Garry Ridge, '01

Garry Ridge, '01

President and CEO

Garry Ridge, USD alumni and CEO of WD-40 Co.

WD-40 Co.

Garry Ridge, USD alumni and CEO of WD-40 Co.

The True ‘Chief’ Executive Officer

Behind the global success of the popular lubricant, WD-40, is a well-oiled machine that keeps the San Diego-based company’s employees engaged, motivated and connected. The man largely responsible for all of the above is Garry Ridge, a University of San Diego alum who earned his M.S. in Executive Leadership in 2001 and now serves as an adjunct professor in the program while continuing to lead WD-40 Company (NASDAQ: WDFC) as president and CEO.

Education to Fuel Expansion

Ridge has been with WD-40 since 1987 and held various management positions with the company, including executive vice president, chief operating officer and vice president of international operations. The Australian native is responsible for the 1987 formation of WD-40 Company (Australia), which he managed until 1994 before moving to the U.S. to build the company’s global expansion program at its corporate headquarters in San Diego.

In 1997, Ridge was appointed to the position of CEO, at which point he began to seek a master’s program that would allow him to sharpen his individual skills and hone his organizational vision, simultaneously. Like the pioneer he is widely respected as today, Ridge joined USD’s very first Master’s in Executive Leadership (MSEL) cohort in 1999.

“There were plenty of executive MBA programs out there,” Ridge recalled. “What stood out to me in USD’s program was the focus on connecting with people not just in the head, but also in the heart. I knew the global perspective would yield invaluable lessons in leadership.”

Living, Learning, Leading

The combination of USD’s academic excellence, the vast experience of the faculty and the wealth of knowledge among fellow cohort members provided Ridge with what he called a “living learning laboratory.”

“What I loved most was that I could immediately apply virtually any and every idea from the program to our people and processes at WD-40,” Ridge said, adding that his colleagues often joked he would “learn it on Sunday and implement it on Monday.”

During his time at USD, Ridge developed a binder of what he nonchalantly described as “important learnings.” It sits on a shelf in his office today – by no means gathering dust.

“I reach for the book all the time to revisit topics like culture, change, performance and values,” Ridge said. “My time at USD helped set the foundation and model for us to reset our entire vision as a company.”

Ridge also formed a lifelong bond with Ken Blanchard, acclaimed management expert, author and founder partner of the MSEL program, The Ken Blanchard Companies. Ridge and Blanchard co-authored the 2009 book, Helping People Win at Work: ‘A Business Philosophy Called Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.’ In the video below, Ridge shares his personal leadership philosophies that melded with Blanchard’s techniques to form the principles in the book.

Shaping a Global Culture

Ridge believes that the way by which he leads is more effective in creating change than any other initiative or directive. This early realization came to him during his MSEL experience and helped spark his now-signature passion for “tribalism.” He explained to Nasdaq:

“We began identifying ourselves a tribe because as individuals, and as an organization, we aspire to live up to the wonderful principles of tribalism. The way I see it, a team is something you play on once in a while, a tribe is a place you belong.”

Ridge continued:

“For us, "tribalism" includes a sense of belonging, communication, having shared values, and continual learning between elder tribal leaders and younger tribe members. This learning culture is deeply embedded within our organization. Ultimately, tribalism means creating a unique culture, which we are proud to say is true at WD-40 Company.”

Attributing WD-40’s astronomical growth–from $100 million to $381 million in Ridge’s tenure as CEO–more to the “tribe” than the “secret sauce” of the WD-40 formula itself, Ridge is deeply committed to fostering health and happiness in the workplace. It’s no coincidence that his people-centered approach and international background are resonating worldwide, with WD-40 now being sold in 176 countries and territories, generating 60 percent of its revenue outside of the U.S. and employing tribe members across 14 nations.

Empowering Leaders (and Toreros)

Knowing the profound impact USD had on his career, Ridge has become one of the MSEL program’s most involved supporters. In addition to teaching leadership development, talent management and succession planning in the program, he has seen to it that his tribe members at WD-40 are able to unlock their own educational journeys. Over the years, WD-40 Company has sponsored 25 employees to join MSEL cohorts.

“Learning and teaching are a centerpiece of what we do and must do every day,” Ridge said. “The MSEL program delivers both of those experiences in a flexible, applicable format. I’m proud to be a Torero, and I know our other MSEL graduates are, too.”

To learn more about the Master’s in Executive Leadership Program at USD, click here.

Photo credit: Don Bartletti of the Los Angeles Times, featured in "WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge explains company's slick success."


Renata Ramirez
(619) 260-4658