Applying the “Rule of Four”

Realizing more managers were required to have a bachelor’s degree, Armando Lopez enrolled in college, balancing his responsibilities as a father of two and husband. “After seeing how hard my father worked for what he accomplished,” he says, “I decided that was what I needed to do as well.”

Armando Lopez shares his method to getting work done and building relationships at Ecolab

Armando Lopez will do four things for you before he asks for something in return. The Rule of Four, as he calls it, is a clever tactic to improve relationships and get work accomplished, but it’s also a personal commitment. At Ecolab, Lopez relies on a support network to ensure production planning and logistics are carried out successfully while he aspires to be a professor. Whether helping someone realize their potential or striving to reach his own, Lopez knows that results are never free, but are always worth working for.

It’s an ethic Lopez learned from a mentor and friend, but one he witnessed at an early age as well. Watching his father lead a family of seven as the patriarch, his small Mexican town as the local registrar, and an alcohol abuse recovery program (though he was not an alcoholic himself), Lopez observed what earned a leader trust and respect—humility—and how to excel when all eyes turn to you for guidance: discipline.

Quick hits with Armando Lopez

What are three websites you can’t go a day without checking?
Google News, TD Ameritrade, Bloomberg.

If you could go back in time, what college class would you tell yourself to drop and what would you replace it with?
Quantitative methods. I would replace it with some IT or computer-science class.

What has been one key piece of advice you’ve been given that you always draw upon?
I live by the understanding that nothing is free, so you have to work hard for what you desire.

When he arrived in the United States, Lopez was 18 and ambitious. Though he didn’t speak the language, he was encouraged by the opportunities he saw before him. He quickly learned that he wanted more for himself than working nights and weekends as a busboy in a restaurant. When he learned of a job in manufacturing at Ecolab, a water, hygiene, and energy technology and services provider, he jumped at the opportunity. Beginning as an hourly associate in production, Lopez was on his way up as he advanced to supervisor when he hit his first obstacle. “My English skills were limited,” he recalls. “When I started getting more exposure to professionals, I realized I needed to do better.” To add to his hurdles, Lopez found that company policy was changing as he was setting his sights higher. Where once managers could lead with only general education degree, now they required a bachelor’s degree.

“After seeing how hard my father worked for what he accomplished,” Lopez says, “I decided that was what I needed to do as well.” Though it took almost five years for the then father of two and husband, Lopez completed his undergraduate program and took another step toward his goal.

Lopez wasted no time proving himself with his degree in hand. In the same year he graduated from DeVry University, he took on a complex merger between Ecolab facilities in Memphis and Chicago. In less than two months, he hired more than 100 employees and executed an on-boarding program that would prepare them to handle assembly, distribution, and refurbishing at a plant that was built to accommodate only the first two of the three. Having learned the logistics of a successful merger and ever-enterprising, Lopez saw opportunity between facilities he managed in California and Chicago. This time it was at his proposal that the facilities fused their resources. So impressed were his superiors that Lopez was then tasked for a third merger with a facility in Canada.

Shortly after, Lopez was again tasked with using his experience to improve the company. In the Dominican Republic, he used his language skills and knowledge of Ecolab logistics to improve inventory control and distribution, which earned him responsibilities in Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Mexico as well. The extensive travel could be physically and emotionally taxing—he could be away from his family for weeks at a time—but Lopez continued to keep his perspective on a horizon that promised more. “I saw it as an opportunity,” Lopez says. “If I did a good job, there’d be something better.” A year later, his wife and children joined him on his trip to Minneapolis, home of the Ecolab corporate office.

As director of materials management for the global health care division of Ecolab, Lopez might find himself in his office or in the field making improvements that allow Ecolab to thrive. Though hard work has earned him his title, he is not one to forget those who helped him along the way.

Through Ecolab’s Menttium program, Lopez was paired with Artie Lynnworth, a mentor-turned-friend who taught him how to operate from a strategic perspective, opening doors with upper-level management and bridging divides with associates on the ground. Lopez recalls one particular facility in Jacksonville, Florida, where he called upon that guidance.

When he arrived at the troubled site, Lopez learned backlogs of inventory, database issues, and wasted inputting time were plaguing operations. Coming from the corporate office, he remembered what Lynnworth had told him about flexing his influence. “I became a doer,” Lopez recalls. Putting the Rule of Four into action, he mapped out an efficient shipping and receiving process, bought scanners to alleviate the workforce of manual inputting, and implemented an inventory tracking process. “Those were ice breakers,” he says. “Today this facility is delivering outstanding results.”

Having spent his life striving to improve himself, it seems only natural that Lopez’s next aspiration is to help others do the same. “It’s something that really fascinates me,” he says of the prospect of teaching. With EcoMundo, an employee network at Ecolab, Lopez is part of a group that champions international knowledge through travel and multicultural experiences. In the future, he hopes to instruct at the university level. It’s an opportunity that appeals to his strengths as a leader and facilitator, but draws on another part of him that has been a continual influence in his life. “I saw my father speaking in front of groups and leading discussion, and I felt so proud of him,” Lopez remembers. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that is influencing me.”