GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

 

Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC has been recognized in the sports industry for building a brand that embodies unity. But when 2020 hit us all in the face, “unity” was probably the last word anyone would use to describe its home, Minneapolis. As the racial hotpot community broiled in unrest with the murder of George Floyd, the team was confronted with the challenge of stepping up as a catalyst for inclusion and unity. Add to that the impact of the pandemic on the sports industry as a whole, and you’ve got a formidable conundrum to face. Despite his rich experience in the industry, Chris Wright found his leadership being put to the test with all these tough nuts to crack. If you can see what the team has done and become throughout the months, however, you would see how uniquely qualified Chris is to lead his team to greatness despite everything. Listen in as he shares with Rob Cornilles how he puts his game face on as he leads the team to its goals.

Watch the episode here:

Chris Wright | A Unifier Under United

CEO, Minnesota United FC

What’s your legacy play? If you could be defined by one event, movement or accomplishment, what would it be? My guest is Chris Wright, a long-time Senior Executive in the NBA. He was given an opportunity few sports leaders are ever afforded, the chance to take an expansive franchise backed by great owners in the game he loves and turned it into his own legacy play. A man of great influence and persuasion here’s Chris Wright, CEO of one of Major League Soccer’s most admired and exciting new clubs, the Minnesota United.

I have with me our guest on the show, someone who I have admired for a long time in the sports industry. When I was thinking about who would be a real gentlemanly voice that I could bring to the conversation, Chris Wright came to my mind immediately. Chris Wright is the CEO of Minnesota United Football Club based in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and a long-time well-respected sports executive. Chris, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Rob. I admire the backdrop that you’ve created for this call. You’re all branded up. You’ve got a Ronaldo jersey going. It’s so good to see you after such a long time.

Thank you, Chris. I want to get right into something that’s on the minds of everybody, whether they’re into sports or not, the progression or the digression, depending on how you look at it, the sports industry has been historic. You had a multi-decade career in the sports industry. We’ll talk about that here. You have a unique perspective for a number of reasons. As a leader of an MLS club and a leader of one that’s fairly new inside the league, I’d like to get some idea from you on what it was like back in the Spring of 2020 when the virus started to spread around the country. We started to take immediate precautions and your season, which had launched, was pulled out from under you. What were those conversations like with the league, with your fellow franchises, and also with your team, your staff?

To set a context for you, Rob, we opened the 2020 MLS season on the road. We played two games. We played one in your old city, Portland. We had the second game in San Jose, where we played the Quakes there on a Saturday night. We landed on a Thursday. Immediately when we landed, we heard that the San Jose Sharks versus Minnesota Wild game ironically was in jeopardy for Friday night because this thing called COVID-19 found its way to the San Jose San Francisco market. It had become a hotspot. We quickly began to work with not only the Quakes but also the Wild, the Sharks, and the city government in San Jose to begin to understand whether or not that game was even going to be played or not. The mayor had walked to a podium and said they were going to shut down all major gatherings inside of the market.

In the end, the Wild game got played. Our game got played on Saturday night. We got on a plane and came back. We were celebrating starting the season off 2-0. We’d arranged a meeting for our players with all of our owners in a hospitality area of a building in Downtown Saint Paul. We had an incredible night that night celebrating our fourth season and the incredible stop that we had made. Three days later, we were told to shut it down by our league, by our city, county, and state officials. We pulled an all-staff meeting together. Back then, you will not socially distance. You weren’t wearing masks. You had no idea of the protocols that were going to be put in place quickly. We gathered everybody in a room inside of our office and we said, “Starting tomorrow, you’ll be working from home. Here’s the IT department. Whatever you need, please go to them. We’ll begin to work through that process with you.”

As quickly as we were euphoric about our start of the season, three days later, we were shutting everything down, our training facility, our offices, our stadium because we did not know anywhere near the knowledge that we have now about how COVID spreads. One of the first things that we had to do was decide the cadence of meetings that we were then to have with all of our 120 employees and our players. We have to give them all of the information that they needed to be educated about what was going on, not only in the Twin Cities but around our league, relative to the pandemic. The precautions that they needed to make, testing protocols were starting to be developed at that point. It got complicated quickly because we never knew. We didn’t know when we were going to play.

The art of engaging in dialogue and finding a middle ground has been lost to a great degree in our country. We need to address this chasm. Click To Tweet

Two months later, the MLS established a bubble in Orlando. Even as we went into the bubble to start off our season, we never knew whether or not we would be coming home to try and finish out our season. You can imagine all of the things that an organization has to go through to be able to manage those circumstances. Here we are, getting ready for our fifth season. On April 17th or whenever we played, we still don’t know whether or not there will be fans inside of our stadium cheering our team on.

The Minnesota United had a fantastic opening in 2018, 2019. In fact, ESPN gave you quite an award. Can you share with us that award? You had great momentum going before this. I don’t want to say it derailed your momentum but it certainly didn’t make it easier for you to continue the momentum you’d been building up. What was that award that ESPN gave your franchise?

We worked very hard, to open Allianz Field, our brand new $250 million, 20,000-seat purpose-built soccer stadium. We worked very hard to launch it in what I consider to be the right way. We had a tremendous number of events leading up to the opening of the stadium in 2019. We went into every space and brought all of our clients into every space and create an event for everybody all through the stadium to be able to look at their experience, feel their experience before we even played a game inside the stadium. That’s difficult in Minnesota because we get snow and yet, we created some remarkable events. The baptism of the stadium was wonderful. We worked very hard on our overall game-day experience.

Our supporter section is called Wonderwall. When we win games, 20,000 people inside of our stadium will sing the Oasis song, Wonderwall. That’s a big tradition inside of our stadium. We have multiple traditions that people resonated around that are truly Minnesotan. ESPN does a survey analysis every year and we were fortunate enough to win The Best Stadium Experience in the MLS of 2019 as we opened the stadium. That comes with people working hard but listening to your consumer, listening to your fan base, the stakeholders of every area, delivering on an experience that you know that they want, for the investment that they’re making inside of your club. We were fortunate enough also to have a winning team that year. We went to the playoffs for the first time. That all built towards this incredible crescendo at the end of the season when we played against the LA Galaxy and Ibrahimovic, which ended up being one of his last games inside of our league. Unfortunately, we lost that game but it set the tone for our franchise and the expectation and the vision for where we wanted to take this club longer-term.

We talk a little bit about the pandemic and how that created an instant pivot for you and your sister clubs around the league and in sports in general but something else happened in 2020 specific to your market. As everyone knows, back in the summer of 2020, riots broke out in Minneapolis because of the situation that happened there. We were talking about a market, the Twin Cities, that not only has the pandemic but also became the epicenter for social and civil unrest. You have been a long-time resident of the area. You’ve been in that community for a long time. I want to know from a perspective of a resident and one who makes his living downtown, what was going through your mind and your heart when you saw these events unfold?

As an individual club aside, I was devastated, number one, that there was another loss of life at the hands of the police. Societal racism, systemic racism does exist in our society. I felt awful that this was happening 11 miles away from where I live. It was about 11 miles from our stadium and 11 miles from where I myself have a home where I’ve raised our three kids. As much as I deplore what happened to George Floyd and many others before him and some since him, it was a massive wake-up call for me as an individual. With my family, it opened up an incredible dialogue with my kids, with my circle of friends, certainly inside of our club, certainly inside of our play circles.

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: What made the MUFC win the best stadium experience distinction was its commitment to listening to its fan base.

 

In the end, you hope that the tragic loss of life leads to some level of deeper understanding and thinking about what is going on inside of this country. At times, the country is divisive and there are extremes. The middle ground where people, for me, are able to engage in dialogue, be accepting of dialogue, and be accepting of opinion that might be contrary or different to yours. The art of that to a degree, has been lost in certain areas of our country. I’ve endeavored as an individual. I’ve endeavored with my family, my circle of friends, and our club to begin to address it in a meaningful way. I’m not saying that we never addressed it in the past but what is it specifically that we can do as human beings to try to bridge this chasm?

In this particular case, it does speak to the African-Americans and the black people who live inside of our country, our neighbors, our friends, and our players. For me, it also goes deeper, regardless of race, religion, and lifestyle. Are we inclusive? Do we provide an inclusive environment for everyone? How do we open ourselves up to think about it in that way? It was devastating because it was in our backyard. It had incredible ramifications to us as a club and as a team and to our location in the Midwest.

I have to assume that because it originated in your market, that as one who runs a sports franchise within that market, where you are inviting tens of thousands of people to come to enjoy an experience together, both as families and as companies, that it gives you certain challenges and opportunities when you do reopen. Those people are able to come back maybe in part or in whole. Give us some insight as to what your franchise is doing and how you’re leading this effort to prepare for that eventuality in light of everything that’s gone on since then.

I’ll give you the top line for me inside of our club. There were a number of different things. We have nine black players on our roster. They came together as a group. They approached me and said, “Chris, we want regular meetings with you because we want to understand, number one, what is your philosophy and what is the club’s philosophy. Also, what are the action items, and what are the things that we can build out together that can eradicate racism inside of our club, our market, throughout the nation? What is going to be our role?” They helped us identify a number of different things that we weren’t doing that we should have been doing. I give them all of the credit in the world because they worked very hard on educating us about what it was like to be in their shoes. I don’t think any of us who are Caucasians have a real deep understanding of what African-Americans and black people inside of our country go through on a day-to-day basis.

One of the things that we did that was unique but I’m not sure that many of the teams did around the country. Most teams came out with a DEI statement, “This is who we are. This is what we believe in.” We said that we want to be authentic about whatever we do and whatever we say. We want this to be meaningful. We want people to understand why we’re doing it this way. For about a two-month period of time, immediately after the George Floyd murder, what we did was we gave all of our social media channels over to our players.

Whether that’s Twitter, whether that’s Facebook, whether that’s Instagram, whether it’s articles on our own digital space, our website. We said, “We want you to help us with and control the content from a messaging standpoint.” Honestly, they so appreciated that. It came from a point of view of, “I’m not qualified to talk about what you’re going through as a human being, as an individual with your families, with your circle of friends. I can’t talk about your history. I can’t talk about things that have happened to you in your life that would be great examples of systemic racism in that particular situation. You can tell that story.”

We have some young Black players on our roster who were incredibly well-educated, beautifully articulate, that wrote some editorials for people to read that would make you cry. It would make you have tears rolling down your face. We became good listeners to them. Everybody in our market, in the end, said, “This is different.” It’s not just a statement from the team. It’s allowing the members who have been impacted by racism inside of that club. Let them be the voice. Even with Black History Month, that same group of people providing the majority of the content for us to go out and celebrate Black History Month. There are many other examples that I could bring but that is the most meaningful example of the way that we have looked at it, treated it, and try to be authentic around the issues that exist inside of that world.

As a symbol of unity, the stadium offers a big opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity. Click To Tweet

Chris, what you described is something that you’re doing internally as a club to create a culture that is full of openness and transparency. I appreciate that example that you shared with us. As we consider the fan experience, which you’ve been awarded for and you’re noted for throughout the league and throughout sports, there are some very unusual challenges coming your way because of safety concerns related to the pandemic and distancing but also safety concerns perhaps to go into a downtown location. I don’t know if that’s true in your case but can you speak to that a little bit about some of the plans that are being put into place for Allianz Field? I know that you can’t share everything with us. I know it’s constantly changing but any insight you can give us so far?

What I try to do is lean into philosophically where we are as a club on all of the above. I’ll give you a couple of examples relative to racism, the treatment of racism, and how we can utilize our stadium as an opportunity for healing, inclusivity, diversity. When I first got to the club, you know that I’m an avid reader and I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek. I’ll read anything that this guy puts out. I listen to his podcasts. I’ve always been a big believer in his book Start with Why. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” What I did when I first got to the club, I put about 72 people through a two-day workshop. The Brave New Workshop, John Sweeney, a comedian, helped us with it. It was a fascinating opportunity for us to all get on the same page relative to this one question. What are our clubs? Why? What is our purpose?

We’re a soccer team. We’re going to build a stadium but truly, what is it all about? One of the things that people fail to understand about the Minneapolis marketplace is that there are 251 languages that are spoken here. If there were 251 languages spoken and dialects inside of our market, that means that all of those good people came from somewhere, whether you’re 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. You arrive from somewhere around the world and you landed in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. You made this place your home. All of those people have a history in our game, in the beautiful game, the great game, the world’s game. We came out of that meeting with a why that was through the world’s game, through the beautiful game. “Let’s inspire and unite, our community of 251 languages. How do we make Allianz Field that? Wherever they come from, whoever they are, they are welcomed, they’re embraced, they’re part of our family, they are fans of our club?”

Our staff reflects those 251 languages. Our part-time staff reflects those 251 languages. Our food and beverage opportunities inside of our stadium reflect those 251 languages. When people come into Allianz Field, it becomes this place where they’re going home, they’re coming together, being inspired, and uniting them around our brand. That has resonated in our community in the biggest of voice. When you walk into our stadium and you see all of the different ethnicities from people all over the world inside of our stadium, it is remarkable. I honestly believe that although the George Floyd situation is a massive setback. We as a club, because of our why, our purpose, and the core values that back all of that up, we’re in a great place to bring those people back and say, “We care about everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, about your religion and your lifestyle. I care about you as a human being and as an individual. We want you to come back and support your team.” That’s one thing.

COVID, on the other hand, is interesting because we have not hosted one supporter for an entire season having sold out Allianz Field 20,000 people in 2019. Imagine our staff who basically won that award with ESPN hosted 22,000 people for nineteen games and hosted a whole season on the back end of that with not one fan inside of the stadium. I think that there will be some resistance in certain states where you have not been able to open your doors and welcome people back. There will be some resistance to fans returning to games. The great thing about us is that we know that it will be a ramp-up. We might be able to host 2,500 people initially when we opened our season all the way, hopefully to a false stadium by the end of 2021. We have 15,500 season ticket holders and we have 5,000 people on a waitlist to become season ticket holders.

Inside of those season ticket holders, there’ll be 2,500 of them who will want to come to games that will live in that world and will be open to masking up, socially distance, and want to be part of an Allianz Field experience. If for whatever reason, there are not, then we will go back to our group sales leads. We will go back single-game buyers. We will go down the channels that you have worked in all of your life to see whether or not we can get to capacity based on whatever the guidelines that the governor gives us are.

 

My audience, Chris, need to understand that this is someone who’s speaking and you don’t speak off the cuff. You’re a strategic thinker. You plan well. On top of your smarts, you also have a tremendous amount of experience and history in that market. You and I first met many years ago when you were the President of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lynx Organization, the NBA, WNBA franchises. You were in the NBA for 25-plus years. Many people associated with the NBA thought you’d never leave. Not because anyone was pushing you out or wanted you to leave but because you were becoming an institution. This is for people who are maybe new to the sports industry or aren’t in the sports industry at all, historically, the Minnesota Timberwolves in particular, when they began in the ’80s, began to produce talent out of the front office, out of the business office that was spreading throughout sports and making a tremendous positive impact throughout the industry.

You were right there in the center of it all. You were training. You were mentoring. You were identifying good talent. You and I could talk about names that came out of your system and the system that you helped build. Could you help my audience understand why would you leave such a great environment, such a comfortable situation with the Timberwolves? You have a wonderful relationship with the owner of the Timberwolves and the Lynx, Glen Taylor. Why would you leave that to go start up an expansion franchise across town?

It is a good story because I started off in the beautiful game. I played a little bit in England. I got injured and I coached over there. I came to the United States and work for Edward J. DeBartolo who owned the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Penguins and he bought a soccer team. He needed a general manager. I was the guy that he chose. He gave me a PhD in running a professional sports organization. From there, I moved to Minnesota to work for Joe Robbie, another NFL owner who owned the Miami Dolphins. I worked for him and then closed the Minnesota Strikers down. I did work for Rudy Perpich, the Governor of the State of Minnesota, for a little bit. We built something called the National Sports Center up in Blaine, Minnesota but the NBA expanded to the Twin Cities.

A good friend of mine coming out of soccer, Tim Leiweke got the job as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He said, “Wright, Come on down.” Ironically, I was on a Zoom call with him and we’re telling a lot of the stories from the early days. You’re right. The names that came out of that franchise were incredible. In 1995, the franchise almost moved to New Orleans. A white knight on a big white horse called Glen Taylor rode in from Mankato, Minnesota, and took the franchise away from Bob Arum, the boxing promoter who was trying to buy it and move it down to New Orleans. Twelve years in with Glen, he made me the president of the team. I was the president for the last twelve years that I was there. Along the way, I try to encourage him to look at other investments in different sports teams and try to do what a lot of professional franchises have done, which has grown their stable of different operations.

There are so many synergies that evolve when you’ve got multiple properties. I tried often to encourage Glen to get into European soccer, where I’ve got a background and I know a little bit about what is going on over there. Years ago, a group led by Dr. Bill McGuire wanted to apply for the expansion rights for Minneapolis. They went up against the Wilfs, the family who own the Vikings to see who would get the rights. Glen said, “Go and meet with Bill. Let’s see if you can get me as part of that group. Let me be one of the investors in that group. You’ve always wanted to be in the game. Now, you can look after my investment in the game.” I did. I met with Bill and in the end became part of a group that put together the presentation to Don Garber and the expansion committee inside of the MLS. We won the rights to bring the franchise here. I went back to my day job, which was running the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx.

As we went down a path with Bill, it was obvious that there were only a couple of real opportunities that franchises have to establish themselves in markets and gather a share of voice in a very cluttered market. We’re the fifteenth largest marketplace in the country. We have all of the different professional sports leagues here. We have Minor League Baseball here. We have a Division One university in downtown Minneapolis. We’re a destination for all of the major events that happen around our country. It’s very competitive. The ownership felt that as we started to go down a path of securing the site for Allianz Field, they wanted somebody experienced to run the franchise, build a team, build the business, and then build the stadium.

Glen said, “Chris, this is an opportunity for you to return to your roots, the game that you love, the game that you’re passionate about. What an incredible legacy play this could be for you.” I met with Bill McGuire. I met with the Pohlad family, who were also big investors in Minnesota United. In the end, I decided to accept the role of first CEO of the team. I work day-to-day with the Pohlad family, with Glen Taylor, with Bill McGuire, and this incredible group of owners that have been put together that have vested in the MLS inside of our market.

Never lose sight of exemplary fan experience. Click To Tweet

Now that you’re in MLS, you’ve been in it for a few years and you’ve got your hands dirty, so to speak, what have you learned in the MLS that has surprised you? Do you think that this is something that maybe your former league, the NBA or the NFL, because you have relationships there as well, that perhaps they could learn from the Major League Soccer experience? Is there anything that comes to mind?

The incredible thing about the MLS is that it just celebrated its anniversary. Think about the longevity of all of the other leagues on where they were at after many years as compared to this incredible beast of a league that is building purpose-built stadiums everywhere. The crafts are trying to figure one out in Boston. New York City Football Club trying to figure one out in New York, as well as all of the expansion teams of Nashville, Austin, St. Louis, the potential of Sacramento, Cincinnati, ourselves, all building purpose-built soccer stadiums. The development of the stadiums, generally speaking, the land around it is providing incredible opportunities for this to go again.

When you think about the World Cup coming back here in 2026, it’s going to be another incredible opportunity for to grow the game dramatically. Sometimes I don’t think in other leads you’ve got these major tent pole events that come in that are out at your control to a degree that are going to elevate the awareness perception following of the game. I’m not sure that those exist. People might say, “Super Bowl do that or the NBA Championships do that.” We also have our championships that are relatable to those big events inside of those other leagues. I would say that also from a participation standpoint, the MLS franchises, everybody that I talked to in our league is vested in growing the game. They’re all vested in young players, male and female. They have the growth of the game at heart.

Not always do you necessarily see that in all leagues. The NBA did. The amount of opportunity resources that you pour into the development of the game itself and the young lives that are looking for a sport to be able to play is remarkable. With the advent of all of these young American players being farmed by your top European teams and playing over there. Watch out when we play Christian Pulisic, Reyna, everybody else’s desks, and all of the young talent that is on Greg Bird holder’s team and squad, watch out if they make some noise in the World Cup. There were some amazing things happening inside of our game that I don’t necessarily believe are happening in a lot of the other professional sports in the United States.

You mentioned that the MLS just celebrated its anniversary. Not to put myself in that same class, but so did my business. The reason I say that is that in our first or second year of business, we were invited by Major League Soccer when it was twelve franchises who work with those initial twelve and building their sales operations. Mark Abbott, one of the founders of the league, as far as writing the original business plan, now the President of Major League Soccer, not the commissioner. He called us the official sales coach of Major League Soccer. We held that role for about three years as an advisor, a consultant trainer to the league. Now it’s at 27 franchises with three on the horizon. It’s a couple of short of all the other major leagues. That growth you spoke of is real and impressive.

When I think back to those original owners, the Anschutz, the Hunt family, I think about their vision for this sport and their commitment that come hell or high water, they were going to make this thing work. It wasn’t going to be the old NASL. It was going to be Major League Soccer. What a testament to their vision, to their commitment, to their resources, and all of the people around them, including as you mentioned, Don Garber, the Commissioner and the fantastic job he’s done. I have to ask you. Let’s come back a little bit to reality after all of those accolades. All of sports are suffering and that we don’t have any attendance going on largely speaking because of the pandemic. Television ratings have been going down pretty dramatically in sports. The Super Bowl, had about a fifteen-year low in viewership. Chris Wright, as seasoned as you are, what is your prescription to draw people’s attention back to sports, not only in buying tickets but also sitting in front of the television watching like they used to?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The biggest challenge for MLS right now is how to come out of its complete reliance on local market revenue.

 

I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet, Rob, because you’ve got to do an awful lot of different things right. We talked a little bit about purpose, our why. That’s got to be right. That’s going to wonder pin everything that you do. You’ve got to believe in that. When our fans and supporters do come back into our stadium, the fan experience has got to be exemplary. We can never ever lose sight of that. Going forward, it’s also going to be a safe environment. You’ve got to figure out a way to make all of your facilities safe. There is science and different studies that have been done around large outdoor events. Fortunately, we have an outdoor stadium. I was reading a report where it’s almost 1,000 different outdoor events since the pandemic struck us. There’s only one that can be deemed a super spreader event. This particular study was aware of all found.

We’ve got to educate our fans that the environments that we’re going to create for them are going to be safe. You’ve got a chance. You’ve got to make sure that your product on the field of play is exemplary. We don’t have the millions of dollars of some of the other leagues to be able to spend on players. It’s important that you have systems in place that allow you to target identify and procure talent that is additive to the way you want to play. I think that the MLS style is growing. It’s getting much younger. It’s getting more creative. It’s getting more skillful and technical and the product in the end has got to lead. On the social and digital media side, the content that you allow your fans access to, behind the scenes access, the storytelling, the background of players. We have some incredible players from South America. People understood where they came from and how soccer became their way out. It’s compelling content storytelling around our players particularly.

I would say that the biggest challenge for our league is to find the balance between revenues that are generated by the league and local market revenues. We’re completely reliant on local market revenue. In 2020, which was devastating, your reliance on those 20,000 people coming to Allianz Field. If you have a season where zero fans come in, you get zero revenue. We’re in a fortunate place to have 74 corporate partners. We saved around 60% of the resources inside of those deals by coming up with unique activations. Some of it is community-based, social media-based, around our games that were all televised, and some of the assets that we were able to control around all of the television games. We’ve got to grow that support as well with our local partners.

The league is looking at different revenue streams out of television agreements that are up in 2022. It will be interesting to see by then where the rights fees go. We do about $19 million a year on an annual basis into our league, which is then distributed down into the teams. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes, given cord cutters, given the diversification of what people are claiming the content, where they’re going for content. It’ll be interesting to see where that bar that needs to be moved upwards goes in 2023.

My readers appreciate this insight you’re giving us into the mind of a sports executive. Thank you for that. In the few remaining moments that we’ve got, I’d like to ask you about more Chris Wright, just the person. I want to go back to your sports roots. You and I both know you were a keeper in soccer. I don’t know if you’re a great keeper but I got to think you were. I like to have this conversation with students. If you were to pick one position in sports and turn that person into an executive after they retired from the game, with the characteristics inherent with that position, what position is most likely become an effective executive? I want to ask you, is it a keeper or you have a different idea?

If I think of what Tom Brady has done with his career as a quarterback in the team, the only problem that I have with the analogy that you’re trying to have me make is that Tom Brady is only on the field half the time. He’s controlling the entire game. A lot of people would argue that he is. At the same time, the defense is on for half the time but the quarterback sees it all. He’s got to make a lot of tough decisions. He might call a play but he’s got to be nimble. There are things that open up in front of him that he’s got to take advantage of rather than pull his arm back and make the play that was prescribed at that particular moment in the game. He’s also going to be able to work in the pocket.

Outside of the pocket, he’s got to be able to run. He’s got to be able to sprint. He’s got to be mobile. He’s got to be nimble. He’s got to have one heck of an arm that executes all of the different strategies that are put in place for his organization. Of all of the positions that I see in sports that I think would make a great executive when you think of the traits, the skills, the techniques, and the execution of all of those, a quarterback in football is where I would go.

Life is much easier when you’re on the same page with your loved one. Click To Tweet

You were half a homer, you said football, but we all have to recognize you’re talking about American football.

I get into trouble with that all the time. I did a spot for SPIRE Credit Union in our market. They asked me a question and I had the audacity to say, “Soccer is the real football. Football is not football.” They edit. I can’t tell you how my Twitter account lit up.

Second personal question, you and your lovely wife, Walla have been married for years and yet you are in an industry, Chris, where the pressure is on you to be at the facility, be at the venue, late in the evenings, weekends, holidays, then you got to be back at it the next morning running the business. It takes its toll on a marriage. May I ask for my sake, for my reader’s sake, I am fortunate, blessed to have the woman in my life that I do who I’ve been married to for years. What’s your secret? How do you and Walla maintain a love affair?

There are two things that I would talk to. Number one, you’ve got to find your soulmate. You’ve got to find somebody who believes in you but you also believe in her. I hope that your readers take this in the right way but I am a believer in purpose. I’m a believer in why. What is your personal why? What we talk about all the time is not necessarily the club’s why but what is Walla Wright’s why and what is Chris Wright’s why. I can articulate it the same way that I can articulate my club’s why. My personal why is to live my life every single day through my three Fs, my Faith, my Family, and my Franchise. They’ve got to be in that order. My wife lives her life in exactly the same way. She lives her life through her faith. She lives it through her family. She’s in your business. She works for a company called Wilson Learning owned by the Japanese. They are a training company in sales, service, and executive coaching.

The good news is that I have a wife who I go to bed with every night who there isn’t one problem that Chris Wright has that she can’t have an answer for. Synergistically, when you are on the same page with your loved one the way that we are on the same page with each other, life is easy. It is easy because you’ve got your priorities right. We can celebrate our faith together. We can celebrate our family together. We certainly celebrate on both ends of the spectrum. She’s into MNUFC, and is into the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m also into Wilson Learning and all of the events that she’s got to go to as well. I’m there with her holding her hand. That’s where I play second fiddle where she plays second fiddle at all of my events but it works.

Chris, I wish we could talk longer. There’s so much more I’d like to inquire and learn from you about. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people. You’ve been persuasive in my career. I think that this conversation we’ve had will have an impact on others as well. I wish you the best, you and your team. Are there any final thoughts from you?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The quarterback role in football illustrates the traits, skills, techniques, and execution that make an effective executive.

 

I appreciate the opportunity. It’s wonderful connecting with you again. Thank you for everything that you’ve done for my franchises along the way, all of the experience and the professionalism that you brought to every single session, training session that we’ve participated in. I appreciate you. I appreciate the Game Face. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.

Thank you, sir. Go loons. Chris Wright, thank you very much.

Thanks, Rob.

Chris and his club have been recognized in sports for building a brand that reflects its name, Unity. In 2020, that was the last word observers would use to describe the community of Minneapolis, where so much social and civil unrest occurred. Catch the rest of our heartfelt conversation to learn how Chris’s leadership was and is being tested. How will he bring Minnesota together through the beautiful game? If you’d like to learn some marital advice from a man who’s been blissfully wedded to the same wife for years, stick around for the end of my conversation with Chris Wright, a Unifier under United.

Important Links:

About Chris Wright

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Chris Wright joins Minnesota United as the organization’s first CEO after 26 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx, including the last 13 years as President.

Growing up in England, though his first love was soccer, and it was only after a — by his account — brief career as a player and then a coach and manager that he came stateside to work in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He eventually made his way to Minnesota to serve as the general manager of the Minnesota Strikers.

 

This pandemic period is changing the global economy. In this episode, Dr. Brigitte Madrian, a leading behavioral economics researcher from Harvard University who has since become the first female dean of Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business, joins Rob Cornilles in giving some advice on how businesses and households can adjust to the new economy during this coronavirus era.

Dr. Madrian tells how she advanced to the office of dean, her role leading one of the most prominent business schools in America, and how she manages BYU Marriott to adapt and thrive. She shares her vision and the programs she aspires to foster for students preparing to enter the workplace. As she says, “Our motto at BYU is: ‘Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.’” Listen to their conversation and pick up some constants despite the changes outside our homes today.

Watch the episode here:

Dr. Brigitte Madrian | The Dean That Delivers

No one has higher expectations for higher education than this Game Face exec, Dr. Brigitte Madrian, the first female Dean of Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, now leading a program that Bloomberg Businessweek named as the best at producing trained MBA graduates. Brigitte leads a business school that also boasts top rankings in accounting, HR and entrepreneurship. Formerly a faculty member at such renowned institutions as Harvard, the University of Chicago and Wharton, how is this native Utahn helping to transform a school steeped in tradition?

It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Brigitte Madrian, the Dean of the Marriott School at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Dean Madrian, you know I’ve wanted to have you on this show for some time. Sometimes, we pass in the hallways at BYU. I don’t know if you were avoiding my glance, but you finally succumbed and agreed to come onto my show. I know you’re a busy woman, so thank you for joining me.

Rob, it’s good to be here.

For those who aren’t very familiar with the world of academia and some of my audience may not huddle around the halls of a campus like you do each and every day, I’d like to start from the beginning if we could and describe what the Dean of a business school does especially in nowadays world of academia, which I presume is constantly evolving. How would you describe your role, Dean Madrian?

That’s a great question and not a question I get asked very often. My job is to make sure that the business school at Brigham Young University is doing what it’s supposed to do. Our primary mission is to educate students. We hire faculty, we decide what classes they’re going to teach and what kind of programs we’re going to run. As the market evolves, we make changes to some of those things. I’m also involved in a lot of people development because the business school is an organization like any organization.

We have lots of employees and need to make decisions about what their jobs are going to look like, how well they’re doing, hiring decisions and promotion decisions. You’re always trying to get the best out of the people that you have. Inspire them to do the best that they can in their jobs, figure out what opportunities might lie ahead and how to prepare them. At a business school, that’s exactly what you’re also trying to teach your students to do. A business school is an interesting place to do all of this. You need to practice what you’re preaching to your students and sometimes, you discover there’s a little bit of a disconnect there.

It sounds like you described the role of a chief executive officer of a school. Is that a fair characterization?

That’s a good characterization.

Approximately, how many employees are under the roof of the Tanner Building where the BYU Marriott School is located?

It depends on how you count them. We have about 140 full-time faculty members and 85-ish full-time staff. We have another 80 adjunct faculty who teach part-time and then we have a vast army of student employees. Over the course of a calendar year, we employ about 1,500 students doing various things in the business school. That’s a different model than a lot of other academic institutions have. We rely heavily on students to do work that at other universities, you would hire full-time employees to do. It’s a great learning opportunity for students on campus.

They get handed responsibilities that they wouldn’t get if they were students anywhere else in the country. They get a lot of great experience but it also means that the model of how we operate is different. All of our full-time employees are doing a lot of management of student employees. Their jobs look different and then you have a lot of turnovers because the students don’t come and stay for ten years. You’re lucky if you get them for two years. Many of them, you might only get for a semester. You’re doing a lot of training and retraining as you get a new crop of students. It’s rewarding to work with these bright, energetic, talented students and help them learn how to be successful in the world of work, try to set them up to go out and do well.

This is one reason why I’ve wanted you to be on our show for so long. You are a model of success, Brigitte, and I don’t say that just to flatter you. You have broken some glass ceilings in your career. One of those is you are the first female Dean of BYU Marriott School. I want to ask you a little bit about that process. You’re going into the third year of your position. I’m sure that the interview process began about three years ago or so. Now that a little bit of time has passed, can you give us a little bit of peek into the history of how that process unfolded? You’re a trendsetter. When you were announced as the Dean, there was terrific excitement on campus about it but we never got a peek as to how it all happened. Can you tell that story for us?

We stand for training leaders of faith, intellect, and character. Click To Tweet

At that time, I was a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I had a fantastic job and I had no plans of going anywhere. I wasn’t looking for anything different, although I’d had this niggling feeling in my mind that change was going to happen. I thought it was going to be change at Harvard because I have this feeling. I was open to thinking about different things. I received an email from one of the faculty members here at the Marriott School saying, “We’re looking for a new dean, would you be interested?” I read it and I thought, “I’m not sure I would be a good fit for that role because I was at a public policy school, not at a business school.”

I have been at business schools in the past but at that time, I was in a public policy school. I didn’t have a lot of strong connections with the business school here at BYU. I was an undergraduate here in the economics department. I have lots of good connections over there but the economics department isn’t part of the business school. It had been a long time since I interviewed for a job. Going through the process would be a good experience for me.

There was an interview on Skype. The people who were on campus made them do it in the same way. Literally, everyone was having the same experience. They narrowed it down to four people and they invited us all out for a day or, in my case, it was more like a day and a half of visits on campus. I flew out, I had to do a presentation to the faculty and staff with Q&A and then I had a lot of meetings. Some one-on-one, some with groups of people, and meeting with the academic vice president who was in charge of hiring me. A few weeks later, they offered me the job. I had a tough decision to make.

At first, you weren’t sure if you were a good fit and you had a tough decision to make. Would you mind giving us a bigger peek into that? Why wouldn’t you be a good fit in your mind? You had a great position at Harvard. Was that part of the tough decision-making?

That was part of the decision-making. When I came out here and was doing my day and a half dog and pony show, for me, that was as much about me deciding whether I was interested in the job as it was about BYU deciding whether they were interested in me. In my background, I had spent significant time at two different business schools. I was on the faculty at the University of Chicago for eight years at their business school. I was on the faculty of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for three years. While I was at Harvard, I was doing a joint degree program between the Harvard Kennedy School which is the public policy school and the business school. I had a business school background.

In that sense, I didn’t feel like it was crazy for them to be talking to me but I hadn’t spent my whole career in a business school. My approach to the world is I think about things from a public policy standpoint, “How do we make the world a better place?” As it turns out, that’s a great outlook and viewpoint to have for someone in this type of administrative position where I’m trying to help all of the students in the business schools succeed regardless of what they’re majoring in. Trying to help the whole college, not one department versus another. In terms also of building connections and bridges and trying to help the university as a whole.

The background is relevant but it’s definitely not the traditional path that you see for business school deans. There’s been a learning curve, that’s for sure but I’ve felt very supported. It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn new things. I can see how the institution benefits from having someone come in from the outside but I’ve also had to learn when to bow to precedent, culture and things like that. When to maybe push on, “This is the way you’ve been doing things for a long time but would you be open to considering an alternative?”

What’s been your biggest surprise since you’ve arrived on the campus, either a positive surprise or a disappointment that hasn’t turned into a success yet? After being on the job for a couple of years, what’s taken you by surprise?

The biggest positive surprise is realizing how many people are out there who want to help. I knew I would come in, we would have alumni who were supportive and there would be lots of people who would be interested in helping the institution succeed, but I completely underestimated how extensive that reservoir of goodwill is from many friends of this institution out there in the world. Not a week goes by without several people reaching out and saying, “What can I do to help?” For some of them it’s, “How can I help financially?” For many of them it’s, “What can I do to help mentor students? What can I do to help you as the Dean? What can I do to move your initiatives along? What can I do to be an ambassador?” It’s heartwarming to realize that you’re not in this alone. You have this whole army of people and only a few of them are on your formal payroll.

You talked a little bit about the background before joining BYU. You started your professional career at Harvard, you went to the University of Chicago business school then to Wharton then back to Harvard, now to BYU. Were you recruited for each of those moves? People would be surprised to learn that a recruitment process takes place in academia. The old stereotype is we have stayed professors who stay hunkered down in their office, come out and teach and then go back and do research. It sounds like in your case, there was a lot of movement professionally and a lot of opportunities being presented to you. Is that how it worked in your case? You were doing your thing and they found you.

There is recruiting that goes on in the academic world. I feel lucky to have had the professional trajectory that I’ve had. Over the years, I’ve worked at a lot of interesting places and learned a lot of important things from those different institutions. It’s good to be able to compare and contrast what I like about this place that I want to bring going forward. What do I like about the experience that I had there? There are a lot of people in academia who haven’t moved around but when I’m talking to students particularly graduate students who are going off, graduating and getting their first job, I tell them not to be afraid of moving. You’re not interviewing for the job you’re going to keep for the next 30 years of your life. You’re interviewing for something you’re going to do for the next few years.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: Don’t be afraid of living someplace different and going a little bit outside your comfort zone. That’s how you learn.

 

I tell that to the students here at BYU Marriott. A lot of them are graduating and they’re focused on that first job coming out of school. It’s the only job they’re ever going to have and they better get that decision right because they’re going to be living with it for 30 or 40 years. I find myself doing a lot of recalibrating. You’re taking a job for 2, 3, maybe 5 years if you’re lucky. Find a job that’s going to give you good experience for a few years, get all that you can out of it and think about what you want to do next.

I like how you are encouraging people. You are pushing them out of the nest. One of BYU’s themes or slogan is, ‘Enter to serve and go.’ Repeat it for me, Brigitte.

“Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” There’s another motto. That’s at one entrance of the campus and then on the other campus entrance is, “The world is our campus.” I refer to those mottos a lot. We want our students to go out into the world and learn what they can. There are certain things you can learn on campus but if the world is our campus, we’re not just learning about the world on campus. We need to go out into the world and make the world our campus, go forth and serve other places as well. I spent most of my growing up years here in Utah County. My father was a sociology professor here on campus when I was growing up. I literally grew up on this campus. I went to the pre-school program.

I started here when I was four. I wouldn’t trade the experiences that we had living in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia for anything. I learned many valuable things living in those other places. When I was fourteen, when I was in high school, my father led a six-month study abroad program in Europe. He took the family and with a group of 30 college students, we spent six months traveling around Europe and that was eye-opening. I definitely would encourage our students to go out and live someplace different, learn something, make new friends, learn about the people in a different part of the country or a different part of the world. Eventually, you’ll come back to Utah if that’s what you love or go back someplace else. We’ve got students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. Don’t be afraid of living someplace different and going a little bit outside your comfort zone. That’s how you learn.

Speaking of learning, you could share with us 1 or 2 examples. What did you learn while on the campus at Harvard or Wharton that you are trying to bring into the BYU culture and within the Tanner Building? What are some lessons or some things that you saw or were a part of there that we should expect to see as part of the culture here at BYU Marriott?

One of the most important things I learned from moving around different places is the culture. The corporate culture is different. It can be dramatically different but you can shape it. You can have an influence on it. My first job in the Harvard Economics Department, this is when I was in my mid-twenties, straight out of graduate school. It was a very isolating culture. It was an environment where people were kings unto themselves. They put the junior faculty down in a little hallway on the first floor. We were all off by ourselves and didn’t have a lot of interaction with other people. I learned that physical geography influences who you talk to. I went to the University of Chicago, the business school there and the culture was completely different.

They had a culture where everyone got together for lunch. You’d have twenty people eating lunch together either in the faculty common room which had seating for a whole bunch of people. People would show up there for lunch or there was a faculty club. Big groups of people would go over there for lunch. I learned so much over the eight years I was there from having lunch with colleagues who were in different disciplines. I loved that ability to meet people who thought about things differently, learn from them and get to know them. When I went to the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton School, it was halfway between Harvard and Chicago. I went in and the department I was in, we moved floors in the building shortly after I got there.

I said, “Before we bake everything in stone, what if we set up a lounge area where people can come together and hang out?” They didn’t have that. I had seen how influential that was at the University of Chicago. I was able to shape that with my department at the University of Pennsylvania. Since I’ve been the Dean at the Marriott School, having these different experiences with what the culture is like and what kind of an impact that has on how people feel about their job, whether or not they’re excited to come to work and things like that. That’s been on my mind and I’ve been thinking about that both in terms of the students, the faculty and the staff.

When I first came in, I didn’t know any of the students because I came in from the outside. I was thinking, “How am I going to get to know the students?” We did some work early on after I got here, trying to come up with what our strategic objectives were going to be. We did some interviewing and discovered that a lot of students across campus were afraid of the Tanner Building where the business school is housed. They viewed this as a big, intimidating place. Students in that building wore suits to class sometimes.

I thought, “How am I going to get people to major in business if they’re afraid to walk in the building? That’s not any good.” We spent a lot of time trying to think about how we can make the physical space feel more open, welcoming and less intimidating. As it turned out, it didn’t take a lot of work. We decided to start doing things that were fun and get the deans out to meet the students so we’re not scary. We handout donuts, candy on Halloween, decorate the building for different holidays, try and make it seem more fun.

I’ve received dozens of emails, handwritten notes and LinkedIn messages from students saying things like, “I used to be afraid to walk in the Tanner Building. Now, I’m telling my friends to come over here and hang out with me because it feels so different.” Not quite a year ago, when COVID hits and the world changed, we had to send all the students home. Faculty and staff are now working from home. I felt like we need to do something to still help people feel connected because we’re not running into the hallways anymore.

I don’t know how well I’ve done with this but it was something that I was thinking about and decided we needed to be proactive. We started doing town halls and we did them every two weeks because we had a lot of information we had to convey. It wasn’t just about conveying information. It was also around trying to help people feel connected. For several months, I was sending out an email every week trying to create a sense of community. Picking 1 or 2 people to spotlight. Those were all intentional responses to the experiences that I had had over my previous places of employment with cultures that I thought helped people feel they were part of a community and cultures that didn’t do that. It wasn’t necessarily pulling specific pieces in but more pulling in this general idea that you can impact the culture and it makes a difference.

We should be setting a program that's true to the values we believe. Click To Tweet

It does make a difference. I’ve noticed a difference. You may not want me to tell the world but I am an adjunct at the BYU Marriott School. You maybe don’t know that, Brigitte. That’s why I still have my job and I’m still teaching. I teach one class but I’ve noticed because you’ve included adjuncts as well as the full-time faculty in those town halls. It’s been a world of difference. You were hired at the right time in the right position because you’ve been able to create that connection and that sense of community even enhanced communication channels.

I thank you for that. Let me ask you a little bit more about culture. If someone were to ask me what difference has Dean Madrian made so far in her tenure, I would have to say, the first thing that comes to my mind is culture. Because of your breaking through the glass ceiling of the Tanner Building as the first woman Dean, you have sensitivities that perhaps some of us don’t. One of those sensitivities that you’ve brought, which has been front and center, as far as your town hall discussions have been, we need to be very intentional about diversity and inclusion. Can you share with us a little bit of your thinking on that and where does that come from? Does it come from top-down and you’re the messenger? Is it part of your makeup and part of your background, and you see that as a gap we need to fill?

I don’t think those are mutually exclusive. It’s a little bit of both. One of the decisions I had to make when I came here was what are my priorities going to be. I realized that as the first female Dean, there were going to be people looking at me and watching to see how I approached this job through the lens of diversity and inclusion. I could decide that I wanted to embrace that or wanted to focus on more traditional things that a dean might focus on. What’s the point of coming in and being the first female dean if you can’t use that as a platform to create a more inclusive culture? From my background, that would be with respect to gender but we need to be inclusive more broadly. That’s the piece that I have felt personally.

Through my career, I’ve also seen how inclusion benefits organizations and how different people have been impacted when they felt more or less included. My experience at the Harvard Kennedy School was influential there. In the Harvard Kennedy School, about 40% of the students were international. We had students from all over the world and it was a joy. It was wonderful to teach them and learn from them. I learned so much from these students who came from all over but because we had students from many different backgrounds, there were a lot of discussions around diversity and inclusion on the basis of all sorts of different metrics. I also saw some of the challenges that Harvard was having with diversity and inclusion and their public policy school.

You have a lot of students who are interested in changing the world. I spent thirteen years with these students who came in because they wanted to change the world and we accept them because we thought they had the potential to do that. That culture is not quite as ingrained in most business schools. It helped me realize that you can’t effect change if you have a strong leader who believes in something. You can effect change. When I came in, I decided that was going to be one of the things that we were going to focus on. I started talking about it from day one. I started talking about it before I even arrived.

Things for me took on a new sense of urgency last June 2020 with the Black Lives Matter protest after the death of George Floyd. I had this moment where I realized that I had been talking about it. Talking about it in a way that was different than it had been in the past, but it wasn’t enough and we needed to do more. That’s where I decided we needed to talk about it more often, talk about it in concrete and specific ways and make everyone feel a sense of accountability for this. You see a lot of organizations, they’ll bring in a chief diversity officer or diversity and inclusion manager, and that person becomes responsible for diversity and inclusion in the organization. You’ve got one person who’s thinking about it but if you want to effect change, you need everyone to be thinking about what they can do and how they can do things differently.

That’s the culture change that I’ve been trying to affect. It’s not just me in the Dean’s office thinking about it. It’s not the Diversity and Inclusion Manager that we did hire last March 2020, and she’s got specific things that are part of her job. I need everyone to be thinking about it and we need to create a sense of accountability around it. Here at the university, January, February, beginning of March is performance evaluation season. This 2021 in the business school, we’re trying to make a discussion around diversity and inclusion part of every single performance evaluation interview that happens. We’ve sent all of the full-time employees who were part of this process, diversity inclusion, accountability checklist.

It’s four pages long and it’s lists of things, “Here are things you could be doing as an individual, as a department, as a program, as an administrative unit and what are you doing. What are you going to try and do better this next year so that people feel some accountability?” We’re also giving them some ideas. They don’t have to figure it out on their own, “Here are 50 things you could do,” and then we’re creating conversations around it. Everyone is involved, not just one person or a handful of people. We’ve started to see change and change happens slowly. It’s not going to happen overnight but we’ve started to see a meaningful change in how people are thinking about things and what they’re doing. That’s been rewarding because it’s the right thing to do, it’s what we need to do and it’s happening. I feel lucky to be a part of it.

I would note too, you indicated that you hired the Diversity and Inclusion manager in March 2020, where socially speaking, it wasn’t front and center in American dialogue until the summer. You were obviously ahead of it, if you will. Let me ask you this though, in a private institution such as BYU, we have something that we call The Honor Code. The Honor Code requires both staff and students to make commitments that they will live a certain type of life. When I say that, I mean standards, that they will maintain certain standards. I know you find it a plus because it elevates the quality of individuals that we find on campus but it’s also got to be a challenge because in order for diversity and inclusion to work someone coming to BYU, considering BYU, also has to make the commitment that they will raise their own standards. How does that fit into your overall plan or the vision that you’ve got to improve in this area?

When a lot of people think about The Honor Code at BYU, they focus on what I would call the visible aspects of The Honor Code. For example, men can’t wear a beard here on this campus. We have certain standards about the dress. We expect people to dress nicely. There’s no smoking. People are very focused on those visible things. I do think they’re important and they make a difference. I’ve seen things like that even outside of the context of BYU. For example, my oldest daughter spent pre-school, kindergarten and first grade at a Catholic school and they had to wear a uniform.

There were lots of good things about that. There are lots of reasons that organizations put in an honor code, a dress code or things like that. The most important part of the Honor Code at BYU is there’s a phrase in there about respect for others. We need to have respect for others. That’s how it ties into diversity and inclusion. Not just with respect to things that are typically part of the diversity and inclusion, gender or race. In 2020, we’ve seen a lot of political divisions in this country and a lot of not respect for others when it comes to people who have differences of opinion. If you want an organization to function well and you want to get the most out of all of your people, they need to feel like they can come to work, express their opinions and be respected for that.

They also have to be able to come and express their opinions in a respectful way that doesn’t demean others. That’s a skill. That’s not something that most of us are born with. That’s a skill that you learn from being empathetic, being secure from having a strong sense of self-esteem and how you feel about yourself. You don’t have to elevate yourself over someone else even if they disagree with you from being willing to listen, having self-control and self-restraint if you don’t agree. All of that is part of respecting others.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: If you really want to effect change, you need everyone to be thinking about what they can do and how they can do things differently.

 

Giving place for someone else to come in and have a difference of opinion. That’s much more important than, “Did you shave this morning or not?” I wish that would be a bigger focus on campus. It’s not that it isn’t a focus. There are lots of people on campus who are focused on that. That’s what we need to be striving for. It’s making us better people. Isn’t that what we want? It’s to become better people to grow, develop and become better people. Part of that is learning how to interact with others, respect them and love them even if they’re completely different from us.

I really admire the way you positioned and teach that. Going back to the motto, “Enter to learn.” When people enter the campus to learn, it’s not just from the textbook but from their classmates, instructors and events that we have on campus and so forth. I also appreciate what you are building and what you’re still working to build within the Marriott School. Maybe these are anecdotal but unfortunately, we’re hearing too much around academia or college campuses, specifically increasingly this notion that if you don’t have the right opinion, then your opinion doesn’t matter. It might even need to be snuffed out. What you’re suggesting and demonstrating through your tenure thus far is that all opinions, all styles, all personalities, all belief systems are welcome here as long as we’re all willing to live a certain standard because that will make a better learning environment. Is that a fair way of saying it?

That’s absolutely a fair way of saying it.

Not so much the students you have now on campus but the students of tomorrow. Those who are considering BYU may want to transfer or begin their college career at BYU. You’re an educator before you’re an administrator. I have to ask you from your vantage point, is there anything that concerns you about nowadays incoming students? Anything that you would either ask them or caution them to watch out against, stop doing or start doing that will make college a better experience for them that can turn into the life and career that they envision?

One of the trends that is true on this campus and almost every other college campus in this country is a dramatic increase in the fraction of students with behavioral and mental health problems. Part of that is driven by universities being better set up to serve students who have those challenges, to begin with. More of those students are coming to campus and succeeding, whereas in the past, they might have never come to college or would have dropped out early on. That’s good, but a lot of it is an overall trend in behavioral and mental health problems among young adults across the country. I see those challenges upfront. I see them in the students we have. I hear about them when I talk to employers. The employers that hire our students are talking about the challenges they’re having with the recent college graduates from schools from across the country and their challenges in the transition from school to work related to behavioral and mental health.

It’s part of the broader ecosystem. I see a lot of students focused on achievement rather than on learning. When they’re focused on achievement and then they don’t measure up, that’s where they start getting into trouble. A concrete example would be they’re graduating and looking for a job. They feel like there’s a pecking order out there. If you don’t get a job at this particular company, then something is wrong with you and you failed. That’s not a healthy attitude to have because there are lots of ways to be successful in the world. Hardly anyone is going to stay at the first job they get out of school for more than a few years. I would much rather have my students focused on, “What can I learn? What skills am I trying to acquire? What technical skills can I learn that is going to make me valuable as an employee? What interpersonal skills can I learn that will help me be more effective, both in the workplace and in my personal relationships? How can I become a better person?”

Use school as an opportunity for personal development and growth, rather than as a yardstick to try and assess how I measure up. The former like, “What can I learn? How can I grow?” There are lots of good research from psychology saying that’s a healthy attitude. You’ll be happier and you’ll be more productive. That’s the goal we all want. It’s not the name on the top of your resume. It’s not the size of your paycheck. It’s how happy are you. How fulfilled are you? Are you finding meaning in your work, personal relationships and with your family? That’s what success is. We need to do a better job of helping our students understand what success is and what success isn’t.

I’m no sociologist but it makes me think that the social media culture we’re growing up in where your social media post is your daily grade as to how you’re doing socially and socioeconomically. Perhaps, that’s feeding that tendency. You can see if someone is having a good day based on their social media posts. If they’re popular that day or they want a big something at school or at work. That’s a contributing factor. I appreciate what you’re suggesting here. We have to take the long view and what the purpose of university education.

Forgive me if this is contrary to what you teach. I say to some people who ask me, “Which degree should I get?” With all apologies to the business school, I’d say, “It doesn’t matter. As long as you get a degree that demonstrates that you are in the process of learning, you know how to learn because you’ll never stop learning throughout your life.” You may get a degree in Engineering tomorrow but in two years, you could be working in sales. I hope that’s aligned with your thinking as well and your advice.

If someone were to ask me that question, I’d say, “Get a degree in something that gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning.”

You spoke about how we, as individuals, have a pecking order that sometimes we get caught up in. Not to turn your words against you but at BYU, we are always very concerned about rankings and accreditation. It’s our measuring stick as to how well we’re doing compared to our peers out in the world of academia. From an administrative point of view, can you give us some insight into how BYU and the Marriott School, in particular, look at rankings? I know in many categories, we ranked high and something that we’re all proud of, but we can’t get complacent about it. How do rankings work into your setting goals for the institution? What are some of the differentiators that BYU has that makes us highly ranked in certain categories?

Shortly before I started my job, I had a meeting with my boss, the Academic Vice President, and I’d been talking to deans from a lot of other business schools from across the country. The common story was that they had been hired either to move their school up in the rankings typically the MBA program, or they had been hired to go out and raise money. After having all these conversations, I thought, “I’d better find out my boss, this man who’s hired me. What does he expect me to do? What is success going to look like in his books?” I went and explained this all to him. I said, “How are you going to decide whether or not I’m succeeding? What does doing my job well look like?”

Your first job is not where you're going to get your gold watch. Click To Tweet

It was clear that no one had ever asked him that question in that way before. He hemmed and hawed for a few minutes. He finally said, “It’s not all about rankings. I don’t want you to chase the rankings. I want the school to do well but it’s not about rankings and fundraising. I want you to deal with the problems over in the business school and do the best that you can.” That was great to hear from him that that’s not what he was concerned about. There are a lot of different rankings that are out there and they’re constructed in different ways. Some of the things that go into the rankings, honestly, I don’t care about and I don’t think we should be focused on. There are other things that don’t show up in the rankings that we should be focused on.

For example, some of the rankings factor in things like the starting salary of your graduates. The starting salary is not an irrelevant metric. Certainly, our students are going out and getting jobs and we’d like them to be paid well for what they’re doing. If someone is taking a job in New York City and getting paid 25% more than someone who’s taking a job in Dallas because the cost of living is lower in Dallas, do I care about that difference? No. I don’t, personally. If someone would rather live in Dallas because it’s got a lower cost of living, they can buy a house, start raising a family earlier and it’s going to bring them more joy and happiness, then I’d rather have them move to Dallas. There are things like that that I don’t care much about.

There are other things that I care a lot about that don’t explicitly show up in the ranking. For example, Bloomberg Businessweek does a ranking of MBA Programs. In doing these rankings, they do surveys of graduates. In 2018, they asked some additional questions that didn’t go into the rankings, but they asked them and put out rankings just on those questions based on the student responses. One of the questions was my MBA program has inspired me to pursue an ethical career. It was something like that. That wasn’t the exact wording but close enough. The answer to that question was not used in the rankings that they put together for MBA programs.

If you were to ask me how much do I care about the answer to that question relative to starting salaries, I care a lot more about knowing that our students have come out with a desire to be moral and ethical leaders in business than their starting salary. One of those gets included in the rankings and one of those doesn’t. Where did BYU end up in inspiring students to pursue an ethical career? We were number one in the country on that one. You have to take the rankings with a grain of salt and you have to decide what we stand for.

Here at BYU Marriott, we stand for training leaders of faith, intellect and character. Part of the character piece is we want our students to act with integrity. We want them to work hard, be good examples, be grateful and be humble. Those aren’t all things that the rest of the world values the same way we do. I feel like we should be setting a program that’s true to the values we believe in. If we do that, we’ll do okay in the rankings. The rankings will follow.

That’s encouraging as a member of your staff. I appreciate that explanation and that point of view. Speaking of point of view, you have an extensive library of research and papers that you’ve written. Your core area of expertise long before you became the Dean at BYU Marriott, you’re an expert in behavioral economics and household finance. I hope I’m describing it correctly. I would encourage my audience to do a little research into your writings because they are vast and extensive. I don’t know how much you’re able to do that anymore. I suspect not much in your current role. Are you able to teach even now as a Dean at the Marriott school?

I am not teaching any classes but I do take advantage of every opportunity I can to interact with students. I get a lot of those opportunities and that brings me the same joy that I got out of being in the classroom but I don’t have to write exams and grade papers.

As we begin to wrap up here, I want to tap into that expertise that you’ve got because it could be helpful to this audience and frankly, anyone. In this unusual economy we’re going through, hopefully we’re starting to see some semblance of normalcy returning. Who knows? What is some advice or even an observation from your vantage point that you can give us as it relates to how a business or a household can adjust to this new economy and the changing world that the pandemic is creating for us?

When people ask me what I do research on, my little tagline is I do research on all the ways that individuals and households screw up in managing their money and how institutions like employers and the government can help facilitate better outcomes. We’ve seen a lot of interesting things going on in the country lately in financial markets and the decisions that households and families are making. A couple of lessons that come out of my research and the research of others who work in this area is a lot of times, we overreact to changes that happen. A lot of times, we don’t benefit from overreaction in the long run. A good example would be what was happening with GameStop in the stock market. Prices were changing and people were overreacting.

Some of them were overreacting by buying into the stock. Some of them were shorting the stock. There was a lot of psychology fueling investment-decisions that weren’t based on what the underlying economic prospects of this company were in the long-term. You saw some people making millions of dollars and hedge funds losing billions of dollars. Those are the types of things that people who were in this behavioral economics and household finance space are studying. There are very few decisions that you need to make on the spur of the moment when it comes to managing your money. We’re almost always better off by taking stepping back, not making rash, quick decisions and taking the long view.

When people ask me about investment advice, the vast body of literature suggests that most people are lousy investors. They buy-in at the wrong point and they sell at the wrong point. Instead of buying low and selling high, they buy high and they sell low. We’re not very good at timing the market. You’re much better off with investing a little bit, continuously buy and hold, long-term strategy. You’ll do well enough. If you’re not greedy and not trying to be at the top of the totem pole, that strategy will save you a lot of stress and grief, and you’ll do well by it at the end of the day. I do a lot of research on saving. A lot of stuff that has come out of that is many households are not saving enough.

We’ve seen some interesting disparities when it comes to saving over the last little while. On the one hand, we’ve had households who have good white-collar jobs where it’s easy to work from home and they’ve been relatively unaffected in terms of their income by the recession, but the pandemic means that they haven’t been able to travel. They’re eating from home instead of going out to restaurants and things like that. They were working in jobs where they had a retirement savings plan to begin with and their savings rates have gone way up. They’re saving a lot more as a result of the pandemic.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: We’re almost always better off by stepping back, not making quick, rash decisions, and taking the long view.

 

On the flip side, we have households in more blue-collar jobs much more impacted by the pandemic. More likely to be subject to layoffs. They didn’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work, didn’t have other savings and they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic induced recession. The economy has laid bare the fact that we have winners and losers in society, and even widened the gaps between those two groups. I highlighted the need to come up with better institutions that facilitate savings throughout the income distribution, not just for higher educated white-collar workers that benefit everyone.

It’s obvious we could do a whole new episode on your expertise in this one topic. I really appreciate that. I encourage people to do a little poking into the writings that you have done over the many years that you’ve been in academia. Thank you for those insights. I know some of these questions have been a little bit surprise and a curveball here and there. I’m not trying to fool you or anything like that, but I want to end on two questions if we could. The show is centered around how individuals persuade, influence and inspire, also how they are persuaded, influenced and inspired. I’d like to start by asking you, Brigitte, if you could. In your career, life now or in the past, can you share with us one example of someone or something that has inspired you?

I feel I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of good people that I’ve looked to for inspiration. I had an amazing advisor in graduate school named Jim Poterba. He was very generous with his time, encouraging and supportive, and he has a whole army of former graduate students who are now working as academics or professional economists throughout the country. He’s now the Head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is the largest economic think tank in the country. He puts out lots of influential research and runs dozens of conferences.

He has done an exceptional job at creating an environment where economic research can flourish and inspiring people to do high-quality research that has an impact on the world by mentoring junior scholars and giving them the training and the support that they need. I certainly felt that from him. He’s influenced how I do research, but he’s also influenced my leadership and how I interact with other people. He’s been someone that I’ve had the good fortune to interact with for over many years now. That’s been a meaningful relationship in my life.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

 

Thank you for that. Also, thank you for the lead. We’re going to have to reach out to Jim and make sure he becomes an audience of this show. My last question for you. I don’t wish this upon you but let’s say that someday, we have to write something on the inscription of your tombstone or headstone and it’s going to say, “Brigitte influenced…” How would you finish that sentence for us?

I would change the ‘influenced.’ I would hope it would say, “Brigitte inspired people to be better.”

I really appreciate everything you’ve shared with us. Congratulations on the position that you have now, the influence that you have on the BYU campus and in the Marriott School specifically. Thank you for all your work in scholarship, and thank you for your work as a leader. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us. We’ll see you on campus. I hope that when we cross paths in the hallway, you won’t avoid me next time.

Thank you, Rob. I would never avoid you.

I’m teasing you. Thanks, Brigitte Madrian. It’s been a pleasure to have you.

Thanks.

With that unique distinction, should the development of such qualities as character, work ethic, gratitude and humility be a part of one’s formal education? We get into that with Dean Madrian in the full episode as well as the inspiring story of how her impressive academic background eventually led to interviewing for this job she wasn’t sure she wanted. I asked her how BYU’s unique Honor Code differentiates and disrupts the way the school is perceived. Brigitte discloses what most concerns are about students now, not just at BYU but around the country. Come join us on YouTube, Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Important Links:

About Brigitte Madrian

GFEP 29 | Behavioral EconomicsBrigitte C. Madrian is the Dean and Marriott Distinguished Professor in the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business where she has a joint appointment in the Department of Finance and the George W. Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics. Before coming to BYU, she was on the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School (2006-2018), the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School (2003-2006), the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1995-2003) and the Harvard University Economics Department (1993-1995). She is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and served as co-director of the NBER Household Finance working group from 2010-2018.

Dr. Madrian’s current research focuses on behavioral economics and household finance, with a particular focus on household saving and investment behavior. Her work in this area has impacted the design of employer-sponsored savings plans in the U.S. and has influenced pension reform legislation both in the U.S. and abroad. She also uses the lens of behavioral economics to understand health behaviors and improve health outcomes.

Dr. Madrian received her Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied economics as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University. She is a recipient of the Skandia Research Prize for outstanding research on “Long-Term Savings” with relevance for banking, insurance, and financial services (2019), the Retirement Income Industry Association Achievement in Applied Retirement Research Award (2015), and a three-time recipient of the TIAA Paul A. Samuelson Award for Scholarly Research on Lifelong Financial Security (2002, 2011 and 2017).

 

Who could have imagined that a fierce hockey player, who butts heads with opponents would eventually transition into the tranquil world of luxury travel? This is exactly what Hockey Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Chris Pronger did when he and his wife founded Well Inspired Travels. He shares with Rob Cornilles how his years as an athlete is now reflected in his life as an entrepreneur, especially when it comes to handling business pressure and maintaining the drive to move forward. Chris also explains the right mindset needed by every leader to motivate teammates, whether on the ice or in the office.

Watch the episode here:

Chris Pronger | From Hostile to Hospitable: A Hockey Hall of Famer’s Journey into Luxury Travel

I have got with me some circles, the infamous Chris Pronger, a Hall of Fame Hockey Player. A man who, if you know anything about the game of hockey, you know he is one who has several records to his name. He retired several years ago, but before he retired, he was one of the few people that, not only won the MVP of the National Hockey League, but also the Defenseman of the Year Award in the same year. He was the first man who had done that for almost 30 years, the only other name next to that is Bobby Orr. Chris Pronger is joining us on the show. It’s such a pleasure to have you, Chris.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Chris, you and I have said that we’re going to have a very all-encompassing interview, but you’ve promised me you’re not going to treat me like one of those locker room reporters, right?

No, I’m going to lay off as long as the questions are good, Rob.

I’ll do my best. Before you and I knew each other, I’ve got to tell you I was a fan of yours and an admirer of your play. You have skills and qualities I could never touch. First of all, you’re 6’6”, you’ve got about a foot on me, Chris, as you know. We’re going to talk about your hockey career and how that positions you for what you’re doing now, but first, let’s fast forward to the present. You and your wife, Lauren, have started a business called Well Inspired Travels. Can you share with my audience a little bit about your business and the genesis of it because it’s such an inspiring story?

It’s my wife’s baby. It stems back to her childhood when she was six, her father was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. With that, he looked at his wife, my mother-in-law, and said, “I want to see the world for as long as I’m on earth.” They went off to Europe that first summer and my wife got to see him full of life, energy, and happiness, and off the chemo. They went back for school and he started planning the next vacation and went back on chemo and radiation. She got to see him, the shell of himself and a beaten-down man. He fought hard enough for them to get to that next destination, which was Asia.

My wife is a firm believer that he chose to marry Western and Eastern medicine. He would go off for weeks at a time into the jungle with a medicine man, learn about holistic healing methods and transcendental meditation, and immersing himself in Eastern culture and Eastern medicine. With that, they’re off looking at the Great Wall of China and all the different sites in Asia. He’s really at the forefront and ahead of the curve and marrying Western and Eastern medicine. He was able to learn some things that allow him to stave off death and wait for Western medicine to catch up. Fortunately enough for them, they get back and there was a radical new surgery over in Western medicine. We had it two years later, he was given a clean bill of health, was cancer-free, and a medical marvel.

My wife got to see the healing powers of travel and what the mind, body, and spirit can do. That left a mark on her and they continue to travel all through her childhood and then early adulthood. When we got together, I would travel and we would travel together, and I’d be in the middle of training in the summer times. I’d become a little bit unglued when I couldn’t eat the same way as I was when I was training. I was a little maniacal about my training and she looked at me and go, “You get all this money, you get all this stuff going on and you can’t relax.” I’m like, “I’m preparing. This is the way I prepare for the season.”

We would try to source and look into different properties where they would cook the food the way I wanted it cooked. There was either on site or nearby a workout facility I could go to. As we started doing that, my wife started to get calls from other girlfriends, wives, athletes, and asking about how we sourced the property. “Can you set us up?” That was the beginning of learning about our network and what that trust factor can do.

As my career went along, she would continue to get calls from people. When we got to Philly and social media started to take off, she had a little private account and we would post pictures on there and she kept getting other athletes, celebrities, and friends asking her, “How did you find that place? Can you hook me up? Can you set me up?” It started getting 20, 30 people, and I’m like, “There’s something here.” At the same time, we got three young kids at home. I finally get hurt in Philly. Her mother has breast cancer, and her father has a debilitating stroke and is paralyzed on his right side. From a timing perspective, it wasn’t right. We came back here in St. Louis, I got healthy. Her mother is now healthy. Unfortunately, dad passed away a few years ago. Our oldest started driving and we started seeing some light at the end of that tunnel as it relates to the kids and needing a lot of our time as it relates to driving around and getting them around to different events and things like that.

Lauren had a lot of time on her hands and wanted to start this. It was her baby, and I told her I’d help support her on the business side and support in making introductions, networking, and things like that. I started having so much fun. Hospitality is an interesting industry and the fact that people are happy. It’s a very jovial atmosphere. Everybody wants to help one another. I found that intriguing coming from where I came from where everybody’s like this, look secretive, and looking for that hidden gem, etc. I found it appealing and interesting.

I was always the guy that planned the fishing trips with all my buddies, golf trips, Super Bowl pool, Masters pool, all that stuff. I’m an event planner at heart anyways. It was exciting and I was happy. At the same time, I had kicked the tires on a few other companies with a friend of mine because I wanted to run my own business and be my boss. It didn’t work out. It’s funny how timing works out and this presented itself. It was exciting and a passion of mine, a passion of ours and something that we feel we’re lacking in the marketplace. I jumped headfirst into it and haven’t looked back since. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of work obviously, but if anybody knows anything about me, hard work is not the issue.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Athletes tend to have a certain desire to always perform higher than anybody else.

 

You don’t become one of the top 100 players in hockey history if you’re averse to hard work. Chris, when you speak about Well Inspired Travels, it’s more for the executive audience rather than for family travel. Is that a fair statement?

It’s both. Our niche clients are athletes, celebrities, CEOs, C-level executives, business owners, high net worth family offices, and the reason for that is that’s what we know. From the standpoint of demands on your time, the stress of the job, pressure on home life, the fame, fortune, all this stuff that when you look at that section, there are many parallels amongst that group. We do leisure travel and some corporate work. It runs the gamut. The more interaction we can have with our clients, the better we’re able to serve them. Whether it’s corporate work rolling into a family, leisure travel or vice versa, we’re able to dig deep and learn more about you and understand who you are, what you want to get out of travel, your likes and dislikes as it relates to your travel.

That’s very important to us because it helps us get a feel for who you are and that allows us to peel back the onion a little bit and understand how we can better serve you. How we can better help you in your personal life and your professional life, whether that’s from a leadership standpoint, the home front. There’s so much going on in the world right now. We feel like we’re in a position to help people through travel but also in their everyday lives as we get to know them. There’s a mentorship side that comes into play with us. As we learn more about you, we can steer you in a direction based on what we know. That’s why it’s important for us to manage a lot of our travels to get to know and have these conversations. Maybe my wife having a 30-minute conversation with somebody’s spouse or myself having a conversation with an athlete.

There are all these different things that can go on behind the scenes that sometimes have nothing to do with travel, but it allows us to get a feel for where you are in your given profession. The different stress points, the areas in travel that can help you the most, whether that’s as simple as learning a new sleep technique for a CEO that’s going to allow him to be a better leader. I knew the holistic healing method for an athlete. That’s going to allow them to recover faster and play at a higher level. We want people to be able to implement those things into their everyday life, both personally and professionally, whether it’s a two-day trip or a two-week trip. We try to dig deep into our client’s lives in a non-obtrusive way and get to know them and become friends with them.

Listening to a former player, such as yourself, you had an eighteen-year career. You retired about ten years ago. It’s interesting and fascinating for those of us who are fans or admires a professional athlete without being, as you said, intrusive to get a peek inside that private life because we know them on the ice. We know them on the field or the court. What are some things that athletes go through that we don’t have visibility to that if we did understand, perhaps we’d appreciate greater what they have to go through to maintain that high level of performance?

There’s a number of factors. I think number one, for me personally, was that internal struggle of pressure, stress that I would put on myself to perform. Let alone the outside world, the fans, management, ownership, and teammates, I had a certain level that I needed to play to and wanted to play to that always was higher than everybody else’s. I expected to be at a certain level every single day, whether it’s practice or games. That internal struggle as we talk about in society now, a little bit more mental health and things like that. Things that are going on at home with your kids, struggles with management, whether you’re negotiating a contract, all of these things have an effect.

I knew it was time for me to retire when I was done learning. Click To Tweet

It may be a subtle effect here and a subtle effect here, but when you’re making a diamond, it’s not one giant piece of pressure. It’s constant pressure pushing down, creating it. I think having somebody who’s gone through that, that understands the healing powers of travel, the mind-body-spirit, and what that can do to help you let go. Early on in my career, I was like a ball of intensity and passion. I would be a week or two weeks out from a game where I made a mistake and I would still be mad and angry about that mistake. I couldn’t let it go. It drove me bananas and that inner turmoil, people don’t know. They think, “He’s just going to turn a page and he’s going to go to the next game.” Sometimes you’re able to, and sometimes you’re not.

You never understand or know what somebody is thinking about because a lot of times, as an athlete, you’re not going to talk about it. I never talked about it. The media always asked or fans asked, “Who was the toughest player to play against?” I’m like, “Nobody.” I never thought about it in that regard. I didn’t ever want something like that to enter my mind because then I’ve already lost. I think that guy is too good to play against, I can’t play against them. I never would answer that question. I never wanted to say the words because I didn’t want it to creep into my mind. There are all kinds of things like that people don’t understand and don’t get because they haven’t been in those shoes and been in those situations. That’s where our experiences come to the forefront because we’re able to understand people on a much more personal level.

You’re talking about experiences and you’re in the travel business now. It’s my understanding, especially the rising generation are not so much interested in things as much as they are interested in experiences. I had a client and I was attending a conference with them, they are in the travel business. At that conference, it was made very clear among all the speakers and such that experiential travel is the future. It was focusing on international travelers coming to America and what we can do in America to give them more memorable experiences. It was all about the experience. It’s not about sight-seeing. How are you seeing the travel industry evolve since not only you were a participant in it, but now that you’re a practitioner in it? What are you seeing in experiential travel?

When you look at our business, that’s a lot of what we do is creating life experiences, everything. Our company is set up that no two people are alike. No two travelers are alike. What you like is going to be different from what I like. No matter how close we are in ideology, family life, etc., we’re not because no two people are alike. All of our itineraries are different. There’s no cookie-cutter approach here. That’s why the conversations are important is so that you can understand what type of culture somebody is interested in learning about destinations, culinary and adventure. All these things help create those experiences for people so that they are getting to learn, understand, and value more of what their interests are. As we continue to build out our company and build out our business, I think that’s a hallmark of what we do. One of our core values is understanding people and that relationship is vitally important to what we do.

I have to wonder, on the ice, you frankly made some enemies, your teammates. For those reading, who may not follow hockey as religiously as others, he was a dominant force on the ice for nearly two decades. Certainly, that’s what earned him induction into the Hall of Fame in 2015. It’s funny to hear you talk because I’ll bet some of those players that you butted heads with or fists with are probably now really good prospects to be your clients. How do you turn that page mentally?

When you’re playing a game as we do in sport, it’s a physical sport, I can’t tell you how many times whether I’ve met somebody or somebody that I’ve known has talked about meeting somebody that I played with or against. They played a brash style of the game. It’s like, “I didn’t realize that guy. He’s a nice guy.” I’m like, “I realize that.” Some people step on the ice, and then they flip that switch, and it’s war. They’re doing whatever they can to win. People love seeing it, but they don’t understand that most of the time, that’s not who you are off the ice. You have your own life and whatnot, but when you put your skates on and you’re either filling a role, playing the villain most nights, or that’s the way that you play the game. I played the game this way since I was seven years old. That’s the only way I know how to play.

Your older brother taught you that, right?

Yes. I had to keep up and play with the older kids. I had to play the bigger boy hockey. When you’re getting shoved around, you’ve got to learn how to use your stick, leverage, and all that good stuff. When you grow up bigger, all those things play to your advantage.

It’s so ironic, but it’s cool. Now, you’re in the hospitality industry. Who wouldn’t have thought that several years ago that Chris Pronger would be making sure that I’m having an enjoyable evening with my family?

Everybody can turn the page somewhere somehow.

You’re turning the page. You’re showing a different side of your personality that your former career didn’t call for.

When you asked that question about what people probably didn’t know, this would be the other part is as an athlete, you’re on this stage and how often do we see your real personality? You’re answering questions about a game when you’re in this mode. You’re not asked about this, that, or the other thing, it’s this right here. This is the person people are going to see, whether it’s me chirping at somebody in the media, having fun with them or cross-checking somebody in the back in front of the net, or taking a slapshot from the point.

There are all kinds of different things that they’re going to see, but most of them are not going to see me at home with my family or see me at home in my community walking around, going to the coffee shop, going to the grocery store or outside of the barbecue cooking everybody dinner. They’re thinking, “He’s got a chef, he’s got this, or he’s got that.” I don’t know what people think. I don’t think they realize they put athletes up on a pedestal and they think this but, we’re good at a sport and we’re good at what we do. Like everybody else, you always hear the same cliches that I chew my food the same way you do.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: No matter how close two people are in ideology, they are still two extremely unique individuals.

 

You’re good at so many things. I want to learn some more things from you and I think my audience would as well. We have many executives who are listeners and viewers of the show, so help us understand a little bit better from your experience. Let’s say, even though you mentioned, you could have gone back and you had a bad moment two weeks ago in a game. Maybe the crowd doesn’t even notice it, or maybe it was the blender that causes a loss, who knows? Either way, you have a bad experience and many athletes say, “It’s just time to move on.”

Coaches say, “Let’s forget about it. Tomorrow is another game.” In business, we have a bad moment, when we have a bad meeting, when we have a client that has surprised us with their disdain for our services or our product, or they tell us that our people are not performing and they don’t want to do business anymore with us. From your athletic experience, Chris, what advice can you give us on the business side to be able to put those incidences aside, or at least learn from them and keep moving forward?

There’s another meeting. There’s another client. I think one of the things that I always try to do, obviously you’re going to fail and you can’t fear failure. It’s going to happen. Hockey business and that’s why when you look at the client list, it’s the same because if you make a mistake in hockey, you better learn from it. If you make a mistake in business, you better learn from it. What mistake did you make? Reverse engineer it and look at what mistake you made, where you made it, how to not make it again, and start moving forward again. It’s a wash, rinse, repeat, that cycle.

I pushed everyone in practice so the games would be easier. Click To Tweet

I always like to talk to the young players that I played with. As I gained more experience, I’d be like, “Stop trying to make the hard pass all the time. Stop trying to be noticed. Stop trying for everybody in the crowd, on the TV to know that you made that play. Make the simple plate, make sure that nobody knows you played this game. You are going to be fine.” As you gain confidence, as you gain experience, as you gain it, you’re going to then be able to use your talents and be able to gain more and more success. People are going to know, “This guy played ten games. He hasn’t turned the puck over once.” You’re going to gain trust from the leaders, the coach, the CEO, your manager, whoever it is. Start small and then set little goals. Too often, people are like, “I don’t want to do this.” If you set goals, they’ve got to be attainable goals.

You can have a dream and I want to do this, but how are you going to get there? You set these little goals and every time you can track your progress, you’re gaining confidence, motivation and power. With each one of those things as opposed to looking up and going, “I want to be there. That’s far, how am I going to get there?” There are many things that when I look at sports, I look at business, there are many parallels. It’s crazy how businesses operate. As you know, there are good businesses and good sports franchises, and then there are not so good. There’s always a reason and it’s funny, it’s always the same reason.

I want my audience to know. Chris knows what he’s talking about here. Chris played for, let’s see the Hartford Whalers, the St. Louis Blues, the Edmonton Oilers, the Anaheim Ducks, and then wrapped up your career with the Philadelphia Flyers. I would add that with the Flyers, the Oilers, the Duck, those are the last three franchises you played for. Every one of them went to the Stanley Cup because of you.

Along with my teammates but, yes.

You were a captain on those teams. You were assistant captain, as well as the fact that the Ducks won their first Stanley Cup the year that you arrived. Even though the previous year, they were your rival when you played for the Oil. Chris knows what he’s talking about taking an organization from good to great. Something else you said there, Chris, that I want to touch on. It’s interesting as a professional athlete, you get to watch the tape. As a professional executive, there is no such thing as tape. I can’t watch tape of a bad meeting so I had to figure it out through review. I’ve got to figure out what I did wrong. I guess that suggests that I need to talk to the people around me. I need to talk to the people who I work with, my colleagues, even though they report to me, I’ve got to humble myself and maybe ask them, “Did I do something wrong?” Have you found that even when you were captaining teams?

No. I think that’s the leadership side and ownership side, not owning the team but buy-in from everybody. Ownership in what you’re trying to do, whether you’re the CEO or you’re the low-level executive or employee. You need people to want to come together and come every day, passionate about what they do, feel like they’re a part of the team, and feel like they’re a part of something. You’ve also got to push people. It’s funny when you pushed people, a lot of times there’s pushback or there’s hate or angst about odd. “Why is he doing that?” Once you leave and you go to the next team and all of a sudden, their play drops off, they realize, “He was pushing me to be better. He was pushing me to get in the gym. He was pushing me to strive for excellence.”

Whether that’s sports or business, pushing your employees, pushing yourself. I was always harder on myself than I was anybody else. I was always pushing myself in the gym, pushing myself in practice. I pushed everybody in practice because the games would be easier. If I was out there defending you as hard as I could, I guarantee you that games are easier. When we were at our best, we were all practicing at that level, the game was nothing. It’s pushing people to strive for excellence, but incorporating that into the group mentality and we’re stronger together. If everybody’s going in a different direction, the business or the team is going to fall apart.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Many people sometimes put athletes up on a pedestal, but in fact, they are just like everybody else.

 

I think when you say we got to push each other in practice so that the games are better and even easier maybe, in a business setting, it suggests to me that maybe we ought to practice our meetings. Practice our presentations to clients, to each other, and go hard at each other so that when the clients are finally sitting in our conference room, it’s a piece of cake.

I think when you see mock trials when you see defense lawyers and prosecutors do mock trials, they’re doing that for a reason because they want to see what works and what doesn’t work. “What verbiage should I use?” There are all kinds of ways that people can improve on what they’re doing, whether it’s me and my current business now or public speaking, or what have you. There are many different things that you’re constantly looking at to improve on.

I go back again to what I learned when I was playing, I knew it was time for me to retire when I was done learning. If you’re not learning, you’re going back because everybody else is learning and getting better. The same holds true in business, it’s knowledge, its understanding, the client’s understanding. The business you’re in and the competitors and what they’re doing and understanding where you need to be focused. Which part of the business is slacking off? Which part of the business is excelling? Those metrics, I’m not a great analytics guy, but there’s a number of things where when you’re looking at it, you’re like, “That makes sense to me.” Numbers don’t lie, that’s a fact. Numbers are unbeaten when studied correctly.

It’s a great point there. You talked about knowing what your competition is doing. For everyone reading, Chris and I have something in common, maybe there’s one thing other than being friends. That is that every franchise he played for a game phase, have done some work for, and one of those cases, when you, Chris were at the Edmonton Oilers, I think you were only there for one season. Isn’t that correct?

Correct.

You took them to the Stanley Cup finals. Before that, you beat the Anaheim Ducks in the conference finals, right?

Correct.

That was a rough series, as I recall. Edmonton trades you in the offseason to Anaheim. Now you’re going from the Oilers to your nemesis, the Ducks. With the Ducks, you go on the neck next year, again, to win the Stanley Cup finals this time. I have to ask you, what’s that transition like when you’re walking into the locker room or the training facility with those people that were your enemies a few months previous? How do you make that mental switch in your mind because I think in business, sometimes we hold grudges?

Sports are no different. When the trade was made, I didn’t know a lot of players on the team either. There were a couple of guys that I was friendly with. I knew Rob Niedermayer because of the same draft year and things like that but there were hardly any guys that I knew. John Scott, a little bit from All-Star games and things, but went in there cold turkey. Normally, you know somebody pretty well on a team and that one, I didn’t know anybody. I think they knew they had a good team and they knew they were getting close. When I got traded there, they felt like, “Now we’ve got a chance. We’ve got our team.”

The more interaction we can have with our clients, the better we can serve them. Click To Tweet

That’s what’s great about that team, we gelled right away. We had the mindset and belief that we’re going to win, nothing else. It wasn’t going to be good enough to get to the finals. It wasn’t going to be good enough to win our conference. It wasn’t even good enough to win a playoff round. It was only going to be good enough to win the whole thing. If we didn’t win the whole thing, it was going to be all for not. Everybody in our locker room bought in from day one and we put the work in. We practiced hard and we prepared hard. That was probably one of the funniest teams to play on because we could play a 2-1 tight-checking game. We could play a 6-5 barn burner. We could play a finesse game. We could play a physical game and beat you up.

It like, “Pick your poison. What do you want?” You don’t let the other team decide. The fun part is when you can play all those different styles. We played a heavy, hard game. It fit the way I wanted to play and everything was set up for the players that we had on the team. Everybody that we brought in had a specific role, they knew their role and they played their role to a tee, which is like a business. Understanding your role, doing your job. Can you paint outside the lines? Sure you can, but you need to be focused on your job and then you can do that, and focus on what you do best. These guard rails aren’t here and you can’t go over them. You need to do this first so that everybody else can do their job, and then you can freelance a little.

It’s crazy to me how you can go from one mindset about a certain group of people and then the next day, they’re your teammates. The past is the past. We’re going to win together. I’m reminded, Chris, do you remember Paul Ryan? He used to be the US Speaker of the House. He retired a couple of years ago from Wisconsin. One time he said to me, “Grudges are for rookies.” When it comes to politics, you go hard against your opponents, whether it’s a person you ran against or the other party that you’re running against. Once the election is over, grudges are for rookies. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to find common ground and success together. That’s what athletes such as yourself if that’s such luxurious careers have learned to do. I think in business, sometimes we think, “I could never work for that company. I could never go work for that guy because I’ve heard his reputation.” Athletes don’t have that prerogative. They have to make it work and I find that very admirable.

Every time I was traded or anytime we got somebody in, you immediately have 22 new friends. That’s why it’s harder on the families and the player because they’re coming in and the kids have to make friends and then the wife has to make friends, but you’re coming in and you immediately got 22 new friends. You come in and you start practicing playing. Everybody tries to get to know you a little bit and get immersed in the team. You have dinners, you go out on the road, you go to a movie, you go to dinner, you do this, you do that. You’re immersed more in a group and then it’s seamless. I think that to your point as I played hard against Teemu Selanne. In my old career, I was always matched up against him.

He was always on my side. I used to always pound on him and all that. We always used to battle. I got there and the first day, we got into the room, I looked at him, I go, “What’s up T?” We hugged it out right there in front of everybody like, “Let’s go boys.” There was a bigger issue to deal with and that was to win. It’s a game, and like it’s business, get past it and move on. If you’re holding a grudge, you’re not focused right here. You’re worried about this stuff that you can’t control. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned as my career went along, whether it’s worrying about that play or worried about a grudge. His day will come, I’ll get him another time.

We need to focus on winning. Some of the guys I played with would always be like, “If something happened to me on the ice, it would be like a count of five, just wait. It’s coming.” 2 or 3 seconds later, I’d find that guy. As I aged, matured, gained experience, I learned to manage my game better and my emotions better and not hold an immediate grudge, but find a time in due course. Whether it’s, you’ve got to do business with somebody at some point, you’re like, “They’re going to have to come to me.” Why not go to them? Why not be proactive? Why not get past these things? There’s a lot of times you hear what you said, “I’d never do business with that company.” You never know.

I learned a long time ago to never say never because honestly there’s going to be some point in time where you might have to deal with that GM, owner, CEO, or that CFO. You never know. Unless you’re 100 years old and about to die to say never, there’s a lot going on out there in the bigger world than this little area in front of me. The vast space out there, there’s too much going on in the world to say never. I get asked all the time, “Are you never coming back to hockey?” I’m like, “I’m not going to say never, but it would have to be something pretty special because I’m loving what I do and I’m enjoying it. It’s a passion.” I’m not going to say never because I’ve learned my lesson. I said never one time before and it came back to bite me. I’m never going to say it again.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Business leaders must inspire people to remain passionate about what they do and feel like they’re part of the team.

 

You came after your playing days, you worked for the Florida Panthers for a while, that Jersey is on the wall behind me. As a senior advisor, was that something that you were anticipating, you were looking for or were you doing the right things and the right opportunity came along?

I was working with the league in the Department of Player Safety. I had two passions growing up. One, I wanted to run my own business and two was, I wanted to be a GM or a president of a team. At the time, I spent a couple of years after I got hurt to get healthy. As I was at the tail end of my recovery, I got a phone call from Bill Daly, the Deputy Commissioner asking me if I would take on this role in the Department of Player Safety. They had lost Rob Blake, Brian Leetch was done and Brendan Shanahan was going to Toronto. There were a lot of turnovers. They wanted somebody that had recently played, had some stature in the game and would be able to talk to players and do all that.

Once this started coming to fruition, you see one path and whether it was working out or not, this opportunity was too good to pass up. To be able to build a business from scratch and to be working at home with my wife and, and now our staff. It like when I speak to some of the managers and staff that are with the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights, being able to build something from scratch and being able to get in from the get-go, you’re able to see from ground zero up. You’re able to learn so much more about how businesses succeed, how businesses struggle and do a lot more research and understanding on how those pieces all interweave together.

You will eventually fail, but you must not fear failure. You just have to learn from it. Click To Tweet

It’s a lot of work but I like hard work. In my head, I work 24/7. I’m always thinking. When I was playing, at night I’d be watching TV, but I’d be watching clips of a guy that you’re going to play against, whether it’s a game or two later. You’re storing in your head the move that he did on a certain play. You get into that position, you know the move he is going to make. You know when a guy is going to make a play like that. You have seen it already, having the experience and understanding of playing against players, you know when a guy’s going to make that move. It’s no different in business. You understand the competition, you understand clients. You understand where your business is at a certain point in time and where you need to get to and what you need to do to add tangible value to have people want to partake in your services.

Chris, as we begin to wrap up, I want to tap into your player experience, but also see how it’s translated into your experience now as a business owner. When you were on the ice, you would feel so much energy from the crowd. I perceive that but correct me if I’m wrong. That positive or negative energy depending on which it was, you would either ignore it perhaps or you would feed off of it, or maybe you’d feed off both, I don’t know.

I want you to share that with us, especially when we’re in a climate right now because of the pandemic that we know travel has been affected. You could be getting negative influences right now and naysayers saying to you, “Chris, good idea but you and Lauren, you’ve got to think of something else because nobody wants to travel right now. You can’t go any place easily right now.” You’re getting all that negative energy. What did you learn on the ice about that you’re now translating as a business owner?

I was fortunate enough that I got booed in a lot of buildings so I fed off that energy. I fed off that home crowd, energy, and excitement. For us, I don’t worry about the outside world. I don’t worry about what other people are saying. We track what’s going on in the marketplace. We track what’s going on in the hospitality industry. We track what’s going on in the world globally, domestically, and get an understanding of where things are at, especially as it relates to the pandemic. I think as it relates to our business, we’re in it for the long haul. We’re making an investment in our business now and putting resources, training our staff, learning about what’s out there, having a conversation with suppliers, and still sending people on domestic travel and some smaller international stuff. Mexico, Caribbean, things of that nature until things open up more globally.

It’s been pretty good to use this time to test out different functions and things that may or may not work. While we’re in the midst of this pandemic to get a feed and a read on what works, what doesn’t work, what messaging works, what do people think about this product that we want to institute and put into our systems, our processes, our interactions with our clients. There are many things to think about and many things to look at as it relates to our business. It’s given us an opportunity to move a little more slowly, to make sure that everything is in alignment and following the right guidelines, if you will, for our business. When things open back up, as you said, we’re going to hit the ground running and we’ll be able to service all of our clients in the manner that they expect, and we expect to be able to serve them.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: If you’re holding a grudge, you’re not focused right here. You’re worried about things you can’t control.

 

You’re getting ready, right?

Yeah. It’s work, but it’s also practice.

To be clear to everyone reading, it’s not like your company is not producing results right now for clients, but the pace probably afforded the opportunity right now to practice and to hone so that when things open up, you hit the ground running. Let us wrap up with three rapid-fire questions. You, athletes, are accustomed to this because reporters are shooting questions at you all the time. You can give me a one-word answer if you want. You can treat me like the Philly Press Corps if you want. We like to talk about things that persuade us, things that influence us, and things that inspire us. In that order, I’m going to ask you, who is the one who has been most persuasive in your life to become what you are today?

I would say, my wife, in guiding me, being supportive, pushing me to be me and not be somebody that people will think you are. Be yourself and be who you are. Too often, people want to play into this persona and that’s when people get into trouble. They think that’s who they are because that’s what people think they are. As I’ve aged and gained more experience, I’m just, “That’s who I was.” Too often you want to say, “That’s LeBron James, a basketball player, Michael Jordan, the basketball player, or Chris Pronger, the hockey player.” No. I’m Chris Pronger and I used to play hockey, but I don’t play anymore. That was my former job. Now, I’m in job 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, whatever it is. From a persuasive standpoint, I think being comfortable in your skin and being who you are.

The next word is influence. How do Well Inspired Travels influence the travel industry?

With our business model and how we want to interact with our clients, it’s a game-changer for those that want that type of service, that type of interaction, and understanding of who they are, who they want to be, and how they want to get there. For us, it’s understanding the why and that’s why the questioning. That’s why the peeling back the onion, understand who you are and what you’re about. Where do you want to get to? Often like my journey, it can be erratic. A few people continue on that path. There’s going to be a few zigzags along the way.

Lastly, in your hockey career as well as your business career, in either one of those or both of those, who has inspired you? I think by the way, on the hockey side, one time you told me about a particular player who also ended up in the top 100 players of all time. You said may have been your greatest inspiration, but I don’t want to give it away.

It’s funny how things come full circle, especially in the sports industry. When I was growing up as a youngster, my favorite player was Mike Bossy, then my favorite player was Wayne Gretzky. It’s funny how one team won four cups in a row and the next won four in five years then I didn’t have a favorite player, but I enjoyed watching Ray Bourque. I enjoyed watching Al MacInnis. It’s funny how everything comes full circle. I got a chance to be with them all at the top 100 induction in LA at the All-Star game in 2017. I had a great conversation with Mike Bossy and told him about it, had 30 minutes chuckle, and got to know him a little bit more personal. Those are the types of conversations you love to have and talk to players, watching him go down the wing and let a slapshot go over or a little quick slapshot. It was impressive. There’s a reason he scored 50 goals in 11 straight years.

Chris, this has been a really helpful conversation. It’s obviously fascinating to talk to someone of your stature and your background. We wish you the best along with Lauren in continuing to grow Well Inspired Travels. I would encourage my audience to look into it, for your company, for your executive team, for your family, or for yourself. There’s so much that Chris and his staff provide and it’s a service that we need, and sometimes we don’t even know we need it until we’ve experienced it.

That’s exactly the tagline right there. That’s why you do what you do, Rob.

If you're not learning, you're going backwards because everybody else is learning and getting better. Click To Tweet

It’s been great. I wish you the best. Please say hello to Lauren for us and your staff. Keep doing well out there in the travel industry.

I appreciate it.

This sense of control is something Chris learned over a hard thought career. Though the unwinding pressure from all sides to perform at the highest level, as he describes it, could have been easily overtaken him. That’s why Chris and his wife, Lauren are so passionate about Well Inspired Travels. Their family-owned luxury travel business for athletes, entertainers, CEOs, companies, and families. Hear the inspiring stories of what prompted their new business and how his lessons in professional sports informed their business decisions. Join Chris and me for the rest of the conversation on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform for what promises to be a front-row seat into the mind and life of one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all time.

Important Links:

About Chris Pronger

GFEP 28 | Luxury TravelAs a professional athlete with twenty years in the NHL, I’ve heard and seen it all. But, I didn’t start my career in luxe gyms and training facilities – I grew up in a small town in Canada where I groomed my hockey skills with countless road hockey games. These games grew with intensity and when I wasn’t playing the game, I was weightlifting or biking at my local rec center.

Toughened by street hockey, I was able to make the jump to the NHL, where I’d be introduced to proper nutrition and training during my second year with the St. Louis Blues. After four years of living the life of a professional athlete, I was committed to eating properly and training with a purpose. My game took off, and this new way of life paired with my natural abilities helped me secure a spot as a finalist for the Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman). Eating, sleeping, and training with a strong ideology helped me to achieve the honor of winning the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Norris Trophy in the same year. This achievement had not been seen since the great Bobby Orr did it in 1972, and it hasn’t been done since.

Playing the way that I did took a toll on my body, so it was important to me to stay on top of the latest health and wellness offerings. From ART (active release techniques), specialized nutrition, and making time to recharge my batteries at health-conscious resorts, I’ve always studied and implemented the best practices available into my lifestyle.

I’ve played hockey in four Winter Olympics: Nagano, Japan, Salt Lake, Utah, Torino, Italy, Vancouver, British Columbia; I’ve had the honor to train alongside athletes at the very top of their careers. Olympic athletes use state-of-the-art equipment, train endlessly, and treat their bodies with the utmost care. Watching these athletes, learning from them, and living these experiences were essential to my health and fitness education. The Olympics introduced me to a whole new level of dedication and commitment to the game and to health.

But, it hasn’t been all glamorous traveling and time on the ice. I’ve had fourteen surgeries during my career and countless concussions, sprains, and strains. Hockey is tough on your body, and as a hard-hitting defenseman, intense physicality isn’t optional. I lived by the saying “mind over matter,” which kept me on the ice for so long – until a freak accidental high stick caught me in the eye and I was forced to quit. Recovery from an unplanned accident that ended my career was tough on my body and even more so on my mind. It wasn’t easy to walk away, in fact, I tried to make a comeback. But, I strongly believe that the body knows when the time is up, so with an incredible support system I made the decision to officially leave the game as a player.

The damage of my final injury took a toll on my overall health, and I had beefed up more than I would have liked. Battling blurred vision and fuzzy feeling in my head, I returned to nutrition and fitness to heal. To recharge, I searched for special destinations featuring fitness centers, clean menus, and an emphasis on health. It’s my belief that nurturing a healthy lifestyle is how I was able to overcome the depths of concussions and injuries I endured.

My passion for travel sparked during my career as a professional athlete. I loved being able to see different cities constantly and made sure to try something new during each visit. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a whole new culture or community helps you to continually grow. In my current job with the Florida Panthers, I make it a conscious decision to stay at hotels that have fitness centers or are close to gyms so that I am able to continue living my best life! While I’m on the road, I pack healthy snacks that keep me satiated and fuel my body with what it needs. I believe that a healthy lifestyle can be achieved by anyone who’s willing to commit to it and I’m inspired by our ability to share our stories with one another.

Chris Pronger

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

 

How do you carry a firearm with confidence and still slay it, fashionably speaking? A question like that easily conjures images of Lara Croft or Alice, but it touches on something that is of real concern for women – and even men – nowadays. Whatever your opinion about guns is, the need for personal protection is real, and it weighs upon more people than you think, especially women. However, most of the women’s apparel in the market is not specifically designed for women who want to conceal firearms in their person comfortably. Amy Robbins solves this through Alexo Athletica, a unique women’s apparel company dedicated to defend women and help them find the confidence to live and protect themselves as they see fit. It is certainly a brave step at a time when the nation is much divided when it comes to the gun question. In this conversation with Rob Cornilles, Amy talks about the driving factors that led her to embark on this unique crusade to the point of marching against the tide of popular opinion. 

Watch the episode here:

Amy Robbins | Choosing To Carry With Confidence

Empowerment, self-preservation, choice, strong words that evoke a variety of emotions and which have motivated Amy Robbins. Amy is co-founder and CEO of Alexo Athletica, a unique women’s apparel company whose mission is to defend and to help women find greater confidence to live and protect themselves as they see fit. Fast becoming a national phenomenon, Amy is this episode’s Game Face exec.  

It’s a real thrill to welcome Amy Robbins, the co-founder, and CEO of Alexo Athletica straight from Dallas, Texas. Amy, welcome to the show.  

Rob, it’s good to be here with youI have to give you kudos because Alexo Athletica is hard for people to say. I need to know, did you practice that several times before I came on?  

I’ve said it many times before. I stumbled the first few times I tried it but by now it’s old hat.  

It’s the alliterationThere’s a lot behind how we chose Alexo Athletica but I always have to give props to people that get it right the first timeGood job.  

Thank you. I appreciate that. We’re off to a good startLet me ask you, Amy. When you and I have spoken, it’s interesting to find your background and your varied interestsWhen people ask me, “How would you describe Amy Robbins?” quite frankly, I don’t know how to put it into one phrase or even certainly one word. I thought of, She’s an entrepreneur, she’s a businesswomanshe’s a gun rights advocate, she’s a non-traditional feminist. How do you describe Amy Robbins? 

Rob, honestly I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve never been somebody that gets too wrapped up and concerned with titles and descriptions because honestly, I feel that puts you in such a boxhave several titles that you gave and those are all good, but I definitely want to add mother and wife to that list as well because those are the two most important things. I would say it’s the two most important titles that I hold over any of the other things that I do. 

I appreciate that because you became a mother in 2020, didn’t you?  

I did, probably during one of the craziest times in my lifetime. He came five days after Dallas shut down everythingWe’re right in the middle of the pandemicI said, “It’s going to make a great birth story. We saved the frontpage newspaper for him so we could tell him everything that was going onI had my first child in March of 2020It’s been an exciting year for sure.  

CongratulationsYou and your husband cofounded the business. Is that fair to say?  

The self-reliant woman is the most confident woman. Click To Tweet

We didcouldn’t do this without him. He’s been incredibly supportive the entire timeI pitched this crazy idea to start a clothing company that gave women the ability to carry self-defense tools to himI had all my research planned out because I wasn’t sure how he was going to accept this because there’s a new athletic company popping up every ten minutesTo get him on board, I had to make my case and show him all the research that I had done, and also share my personal experience with him as to why I thought this product was incredibly neededIt didn’t take that much convincing. I laid it all out for him and he was like, I’m in, I’m on board. What do we need to do? I looked at him and I said, I have no idea. I don’t have a background in manufacturing. I don’t have a background in fashion designI’m not sure what we do but I know enough people in this industry that we can figure it out. Let’s go and let’s do this. Let’s make it happen. 

Let’s get into that story a little bit, Amy because it’s a fascinating storyAs more and more people learn your story, they say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” That’s a concern that I’ve hadI don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here but you’re an avid runner. We know that. You’re a marathoner, you love fitnessIn your private and personal workouts, as you tell the story, you’d be outside, you’d be running maybe at twilight or at sunsetYou had a bit of a concern as you were engaged in your hobby, which turned into a businessTell us the story of how Alexo Athletica began.  

It goes back a couple of years even before my marathon experience and what happened to me when I was training for my marathon because honestly, I had never thought about firearms as a means of personal safety except for in the homeWhat had happened, I grew up in a house where my dad always had firearms. We had all girls in my family but he was an avid hunter. He carried firearms when we went on family tripsThe way that they were always presented to us was these firearms are tools that are here to protect and defend our family and also provide food and provide essentials for our familyThat was my framework for firearms growing up my entire life but it didn’t become personal to me until I started hosting a television show.  

It was a lifestyle show focused on Millennials and firearmsI was like the newbie on the show. My dad had bought me my first firearm that Christmas right before I had started the show. I didn’t know anything about them. Honestly, I was quite intimidated by them because I didn’t know how to operate them but I knew that it was important. We lived out in the middle of nowhere. The cops were going to take forever to get to our house. My husband traveled all the timeI was like, I want to at least know how to protect myself if I need toIf the firearm is going to be in the house, I need to know how to do it safely, responsibly and I need to know how to take care of myself.  

That was the beginning of my journey into the firearm world.” I never looked at myself as a gun girl. I looked at the firearms community as something that was very much not me. I didn’t think I looked like a gun owner. I didn’t think I fit the mold of what a gun girl or a gun person wasI never thought that they were going to be accessible to meAs I did this show, everyone around me carried a firearm for personal defenseThey had their license to carryThey took this lifestyle to heart and it was then that it became something that I started to considerThat was the framework for what led me into even thinking about starting this company with Alexo.  

First of all, what does your dad think about what you do?  

He thinks it’s cool. It’s funny because now my dad and my husband both come to me when they have questions about what firearms to buy. I’ve almost outpaced them a little bit in my skillset and in my knowledge of firearms and they think it’s cool. I was always the tomboy in the family. My dad said I was the son that he never had, and I never understood that or thought that was a compliment until I got older, but they think it’s cool that I can help give them adviceThey even pass me off to their friends now when their friends have questions about what firearms do they buy themselves or their wives for home defense or if they want to take the next step further and make it a lifestyle and carry on the body all the time.  

In the evolution of the company, you have almost by default become a gun rights advocateWe both know because we’ve talked about our businesses before. We’re both small business owners. In order to survive, you have to stand out, you have to almost be edgy in this world whether you’re using social media or your product or sloganeeringYou definitely have an edgy feel to your business. Is that because of your television background, your marketing background that you knew? In order to get the attention of a prospective buyer, you had to stand outIs that one way to do it?  

I don’t think it was anything that was ever intentional on our part but we did understand the environment and the controversy that surrounded firearms in generalThe interesting thing about our company is Alexo started focusing on women’s apparelWe focused on women’s apparel because we truly believe that the self-reliant woman is the most confident womanWe also knew that giving them the ability to carry a tool is a small piece of this entire lifestyle of being a fully capable personIt was interesting because I’m going to say we launched our company right at the height of the #MeToo MovementWe were able to capitalize on the controversy that was surrounding the #MeToo Movement and we weren’t trying to be controversial.  

What we were trying to tell people was like, “We want to solve this solution of the women that are saying #MeToo, that these things that happened to them, this assault, this sexual assault.” We wanted to provide a solution for womenThat didn’t mean putting a firearm in the hand of every single woman. We wanted to give women the tools to feel confident, to be able to defend and protect themselves and carry whatever it was that made them feel confidentThey got in a situation that they found themselves where they might have to say, “Mtoo. We wanted to give them the option to never have to say, “Me too. If something had happened to them, we wanted to make sure that they never had to experience that againNaturally, there was controversy surrounding that because sometimes, especially media outlets, couldn’t see past the fact that we marketed things with a firearm because we had built holsters in the pants of our outfits.  

For a lot of media, that is very antifirearm because they don’t understand it. They look at everything that has a firearm in it and marketing as promoting guns or maybe gun violence and that simply wasn’t the case. We looked at it as we’re providing a solution to a problem. We’re providing confidence. That controversy worked to our benefit because we were a small business and we were completely self-funded. We didn’t have any money for marketingWe were able to pick up a lot of free media and free marketing that helped propel and launch our company to the level that we’re at now because there was also nobody else doing it at that pointWhen we launched in 2017, we were the first and only company on the entire lifestyle brand that gave women the ability to choose how they wanted to defend and protect themselves.  

I like to get inside the mind of an entrepreneurLet’s go back to your hobby. You’re a marathonerYou had some experiences that were the inspiration behind Alexo. Paint that picture for us a little bit.  

Anyone who runs a marathon understands, especially as a woman, you’re running crazy hours early in the morning or late at night and a lot of times you’re doing it by yourselfWomen face a lot of different issues when it comes to running than guys do. We both face itIt became very personal to me. I was out running one day out in the country. I did the same awesome back road run at a 7mile loop that I would do and never unsafe. At this point, I was not carrying any self-defense tool on my body. I hadn’t thought about itI remember I went out for a run one day and on my path I see this white van coming over the hill that was full of men.  

Typically, it wouldn’t bother me or scare me, but when they slowed down and they rolled the windows down and they start doing the catcalling and all that, it makes you a little uneasyFrom there, they passed me. They went to the stop sign but then they turned aroundIt was at that point I turned around, I was like, “Maybe nothing is going to happen,” but that gut intuition told me like, “What are you going to do? I’m outnumbered. If something were to happen, what are you going to do, Amy?” I started planning my escape route and all these things like, “What am I going to do? Luckily, my story ended thereAs I went and started researching, what I started finding was 80% of women runners, walkers and joggers had experienced some form of harassment or assault. 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Cloth holsters are super convenient and super comfortable to carry. It eliminates a lot of barriers of entry for women to want to carry on their bodies.

 

Unfortunately, there have been numerous women that have even been murdered when they’d been by themselves on a runI saw this problem and I’m like, “Fifty-four percent of women choose walking or runningIt’s a large population. Many of those runners have experienced this.” I forget what the stat was when we did this years ago, it was up to like 70% of those women carrying some form of self-defense tool when they ran or walkedI’m like, I went and got my license to carry. I started seeing how many women got their license to carry as wellWe’re all wearing athletic clothes 80% of the time, even if we’re not working out. There has to be a better way for us to carry these tools in a hidden place on our body so that we could access them very easily and quickly and we can be handsfree.” We all know that when you’re handsfree, it helps you be situationally aware a lot more than when you’ve got a lot of stuff in your hands and you’re distracted 

That’s the genesis of the company. It was a personal needI started seeing how many millions of women had this same fear. I was like, I don’t want to stop running because I had a fearful experience. I want to be prepared and have the tools that I need to continue living my life in complete confidence that I’m able to handle and take care of myselfI don’t have to change my daily routine because I can’t fend for myself. When we started developing this idea, it was like, I want this to be so much more than just a clothing brand or an apparel brand. 

It was the ethos, it was the community behind what we were doing that we knew we had something specialThere was no competition in the market at that pointWe’ve since started to see people popping up and trying to do the same thingI think they think, “It’s easy. We’ll put some holsters built into athletic pants and we’ll do exactly what Alexo is doing. They don’t understand the importance of that ethos and that mindset of what we were trying to accomplish that I believe set us apart from all the other people that are starting to enter into the market at this point 

My readers will have to secure one of your pieces of apparel to see how it works or they can go on your website. There are some great videos there. I will tell you, as one who has not put on an Alexo piece, but it seems to me like a heavy firearm would be very uncomfortable. Granted, there are people who are concealing weapons constantly. They have the license to carry but when you’re exercising, it seems that that would be uncomfortableHow did you work yourself around that?  

I always say that the women’s line was a lot easier to overcome that challenge than the men’s line. We’ve been working on our men’s lineCOVID set that back a little bit. Men like to carry super heavy firearms but because I was in the industry before this, I knew what the most common models were that women were carrying on a daily basis. They were small, subcompact, microcompact, evenI knew for a woman, it’s a lot harder to conceal big gunsWe typically will gravitate towards smaller modelsWhen we built that, we built that with that in mindThe factory recommendation is 23 ounces loaded weight or less, which shows the most common models for women carrying firearms save P365, a SIG 938, a Glock 43, a Ruger LCP.  

Those are small modelsOf the most common models, those are the ones that fit under our pants. I do get asked every now and then, “Are you going to make a model that we can carry our Glock 19? I’m like, “Probably not because I don’t know a woman that wants to go run 12 miles with a Glock 19 on her hip. Usually, that’s from law enforcement officers that we get asked that question because their duty weapons are typically heavier. They have a higher capacityWe get asked that a lot from our FBI agents and our law enforcement but most women carry small firearmsAnother concern was the comfortability of it. A lot of barriers to women carrying is how uncomfortable, big, bulky Kydex holster isWe wanted to eliminate thatThat’s why we went with these great cloth holsters that make it super convenient and super comfortable to carryIt eliminates a lot of barriers of entry for women to want to carry on body. It eliminates the need for them to throw it in their purse, which is ineffective. It gets more people carrying on the bodywhich to me is the most effective self-defense method if you are going to choose to carry a firearm.  

Quite frankly, we’re wearing athletic gear when we go shopping, when we’re going to watch the kids’ soccer game. It’s not just for exercisingAlso, I’ve seen your apparel and it carries all kinds of instruments like a phone, for exampleIt’s not just for firearms.  

We wanted to make a very functional utility line because we want to give the tools to men and to women to live a self-reliant lifeWhatever can help you be hands-free, whatever can help you, we load those things with pockets. Our signature line has over ten storage spaces built in the leggingsYou can go pursefree if you want to and not have to worry about that, which I did. I went to NASCAR and didn’t even have to worry about taking a purse because I packed all my pockets out and it was super convenientMoms are wearing these pants, the moms that don’t carry a firearm, they’re wearing them because they’re finding it super convenient to put everything on their body and have quick access to it when they need it.  

That’s what’s been most exciting to usThere are a ton of women that are understanding like, I may not carry a firearm. I never have a need for that but I do want to have functionality and utilities and pockets and placesI like the idea that this company supports my right to choose how I want to defend myself. lot of people are jumping on board with the Alexo community and the Alexo mindsetThey understand we’re not about empowering people and giving people confidence through the ability to strengthen their bodies. We want to help them have a sharp mind, a strong body and the tools that they need to say, I can take care of myself in any situation. That ethos and the mission of our company is truly what sets us apart from other athletic companies that are entering into the market on a day in, day out basis.  

We have the right to defend our life. It’s important that we hone in on the fact that women are able to do this. Click To Tweet

This idea of empowerment to me is inspiring because frankly, it’s tragic that you even had to think about starting this company. Yet thankfully, your mind, your experience and your spirit said, “There’s got to be a solution because I have the right to exercise or to be out in the public when I want to be out, where I want to be outI shouldn’t be limited by my fears. You’ve empowered womenI like how you’ve described it both here and also in your marketing materials that you’re giving people, especially women, the right to choose how they want to defend themselves but also how they want to liveThat’s brilliant.  

Thank you. That was the most important thing to meespecially since we started out with women’s apparel only. It doesn’t change. Even men want to be competentcapable and able to take care of themselves no matter what situation they find themselves inMen and women, we’re seeing them every single day going out and finding tools and places to sharpen their mindset, to increase the strength of their bodyFor many people, especially in America, they are a part of that. Being an ultracapable person is being a prepared person whether that’s prepared with your selfdefense, prepared by having a spare tire in your car just in case you need it. They’re starting to think of preparation a lot differentlyBeing a prepared person is the number one thing that gives you peace of mind, no matter what situation you find yourself inThat’s true at the core of what we’re doing. There’s such a deeper message than, “Here’s a place to put your firearmGo carry. That’s a piece of it but it’s definitely a lot deeper than that as well.  

You talk about selfpreparation. I love the way you described that. It also reminds me of selfpreparation is also the precursor to self-preservationIf you’re not prepared, it’s hard to preserveHow do you get around the notion and perhaps the misjudgment that many might have that you’re not promoting selfpreparation or self-preservation, you’re promoting violence? You’ve addressed thatAmy, but if you could go a little bit deeper into that because in today’s climate especially in the United States where it seems like firearms are becoming more prevalent in the newsThey seem to be the instigator of more news events. I’ve got to perceive that some people are cheering you on while other people wish you would go out of business.  

We definitely have seen both sides of thatThat’s why we feel such a responsibility to continue to educate and to continue in our marketing efforts and the promotion of this entire mind, body, armor idea where it’s so much more than the firearmWe want to continue to push on this idea that we have a right to choose in this countryWe can play that game too with the right of choiceWe‘ve done a good job and been able to navigate these tricky waters because it hasn’t always been about the firearm to us. It never was. It never started out that way. I’m a licensed firearm instructorIt was natural for me to carry a firearm but with our initial messaging and branding, it was never about that.  

We’ve been very consistent in our messaging from day oneWe can always point back to this isn’t just about the firearmThere are some media outlets that have wanted to make it all about thatOddly enough, the thing that surprised me, most of the pushback came from other womenIt came from a lot of women who believe in misguided stats when it comes to firearmsI try to push back and educateOne of the biggest stats that they like to tout as a woman is more likely to die in a household where there’s a firearmI’m like, “Women are ultracapable of learning about that firearm and using it in a self-defense situation they want to.” I don’t like the idea that a woman isn’t smart enough or strong enough or capable enough to learn something like a firearm and use it in a self-defense situation.  

It’s super important to me that we continue to honein on the fact that women are able to do this. They’re capable of doing thisWith the right training and the right safety measures in place, it can be a tool that could be used to their benefit. It has been interesting to see this but we say on our website that we want to apologize for being Second Amendment advocatesI believe the Second Amendment gives us the right to choose how we want to defend ourselves. It’s about bearing arms and bearing arms is the pinnacle of a self-defense tool but ultimately it recognizes that we all have a right to life and a right to defend that lifeIt still gives people the opportunity to choose mace or a taser or whatever else they choose to defend and protect themselves. It is recognized under our Constitution that we have the right to defend our lifeI don’t apologize for thatThat will always be at the core of who we areIt’s been interesting as we’ve navigated all of those. Everyone has very strong opinions on firearms.  

Some of those opinions, I’m not saying allare probably based on either side on misinformation or misunderstanding and give an example of that. You and I have chatted before about the fact that I have a relative who is very much a gun advocate because the things that you articulated, they feel the sameThey’re strong in thatThey have educated me on things that I never considered in the pastOne of the things that I’ve learned from them is that gun owners who are responsible, which are the vast majority of gun owners, have a strict rule of ethics that they abide byIn fact, I’d like you to talk a little bit about that in the world in which you find yourself in which you are commercializing your hobby, which turned into a business. Those who are responsible gun owners do certain things and are required to do certain thingsIt’s not because they’re compelled to do it. I find it’s because they have a desire to act and live responsibly as individuals and as citizensCan you give us a little bit of peek into that world? 

I’m glad you brought that up because there is a misconception about gun owners that is flat out wrong. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Every gun owner that I know takes safety and training very seriouslyThey take it seriously because they understand that if they don’t then they’re a part of the problem. They’re a part of the problem that could that right stripped awayThey go to the range and they practice. They know how their firearm operates. They know the four basic gun laws of safety to make you a responsible gun ownerThey’re storing their firearms. They’re thinking about the safety of their family and their home. They don’t have to be told or mandated by the government to be safe gun owners. They’re doing it because they understand the importance of doing that helps preserve the Second AmendmentEspecially to take it the next step further, those that have their license to carry, that’s a whole other level of safety, training and responsibility.  

You’re talking about a group of individuals who have said, I want to take my safety into my own hands. I don’t want to have to rely on anybody elseIn order to do that, I need to be extremely trained. I need to think of all of the scenarios. It starts with the mind. The mindset is the most important thing for people that carry a firearm because they’re thinking about every way to get out of this situation to have to use their firearm. They’re not thinking about going into a fight and using their firearm. Every concealed carry holder that I know is thinking, I need to be so situationally aware that I can get out of this situation and never have to draw my weapon,” but you can’t do that unless you’re trained in situational training. You can’t do that unless you’re looking at your surroundings constantly 

When I say these people are very responsible and they have good mindsets, these are the things that they’re thinking about on a daily basis, which is it’s a higher level than the normal gun owner who keeps their firearm at home and never touches it and never has to go to the range and use itThey’re spending their time, their money. It’s an expensive hobby to get into shootingWhen you’re going to carry a tool on your body that can take life, you better take it seriously. You better be at the range knowing where your target is, knowing what’s beyond your target. That’s super important when it comes to shooting. You better know how to store that, how to operate it, how to draw safely so that you don’t harm yourself or anybody else that you weren’t intending to.  

There’s a lot that goes into carrying a firearm on your body than grabbing a gun and putting it in a holster and calling it a day. I have to educate people on that because a lot of people that are anti-gun, a lot of that is based on fear. Not every one of them but a lot of people who are anti-gun or who are pushing for this legislation to remove and restrict people’s rights to own a firearm is because they don’t understand the safety, training and the responsibility, or they’ve never picked up a gun and shot it themselves, and they can be extremely intimidating. There is a lot of fear behind that. I take a lot of my friends who are “anti-gun” to the range. They’re like, “That wasn’t so bad.” We have a responsibility as gun owners to help educate as many people as we can, especially those that are afraid of them. Take them, show them how to operate it, how to be safe with it. That’s one way to combat what we’re seeing in our country. 

My friends, my readers know that I’ve never voiced any advocacy for gun rights. It’s not because I’m opposed to guns but I’ve never been an advocateOne of the things that come to my mind as you’re describing this, Amy, is that it’s like driving a vehicle. We all have to get a license to drive a vehicle, those of us who want to and yet there are some people out on the freeways, out on the streets who will run the red light, who will weave in and out of traffic on the freeway at dangerous speedsWe look at those people and we say, “Those people are crazyThey’re putting all of our lives in jeopardy, they’re endangering us,” but we would never think that we should take everyone’s cars away from them or to limit people’s ability to drive. We simply say, “Thlaw needs to take action against that person and we need to have better training, better schooling in responsible driving. Is that a fair comparison? 

It isIt’s interesting that you pointed that out because if you think about it, all the scenarios that you mentioned, running the red light, even drunk driving, speeding, there are already laws on the books that make all of those activities illegal but it doesn’t stop people from doing itTo me, when this restrictive gun legislation comes into play, you can put all of the laws on the books that you wantThe very small amount of people in this country, if you look at the hundreds of millions of firearms that are in our country and the hundreds of millions of gun owners that are out there and we compare that to the few that are using that firearm for criminal acts, it doesn’t matter what law is on the books.  

They’re criminals. They’re using it for a criminal act. They’re going to continue to do thatI always taught people what the stricter legislation does is it infringes on the rights of the lawabiding citizens. Those who are already taking responsibility and safety very seriously would never do anything to intentionally harm anybody or do anything criminal with their firearmThat’s why I push back on a lot of this legislation because I don’t think that it’s going to solve the problem. It doesn’t solve these people that are doing these acts, it’s evil intentions that are in their heart and you can’t legislate evil. You can’t legislate that out of somebody. They’re going to do it whether or not there’s a law on the book or not then we have more laws that are infringing on lawabiding citizens and not doing anything to solve the problem. 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Being a prepared person is the number one thing that gives you peace of mind, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

 

I know that you’re a CEO of an apparel company and I’ve driven you down this path of talking about gun rightsI apologize but I’m also grateful for shedding some light on this and making us all more aware of rights that do exist in our country. They’ve existed for centuries and we need to honor people’s ability to exercise those rightsLet me ask you one last question about this. I want to query more about Alexo, but if someone is interested and they’re hearing you and they think, I’m persuaded by what Amy is saying, what would you recommend they do if they feel now is the time to learn how to protect themselves?  

They would be joining the eight million first-time gun owners that bought firearms. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people going out and buying firearms. On one hand, I’m excited about that. On the other hand, I’m like, “It’s not about going and buying a gun and calling it a day.” I highly recommend many steps and many things prior to buying your first firearm. Making sure that you get to the range can work with an excellent certified instructor who can show you how to operate that. You need to know how to operate your tool. To use your car analogy, you would never throw somebody in a car, give them the keys and then say, “Go have fun with that,” because the car can be used as a deadly weapon as well. With the firearm, it’s no different. You want to know how your specific model works.  

The best way to do that is to find a great trainer depending on the state you live in. I’m in Texas, there’s a gun range on every corner around here that is full of certified instructors. They love helping first-time gun owners feel confident and comfortable utilizing that tool that they are either going to keep in their house or keep on their body if they decide to take the next steps and get a license to carry that firearm. Training is the most important thing that I push. When my friends come to me and ask me, “What gun do I buy?” It starts us down an entire conversation of so much more than the gun. While we talk about situational awareness, I ask them, “What’s the purpose of the firearm? Why do you want to use this firearm? Are you prepared to use a tool like that if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use it?” If the answer is no, I don’t direct you to buy a firearm. You need to think through many of these situations and that makes you a more responsible gun owner. We talk through that and then if they do say, “Yes, I’m ready to take that next step,” it’s helping them find the right training that makes them feel comfortable and confident and proficient in using that tool. 

appreciate that advice for those who want to follow up on thatYou mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that the name Alexo was inspired in some way. Can you give us more insight? I said Alexo Athletica properly and some people don’t. Where did you come up with the name? Obviously, a name usually means something. lot of small businesses starting, especially in the tech industry, come up with names. You don’t know what the heck that means but I sense that there’s something behind your name so help us.  

It’s funny because a lot of people think we’re sister companies with Athleta and I have to constantly be like, “No association.” I don’t think The Gap wants to be associated with a company that allows people to carry a firearm. No relation to Athleta whatsoever. It was interesting because with my background in marketing and advertising, words are super important. I want it to be able to encompass many different things in one or two words. For me, I’ve always loved the Greek language for that reason. It can take one word and have an entire definition of what that one word encompasses. The Greek language is unique in that sense. We’re a little different from the English language. We’ve got to say a lot of words to me to say what we want to mean. 

Infringing on the rights of citizens to carry guns doesn’t solve criminality. You can’t legislate evil out of anybody. Click To Tweet

In the Greek language, you don’t have to do that. I was looking through the Greek word that sounds like I want something that embodies strength, confidence. I didn’t know if I wanted it to be this warrior spirit or what, but I wanted it to embody all the things that the brand was going to embody. I started googling the goddess of war and warrior, and Alexandra popped up as the Greek Goddess of War. As I looked into that, the root word, Alexo, was the part of the word that meant to defend and to help. I was like, “That’s it.” It was literally gotten dropped out in our lap and I was like, “That’s it. We don’t even have to look any further because that’s exactly what we want to be able to do.” 

We want to be able to help men and women find what they feel confident in defending themselves and being prepared. I loved the word Athletica because I thought that Alexo is a little masculine. Athletica is feminine. You have that good juxtaposition but also since you have two As, we are two A company. It worked out perfectly. It was funny because I was reading Sara Blakely. She is one of my idols. I love her story about how she created Spanx. I was reading in her bio after we had launched the company why she put an X in the name of Spanx over a KS. She said that X is a very bold, common letter that people use in their words. I didn’t even know that. I hadn’t read that yet. She said, “It’s like Kodak does it and Spanx did it.” She listed off all these companies that use an X. I was like, “We’re on the same wavelength as Sara Blakely. We must be doing something right.” That’s where the company came from. It was that Greek word, Alexo, which means to defend and to help. 

We get a peek into the mind of a marketer with thatThank you, Amy. We’ve got Amy, we’ve got Alexo, we’ve got Athletica, but we also have within your company, ambassadors. Another wordHelp us understand what’s an Alexo ambassador?  

Alexo ambassadors are women who helped us from the grassroots level. They’re already authentically living this life of being self-reliant and being prepared. They truly believe in a woman’s right to choose how they want to defend themselves. Not every one of our ambassadors carries a firearm. Not even all of our ambassadors even own a firearm, but they all believe at their core that a woman has a right to choose and a woman has a right to defend herself. They were building a community. It was super important for us because we didn’t have any money for marketing. We knew right out of the gate that we wanted to go out, make all these touchpoint contacts, like personal contacts. I was spending hours before we launched reaching out to different accounts that I would see on Instagram. Some with huge followings, some with small followings. 

I liked the smaller following accounts more because I was like, “These women are living this life authentically, sharing about their journey and to self-reliance with their normal everyday audience.” They’re not doing it because they’re getting paid by a gun company. They’re doing it because they truly wanted to share their journey of how they got into whether it’s firearms or tasers or a mace, why they chose to carry a self-defense tool. I loved that idea. I would reach out to them. I was constantly asking them about their stories, “Tell me what was your a-ha moment? What happened in your life that got you to a point where you wanted to carry a self-defense tool? Tell me that story.” By doing that and truly caring about these women, they jumped on board when we launched our line and truly helped us launch this entire company.  

When we launched in October of 2017 with pre-order, mind you because in manufacturing, you’re never going to get your stuff when you think you’re going to get it. That was a lesson that we learned. We were all excited about the launch. We were launching in October and then our stuff didn’t get here until December. We pivoted very quickly and had to like, “We’ll do a pre-order.” Luckily, we had built these great relationships with many of these women on a grassroots level that they all bought our stuff. We were already sold out of our inventory before it even got here. That was a great sign to us. Now, we encourage women to sign up for our ambassador program to vet it. 

We do obviously want to make sure that every person, if they are going to post firearm pictures, we’re not going to go and sign on an ambassador that we see are not handling their firearm right, that doesn’t have good trigger control, that is pointing their gun in an unsafe direction. They’re not utilizing proper trigger protection. We do vet our ambassadors because we don’t care about the numbers and the number of ambassadors. We care about the quality of the ambassadors, especially when it comes to something as serious as promoting firearms and concealed carry. We have to know that these people are living the life and they’re taking the safety, training and responsibility very seriously. 

You indicated that you and your husband, when you founded the company, basically bootstrapped this thing. You didn’t need to raise the capital. I have a lot of entrepreneurs who read Game Face Execs, people who are thinking about starting their own business or have recently done so, and that’s a debate we always have as small business owners. Should I raise capital? Should I get partners and investors or should I go it alone? What was your thinking? 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: There’s a lot that goes into carrying a firearm on your body than grabbing a gun and putting it in a holster and calling it a day.

 

My husband and I, when we said that we’re going to go allin on this company, I quit my job. He was still working his job at this point in the corporate world but we made the decision to sell our homeWe took a chunk of that, which was $30,000. We invested that in the first round of inventory and said, “That’s our risk tolerance. We’re either going to lose it or we’re going to make enough money to put it on another round of inventoryLet’s see how this grows and where it goes. Originally, we did start with a 3 to 5-year business planWe did start with our end in mind and how we’re going to get this.  

How we’re going to grow this company to be where we want it to be in 3 to 5 years. Naturally, our minds went to, “We don’t have a ton of money. We need to go to investors and we need to get people to help us out on this. How much of the company are we willing to give up?” The challenge for us was because nobody was doing this. This was a very foreign concept. I can’t even tell you the endless amount of Angel investor meetings. I had venture capitalists’ meetings. No offense to any of these guys. They are successful but I’m sitting in a room with 50 to 60-year-old men trying to sell women’s apparel to them that can carry firearms.  

The concept was so far out there. Most of them were not in the apparel space. For a lot of investors, that’s too risky for them. Retail is a risky investment anyway but especially on an idea that it’s not proven, that has no proof of concept, and they don’t even understand that space. It was a very hard sell but I would never give up that experience of making that pitch because it helped me hone in the message. It helped me get super comfortable and confident, you would think my hearing no that many times would make me be like, “I guess I’ll go home. Maybe I don’t have an idea.” Every no I heard, it strengthened my resolve and made me dig in and say, “No, I know I have something here. I know we have a product. You aren’t getting it. It’s my job to make you get it.” 

I would go home and be like, “What’s going to resonate?” Each time, I would tailor my pitch a little bit differently and we got close many times too. We’re right there on the brink of getting investment and the risk wasn’t there. Also, we didn’t have money for marketing. We were limited in how much inventory we could buy and then sell. The sales numbers weren’t there right out of the gate for a lot of investors. That was fine. It saved us because at this point, we own 100% of our company and we’re doing great, and we didn’t have to give up a percentage of our company and a percentage of our dream to work with partners that didn’t understand the concept.  

At our next level of where we’re going, we do see the potential. Now investors are calling us. I don’t have to call them and set up the pitch meetings. They’re calling us. It’s nice that we get to navigate through that and say, “Not right this second. We don’t need it now but here’s where we’re headed and maybe in the future.” I never burned a bridge there. I always keep those relationships going in case we do need that in the future. Every company is different. You said you’ve got a lot of entrepreneurs that are reading this and it’s such a personal decision on what you choose to do. It can be extremely stressful to bootstrap it yourself, but it can also be very rewarding if you’re ready and willing to put in the time and the effort to grow it. Do you believe enough in your dream that you work hard to make it happen? I don’t have advice for people one way or the other because I tried both ways. The investor route didn’t work out for us at the beginning, but I would never trade that experience for anything because it truly helped us continue to hone in our messaging and believe in ourselves and our dream even more. 

It’s a very inspiring storyI have to ask you because you’re a husbandwife team and you’ve made a strategic choice to make you, Amy, the face of the companyI have to ask you, there are a lot of people who want to start a business but perhaps the spouse or the significant other isn’t on board. You’ve been able to succeed because of each other, not in spite of one or the otherIs there any advice for the married entrepreneur or the one who has a significant other who perhaps is not quite thereThey don’t have that entrepreneurial blood running through their veins. They may not see the vision. How do you navigate that? Is that something you’ve never had to encounter because you were so in line with that?  

No, that’s scary. I didn’t know how my husband was going to respond to the initial idea. I would say though since you do talk a lot about sales, if you can sell your spouse on your vision and your dream, that’s probably the toughest hurdle to overcome. You can accomplish anything because they’re going to be your toughest critic. They see all of your flaws, they see how driven you are. They see what you do on a day in and day out basis with your habits. For a lot of people, it is important to get your spouse on board, especially if it’s going to financially impact your entire family. It’s hard for a lot of spouses that have a good job. 

My husband had a good job to say, “There may come a point where I’m willing to sacrifice that because I believe in this vision and where this is going.” Some people are not in a place that they can do that or they simply aren’t there yet. I would say practice your story and your message so that you can make that sales pitch to your spouse, but then also start setting daily habits that they can see that make them feel more comfortable and confident knowing that you got this and you can do this. My dad instilled a super hard work ethic in all of us since I was a very young girl. My husband saw that I’m already up at 5:00 AM. I’m working, I’m goal-oriented. I’m very driven. 

It is a woman’s right to choose how she wants to defend herself. Click To Tweet

He knew, “If anyone can accomplish this, you can. I’m willing to put my eggs in that basket,” because he’s seen how I operate on a personal level and a professional level in other situations. If there are some areas that you might need to tweak a little bit to prove to that spouse that you can do it, that’s a great place to start. Not everyone is that fortunate, but I’m super fortunate to have a supportive spouse and I couldn’t do it. His skillset is what helps driving, keep this company going. He is that detail-oriented operations CEO, the perfect COO type, where I’m the visionary and the relationships and the connector. It works. Not every couple is bent that way to work in such a tandem with the other one in a business setting. It might work in a marriage but it might not work in a business setting. You might have to come to terms with that. 

That was great advice, very insightful. As a professional sales consultant, trainer, author, I love how you said that if your spouse is not seeing in you the attributes that they believe even innately are required to be successful in your own business, then you can say all you want to them but it’s not going to be convincing. It’s not going to be responsive. That’s a good point. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk before you can make that “pitch” to a spouse. Amy, you know that this show is themed around individuals like yourself who have motivated people, who have influenced people, who have inspired people, and you certainly have done that and you continue to do that. I congratulate you and I commend you for that.  

I also like to find out from my guests who have inspired them. You’ve given us a little bit of insight on that but I want to go a different route with you as we concludeWho is currently inspiring you to continue this journey into entrepreneurship, into growing this business, even in some people’s minds, our eyes, what could be construed as a controversial business, continues to inspire you, not what started it but what carries you through this journey?  

One hundred percent, it’s our customers and the people that are utilizing our products that send me stories on a daily basis about how our products have changed their life by giving them the confidence that they need to live their daily life. When I get emails from college girls who can’t carry a firearm on campus but can carry a little mace in their pocket, they tell me, “I never realized how afraid I was to walk home at 11:00 at night from the library to my dorm, but what you guys stand for gives me the confidence. It is empowering to know that I’m part of a much bigger community and a group of women who are all self-reliant and who are all empowered.” That is what keeps me going every single day because let’s face it, being an entrepreneur and starting a company especially in something like this space is extremely challenging.

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Alexo ambassadors are living this life authentically, sharing their journey to self-reliance with their normal everyday audience.

 

The highs are high, the lows are low and you have to find and dig in and say like, “What is it that keeps me going every single day?” There are many things that have happened along our journey that most people would have quit. Honestly, we thought about it several times. Right at that moment, I would have gotten an email from either a college student or an FBI agent telling me like, “Thank you so much for making me feel feminine when I carry.” The reasons why people love Alexo are all over the map that I couldn’t have even written the script on all of this. To hear from each and every one of them about what the brand has meant to them and what our stance because we take a lot of the punches for them.  

It gives them confidence when they see that I’m able to go out there and I’m able to face the media. I don’t back down from what I believe in because I’m doing this for all of those women and the men too. I’m out there fighting for each and every one of them because of how important I believe this mission is. That gives them the confidence to know that they have. They can look at somebody who is not only making awesome apparel for them that makes them feel good and look good, and gives them all of this ability to carry their self-defense skills. They know we’re out there standing up for their rights. That is super important to them and that’s when they feel like they’re a part of this community, and they are truly the ones that keep us going every single day. 

Amy, I’m pulling for you. That’s why you’re a guest on this show. I love how you have been able to explain your motivation and what continues to motivate you and inspire youI would encourage my readers to go to AlexoAthletica.com to learn moreWe’ll continue to watch your success. I wish you and your husband all the best as you continue forward.  

Thank you so much for having me on. This has probably been one of my favorite shows that I’ve ever done because I love not just focusing on the firearm section but the actual business itselfI appreciate this opportunityThank you.  

It’s been a pleasure. Take care.  

You too.  

 

How did Amy, who at one time was very uncomfortable even handling a firearm, go from being a fitness fanatic who lived with fear to an inventor of fashionable apparel that can accommodate whatever tool of protection a woman or man choosesWhether or not you’re into runningwalking, firearms or entrepreneurship, you’ll want to read Amy’s inspiring story and the customer stories that inspire her each day in leading Alexo Athletica. 

Important Links:

About Amy Robbins

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence While hosting several different lifestyle TV shows, our CEO and Co-founder Amy Robbins’ passion for firearm safety and proficiency grew along with her desire to see women everywhere live a confident, self-reliant lifestyle. As an avid runner with a few bad experiences on her runs, Amy wanted the ability to train for a marathon wherever she wanted to, even in the wee hours, without fearing for her safety, so she obtained her License to Carry. After much research, she realized many women shared these same experiences and she wanted to do something about it. However, she quickly realized that having a license to carry or carrying other tools such as mace or a taser does a woman little good if there are no comfortable, functional (much less great-looking) apparel options that would allow her to exercise while also exercising her right to carry and still look and feel great.

Soon after, in 2017, Amy created Alexo Athletica because no product existed on the market that met her need to feel fashionable while carrying in activewear. She saw white space in the market and jumped on the opportunity to not only provide fashionable, functional carry wear but create a movement of empowered, independent women that could #carrywithconfidence.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

 

This may sound overly simplified, but the bottom line to any business’s profitability is increasing revenues and decreasing expenses. Marc Freedman, the author of the bestseller Expense to Profit, helps companies identify those hidden costs in their business and reduce overall expenses to keep more of their revenues. In a way, he exhumes expenses to help clients get extraordinary profits. But Marc’s work isn’t always about finding cheaper vendors. It’s all about what brings the most revenue and the most value for the business. In this conversation with Rob Cornilles, Marc describes how his diverse team of industry experts finds the best solutions for different clients and how the consultancy makes money from that service. Do you think you have an expense in your business that you’re not too sure you’re getting the most of? Chances are you do, so listen in to this episode and learn how Marc and his team can help you.

Watch the episode here:

Marc Freedman | Exposing Expenses For Extra Profits

Excuse this oversimplification but for your business to be profitable, two fundamentals have to be achieved. You have to increase revenues and decrease costs. For decades, I’ve been trusted to help organizations grow revenues through sales. My guest is at the other end of the spectrum. He’s helping companies everywhere reduce expenses so they can keep more of those revenues. I’m a big admirer of the work done by Marc Freedman, consultant and author of the bestseller Expense to Profit. As the forensic accountant for expenses, Marc and his team find the hidden costs that’s keeping companies from becoming wildly profitable.

It’s my pleasure to welcome a friend and bestselling author, Marc Freedman, to the show. He is based in the Washington DC Metro market. I’m glad you’ve been willing and able to join us, Marc. Welcome to the show.

Rob, it’s great to be here. It’s exciting.

Before you and I met or before we became friends, I got to admit, I didn’t quite understand that your business or the type of work that you’re in even existed. Let me set this up for our readers. They all know that I’m in the business of producing revenues. That’s what I do with my clients and that’s what I assist them in. On the other hand, you’re on the opposite side of the ledger. You assist your clients in reducing expenses.

Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum.

We bookend people. If people would hire both of us, we could cover all facets for them.

Think about how much success that business would have.

We’re making a good promotional team already. Marc, you are a certified Expense Reduction Consultant, a title I did not hear before you and I met. Describe for my readers what that means.

The expense reduction process is forensic accounting for expenses. There are specific methodologies and different strategies that you use when you look at how businesses spend money. As anything else, you can be a certified financial planner. There are all different kinds of certifications out there. I felt it’s important when I changed my business from being a business advisor to specializing in the expense side of the equation, which is where I always loved being to begin with when I helped businesses. I felt it was important that I learn the processes that we’re going to make the most amount of success for my clients when I was reducing their expenses.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense To Profit: Getting the information from the vendor is a source of truth.

 

You’re the Founder and CEO of Expense to Profit, the name of your business, which is also the name of your bestselling book. Before you launched the business, can you talk to us a little bit about your background and what you’ve done professionally?

Originally, my first two years in school were in Rochester at RIT, Rochester Institute of Technology. I was in accounting. I was going to become a CPA. I realized in my sophomore year when I came to the Washington, DC area with my roommates who were twins, “Why am I in Rochester? I got to move to Washington.” I went back, got applications, and I transferred to George Washington University. My goal was to be a tax lawyer to specialize in tax law. I then took curriculum for both businesses in accounting and law. When I got done, I was like, “I don’t like sitting behind a desk.” Now what? Another pivot. I spent four years in the finance world, helping people and businesses be more successful more or less from an operational standpoint. I don’t have the talents that you have on the revenue side. I did that for some clients but not successful.

Years ago, one of my good friends, who also happens to be on the revenue side of things that lives around the corner from me said, “Why don’t you concentrate on the expense side? You’re good at that. You ought to talk to this guy. His name is Phil Gross.” Phil belongs to a franchise group called Expense Reduction Analysts. I thought about joining them. There’s a fee upfront. A lot of dollars but not a big deal. What bothered me more than that was they were going to take $0.18 out of every dollar that I earned in fees. I was like, “That doesn’t sound right.” I said to Phil, “I’m going to get in this business. Do you mind if I hire you guys and some of your partners to help me out when I need specialists in those different categories? If I can’t make it on my own, maybe I’ll think about hooking up with you guys.” He’s like, “Sure, no problem.” That was it. Expense to Profit was formed and it’s been positive ever since.

You and I, when we’ve visited in the past about our respective businesses, I’ve joked with you about Expense to Profit. The cynic in me says, “If you’re an expense reduction expert, it sounds to me like you’re the Grim Reaper.” You come into an organization and you simply look at headcount and say, “We have to have a reduction enforce. I’ll reduce your expenses that way.” You’ve done a good job explaining to me that’s not exactly how it works. Can you clear that misconception for anyone who’s reading who may have the same idea?

One of the areas that we stay away from is belly buttons. We’re not worried about how many belly buttons you have or don’t have. We’re assuming that as a business, you know how many belly buttons you should have. You’ve probably had already gone through that exercise to make sure that you’ve right-sized your business from an employee standpoint. Our goal is to look at how you buy the things that you’re buying to use in your business, whether it’s a service-related thing or whether it’s a commodity-related thing, meaning wireless cell phones, telecom, data services, leased cars, logistics if your business is a high user of UPS, FedEx or one of those types of services.

We’re looking at how you are spending money and where you are getting them from. Eighty-nine percent of the time, we’re able to affect positive change from three aspects. It’s what we call our three-legged stool of our process. The first leg is quality of product. It must be equal or better than you’re currently getting. The second leg is the service levels. Are the service levels what you expect? If they’re not, we then help get those to the levels that you want. If they are, we make sure that they stay at those levels or excel to higher levels. The third piece is the price. Price is always last because if you can’t get what you want when you need it, what good is the price?

Every business has hidden costs. They may not know it yet, but they all need help. Click To Tweet

When you engage with a client and they engage with you, who’s your primary contact? I presume at the outset, it would be some of the folks in the C-suite, the owner, CEO, CFO perhaps. Are you working more with the folks on the finance side of the office or on the operation side of the office? Help us understand what that looks like.

It depends. We like to start right at the top of the food chain. We want to talk to the business owner, the CEO, the chairman of the board, whoever is that’s going to drive this change that we’re going to bring to the organization. If that person says, “We’re doing this.” There’s no longer a conversation of, “I’ll get it to you in 30 days or 60 days.” A great story of that is four guys own a large mortgage company in our area. One of the guys, although his title is chairman, said to me, “I want to hire you. I’m going to hook you up with our CFO, Dave. Dave will contact you and he’ll get you what you need. We’ll see what you come up with.” I said, “If we don’t have a meeting together with Dave and you do a referral today by email, I will be calling you in 31 days to tell you that in the last 30 days, Dave hasn’t contacted me.” He’s like, “No, that’ll never happen.” Sure enough, 31 days later, I pick up the phone, “Mike, it’s Marc. I haven’t heard from Dave.” “I can’t believe that.”

Here’s even the funnier part of that story. A week later, in one of these networking events and it happens to be a lunch meeting, the guy who sits down next to me is the president of the mortgage company. It’s by happenstance. I look over and I’m like, “Craig.” He goes, “Do you know who I am?” I said, “Yeah, you’re one of the owners of the mortgage company.” He goes, “Have we met before?” I said, “No. I met your partner, Mike. I do expense reduction. He thought that it would be a good idea if we took a look at some stuff for you. He did an email introduction to Dave, your CFO, and I never heard from Dave.” An hour and a half after I returned from that meeting, Dave called me. Sometimes even when you’re in the C-suite, it depends on who in the C-suite has more leverage. Maybe they were embarrassed that Dave never called me. I don’t know which but there you have it.

You seem to have a lot of fortuitous meetings, Marc. If you’re having a hard time getting a hold of those people, maybe you need to take one of my courses in how to reach decision-makers.

I should sign up for that.

You work with the primary decision-makers. I have to assume, the actual nuts and bolts of the work cascade down throughout the organization. Is that fair?

That’s correct. After they make a decision, they want to move forward. We move down to the finance department. The CFO is too busy, so they’ll usually push us off to a finance person, which is fine. I need about five minutes of somebody’s time, it’s probably less than that but I always say five minutes because maybe they’re not as efficient as other people are. We need three things, an invoice, the contact information of the vendor, and then a contract if you have one. Those three things are where we start.

We always believe that getting the information from the vendor is a source of truth. As you’re probably aware, people put things in accounting systems when they buy things. Sometimes, they may get moved into different categories. When you do an export of a report, sometimes those things get lost. When we go to a vendor, they know exactly what they sold you in the last twelve months. Plus, we get it from them electronically and it’s a lot cleaner. We get UPC codes. When we do analysis, we take everything down to a unit piece. We need to know what everything costs by each unit.

What’s the reception of those vendors when you reach out to them? How do you represent yourself?

We have ownership call and they’ll say, “We’ve hired these guys. You’re going to be getting a call from Marc.” In addition to that, they’ll sign a letter of authorization and it’s addressed to each individual vendor. On their letter, it says, “We’ve hired these guys. They’re a partner of ours. They’re calling to get the information provided to them on a timely basis. By the way, they have no authority to change anything on our accounts.” That gives the business a comfort. As one of my government contractors has said, “You’re not going to do any hanky-panky with our business.” Of course not. We’re just getting information.

When you’re engaging with the vendor for your client 89% of the time, you’re not recommending or instigating any change in vendor relationship. You’re simply trying to find and improve relationship for both parties and cement that relationship for a longer-term.

Our goal is not to displace anybody. If you think about it from our standpoint, if you change a vendor and something goes wrong, who’s going to get blamed? Me, regardless of whether I had anything to do with it. If we hadn’t been involved, it would never happen. For us, price change, service level increases, and product quality increases are easy, especially if they’re happy with the vendor relationship. If they’re not happy with the vendor relationship, then we take a different attack. We’ll got to the market place and we’ll find somebody who may be able to solve the problem.

We’re doing that for a bunch of clinics down in Florida. They’ve got 22 different locations. Their lab provider is one of the major providers in the country. To them, because they only have 22 locations, they treat them as if they’re like a real small business and they’re not important to them. We’re going to the marketplace to replace them to find somebody who wants to be a partner that can solve the problems that they have. They’re sending almost 80,000 lab tests to this company every year and growing. You would think that would be important but not when you’re the size that you are of this large company.

Our goal there is to improve the relationship. In this case, the service levels are not great. They’re certainly not proactive, they’re reactive. They want somebody who’s going to be a partner, who’s going to help them grow their business, and be a partner with them and integrate with them. When they get reports, their reports are being faxed. The reports are coming in through their ER system, through their electronic medical record system. These are the things that we look to do process improvement for clients if we have to make a change for vendors.

Before I go further, Marc, describe your team that is a part of Expense to Profit. What does your team look like?

My team is extremely diverse and it’s made up of guys who have spent over twenty years in their discipline, their expense vertical. What does that mean? For instance, my guy who specializes in logistics spent 37 years at UPS, retired, and now he’s doing consulting in the logistics space. It doesn’t matter whether it’s UPS or FedEx. The man started as a porter, became a truck driver, moved into management, and when he left UPS, he was the chief designer of their pricing schedules. There are different tiers of how they gave people discounts. That’s the guy you want on your team.

My guy who does medical supplies spent his entire career with Cardinal Health. He was the chief pricing officer and then became the president of Cardinal Health, one of the largest medical supply companies in the country. He’s been doing expense reduction for the past twelve-plus years. These are the people that we bring to our team. We’ve got about 43 different categories that we look at Expense. I always say, there’s no category that’s safe from us.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Get professional help to take a look at your expenses now. Click To Tweet

I almost thought that I was going to have to change that line when we were presented with an opportunity with a Boeing subcontractor. They stress-test airplane parts and I was like, “I don’t know anything about this. What am I going to do with stress-testing airplane parts?” We’re all independent contractors who all have our own company but we work on a hub and spoke system where I’m at the center. Anytime a client has an issue, they come directly to me. They don’t have to worry about who they’re going to talk to. I sent an email out, “Anybody knows anything about this?” One of my guys responded back, “I’ve got a PhD in that.” Not stress-testing airplane parts, but stress-tests. He had a PhD in stress-testing. That was funny.

I thought I was going to be stumped. No, not at all. As it turned out, it was even simple. It was a matter of taking a consumable. They bought sand that was used in the process that was non-hazardous. When they were done, they would dump it into a rubbish container that they would pay for it to be hauled away. They would have these great 55-gallon line drums that were in good condition, nice and clean with tops. Some guy would come and pick up 100 drums for them. He’d bring in a flat load truck. They would put 100 drums on the truck and take them away. That was a service he provided. He would be there three times a week and charge $500 a load. I’m like, “That doesn’t make sense. Both of these didn’t make sense.” They were charging you undermarket rates for taking stuff away. That said to me that there’s probably a revenue opportunity here.

We ended up turning the cost of hauling away the sand into a revenue source by recycling the sand. It probably ends up at Home Depot and Lowe’s because it’s fine sand, the sand that you would find in playgrounds for kids or something like that. These 55-gallon drums were being sold on the market for a minimum of $110 apiece. We said, “We’ll take 50% of that revenue.” We turned an expense of almost $1 million into a $750,000 revenue swing for this business. Everybody says, “Think outside the box.” I use the Albert Einstein approach. If you use the same methodology to get to a solution, trying to find an answer to that solution, you can’t use the same methodology. That’s our theory of how we go about solving problems for clients.

You’ve related to us a couple of different industries. The members of your team come from different disciplines. Is there a particular industry or market that’s your sweet spot? Despite your airplane example of Boeing as far as stress reduction, is there a particular industry that you’d want to stay away from if anyone called you on that?

I don’t know about staying away from any industry. We always try to help people, even if we realize we’re not a good fit. We say fit means finding impact together. If we realized that doesn’t work for us, a lot of times, we’ll have a conversation. I don’t mind having a 25-minute conversation with someone to realize that we can’t be helpful. I may find some solutions for them that will be helpful. It may not be helpful for us. Our biggest client is Fuji USA Holdings. They do over $2 trillion a year in revenue as a worldwide company. There are 23 different companies here in the United States. We work through the holding company, but then we work indirectly for 23 different companies finding solutions.

At one of the companies, we found $2.3 million in overpaid premiums for workman’s compensation. You would think that a company like that would probably have those issues buttoned up. It’s not so. However, when they gave us their temporary labor spend to review, which was $12 million a year, they had no idea if all the different companies were using those contracts, and if they were getting the right pricing. We found $12,000 in errors. We handed it back to them and said, “Here are the errors if you want to go collect them yourself or not. We’re okay with that.”

We also saved them $185,000 a month on their wireless phone bills. They have over 8,000 employees with a lot of devices. They were on the wrong plan. You don’t know what you’re going to uncover and what you’re going to find. We’re always doing different things for them. I’ve done a sales tax recovery on a manufacturing facility for energy spend that they shouldn’t be paying sales tax on. We’re doing for them. There are all these different categories and all these different businesses. A lot of people need help but they don’t know it.

When you engage with a client, are you spending a lot of time at their facility in their offices? Is this mostly done remotely?

We’ve always been a virtual company. For us, what happened with the pandemic didn’t change how we did business. We probably had an initial face-to-face meeting to go over everything at the beginning and sign a contract and what have you. After that, everything was pretty much done remotely except for them. When we come back with our results, we would then have another meeting to present our results, what our findings are, and what we think is the best process going forward. That’s changed a little bit. It saved them money because we don’t have to charge them for our travel. It saved us money because for those that we didn’t charge for travel, we’re not paying for the travel.

Our clients are all over the country. I’m talking to a large university in Kentucky. We have a medium-sized city in the state of Ohio that we’re working with that we found probably about $4.4 million that we’re savings for. For us, we’ll talk to anybody because everybody needs help. I don’t know if I can help them. There are five churches that came to us down in Missouri and we couldn’t help them. I said, “Why are you doing business with this refuge company and this refuge company? Why don’t you just do business with the local guys, get rid of the main brand name who’s charging you three times what these other guys are charging? Your two churches are around the corner from each other.” They never thought about that.

As we’re talking about the level of savings that you can find and create for your clients, a lot of my readers are probably wondering, “That sounds great. Is this going to cost me an arm and a leg? I need to reduce expenses, not increase expenses by hiring Marc and Expense to Profit.” Tell us how the fee structure works.

We call that our seven-layer win dip. First of all, there’s no risk to hire us. Our goal is to find savings. If we do find savings, then we share in the savings. For every $1 we save, you keep $0.50 and we keep $0.50. We manage that process for 24 months. Typically, we’ll do a 36-month contract with a vendor, whether it’s existing or no. It doesn’t matter to us. You get that flat price in the pricing that you know. We’re going to monitor that on a monthly basis because that’s how we get paid. We know that you bought this much from that vendor. We then provide you a report that shows you that.

If pricing doesn’t match the contract price that you were promised, we go to the vendor and we say, “Mr. vendor, you priced this wrong. You owe the client $125 credit,” whatever the dollar amount would be. There’s nothing that you have to worry about. We’re another layer in your finance department that’s catching errors even before you guys paid any bills. That’s how we manage it. That’s how we get paid. The impact piece that we have is 5% of the fee that we get paid, you as a business get to direct to either a nonprofit or some community event or some program that you want to sponsor to make yourself a better citizen. We’ll donate that in your name. Of course, you have the option as a business to match that too.

To me, that sounds like the business is getting 55% and you’re getting 45%.

No, because 5% is going to the nonprofit. We’re getting 45%. The business is getting 50%.

What I mean by that is they’re benefiting from you. They did that in their brand’s name.

That is correct.

That’s wonderful. As far as time consumption, if I were to hire you as opposed to an auditor, with all apologies to my accounting friends who are reading, you’re not going to come in and require a lot of my time, and I don’t need to clear hours and days aside to work with you. You can work independently of my current staff and operation.

Our total process is an eighteen-minute presentation to decide whether you want to move forward. I need five minutes of somebody’s time for each category we’re going to review. We’ll come back to you and we’ll make a presentation of what we found and present you with what we call our baseline report. Our baseline report shows you what you’re spending with the vendor, and what we believe the opportunity will be. That’s our measuring stick. You sign off on that.

Once you sign off on that, now we’re into, let’s say we’re doing two categories, that’s ten minutes, eighteen-minute presentation, and maybe there were a couple of questions, let’s say twenty minutes, now we got half an hour. We got to see the presentation and the sign off to move forward to another half hour. You’ve got an hour’s worth of time for us to potentially save you 18% of whatever it is that we’re looking at. If you think about it that way, isn’t worth an hour of your time, if we’re looking at $1 million to spend to save $180,000? I would suspect it probably is.

I don’t think it takes a mathematician like you to answer that question. I love that. Marc, you have been helpful to me and my business as well. You decided to make your expertise available on a broader scale by publishing your book, Expense to Profit, which became a bestseller quickly. I want my readers to be able to have access to that book. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on as a guest. While I try to assist them on the revenue side, I know you can assist them on the expense side that you’ve been eloquent about. Talk to us a little bit about your book. Who is it for? Is it for a small business owner? Is it for a major corporation? Who would be reading that? Who’s your primary audience?

In the book, I lay it out at the beginning that it’s for three different marketplaces. It’s for someone who’s at a $0 to $10 million business that’s trying to get up and running. Some guidelines or guiderails of things that you can do and shouldn’t do. It’s then for the business that’s already past that point, that’s trying to scale up to the next level between the $10 million and $100 million revenue point, and then for the $100 million-plus revenue point. I even have businesses that do over $1 trillion a year in revenue that we help. Size is not a problem on the upside.

For us, we try to concentrate on businesses that are larger, above $10 million, because it takes us as much time to do a $10 million audit as it does to do a $100 million audit. For us, it’s more economical to do larger size businesses. I’m happy to offer my services to anybody who has a question and I’m happy to spend a little time with them. Everybody needs help and I’m willing to do that as well. The special that we’ve got for your readers is we’re running $0.99 for the digital version. It would be the best $0.99 that you spend. If you want the paperback version, we’ve got that for $12.99 rather than $20. That’ll be offered to your readers.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense to Profit: Eliminate the Costs that Sabotage Your Growth

Thank you so much.

The great piece about the book is the first couple of chapters tell you about expense reduction, what it is, what we do, and how we do it. It’s not down to the brass tacks into a lot of different detail because you can’t put too much of that in a book. I also go through different examples of different clients in areas that we help them across different expense categories, and some of the most common expense categories about how we help them and who we help. Those are also good lessons for business people to look at to be able to understand that there are these opportunities.

Thank you for that. For my readers, all of that is available on Amazon, Expense to Profit. Let’s say I’ve never met you before. I want to tap into your wealth of experience. Is there a common philosophy, strategy, or tactic that you find that people who are spending too much in any one category share? There’s something that commonly we’re doing either incorrectly or naively, and it’s always an easy find for you.

Think of it this way, businesses that are large enough to have a CFO, what is the CFO doing on a daily basis? He’s running the business. He’s trying to find solutions but he can’t be an expert in every single different spend that a business has. You’ve got a lot to spend on your business. You got your whole telecommunications piece, wireless, wired, data. Now remote is a big piece. You’ve got your benefits, your health care, the insurances, and all the stuff that goes along with that. Each one of these categories has layers and layers of different things.

We found a solution for our clients to be able to get rid of their own regulated medical waste on-site rather than using a service to take it away. You’re going to eliminate the liability costs of having to file with the federal government. Everybody that has gone to a doctor’s office sees that red box on a wall, that’s a sharps box. When that box is full, they pull the whole box off. They don’t empty the box. The whole sharps box comes off. It must be regulated and removed by a proper waste system. We have a device that you can put that into. It sanitizes it at 137 degrees centigrade, grinds it, and you can put that in your regular waste stream. It’s crazy. It costs about 25% of what it used to cost to have it removed.

We’re finding solutions all the time. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s the biggest problem. We’ve done over 25,000 audits and reviews for clients over the years. We found over $1 billion in savings. That tells you that we have some information that you’re not going to have. We know market prices. We have strategies that we use like reverse auctions. Think about eBay. If you go to buy something on eBay, it’s an auction. The price goes up because more people are bidding.

On a business standpoint, we’re trying to buy a whole pool of products and the price was going down as people were bidding versus auction. Once we get two bidders back at the end and we know they’re 1% apart, we know we found the market price. You wouldn’t ever have it if you didn’t use that process before. Most people don’t even know what it is. These are the strategies that we have in our toolbox that we use to help businesses be more successful. You don’t know what you don’t know is true. There are a lot of businesses that think they know. When we come in, they found out they didn’t know well.

As we wrap up here, there’s a question that’s stirring in my mind. I don’t know if I can articulate it properly. My business has always been a service provider. If we are scrutinized by those who are charged with cutting costs, my frustration may be that it’s difficult to judge qualitatively the value of our service versus a quantitative judgment perhaps of a commodity. Help me understand how would you guide someone who’s trying to decide in a qualitative sense, related particularly to service, that you’re paying too much for that service that’s not producing the ROI you need. Here’s another service provider that may be a little bit more expensive but the ROI is much greater. Is that a discussion that you have both internally and with your clients?

It’s a discussion we certainly can have. It’s not a discussion that we have often. However, when a client says, “Look at everything,” we see this big consulting fee, “What are you paying?” Let’s say that one of our municipalities hired Deloitte to consult with them on different processes. We already told them what to do. Our cost is $0, but they weren’t sure because they didn’t pay somebody for advice. Now they went out and hired Deloitte to tell them the same thing we already told them.

It’s hard to quantify. The bottom line is, is the value of the services you’re getting equivalent to the price that you’re paying for the ROI you expect? What’s the issue? How important is it to fix that issue? What will the impact be once that issue is repaired? Whether that’s on the revenue side or the expense side, that’s how we do a measuring stick and the same thing, what’s your return on investment? Are you better off paying 20% more for a service that gets you 100% better results or paying the lower cost service? That’s probably a pretty easy answer. We find in practice, as you’re aware, not many people subscribe to that. When governments bid, they call it lowest in best. You buy the best at the lowest. If I can buy the best at the lowest, isn’t that a better solution than lowest at best?

Marc, you know this is better than I do but I’ve often said that cheap is expensive.

100%, because if it’s cheaper, then you’re going to have to do cheap again and again.

Not to mention the morale that it could cost you, the goodwill that it can cost you among your exterior audience or your external customers. Cheap can be expensive. What I’m hearing you say is you may not come in and make the recommendation of the cheapest option. Your Expense to Profit is all about making the recommendation to get the most out of your money.

Not only the most out of your money but the best solution for the client. Even if we may find a better solution, it’s still the client’s choice to make that change. They may not want to make that change. We’ve had that plenty of times. We found a better solution and they say, “We like what we got.” We’ll reduce the price then. We’re happy to do that for you. It’s your call. You’re the client. Our job is to satisfy you, the client. We’ll make less when that happens. We’re willing to take that risk. That’s part of our business model.

Buy the best at lowest, not the lowest at best. Click To Tweet

I like what I’m getting from you here, Marc. Every time I talk to you, I learn something more about my own business and how I can run it more efficiently. Give us a takeaway. How can we make today a little bit better because of something you can teach us? What’s your tip of the day for people to run more efficient, more cost-effective businesses?

I ask a business owner what is the check they hate writing the most every month? Most often, it seems to be healthcare-related expenses. My suggestion is if you’re using an insurance agent, that’s the wrong solution. You want to be using an insurance consultant or someone who can consult and review what are you offering your clients. Why do I say that? The government contractor that I’ve mentioned before about the hanky-panky, we looked at what they were doing on their health insurance. They have three different plans like most people do, an HMO, a middle tier, and then a high tier. Who’s in the high tier? The business owner, one person.

When we did the analytics, it was costing him $150,000 a year to offer that. Here’s your business improvement. Here’s your benefit for an employee. We took the HMO and left it alone. We took the middle tier and made that the top tier. We then took and created a new middle tier. Do you think the employees were ecstatic that they were now in the highest tier for their benefits? It costs nothing for them. When we removed that top tier, it saved the business $150,000 a year. It cost us about $18,000 to buy a special program for the business owner. It didn’t matter. It still nets $132,000 and the employees were ecstatic that they were on the best plan. We created a new tier. Some of them then move to the middle tier, saved more money for the business, which was a combination type of solution. There’s a lot of different things you can do. We’re not insurance agents. We can’t sell it. You have to have an agent sell it. We can find the solution that’s going to help bring everybody a better environment and a happier employee base.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense To Profit: A company’s CFO will never be an expert in every single spend that a business has.

 

This show is themed around our ability to influence, persuade, and inspire people. A lot of what you’ve said has influenced my thinking. It persuades me to think differently and to take action. I’m inspired in some areas. I hope my readers as well, and remind them to go out and get your book. Your eBook is available for $0.99 at Amazon. Your hardcopy, your paperback, you’re going to make it available to us at $12.99 also on Amazon. That’s Expense to Profit by Marc Freedman. I would encourage people to let Marc know that you’re a Game Face Execs reader, and you’ll treat them a little bit better, won’t you, Marc?

Absolutely. It would be my pleasure for you, Rob.

Thank you, Marc. I look forward to our next conversation, which will be soon, I’m sure. Thanks for all the great work you do and all the savings you bring businesses that need it most.

Thank you, Rob.

If you run a business or department, which check are you writing every month that you hate the most? Are you confident, for example, that you’re not paying more than you have to on your phone plan? What about your health insurance, your daily operating expenses, transportation, waste management, the list goes on? Catch more of Marc’s expertise by joining us on YouTube, Spotify, Apple or whichever platform you prefer. Marc exhumes expenses to help us clients get extraordinary profits. Thanks for being a part of this episode. If you found any of it useful or helpful, please rate, like, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. I always appreciate you referring us to others as well. I’ll see you next episode. Until then, persuade, influence, inspire.

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About Marc Freedman

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Marc Freedman is a Certified Expense Reduction Consultant and currently serves as our Chief Cost Evaluator, expertly advising our client management team on how to help you successfully achieve your business and financial growth goals. He is a respected mentor to all he consults with. He is an avid collaborator and contributor to the spend consultant community, guiding thought leaders to formulate, design, and install the best operational solutions available to their clients.

As founder and CEO of Expense To Profit, he utilizes his 40 years of experience by efficiently implementing his comprehensive solutions to control client costs and focus on individual successes. With his guidance, over 89% of his clients have found no need to change their partners or vendors, enabling them to continue with their daily operations as usual. He would be thrilled to talk with you about how to improve your financial strategy.

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Non-Profit Leaders of The DMV

 

Author, speaker, and consultant Kathryn Hamm, this week’s featured guest on the Game Face Execs podcast, hasn’t just made a career bringing people together; she’s made a difference amplifying voices of the overlooked around us. As an educator, former account executive in professional women’s sports, and an LBGTQ wedding expert, Kathryn has been an industry innovator and is now a strategic advisor for individuals and business leaders seeking a transformational understanding about their assumptions, habits, and blind spots. As a pioneer of online wedding planning resources for same-sex couples, our game face exec gets personal and shares how her experiences informed her work as an advocate and educator supporting the unions of all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Watch the episode here:

Kathryn Hamm | Building Bridges Over Troubled Waters

How often do five passing words uttered by one acquaintance to another turn a normally brief encounter into a decades-long mutual business relationship of mutual respect? That’s what happened to me many years ago when I first met the very talented Kathryn Hamm. She was then the account executive with the WUSA’s Washington Freedom, 1 of the 8 teams in the first women’s professional soccer league. Though I’m a straight man and Kathryn is a lesbian, this episode’s conversation provides more proof that as equal members of the human family, there are certain outcomes to all friends you’re in to find, embrace and celebrate.

If you have read my book, The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love, you’re going to love our guest. In that very first chapter, I tell a story right at the outset. That story involves my guest. Her name is Kathryn Hamm. She is someone that I have long admired and respected. I’ve wanted to have her on our show ever since we began. Finally, welcome to the show, Kathryn.

Thank you, Rob. I’m glad to be here. It’s fun to have this little reunion.

I’ve had many people comment to me about that story that I tell in the book. They want to know more about you. I was tired of telling them myself. I thought, “Let’s get Kathryn on the show.” As you say, it’s a great reunion. You and I first met many years ago. We were in a different place in both of our careers. Let’s go back. I was working with a women’s professional soccer team called The Washington Freedom where you were a leader. Take it from there. Tell us how you got into that job in Washington DC.

Professionally, it was a window in time that was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. I had been working in independent schools in the Washington DC area in the lead-up. I experienced some burnout at a school and was looking for something new and different to do, and to take a break. My wife and I were season ticket holders of the Washington Freedom. I played soccer my whole life. I went on to college to play soccer. I am as the same age as a lot of the girls of summer of 1999 class, and I wasn’t as good. My career had ended. Yet there was this entity that I felt passionate about and connected to. I thought, “Why don’t I send a resume?”

I know soccer and I love being a part of it. It would be such a tremendous honor and pleasure to support this team, and to support women’s professional athletics, which when I was a kid, it wasn’t an option on the table for us. It so happened that the day I sent that resume in, they had to let go an account executive. I got a call from the sales operation saying, “We’ve got this position. This is an entry-level position. It might not be your deal but if you’d like to come in, we’d love to talk to you about it.” As it may be obvious to your readers or anyone who follows soccer, one of the fun pieces is I had the right last name since our marked key player was the great and incredible, Mia Hamm. I like to say that I played right cubicle while she was out scoring a lot of goals. She’s the penultimate player, and such a wonderful asset for the club and for women’s soccer.

I always thought that you got her a position on this.

It feels fulfilling to have a career that is part of something meaningful. Click To Tweet

Is that how it went? Maybe. I’m sure that I must have set up the one-shot that she needed to make to advance to the national team. I had so much fun, and that is what led me to meeting you. The league was looking to enhance, develop, and support the skills of its account executives. We all loaded up into our cars and headed down to North Carolina, and you were running a workshop on sales. I’m a total dork. I love to learn and sit in class. I was one of those kids that thought school was fun, both for the academics and the athletics.

To sit in a workshop and get skills that were new or were being taught to me in a different way, I was a young professional at that time. It was great to get this concrete articulation of skillset to help me do my job and hit my marks. I remember it well because you’re such a fabulous storyteller. You’re such an energetic teacher and I was completely enthralled by the educational opportunity. The anecdote, which I was surprised and pleased to find at the start of your wonderful new book. I do remember talking with you after, and feeling moved and connected to what you were saying and teaching us.

There was a mutual connection because during the workshop, which lasted a couple of days, you were always engaged, asked great questions and challenged me. When you came up at the end and we said our goodbyes, thinking that we would meet again, work again together, what you said to me opened up a whole new perspective of what I do for a living. I’m not going to steal my own thunder, I want my readers to read that first chapter. I’ve been forever grateful for that. As I say in the book, I’ve shared that story numerous times with other clients. When they hear what you said, they all nod affirmatively like, “She’s insightful.”

That must be our chemistry and dynamism because it was something that was very clear for me. It was organic at that moment. It felt like a light bulb moment. I love those moments. I like them more when they’re comfortable, which your workshop was. I liked the last one. I felt like it’s blood, sweat and tears, lots of kicking and screaming to get through it. I love those light bulb moments that provide some of insight, which like turning on a light switch and it sheds light, which helps everything that you’re doing next to be that much easier.

I have to ask you though regarding your start with the Washington Freedom, which the league did not last too long, unfortunately. It’s since been reconstituted now, but you went from education when you were in the classroom, is that correct?

At that point, I was a high school administrator. I taught but I was doing a little of everything on the school side.

For many of my readers, sales and the whole topic, even taking a sales job would be the last thing on earth they’d ever consider doing because they’re not “cut out” for sales. I’m interested to know what was going through your mind coming from an administrative position, from a coaching standpoint to accept the idea that, “I’m going to take an account executive position. I’m going to become a salesperson.” Most people won’t touch sales with a 10-foot pole. For you, what happened? Was it, “This is something I’ve got to do?” Is it a necessary evil to get to something better or is it something you aspire to?

It’s neither or none of the above. There were two parts to the answer. The first around what I was doing was this was an extension to participate in something that mattered. This was part of being a member of a team and a sport that I cared about, and something I wanted which was professional women’s sports. We forget how much it’s changed in such a short amount of time, but there weren’t professional sports. I was a young kid who was a sports junkie that grew up in a time where my sport wasn’t in the Olympics. It now is. It didn’t have an opportunity for professional athletics as a choice. To me, this was a piece of that story. That part was easy.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: Not a lot of people were out in the 90s. Nobody talks about LGBTQ communities and families.

 

I was happy to do whatever. I’m sure part of my comfort with something that involves sales might be connected to that I was totally that kid in your neighborhood. If you live in a suburban neighborhood situation where the school was asking us to do a readathon, a swimathon or whatever athon, and I was out there to go and raise money. I was the kid that nobody wanted to see coming because while I did come trick or treating for candy which was the easiest exchange we had, I also came to your house asking for you to sponsor me.

For the families who underestimated the number of books that I would read or the number of laps I would swim, sometimes we had to negotiate what the donation would be. I’m fortunate in being an extrovert and seeing it as an opportunity to be connected to something meaningful. To me, that’s not sales. While I understand your point from what I’ve read in your book so far, you’re dead-on right. It’s being connected to something, to a mission, and to an opportunity that’s meaningful.

When the league did fold, no fault of yours, Kathryn Hamm, but when it was not in the cards at that particular time, women’s soccer has resurrected and is doing well in a variety of markets, more markets than the original league enjoyed. Nevertheless, when the Washington Freedom folded for a time, you had to move on professionally and you’ve talked already about following things that are meaningful to you. Where did your career go next? I’m assuming you were not looking for a paycheck, you were looking for something that was meaningful to you. Could you describe that path for us?

By that time, I was in my third iteration of a career from education to working in professional sports to working in the wedding industry. As I was reflecting on what is this common thread, I realized that I was always connected to something that had some connection to social justice. The education, teaching of kids, supporting women’s professional sports, and bringing empowerment for women and girls to the forefront. My mom started a business in 1999 called TwoBrides.com and also the companion site, TwoGrooms.com. It was an outgrowth of her response to struggling to find products for my wedding to my wife in 1999. It’s not legal. Those were the days of commitment ceremonies and there were commencement ceremonies certainly happening. There was a market to be served, but there weren’t companies embracing our community in other ways, serving couples who were looking to have ceremonies and celebrate their commitments.

My mom was in the early years of having launched that business and needed some support. In the course of the things that I have done professionally and as a person, I love things that involve marketing, writing, sales and strategic thinking. I’m a natural entrepreneur in a lot of ways. I want to help my mom launch a business that is groundbreaking of which I felt proud of her, and which I saw a need for. I joined her in 2004. I started helping a little bit part-time. In 2005, I became a full partner in the business. That’s the time in which we acquired and rebranded as GayWeddings.com. We’re moved from being a boutique where we offered products for people planning their weddings, to much more of a comprehensive resource site so that people could come and find vendors, and vendors could find couples.

This is what moved me into the wedding space. Relatively quickly, I found myself referring to what I did as I’m a gay wedding expert, which I find hilarious. It still makes me laugh to this day. Truly my expertise somewhere is I have spent a substantial chunk of my time as an LGBTQ wedding expert, working within the wedding industry, trying to support couples, trying to support wedding professionals, and trying to shift the space. There are lots of fun stories that we can talk about within that, but I would say to you that I found my way accidentally into it, and yet in hindsight, always being 2020, I can see the path and understand quite clearly why it was a great match. Let me add one more little thing that I did along the way. I had gotten a Master’s in Social Work when I was teaching. There is a piece of clinical work, communication, and thinking from a community organizing standpoint. There were some ways in which my graduate-level studies were also well connected to this business opportunity.

I don’t think it’s too unusual that an entrepreneur would fall into a business. We’ve often been told that you should follow your passion, but if I look around the world and see successful entrepreneurs, with apologies to those who have been able to turn their hobby into a career, and I love what I do, let’s be clear on that. You love what you do, but many entrepreneurs do what they do. They start the business they do, not because they’re passionate about that particular product or service, but because they do see an opportunity. There is a void in the market, they want to fill that void, and recognize that it would be financially fortuitous if they did, and more power to them. In your case, as I’m hearing it then, two things collided or intersected in a good way. You do have a passion for social justice and social issues. You had a mother who is in need of your expertise and abilities, and then you had the desire to be your own boss. Is that a fair characterization?

I do tend to be my own boss. It was perfect timing to solve that, “What am I going to do next? Who am I as a professional?” It fit the bill to help me figure out the question of what’s next.

Being LGBTQ-identified isn't that different from being straight-identified. You’re still a person who has feelings and connections. Click To Tweet

I have to ask you about the need that your mother initially saw and she was working to fill at a time when gay weddings were more ceremonial than official. When you joined her, had you already gone through the experience yourself or had that yet to come?

My wife and I had our wedding, which we called at that time a union, the language was still evolving. What we were doing was relatively new. We got married. We had our wedding union in 1999. To this day, that is still the ceremony that we celebrate, even though we’ve since made it legal. I had been through the process and understood what some of the challenges were, not just from saying, “We’re going to do this thing,” but we planned a wedding and encountered wedding professionals. We understood what our challenges were. We recognized how hard it was in making choices to say, “Here’s who we are. Will you help us?” It’s what was happening at that time because any phone call could lead to hanging up, a polite decline, or some unkind words said.

Rolling back the clock for anyone that can go into the ‘90s, a lot of people weren’t out. We didn’t talk about LGBTQ communities and families in the way we do. We were often closeted at work. We weren’t all running to get married. Many people in my community didn’t even see weddings or unions. It’s such a beautiful relationship and an important relationship statement and ritual. We didn’t even see that as a possibility because it wasn’t anything that was part of what our experience could be. That’s a whole other topic that I’m incredibly passionate about and it has changed my life. The shorthand context of it was that I came out thinking I was making a choice where my family may reject me. Marriage, which is something I’d always imagined I would do and having kids, was not an option for me. This is who I am, this is what it is to be authentic and true to myself, and feeling like, “There may be these costs to accept that truth and to live authentically.”

As you were talking, I’m reminded about a gentleman who has since passed away, who was a dear friend of mine. His name is Dennis Richardson. He was a politician in the State of Oregon where I used to live and work. He was a state legislator when first met him. He became Secretary of State, which is a Lieutenant Governor, the second in line to the governorship of the State of Oregon. He fought against same-sex marriage. Many people, his followers, and those who are that ilk fought hard against it. You’ve encountered many people in your life and your career who at one time were may maybe political enemies.

The reason I bring up Dennis is I was impressed with him after gay marriage became legal throughout the country. He was asked a question on television during his last campaign, “You lost, Dennis. What do you think about that?” Rather than digging in his heels and saying, “The Supreme Court made a bad decision,” and those types of things, I was impressed with the grace in which he answered the question. He said simply, “I congratulate them that they now could enjoy marriage like my wife and I have been enjoying it for years.”

I want to say that because we’ve talked about this. You and I are the same on every issue and policy. There’s a mutual respect that we belong to the mutual admiration society. I love that about you and I hope that’s true of what I said. That’s the way I feel about you. I have to ask you though, some of the hardships that movement has experienced, can you give me some insights? I’m not in that constituency. My wife and I have been married for many years so I don’t understand the things that you’ve lived through. Perhaps you can give us a little bit of a peek into the issues that you faced back then versus now. How is it evolving? Is it better in your world? Is it still challenging in your world? I would like to learn from your experience.

It’s a mutual fan society, for sure. When you use the phrase, political enemies, maybe it’s because I live in Washington and we think about politics differently. I live in an industry town and my wife is a non-partisan analyst. There’s a different way we approach this. There are people with who I might have policy disagreements. Particularly in my work when I was working in the wedding industry, trying to support people and understanding why this mattered, approaching things from a standpoint of, “Are we enemies or friends?” It’s how I am. It’s not how I roll. I also find it doesn’t serve a higher purpose of how we take care of each in our immediate communities, our families, or our broader city communities to our national community.

I’d love to try to answer your question through my professional experience. It’s one of the easiest ways to tell that story. To me, it’s one of the things that is intriguing about watching a group that has largely been disenfranchised, sometimes treated unkindly, still being on the receiving end of hate crimes, losing jobs, losing housing, not having access to medical care, losing family, struggling in accepting a parent’s love or receiving that. The wedding space was interesting because the whole conversation is about love. Being LGBTQ-identified isn’t that different outside of being straight-identified. You’re a person who has feelings and connections. One of the differences between when I was coming up versus now is it was rare for a parent who would say, “I see you. How can I help you? Are you interested in boys or girls?”

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: How do we provide space if someone feels disenfranchised from an institution or a community?

 

Many kids growing up now are given the space where they may have a preference for what they want, but the parents aren’t setting the table in a way that means there’s a course correction down the road. There are ways to be more inclusive in general in language so that the kid can be who they are. To give you a personal example, which my parents know that I use this example. Not long after I came out with them, one of them said, “Secretly, we were afraid it was true.” As a young person, I was 21 so I was relatively late coming out.

While the parent side of me and the compassionate daughter’s side understands what they were saying, there is a deep part of grief I have about that because I asked myself, “God, what years were lost? If you understood this about me, in what ways did you unconsciously or without intention help to construct a reality that you hoped for me, a way that I might be, or what my life should look like? If there was a truth that I couldn’t articulate, but that was speaking to me from a place of my heart, it’s hard to describe it and understanding what it was then, what did I lose in that process?” Fast-forwarding back into the wedding industry and conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of wedding professionals, event planners, photographers, caterers, you name it. One of the most interesting groups to speak with would be the officiants. Some of whom were religiously affiliated. Some of whom were not.

I was involved in this business my mom started. It was the first of its kind. We were the first in having this conversation. In the earliest days, the wedding professionals who wanted to advertise their business and find same-sex couples, very few or some were happy to be out there with it. The majority were like, “I want to do this. I’m open to it, but I don’t want people to know because I’m afraid of what I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of the business and the clients I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of what people are going to say to me.” The work in those early days was helping people to understand the opportunity. They may feel like there’s a risk but recognize that there is a goodwill, feeling aligned with your values, and an opportunity to have customers who are going to be happy about the choice that you made to serve same-sex couples.

As the tide with what was happening from an advocacy standpoint and from a legal standpoint began to turn. People felt much more comfortable. I framed it to people like, “Your wingman has arrived. You’re not going to be the one who’s standing out there alone doing this. You’ve got an industry that saying this is okay.” One of the things that as an educator and consultant that made a big difference for me was I had a national company, WeddingWire, which now has acquired The Knot and is known as The Knot Worldwide. It had me on their main stage, front and center, teaching what I had to teach about understanding same-sex couples and LGBTQ people, and what they might need.

When you have the validation from a nationally accepted brand, it changes the game further. For those who still feel some fear, afraid or aren’t sure what to do, it helps bring the temperature down. I had this interesting perch as a business owner, educator, and a person who personally was invested in this, watching how opinions and comfort levels changed. One of the things that made it easiest was we were talking about love. When I spoke with some professionals or officiants who had some fear that was grounded in some of their religious teachings, it was easy for us to find some commonality around, “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” around love, respect and relationship, that there is plenty of both to be had in the conversation.

I don’t mean to be too Pollyanna about it either because many days, it came at some cost to me. People say some hurtful things to me. I was good enough as an educator and as a listener that they weren’t recognizing that some of the questions they were asking and things that they were saying were deeply dismissive, hurtful, and less fun. I would say it was in my commitment to say, “I want to have this conversation and figure out how I can help you understand me more, which helps me hang in because I understand that you’re afraid. How can we continue this conversation? There are plenty of rooms for me to get married and for me to support love, commitment, all these values that I know most religions are about at their core.”

I cannot anticipate the questions that my readers may be having now. Perhaps you could identify or even predict their questions better than I can. Can you help me understand what are some common fears or questions people have about the gay wedding industry that you have had to overcome? If you had a chance to speak one-on-one with them and when you do, that fear is quickly overcome or never realized because they have more information, more insight from you. Can you give us an example or two of the things that you’ve encountered along the way?

I went from being in the gay wedding industry, which was more of a niche market into the wedding industry. One of the things I do professionally now is I’m a wedding pro for The Knot Worldwide, which means I provide education and support. It is built around marketing for small business owners, which many wedding and event professionals are. I like to talk more broadly about inclusion. The LGBTQ community is part of that story, but there are also many other non-dominant groups and oftentimes that’s nonwhite for example. In the wedding industry, it might also be non-female. Many of them are men who are routinely disenfranchised and shut out from conversations. They are brought up to believe that weddings are about the bride or the woman. They’re not about the couple or about him, which I spend a lot of time talking to wedding pros about.

Never assume you understand what someone's reasoning or motive is. Click To Tweet

In some ways, the question you’re asking is about the old days. There are so much that have changed. I went from my first wedding conference where I said what I did, and this woman who was based out of Richmond turned on her heel and walked away from me. She couldn’t tolerate the audience I was looking to support, to being greeted and people excited to tell me about a wedding that they’ve worked, a friend of them who’s got married, or something that they’re doing that is cool. We exchange tips around, “How can I work on the marketing practices in my business? What are the relationship things I need to be aware of? How do I work through some of this cultural competence?” It’s a general framing I use.

In other words, we try to do as much as we can to know what we don’t know so that we can be more open and available to support the client who needs our services. Maybe they found us and maybe they haven’t. For me these days, it’s much broader than that. With that said, service refusal was a big contentious issue. I would suggest that even with the Marriage Equality legislation that was passed in 2015, the service refusal question was a can that got kicked down the road. I don’t have an answer about that. Personally, I had days of more grace and space to hold the conversation than others, depending on how tired can I feel.

It feels like we’re in the place of somebody has to win this fight. I’m not sure that we’ve come up with a creative solution to figure out how we provide space for everybody. The bottom line is it’s something that is true that same-sex couples still wrestle with. Not in larger urban areas but in certain smaller towns or some areas. They may say, “I’m looking for your services for my wedding.” The vendor will say, “I refuse to work with you. I don’t believe in same-sex marriage.” We can talk more about embracing and upholding where people come from in that. There is a piece of, “This is what my church tells me. This is what our community believes and supports. This is what I’ve always thought.”

It’s linked to, “I’m afraid of what might happen if I question this or I’m curious about it.” What I have come to find is never assume you understand what someone’s reasoning or motive is, but in the end, it’s hard to be someone who comes in and is like, “I’m looking for flowers,” and someone says, “Your relationship doesn’t count.” As an LGBTQ-identified person, as someone who has a wife, and we have a son, who I don’t want to know that there is the stuff out there. He does know. He understands it, but the thought that there would be this one side detail about us that might lead to being refused services or told we’re not enough, we’re not okay, or we don’t count, which is how it feels and I’m speaking personally, it’s hard.

Jumping ahead to where the question is, and that’s the unfinished business, which is about service refusal and how we coexist and how we empower each other. How do I feel about that now? With the last few years of what’s been happening, it’s even harder than ever because I’ve seen people circle up wagons and we have lost communication. We have struggled to find the bridges. We have struggled to build a relationship and to listen to one another. We’ve struggled to remember the art of compromise. There is a responsibility for those of us who are in a dominant identity group.

For example, me being a white person, how can I approach my relationships and understanding the experiences of someone who identifies as black or African-American in our country? How do we provide space if someone feels disenfranchised from an institution, community or belonging? We’re in an era where this is hard work, but this is the work. Thank you for the time to answer that. What I would say is there is a piece of advocacy, or some might say sales in that. There’s a piece of relationship building, engagement, and how we get to the end of the conversation together without hanging up on each other.

Another side of this discussion for me is the anticipation that there will be families that are coming together in a union. Let me use a simple example which may be stereotypical in nature, but one family is more traditional, as you might say. They may have religious beliefs that are ironclad. That’s admirable. For me, there’s nothing that should be dismissed about that like values. I am a traditionalist when it comes to religious beliefs. The other family though that may have more of this free spirit where, “We want to make it up as we go. We want the ceremony or the union to reflect the persons who were being married rather than the institution of marriage.” I’m asking you as an expert, how would you counsel individuals or families that are coming together because of a marriage who may have different viewpoints on how it should be executed?

It’s an interesting question along with the setup to it, which feels like there are a lot of bunny trails that would be fascinating to talk about. The shortest point from A to B on that would be my experience, what I’ve come to understand, what I valued about my wedding and that ritual. I’m a big believer in ritual. I think ritual matters. The question I heard you asking is, “Does the institution get to determine the ritual? Does the family get to determine the ritual? Does the couple get to determine the ritual? Does another family get to determine the ritual?” I’ve talked to a lot of straight couples who tell me that what’s been hard about their wedding planning or what they wish was different were the ways that the family engaged, fought and laid expectations.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography

I realized when I heard a few couples sharing these stories with me that one of the great benefits and opportunities I had in designing a same-sex wedding or a wedding with my wife was we had to figure out the ritual parts that mattered most. What is this union about? While we’ve developed shortcuts to represent sacrament, we have had an opportunity to build one that would be ironclad in all of what a permanent lifelong union and commitment look like. We built it around who we were as individuals, but informed by our own experiences, traditions, and understanding of why some institutions might introduce certain rituals. A lot of same-sex weddings often look like the greatest hits of various religious wedding traditions, whether it’s the stomping of the glass to a father giving away a child, to who officiates, and what the language is around who is bearing witness.

If some of your kids have got married, you’ve wrestled with some of this question. My counsel generally to the couples is to listen to what your people have to say but to remember that the union or the ceremony is about you. In my day, parents didn’t even know what to do and they weren’t paying for it so there was no tension. Whereas if you’re a couple that says, “We want to do it this way,” but one family is like, “We’re paying for it so we’re going to do it our way,” you’re not having an authentic meaningful conversation that’s about what matters. That gets into family communication. That gets into what the couple wants. I would even challenge the couple. Sometimes couples rushed to the altar too quickly. In an era where we spend less time in communities and institutions that might support how we consider lifelong commitment and what that means, we get too fast. That creates problems down the road. This is the social worker in me. There’s a multifaceted answer to that. I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer other than as a professional, I tend to lean in protection of the couple because I think it is a universal issue that comes up for all families.

I recognize my question was broad and every situation is idiosyncratic. There’s so much nuance and personality to it. I appreciate your answer. It’s very fair. Let’s turn to Kathryn Hamm, the businesswoman and the business owner. You’re in the wedding industry. As I understand it, the pandemic did a number on the wedding industry.

The hospitality and services industry, for a relatively resilient and constant industry, it’s taken a big hit. I have done less consulting and have been less involved. I still do a little bit around small business consulting but haven’t been under the hood in the same way that I was before. In 2008, we struggled economically and it was very interesting, that was with the rise of popularity and openness to same-sex weddings. At that time, there was a way that there was this interesting economic storyline around this market that was interested and had dollars to spend because there was pent-up demand from couples who hadn’t yet got married. I don’t know yet how this is going to turn out for the services industry.

There are a lot of people who do this part-time and I’m not sure that it would be sustainable for them. It may be that there’s a whole new batch of young professionals who enter it because they lost their other jobs. There is a difference if you’re an officiant, a wedding professional, photographer. For the people that are in catering and event rentals, it’s complicated. From a standpoint of people who are looking to think about the bottom line, it’s going to be challenging. As someone who thinks that weddings quickly get bloated and are more expensive than they need to be, this is a beautiful opportunity to help people get back to basics on what weddings are all about.

I believe that a wedding is organized from the ritual, ceremony and out, not from the reception, and then you do the rest of it. That comes from my experience specifically as an LGBTQ person. It is about my belief as a social worker around ritual and thinking about spaces. It’s wildly unpopular with a lot of people, but this is one thing that I hope becomes a good change. I want the very best for all of my colleagues in the industry. I also want weddings to have meaning. I don’t want them to be just empty exercises and money machines. That’s not the work I do.

I haven’t told you this before, but one of my sons, among his many talents and one thing he does on the side is he captures weddings through video. I recognize and he does as well that everybody who has a camera phone thinks they can do that. He is a real artist. One of the things that impressed me most about his work in 2020 was how he was able to capture the intimacy of these small scale weddings with the couple, perhaps their parents, maybe siblings at most, and the officiant. They were beautiful stories that he was telling through a video that to your earlier point, you don’t necessarily see when there’s a reception of 500 people. Tell us a little bit more about the other consulting that you do and areas of expertise that you have. I know you’re certainly an author. We didn’t talk about the book that you wrote about wedding photography. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about that. My audience would like to know what you’re doing and what’s capturing most of your attention now?

After my days with the Washington Freedom, I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what is it that I do. You’ll appreciate this, Rob, too. I was reading chapter two of your book and it occurred to me like, “This describes intuitively some of the processes that I’ve been going through. That is trying to understand, who am I and what is it that I bring? What is the value proposition that I bring?” I found it hard to define what I do because it’s many things. The three categories that I’ve come up with are educator, strategic thinker, and partner and empowerment. I ended up doing that in any number of domains.

Weddings should have meaning. They shouldn’t be empty exercises or money machines. Click To Tweet

I’m on the board of trustees for a school. I’m interested in doing leadership work that’s strategically oriented. I do a lot of small business consulting. I’ve been doing some mentoring with people who might not otherwise have had the same access to resources that I did as a young person, graduating from school with no college debt, and with the network I have, how can I help promote and support them in achieving their entrepreneurial dreams? I do a little bit of consulting in the wedding industry as a wedding pro through The Knot Worldwide. I’m a parent and I also do some work supporting my wife and her business, which is a little bit of a Jill of all trades. We’ve got a couple of things cooking that will be interesting in 2021. What I realized was in this interim phase as I was doing less in the industry, I needed to explain to people, “If you want to work with me, what does that involve?”

If I want to answer the question, “What do I do for a living?” How do I answer that? It is both a work in progress. What I understand is there is still a connection to social justice. I’m interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I now have had some corporate clients that are interested in having leadership-oriented conversations around cultural competence, about recognizing their blind spots, about figuring out how can they be efficient, responsible, and ethical business owners, which I love. That’s a little bit of the value of being a little older. Part of it is I have some wisdom from the various hats that I’ve worn, and having the opportunity to connect with people that are interested in engaging in conversation around that.

You talk about being a little older, you don’t look that older. I am interested in that comment because hopefully with age comes wisdom. I’m interested to know the difference between Kathryn Hamm of 2021 and Kathryn Hamm of 2000 when we first met. What would you tell the Kathryn Hamm of 2000, if you could speak to her now, that you’ve learned and experienced over the years?

There would be different nuggets of advice from the concrete to the general. As you can tell, I love themes and at that time, I would have benefited from understanding a little more of how to engage more deeply in my listening to understand experiences outside of my own. I always knew that adversity could be an advantage, but what I didn’t understand was how I was collecting all these different experiences, relationships, professional moments, and challenges that would come together and lead to the next thing. One example is you referenced my book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. I’ve loved writing my whole life.

As a kid, I was writing journals and poetry. I loved my English classes, the whole nine yards. There was a part of me that always wanted to write a book. I thought that would be cool to be an author. There is no way that I ever would have thought that what I would be writing would be a book about same-sex wedding photography. That would have struck me as completely cray-cray. There’s no way. As it turns out, my Social Work degree, my experience as an educator, my involvement in the wedding industry, my ability to recognize what small business owners needed to help them, my desire to make a difference, my desire to support marriage equality, becoming something that we stopped thinking about or arguing about, and accepted as an opportunity for dignity for all couples to participate in these unions, it was natural. I don’t think in 2000 that I would have understood that possibility.

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d said I was going to be in the wedding industry. I would have thought that was crazy. One of the things that helped me is I delight a little more in what the universe provides in front of me and I look for what is it that sparks my interest and passion, and feels like it connects, that it’s time to show up, and here’s a great outlet for me to do what it is I do to be of benefit to my community and the people I’m engaging with. It’s also deeply satisfying for me to be able to exercise authenticity in personal challenge and growth. That’s probably the easiest way to answer that question.

Speaking of themes, you know that this show is centered around the game-changers out there such as yourself who have the ability demonstrably in influencing, persuading, and inspiring other people. I have to ask you, who inspires you now?

I have to give that honor to my son. There’s a multifaceted answer to it, but let me give you a nugget. This can be our next conversation, whether on or offline as a parent. Our kids bring great lessons to us and they also bring forward-looking lessons. When we’re in our 20s and 30s, it’s easy to look ahead and see the impact we can have. As we get comfortable in ways in which we’re empowered and the wisdom we have, it becomes easier to stay in that space and to lose sight of what the future can look like. My son has brought me many gifts, both in how he sees the world and thinks about it. He’s got this incredibly creative mind.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: The value of being a little older is having the wisdom born out of wearing various hats and connecting with various people.

 

He says and thinks things that are opposite of the way I think. That’s a delight. As any parent will know, he also holds up a pretty hard mirror. I hear me coming out of him sometimes. Sometimes I’m proud and other times I’m not so proud. I have to go back and do a little work. The other thing that has been important in my growth is we’re an adoptive family. Beyond understanding what it is like to be an LGBTQ-identified family and parents. Our son is adopted and he is mixed-race. My growth experience has been learning a lot about adoption. Some of which is wonderful and a lot of which has some hard truths connected to it that involve a lot of grief, involve a lot of trauma, and calls me to figure out how to hold some hard things that sometimes are in competition.

As a white parent of a brown son and as a white friend to many brown and black people, it has forced me to take a look at the world differently in ways that as a white person, I never had to be conscious about. My experience as a lesbian coming out helped to inform some of that. There have been some deeper lessons that have been important to me. Through understanding what I believe my role is as a responsible parent and what my son’s experiences in the world I want him to live in, he has been an incredible teacher to me in that regard. It inspires me to do work that is uncomfortable a lot of the time.

Your son is a teenager.

I’ll call you for some advice.

I’d love that you call me but maybe call my wife.

I believe that you are an intentional parent as you are an entrepreneur and business owner. I know that’s a credit to your wife as well. We’ll have a different conversation if you weren’t as engaged as I suspect you were.

I have three sons and I am fortunate the way that they were raised and the way that they turned out. I’m sure you’re experiencing that now. I appreciate this conversation that you’ve had with us. I appreciate your honesty. As I said at the outset, you have my utmost respect and admiration. I love what you do to make the world better. I’m grateful that you’re my friend. We’ll have to do this again. I have these kinds of conversations offline and not wait so long to get your thoughts and your perspective out to my little world. Thank you for making us better through this conversation.

It has been a pleasure. I’m appreciative that you’ve carried with me all these years and that we’ve been in contact. It’s been one of my favorite professional relationships. I have a few where no one else knows this person who I enjoy connecting with. Congratulations on all that you’ve done, the way you’ve grown your business, this book that you’re launching, and this show that you’re doing. I’m proud of you and the work that you’ve put out there. I’m grateful that you’re in my world. I’m glad that fate has brought us together. Thanks for having me.

All the best to your family.

Thank you, Rob.

Curious what this diversity, equality and inclusion specialist might understand about being a sales game changer? I invite you to join us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform for the rest of this conversation. Kathryn describes more of the means she’s involved in for those who have historically felt unheard and undeserved.

Important Links:

About Kathryn Hamm

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

A dynamic small business development consultant and marketing advisor, Kathryn Hamm is an Education Expert and Diversity & Inclusion Specialist for WeddingWire and The Knot. She is also co-author of the book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014).

In 2004, Kathryn joined her straight mom in the family business, GayWeddings.com (originally known as the two websites, TwoBrides.com & TwoGrooms.com) – the pioneering online wedding planning resource for same-sex couples since 1999. In 2015, under her leadership, GayWeddings announced its acquisition by WeddingWire, the nation’s leading technology company serving the $100+ billion wedding, corporate, and social events industry. Shortly thereafter, she and her mother, GayWeddings founder, Gretchen Hamm, celebrated news of full marriage equality on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015.

A natural educator, Kathryn Hamm writes, speaks and consults with wedding professionals about same-sex wedding trends, best practices when serving today’s couples, and how to think ‘outside the box’ when considering the modern market. From 2005-2015, she managed day-to-day operations and the strategic vision for GayWeddings, and she’s been interviewed by sources such as MSNBC, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, NPR’s Tell More, The Diane Rehm Show, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times, and a column for The Huffington Post.

Kathryn has a Masters in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and an Undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Princeton University. Prior to becoming the President of GayWeddings, Kathryn spent 10 years as an educator and school administrator in the Washington, D.C. area. She also worked for Discovery Communications and the WUSA’s Washington Freedom. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at The Lab School of Washington.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

 

Many of us understand the value of sales in any company, but there has not been a lot of focus on sales management in the last decade. Sales management expert Jason Jordan saw the need to tap this area of sales and wrote the book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” which has since been a staple on the reader’s lists of MBA courses in major universities. Jason is a bestselling author and sales consultant who focuses on sales management best practices, sales metrics, pipeline management, CRM, leadership development and more. Joining Rob Cornilles in this episode, he shares the important realizations he had in his sales career that prompted him to write a book about sales management. He also sheds light on the critical role of frontline sales managers in ensuring smooth processes in all aspects of sales.

Watch the episode here:

Jason Jordan | Cracking The Sales Management Code 

I want to thank Jason Jordan for joining us on the show. Jason, it’s great to have an author and an educator like yourself to participate in these conversations. Welcome to our show.

Thanks, Rob. I’m glad you’re having me.

Jason, as you and I have spoken before I am a fan of yours, the books that you’ve published and the articles that you’ve written. You have a very interesting career path because most people either want to be an author from day one or want to get into business and then authorship comes down near retirement. In fact, I had a conversation with an executive, who’s nearing the end of his career. I asked him, “What’s the one thing you still want to do?” He says, “I want to write a book.” It’s not an easy thing to have a bestseller as you have and to be an influencer in the sales industry like you have been. Tell us a little bit about how that started. Did you intend to be a researcher and an author, or did you just discover things in the sales industry and recognize that you’ve got to share some insights and some discoveries with the rest of us?

Thank you for the compliments along the way. It was an interesting path. I don’t know that anyone has a path in their career, but I started out in sales right out of college with 100% commission, hardcore sales. I went to business school. It’s funny. This was before the dot-com boom. When I was coming out of business school, you went to banking or consulting. Those were your two choices and there was no idea of being an entrepreneur. I went into consulting.

In every management consulting firm I went to, I was the only person who had any sales experience. Anytime there were sales discussions, it’s like, “Go get Jason. He can talk about sales.” Most of my career was consulting. Anything you can do in a sales force, a comp design, territory design, process design and CRM implementation, all of it. I was going down that path and I had respect for authors. I didn’t necessarily have the intention to be one.

It was like my life’s thing, but when I was in sales, throughout my career, I was reading Neil Rackham. He was very influential. I got fortunate enough to work for him and consider him a friend now. The SPIN Selling and Rethinking the Sale are all legendary books. He is a great guy. Solution Selling, all the classics and Miller Heiman’s books. I respected people who could create content. What Neil told me one time about writing was very interesting. He said that, “Writing forces clarity of thought.” The best authors are good at presenting complex things in very simple ways. While most authors try to present simple things in complex ways to make it seem more than maybe it is.

The way the book came about and I’ll be brief with the story because I know we want to go on to other things. I was at American Express’ headquarters in Manhattan, and this has got to be several years ago. I don’t even remember what the project was but during break and coffee and stuff. One of the guys said, “I was in the room believe it or not with the global head of sales of American Express.” I’m sure he’s 1 of 500 people. The head of sales asks an interesting question. He said, “How do I know if my salesforce is any good?” He went on to say that, “If my European revenues are growing faster than North American, does that mean I’ll have a better salesforce in Europe?” “I don’t know. What are the regulatory environments? What’s the competition like? Give some more examples.”

He’s like, “How do you know if salesforce is any good?” As a sales consultant, I felt that I should have an answer. That’s one of those things that when you’re driving around by yourself and those moments where you reflected, I started thinking about it and I said, “Let’s look at some sales reports, some management reports.” If people are bothering to gather and report data, this must be what they think is the definition of good. Measuring ourselves against good. The book came out with this interest and understanding of how people were using CRM and what reports, what measurements they were using. I played with the concepts for a while. I put it into a presentation and some folks had hired me to go do roadshow stuff because they were interested in the industry.

I was giving a presentation at a random conference and a guy from McGraw-Hill came up and said, “I thought that was interesting. Here’s my card.” I thought it was a sales leader, trainer or something, but he was just looking for fresh content. He said, “Would you like to give a proposal?” I gave him a proposal, they accepted it and then I wrote a book. I avoided all of the writing a book and having to shop it and no agents were involved. I fell into it in all the right ways, but I did fall into it. It was a good experience. People ask me, “How it is to write a book?” My only response is, “It’s long.” I spent about a thousand hours just writing the book. Not counting all the stuff that went into it, but that was a good process. It was fun. It definitely clarified my thinking. That’s what my people have been drawn to the book or at least that’s the feedback I get is it’s approachable. It’s nothing engineering about it. It’s common words and common concepts. I’ve been very fortunate in that way.

In trying to implement change in sales processes, implementation success always comes down to the frontline sales manager. Click To Tweet

As I’ve told you before, Jason, I teach an MBA course at a major university and Cracking the Sales Management Code is on our reader’s list. It’s required reading within our course. My students have always benefited from it. It spurs conversation and a little bit of debate, but they walk away, grateful that it’s on that list. It’s one of the few books that focus at least that I have appreciated. It’s one of the few books that focus on management. We have a lot of sales, methodology books. I’m coming out with a book on sales methodology. Sales management is one that I think we’re all scratching our heads constantly trying to figure out. I’ve got to ask you a couple of questions about the origination of the book. The title itself, Cracking the Sales Management Code, it suggests something has been hidden from us. What was the thinking behind that? What did you discover that caused you to put that title on it?

There are a couple of things to talk about there. You’re right. There’s not been a lot of sales management-focus. At the time that book came out, it was late 2011. I went on to Amazon and looked for sales management books. They weren’t there. Since there’ve been several good sales management books that have been written, whether the time was right or maybe I spurred some interest in the area, but that may be a little overly ambitious and indulgent. Understanding my career, I was a management consultant. I came at all of these issues from a management’s perspective. I didn’t spend my entire career in sales.

I had a career in sales, but I didn’t go straight from being a salesperson to writing a book. I’ve been studying management issues. What I realized in trying to implement change and this is a truism that people have come to realize. If you’re trying to make any change in a Salesforce, whether it’s implementing a new training program, new process or implementing CRM, in my experience managing those projects, the implementation success always came down to the frontline sales manager. The frontline sales manager understood it and bought into it. It would at least get done 75%. If the sales manager didn’t understand that it wasn’t behind it, it became the third priority and it just never happened.

It’s a truism. That was the interest in particularly frontline sales management. The title, I have to give credit to my co-author, Michelle Vazzana. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. I live on an old farm situation. In here, any property over 5 acres has outbuildings that have been converted into cottages or whatever. I have my cottage out behind our house with the guest cottage and that’s where I do my work. Michelle was down, she lived in the DC area, we had outlined the book and we put the poser together. We got to have a name, we need a name for it. I said, “The name is obvious. It’s Focused Sales Management because that’s what this is all about.”

The entire book in focusing sales management and salespeople on doing the right things. She said, “That’s stupid. No one is going to buy a book called Focused Sales Management, how about Cracking the Sales Management Code.” That’s where it came from. To your point, it did crack open some ideas. The standing idea that we manage outcomes. If you could manage quota, everyone would make their quota. It shifted the focus to the activities. Since I’ve had many people say, “We’ve been running our Salesforce like that for years. I can’t imagine running it any other way, focusing on the activities and what people are doing and what we’re providing by way of enablement.”

The last ten years have been transformative for the sales management discipline. I think that maybe the time is just right. Maybe people have gotten as far as they can with the existing training, methodologies, and all the stuff that they’ve poured at the sales team. Technology has definitely changed and has been a huge enabler and that’ll continue to change in the salesforce for a while, but the fundamentals of management and coaching are immutable.

I certainly would like to talk about that with you. Let me go back to the chicken and the egg question if I could, what does come first? Is it great management, a great sales leader or a great salesperson? What would you rather have if you had to pick one?

I take a great sales manager every time. Neil Rackham would say the same thing. He’d say, “If I had a choice between having ten rockstar salespeople or one rockstar sales manager every time because that gets replicated.” The scenario people describe is, “We take our best salespeople and we promote them into sales management.” We lost our best salesperson and we created a shitty manager. You have done double damage. The question is, “Can you take someone who’s not a great salesperson and make them a great sales manager?” My response to that has always been, you can’t take someone who’s incompetent at sales and make them a sales manager, because they don’t know what good looks like, or they can’t look at something and go, “This is wrong.”

There’s also an issue of credibility to promote someone who is a peer who’s not respected into a management role. You can’t promote bad salespeople into management positions, but I think you can promote average and better than average people that have management capability. If I was given a choice between having ten great salespeople or two great sales managers, I’d take the sales managers every time because I feel that within 24 months, we have twenty great salespeople instead of ten. There’s a span of control of 10 to 1, which is maybe a little high, but not unrealistic.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance

In one of your articles, you talk about a 30,000% ROI. I love that article. It came out in 2017, 2018 if I’m not mistaken, I could be wrong. Could you talk about how a salesforce or an organization could get a 30,000% return?

You could still get that vantage points website if you look. You have a choice. You can train your entire salesforce of salespeople. Let’s say you have 100 salespeople and 10 sales managers. You can train your entire sales team of a hundred people and spend a bunch of money and maybe you’ll get some lift, or you can spend 1/10th of that train your sales managers. I believe you get an even greater lift because the research that vantage point has done over time has shown that sales managers are the leverage point for improving sales performance. It’s a simple observation and simple math that I’d rather train the ten sales managers before I trained a hundred salespeople every single time. That’s a dividend that is going to keep giving. As more salespeople rotate in, the sales managers are still there. It’s a much better and much more leveraged model of focusing on improving a sales team.

Excuse me for the fundamental nature of this question, but I want to make sure that our audience is following what you’re saying. When we talk about training sales managers, are we talking about making them better salespeople themselves? What do you mean exactly by training them? If I’m going to invest that money in 10%, where am I directing it specifically?

Let’s look at it this way. The sales managers are trying to change the behavior of the salespeople and the salespeople in turn are trying to change the behaviors of the customers to obviously buy from us. I’ve reversed-engineered the question. Plenty of people will say, “Here’s what we need to be doing in front of the customers. Therefore, here’s how we need to train the salespeople.” I don’t stop there. I say, “If this is what we want, the salespeople would be doing, and this is how we train the sales managers.” For instance, if we wanted the sales team to make better sales calls, and we even defined that. Asking better questions, or having a specific agenda beforehand, or maybe communicating that agenda before you get into the specific practices of what you want the salespeople would do.

You can train the salespeople to do that or you can train the sales managers to train daily. We reinforce that constantly, sit down and coach them to, “We’re going to sit down and plan this call and you write them an agenda. You’re going to email that before to the person you’re meeting with, and then we’re going to record it or I’ll join you.” That sales manager had that same conversation ten times. It’s more powerful than training the salespeople to do it because the sales manager takes ownership of it. They can oversee it. As I said, salespeople are coming and going, management is a little more stable than salespeople. That investment is a little stickier than another way. I always reverse-engineer it from the behaviors you want in the field. I don’t stop with a sales salesperson. I take it back a level to the sales manager because if the sales manager understands and motivated, the sales manager can make it happen.

Do you find in your experience then, Jason, that sales managers are as receptive to coaching as frontline salespeople?

I think more so even. They want it and they don’t get it. There have been times in my career when we train sales managers and then we train the sales manager’s manager to coach the manager. That’s an interesting thing. You’re a salesperson and you get coached. It’s an expectation, particularly the younger generation, the more they expect it. It’s part of the value proposition of working for you is that you’re investing in them and their development. It’s pretty common to think, “We coach the salespeople and the sales manager does that,” but it’s weird to think that once a person’s a sales manager, we don’t need coaching anymore. We need them to make the reports and do the stuff.

What we found is not only when you engage the coach’s coach, not only does the manager like it, because it’s an investment in them that they’re not typically getting. Oftentimes the coaches, the coach likes it as well. The VP of sales is like, “I haven’t coached anyone in fifteen years. This is pretty rewarding. I like this.” I had a real job of managing people. All the way to the CEO and the CEO has executive coaches. He or she has people that are working with them to keep them home. It’s a weird thing that we think once we take a great salesperson and promote them into a management position, then we’re done. Magic is going to happen.

Jason, you know Game Face, the company that I lead started in 1995 in the sports industry. Our clients were a lot of the teams right around your area in the DC Virginia area. When we began the notion that you would train or coach executives for a sports team was a head-scratcher to most organizations. It’s like, “Why do we need coaching?” Just put out a better product on the ice, the field, or the court and we’ll sell more, whatever it is, sponsorship, tickets or suites. This is several years ago, I had convinced sports teams as they train players the best in the world at what they do.

You can't take someone who's incompetent at sales and make them a sales manager, because they don't know what good looks like. Click To Tweet

They’ve probably should also devote resources to training their executive team. Now, thankfully, it’s just a given in our industry of sports. I don’t work entirely in sports anymore but it is still a large part of our business. That was just an expectation people like you said, young people expect it to be a part of the value proposition. Why they will say yes to a potential employer is because they get coaching from it. From that experience, that employment and more managers are asking us, “What about us?” It’s interesting. Some industries are way ahead of this and you probably have been a catalyst to that. In other industries, there’s still that same old view that as seasoned veterans, we don’t need the training and the coaching. Just help those young folks. That’s a sad commentary, but it’s still out there, maybe not so much with the large B2B enterprise companies that you work with. I still see that in a lot of small businesses. I don’t know if you have any opinion on that.

Someone once said or I once read that, “When you’re in your twenties, you learn the trade and in your 30s, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade. If you don’t keep learning, by the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’ll only have the tricks.” It resonated with me that at 35 or 40, you can’t know everything you’re going to need to know. Some people come to that with disposition. People just liked her and people are driven. They like to read. Now, the websites, YouTube and things that you can develop yourself. Other people get to 40 and they’re like, “We’re good.”

I think you’re right that larger companies are more focused on executive development. They’re focused on succession planning and things like that. Whereas in smaller companies, it’s not part of the game because it’s expensive bringing people in to deal with the executives and the time it takes and trying to find the right person because there’s a lot of personality stuff that goes on at the executive level. Finding the right person to train or coach. It’s time-consuming and resource-consuming to continue to develop people. It’s easy to get a sales training course for 1,000 salespeople.

You’ve noted in your writings that it’s even more expensive not to develop your people.

Yeah.

Let’s go back to Cracking the Sales Management Code. You did a lot of research. You pulled from your own experiences. I’m sure you pulled from your own mentors if you will and people that you learned from. In that research, as you were writing the book, was there anything about your findings or your conclusions that surprised you when it finally went to print? When you began writing it, you didn’t think you would have discovered this particular point or truth about sales management, but after concluding it, you had converted yourself almost.

I don’t think so. In that book, we’re on a quest for reality. We were trying to define what we saw around us. What are sales processes? Why do you measure and what do you measure? We were trying to find foundational components. It’s like discovering math like, “One plus one equals two.” That’s surprising. You’re like, “No, we just didn’t know one plus one equals two until we wrote a one, a plus sign, a one and an equal sign and a two.” Now, it’s obvious. That’s why some people gravitate toward the book and why it ends up in universities. I’ve used it when I teach at university and other professors use it as well that I know because I think it’s foundational. Other stuff that I’ve done, I’ve been surprised because I was on a quest but in this case, we were just trying to write it down.

A word that you’ve talked about a lot in your writings and one that is the core word in the work that I do is the word, results. You mentioned that a lot in your book and you make a very clear point that you have to be able to define the results you want in order to be a good sales manager. Do you find and have you found over the years that in your work with various organizations that it’s not clearly defined because it seems so basic? Do you have to start with the result in mind before you can go to activities and tactics, but do some not get that or do some get it backwards?

People understand the desired outcome clearly, which is to hit your quota and to hit your budget or your target, but that’s where a lot of people stop. I don’t think there’s any shortage of people knowing what the outcome is they want. It’s a shortage of people knowing how to get there. In reality in salesforce, you’re given the outcome. It’s called a quota and remarkably you’re often not guided on how to get there. That’s what the work we did at VantagePoint was all about it.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Sales Management: There is no shortage of people who know what outcome it is they want. There is a shortage of people who know how to get there.

 

You talk a lot about tools that sales managers must use. The one that’s become in vogue over the last many years is CRM. I like how you beat it up though. By that, I mean we assume that we need a customer relationship management system. You talk about how that’s wrong and we’ve let it get away from itself. Can you share with the audience how you view CRM and maybe where we’ve lost track of what its original intent was?

It’s funny you say original intent. I was a consultant in the late ’90s and Siebel became a thing. In the early 2000s, when everyone had to have it, customer relationship management started out as exactly that it was like, “Marketing customer relationship management, software sales used it.” There was a piece in there’s a module in CRM called Sales Force Automation, SFA. Their SFA practices started popping up and we don’t talk about sales force automation. We don’t use those terms anymore, but it’s funny because I think that’s what has become, has never evolved far beyond that. If you look at the core of CRM the way most people use it, it’s a way to track opportunities and contacts.

We took Act! which is everyone’s favorite software who’s ever been in sales, who has been around since the ’80s and ’90s and it took Act! and put opportunities in it. That’s what we now have and we call CRM. Now we have marketing automation that does a lot. The terms are a little bit convoluted in the way that it’s evolved. What we have is sales force automation and the thing that we called it that it would be a little clearer exactly what the scope and reasonable expectations are for that software that is sales force automation. People treat it as a strategic advantage. It’s funny because we still hear people talk about, “What’s the ROI of CRM?” No one talks about what’s the ROI of email.

CRM is infrastructure. You don’t need to justify it anymore. You don’t need to talk about the ROI of your cell phone or the ROI of Outlook any more than you don’t need to talk about the ROI of Salesforce.com. It’s just there. The challenge is, now that everyone has it, how do we use it? The fundamental idea that it’s a tool there to support better selling is lost on a lot of executives. They see it as a pipeline and reporting tool. If I’m cynical, if it weren’t for forecasting, I don’t know that a lot of sales leaders would give a damn about CRM. We need a forecast, we need a pipeline because we have a pipeline, we need CRM and then that’s where a lot of it stops. It’s a shame because it’s the backbone. It is the plumbing of the Salesforce and it’s not a free-flowing.

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to elaborate on that a little bit more. How are we using traditional CRM incorrectly in the sales world?

It’s a tool to enable salespeople. It’s not a tool to enable reporting. It’s viewed from the top-down, not from the bottom up. I’ve talked to people over time and they’ve said, “When we started putting activities into the system and tracking things that were correlated to productivity, then CRM became useful. Using it as a pipeline and reporting tool is not all that great. That’s why salespeople don’t like to use it. All I’m doing is giving this machine data, then the machine gives that data to someone else in a different form. Salespeople get some value out of reporting. It’s so funny, you don’t have to make people use Outlook. You don’t have to make people use their cell phone because it’s inherent to them what the value is.

You have to make people use CRM because it’s not inherent what the value is. That tells me that we haven’t valued engineered CRM or sales force automation in a way that says, “How could the users of this find it useful?” Also, I say that quickly, “That’s overly complicated.” I had some sales operations person said that as soon as he implements a new CRM tool, he envisions himself as the mechanic, under the hood of a car, just pulling out hoses and wires. They try to sell it so feature-rich and they sell that as the value proposition. Whereas I think, the value proposition should be there like four buttons and three reports and six things that you need to do in this, but they’re the important things. It’s grown beyond its usefulness, ironically, at the same time, it’s not proving itself to a user.

Thus, the lack of or the low number of adopters in most offices is it’s a constant struggle, a tug of war to get your salespeople to use the CRM. Because they don’t see an inherent value, how is it going to help them make a sale? As I’m understanding you describe it, they think it’s simply a mechanism to provide reports to the people upstairs, but for them, they have more important things to do. They got to make a commission and that means they got to get back on the streets or back on the phone, you get to interact with customers. They’re not seeing how CRM helps them get there. Is that a fair summary?

That’s very fair. It’s a database of records. That’s what CRM has become in most sales forces. I will say that this whole industry, particularly around Salesforce.com because they sell a very rudimentary product. It doesn’t have a lot of great reporting. They know they know this. They put the AppExchange in place and they want people to build all these extra capabilities around what is this simply defined CRM tool. There are many great tools out there that do add value. They’re expensive. If you mapped out what salespeople do and thought, “How could we enable this?” That’s where you started building CRM, you’d have a different CRM. We go in and go, “We need a forecast and new management reporting. Now, how do we get that?”

A CRM is a tool to enable salespeople, not a tool to enable reporting. Click To Tweet

That’s how you backed into CRM. It’s not, “Here’s the sales process.” If we have strategic account managers, what in there is helping them manage their accounts more strategically? Are their data feeds bringing in alerts to their strategic accounts where every morning when they log in, like, “Some new executive at this division over here. I need to call that person.” If it’s lead generation, you’re pursuing opportunities. If you log in to CRM, “Are there opportunities there? Are there leads? I’d log in to see that.” If we could just map out what salespeople do, identify the places they need to enable that, and enable that through CRM, then people would love CRM. That’s not the way, it’s an architect and that’s not cynical, but I’ve seen it many times in my mind it’s become reality, in a form. Maybe I’m being a little too pessimistic.

Another term that may get you up on your hind legs as well. We talk about it constantly. I want to get your reaction. When I use the two words, pipeline management, what does that mean? What should it mean in your experience?

Pipeline management is not what takes place, what takes place is data management in most cases. When we’ve all said in these meetings where there’s a salesperson and there’s a sales manager, and they’re going through the pipeline and what they’re doing is they’re updating close dates. They’re updating dollar amounts, they’re updating probabilities, that’s forecasting. They’re scrubbing the forecast. Pipeline management is when you’re doing something to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the sales pipeline. Good pipeline management looks like coaching. Pipeline management in most people’s minds is just keeping the data clean and making sure that as deals get at the later stage, they’re treated a little bit differently.

I would use pipeline management and coaching almost interchangeably. The pipeline is the nexus for almost everything in most sales forces. It’s where we keep the activity like, “What are people doing?” They’re working on these deals is where we keep the deals is where we generate the forecast. The pipeline is the centerpiece and most sales. When you see what meetings are taking place, salespeople and sales managers talking about stuff in the sales pipeline. The pipeline report is what they go through. It’s mostly viewed as a stage along the way, it creating a forecast. It’s seeing what deals are coming in the near term, which is another way of saying forecast. It should be a coaching tool.

With these best practices and perhaps some inherited worst practices, I’m interested to know if you’re able to share with us, who are some organizations that you admire for the way that they are managing their Salesforce and their sales system? Any companies that you can illustrate that they’re enabling people properly and exercising these principles on a day-in and day-out basis?

I see good practices in almost every salesforce. I’ve never seen a salesforce that I would hold up as perfect. I’ve worked with very large companies that are held up as operationally excellent companies and they are, but there’s always something. I’ve been in various small companies that were innovative and thought about things in the way that you probably should because they had probably 1 or 2 leaders. If those 1 or 2 leaders had a square head on their shoulders, then things went well. We’ll get into a big company and they’re pockets of things that are going very well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one company that I said, “This is it,” but I’ve picked best and worst practices along the way. You probably had some experience I would guess.

A couple of more questions, if I could. If someone aspires to be in sales management, whether they’re young or middle of their career, what advice are you going to give them if you’re mentoring them? What should they be doing now so that when the opportunity is presented to them, they qualify and when they get the job, they excel?

There are two different things. To qualify, you to have to be a good salesperson. Probably demonstrate some interpersonal and some political skills. There’s a way you get to be promoted to sales manager, which is through success. If you wanted to think about, how do I become a good sales manager? I had the same advice I’d give to existing sales managers who want to become better sales managers. As a salesperson, I would ask myself the question, “What would a great sales manager do for me? How could a good sales manager make me better, more effective and successful at my job?”

If you think about it as like, “You spent some time helping me go through deals, but not just to scrub the data but to point out, to test me, to push me on how might I do this?” Perspective is what’s lost. People become sales managers and they think they need to be in this headspace of sales manager, but what they’re going to be is in the headspace of the salesperson and understanding what they need to succeed. If a sales manager got up every day and thought, “What can I do today to make Jason a better salesperson,” rather than get up and think, “How am I going to get to the quota?” I think they’d be more effective at their job. As a salesperson, thinking through how I send you to succeed, you get the opportunity and then you become the sales managers that you wanted to have that you never, ever get.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Sales Management: Over time, we’re just finding better ways to do the fundamental things that salespeople need to do.

 

Jason, as a thought leader within the sales space and as one who has obviously been a part of innovating good practices for sales management and the like, where do you think the industry is going in the next few years? I know that’s a loaded question because the economy is in an uncertain space and we’ve got pandemics. We’ve got some communities and industries that are a bit in unrest. If you were to put that thumb out there, where are you seeing us a year from now, five years from now and what should we be doing to prepare for the future as sales managers?

I have what’s not a typical view for someone who’s supposed to lead thought and things. Change comes very incrementally in sales. We think the internet came and everything changed in a day and CRM came and everything changed in a day. The internet, the CRM or sales force automation was very rudimentary when it came. What we’re seeing is we’re just getting better and better at what we’ve always been doing. I had this idea that we have no new problems in sales. We just have unsolved problems in sales and the data point I like to use. It was a book called Birth of a Salesman. It was written by a Harvard professor years ago and it’s a great story.

It’s a little bit academic in the way that reads, but there’s a quote from a salesperson. It says, “My sales manager is gone about systematizing sales. Now, I spend all day chained in my desk doing reports.” It’s in 1927. I don’t think things have changed as much as we think they have changed. The internet and LinkedIn, but LinkedIn when it started wasn’t LinkedIn than it is now. What we’re doing overtime is we’re finding better and better ways to do the fundamental things that salespeople need to do, which identify opportunities, qualify them, demonstrate value through the sales process and shepherd the buyer across the finish line. If you’re managing accounts, the things that you do when you manage accounts.

I don’t think the sales motion has changed in 100 years. The tools we have and the way we viewed it has gotten sharper over that time. That’s going to be a trend that continues. I don’t see many revolutions. In fact, I’ll give you one final comment on the question. When the internet came about everyone said, “This is the death of the salesperson.” This is a cynical way. I can’t believe I’m saying it out loud because it’s so cynical. Like, “Why would someone interact with a salesperson if they didn’t need to?” That was the thing is, “Salespeople will be replaced by websites. We’ll never need to see a salesperson again.” People that I respect in the industry was like, “Half the salespeople will be gone in ten years.” That would be devastating to the sales career.

I did this several years ago, but I went back to 1999 and I looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States and looked at how many salespeople there were. What percentage of the workforce was employed in sales? It was 2015 or ’14. Several years later, I went back and looked at the percentage of the workforce that was in sales. It was exactly the same. It was like 14.1 versus 14.3 or something. It was negligible distinction in the composition of the workforce. We need salespeople. Now, what has to happen, salespeople will evolve. The salesperson, of now is much more valuable than the salesperson fifteen years ago because they had this realization like, “My salespeople know as much about my products as I do because they can go to the website. They can read reviews.” The internet pushed salespeople into a different place but again, it’s been incremental. We’re getting better at our craft.

Can you give us any peek into what you’re writing next? What topic you’re particularly pursuing now or is that something we’ll just have to read about?

As you and I were chatting about, in fact, some of it. I wrote a book and I published it in 2017 under a pen name. This 2020, I republished it under my name. It’s called Sales Insanity. I don’t know if you’ve come across that one. It’s twenty stories of the stupidest stuff I ever saw in my career of sales. I love that book. I’m as proud of that book as I am of Cracking Sales Management Code but in a very different way. It was a lot of fun to write and people have been inspired but the topic that I’m intrigued with now is very timely is video conferencing.

Sales certainly, but any profession who uses video conferencing in the way that we are now. This is truly unprecedented with the amount of video conferencing is taking place for obvious reasons. I’ve got a couple of research instruments and surveys I’ve put out trying to understand, what are best practices, what we’re doing now, and how should a professional interact with the camera and the background. If you have an important meeting coming up with another executive or whatever, how do you orchestrate that? In the same way that Cracking Sales Management Code was driven by curiosity, I’m genuinely curious in this. This is different than we would have been doing before. There’s going to be some writing coming out of that. The research is coming in and I think it’s timely, but we’ll see what’s after that. We’ll see what other questions I can’t answer.

That particular question about video conferencing, it’s a wonderful area to pursue. I think it would be very valuable as you and I have discussed previous to this, I see a lot of bad examples of salespeople trying to sell through video conferencing and their intent is good. Their heart is in the right place, but their presentation, their professionalism is suspect.

We have no new problems in sales, only unsolved ones. Click To Tweet

I’m not on sales calls anymore in the way that I used to be. Every morning, I watch the financial news during the day. You see the folks reporting from their houses, their homes, and this is on national television, global television. I can’t believe this person thinks this is a good idea. There’s no reference point. Maybe I’m going to foundationally define the way you work with a video camera. We’ll see.

I know exactly what you’re referring to. I’ve said to you with someone who’s sitting underneath a ceiling fan and it looks like a helicopter is descending on their head or they’re they look like they’re in their hallway. Granted, I like the rawness and the authenticity that this has forced us to adopt and customers like it too. It’s fun to talk to a salesperson when they’re in their kitchen or when you can hear their kids playing in the background. It makes everything more human.

We’re trying to establish credibility, but I was talking to a professor who also teaches sales. He was saying, “That’s a fascinating idea. Do you mind if I take this idea and start putting together some research and do some academic research on this?” You’re not only there, how do you have a first interaction where you’re trying to build credibility and establish that you’re right? He said, “What about three months later at the end of the sales cycle, do people still have the same expectations? You probably wouldn’t be in the kitchen and your first call with your kids in the background. Maybe it’s endearing once you have a relationship to have that personal view.” This is such interesting idea. Until people started bringing their business into their homes like an earnest, these issues never popped up. That’s where my head is now just because of the nature of my life.

I encourage my audience to be following Jason Jordan, see what’s coming out next. Jason, how could someone find you if they wanted to pursue more, the things that you’re sharing with us?

LinkedIn is the best place to get in touch with me.

We’ll encourage everyone to do that. I’m sure I appreciate you spending the time with us. It’s fascinating, the work that you’ve done and the work that you’re going to be doing in the future. We at Game Face appreciate the relationship. We will encourage people to reach out to you then, as questions arise, not only in sales management but even this new topic that you’re now raising. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to provide great instruction to the sales world.

Thanks, Rob.

Take care.

Important Links:

About Jason Jordan

GFEP 24 | Sales ManagementSales management expert focused on developing sales leadership effectiveness in large B2B sales forces. Clients include GE, 3M, Tyco, TIAA, Essilor, Aon, FedEx, Sungard, Gates, and other global organizations.

Best-selling author of Cracking the Sales Management Code and Sales Insanity. Conducts ongoing research to advance the discipline of sales management.

Specialties: Sales Management Best Practices, Sales Metrics, Pipeline Management, Forecasting, CRM, Change Management, Leadership Development, and Coaching.

GFEP 23 | New Year Read

 

If you wish to be a better persuader and influencer – whether at work, home, or in your community – the book you’ve been waiting for has arrived! Game Face Execs Podcast host Rob Cornilles is also an international bestselling author, and his new book, The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love, is now available. Order the e-book on Amazon and receive a Bonus Video recap of each chapter directly from the author. No matter what you do for work or play, if you want to inspire an individual, a workforce, a team, a group, or a client or customer, make The Sales Game Changer your first and most important book of 2021.

Watch the episode here:

Rob Cornilles | Your New Year Read

This is Rob Cornilles. From all of us at the Game Face Execs Podcast team, we wish you a very Happy and Prosperous 2021. In this episode, we’re excited to announce the international bestseller, The Sales Game Changer: How To Become The Salesperson People Love is available and the eBook is ready for download in Amazon. It’s priced for less than $3. Regardless of the job or role you have, anyone can have access to these ideas that have been game-changers for thousands of others for many years now.

Having finished a very busy year, I’m beat, so I’ve decided as host of the show, to take a few days off. Against my better judgment, I’ve turned to an old acquaintance, someone I’ve known for way too long, his name is Bert Corn, to fill in for me. Whatever happens, word has it that you’ll want to watch the full episode to hear about some exclusive bonus material that’s yours when you get the book. This is something special for readers. I don’t think you’ve ever seen this before in the book.

My name is Bert Corn. I’m filling in for our regular host of the Game Face Execs Podcast, Rob Cornilles, who is away during the holidays. He’s made it big time because I’m his first guest host, so I appreciate this opportunity he’s given me. We wish him a safe journey, whatever he may be doing, whatever Holiday Inn Express he may be staying in with those cool little waffle irons that you flip over. When he said that I get to guest host, he said, “It’s up to you, Bert.” I could invite any guests I wanted. I thought about it long and hard. Apparently, the Donald is not available. He’s still packing up Christmas boxes. Jeff Bezos is still making deliveries. In the end, it was no contest. Unfortunately, I keep getting a busy signal on Selena Gomez’s phone number. We decided to turn instead to a new author, Rob Cornilles who wrote the book, The Sales Game-Changer: How To Become The Salesperson People Love. Please welcome, Rob Cornilles.

Thanks, Bert. It’s great to be here and congratulations on being asked to guest host the Game Face Execs Podcast. That’s quite an honor.

Rob, I know that your book was launched on December 31st, 2020 as an eBook, and the hard copy is coming out later but since we’re friends, you gave me an advanced copy and I’ve been able to look through it. I’ve got to tell you, I read a lot of how-to books but this one, this is a game-changer. We’re going to talk a lot about it here in this interview. I want to start off by asking you and for the audience that we have here on the show, who do you write the book for?

I wrote it for four main audiences. The first is what I would call the recruit. The recruit is somebody who’s not in sales, that’s not on their business card or in their title, but they have an interest in sales. They have an appreciation for it when it’s done. They’ve met a lot of salespeople who are good that they admire and a lot who are not so good, who they try to avoid. Perhaps in their role or their job, they need to support sales and they want to have a better understanding of how it’s done so they can be more supportive.

The second audience I think about when I wrote the book is what I call the blue chip. It’s like a blue chip athlete. It’s someone who’s got a lot of promise, they’re very talented, with fantastic potential, but they need some coaching and honing. A blue chip salesperson is someone who’s fairly young in their career or they’re moving into the sales profession from something else. They want to be able to do sales the right way from the very start.

I also have written the book for veterans. Veteran salespeople are those who are already established. They’ve demonstrated that they know what they’re doing, they’ve got a good reputation, made their mark on their industry perhaps, but like a great athlete and all-star athlete, they also know that you can never learn enough and stop improving yourself. I try to be their head sales coach throughout the course of the book to take them to that next level and make sure that they leave a real legacy in their industry or their field.

The fourth audience is the sales leader or manager. Whether someone is indirectly or directly overseeing a salesperson, sales team, maybe it’s the CEO, owner of the business or it’s the sales manager but they want their people to become even better to represent their brand in the best light as possible. In order to do that, I’m giving the sales leader some insight on how they can provide even more usable and practical tools that their people will respond well to, because if you train your people and they don’t want to use the techniques that you’re training them in, then it’s a waste of time and resources. I am a shadow to the sales leader, helping them make sure they maximize the performance of their sales team.

It sounds like you’ve covered a lot there. If I’m understanding you correctly, it’s for anyone whether it’s in business, non-profit, someone who could be retired or working from home who wants to be a better persuader or an influencer. Is that a fair take?

Yes. It’s for anyone who wants to be a better communicator, whether at work or in their personal life. In doing so, we spend a lot of time in the book throughout the 300 or so pages over fourteen chapters that we have. Over those fourteen chapters, we talk about how you can better communicate through words so that your intent and your meaning is less likely to be misunderstood or misinterpreted, and also how you can listen more effectively because we know one of the big problems that we have in communication is we often don’t understand what someone is saying so it upsets us or we dismiss them out of hand. Listening is a huge communicative device that very few of us have ever got trained on. We spend a lot of time in the book talking about how to speak but also how to listen. That enhances relationships whether they’re new relationships that we’re trying to start and blossom, or they have stayed relationships that perhaps need a refresh.

I could use some work on my listening skills as well. Let me ask you in that regard, do you then provide scripts in the book?

One of the big problems that we have in communication is that we often don't understand what someone is saying. Click To Tweet

I wouldn’t say scripts. I’d call it more of a framework or a guide if you will. The book is a playbook for people that want to become better in sales, business, influencing, motivating, inspiring and educating other people. If you’re looking to be better in any of those areas, this book will give you that guidance or framework to make you more confident.

Regarding the title of the book, The Sales Game-Changer: How To Become The Salesperson People Love, where did you come up with that title?

I’ve always been put off by the idea that sales is a game, and a game suggests that there’s a winner and a loser. I don’t look at it that way. In order for us to be a real effective salesperson, there are a few things we have to do. First, we have to not be the salesperson that people abhor, the kind that they want to stay away from. The first step to get there is to become the salesperson people like. How do we become the person that they like, perhaps entertain a conversation with or take a meeting with? We talk about that extensively throughout the book.

Another important point for your audience is you also want to become a salesperson who loves what they do. Not because you’re tricking people up, it’s because you’ve won the argument or the negotiation because you love to see the results that your service and product provides the end-user. This whole book is themed around that idea. How can you produce positive outcomes with people especially people who never anticipated or asked for you to call on them, so that you are not only a game-changer but you’re a life-changer, you’re a business changer? You’re a person who can change their circumstance for the better.

Rob, you use a ton of examples and lots of stories, which makes it very easy and engaging to read. Between the two of us, I felt the book got better the further you get into it but that’s just me.

The book is full of stories. About every page is a new story or a new idea, certainly a new approach that will make people game-changers in their chosen field and all of their relationships. I use stories for my personal life and my business life from great stories that I have observed, not that I’ve heard about in my work with clients, sports, nonprofit organizations, Corporate America, those who are starting businesses, those who are in well-established enterprises with multinational organizations, and even those students that I have taught in the university. I also talk about stories that they have brought to me and individuals that have been game-changers that I’ve observed.

It starts from the very first story I tell. Chapter One is about a woman that I met who was a client who came up to me and made a statement to me after one of my training sessions with her staff that literally changed the way I looked at what I do for a living. All positive, by the way. I talk about professional athletes that I’ve observed working with their organizations, business leaders and rank and file salespeople. You’re right, there are a lot of stories incorporated throughout the book. I am sure the readers will find it very interesting and hopefully very engaging page-to-page.

Speaking of stories, the one that you’re telling at the very beginning in the introduction of the book, that one catapulted your business game phase. Tell us a little bit about that.

I won’t go into the details here but what changed for me in my career is something that happened years ago when I was a young salesperson, very well-intentioned, but very much lacking in any technique or approach. I had one particular incident, one night at my place of business that completely changed the way I looked at my profession and looked at how I’m going about it. From that night forward, I have become a different person and business executive. Hopefully, a different salesperson, boss, spouse and neighbor. I share that with the reader and then we talk about how that same principle that I learned can be incorporated into their work and their life.

Rob, I’ve read a lot of books about sales and service theory, but your book is so much more practical. It’s got all kinds of ideas that I can use to help me be a more successful service provider and certainly a more successful salesperson and helping me, not only build the short-term transaction but more importantly, as you say here, how to build those long-term relationships. The way you weave nowadays culture into the book to showing that sales is life as you say. In a few pages that I’m looking at here, I noted that you referenced these few things. You referenced the office, U2, Drew Brees, Dave Portnoy and Michael Jordan. That was your era when you worked in the NBA and a lot of examples from your interactions with people like Phil Knight, the Founder of Nike. Tim Boyle, the CEO and Chairman of Columbia Sportswear.

You also talk about Lee Bird, who is the Chairman and CEO of At Home. The other thing is those two women that had a tremendous impact on your sales career early on and the things that they taught you, that was a fascinating story and some great lessons from your celebrity contacts that reinforce the sales that you do and how you’re effective at teaching sales. I promise I won’t give it away, but the examples you give here from some of your clients over the years are awesome to read about. I wish I could show the audience here your Table of Contents. I encourage you guys to all look at the Table of Contents. I want to read a couple of things that I’m looking at here on some of the titles. One chapter, They Got To Trust You To Love You. Speaking The Same Language is another title. There’s a hilarious story about trying to speak Japanese when you first worked there as a young professional. Here’s another one. The Deal May Be Done, But It’s Not A Done Deal. That’s a whole chapter about customer service and renewing your clients. Here’s one, Resolve Agreeably Without Always Agreeing. I’ve got to stop there. What’s this chapter about, Rob?

You can check out the Table of Contents when you go on Amazon to look at the book. Right now, it’s available as an eBook and the paperback copy and the hard copy will be coming out. We’ll make sure that everyone’s aware of that. Since you asked about that one particular chapter, the notion about objection is such that we always think we have to overcome them. We think we have to win an argument in order to turn someone around, but we flip objections on their head in that particular chapter. What I go into quite a detail is a concept that I discovered when I was facing very tough objections in my first real sales job, which many people know I used to work for the Los Angeles Clippers Basketball Team when they were a bad team in the early ‘90s.

One of the most common objections I heard was, “I’m a Lakers fan. Why would I want Clipper tickets?” I could get defensive at that point, and I could tell them why they’re wrong, why we’re going to be a better team and makes all these promises that I can’t keep. What I realized is that every time someone gives me what we call an objection, they’re revealing for me something positive about themselves. If someone says, “I’m a Lakers fan,” that means they like basketball, so that’s a good thing. They also sound loyal to a particular brand or company. That’s also a positive thing. It also suggests they like to hang around winners. How can that be negative? There are many more examples of positives that I came up with to just that one objection.

GFEP 23 | New Year Read

The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love

What I soon realized is that for me to have an open and honest conversation with this individual so we can move forward and resolve whatever obstacle they think impedes our progress, I have to first state the positive that I see in them. Instead of getting defensive, as I say, and getting into a debate about the Lakers versus Clippers, I would say instead, “It sounds to me you like to associate with organizations that are very well-respected.” When they’d say, “I do,” we’re already in agreement. Rather than agree with an objection, I’m agreeable to it. That sets the tone for an honest conversation where we can mutually decide to move forward solving the objection. That doesn’t work every time, but it works far more often than if I’m trying to debate them and win that argument.

That’s the basis of how we begin to “overcome” objections, which are not objections at all, they’re just concerns. An objection is simply a question that needs an answer. I also talk about the three ways that you can eliminate even hearing objections. That doesn’t mean that you close your ears or you go live in a bubble, but we caused them because of things that we’re doing as salespeople. There are three specific things that we can do to eliminate those. We get into that in some detail in a particular chapter of the book.

You’ve got to tell Rob’s audience about something very unusual about your book, something they haven’t seen. The one-on-one video sessions that you include, tell them about that.

I’m glad you asked about that because the one-on-one videos in themselves are a game-changer. I don’t know if anyone has ever seen this before, I never have. In my book, I decided to do something very different. First of all, you have to understand it’s my nature as a trainer, mentor, coach and consultant, I like to be with my clients along the way, troubleshooting and perhaps tweaking as we go. Being an author, when you hand them a book, it’s like, “I’m done with it. Good luck with that.” That was against my nature as I say. What I decided to do in this book is at the end of every chapter, and there are fourteen chapters, is I decided to include a little video.

The reader can scan a QR code or go to the URL that’s listed there, and it will take them to a page where they can watch a video of me recapping that chapter or the content that we covered, as well as adding some new color and some new content to that chapter. I end that short video with a challenge. That challenge is to the recruit who’s reading it or to the blue chip, veteran or sales leader. In each case, I give them an individual challenge on what they can do to apply the principles and the practices found in that chapter to improve their relationships, communication, sales and business. As I say, this is a game-changer because now I get to stay with my reader along the way. We get to improve together. I call these the one-on-one sessions.

The other thing that we’re introducing with this book is the Sales Game-Changer Masterclass. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now. What a reader can do, if they want to go deeper into the content and additional content beyond what we’ve included in these nearly 300 pages, and also work with me one-on-one or work with my network of game-changing executives, and learn from my network as well. They need to enroll in my masterclass and we will be able to go into that deeper dive. The other thing that we’ll do is we’ll address their individual concerns, problems or obstacles that are facing them in their career or perhaps in their sales environment when they’re trying to go after a particular prospect that’s hard to reach, or a long-time client that looks like they’re not going to renew business with them. We’ll work with individual case studies in the masterclass, and that will be something that we’re going to be launching here in the first quarter of 2021.

To be able to have a chance to work personally with you, because you’ve worked with many executives over the years, that would be a game-changer for me, I can tell you that. In fact, I’ve got something I want to do with you, Rob, if that’s okay, something a little different. Do you mind if we do one of those role-plays from the book that you wrote, would that be okay?

Sure, I’d be happy to.

I’ve never been much of a salesperson, so this will be fun to role-play with the pro. I’m looking at Chapter 12, which is called Connecting Through Referrals. You write here about how one sale should never be one sale, and you give an example of a salesperson who incorrectly asks for a referral. If you can play the buyer and I’ll play the salesperson. Let me read from the book and we’ll go from there. Here’s what it says. Let’s listen in at the tail end of successful customer acquisition. Buyer Bob is pleased with his purchase but “Doing-his-best Dan” can’t get his manager’s exhortation out of his head, which is to ask for a referral.

Thanks, Dan. It’s going to be great doing business with you. I’ll make sure that the first payment goes out right away.

Bob, before I let you go, do you mind if I ask you one last question?

Sure.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in buying some McGuffins?

No, I can’t say I do, Dan.

Every time someone gives an objection, they're really revealing something positive about themselves. Click To Tweet

Could I ask you to think about it for a few days and I’ll give you a call next week some time?

Sure, I can do that. That would be fine.

That’s great, Bob. If you need to, you might check your contacts list. That’s a good place to look. Thumb through it. See if anybody comes to mind or you could ask around the office. See if any of your colleagues know of anyone.

I know my colleagues pretty well.

You know your wife pretty well and where she works, maybe she knows somebody, or you said you play racquetball and you go to a rotary club. There are a lot of people there who could use a McGuffin. I’ve got plenty of brochures here so I’d be happy to send anyone a brochure if you’d like me to.

Good to know, Dan.

When you’re talking to people, if anyone has any questions, give them my name and email. Heck, you’ve got my phone number still, right?

I got it right here.

Give that to them too, they could reach out to me directly. Be sure that you tell them to tell me that you told them about me so I know who told them.

Look, Dan, I’m late for a meeting now.

My bad. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll call you next week sometime unless you want to call me back first.

Click.

Dan sets down his phone, sits there in silence then does a Tommy Boy slapping his forehead, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why didn’t I leave him well enough alone? We built some trust, I got the sale, and then I go and blow it by reaching deeper into his pocket for a referral. I’m never doing that again.” Dan went from feeling appreciated, to feeling like the salesperson people don’t love. He knows he may never speak to Bob again. That’s a shame because Dan had the right idea. It’s the execution that failed him. He needs skill 6. That’s great, Rob. Thanks for doing that for me. That’s a fun part of the book. I’d encourage everyone to read that particular chapter, About Getting Referrals.

What we’ll do in that particular chapter, which as you say, we call connecting through referrals. As I disclose the four rules of getting referrals that I’ve been incorporating for years now and as have my clients. I hate to say anything is a guarantee, but if people will apply these four rules consistently, I tell you, they’re almost assured a referral with anybody that they are doing business with, even those people that they’re not doing business with. That one referral will rarely be one referral. It will usually turn into 2 or 3 or more.

GFEP 23 | New Year Read

New Year Read: Have an open and honest conversation with people, so you can actually move forward and resolve whatever obstacle impedes the progress.

 

As they say, I’ve got to go put another coin in the meter. Our time is up. On behalf of Rob Cornilles and the Game Face Execs Podcast, I want to thank you, Rob Cornilles. I encourage everybody to go out and get his book, The Sales Game Changer: How To Become The Salesperson People Love. It’s on Amazon now. It’s an eBook version. It’s only $2.99. You can’t go wrong there. The hardback is coming later on in 2021. Be watching for more details on that. If you’d like more personalized coaching or sales training for you or your organization, for my money, Game Face Training is the best in the world. Reach out to Rob on his website at GameFaceInc.com. You’ll never be sorry that you did you.

It’s been my pleasure, Bert. Thanks for having me on as your guest. Say hi to Rob for me. I look forward to seeing him when he gets back. Tell him I love the Game Face Execs Podcast. It’s riveting every week. It’s one of my highlights. You can tell him I’m a subscriber and I listen to it every Friday. I can’t wait to hear what he’s got for 2021.

You and me both, Rob. This has been Bert Corn filling in on behalf of the vacationing Rob Cornilles. Thanks for joining us. I get to say it persuade, influence, inspire.

That wasn’t so bad after all. Thanks again, Bert, for guest hosting for me. I’ll be back with another influential and inspiring guest. I hope you take a moment to subscribe and rate this podcast. Until then, grab The Sales Game-Changer on Amazon and start becoming the salesperson, friend, significant other, boss or colleague that people love.

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GFEP 22 | Living Out Purpose

 

We are all here for a purpose. In this breakthrough episode, actor and coach Glenn Morshower visits with Rob Cornilles to demonstrate what it means to be “present.” Covering a wide array of personal and insightful topics, Glenn reveals how “whispers” have directed his life and career choices, and how his “whole life has been spent living my second life in my first life.” Going well beyond a typical Hollywood celebrity interview, this conversation is sure to change the way you look at those who pretend for a living. How does solitude inspire Glenn? Where can we find personal peace? And what did Michelangelo say about his sculpture of David that can be life’s motto for all of us? Be prepared for one of the most genuine gentlemen Tinseltown has ever produced.

Watch the episode here:

Glenn Morshower | Hollywood’s Genuine Pretender

Glenn Morshower, thanks for joining us.

It’s my pleasure, Rob. I’m glad to be here.

You’re at home. You’re in the Dallas community. You live in the Dallas area. You were raised in Texas. What have you got behind you there? What’s your favorite?

The whole area here as is the rest of our house is a tribute to the ‘70s. If you’re missing anything in your life from the ‘70s and you’ve not seen it since, it’s probably here.

My Planet of the Apes lunch box.

We have it. Ken Walls busted me on those. He said, “Do you have an eight-track tape player?” I said, “No,” and then I went, “We do.” We haven’t played anything on it for many years.

Glenn, it’s great to see you. These are unusual guests that we get to have someone from show business with your stature joining us, but it’s a real treat. I have to ask you something. You’ve said in the past to me that you cherish eye contact.

I do. I’m giving you eye contact now, even though it may not look like it. I’m looking right down the barrel.

What is it about eye contact that you cherish so much, Mr. Morshower?

First of all, that mister garbage is completely unnecessary. It’s wasted on me. I play a lot of characters who get referred to as mister and I’ve had quite a career playing authority figures, but it’s always Glenn. To answer your question, eye contact is everything for me because that’s where people can’t lie, especially to the perceptive. I listen to two things. I listened to one thing and watch the other I watch people’s eyes because I’m looking for what’s going on behind them. It’s a show-business expression. When someone says, “Why is it I find that actor intriguing?” It was the Alaska casting director or a producer. They say, “It’s because of what he’s got going on behind the eyes.” I get it because that’s where the facade disappears. When you look deep into someone’s eyes, there’s no more smoke and mirrors. There’s no more facade. There’s no more posturing. There’s only the truth. Another thing that is a tell that telegraphs information and informs us as to what’s going on, which is all I care about.

I only care about what’s going on with people. I wrote a chapter about this one. It’s called The Presentational Self, which is my experience has shown me. I’m only here doing this interview with you to express opinions and I don’t label them the truth for the world, but they’re certainly the truth for me. The truth that I hold to be true are ones that have been tested and they’ve held up under scrutiny and inspection at something that’s a magnificent, absolute about truth in general. The truth doesn’t mind being inspected because it has nothing to hide. It holds up well under inspection. People who speak the truth hold up well, not surprisingly under inspection as well. When people are lying, they tend to break down under scrutiny or close inspection. The sidecar of eye-contact is tonality. That’s the other home of truth is you listen to someone’s tonality. If you say, “How are you?” They say, “I’m fine.”

The word said one thing. It said you’re fine, but the tone told the truth. When you hear someone go, “I’m fine,” I usually will go, “No, you’re not.” It always gets a smile because it’s calling them on why did you feel the need to disguise or hide who you were? It’s okay if you’re not feeling fine. It’s okay to have an off chapter. It’s okay to have an off day, an off-hour or an off week. If you start getting into a month-long periods of time where things seem to be off, it’s time to take a close look at that and see what it’s going to take to inspire you to get life back on track. Eye contact is everything and my business requires it. It’s a skillset. It’s an even greater importance in our personal lives, but I’ve learned to take what was always important to me in my personal life and turn it into a big career advantage to know how to look people in the eye.

I’ll add one other thing to it. When you’re barking orders, there’s an additional film trick called do so minus blinking. If I decided to do it, I could sit here and talk with you for the next ten minutes and not blink one time. I’ve timed myself and it’s not even difficult to do. Some people find the thought of not blinking after twenty seconds, they’re madly blinking. This is side information, but it’s interesting. When you’re playing authority figures, if you blink during one of your admonishments, you lose your power. It weakens the character. Eye contact is huge. If people are afraid to do it, there’s a good chance that they’re hiding something. There’s something they don’t want you to see. They’ll look up briefly, but then they turn away. If they can look on ashamedly right at you and hold eye contact for an undetermined period of time, I’m able to tell that there’s a good chance they don’t have anything that they need to hide.

When you’re creating a character, 0it’s not the words on a script that you’re considering. You’re considering the comportment of the individual. You do a whole character exposition about their background. Even if there’s nothing in the script about their background, you develop that obviously all the way through their wardrobe, their mannerisms, the gait of their walk, their gestures and the way they look at people.

Speaking of the ‘70s and eye contact, as you were describing that, there was one movie character that was famous for having a hard time making eye contact. That was Talia Shire’s character in Rocky. What a beautiful scene that was when he finally got her to look him in the eye. It was a memorable scene for me. I don’t know why, but I’m thinking about that as you’re describing the importance of being able to make eye contact.

I want to add another word to this discussion, which is it is an indicator of how present someone is. Someone can take an emotional role call and you’ll know that the person who is looking at you when you’re talking is present front and center. There’s none of those, “Rob, what’s going on? I’m over here. I see over there.” What relationship is that? Texting in the middle of lunch, my thought is, “Why don’t you go be with whoever it is you’re texting that you’re finding important?” This is generational. We’re seeing a lot of this nowadays and it’s not even new. It’s been going on for the last several years, however long texting has been popular.

Eye contact is everything because that's where people can't lie, especially to the perceptive. Click To Tweet

While there are advantages to it and you need to get a quick word to someone and not open up a big conversation, “Rob, catch you at 3:00 PM.” That’s beautiful. I’m talking about sitting there having a conversation with the person you’re not with. What’s interesting is I’ve done my research and what I have found to be so is that the people who do this, if you were to insist that they go be with whomever they’re texting, do you know that when they get with them, the cycle repeats itself and they’re doing it all over again with someone else, which simply means this.

They don’t know how to be where they are. They haven’t learned how to be where they are. They’re always being where they’re not. If that’s not a great life teaching, I don’t know what is to simply learn how to be where you are. Don’t spend time hanging out where you’re not. You’ll never be effective that way. You’ll have a lifetime of marginal relationships at best because you were never present with the ones you were with. Do you remember that song going, “Love the one you with, love the one you’re with?”

Glenn, I have that problem.

Which problem?

When I’m somewhere, I’m thinking about where I’m not. When I’m with family members, I think about where I’m not. “I’m not at my desk right now getting that task done or I’m not talking to that friend or that business associate.” I know that I’ve got that problem and that it’s a weakness. I don’t want to beat myself up too much. I don’t think that it’s destroying my relationships, but it’s my challenge. A challenge I’ve always got to work on is being present. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s because as an entrepreneur, I’ve always had the glass is half empty mentality because no one else is going to fill it for me. You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve been self-employed for 40-plus years as a professional actor. I want to make the audience aware of something. I’m sorry I’m speaking, but I want to make them aware of something.

Why would you be sorry you’re speaking? I love it. I have a question for you.

They’re reading because they want to learn about you, not me.

Can I at least ask this one question of you?

Roll them.

Is there ever a place where you go where you don’t feel that? For example, if instead of being with your family or whomever, but you decided you were having thoughts of being in your office. I’m going, based on your words. When you go to the office, where are you wishing you were or where are you thinking you’re not? Is there ever a place where you land and go, “I’m entirely here. This feels good. I’m not thinking about being anywhere else.”

Yes. That’s called spiritual meditation. I have those moments and I’ve had to consciously intentionally create those moments within my life. In fact, within my days. When I set aside that time, in fact, that time is sacrosanct for me. It’s in those moments, I don’t feel like I need to be anywhere else. I don’t feel guilty that I’m not anywhere else, but I need to expand that in my life.

Now you bring in increased peace. I’m not saying this for popularity. Now, this is what’s going on for me.

I wanted to point out that before this interview began, you and I checked our watches to make sure that I wasn’t overtaking your time. You said to me, “Rob, I am totally here for you.” You put no time limit on this interview. I know there’s going to be a time limit on it, but I want to attest to the audience that you practice what you preach. You made me feel like there’s nothing else that is more important for the next hour or so except talking with me in this interview. Thank you.

It’s more than a feeling though, Rob. It’s the truth. It’s one thing if I’m trying to engender a feeling, but it’s the truth. It’s how I feel, so much so that if I were in some circumstance where, for example, it was like, “I got 15 or 20 minutes, Rob, let’s go.” I’m of the ilk that I wouldn’t even do it at all. The reason is if I’m that rushed, there’s no way I’m going to be present for you. I’m not going to be present for an audience. I’m too rushed to paint with the brush that I want to paint with, which is the gentle brush of life that discovers itself. It’s not in a hurry and it wants to explore a moment. It wants to when we happen upon a tributary, take that tributary. That’s one of the reasons I don’t prep my answers.

It’s one of the reasons that in my speeches, when I speak to big companies, I don’t do a PowerPoint presentation. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re great. There are many speakers that are better with them, but they’re not for me. They’re not for me because by committing to form, which clearly that’s form, I wind up blocking all of the intuitions that come up spontaneously that want to be expressed.

Here’s what’s key is I trust them implicitly. If I get a whisper from above, that whisper is not there for me to hear it. That whisper is there for me to act upon it. I’ve had many people that will come up to me afterwards and say, “I was moved by your speech. How long did it take you to create that?” The answer is a lifetime because it’s based on trust, which I’ve had my whole wife. All I know is I’d take the stage and I will know what to say now and I will know what to say next. It will be revealed unto me.

GFEP 22 | Living Out Purpose

Hollywood’s Genuine Pretender: People who speak the truth hold up really well. When people are lying, they tend to break down under scrutiny or close inspection.

 

It’s not a plan. I’m not going to take them here first and then massage that area over here. That will ready them to hear this. I not only feel my truth, but I feel their truth, which might even be the bigger gift. When you can step in front of an audience and take a good old fashion whiff and breathe in what’s going on in the room. Every room has needs. Every room has a collective consciousness. Average out everyone’s contribution, divided by the number of people present equals the consciousness of the room. We can average it out.

You’ve got a large number of overachievers. You’ve got a lot of people that are new that are trying to discover who it is they are and learn about their own abilities to generate results in life and so forth. You average it out. It may sound woo-woo and I genuinely don’t care. I don’t care if it sounds woo-woo. It’s the truth. If you trust, the room itself will speak to you. I find that moments speak to us. It’s the reason I became an actor. It’s to allow a moment to speak to us and then be filmed while allowing that to happen and then get a paycheck for it.

Those meant more to me years ago. It doesn’t mean they don’t mean something now, but there was a time when I was fueled by it. Now, I work from a sense of personal fulfillment that is not generated from the outside in, but truly from the inside out. That’s been a real blessing and a real healing in my life. Why are you doing what you’re doing? I know you’ve got questions you want to get on to, but while this is on my mind, I want to mention an epiphany that came to me. It’s not a cutting edge concept. It’s something I’ve thought of before many times, but I’ve never had it show up quite the way it showed up. In this specific wording and here was the wording. I call it a God download.

I’m open to talking about religion. I know it’s one of the topics a lot of people don’t talk about. I’m fine with it. In my God download and I even have an associated chill that it is accompanied by. Anytime I’m feeling what I call heavenly truth, the gift that I’ve been given to verify it. It’s a self-verifying download that within me, there will be a corresponding sensation that is akin to an entire body rush. A chill that gives me goose bumps. The hairs on my arm will stand up like, “This is worth hanging on to.” That’s my message from above. “This is no ordinary information. This is huge. Pay attention, Glenn. Because you’re being utilized on a large scale. You’re a valuable vessel in terms of numbers. Your intrinsic value is of no greater worth than any of my children.”

This being the voice of God, meaning that you are an equal child. However, the way we’ve got you positioned in life is that when your show airs, for example, you are seen by five million people live a week and many more millions in subsequent airings. That’s someone who is able to reach a lot of people. You can either sit around getting off to yourself and throwing a big party as to how wonderful you are, which is lame or you can realize that is quite an honor and a huge responsibility and one for which I’m immeasurably grateful. I had been selected for a large assignment. I don’t know what else to say other than thank you. I will show up fully for that task. Here’s the download. There were two questions. First question is what are you doing? You’re going to answer the first question first. Question two is, what is what you’re doing keeping you from doing?

It’s life-changing and I’ve shared it with a number of people. As I said, it’s not a cutting-edge concept, but I’ve never heard it worded that way. It’s succinct, almost impossible to not understand. It’s easy to grasp but here’s what I’m doing. While I might even like it or love it even, is my commitment to its continuation, to continuing to do it. What is it keeping me from doing? What is it keeping me from discovering? Are there greater versions of the light within me that could be expressing themselves if I wasn’t so committed to staying in the thing I’m in doing what I’m doing? What is it blocking? I know what it’s giving me, but there’s a condition. I know you’re familiar with the condition known as velvet handcuffs. All of a sudden, you’re handcuffed to your own comfort and probably it feels good.

You don’t feel like you’re its prisoner until you take a greater look, a deeper dive into what would be available to you if you had enough backbone to unlock the velvet handcuffs and say, “I am not a comfort seeker. I’m a cutting edge spirit that is signed up and suited up for the fullest expression of everything God intended it to be.” When I was eighteen years old, I vowed that I am suited up and showing up for the assignment of being me to the fullest extent available. I prayed that prayer word for word when I was eighteen years old.

I’m not bragging, but I will tell you straight up, I don’t know a lot of eighteen-year-olds that are that much on course with purpose in their step and I was. The only difference between me at eighteen is I have a lot less hair, but my verbiage is unchanged since those years. I was always a man on a mission. I understood that there was a huge gift being given to us, all of us, called life. I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt by saying it seemed. It seemed that I was clearer on the bigness of that than most people I ever talked with that life was enough. Life itself was enough of a reason and a justification to throw a huge party.

“What happened? Did you get a raise?” “No. I remembered how cool this system is that we live and operate and have our beingness within.” That’s cause for a party. That stuff gets me teared up. It’s not a performance it’s authentic. I am jacked up about this dance called life. It puzzles me endlessly why that spirit is not more present in our world and it’s not. Since it’s not, there is an internal mandate that says, “You then got work to do because you are here to help others discover their own light.”

You’re here to help people remember who it is they are and what it is they are and that all these things that they refer to as challenges, they’re a frigging joke in the mind of God. We have a saying in the South called, “It amounts to the significance of a pimple on a gnat’s ass.” Meaning it’s small. You done got yourself worked up about something that’s tiny. All you have to do is stop and remember that you out swam 500 million sperm in order to get here in the first place. That was your first act. Do you think that was an accident? Is there a chance that was a gift from our creator to start your life adventure with some real crystal clear instruction as to who it is you are, what it is you are and what it is you’re capable of?

Do you get it? I don’t mean you, Rob. I’m saying from above a voice saying, “Do you get it now? Do you get that you’re not weak? Do you get that all of this is available to you the moment you fully grasp who it is and what it is you are?” You’ll quit swimming in the kiddie pool in the town of Complainerville about everything that’s wrong with life. You’ll get out of the kiddie pool and go, “What was I thinking?” It’s the last thing I want to say while I’m on this roll because I know you’ve got questions you want to ask, but there is an exercise that I would highly recommend for your audience.

That is to visit your death day. Go to using God’s most underused gift, which is the gift of the imagination because we don’t push the envelope of using it. We use it for a lot of minor tasks and the imagination goes, “Thank you. Just so you know, I could be serving you in a much greater capacity.” I’m channeling the voice of the imagination. That’s what I feel it says to us all the time is like, “If you want me to come off the bench and score 3 or 4 points. I could give you a 55-point game in your life, but you don’t seem to trust me to do that. If you want to underutilize me, be my guest.” Here is what I think the healthiest use of your imagination is which is to pay a visit to the day of your death. No matter what the age, whether it’s a week from now a month from now or 50 years from now, teleport forward to that time. Take a look back at how you showed up in your life. Do a full life review. Now you’re done because you’ve died in your mind and go back and look, could you have done it any differently? We all know the answer to that.

Could you have done it better? Could you have lived with greater intention? Could you have increased the level of love in your life? Could you have helped more people? Could you have spent more time in the remembrance of this beautiful dance you were in the middle of? Could you have been more encouraging? The answer is yes. I tell you what, why don’t you go back now and do it? My whole life has been devoted to living my second life during my first life. I don’t have memories that preceded that approach.

My whole life, I’ve been blessed with the understanding that you have to die first in order to live well. It’s a mental exercise. You have to go to the time when you’re not here. You can’t do anything about the fact that you’re not here or that you’re going to be leaving in 45 seconds. You have 45 seconds worth of heartbeats left, they’re going to end and you won’t be able to do anything about that. Now we’re going to grant you a stay of execution and we’re going to send you back. I’m going to ask you this question. Having gone through all of that, I don’t mean thinking about it, but if that were the case, do you think there’s an excellent chance that when you got back, you might do it better?

You bet is the obvious answer. I’ve asked that question for many years. I’ve never had anyone hear that and go, “No. I’m sure I’d screwed up even worse.” We’re not fully plugged in. If life were a ten-pronged device, we’re using about two of them. We’re missing out on all of this other available guidance, information, power and understanding. That’s called what happens when I’m on a roll and none of that was planned. None of that was rehearsed. That’s what’s brewing inside of me.

Let’s talk about some football now. How about them, Cowboys, Glenn?

When you look deep into someone's eyes, there's no more smoke and mirrors. There's no more facade. Click To Tweet

We’re 1 and 2.

When you said I had questions I wanted to ask, I have questions certainly that I have jotted down, but I like these conversations to be free-flowing. I would like to suggest that my next question comes from a whisper. I want to talk about the whisper. There’s so much that you’ve said that I wish we could dive further into. Let’s start with the whisper. We’ve had conversations before about this. You’ve described it as the whisper. I like that word. I’ve often referred to it and have heard it referred to as an impression. Whatever you might call it, we’re on the same page. How does Glenn Morshower receive whispers? What are you doing at the time? How were you living at that moment? Are you engaged in a certain activity or does it come to you unexpectedly or do you have to prepare for it and then it arrives? Could you tell us how that works in your life?

I’m going to start with the one of, are you doing anything to prepare for it or are you doing anything at the time? The answer is yes and no. The no part is that whispers occur anywhere and everywhere. My favorite expression to clarify that where it won’t need any more discussion is including on the toilet. Some of my greatest epiphanies have occurred while seated on the throne. That’s a fact. I’ve written chapters from the throne because I ran them in my mind. I went and sat down at my desk and wrote them. They were all formulated while sitting on the toilet.

Would this observation be accurate? It’s there and only there are we almost all assured of privacy and aloneness.

That’s certainly fair enough. That’s a deeper dive on the subject of being on the toilet when epiphanies show up than anyone has ever offered. Rob, congratulations on your insightfulness.

There’s a solitude there which might be in your case. I don’t know if it is for others, but in your case, that sends a message to you that solitude is fruitful.

Thank you for not being quick to react to say, “That’s silly. Now he wants to talk about epiphanies he got on the toilet.” Instead you took it at face value and said, “Maybe there’s something there worth exploring. Maybe it’s in connection with solitude.” I couldn’t agree with you more. Solitude is one of the greatest facilitators we have. Showers are another place. With a name like Morshower, come on. When you’re showering, there’s something about the act of cleaning, purifying. As you’re cleaning yourself, your receptors are being opened up to receive new.

We get the film of the world off of us. I call it film. You think of film that is blocking a lens. We clean our lens when we shower. We certainly clean our lens when we pray. That’s a lens cleaning exercise, for sure. I do believe that there is a universality to the whisper. I believe it is ever present in all people. I do not hold the belief that there is an elitist group that receives whispers and it is unique onto them. That to me is an arrogant spiritual belief. That’s my opinion.

It’s also this regard for the human race saying that I’m at the top of the pedestal.

Yes, it is elitist to the nth degree and it’s not even accurate. What I do think is accurate that may be runs on an adjacent track is that we declare our candidacy for the degree of whispers that we receive. The frequency is increased by volunteering. When we volunteer ourselves to be receptors, we are treated differently. Everyone has whispers. Now are you an acknowledger? That’s step one. Are you someone who completely minimizes its significance? Do you say, “No, that’s interesting. I’m going to consider this. What I’m being moved to feel right now is interesting?” Are you in the top group, which is the action taker? Are you someone who is a vetoer?

I’ve done a lot of work in this area to determine the common reasons why people veto their whispers. They’re given an internal directive. That to me is what a whisper is. It is not audible, but it might as well be because it is every bit as loud in our internal universe as, “Attention, Kmart shoppers.” You can’t not hear it. We all hear it, but maybe we’ve been schooled to think of it as nonsense or no big deal. “That was a weird thought.” No, it wasn’t a weird thought. It came from the depths of you and it wasn’t accidentally there. Our soul knows what’s up.

I grasp that it knows what’s up. There are parts of us that are infinitely wise, but are we being guided by those parts? Here are the reasons they veto. The vetoers of the world who veto their own whispers, their own sacred leadership, because one, it doesn’t make any sense, meaning you might get something from the nonlinear side of the tracks. You can’t make immediate sense of it, but for some reason you’re being told to go to Kansas this week, Topeka specifically. Would you immediately start trying to find reasons to campaign for the word no or would you simply go to Topeka? I’m one of the small group who would promptly go to Topeka without questioning it. I’m not saying this again for your readers. I’m telling you this as my bud, if nobody were reading this, I’m the odd duck that would go to Topeka.

Here’s why. I fully grasp that things would be revealed to me in Topeka that will not be until I follow the whisper’s instructions. That’s one. Reason two is that they base their adherence to the whisper on convenience. If it’s convenient, sure, I’ll do it. If it asks some extra of me in terms of time, commitment, money, and if it’s going to be inconvenient for me on any of those levels, the answer is no. Here’s what I hear from above. The above is saying, “Really? That’s too bad because what you were unwilling to give of your time, energy and money, had you done that and not doubted it, you’d have been given back ten or more times what your investment was.”

What am I doing and what is what I’m doing, keeping me from doing? If you’re holding back because you don’t want to invest that, what are you blocking by trying to hold back? You’re holding onto your time. You’re holding onto your money and all that. If you had followed your directive, you would have seen, “I will never distrust my whispers again because they know what’s up.” It’s the ultimate trusted friend. That’s my experience. My whisper has never misled me.

You said trusted friend. I think also of the term reliable partner. Don’t we all want to have a partner, a friend and we can always rely on?

I had this conversation. I was saying that one of the things I would love to put on my headstone is, “He was reliable.” That’s a huge word in my vocabulary. The minute someone is unreliable, I don’t know why you’d want to spend a lot of time with someone that you knew was unreliable. You wouldn’t be able to count on anything. They’re not going to do what they said they would do. They’re loaded with things that are not true at all. Why would you waste time hanging out with someone that was unreliable? They tell you, “We’ll grab dinner at 6:00,” and at 5:00 comes the predictable phone call that says, “I’m not going to be up for that.”

GFEP 22 | Living Out Purpose

Hollywood’s Genuine Pretender: Every room has needs. Every room has collective consciousness, which is averaged out of everyone’s contribution divided by the number of people present.

 

It’s interesting to me in my life, Glenn. I want that heavenly person, persona, spirit and people may refer to it in different ways. I want my God to be reliable to me. I expect it. It’s like, “I prayed for it. Why can’t I have it? You told me if I did this, that I would get that.” When do you expect that? When it comes to reciprocating the reliability, that’s where I fall short. That’s where I’m not a good partner.

Reciprocating in the reliability, in that specific relationship or in general?

In that specific relationship. If I hear a whisper, if I get an impression and if I can’t be relied on to go to Topeka, then perhaps it’s hypocritical of me to then complain when I don’t feel that my God is reliable to me.

Let me ask you a question now. What if you had a longstanding history and perhaps you do. There’s a part of me that’s assuming that you do. The only reason I’m jumping to that conclusion is because you have a perceptible peace about you. This is not some crazy, smooth complimentary line that I’m sharing with you. I mean it and I said this to you shortly after I met you. You have a perceptible peace and calm about you that seems connected to something that’s powerful that keeps you stable. That keeps you loving, kind and warm because that’s what you exude. I’ve been interviewed many times and I don’t think I’ve ever had two interviews that were the same because they’re always going to be the merging of the two members and the colors of those.

I wrote a chapter called People as Colors. With me being a redhead, most of it’s gone now, but once upon a time, I was a bright redhead, so we’ll make it that my color is red. If your color is blue and that’s not connected to anything for any reason, I’m trying to offer teaching with an analogy. I give this one to my students all the time and I’ll say to one actor. I won’t even make it about you and me, Rob. I’ll say, “Two actors. One is responsible for bringing their redness to the scene. The other is responsible for bringing their blueness to the scene. The goal is neither read nor blue. The goal is purple.”

I wish more people understood that. I wish more people understood that you can’t review a person and expect the person who’s listening to your review of the third party to necessarily buy into your review because your review will be based on the color that you experienced when you were in their midst. For example, if you are yellow and I am red and someone says, “What’s it like to spend time with Rob? You’ve hung out with him. You’ve been interviewed by him. You’ve gotten to know him. You have a sense of who he is. What’s it like?” I’d say, “It’s the most beautiful orange I’ve ever experienced.” That would be an accurate statement because that’s Rob’s yellow plus Glenn’s red. They want me to talk about Rob and who Rob is.

What they haven’t factored into consideration is that they are not Glenn’s red. They are Bobby’s blue. Bobby’s blue merges with Rob’s yellow. They experienced green when they’re with you. They don’t experience orange. That is such an important thing to understand about human dynamics. It keeps it really simple. That is easy to understand that. Someone says, “What’s your agent like? Are they good? Are they strong? Are they kind?” It’s like, “All I can tell you is that their orange and orange is working here,” but they’re not going to bring red to the agency that I’m signed with. They go in and sit down and it turns out that their color merging, whatever their color is when it merges with my agent’s yellow or Rob’s yellow, it produces a different color. If that color doesn’t work, that’s not going to be a good match.

They said, “I met him and the guy’s a jerk.” No. What you don’t know is, you’re not reacting to the guy. You’re reacting to the color that arose when the two of you gathered. That’s human energy. It’s the way energy works. I always think of what is the merging energy here. What color are we shooting for, Rob, in our exchanges with one another? If the color they’re after is love, it’s not about who’s more right, who is more powerful, who owns more, who has their own airplane, who has a nine-bedroom house? Is that what we define ourselves by? Who has the fancy schmancy car? I don’t care. I somehow managed to dodge the preoccupation with things that typically hold meaning in our lives. I don’t care. Most of the things people are real caught up in caring about. I don’t care about any of it.

That’s why you’re hanging out with me, obviously. Most people wouldn’t. Thank you for that.

To be honest with you, you’re a cool cat.

Glenn, you alluded to this earlier. You talked about your role or your purpose and this life. I’ll use my own words here. You’ve been given an opportunity to use your prominence, your position, your profession to do good. The question I have for you is there are thousands of people in your profession who have a prominent role. They’re cultural icons and celebrities who seem to, at least from the outsider’s point of view, which I want to represent the outsider now, they seem to squander that. I’m going to call it a stewardship, the influence that they could have. In our show, we like to talk about influence. We like to talk about inspiration and the ability to persuade, hopefully for good.

Many of your contemporaries, I’d even call them your colleagues, and people in my core industry of sports. I put them in the same boat. They have this wonderful opportunity to use their platform, to use their reach. I don’t think they’re getting the most out of it. Meanwhile, there could be that little old lady on the corner house who is a saint, but her universe is small. She has little opportunity to create influence beyond maybe the neighbor over the fence and the little boy that mows her lawn. What do you make of that?

I love that you’re even mindful of that in the first place. The answer is you make the most of what you have, where and when you have it. Whether you’re having it at 14, 44 or 84, I guess the difference when you have it earlier is that you can devise a plan whereby you create a wider net for yourself. You’re casting a wider net. That was always important to me. It was important to me to, first and foremost, reach them well. The extent of which is yet to be determined, but I’m going to position myself such that it can be far-reaching because I stand for truth and I stand for love. Why would I want to ceiling, especially a self-imposed ceiling on that? If you’ve got drive, you’re going to have to go ahead and say yes to it fairly early on in life so that you can begin expanding your options.

If you didn’t do that, let’s say this is now becoming important to you all of a sudden and it’s way later in life, then do what you can where you are. I mean every word I’m saying. It’s not being said because it’s picturesque and it would be the correct thing to say. It’s what I’m feeling, which is that be nice to the crossing guard. Be nice to your postal carrier. Be nice to the people at the grocery store and be kind and be encouraging.

Maybe you’re running in a small circle. Run in that circle well. I was standing on a grave once. I went to visit my stepfather’s grave with my mom and with my wife. We went across the way to visit some other family member’s graves. On the ground, there was a wasp. I looked down and I realized how many people I’ve known, I don’t hang with any of them currently. Over the years, who would have felt that somehow it was their job and/or right to stomp on it.

It was there in the grass. It wasn’t flying around. It was enjoying itself. It was walking around. It wasn’t injured. It was exploring the grass, “I’ll get back to flying, but right now I’m checking out the grass.” I intentionally did something as an exercise for myself, which is that I put my foot at an angle above it to remind myself how we’re always at choice. I pulled it back and Carolyn was watching. She knew what I was doing. I said, “I want to show you a pose that many people would take in this moment because this would be their level of engagement.” I put my foot right over it. I said, “Look at what’s getting ready to not happen.”

You got work to do because you are here to help others discover their own light. You're here to help people remember who it is they are. Click To Tweet

My heart and my connection with this living thing are the reason it won’t happen. I pulled my foot back, I looked at him and I reached down with a little stick that was there, got up under its legs and I lifted it up. He was crawling on the stick. I had my moment with him. I set him back down and went on about my day and he went on about his day, but we had contact. That goes back to eye contact. Yes, even with a wasp, be still. Notice it. It’s here to be noticed. I don’t have anything else going on. The only place I am in the world now is standing here over this grave and there you are.

That’s what’s given me the profession that I have is to stop and say, “Hi.” Do you know how much better our world would be if people would stop and go, “Hi,” and not, “Hey, man,” because you’re still not there? It’s something you do. If you stop and go, “Hi.” How many problems would be eliminated? How much disease would be eliminated? We would have wellness moving through us all and light anointing us all by making eye contact and saying, “Hi.” What the hi includes is, “I see you there.” I know that you too have challenges like I do, like we all do. This is my chance to remind you that we’re rowing this lifeboat together. I don’t care if you’re a human, a squirrel or a wasp. “Hi. It’s nice to see you there.”

What happens, Rob, is my experience has been while that could seem inconsequential to some, here’s what I want to prove. If I’ve got a big corporate meeting, let’s say I’m going into Warner Brothers for a series, regular role on a new show that’s going to be on ABC television. If I have had that quality encounter, which I have many of a day, do you know that I enter the room differently? I don’t think that surprises you. There’s no part of me that believes that’s a cutting edge concept to you. It’s the truth. I walk in differently at Warner Brothers. Why? My life’s already full. I’m already happy. There’s a condition in metaphysics called the already made up mind. I have some good things that my mind is made up about. One of them is that things work out for me.

It’s been that way for many years. Why would I expect it to change? I don’t have to panic if things get a little rough for a while because I understand that things work out for me. It’s the nature of them. If we get into some whitewater rafting, the metaphorical equivalent of that in life, that’s fine. Why? Things work out for me. In the midst of the whitewater, the difficulty, the challenges, I’m the guy in the boat that’s going to turn to you and go, “Hi.” It’s huge. When you visit a room like that, with that consciousness that went and respected a wasp and said, “Go live your life. It was nice to have two minutes to observe you.” Now you go in and they can tell your wellness is not hinged on their series.

You’re not desperate. You’re the opposite of that. It’s not the goal. What’s great is the byproduct of it is peace, wellness, love and enoughness and they can’t get enough of it. They don’t always even know what it was, but you leave the room and they go, “We have to have that. Somebody make a phone call and book that.” They’re not even booking you. They think they’re booking you, your name and your face. They’re not. They’re booking an energy that somehow calls them home. It calls them into the remembrance of who it is they are. That’s what I teach. I’ve been a teacher for many years. I teach what people think is going to be an acting workshop. They visit it and realize it’s split right down the middle and that we prioritize wellness first, then we get into the acting coaching.

Let me ask you as we begin to wrap up. You described the presence that you can have when you bring this outlook, this mindset into your job, into your life or into your everywhere. As a professional actor who’s prolific, who never seems to be without work, I hear you and I think, “I’m encouraged about the entertainment business.” There’s Glenn Morshower in the middle of it. I’m sure there are others who share your values and your outlook, but I also fear that there are many who don’t.

For me and for my audience, can you give us any encouragement about the future of those who create our pop culture, our movies, our television and our music? I don’t think many of them would be able to produce this type of articulated outlook of life like you have done, which would be disappointing, but factual. What hope can you give us, Glenn, for what’s coming down the pike in the entertainment industry?

As much as I would like to offer a beautiful rainbow filled sky in response to that, I don’t know that I hold that because we’re responsible for our own contributions and that’s it and to be encouraging of others to make their contributions, but we don’t control their contributions. I’m talking about contributions of energy, the primary one being the energy of love. None higher than that.

 The goal is not even a word I like. I replaced the word goal. I’m speaking it because we hear this word used a lot, but I would love to clarify. I replaced the word goal with nature many years ago because it occurred to me that a goal is something you reach, meaning it’s outside of yourself. We always hear the expression, “He reached his goal. She reached her goal.” For example, Rob, is it my goal to be more loving?

No, it’s not. It’s my nature. Is it my goal to be prosperous? No, it’s my nature. Every time I would have used the word goal, I replaced it with nature. The beauty of that is, one, it’s the truth. Two, your nature is right here, right now. It already exists. Whereas a goal, again, you’re going to have to go fetch it. Your nature is what you already are. I believe that if you’re not experiencing kindness, it’s not because you’re not kind. It’s because you haven’t dug deep enough into that, which you already are. If you drill deeper where you’ll hit is the oil of kindness, you got to drill deeper because it is your nature. Nobody has to go fetch love. Nobody has to go fetch prosperity. You don’t have to fetch kindness. I believe with every fiber of my being, we don’t have to fetch anything.

We’ve got to be still and know that it’s already so and that it is our divine right and the willingness to drill to where it is, which is more about uncovering it. No one taught us better than Michelangelo about that. When he was asked, “How did you carve David?” He said, “I didn’t carve David. I simply carved away everything that was not David.” That’s what he said. He is a frigging genius. It’s one of the wisest things that’s ever been said. I honestly don’t even know if Michelangelo knew how brilliant that statement was because he was saying, “Whatever you dream of exists within the marble called you.” Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you get everything else that isn’t that out of its way? Carve it away. Everything that isn’t love, carve that away and what will be left is love.

Everything that isn’t health, carve that away. What will be left is health. Everything that isn’t peace, everything that isn’t prosperity, everything that isn’t that, but you have to be committed. You’ve got to be devoted at the highest level. Unfortunately, this is why I don’t predict a rainbow. I don’t know that that holds true for humankind. Most people want to dream about being well, but they don’t want to do the work. They’re waiting for Ryan Seacrest to show up on their front porch and hand them their perfect life that is one doorbell away. They don’t want to do the work, but they do want to talk about doing the work. They will go to personal development weekends, spend loads of money hearing about how wonderful life is and how great it can be for you.

They go home with all the materials they’ve purchased. This is not my statistic. I’ve heard this said that 75% of materials purchased during such weekends are still in their plastic wrap a year later. They have a nickname for these things. They’re not called self-help. They’re called shelf-help because that’s where they sit. I don’t have a hopeful forecast. I have a personal hopeful forecast for the individual, which means for the individual, your dream life is readily available. It’s a decision away. That’s all it is.

It’s right here. It’s awaiting your decision and what follows the decision is the commitment. You will have done your part. We are both men of faith. Do you know that the most important vision I have in my life, Rob, is not someone handing me a gold trophy called an Oscar? That doesn’t even make my top 50, not even top five. It’s not there. Number one, unequivocally, is that I would stand before God on the day of my departure from earth and God would smile and say, “That’s what I had in mind, kid.”

That never goes away. That vision is present in my life every day of my life. Frankly, it’s what keeps my life in line. It’s what gives me those dashboard lights, alarms, if you will, that let us know when we’re out of bounds. When I’m getting ready to make a decision to participate in an activity that is incongruent with my highest good. Thank God for dashboard lights because they go off and the simple, gentle voices, “Glenn, not for you.” By the way, I also don’t care about popularity. Don’t be misled by popularity. You have been given an internal mandate system that is pure and it’s clear. Don’t base the decisions you make on whether or not it’s popular to make it. I don’t and I haven’t whole life. People can line up in droves for the new thing, the new way.

I don’t care. I check-in and see if it’s true. Is it true for me? The thing that I am committed to more than anything and it seems to help any person I’ve ever shared this with, is that there is nothing of greater importance in our lives, nothing than personal peace. In a discussion I was having with a friend, I said, “There’s a simple litmus test for me in terms of what I will and won’t do. Does this encourage my sense of personal peace or does it disrupt it?” If it disrupts it, the answer’s no. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about the image. I don’t care because if I lose that, I’ve lost it all. That’s my all.

GFEP 22 | Living Out Purpose

Hollywood’s Genuine Pretender: Nobody has to go fetch love. Nobody has to go fetch prosperity. You don’t have to fetch kindness. We don’t have to fetch anything. We’ve got to be still and know that it’s already there.

 

My everything, Rob, is my sense of personal peace. You can take my helicopter that I don’t own, my plane that I don’t own, my ten-bedroom house that I don’t own, take it all away, and even in the future, take it away, but don’t take away my personal peace because I’ve lost everything if I lose that. That keeps me in line in a crazy business called show. I wish more people came from that place of love and understanding because then all of this division and even what’s going on in our nation politically. I know we’re done, this is the end of the interview. I won’t open up that can of worms, but I’m very sad about it. I’m admitting to you.

I’m sad about the division that we don’t have this centralized party called the party of unity, where both sides grab hands and say, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” and more important ways to spend our time than arguing over who’s the most right. We’ve got stuff to do. Now, our sense of personal peace is at risk in this country and in this world. Why aren’t we doing something about that other than fighting? Divided, we fall, united, we stand. I love you and we’re in early stages of friendship, but I’m grateful that you let me come here and spill the beans of my soul. I appreciate that. My soul appreciates that.

Thank you, Glenn. I love you too. Thanks for your influence, you’re powerful persuader and thanks for inspiring us. Thank you. Watch Glenn Morshower movies and television shows. You’ll love him.

We’ll be back on The Resident next season.

We’ll see you on TV.

Thanks, buddy.

Important Links: 

About Glenn Morshower

GFEP 22 | Living Out Purpose

One of the busiest character actors in Hollywood today, Glenn Morshower has appeared in over 200 film and television projects in a career spanning four decades. His first appearance was in the feature film Drive-In, in 1975. Audiences worldwide know Glenn best for his seven year run as Agent Aaron Pierce, on the FOX hit series 24. Glenn currently appears as Lew Rosen, the Ewing family attorney on TNT’s Dallas.

Glenn was most recently seen on the big screen in Moneyball, with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, as well as all three of the “Transformer” movies, as General Morshower. He appeared this past summer in After Earth, with Will Smith, and Parkland, with Paul Giamotti and Billy Bob Thornton. The film was executive produced by Tom Hanks.

Other film credits include X-Men: First Class, Men Who Stare at Goats, All the King’s Men, Good Night & Good Luck, The Island, Hostage, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, Air Force One, The River Wild, Star Trek: Generations, and the upcoming films Hoovey, and Dark Places, with Charlize Theron. Additional television credits include NCIS, Revolution, Castle, Eli Stone, Friday Night Lights, Shark, Bones, The Closer, Walker: Texas Ranger, Charmed, Monk, ER, Alias, Deadwood, CSI, and The West Wing, among many others.

 

 

 

GFEP 21 | Business Reset

 

Now that we’re in the last month of 2020, is it fair to say that this has been the most unpredictable year in memory, if not, your lifetime? Whether it’s been a year of disappointments, plateaus, or pivots, author, consultant, and executive coach Mitch Russo helps his clients reset their company by first adjusting their mindset. Mitch’s seasoned business advice valued by such renowned thought leaders as Tony Robbins, Chet Holmes, and Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington will be of great benefit if you’re ready to make 2021 the year you always envisioned.

Watch the episode here:

Mitch Russo | Business Reset, Personal Reinvent 

Mitch Russo, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time. I know our overall audience is going to learn a lot from this conversation. Let’s get right into it. We are talking at a time when a lot of business entrepreneurs may be struggling. They’ve spent many years and resources building up a business launching an idea. They’re now wondering, what’s next? Is it worth pursuing or should I give it up and take another route? Was it a good dream at one time, but it’s time to act like an adult and go do something else? As a business consultant to many successful entrepreneurs and enterprises, how would you respond to that question that people may be having?

There are dire and desperate situations caused by COVID-19. We’ve had restaurants all over the country go bankrupt. There’s an estimate that says, if not a half, at least a third of existing restaurants are out of business for good. When it comes to the type of work I do, we don’t work with retail establishments, but I had a chance to chat with an owner of a chain of restaurants who called me almost out of desperation and said, “I would love to pick your brain for fifteen minutes.” I said, “Sure.” We got on the phone and we chatted. After hearing his tale, I started saying, “Let’s go down a different road here. What are your assets? What have you done over the years that are unique to you?”

I discovered that there was a wealth of data and information that he had on purchasing food, storage food, the management of the food process and then on simple things like recipes that can cook quickly using the same temperature ovens. It was a network of brilliance, maybe even a treasure chest of brilliant ideas that I would have never known existed unless I pushed in this direction. By the end of this fifteen-minute call, an hour later, it turns out that I had encouraged him to start documenting everything he felt like was valuable and unique about what he had learned years building a chain of restaurants. At that point, what we are planning on doing is working together to help him launch an educational program that will be a combination of online learning, Zoom-based coaching and eventually, a live component where people can come and start a restaurant business in a live laboratory with him. He went from being depressed and scared to super optimistic and excited about the future.

That’s a reset. You’ve coined that phrase business reset, where you take people who may have reached a crossroads either by themselves, as they’re trying to launch this fantastic idea that they’ve had, or their business has hit a fork in the road. Can you describe a little bit more about the whole business reset mentality and some of the practices that you use with your clients?

The first thing that we do whenever I work with a client on a business reset is to deal with the mindset. Mindset is the most dangerous thing when it comes to success and failure. If you don’t have your mindset, no amount of coaching is ever going to help. The idea is let’s get people from a place of despair, into a place of hope and let’s do that quickly. Once we feel like there are some hope and some confidence in the possibility of a future, we then look for the strategy first as to how that will happen. Different businesses have different approaches. For example, many of my clients have been keynote speakers who are out of business and unfortunately, probably will be through 2022.

One of the things that I did with my keynote clients is similar to what I did with my restaurant clients is to say, “Let’s take the inventory of what your intellectual property is,” and we do that. We decide in advance, whether it makes sense to start structuring those as programs. One of the things that we do that’s different than with our restaurant friend is we want to approach the same clients as they had before and say, “I used to speak from stage. I used to do your keynotes, but we’re in a different world. We have a program that’s even more effective. What we’re going to do is we’re going to be doing an online keynote effectively to get people started.”

We’re going to be following that up with a three-level coaching program. We’re going to coach your VPs and executives first. We’re going to get their mindset straight. We’re going to teach them about what we’ve learned about how to both manage people, manage under diverse situations and how to effect change in the organization where everybody is scared. The overall tone of everybody in every company is scared. The only places that don’t exist are the people at Facebook, Google, and maybe Netflix. They’re excited but other than the rest of us, there’s a lot of fear out there. We address that first. What we do is create what I call the university structure. What we do with the university structures is I explain to my clients how they should potentially explain this to their clients, which is to say, “The idea is to get them into the program and sign on for the first part of this, knowing that there’s a second and third part and maybe even a fourth part. The idea is to create the highest lifetime value possible.”

Like a university, there’s a big job to sell you into freshman year to get you to come to our college. There’s not much of a sales effort to sell you from freshmen to sophomore year. The assumption is made that if you’re a freshman, you’re going to become a sophomore. We take the same approach with the way we train people to sell into a corporation. This has become extremely successful, multiplying the value of that customer relationship far more than a simple keynote would have done. To be fair, a keynote might’ve generated $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 in an afternoon in the past. Now, what we do is we generate six figures by building a long-term program, getting people involved in it where we are documenting and targeting objectives all throughout the process. We are showing our clients exactly what we’d done and bringing down to earth the value that we have delivered so that they want to do the next phase of the program.

The type of clients that you put through this business reset, are they diverse? You mentioned, a lot of them are keynotes or they were until the current circumstances. Do they come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds? Do they keynote for different purposes or are they in one channel?

The particular clients that I’ve spoken about have all been keynote presenters for corporations or non-profits. They all speak from the stage. They all have a transformational message. Some of them already have training programs, many don’t. Some of them have books, some don’t. What we try to do is we try to build their authority first and in many ways, this is what we would do for any client. I haven’t worked with him yet, but we’re in the process of chatting about how to work together. He happens to be an exterminator. You might say, “Why would an exterminator even need a business coach?” It turns out that he is 65 years old. He has a nice business, but the problem is that he has a specialized type of process. He services homes that are particularly sensitive to chemicals.

Never sell anything without knowing what you're going to sell next. Click To Tweet

The bottom line is that what we wanted to do was transition him out of the business in either 1 of 2 directions. We chatted about this in our initial call, which has maybe it might be a time to sell the company. He wasn’t too happy about that. He loves what he does and he feels he’d be bored. I told him he could join me here in Florida. I’d keep them busy on the fishing boats if he likes. What we talked about is maybe how to create the equivalent of a coaching organization, a Salesforce or a network of operators who he does not have to pay directly a salary. In fact, it could pay him as a result of the training. From there, conduct his business more like the CEO than as the operator itself.

Mitch, you’re alluding to something that we have spoken about previously, which you call the alternate sales channel which is a fascinating concept that you have used to great success. Can you elaborate a little bit more on what the alternate sales channel is and who can utilize such a practice?

I’ll tell you first what it’s not. It’s not a traditional salesforce where you pay people. Imagine if you could hire a salesforce, bring them on board, get them excited, and have them pay you for the privilege of selling your products. Would you like that to happen in your own business, as an example? Of course, you would.

I don’t know about that.

The bottom line is most people would love to have a bunch of salesmen come onboard, pay them, and then sell their products for them. That would be just great. What we do is we look for a certain type of business where this process can fit nicely into the structure of what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s not a fit. Sometimes it is. That’s what we do when we have an exploratory session is we try to understand what the nature of their business is. I’ve done this for SaaS and real estate companies. I’m doing it for a company that goes into your home and clears out all of your unwanted possessions and liquidates entire homes. In ten days, we’re building an entire countrywide network of certified partners who do this for them and pay them for the privilege of working with them.

The whole idea here of the alternate sales channel is it’s not a traditional channel in any way. It’s not based on an employee relationship. It leans heavily on making the person who you bring into this organization, highly independent while still supporting them at a much higher level than almost any other company would think of doing. That’s part of what the channel is about. We call that certification. In the past certification, you go learn something, you take a test and you’re certified. That process can cost anywhere from $99 to $18,000.

John Maxwell has a coaching certification for somewhere in that range, $18,000 but what you get is the same. You get a certificate you could put on your wall. When we build certification, we’re creating a business environment that our certified partners step into, which includes lead generation, public relations and technology in place for them. All of the elements of having a business, which they admit, they were never good, to begin with. We’re supplementing all the things that they didn’t like to do and weren’t doing well with an entirely professional environment, ready to go into action for them.

That’s for the business owner you say. You’re able to assist them and identifying other skilled individuals that can not only represent their product or their offering but also bring those other functions within the business or to the business, is that correct?

That is correct. Most of the time, it’s like that a mythical story of the beggar sitting on a box in the bazaar begging for money until a wise man comes along. He holds up his cup to the wise man and says, “Can I have some change?” The wise man looks at him and says, “Why would I give you change when you’re sitting on gold?” He said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Look under the box,” and he walks away. The beggar has been sitting on that box for twenty years. It’s never moved. He opens the box, picks it up and discovers that there are gold coins in that box. We take that same approach when we work with our clients because we say, “The best people to enroll first are your own clients.” Your own clients in many cases would love to do what you do. If that’s the case, then we enroll them, get them trained, get them set up and get them out there doing what we do.

This is the model that you developed some time ago. Can you talk to us about the genesis of this approach?

GFEP 21 | Business Reset

Business Reset, Personal Reinvent: Mindset is the most dangerous thing when it comes to success and failure. If you don’t have your mindset, no amount of coaching is ever going to help.

 

I stumbled across this as a bad idea, which later got refined into a good idea. Here’s what my problem was. I was running a software company that was the victim of our own success. We had way too many clients. We couldn’t support all of our clients. We had whole times in the half-hour range and that was completely unacceptable to me. A long story and I’ll try to make it short was we got a call from an important woman in Los Angeles. She was the head of the Los Angeles Bar Association technology division. She was upset at us for what we had as a software product for lawyers. She said that our software crashed her computer. Not only was she going to sue us, but she was going to report this to the entire bar.

This is a $99 product. The resources here are not the issue anymore. We have a reputation and potential influence. I said to her, “I promise you that in a guaranteed 48 hours, we will get your system fixed even if I have to fly to California all by myself to do it for you. Do not worry. We’ll be back to you soon.” I’m in Boston, Massachusetts. I get on the phone because there was no internet trying to figure out how to get an airline reservation. I couldn’t get out there. I think to myself, “What else could I possibly do?” I had this idea. I had spoken to some of my own clients in that area. I remembered one particular excited, happy, smart woman who worked at a law firm. Her name was Anne.

Out of the blue, I called up Anne and I said, “Anne, this is Mitch Russo.” She got all excited. She had no idea I would ever be calling her. She said, “Mitch, it is wonderful to hear from you. What can I do for you?” I said, “I have a favor to ask. I’ll pay you for your time. Here’s what I’m looking for. I would like you to go over to this person’s office. I would like you to figure out what’s going on and see if you could fix her system.” California was three hours ahead and it was already 4:00 in the afternoon. She said, “I get off work in 30 minutes. I’m going to go there tonight.”

I said, “That is amazing. Thank you.” I’m at home and I’m sitting on pins and needles. I gave her my home phone number. No cell phones back then. I’m waiting and finally, she calls me up. I said, “How had it go?” She went, “It went great. It turns out that she needed to do a bit of blah, blah, blah. It’s all fixed. She was happy and she gave me $100. These were the words that changed my life. Mitch, if there’s anybody else in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area that you want me to help, you let me know.” All of a sudden, my brain exploded.

I said, “What would happen if I had 100 of Anne’s all over the country, willing to go out there and help my clients?” Anne is already a client. She’s already at the mastery level on my products. What would happen if I simply invited them to work with us directly and dispatch them as certified consultants? I got to work and we put together a little test. It was hard. You had to know your stuff to pass, but in the end, what ended up happening is we sold these tests for $1,000. If you flunked, you got your $500 back. We had generated a new product by selling tests. We had no idea we’d sell many. At that point, once they pass the test, we said, “You’re certified.”

We started using them as dispatch for tech support issues. Now, this seemed to be going great. We had 60 people in the field and they were busy. They were thrilled, but then something weird started to happen. All of a sudden, we would get these phone calls from upset people. They would come in through tech support. I wasn’t aware of them. Tech support would get the call, but they would deal with the problem. I still wasn’t aware of them until finally, we got a threat. It turns out that what we are unaware of is that these people who we had “certified” were not business people. They were not professional people. They showed up looking like Elmer Fudd. They showed up smelling like a trash dumpster. They were late, rude, not on time and incompetent. We had some big problems on our hands.

My vice president walked in marketing said, “This was a stupid idea, Russo. You should shut this down right away.” I said, “I will shut it down right away, but it’s not a stupid idea. It’s a good idea and I’m going to prove it.” I shut down the program. I sent apology letters and I said, “I want to speak to every person who’s been impacted by this.” I, personally, as the CEO of a 100-person company took every single phone call from every single disgruntle client and I made it good. Every one of them. I then rebuilt the program from scratch. It took me six months and I reissued the program at a much higher price.

I held my breath. I had no idea what was going to happen next. To my surprise and delight, a bunch of people applied and went through all of the training and it was much more detailed this time. They finally were truly professional certified consultants. That program over the course of less than eighteen months, ballooned to 350 certified consultants who were out there helping my clients with my software, with my customers, generating $1 million in revenue from certification fees, testing fees and symposium fees. They became my third-largest sales channel right behind retail and direct. I didn’t even expect that to happen. That was a total surprise. My tech support hold time dropped over 20% and was still dropping by the time the program had evolved to that level.

You might say it was an accident how I came up with this and I had never heard of it before. I didn’t have anyone to model, but that’s what we did. It was that model later that I continued to refine and build a toolset and build the legal documents and all of the flow charts in my naps to go with it. When I work with a client, we have a smooth engagement. We can go from 0 to 100 in less than 90 days, and we could launch their certification program, generate mid-six figures most of the time on launch. From there, we do it every quarter. That’s the base story of how certification came about for me.

That’s living proof that necessity was the mother of your invention. You had to find a solution to that disgruntled client in LA. That’s a great testament to that principle. Let me ask you a couple of questions about that story though, Mitch. This certification type of process, the sales channel that you’ve developed for yourself and clients, can it work for service-oriented businesses as opposed to those businesses that are selling a product? You had software and people needed to become proficient and expert in your software. Can it work for a business-centered organization or a service-oriented business? If I have a consulting business if it’s helping people produce living wills or living trusts. I would build a system through your channels where I could certify certain qualified attorneys, who could go out and share our system of building those living trusts for clients around the world.

Never leave a customer in a place where they weren't far better than they were before you met them. Click To Tweet

There are two elements to that. The first element of that is it sounds like you would need to be a lawyer before you could perform a legal obligation. You need it for your customers that are lawyers. As for selling certification, you are selling a product to a lawyer. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the product is the certification and the know-how and the documents assembly software to create those for their clients, which you will enable.

You are a SaaS-based company from the way that’s described. You’re a SaaS-based company and you have clients that need service, who would like to take advantage of the product. The answer would be yes, with a caveat. The caveat is that you’re going to need to be careful because having sold to lawyers throughout the years of selling legal time and billing software, I can assure you that lawyers will look for anything they can to trip you up in your business because they want to see what you’re doing so they could do it too.

If you are in any way, playing in a space that is not even legal, then you will be called out by your potential clients. However, the other thing is that one of Mitch’s rules is you never sell anything without knowing what you’re going to sell next. The whole idea is that I wouldn’t promote it as a program to sell will generation. I would promote it to lawyers as an entry-level service to bring new clients into your law firm. This is the fastest, easiest way to do so in bulk in quantity. For me, I would position it differently from the way you described it. Realistically, if your company is not doing that service then it is in fact, a good idea to think about certification for that.

The second question I had related to your story is that this first woman who you hired, who did that favor for you, and she got $100 from the client. She had skills in knowing how to work the software so that it didn’t crash the system. You built an army that sales channel from that point on, but what started to crumble around you was the professionalism of those individuals. In other words, in order to maintain this new product that you had created, this sales channel, it wasn’t the hard skills of being fluent in tech or software. It was the soft skills in how to be on time and how to address a client professionally, had to listen and how to speak appropriately to clients. I find that interesting that it was the soft skills, perhaps it could have undone this fantastic idea you had. Am I correct in assuming that? If I am, how did you fix that?

If I would have known what you said when I first started, I would’ve saved myself a lot of grief, but what else I would’ve done? I would’ve missed out on learning that and figuring out how to fix it. You’re right and here’s how I fixed it. First of all, I wrote a manual that was about three inches thick that contained chapters on how to dress, how to show up, how to speak and how to conduct an engagement. Here are all of the pre-formatted letters that you send before and after your engagement. Here’s what you say when you follow up, etc. That was part of it, but not the most important part. The second thing I did is I created the code of ethics and the in order to create the code of ethics, I had to first examine myself, what are my values?

We crafted what we call The Value Parthenon, which means that the roof of the Parthenon is my values as the CEO. What is my why? My why is to find a better way. I can’t look at anything and not try to fix it. It’s unfortunately my nature. The values that I have are to always find a better way. My other value never leaves a customer in a place where they weren’t far better than they were before you met them. My third value might be that I’m looking to create a relationship, not a transaction and there are several others. This is what I call my values. You have yours, which are similar to mine, I’m sure, and more. The next step is if you think about the values as the roof of the Parthenon and we think about the columns of the Parthenon as our code of ethics, then what we have is a system that is almost guaranteed to make sure that none of these mistakes happens in the future.

What we’re doing, Rob, is we’re building a culture in advance of even launching the program. In this process, I give my clients a pre-formatted culture course that they record in their own voice that transmits these values in these cultures and the code of ethics to everybody who joins and becomes part of the company that building certification. They even take an exam on the culture. That’s how close and how far we go to make sure that they truly understand that this isn’t a free for all this. It doesn’t get to devolve into entropy. This instead has a set of rules that everyone must follow. The way I like to think about it is that freedom is created within boundaries. As I said before, if you think of the Parthenon, everything inside the columns, you’re free to do whatever you want. As long as you stay within the columns, you have absolute freedom to build your business, to create for yourself, anything you want with my help and with our help always.

As a business owner myself, and over the many years that we’ve been in business, we have never been a 100-person company like you’ve led before. We’ve always had a small staff relatively, but over the years, we’ve hired and employed somewhere around 80 to 85 individuals. One of the biggest challenges that any small owner has, especially I would add if their business is based on service, is that they’re protective of their brand, their reputation, and how they are perceived by the market. When you bring someone into that small family called a company, you want to make sure that that person is not going to disrupt or undo all the work you’ve done. We have heard this a thousand times, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.” Being as careful as you are and building that code of ethics is an important point. I’m sure it brings a lot of comfort to those who might want to pursue the path that you’ve described, even working with you, Mitch.

This turns out to be the key to success for any business if you are not transmitting your values to the people who you work with on a daily basis, if you are not leading from the top. On my LinkedIn page, it has a statement that says, “The CEO’s job is to create and to communicate.” I know everyone else has pictures of them on stage and waving. To me, this is the highest form of leadership and creating can take many forms. Creating could be building programs, creating sales teams, but not doing. Communication is the second most important skill of the CEO. If the CEO cannot communicate, that means nobody knows what the CEO is thinking.

I struggled with being an introvert growing up to understand how to communicate effectively. I went through and envied a lot of the people that were gifted naturally with this charisma. I never had any of that stuff. I had to learn it the hard way. I did it by trying to understand myself first. This was such a great challenge that I documented this process. This is part of what we teach when we build certification. We have to make sure that the CEO is willing to do the communication part. Most people are good at creating or think they are, but they get mired in the operation that they don’t have enough time to create.

GFEP 21 | Business Reset

Business Reset, Personal Reinvent: Different businesses have different approaches.

 

The communication part would be considered excessive by the average CEO. The average introverted CEO would look at what I do or look at what I say and say, “That’s way too much. That’s a little too much communicating, Mitch,” but it’s important because people need to know you. If everyone says, “I’m one of Rob’s guy. I’m on Rob’s team.” They need to know who Rob is. They need to know what you care. They need to know what makes you smile because ultimately, that’s what they want to do. They want to make you smile. They want to fulfill their lives and they want to make you and your clients happy.

You said, in order for the employees to know what the CEO is thinking, he or she has to learn how to communicate. The part that I would add is that in order for the CEO to know the employees, their colleagues, they also need to communicate. Communication is not just talking. It’s also listening, I’m sure you would attest in your own career. Let me ask you, when you are looking at a prospective client, someone who you want to take to the proverbial next level, whose business you want to help reset, or you want to build these types of channels and certification programs that you’re describing, is there a perfect recipe of a prospect for you? How would you describe the person when you see them or hear about them, you say, “I got to work with them?”

It’s a great question and in a way I’ve never quite articulated this before. Thank you for drawing that out of me because I’m going to make this up as I go along here. I appreciate that. The first thing is they have to be coachable. If I detect that someone is stuck in their ways that they’re not willing to listen and do, then I don’t think it’s a fit. It’s going to be a slugfest for me and for them too. The second thing is they have to be able to think outside the box and look at new ideas. I’m willing to stand by their side and guide them through that process, but in our first session, in any engagement that I have, I do an unusual exercise.

My first session with any new client is two hours long. I take them through a pathway to discover a little bit about themselves that make people who’ve never looked at before. Behind the scenes while we’re chatting, I’m building a mind map of everything that I see as the core of their existing business. I’m using what they tell me to create a trajectory for the future. I’ll give you an example. I had a gentleman on and he started as a new client. In our conversation, it was clear that he had made a nice living doing what he was doing. I’m not going to tell you who it was or specifically what he did.

He was a good provider, but he lost everything with COVID. He wanted to restart that business. In the series of questions that I had asked him, I helped him to discover something about himself that he had never looked at before. In a matter of 40 minutes into our session, he had broken down, started to cry and said he had never realized this about himself before. From that moment in time, everything we did going forward was based on this discovery of who he truly was. I’ve done this with NFL players. I’ve done this with CEOs in $50 million companies. It doesn’t matter where you are or in your life. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you’ve been. All of us have this desire. In many ways, we have adapted our lives, our needs and our family’s needs.

Those are all good things, but if we can find a way to unleash this desire in a positive way, it might turn out to be the most profitable thing we could do as well as the most satisfying. That’s part of my process. For example, I take a person through this process and I’m getting nothing back, or I’m not able to get them to where I think of as the next stage in their own evolution. I know I’m going to have a difficult time with this individual because I need them to open up to me. I’m a stranger. I get that, but I have a way about getting people to open up. In many ways, it’s all about them, anyway. It’s nothing to do with me. It’s trying to shine a light on their best qualities.

In many cases, we don’t take advantage of our greatest skills and assets because, in the past, they didn’t seem to benefit us, but in the future, they may have to. That’s part of why we do this exercise. That’s so powerful. I have never thrown anybody out. I had one woman many years ago tell me that she was exhausted after every session with me that she had to lay down. Sometimes it took two days to recover. She said she doesn’t think she can continue. This woman was what I would call a trust fund baby. She had never had a job in her entire life, but she had this desire to create a business.

In my early years, I was maybe a little too enthusiastic about what I saw in her and about her. I might’ve pushed her a little too hard, but she would never have made it to the end anyway because she wasn’t willing to do the work. There’s work with any endeavor there’s going to be concerned. In some cases, even fear and everything we want is on the other side of that. My goal and my job as your coach is to get you to the other side of that and show you what I can see that’s already there.

It’s not only the business reset that you specialize in. I’m interpreting your words as you also do an individual re-invent. That’s what oftentimes we must do, especially when we are facing trials and hurdles that we either anticipated or didn’t anticipate. Certainly, many people are in that boat now in 2020. It’s a fascinating exercise. When you speak of individuals, you have a lot of influence on people. That’s one reason why we’re eager to interview you for the show because we’re all about finding those nuggets that help us all be better influencers and persuaders and to inspire people to do greater things. You’ve also worked with people who could be described as great persuaders and influencers.

You’ve partnered with Tony Robbins, Chet Holmes and Kevin Harrington, who’s the original shark of Shark Tank. These are your partners and friends. This is not to discount your value at all, Mitch, but those are household names to people in the business. In order to partner with those types of personalities and those prominent personalities, what does someone like you win them over so that they had confidence in you and said, “Mitch, you’re the person that we want to do this venture with?”

Look to create a relationship, not a transaction. Click To Tweet

When I built Timeslips Corp, I was the guy. I was the guy on stage. I was the guy on camera. I was the spokesperson, the name that signed every letter. I got used to that. I expected that all my life I’d be the guy. When it came to working with people like the names you mentioned, I’m not the guy. I’m the guy behind the curtain. I found that while I loved creating and building new things, I also found a love for creating systems to run the things that other people have built too. When I came along and was hired by Chet Holmes, for example, to come into his company for one small project. To be fair, you should know this, we were good friends for years. He solicited me selling advertising back when I was running time TimeSlips Corp. We stayed close friends. We built a friendship on that business relationship that lasted all of our lives until he passed away.

The thing is that I had to come into Chet’s company, but Chet’s the guy, not me. I had to create the things that were missing for him, which I was more than willing to do. In fact, I love doing those things. I’m an engineer by background. I have an engineering mind. When I approach something, I always think about the way it could work the most efficiently. It goes back to my why to find a better way. When I walk into a situation, there are people doing a lot of manual things. There’s a whole mess of people doing stuff that they shouldn’t be doing. I look at this and in my mind, I see a picture that lays out instantly in three dimensions, exactly what that system would be and I go about building it.

That’s what I did with Chet and Tony. With Kevin Harrington, we created a company together. He was the spokesperson for that company. He was the guy. He was the head. He was the one on camera, the one who signed the letters. I had to build the backend systems in order to create the company around what we were doing. That turned out to be a great place. I enjoyed it where it became a deficit after Chet passed away. After I left that organization, I realized, “I’m nobody. I have no list. Nobody knows who I am. I’ve been forgotten for many years.” After all, I was only known in the legal industry as the founder of TimeSlips. I had to start over from scratch, from the beginning, and rebuild everything about how to become the guy again. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since 2012, when that partnership dissolved.

In your years of starting businesses and building products and relationships, is there one thing that you can look back on? Despite the story you told us previously of the problem you had with the client in Los Angeles, which led to another side of your business. Is there one thing you’ve done, Mitch, in your past, in the spirit of vulnerability that you could share with us, that you will say, “That was a big mistake? I never should have done that?” Whether it was a particular move or a pivot you shouldn’t have taken or simply a mentality or an attitude that you had at one point in your career.

Fortunately, there are many. A few things came to mind. I’ll try and do them in somewhat chronological order. After I had sold my company and after I was working independently, a friend and I got for lunch. I had an idea for a new internet startup. That was when the web was becoming popular. It was 2005. Together, we had conceived of a new type of dating site. We got excited about it. We sketched it out. At that point, we saw no possible competition at all from anyone. We were thinking we would go forward and fund this ourselves because we both had sold companies. We would get the foundation of this thing built and then maybe raise money. At the last minute, he asked me if I would mind if he brought a friend along to listen in and be part of our conversation.

I don’t want to disclose who it was, but his friend was someone famous. His friend had been profiled in a major motion picture and had a bit of dazzle about him. I trusted my friend as my partner so I said, “Yes.” I skipped the part where I got to do the true due diligence into who this individual was because I trusted my friend’s word. That turned out to be a huge mistake. I got my family involved. We all invested money. We put about $500,000 of our own money into this project collectively and because of this individual, it was a complete flop. He did things that shocked me completely and never in my wildest dream would I imagine anyone would be stupid. Yet, we were stuck with him. He was a founding member, a stockholder and an officer of the company until it got to the point where we had to shut it down. We lost a lot of money, a lot of time and potentially it was an incredible idea died on the vine.

Were you romanced by the celebrity figure? Did you feel like you didn’t have the muscle to say, “No, wait, we need to do more due diligence?”

A little bit of both. I didn’t want to challenge my friend and my friendship to say, “I got to do more due diligence on this guy,” but on the surface, he looked incredible. He would say things like, “When we’re ready to launch, I’ll announce this to my publicist and we’ll be on TV,” and we were. We were featured on Good Morning America at one point with this new idea. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t real. He was an irresponsible individual with poor sensibilities. He did things that put us in jeopardy all the time without thinking. It was a combination of me not having the guts in a sense to go forward and challenge my friend and being a little dazzled by the fact that he was this famous person.

It’s understandable, though, looking back. At the same time, we don’t need to hear all of your other failure stories because I’m sure they’re not as voluminous as you’re suggesting. Let me ask you on the flip side. As I said earlier, you’ve created some interesting and powerful relationships in business. Is there a particular move that you’ve made in your career when you can look back? Not to say your career is over yet, Mitch, but so far in your career, you look back and you say, “That was a pivotal move. That was a turning point in my career. I’m glad I did that, whether it was against my better judgment at the time, or it was just good luck,” or whatever it may have been. Is there a moment you can point to?

I have two that were significant decision moments that were in some sense, a little hard. The first one was when we were building the software company and selling time billing software to lawyers. I received a call from an organization in Chicago and I’m not good with the Chicago accent, but imagine I’m speaking in a thick Chicago accent here. It turns out to be one of the officers for the American Bar Association. In a friendly voice, “Mitch, I see you are selling software to lawyers here. It’s not a good idea selling it without the American Bar Association certification. We would love to help you get certified so you could sell some of that software you got there.” I said, “I am happy to. What do we got to do? Should we submit it?”

GFEP 21 | Business Reset

Business Reset, Personal Reinvent: When we build certification, we’re creating a business environment that our certified partners can step into.

 

He said, “No, you don’t have to submit nothing. It’s just $46,000. We will send you the paperwork, you pay the $46,000. We gave you a certification, then you’re good to go, Mitch.” I said to him, “Are you out of your mind? Do you think I’m going to give you $46,000 for some stupid ABA rubber stamp?” He went, “If you don’t, we’ll destroy you.” I said, “I think I’m going to take my chances on this one. I’m going to let them market decide.” At that point, I decided that I was going to double my efforts in marketing to lawyers. We had a couple of what I call lucky breaks, meaning being super prepared at a moment in time when the opportunity strike. Fourteen months from that moment in time of that phone call, we had achieved the number one status in the legal market in time and billing.

Here’s the surprising part that was shocking. I received the call two years later from another individual at the American Bar Association who said to me, “We dissolved that division. We no longer do that.” By the way, I wrote the president of the ABA describing the shakedown that I had gone through and now this guy calls, “How would you like to speak at the American Bar Association National Meeting and tell your story from the stage? You’re famous in our little world anyway. I think we’d love to hear from you.” That move was dangerous at the time became pivotal.

The other one that is less inspiring, maybe is a simple one. Years ago, I decided to create a podcast. My goal was to build a show where I didn’t care who listened to it. I wanted to have my guests be my ideal clients. My thought was I could get my ideal clients onto my show, have a dynamite one-hour conversation with them and then chat with them about what I did. If it was a fit, maybe help them with their business.

At first it didn’t work well. In fact, for the first year, I didn’t sign a single new client. On top of that, I wasn’t getting 50 to 60 downloads an episode. It was terrible, but I kept going and I said, “I know this can work. I know I need to refine what I’m doing. Maybe do a better job of inviting the right guests, etc.” Now my podcast is my single largest source of new clients that I bring into my practice. At the same time, my show is getting 25,000 downloads a month, which is good. I never cared a lot about the number of downloads. That never was a thing for me, but it was discouraging after a year to not be getting many at all.

What you’re describing is Your First Thousand Clients, correct? Tell us all how we can find your podcast.

Go to YourFirstThousandClients.com and there’s the show.

How many episodes would we find in a month?

We publish once a week. There’s about 215 something like that episodes. The last one, in fact, was a Kevin Harrington episode. Before that, we had Seth Godin on the show as well and some other wonderful people.

We know that yours is one of the top 200 podcasts on iTunes if I’m not mistaken.

It touched the top 200 once. It didn’t t sit there in the top 200, but it did touch it once. It fluctuates. It’s in the top 50 management grouping regularly, so that’s nice. As I said, I don’t care a lot about that as much as I do about finding the right guests, who I believe resonates with the message that I am telling.

The CEO's job is to create and to communicate. Click To Tweet

This has been a great conversation. I appreciate your insights. Also, you share the value of your experience with all of us, but as we wrap up thinking towards 2021, how should we as business people be sleeping right now? Should we be nervous? Should we be losing sleep or are there certain things we can do to get a better night for us looking forward?

We’ve all gone through approximately three stages since the beginning of COVID. The first stage was denial, which was, “This’ll be over soon. We’ll get back to business and won’t be a big deal.” The second stage is reality sets in where we’re saying, “This isn’t going soon at all and I’m in trouble here.” The third stage is where I think requires a true shift in mindset because the third stage is, “I get it. Things will never be the way they were before. I got to do something new and it’s time to act.” I have a free gift for your audience. It will help them take that first step to change where they are, if that’s what they choose to do and promote their business, get more publicity, get on more podcasts, do the things that people who are in the process of actively promoting themselves should be doing anyway. The bottom line is in that third stage either you’re stuck and haven’t made that decision yet, or you’ve made that decision and you’re excited about moving forward, even though now, things look bleak.

We’d love to have that free gift. How do we get it?

Go to ProfitStackingSecrets.com. There is a download there and it’s valuable. Most people have a little graveyard on their desktop where they put all their downloads. I beg you, please don’t download this if that’s where you want to put it. Instead, I want you to open it up and promise me five minutes of your time to read even the first section and do one thing. There are three things that I ask you to do in this download. Do one thing, prepare a profile, and use the links that I provide and go out there and apply to be on podcasts. There are 3 or 4 agencies I list in this free download, where you can go on there and find shows that are looking for you and be a guest. Tell your story. Share your experience and knowledge. Get people to get to know you.

I can assure my readers that you did not have to fill out that form for us to find you. Your reputation is wonderful. You’ve proven it out here in this interview. It’s been a real pleasure, Mitch. Thank you again for your words of wisdom, for your advice and your encouragement. Hopefully, we are inspiring a lot of people. I would encourage them to take advantage of your free offer and we wish you the best, Mitch, and your continued pursuit of resetting businesses and re-inventing individuals.

Thank you, Rob.

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About Mitch Russo

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Game Face Execs podcast episode 20

 

You can only imagine what sports rabbit hole you could get into when you’ve got the Sage of Sports Marketing on the other side of the Zoom tube. But for this episode, Rob Cornilles brings in his former boss and mentor, Jon Spoelstra for a specific purpose – and that is to take the lessons from sports marketing and sales that cross over to any business in any industry. As a world leader in sports marketing, Jon is a disruptor, an innovator and an inspiration to many sports leaders, including his son, Coach Eric Spoelstra. He is known for his legendary knack for coming up with outrageous solutions to problems. Listen in as he demonstrates some of that on the show.

Watch the episode here:

Jon Spoelstra | The Sage Of Sports Marketing

Has there been someone in your career who either provided you a foot in the door or just dependably ran alongside you as your feet learn to pedal? For me, things changed when I read a book written by Jon Spoelstra. To sports executives, Jon is known as a disruptor, then an innovator as well as an inspiration to leaders including his son, Erik Spoelstra, coach of the NBA’s Miami Heat. I was Jon and his partner’s first hire for their small sports marketing firm back in the early ‘90s. In this episode, I reflect back with my mentor who would later motivate me to launch Game Face. Here is Jon Spoelstra, my former boss and the sage of sports marketing.

Jon, it’s good to see you again. Even though I think you’re trying to fool us here, you’re not really in a Maui right now, are you?

How do you know? The bad thing about Maui is they’ve closed down two of my favorite golf courses. All the golf courses in Oregon are open.

Our viewers are probably familiar with your background. It’s kind of you to join me here in the show. As the people who watched my first episode know, I owe so much of my career to Jon Spoelstra, to you my friend. You and I have not worked together in many years, but your influence has continued with me for decades now. I’m thrilled to be able to talk about what you do and the influence you’ve had on me and so many others, not only in the sports business, but in business, in general, and your writings, etc.

Jon, let’s start in sports because that’s where you cut your teeth. That’s where I did as well. As you look at the landscape of sports, with all that’s going on, and as we are having this interview, there are no fans to speak of in the stands. You made a name for yourself by putting fans in the stands. As you look at the sports landscape, are you bullish or is this more of a bear market for sports as far as you’re concerned?

I’m glad I’m not in it right now because there’s a lot of scared executives and what sports need right now is dynamic leadership more than ever before. I don’t agree necessarily without the no-fans in attendance. I’m more concerned in Major League Baseball about the players because of the locker room and dugout because there is no social distancing there. The St. Louis Cardinals had 11 or 12 people fall to COVID and they came back two weeks later. I look at COVID by naturally, younger players are being like the flu. You don’t shut down the season or you don’t stop the fans because of the flu. In baseball, most of the stadiums are 50,000 seats and you are telling me that you couldn’t put 15,000 fans in there with social distancing. I think that there are a lot of scared executives and I look at that there should be greater leadership. The leagues have to take the action so the teams can perform.

Jon, as the stories are told, you made your career being creative, innovative and a word that you’ve liked to use over the years is outrageous. Could a young Jon Spoelstra make a name for himself in this current climate?

Probably more. I found when I was running Marketing Outrageously, I did a little bit of research on myself and I found that my greatest successes came when the economy was the worst and it’s not good. I didn’t do well when the economy was going well, but everybody did well when the economy was doing good. When the economy was going bad or like during this pandemic, there are a lot of people that are ducking. There are a lot of people that hiding under the covers and waiting for this to pass by and then they’ll emerge and trying to be great. My feeling is now is the time to think outrageous thoughts and be innovative. I’ve talked to quite a few teams that they’re just ducking and waiting for somebody to say, “The season is open. Go ahead and sell tickets.” I don’t think that this is the time to sit and wait.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Marketing Outrageously Redux: How to Increase Your Revenue by Staggering Amounts

Aren’t they somewhat handcuffed by elected officials?

Yes, so instead of just accepting that, they then go to politics. If I could take a bunch of young people and put them in a three-month training program to sell tickets. You’re a trainer. Can you imagine if you could take these young people and mold them for 90 days and the costs would be very nominal because remember we hardly paid these people anything? The costs would be nominal. When selling season opens, if you’re fast, learn how to shoot. I said, “That’s what I would do.” I train these people. There was a book about the medical supply business. The guy’s name is Williams. If you were into medical supplies, they would send you away to train for nine months. I found that amazing if you’d go away to train for nine months before your first sales call. In ticket sales, they train you for what’s a typical team train. If they don’t hire you if they didn’t hire me or Steve.

I was going to say, when I started in ticket sales, I got about nine minutes of training.

If you’re a team or you know you’re going to have a season or you got to assume that there’s going to be a season, this is such a marvelous opportunity to really get good. The opportunity costs are not that great. You’d have the pick of the litter in hiring. You don’t have to worry about Louisiana on the best candidates to another team. That’s the approach that I would take. I would think that when the dust settled in and you’re selling so many tickets if I was doing that, it would be outrageously successful.

I want to talk about that book. The best-selling book that you’ve had and you’re a prolific author. You’ve written several books. The one that seemed to get highest on the charge was Marketing Outrageously. Before that book though, selling Ice to the Eskimos. Those two books, one’s about marketing, the first and the other one is about selling. I want to ask you, let’s hear it from Jon Spoelstra. What is the difference? Because you also used to teach in a university. Jon, you were an adjunct professor at the University of Portland. Give us the textbook to answer. What is the difference between sales and marketing?

Marketing is the positioning of your brand or your product. The selling is going out and selling it, whether it’s face-to-face, with a TV commercial or whatever. The marketing is shaping that brand up and then handing it off to the sales staff to go on sale. That’s the simple version of what I think it is.

If you were to have one of those titles on your tombstone, which one would it be? Are you a marketer, Jon, or are you a salesperson?

What sports needs now more than ever is dynamic leadership. Click To Tweet

I think it’s which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, marketing or selling. My feeling is if you study marketing and come up with a better product, it’s easier to sell. If you’re selling and you have a bad product without marketing, it’s really difficult. When I went to become the president of New Jersey Nets, it was a bad product because the team was losing and the guys were ending up in jail. It wasn’t a great environment. You couldn’t sell anything. The marketing helped us sell because we positioned ourselves, “How can we get sell ops?”

We took the strategy of taking the best opponents, Michael Jordan, Boston Celtics, and tried to sell those games out. We started to get some traction off that. The marketing helped us, otherwise, our salespeople are just going to get killed. Marketers don’t necessarily have to be good salespeople. You have to be good tacticians. They have to know the strategy. Salespeople sometimes or oftentimes are bad marketers, but they can sell.

Your latest book that came out in July of 2020, Get Your Ideas Approved is already being bought up all over the place for those who have not read it yet, is there one or two skills or ideas that we can expect to walk away from having devoured that book?

The best way of putting it is if you have an idea, just go up to your boss to half-ass this idea. Generally, this routinely is thrust aside. I say if you’ve got this idea that you want to run with and you want to present it to your boss, present it as if your boss was the Supreme Court and if you failed, you’re going to be locked up in jail for the rest of your life. If you’re going to the Supreme Court, how much would you prepare that idea? It’s a lot different than going up to your boss to half-ass this idea than almost routinely fails, “I’ve got this idea.” If you prepare as if you’re going to the Supreme Court, which is not as daunting as you think, but you have that mentality first. I’m going to say, “This boss is going to approve what I want to do easily.”

Let me tell you, I’ve had some bosses, like in the New Jersey Nets, there were seven of them. I presented things to them, which they approve. Now, all seven might have approved it for a different reason but they approved it. They were my Supreme Court at the time. It only cost $2 99, which is what I want to do. I think it was only 80 or 90 pages, Robert. To Print-On-Demand with Amazon, you need 100 pages. I didn’t want to add fluff to it, so I added several chapters from Marketing Outrageously thinking, “This is an idea of how to get things approved, here are some ideas.”

I don’t think a lot of people, at least those in the sports industry, you’re also a real fan of writing thrillers. You have at least two thrillers that are also on Amazon. Where did that come from?

It comes from all the traveling I did because as much as I would like to read business books, I’d read thrillers. At one point, I thought, “Maybe I’ll try one.” They’re still selling decently. They’re getting good reviews. I’ve got another one that I’m going to work on this winter.

Jon, the book though I believe was your best was I think your first. That’s not to say your other books aren’t fantastic, but I’m speaking selfishly and personally here. I have volume 2 of How to Sell the Last Seat in the House. You wrote this book based on your experience being the president of the Portland Trail Blazers. You didn’t start as the president, but you moved into that position. You created a sellout streak during the ‘80s and ‘90s, which was unheard of at the time when the team was good and not so good.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Get Your Ideas Approved: Job Skill #1: How to Get Your Boss to Approve Anything You Want to Do

This book, How to Sell the Last Seat in the House, for those of you who are reading who are not from the sports industry, I will tell you, I have to attest that this was the Bible of sports marketing back in those days. Not that it shouldn’t be now, but unfortunately, I don’t think as many young people are aware of it and it may not be taught in a university. Like it should be. I grabbed this book when I worked for the LA Clippers. I began reading it and I devoured it. There are two other volumes, 1 and 3 as well. Jon, you got to tell everybody, how much did it cost someone to buy, How to Sell the Last Seat in the House? It’s $795. I remember.

It wasn’t meant for everybody. There were three times and up to that point, Rob, there had never been anything written about ticket marketing or sales, not even an article because there wasn’t any trade journal at that time, but there was nothing about ticket sales. There wasn’t Google so you couldn’t look online for ticket sales and we’d been pretty successful at selling tickets. There were some teams in the NBA, but I thought had no clue of selling tickets. A lot of teams at that time didn’t have a clue. They’d become a lot more sophisticated. I thought I’d just write this down. A primer from A to Z of this is how you sell tickets. I think, there are 400 teams that have bought it at $795.

It wasn’t a book written for consumers. It was written for business executives within that industry.

Fast forward when I retired, it was about 8 or 9 years ago. I’ve been getting people saying they lost Volume 2 or 3. I spent thinking, I should update this thing, except that updating it wasn’t that easy because everything it seems electronically has changed with all these innovations. I hired at the New Jersey Nets at Mandalay. I said I’d like to update this. I said, “You know as well as I do the books. If you want to go 50-50 and work on this, I’m willing.” That’s where we came up with The Ultimate Toolkit, which is essentially taking that many years forward and using a lot of the innovations that we did at New Jersey and Mandalay and other things that weren’t available back at the Trail Blazers days in the ‘80s.

There was a second run at producing a three-volume book because the industry was crying for more information. You then put out this book, Your Profits Are Brought To You By, a book about how to sell sponsorship and big-ticket items. This also came in three volumes. How much did this cost Jon? It was $1,595. One reason I know about this is, as I was devouring these books, I got a call from your business partner, Doug Piper in 1993. I was working at the LA Clippers. I was Ticket Sales Manager there. Doug invited me to come interview with both of you up in Portland to join your two-person team.

The funny thing about it is long story short, you and Doug hired me. You hired me to sell these books to teams throughout the country, even internationally. The funny thing about that, Jon, is that I arrived in Portland, Oregon, where you were based. I think I started on July 1st, 1993, and I get to the door of SRO Partners. There’s a note on the door and it’s from Doug who says that he’s on the road and you’re off to New Jersey. He told me to go across the hall to another suite and I’d get a key from them. I walked into this new office with my computer and my little desk with a list of teams to call, and you basically both told me, just knock them, dead tiger. Start selling them.

That was the heavy training that we provided. Without doing that, that wouldn’t have led you into developing training for teams.

Spend most of your time and effort on your good products. Don’t worry if your poor products don’t sell. Click To Tweet

That’s right. I’m forever grateful for your negligence.

I was off then to be president of the New Jersey Nets.

The timing was impeccable because you hired me and as soon as I said, you left. I want to ask you about some key principles from these books. I’m going to use the ticket book, The How to Sell the Last Seat in the House. It changed the way I looked at the industry and what I should be doing as it did for hundreds of organizations. I had the privilege of being probably your first disciple out in the industry because I was telling people about the goodness found in these books and how it would revolutionize their sales.

You allowed me to go out and Doug as well to go out and provide seminars in your name, teaching these teams how to implement the contents of the book. I want to share with you three principles or ideas that stuck out to me. I want to ask you for our listeners and viewers who are not in sports, how would these ideas be applied to any industry? Here’s the first you talk about the importance of sellouts versus the importance of raising your average attendance. How does that principle apply to a tech company or a retail store?

Let’s take a tech company. What I find with different companies is sometimes they try to sell a full product line, but with every company, they’ve got some dog products and they’re blessed if they have some cool products. My feeling is that they spend an inordinate amount of time selling dog products, products that nobody wants and trying to manipulate those products. My feeling is you should spend most of your time and most of your effort on your good products, marketing them. If the poor products don’t sell, don’t even worry about it because generally, the 80/20 rule applies to products too. Eighty percent of your profits with sales are coming from 20% of your products and vice versa.

I would concentrate on that. What we looked at was sellouts and like New Jersey, that was the perfect test tube for that. When I got to New Jersey, they had seven straight years of being the worst team in the NBA. It’s seven straight years of being the worst team in attendance with certain figures. They led the league in drug rehab cases. They were not a favorite team in the New York area. That was the New York Knicks, but New Jersey Nets played New York Knicks and the Knicks were sold out. If you want to see the Knicks, you had to come to us. If you wanted to see the Boston Celtics with Larry Bird on that team, you had to come to us. That’s what we did is the product that we had is we played somebody. My feeling is that with almost any product, any company spends the time on your best products and doesn’t get worried about not spending time with your products.

I remember one of the examples you’ve given in the book is so many teams will have, let’s say an owner who’s very concerned about that low attendance game that’s coming up on Tuesday night. They insist that their executive team and their sales team and the marketers put a bunch of energy and money into selling that game. All of those resources could be spent and, in the end, you may be bumped up your attendance by a thousand people. You also, point out and this is a principle that I have tried to convey with attribution to my clients, which is, people will remember being a part of a sellout. They will not remember being a part of an average house.

Rob with the New Jersey Nets, I gave their seven owners a list of games that they couldn’t go to. A guy said to me, “Wait a minute. I’m the owner. I go to any damn game. I want to go to.” I said, “You can’t go to these games because we’re going to ignore them.” There’s going to be lousy attendance. You’re going to feel bad because there’s nobody there. If nobody goes to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game. I said, but for the big games where we going to sell out, go to those games, have fun. Just enjoy the energy in the building. For these lousy games, we’re not there yet where we can start selling out off of our team alone.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: If nobody went to the game, nobody knows that nobody went to the game.

 

When they go to those games, they want to have that experience again and again. One sell-out feeds the next sell-out and so forth. Principle number two and I could pick two dozen principles from your books, but I’m going to choose these three. Number two is you talk about in How to Sell the Last Seat in the House the importance of packaging games. In other words, instead of forcing someone to buy a complete season, which is too expensive, too many games inconvenient, you said, no. At the Trail Blazers and with the Nets you said, “Let’s package games. If they want a five-game pack, let’s sell them a five-game pack,” instead of trying to cram something down their throat they don’t want to.

In New Jersey, we put together our five best games. The NBA teams at that time, if they did any packaging would take three good games and two crummy games and they would sell 44 packages. We wanted to sell thousands because wanted to sell out the building. In New Jersey, when I got there, in a 20,000 seat arena and 500 season tickets. We had 19,500 every game that we’ve go to sell. As you know, it’s not an easy task. We put together our five best games. One of the owners, when I presented it to the owners, he said, “That’s too good of a deal for our fans.” I said, “You’ve been providing crappy deals for your fans all these years and they haven’t bought. Let’s fool. Let’s think that we made a mistake. We put together this great package and they better buy before we come to our senses. We did that. We sold 25,000 of them. We had to roll it over into other games and those games were pure electricity. That’s one of my great experiences in my life was going to those games. I knew it was a lot of fun.

Let me ask you one from Your Profits Are Brought To You By the sponsorship book. You made a mark in the NBA by if I’m not mistaken, Jon, you were the first executive that insisted that the Portland Trail Blazers bring their media in-house. Some people reading this don’t know what that means. Could you explain that? How does that same principle apply to business now?

Businesses call it outsourcing. Back in 1980, when I started with the Trail Blazers, every team in the NBA outsource their radio and they’d sometimes get paid by the radio station or the station would pay some money for the right to broadcast the games. To show you how the economics have changed that first year in Portland, the year before I got there, the Trail Blazers received a rights fee of $25,000. That was third-best in the NBA. I felt if we didn’t outsource it, we did it ourselves and got the radio station. The radio station at nighttime, where they make their money is morning drive and afternoon drive. Nighttime, it is relatively easy to get airtime from a radio station. We brought it in-house, which meant that we’d have to pay for the announcer.

We’d have to pay for everything pay for me, pay for my assistant. In the first year, what we did was gamble the $25,000 and that first year, we made net-net $900,000. That was more than the rest of the NBA combined. That was a shot heard round the world in the NBA, which led to me getting traded the following year to the Indiana Pacers because they wanted to capitalize on the radio just like the Portland, Trail Blazers had. Larry Weinberg, the owner of the Trail Blazers, wouldn’t let me consult. When we lost the point guard, Darnell Valentine to it, I think he broke his arm or hand, the Indiana Pacers called-up Stu Inman, who was then the general manager and said, “I will give you our starting point guard, Don Buse for two weeks of Spoelstra of time. We did the deal.

The first time in NBA history or maybe sports history that an executive was part of the trade.

I think Indiana got the better part of the deal.

The best way to motivate people is to hire motivated people and not mess them up. Click To Tweet

If my memory serves me, you didn’t even go for the full two weeks.

It wasn’t that difficult philosophically about bringing radio in-house. Interestingly, Indiana Pacers were owned at that time by a business partner, Jerry Buss, the owners of The Lakers. I can’t recall the guy’s name right now, but he wanted to sell because he was losing money. Most of the teams in the NBA in those days were losing money. One of the things they wanted me to do was meet with these prospective owners and tell them that they didn’t have to lose money if they own the team. There were several of these owners that flew in. On the last day, two guys walked in and it was the Simon Brothers, and they were local from Indianapolis, Mel and Herb Simon.

Then the idea of bringing something in-house as opposed to outsourcing, do you think that’s still a good idea in this world?

It depends. Cable has changed the dynamics of everything. Cable companies were spending big on rights fees, but the Yankees in essence, brought cable in-house for the YES Network. They are making a fortune off that. The Dodgers did outsource that. I think it’s a circumstance. You have to look at each circumstance, but at the time when we did it, it was not an easy deal. My boss fought me like crazy saying, “We’re risking the $25,000 and this is crazy. Nobody would want that.” My feeling was and I wrote about that in Get Your Ideas Approved that I thought we could probably make a profit about, let’s say a couple of hundred thousand 300,000, because we had the advantage of selling sponsorship more than a radio station, because we are the team. We could do a promotion. We could do a player appearance. We could do a lot of different things and it went better than I thought.

To your point, taking it in-house meant that you were selling more than just a radio spot. You were selling all the other promotions, signage and print advertising that comes with a sponsorship, not to mention player engagement and things like that. You’ve demonstrated the value of a sponsorship for a sports team in those days was much greater than teams were getting for it. You set that trend. All of these ideas, Jon, it’s interesting to know about the early days of Jon Spoelstra.

Let’s take a little bit of a walk down memory lane. I wasn’t with you, but I know enough about your background because we’ve been friends for so long and you’ve been my mentor. You come from a sports family and that your father, Watson Spoelstra, was a writer for the Detroit News. He was a sportswriter. He covered the Tigers, Lions, and the University of Michigan. You are always around the sports industry growing up. I think you were more of a baseball, weren’t you when you were growing up. You’d go to the Tigers games.

I think I must’ve gone to every Tigers game. I might’ve been 13 or 14 years old. The Tigers in those days, baseball played a lot of day games. It wasn’t the Wrigley Field where they did have lights. It was standard for baseball in those days to play a lot of day games. My dad would take me down to the ballpark and I had the run. He’d go down at about two hours before the game. They would open up the gates about an hour before the game. I had the run of the entire ballpark for about an hour and I saw the Tigers batting practice. One of the thrills that I saw was Gordie Howe, the legendary player of the Red Wings. He would come out frequently to batting practice and the player opposing players would come out at watch Gordie Howe in batting practice.

He’s a big strong guy. He had a tremendous wrist. He would come out, he hit one of the second deck in left and he went in the second deck center field, which is 4-40 away and then second deck right field. He’s an opposing player were in awe, the Tigers were. I saw Ted Williams in batting practice. The only people that saw batting practice were the players and me. That was a great trill. That was the bond between my dad and myself. Until he died, we were always able to talk. We had a link that we had something we could talk about, a comfortable ground and that happened to be the Detroit Tigers. Even when they had lousy years, we could at least talk about that. I thought the same thing with my son Erik. There was a year when he was probably in junior high school where he came and we went to every Blazer home game.

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: If you don’t have a safe ground to talk with your kids, they may not hear you when it comes to the difficult conversations.

 

Those days traffic wasn’t as great in Portland as it is now. I could drive home from work, have dinner at home. Erik and I would jump in the car and drive to see the game and drive home. In those days, a game would end in two hours. It never went over two hours. We’d be home in sufficient time where he didn’t have to stay up late. That was the link that we had. People have asked me about it. I have any intentions that he would go on. I said, “There’s no way that you could plan that your son could become an NBA coach and be as successful as he’s been and won two championships.” I looked at it as a link between him and me, as I did with the link between my father and me, and that was baseball.

Just to be clear for those who may not be aware who are reading, Erik Spoelstra, whom Jon is speaking of, as Jon said has gone on to become an NBA coach. He was never a player in the league. He was always in the coaching ranks and he won two NBA championships. It’s impressive to see his rise. Jon, I want to ask you, you talk about sports being that link. You had a successful relationship with your father, you and your son, and your daughter, Monica, who is a very successful businesswoman have great relationships. What are some lessons from someone who has been in sports his entire career practically and who’s raised his kids in the industry that you can teach those of us who are in the sports industry, raising children and trying to make it all work?

I’m not sure if it’s the sport. I think if I was a plumber or a carpenter, there’s got to be that link. What common ground can you talk to kids with where both sides want to talk where it’s not awkward? It’s something that’s a safe conversation because growing up, bringing kids up, you’ve got to be able to have those conversations because there’s going to be some difficult conversations. If you don’t have the safe ground to talk when it comes to difficult conversations, I’m not sure that they hear you. I learned from my dad that we could always revert back to talking about the Tigers. When there was a typical conversation, we could just ease into that. I think the same thing with my kids.

Speaking of kids, you’ve also mentored many people in the sports industry. There are a lot of cases of people that you’ve mentored who’ve gone on to leadership positions. I’ve been wanting to ask you when it comes to those people, did you just happen to come across good talent or did you make good people talented?

The best way to motivate people is to hire motivated people and then don’t mess them up. I felt I was pretty good at hiring young people. There are certain things I look for in hiring young people, but I was looking at imagination and work ethic. How do you bring them along? I wanted them to be able to work hard and I didn’t want to mess them up. Some of the people that I’ve worked with are tremendously successful. At one time, the Sports Business Journal had the 40 Under 40. I had three of the 40 Under 40 in one year and they’ve gone on to tremendous careers. I’m happy for them and I’ve enjoyed working with them. One of them, Howard Nuchow was now Co-Head of CAA Sports which is the largest representation agency. We hired him as a young ticket salesperson. This was at the New Jersey Nets. It would have been circa 1991 or so. He was dead last. We had twenty salespeople, which at that time was unheard of that you’d have twenty salespeople. I think it was 1992. Of the twenty salespeople, he was dead last in sales.

We fired a guy who was fifth best. When the guy that was fifth-best got fired, the sales manager fired him but he came storming into my office and he said, “How come I got fired? I’m the fifth-best?” Nuchow is around and he’s the worst. I said, “We fired you because you lie.” With every particular holder that did not renew it, the New Jersey Nets, I called them up personally. Not to try to save them, but I want to find out why. If you call up people and you’re not trying to sell them, you’re just trying to find out why. I found out that this guy offered things that we could never deliver like player appearance or different things like that. He was able to make sales, but people didn’t renew because we didn’t deliver what he said we were going to deliver.

I fired him. With Nuchow, I felt he always had the smarts. I felt that he had an innate ability to be able to talk to people that were the age of his father. He would talk to them freely. He wasn’t intimidated but he was respectful at the same time. I felt that he just was a little bit stubborn in learning our way of doing things. In the second year, he became the second leading salesperson. At that time, we had a staff filled with gunslingers. These guys were getting good and in the third year, he became the top salesperson. Howard has gone on to a terrific career of which co-incidentally is my son’s agent.

If you have good people, you’ve got to pay them right. Click To Tweet

When we talk about the executives in sports, what are some of the greatest opportunities they have? You talked about when times are down, that is when you have an opportunity to shine and be outrageous and creative. Are there any other opportunities that you see right now? Also, what are the risks associated with pursuing a sports career right now? Is this the time maybe to look at some other field of study or as an occupation?

Right now, it’s difficult to in any industry, except there are some that are flourishing because of COVID. Golf courses are flourishing right now, who knew before March, golf was considered a dying sport. Now at first, you’re like crazy that golf sales are way up, green fees are way up, everything’s way up in golf. In a sports world, the easiest way, the best if you’re a young person getting into sports is through ticket sales. Hopefully, by getting into ticket sales, you get trained by somebody who could, like you, me or Steve, somebody that knows what we’re doing. Hopefully, you have a boss that believes in the training. If you’re a young person and you have a good work ethic, I think that’s the best place to start because if you spend two years in ticket sales, generally teams will hire from within for other spots on their staff, but it’d be in marketing or promotion or whatever.

I think that’s the best way still. Nobody gets hired in promotions from the outside. I don’t know if I’ve ever run to anybody. If you get it with the right team, it doesn’t have to be the best team. It doesn’t have to be the most glamorous team. The New Jersey Nets, we are nothing close to being glamorous and yet take a look at the people that came out in the industry. One thing I did back then and I did this at Mandalay. I started to perfect a little bit better, but in New Jersey, we had a weeklong bootcamp where the first 2.5 days were just on how to get an appointment over the phone, an eyeball-to-eyeball appointment.

At Mandalay, when we had seven baseball teams, we’d have 50 salespeople of those seven teams. We’d fly them all down to Texas. We had a small town in Texas where we put them up at a motel and we had a seven-day boot camp there. They had to pass a certain benchmark. If every one of them didn’t pass, we all had to stay and keep on going. There’s a lot of peer pressure to get better. From that group, from the Mandalay group, there’s a lot of leaders in our industry. If you’re a young person, if you get that type of training, you get the right team. I don’t think it makes any difference with the sport. You’re going to get your foot in the door and I think that you’ll have a career in sports.

I think the other thing that I want to echo, you said, “It doesn’t matter which team or which sport.” It’s true, because it’s amazing to me how many young people think that their first job is where they’re going to retire. I try to remind them, “You’re entering this industry. You could have a 40, 45-year career in this industry.” I preach professional patience all the time. Don’t think that your first job is going to be your last job or your first role is going to be your last role. There’s an actor by the name of Charles Grodin. He is a funny comedic actor. He was on Johnny Carson a lot and he used to say, “I never want my opportunity to come before I’m ready for it,” because he didn’t want to blow it. He wanted to get ready for that.

Getting your ideas to approve, you have to prepare as if you’re going in front of the Supreme Court. It’s the same thing here. If the opportunity comes, you got to jump on it.

You got to be prepared for it. Jon, let’s play a game here as we get near the end of our discussion. We’re going to call it the 24-second clock. I’m going to give you three questions and not within 24 seconds. You get as much time as you need for each of them. I want to get your immediate reaction to this. We’re going to try to expand it now beyond the sports industry, but if you want to stay in sports, that’s fine. Here’s my first question for you. What team or company or organization, if you could right now for fun, work with them, which one would it be? Name the brand.

I would say Major League Baseball.

What would you do with Major League Baseball if you could work with them right now?

GFEP 20 | Sage Of Sports Marketing

Sage Of Sports Marketing: Ticket sales is best place to start if you’re a young person who has a good work ethic.

 

I think I would have fans at the games, and I’d say, there are no restrictions. No social distancing, but anybody over the age of 55, you can’t come to the games, but we’re going to buy you the equivalent of NBA League pass or whatever they call a Major League Baseball one. We’re going to gift you a Major League pass. We want you to see the games. We want you to see all the games. We don’t want you to come to the games, but everybody else that comes to games, you got to wear a mask and there’ll be some social distancing. I would shake things up.

Let me ask you a second question. Speaking of sports now, who is the best owner of a sports team now?

I would say Micky Arison of the Miami Heat because they’ve had longevity and he’s been there for several years. My son’s been there for years. He doesn’t have the knee-jerk reactions that a lot of owners have. When I see some of these owners, like Sacramento, they’ve gone through a coach about every eighteen months or so, whichever managers. It’s either you’re really bad at hiring or you’re bad at managing if you have to fire people that frequently. I look at stability and it’s one thing to had stability if you’re winning. Stability, if you’re losing, but you keep on the same people, then that’s not good either. If you have good people, you got to pay them right. You got to do the right thing. If you take a look at the NBA, Micky Arison has been about most as you can get. For the other sports, I don’t know the owners well enough.

Thank you. I appreciated those insights on the Heat. I appreciate a little walk down memory lane with you, but also, more importantly, I appreciate the insights and the wisdom that you’ve to let me and let the readers of show. It has been a great conversation. I’m glad to know that you’re still got your foot in the industry. You’re still having an influence. We wish you and your family the best. Thanks so much, Jon.

Thank you, Rob. This is fun.

It’s been great to visit with you and I’m sure we’ll do it again.

Important Links:

GFEP 19 | Beating Racism

 

Racism may be tied to socioeconomic inequality in a lot of ways, but being a black man raised in a relatively affluent neighborhood does not give you a “free pass” from being discriminated against. Beating racism has been a big part of Robert Anderson’s journey as an educator. For over 20 years, this educational leader and award-winning lacrosse coach has been teaching students to discover their gifts and become independent. He also works to help educational leaders like himself take steps towards personal development and professional improvement. He beautifully elaborates these aspects of his life and career in this conversation with Rob Cornilles. Listen in as he shares his valuable insights on education, racism and leadership.

Watch the episode here:

Robert Anderson | Beating Racism To Win His Race

Teaching students is hard. Teaching parents how to let their kids learn in this world, that might even be harder, but we’ve found someone who knows how to motivate kids while influencing their parents through love, inspiration and personal responsibility. Robert Anderson, author, speaker and award-winning high school coach, is our guest, a man who was growing up in New York, honors his parents for helping them overcome bouts of racism so he could recognize his own inherent gifts. It’s my pleasure to welcome to the show, a new friend, Robert Anderson, who, when you become his friend, you get to call him Rob, isn’t that right?

That’s a true statement for sure.

I get to call you Rob now, some people call you Robbie A., your father is Mr. A. There are a lot of names going around at the Anderson household. We want to thank you, Rob, for joining us on the show. It’s going to be a fascinating conversation. Welcome.

Thank you. I appreciate you having me. I’m looking forward to it.

Rob, I appreciate you being willing to join me because we’re going to talk about some issues and some topics that I know are near and dear to you. They’re very topical in society. We’re all going to learn a lot from this. You are an educator by trade. You have become an educator in your adult life. You’ve had an impact on hundreds, thousands of individuals, particularly our young people. We’re going to talk about that, but I’d like to start if we could Rob, by talking about Rob Anderson, the learner, not Rob Anderson, the teacher. You and I have talked about what’s going on in this unusual environment that we both find economic, health and social. Rob, from your perspective, what have you learned in 2020 so far?

Similar to a number of people is the emphasis on family and how important it is to make sure that we slow down. During this fast-paced world that we’re living in America, specifically in New York, life moves fast. With four kids and a wife, we have a lot of obligations and commitments. Similar to another number of people, I’ve learned to slow down and appreciate my time with family. During 2020, I’ve had an increased emphasis on how to give. That’s always been my nature, to love people, and I love people. As you’ve already noted, I love our students and I have a passion for educating, teaching and coaching students. When you don’t have the opportunity to be in front of them, you have to figure out another way to give.

2020 has put a spotlight on the emphasis of my spirit on how to give even when you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to be in front of them. It’s highlighted and created a lot of opportunities for me personally and professionally to grow, by writing a book and doing that for the educators of the world and finding a way to serve. Serve our students in a way that’s different and unique, in a way that can enhance their life. We have to start doing things differently. I’m not sure, Rob, if that’s going to change moving forward.

There’s so much in what you’re saying. I’m going to try to slice it up a little bit because I want to dig into your insights, Rob. About education, I’m a parent, I have three sons and they’re all now out of the educational system. You have kids who are in the educational system now. When I say educational system, I know that’s a wide swath. For parents, grandparents, community members, what do we not understand about the educational environment now that you, as an educator, wish we did?

GFEP 19 | Beating Racism

Beating Racism: Educators have to build a connection with each one of the kids and understand who they are. That becomes more of a challenge the larger the class size is.

 

I spent 14 years in the classroom and 15 years in education. I had the opportunity to work under incredible leadership for the majority of my career. The reason why the leaders that have the privilege to grow under as an educator were so influential is that they gave me an opportunity to grow. When we step into the classrooms, specifically young teachers and young educators, there’s a sense of excitement because you have so much schooling and testing. There’s so much work. The interview process is grueling, you finally get your own classroom or at least you have an opportunity to have your own students. For many teachers, those students become your own personal kids.

What happens is the opportunity to grow is fruitful and the system takes hold of you. We all have needs. One of our essential needs is the need to grow. If we aren’t growing, we’re dying. The educational system doesn’t consistently allow our beautiful, bright educators, even our educational leaders to put their two cents into the classroom the way that they felt that they could over the course of their career. The system itself has become stringent, strict and structured, that our educators don’t consistently have the opportunity to evolve and to use their creativity, knowledge, expertise, and use all of their experiences, because the system has become so structured.

Our school administrators, our leadership is under much pressure from not just their superintendent and the school board, but from making sure that our educators are following a system and making sure that they’re hitting the standards. When you’re focused on hitting the standards and you’re teaching to the subject, you get away from having the chance to teach to the student. The more time that you spend teaching for the subject instead of the student, the reason why you went into education starts to diminish. You start to feel as though you aren’t growing. That in turn makes our system broken. It starts to break our educators and our leaders. It isn’t because they don’t have a passion for kids and they don’t have a passion for education. They just don’t have all the resources, the ability, the time to share their experiences and the things that they know that the students need because of the system that’s in place.

You’re very articulate about this. I’m sure our readers are understanding what you’re saying, but let me tell you my interpretation. It sounds to me like you’re saying that starting at administration levels down into the classroom, the teachers are forced to color by the numbers. It’s like, “Don’t get out of the lines.” If you draw outside of the lines, something is wrong with you because of limited time, and I perceive you would say limited resources, they have to stay within those lines so they’re confined. It takes a lot of the personalization out of teaching and they’re not allowed to draw from their own life experiences, their perspective, their insights because they have to be very stringent. Not to mention the fact, this is another thing I’d like you to comment on, in most classrooms, the classrooms are brimming with students. That individual attention is also being sacrificed. I want you to clarify or correct anything I said, but also to be clear, tell our audience who you focus on as a teacher. What is your demographic?

You articulated it well. The biggest takeaway, I can give you a few examples, certainly for the folks in your audience that aren’t in education so they can apply it to their world and certainly gain some value from that. First to answer your question, I’ve taught at the middle school level for more than ten years. I’ve also taught at the elementary school level, K5 for a number of years. I’ve coached at the high school level. My demographic is K through 12. When we look at education and what we’re struggling with, what educators are struggling with is consistently being able to teach to the student instead of the subject.

I’ll give you an example. This is a sport. Certainly having the ability to and the opportunity to coach the game of lacrosse, we have positions. There are goalies, attack men, midfielders and defenseman. It would be similar to saying that we only allow kids to play midfield. We have to stay in the midfield. They don’t go to attack. They don’t ever go to defense or the defensemen just play defense. They don’t have a chance to go to attack. Attack men stay on attack. If you play goalie, you never come out into the field.

That would be an example of having to teach to the subject where our educators have the ability to consistently, on a daily basis, it’s a need to teach to the students. We have beautiful educators. We have bright educators. We have unbelievable administrators. The system doesn’t consistently allow them to teach to the student. The emphasis from the system is not necessarily on the student or to the subject. In business, you could take it and you would say, “We’re just going to speak to our HR department, but our HR department doesn’t talk to our sales group.” When we know that we need each part to have conversations to make sure that the entire body is working together in unison, does that help clarify?

When you spend more teaching the subject instead of the student, the reason why you went into education starts to diminish. Click To Tweet

It does. This problem you’ve laid out for us, what’s the root cause of it? Is it difficult to put your finger on one thing? I’m thinking of a lot of possible causes. It’s lack of resources, let’s just call it what it is, money or it could be the misuse of money that is being earmarked or channeled to education. There are differences of opinions as to what should be taught in classrooms. Even the qualifications of those who are granted the privilege of being in a classroom with 30 eager students. Give us your insights on some of the causes of these problems that you’ve laid out.

You’ve brought up a few of the highlights. There isn’t just one, but I focus on a specific goal and one solution. Funding is a challenge. When we look at our inner cities and we look at the classroom size, and when we look at the resources that are available to our schools in the inner cities, it is a challenge. It’s a challenge for one teacher to work with more than 25 students. That’s a serious challenge. When the emphasis needs to be on teaching to the student and not the subject, in that case and in every case, our educators have to build a connection with each one of those kids and understand who they are.

That becomes a challenge the larger the class size. The demographic knowing that our kids have to deal with to get themselves to school, whether or not they have mom and dad at home, they have food on the table, they’re safe, they feel protected just getting into a classroom, which is a reality for too many of our kids. Moving along into the suburbs, it’s a matter of, yes, we have resources and I’m certainly grateful for that. I’m someone who’s privileged to that. I didn’t grow up in a tough neighborhood. I grew up in an incredibly beautiful neighborhood and environment with amazing teachers, educators and with a mother and a dad that supported me every step of the way through college.

If anything, I am fortunate to be able to explain, share and have that experience. I also know that walking into a school in the suburbs as a black man adds a completely different level of demographic and a challenge. It isn’t necessarily because of things that were negatively done to me, but it’s another example of how I know I wanted and needed in reflection to be able to connect to the people that were in front of me. The educators that I had the chance to be taught by incredible people, beautiful people that I still have relationships with now. I know that over the course of my educational career, I was constantly looking for somebody that looked like me, I could relate to, I felt instantly connected to because of the way that they looked.

I never had that. The connections that I was able to forge were because teachers taught to me, put the subject to the side and taught directly to who Rob is. That allowed for a bond to be created. At that point, I was ready to learn anything. It wouldn’t have mattered because they had the ability and took the time to make sure that they knew who I was as a person. That’s because of who they are as people that was their per desire, but it was also because of the atmosphere that I grew up in that they had the latitude to be able to do that.

Within the school environment, we are seeing and we’ve seen as long as I know, a gravitation into education by people who have first a regard for students and learning. It seems like we’ve always, however, bemoan the fact that they’re underpaid. They would perhaps say they’re not supported by parents as much as they wish they could be, or by their administration, perhaps. Without disclosing names, my wife and I visited with a woman who is retiring from education in the State of California, who I believe if my memory serves me, she has been teaching for 30 to 35 years in Southern California. She’s retiring at the end of this academic year. She says that the environment for a teacher has changed dramatically in those three decades. It used to be that she could not get parental involvement. Now at the end of her career, the exact opposite, parents will not leave her alone. They’re invasive in what the teacher is trying to do that she throws her hands up and says, “I can’t manage parents anymore. It’s taken the fun out of teaching.” Talk to us a little bit about the evolution you’ve seen when it comes to parental involvement.

I often joke, and my kids are aware of this. If my kids are going to play a sport, they have to be big enough and strong enough to carry their bag. When we see kids get off of a bus, one of the first things you’ll often see is a parent or a caregiver taking their son’s or daughter’s bag from them and putting it on their back. When we see kids walking to the sports field, you can take note of how many parents are carrying their son’s or daughter’s bag to the sport field, to the sport that the student is going to play. They don’t carry their own bag. My kids laugh at me all the time because I look at their bag as something contagious, and they just put it on the ground at this point. They need to get themselves situated because my wife and I are not carrying their bag ever.

To your point, there’s been a massive shift in the way that parents see themselves and the achievements of their students as an accomplishment of themselves. Parents have taken note that if their son or daughter is going to achieve, that’s great. They give their son or daughter credit, but the idea of them failing is an example of the mom or the dad failing. That is a major shift because growing up, my mom and dad sent in cookies and treats around the holidays. My mom and dad said hello to my coach and goodbye to my coach, and drop me off at the door and that was it. We didn’t have any other conversations. That’s where the shift is first started where parents see the achievements and the failures, or I will say the failures as their own. I don’t know at what point in education that happened, but it’s happened.

GFEP 19 | Beating Racism

Beating Racism: As educators and parents, we have to establish what our goals are for our kids and then create a path for them to achieve those goals on their own.

 

If you had opportunity on day one of a school year or one of the seasons, rather than collect the students in the classroom or gather your team around for a huddle to explain your philosophy and what we’re going to do this season. Let’s say the kids were waiting in the car and you were gathering the parents around, whether it’s in the classroom or the athletic field, what would that conversation sound like if you had that opportunity?

I do it. I can walk you through exactly what that conversation looks like and to the thousands and thousands of parents at this point that I’ve sat down with me in parent-teacher conferences and certainly on the athletic field, this is not news to them. The first thing I ask is, what do they want? What’s the goal that they want for their own son or daughter? I ask for the answer and I wait. The type of answers that you’ll hear are, “I want them to become independent. I want them to have a great experience. I want them to have fun. I want them to be the best in the class.” You’ll hear those types of answers or “the best on the field.” I’ll turn and I’ll say, “Why do you want that for them?” You’ll hear something along the same exact lines. The key phrase is, “What’s missing? What’s preventing them from achieving that, that hasn’t been there in the past?” Usually, you’ll get a quiet response at that point because they don’t completely know what’s missing until they are given time to reflect on it.

Slowly but surely, you’ll see a hand creep up. You’ll hear a brave soul say something along the lines of, “They need to be more independent. They need to be able to fail. They need to be a little uncomfortable. They need to be a little less scared.” You’ll hear something along the lines of that. I let that sit with all the parents and then I’ll turn around and say, “How do we do that? What’s our role? What’s my role in doing that and how do we support each other to get to our goals?” We can turn around and we can say, “Kids need to be more independent. They need to carry their own bags.” If I turn around and I started screaming and yelling, “Carry your own bag,” people get a little turned off and uncomfortable.

To an older audience, to the high school kids, if they have a problem, they need to see me first. If they have a problem, they need to see me second. If they have a problem, they need to see me third. We should only be having conversations about the weather, the game, the food that we’re going to have at dinner to make sure that it’s healthy and it’s green. We aren’t putting things that are going to slow our kids down. We need to help put healthy food, nutrition into our kids. Those should be the types of conversations that we’re having.

If you feel they’re struggling because of maybe the friends that they’re around, call me. If you are worried about their energy, call me. We shouldn’t be having conversations about playing time. In the same type of conversation in academics, it’s the same exact thing. How do they get in contact with me? They should be emailing me. How do they see me? They should be staying after. What should they do? They should be coming early. What should they do? It’s not your role. Even at the middle school level, it isn’t their role. It’s the role to make sure that their son or daughter has the things that they need to achieve.

We can check in on each other, “This is what I’m seeing. It’s great that they came in with their homework. It’s great that they came in prepared for the exam. Unfortunately, this is the grade that they received. Here’s the plan that we discussed, me and the student, and this is what we’re going to do next. If you can support them in this role, that would be great.” Instead, Rob, what we’re getting are parents bombarding, calling, showing up at the gate when their son or daughter doesn’t step onto the field, taking their kids off the sideline because they sat for a quarter and didn’t get enough time, watching the time to make sure that everybody gets equal time or they get a minute less. They have a complaint. They go right to the superintendent in order to complain. We have to establish, we in education, we as coaches, we as people have to establish what our goals are for our kids, and then we have to create a path to achieve it. We have to allow our kids to be able to walk that path alone with our support, not our control.

You are the epitome of the kind of coach that champion in a national organization called Positive Coaching Alliance. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. They’re ubiquitous around North America. I’ve been privileged to be on the National Advisory Board for Positive Coaching Alliance, for several years now. This is the mentality and culture we’re trying to promote. It’s all the way from the administration of a league, a school, a conference, down through the coaching ranks, the parental ranks and the players. You described that what we believe is the ideal environment. Out of curiosity, how many parents have pulled you aside in your history as an award-winning coach and said to you, “I appreciate you challenging my son or daughter like that. I appreciate you putting them through the paces like you are. I appreciate you not giving them what they believe they’re entitled to. I liked that you’re hard on them.” Is that a common refrain or is that like, “We never hear that.”

Your gift is the thing that you do best with the least amount of effort. Click To Tweet

I don’t want to put an artificial percentage on it but I would say it’s extremely high that I would hear that. The mass majority of the athletes and I would even say the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with, that’s the line, the phrase and the gratitude that I hear from parents, the mass majority.

In fact, you surprised me with your answer. Now that you say it, it’s the case because you set the tone from the very beginning. They know that when Coach Anderson is going to coach their son or daughter, they know what they’re going to get. When you’re going to teach their son or daughter in the classroom, they understand your style. I thought you were going to say that being hard on my child is very rare. Once they meet you and they see the value of what you’re teaching and that philosophy, they’ve got to embrace it.

This is the way that I share, and I believe it’ll make sense to you. I say this to parents, you didn’t get to where you are because you’re soft. Rob, you’re a gentleman, you’re intelligent and you’ve accomplished a number of things in business and at the same time, you’re soft-spoken but you aren’t soft. When parents hear that, as they pull up their cars and their vacation homes for some folks, and for some folks that are living amongst modest means, they can connect to that. They aren’t soft.

If their son or daughter is going to take the next step, in carrying along their legacy whether or not we like it or not, you can’t be soft. Being soft would mean owning who you are. If you can’t own that, it doesn’t matter what you’re given. It doesn’t matter what opportunities in front of you. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have. When parents can connect to that, their son or daughter is going to have the opportunity to become more of who they are through this process, it does resonate. It resonates and it gives them wings. It gives them ease to know, philosophically that, the things that I say are not my way. It’s not Rob’s way, it’s the right way. That’s the only way to do things, and it’s to get our kids to a space where they can identify with who they are. Everybody resonates with the fact they don’t want their kids to be soft.

You remind me when my wife and I were young parents trying to direct our kids down the path that we thought would be most fulfilling, which would bring them happiness. We asked ourselves, “What subjects should they study?” When they’re young, we asked, “What should they be doing after school? What kind of hobbies should we direct them, introduce them to? We even include sports. My wife will admit that she grew up in a house of girls, and sports was not their thing. They had a lot of other talents. In my home, sports was what I did as a young boy. Since we had three sons, that was a new thing for her raising boys, I remember having that conversation with her when they were young saying, “I think we need to drive them into sports.”

I shouldn’t say drive, maybe we should get in the car and drive them to the soccer field or the baseball diamond. I tried to express to her that I believe sports is where kids are most likely to have to suffer through hard things without being in jeopardy, jeopardizing their health or their safety, and hopefully their mental health. Through that experience, through doing hard things, our boys will learn important life lessons that will serve them well throughout their lives. My wife agreed with that thinking and we have seen the results of it. Let’s move a little bit from the athletic field for just a moment because I don’t want to short-change the work that you do in the classroom. Tell us a little bit about the book that you’ve written, the title of the book, and a little bit about the overall goal and purpose of that book and who would it benefit most, if you would, Rob?

A few years ago, I felt as though my voice is being lost in education. The system itself I felt is broken, and I do believe the educational system is still broken. I wanted to find a solution. I knew that my background in athletics and in training was a part of the solution. It wasn’t my full voice. Being a classroom teacher for fifteen years, I felt connected. I started to feel as though my voice was being lost because of the system that we’re under. I wanted to be able to combine both of those things.

I’ve left teaching and started a firm called Win by Design. We’re an educational consulting firm that focuses on teaching educational leaders how to become more influential. We do that through a system, but we do it by teaching our educational leaders first the foundational principles of human needs, so they can identify their needs first. We teach to the teachers, the educators, we are true personal development firm for educators, not a personal development firm or personal development opportunities where we come in and put another system on people or tell teachers to how to do something.

GFEP 19 | Beating Racism

The 12 Things They Wanted To Teach You in High School…But Couldn’t: A Personal Development Book for Educational Leaders

We’re not that, but an actual firm that trains teachers how to identify their needs first because their needs aren’t being met as people. We ask them to do a lot. I know it because I was in it. I was living it, Rob. From there, once teachers understand how to develop their own personal needs, then we have an opportunity to open up the world. I would say again to our educators where now they can impart their knowledge, their desires on how to teach to our students instead of the system itself. As I was going through these virtual talks across the country and I was sharing, it started develop a thought on what I can give of all the things that these kids don’t learn while they’re in school.

The first one is goal setting. While we’re in school, pre-K through 12th grade, odds are we haven’t had an opportunity for our students to learn how to set goals. Set goals, write them out, put them on paper and then teach them how to accomplish them. We’ve had kids in school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and not only have they not had a class, odds are they didn’t even have anyone talking to them about goal setting. That’s the first part of the book. That’s one of the twelve things.

The next one is how to identify your gift. Your gift is a thing that you do best that requires the least amount of effort. We have kids that go through our schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, and they graduate, some are now going to college and some are opting not to. The ones that go to college still graduated and still don’t know what to do. It was breaking my heart and driving me crazy. Teaching our staff how to help our kids identify their gifts. When they start to think about what their gift is, they shouldn’t be attaching it to a job. They should be attaching it to a mission. As they start to create a mission, that leads a way for them to either get a job or to create a new business that doesn’t exist. Those are 2 of the 12 things that aren’t being taught in our schools that could be shared to our educators that they can impart on our kids.

I remember one time, Rob, when you and I were talking, I was fascinated by something that you said regarding the heart and education. Can you share that with the audience?

We’re just going to have kids in our class that need love. No matter what they’re going to need love. The little ones will grab your leg and sit on your lap. As they get older, we can get confused when some of these boys are 6’4” or 6’5,” they tower over their teachers. Some of them when they’re in 7th and 8th grade, but they still need love too. Unfortunately, too many are necessarily receiving it all at home. Some of them will settle for connection. That’s a piece of the heart that our educators have the ability to give.

Our administrators do as well. We know that we have these kids that come in. At the end of the day, they’re going to find significance, positive, negative or neutral way. There are kids that come in and they’re going to find significance from walking in late. They’re going to come in and they’re going to find significance by falling off a chair or doing cracking a funny joke, you make everybody laugh. Some of those things are disruptive and some of those things are funny.

Acknowledging the fact that we do have all of these needs and we have these needs structures that are documented and it works. When you understand how to apply those needs to yourself and education, you can identify those to the students that you’re teaching. It makes it that much fluent to form a connection. We teach anything that we like, but that’s an example of the heart and what I believe we do with our firm, Win by Design, in teaching and empowering our teachers. Even beyond what we do, it’s what our teachers are capable of doing. It’s why they got into it at the beginning.

Goodwill always wins as long as we allow it to win in our heart and in our spirit. Click To Tweet

I don’t think anyone reading can say, “I disagree with what Rob is saying,” because what you’re saying seems so natural. It seems real and authentic. Yet, the tragedy about some of what you’re saying in my mind is, for example, you talked about love. Students need love. We need to understand why each student is significant because they need significance. The challenge as I see, and I used the word tragedy, is that in this very sensitive society where we live now, it feels like it’s so difficult to make those connections with students if I’m an adult.

In fact, even in the workplace, it’s difficult to make connections with your colleagues because it could be misinterpreted. If it’s misinterpreted, you could end up in the HR office that afternoon. I’m sure the same is true at a school. You can end up in the principal’s office or having unexpected parent-teacher conference because your good intent was misinterpreted. Am I overblowing this dilemma or is this a real dilemma that’s getting in the way of the kind of goals that you and Win by Design teach and train in?

You’re spot on with the challenges. At first, it goes back to the folks on the frontline, our educators. Our educators are under so much pressure that when they wake up in the morning and when they walk into the building, when they close out their day, so much of what they do at times doesn’t feel fulfilling. It doesn’t feel as though it’s even touching the surface of why they even got into it. You magnify that by a day or a decade, and you become dull. You become numb to what you’re even doing. The first step is reconnecting with our educators. Educational leaders and our community members have to. They should feel pressure, if not feel an obligation at a minimum to make sure that we are filling the gaps that we’re asking to do the most. In my humble opinion, we aren’t doing that. That’s where we need to start if you would. Our educators come first.

Let’s shift one more time. You and I have had candid conversations about this. It’s a very prickly subject in our country. It shouldn’t be but it is. A lot of what you’ve said comes from the lens of a black man who was not raised in the inner city, was raised in a fairly affluent area. You had opportunities. You have both parents at home, which I honestly believe lends a terrific advantage, to any of us, regardless of race or ethnicity. How has your race shaped your thinking towards education?

I appreciate the question. I appreciate the courage of the question. I had the unique opportunity to grow up in a beautiful town in New York, in Westchester County. A town that I hold near and dear to my heart and incredible friends, incredible opportunities and we overachieved, athletically. We are still super proud of it. I had the opportunity to also spend the mass majority of my life in the city. My grandparents, my nan and pop, were living in the city. My closest friend was in the South Bronx. I spent countless weekends with him. I felt as though I had a balance of seeing what my life was as a kid. I had the opportunity uniquely to see what life could have been had my parents not made specifically, my dad, made different decisions about what he wanted for his family to move himself and us with my mom out of the city.

It changed the course in the direction of my life. It was part of the reason why I have the privilege to be here with you. Rob, I did not get a free pass because of where I’m from. I didn’t get a free pass because of who my parents are. The reality is I have stories on how racism has impacted me. I’ve been the target of racists, I have been singled out because of my race. The reason why my story is that a tragedy is because certainly I’ll say faith for sure, but it’s also because my parents had the resources.

They had the knowledge and they also had the heart to make sure that I was taken care of when those things hit our family. They had the knowledge and the resources in place to make sure that none of those things impacted me into my adult life. They also had the heart to make sure that negativity and racism didn’t impact me and impact my mind on white people and on white people in authority. My dad had every perspective as a police officer. He was an award-winning police officer. I come from a long line of law enforcement.

Knowing the background, any pure intelligence that my dad had and then unfortunately having to see his son, be targeted and then at the same exact time, my parents didn’t allow negativity to harden my heart. I was quite the opposite. They made it very clear that there are bad people and there are people that are just going to be racist. There are people that will consistently target you because of who you are and because of the way that you look. To make sure that none of those things and events shape what they believe, which are people are good, and by and large good will always win as long as we allow it to win in our heart and in our spirit. I’m a product of them and that’s shaped my reality to this day, Rob. It doesn’t blind me but it’s helped shape it.

GFEP 19 | Beating Racism

Beating Racism: Being a black man raised in an affluent family does not give you a free pass on racism.

 

This would be a good time to end our conversation because I feel like what you said is very uplifting, but there are also a lot of lessons to learn hearing a black man raised in America, raised in New York, hearing your story. We could learn a little bit more if you’ll allow us to, from you here in this regard. I’m Caucasian, you’re black. What is one example of something that I might do that is unintentional, but that in your mind would be racist? I recalled something you told me one time. I don’t know if this is the way you’d want to say, but I’m going to lead you to one answer and then you can add another one. Rob Anderson doesn’t have a lot of hair. He shaved his head. I remember though you telling me one time about someone touching your hair. I don’t want to finish the story. I’d like to hear anything else that we could learn from.

I’ll give two examples, but I’ll start with that one. I grew up in a beautiful area in a place that I hold in the highest regard, in New York, in Westchester County. Growing up, it was quite common to have people, teachers, want to touch my hair because at that point. I had a big fro, not too big. I grew it out in college. I let it lock up against my dad’s best wishes. He didn’t love my locked-up hair. He didn’t like the fact that it was the color of the Texas Jersey. That drove him crazy, Rob. Growing up, it was very common that people will come up and want to touch my hair because I was so different. Not just because of my skin color because they haven’t seen hair texture in that way, and I couldn’t stand it.

At first, I didn’t understand it. As I got older into middle school, I became extremely fierce over it. My parents are very caring and very loving, but they would not ever allow me to get a free pass ever. I had a nice balance. My mom is the aggressor of the two. My dad is a massive man. His hands are so big, he couldn’t fit gloves. Having the opportunity to know that I needed to put my foot down and be more aggressive. I’ll never forget moments like that. It was gross. I had to use a simplistic metaphor that someone wanted to touch me because I just was different.

It’s a turnoff, but it was quite common. It was amongst the adults as well. Until I finally stood my ground and stood firm in that, I did not share that with my parents. That might have set my mom off. It’s why I didn’t share it with her. Until I set my ground with that, that’s when it finally stopped. To your question, Rob, I could probably answer your question with an example better than an action on your part. I was on the phone with a friend of mine. She’s white, and it’s relevant for this conversation.

I was getting ready to walk into a store. I had my Gator on. It was raining. I had a hooded sweatshirt, so I put my hood on. I have an earpiece in. I put my hood on and then I pulled my gator up. I’m walking. I said to her, “Anne, a few months ago, if I walked into the store like this, odds are I might get shot. I should be concerned that I may. Now if I don’t wear my gator or a mask, I have concerned that I’ll be singled out once again.” I took my hood off and my Gator. I walked in. I make sure, when I walk into stores, that my hands are out of my pockets so any cameras that see me, see that I’m not caring physically anything in.

When I walk out of stores, I always make sure that my hands are out my pockets and that my receipt is in my hands. It’s on camera that I’m not stealing anything. It’s very clear that I’m not walking out with anything that isn’t mine. I would share that as an example to say that when I walk into a store or when you see me walk into a store, don’t assume that I am something that I’m not. I’m a data for a married guy that loves people and has built a career around building and creating the best for kids, don’t assume.

Thank you for sharing that. Something as simple as keeping your hands out of your pocket is something that you have to think about in public as a black man. That’s what I was hoping or looking for that you would instruct us on what has to go through your mind in society. I don’t want to even get into the right or wrong of that impression that you have, the fact that you feel that way, should concern all of us. I do appreciate that. I’m sorry that you feel that way. Rob, I tip my hat to you for the influence that you have on other people. That influence is only growing. I would encourage my audience to check out what you do and how you do it on WinByDesign.com. You’ll also learn more about a subject that we didn’t have a chance to cover about the A3 Learner, which is proprietary information that Rob’s developed. Thank you very much. You’re an inspiration. I wish you continued success. I look forward to continued learning from you as we continue our association, Rob.

Rob, you’re beautiful. I appreciate your time. I appreciate the opportunity and your platform. It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you so much.

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About Robert Anderson Jr.

GFEP 19 | Beating RacismRob began his career as an athletic performance coach helping athletes improve their physical and mental health.

Over the years, Rob has expanded his efforts and has developed a series of training modules, courses, and programs that help students, school administrators, teachers and faculty members define ‘why’ an inclusive community can alter the focus of the student body, there town, and ultimately the nation.

Rob’s premier program The 12 Things Summit… focuses on how to create personal empowerment by learning how to create an atmosphere of love and inclusion to overcome racism and injustice, overcoming anxiety, foster relationships, create confidence in yourself, how to create a nutritional program to maximize your health.