GFEP 9 | Zions Bank

 

A banker’s life: dull, unimaginative, inflexible. Right? Not so if you’ve met Scott Anderson, President and CEO of 147-year old Zions Bank, the 44th largest in America, with assets over $70B. This episode digs into how financial services are removing the stigma of being barriers to commercial progress and proving they’re the primary mover of it. Together with host, Rob Cornilles, Scott explores how banking, the source of some of this century’s broadest innovations, practices agility out of necessity. Scott also explains how his industry can more effectively tell its story so that they can continue to make the world go round.

Watch the episode here:

Scott Anderson | Out Of The Banker’s Box

If you were controlling over $70 billion in assets during one of the roughest economic stretches our country has ever gone through, what would you do with the money? Welcome to the world of banking. How do these institutions and those that lead them make the call as to which business gets financed, which homeowner gets a loan and who doesn’t? No one knows better than Scott Anderson, long-time President and CEO of Zions Bank, one of the most influential banks in the United States.

I want to thank Scott Anderson, the President and CEO of Zions Bank for taking the time to join us. This is an exciting opportunity for us to talk to someone in the financial world. As we’ve started and launched this show, Scott is the first person from the financial markets who is being interviewed for Game Face Exec. He’s our guinea pig, but he’s also our pioneer. Thank you, Scott, for joining us.

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

It’s kind of you, one who leads a top 40 bank in this country, to take the time to address some key questions that I have, and I’m sure that our readers are interested in. This is a precarious time that we find ourselves in when you and I are talking, we’re wrapping up 2020. I’ve got to ask you from a financial-economic standpoint when 2020 began, if you were to have written in your journal what you forecast 2020 to look like, if we could have peek back into your journal entry, what would we have read?

You would have read that we thought 2020 was going to be a record year. The economy in the areas that we operate in was among the strongest in the country. People were optimistic. Job growth was high. Unemployment was low. People felt good about the future, and they were investing and spending. Whenever you have that combination, it’s always good for banks because we can step in and help them achieve their goals. We were projecting growth in loans, deposits, fee income and across the board in all of our products and services. That came to a screeching halt in March 2020.

Now that we’re looking into the year, it seems like these are two different worlds that we’re living in. Can you put on your prognosticator cap for us and tell us what is Zions Bank saying behind closed doors about the second half of 2020, even into 2021? What are we looking for?

It’s interesting as you ask that question and as you think about the response. Before you project in the second half of 2020 and into 2021, you have to look at the second quarter of 2020. That holds the key to what will happen. As we came into the second quarter, it was one of the most difficult times we have ever seen as a nation. We have the pandemic, then here in Utah, we had earthquakes. We have the government shutdown. We had the death of George Floyd and all of that social unrest that came up from there. The question is, how will that impact going forward? The interesting thing that happened in 2020, in this crisis which I call the COVID-19 recession, as opposed to the great recession several years ago in 2008, 2009, 2010, is that back then it was a banking crisis.

While we honor the healthcare workers as unsung heroes saving lives, we should also honor bankers who have saved the economy and businesses. Click To Tweet

If you recall, the banks had invested in a lot of residential real estate, the government had loosened the underwriting criteria, so Freddie and Fannie had purchased a lot of real estate. People were buying real estate with nothing down as an investment, and they were hoping that as the market continued to move up, they could sell at a profit before they had to pay off their loan or start making their own payments. When the market collapse, banks were in a difficult situation. If you recall, the government came in with about $700 billion package to help banks through that. The banks had to pay it back and the government took warrants as well as giving the money. In this time, the government stepped in and this is not a banking crisis.

Banking is strong. Banks are well-capitalized. The credit culture is sterling. It was a business crisis. It was a health crisis. The government stepped in in a different way. They provided huge amounts of money to individuals, states, counties, and most importantly to businesses. If you add everything together, it’s about a $5 trillion package, $2.5 trillion under the CARES Act. During that period of time, we put banks which were the conduit of getting this money out to businesses. We put on a huge number of loans. My organization did over 43,000 of these loans for about $7 billion, which was the ninth-largest lender in what they call the Paycheck Protection Plan in the country.

Banks were working around the clock, 18, 20, 22 hours a night to try and process these and get them through. The result is there is a lot of money in the hands of businesses, and with the stimulus checks that went to the individuals, there’s a lot of money in the hands of the individuals. With the extra stimulus that was paid on unemployment, even if you are unemployed, you’re making more money than when they were employed. We’re in this interesting phenomenon. Most of this Paycheck Protection Plan money will be forgiven, or at least the hope is that it will be forgiven. It’s a huge help to help businesses get back on track, to bring their people back and continuing to pay their employees. The question is, how will that move forward? If the economy can start up with this extra engine, then I think we will see a recovery. It won’t be V-shaped or U-shaped, but it will be a Nike shape.

That will be good. The question though is going to be, if the economy doesn’t come back, if people are not brought back on payroll, as we enter into the fourth quarter of 2020, when a lot of these benefits end and the unemployment $600 premium ends, what will happen? Will people have the money to continue making their payments on their cars and make their rent payments on their apartments? Will businesses be able to continue doing business if they’re not open up fully? That’s the question mark. The biggest question mark is, especially here in Utah as we are seeing the spikes in COVID-19 cases, will there be a second shut down? If there is, we are in real trouble as an economy.

If we don’t have a second shut down, if we learn to live with the virus, if we find a treatment for the virus and a vaccine that will I get us over it, then we’ll see the economy grow because the fundamentals are there, especially in our market. Job growth is good. Unemployment is still relatively good compared to the nation as a whole, and we have a diverse economy which helps. I think also for our particular market, you will see a lot of individuals who can work remotely. They’re being encouraged to work remotely. They are going to be moving from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and they are going to be coming to Salt Lake City and Boise. They’re going to be enjoying our environment and lifestyle here, and yet they’ll have an East Coast or West Coast salary.

Scott, historically, especially in times like this, the banking industry enjoys a reputation of being helpful, supportive, sometimes our last backstop as a small business as I am, for example. In another cases, it seems like big banks in particular are viewed as the boogeyman. They are viewed as no one’s helper. They are portrayed as greedy. How do you respond to those two labels? What do you do to ensure that your reputation is where you want it to be in times like this?

Our industry hasn’t done a good job in explaining the critical role that plays in the economy. Often times we become a scapegoat. The economy’s not doing well because of banks. The consumer is hurting because of the high-interest rates. We don’t lend fairly. We discriminate in how we make our loans. First, you have to come and say, “What do banks do?” You have to appreciate the important job that banks do. It became clear during this COVID recession. When the economy shut down, banks were one of the few industries that were essential. They had to be open. We had to adapt to a new environment.

GFEP 9 | Zions Bank

Zions Bank: The banking industry has not done a good job in explaining the critical role that it plays in the economy.

 

As we try to put these paycheck protection loans together or the PPP loans, some banks said, “We’re not going to do it.” Others said, “We’re only going to do so much.” There was a great dissatisfaction among about 30% of clients of the banking industry that said, “Where’s the long-term relationship benefit of dealing with the bank?” You’ll see a lot of change and switching of banks as we move forward. Other banks, and I like to think that my institution is one of them, went out to help. While we honor the healthcare workers as unsung heroes saving lives, we should also honor bankers who have saved the economy and businesses, and help the business move forward and become sustainable again.

During this period, they were working 18 to 20 hours a night for weeks to try and get the work done, and get the money immediately in the hand of businesses. It’s a difficult situation. This is where you need to use your influence and figure out how to call in chips. This is where you have to figure out how do you create value in the community and get credit for it at the same time that you’re creating value for your customers. Banking hasn’t done a good job of explaining that crucial role that we play so people don’t understand it. While they may say, “I don’t have great faith, I’m upset at the banking industry, or they’re not fair.” If you ask them about their local banker, they always have high regards for them. That shows that banking is a personal business. It’s built on trust and establishing strong ties with your banker, the banker with the client, the banker with the community. On a local level, the banking reputation is good and strong. On a national level, banks don’t rate high on the reputation scale.

Is there a skillset or an attribute that people getting into the banking industry should work to develop so that communication of the value and the good that is found in banking and the services of banking could be better communicated? Not to mention those people who are already in it for decades such as yourself.

We have to do a better job. I don’t think it’s just who comes into banking, but it’s how we advertise what we do. I can’t talk about who my clients are and the deals that I do, but we have to talk more about and exert greater influence among thought leaders and people in the capital on Capitol Hill, here in Utah and in Congress on what we do. We are there helping small businesses where they’re helping consumers. We’re not only going after large corporations, we are there to provide value to everyone on the economic ladder, try and help them improve and grow.

When we spoke about the financial crisis of 2008, 2009, there were certain things that your bank had to do to respond to that. You had to participate in certain moves. You had to do things that were not anticipated in order to help yourself get through that and also all of your many customers. You’re doing the same thing several years later in this new unexpected crisis. Are there some common traits or common values or strategies that you’re tapping back into to help you and your leadership team, and not to mention your local branches, to get through this? What is that thread or that theme that we would have heard several years that’s coming back?

There are several lessons that were learned and they are still applicable. The first is that you have to be good at what you’re doing. You have to make good sound loans. You have to have sound concentration limits and underwriting policies. You have to be out in the market. Beyond that, you have to communicate well. Communicate to your employees, customers and to political leaders. You have to be agile. One thing that’s coming out of this COVID-19 recession is the importance of being able to turn on a dime and come up with new things. What this has done is moved some things that banks have been thinking about for years and it’s happening.

Bankers are salespeople and there's nothing wrong with that. What's important is they're not out there to sell the wrong product. Click To Tweet

Working remotely has been a discussion for several years. Many would say, “It can’t be done. We can’t trust the cloud. We can’t track what people are doing.” Overnight, we had 75% of our employees working remotely and it worked. The unsung heroes were our technology people, but it worked. People are able to do it. We can now sign documents online, and some of the concerns that we had, we’ve been able to work around. Being agile and turning on a dime is a lesson learned back then and is important. The other is that we have to look to the future. We have to think what the future is going to be. We can’t lose the advantages or the lessons that we’ve learned and hoping that we will go back to the old way of doing it.

We have to look to the future and say, we are going to come out of this, but it’s going to be a new and better operating environment. It’s going to be more digital than it ever has been, more conversations through Zoom and less in-person meetings. How do you develop the relationship through a computer screen? What else do you do? The combination of having good technology, all of the digital channels that work, and having a feeling of the traditional long-term relationship, and matching that with an in-person banker that you can meet with, talk to and call, that’s the winning solution going forward.

As you talk about that, an image came into my mind, Jimmy Stewart, in It’s a Wonderful Life. He was a banker who looked after the community and tried to do the right thing even when it was difficult. We’d all love to have a relationship like that with our banker, whether it’s for a home loan or a business loan. Talk a bit more though about the innovation that’s coming. We’re not asking you to disclose any trade secrets that Zions is may be developing, but the necessity. You talked about being agile and nimble. When it comes to technology, I think of all the bricks and mortar branches. If I’m not mistaken, you have branches in two states, but you have offices in ten states. I don’t know what all those offices represent in those various states, primarily in the West. How is this changing the traditional banking environment of, “I pull up to the bank, I walk in and I sit down with my banker, or I go up to the teller?” How is that going to be different several years from now?

You’ll have some people say branches are going to go away, and they’re going to be replaced by an online banking platform. What I see is that what people want is a combination of both. You have FinTech companies out there where you can do all of your banking online, and you never talk to anyone. There’s no office that you can go into. When those companies first came out, their goal was to destroy and put banks out of business. They realize they can’t do that. They’re trying to partner with banks with their technology. What I think is that the role of the branch will change. You may not go onto the branch as often to do a teller transaction, cash a check or make a deposit.

You are going to go in there to see your banker to get advice on a mortgage, an investment or a commercial loan. You may then work at home on the online application. You may call them. You may go back and forth. The platform that you need as a bank is that it’s online and someone can do all of the application online at home. They can start it at the bank and then finish it at home. They can start it at home and finish it at the bank. Tied to that technology is some of their giving advice and to answer questions. That’s a winning combination that if you had a FinTech company without a bank that you wouldn’t do. Branches will be around, but they won’t be the killer transaction branches. There will be offices where you go into to meet with experts in lending, investment, cash management, and treasury services, where you can come in and get advice on products and services that will help your company grow, help you manage your capital better and increase your cashflow.

When you talk about those people that I would come in and meet with, I call them salespeople. They’re in the business of influencing and providing me an education. They’re helping me see things that I might not otherwise see on my own. My research may not have exposed certain laws or regulations, or even some traps that may rest between me and where I’m trying to go. That consultative relationship is critical between me and my banker. I’m wondering, could you give us some insight when an applicant is coming into Zions Bank, whether they’re looking for a new business loan, or they want to remodel their home, can you describe some common attributes that successful applicant brings so that they can get what they’re looking for from your bank?

GFEP 9 | Zions Bank

Zions Bank: A good bank customer shares information with their banker even before they have to, especially if there’s a problem developing. That is also the same trait that a great banker has.

 

I would first go back to your original comment. The bankers are salespeople, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s important is they’re not out there to sell the wrong product, and they’re not being commissioned to sell a certain product. Bankers are there and they’re salespeople in the sense that they are to sit down and explain options and to say, “Here’s this,” and do exert their influence to try and guide you to what they think is best suited for your needs. Banks and certainly with our bankers, they don’t want to sell you any product that you don’t need or that won’t help you. They want to sell you products that will help you grow, manage your capital better, manage yourselves better, and manage your cashflow better.

If they’re able to do that, you’re going to come back to them because you’ll appreciate their advice. You’ll appreciate the services and products that they gave, and that you’ll see that those products and services, that advice and counsel, created value for you. When a customer comes in, if they come in with the idea that I’m going to be sitting down with someone who can help me. If they’re asking for the right questions, and if they come in prepared to share information, then that’s a winning situation. The best quality for a bank customer to have is that they’re open, transparent, and they share information with their banker even before they have to, especially if there’s a problem developing. Likewise, those are the same traits that a great banker has. They’re open, transparent, honest, and they share the right information for the benefit of the client. Our goal is the same, the client wants to grow and be successful. We want to give them the right products to help them grow and to help them be successful and then everyone wins.

I’m curious though, how much of the transaction comes down to numbers? It’s not so much personality. It’s not a relationship. Do you qualify or don’t you based on the math and the regulations that we’re operating under as a bank? That’s the cynicism that sometimes seeps into the customer’s mind when they have to walk into a bank. I’m not saying this about Zions Bank. I’m going to generalize though. I don’t want to feel walking into a bank is the same as walking onto a stereotypical car lot. Where it’s either I qualify or I don’t, and it all comes down to the numbers. Am I naive to think that it could be something more than that?

It should be something more than that, but you have to weigh two things. One is government regulations, especially the idea of fair lending where we don’t treat different people differently. You have that on the one hand. The other hand is that the customer, especially the on certain transactions, wants speed. If you want that mortgage, you want that done fast. If you’re a real estate broker, you want your customer to get that mortgage fast so you can close the deal. If you’re trying to get a credit card, you want it instantaneous. To do that, you have to have artificial intelligence and online capabilities where you can process these deals. If you combine all of that together, fair lending, not discriminating, the numbers become more important as we try and treat everyone the same. Beyond that, characters still mean a lot.

The numbers may say, “I should lend to you,” but I know that your character is such that I don’t want to, so you don’t. The character, project, and the impact it will have on the community means a lot. Is it a community development investment? Is it a community development loan? All of that comes into play. The smaller the deal, the more artificial intelligence and machine learning is involved in getting it done fast so that the customer gets what they want, and they get it at the right rate. The larger the deal, the more complex the deal. That’s when you have more interaction and a lot of other elements come into play besides the numbers.

Scott, you said you can’t disclose clients and we respect that. I am curious though, if there was a particular project that came across your desk in your banking career that at face value you may have looked at it and thought, “There’s no way we’re going to get a deal done here, but I want to do a deal. I want to find a way to make this work.” Is there one particular example that you think about that you could share with us? Are there qualities of those types of deals that may have looked difficult at the front end, but through whatever creativity or ingenuity that you, your bank and your customer exercise, you are able to get across the finish line?

Banking has to be creative going forward to continue existing. Click To Tweet

I’ll give you an example. It wasn’t a deal that I did or that Zions Bank did. It wasn’t a deal that happened recently, but it’s a terrific example, especially in this environment. Before I came to Zions, I was with Bank of America. One of my clients in San Francisco was The Golden Gate Bridge Authority. The Golden Gate Bridge was built during The Great Recession. A group of citizens got together and said, “We need a work project to get our people back to work. We need to connect the San Francisco Peninsula across the Bay so that we can go up and improve commerce.” People said it can’t be done. The currents in the Bay are too strong you can never build a bridge there. The winds are too strong. It’s suicidal.

Back then, there were no government handouts or funding for a project like that. The founder of Bank of America, A. P. Giannini, said, “We are going to do it because if it works, it’ll transform our entire community. It will pull us out of the great recession. It’ll put people back to work and increase our commerce. It will expand our markets, and it will make a difference in the lives of everyone else. If it doesn’t work, it’s going to bankrupt all of us.” He decided to do it, and he issued the bonds. He bought the bonds that finance the construction of The Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was built and it’s an icon. It did everything that they had hoped it would do.

As I thought of going and staying into banking, I keep thinking of that example, because the role of the banker should be like A. P. Giannini back in the 1930s. They should have a broad vision. They should be a community developer. They should look at what’s best for the community and find creative ways to meet those needs. That was done not by numbers, it was done evaluating the risks carefully but making a decision that did have risk and could have failed but it didn’t.

I’m encouraged to hear a prominent banker like you speak that way and talk about weighing the risk, but also weighing reward, not just for your own entity and for your own personal gain, but also for the good of the community, to find community however you will. That’s encouraging. Let’s tell a lawyer joke between you and me. Most people say lawyers have no appetite for risk. They have not a creative bone in their body. They want to protect their client from any potential harm. I’ve experienced that in my life working with and even having lawyers as clients. When I find a creative lawyer who has that entrepreneurial thinking, that blood running through their veins, for me, it’s refreshing. That’s the way I am. I tend to be more of a risk-taker and to hear that from a banker as experienced as you, that’s so encouraging.

One of the stereotypes of bankers that is wrong is that we are conservative and we’re not innovative. Banking is innovative and a good banker is creative. We call it trying to be conservatively entrepreneurial. We want to be nimble, innovative, and bring creative solutions to the table to help the clients. If you look, we do. In the past, if you go back several years, if you wanted to make a deposit, you had to come into the bank and give the checks to the bank. The bank then would process those checks and would send the check back to whoever wrote it, and then you would file those checks in shoe boxes because you had to maintain a record.

We developed the technology at Zions where you could do all of that automatically. You could process electronically. You don’t have to give the check back to the original writer of the check. We had to get the laws changed and President Clinton signed the Check 21 Act that allowed that to happen. Every time you go into a grocery store, and if you give them a check and they run it through their machine and hand it back to you, that is the technology that was developed by a bank. You look at bank card, no one thinks of the charge card as being innovative now, but back in its day, it changed how banking was done. The whole idea that you could charge on a card and pay it back over time was unheard of. That was developed by Bank of America. That became the Visa card. You look at online mortgages and online accounts. You look at the information that you can give back to the customer on how they’re spending, where they’re writing their checks. If this is a check that they wrote, or if it’s a fraud coming in. All of those things are innovations that came from banks. Banking has to be creative going forward to exist.

GFEP 9 | Zions Bank

Zions Bank: Banking is innovative and a good banker is creative. Bankers call it being “conservatively entrepreneurial.”

 

Speaking of creativity, for those who aren’t familiar with Zions Bank throughout the country, Zions is extremely involved in sports marketing. You have a prominent role not only with BYU Athletics, with the Utah Jazz, and I’m sure there are other teams and athletic departments. You see sports marketing as a way to drive Zions’ business. Can you share with us, especially those who are reading who are in the sports business who may be calling on people like you wanting to develop that partnership, what are some of the imperatives that you have to see in order for you to make an investment in a sports property?

We have made a huge investment in a number of sports franchises where we buy tickets. We’re a sponsor. We’re a supporter. We provide banking services. We do it because it’s a way to reach our people. If you go to a Jazz game and you have 20,000 people sitting there, or you go to a BYU football game and you have a stadium full of people, they see that you’re there. They associate you with their team. That develops an affinity that we can come back and take advantage of. We also support the sports of the University of Utah.

Utah and BYU are competitors, but it doesn’t matter to the customer. Some customers are thrilled that we’re up there at the University of Utah, and they sell snicker at the Y. The Y customers are thrilled that we’re down there, but it makes sense. We’re doing something that brings great activity to the community. At the same time, it gives us great exposure to the people who are there physically, but also through the radio and TV. It allows us to support major businesses in our local community. These sports businesses are major businesses in our community.

What could those sports businesses do to cause you to disengage from them to say, “We’re not renewing that partnership, it’s been a good ride, but we’re moving on.” What are some things that they need to be watching out for so that they never hear those words out of your mouth?

One is cost. We can go out and sell high, and then beyond that there’s not a financial value to it. It’s always good to have a wide range of sponsorships that you can find the right place for your organization in there so you can always be part of it. Knowing that, others may come in ahead of you which is okay. It’s not an exclusive relationship, and have the sports franchise recognize that. That you can do your part, but you may not be able to do more than that. To have a wide variety of options, each with certain benefits and each with different costs.

Part of your reasoning for partnering with sports is because you’ve talked about community, and that Zions Bank wants to be viewed as an integral part of any community. As we wrap up here, I want to talk a little bit about corporate social responsibility. There’s been so much discussion about the social responsibility of individuals and companies. How do we ensure that CSR is not just a token effort by a company? When you have opportunities brought to you and they’re laid out on your desk, how do you judge whether or not a particular opportunity to do something within the community has value, real meaning, and real purpose versus something that looks like a field good PR move?

We do look at that and we try and evaluate that. The challenge is that there are probably more projects that have real value than you can do or that any company can do. We try to be as broad as we can in our approach. Some are large sponsorships, some are smaller sponsorships. As we look at it, we say, “What impact will this have on the business that we’re sponsoring? Is it a good business? Is it a business that we will be proud of to have our name associated with it?” There are some businesses that we wouldn’t sponsor because we would not want to be associated with that. That’s the first criteria. The second criteria is, how is it viewed in the community? Will this help the community by providing good entertainment, a good product and service or doing any number of good things? If there’s a good impact, if it’s a company that we want to do business with, if it helps the economy grow and expand, then we are there and try to do as much as we can.

Scott, this has been enlightening. I appreciate the insights you’ve given me. I’m sure those who are reading have gained a lot from this. To be able to pick the brain of someone who’s been in the banking industry for several years. For those who are getting into the financial sector, let’s imagine that I have one of my sons who’s going into the financial sector. This slowdown in the economy has a little bit affected that, but he’s got plans. He’ll be moving to New York City soon to take a job with a financial institution there. What can you say to encourage someone like that? Is this the right time to get into banking? Should he go in with a lot of hope that things are going to work out? Should he be may be looking at another career?

I’m glad that he’s looking at it because banking is a noble profession. You do a lot to create value for your customers, your community, your shareholders, and your employees. People should be proud to go into banking. They should recognize that it’s a great opportunity to be involved with people helping them in some of their most important situations. At the same time, you’re helping them in some of their most difficult situations, and you’re trying to create value. You go into it and you get a lot of positive and negative feedback, but you’re doing good. The second piece of advice I’d give them is that it’s a creative industry. They need to come in and say, “It’s creative.”

We may have rules, we may have guidelines, but the great banker is one who can look at them and look at the project and say, “I understand the risk but this is the right thing to do. This is how we can do it to benefit our client, our community and the economy.” You always have to find balance. Banking is an industry where it can suck all of your time out. There are always deadlines, a client that’s pushing to get it done, and it’s easy to spend your nights and your weekends working for your clients. To be a great banker, you also have to find that balance where you are putting aside the books and rejuvenating yourself and coming back with more vigor. Especially in New York, in that environment back there, they should take time for themselves.

Good advice coming from someone who’s worked internationally. You worked in Tokyo early in your career. You’ve worked in San Francisco. You were schooled on the East coast at universities that come from major markets. I’m going to pass that advice on to him. I’m sure he will be grateful for it. Scott, this has been insightful. Thank you for spending the time and giving us a peek into your world, and how you and bankers think because we can all take something from what you have said, and make our own banking relationships much more successful moving forward.

I enjoyed it. Thank you. Thanks for what you do to help keep us on target, sharp and knowing how we can use our influence better.

Important Links:

 

Being the senior vice president of fan services and entertainment at the renowned Boston Red Sox has its perks. But the owner of that title, Sarah McKenna, explains how none of it matters if you lose sight of what your role means. Fan Services: everything is for the fans who are here to be served. Entertainment: fans have to be pleased night after night, good team or bad, rain or shine, happy times (player retirements and military family reunions) or bad times (the 2013 Boston bombings or national unrest). Meet Sarah McKenna – the game face exec who loves her fans as much as they love her team – as she graces the show with Rob Cornilles.

Watch the episode here:

Sarah McKenna | Red Sox Romantic

If you’ve ever been to Boston’s Fenway Park, you’ve seen baseball players swinging for the fences. What you also probably experience but didn’t realize was the Red Sox’s Sarah McKenna, Senior Vice President of Fan Services Entertainment swinging for the senses. Read on my conversation with Sarah about how she’s built the reputation using sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste to influence the second sale.

I’m here with Sarah McKenna, the Senior Vice President of the Boston Red Sox. I hate to use this term, but an old friend in the sports business. First of all, Sarah, you are from Springfield, Mass originally, correct?

Yes, I am from Springfield, Massachusetts. Out here, we call it the 413. That’s our area code.

You end up for almost twenty years working the Boston Red Sox. Being a Massachusetts girl, you have got to have the dream job to be able to work in your hometown for your beloved team. Few people in sports ever get that. Do you have the perfect world now?

Yes, except we’re doing this via Zoom. It would be good to be at work and be with my teammates and seeing large crowds, hearing people and smelling Fenway franks and doing all that stuff. I don’t even think I’d mind now if someone spilled a beer on me.

All your friends from back growing up days, your family, they look at you and go, “Did you luck out or what?” It wasn’t luck. We’ll talk about what got you there, but I hope you’re pinching yourself a lot.

I’m thankful and the team is fantastic. Our ownership is fantastic, but to go to work at that ballpark every day, it’s just gorgeous and perfect. It is imperfectly perfect. It’s once in a lifetime.

I’ve been very blessed in my career to be able to visit a lot of stadiums and arenas around the world. One of the cool experiences that most fans never get to have is walking into an empty stadium or arena. It could be early in the morning, the morning after a big game or the date of a big game. You get to do that every day at Fenway Park and you get to see the Green Monster. Does that still give you a rush?

I prefer it when it’s empty. I love it when it’s full, but there is something uniquely special about it. It’s unique to baseball too. You use the word stadium and arena when you’re thinking about all the different ballparks. I have many ballparks that I love. You love Petco Park, Seattle ballpark, Camden Yards and I’ve been there is a lot of ballparks when it’s empty for batting practice before the gates open or when you get there earlier before someone else. I have been at Fenway Park also when you’re completely alone, light towers off and we have what we refer to as the sweeper lights. They’re the stadium lights at the back of the grandstands, but they’re far back because their overhang is not big and we have those field box seats. The way those lights illuminate into the grandstands and are pushed down onto the field and you see whether it’s a sickle sign or the Prudential Center or the Hancock building. You can see that skyline, it’s cool. Whether it’s at 5:00 in the morning because you’re getting ready for opening day or it’s at 1:00 in the morning because you stayed late and you have to get work done after everybody left.

It’s romantic, isn’t it? 

Yes. Incredibly. It’s special.

Sports has an obligation now to be a healing agent. It is a unique responsibility and opportunity. Click To Tweet

It’s the field of dreams every day, go to work like that. That’s a perk of working in sports and any entertainment business, whether it’s a stage, a theater, or a concert hall, to be able to walk in there when no one else is there is a unique experience. It’s like a temple for sports. What’s also cool about your job and we’ll talk about your job. You get to provide unique experiences to people that they have probably looked forward to all their lives or they get to give that experience to their kids or their grandkids. You’re the catalyst. You’re the provider of that experience.

I am in on the secret before the secret is unveiled, shall we say.

Does that ever get old? 

No, but do at times miss the element of surprise. I remember one time it was the 4th of July and we were doing something and one of my friends which happened to be in particularly close seats on the third-base side. I was walking in from the left-field after there was a great flyover after the anthem, but we were doing a military reunion before they were a big deal. It was the early 2000s. For some reason, I was able to get a woman from South Boston from the Navy off her carrier, things that I shouldn’t have had the right to do. From the Persian Gulf and then via Bahrain to come to a surprise for her family. She got in late at night, her family thought that they were doing an early version of a FaceTime, what we’re doing now. The guy says to me and it was in his total Boston accent and he’s like, “That was sick.” I’m like, “Wait for it.” He’s like, “What? No, that was it.” I was like, “No, it’s not it.” He shoots me a text message later and he’s like, “That was awesome.” I love being able to do that, but I also love seeing how other people do it when I look at my peers in other sports and other teams. It’s cool to see what they do.

You can’t put a price on being able to bring people those experiences and memories. It’s better sometimes than a paycheck. I know that sounds idealistic, but it is because those memories will go on forever and you’re the person that produced that memory for them or you provided it. That’s one of the great perks of working in sports. You do it well. You do it for a story to the franchise at a ballpark that is you could argue it’s the mecca of baseball. 

It’s a real place within the city too. We’ve been here in this region it’s a unique period of time because when you think about Boston, it’s hard not to think about its particular place in history. You think about things like the revolution or whatever, but people aren’t going anymore to certain places and gathering as a group. For a lot of years, it was ballparks, stadiums, and arenas. When we think back to the bombings in 2013 and other times in history, we have been a place where people can come together and whether it’s heal, cheer, express joy, whatever it is, it’s been cool to be part of that.

You’re going to be a part of that. I’ve shared with my clients something they already know, but I like to remind them as an outsider to their organization that they are about to be a part of the healing of a community. It’s almost like a cathartic experience when after the pent up energy of COVID-19 and the fact that we were staying in our homes, with some unrest going on in our country, cities being used for demonstrations, protests, and sometimes worse than that. Sports has such an obligation and a responsibility now to be a healing agent. How you do that?

I view it as a unique responsibility and opportunity. I had one viewpoint of this saying, “When baseball comes back, what are we going to do?” We’re going to have to acknowledge the lives lost. We’ve learned a lot about this and the types of impacts that it’s had on different communities versus other communities. We’ve learned about how it has impacted certain age groups rather than other age groups. There are all these things that you learn from what you’re seeing in the news, what you’re reading, and what you’re hearing from your friends and your family.

In addition to that, there’s this other layer of social justice, equality, inclusion, and all things that, in some ways, connect closely to what we were learning from the pandemic. The way certain communities have been impacted and the way that individuals have access to healthcare or rights, whatever it is, there are these unique synergies. I hate to use the word synergies because it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel almost human. It feels like a business-speak and this is a human thing. When I approach these things, I never approach them from the who, what, when, where, how.

I approach it from the five senses. What did you hear? What did you see? It’s going to be hard to give our fans what did you smell and did you get to touch anything? I have a lot of great coworkers that I’ve worked with for a long time. We use the phrase sometimes, and I have one guy that I work with, and he’ll always say to me, “Sarah, I haven’t cried yet.” That’s an important thing that when you bring to whatever it is you’re doing, it’s that in order to get through it, you have to feel all the emotions before you can begin. When I think about what we did after the bombings and how we approached that particular day on our return to baseball because it wouldn’t be right to return to baseball and have this joyous thing without recognizing what has happened.

It would be deaf, wrong, all the words that make you seem ignorant. Baseball is uniquely positioned for these things. It’s also a real challenge because football plays once a week, baseball plays a couple of times a month at home, hockey will play a couple of times a month. Baseball, you can be in the middle of a ten-game homestand, and you can go through, think about what our last ten days have been like. What the ten days before that were like? Imagine if we were having baseball games and all the things that we would have had to do as far as recognition, awareness, healing, and providing all of those resources before you even get to the baseball game. It’s the daily element of it that uniquely positions us to be connected to society in a different way if you choose to go at it proactively. It also is a large responsibility and it requires you to be incredibly nimble, in my opinion.

GFEP 8 | Red Sox Romantic

Red Sox Romantic: Ballpark to ballpark, the team has a lot of freedoms to define its brand and say who they are, so long as that fits within the expectations of the league.

 

May I use the word stewardship too? 

Yes.

You have a stewardship to a brand, to a community, to a fan that pays good money to come into your games, to those that you work with, the players, your coworkers, etc. I’m thinking about other industries, businesses that don’t have to have all of these considerations that you outlined. They can come to work. For the most part, the outside world doesn’t see how they need to deal with the changing conditions. They need to be nimble for their business, but it’s not out there for the public to see. Everything you do is magnified. When I come to Fenway Park for my first game, amidst all of this stuff, I expect you guys to put on a perfect show for me. I expect to entertain me to heal me, to make me laugh and cry. I expect to be well-fed. I don’t want any problems as far as customer service. I want to get the parking that I want. I want transportation in and out. What an obligation you have.

On top of that, you’re a big baseball fan because you’re a Red Sox fan and you know your baseball and you’re super smart about it. There better not be one digit wrong in your stats either. There are all the things, but that’s cool. It’s good to wake up every day and have someone hold you accountable. It’s incredibly motivating. The stewardship, it’s interesting because there are many places that have the burden of trying out a lot of new tricks, and lots of times I find myself saying, “That’s not what Fenway is.” That works fantastic in Tampa and Kansas City. That works well in Las Vegas.

I agree with you. It’s 100% cool and it’s awesome. We are Fenway and it’s a little like preserving a national park. When you go to Yosemite Valley, you want your children to see what you saw in Yosemite Valley. When you take them to the geysers in Prismatic Spring, and Yellowstone, you don’t want that ruined. You want that to be exactly as it was, that connection and that thread of the generations. That’s what Fenway is. That’s what people expect and want. That doesn’t mean that we can’t change for the better in a lot of ways and we always will strive towards that. The phrase, “The ballpark is the star” when they’re referring to Fenway. There’s that phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It’s the baseball, stupid. Don’t mess with that. No one came to see me or hear from me. They came to gather as a group collectively in a unified way, enjoy this open space, the fresh air, all under the city lights while cheering for the same team.

You’re bringing up such an interesting point that I have been thinking about it, scratching my head over and you’re putting your finger on it. Let’s talk about Major League Baseball. I’ve been wondering a lot about the edicts that come from a league office and I’m not here to bash on league offices. Whether it’s responding to a pandemic or social injustices, when the league office says, “This is the way we’re going to do it. Every one of our franchises needs to do it that same way.” I understand that if that’s McDonald’s saying that this is the way you’re going to make hamburgers.

You talked about the personality of your community and the historic nature of your ballpark, which is different than the personality in Tampa. It’s different than the personality in San Diego or in Kansas City. How do you reconcile that? You’re a good citizen of Major League Baseball. You’re a leader in the business of Major League Baseball, but you also have to be respectful and mindful of your own local community and pulse. How do you play good citizen at a league level, but also be responsive and responsible to your local fan-base?

The league allows a lot of freedom in that way. The reason I say that is because when we think of guidelines, I often think of it in terms of access as part of an agreement or a security regulation or something like that. Ballpark to ballpark, we have a lot of freedoms to define our brand and say who we are, so long as that fits within the expectations, I would say of baseball amongst all the owners and the commissioner. We have the ability to have our own identity. They’re not saying you have to do this, or you have to do that, but they make suggestions a lot of times to all of us. We’re like, “That probably wouldn’t play here.” There’s not this huge animosity. It’s, “You’re different.”

When you take that into a million different avenues when you think about what we’re going through now, should we be fortunate to play? We’re going to get guidelines. The guidelines that work when you’re in a ballpark that’s four times the size of ours and has actual real service elevators. Fenway doesn’t have service elevators. It’s something as simple as that, people are like, “That’s in the lower concourse,” and we’re like, “We only have one concourse.” We don’t have that separate one where you can do the things you need to do. There’s going to have to be, and there will be, a lot of not freedom, but the ability to tailor things to how it works within your own ballpark.

A lot of places are blessed with space, even the new Yankee Stadium. Their visitor’s clubhouses, it has to be four times the size of our ballpark. There’s space and it’s not something that we have in our area. When we look at what we’re about to tackle here and you think about it from a distance, can it be done? Absolutely. It can be done. Does it take a lot of creativity? Yes, it takes a lot of creativity.

Speaking of the clubhouse. I have been inside the Red Sox clubhouse there at Fenway and it would surprise a lot of people. Maybe since I was last there, some improvements have been made. I’m sure that’s the case, but the last time I was there, it was shocking. You would think that the Boston Red Sox players would get the best. I guess they understand that when you come to play at Fenway Park, there are some trade-offs. 

We are all in the business of sales. Click To Tweet

If you’re coming to play at Fenway Park, you’re not coming for the clubhouse. It’s for the locker setup. It has gotten a lot better and it doubled in size but not what you would define as the clubhouse, which is the room where all their lockers are. That is still roughly the same size. Some things have been moved around a little bit to free up some space and additional coaches’ offices to alleviate coaches being in there. We are bringing in twenty temporary lockers during September call ups or whatever the number is. Keep in mind that’s there, you’re walking down to go to the dugout is the same stair that was walked down in the ’30s.

There used to be one tunnel when the clubhouses were a little bit closer and I believe the story is there was a fight between the two teams in the tunnel. That’s when they separated tunnels for all of baseball. I can’t say it was the same one as it was in 1912, but I don’t think it was that far off. It’s interesting, but if you’re coming to play for us, of course, do you want to make sure it’s comfortable and all those things? I don’t think it’s your number one priority. You prefer that you’re most likely to play to a sell-out crowd. Keep in mind, David Ortiz at every single game he ever played in front of Fenway Park was a sell-out or almost every game.

Let’s talk about those sellouts. There’s a reputation that Northeast area teams have for having some of the hardest to please fans, whether you mentioned the Yankees, maybe the Red Sox. I would say the fans in Philadelphia can be hard at times. How is that impacting the daily decisions and choices you’re making? Certainly, there’s a love affair between the fan-base and the brand, but there are also such high expectations between that fan-base and the brand. You’re the one granted they want to see winning teams on the field, but when the team is not winning, we’re not winning to their satisfaction. You’re the backstop. You’re providing that overall experience at the ballpark. How does that play into your thinking and was it working in a market like that?

I’m super lucky because we’ve won four World Series since I’ve gotten here. Fortunately, I haven’t had to think about that for too many years, but you do have that year where you look at it, it’s September and you’re like, “It’s not happening,” or even earlier sometimes. That’s when you start going back to, for lack of a better phrase, your bag of tricks. The experiences of whether or not it’s the on-field photo days and the kids run the bases and those things that are tried and true things that you come back to when you think about it. I think you are the first person that opened my eyes to these things when I took a course with you back in Portland. Thinking about what is that added value that you can provide and trying to do those things. What I’ve learned through the years is that it’s harder to do those things. It’s easier to do them at the start of the season, but it’s not a good vibe when a team is out of it in the clubhouse. Guys are great and they’re willing to do things or whatever, but you feel worse asking like, “You’re not winning. I don’t want to ask you to do something.” That’s where that one comes.

Children learn about mom and dad.

This is not the moment that we should be asking this, but I got to do it, anyway. I’ve told someone I’m like, “I’m sure the worst thing in the world is asking you to do this during this time.”

You have to use some of your sales skills, Sarah.

I sell it constantly. Here’s the thing, Rob. I sell nothing. We had an interesting conversation once I remember being in a senior staff meeting and everybody had to go around and talk about their sales goals and their recent sales, something to that theme or whatever. I was like, “I only spend money. I don’t sell anything,” but I do. I acknowledge, I do. We use the phrase, we used it when we were with the Padres, we’re all salespeople. When you think about marketing, I always feel when young people say like, “I want to be in marketing.” I’m like, “No, you don’t want to be in advertising.” If you understand what marketing is, that’s like an exhausting look at numbers, dialing into zip codes, and the tendencies of buyers. What you’re thinking of in the romantic phrase of marketing is you’re thinking of more experiential and creativity. There are few people that say, “I want to figure out when moms are buying whether it’s Tuesdays or Wednesdays so that I can send them that targeted message.”

I have a son who you know, Sarah. My oldest son works for Facebook. He works in the ads department of Facebook. He’s not interested in trends. He’s interested in behaviors. That’s what he studies and that’s what he tries to predict. In the analytics that you referenced, he tries to predict behaviors. Why would someone want to buy through this Facebook Ad? How can we approve it so that we are capitalizing on the anticipated behaviors of people? You have to admit you are a salesperson.

I should have followed it up with what I learned early that was not the type of sales I wanted to do. Shortly after I left Portland, I briefly worked for American golf in San Diego. I was selling tournaments before I worked for the Padres. It was a couple of months and I was like, “I don’t want to sell anything like this ever again,” but I will say, I love the opportunity to sell you an emotion. I love the opportunity to sell you a feeling and sell is not the right word, but it’s to give it and to give it to you once so that you understand that if you come back here, you might be likely to get it again.

GFEP 8 | Red Sox Romantic

Red Sox Romantic: If you’re coming to play at Fenway Park, you’re not coming for the clubhouse. It’s for the locker setup.

 

I’m not in the business of the initial sale, but I am in the business of the repeat customer, which is just as important as a sale. The 2nd, 3rd sale, the, “I want to upgrade. I had such a good time, I want to make it a ten-game package now,” that is my job. The people in the men and women that work in all a ton of different ways that I’ve worked with over the years that are picking up that phone and making that first call of getting someone to the ballpark, whether it’s been in Portland or San Diego, or even in Boston. We do make calls. Contrary to popular opinion, the phone is not constantly ringing off the hook, but we do our outbound sales and I respect that because that’s a hard job to make that first impression in that manner.

I am able to do it with a myriad of senses. I can show you something on the video board. I can make sure that hot dog is delivered nice and toasty, warm, or make sure that all season long as you’re coming in the gate, maybe that sausage vendor is right there and you’re smelling those things. The sound was good. You may have heard your favorite song in a timely way. That opportunity to sell that repeat customer, it’s all part of it. I’m not in the business and I’m classified under the operation side, but as a whole, from our chief operating officer, it is a clear mandate. We are in repeat customer business. That is what we are in. It’s safety, security, repeat customers.

You’re in the renewal business. As you well-articulated, customer service is a sales function. It’s on the back end. Taking the baton from the front end salesperson and saying, “I’ll take it from here. I will ensure the repeat business.” The sales staffs work, they integrate with well service staff, or sometimes we call them client success teams. The fact that they’re working together in concert to produce the original sale and then to ensure the repeat sale, it’s integrated, those two functions.

I love it when say the group salesperson. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people over the years. When you think about it and they’re saying like, “I’ve got this group coming in.” In 2019 they bought 1,000 tickets, but this year they bought 3,000 and I want to do a little something more for them. What can we do? Let’s step it up a notch. This is my idea. This is their expectation. If you tell me that in advance like, “I’m in,” and I have staff that’s all in. “Let’s do this.” You want to have a much more orchestrated conversation about making sure this happens and that happens. That’s awesome and we’re still doing that.

We mowed a pattern into our field for recognizing nurses. Nurses are one of our biggest group sales. As our group salespeople reaching out to us saying like, “We’re coming up on a month of a whole bunch of appreciations, EMS workers, nurse’s workers.” There are one of our best groups. All our groups are great, but specific they’re like, “They’re going through so much that there’s this there’s that, what can we do for them?” Our groundskeeper says, “What about a pattern? Fly the drone, the news copters will pick it up and tip them off.” That is a clear collaboration during a pandemic from a group sales leader to a groundskeeper. It was fantastic.

It’s a great illustration of how a team works together to get the sale and get the repeat sale.

The nurses feel loved. There’s no loss there.

There’s also baseball. You mentioned Portland and I wanted to bring that up because for the audience, that’s where new and I first met. You graduated from Providence College with a Healthcare degree, correct? 

Yes. Healthcare Policy and Management. It’s helping me now, for the record, having taken a few epidemiology classes, essentially.

I’m a West Coast guy originally. You’re an East Coast girl. I got to ask you, how did you get from Providence to the Portland Rocky Single-A short-season baseball team and affiliate of the Colorado Rockies? If I’m not mistaken, you were an intern there, weren’t you Sarah, at first?

The repeat customer business is the business of selling emotions. It is as important as making the initial sale itself. Click To Tweet

Yes. After college, it’s the thing back here, you go to New York, you go to Boston, that’s what you do and I wasn’t feeling it. I had a couple of friends and we weren’t feeling it. We said, “Why don’t we hop in a car and go West?” My dad had told me, “I will give you enough money to get there and I’ll give you enough money to get back, but however long you stay, best of luck.” I had a few odd jobs over the years and I ended up calling Jack Cain and asking him for an interview. He’s like, “Yes, come on in.” Jack is a great guy.

He was the owner of the Portland Rockies.

I came in, I met with him and he said, “It’s middle of the season.” It was. I graduated. We all know how long, short-season Single-A baseball is. It’s not very long. For me, we did in the middle, I’m pretty late to the party. He said, “My jobs are all filled now.” They were, in his defense. He’s like, “You seem like a nice kid. I’ll give you a job selling programs.” I said, “I don’t think programs are going to pay my rent now. I’m going to have to pass, but thank you.” I wrote him a thank you note and kept in touch a little bit, but it was the course of 2 to 3 weeks. A couple of days before, I had ridden out there in one of my friend’s car, so I didn’t have a car.

We were living in Lake Oswego at a friend’s house, which is not that close to Portland if you don’t have a car. Some guy that had a shop in the town of Lake Oswego saw me at a grocery store trying to strap groceries to my bike at one point. He’s like, “What are you doing? Do you want to come? I need some help in my warehouse. I’ll give you a job and if you get a new job, you just have to finish out the rest of the week. If you need to go on interviews, you can have half a day off to go on interviews but it looks like you need a few bucks and you might need some help.”

This stranger out of the kindness of his heart. I rode my bike over and every day I worked in his warehouse, making sure the shelves were stocked for his construction company. I ended up being there for a couple of weeks. One day, I get a call. It was Katie Reader if you remember and she told me that Jack wanted me to come to a game. He asked me to come to a game and I sat with him. We know Jack, he’s a huge personality. He was like, “Are you digging ditches and working in a warehouse?” I said, “Yes.” He’s like, “I can’t stop thinking if you’ll do that for that person. What will you do here?”

I was like, “I don’t know, do you want to figure it out?” He was like, “Yes.” He gave me a job. He made a job for me. I’m eternally grateful to him for that. You did a little bit of everything. You pulled the tarp because it was Portland. I did the slingshot, played the music sometimes, I sold billboards, sold groups, answered the phone and it was great. I learned a ton. Everybody should spend at some point in their life and if they are in sports, have the opportunity to spend it working in my own baseball. When I’m done working in baseball, I would like my final years to be in my early baseball because it’s a lot of fun. It’s great you get to do everything.

I got a couple of things I want to say. First of all, when you worked for the Rockies, I was consulting with Jack and his wife, Mary, when they first moved to the franchise from Bend, Oregon, and Central, Oregon to Portland. I would come in regularly because GameFace was a new company. We were trying to get up on our feet as well and we needed a good client or two, a bunch of success stories. The Rockies became that. I always have in my mind, this vision of you when I’d walk into their office, which was in the bowels of the stadium and you’d be the first person I would see.

You would be sitting there at that first desk and to everyone reading this, I got to say, Sarah, no matter what she was asked to do, did it with a smile. I’ll always remember that, Sarah. You always had that great attitude. As I see all those people that went through the Rockies organization at which later became a triple-A franchise, renamed. There’s quite a legacy that Jack started. I don’t think anyone could argue that you have gone the farthest in your sports career.

There have been some people.

I can’t think of them. You deserve a tremendous amount of respect and accolades for how you took that minuscule opportunity. You worked hard, you had a great attitude. You were a team player and look where you are now, working for one of the most storied brands in all those sports and in a senior position. It’s wonderful. I’m proud of you.

GFEP 8 | Red Sox Romantic

Red Sox Romantic: If there’s a real problem, you call the other team because we’re interconnected in many different ways.

 

Thank you. It’s interesting because you never know what it’s going to be because my whole connection to San Diego when I ended up working for the Padres is because I was answering the phones. It was my job to answer the phones in Portland. It was a connection made through because I helped someone. That was it. A gentleman from the commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball, his daughter had gone to live in Portland. He’s calling from New York and there was some issue. I think she needed a doctor of some sort. He said, “Who is your team doctor?”

He wanted to know because that’s what you do in baseball. My daughter’s off to college in California and she’s doing sports and they’re like, “She’ll need a doctor.” I’m like, “No. This team will take care of her.” I’m going to call that team. I’m not going to lie. If there’s a real problem, you call the other team because we’re interconnected in many different ways. It’s the greatest part about working in sports is access to things like that. He asked me to tell him something. I figured it out for his daughter and then he called up again maybe a month later.

He said, “We’re coming to Portland because we’re going to visit our daughter. What is your team hotel?” He’s like, “Something happened and we needed to get there quicker.” His assistant had gone on vacation. He’s like, “Can you help me book my flight?” I was like, “Yes, of course. I don’t even know you, but I’ll help you book a flight.” We did this and whatever. I remember calling him up because I couldn’t get him on the phone. In those days, it was a little harder with the credit card payments and everything.

I had put his flights on my credit card. I called him up and I said, “It’s great that you’re coming to visit but when you come here, can you drop off a check? I put all your flights on my card.” He’s like, “I can’t believe that. I’m embarrassed. I didn’t think about that.” I was like, “No, it’s fine.” When I left Portland because whenever this gentleman needed something, he would call and he would ask me. It turns out he was high up at the commissioner’s office. I learned that over the years and I said, “I’ve met someone and he’s taking a job in San Diego and I’m going to go with him. We’re engaged and this is what’s going to happen.”

He said, “I have then to call the San Diego Padres for you.” He called the San Diego Padres. I get a phone call and I’m supposed to call this person once I finally arrive in San Diego. I call this gentleman. He sets a meeting up with me for Larry Lucchino because of this person that set up this interview. Larry Lucchino says, “I don’t have anything now, but you can have an internship.” I said, “Thank you but my internship days are over.” What I meant was I don’t think I want to work in baseball anymore.

All I do is dress up as a mascot, pull the tarp, and answer phones. I don’t want to pull the tarp anymore. Not realizing that in Major League Baseball, you don’t pull the tarp. Sure enough, I send a thank you note. I go out of my own and I go to work for a golf company. I’m not loving it. I get a call from the same guy that set up the meeting before with Larry. He says, “Larry would like you to come in for another meeting.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “I noticed you had worked on Capitol Hill as one of your internships. I liked that you turned me down. We have a three-month job working on the campaign to build the ballpark in San Diego and in doing our stuff here at the ballpark at Qualcomm and integrating the politics with the baseball, do you think you can do that?” I said, “Yes, I can do that.” I’ve never applied for another job since because of that and a lot of thank you notes too.

The little things that you’re talking about, quite frankly, I’ve seen a lot of people who aspire to work in sports who refuse to do those little things because they’re too busy or because they think that’s old school like, “I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to write personal notes anymore. I’ll send them an email maybe or I’ll send them a LinkedIn message,” and that’s good enough. Those little touches, they stand out in this world. You stood out and you continue to stand out. I got to also point out when Larry Lucchino, who is the President of the San Diego Padres, the CEO, when he hired you, you were a manager of a government relations job if I’m not mistaken.

We have a campaign. I was a campaign worker to start. At the end of the campaign and there were twenty people. They kept two of us from the campaign and I was one of them.

When he was eventually hired by the Red Sox to take the same position there, you followed right behind him, didn’t you?

Right behind him. Now, with a one-year-old in tow at that point and a husband. We got engaged in San Diego, but yes. We’re all back in Boston. My husband’s from Boston too, which is nice. I met him in a bar in Portland and he was wearing a Red Sox hat.

The other thing that’s interesting about this course that you were on, this journey that you’re on professionally is that one might think you got a degree in Healthcare Management. You went out to Portland. You didn’t know anybody in Portland, except the friends you went with. Everything seems disjointed. People may think, “Don’t I have to get a Sports Management degree or a Sports Administration degree? Don’t I have to follow that tried and true course to get a Sarah job someday?” You’re a living proof that more than the degree, what would you say it takes?

The people that you choose to be around in your life are going to be the ones that have the greatest impact on your career. Click To Tweet

It’s sports so you got to outwork your competition on some level. That’s what you do, you have to be flexible and you have to be open-minded. You got to take your lumps when you get them and you got to get back up. You can’t take things too personally. You have to know your course. In some of those things of what I did, I do think there are a lot of ways in which Jack and Larry are similar. I would say that they know their value well. One of the things is when I told both of them like, “That’s not going to work for me.” I turned both of them down to start, but they were both being kind.

Deep down, they’re kind people, but I do think there was part of them that appreciated, “She knows her worth but is not being obnoxious about it.” When I called her back and said, “This is what I need you to do.” Let’s curtail that to me so that I can make it work for me. You need me to do a job, I’m going to get my foot in that door. I’m going to take that job and then once I’ve earned your trust, respect, admiration, whatever the word is, then let’s define what it gets to be. That’s what I was able to do at both places.

When I left the Padres and then came to the Red Sox, everybody went to spring training. I myself and Janet Marie Smith, the architect, came to Boston and it was my job to get ready for opening day. She was doing all the infrastructure work for the ballpark and the construction. She has an amazing career and she’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday and should be in the Hall of Fame someday, such a smart person. I remember saying, there’s a sale, there’s this weird transition and someone was like, “What do we need? What’s your title?” I was like, “I don’t even know what my pay is going to be yet. I don’t even know if I’ve agreed to this, but I’m here because I’m part of the team because opening day is less than 30 days away now, and a lot has to get done. I need a laptop and a cell phone. By the way, could I have some healthcare? Can we get me on that quick?”

That’s where the healthcare major comes in. You figure it out. What my career has evolved to be rather than what I could have designed it to be is so much better. I would’ve pigeon-holed myself if I knew too much. I would have limited myself if I knew too much. I haven’t been afraid, for lack of a better phrase, to pick up the scraps and when I’m in a room and it’s like, “Who wants to take this on?” I’m always like, “I’ll do it.”

Sarah, in all of that, though, with all those successes, small or big successes, has there been a project, an assignment, or responsibility that between us scared the heck out of you like you’re wondering, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if this is going to blow up and I’m going to be the scapegoat or I’m going to look bad?” 

A lot of them and more so mostly at Fenway. It’s because as you get further along in your career, and you’ve earned that where people say, “We trust that you’ll handle this,” because there’s not a ton of oversight. I’m not living in a work environment where I’m running every single detail by someone, but yet you’re responsible for a public forward-facing position in being the look, feel of the ballpark. What’s happening at certain times? How will David Ortiz’s retirement be? What does Derek Jeter’s final game ever look like? I will never understand that for the record why the Yankees didn’t call us and ask us to flip flop a series.

That was 2014. I was like, “I went through the bombings and now I have to do Darren Jeter’s final game?” That’s a lot of responsibility, especially when you don’t even know Derek Jeter. Those are the things that get you. The question is, am I good enough? Am I right? Am I this? That’s where it becomes collaborative and you can bounce it off people. I go back to my professional friends and they say, “Sarah, I haven’t cried yet. That isn’t this and that is that.” This is why it’s not a chart and it’s not a path and leave yourself enough leeway so that if you have a great idea at the eleventh hour, you should still do that. You should work later at night. You should commit to staying later and doing that because then it makes it the best that it can be. Everybody says that was awesome. We don’t have to worry about you and we trust you to do these things. You then get more projects and then you get more worried about it. “I hope everybody likes this. I hope this doesn’t flop.”

The other thing that we talked about is that in the sports and entertainment world, you’re always on. The spotlight is always on your work. No offense to those who may work in other industries, but what they do in their cubicle or what they do in their conference room is maybe only known by a few select people, customers, workers. What you do, good, bad or ugly, it’s magnified. 

I don’t envy them. I have it easier because in a lot of ways, I don’t want to say that you have a knee jerk reaction or anything like that, but we are not given the gift of time to overthink a lot of things. We’re also not only given the gift of time to dwell on it long. There’s this ability to be like, “That happened. Moving on. Didn’t make that person happy.” At the same time, you know if you got it right. It was largely because you didn’t have time to run metrics on it or do this or do that. You had a conversation with a couple of people and you went with your gut and you’re guided by what is right and what is wrong. If you can live a life like that, that’s a gift. You don’t get caught up in the burdens of the gray areas. We don’t have time for that.

Can I ask you a question about women in sports? 

Sure. I am one.

GFEP 8 | Red Sox Romantic

Red Sox Romantic: Not every single thing you say ever in your life is going to come out 100% as you intended. Work in a place with enough conversation.

 

A senior vice president of a Major League team. There are certainly a lot of successful women in sports. You’ve mentioned that already. I have to ask you though in a historically male-dominated industry, have you found that to be a difficult obstacle, offense too high, or is it something that for you has not been an issue or an obstacle?

I don’t want to say it’s been an issue or an obstacle, but it can be part of my navigation. It’s a consideration, but I don’t think it’s necessarily been an obstacle. In one of my pregnancies, I had a hospitalized bedrest that started in September and ended in January. You miss a lot and people, they naturally so and rightfully so wonder, “Is she okay? What’s it going to be like?” Do things like that slow down your career path? If you were in the right place, no, and I don’t think it has for me, but I do think when you’re running neck and neck races with people, when you’re young, that can be a thing.

What I also say is that the people that you choose to be around in your life and the support system that you choose to have are going to be the ones that have the greatest impact. The moment that my daughter was born, I worked at a place where I was like, “I have been in a hospital for months. I need to get out of my house. I don’t want maternity leave, but I don’t want to leave her either.” They’re like, “Bring her.” For the first few months, I was going to work a couple of days a week and my daughter was sitting with me in my office. They all do is sleep at that age anyway. What’s the big deal?

On top of that, when you start saying to yourself like, “I’m working in this and we talk about the ten days straight and I’m going to be gone ten nights in a row in this.” The kids have to have bath time, be fed, making sure the homework’s done, and then good night stories. The partner you choose in your life plays an enormous role in that. I’m fortunate because my husband believes in me so much and encourages me. When we came back here, we came for my career and I’m sure if we had something great, he would say, “Let’s do that.” He has a successful company of his own, which I’m in full support of.

There are windows in your life where you do have to put some things on pause as a woman in a different way I think, than men. However, I would not be looking back. I would not change any bit of that because being a parent, being a part of a family is such a great thing. I also acknowledge that’s not for everybody. I had my daughter at 26, 27. When you’re that age, you’re thinking about the things you’re missing sometimes because you haven’t been around the block enough times to know that this isn’t the be-all-end-all of the world and you’re working in an industry that’s a lifestyle.

Those are the things that I would say. I don’t think I’ve been held back because I’m a woman, but I do think the road, because of those pauses, does naturally take a little bit longer. What I do feel though is an immense obligation to speak up for others. I can be a little outspoken and in my East Coast way be blunt. I will remind people when there aren’t enough women in the room or there isn’t enough diversity in the room, or there isn’t something else that we should be doing. What I feel like is I have a good bunch of counterparts.

There was a joke being made and someone was talking about someone being fragile or whatever, and it was in regards to a woman. It was during the pandemic and she has asthma. It’s like, “Are you going to be able to come back because you have asthma?” I worked with a male counterpart. That’s like, “You have to stop saying that she’s not fragile. She’s anything but fragile.” I was proud of that counterpart for speaking in that way, or when someone says, “That’s a great idea,” and the male counterpart says, “Don’t be shocked.” Stop acting like you’re shocked. It’s those little things that remind you that you’re in the right place and you’re part of a great team. Those are the things I look for in the environment. I don’t think I would be at a place that didn’t provide that environment.

We’re learning maybe anew in 2020 that words matter. A few comments that you referenced, the person who gave those comments may not have had an ill will?

None whatsoever.

Would you agree that all of us need to learn how to balance the intent of our words? On the receiving end, we need to learn how to balance that person may not have any ill will. The person who talked about someone’s fragility, they’re trying to be sensitive to a colleague. To think can also be misinterpreted as maybe putting down a colleague like that colleague’s not tough enough.

Work in a place with enough conversation or be the type of person that is willing to engage in enough conversation, because you’re smart enough to know that not every single thing you say ever in your life is going to come out 100% as you intended. Imagine if we had a pitcher that’s through every single pitch exactly where he intended to go. That may be only Pedro Martinez and it’s hard.

Why would you speed up the most fun years of your life? It's not a race. No one wins. Click To Tweet

In the world of what they do, and yet they still throw balls. 

That’s what it is. Everyone wants to throw strikes and hit the home run or whatever it is, but you don’t make contact 100% of the time. Knowing that and knowing you’re going to mess up, whether as a human or as a company, but as you said, the intent, relationship, and conversation are there. That’s the meat of it of what gets you through the times and makes you believable for me.

Sarah, I appreciate your insights on that. As we begin to close, I want to ask you hypothetically. Let’s imagine that you’re teaching a course on how to break into sports. You’re writing the syllabus now. What are the three must-have lectures that you’re going to put into that syllabus? Three topics, three things you say, “I’ve got to convey to these students before they can pass this course.” If you can’t think of three, one’s great.

It would be the senses. There would be a weird conversation and syllabus about the senses and diving a little bit into energy and what you feel when you’re in a space and when you’re in a building or things like that. It goes to those basic human elements. On top of that, there’s a lot about it. There’s a lot of what we do that is building excitement, building tension, or recognizing tension. It goes into everything. It’s a combination, I would say, of the senses and energy and talking about that.

I would also have there be a requirement on listening and diving into what it means to truly listen. Whether that’s to listen to the individual, group, and community. Ramped in listening, I would bring in awareness and pop culture. What is happening in the times and getting out of your bubble? I always tell during the offseason, you can have that slow time where your team is not all that motivated, but they’re still coming into work. I’m like, “Guys, this is the time for the internet. If you want to screw around on the internet, this is the time.”

The internet is awesome and you can stumble onto things and you can find many things. When you’re wasting time, don’t waste that time. Sometimes getting out of your own, having that space to breathe, and doing that is listening. Reading is listening. It’s not always what am I hearing someone say. My third one would be the thought of a thing of kindness. What does that mean? What does that look like in a lot of different ways? How does that together go with bravery and other things and boldness? That’s what I would do.

You got to teach that course, Sarah. Those are a lot of soft skills. I’m going to let the readers settle on what you said because there is so much there that we typically don’t think about and don’t consider. A lot of that is wrapped up in sports, but there’s a lot of wisdom in what you said. I want to thank you for that. Here’s my last question. You have a couple of kids, your daughter’s in college now. Sarah, someday you may be a grandmother.

I might be. It’s not a race. That’s what I also tell the young people, Rob. In the Northeast, we’re blessed with this wealth of college students, whether they’re part-time employees, interns, or getting into the game in there. I hear these people and they’re like, “I want to finish college in three years, so I can do this and I want to do that.” I’m like, “It’s not a race.” You don’t get to heaven and someone’s like, “You won. You did it better than everybody else.” That’s not my version of how it works. Why would you speed up the most fun ever years of your life? It’s not a race. No one wins.

In that same vein, I like to encourage people to exercise professional patience. You don’t have to be the SVP of the Red Sox by the time you’re 30. There were a few Epsteins.

I also didn’t exercise a ton of professional patients. At some point, I moved beyond that.

A lot of it was people recognized that you were focused on the task at hand and then they accelerated you.

GFEP 8 | Red Sox Romantic

Red Sox Romantic: To figure out a way to live your life and impact society through the prism of baseball and sports is such a unique opportunity.

 

There’s nothing better than a to-do list. The greatest feeling in the world, checking things off the to-do list.

I’ll come back to you someday of being a grandma. If your granddaughter or your grandson asks you, and perhaps now you’re retired, “What was the greatest thing about working for the Red Sox,” whether it was a memory, an outcome, or a feeling? You’re taking them to a game and they’re asking you, as they’re sitting there with you eating that hot dog, what would you tell them from your perspective now so far?

There’s the internal and the external. I think more of what it’s given to me. I have felt unbelievably supported where I work when times have been bad, which is such a phenomenal thing, I think, to say about where you work. Back when you have a health scare or something with a kid and when you feel support during those times, you don’t forget that. When I went on bed rest in San Diego from September to January, I was working for Larry at that time and it was like nothing ever happened.

It was like, “You need to do what you need to do and you need to come back healthy.” When it was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to pay you. I don’t know what your job is going to be, but I need you to in Boston.” It was like, “How fast do I get there because you need me and when I needed you, you were there.” I would say that, and then one would be the opportunity to play a role whether it’s joy or experience for someone else. That’s incredibly cool.

I have been so fortunate and I don’t take this for granted to be at the Red Sox in a unique time. The last time the Red Sox had it this good, it was like 1908 but on top of that, there’s been so much else that goes on. To figure out a way to live your life and impact society through the prism of baseball and sports is such a unique opportunity. What’s been great and what I truly appreciate is more of what it’s given me and that goes forward. I have gotten to do cool things for fans, good things for family and friends. It’s all good and it’s all been through the principle of baseball.

I said it once and I’ll say it again, Sarah. I’m proud of you. You’ve done a tremendous thing in your career and what’s cool is you’re still young enough to do a lot more. Thank you for joining us on the show. 

Thank you for having me.

We’re going to watch you continue to be successful and enjoy things at Fenway. Hopefully, it goes back to the ballpark soon.

I hope so.

Thanks, Sarah. 

Thanks. Bye.

Important Links:

GFEP 7 | Gold Rush

 

He may have created and starred in the hit Discovery Channel series, Gold Rush, one of the top-rated shows on cable television the last 10 years, but there was no rush to gold for Todd Hoffman. From humble and unconventional beginnings, you’ll see how this week’s game face exec had just enough vision, mixed with a dramatic dose of craziness, to prove he knew more about what the world wanted to watch than high-salaried Los Angeles TV executives ever could imagine. A native of small town Oregon, nobody would have placed their bets on Todd making it on Hollywood. Boy, were they wrong! Join Rob Cornilles and learn about the man behind the beard, where he derives his inspiration and drive, and why he truly does have a “mine of his own.”

Watch the episode here:

Todd Hoffman | Nobody’s Fools Gold

Everything Todd Hoffman touches turns to gold. It appears that way at least from his hit Discovery Channel series, Gold Rush. Many years ago, tucked away in the small town of Sandy, Oregon, Todd envisioned a concept that allowed him to dig out of the financial and professional hole he found himself. In spite of a Hollywood expert telling him that he couldn’t do it, he became one of the biggest reality TV stars and producers of the last decade. You’re about to get a behind the scenes look into the reality that is reality star Todd Hoffman, my friend, who went from Sandy to gold.

I’m here with Todd Hoffman. He’s one of the most recognizable faces on cable television for many years because he is a self-made celebrity. When I say self-made, this is a man who put it all together from the beginning. Now, he has a fan base that gets bigger and bigger every year. He has proven to be not only a great visionary and an innovator, but an entrepreneur that people are always seeking advice from and wanting him to get involved in their ventures because he’s proven that he knows how to do it. Todd Hoffman, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

You’re in your home in Oregon. That’s where you and I met was back in Oregon because we’re both born and raised Oregonians, not too far from each other. We met later in life as professionals. I want to let the audience know that you and I have been friends for many years.

Is part of your sales tools to make people feel good because you’re doing it?

You want to be the salesperson that people love.

I see all the sports stuff behind you. This is a challenging time for the sports industry. I know you’re still being successful with your company because I’ve been following you, but for a lot of us guys that like sports, it’s confusing. We don’t know what’s common. It’s scary times.

I don’t think there’s anything like this in the history of sports. We’ve had wars, 9/11, and other civil unrest in cities. We had two that blows to the gut in 2020, the pandemic which is creating all kinds of uncertainty, and in some parts of the country, we have demonstrations that are right downtown where a lot of these sports venues are located, which make it difficult to promote family entertainment.

Thankfully, those two don’t ever touch because I’ve heard that if you’re protesting that the virus won’t spread. That’s what I’m hearing. It doesn’t spread if you are protesting and it only spreads on your Memorial Day.

Readers, if you ever want to have a long conversation with Todd, he’s got some opinions on politics. They’re always fun conversations with you, Todd. You are from Sandy, Oregon. You put Sandy on the map. If anyone’s ever been to Mount Hood, Oregon to go skiing, they have to go right through Sandy.

The harder you work, the luckier you get. Click To Tweet

With that little tourist trap, that slows you down and then you have to stop and buy either Joes Donuts or the Shell Station burrito. There are all kinds of little tourist traps on your way through. We slow you down, try to get some of your money on your way through. That’s what we do.

There’s always a great Dairy Queen too. What is Jane’s place called?

You’re talking of Calamity Jane’s but I don’t think it’s in business anymore. They went a little downhill on the burgers. Their milkshakes are great.

Let’s talk about the thing that most people are interested in when we talk about Todd Hoffman and your background and that is the making of Gold Rush. It’s 9th or 10th season in 2020?

It’s ten. I retired 2 or 3 seasons ago. I did about eight seasons with it. I still get paid for the show because I’m the creator of the show. The biggest show in the history of one of the biggest media companies in the world was created by me in Sandy, Oregon. Having said that, it’s not that I’m this great television mind. This was the first show I’ve ever got on the air, but it shows that the everyday person has the opportunity now to reach out and do certain things like that. I attribute a lot of that to some of the choices that I made, but also to my faith and the idea that I believe was brought to me by God.

A lot of people don’t believe in God and it’s weird to say these things. I’m not that corner street preacher, but that is the truth. Regardless of how much billions of dollars and discoveries made on my idea, at the end of the day, it was not created by them. It was not created in New York or LA, in a small town of a chubby kid with a dream, which is cool because it does give people hope that they too can do certain things, even in Hollywood and even anywhere you can do it. If you make the right decisions and put in the right principles and then also, you’ve got to have a little bit of supernatural help or be extremely lucky. I’ve found that the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Let’s talk a little bit about the origination when you talk about you got some divine help along the way. First of all, weren’t you in, I won’t say a bad place, but around 2008, when the economy went south, you had lost a lot of the business that you were involved in then, which was in the aviation industry. You were forced to start thinking about the next steps.

I was thinking about the next steps. I still live at this airport. I was able to hold onto this airport because of Gold Rush. Things weren’t going good. People were losing hope. All the money was locked up, everything was down, big time recession. I went out, took the last bit of money I had and put the show together. I did not go through Los Angeles, which is the hub for reality TV because you got Orange County Choppers, Monster Garage and Deadliest Catch. Certain shows that were all created and controlled by a few people down in LA, the gatekeepers like in sales. Sometimes you get these people that have a monopoly on certain things.

I went around the horn. I went and brought in a production company out of London. It’s a little tiny company that is now sold for hundreds of millions of dollars on the back of the Gold Rush. They were able to help me formulate and I was able to quickly come up to speed and learn how the game goes. We came through the Discovery Channel from Europe. We were able to bypass that LA syndicate and come in from a different angle. When I do sales with any kind of company, I always look for, “Is there a crack in the side window that I could sneak through?” You used to work with some of these big mining companies. I don’t even know if you know it, but I’m setting you up because I’m going to piggyback. I need some knowledge that you have because of this new mining product that I have. I need a little bit of help. We’ll talk about it later, but that’s the thing is always look for the opportunity on how you can go about it a different way so that you’re in the niche.

I’ve always made money in the niche. If you’re in the stream with all the other salmon and you’re new and this little tiny salmon, there’s a good chance you’re not going to make it up that waterfall or grabbed by a bear. You’ve got to find a different angle and a different approach and that’s what I did. I’ve always been able to do that. That’s why I was a decent point guard in college is that I think I’m always looking for that other way to score or whatever that’s outside the norm.

GFEP 7 | Gold Rush

Gold Rush: If you’re in the stream with all the other salmon and you’re new, there’s a good chance you’re not going to make it up that waterfall. You’ve got to find a different angle and a different approach.

 

I know you’re the same way and that’s why you’ve written your book. I know that that’s what a lot of your principles are about is to give those people that advantage to try to get around the mainstream. That’s how I got Gold Rush started. I went through England to a little company and Discovery Channel and sold the show. It was written in an unorthodox way, in a niche way and we went around the monopoly and through the side door into Hollywood.

You’re a disruptor.

I’m a disruptor since the day that my teacher said, “Todd, you’re disrupting the class.” I was like, “You’re right.” When everything is going smooth and I’m trying to figure out a way, it’s like, “How do I break up this monopoly a little bit?” I guess I am a disruptor. I know all these people have all this lingo nowadays, “I’m a disruptor.” It’s like, “No, you’re not. You look like the other guy that said he was a disruptor.” There are guys like me, “We are disruptors. We’re lucky that we’re not in jail. That’s how disruptive we are.”

Can we get some more detail on how you approach that production company? You didn’t have a track record of being in showbusiness or producing shows. You would think that most people, if they got a call from someone like you, whose name they’ve never heard from a town in a state they’ve never been to, they would tell you, “Get lost. Don’t waste our time. We’re struggling enough as it is. We don’t need to voluntarily bomb on our next project.” You had to have said and done something, a tactic that you used. If you could share any of those details with us, that’d be interesting.

Number one, I presented them with an opportunity that they’ve never heard of. Number two, they believed in me that I was going to accomplish that goal and that I have enough money to do that, barely. I was too stupid to know that I didn’t. You can look back through this. They go on these things and talk about how great they were putting the show together. I had to force them to come and do this teaser. The teaser is about $10,000 to $15,000 investment. You have a bible of the show that you write out and then you have a teaser. That is your calling card to all the networks. They look at this teaser, its timing. We got a recession, gold’s taken off.

You’ve got this guy that’s going to throw caution to the wind and go mining. It’s got to be relevant to what’s going on and you’ve got to be convincing that you are going to do exactly what you said you were going to do. When I forced them to fly all the way over here because I told them and I have an email chain that says, “If you don’t show up next week, I’m picking a different production company.” I threatened them. They showed up and they watched me drop an I-beam right across my dad’s Mercedes. They knew right then and there, “This guy is not playing.”

I didn’t lose it. They’re like, “What are we doing here? Are we going to do a documentary or a reality show?” I said, “I’m going to drop that I-beam right across Jack’s Mercedes-Benz and you tell me what you think we’re going to do.” They’re getting their cameras ready. We shot a teaser and put it together. The teaser was phenomenal. That’s our calling card. Everything was right. Timings and teasers are right. Several networks want to buy it. We picked Discovery Channel for one simple fact. They’re a big company and they have more money and away, we went.

In the first year, we lost money. In the second year, I lost money. In the third year, we’re coming out of the hole. In the fourth year, then the machine’s going. You have to be dedicated and willing to go that to the 100th mile and get it right. Stay late. Do all the things that a small business does. Sacrifice and you’re the 1 in 10,000 TV shows that makes it. The odds are not in your favor on TV. I can do it again, but that’s only because I know what I’m doing. It’s hard.

The first reality TV that went big, I’m thinking about Survivor, Mark Burnett. I know you’ve had some dealings with him in your career. Is reality TV like professional wrestling?

Some of it is bad. In the mining thing, is everything real? It’s not 100%. The cameras aren’t always on and the sound is not always working. You’ve got to connect the dots. Is it all fake? It’s not all fake either. To glue a television show together with a story and to follow the storylines and things like that, you do have to connect the dots. I never said it’s 100% real. It’s not. When I watch what’s going on now in all these other shows and stuff, it’s like I can tell if these guys are almost reading their lines. It’s bad.

You’re not a disruptor if you look like the other guy who says he’s a disruptor. Click To Tweet

I’m going to try to relaunch in the summer. I’ve had two networks looking at it. I’ve never been able to close the deal because I’m not willing to go back on regular terms. When you are a man of faith or you have something to say and you don’t care about being famous. You believe that you’re going to die and go to heaven and stand before God. You can’t just go on TV and do what the networks would love to see you do because morally, you can’t do that.

If I come back on TV, it’s going to be on my terms and they don’t want to give you your terms. They don’t want to give you control over the edit because maybe you feel like you need to say something in there like, “I’m sorry. Maybe I need to pray right now. I feel broken. I want to pray to God.” The world doesn’t want to go into those types of areas. I’m not going to go back on TV unless it’s on my terms. It’s hard to do business on your terms. I know you’ve experienced that. You tell me how do you do as a man that has faith if it gets hard to do business out there. Reality TV is no different. It’s a lot worse.

You said at the outset here that you felt that there was a little bit of divine intervention to get you where you are, whether it’s inspiration or revelation or an impression that you had. If it’s not too personal, can you help us understand what that looks like, feel like and sound like when you feel like, “I’m being directed to take this particular route right now?”

I don’t know, to be honest with you. I’ve always wanted to know. I’m an Evangelical Christian. In this world, there are all kinds of denominations. There are people that are super Pentecostal and they come to me all the time and say, “God told me this about you.” I always take that with a grain of salt because if God was telling some guy about me, why didn’t he tell me directly? I do have several things that people have come up and said prophetic words. I take it all with a grain of salt because I’ve been walking with God since I was young. I’m no super Christian. When people put themselves on a pedestal, you’ve got to understand one thing. For all who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, nobody is better than anybody else. We’re all children of the Lord.

I came out of a real tough time with my marriage. I prayed and asked the Lord for guidance. When I got the idea of the Gold Rush, I knew that it had something to do with the Lord. I can’t put my finger on how or why? At that time, I knew. I think God talks to all of us, but I think he talks to all of us differently. In the Bible, it’s happened a lot of times. Sometimes in dreams and sometimes He had an animal talk to somebody. God works with each of us differently. At that particular time, I knew that I was going to create this show. I knew that it was going to be successful.

I went to my pastor. It was heavy on me and I said, “I’m going to tell you something that sounds crazy. I’m starting a TV show and it’s going to be huge. I don’t know if I’m prepared to deal with this.” He looked at me like, “You are insane. It’s never going to happen.” Everybody’s journey is going to be different. The one constant is that I follow the bible. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is my hope. It’s not gold. You’re going to die and stand before God. All the things that we’ve sold, the things that you and I love to do, we love to sell.

Your passion is selling, Rob. Your business is built around it, but you and I are going to die and stand before God and we’re not going to be able to take any of this with us. For me, it was in how I did my TV. That’s where I felt in a lot of ways in Gold Rush, I did very well-represented in the faith. In a lot of ways I didn’t. I looked back or the edit got it twisted and they twisted things. They make me say things I didn’t say and inferred things. That’s what frustrated me about the business is they want the lowest common denominator. The viewer wants this bloody payoff.

They want to see me berate somebody, leave them bleeding in the ditch and move on to the next victim. That’s what you see in Gold Rush from some of the characters. For me, I can’t do that. I can’t have faith and leave a guy. One hundred seventy million people worldwide would watch me and they love us to tell a guy he’s a loser. He asked to leave the show, go back into his real-world and his character is damage. In reality TV, that’s what it’s based on. It’s based on watching somebody puke and get some sick thing out of it. There’s this other element. They’re encouraged by reality TV. I see a guy trying hard. I see a guy trying to make it and fail. How does he deal with this failure?

These are the things that I want to portray. There’s a reason why I’m not on TV for the last many years. It’s not because I haven’t been trying to get my show back on. It’s that I’m not allowed to put my show back on the way I want to put my show back on. I’m not going to compromise. I’m debt-free. I have the money. I don’t care. I’m being a good husband and a good father the best I can. I’m living life. I’m doing good. If the Lord gives me another opportunity to bring Hoffman Gold back on the air, it will be because the world needs to see it or the world needs to see something that I’m going to bring.

I’m crazy enough to do it. I’ll live in a trailer for six months and kick butt and dig raw gold out of the ground. It doesn’t matter. I’ll do whatever it takes. If there’s a message that I feel like God wants me to bring to the world through that medium because there’s no other medium in the world that you can reach. I used to reach 170 million people. There’s nothing else out there that could go, “I was in 120 languages. My fat butt was in Japanese and Chinese.” There’s no other medium that can reach that many people. It is special, but it can be used for evil too. There are a lot of shows out there that are not good for you to watch.

GFEP 7 | Gold Rush

Gold Rush: If the Lord gives another opportunity to bring Hoffman Gold back on the air, it will be because the world needs to see something it’s going to bring.

 

I remember I was able to watch you on set. You and I made an attempt at a project together. Through those experiences that I had with you, a couple of things that are worth noting for your fans and that is that first of all, you would often tell me that if there’s no conflict, then there’s no show. If there’s no conflict, then the producers aren’t interested. It seemed like every episode had to have a conflict and maybe end on a cliffhanger. I’d like to bring that idea into the world of business. Where there is conflict, there’s no business, no partnership, no relationship and no sale.

It’s a different dynamic between entertaining people and developing a real relationship with them where there’s a transaction made where both sides are happy. Hearing you talk reminds me about that lesson you taught me about reality TV. The other thing is that it was hard work. Though you were in show business and are in show business, it’s not glamorous. I remember being with you a week or so before you’d have to go back out on the mine site for the next season. You would go out months before we started seeing the episodes on television. To see you leave, I could see it in your face that, “This is hard to go out there in the middle of nowhere, leave my family for the most part, live in a trailer. I may not make much money doing it this year. I’m taking a big risk.” It’s not just Todd gets to have a green room and people are feeding you grapes in between takes.

It’s hard too because you have to worry about the bills, being a husband and a father. You have to run the show and the mine. You have personnel issues. Everybody is fighting and then you’ve got to get the goods. It’s either high or low, but if it’s in the middle of it’s okay, they turn the channel. You’re either head to the top or to the bottom and you’ll see a zigzag through the episode. You wonder how that works. There’s an equation for that. When you’re going in for sales, you better have your game face on.

There’s an equation that you have built with your company that results more than not into a successful sale. Getting that game down and solving an issue for a company, at the end of the road, it’s the X and O’s. Does that save them money? Does that help them sell more seats? What is it that’s going to help them? Are you adding value or not? With the Discovery Channel, I went through one president after another, but what I was always known for is always give them the goods. I’ll stay longer, shoot longer. Whatever it is, I delivered you a good episode. It’s 165 episodes is what I did. I learned a lot about TV, episodic structure, how it all goes together and everything.

To be able to look under the hood on something like that, to be able to look at the reality TV contracts, to go in and fight them for your pay is fun. It’s all good, fun and very interesting business to me. People come to me all the time. They pay me money to sit. I give them three hours. They pay me thousands of dollars. They sit there and I explain to them how reality TV works. They’re taking notes the whole time because I’m ADD and I’m going through it. “This is how it goes. This is what’s going to run into here. This is out of consciousness. This is how they’ll try to get you. Watch out for that. This is your team. This is how many people can be on camera. This is how you do a scene. This is how you do that.”

At the end of three hours, I’m tired. I want to take a nap. They get three hours and, “Get on there. I don’t care. Go back and get on your plane and get out of here.” It’s a lot. I paid in blood, sweat and tears to learn that. Like your book and all the things that you’re bringing to these people, you didn’t just sit there and think it up. You lived it by doing things right. Even you, Rob, with all your fancy hair and everything, you did some things wrong and you learned how do you sell, what is it and what drives it. That’s what’s cool with you and me is that we’re both salesmen.

We’re selling different things. We all endeavor. We all have different styles too. My style, I’ve lost a couple of deals with these TV guys because the first thing you think, I come in. One company has horrible TV shows and I said, “You’re not reaching middle America. Your shows do not reach middle America. What I bring to you is I am middle America. I am your fan base. I am that guy. Who better to bring you the entertainment than a guy from that world?” That offended them because they felt like they grew up in LA and they know TV for a guy that lives in the deep South, that they know what that guy wants to watch.

They bring one goofball show after another. They wonder why they don’t have ratings. I said, “Do you want ratings? Go with me. I’ll bring your ratings because I know what people want.” That’s what’s happening now. We’re in a recession. We have a pandemic. We have civil unrest. If you don’t agree with their method. Everybody’s getting called a racist. My old roommate, black guys got called a racist. My brother-in-law is a teacher, a Democrat, he got called racist. He calls me and like, “I get called racist.” I said, “You’re the least racist person I’ve ever met.” He goes, “I don’t know what’s going on out here.”

It’s a lot of anarchy. It’s scary. I don’t mind a good protest. Everybody’s for a peaceful protest. That’s American. I’d fight to protect that right. When it gets to the point where you’re going to take over public buildings that you don’t own, you’re going to destroy property and people’s dreams, little businesses and things like that, you better have the police there to protect those people. When you walk the police out and turnover our city to people, that is where I have to decide, “What are we going to do about that?” I don’t know. Do we get people together and start a vigilante squad? I don’t know. Let’s hope not. What do you do? Businesses are hurting out here, Rob. It is getting crushed out here in Portland.

Your upbringing has a huge role in the way you look at the world, at your faith and your family. Your dad has played a prominent role in the show. Talk to us a little bit about growing up in the Hoffman home. Did you always have a great relationship with your dad?

When you're going in for sales, you better have your game face on. Click To Tweet

My dad came from that era where they don’t talk a lot about it. I remember a lot of times when my dad did things, he tried little businesses and things, and he was a real estate guy. He wasn’t designed to sell real estate. The only guy in my family designed for real estate was my great grandfather, Ralph. My grandfather was a horrible realtor. My dad was a horrible realtor. For some reason, they had a real estate company. They weren’t geared for what their skillset was. That’s huge when you’re trying to put a business together and everything. Growing up with my dad, we were poor. We didn’t have a lot of money. We dug sewers. We had a little excavation company and a little dump truck. We weren’t rich. We were poor.

We didn’t have these big long talks with each other and all this stuff. It was more of an understanding. He was always faithful to my mom and brought us to church. I drowned as a child. It probably explains a lot, but they pulled me out of the pool and my dad recommitted his life to God when I started breathing again. It was a turning point in our life, for his life and he followed God. He was a faithful man. My parents had been married for many years. It hasn’t been perfect. It didn’t matter if red or yellow or black or white. He always helps somebody.

We weren’t raised like some of these guys from a racist family. We are not like that. We love God. We knew we all needed grace and faith. It was a good faith upbringing. My parents took me out of public school. I went into a private school, a little Christian school. There are times we couldn’t pay our tuition and things like that, but I knew that if I could make it to a certain point, I was going to be a business guy and bring in the money. The most money my family ever made was when we started doing business.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur or did you want to be a television star? Which came first?

I like the medium of TV. I don’t like being on TVs. I’m not a celebrity. I’m a D lister. I don’t like that part of it, but I do like being able to represent some of the cool things about being a Patriot, about being a man of faith and loving your wife. That is cool being able to represent it. It is cool in a business entrepreneurial sense because I can go in to access people and business is easier. That has been fun. Let’s be honest, people say that being rich isn’t everything, but having money is a lot better than being poor. I don’t care what these try to tell you. That’s not good. Being poor sucks.

You get out there and you try to slay the dragon just like you’re doing and I’m doing to try to provide for our families. I think there’s a deeper root. I know you feel it too is to help others. I know you’re a professor. Being able to help other people and bring them up, give them the tools to be successful is fun. There’s something cool about it. It feels like you’re living out your faith when you do that. People will come to me and they’ll go, “I need an opportunity. I don’t get any opportunities.” I say this, “If the opportunities that were given to you are equal to the opportunities that you have created for other people, how many opportunities would you be worth?”

They look because they think about themselves and their problems and they’ve never opened the door for one other individual. They sit around worrying about how much money they’re going to make, but they’ve never reached out to help anybody. They’ve never tried to get another guy a job. They never called their friend to get them work. I do it all day long. People come to my house all day. The guy came to my house and I teach him how to shoot his gun. We also talked about politics. He wanted to know if I should invest in this movie that he’s got going. I sent him out to my shooting range. He’s scared of what’s going on.

I helped them with safety. I told them how to protect his house. I also helped them with the movie. That happens to me all day long. People come to me all day long because they know I’m here to help them. Because of that, I know God sees my heart. Opportunities come across my desk all day long, but I’m also busy helping other people. There’s got to be a godly principle and something about that in the Bible. I can’t pull the verse right now, but I guarantee you that my opportunities are in direct correlation with the opportunities that I give other people and the number of people I help. I don’t know for sure, but that’s how it works with me. I would suggest because if there is a God and He is seeing your heart, who does He want to help?

Does he want to help the guy that’s out there trying to help other people? I think He would. That’s a philosophy in investing and entrepreneurship. It’s an investment in sales. I would help that company whether they buy my equipment or not. If you are sold out to help that guy, maybe there’s a competitor’s equipment in that particular situation that works better and you look the guy in the eye and say, “Buying our stuff isn’t the best. In your situation, you need these guys.”

That principle you’re talking about, I believe the same is true that when you help another person, you are, by extension helping your maker. He recognizes that because if we do believe we’re all in this together and that we all come from the same place, it would stand a reason. When we’re helping each other, we’re helping our brothers and our sisters. There’s a common father that we share and He likes to see that. He takes care of those who take care of others. That’s a good principle to live by and you become less insulated. I have people in my own life that are struggling now with whatever it could be. It’s a real struggle to get outside of yourself because you think that’s counterintuitive, “Why would I spend time helping other people when I’m struggling myself right now?” I think that principle still holds true. The more you seek to lift up other people, the more you find that divine help lifting you up.

GFEP 7 | Gold Rush

Gold Rush: If the opportunities that were given to you are equal to the opportunities that you have created for other people, how many opportunities would you be worth?

 

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re in service for others. That’s the first thing people are coming up, “I’m getting depressed.” “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to volunteer somewhere.” They’re like, “What do you mean volunteer? I want to sit around being depressed.” “You should volunteer. It’s hard to be depressed when you’re volunteering and helping other people.” They can get outside themselves.

As you see their challenges, sometimes yours don’t look so big by comparison.

He can then start seeing some of the ways that you can be thankful.

You’ve used your influence, your treasure to help a lot of people, especially those who are recovering from some type of addiction. Can you share a little bit of that with our audience?

I had a group of guys that I’ve been friends with and they’re all in the recovery space. They’re counselors and they’re all in recovery. They came to me and said, “We want to start our own treatment center.” I’m like, “How do we do this?” They said, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to hire this.” I said, “I will throw in with you guys.” I put up the money and we started a treatment center. Immediately, we got sued. We’ve been through 1 or 2 lawsuits. It’s been super hard. The first billing company we had went sideways on us and we had to get a new billing company. We had to put more money. It was difficult.

A dad comes up to me and said, “I need to talk to you.” He looks at me in the eye and said, “You saved my daughter’s life. She was on heroin. She came into the clinic. You spent time with her. You loved her and you saved her life. I want to tell you, thank you. There’s no other way I can repay. I want to tell you, thank you that you saved my daughter’s life.” I put it all into perspective because I have a 12, 18 and 21-year-old. I look at this as helping people, but it’s also a business in saving lives. It’s like, “I can’t not make this successful regardless of what happens or how many times this happens.”

That’s when we said, “Come hell or high water, Sober Living Oregon Recovery Center will stay open no matter what. We have the best doctors and best counselors.” We are the second-largest treatment center in all of the state now. We’re saving people’s lives. I have 53 patients now fighting for their life. We house 160 people of 40 women and 120 men. After they’re out of treatment, we get them jobs. It’s unbelievable. All my partners are rough and tumble. They’ve all been in jail, but we have a superstar team. Our doctors and counselors are the best.

It’s like, “I’m not even in recovery. I don’t drink. I don’t do anything except for overeating.” It’s an honorable business. It’s tough. There’s a lot of shady stuff and hurts. You’re dealing with darkness and people that are dirty. People and their problems are dirty and it’s hard. It takes a toll on you when it’s hard. It scars you. Sometimes doing the good work, the frontline guys are the guys that are the toughest and they’re the guys with the most scars. They’re not the prettiest guys.

I could take my staff. We would go into a church and somebody said the F word. I’m like, “We’re dirty. We’re hard core, but we save lives. We’re frontline guys. We’re doing it.” I was able to get involved in that. If I do my new show, I’m going to have people from recovery on the team up in Alaska with us digging. That’s part of it. I’m super thankful that they asked me to do it. We’re not the best treatment center in the world. We’re still learning. Now, we’re doing well. Our billing comes right out of your neck of the woods. All of our billings are done there in Salt Lake and I’ve been cool.

That’s commendable. More power to you and those people work with you on that. You talked about some of the people that you may attend the church together and they’re a little rough. You’ve always had a persona of looking a little rough. Part of that could be the character that you play on television. I don’t mean to say it’s not Todd Hoffman, but in business, we’ve often been told that, “You have to look the part,” whether to get the job or to get the sale. Can you talk a little bit about that? How has that worked for you in your career? You’ve made a conscious choice that you yourself are a physical brand. When you see Todd Hoffman, he’s recognizable. You and I have eaten together many times in public places where people have immediately recognized you. You’re hard to hide. Is that a conscious choice that you’ve made?

Once you get on TV, you’ve got to stick with what you look like as best you can. I’m overweight. I’m bald. Luckily, I’m good looking enough to pull it off. The thing is like, everybody, when you think of a sales guy, you’re tall. You got to have these certain things and I don’t just believe that. A lot of people are forgettable. There are guys who got to me and I don’t ever remember even meeting that guy. They’re having a big old conversation, “We hung out for two days, I guess.” I’m like, “That guy is forgettable.”

People say that being rich isn’t everything, but having money is a lot better than being poor. Click To Tweet

In reality TV and in sales, they either love or hate me, but you don’t want them to ever say, “That guy was okay.” I’ll give you a sales beat with that and I won’t say who. It was a big rental company that starts with United. I went to this meeting. I was there with my buddy and he was selling them equipment. They buy millions of dollars. All this guy at this round company is doing is he’s making fun of my buddy. I’m there with him. They’re making fun of this guy. He doesn’t want to say anything back because they buy millions of dollars’ worth of stuff and they’re inappropriate.

I’m watching him and whispered, “Tell that guy where to stick it.” He’s like, “They’re our biggest customer.” I go, “Why are you taking this from him?” You never want to be in that position. I would rather go ahead and say, “Tell that guy where to stick it,” and at least that he respects you. When you go to negotiate on the next deal, you might have a little bit of leverage with the guy, but you never want to be in that position. I feel like it’s better to not be forgettable. Come in and be fun and like, “I know I’m here to sell this, but what’s going on with this, that and the other? Am I right?”

I’m like, “Let’s go back to the presentation. I wanted to tell you guys that thing. I just had to get that off my chest.” Everybody’s like, “That kid is a good guy. I like that guy.” It’s better to be not forgettable. If you’re coming in and you’re thinking that you’re stuffed. If you think that there’s not another company that’s got the exact same stuff as you or is coming up behind you and he’ll do business with you. Do you want to know why he’ll do business with you? It’s because he likes doing business with you. I put a pump company in Gold Rush and the owner came running over one day and he had a $1.2 million purchase order.

The guy said he was going to go with Gorman Rupp the big boys or he’s going to go with X, Y, Z pump company which is the little guy that I put in the show. He said, “I’m going to go with you because I like Gold Rush and I love the show. It’s my favorite show. I should probably order from Gorman Rupp but I’m not going to order for Gorman Rupp. It’s because you’re in my favorite show. I like you guys.” They like doing business with you. If you’re going out there, you make it an event. Make it so that you’re not forgettable because they get lots of people at them all day. They’re looking at their numbers. COVID has kicked them. They’re looking in there and like, “We’ve got to cut back here.”

When it comes down to you, “What’s that company with that guy? I don’t remember that guy. Let’s cut it down.” They don’t cut Bob at this company because he’s the funniest guy at the party. He’s the guy that shows up and always gives us the best service. When it comes down to two things on the line item, I’m going to cut the guy that he doesn’t like to hang out with. I’m sorry. It has to do with relationships. In my opinion, it’s not always that way, but if I’m about ready to build another building and I’m getting bids from a couple of different guys. There’s this one guy and I know he’s going to be more money, but I’ll probably go with him because I get to hang out with them for three weeks.

He’s going to be at my house building this big building. I get a flat out, go out there and we get to shoot the bull together. I’ll go with that guy because I want to see him successful too and get the sale. I’m sure I like being with that guy. We had the best time and it’s not always dollars and cents. It’s relationships. I’ve seen that over and over with the guys they like doing business with. Do you believe that, Rob? Is that part of your book?

Shameless plug right here, How to Become the Salesperson People Love. It’s throughout the book. You’re going to have to read the whole thing.

I don’t read books. I write books.

Put some earplugs in and I’ll send you the audio version.

I’m ADD. I’m not normal. What would you say is the most important thing that you think maybe I could pick up from your book?

GFEP 7 | Gold Rush

Gold Rush: Whether in reality TV or in sales, people will either love or hate you, but you don’t want them to ever say, “That guy was okay.”

 

We have a lot of methods and techniques, but the most important thing we talked about is the principles of selling. Here’s a take-home principle for you, Todd. You know this because you work in the mining business. You’re always buying equipment. You and I have been a part of those kinds of transactions together. More than the actual product, people want to buy the results the product brings. You don’t care what brand of excavator or what kind of bucket you have at the end of that excavator, what you care about is the results it produces for you. Is it going to be more efficient on your machine? Is it going to save you money? Is it safer to operate? Do the parts last longer, so you don’t have as much downtime? Those are the things that matter to you.

Which brand, which color, where it’s made, whether it’s Topeka or Malaysia, you don’t care. All you care about are the results you’re going to get from it. As salespeople, that’s what we always have to keep in mind. Don’t spend all your time talking about your product features, your SKUs and all those kinds of things, because in the end, that’s not as important. What matters is the results your product brings. The good thing is that if you talk about results, you will get fewer objections because nobody objects to results, but they can object to the product all day.

I was correlating now with what I’m doing now. I might read your book instead of saying, “I’m going to read your book.” I’ve got a lot of issues.

You’ve given us a great time and wisdom but you’re a risk-taker. You know as a fellow entrepreneur how much I admire you for that. To do some of the crazy things that you’ve done and turn them into success, you’re one of those guys who’s not going to take his great ideas to the grave with him. Because when you have a great idea and even if it’s not great, you go, you execute and try. There’s less than 1% of the population like you. That’s why I admire you. That’s why you’re my friend and I’m grateful that you joined us on this show.

Thank you, Rob. Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to your book. I appreciate it. I always love talking to you about business, sales and everything else.

Thank you. We’ll talk soon.

Important Links:

GFEP 6 | Women In Sales

 

Who do you trust more to sell you something – a man or a woman? Women are usually preferred. Then why has the sales industry been historically run and populated by men? In 2018 Lanette Richardson asked the same question and, without trying to create a battle of the sexes, launched Utah Women in Sales – now a growing national force. In this episode, she joins forces with Rob Cornilles to explore the unique and valuable attributes women innately – and through tireless tenacity – bring to any sales culture and experience. What have they learned from men, and what must men learn from women to make teams more complementary and complete? Listen in for more.

Watch the episode here:

Lanette Richardson | Women In Sales

I often like to ask audiences what they think of two specific words, salesman and salesperson. For a salesman, the reactions are universally negative, sleazy and slimy. For a salesperson, the reactions are more mixed. Some good and some not good. Why is that? Why would I use the word salesman? It’s almost always, “Back off,” but when I use the word salesperson, which could mean either sex. I get more temperate reactions. You’re about to find out in this episode, as I interviewed the Founder and President of Utah Women in Sales, here is Lanette Richardson.

I want to welcome you Lanette Richardson to the show. It is been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to have you on the show for some time because of the role that you play in sales and in the business community, especially in the State of Utah where Game Face resides. Welcome, we’re glad to have you here.

Thank you. It’s fun to be here and I’m excited to join you.

We’re going to talk about quite a few things related to sales and women in sales. Tell us, where in your career path the idea that then was hatched to begin Utah Women in Sales? It wasn’t that long ago, but perhaps the idea was festering for a number of months or years before that.

It’s always been a passion of mine to help and to get more women onto teams, to get more women into sales, to help break that barrier down on what women think sales are, and to show them how they can be successful in sales. They don’t have to be a typical stereotype of what people think a sales rep has to be. We started this years ago. We have a lot of friends that are women in different places. One of my friends, her name is Lori Richardson, no relation. She lives in Boston. She runs a women’s sales group up there and she called me. She said, “I’m coming down to Adobe Way to speak. Are you coming to my event?” I was like, “I had no idea there was an event there. I didn’t even know.”

She said, “It’s for women and sales. Women all over Utah that are in sales.” I was like, “I don’t even know how I didn’t know this, but I’m going to be there.” I got a couple of my coworkers at Lucid and I said, “Let’s go there. There are some great speakers. We should do this,” so we did. We went over there. There weren’t many people there and I thought, “Maybe it wasn’t advertised well because I certainly didn’t know about it, but it was great.” The content was great. It was engaging and the speakers were wonderful. We stayed afterward and we talked with a couple of speakers. We said, “There’s got to be a bigger need for women around here than this.”

I wonder what would happen if women knew that there was an event like this happening. We thought, “Why don’t we try this out? Why don’t we put together a group and work on what to call it and what we would be doing for women?” We decided, “Let’s have an event. It was a few months after that, we reached out as much as we could on social media and people that we knew. We invited as many women as we could. We had our first kickoff event and we surprisingly had about 350 women show up. That’s when we knew there is a huge need.

It was one of the most fun evenings I’d ever had in meeting all of these women and finding out that all of the companies that they’re at. I was one of the speakers there and talked a lot about some of the struggles as a woman in sales. The women were coming up and like, “Me too. This is crazy. I thought I was not doing it right because they don’t do it like all the rest of the sales team.” It was interesting to hear all of the comments and feedback. It’s gone from there. That was our first event and we’ve grown for years.

Can you describe for us how the organization works, how one participates, how frequently you have events, forums or calls? If I was a member, what would it look like for me?

As a woman, you are perfect for sales. You're negotiating with your teenagers. That's harder than negotiating with the CEO half the time. Click To Tweet

Before COVID, it was a lot different. We had a lot of live events where we would go to different companies. Companies would sponsor us and it was a good way for women to get to know the companies, see the offices, and to get to know some of the people that work there and the companies. Since COVID happened, we’ve had to change and do everything more virtually, which has been a good thing because it’s been able to open us up to a bigger audience. We still want to get back to meeting in person and that will happen. I’m certain that it will happen soon, but not soon enough. Now, we’re starting to do webinars and we have started a podcast series. We’re going to start doing some skill-based training.

We’re doing a lot of personal development. We’re doing a lot of encouraging plus skill-based training. We’re also opening up to get moving type of thing because it’s hard with COVID to get out there and do things, but we want to extend this after COVID to where we’re doing Mindful Mondays and where we’re doing some yoga or some meditation. We hope to be able to get out and do some bike, not a race but ride for right as women for donations and for a good cause. Maybe 5Ks or golf tournaments or different things that we could do as a group of women, maybe even pickleball tournaments to be able to get together and be active.

There are a lot of different things and ways that women can join, participate and connect, everything from personal development to skills. That’s what it looks like now and it’s all virtual. Hopefully, not for long. I want to learn how to play pickleball. I’m hoping that that’s something we can do, but we do have an annual summit, which is our big activity. We may be virtual in 2020. We’ll have to see how things are still going later in the fall, but that’s a great all-day event for women to get together. We have a lot of breakout sessions, a lot of speakers, a lot of great training there.

A couple of observations from how you’re describing this. First, it seems like it’s a holistic approach to being a woman in business. Certainly, with sales as that common denominator, but any woman in business could participate in your activities. Also, someone’s level or position within a company is immaterial. They could be an entry-level or be a sales leader.

We have a mentorship program as well and we encourage the sales leaders to mix and mingle with those that are new. We have a lot of college students that come, women who were looking to return to the workforce and don’t know how they’re going to get a good career and how they can maybe take care of their kids. Some of them find themselves single. Having mentorship, the more senior women and of all levels together and mixing and mingling, it’s a good support network. That way, everybody’s in sales. If you think about it, some of us hold a quota and that’s why we’re in sales, but we’re all negotiating. We’re all dealing with difficult situations and people that are pushing back. A lot of these skills go beyond sales. It’s great for all women and men. We have a lot of men that attend our events too.

That’s what I was going to mention is that as you talked about your annual summit, I was able to attend either the 1st or the 2nd year. I may have been the second year, but I was surprised pleasantly. Yet, I’ll also be a little curious as to why many men were in attendance. I misinterpreted it when I signed up. I thought I might be an outlier confined to the back row and don’t say anything. This is for women. I learned it was quite the opposite. It was inclusive. Can you describe for us a little bit more about the mentality behind that, about incorporating men into your events? You have men who are doing speaking engagements with you, training, etc. Why isn’t it women only?

We’re certainly not about men are awful and women are great. It’s not that type of mentality. Our whole purpose is to enhance women, to let them know what they can do, where they win, and how they can win better. We also want to bridge the gap of how men and women can work together, how they can support each other, how we can build diversified sales teams and understand that there’s more than one way to sell. There’s more than one way to reach out to a client to close the deal. By having men included in our groups, we learn from each other. It helps the men to understand a little bit more about where women can be successful, what our true skills are and it helps women to understand that there are a lot of men out there that do care.

A lot of men out there that want to learn and bridge the gap as well. We find probably 20% of our attendees are men. We encourage that to be more. We had a webinar and it was on building ERG or Employee Resource Groups. We had a couple of men on there and they were messaging me. They were like, “I think I’m the only guy.” I was like, “You’re not the only guy. We want you here. In fact, we’d love to have you speak up and say something.” When we got to the end, we opened it up for comments. Some of the best back and forth comments came when the men spoke out. The women were in an open, supportive environment and great conversations and eyeopening for both sides. That’s how we win is together.

GFEP 6 | Women In Sales

Women In Sales: You can either work hard to get a 5% raise every year or you can go into sales and get paid for what you do and have that control.

 

I’ve got to commend you for building that culture early in the organization, that welcomeness and that sense of inclusiveness, even in your early days, I felt it. Nobody knew me. Our company Game Face relocated to the Utah community. We were getting to know people, but you did a fabulous job building that organization and I admire that. Frankly, I appreciate that. I want to ask you a little bit more about some of the differences and some of the commonalities between men and women in sales. Before that, I’m curious, what does the future of Utah Women in Sales look like? If we had a crystal ball and we’re looking in 20, 25, what might we see them?

We found that our group is helpful here in Utah. We have a lot of women outside of Utah that are looking for this type of support. We have a lot of companies that sponsor us that have women in Utah, but also women all over the country, some all over the world. Many of them have asked, “Can our women outside of Utah be included?” It’s hard in an in-person event and in these virtual events we’ve been able to include a lot more women. We’ve realized that Utah Women in Sales is going to be more of an actual type of organization where we’ll see groups. We’ve got groups in Colorado, California, New York, Boston, and Georgia that we’re working together with so that we can be one unified group and have women in sales groups. We’re all doing the same thing, but we’re also localized so that we can support more on a local level.

Another thing that we’re doing is helping women realize that they can be in sales. We’re working with some of the women that are in shelters. Some of the women that have maybe been in protective sheltering or women that are trying to get their life back and find out how they can take care of their kids and become independent. We’re already starting to work with those women and getting training, helping them build a resume, helping them understand interview skills, helping them understand what a sales skill looks like, and re-relating like, “You’re negotiating with your teenagers. That’s harder than negotiating with the CEO half the time. You’re good. You’ve got these skills.” We are getting those women into jobs because you have a lot of women that find themselves single that can’t support their kids.

We had one woman that came up to us in our last summit. She said, “When I first came here, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I found myself single and I have four kids. I was working a minimum wage job. I was like, ‘I didn’t even know how I was going to take care of my kids.’ You guys encouraged me to get into sales. I made $150,000 this year while taking care of my kids.” It was amazing to see the change and what she recognized she was capable of. Those are the things that you’ll see us being more of a national with a localized feel and also be supportive of women that are in the business. Women that are even maybe sales engineers, women that are marketing, and women that are related to sales being involved in and being a little bit more inclusive into bigger groups. Hopefully, we have a lot more men that join us and we work through building a better community for everyone.

Lanette, that story that you related to the woman who went from minimum wage to $150,000 in one year because of sales and her obvious skillset, I’m sure she had a lot of natural ability, probably peppered with some great skills training. That is such a story about how sales can lift you out of either poverty or out of what you might consider a dead-end job. I don’t know any other function within a company that can do it as fast as a sales position if you know how to be good at it. It is something all of us should be proud of who are in this industry.

It’s true. You can work hard to get a 5% raise every year or you can go into sales. You can get paid for what you do and have that control. It’s a great career for anybody.

“Paid for what you do, paid for what you’re worth.” You were talking about your mentors. I had probably 3 or 4 mentors. I know the people that you work with at Lucid who you report to have been supportive of your efforts in Women in Sales. Here’s a dichotomy. I want you to talk about and help us understand this a little bit from your perspective. Probably in your past, some of those mentors were male. Probably some of the people at Lucid that supports your efforts and bless your efforts in Women in Sales are men.

They’ve been supportive, helpful and encouraging. They see your worth and value and they want to make sure more people have access to it. At the same time, we have perhaps a system that’s redundant, but we have a system that perhaps feels like it suppresses women from achieving their full potential and giving all that they can to business and other ventures. How should we interpret that dichotomy? You have some male mentors who’ve been impactful, but you’ve got a system that’s largely run by males that seems to be suppressive. How do you weigh that in your mind?

That’s the question of the day, how do you deal with that? It is hard because it still feels this way. For example, if you’re in a meeting with a client and you’ve got 3 or 4 men and a woman, the men are entitled to be there and the woman has to earn the respect and the right to be there. She doesn’t earn that right until she speaks to prove her ability, where the men are naturally assumed to be the ones that are in charge. They’re running it. I’ve been in a lot of meetings where I am leading the meeting and I have my team there, which could be customer support, sales engineers and people don’t even realize this. It’s an unconscious bias.

Listening isn't always silence. Listening is understanding. Click To Tweet

We hear that a lot these days, but men naturally go to the man thinking and assuming that they’re the ones that are in charge. It’s just the way it is. We find that even in leadership. A lot of times, because we have many men that are leading, there’s a little bit of, “Do I dare trust a woman?” If she stands up, she’s classified as either too much or not enough. There’s just not this, “We are entitled to be there as much as a man.” There’s a lot of proving yourself as a woman to get to that point where it becomes difficult. It’s hard because then men are also judging you on how does this woman fit into what is success and success for years has been measured off of what men do.

This is what makes it a successful executive and it’s these skills and these talents. Unfortunately, women have different skills and talents that don’t always measure up to that. I think there’s a lot of reason there why women don’t get selected for these leadership positions. If you did a blind interview, you looked at the skills and you didn’t know if it was a man or a woman, the tendency is a lot higher for women to be selected. There are some unconscious biases that we all have to realize that we have and work to get over.

I think it’s getting better, but I still think that a woman wants to be there because she’s qualified, not because she’s a woman. She wants to be picked because she is the right fit, but it is a little hard when you don’t have women in leadership making those choices. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s getting better. It will continue to get better, but the more men are becoming aware of it, the more men are supportive. A lot of my mentors have been men and when they become aware of the situation, it’s surprising to them as well. It’s timing. I think continuing to work together and try to bridge that gap. Hopefully, we can get more women into leadership soon.

Lanette, I appreciate that your tone and your temperament is not accusatory. It’s not a human stink. You’re keeping us down, but rather you understand that there may be a huge blind spot that men have when it comes to women in a business setting. When I was a young salesperson, I went to a large privately held company that was started by a man and wife team. By the time I visited them, the company was nearly 50 years old. They were the patriarch and the matriarch of this private company. They had about 1,500 employees. They were a worldwide brand in their particular space. I was able to make a sales call to both of them. I was able to bypass the president and the CEO of the company and go to them because they were basically co-chairs of the board, etc.

As a young salesperson, I’d heard all these stories about how the man had invented this product in his garage back in the 1960s. It took off and that’s what launched their business. Naturally, I thought he must be the final say in this business. As I’m sitting in their office together, the three of us, I’m primarily pointing all of my comments and my glances his way. I then finally went to ask, “Let’s do business.” As soon as my presentation was completed, they’re sitting next to each other. He didn’t say a word. He just pointed to his wife and looked at me like, “You don’t get it. You don’t understand. She is one you need to be talking to.” What I later learned is that when it comes to business affairs and business decisions, it was all her. She was the sales and marketing brains behind this beam of the company within their space. He was on the technical side. He was on the operation side.

What I bring to the table is more on the sales and marketing, the service that we provide. I feel stupid, but I was corrected in a very nice way. She, like you, was gentle with me. She could have beat me up, but she didn’t do that. She helped me understand that in their business, it’s different than what the preconception I came in with. I learned a lesson that day. Hopefully, I continue to remind myself of that because you make a great point. It’s because you walked into a room, if you’re the outsider and there are 3 or 4 members of a team from the same organization and one of them is female, to assume that she’s not the decision-maker is a deadly mistake. You’ve got to chastise me any further or did I beat myself up?

I think about where she would have been and that probably has happened to her multiple times every day. It’s great that she was gracious about that. We have to understand that it’s the way things are, but we don’t have to continue to have them be that way. When you have moments like that and you realize, “We all go through those moments at some point in our career.” When you can do, embrace, learn, and grow from that and then realize, “I have to think of this a little different.” That’s a huge moment. I’m glad you went through that. Congratulations and you did well.

I told my audience what a doofus I was, but I also appreciate another attribute that you and she both shared is humility. In order to accept my flaws and not beat me up over them, you have to have a sense of humility and compassion and you use the word gracious. Those are great descriptors of successful women in business. At least the ones that I like to do business with and I’d say the same thing about men. Speaking of that, why are women good in sales?

GFEP 6 | Women In Sales

Women In Sales: Men are successful in sales. They’ve been doing it for years. But women have a higher percentage of closing and they close faster.

 

Over the years, I’ve thought and we’ve talked about it a lot. There are a couple of attributes that make women good and natural for a sales position. A lot of men have the same talents and everything. I’m not saying that men and women have different talents, but there are some that women have maybe a little bit more innately that make them different, but yet still feel successful. One of them is the ability to listen. That’s a key factor. One of the things that we do in sales is to go through discovery. It isn’t just to get from point A to B and find out a couple of things. Discovery is to listen and understand your customer.

If you’re listening so that you can get to the next comment that you’re going to make or you’re listening because you’re like, “I’m waiting for you to stop talking so I can talk,” you’re not listening to anything they’re saying. Sometimes, you’ll hear 1 or 2 things and you think that that’s the answer. It’s like, “I’ve got my answer. I know what it is.” You’ve scratched the surface. Listening to understand where someone’s coming from is when you get into the deeper part of the real need. That’s how you find where you can be helpful for a company and an individual. It is intrinsic. Listening is deep listening. It’s listening to understand. Everybody’s got this trust bubble around them and sales reps come in all the time, they bounce right off that trust bubble, but when you show someone that you care and your intent is sincere and you do want to help them, you get inside that trust level. That all comes from active listening. That’s one thing.

I want to challenge you a little bit on that. Not because I think you’re wrong, but because I’m trying to better understand. When I observe a group of women in a social setting, I know that’s different than doing business, it seems to me like sometimes they’re constantly talking over each other. They might say, “We’re finishing each other’s sentences because we understand each other. That’s our way of expressing, understanding, and empathy.” Usually, on the opposite side, when I’m looking at a group of men in a social setting, I don’t see that interruption as much.

Yet, in a business setting, almost the opposite happens and that women, to your point, are good listeners when you’re sitting across the desk of the conference table from them. Whereas men may be quiet while the other person is talking, but men are already coming up with their solution. They already know, “I am going to pitch this to you. You go keep dogging for the next minutes and I know what I’m going to say to you when you’re done.” Would you agree with me though, that sometimes in a social setting women are overlapping each other? It seems like they are listening, but it is not taking place.

Yes and I’m glad you brought that up because listening isn’t always silence. Listening is understanding. Sometimes, when women do that and they’re chattering like that, it’s because that’s when you’re connecting and you then hear them talking and finishing each other sentences, but that is validating. That is like, “I get it.” The other women are like, “She gets it.” When I say listening, it is not always with the ears, it’s with the heart. It is with understanding. Sometimes that is talking because you’re listening. “When I’m talking, that doesn’t mean I’m not listening. It means I am intrigued and I want to learn more, tell me more.”

That’s helpful. What other traits or attributes to women have that make them good in sales?

Another one I always say is emotional intelligence. That’s something that I’ve had in my back pocket for years. It’s finally got a name to it, which is emotional intelligence. When you’re talking with someone, a lot of times it’s been called woman’s intuition, a mother’s instinct. I read a study one time where it said it was between 7% to 10% of verbal communication. When a message that someone is giving to you, if someone’s telling you something, 7% to 10% of those messages are verbal and the other percentage is in actions, the way they’re looking, their body language and their pauses and intonations in their voice. An easy way to see what I’m saying there is let’s say I have two kids.

They can tell me the same exact sentence like, “I want to go over to my friends. I wanted to do this and this and this, whatever it is.” They can say the exact same words and one will be like, “That sounds great.” The other one is like, “What’s going on here? Tell me more about this.” Yet, they said the exact same words, but because you’re watching the actual part of the language and the emotions and what’s happening, there’s more behind the story. Emotional intelligence is to be able to pick up on those cues to be able to know, “Am I boring to this person? Is this person rattling off something to get to the end of this conversation so we can be done? Is this person not wanting to dig into it because they think I’m going to get this one answer and then be gone and they’re not sure that I’m sincere enough to want to help them?”

You can tell when you have that emotional intelligence. Men have this too, but women strongly lean on this in their interactions and connecting with people. It’s being able to understand what’s behind the words and the messaging. It helps you to know more about where you can be helpful in what you can do and we need to be aware. Sometimes, if a customer goes quiet and silent, if you’ve been talking with them, you may know what’s going on because you’re like, “This is not going the right direction.” Sometimes if you’re not paying attention to that, you’re like, “I don’t get it. He’s not answering my calls.” I think that’s a big thing that women bring to the table that makes them successful.

When customers get it, they buy it. Sales can be as simple as that. Click To Tweet

Does that mean that we need a meeting with a woman in a sales situation that I should be concerned that she’s reading right through me?

You should be concerned about that anytime. I think that men have it too. There’s been a lot of great sales coaches and trainers that talk about that. It’s a viable thing. Women have it a little bit, maybe more naturally because men are focused on different things than women are focused on. Women are a little bit more emotional and more in touch with those emotions, which a lot of times have been perceived as a weakness and it’s not. That is probably one of our strongest powers is our emotion. Men have sometimes a little hard time being in touch with those emotions if they have them and when they can open up and become more in touch with that part of them, they have that same ability. That’s different. We are more emotional than men are and we express that a little bit more open. It’s a little more natural for us. I hate to say that for one way or the other, but it’s the way it is.

Beyond what you’ve shared with us, is there anything else in your observation through your career that you think men definitely should learn from women when they are in the sales or any executive position? Is there something that if we would get this one thing, we, as men, could be more successful and more influential?

The biggest thing that I coach men on whenever I get the opportunity to work with them, specifically in sales, is to understand more, to be more in touch with your customer. There’s so much training in this. Find out what the problem is, three levels of why. Dig down where’s their pain. Those are a lot of words unless there’s feeling behind that and an actual sincere desire to do that. If you’re doing it because you want to find these keywords, you’re not connecting with your customer. You’ll get the job done. Men are successful in sales. They’ve been doing it for years, but women close higher. They have a higher percentage of closing and they close faster. There are many times where we’ll get to the end of a quarter and there’s a deal that’s not coming through and a man will reach out. It’s a little different where most of the time, I have one of the high C-level people’s cell phone and I’ll text them because we’ve built that connection out of sincerity.

I want to know where your pain is because I want to help, not so that I can go back and say, “Here’s my solution to that. Here’s what I do.” You have this canned message and everybody has to see through what everybody else is trying to say. When you have that sincere connection with people and they feel it, and that trust is built, you can go a long way. That’s one of the main factors that could help men if you’re going to try and be a little bit more like a woman.

This question may sound like I’m being too strategic. By the way, we should pause and admit that we all tend to overgeneralize like, “Men are this way. Women are that way.” I’m not saying you’re guilty of this. I’m saying generally speaking, especially when we have these conversations, it’s easy to categorize. We hope that our audience knows that that’s not your intent. That’s not my intent, but with the little time that we have here, we can’t dissect every single individual that we’ve ever talked to, worked with or sold to. We’re speaking in some generalities, but one of those generalities that I’m curious about is if I have on my team, where in the sales process, is she going to be my ringer? I’ve got a team of six. I’ve got sales, service, client success, a developer, more on the technical side and the list of team members go on. If you have to assign each of them one task, speaking in generalities, “This is where you should assign them?”

If you were going to assign a woman and you were only going to give her one task, I believe that would be building that strong relationship with customers. That’s the best strength. When you have that strong relationship, closing and maintaining a customer is easier. All the other steps are easier once you have that. Men and women are both equally good at this. You need men and women in all stages, but that’s probably one where if I had a multimillion-dollar deal and I had to pick four people and it could only do one thing, I’d probably put the woman in a relationship.

It’s an unfair question, but you gave a fair answer.

GFEP 6 | Women In Sales

Women In Sales: Women don’t tend to be as vocal or speak out. That’s something they can learn from men.

 

It’s hard. I agree with you on the biases and stuff. I don’t want to come across like, “Men do this and women do this.” I’ve been trying to speak in generalities because I don’t believe that at all. I believe we’re all equally good. We do some things differently and they’re both right. There’s nothing wrong or right. It’s different.

I want to talk about the difference between a transactional sale and an enterprise sale. I’m using those terms for my sake. A transactional is maybe an inside salesperson. They receive inbound inquiries and they’re expected after 10 to 15 minutes to get the order. Literally, it’s a fifteen-minute sales cycle on enterprise sales or SaaS you sold throughout your career. It could be an 8, 12, 15, or 16-month period, maybe longer. What are some of the characteristics that generally speaking, you’re finding that women have that make them effective in each of those two types of sales, the transactional and the longer-term enterprise sale?

In the transactional sale, women are going to lean on their teaching ability to take a complicated process. Make it simple and understandable because you don’t have a lot of time. You can’t spend months on this, but someone needs to get this fast. Women have a strong ability to take a complicated process, simplify it and make it understandable. That’s where women can win in transactional type sales. When customers get it, they buy it. It’s simple. In the long process of sales, women cannot only build the relationship but also expand that relationship out to many people in the organization. When you’re working on an enterprise deal, there are a lot of people involved in that, not just the one person you’re talking to across different divisions, in the company, people that are above and below this person you’re working with.

You have multiple people that you’re going to be needing to pull in and build a relationship with, build that trust with, and help them to understand. Your teaching and talents go well there but paint the picture upfront early so that we all know where we’re not doing this 8 to 12-month process so that we can hang out, be buddies at the end, and we’re going to close a deal. That’s going to help you and to guide them and continually keep on top of that, keep that forefront in their minds, and bring everybody in together. You have a group of people. This is a team. There’s a whole bunch of you from your side. There are a few of us from our side. We’re doing this as a team and we’re going to make this happen. They rally the troops type of thing and clear vision. Those are some of the things that women do well at the enterprise level.

Let’s turn the tables a little bit. What should women learn from men about selling?

Everything we learn about sales starts from men because they’ve been doing it successfully and the majority of the sales reps are men. We’ve learned a lot from men. I think what women can learn from men more is maybe not even so much in sales, but in the office. When you’re working with your sales team, we’ll be in groups where there are few of us and men are never afraid to speak out, say their mind, and throw their opinion out. They don’t care. If you say that’s a dumb idea, women feel like, “I have already seen as not enough. I’m weaker. If I say something stupid, then they’re going to think I’m bad.”

Women don’t tend to be as vocal or speak out. We can learn that from men. We need to speak up. We need to let our voices be heard and our opinions matter. We need to be part of that conversation, be part of the team, and be more vocal. That’s something that we can learn from and a lot, especially in the workplace. I hate to say this, but because I don’t know how to explain it in a short period of time, maybe understanding our emotions a little bit more. Our emotions aren’t weaknesses. Our emotions are our strengths, but there are times when you get frustrated and angry. Sometimes, even to the point of almost raged in the office and men will handle that with maybe some aggression or some yelling, and that’s not always something to do, but women then end up getting emotional. I’ve cried in the office and I’ll admit it.

I get mad at myself afterward. It’s like, “Why can’t I control that?” There’s a happy medium where we all learned to handle our emotions a little bit better in the office. Maybe you realize taking a lesson from men that it’s not a personal attack. Maybe sometimes, it always feels that way a little bit. That’s probably letting things roll off your back a little bit more. This is generalized, but what brings me to that point where I cry? It is because that’s the worst thing I do in the office and it’s rare. I’ve never cried with a difficult negotiation with the customer ever, but it’s more because I have an emotional connection with my coworkers and my bosses. I’m passionate about my job. When something comes at me that’s wrong, offensive, or not fair, it pushes that emotion and the emotional trigger for a man and a woman are different. How can I address that in an earlier stage so that I don’t get to that point? How do men let that roll off their back? That is something that would be nice to learn. I think we could learn that from them a little bit.

That is such a fascinating topic that probably requires a whole new interview over that. However, if women believe by showing emotion, they’re showing weakness, that’s not the way I view it as a man. I don’t see it as a weakness. In fact, sometimes, if I’m a “typical man,” I might think that the woman is showing emotion. At home, when a woman shows emotion, the man might think, “This conversation is over. She wins. I’m going to walk away.” When a man sees that in the office, he might think the same thing. This is the last chip that she’s playing to win this argument. I’m supposed to throw my hands up in the air and say that she’s right, but I don’t think that’s what the woman’s intent is. It’s not to win an argument. As you have said, she’s vested in the relationship. She may be frustrated that she doesn’t know how to communicate what she’s thinking or because she feels the other person is not listening.

Being around people who are different from you is what makes you grow. That’s how you become stronger. Click To Tweet

All these other things could be happening, but I would not mind it if a woman is emotional. I think it would be also appropriate and helpful if she explained to me, “I’m not getting emotional because I’m trying to win through tears. I’m simply getting emotional because it’s the way I made. I know that my emotion and my strong feelings about this issue are no greater than yours. It’s that this is how it comes out. In you, it might come out by yelling or pounding your fist on the desk. With me, it happens to come out through my eyeballs.” It’s just an honest expression. If I heard that, I would not think that she’s trying to manipulate me. I would understand that we’re made differently. Am I understanding this?

You’re right because when a woman gets to that point, she is heavily invested that it’s not time to quit. It’s time to maybe realize it, “We need to take this down or not so we can finish talking about this.” It’s not becoming such a hot emotional topic and it becomes more of a, “Let’s bring this back down, but we need to continue talking through this because there’s nothing worse than just walking away.” Now she’s like, “He doesn’t even think of me as a reasonable person. I’m this idiot that cried in the office.” If you ask women what’s the worst thing to do in the office, you probably hear that more than anything is crying in the office.

That’s the thing that we hate the most, but if a man picked something up and threw it across a wall, you would know how emotionally invested he is in this and how we need to bring this down, but we need to continue to talk to. I’m not saying that women are doing that, but it’s a real strong reaction, an emotional reaction because we’re so invested in what we’re talking about at the moment. We do need to continue that conversation. Maybe take a drink and calm it back down, but then continue the conversation. Maybe that’s something that we’ll work through. I don’t know what the answer is on that one, but we can certainly learn a little bit more about resolving things inside the office that way.

It feels to me, it’s about communicating. It’s about helping the other person understand what the genesis of that emotion is. As a man to do the same thing, he throws a temper tantrum if he starts eating, smashing things. We’ve all had that stereotype of a man boss, who you don’t want to go into his office and have him shut the door. Once you start to hear him yelling, you’re in trouble and we’re all going to have a bad day that day. That’s his way of expressing emotions, but not the right way of doing it. If both men and women could be more communicative about what’s behind the emotion. I would say to you, take it for what it’s worth. I’m one guy, but I do not see crying in the office as a weakness. I see it as a strength because of that connection that that person has to our common goal.

They feel passionate about it and they’re serious about it. She may need to remind her boss of that point. Let me ask you out a related question. We may have some women, young women in particular, who are troubled by the environment in their office now or they have a boss, a manager that they don’t feel they’re connecting with. Let’s say the chances are that boss is a man. What is the best way for a young female professional to approach an older male manager when you have that dynamic going on?

That is a hard one. I’ve had many of those situations myself and it is a difficult one to know how to do, but the best thing to do is to say, “I would like to have some time to talk. If you could get me on your schedule, let’s go somewhere where we can talk privately. You don’t want to have it on the floor. You don’t want to have it in front of a bunch of people.” Whether he’s open to it or not, you need to tell him, “When you do this, or when you say this, it makes me feel this way. It takes away from my ability to do what I do best. It stops me from performing at 100%. I would like to talk about how we could work through this because you want me to be at my best and I want to be at my best. This type of interaction between us shuts me down. I want you to know that I do want to succeed. Can we talk about ways that we could work through some of this?”

It’s hard, especially if you’re junior and the man is senior, but I honestly believe that the majority of men would realize like, “I didn’t realize it. You’re right.” The guys that they talk to, oftentimes, aren’t as emotional. Even though they are still hurt and they’re still beat down, maybe it’s not as obvious. They’ll go home and have that time where they’re like, “I’m the worst. I’m terrible. I can’t believe it,” but a woman is going to feel that a little bit more at the moment. Having that conversation not only benefits the women on the team, but also the men because that type of personality is doing it to everyone. Making them aware and maybe working together to get through this is great.

If you’re dealing with someone that is not accepting this, sometimes in those situations, you need to go to an advocate inside the company. There’s got to be someone else that is maybe in management or oftentimes, I hate to run to HR because I don’t want to always be thinking all the first thing you do is run to HR. You try to work things out. You try to understand where you can support each other and work together. There are those times when you’ll get a boss that’s not receptive to that at all. At that point in time, you do have to find another advocate within the company. People quit their bosses most of the time, not their jobs. It’s important for bosses to remember that we need to work together and support the different personality types, different lifestyles, different people, emotions, thoughts, feelings and recognize that we want to be supportive, not destructive.

Lanette, that’s great and wise advice. Is it any different in your advice if the scenario was a female junior executive with a female senior executive that they’re not connecting with? Is it the same advice that you would give in that scenario?

GFEP 6 | Women In Sales

Women In Sales: It’s important for bosses to remember that we need to work together and recognize that we want to be supportive, not destructive.

 

It is the same advice. It isn’t a man or a woman being in that position. If the man or the woman on the receiving end of that, but it’s a personality type in there and a management style. Whether it’s a man or a woman, you still have that same conversation. It makes you stronger and better, especially as a woman to take the lead in the speakers. This is where you step up and you become a leader. It’s scary and it’s hard, but these are the steps that you take that make you grow and make it better for everybody else.

Women don’t think about stuff sometimes so as men. It’s not all the women managers are great and all the men are terrible. You have great managers that are both men and women. There are times when you have conflict and then you also need to maybe ask what else you could do to help improve, what are your recommendations, but you have to be open to those things and address it. Don’t let it go on, fester and get worse because what’s going to happen is you’re going to quit or you’re going to get fired. If you address it early, it’s better for everybody.

What I’m hearing in this conversation is the idea that has been proven that for a team to be successful, you need to have diverse opinions, skills, backgrounds, and personalities. It’s true in sports. In basketball, we have the starting five. Each of them has a distinct role. In a sales team, it’s the same way. If you have a bunch of clones of the boss, you’re probably going to miss a large part of your market because not everyone is going to relate to the boss and his or her style. Populating your team with that diversity of thought, background, temperament and skillset, sounds like the way to go. I’m pleading with those who are in positions of responsibility, who make these hiring decisions.

When we talk about diversity, it’s not to be a politically correct term and to say that we can check our corporate social responsibility box, but it’s because it makes us better. It makes us a more well-rounded team. Hearing you speak, I hope that more people see that we need to get women in sales because it’s good for them. It’s good for their families. It’s good for our customers and clients. It’s good for our own organization. I’m going to give you the final word on that. Do you have any last thoughts or advice you would give us?

I believe in what you’re saying. Don’t try to get a diverse team because they’re diverse. Open up and realize that there’s a lot of skill and talent that doesn’t do cookie-cutter as you do. There are a lot of different ways to be successful. There’s not just one right and one wrong. There are some proven solid facts that do resonate consistently. There are some true sales skills and talents that have to be there. There are many different things and many ways of doing things and you’re not going to get that unless you open up and realize that having different people with different thoughts, ideas and backgrounds brings more. It makes all of us grow when we learn from each other.

I don’t want to keep talking with someone that thinks exactly the way I do, that gets boring. I want to learn from people that have different thoughts and then bouncing them around together is how we learn and we pick up, “I like what she said. I like what he thought. Maybe I’ll put these together and this becomes some of my best power.” You only learn that by being around people that are different from you and that’s how we grow. That’s how we become stronger. How we become the best company and the best team is when we are open to that. I’m going to say it over and over again, don’t hire a woman just to hire a woman. We don’t want that. Hire us because we’re the best candidate. That’s why you hire us. You need to look at the women and look for that talent. You need to look outside of people that look like you, think like you, and act like you, whoever you are. There’s more out there and be accepting to all people in all forms of success.

You remind me of this in your last comment about when I received or was hired into my first full-time sales job. Eventually, the boss told me the reason why he hired me is that I was different than everybody else on the team. He thought he was taking a big risk with me and he was. I didn’t know much about this, but because I was bringing something different to the table, it apparently enriched the team and made us better. You’ve opened up my mind a lot with your advice, your counsel and your experience. You have great insights. You’ve also reaffirmed things that I have that I tried to think and live throughout my career. I thank you for that.

We wish you in your role at Lucid Software tremendous success as you continue to build your career, which is as sterling as it is. Also with Women in Sales, the organization that you lead, thank you for having the vision to organize this group. Thank you for being so and congratulations on the influence that you’re having in the local community and nationally. I look forward to associating with you and the organization and all of your members. Thank you, Lanette, for your time.

Thanks for having me. It’s been great and I love having these conversations. Hopefully, anybody that has questions, feel free to reach out to me. I’m always open to meet new people and hear new ideas.

Important Links:

GFEP 5 | Bandon Dunes

 

The patron saint of public golf.” That’s how they describe Mike Keiser, the most prolific and respected golf course developer of the last 20 years. The visionary behind the five courses at Bandon Dunes, Oregon – four of which are listed in the Top 15 public courses in America – with 14 others completed and 10 under development around the world, Mike turns nothingness into gorgeousness. Learn as he explains beating adversity with creativity; outdoor over indoor meetings; testing ideas before rejecting them; the mistake of guessing instead of asking; and the surprising benefit of rivals – all in this wonderfully insightful conversation with Rob Cornilles. As a bonus, we also get some interesting facts and lesson about golf – the real golf.

Watch the episode here:

Mike Keiser | Golf’s Wind Walker

Do you want to know who Donald Trump competed with long before he became president? Meet this episode’s Game Face exec Mike Keiser, the patron saint of public golf. In this episode, you’ll read a rare interview with a man who built and sold one of the top greeting card companies in America then used his wealth to pursue his passion. Lots of people’s passion, developing six of Golfweek magazine’s Top 60 Modern-Day Courses in the US but don’t worry if golf is not your thing. This interview fills anyone’s bag with lessons from an influencer who hasn’t lost his humility and grace. Mike Keiser, golf’s game-changer.

I am thrilled to have my friend which is a label that I’m grateful for. My friend and someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an association with him both publicly and privately. Mike Keiser who’s joined us on Game Face Execs. A name that is well-known throughout the golf world and throughout the sports world for his innovation and creativity. He is truly a transformer and a game-changer. Mike, thanks for joining us.

It’s nice to be with you, Rob.

Mike has been kind enough to join us from his home. We’re grateful for that. Mike, we have had an association for many years now. I’m a little older but you’re still as young as ever. I want to take the audience back to when we first met and talk a little bit about the conditions that brought us together. It was a pleasure to meet you the first time under the conditions that we did. That was back in the State of Oregon where our company, Game Face, was based in the Portland area. I raised my family in the Oregon community. You’re very familiar with the Oregon Coast so we’ll talk about that here. I was serving on a particular board that had a plot of land on the Oregon Coast that was of particular interest to you. Could you tell a little bit about how that story unfolded?

I assume it’s okay to mention that the owner of a big parcel of land was Camp Meriwether which was a Boy Scout summer camp. They had a big section of land right on the ocean that, for various reasons, they never used. They use areas in North, South, and East of it but never this big parcel. Rob and Matt’s idea was if that became a golf course, it would make money to increase the operations and day-to-day outreach of Cub Scouts. They called me to sell me on this site and it was their salesmanship plus visiting the site which is magnificent.

It had about a half a mile of ocean frontage in the Northern Oregon Coast. I immediately saw that their plan was a good plan and spent a lot of time and some money trying to figure out how we would fit eighteen holes which are called a routing on this great site. Sadly, we had a great routing but it included 2 to 3 holes on what turned out to be wetlands. We didn’t have enough space to move it. What went from an exciting fundraising project for the Boy Scouts of America became, not a failure, but we couldn’t make eighteen holes work. It was big enough for fifteen holes but not eighteen holes. My judgment was that fifteen holes wouldn’t do it.

I want to give credit also to Tim Boyle who is the CEO and Chairman of Columbia Sportswear. You were golfing with him at some point in Oregon. Tim has always been a great supporter of Boy Scouts of America, at least in the Northwest. He was the one that thought of introducing you to me. I was the Chairman of that board and Matt Devore was the Chief Scout and CEO of the scouting organization in that area. Tim introduced us and we had a good 1 to 1.5 years run at it, didn’t we, Mike?

It was almost to the point where we’d hired a golf course architect, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They were excited and everyone is crestfallen to find that unbeknownst to us right in the middle of this beautiful site was a wetland and you can’t move wetlands so that did us in.

As we walked that site, that was a unique experience. I would say to my audience who are a lot of them are fans of yours, Mike Keiser. If they have the opportunity to walk a course with you as I did, they would learn so much not only about the game of golf but about the vision that a talented developer like you brings to the game and how you embellished the game in a good way because of that vision. Your connection to Oregon started in the mid-1990s.

I started even more than that. I began buying properties in the late ’80s. I didn’t open Bandon Dunes, the first of now five golf courses until May 1st, 1999. My real involvement with Oregon and the Oregon Coast started in 1999, but I started buying land for it in the late ‘80s.

You gave me the privilege of walking those five courses at Bandon Dunes with you as we were contemplating a transaction upon the Northern Coast of Oregon as you’ve described. You said, “Let’s go down the Bandon. Let’s walk those courses together and I’ll show you how I put together these types of courses.” That was a once in a lifetime experience to walk Bandon Dunes with Mike Keiser.

You're better off with a pathway through the wilderness than braving it on your own. Click To Tweet

I’m glad you had fun, Rob.

I had a ball but I’ve got to tell you, I was tired at the end of the day because you insisted on walking the whole thing.

Remember, it’s a walking sport.

Talk a little bit about that, Mike, because when I pass golf courses in my travels and even in the area where I now live, many people are in carts and some people are enabled to walk but they may have some limitations physically but you always walk courses. Could you tell us a little bit about how that began for you? Is that for you the natural way of golfing?

That is the natural way of golfing. It all starts in Scotland back in the fifteenth century before Columbus discovered America. Scotsman, sheepherders were playing golf in the dunes in the linksland of Northern Scotland. There were no carts and they walked with their shepherd’s crook, hitting stones into small holes and crevasses. That’s how golf started and has continued to this day in Scotland, Ireland and I would include England as well where golf is a walking sport.

America post-World War II discovered the electric and gas-powered golf carts and married that into the game of golf that is played in America. That was a decidedly contrarian choice that American golf made to leave walking only Scotland, Ireland and England going one way, which has preserved its golf as it was meant to be a walking only nature. They introduced golf carts to golf, which in my opinion, has harmed the golf ever since World War II and they began building golf cart courses. A handful of private clubs that have been walking only ever since World War II most caved in to the pressure of the golf cart makers and with the promise of making more money for the pro shops, club-after-club, facility-after-facility went to the electric golf cart. The bane of existence for those who believe that Scotland knows how to play golf.

On those courses that you described, they’re known as links courses. For those who aren’t as familiar with the game of golf, I know that may sound sacrilegious to you that someone would not be as familiar with it as anyone else, but I talk about links courses and what attracts you to that type of course because it is unforgiving and sometimes relentless to golf on such a course as that.

Linksland is what the Scottish shepherds found in Northern Scotland way back when. It was the land that linked the beach which is not arable and is worthless for agriculture. Linksland link the beach with arable pasture land. It was the land between the beach and pasture land. It was poor in quality that nothing agricultural was done on it back in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th centuries. It was simply referred to as the common area, the linksland and because no one owned it, the shepherds could roam around it and make a game of it, which they did. The interesting thing about Bandon Dunes is we found what I would call linksland, beautiful dunes with minimal agricultural characteristics. Since no one wanted it, I was able to buy it for a small amount of money and develop the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on what became 3,000 acres of agriculturally worthless linksland like Scotland.

I remember when we walked the course up on the Northern Coast of Oregon on that land that the Scout’s own, you kept saying to us repeatedly, “There has to be sand here. If there’s no sand, I can’t build the course that I want.” That, along with the natural terrain, made me constantly think about, “This man likes difficult golf.” I’m not a good golfer, Mike. I want it as easy as a course as I can get but there are some life lessons for young people and professionals about tackling the difficult or doing the hard things. You might have some thoughts about that. How the natural terrain of links is like life and business.

It is. I would refute your statement that it’s more difficult. The fact that it’s built on sand dunes doesn’t make it more difficult. What makes it more difficult are the windy days because it’s coastal whether it’s got at Ireland or Oregon. There are days on the coast when the wind whips up. The Scotsman says, “When there’s no wind, there’s no golf,” which is to say the golf is a lot easier when there is no wind. When there is wind, deal with it. In that way, your observation was correct. We walked in on a windy day and you concluded rightly that playing in a 30 mile an hour wind makes golf challenging. Some people rise to the occasion, others cave in and say, “It’s too windy.”

Could I surmise then that good golfers on a windy course not only require skill but they also have to hope for some luck as well?

They need to exercise creativity. An example, if you’re playing a hole into a stiff 30 mile an hour wind, a lot of golfers hit a high ball, high drive or a high three would. The good links players know that if you keep it low to the ground, it will bore through the wind rather than willowy wade blowing off because it’s too high. Using your creativity to come up with ways to deal with a windy golf course is part of the fun challenge of golf and links courses.

GFEP 5 | Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes: Using your creativity to come up with ways to deal with a windy golf course is part of the fun challenge of golf and links courses.

 

Hearing you talk about that, Mike, makes me think of what might be a dichotomy about the game especially the game that you enjoy and promote. That is you go back to the traditional side of golf. You bring us back to the way golf was meant to be played and yet to do that requires tremendous innovation. To be a traditionalist doesn’t mean that you’re uncreative. It means that you have to be more creative in nowadays world than perhaps others. Am I on the right track here?

I would put it this way. Before Bandon Dunes proved the popularity of links golf in America, there wasn’t Scottish-Irish golf in the dunes in America. Those few that I would list are all private clubs on the East Coast where the typical golfer can’t get in or can’t get there, or can’t get on the course. Most of America is golf cart courses or tree-lined fairways, definitely not on the ocean and sand dunes as they are in Scotland and Ireland. That’s the product that is different than what is being sold in America up until Bandon Dunes took some courage to present it to the American golfer and they liked it as much as they do in Scotland and Ireland.

I would think that your readers would enjoy hearing that it’s always good to have a model. If you know where you’re going and it’s going to look roughly like this to have a target or a model that you’re seeking. I had a model in the form of the links courses in Scotland. Royal Dornoch up in the Scottish Highlands in particular was my favorite model because it’s extremely remote like Bandon Dunes. Every day, all summer, tour buses full of American golfers rolled in and out, and they went to play golf in this magnificent golf course called Royal Dornoch. That was my model. Figuring if tour buses would come to Northern Scotland, it would go to Southern Oregon.

You talk about a model, Mike. I’ve always thought that you had an unusual vision. Are you suggesting that visions have to come from somewhere or something?

The cardinal rule, but in general, if you can have a model of where you want to go, you will be better served. It’s basically a pathway. You’re better with a pathway through the wilderness than braving it on your own. You give me too much credit. I had a model. I played it numerous times, watched it and it was Royal Dornoch.

When I have a vision or a model of that, which I’m trying to either replicate or create with my twist. Can you describe for us a little bit about how that process works, at least for you? In your successful career, seeing something as one thing but executing on it and making it a reality is completely another ball game. How does one successfully go about it as you’ve done over the years?

If you don’t have a model, you’ll flail away. As I’ve already said, I had a model, Royal Dornoch. To make the business case for that, is I said to anyone who would listen like friends, family or business, “I want to build something like Royal Dornoch in the United States.” I picked the State of Oregon as having fabulous beaches and linksland. I’d like to go there. Even though that’s remote for most people from New York City, Atlanta, etc., I think that like Royal Dornoch, they will come. I made the case which to me was worth trying.

Frankly, Rob, almost no one thought it was a good idea. They all said, “That’s an interesting vision you have, Mike, but there’s no way we’ll finance it. There’s no way we’ll go see it. There’s no way it will work. It is simply too remote.” Forgetting that I made a big point of Royal Dornoch is at least as remote in the Highlands of Scotland as the Southern Coast of Oregon. That didn’t matter. I was presenting a different product.

My model was different than what people were used to because it was different. They said, “We won’t finance nor support it. We think you’re crazy.” If you find yourself in that situation, you need financing to do it on your own whether it’s bank financing, private equity, venture capital or your own money. It comes down to who’s going to take the risk. It’s the “visionary” who may not have this great vision but able to come up with the funding to get it started, at least.

I want to share with the audience something that David McLay-Kidd said and he was your first architect at Bandon Dunes. I know that he worked with you on other courses including Sand Valley in Wisconsin. Let me share with everyone what he said about you. He said, “Mike has an ability to draw out of people much more than they thought they were capable of or more than they were capable of.” I respect the fact that you have to get finance and you have to go sell the bank or the private equity firm, or what have you. Whether it’s the financers or an architect who perhaps has never been to the State of Oregon who doesn’t even know how to find it or your family and friends. How do you go about communicating, Mike? How do you draw out of people either that is dormant in them or they don’t even have now, but through your communication, your expression of vision, they want to follow you?

The only thing I can lay claim to was knowing that American golf architects were by and large illiterate when it came to links golf. Early on, I decided I wouldn’t try to convince Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, or Jack Nicklaus what a links course is. I decided to use someone who knew links courses and there are not many people in the world at that time who knew much about links courses. Up came David Kidd and his brother Jimmy and they said, “We’ve heard you want to build links courses. We don’t think it’s that crazy. We work at Gleneagles Golf Resort in Scotland. We summer every year at Machrihanish. We know what a links course is. We are your man.” I hired them as visionaries to join me because there was no one else who knew enough about golf to do it. It turned out they were brilliant. I don’t think they knew at that time what a good site it was. They certainly didn’t know what a good job they would do with input from me and others as they developed it.

Don't talk about your accomplishments. Prove yourself by doing them and let others talk about their success. Click To Tweet

If someone has met you or perhaps watched an interview with you, they wouldn’t know but Mike Keiser is not a bombastic fiery pound-on-the-desk type of leader. If you’ll excuse the description, you’re a gentle giant in our industry. Your demeanor, when I first met you in the years that I’ve known you, has always been one of your greatest qualities. I’m hearing from you that persuasion and influencing of another person or parties is not about being the most vociferous person perhaps in the room or the person who is getting people to submit to your will. There has to be some gentle persuasion along the way. Has that always been your nature or have you learned that’s the best way to operate your business?

I would say it’s always been part of the atmosphere because my three brothers and I picked that up from my dad who was above all else matters. He was a World War II pilot war hero. He went to the Navy Cross. He never bragged about it nor talked about it. We learned from him that you don’t talk about your accomplishments, you prove yourself by doing them and let others talk about their success. You never tout and engage in braggadocio and loudness. You lead the way and let others notice that it’s a good path. I owe all of that to my dad. You’re right to pick that out as a characteristic of great leadership or even good leadership, modesty is a big factor.

It seems so much in short supply now. We’re in a business culture where it seems like we are encouraged to constantly toot our horn whether it’s through social media or other types of media. It’s about, “Look at me, see what I’ve done, see what I’m eating for lunch now. Aren’t I great?” Is that difficult for you to watch? Do you not pay much attention to that type of personality?

I ignore that kind of personality. I try to ignore those people who are bombastic and egotistical. I keep noticing that many successful business people are low-key even when they talk about themselves. I’m thinking of Charles Schwab who grew up at Madison. He’s a great golfer having been a caddie. You can even talk about my vision because he does and talking about Charles Schwab and why it makes sense to work with him. Even when he’s talking about himself, he does so in a modest way. Accomplishments speak louder than egotistical statements. There are a lot of people who follow your correct system that people keep a low profile and that your deeds speak for you.

That is a struggle that I’m going to say nowaday’s generation of business leaders or up-and-coming business leaders have because in this world of social media and everyone knows what everyone else is doing 24/7. It’s almost a voyeuristic world that we live in. The persona that you carry and the style that you’re known for is refreshing. I don’t want to say it’s old school. I wish it would become more prevalent now.

It is old school. I don’t know where my dad got it but I know he felt that a Rockefeller was much maligned for the wrong reasons. He was very church-going. My dad used Rockefeller as an example of dutiful tithing and that was part of the old school that we saved 10% of what you made and you gave at least 10% away to those who were needing which is part and parcel to that old-fashioned lead by example, not by your mouth.

You and I have spent a lot of time together when you have talked about your father. We met because of our mutual affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America. Your father was a big scouter if I’m not mistaken.

You’re right to recollect. He was an Eagle Scout and was dismayed when his sons, led by me as the oldest son, did not follow him. We began Boy Scouts but we didn’t have the gumption to go ahead and get our Eagle Scout Badge. I was one of many disappointments.

I’m like you, Mike. I joined scouting as a youth. I did not finish it but I do have three sons and I’m proud to say that all three of them became Eagle Scouts.

They must’ve had a good dad.

They have a good mom. That’s the key.

It’s good going. Three for three is good.

GFEP 5 | Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes: Accomplishments speak louder than egotistical statements.

 

Mike, about your youth. You were a caddie when you were young. Being a golf caddie taught you a lot of important lessons that you have since passed on to younger generations. We’d love to know more about how being a golf caddie shaped your character? Why do you feel it’s important that young people perhaps look into that? How have you created avenues for them to take advantage of those opportunities?

Rob, caddying is all about making money while carrying a bag. My fruitful years were 10 to 14. At ages 10 through 14, all young people have no idea about their abilities. I quickly learned that in caddying, you’re selling yourself. The proposition is this. I’m assigned to someone like Rob for eighteen holes but the only way I can get Rob to reuse me the next time he plays golf is to do a good job. Kids, both sales guys and not sales guys have to learn that or they’re the ones who no one ever chooses to be a caddie. The basic, “Here I am. I’m ten. I’m with this adult who I’ve never met for four hours. How do I get that adult to say, ‘Are you available on Thursday because I’d like you to caddie for me again?’” That was the sales proposition for all these young people at East Aurora Country Club and every other club throughout the world. We caddie at an early age. It’s about selling yourself.

Thus your disdain for golf carts because it’s difficult to use a caddie when you’ve got a cart instead, isn’t it?

It is.

I think about the time spent between a young boy or young girl and that golfer and the minimal but impactful mentoring that can take place during that time. I’m sure you have seen golfers who lend good advice to caddies. It’s almost free advice. The caddie is getting paid to take that advice and to have that one-on-one is a remarkable experience.

My worst experience caddying was my best learning experience. When I was twelve, the Champion of East Aurora Country Club, Bud Dow, decided he would use me. He had heard good things from other people and said, “Mike, I’ve never used you before. You can caddie for me.” We took eight holes to get used to each other and on hole number nine, for the first time, he said, “Mike, you’ve been watching me, what should I hit?” He was 150 yards from the ninth green after his good drive. I had no idea. I knew that I should have an idea because I’d been with him for eight holes but I had no real good idea what Bud Dow should hit from 150 yards. I said, “4 or 5-iron.”

I said that because that’s what I would have hit. He looked at me and said, “Give me the eight.” He hit an 8-iron 8 feet away and never used me as a caddie again. His advice after he hit his eight-iron to the green and it works in all situations to this day was, “If you don’t know, don’t guess.” I’ve asked that of employees throughout my business career. One of the great signs of a good employee in a future good manager is when you don’t know, ask. Don’t guess. Bud Dow taught me that with one 8-iron.

That’s a great story. There are many applications in all aspects of life.

That’s the tendency for most people. They say, “I guess it’s a 4-iron because that’s what I would do.” “I’m not you. I’m Bud Dow. I’m the champion. I hit it a lot farther and you should have known that. If you didn’t know that, you should have turned it back to me and said, I don’t know.”

My grandfather who lived to be almost 102 years old said to me that the three most powerful words in business sometimes are simply, “I don’t know.”

It’s Cardinal Rule number one. It’s your willingness to say, I don’t know.

A past success finances the next vision. Click To Tweet

That position of being a caddie had a great impact on your life. You’ve created opportunities for more young people to have that experience. Can you share with the audience a little bit about how you’ve made that a reality for so many kids?

It’s as simple as having five golf courses in Bandon and other courses elsewhere. We don’t have carts. We are walking only because most of our golfers are eager not to carry their own bag but to employ someone. We have tens of thousands per year rounds that need caddies. At Bandon Dunes, we have 350 caddies. Many of whom are kids and many of whom win scholarships to go to college. It’s called the Chick Evans Scholarship Foundation. There are 1,200 kids in college with a full ride.

Mike, we talked about Bandon. I want to get into a little bit of the granularity of how that project became a reality because as I say, I’m a native Oregonian. As one who grew up in the northern part of the state and the Portland area, Coos Bay which is the largest semi-big city, close to Bandon Dunes growing up, and nobody went to Coos Bay. You only went there if you were raised there. It was not a destination spot. Granted in the late ‘80s and ’90s, I was no longer a child but I can understand people’s puzzlement and dismay when they heard from you that you wanted to go to that part of Oregon and build a world-famous golf resort. There had to be pushback even locally as well because you were a disruptor. You had some opposition as you and I experienced in Northern Oregon when we try to drive that project on that scouting property. Can you share with us a little bit more about the opposition that you faced and what it took to overcome it?

There are two types of opposition, the harder to overcome where the environmentalist is saying this is precious even though no one even knows it’s there, “This is too precious to build a golf course, you can’t.” There’s the environmental push back which was significant. It took years for my partner at that time and master architect, Howard McKee, to reason and horse trade with the environmental group. The other source of negativity with all the locals who shook their head and said, “If you want to do a foolish thing, Mike, go out there and spend $15 million building a golf course because no one ever comes here to Bandon much less to play golf. It’s windy. Who would come?”

I remember with that group, I’d already passed that bridge with the model of Royal Dornoch. None of them had ever heard of Royal Dornoch. The best I could get from them is you’re wrong. There are enough examples in Scotland and Ireland that people will drive ten hours from San Francisco or five hours from Portland to play a links golf course. They shook their heads and said in their body language, “You have to be an idiot if you think that’s true.” The environmentalists were a harder opposition group but I’d say the casual naysayers who were all over the board in terms of friends, financiers, bankers, etc., were uniform in their skepticism that that made any sense whatsoever. In a way, they were bigger critics from the environmental groups.

Mike, every salesperson faces opposition, objections as we call it. You can either walk away and say, “This is too hard. The objections are too great, too high. That hurdle is too high to get over,” or you can patiently work through it and you did the latter. Was your appetite and desire to build this course because you knew it was a moneymaker or because it would be the preeminent course in the United States? Some might argue broader than that. What was it that continued to drive you forward to work with these individuals and how did you work with them?

Rob, this is not your perfect answer but it is true. I went forward because I had the money in hand which I could lose without going bankrupt to build the resort. I’d been dependent on other financial sources. I assume that I have no money. I couldn’t have got a bank to lend even 80% of the project because I’m sure I could have raised from reluctant friends the downstroke. I have a number of banker friend and they said, “There’s no way we would have lent you a dime on your project no matter what your equity stake was. It was too dumb.” The only reason I went forward is I had the money from the sale of our greeting card company three years earlier. If it hadn’t been for that, it never would’ve gotten built. In that case, the lesson would be a past success, finances the next vision, which had no certainty about succeeding.

I will say to our audience, Mike Keiser is a saint in Southern Oregon because what you have done for that community, not just the economic impact, which is perhaps they’re measurable, but also you’ve given people opportunities there. You’ve given them jobs, you’ve sustained families, and you’ve put it on the map. There is no question about it. People come from all over the world. How many hours from the Portland International Airport?

Four and a half to five hours depending on how fast you drive.

Mike, if you’ll allow me, I want to share a brief story with the audience. I think you’ll remember this. When you and I walked that course or the five courses of Bandon Dunes which was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to do that with you and to hear your description of why you did the things that you did there. The obstacles, not only the community obstacles but also the geographic obstacles and the terrains, etc. At the end of the day, I was exhausted, you were fine. Finally, we were picked up by someone in a van from the resort. It was one of your new employees. Along with Matt Devore, the three of us were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses most of the day because it was a blistery Oregon day.

As this young man picked us up in the van and began to take us back to the resort, I struck up a conversation with him and I said, “How long have you worked here at Bandon Dunes?” He said, “I started two weeks ago.” I said, “I bet you’re feeling lucky to get a job like this.” He says, “You wouldn’t believe how fortunate I feel. This is a great place to work. It’s such an honor to be able to drive Mr. Keiser back to the resort. In fact, everyone is jealous of me back at the resort that I get to drive Mr. Keiser and also you.” I thought, “What’s he talking about? Why would he be talking that it’s a pleasure to drive me?” He says, “It’s a pleasure to drive you as well, Mr. Wahlberg.” I was somewhat into the skies that day. He thought that you had better, more impressive guests with you.

Mark Wahlberg is a good golfer. I played with him.

GFEP 5 | Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes: Not all ideas are great, but the only way we can sample them is first to hear them. Second is to look for opportunities to test as many of them as we can.

 

You’ve played with him. Why would they think that I would be him?

I don’t know.

I want to ask you about the fact that you have a family business. You have brought your sons into your work. They are accomplished developers and designers themselves. I’ve met your sons and like you, they’ve inherited that DNA of gentlemaness and dignity. A lot of people have been in family-run businesses, contemplating bringing their sons or daughters into a business, or joining mom or dad in the business. Many times that fails. That doesn’t work out. Why did you make that decision? How did you allow that to happen? Why is it working well for you and the Keiser family?

My elder son is Michael. My younger son is Chris. They both are avid golfers. They both had been to Bandon Dunes before they were employee age. When Michael was in college, he expressed some interest in going to Bandon and working in the summer. I said, “We can do that, Mike, but I need you to know this. If you go there, you’re going to get the job that is least desirable, the one at the bottom. You’re going to raise your hand and say, ‘I want that job that no one else wants to do.’ You’re going to arrive always early. It’s not to be on time, you need to be at least fifteen minutes early. I want you to continue to always be open to tasks that no one else wants to do.”

He started at the bottom out there and stayed there for the first two years. He raised his hand and did a number of customer-oriented things that enriched his experience and helped the guests. In observing other families, they so often start their kids at the executive level with no experience managing people or doing things on their own. I would say, my son, Michael, with many other examples, paved the way because he was willing to do the jobs that no one wanted to do.

Over time, he learned the skills necessary to take on executive responsibilities. He’s a name of his own. What was the first course that he designed? Wasn’t that in Wisconsin? David Kidd was involved in the second course.

He did the second. Ben Crenshaw did the first course and Michael worked with both of them in developing those sites into some good golf courses. Michael did that because he had experience with Bandon Dunes. I forget which courses he participated in on the ground but he had ground-level experience going into being in-charge role at Sand Valley, Wisconsin.

You talked about Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw who have been your partners for many years. I don’t want to limit it to five individuals, I know there are many more. If I was to be a fly on the wall to watch you all interact and communicate with one another in any business operation, what would I learn about sales watching all of you “nontraditional” salespeople when you’re trying to get a project started or get a project to completion? How is there influencing and persuasion going on in those internal meetings?

Letting them know based on your own responses that all ideas are welcome. All ideas are not great but the only way we can sample them is first to hear them. Second is to look for opportunities to test as many of them as we can. In golf course development, it’s fairly easy. In all of our meetings, we’re outside specifically targeting one aspect of one hole where 1 of the 6 of us would say, “What if that were a little higher?” Ben Crenshaw would say, “It should be lower.”

In many cases, Rob, we could watch the bulldozer come and make the bump bigger, smaller or wider. It’s a good microcosm because whenever possible, you test ideas instead of saying, “I don’t like it.” Much better to say, “That’s interesting. It has merit. Let’s at least test it to see.” In the golf course, as long as you’re okay with spending a lot of time on site, testing is easy. You can do it in the sand. Another good attribute about sand is it’s easily moved. Unlike heavy dirt and worst is rock. Moving sand is easy.

Mike, you talked about going out on-site and having those conversations and even those small debates onsite, it reminds me of an old Japanese term called Kaizen. Kaizen is when a group of workers who might have totally different perspectives and experiences will meet onsite to look at a project or a problem that they’re experiencing on their assembly line. They will recognize that we need to see the problem rather than sit in a boardroom and talk about the problem.

If you want to train yourself as a leader, raise your hand to that job that no one else wants to do. Click To Tweet

That sounds wise. I’m thinking of the fisheries people in Port Orford, south of Bandon. They have been complaining for years about overfishing and they’ve had meetings where various people will say, “The fish lacks.” No one ever got to a concluding business plan until one day, Jim Seely, who worked for me said, “Instead of our meeting inside, why don’t we go out to where it used to be great fishing and we’ll all see what fish we catch.” He got 5 or 6 fishermen to get in their boats and go out to this rocky outcropping and see if they could catch any fish. They didn’t catch a single fish which galvanized them into communal action to limit fishing from then on. The fish are now back and an environmental group called Rare does the same thing around the world. They go into fished-out fisheries and convince the locals like taking them onsite and showing them that no one is catching fish.

Taking that long walk with you, as I’ve mentioned, reminds me that that’s a good way for me to manage systems and organizations and how to lead people. Even getting the exercise and being out in the fresh air is a great way to communicate. I have a great friend in the Portland community who’s a leader of industry in Portland. One time, we had a meeting and unbeknownst to me, when I showed up at this office, he had his tennis shoes on.

He said, “Let’s go take a walk.” We walked around downtown Portland. That’s how we talked about the issues that were important to us at that time. That’s another reason why golf is such a great way to do business. Mike, I know your golf courses are like your kids but I’m going to ask you one of those questions that I’d be curious if there’s an answer to. If you could take a guest to one of your courses so they could see the definitive Mike Keiser course, which one would it be?

It would be Cabot Cliffs. For years, I didn’t have a favorite but Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia is my favorite now because it was a series of parcels that had to be bought by somebody. My partner, Ben Cowan-Dewar is a Canadian who was able to buy enough parcels for us to have beautiful good land, flat land and cliffs. It’s a great combination of holes that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw fashioned with a lot of great work by Ben Cowan-Dewar in buying what ended up being twenty parcels to put together one exquisite golf course.

Mike, I’d like to wrap up our conversation with a couple of more questions. This last one might be sensitive on the surface but it’s not. That is, I want to talk about rivals for a moment. When you and I met, you had a particularly well-known rival in the golf developing world. He has more courses than you but yours always outranked his. Yours are always ranked higher. I’m speaking about someone who’s no longer in that space anymore. I hope he’s not. He should be doing other things and that’s President Donald Trump. We won’t talk necessarily about the politics of Donald Trump because whatever side people are on, that’s neither here nor there for this conversation. I want to get your view about rivals and how we should view them in business, sports or even in politics. Do rivals make us better or do they aggravate us?

The best word is they should make you better. In the case of Trump, he has a larger number of golf courses that he owns. He defines golf as a luxury. Everything he does in his courses is luxury-oriented. He built waterfalls. He’s definitely not walking. He has a special cart so it wouldn’t surprise me that they have Rolls-Royce grills. He sees golf as a luxury thing that you aspire to that one day, you’ll be well enough of Mr. Businessman to play golf. He’s welcome to that view but it’s the opposite of my view which is more Scottish and Irish where the common man is the 90% of the golf playing in Scotland, Ireland and Bandon Dunes. The fact that it’s walking only would be the opposite of luxury. That’s one rival point of view. Fortunate for me, he’s not the only rival and he’s in a different space. He’s in the luxury space than I am.

I think of my friendly competitors, Pebble Beach, who I admire and Pinehurst is my two major competitors. An example of how we help each other as healthy competitors, I visited Pinehurst number two after Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw who I raved for getting the job. He redid Pinehurst number two which is their gem. It’s one of the top ten in the world and we wanted to see it. We did, we were shown around by the general manager and we were impressed by what Bill and Ben had done in renovating the course.

The general manager, Don Padgett said, “If you like what they’ve done with the eighteen-hole course, you should see what they’ve done with the putting green. We’d built this fabulous putting green by Bill and Ben. I want to tell you, you should have one of Ben in doing. It’s the most popular thing we have here. People come from 4:00 PM until 10:00 PM and play our par three. The name of which alludes to me.” Here’s a friendly competitor showing me the new thing that works. We, of course, went right back to Bandon and built a putting green. It’s been as Don Padgett said a huge success. Two kinds of competitors, one that belittles you and the other that wants you to succeed for the greater good.

That’s a wonderful story. Speaking of Mr. Trump, I know he likes polls and you like rankings because your golf courses are always at the top of the rankings around the world. In sales and business, numbers matter. Numbers don’t lie as they say so they have to be important to successful people. How does that relate to those of us trying to get to the top of our field? Should we be concerned with our ranking within an office or an industry? How should that drive us?

It’s competitive feedback with the sole goal of getting better. If you are numbers or ranking-oriented, it should be not to be able to boast it on number one or I’m moving up to number 3 or 4. It’s to learn what things worked for others as well as yourself and watch them move you up or down depending on your sales success. When you think of what you’re selling as a finite thing, that’s the wrong way to think about it. What we’re selling is a constantly evolving set of circumstances, architectures, buildings, or whatever it is. We’re always looking to improve it. That’s the value of ranking. If you keep getting better, the rankings will show as well as your revenue.

Mike, one of the culminating facts that come to your courses whenever you get to host a world class event. I have to ask you, as we wrap up, are Bandon Dunes still slated to host the US Amateur Championship in August 2021?

Yes. It’s a week-long event and the USDA decided that they would have the US Open Men’s and Women’s and the US Amateur. Those four tournaments versus thirteen which they initially thought they’d do. We will be hosting the US Amateur Men’s Division in early August 2021. I’m excited to be hosting what has always been a major.

GFEP 5 | Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes: There are two kinds of competitors: one that belittles you and the other that wants you to succeed for the greater good.

 

The COVID-19 has hurt a lot of businesses. I know that it has hurt yours in some respects, at least your courses have not been as full. My last question is how did you deal with that disruption? What’s been your attitude throughout?

My first thought was let’s make sure that we keep employees employed even though we were shut for six weeks. I’m proud of the fact that we employed 50% of our employees and we furloughed the other 50%. In the case of a furlough, you’re still an employee, you’re just paid by the unemployment compensation. Unfortunately for us, the closure was only six weeks. We’ve come back strong. It won’t be quite as good as 2019 but close. A big reason for that is all of our employees came back. I would say in about all cases joyfully much like your example of the young man who was driving the bus.

Mike, I don’t know if you’re a businessman first who loves golf or if you’re a golfer who loves to be successful in business. I don’t know how to describe you. Which one is it?

I’d say I’m an avid golfer. Once an avid golfer, always an avid golfer and most of them aren’t in business. I’m in that big group, certainly. I’ll go anywhere to play golf like Tasmania, New Zealand and St. Louis which is where we’re building one. There are great sites still all over the world, Rob.

Mike, I sure appreciate the time you spent with me and our audience. I appreciate as always your wisdom and to share with us the insights as to what has made you successful and influential in this industry and to provide all of us various venue all over the world where we can do business, live these principles with clients, prospects, employees, co-workers and etc. Thank you for making that happen. I want to thank you for your friendship. It means a great deal to me.

It’s always fun, Rob. It’s good to hear from you. We will see each other again.

Yes, we will. Thank you, Mike Keiser.

Thanks, Rob.

Thanks for being a part of this episode of Game Face Execs. If you found any of it useful or helpful, please rate or like, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. I always appreciate you referring us to others as well. Until then persuade, influence, inspire.

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GFEP 4 | Tough Leadership

 

Tough times require tough companies – and tougher leaders. That’s why it’s no surprise that 60-year old Columbia Sportswear continues to blaze ahead of apparel companies worldwide. Join us as the company’s chairman and CEO, Tim Boyle, reflects on how one family transformed a hat business into today’s outdoor apparel behemoth boasting sales of $3B+. What made the difference – great products or clever advertising? Where did the company get its distinctly irreverent style? And what did Tim’s mom, the iconic Gert Boyle, really think about her marketing-driven persona of “one tough mother”? Listen to Tim’s conversation with Rob Cornilles and find out.

Watch the episode here:

Tim Boyle | One Tough Difference-Maker

I’m sure like you as a kid, I wanted to hide under the blanket the first time I ever watched the suspenseful Wizard of Oz. I knew everything would be all right for Dorothy and her friends when we finally discovered that controlling the big, bad wizard was a gentle and compassionate man who saw the potential in others and help make their dreams come true. My guest is Tim Boyle, the warm and humble man behind a powerful and sometimes edgy curtain of Columbia Sportswear. As I’ve known for years and you’re about to know, Tim is a humble visionary, a faithful steward, and a discreet but generous philanthropist. Tim Boyle, Columbia Sportswear’s Chairman and CEO is our Game Face Exec.

I want to thank you, Tim Boyle, for joining us. It’s a treat to have you. You’re someone that I’ve admired for a long time. The business community, the academic community, the entertainment and sports community, the outdoor community, everyone has admired the rise of Columbia Sportswear in many years that you’ve been leading it. I look forward to the conversation.

It’s always great for me to talk about the company. That’s fun for me. Thank you.

Before we talk about the company, a lot of people are interested in your personal story. We are both Oregonians. You’ve lived in Oregon your entire life. You were born in Portland, weren’t you, Tim?

I was born on Tucson.

Were you raised in Portland?

My parents were students at the University of Arizona and they lived there for a while. My grandparents lived there. I was born in Tucson and moved to Portland.

I’m going to ask you to complete this story for me. I’m going to set it up. Your grandparents on your mother’s side fled Nazi Germany in 1937 with your mother, of course. They got their way to Portland, Oregon. While they’re here in Portland, they bought a hat company and they renamed it, The Columbia Hat Company. That was after the Columbia River, which anyone who’s been to Portland knows that that goes through Portland, intersects with the Willamette River, and goes out to the Pacific Ocean. While they were leading that company, they turned it over to your father, Neil. Your mother was taking care and raising a family until in 1970 when your father unexpectedly passed away. Meanwhile, you’re at the University of Oregon pursuing a journalism degree. You were one year away from graduation.

It was December so I was halfway through my senior year.

Tragedy hits your family. Your mother has a business and it’s got about 40 or so employees at the time. She’s not accustomed to running a business. She’s been, as I say, paying attention to raising the family. What happens to the Boyle family at that moment?

'It's perfect. Now make it better.' – Gert Boyle Click To Tweet

The company was a tiny company. In 1970, the year my dad died, the revenue was $1 million. In 1971, when I came home to help my mom and my grandmother who was still alive at that time who run the business, we went to $500,000. By the early ‘70s, we’d lost all the equity in the business. Things were bad. My dad had taken out an SBA loan a month or so prior to his death. We were trying to figure out how to pay the loan back and make payroll, etc. The bank rightly called the note. We didn’t know what we were doing. They said, “You have to sell the business.” We tried but a money-losing little tiny business like the one that we were running at that time is not marketable.

The bank said, “We’ll give you a few more months to figure this out. Otherwise, we’ll have to liquidate.” The banker had loaned some money to some guys starting a shoe business in Beaverton. I can get one of these guys to help me understand how to run a business. We were very fortunate. Somebody joined a pro bono board who was one of the early Nike employees and helped us to focus our time and effort on the right stuff which was building a product that people wanted to buy that had some point of differentiation. That was the turning point. In 2019, we were slightly north of $3 million.

Tim, as to your career path, you got a journalism degree. I presume that was because you wanted to go into journalism.

I was planning to go to law school.

Your mother calls and says, “I need your help, Tim. Come work with me for a little bit.”

She didn’t have to call. I’d worked in the business from a young age. I knew nothing but I thought I knew a lot but I didn’t know that we had to help the family out. That was my calling. That’s what happened.

I want to talk a little bit about your mom as well, Gert Boyle, who has effectually been termed one tough mother for many years. Unfortunately, she passed away in November of 2019 at the age of 95. Those of us who knew her would all say that she was a beloved woman. We don’t know her as a mother. We know that she was one tough mother for business, but as a mom, growing up and later, as you were business partners, what was she like? Can you give us a little bit of background or an insight of Gert Boyle?

She had come from a tough spot as a child. She grew up in Nazi Germany and being Jewish was not a great place to be. She had a lot of concerns about German products. We didn’t have a lot of German products in the house growing up. She wasn’t incredibly religious. I don’t think I’d ever been to a synagogue until I was at my grandfather’s funeral. My dad was an Irish Catholic guy from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. We grew up in the Catholic church and my mom was right there with all the other mothers. She was quite vocal if someone would make a comment about Jewish people or Jewish religion or whatever. Other than that, she was June Cleaver and she’s not a great cook.

She obviously developed a survival instinct. I can’t psychoanalyze a legend like Gert Boyle but she always felt like her back was against the wall, needed to prove, and exceed expectations. You mentioned a moment ago that she had an acerbic tongue and very quick-witted. A lot of people don’t know unless they know her, she had a fantastic sense of humor despite those difficulties. Where did that sense of humor come from? Did she inherit it or she developed it?

The German people are not well-known for their sense of humor, but she had a great sense of humor. That might be from my dad who also had a great sense of humor. She never took herself too seriously and was quite willing to make a joke about almost anything. My grandmother, not so much but my grandfather had a good sense of humor. It helped us a lot in the business in terms of differentiating ourselves because the brand Columbia is known for a lot of things but almost singularly for its irreverence in terms of how we approach what some people think is an incredibly serious topic being in the outdoors. You take a particular approach that’s different and it’s been good for us.

GFEP 4 | Tough Leadership

Tough Leadership: The brand Columbia is known for a lot of things, but almost singularly for its irreverence.

 

She had a famous line when she’s talking to employees. She would say, “It’s perfect, now make it better.” That’s an attitude that always permeates Columbia Sportswear.

We try and live by that mantra.

You mentioned this irreverent attitude. That sounds very familiar when you consider Nike, that other company across the freeway from you in Beaverton, Oregon. You grew up at about the same pace, same time, and you shared ideas. I know you’re a very close friend of Phil Knight and all the leaders at Nike. What was it about that era, perhaps even that geography that created that push back attitude that spawned these wonderful businesses?

It’s serendipitous that both companies are here in the Portland area. Who can say anything other than laudatory things about what Phil Knight has done for the area and his business in terms of growing it and making it the juggernaut that it is now? It’s nice to be sometimes discussed in the same sentence with them but they’re a very large company. We tried to emulate in many ways what they do but at the same time, being different and distinctive. The fact that if you’re from Oregon, you’re either a logger or a fisherman and that’s what people do here. There are a lot of people who do those things here but there are other things as well.

Getting a degree in Journalism and having a desire to become a lawyer, what kind of law did you want to practice?

It’s a good thing that I didn’t go into law because I have no idea what being an attorney meant and what it was. I would have ended up being a bad attorney. Growing up, watching Perry Mason, you said, “I guess that’s what an attorney does.” I think I did the right thing.

You have this spirit of innovation and I would even say it must run through your veins because your mom and your father had it. It probably started with your grandparents but you have been at the core of the innovation that has driven Columbia Sportswear since you became involved with it in 1971. You have innovated and created products for the outdoor world. Tim, I know you’re going to deflect this and you’re going to say you put good people around you but you have to have a unique talent to be able to inspire that kind of creativity that comes out of Columbia Sportswear. I have to ask you, what have you discovered about yourself since you’ve been running the company?

I’ve learned to be a capable merchant. We talk about this all the time in the company, nobody needs another brand of apparel or footwear. There’s plenty in the US but if you go to China or around the world, there are thousands of apparel companies. That means if you’re going to exist in this business, you better be different. That’s where we’ve taken the approach to focus on innovation and technologies that can differentiate the products that we can own.

We’ve invested fairly heavily in people and the capabilities of developing our own commodities and products that get turned into ultimately consumer products. That’s been a focus for us and it’s served us well. Our marketing needs to have a different tone than others. It’s about being different. It might be the same in every business. If you silkscreen your message on a t-shirt, you are in the apparel business. The barriers to entry are low.

Never ask your employees to make sacrifices that you are not prepared to make. Click To Tweet

You talked about being different and you also talk about marketing. You’ve told this story a thousand times, probably a million times, but for those readers who have not know it yet, the story about the whole marketing around your mom, how did that originate?

It’s about a focus on differentiation and our advertising agency. At that time, we were a very tiny company. Revenue of $5 million to $7 million, something in that range. In the early ‘80s, there were a few companies where there’s a woman president of a company. My mom was president at that time. They said, “We need to explore how we might point out to consumers the differences about Columbia.” When we had an ad rejected by The New Yorker magazine, we knew we had something. That’s the way to get noticed on a small budget and it morphed into something was quite effective for the company.

Was your mom a willing participant or did she go into it begrudgingly?

Sometimes we said, “Gert, we make this stuff up. You don’t need to live this tough mother thing way.” She enjoyed it. There were a few times where we may have asked her to do something that she thought was not lady-like but she was ultimately a good sport with it.

Of all the innovations and inventions that have come out of Columbia Sportswear, Tim, it’s like picking a favorite child. I know what that might be but I’d like it from your perspective. Which is the innovation that turned the tables for the company and helped the explosion?

I always remember the interchange jacket that we developed, which took a garment that was in the marketplace in many different forms and allowed us to make it in a way that could be used in multiple different ways. You could buy one jacket, the liner which was insulated and zipped out. That was a very different product. It fit well into our system of marketing that had Gert describing it in many different ways. That was what launched the business on the back of that kind of product. We’ve had others since then. The most famous is the Omni-heat reflective lining which was developed in-house. We sold more than $1 billion worth of products with that lining. We continue to innovate on that reflective system to give us a constant flow of new products coming out using that technology. There are a few, but those two stand out.

When it comes to securing accounts, whether it’s a relationship with a particular organization, association, or event, was there a particular moment that you reflect back on and you say, “That was a difference-maker for our company.” Achieving that win from a sales perspective, if you will. We, at Game Face Execs, like to talk about how everything we do revolves around the sales process. Nothing happens at Columbia until someone sells something like in any other business. Was there a particular sales event where you landed that account and you said, “That was also a turning point for us?”

If I think back about it, my focus has been sales and merchandising. For our company, those two processes are so intertwined that it’s hard to pick out a particular event where we opened an account or we made a sale that made a difference. It was the blending of those selling, talking to customers and having them say, “If you did the following to that garment, I would buy a lot more.” Having the ability to make those changes to accommodate a customer request, those were the times I remember.

Our interchange garment, which was so impactful on the company was designed during a sales call that I made it to a company in Grand Junction, Tennessee which doesn’t exist anymore. It was a catalog operation called Dunes and they sold products for Auckland Bird Hunters. We talked about the garments we were making and they said, “If you took this lining and zipped it around a little bit.” That was a meeting that had a significant impact on the company. It was more about learning and listening than it was about making a big sale.

GFEP 4 | Tough Leadership

Tough Leadership: If you silkscreen your message on a t-shirt, you are in the apparel business. The barriers to entry are low. If you’re going to exist in this business, you better be different.

 

I’m not trying to flatter you but as the expert salesperson that you are, how do you balance listening and learning from the customer but also portraying expertise that the customer trusts? Sometimes, the customer doesn’t want to give you ideas. They want to know what you’re selling, “Tell me what you got.” Other times, they want to be collaborative obviously and they want to provide input. How have you in your career and how does your team balance that we have to be out there and listening to the customer but they also expect us to bring expertise and knowledge to every discussion?

In our business, we always talk about being around for the long-term. It’s not like the real estate business where you’re making a transaction, wiping your hands and leaving. That’s a different kind of selling. For us, we want to be on your sales floor in your store for a long time. If we’re going to do that, we have to be more profitable and turn at a higher rate than the other brands that we’re competing with. If we’re doing that the right way, you may want to buy 500 of something. We say, “We need to be buying 200 and turning it more frequently to give you a higher profit at the end of the season so when I come back to see you next season, you aren’t asking me to take back merchandise or somehow compensate you for your bad decision.”

It’s about as much as possible getting data from our retailers so that we can be a partner in terms of managing the inventory levels. We learned that in the tiny bit of work we did at Walmart. You’re familiar with the surreal brand that we bought in 1993. Their biggest customer when we bought them was Walmart. Now it’s Nordstrom and it’s a much different business. Walmart gave me every bit of information you could ask about how your products were selling so that you were a partner in terms of making them successful. We don’t do any business with Walmart at all, but something we learned early on in working with them was how important the data is and making them selling the right amount of merchandise, not as much as possible.

At Columbia, have you had a big fail that you can tell us about where great lessons were learned from it?

We’ve had more than one. When I think about important failures, it’s when we first launched our interchange garments, it seemed like it was a Midas touch. Everything we touched that we put this garment into, we put this innovation into work. We had multiple jackets. We had hats that you could take the lining out of. We also made a pair of ski pants with a zip outliner. Our retailers started describing that as Rubik’s pant because once you took it apart, there was no way you were going to get it back together. We’ve learned over time that you can extend products only so far.

I want to talk about where Columbia Sportswear is if we could. Of all the people reading this, very few of them can say, “In 2020, they are taking less salary than Tim Boyle is.” What I mean by that is, earlier in 2020, you reduced your salary to $10,000. Can you tell us why would you do that?

It’s not the first time I’ve done it, frankly. We’ve been a public company since 1998 and we’ve grown at an incredible rate and our investors have done quite well with the shares. I’m the largest shareholder and that comes with an obligation to do the right thing for the business. When times have been challenging for the company, I felt it was important that I live by example and made sacrifices that I was comfortable making but I wouldn’t want to ask employees to make sacrifices that I was not prepared to make. I made a significant reduction in my salary, and our key employees also made reductions in their salaries which was more laudable. I felt it’s important to do that so I did so.

Is it true that close to 9,000 employees you have, you make the least amount in 2020 in terms of salary?

I’m definitely in the low cortile, that’s for sure. We have a bunch of employees who are living in Asia but I’m the lowest paid. People have said I’m finally getting my true value.

You’re certainly the lowest at headquarters. Regarding your employees, you, at Columbia do a lot to support your employees, not just the ones at headquarters. How many employees of your 9,000 or so do you have there at the world headquarters in Portland?

Two things are mandatory for employees at Columbia Sportswear: hard work and a sense of humor. Click To Tweet

Somewhere in the thousand.

You have a lot in Asia and around the world, but you’ve done some very interesting and compassionate things to build up the skillset, financial literacy, and the future of your employees. Whether they even remain with you, the things that they’re learning through you right now are going to benefit them and their families for years and perhaps even generations. I’m thinking about the HERproject, for example. Can you describe a little bit about that program or any others that you’re doing that are meaningful to you?

It’s especially important to talk about this in today’s America because there are a lot of people who don’t find the international nature of the business to be positive. I’m happy to explain why I feel differently. When I was growing up after World War II, inexpensive consumer products were beginning to be available from Asia and they were all made in Japan. As Japan grew and became more financially and economically stable, their rates of pay and their status as employees grew. It became impossible to make products in Japan that were inexpensive. Production of those kinds of commodities moved to Taiwan and Korea, both of which are now so strong economically that it’s impossible to build inexpensive consumer products there. They moved to China.

We have a big business selling product in China. Our folks who run that business says, “We don’t want to sell products that are made in China because they’re too expensive.” We make products in Bangladesh and Vietnam. We moved them to other parts of the world like Southern Africa where those people will also be lifted up by the economic boosts that are going to be floated by international trade. What we find in areas of the world that are quite poor that women oftentimes manufacture more products and they don’t have all the educational opportunities obviously that are present from more developed countries.

We’ve established a process where we partner with the factory and provide education with HERproject on a number of topics including health, family wellness, especially financial acumen so that these women can bring themselves out of poverty. Frankly, they can be great parents and bring their families up from categories of literacy into education and significant sustainable focus on their lives. We enjoy doing it.

When someone in your leadership team brings an idea to you, as far as, “Here’s a new area of corporate social responsibility that I recommend we approach or we enter into,” what’s going to get a yes from you? Is there a sweet spot for you personally where when you hear it, it instantly resonates and you want to move forward?

Under the category of differentiation, we want to make sure that we’re doing things that are different and unique. One other area is a collaboration with a company called Planet Water where we build water purification towers in communities where the children of the workers in our contract factories live where they don’t have the ability to have clean water for hand-washing and consumption of food. We can provide those fairly inexpensively so we can put a lot of them in place. It’s a different area that others may ignore or not think as important and not as impactful. Those are the kinds of things that turn the needle for me.

These are my words now but I see the planet as Columbia’s playground so there’s a dichotomy at face value. We’re getting people way out into the outdoors, as you often say at Columbia and suggests that we need to go and enjoy the planet. The dichotomy that could be there is at the same time we want to preserve the planet. We want to protect the planet and let nature have its own course. Can you give us a little peek behind the curtain as to the discussions that you have within the walls of Columbia Sportswear about that?

That’s an interesting topic because we have many competitors who talk about their focus on the environment which is laudable. Under the category of being different, we think we provide as much or even more support to the environment than our competitors, but we can’t shout about it because it doesn’t resonate as being a point of differentiation. We focus on areas that can be impactful. As an example, we’ve invested heavily in processes and systems to help us load our containers in Asia destined for places around the world much more efficiently. We reduced the amount of containers that were pushing around the world to reduce greenhouse gases but it’s also a contributor to positive earnings for the company. That’s one example of how we might approach being different and making a difference.

A couple of more questions I want to ask and that is, if you were to bring someone into the Columbia family, how would you describe the employees and co-workers that would fit and be successful in your culture of Columbia?

GFEP 4 | Tough Leadership

Tough Leadership: People in companies that make a difference get remembered in people’s psyches.

 

You’d have to have a sense of humor, it’s mandatory, and you’re going to work hard. We don’t have a huge organization here. We have fairly thin management. A group of people who work here make a difference in a lot of different areas. They have responsibilities that are broad and require collaboration. Those things mean working hard, working long hours, and getting along with people. You better have a sense of humor because you’re going to be ribbed about some topic which is going to hopefully not offend you but make you sharper.

You haven’t mentioned any qualities that I could acquire in university or trade school. You’re talking more about personality traits. I assume it’s because you know that you can teach those skills if you find the right personality.

You have to be able to accept criticism. That would be important. You have to have an innate embrace of education. It may be that you didn’t graduate from college, you didn’t attend college, or you learned along the way but you continued to learn. That’s critical because we don’t expect someone who graduates from college or has an MBA to step in and understand how to be a contributor. We do expect people to understand that you’re going to be learning and you have to continue to learn. That’s important.

From what little I know, Tim, my sense is that Columbia Sportswear is going to be around a lot longer than you, me, and a lot of the members of your leadership team. What I’m about to ask is not a prophecy and it’s certainly not a death wish but I’m curious, if you were to write the inscription on the headstone of Columbia Sportswear, what would you wanted to say?

Hopefully, we made a difference. People in companies that make a difference get remembered and those that don’t. It won’t be in inscription stone. It will be remembered in people’s psyches when they think about the outdoors.

You’ve made a difference in the community where I was raised, Portland, Oregon and around the world. In fact, I’m wearing one of your shirts. I happen to wear this particular shirt, Tim, on a very momentous occasion. I took one of my sons. We had a chance to go to Africa. Namibia, specifically. We had a fantastic life-changing experience. We were wearing Columbia Sportswear gear the entire time from head to toe. There’s an object behind me that’s one of the take-homes from that wonderful trip and what beautiful people we experienced there.

I took Columbia with me on that life-changing experience. Tim, I want to thank you again for your time. Thank you for your insights and what you’ve done, not only for Columbia Sportswear but for all the communities in which Columbia exists and does make a difference in the lives and the careers of people, and you better their lives and their careers and their communities. I know you personally. You’re a humble person. You like to deflect credit but I want you to know that you’re a tremendous man, leader. I appreciate it and I admire you greatly.

Thanks for the compliments. We have a great team here and they make me look good which is a challenge. Thanks for your help. I enjoyed chatting about the company and about what we do.

All the best to Columbia for the rest of the year and beyond.

Thanks, Rob. I appreciate it.

Important Links:

About Timothy P. Boyle

GFEP 4 | Tough LeadershipTim Boyle has served as chief executive officer of Columbia Sportswear Company since 1988 and reassumed the role of President in 2017, which he had previously held until 2015. Tim was appointed Chairman of the Board in 2020. He oversees operations of the active outdoor company from its Portland, Oregon headquarters.

Tim’s career with Columbia Sportswear began in 1971 when, during his senior year at The University of Oregon, his father, who had been running the company since 1964, died suddenly of a heart attack. His mother, Gert Boyle, quickly enlisted Tim’s help in order to continue the aggressive expansion that her husband had initiated and that had expanded the company’s sales that year to $1 million.

An alumnus of Portland, Oregon’s Jesuit High School (1967) and the University of Oregon (1971, B.S. Journalism), Tim serves on the Boards of Directors of Northwest Natural Gas Company and Craft Brew Alliance, Inc.

Tim is Joseph P. Boyle’s father.

GFEP 3 | Houston Texans

 

Are you ready for some football? Teams of the National Football League, the “granddaddy of all sports,” opened training camps this week in preparation for Opening Night on Thursday, September 10. And the Houston Texans, led by President Jamey Rootes, are up first as they kick off the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the middle of all this hustle, Jamey takes a timeout to chat with Rob Cornilles about the unprecedented challenges facing the NFL, the impact one player (J.J. Watt) has had on a sport and a city, and the leadership lessons learned from working for two of the most iconic families in sports history. They say everything is bigger in Texas and Jamey and his team prove that they can handle Texas-sized success pretty darn well.

Watch the episode here:

Jamey Rootes | Texas-Sized Success

They say everything is bigger in Texas. It’s true for barbecue, live music, and football. If you’re Jamey Rootes, the President of the Houston Texans of the National Football League, the job of leading a team that hasn’t yet won a Super Bowl in a demanding market with many social, safety, and sales issues staring you in the face, you better come ready to play. That’s why Jamey Rootes is this episode’s of the show.

We’re with Jamey Rootes, President of the NFL’s Houston Texans. I can’t say this about a lot of people, but a long time friend of mine in the industry, which means Jamey is as old as I am. Jamey, I appreciate you joining us on the show. This is a busy, hectic time for people in the NFL, especially you in your position, but thanks a lot for spending a little bit of time with us and talking about what it means to be a game face executive.

Over the past years, I haven’t told you, “No,” and I wasn’t going to start now.

That’s true. Thanks, Jamey. I want to point some things out. I’m wearing the brand of the Houston Texans. We have known each other for a long time, but I got this shirt from you several years ago because you’re a good guy. We’ve worked together over the years and we’re going to talk about that, but I want to take the readers back to the beginning of your career. Before we go there, we’re in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in every market in the country and I got a big question mark on the economy. We’re going through a pandemic. Hopefully, we’re starting to see not the end of that but at least the tail end of it.

We are talking at a particular time when there has been a lot of protests, even some civil unrest. I know these are issues that are important to you personally and also to the McNair family for whom you work and the Texans organization as a whole. I’m wondering if you could allow us to open the door a little bit to the boardroom of the Texans and talk to us a little bit about the conversations that you’re having during this unusual and prickly time. How does an organization with as much prominence in a community as the Texans has, and even in the state, not to mention the league as a whole? Give us some insight into the principles that guide those conversations and those decisions you’re making now.

I’ll try to give you a clear response on that. Broadly, someone told me one time that challenge is the crucible of leadership. It’s a stick. If you pick up a stick, you can’t just get one in. You can’t be a leader and not address challenges. This is natural. Life is hard. Once you accept that it’s hard, that doesn’t matter anymore. What are those challenges that we’re dealing with and what do we need to do about it? As an organization, we’ve had to deal with a number of crisis situations. A lot of it has been around hurricanes because we’re here on the Gulf Coast. This is like a hurricane, but a hurricane is like a sprint. This is more like a marathon. While it’s similar to what we’ve done before, we’ve had to do it for a much more prolonged time. The most important thing is the attitude that people bring to the table. One of the principles that we established as we were approaching the NFL lockout, which was about six months of complete uncertainty is positively focused. You have to discipline yourself to balance the negativity that you’re seeing and embrace that it’s not all negative. There are positives.

You have to look hard for them, but you’ve got to balance out. Also, you have to focus squarely on the things that you can control. The easy part is focused on what I control. What can I do to make a difference? The hard part is having the discipline to reject things that you can’t control because the things that you can’t control are a complete distraction. You have to put up a stop sign and set it aside. Occasionally, in an environment like this, you’re going to have a little bit of self-indulgence and a little bit of complaining like, “Why is it hard? We worked so hard to put this together and we have to take it down again?” Get yourself back to what can we do about it. If you do that consistently and get everybody within the organization thinking about what are the priorities? What can we do about it? It’s amazing what a group of individuals coming together can accomplish.

The things that you were talking about are all the details, the decisions, and all of that falls into place if you have this positively focused mindset. You also have to pull your time horizon. In great times, we can dream about the beautiful future. In challenging times, you can only look about 1 or 2 weeks in advance. Those are the only certain things. It’s amazing that once you do one thing, it opens up the next thing, but if you look five steps down the chain, it completely falls apart. It’s all part of controlling what you can control, but your time horizon needs to be pulled in, make the next logical move, and keep going forward.

Challenge is the crucible of leadership. Click To Tweet

Jamey, first and foremost, you work for an entertainment company as well, but your primary property is the NFL football team. In today’s world, can you remain a football team or do you have to become something bigger and larger? Are the expectations greater now than they were many years ago for a sports team to be more than a Sunday product?

That’s a good point. The expectations of our sports teams have increased exponentially since I’ve been in the industry. Fortunately, during the time that I was in Columbus, which was a long time ago, but the last several years with the Texans, our philosophy has always been that we were bigger than an athletic organization. We talk about the Texans and this has been the same from the beginning. We have what I term the three imperatives win championships. At the core, we are a competitive organization that is trying to win a championship annually for our community and for our fans. Second is we create memorable experiences. People are investing in coming to our games to be part of something bigger than themselves, to engage with their family and their friends in a way that they can’t Monday to Saturday.

On Sunday, we come together as one. We are Texans, the most diverse city in America, and nothing brings us together like the game of football. Number three is to do great things for Houston. Certainly, that we contribute $35 million that we’ve given to important organizations across this community. We’re the number one per capita contributor to the United Way in the City of Houston and always have been since we’ve been here. The way that we conduct ourselves does great things for Houston. When you see the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers, that’s being across the planet. People may not know anything about Houston, Texas, other than what they see with those fans coming in their battle red shirts to tell the Packers, “You’re not playing 53 now. You’re playing 71,000, all of us together.”

All of the other events that we’ve brought to Houston, in 2002, when we had played our first season, Houston was not even on the radar as a soccer market. We brought the first international game here in the USA and Mexico in 2003. Now, Houston is one of the leading soccer markets in America, a viable competitor to host the World Cup when it comes to America. We’ve hosted the greatest brands whether it’s Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona Real Madrid, and all of these great teams, we resurrected the college football bowl game in Houston. In the last several years, we have taken it from obscurity to one of the leading bowl games in America, 1 of the 5 best-attended bowl games in America. Those are the things, not just dollars, but how we conduct ourselves and the breadth of entertainment offerings. We don’t have to do that. Football teams wouldn’t normally do that, but we step out of our comfort zone in order to be something bigger for the city.

You’re the most diverse community in America. I wasn’t aware of that, but it makes sense to me. The times that I’ve been in Houston and we’ve worked together, a lot of people don’t realize that Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. You got New York, LA, Chicago, and then Houston, unless that’s changed.

That’s right. We’re fourth and we’re right on the tail of Chicago. There are over 100 language languages spoken in this community and we embrace diversity. We see diversity as our greatest strength going forward as a community. We look like America will look many years from now.

There’s one player on your team when you talk about being more than just a player. We all know J.J. Watt. He’s a transformational player, not just on the field, but what he does in the community. Can you talk a little bit about that? I don’t know if what came first, J.J.’s attitude towards the community and giving back or the Texans culture, or if they were a perfect blend. Tell us a little bit about that player that we read about, and we see on SportsCenter, but he’s more than a player. He’s an active participant in the community. You can tell he cares. He’s not just lip service. Share with us some insights about working with such a transformational player.

It is one of the greatest blessings of my career to have the opportunity to work with JJ Watt. You asked the question, “Was it him? Was it our environment? Was it both?” It started with him, that I think him coming into our environment, which embraces completely community service, you feel it in the walls of the organization that we’re about the city. We want to do great things for Houston. It started with him and we helped him to elevate even higher. When he first started with us, we had drafted him. It was a controversial draft pick. Our coaches thought he had a great motor and had huge potential.

I will tell you a funny story that one of our coaches said about it, but it was during the NFL lockout. One of the rules of the lockout is teams could not communicate with their players until it was resolved. It didn’t get resolved until July. I got a call that there was a horrible accident, a family here in Bel-Air that was coming back from Colorado. They were in a tragic car accident that the parents’ perished. The daughter wound up being okay, but the boys were paralyzed. A friend called and said, “Can you send some players over to comfort these kids?” I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t call the players because of the lockout.” That night, I turned my TV on, who was over at the hospital with those kids? JJ Watt.

GFEP 3 | Houston Texans

Houston Texans: It is a great blessing to have the opportunity to work with J.J. Watt. He is a triple-threat athlete.

 

I knew from that point we had something special. I talk about JJ as being the triple threat. He’s the only triple-threat athlete that I’ve seen. He has tremendous God-given talent. He’s a great athlete, but not only that, he adds to it that magic of work ethic. He has a tremendous work ethic. I have a saying that is posted on the back of my computer that, “Success isn’t owned. It’s leased and rent is due every day.” That was from JJ Watt. We have it in one of our conference rooms as well. The third is understanding that as an athlete, you have a shelf life to be able to make a difference. You’re in a privileged position, the same way that we feel about the Texans.

We’re in a privileged position. For better or worse, people look to us for leadership. How should I act? J.J. understands that. When he says something, people will listen. When he does something, it will make a difference for people. He has maximized every bit of the opportunity that a professional athlete has by taking his God-given talent, working his tail off, and recognizing that he can be bigger than the sport. The interesting story is Wade Phillips, who was our defensive coordinator at the time and was integral in our selection of JJ. He was asked right before training camp, “What do you think about JJ?” He said, “I think he’s got a great sense of humor. JJ is going to be a bust in Canton.”

He was quite prophetic. Wasn’t he?

He saw the talent, the work ethic, the character, the integrity, the love for the game of football that JJ had and all those things came together. We’re fortunate that he’s in our community.

You probably can’t see it, but right there at the top is Dom Capers’ signature. Explain who Dom Capers was.

I remember Dom Capers. He was the first head coach of the Houston Texans.

That’s right. I was in your office the day that you announced this logo. I know you don’t remember that, but I’ve spent many days in your office. On that particular day, I got one of these autographed helmets from the coach. It’s a beautiful logo. I know you guys wrestled over which logo to use back in those days. What year was that?

We announced the logo in 2001.

Success isn't owned. It's leased and rent is due every day. Click To Tweet

You joined the Texans in 2000. I was curious because you left Major League Soccer.

Before we go there, I’ve got a comment on the logo. We were in the process of the design and you’re right. It is a beautiful classy identity for the team and screams Texans. We wanted the name Texans, but we couldn’t find an identity to go with it. Nobody liked anything in the focus groups that we’re doing. We showed them all kinds of artwork and colors and nothing resonated. I told Bob McNair, “Bob, I think we’re going to have to scratch the logo launch.” He said, “Why?” I said, “We haven’t found anything that anybody likes.” He said, “Where are you testing this?” I said, “We do it at focus groups.” He said, “Why don’t you invite me to your next focus group?” I said, “Okay, I’ll bring in so you can see the challenges we’re dealing with.” That was the first focus group. It wasn’t exactly the logo that you see, but it was generally a bull and the star. We showed it to the fans and they were pounding on the table. “That is perfect. That’s exactly what you need.” I looked at Bobby, he looks at me and he said, “This marketing stuff’s not that hard.”

Timing is everything. I want to talk about Bob McNair. For those who don’t know, he passed away a few years ago as the owner of the Texans. He was the one that brought the club into Houston. He is an institution within the state. He was a successful businessman, a wonderful philanthropist. His family has continued his legacy. I want to ask how the whole love affair began between you and Bob. Tell us a little bit about what you learned from the man.

Let me start with the love affair because I’ve been blessed to only work for two ownership families in sports, Bob McNair and the Hunt family, Lamar Hunt. Both of them are sports royalty and amazing people. Leaving Lamar and his family was difficult, but the first time I sat down in Bob’s office when I visited Houston, they speak differently, but there’s so much similarity between these two families and these two people. Bob had me at hello. That’s how that went, but in terms of what I learned from Bob, I’ve got an MBA from Indiana, but I feel like I got a second MBA working from Bob.

There were a lot of holes in my skillset and my experiences that Bob was able to fill through the conversations that we had regularly over almost twenty years. Of all the business experiences I had with them and the insights that I gained, what’s more important is how he developed me as a person. I had married. When we got to Houston, we had our first child. He helped me to understand how to be a good husband, a good father, and a good community citizen. It wouldn’t like lectures or advice. It was the more the way he was. He modeled the behavior. He walked the talk. He modeled the way for me. His integrity, his character is focused on honesty and on fairness in all things.

Even if you occasionally get taken advantage of, you always have to have a spirit of fairness and the importance of relationships. He did a wonderful job building and trusting relationships with people. That’s why he was successful. He was positive and optimistic. He was interviewed by one of our media personalities and they asked him, “Bob, you’re always positive and optimistic. Why is that?” He said, “I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t.” He was a spectacular man, a great role model for me like a father figure and treated me as part of his family. He has inspired me to be my best and for our organization to be our best.

When he recruited you away from the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer, which you had led for five years at that time, how was he successful doing that? You worked for Lamar Hunt and the Hunt family who is an institution, not only they were pioneers in soccer, but they were pioneers in the NFL. Ironically, you left the pioneering family that started and helped to start Major League Soccer. You went to the league that they helped start, which is the NFL. How was Bob McNair successful in getting you away from that? Was it simply the lure of the NFL of working for the King of sports?

Having a comfort level with Bob and his family was important. This would be a winning organization. I felt that from the first time I visited with him. I felt like over five years in Columbus that I had done what I had come there to do. I had established a professional sports franchise that was successful. I had a great season ticket base. I had a great business that was on an awesome trajectory. We had built the first soccer-specific stadium in America, built the first training facility specifically for an MLS franchise. I was like, “I could probably stay here in my mid-30s until I retire, but I don’t feel like I’m done.” As I reflected on that, I was like, “What do I think is missing?” This has been a great success in a sport. That is the primary sport that I grew up playing and coached like, “I can do it in that environment.”

Columbus is one of the smallest professional sports markets in America. I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t about the comfort level with soccer. It wasn’t because it was a small market why I go to the NFL, which is the elite of sports properties. In a market that supports the fourth largest market in America, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be successful there as well and it worked out. Buffy Filippell of TeamWork Consulting is the one who was doing the recruiting. She called me when I was at my house in Columbus.

GFEP 3 | Houston Texans

Houston Texans: Leadership starts with the desire to lead. You can have some of the traits, but if you don’t want it, it’s not going to happen.

 

We’d built something special there. She asked me if I’d be interested in working in the NFL. I said, “What? This is a great call. I’ve been having those thoughts.” She said, “What about in Houston?” I said, “That would be great, but Houston doesn’t have an NFL team.” She said, “They’re going to have. This guy, Bob McNair is about to pay more than anybody’s ever paid to relaunch the NFL in Houston.” She gave me the opportunity to come down and visit with McNair and it went from there.

When you were at Major League Soccer, you were Executive of the Year, the first year of the league existed. You were recognized immediately as not only a talent but as a mover and a shaker. Someone who could have a great influence on the sport. You mentioned the opening of Columbus Crew Stadium in 1999. I don’t expect you to remember this, Jamey, but Game Face, our company was working with Major League Soccer quite extensively in those first few years. We were traveling to each of the clubs. Mark Abbott, who is the President of the League now is one of the people who wrote the original business plan for Major League Soccer, didn’t he?

He transitioned from the World Cup in ‘94.

Mark has been with Major League Soccer longer than anybody since its inception. He called us and invited us to participate. We were the official sales coach for Major League Soccer for the first 3 or 4 years. One of my highlights in that relationship was being invited by you and by Mark to come to Columbus Crew Stadium opening night. What an event that was. It was a milestone for soccer in America because it was the opening of the first soccer-specific stadium. They’ve since renovated the stadium. Do you remember what happened at the end of that wonderful evening with traffic and parking?

Yes, I do. It’s amazing that you bring that up because I was sitting after the game in our post-game party area and I could see the traffic. I had a report that the traffic was ridiculous. I was sitting with the mayor, Greg Lashutka who has been a dear friend and remains a great friend. Greg said, “It looks like you got some traffic out there.” I said, “I don’t know what’s going on.” He said, “I think you need to hire the city of Columbus Police to provide your traffic direction because we are using the state troopers because we were on their property.” They had directed the traffic from a downtown festival right in front of the stadium and nobody could get out. The next game we adjusted our call for police and had much better traffic flow.

These are little details, things that you don’t anticipate. That was a very momentous evening. You mentioned your background is in soccer. You started as a college soccer player at Clemson University. You won two NCAA titles with them. You were also the student body president at the time if I’m not mistaken.

That’s correct.

You have leadership skills from day one. Were you the captain of the team as well?

I wasn’t. The captain was selected by the coach. My dear friend, Paul Rutenis was the captain in my senior year when we won the championship. My dear friend, Charlie Morgan was the captain in my freshman year.

You can't be working on the business if you're working in the business. Click To Tweet

You should be the captain if you’re also the student body president.

I didn’t have time for it.

Straight out, you’ve got leadership skills and talent. Where does that come from?

I’ve always had a desire to lead. I’ve always wanted to organize and be the one to help everyone else be successful. I do think it starts there because you can have some of the traits, but if you don’t want it, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to spend the time. You’re not going to have the JJ Watt work ethic addict. I’ve always treated leadership as a craft. When I was in college, was I a good leader? I am not, but I had an interest. I built and built and had new opportunities to lead. When I came to Columbus the entry-level president, I had to learn on the fly. I made lots of mistakes, but I would always break those down. I’m a pretty self-aware person and reflective of what I’m doing. Is it getting me the results that I want? If not, what do I need to do differently? I’m fortunate that I’m okay with failure, that I’m willing to take risks and have a creative mind.

Most people would hate to be in a startup environment. You have a blank sheet of paper, for me, it’s a dream. The Columbus part was easy, starting with nothing, putting it together and building it. In Houston, I was doing the same. My transition was around 2006 or 2007 when I was still treating the organization like a startup. It was proven to me that I am being a micromanager. In that startup environment, you’ve got to be. You’ve got to have your hands on to ensure that all the plants are growing the way that they should in perfect parallel. Everybody understands who we are, how we operate, what matters most, but eventually an ongoing business. You can’t be working on the business if you’re working in the business. That was a transition for me, going from this micromanager meddling person to a leader of leaders. I was leading followers. I had to elevate the leading leaders. I liked it much better where I am now. I manage people by remote control. I get great people. I give them a clear direction. We have a solid understanding of how we operate.

We have tremendous trust in each other. They trust that I have their back and I trust that they have my back. I don’t have to watch over them to set clear expectations and then hold them accountable for those results. I can spend my time on the things that matter most, the who, how, and why, the people, the talent, and the organizational environment that we provide them to give their best every day. The how, the culture, the habits that we want from our people and ensuring that culture remains strong and create ways to reinforce culture. The why and what’s the purpose? We are keeping everybody sites, not on now. We were talking about crisis situations, we’ve got to deal with the crisis, but when championships create memorable experiences, do great things for Houston. All of us want that. That makes the hard work worthwhile reminding that there’s a reason.

Like in sports, there’s a reason why you’re doing sprints at the end of practice. It was Tom Landry who said, “Leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do in order to get what they do want to get.” You can’t be doing those things if you’re meddling and having your eyes over people’s shoulders. You’ve got to trust that they’re professionals. They have a great desire to win. Sit with them and help them understand what winning looks like. Let them go out and do it. When they have problems, they can come to you. When they need resources, they can come to you, but otherwise go get your job done.

Jamey, in all of those years of leading teams, when I say teams, I should go back even longer than that because you lead teams in university. In those years, there’s got to be times when you have chosen the wrong people or you’ve inherited the wrong people. How does a leader deal with that? What do you do about that?

What you have to avoid is what I term in the sports business when a GM selects a player in the draft, you want them to succeed. Sometimes you’ll work hard that you keep the wrong people around for too long. In general, we’re way too quick to hire and we’re way too slow to fire. What I’ve had to do within our organization because it’s not me, I’ve got my leadership team and I’ll deal with them. Down the line, I’m going to make sure that on a regular basis, we’re getting the people that don’t fit. It’s not around performance. It’s around cultural fit. We talk about the attitudes that we’re looking for from our people.

GFEP 3 | Houston Texans

Houston Texans: Keeping the wrong people on the bus is unfair to all the right people. As a leader, you have to nip those problems in the bud.

 

The talents that we want are a great work ethic and a winning attitude, a positive, optimistic, team-oriented and a demonstrated commitment to operate consistent with our values, which are being innovative, memorable, passionate, accountable, courageous, and working as a team. Those are where people get off track that they don’t fit. Several times a year, we go through every employee and the manager reports out who are the tails. Think about a bell curve in any population. Usually, almost everybody’s right in the middle. There are some people that are stars and there are some people that are problems. I asked them anybody in the middle, don’t worry about it. Let’s talk about your stars and your problems. As a team, they get 360 feedback on everybody, within their department.

When we have problems, once they’re out there, sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. Once it’s known that we have a problem, then it’s on them. They know the clock is ticking. You got to work with them. You got to do a performance plan. If it doesn’t work out, it’s time to part ways. It’s better for the employee and it’s better for us. Our chair coordinator at one time said to me when she came in, “I’ve got this one cheerleader that I need to kick off the team.” I knew her, her family, and her story. I said, “Shouldn’t we reconsider? She got a great background.” She said, “Jamey, let me stop you there. Keeping the wrong people on the bus is unfair to all the right people. We think there’s not a cost to keeping somebody around as not a fit. There is a cost. It does frustrate people. As a leader, you have to nip those problems in the bud. It’s like a garden. Gardeners will tell you if you’re to go out and weed is better to weed too much than to weed too little. If the weeds remain, they’re going to take over the good stuff. You got to be a great gardener in order to maintain a talented base.”

Do you mind if I ask, how does your boss measure you and your performance?

Fortunately, at the head of the organization, he’s got a lot of great metrics to look at. There’s the subjective component and it’s always been a conversation coming over to the house. I will say that it’s incumbent upon me to tell my story. Regularly, I am summarizing the victories that we have. At the end of the year, it’s not difficult to evaluate me, and all those things that I have communicated, in addition to the financial results are there. We sit down and have a conversation about it, and then move forward. I do my own personal evaluation and that’s my test. That test is then graded by our ownership and they reward me how they see fit.

In all those years both at The Crew and at The Texans, has there been one decision that you can go back to? I’m not going to ask you a decision you regret. I, personally, don’t like looking backward. I tried to learn from it, but I don’t try to dwell on it. Can you identify a decision that perhaps was the most difficult that you had to make? I know there have been many in the positions that you’ve held and the prominent positions that you’ve held. Has there been one that you can share with us that was particularly difficult and you wrestled with?

The most difficult decisions are people-related decisions. I always agonize those because you’re dealing with people’s lives, their livelihoods, and their careers. There’s a book called The Dichotomy of Leadership. It’s by two Navy SEALs and they talk about all the dichotomies that it consists. For a military leader, the most difficult dichotomy, and I will talk about an investment sense, is having to love your people and know that for the good of the unit, you may have to put them in harm’s way. It’s the same way in business too. To be able to manage that dichotomy, they say, “Genius is being able to keep to opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time and not going crazy. To be able to know that you have to operate on both of those planes as a leader is something you have to accept.”

Challenge is the crucible of leadership, but the one decision that I will mention to you is several years ago, we had built this amazing tailgate experience for our fans. They loved it from day one. It was like the barbecue cook-off ten times a year in our parking lots. There are 30,000 people are having a meal before the game. There are bands out there, big-screen TVs, and inflatables. It’s not hot dogs and hamburgers. It was gourmet food. Across the freeway, there was an empty lot from the Astroworld coming down. They had leased that lot to a ticket broker in town. He went on the TV before our season started and said, “Tailgating is amazing at NRG Stadium, but you don’t have to have a ticket. Come here and you can walk across and you can go and tailgate.” We didn’t think much of it to begin with. In the first few games, we had a few 1,000 people that did it. We then had a game, we played the Cowboys. I think we had 20,000 people without tickets in our parking lots squatting on the parking spaces. There weren’t parking spaces for the people who had bought them. They rolled their coolers in there and there were fights before and after the game.

The decision that we had to make was, “Do we go take what was turned into the draconian measure and try to make NRG park a ticket in the environment?” Nobody had ever ticketed the parking lots before, but that’s the decision we took. There was tremendous media backlash of how awful the experience was going to be. On the game day, we set a post-game, press availability to be able to answer the media’s questions because they are all out of the parking lots. None of them showed up. It went back to normal. It was a wonderful, magical family-friendly experience. They don’t always work out that way, but the important part was the time that we spent evaluating and had to ask ourselves at the end of the day. As Bob McNair likes to say, “You can never go wrong by doing what’s right.” We had to tell ourselves, “This is the hard thing. This is full of risk. We could completely blow up what was important with our experience, but we knew it was the right thing to do and we went ahead.” Sam Houston had a saying, “Courage is doing what’s right. Accept the consequences and once you figure out what’s right, it doesn’t matter what the consequences are.”

'For every ten players that can handle adversity, there's only one that can handle success.' – Dom Capers Click To Tweet

You talk about the unusual position of an NFL franchise especially in a football-crazy state like Texas has. As far as the attention and the scrutiny that you get, not only from a rabid fan base, which every team hopes for, you want a fan base that’s invested, not apathetic. You also have a media that is constantly looking over your shoulder, second-guessing every move you make. Every CEO, every president of a large organization, a multimillion-dollar organization like you run has that scrutiny. Could you share with us a little bit about the peculiarities of running a franchise or any organization like you do? You have networks devoted 24/7 to doing nothing but talking about you, your failures, or your missteps. You have sections of newspapers that are dedicated to nothing but your industry. It’s an unusual place in sports that you have. What’s that like? How do you finally get used to that or do you ever?

You accepted as a fact of life about the stick. You pick up the stick, you get both ends. You want to be at the pinnacle, you’re going to have tremendous attention. I guess I come at it with a perspective that helps because of where I came from to be spent five years in a fledgling soccer league and franchise desperate for attention. It’s a great blessing. The exposure is a tremendous blessing. We serve the media. We want the media to be engaged in what we’re doing because we know how important a conduit they are to our fans. I believe that the way you treat the media is how the fans think you treat them.

We’ve won the Rozelle Award a number of times as the number one media service organization in the National Football League because we do know how important they are. It comes with the territory. Everything’s a mixed bag. When I was in Columbus, I wanted the attention here. In Columbus, you could do all crazy stuff and it didn’t work. Not all that many people saw it anyway. You tried something else. When you come to the NFL, there’s much more. It’s got to be much more deliberate and intentional because whatever we do, everybody’s going to see it. The expectation is we win at everything that we choose to do.

I want to ask you two more questions and they both relate to the future. Let’s talk about the future of the NFL. How do you see it from your vantage point? From where you sit, what does the future of the NFL look like?

I’ll preface this with a phrase from Yogi Bear. I never make predictions especially about the future. The NFL is at the top and importantly, there’s this mentality in a locker room. I call it the get better mentality and in our sport, it’s simple, but it’s powerful. Every game gets broken down completely and the coaches and the players think about how do we do this better? The military after-action review and the league approach it that way from game-to-game. From season-to-season, what’s better? How do we get better? As a team, we’re the same way. The future is incredibly bright for the National Football League.

I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be, but as long as we do not get complacent and we handle success, you mentioned Dom Capers earlier. Dom has a great line. He says, “For every ten players that can handle adversity, there’s only one that can handle success.” We have to be that one that can handle success. If we ever start drinking our own Kool-Aid, that’s when you start going over the crest. We have to constantly be reinventing ourselves. That’s what where we’re committed to doing.

You reminded me of another question. I’m writing a book about sales game-changers. It’s about methodology. It’s also about the people who are game-changers. When it comes to that industry, you’ve been a game-changer. You went into Major League Soccer as a young professional. You were given the title of a general manager. I think you are worthy of it. Some people may have thought, “Who’s this guy coming out of the collegiate ranks, who has got a fancy MBA and he’s running an expansion franchise?” You are a game-changer in Columbus. You helped to innovate for that league. You’re doing the same thing with the NFL. What role do sales play in your success, the ability to persuade and influence other people?

I was fortunate that my first experience was with IBM. I spent nine months to a year in sales training. It was a sales MBA from one of the great sales companies of all time. When I went to Procter & Gamble, it’s a different level, but it was still sales it was brand management. You’re trying to influence consumer behavior remotely, whereas sales are that one-on-one. I had the advertising and promotion component and I had the direct sales and sales management experience. I still rely upon those principles because at the end of the day, as you go up in an organization, it’s less and less about the things, and it’s more and more about the people. All-day long, you are looking to influence people to get the outcomes that you’re trying to get.

It’s not fairness. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not like you’re trying to coerce people because people do things of their free will. What you do have to do is get into the shoes of somebody else. I want to get here. How do I motivate them to help me to get where I want to go? How can we do this together? What’s going to be a win-win? A lot of my job is around negotiation. All sales principles trying to get to yes and figuring out a place that everybody feels good about it. I would say sales and sales principles have a role in my life every day, my work life every day, and always have. I’m blessed that I started with such a solid foundation.

GFEP 3 | Houston Texans

Houston Texans: The way you treat the media is how the fans think you treat them.

 

IBM revolutionizes the way companies sell and you were part of that training. Let’s talk about your future. I’ve known you for many years. It’s been a pleasure to be a friend of yours and to be able to work with you and your franchises over those years. Where does Jamey Rootes want to be or see himself being from 10, 20 years from now? What do you still need to do in your career for you to be fulfilled and say that, “I’ve made the difference and the impact I wanted to have?”

As my career has progressed, my family has become a much bigger component. They would laugh and they’d say, “Dad, we know how much you work.” My family is important to me. I am ensuring that my kids get off to a great start in their life. My daughter is a rising junior in high school. My son is a rising freshman in college. He’ll be headed to TCU. My wife, Melissa, is finding some great things that fulfill her and things that we do together. That’s all good, but professionally, I am focused on trying to be great, where my feet are. I love what I’m doing, but I do see on the horizon you’re writing a book, I would like to put it down on paper these principles that have helped to guide these two successful franchises. The things that I’ve learned and some of the stories along the way, not that anybody would want to read it, but it would be good to get it down.

Maybe at least my children could have a much better idea of what their father was doing while they were growing up and going to school. That would be something on the horizon. I want to win a championship. I want to be part of a Super Bowl-winning franchise. I felt for the last few years that I got to get that done. Before, I look beyond the organization that I’m a part of. I’m blessed to be part of McNair’s organization. They give me such latitude and such an opportunity to do that for our team, to do amazing things for us to live out our best life right here in Houston. I can’t complain about anything, but a book would be as far as I’m looking. Hopefully, someday that will be a reality. As you open your question, it’s been a great blessing to be a friend of yours and have huge respect and look forward to reading your book.

You are a true professional. That’s one reason why I wanted you to join me on the show because a lot of us can continue to learn from you, watching you, and interfacing with you. I congratulate you on all that you have done and all that you are doing, sincerely.

Thanks for your friendship.

Thanks, Jamey. We know you’re busy. Let you get back to running one of the best franchises in the NFL.

Thanks, Rob. It is good to be with you.

Important Links:

About Jamey Rootes

GFEP 3 | Houston TexansJamey Rootes serves as President of the Houston Texans and is responsible for all business functions of the club. Since joining the Texans, Rootes has overseen the team’s efforts to secure stadium naming rights and sponsorship, coordinated radio and TV broadcasting relationships, engineered the club’s successful ticket and suite sales campaigns, led the creation and launch of the team’s identity and developed the team’s highly-acclaimed customer service strategy.

Rootes also serves as President of Lone Star Sports & Entertainment (LSSE), a sports management agency associated with the Texans. LSSE has been a catalyst for some of Houston’s most significant sporting events.

Rootes maintains an active role in the community by serving on a number of boards, including the Greater Houston Partnership and the United Way.

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

 

If you think about any conflict or impediment to progress, it’s probably due to a lack of one thing – trust. Over the past two decades, no author or speaker has taught more people, organizations, and societies how to build this essential element of human relationships, both internally and externally, than Stephen M.R. Covey. Stephen is the author of The Speed of Trust, which is now in its second edition with over 2 million copies sold. In this episode Stephen joins Rob Cornilles and shares his practical yet profound concepts that encourage honesty, integrity, and caring for others – in any environment. At a time when remoteness increases the need for trust among co-workers and managers, Stephen, the epitome of a game face executive, provides valuable advice that can “change everything.”

Watch the episode here:

Stephen M.R. Covey | Trust Changes Everything

If you think about any conflict, an impediment to progress that you’ve experienced at work, or you’re seeing in your home, community, and world, it’s probably due to a lack of one thing, trust. My first guest this season has convincingly taught the leaders, workers, and families for that matter throughout the world that trust, once established and maintained, changes everything. It is my distinct honor and pleasure to welcome a friend and a bestselling author, world-renowned lecturer and thought leader, Stephen MR Covey.

Stephen, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Rob. I’m thrilled to be on this show and to be with you again.

When I get to visit with you, I walk away better, stimulated, and more thoughtful. As we launched this show, I thought, “Who could be the best person to set the table for this show moving forward and give my audience instant value?” Your name came to my mind immediately. I’m grateful that you are willing to be a guest and we have many things we want to talk about. Let’s get right to it. First of all, one of my all-time favorite books, whether you’re talking business or social relationships in the home, it doesn’t matter, The Speed of Trust, which Stephen published in 2006.

It’s a New York Times bestseller with over two million copies sold. It’s been a number one Wall Street Journal Bestseller as well. It is jam-packed full of goodness and wisdom that’s being used all over the world. I have to ask you, you wrote this book, it took years of thoughts and observations to put it together but it came out in 2006. You’ve reprinted it again in 2020. How is it different writing it in 2006 from rewriting it in 2020? What’s different now that makes your book even more valuable for your readers?

One of the reasons why I came out with this updated edition is because our world is changing rapidly around us that I wanted to reflect on how relevant and timely trust especially is now. It was vital and relevant in 2006 and even more so as we’re operating in a world of declining trust. We’re seeing trust going down in many of our institutions whether it be the trust in government, media, business, other institutions, or society at large. We’re seeing that reality but in such a world of disruption, change, and transition. The pace, type, amount of change, disruptive technologies, and all kinds of things happening. On top of that, in every sense in the digital age, we’re truly transitioned out of the industrial age where knowledge work is important. All these factors and many others have come together with such that in this new world, trust is the ultimate currency.

It’s what makes our world go round. While that was technically true in 2006, it becomes more obvious and even apparent in 2020 and beyond. It’s what makes everything works in a world of declining trust. To be trusted in a world of low trust is a huge asset and advantage for any person, leader, or salesperson to be trusted when people aren’t quite sure who they can trust. All these factors have conspired. Things like having multiple generations at work with the Millennials and Gen Z in much of our workforce, their social contract, and the expectations that they have. Even now with what’s going on with people working from home, that requires trust to do it well because if you try to micromanage from a distance instead of trust people, it won’t be near as effective. These factors have made this important topic even more important and relevant now. That’s what’s become clearer. That’s why I wrote an afterword of why trust is even more relevant now than it was when I first wrote this.

I will continue to encourage people to reread your book. It’s been on my desk, behind my chair in my office, sitting there for many years and I refer to it. I’m glad and grateful that you updated it. Not that it needed updating, but it helped to reinforce the principles that you talk about throughout. I want to start with the word trust. Where is trust born and where does trust die?

Trust is the ultimate currency. Click To Tweet

Trust is the confidence that comes from having both character and competence. I believe trust is most quickly born out of our competence, delivering value for someone, and result coming through so that you make their life better. It’s built first on competence and that’s where it’s born. Where it dies fastest is on a character where we violate the integrity, have self-serving agendas, motives, or intent. Both character and competence are vital. To build, sustain, and keep trust, you need both character and competence. You built that fastest to your competence and you distract fastest through your character.

It was born through competence and it dies through character. I could flip it and show you how it works in the other direction too. In our environment with all that’s going on in the midst of this pandemic as well as other things that are happening in society, I’ve always said, “You build trust faster through competence, delivering results, creating value for somebody.” I’m going to amend and say that with all that’s going on in our society, I’m not so sure that we don’t build trust fastest through our character as well. To show someone that you understand them, listen to them, demonstrate care and concern for them at a time when there’s much uncertainty and for people to feel like you not only have their back, but that you care about them, not because of what they can deliver for your company but you care about them as a person, as a human being, their family, safety, welfare, and well-being. That is demonstrating an extraordinary care concern.

That’s a character dimension that right now, especially, is building trust fast. In a sense, it’s born in character fastest now and demonstrating that care. I saw this article where the person says, “We need Chief Empathy Officers, CEOs that demonstrate caring and concern more than your useful asset for our team to produce results. What about the person and showing that care matters enormously?” It’s hard for me to separate character and competence because you need both. I’ve always said, “You build it fastest through competence. You lose it fastest through a character.” That’s generally true. Especially now, we might go that fastest through character as well.

For me to add to anything you say because of your experience and the work that you do around the globe is truly impressive. As you’re saying that however, some thoughts are coming to my mind. First is character reminds me of the heart. It’s who you are. If I may, it’s your soul. Competence reminds me of your brain, skills, and abilities. Are you suggesting that it starts with the heart? If you are, how does one develop a heart of character, concern, and empathy towards others, especially in a world where trust is difficult to build or to find?

That’s a good assessment of it. Character and competence, heart and mind. It’s an overlapping piece, but it was accurate. You start with the heart. I always say that character and competence are equal, but the character is first among equals because it’s the right starting point. I use a metaphor of a tree with a character being the roots and the trunk of the tree. Competence is being the branches and the fruits of the tree. If you want to have branches and fruits, you’ve got to deliver, perform and come through but you’ll never have that without roots and a trunk with stability and foundation. That’s the character and heart. You do start there. Here’s a way of thinking about how you start with the heart. Using the tree metaphor, the roots are our basic integrity and it is the idea that we are who we say we are, and we do what we say that we value.

It includes honesty and truthfulness but it’s even more than that because honesty is when our words conform to reality. Integrity is when our reality conforms with our words. We are who we say we are. We’re real and authentic. That builds trust with people. It’s when you’re authentic, real, and a person of integrity. People can say, “I trust this person. They’re authentic, real, and not trying to pretend or to seem rather than to be.” That’s a foundation. If you always look in the mirror and you try to say, “Who am I? What do I value? What’s important to me? Am I living true to that?” None of us are perfect. We all fall short, but we’re striving.

We’re trying to be real, authentic, a person with integrity. That’s the roots. We all need to start there and get better. One way of getting better is to clarify what’s important to each of us. What do we value? You can’t have the integrity to your values if you’re not clear on what your values are. You focus on my value so that I could then be true to them. A whole other half is the trunk of the tree. That’s our intent which is our motive in our agenda. This is where I get back to caring, the motive that best builds credibility and trust is caring.

When I care about the people that I’m serving, lead-in, and I’m selling to, I care about their interests, business, wins, success, they know and feel that I care about them. When they believe that, feel that, they tend to trust me. If they don’t think I care or think that I care only at a superficial level, but then my real agenda is to make the sale, to get the deal, get the commission that I only care superficially, they tend to not trust me. They wonder if I’m trying to manipulate or use techniques on them versus my agenda to help them succeed because I care. Caring is the motive and the agenda is to seek mutual benefit.

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything

That’s called a win-win. There’s nothing wrong with me wanting to make the sale and winning. I want to do that but I want to do that because I care about your win as a customer. I’m going to help you succeed and I want you to win too. That’s the only sustainable approach. It challenged us to look in the mirror, to go deep inside, and say, “Am I a person of integrity and authenticity? What’s my agenda and motive? Am I seeking mutual benefit? Do I care about those that I’m serving selling to?” That makes such a profound difference when it’s real and authentic. That’s why you start with integrity so that when you say my intent is to serve, you want to be true to that and not just give lip service to it. It makes such a profound difference. There’s a lot I packed into that. That’s the starting point. I would say, let each of us look in the mirror and try to say, “Who am I? What’s my integrity? What’s my real intent? Is it to serve or is it to make a sell to serve me?”

Do you think that quality of care is inherent in people or do you think it’s a learned characteristic?

There are elements of both but it’s also learned. At some level, some of this is inherent of us because we’re social beings and we like to interact with people. We’ve learned over time that if you’re in an interdependent world, win-win is the only sustainable long-term solution. The reason I say that is while we may have had a desire to be connected and interdependent, much of our life and our scripting is more towards win or lose. It happens in school, we have sometimes forced grading curves and there are many A’s because there’s got to be many fails and many B’s, D’s, and so forth. You grow up in a home with 1 or 2 siblings and sometimes you’re compared, “How come you can’t be like your brother or sister?” It’s almost like there are winners and losers. In sports, it’s an independent reality where two teams want to feel to play. There’s only one winner. You might have a tie in some sports and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Most people hate ties in sports.

There are only a few sports in which that continues. The reality is there are a winner and a loser. In sports, that’s okay because the nature of that reality is independent. There’s a broader interdependent reality which is we have sportsmanship and rules that we all agree to so that we can have this competitive environment. I love sports and the environment but it tends to script us towards win or lose. School tends to script a score when losing the family home and how we’re raised. There’s a lot of win-lose scripting.

There are a time and a place for that in competition. Most of life is not competition. Life is interdependent, collaboration, cooperation, and working together. Innovation is a team sport. Working to do things together as a team and increasing sales is team-based. There are some individual-based and some team-based combinations but we’re trying to help each other and that’s collaborative. That’s interdependent. That’s where we need to learn win-win, skills of interdependence and collaboration because we’re often scripted in how we’re raised growing up.

Fundamentally, I do think it’s learned, but it is innate in us that most people are good with a desire for integrity, social people, and care about others at some level. We might’ve been scripted in a different direction. We’ve got to become intentional and deliberate about saying, “This will work better if I am focusing on helping my clients succeed.” When that becomes my dominant mindset flowing from my heart, then all the skills that I learn and I do is in the context of intent that is about helping them succeed because I care about them. That then gives context for my skills and everything else I’m trying to do. Your intent matters more than your technique.

The innate desire to be helpful and serve people is in all of us and because of our environment, upbringing, or our experiences, it starts to dissipate. Cynicism, doubt, and suspicion start to come into our lives. I love one of the examples in your book where you talk about, “We learn to stay in our lane when we’re out on the freeway or out on the street. We don’t cross over into the other lanes. We know that’s not appropriate. It’s not safe. It’s not only not safe for us, it’s not safe for other people.”

Trust is born through competence and dies through character. Click To Tweet

To me, the innate desire to win, personally, coupled with the training, “One way you can win is to stay in your lane and don’t do harm to other people. In order to make that happen, you have to learn the skill of driving properly and you need to obey certain rules.” What’s causing a lot of disruption in our society is that some of the rules that we have become accustomed to whether in business, in societal interaction, or even in family life, those rules seem to be dissipating and getting fuzzy. As a result, at least as I see it, trust is being negatively impacted. Correct me if I’m wrong.

You’re right that there’s overlap, contention, and sometimes a violation of the norms and rules where you start to question, “Are there even norms anymore such that we can trust and confidence in this?” I love how French sociologist, Émile Durkheim put it. He said, “When mores or cultural norms are sufficient, laws are unnecessary. When the mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” If the mores break down, then it’s hard to even enforce that. We have overlap. That’s part of the danger of a low trust world. That’s what’s happening and increasingly in our society, trust tends to be going down in a variety of different ways.

The danger of a low trust world is that it tends to perpetuate itself because we all become a little bit more careful, cautious, and guarded because none of us want to get burned. It’s natural as a defensive mechanism but then we lead out more guarded, protected, cautious, and people respond more guarded, protected, cautious, and we respond back the same. We can find ourselves perpetuating a vicious downward cycle of distress and suspicion, creating more distress and suspicion, and everybody feels justified in the process. Distressed is contagious. Thankfully, the converse is equally true. Trust and confidence can create more trust and confidence where people respond to it and they become inspired by it. To be trusted is the most inspiring form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in all of us, we want to live up to it and respond to it.

Warren Buffett, the great investor, acquired some 77-plus companies. These people that get acquired their company, they’re all now independently wealthy without a contract and employment agreements, they choose to stay and work with and for Warren Buffett. They don’t need to work again because they don’t have a need for money. There’s no contract that says you’ve got to stay with the business and they stay because they’re inspired by Warren Buffett. He trusts them abundantly. No one wants to let Warren down. I talked to one of these CEOs, Grady Rosier from McLane. He said, “We did the whole deal. We sold our business. This was a $23 billion business. We did it after one meeting of two hours, and we had a handshake deal, closed the deal in 29 days, no traditional due diligence and I’ve stayed.”

This was several years ago since I talked with him. He’s been there many years, no contract, and he doesn’t need to be there. I said, “Why do you stay?” He said, “Warren inspires me. I don’t want to let him down.” That’s what trust does because Warren trusts him. It’s inspiring. People are inspired by that. We need to be inspired and nothing inspires by being trusted. It can work in the downward direction of distress and suspicion grading more of the same and that’s going on in our world. Also, we can create in our own world relationships, team, those we associate with in our homes or communities an upward spiral of trust and confidence creating more of the same.

We get people a model of someone that can be trusted. We give a model of someone that’s trusting as well. A model of someone who’s inspiring and try to create that upward trend as well. In either direction, that’s going to happen. Even though it’s a low trust world, I’m optimistic that there’s a lot we can do as leaders and as salespeople to create an island of trust, perhaps in a sea of distrust, and become a ripple effect of impacting trust with those around us.

I love that sentiment and the sincerity that you shared with us is unquestionable. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty a little bit. Let’s say that I am a leader of a team whether I’m a CEO or a sales manager. In this new era that we’re living through, I have been forced to send my people home and have them work from home remotely. There’s no more managing by walking around and leaning over cubicles. If it makes me uncomfortable, how do I build a sense of trust with my own people to allow that to happen and I can sleep comfortably at night? Is there something I need to do? Is there something they need to do? What’s your prescription?

Now is a great opportunity for leaders and organizations to build trust with their people in an accelerated fashion because we’ve got people working from home and the numbers went from 30% to 68% overnight. It’s is a huge opportunity if we do this right as leaders. Your question is a good opportunity. Number one, if you can show that you care about your people during a time of crisis and disruption, that’s important. That’s why I said the character is important. Show that you care. The second thing is be deliberate and intentional about trusting your people. If they’re going to be working from home rather than not trusting them from a distance and trying to hover over a micromanage from a distance which will convey even more profoundly that’s like, “I didn’t trust you before when you were right under my thumb, not with me. Now that you’re in your home, I trust you less even because I can’t see you.”

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

Building Trust: Innovation is a team sport. Working to do things together as a team and increasing sales is team-based.

 

There are productivity tools that can be useful, I’m not against them, but they also could be surveillance tools that some companies are using that taking screenshots of their employee’s screens every ten minutes. It’s one thing if the real intent is to try to increase productivity, we’re trying to get best practices and learning but it’s a whole other thing if your real intent is, “I don’t trust my people. I want to make sure that they’re doing this.” That is screaming to your people. “I don’t trust you. You’re working from home because I have no other choice.” It will amplify the distrust.

What I’m saying is here’s the opportunity to say to your team and people, “I do trust you.” Here’s how you can do it. If you’re a little leery and worried about that, you’re extending trust what I call a smart trust as opposed to a blind trust. A blind trust would be like, “I trust you, indiscriminately. One-size-fits-all without expectations and accountability.” That’s not going to work. Without expectations of accountability, it’s going to be not very smart and at some point, it’s going to be abused, taken advantage of, and you’re going to say, “I try trusting people but it didn’t work. I’ve got to go back to control.” You’ve got to always have clear expectations and accountability to the trust being given.

You do that together. You create a stewardship agreement, a trust agreement together. Some type of saying, “I trust you to work from home. Let’s be clear about what we’re trying to do together. Let’s get on the same page. Here are the desired results that we’re after and what we’re trying to achieve. Here are the guidelines to work with. There are some limits or some guardrails to make sure that we stay true to our values and don’t do anything illegal or stay in compliance with basic guidelines. Here are the resources we have to work with.”

It’s all results-oriented around the results. “I want to get these outcomes, get these results within these guidelines, and with these resources.” Simultaneously, to clarify those expectations, we also bring in an agreed-upon process for accountability which might say, “Once a week or once a month, you check in with me and against the agreement we created together, tell me how you’re doing.” If you agree upon this upfront, then what’s happening is the agreement is governing and it’s not me having to come in as the manager or the boss and hover over and saying, “Let me see what’s happening. Let me check on you.”

That feels like micromanagement. Instead, it’s the person coming back to the leader saying, “As we agreed, we’re going to check-in, and here’s how I’m doing against the criteria that we laid out of how we assessed how I’m doing.” It looks and feels different. It has a different impact. There’s a great opportunity to accelerate the building of trust with your people by telling them, “I trust you, let’s have the agreement governed as opposed to me micromanage over you.”

It’s a different approach and there’s a great opportunity. The nice thing is the agreement helps the leader feel like, “I’m not blindly telling people I trust them. I’ve got the expectations and the accountability built into a process.” What an opportunity to increase trust. I hope that we see this for what it is. This is an opportunity that accelerates, amplify, and grow trust if we’re intentional about it and deliberate as opposed to having it go the other direction because people now feel micromanaged from a distance.

I don’t mean to put myself underneath your umbrella. In my world, advising and consulting with sales leaders, I’ve been saying to them in this era that we’re living through right now, we have an opportunity to rewrite the sales playbook. The way sales are being done now is totally different than the way it was being done before. It’s exciting that we get to rewrite. You’re talking about this from a trust aspect how a leader of an organization or an office can rewrite a new way and trusting to their people tasks, assignments, and responsibilities, building accountability along the way. It makes me think about the idea of athletics. We have a rule book.

The referee is supposed to abide by that rule book. When the referee to the observer appears to be breaking the rules or not adhering to the rules then trust is broken, isn’t it? We blew the ref. We don’t think that they’re being honest and we feel slighted or whatever word you want to use. The player feels like, “You’re picking on me. You’ve got it out for me.” I want to ask you about the player inside an office. Let’s say that their boss doesn’t have your training and counsel, what does that person do? How do they approach that boss so that they can perhaps rebuild trust?

You build trust fast when you create value for somebody. Click To Tweet

I bet that many of us have experienced that. Many of our readers are saying, “That describes me or my situation.” The more you focus on your credibility as a salesperson or employee, whatever your role might be, the more credible you are, the more courage, influence, clout, and permission that gives you to have conversations with your boss and leader. The less credible you are, the more it sounds like you’re whining so you’re not credible to have a conversation with your boss.

You always look in the mirror. The point is if we think that the problem is out there as everybody else, that thought often is the problem because we’ve disempowered ourselves. We may do have a non-trusting boss but we’ve got to still look in the mirror and say, “What can I do to show my boss that he should trust me because I deliver, perform, and get the job done? I’m a person of credibility in both character and competence. I’m delivering and performing.” That’s job one. I start with that. I can work on that.

If you do that first, that gives you far more confidence, clout, and influence to have the conversation. You have to do the second thing I’m going to say. Start with yourself. Second, make it less about the weaknesses of your boss and more about what you can do to earn their confidence. Here’s a way of doing it. Rather than going to your boss and saying, “How come you don’t trust me? You’re micromanaging me. You’re doing all these things.” That’s like, “What’s wrong with you, boss? You need to learn to trust people.” You’d have to feel confident yourself to have that conversation of, “You don’t trust me, boss.”

That’s focusing on the weaknesses of the boss. Turn it around and say, “Boss, what could I do so you have more confidence and trust in me? I want to be that player for you. I want to be someone that you can have confidence in and you can rely upon. I’m willing to do what I need to do to earn that from you. What can I do so that you feel like I’m your go-to person and I’ll deliver for you? I want to be that person.”

I flipped it instead of saying, “Why don’t you trust me?” I say, “What can I do to earn your trust? I’m willing to do it.” Most bosses, even if it’s a non-trusting will think about it. They might say, “I’ve got to know you’re going to deliver, get it done, and you need to report on it. That’s why I hover over. I need to know.” You’re trying to listen and understand what’s important to the boss so you’ll be trusted by the boss and they’re not going to do this. You listen and say, “I’m hearing this. Anything else? I’m going to work on that and try to do it.”

Try to deliver and do that. If the boss says, “I’ve got to be involved.” Report back frequently. “Boss, I want to report back. I had this sales call. It went great. Here’s what we did.” He said, “Here’s what your next steps.” You say, “I’m going to do that.” You keep doing that over time. What happened if the boss says, “That’s great. Why don’t you tell me at the end of the week?” They have more trust in you. Let me tell you a little story on this. We saw this happen in an organization where there was a micromanaging boss that’s visionary but didn’t trust anyone. Everyone bad mouth the boss behind his back and got together.

She was the boss of the lead. I say, “What’s wrong with this person?” Everyone complained but one person took this other approach and said, “This boss is a visionary in a lot of ways. He doesn’t trust people. When the boss asks for something, I wonder why he’s asking for that. This may be what he’s worried about. He projected a little bit. I’m going to do more. I’m going to do this.” He then would present to the boss what the boss had asked for and more, he said, “You asked for this, here it is. I also thought that you’re worried about this. This is the reason you’ve asked for this. I also analyzed this.” The boss is like, “That is helpful. Thank you.”

It happened again and bit by bit, this person working in his circle of influence. That circle of influence expands. He worked on what he could do, not on the weakness of the boss but what I can do to add more value and be more credible to the boss. What happened is over time, that boss started to have confidence and trust in this person. He’d sit around the table and tell people, “Go do this, go do that.” He dictates but when he turned to this person, “What do you think? What’s your opinion?”

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

Building Trust: With more than half of people working from home, now is a great opportunity for leaders and organizations to build trust with their people in an accelerated fashion.

 

This person had built that trust. The point is, if a boss can do it with one, you can do it with another but you do it from the inside out. This is not easy. If it were easy, we’d all be doing it. This is hard especially when the boss doesn’t trust. If you become more credible and then you make it about, “What can I do to earn your trust?” You listen, you hear it out, and then you do what you said you were going to do. You can find yourself earning the trust of that boss and getting to where the boss can now start to trust you. In a sense, you’re leading your boss but you’re doing it from the inside out. You’re modeling that. You’re giving the boss a vision of what they could do with others by learning how to do it with you.

It reminds me again of what your father taught which is, “Seek first to understand.” When you go to that boss and you say, “I want to understand how I can provide a greater value to you.” Your father meant it more in a listening context when someone was sharing an opinion, thought, complaint, or seek to understand. In this case, it’s suggesting to us that we need to try to get inside the boss’s head a little bit because some bosses are not communicative.

They don’t know how to express their fears and why they mistrust or distrust people. I like what you’re saying. In The Speed of Trust, you’ve talked about thirteen behaviors. One of the behaviors has always been important to me because it’s one of the founding principles that we have gained phase try to teach and reinforce with our clients. That principle is the behavior of results. My clients and friends who are reading this, I hope they don’t roll their eyes when I say that because they know that’s my favorite word. Always produce results. Think about results more than your product. Don’t talk about your product or your service. Talk about the results it brings. Can you expand a little bit from your perspective, why is the result one of your top thirteen behaviors?

It’s back to what I was saying at the outset. The fastest way to build trust with someone on the competence side, in particular, on the results side. You deliver results for them and you create value for them. If you, as a salesperson, can demonstrate and you will do what you say you’re going to do, you’ll deliver. I learned to make commitments that add some value and then do it even if you’re in the process and you don’t have the deal yet, but you say, “I’m going to get you a copy of that survey and I’ll get you this other thing.” When you do it, you say, “As promised.” It’s saying, “I’m adding some value and I’m delivering some results. I’m doing what I said I was going to do.” It starts in little things but then over time, you can get bigger and you’re creating more value. You’re delivering results and performing. You’re helping your clients succeed and you do it in the sales process as well as after the sale. You build trust fast when you create value for somebody.

In this context, especially if you’re part of a sales team and the results are not being delivered, no fault of yours. What do you do in that situation? Do you go and palms up with your prospect or your client and say, “We’re not delivering?” When the results are not being produced as you promise, what should you do at that point to maintain or at least to try to build trust?

First, you’ve got to talk to your team like, “Team, we’ve got to deliver and perform or else we’re better off not making these promises.” If you make a promise and then don’t deliver on that, you will lose trust fast. You make a promise and deliver on it, you can gain trust fast. In either direction, you can build or lose trust fast on making and keeping commitments. Before you make that promise, you make sure with your team and you’re clear on what you can and can’t do. You’d be better off not making the promise than to make it and not deliver on it. I was at an architect’s conference with all the managing partners of architectural firms. We’re talking about sales and they’re trying to grow their firms.

When a managing partner was saying, “We lost business one time to another architectural firm that was making a promise to the client that they knew they couldn’t deliver on.” The client was saying, “Can you help us design this thing for this amount of cost?” The design was far too sophisticated and everything. This gentleman’s firm said, “Not for that cost. We could do another thing for that cost but to do what you’re wanting, it would cost a lot more.” They were upfront and honest about it. Another firm said, “Yes.” Knowing that they couldn’t do it. They got the deal but that deal went south. That deal got unraveled when they couldn’t deliver on that.

They got the deal but they lost the trust. The client left that other firm and they came over to this firm and said, “We’re coming back to you because from the beginning, you told us the truth. You could not do that but that here’s what you could do and here’s what it would take to deliver what we wanted. We went with his other firm that told us what we wanted to hear but they can’t deliver on that. We didn’t like what we heard from you but I learned I can trust what I’ve heard from you. I want a relationship of trust.” It’s the same thing with your team. Make sure you’re clear on what you can and can’t deliver so that you can go in with confidence and make some commitments that will be value-added commitments that when you deliver on them, you’ll not only do what you said you’re going to do but you added value.

You build trust fast when you create value for somebody. Click To Tweet

You delivered some kind of result even if it’s a process result. Something in between, getting back to someone with some value-added piece, and over time you do that. I’d first meet with my team. They sure were clear. If we’re not coming through, I’d meet with my team again and say, “We’ve got to deliver.” Finally, you would go back to your client and you’d say, “We’ve told you we’re going to do this. We are falling short now, we’re going to make up for it and come through on this.” What you don’t want to do is go into that prospect and say, “I made you this commitment. It’s not my fault. I got this person in my team that can’t deliver this.” When you do that, you’re bad-mouthing your team.

Your prospect is thinking, “This guy is not responsible, bad-mouthing his team, and is going to be bad-mouthing me too.” Instead, if you own it, take responsibility but you’re going to also right the wrong. They might not like it at first but if you do right the wrong, you own it as a member of the team, and not throw the rest of the team under the bus, you can earn that prospect’s trust by righting the wrong, behaving your way back into the trust, and you’ll be in a better place than trying to think, “It’s not my fault. It’s my team member’s fault.” That’s not inspiring and attractive.

It’s evident that you would be the manager director leader and also you were a CEO that people would want to work for and work with. I remember when you were the CEO of the Covey Leadership Center. At that time, you wrote a mission statement that always intrigued me. I’d like you to talk a little bit about that and give us some insights into your leadership as well. The mission statement, if I can remember, it was, “To increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders.” The first part of that is interesting to me which is the economic well-being. You didn’t say the social well-being or communal well-being, you said the economic well-being of your employees, customers, shareholders, whatever the case may be. Why was that such an important part of that mission statement?

We called this the universal mission statement. We did apply it to ourselves and we said, “This is a universal one that everyone can take and apply.” We had another customized one too, for us, but this universal mission statement is to increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders. Twelve words but each word is filled with meaning. Why economic well-being? It’s because that’s results, outcomes, and economics matters to all of us. We say, “Of all stakeholders.” I want to increase the economic well-being of salespeople. I want them to make more money because when their economic well-being goes up, they’re happier. Life is better and more fun. I also want to increase the economic well-being of my customers and all stakeholders.

That includes my salespeople and customers because when they’re succeeding and their profits and revenues are higher, life is better for them too. There are results. I want to help my clients succeed and increase their economic well-being. We separated out economic well-being to emphasize the point that you emphasize with your focus on results that I say, the quickest way to build trust is results, competence, economic well-being is the quickest way. You’re improving someone’s life and someone’s business if you impact their economics, revenues, and profits. For a person, their income. That’s improving their life. That is an objective as a universal mission for all stakeholders. With my suppliers, I want them to win too. When they’re more successful, they’ll stay along.

If I have a supplier whose economic well-being goes down, I’m going to lose them as a supplier. If I go lose with a supplier, at some point, that’ll be a loss for me because they’ll be gone. I want them to win too. I want their economic well-being to improve. The whole idea is an abundance mentality. There’s enough for all of us to win. The pie can get bigger versus a scarcity mentality which is there’s only so much in a pie and if someone gets some, there’s less for me. That’s scarcity. Abundance has grown the pie, expand this, we can have multiple winners here so I want to increase the economic well-being of all stakeholders. That is everybody, including my salespeople, clients, distributors, suppliers, colleagues, and peers within the business to increase their economic well-being and also their quality of life.

Before I tell you about the quality of life, I start with economic well-being because that’s the fastest way to build trust, add value to someone, change their world by changing their economic well-being. It speaks volumes and it shows also that you care. It’s a survival need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ve got to start with that. We also did add quality of life and that’s meant to hit all those other issues of communal, social, mental, and spiritual, all kinds of other needs. You want a high quality of life.

There’s not enough to only do economic well-being. We want to have a quality of life which is trying to cover every other need out there. It’s like an umbrella to cover them all but we put economic well-being first because that comes first. It’s the hierarchy of needs and it’s the quickest way to gain value and to build trust with people. That’s the universal mission statement, to increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders. Any team and business can apply that to go along with their other mission statement that they might have. It’s a powerful way to build trust.

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

Building Trust: That’s the universal mission statement – to increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders. It’s a powerful way to build trust.

 

Do we have permission to use that?

I hope you do. It will be valuable. Economic well-being, quality of life, all stakeholders. We’re trying to increase all of it.

When you talk about trust as you do, I’ve often wondered, would you mind sharing with us, in your life and career, is there a person or an institution or a group that has been consistent in earning and keeping your trust? How does that happen? How do they win and keep your trust?

I’ll get personal and I’ll broaden it. My father passed away many years ago, he was someone that I trusted enormously, for many reasons, because he was so trustworthy and a person of great integrity, but also his intent, love, and care for me, I knew he had my best interest at heart always. I never questioned that. That enabled him to sometimes correct me and improve me. Also, not only was he trustworthy, he was trusting. He trusted me. For those that have read his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about the story of Green and Clean, how he thought his son who was me, a seven-year-old boy how to take care of the lawn and yard. Long story, as I was as a seven-year-old boy, I was given the responsibility by taking care of this huge yard and lawn. This is in the days before automatic sprinklers.

You had to manually do it. It was a big thing. People didn’t think a seven-year-old could do this but I did. My father trusted me and my father would use that story of teaching me how to take care of the yard. He called it Green and Clean. “I want the yard green, I want it clean.” Those are what? They are the words of the results. It wasn’t nice, but it was green and clean. He was delegating the responsibility for results to me, “Here’s how we’ll be accountable. Let’s walk around once a week, let’s walk the yard.” That way, there was accountability built-in. It wasn’t him blindly trusting me. We had expectations, green and clean, results-oriented words. We had accountability to work the yard once a week and see how we are doing.

I would tell him how I’m doing against the standard of green and clean. He was trusting with me as a seven-year-old my whole life. If I display those two things I learned from my father, being trustworthy and trusting, and say, “I find the people and the groups that I tend to trust the most and go deepest with are those who first look in the mirror and they’re trustworthy.” That means they have credibility, character, and competence. They’re authentic and real. They deliver results. They do what they say they’re going to do. That’s all part of being trustworthy. In The Speed of Trust, I had those thirteen behaviors. The first twelve are about being trustworthy and the credibility piece that’s about being trustworthy. That’s vital but it’s not enough.

You could have two trustworthy people working together and yet no trust between them even though they’re both trustworthy. If neither person is willing to extend trust to the other. You would have trustworthy teams in your department working together and both on paper, they’re trustworthy, and yet no trust between them. It’s neither team, department, nor function is willing to extend trust to the other. There’s a second part of what triggers trust and that is to be trusting. You’ve got to give it to get it. There’s a reciprocity of trust when you give it, people receive it, they return it. When you withhold it, they withhold it. I’ve seen sales teams and organizations where the trust is so low between sales and engineering or sales and marketing sometimes. Some of them are under the same roof, competing or, there’s distrust between them, sales organization, engineering, or operations.

They’re trapped in a distrustful cycle versus being partners. Part of it is that making on paper, they’re both trustworthy but they’re not trusting and extending trust to each other. Even on a sales team, people not extending trust to each other on the team. Look at it this way. How are you going to build trust with your customer if you don’t trust your own teammate? It’s got to be inside out in the long run. Be trustworthy and be trusting. I learned it from my father and we got to do both. Is trust earned or is it given? Both. It is earned. How do you earn it? Through your character, competence, behavior, delivering results, but you’ve also got to give it. You’ve got to be trusting, you’ve got to extend trust and that inspires people.

Be trustworthy and be trusting. We need more of both in the world today. Click To Tweet

It brings out the best in them. They rise, engage, perform better, and they give it back to you and you begin that virtuous upward viral. I would add one more thing that is relevant. You want to model, trust, and inspire. We need inspiration now. There’s a difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is a good thing. You move up a hierarchy. The highest form of motivation is an inspiration because that’s intrinsic. It’s inside of people. You’re trying to tap into that. If it’s pure motivation, that’s extrinsic, external, that’s carrot and stick, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. You get rewards if you perform and you motivate people. That happens in sales all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that inherently.

If that’s the only form of motivation, then what you’ll get is people wanting more rewards. You want to tap into the intrinsic motivation of inspiration. What’s inside of people, a desire to contribute, to add value, to increase the economic well-being and quality of life of all stakeholders. A desire to make a difference in the world, significance and mattering. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m also motivated by a sales incentive and I’m inspired by adding value, making a difference, and impacting lives and people. I want to tap into both, get into inspiration. When I have a leader who models it, who trusts me, and inspires me by connecting to why it matters to me, what’s important to me, in a sense of belonging on a team and the work that we’re doing, why it matters to the world and as a society into our clients.

There are lots of ways to connect. The stories told of John F. Kennedy. In 1962, he said, “We’re going to put a man on the moon.” We got to the moon in ‘69. In 1962, a NASA site walking the grounds and he sees a janitor. He comes to the janitor and says, “I’m President Kennedy, what’s your name? What do you do?” The janitor says, “I’m working to put a man on the moon.” That is an inspiration. That’s connecting to why at any level. You can do this. You can connect a why and that inspires people. Everyone can inspire. You don’t have to be charismatic to inspire. There are a lot of charismatic people who don’t inspire, they might motivate, but they don’t inspire the whole Level 5 Leader that Jim calls about in Good to Great are not charismatic, but they’re all inspiring because they inspire because of who they are as a person, they model because of how they lead.

They trust because they also connect people to why it matters. Even if all the connection is, “What matters to you, salesperson? What matters to you, client?” We can connect the dot. Everyone can do it and can inspire. We need inspiration in our world now. It will change our world. We need more trust and more trusting people to help us do it. You can’t do that if you’re not adding any enormous value and have a relationship of trust. You can see how trust is vital to every dimension and an aspect of both sales, leadership, and life. It’s the currency of our world.

I much appreciate what you’re saying, what you’ve taught. We are concluding but I’d like to ask you one last question. You’re a global thought leader. It runs in the family. Your siblings have had a great impact on business and society. They’re leaders as well. You are the oldest of the Covey children. You perhaps knew your father as well as anyone. If you look at his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the greatest business books of all time and we look at The Speed of Trust, one of the most impactful business books in many years. Imagine your father was with us now, but he wasn’t with us, he was with you. It was Stephen R. Covey and Stephen MR Covey sitting in your office chatting about the world now, where we’re at in 2020. Can you give us a little bit of a peek into what that conversation would sound like between these two worldwide global thought leaders, but also a father and son?

First of all, thank you for your kindness and kind thoughts about my father and me. I appreciate it. It’s generous. What was most important to my father always was relationships. He said, “Relationships are more important than things.” He also taught that contribution is more important than accumulation. He taught us as kids that it’s a hierarchy. You go from survival to stability, success, and significance. In other words, success is not the end game, significance which is mattering making a difference, giving back, adding value, contributing.

He expresses with contribution is infinitely more important than accumulation, which is more success and wants to give back. I learned those principles and he had a great expression to live, love, learn, and leave a legacy. That describes all the elements, all the needs of a person or an organization to live as the survival, the economic need, to love this as social-emotional lead, to learn as the mental-intellectual need to use your strengths and run with them, to leave a legacy as the spiritual or integrity need, the need for purpose, contribution and meaning in the life.

These are some of his constructs that I’ve had in my whole life. I think he would come back to these but then he’d also overlay it with are the challenges in our world now and how it’s increasing in a low trust world and how there’s distress. He would say what you said, each of us needs to do far more habit five which is, seeks first to understand than to be understood. What’s happening now in our society, we’re all trying to be understood. We need to seek first to understand. That’s a principle of influence, that will have far more influence with others when others feel we understand them and understanding does not necessarily mean agreement.

GFEP 2 | Building Trust

Building Trust: Success is not the end game. It’s significance, which is mattering, making a difference, giving back, adding value, contributing.

 

You may agree. You may disagree. You may see it differently. It means you’re understanding them to their satisfaction. Once they feel understood to their satisfaction, they become far more open to understanding you and being influenced by you. The key to influence is to first be influenced and your influence when you seek understanding of another person and not waiting your turn and listening, but trying to understand to their satisfaction, both their content and feeling. That’s powerful. He talked about that. We need more understanding in our world because that’s the foundation from which we can then create third alternatives and synergy that can innovate. It requires a mindset of think win-win. A mindset of an abundance mentality but here’s a skill. Seek first to understand than to be understood. That enables people that see the world differently to create things differently.

It’s the essence of great cells. You diagnose before you prescribe. You try to understand needs before you sell solutions, to go in and start selling products and not understanding needs so that you can then have solutions to needs. You miss the bullet point or you’re jumping the gun. The sequence matters. These are all things he talked about. The need for significance in the world, the need for understanding, but also, he would say that it’s easy to see this low trust world and to think that, “What can you do when it’s distressed all around me at societal levels, country levels, and organizational levels? What if you’re in a bad low trust company? What if you got a low trust boss?”

All these things. I also try to do this with my work with The Speed of Trust, that each of us needs to look in the mirror, start with ourselves. Use the airline metaphor before helping others that, “You put your own mask on first, and then we’re in a position to help others because we’re modeling and leading it.” I would say this and my father would concur, “We need models, not critics.” Models then can become mentors rather than being critical, be a model of what’s possible. Be that island of trust in a sea of distrust. Be the island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. Be an island of selling the right way where you’re adding and creating value, where you’re getting the deal and building a relationship of trust in a world where everyone is over-promising and under-delivering, making the sale, but not building long-term relationships.

Model first then mentor. A mentor is a model with a relationship. You can’t mentor if you’re not a model. You’ve got to be a model first, then a mentor. We get enough of us doing that. We build a critical mass. We can begin to change our world. If we can change our world, we can change the world. We work from the inside out. We can do this and he’d be hopeful and optimistic. He wouldn’t be pessimistic about what’s going on. He’d be saying, “All more reason why we need models who can become mentors.” Start with yourself, look in the mirror. I take a similar approach to The Speed of Trust. I call it The Five Waves Of Trust. It’s inside out.

All trust begins with self-trust. Trust in yourself, give to your team a leader they can trust, give to your client a salesperson they can trust, and then rippling out from there to your relationships, team, organization, customers, partners, and society. We need to build trust from the inside out. We need to change this world from the inside out and we can do it. I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic. Each of us can do it in our world. Starting with ourselves, even if all we do is affect our own home, neighborhood, people around us, team at work, the teams around us, and you watch it ripple out. That’s what it would be. I would conclude with this and say that, “It takes two or more people to have trust, it only takes one person to start.”

Each of us can be that one. I want to say to our readers how much I admire you, Rob. Not only we’ve been friends for many years but we’re colleagues. I admire you and your work at Game Face and your book, The Sales Game Changer. If we can do sales the right way, that is a game-changer. That’s what you’re all about. I see you as a colleague appears in a friend and I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be part of your show. I wish you every continued success and I admire the contribution you’re making to people and leaders everywhere. I thank you for that.

Thank you, Stephen. You’ve given us a lot to think about. There has been enough said and a lot for us to digest. Hopefully, we’re going to become better Game Face Executives because we were an audience to you now. Thank you again. We wish you continued success and even more influence with The Speed of Trust. If our readers haven’t read it, I’m sure they’re going to grab a copy. If they have a copy, dig into it again. Stephen MR Covey, thank you for being with us.

Thank you, Rob. It’s great to be with you and our readers.

Important Links:

About Stephen M. R. Covey

GFEP 2 | Building TrustStephen M. R. Covey is a New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The SPEED of Trust—The One Thing That Changes Everything. He is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which, under his stewardship, became the largest leadership development company in the world. Stephen personally led the strategy that propelled his father’s book, Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to become one of the two most influential business books of the 20th Century, according to CEO Magazine.

As President and CEO of Covey Leadership Center, Stephen nearly doubled revenues while increasing profits by 12 times. During that period, the company expanded throughout the world into over 40 countries, greatly increasing the value of the brand and enterprise. The company was valued at $2.4 million when Stephen was named CEO, and, within three years, he had grown shareholder value to $160 million in a merger he orchestrated with Franklin Quest to form FranklinCovey.

Stephen co-founded CoveyLink, a consulting practice, which focuses on enabling leaders and organizations to increase and leverage trust to achieve superior performance.

Stephen recently merged CoveyLink with FranklinCovey, forming the Global Speed of Trust Practice, where Stephen serves as Global Practice Leader.

GFEP 1 | Sales Game Changer

 

Who decides whether you’re successful or not? You or the people along your journey? In this inaugural episode, Rob Cornilles explains why he is launching Game Face Execs, a podcast for and with sales game changers. He discusses the qualities that people who wear their game face in everything they do possess and pays tribute to the individuals that helped him launch – and shape – his career as a sales coach to tens of thousands. Rob Cornilles, a business consultant, executive coach, skills trainer, author, and educator. He is the founder and CEO of Game Face, Inc. and the bestselling author of The Sales Game Changer.

Watch the episode here:

Rob Cornilles | The Sales Game Changer

Welcome to episode one of this show. I have jumped off buildings twice. It all began when I jumped out of airplanes. Several years ago, I had this desire to jump out of an airplane. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling yourself. If you’ve ever flown commercial, you probably have. In my case, I wanted to have this sense of floating in the air. I went and took a skydiving class. I jumped out of an airplane and I’ve done it a couple of times. I then wanted to graduate to jumping off a building, but not the way you might imagine. I decided that I would rappel down the side of a 42-storey skyscraper.

I did it for charity. It was for a good cause to raise some money, but I’ll never forget that experience of walking to the edge on the roof, looking over at the concrete below and seeing these little specks we call people. I’m thinking, “Am I crazy to do this?” I was all roped in and they turned me around so I couldn’t see. They said, “Rob, put your feet up on the ledge and lean back.” “Are you serious, just lean back?” That’s what I did. I leaned back and I began to descend. It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun. That was a little fearful at times but rewarding. That’s what I’m doing here now.

I’ve decided to start this show. I’m just going to lean back and see what happens. I don’t think I’m going to put you in danger. We’re going to have a lot of fun. We’re going to learn a lot together through this show. We’re going to talk about ways that we can all become even more successful in whatever role that we may play. Do you remember years ago when we used to carry these VIP cards in our wallets? I say years ago because I don’t do it anymore because everything seems to be electronic. These are those VIP cards that we’d get from hotels, rental car companies or airlines where we’d frequently fly.

When we got these, we knew we had arrived. This is their way of saying thank you. This took a lot of work. It took a lot of sacrifices and a lot of time but eventually, we earned these privileges. You’ll notice that these companies were the ones that decided when we qualified. It wasn’t something we could determine on our own. I feel the same way about a show. There are a lot of people out there who feel, “I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a microphone. I want to say some things.” In my opinion, a good podcast is one where the viewer or the listener says, “You’re qualified to take my time.” I value your time seriously.

Credit Where It’s Due

I never want to waste it. I’m going to make sure that we have conversations, topics, guests that will be meaningful and have an impact on you that will bring even greater results to your life. How are we going to do this? Let’s start and talk about people because my business has been in business for many years. We help individuals create even more significance in their careers. When I started my business, it was because of people that had brought me that far. I’ve never had that opportunity publicly to acknowledge and thank certain individuals that helped me get there.

I want to do that now on this launch episode of the show. By that, I want to thank four particular individuals. These people are ones that I don’t see regularly and I don’t necessarily communicate with them often, but they always will have a special place in my heart. These four people began in 1991. In 1991, I was working in Hollywood, California at Universal Studios. What was I doing there? I used to speak fluent Japanese. I was hired to be a tour operator for the Japanese tourists. At the time, Universal was owned by Matsushita, which is a Japanese conglomerate then.

We got a lot of Japanese tourists and Japanese executives from Matsushita. My job was to go and interpret for them and show them around the backlot and introduce them to the stars. It was quite an eventful and fun job. I also saw it as a bit of a dead-end because it wasn’t what I wanted professionally. I had this itch that I couldn’t scratch and I didn’t know what it was. I got a pager from the first of the four individuals I want to talk to you about. His name was Charles. By the way, if you don’t know what a pager was, it’s those things we used to carry on our belt. It would buzz and it tells us to call the individual. That’s what I did.

I called Charles. I didn’t know who it was. “Charles,” he says as he answers the phone, “How can I help you?” I said, “Charles, my name is Rob Cornilles. You paged me.” “Yes, Rob. It’s good to hear from you. Do you remember we met several months ago at a party?” I vaguely remembered and he said, “Rob, the reason why I wanted to talk to you is because I’d like you to apply for a sales job for a company where I work.” I thought, “Sales job? I want nothing to do with sales.” He said, “Rob, as I recall our conversations at that gathering, you might have some qualities that would land themselves well to a sales career.”

GFEP 1 | Sales Game Changer

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

After some cajoling, I decided, “I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll go interview for this position,” and I did. After that first interview with Charles, I was intrigued. He then introduced me to the second person, Carl Lahr. He interviewed me in my second interview. After that one, I was interested. After the third interview with Charles and Carl, I wanted that job. Thankfully, both Carl and Charles saw something in me and they hired me. Where was that company? It’s the LA Clippers basketball team of the National Basketball Association. This is 1991.

For those of you who don’t follow sports, the ’91 version of the Clippers was not positive. Sports Illustrated called them the worst franchise in the history of sports. My job was to go in and sell tickets, just smile and dial. I didn’t know any better. Though I didn’t ever want to be a salesperson, I figured, “What the heck? This will be fun. I’ll see some free games. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to Universal.” As it turns out, the first several weeks were difficult. I struggled mightily and I couldn’t figure out how to be successful. Meanwhile, my wife, Allison and I are living in an apartment off Melrose Avenue. It was a complex of 32 apartment units, 31 of which were vacant when we lived there because the building had been condemned by the city. They were about to tear it down and build a new high rise in its place.

The landlord felt sorry for me and Allison because she was eight months pregnant and I was a commission-only salesperson for the LA Clippers basketball team. We stayed until we could finally move out because I was able to learn how to sell. When I say that, it wasn’t because I came across some ploy to trick people or to deceive them into buying a product they didn’t want. Rather I was able to learn a way to get people the results they desire through my product. All of that story is told in the book, The Sales Game Changer.

After having some success with the Clippers, they promoted me. I was enjoying my job. I was making better money than I ever had and enjoying a position of responsibility. I started to get an itch of wanting to get more because my wife and I were looking to grow our family. We wanted to move into a house, but to do so would only extend my commute further in order to find a home that we could afford. It was already an hour-long commute. I was struggling to decide what to do next. I didn’t want to leave the Clippers. I figured if I put my head down and work as hard as I can, something will come up and it did. It was a phone call by individual number three.

His name is Doug Piper. He worked along with a gentleman by the name of individual number four, Jon Spoelstra. They were business partners in a firm that they call the SRO Partners. This was a prominent firm in the sports industry at that time. Jon Spoelstra happened to be and still is a guru in sports marketing. He wrote the book on how to fill up a building. For Jon and Doug to call me was almost like a surrealistic experience. What happened was they had heard about my work at the Clippers, and they asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for a position with their young firm and I would be the third member of the firm.

I was excited at the proposition. I was shaking when they were talking to me on the phone. They flew me up to Portland, Oregon, where they were located. After half a day with them, I was offered the position. It didn’t take long for me and Allison to decide that this is what we wanted to do. For two years, we worked with Jon and Doug and had a wonderful experience. I learned so much more about the industry of sports, and the craft of selling and marketing teams. I then decided it was time for me to start Game Face because I wanted to produce a different service to the industry that was non-existent at the time.

On good terms, I said goodbye to Jon and Doug and began Game Face in 1995. Here’s the point, I could not have made that career move, and Game Face could not be what it has become, hopefully, a great contributor to people’s careers and livelihoods, if I had not won the trust of Charles, Carl, Doug and Jon, and if they had not seen something in me. They gave them a sense of hope and optimism that this guy can do something to contribute to our company. I didn’t see it but they did. I’m forever grateful for them for trusting me and for giving me that shot.

3 Game Changer Attributes

Tim McGraw says in his famous song, “We should all be humble and kind,” and that’s what I found from Charles, Carl, Doug and Jon. I hope to pass that on and I hope all of us will. There were three other characteristics that I have found to be universal about those people who wear their game face in whatever they do. I’d like to share with you three stories that personify these characteristics. The first characteristic is that of humility. I experienced this. I observed it in an individual who I never expected would possess it. In 2008, while living in Portland, Oregon, I got a phone call from an individual who was related to a political campaign.

Treat everybody as though they're the most important person of your day. Click To Tweet

He was working for a gentleman who was running for president of the United States. He called me and said, “Rob, are you free tomorrow and the next day?” I’m running my company and I’m not free, but I was intrigued. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Our candidate is coming into Portland. He’s going to be spending about 24 hours there. I was wondering, would you be interested and willing in driving him around Portland to his various events and meetings?” I thought this would be intriguing. This would be interesting. I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to,” and so I did. They picked me because I had a suburban. It was a black suburban at that.

At the appointed time, I was able to drive my suburban out on the tarmac of the Portland International Airport. I picked up the candidate who had arrived in his private jet with his entourage. The candidate was Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was running for president in 2008 and later in 2012. He had completed his term as the governor of Massachusetts. Previous to all of that, he was also the Chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee. He essentially saved the Salt Lake Winter Olympics because of his leadership. It was a real privilege for me to be able to pick him up and drive him around in my car.

As I opened the door to my suburban, I noticed that there was a lot of luggage on the tarmac being emptied out of the airplane. I ran over to grab the luggage and put it in the back of my car. I happened to grab Mitt’s suitcase and his suit back. He put his hand on mine and said, “You don’t need to do that. I’ll take care of my own luggage.” I said, “I insist, sir.” He goes, “No, please. I just appreciate you being here and taking care of us.” We got in the car and we began driving into Downtown Portland. All through that drive, Mitt was talking to me rather than talking to all of his aides who were in the car with us on their phones and talking among themselves.

He was asking questions about me and showing interest in me. He asked me about my family, my car, my business and what we do. I felt that I had picked up a friend at the airport. This continued throughout the day and into that night when I drove them to their hotel. I picked them up the next morning and he continued to show interest in me asking me again about my family, my employees and my work, talking about other topics that were of interest to both of us. Finally, after 24 hours, I returned them to the airport. I was amazed at the humility of this man who was running for the most prominent, most influential position in the entire world.

Juxtapose that to what happened next. I immediately went from the airport to the office of a prominent Portland area business to meet with their middle management about a possible relationship with our company, Game Face. As I arrived, they escorted me to the conference room. I noticed, according to my watch, that the people that I was to meet with were late by about 5, 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes passed and still, no one has entered the room. Thirty minutes after our appointed time, they finally arrived, at least 2 of the 3 of them. They mildly apologized to me for being late.

They tell me how busy they are and how important their job is. They essentially said, “What do you got?” I felt as though I was an imposition and I wasn’t good enough to be in their presence. Eventually, the third person entered the room and within ten minutes, they had to excuse themselves because they “had to get to a dental appointment.” This was such a strange and disappointing experience. Compare it to what I had just gone through with a candidate for president of the United States, put aside his politics and policy, that’s not material right now. It’s the personality of the individual. That characteristic of humility. He made me feel welcome. He made me feel that I mattered.

Whereas these lower-level people, they acted as though I was fortunate to be in their presence. By the way of those three individuals, I have no idea where they are now and what they’re doing. I’ve never heard of them since. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney eventually got the nomination to his party to run for president. Now, he’s a US Senator. It’s an interesting example, something we can all learn. It doesn’t matter your status, your position and your background. It doesn’t matter your experience or income. Treat everybody as though they’re the most important person of your day.

The second example, the quality is gratitude. Speaking of politics, some of you may know that I too dipped my toe into politics. A few years later, I ran for US Congress. When you run for Congress, you gain a lot of friends. You meet a lot of wonderful people, volunteers, contributors, and people who want to educate you on the issues. One of those people was someone I never thought I would meet, but it turned out to be a great blessing to my life. The name of the person is Phil Knight. You probably recognize that name. He’s the cofounder and emeritus chairman of Nike. We had met and talked about the issues that were important to him, his family, his business, our community, our country, and he decided to support me and endorse me.

He turned out to be my largest contributor, not just financially, but he was also a contributor of good advice. Eventually, I lost that race. I felt a sense of responsibility that I needed to return to Phil and everyone else who had put forth a lot of time, effort and money on my behalf to thank them and also to hold myself accountable and report to them on the work that I thought we had done. Anything that we had done wrong, where we had miss-steps, and also where we had made progress in our campaign on important issues.

I paid the visit to Phil’s office and as his wonderful assistant escorted me into his office. I expected maybe a quick handshake and a pat on the back and get out of my office. Instead, I got a response and a reception I’ll never forget. Phil walked around from his desk and instead of extending his hand to me as I anticipated, he put his hands together and he bowed. It was a sign of gratitude and appreciation. I failed in my attempt, but he appreciated the attempt nevertheless. It was his way of saying, “Rob, job well done.” Granted I’ve made mistakes and some things you wish you could do over again. Phil had the presence, the experience and the wisdom to recognize someone’s best effort.

GFEP 1 | Sales Game Changer

Sales Game Changer: In times like this, when we need to feel more a sense of family, togetherness and unity, you’re going to find messages on the show that will bring us together.

 

That sense of gratitude from someone who is at the pinnacle of his career, the pinnacle of the industry, where my career was born, he was voted the most influential person in sports that year. For him to make that gesture to me was humbling. It was also a great lesson for me to learn that I should always show gratitude to everyone for their best effort. The third characteristic I like to share with you is one of service. We often talk about servant leadership. In our show, we’re also going to spend time talking about servant selling. The particular example that I like to share with you is of a person whose name you’ve never heard of before most likely.

Let me tell you what happened. Several years ago, my young family at the time I have three sons, we had a pet. His name was Brooks. We loved our Dalmatian Brooks and we cherished him, as you can imagine a family of three young boys would. On one particular year on Easter Sunday, I had to fly from our home in Portland, Oregon across the country, across the pond to London, England to visit our office that we had there. I was going to be gone for almost two weeks. I left that night. After arriving in London, I remember calling my wife, Allison, to see how things were since I had departed. She reported some sad news. She said, “Rob, not long after you left for the airport on Sunday night, we got a knock on the door. It was a policeman informing us that Brooks had been hit.”

My three sons who were in their pajamas overheard this conversation and you can imagine how devastated they were. I asked Allison, “What did you do? How did you handle it?” She said, “The policeman gave me a few options of what to do at that moment. I didn’t like any of the options and I didn’t want to leave the house, nor did I want to take our sons to where Brooks was. I thought of one and only one alternative and that is I called Dee Christiansen.” Dee was our next-door neighbor. Dee was an older man, but still working. He had his own construction business.

As the story goes, I returned home from England several days later, and Dee came and knocked on our door. It’s the first time I had seen him since the incident. I wanted to thank him. He said, “Rob, do you mind if I speak to your boys?” I said, “Please.” We all gathered together and he sat them on the couch and he said, “Boys, I want you to know what happened several days ago. When your mom called me and told me about Brooks, I went and retrieved him from the street. I put him in the back of my pickup. The next morning after covering them up through the night, I had to drive from the Portland area over Mount Hood on my way to Central Oregon. As I was at the summit of Mount Hood, I decided that I would stop, pull off the side of a little dirt road where few people would ever find me. I decided to dig a grave for Brooks and I buried him there. I said a prayer. I want you to know this, boys, because now every time you look up at Mount Hood, you remember your pet Brooks.”

Dee was a servant. He was a man who did things above and beyond what anyone would ever expect. He didn’t look for recognition or reward. He simply wanted to serve other people. He is an honorable man and someone that we miss greatly since his passing a few years ago. When I think about these three characteristics of humility, gratitude and service, these are the characteristics I want to bring to light in the show. These are the kinds of guests I’m going to invite. Those who have demonstrated this, not only in my observation of them but throughout their career. People that I can learn from and people that you will learn from as well. I mentioned that several years ago in over two different occasions in my life, I have resided in Japan. I love that country. One particular apartment I’ll remember was steps away from a Shinto Shrine. At the entrance of that shrine, there was a plaque. It read, “Let only the eager, thoughtful and reverent enter here.” That’s the theme for this show.

Here’s what I mean. I’m only going to invite the eager to be my guest. When I say eager, I mean people who demonstrate ambition and aspiration, but not at the expense of other people. I will invite thoughtful people, leaders and influencers, people who are thought leaders in all kinds of industry, business, sports, entertainment, academia, etc. I will also be inviting and asking people who have a sense of reverence to join us. When I say reverence, I don’t mean spirituality in this case because you should know that the same word for reverend in Japanese is also the word for respect. These are people who respect others, their position, their industry, their competition, their craft and the stewardship that they carry to it.

My background is in sales, they also respect sales the way it should be done. I’d like to share with you something that an author wrote. His name is Terrance Olson. He said, “Respect is an expression of our sense of universal brotherhood or sisterhood, a testimony of our membership in the human family.” In times like this, when we need to feel more a sense of family, togetherness and unity, you’re going to find messages on the show that will bring us together. We’ll find common ground. We’ll find areas where we all aspire to become and in positions that we all want to emulate, and the people that are universal role models. I thank you for joining me on this launch episode.

We’re going to have some fantastic guests and I’m pleased to announce that our first guest appearing in episode two is Stephen M. R. Covey. He is a world-renowned lecturer and best-selling author of The Speed of Trust. Stephen is going to share with all of us insights on how trust in business, in your personal life and your social life changes everything. It’s a fantastic discussion. You’re going to gain great wisdom and knowledge from a man who’s traveled the world to talk about the importance of trust, how we can build it, how we can lose it, and the impact it can have for us as individuals, as companies and organizations. Thanks again for joining me on this initial episode. Please tell your friends, invite others to join us. We’re going to have a lot of fun. We’re also going to learn a lot and grow together. I’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks

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