognized that my job wasn’t just to make my unit do well. I realized we had to focus on the greater good of the company, not just our particular unit’s success or results. It’s important to always take the broader, longer view rather than solely focusing on short-term personal gains.

“I considered the relevance and impact of my department on the overall company and created a mission statement:

Our job is to position our internal customers to exceed their external customers’ expectations.

“In my current role as COO, I believe one of the most important components of my job is to position others for success, which is reflected in our mission today to:

Maintain an environment of collaborative engagement where all partners can maximize their contribution to Cintas’ collective success.”

The Best Advice

“I was a sponge for learning and probably gained the best advice and learned fundamental leadership skills from my dad James and mother Erma. I refer to my mom as an advocate mother who always positioned my sisters and me for success.

“My dad was a Baptist minister who merged three churches and actively participated in the civil rights movement. By watching him, I learned that human dynamics are always at play. The more quickly you can understand that concept, the more effective you will be.

“Since then I’ve learned many lessons that have helped guide me:

  • Be a leading contributor. You don’t have to be in a leadership role to provide leading contributions. Be that person who says, “I’ll do that.” Look for ways to raise the performance bar.
  • Maintain a thirst for learning.
  • Constantly be in the moment, but be aware of what’s happening around you. You can learn as much from watching something unfold the right way as you can from seeing things done the wrong way.
  • Take calculated risks, and when you make a mistake (which you will), learn from it.

“Most new hires have academic credentials, but they also need the skill of common sense. A good percentage of everyday decisions are based on that. Choose to work with a company where you have a good feeling about the culture. Be a great listener. Have fun and enjoy life, but make maintaining integrity paramount.”

“Even after many years in business, I remain aware that I can’t rest on my laurels. I’m a big believer that everything I’ve done in the past has gotten me to where I am today, but those positions and achievements won’t keep me where I am. That’s why it’s so important to continue to work hard, provide leading contributions, help develop others, and deliver the numbers. It’s your legacy, and it starts fresh every day.”

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