“In my experience, I’ve found the worst that can happen never does,” says Joel Geddes. A 27-year Vistage member, and CEO of the nationwide leader in insurance and employee benefits services, Joel encourages calm amid chaos to find clarity of purpose.
“Make time to dream and think at a higher level,” Joel says, a step he himself took upon joining Vistage almost three decades ago.
Joel’s leadership wisdom:
- Just ask.
- Prepare, practice and then practice one more time.
- Develop trusting, enduring relationships.
- Have patience in conflict. Good things will come out of it in the end.
- Don’t be emotional. Assess where you want to go, and how you’ll get there.
- Be a calm listener, and give continued direction.
“It comes down to being responsive. It comes down to being professional. It comes down to doing what you say and providing quality work,” says Justin White, reflecting on how in just five years, he’s grown his family business from mom-and-pop to powerhouse.
“Our purpose at K&D is to raise the bar,” Justin elaborates, one he strives to achieve both for his internal team, and for the landscaping industry.
Justin’s proven CEO success tips:
- Listen to understand. Go back to the basics and try to empathize with your team.
- Define your core values, and call upon them when things get emotional or political.
- Seek advice. There’s always someone out there who’s gone through what you’re going through.
Chris-Tia Donaldson propelled her beauty business from the trunk of her car to the Inc. 5000, persevering through a breast cancer diagnosis to emerge as a powerful advocate for women.
Chris-Tia’s tips for leveraging challenge to build and improve:
- Lean in to your team. Trust reinvigorates accountability.
- Prioritize self-care.
- Be creative. Think about how you can turn a setback into an opportunity (e.g. press, speaking engagements, etc.). People love a comeback.
- Be an advocate for those imperiled by the injustice you see.
- Build emotional stamina. Running a business is like being on a roller coaster. You have to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
A self-confessed “workaholic,” Chris-Tia was unsure how her medical leave would impact her bottom line. She found the trust she placed in her team made TGIN a better company — with sales doubled.
“Delegate, trust, then release,” says Marcie Simpson, when asked the secret to successful leadership. At the helm of the preferred coating technology solution for clients like Boeing and Airbus, Marcie has faced challenges from the sudden loss of her business partner, to the fallout of COVID-19 with characteristic strength and perseverance.
“I’m a better leader because of it,” Marcie reflects, grateful for the wisdom derived from experience.
Marcie’s tips for leading through adversity:
- What you survive now will power your triumphs in the future.
- It’s in time of challenge you find new tools in your leadership toolkit.
- Pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.
- If you must pivot, do so as a team.
“Change was the best thing that could have happened,” says Rich Berry, reflecting on his company’s hard-won success. When the status quo threatened to limit 425 Consulting’s growth, Rich boldly sought a new direction for the firm, upending its business model to serve the SMB space on both coasts.
- Don’t get comfortable. Develop a vision that reflects your potential.
- Spend less time being busy, more time planning.
- Don’t be afraid of change.
- Don’t undervalue yourself, and don’t accept it from others. If you can’t effectively communicate your value, work on your message.
- Ensure your partners are on board with your mission.
- Don’t look at your company’s performance in a vacuum.
“I am a better leader because of Ron’s example,” says a Vistage peer of Dr. Ron Brown. In two years, Ron has grown his top-line budget $12M (+32%), serving 50,000+ children and parents. A trusted, innovative leader in child well-being, Children’s Bureau’s mission has been undeterred in the face of COVID-19.
With children at home and in-person interaction vastly limited, Ron’s staff must work doubly hard to save lives. To help them persevere, Ron provides time to recharge, leads from the heart, and is a consistent source of motivation.
Ron’s leadership tips:
- Stop. Look. Listen. Don’t make rash decisions.
- Stay connected to your staff always.
- Be a constant encouragement.
- Learn to make lemonade.
“Focus less on the finish line, more on the journey,“ says Mark Casey, founder & CEO of one of the fastest growing tech firms in North America. It was a hard-earned lesson for a leader specializing in award-winning solutions for global, mission-critical applications.
Amid great success, Mark fell prey to the illusion when things go well, company culture takes care of itself. Amid hardship, Mark realized — Apcela’s was gravely lacking. “It’s less about the ideas and more about the execution of the ideas,” Mark found, evolving from a team of “mercenaries,” to one firmly grounded in culture.
Mark’s team expectations:
- Drive to win.
- Embrace change.
- Have fun.
- Lead by example.
- Uphold commitments.
What does a full-service production studio that travels the world to produce award-winning content do in the face of COVID-19? Under Sean Quinn’s leadership, it pivots with flexibility, speed and clarity.
Challenging the very fundamentals of how his business operates, Sean found his executive team forced to have conversations and make decisions they’d never foreseen.
Sean’s tips for pivoting in the face of disruption:
- Quickly outline a path forward, so your team can shift responsibilities.
- Hold full company meetings every two weeks, department meetings daily.
- Be flexible. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Prioritize maintaining morale.
- Don’t wait to start planning a return to status quo.
Driven by the ethos, “When you build a place where people want to work, you build a place where people want to bring their work,” Sheila Burkett realized to find the kind of company she and fellow women in tech sought, they’d have to build it themselves. Under Sheila’s leadership, an award-winning equitable workplace was born.
“One piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to set my own definition of success, and pursue it,” she shares.
Sheila’s CEO tips:
- Delegate tasks you don’t enjoy doing.
- Entrepreneurs think fast. CEOs must slow down, and make sure the team is in alignment.
- When it comes to mission, vision, values — keep it simple.
- Embrace explaining things in different ways to different people.
“Enable unprecedented learning for all students.” This is Lumen Learning’s mission, and CEO/co-founder Kim Thanos has not wavered in her pursuit. A record-setting female entrepreneur, Kim has assured success with the following tactics:
- Make sure expectations are clear.
- Own what you don’t know.
- Use DISC assessment. Focus on the interaction, not on the person.
- Employ an issue processing framework in leadership team meetings.
- Lean on others’ strengths where you have weaknesses.
- Lead your board. Don’t let the board lead you.
Lumen Learning has assisted more than 300 institutions in transitioning high-enrollment courses to use of open educational resources, creating $10M+ in savings for students.
For Ben Olk, every success opens a door to thinking even bigger. Inspired by his Vistage group to always challenge the status quo, Ben is driven to keep his 115-year-old company moving forward, tirelessly developing his team and instilling core values of innovation and excellence.
With many team members on board for decades — including a janitor turned operations director — Ben empowers all to take ownership in achieving big results. According to Ben, success “is going to come from things we haven’t even thought of yet.”
Ben’s lessons learned:
- Abandon an annual review for a continuous development model.
- Create the vision for your company.
- Don’t be complacent in success.
- Lead from the four corners.
“It’s more about what you do with the company, than it is about getting lucky with the company you buy,” says Mike Zani, CEO of The Predictive Index. Since Mike and his partner purchased PI, it’s achieved consistent “Best Place to Work” status (from Glassdoor and The Boston Globe), and 30% year-over-year growth. “Looking back,” Mike says, “our success was from building world-class teams.”
Additional advice from Mike on success post-acquiring new businesses:
- You’re going to win or lose by the team you build. Be intentional in the people side of the business.
- Keep your eyes open for new opportunities — you never know when they’ll change your life.
- Pursue what you love.
- Implement proven strategies.
When Denny Hammack acquired Patterson Pope in 1994, it was at $2.5M in revenue and 13 employees, with offices in NC and SC. Today, with a mission to “solve the STUFF problems of the world,” it’s at $60M+, 185+ employees, with offices in 10 states from OH to FL.
“Success comes in many different styles, shapes and sizes,” Denny says, reflecting on how he built his team of 35 sales reps. A peer’s guidance inspired Denny’s 180 from believing his team needed to fit a mold, to welcoming diverse approaches. “Different people work in different ways… if the core of what they bring is really good, they’re going to succeed,” he says.
- Listen intently.
- Be open-minded.
- Embrace individual paths to success.
“When I first became CEO, I thought I was put into that role because I had all the answers… an important lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to,” shares Carol Minges. “It’s my role as CEO to surround myself with people way smarter than I am.” Under Carol’s leadership, her firm has seen record financial performance three straight years, serving 35,000+ people in the St. Louis area.
Carol’s CEO learnings:
- It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn.
- Learn to say no to the unimportant things that come your way, so you have time to say yes to the ones that truly matter.
- Surround yourself with a team unafraid to challenge your ideas.
- Empower your senior leaders to make decisions and take ownership.
Dr. Bert Glandon has led CWI into success previously unimagined, with a resolve clear from his very first interview with the board. “I told them, I’m not interested in just ‘managing’ the school. I’m a visionary entrepreneur — I’m going to grow this to something amazing.”
Some of Bert’s keys to success:
- Treat all start-ups — non-profit or for-profit — the same.
- Respect taxpayer dollars. Non-profit doesn’t mean “for loss.”
- Have a long-term strategic plan, but constantly update what needs to be done.
- Get creative to achieve your goals. Pursue ideas relentlessly.
CWI is the fastest growing school in the history of community colleges, in just 10 years going from 1,200 to more than 30,000 students.
“Good leaders need to embrace risk,” Dave Meyers says, reflecting on a common theme of his leadership success. In three of four pivotal decisions, Dave propelled his business to the next level by stepping out of his comfort zone. The fourth scenario — the one where he didn’t take the risk — haunts Dave to this day.
The lesson? Follow your gut. Dave eventually wound up forced to take the risk he’d avoided.
Dave’s other leadership tips:
- Always treat everyone with respect, regardless of their status. Others will notice — it’s the right thing to do.
- Trust your team to make good decisions. You don’t always know everything.
- Persevere when times are difficult. Anyone can do it when things are great.
“In these times where we’re forced to think differently, it opens up new opportunities,” says Jeff Culton. Finding the possibility imbued in challenge, Jeff has built three interconnected businesses, pivoting to remain relevant in the face of such catastrophic events as 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think everybody comes together when we go through tough times… You find out who you can count on, who’s creative and who’s going to help you solve problems,” he elaborates.
Jeff’s tips for leading in challenging times:
- Diversify. Don’t get stuck doing just one thing or serving one customer.
- All of us make mistakes. Learn from them, pick up the pieces and move on.
- Build a company culture that will endure.
“Grace under pressure.”
“It’s easier to succeed when you’re surrounded by people that know how... and are helping you stay accountable.”
“How to trust myself as a leader.”
“How to make the best decisions, quickly.”
“How to develop trusting, enduring relationships.”