The following is a transcript of Episode 31 of Return on Podcast, the show where we help e-commerce sellers improve their ROI in business and in life. For more episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon/Audible.
All right. Welcome to Return on Podcast, where we talk about the experiences, the obsessions, and the habits of the most successful e-commerce entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Tyler Jefcoat, and I wanna welcome you into this episode of ROP.
Guys, I’m so excited about today’s topic. We are getting close to coming in for a landing in the year 2022. And so what this means for CEOs, for executive teams across the world, is that now’s the time to be trying to clarify our vision for next year. And we can’t stop there. We can’t just clarify the vision. We have to attach an execution plan to that vision. And then we have to make sure that that execution plan doesn’t collect dust sitting on the shelf for a year.
And in fact, some of you are gonna have that happen. Some of you’re gonna get into your strategic planning rhythm here in the next few weeks, and you’re gonna say, huh, I remember creating that plan last November. And wow, that was really fascinating. We created, we didn’t do any of it. And if that’s you, I wanna make sure that you really dial into today’s discussion because today’s guest has been coaching and mentoring CEOs and executive teams exactly through this set of questions for over 30 years.
He’s worked with seven, eight, and even nine figure businesses helping them turn that vision into execution. He’s authored a book called The Chemistry of Strategy, and he is an expert at solving the question, how do we turn vision into execution? And so without further ado, let me bring in my friend John Myrna. John, welcome to the show today.
Thank you. Glad to be here.
John, I felt really lucky to get to meet you a couple of months ago and stumbled into, we’re in some ways kindred spirits. I think we talked a lot of the same language around not letting those plans collect dust. And so I can’t wait to dig into that kind of meat and potatoes discussion with you. Before I do that though, I wanna do what I normally do here, which is just get a little bit of your journey. How is it that John got from where you were to where you are? Give me whatever portion of your –
Yeah, I’ll give you a, I’m a serial entrepreneur by nature. I bought my music teacher’s business out as a sophomore in high school, and that funded my college education. I was lucky enough to get a, an educational grant to go to grad school. When I was there I got deeply involved in a piece of evolving computer technology and times being what they were, I got ripped out of that and drafted and ended up in in the Army outside of Washington, and I had a lot of free time. So I went and visited. I have, there were about four companies that had just been founded that summer to take advantage of this evolving technology. And I visited all four.
And the first three, I just said to myself, there’s no way these guys are ever gonna be successful. They’re putting their money into fit carpeting and gorgeous looking receptionists and nothing about the meat and potatoes. Very pragmatic guy, I am. And then I met this other company, and the CEO took time and he gave me a sense of his vision. And I saw that that they had hired named individuals and there were stacks of marketing material and manuals, and the office was as cheap as you could get.
One of the investors gave them some free space five stories up on their facility, and I said they’re going to do it. And I had free time. So I became an elf. I did work for them in exchange for letting me use the technology. When I got out of the service I joined them full time, so by that time we had grown from six people to 20, 25 or so. I built a computer center. I hired staff, set operations, and over the next 16 years, I progressed from being a elf all the way to ending up as the general manager of the business. As the market changed, the business collapsed, selling off assets to generate cash, et cetera.
The key thing during that moment is after about five years, there were rumblings. People were beginning to lose confidence. There was a communications breakdown. We were doing tons of things but didn’t seem to be making any progress. We were not trusting each other, you know. The technical people didn’t trust the sales people. We didn’t understand why finance had all these crazy things and we started losing money.
And the bank who lent us money said, guys, get your act together, or we’re pulling the plug. And we went through this elaborate strategic planning that was designed for Fortune 500. Long story short, that two big events in that very first meeting, Tyler. I entered that meeting, not trusting salesman. I thought they were obnoxious. They were obstreperous, they were oleaginous, sleazy. When I came out of that planning session, I understood that they loved the company as much as I did. They had a unique perspective and vision, and their perspectives and insights were very important for me to be a richer member of the company.
The other is, there was a moment in which our facilitator asked people, where do you see us five years from now? And as we went around the table, everybody had a different vision of the future. One guy wanted us to be public, another person, private, regional, national, specialized, general. And it became clear that all of us were on our ends of the rope yanking in different directions, so there was no progress.
When we came out of that, we had clarity about where we wanted to be in the future and a commitment from everybody to make that happen. And I said, dammit, this is the most powerful management tool that I’ve come across. And later in my career, I wanna be that person who brings that expertise back to the people who use two weeks out of the business in a Fortune 500 environment, but in a scaled version that could give us the impact for the size organization we were at that point, and the size organizations I’m committed to.
And then in 1991, I kept talking to my wife Mary about how I wanted to do this someday, and she slammed her hands on the table and said, I’ve had it up to here, John. You either do it now or I don’t ever want to hear the word strategic planning again. And I figured, hey, I’ll shut her up. I said I’ll only do it if you’re my partner, ‘ cause I realized by that time it wasn’t gonna work if she wasn’t. And by God I’d forgotten. She grew up in a banking industry and was an accountant. And she said to me, does that mean I get 50 or 51% of the company? And on July 4th in 1991, we founded the business, Mary and I. We had no product, just the concept, and no customers. And talk about the ultimate startup.
I took some money from, we had a base of money from the successful IPO of the startup company I was with. That gave us a runway, and we built the product, built a first version of the product, did workshops, got customers, and the rest was history.
Wow. What an amazing story, 31 years later now to just see where you’ve come. And just to bring this to current, you were just telling me before we went live here that you literally just yesterday flew back from the west coast. You were, you’re back east now, but you were in LA doing one of these strategic management sessions. And for the listeners or the watchers, who, however you’re consuming Return on Podcast by the way, that may not know what you’re talking about there. Would you give us a flavor for what that felt like?
Yeah. This was, it was a small group. So what we had was the core people in the company, a person from the board, the advisory board, a member from the, a customer, if you will. And so we had eight people together. Ahead of time, I had sent out a survey and asked them each individually and anonymously what’s your vision for the, you know, what do you want the organization to look like in five years? What are the major weaknesses, opportunities, threats, strengths? And since this was the first time meeting, what are the core values that exist for the organization, its core purpose? What’s a big, hairy, audacious goal?
And some informative questions that allow them to crystallize a mission and move it from fuzzy into a coherent statement. What do you wanna be, what customers do you wanna deal with, why are you doing it? Absolutely essential. Why are you doing it and how do you see doing it?
And so we had that as raw material. We got together and spent the first couple hours setting ground rules for how you really learn and listen and gain the perspectives from any group. A set of 10 rules: listen, focus on problems, solving problems, not placing blame. Make sure that every discussion ends with a call to action. Things of the – no cheap shots, things of this nature and clarity in roles. And in the role of this meeting, people are not there representing their function or their group. And every one of the discussions, the central thing is they’re asking themselves what’s best for the organization. Align what’s best for them and their group.
But you start within all the discussions what’s best for the organization. We then run through getting a sense of where they are. Talking about the weaknesses, opportunities, threats, strengths, trends. That is there to surface issues. The key there is the discussion, and there’s mechanisms. Large groups, there’s a certain inhibition or in people don’t wanna necessarily talk as candidly.
So as part of this, we break into smaller groups of two and three, do a handout from all the input, ask them to prioritize and identify the top three in each category. We then get back as a team. And the idea is that they, it isn’t just the headlines. It’s why do you think that’s important? And if you were king or queen, what would you do to deal with that? How would you leverage that opportunity? How would you deal with that weakness? And over that period of time, people were listening, and in many times for the very first time. And we put a leash on the CEO. He is only allowed to speak last. And when she speaks last, many times there’s nothing left to be said because members of the team have already internalized the message that’s been sent.
Or sometimes they’ve totally misinterpreted it, so everybody turns and listens and says, okay. And I’ve been at the end of these meetings where people have come up to me and said, this is the first time I’ve ever been able to say anything because in every other meeting, the CEO asks and answers every question. So why was I even there?
That’s by the way, I just wanna say, I think something that you really hit on there that I want to dig into a little bit is, and some of our audience is gonna have this question. A lot of companies are at a critical crossroads, especially if you have a pretty strong visionary CEO, like I am in my company, where I had to make the choice a couple of years ago, John, for Seller Accountant, am I going to do everything myself or am I gonna choose to build a team-oriented execution model? And in order to build a team-oriented execution model, I’ve gotta choose to get outta my own way a little bit.
And so you described one tactic, but build that case for us a little bit. Why is it in your mind so important for companies that want to go from maybe $1 million to $10 million to kind of being the cowboy CEO that just every does everything on a whim. And I’ve gotta, like give us a little bit of insight into the power of that team oriented strategy.
Yeah. First of all why do you even wanna be a manager? That’s a core question. Why do you wanna supervise. It’s because your dreams extend beyond your own physical ability to make things happen. And as soon as that happens, you’ve gotta learn how to use, utilize a team of people. And then flip it on the other side. What good is a plan, and I tell this in every meeting, why are we spending two days to build a plan where any one of you could sit down and write a beautiful plan? Well, because who’s gonna implement the plan? How is it going to incorporate all the wisdom that people have already gathered, both from inside the organization and outside?
And the key is ownership. And so many CEOs always some of them get real worried when we start and they say, but what if they come up with the wrong plan? And I says, it’s never happened. ‘Cause you have such an over – as the visionary, you’ve created an overall view and people listen to you and they will listen to you as you interact. They’re not as smart and insightful as you are, and so part of the planning process is helping people work through the logic to come to the conclusions that you just intuitively jumped to. And once they understand the path to that conclusion, they then own it.
And when you get to execution, when they run into an issue, they come to you and say, I’m having a problem with my execution. Can you gimme a little bit of coaching? As opposed to you’ve told them what the plan is and what to do. When they come to you, you say, I’m having a problem with your plan. What do you wanna do? So it’s a question that, if you go back to an old HBR classic story, who owns the monkey? Is the monkey the back of the person implementing or is the monkey on the back of you as the founder visionary? You can’t have too many monkeys.
And John, I just had coffee earlier this week with a friend who’s in the middle of this. So this is a really a fascinating discussion right now. So there is a CEO of an eight figure investment, a large, hairy, complex development investment. And the CEO had kind of fallen into that trap. He had the vision, and he needed to make every choice. And, next thing you know your ability to manage your vendors is behind, your timeline, is behind. You’re worried about some macro issues with the market. And the best decision that he made was to bring in more of an integrator, more of a cohort that is more detail oriented. And I do think it takes a lot of humility for a CEO to be willing to do what you just said.
You described this event where your CEO kind of has a leash. The CEO is told you’re gonna have to take a backseat. Because you could probably give the answer, Tyler, I’m putting myself in the suit here. Tyler can say what’s supposed to happen and get zero buy in from the team that’s actually gonna execute it. And the natural outflow and result of that is that every monkey is gonna end up back on my back.
And so to those CEOs that can make that choice – so to bring this down to earth a little bit, ’cause there’s a lot of maybe $1 to $10 million CEOs that might listen to this podcast. And they’re like, okay, whatever. I’m trying to decide how – you’ve convinced me. I wanna get outta my own way. I wanna get better at strategic planning as a part of a team building exercise. John, what are, what would you say are some of the first steps or maybe some of the most important initial results that you should be looking for if you’re in that spot where you’re ready to try to get out of your own way and build your skilled team?
Yeah the thing is here we’re talking about scaling, right? In the very early startup stage, fundamentally, you’re 80% of the energy, right, Tyler. And let’s not pretend it’s anything other than that. You now have product, you’ve got customers. You get to a point where you now have a team. It’s not really a team. You have a bunch of people that, that you’re relying on. So how do you turn them into a team? How do you get, how do you get what’s locked up in your head out to them? That was the question I asked myself. The strategic planning that we, the big Fortune 500 thing we did gave me a base, but it’s going through a process with a professional, like myself, who has done it hundreds and hundreds of times.
And part of that is you getting out of the role of facilitating the meeting because you are too valuable as an asset in the meeting. And managing the meeting is a very different thing. So find somebody from another parallel company or an acquaintance you have that could do it if you need to do it before you can afford to hire someone. Get someone on the board who can do it. Someone from the university, but someone who is skilled at running the meeting and the process. So that’s number one.
Two, commit the time. Now I say two days because I break, I like to break the process into two intellectual thoughts. The first day is all about communication, where I ask each member of the team, put your hand over your heart. Do this with me, Tyler. Put your hand over your heart. I know you have a financial background, but just pretend, and repeat after me. I will never do something stupid. Go ahead.
I will never do something stupid.
Because there’s something written on a sheet of paper.
Because of something written on a sheet of paper.
So part of the communications is getting things down and putting real numbers on them. How big do we wanna be? How profitable do we wanna be? What percentage of our future will come from this product or that product, this channel or that channel, and so on. And we make it tangible. And the reason we’re able to do that is because we know that we’re not going to use that as a club or to throw ourselves on a spear because it turns out that those particular numbers at this don’t make sense in a year or six months or three years. It’s a tool.
Yeah. Makes sense. And by the way, I just wanna make this, I wanna make a pitch really quickly here. I’m a millennial CEO of a seven figure company. This is my second seven figure company. And I think a lot of times, John, my generation can be so in the now, in the sense that we’re very nimble. We like to grow quickly, we like to be lean, we like to be flat, horizontally oriented organizations, and we can be tempted to shun the MBAs, the traditional execution guys as being old school. And I just wanna make this comment here. In a bull market like we’ve had the last few years, where everyone, especially in e-commerce, is making money by throwing something against a wall, it is really easy to be okay with that mindset.
But as things get a little bit more bearish, now is the time, I believe this a hundred percent, that the most successful CEOs of the next five years are gonna be the ones who can keep that nimble, new, pivot quickly, use technology, launch new products quickly, but actually go back to the blocking and tackling of how not everything that Harvard Business Review ever wrote was bullshit. Not everything that came out of corporate America was garbage. How do we take what has worked and become more sophisticated as professional CEOs –
And the key in my philosophy there is, this whole process I’ve done with for 31 years. It’s not from a book. I don’t have an MBA. The whole process has been refined through iterative refinement ’cause I work with very smart entrepreneurial people who have self-selected. And I listen, which is a number one challenge for all of us. And when somebody says, hey, why didn’t you do it this way? Why, how could you do it this way? Hey, I just read this great insight. Could you incorporate that? And I’d listen, incorporate, and if it really made a difference, it became permanent. And if it didn’t, you know, that’s part of the learning curve. So after 31 years of iteration, I’ve gone from a system that was damn good to a foolproof system. But it’s through continuous iteration, blending all of those insights.
One of my favorite clients. Their business was strategic planning. They were a market research firm. They were a market research firm selling to the marketing manager. And they would, they kept trying to, after they did the research, they would come up with these great ideas for new products and how to leverage the research. And their clients didn’t do anything with it. And in our strategic planning meeting that raised, and I think one of us just asked the question why don’t we tell them up front that’s what they’re buying from us? And he said we’re gonna have to learn how to sell at the C level instead of a marketing manager.
Our current clients are gonna think that we’re, they’re not going to understand this, so that means we’ll need new clients. But we made a commitment as a group that that was gonna be what we were in the future. Still sold market research, but we began selling to the C level, strategic. And so long story short, within several years, say the group contracted with Heineken did help Heineken to understand white space in the market and come up with a killer new premium light beer.
They not only listened, the company now actually participated in a development refinement and launch of the new product, and they got bought out by a multi-billion dollar organization who had the same challenge. They were locked into selling commodity and they needed to move up and add more value. All that came from getting the team together and in a annual discipline fashion, asking the questions, where are we now? Where do we wanna be in the future? And really digging in deep in those discussions and listening to the various insights and perceptions of the people around the table. And then having an aha moment. And committing as a team to deliver.
I wanna bring this, this is really good. You said one thing a few minutes ago, I wanted to make sure that I seconded that you talked about the power of having a facilitator for these meetings. I think that’s another really tangible nugget that I wanna make sure folks take away.
I, for the first time officially hired a facilitator to come lead our quarterly meeting a couple of months ago, and I was a little skeptical to be honest with you, and it was a game changer in terms of having somebody that wasn’t so close to the fire leading it. And so I wanna ask you a question to kinda, there may be some guys out there listening to this show who are still one or two employee, they have a lot of outsourced vendors. I’m just wondering, do you have any advice for, there are a lot of Amazon or e-commerce sellers that are $8 million a year in revenue that only have five employees. How do you take this process down to a more nuclear team?
I’ll give you an example. I got a call earlier this year from a client I worked with 10 years ago, Unity Productions. And they were putting together documentaries. And so they work with, I work with them and we took the entire company of just five, six people, and we went through the process. They didn’t have a senior team, they had a company, and I’ve also done that with another documentary company that had just won an Academy Award for their work.
And we said, okay, let’s get ourselves to solid foundation. What are the core values and the purpose? What is it that we have as a purpose for existing? What is it that’s attracted you? And what’s an aspirational, big, hairy, audacious goal a generation from now? What would be something you could brag to your great-grandchildren about? And okay, let’s clarify what our mission is. What are the boundaries? What are we, what are the, so we can recognize opportunities that make sense and exclude noise.
And then the most powerful thing of all, the proudest part of my invention in this process is step back and as a team, let’s visualize a moment in time, five years from today. Why five years I’ve tried 4, 6, 3, 7, 5 is a magic number. It’s far enough out that we don’t stumble over the challenges and the reality of today, which can be pretty grim some days, but close enough that we can add enough context and detail that it’ll actually inform and shape what we’re doing.
And I say, how big do we wanna be? And people say that all depends on the market and everything. And I say, hey, bubbeleh, if you are hiring an architect to build a building for you, what’s the first thing the architect says? How many square feet? And if you tell the architect, that’ll depend on how well this new market and product work, the architect will say, how many square feet? And it’s the same in an organization. You need to scale – for the investments you make today, you need to have a sense of where, how much scaling you’re gonna need in order to reach that number.
And then you flesh the whole thing out and you’ve got this picture with technology, branding, markets, products, incoming revenue, profitability. You’ve laid that all out and say, all of us, this is where we’re headed. And I’ll tell you, team members will, when we do a wrap up, they’ll say, this is so exciting, and now I know why I’m so excited to be here.
And then how do you execute, in a very broad sense? Every morning when you prioritize, you ask yourself, is what I’m doing today consistent with making that future a reality? And if it is, okay. And if it isn’t, you have one of two choices. Make a tactical change so you’re prioritizing something that is consistent. Or let’s get the gang back together because that visualization needs some serious rework.
Yeah. And by the way, I just wanna again, for those of you who might be leading smaller companies, I just wanna reiterate how powerful this envisioning is. I, I had a mastermind I was a part of, John, kind of forced me to do this a few years ago, and we called it Come as You Will Be in 2023. And so the idea, it even went beyond just what is, what do we want our companies to look like. And I just wanna encourage you guys, as you get into your annual planning to do what I’m about to say. Pick a date in the future, five years, as John’s recommendation.
For me right now, I’m envisioning my life at the end of 2025, but it could be 2027, but pick a date. And literally I had to put myself through the exercise of, okay, today is December 31st, 2025. Here is what my life, here’s what I have. Here’s what my business looks like. Here’s what our revenue is. Here’s what my role is as the CEO in my company. Here’s what my health looks like. Here’s what my marriage looks like. Here’s what my bank account looks like. Here’s what my life looks like, spiritually, relationally, all the things that matter to you. If you can make yourself, and you probably need to be alone with a journal to do this if you’re just a founder, like you’re more of a small executive team.
If you’re part of a bigger team, as John described this exercise of forcing yourself to say it in first present tense. I have done this. Our company does look like this. And then John, to your point, now that you have a, the power of that vision, going back and reverse engineering, okay. In order for us to be a $10 million company, we will have had to have launched several new products. We would have to have another division. We would have to have gotten into this market. And in order to do that, we’re gonna have to have these 28 bodies on staff and we’re gonna have had to find this money and we’re gonna have to do this. And then you can get a little bit more granular and say, okay. What’s gotta happen in 2023?
All right. The first three steps are this, this, and this. And I think you’ve just given us the key, I think, to unlocking the strategic planning is nothing is more important than knowing where you want to go. And then you can take that a step back into kind of a plan. Is that about right?
That’s exactly right. One of the things that drove me crazy in our original Fortune 500 thing is we spent a third of our time arguing over the meaning of terms. So the first thing I did is I created a pyramid with six elements. And the base of the pyramid is your vision, stabilize with values and purpose and that aspirational, big hairy audacious goal. And you say, how the hell am I gonna implement that vision? Through your mission. And then that has less stability than the vision. The vision’s for a generation, the mission is good for five years, maybe the 10. And then how am I gonna implement the mission? The vision and mission inform that strategy, that visualization of the future. It’s five years out and it probably evolves over a three year cycle.
And then you say, if I have this five years out, what major things have to happen that will change the status quo and it will be completed within 18 months. And those are your strategic goals, three to five or so. And then for each of those, you say, what are the key outcomes that need to be achieved within a year? And you align each one of those with a single party who’s accountable. And then you jump to the tactical actions. And I’ve learned tactical actions only have meaning in the next 90 days. So don’t waste your time doing detailed tactical planning for nine months out.
Focus on two things. I know the goal a year from now. Say it’s to launch product B or to enter channel A. And what are the specific 3, 4, 5 key actions that I’m gonna take that’ll be completed no later than 90 days from now that’ll move me there. And a ongoing review process where you look at each of those, and you ask yourself, am I on track? If not, I, maybe have to shift from a marathon mode to a sprint mode. Or maybe the world has changed, so I need to adjust. Or maybe I need help. Or maybe I just want everybody to know, yeah, I’m making adjustments so it’ll look a little different, but I got it well in hand. Or let’s not waste team time. I’ve got, I, I’m on track and we’re doing great.
So I actually, in my two day meeting, for a virgin organization of any size, they walk out with written, understood vision, mission, strategy, strategic goals, key result measures, and the first 90 days, all of those, you don’t leave the room. And I don’t care if it’s 1:30 in the morning until we have every one of those done. And then as an outside source, since no company, when they go back to work, actually writes it, does the paperwork. We do the paperwork and get it back to the client within a week because that’s what you need. We also create a shared Google file of the essence of that execution so that you can keep track, everyone can keep track of the progress we’re making, what we’ve learned. And so on.
K-I-S-S. We are small organizations with limited resources. We cannot afford to try and do things based on systems where the HR department is five times larger than our company will ever be. We need systems and approaches that are scaled to the type of organization we are. And if we’re, a four or five or 10 person company and we outsource everything, then we need systems that are consistent with what we can control in that environment.
By the way, just to put a bow on that, I wanna ask you one more question. Guys, as we’re going into the end of Q4, do yourself a favor. Get out of the office and make sure that you’re clear on your vision. Be ready to engage your team in a strategic planning, and if you struggle with what John just walked us through, get a facilitator.
Maybe if you can’t afford one, maybe you get, I love that idea you said earlier about getting a peer to like trade. Hey, I’ll lead your team meeting on next Tuesday. You can help me with mine the Tuesday following. But for those of you guys that maybe have some budget and are ready to do what I did a month ago and get out of your own way Myrna, m y r n a.com is John’s website. We’ll make sure it’s posted in the show notes. And John is an expert. He is one of the foremost experts at helping you bring that level of clarity and focus for your team to move forward.
John, I wanna ask you one more question cause there’s another thing that you and I share in common that we’re really passionate about, and it’s mastermind groups, this idea of having a group of advisors around you. Pitch it to us. I’ve, I’m – yeah.
Yeah. Oh, let me, first of all, personal story. After I shut down the startup, I started doing corporate turnarounds, small high tech companies. And what I’d realized when I became the CEO was I had this wonderful network and people who worked for me and everything, but they all had agendas. And who could I just sit down and talk to about my deep fears and, am I worthy of being a CEO, or I’ve got this very complex decision to make and I need some help to get some perspective and insight. I was sharing that problem. A colleague said, come attend a Vistage Mastermind meeting.
And so I joined Vistage as a member. And I’ll tell you, one crazy day that I almost ran off the road because I was convinced that I had totally destroyed the company through a mistake of mine. And I was in the deepest depression you could imagine. But I still went to my meeting, and those 12 CEOs around the table, who knew me and I trusted, they helped me put it all into perspective. They provided some insight on how to right the ship and how to minimize the damage I had done, and that one session paid for all the years that I was a member of a mastermind.
The idea here as the CEO is that we live in a bubble. And we’re talking, in many cases there’s an echo, and we’re hearing the same things, whether we’re in an industry or whatever. When you get as part of a mastermind with CEOs in different ages, different life experiences, different industries, and that, I see that having worked with over a hundred different companies, that something that is an insight from manufacturing help my medical practices minimize their malpractice insurance.
There are lessons and insights that are so terribly valuable, not just the fact that you have another CEO you can talk to who’s wearing the same moccasins you are and understands, the weight you carry for people’s lives and such. So that’s why I am, that’s why I’m a chair of a group here in Athens, Georgia, of CEOs. And my group, as I’m building it out, is gonna have that rich diversities with a college dean and far known manufacturers and construction companies. But the idea is a real resource that you can feel good about sharing your deepest issues.
So many people, John, that would listen to this are gonna resonate with that. You may feel like that’s a weird thing to have that feeling that you’re kind of alone. And just all CEOs feel that. And so they’re gonna resonate with what you said, John, and I always wanna say this guys best decision I ever made as a young CEO when I started my first company was to join a mastermind. I’m so blessed that I was connected with that group, and if anyone is within striking range of East Atlanta, kind of Athens, I do think that’s another opportunity to reach out to John again. We’ll make sure John, that your contact stuff is in the show notes. But find zealously, pursue and find that level of community.
And my wife is also like a core stakeholder, kind of partner of mine. She doesn’t actually work in our company, but she’s a core partner for me, and yet some of the things that I talked to my CEO round table about are I need that filter even before I can articulate it well to Emily. And I love Emily and she’s my life partner, but oh, there bitching and about whether I’m gonna make payroll is like a difficult thing to talk with –
Yeah. Scare the living daylights out. ‘Cause you look and say, hey, I’m looking after the children and and you’re telling me that the investment that we put in this turnaround could go south if this, if you don’t figure this one out, oh my God. No, I can’t talk, I couldn’t talk to Mary about a half a dozen things. And yet she’s an, she was an essential part of my life and such. Yeah. Everyone, it’s a, it may be an emotional agenda, but it’s an agenda.
Yep. So just guys, for what it’s worth, be proactive. That’s maybe the best gift that John and I could give you in today’s episode is be proactive in finding that level of fellowship where people around you can speak truth into your life and not have an agenda except to serve you. And if you are, again, if you’re within striking range of Athens, Georgia, I think John and the group that he’s building and leading would be a great, great option for you to reach out to him again. John, we’ll make sure they can get you there.
John, I wanna talk. Before we close the show, I want to kind of get fun here. Let’s get out of the business or strategy, whatever. What is it that you’re passionate about now, man? What is it that’s got you revving –
I’m an electrical engineer by training, and I was always twiddling fiddling with stuff. So all I don’t do, I don’t do that as a profession. So I buy toys and systems. And the big toy I bought this year was. Tesla. And I, everything I have is electric. My house is, listens to me and I turn the lights on and open and close stuff, and I have an automated lawnmower and I chop trees with a – anyway, so what I’m really fascinated with now is the self-driving of the, my Tesla. And I, what I’ve come to realize, first of all, it’s not self-driving. That’s nonsense. We’re co-drivers. So we have a shared experience, and she won’t drive unless I have my hand on the wheel and create a certain amount of tension which is quite appropriate. But I feel like I’m driving with a teenager.
And some of her decisions are just like I remember when I was teaching my kids to drive. And, the, it’s just so much easier if you’re sitting behind the steering wheel to grab it away from her. The other thing that’s fascinating about this, Tyler, is Tesla integrates the thousands of hours of experience including mine, and Tesla gets smarter, just like my teenage drivers would get smarter through experience.
So every couple of weeks there’s a download and Tesla is a little smarter about how she’s handling stuff. So like on my drive back from the airport last night, I only had to take control away from her about three times in all of that heavy duty Atlanta traffic. Whereas normally it would be like, okay, no, this is too complex for you. I’m gonna handle all these lane shifts. She was telling me in her little guidance that she’s developed, they replaced the algorithm for dealing with heavy duty interstate travel with a different algorithm that makes better decisions.
And I’m watching, there’s a little spot here in Athens where she doesn’t get in the right turning lane early enough to be able to do it correctly. So I always override her. I’m waiting for her to get smart enough for that and so on and so forth. I’m also finding the challenge of finding an EV spot at the airport when you leave on a heavy day. Every single electric vehicle charging station at the Atlanta airport was used when I parked Friday afternoon. And I remember when I first started driving, what, six, seven years ago with an electric vehicle. One of the guaranteed parking spaces was the EV section, ’cause there were never more than two or three cars.
It’s getting popular. Yeah. I really I’m kind of a, you guys haven’t met me in person. I’m a little over 6’3″, I’m a little over 220 pounds. I’m in the big and hefty division. If this was a runway show, I’m in the big and hefty division. And so for me, I’m really excited to maybe catch one of these electric Ford F 150s here in a couple years.
Isn’t that as sweet looking little car?
It’s amazing. Yeah. It’s gonna be so much fun. Right now, and I’ll be honest with you, my friends make fun of me, I don’t feel great about it, John, but I drive a 12 year old Honda Pilot, and I drive it for two reasons. One is I’m walking distance from my office. Obviously it’s paid for, but two, it has this gigantic canopy where big, bald, and beautiful, I don’t have any issues. And so I’ve stuck with it even though it has a quarter million miles. And my friends are like, bro, you’ve sold a company and you’re a CEO. You’re driving a damn beater. And I’m waiting, I’m holding out for the F 150s here in a year or two to grab one of those.
Yeah. My daughter is is, like six foot three and same sort of situation like with you. And Tesla’s smart enough that when she gets behind the driver’s seat, it syncs to her cell phone, and the seat drops several inches so that she has head clearance in the wheel changes position. The real value of a car that understands you and that you can customize to each driver. I’m really enjoying that aspect. If you’ve never driven an EV, guys, there are a couple of things. First of all, you don’t realize how much time you waste at fueling stations. Until you drive an EV, and on the way home, you just drive home. You don’t even think about it.Also, how much of your travel is within a relatively short distance?
Within 20 miles of your house. It’s really close.
It’s really close. Yeah. The other thing is the joy of having a full tank every morning. ‘Cause in essence, you pull in, you plug the car in, and the next morning your tank’s full. You just don’t even think about it. And of course the cost. I don’t even worry about the cost savings. ‘Cause that’s not why I bought the car. At the today’s price levels, you don’t buy the car for economy. I had two cars. My wife died last year, and I didn’t need two cars. So essentially I swapped the two cars. Plus as I like to tell my children, I used their inheritance to buy the car. Yeah, because my, and I got this from my mother-in-law. She had a really fancy Mercedes that she bought when she got an inheritance from a, from an aunt. And so I said, hey, I bought the car with an inheritance. It just happened to be what would’ve been an inheritance for my two kids.
Love it. Hey John, this has been a great discussion. I wanna land the plane the way I do every Return on Podcast episode. What is a habit, hack, practice, rhythm within your life that over these 32 years of consulting, what do you feel like has given you an edge or given you a return on investment?
Maintain two queues. There’s the day to day of which is focused on delivering on all the commitments you made. And think of it as not a to-do list, it’s a black hole. You will never go home with your to-do list empty. So you need a second list. And this I got from my days of teaching music, and that’s your development list. And I learned that as long as the student practiced so many hours a week on a consistent basis, maybe not as many as I would’ve liked as a teacher, but if they averaged three hours a week, focused on practice, they would end up working their way through the material and become a better player.
For development things, figure 10% or 5% of your time in the business that you absolutely make sure you spend working on the future, because that’s what strategic thinking is. It’s making investments today that will pay back in 18 months, two years, three years. And the negative, that means it’s taking time away from the commitment time.
So two queues. Why 10%? Because that’s the traditional amount for tithing. If you look at companies that have 401ks, people typically pull out 5% to 10% of their income. Why don’t they put in 30% or 40%? Because they’ve got mortgages and shoes, new shoes for the kids. But the key is maintain two separate queues and absolutely commit to putting that time into development, whether it’s personal, same strategy.
I go to the health club three times a week for an hour. I have a personal trainer. I made that commitment at the beginning of the year, and it keeps me healthy. For companies, that’s how you implement your strategic goals is you maintain that strategic queue of whether it’s four hours a week. And don’t fool yourself that somehow you can spend 20 or 30 or 40 hours. Life doesn’t work that way.
Yeah. But I think that’s great. I think sometimes the like perfect can be the enemy of the really good. And I think for the average CEO, nobody, and I mean nobody that’s listening to this podcast, can tell you and me, John, that they can’t put four hours on their calendar per week to focus on that, those important non-urgent, strategically valuable future things.
But we always have a lot of whirlwind that we’re gonna have to tackle and we’re never gonna be able to put 30 hours on our calendar. At least not right now. But I think if you practice that discipline, it’s almost like what John just said. In the same way that I go to the gym three times a week, it’s happening because my health, my future me is gonna thank me today that I did this.
Guys, go to your Google calendar, whatever it is right now, and block a couple of two hour blocks per week. Your future self will thank you for taking that time.
I’ll give you, I’ll give you one other thing. Look in the mirror and recognize that you are where you are now, and don’t judge your performance and say, hey, this employee that’s not working out, that I could have if, I can’t act on it because I didn’t give them enough time, if they didn’t get the training to be successful. Guys, your organization is what it is today, and the people that you recruit and put in the organization need to function with the systems and capabilities you have.
And if they can’t, don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame the organization. Yeah, blame yourself because you made a mistake in hiring them. But don’t blame yourself in the sense that you didn’t give them enough. You give them what you can give them in the reality of your organization.
That is so wise. Friends, please hit rewind a couple times in your podcast player and listen to what John’s words were. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been slow to make the right adjustments in my personnel because I blamed myself, which again, as the owner of the company, it’s ultimately the buck stops with me. But I think John, your point is freeing in saying, wait a minute, where our organization is today needs a person that can handle X, Y, and Z. And nothing wrong with you, Susie, but right now you’re not the right fit because you can’t handle X, Y, and Z. And I think that’s a level of freedom that we need to embrace and be nicer to ourselves about this.
Yeah, and a quick tie back to something you said earlier. That if you insist on authorizing every decision, you become a bottleneck. And you then create a model that all of the people that you give management responsibility to naturally make themselves bottlenecks and the whole organization slows down. And when somebody’s sick or gone actually freezes. So you need to start and set the tone by constantly developing people and transferring authority and responsibility to other people to free up time for where you add the most value and to demand from your managers that they do the same thing. You can’t run a company on superwomen and supermen. It’s not sustainable. It’ll be great for a while until somebody keels over dead. Or leaves.
No, and exactly right. It’s humbling as a CEO. John, this has been a great discussion. I’m gonna make sure that your contact, LinkedIn page, and website are posted in the show notes. Your time is has been really useful. This has been a rich episode. John, thank you so much for joining us today.
It’s a pleasure always to interact with you in fellow spirit.
Awesome. Well guys, if you’re looking for that support as you do your strategic management planning, John may be a good resource for you, is if you’re looking for guidance, and even if you’re not at Athens, you’re looking for a friend that can help you identify the right mastermind, John also may be a good resource for you on that front.
And I want to go ahead and close this episode. But guys, thank you for joining Return on Podcast. This is a gift that you give John and me that you would hang with us for almost an hour and listen to us ramble about strategy and stuff. And I just hope you can take a couple of nuggets away that’ll be transformative for you in your life and in your business.
And with that, we’ll close today’s show. Everyone, have a wonderful week. We’ll see you next time.