Online Extra: A Chat with Office Depot's Monica Luechtefeld

Our service may be best in class, but how do I keep it so?

Q: What's next for online?


We have a number of new initiatives. One is live chat, which would let our customers talk with a customer-service representative online. Another is providing wireless connections. PDAs are becoming increasingly common, and we want to be able to let people order supplies with them. You could also use your PDA to check on the status of an order and whether we have inventory in a particular store. And we would like to build into our system a way to remind people that their supply of printer cartridges or scotch tape is about to run out.

Q: What is your management style?


I'm by nature a coach or teacher. I have a young staff, and I strive to teach them how to make their own decisions. One way I do that is to push people to try tasks outside their job description. We also wrestle through tough questions together as a group. My door is always open. My goal is to have a staff in which anyone could step into my shoes.

Q: What keeps you up at night?


I'm always worrying about where we need to be two years from now. Today our service may be the best in class, but how do I keep it so? To answer that question I spend hours everyday meeting vendors -- looking for that next great idea that will improve our online service.

Q: Are you seeing a lot of good ideas?


You have to screen scores of pitches to find the few gems. I don't have a lot of time or patience for people who are either disorganized or giving me the view from 50,000 feet. I grill vendors, challenging their assumptions and pressing them to show what their product will really cost me. Most are unprepared to answer. Out of every 20 pitches I receive, only three to four that are worth a closer look.

Q: Some of your bosses say you're the last to leave every night. Are you a workaholic?


My day typically begins at 7:15 in the morning and ends at 8 at night, but I leave my briefcase at the office. It was a hard lesson to learn. I used to bring my work home. Then I would feel guilty if I didn't open my brief case. And I'd feel guilty if I did, giving up time I could have spent with my son. Now I make a point of not taking paper or phones on vacation. I give myself permission to take time off.

Q: How do you stay so cool under fire?


I try to keep a sense of balance. Not every crisis is a five-alarm fire. I don't let myself get so wrapped up in the current problem as to lose perspective. I'm analytical by nature, trained as a scientist. So I step back, assess the damage, and quickly try to figure out a solution.

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