Performance measurement Leadership

The 2022 CEOs Who 'Get It'

CEOs Who Get It 2022
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Matthew Flannery

United Rentals Inc.
Stamford, CT

Matthew Flannery

Matthew Flannery (right)


  • His goal is not just for employees to go home as they arrived, but for employees to go home even better than they arrive each day – safe, inspired, and motivated.
  • Engages with team members through our internal social platform, Workplace by Facebook, where their safety and well-being is always the top priority
  • Starts every conversation with safety, and is known for ending all conversations and messages with “Stay safe and thanks for being on the Team”

United Rentals is the largest equipment rental company in the world. It has an integrated network of 1,278 rental locations across North America, 11 across Europe, 28 in Australia and 18 in New Zealand. In North America, the company operates in 49 states and every Canadian province. The company’s approximately 20,100 employees serve construction and industrial customers, utilities, municipalities, homeowners and others.

Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”

Matthew Flannery

I began my career in the construction equipment rental industry over 30 years ago and have had the opportunity to grow up in the business by working at every level of our organization. My unique personal journey has allowed me to really understand a day in the life of what it takes to be safe on the front line every minute of every day – and it also opened my eyes to the very real challenges that our team faces. Safety is personal to me, and I expect each member of our team to go home each day even better than they arrived.

What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?

The biggest obstacle to safety for us is the speed and magnitude of our business. It’s easy to get distracted or feel pulled to do something a faster way versus the safer way. We combat this challenge by starting every day with a safety focus huddle, followed by two stretches from our Meta-Posture Program. This gives our team the opportunity to discuss scenarios to working safely, such as preventing line-of-fire injuries, hand tool tips, the impact weather has on our safety and much more. Our Meta-Posture Program is a warmup and stretch program designed to get the muscles and joints ready for the day. This stretch time allows employees to slow down, focus and breathe before starting their busy day.

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

At United Rentals, our mission is to deploy the best people, equipment and solutions to enable our customers to safely build a better and stronger future. Safety first is a core company value, which means we act – and require others to act – in a manner that puts the safety of our employees, customers and communities first. Safety is personal at United Rentals; we all have the personal responsibility of our own safety but also the safety of others around us.

How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?

At United Rentals, we are United4Safety, which means we “think safe, work safe, drive safe and live safe.” There are a multitude of ways we work to keep safety at the forefront of our minds for making the right decision every single day. One of the most important ways is by encouraging active caring. This means taking the time to notice others’ activities and to communicate concerns and suggestions in a constructive way. We use our Hazard 360 Awareness – every task, every time – to identify hazards, and all of our employees are empowered with stop-work authority if they observe an unsafe or potentially hazardous working condition or behavior – meaning if you see something, say something.

How does your organization measure safety?

Our safety program takes into consideration every part of our organization – including our locations and the worksites we visit – to ensure our employees are trained properly and hazards are identified to aid in injury and incident prevention. We have a “near miss, STOP work and good catch” reporting process that encourages our team to share incidents and provide insight for opportunities for improvement. It’s important to put those learnings to good use, so our processes and procedures are ever evolving as we implement them in support of our team working safely. By monitoring our performance, learning from our experiences and thinking about the workplace of the future, we will continue to strengthen existing programs and develop new ways to further our leadership position on safety.

What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program?

Safety is a way of life, and it’s our first thought in everything we do at work, on the road and at home. Our safety efforts are rooted in our safe work practices and life safety rules, which serve as our standard operating procedures. Our Live Well, Safe & Healthy program is a comprehensive approach to wellness that encourages healthy lifestyle behaviors and helps to raise the morale, productivity and overall engagement of our employees. The program includes biometric screening at work or offsite, a health assessment, a paid wellness day off, tobacco cessation support, and participation incentives. Additionally, employees and family members can participate in virtual health challenges to encourage daily activity.

What have you done to support employee mental health and well-being within your organization?

While we often talk about physical safety and wellness at United Rentals, we also consider what it means to be emotionally and mentally safe and healthy at work. Our intention is for employees to leave work each day feeling even better than when they arrived. We launched a mental health initiative during 2020 to strengthen support for employees in general and in the face of the prolonged stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our safety teams partner with our Together United employee resource group to host a series of events focused on mental health awareness. These events offer information, promote dialogue and highlight resources available to assist our team and their families. We have an employee assistance program that provides a variety of free and confidential services to help employees manage the day-to-day stress and responsibilities of balancing work and personal lives.


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