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If you've ever looked for advice as a leader or a business owner, then you know that there is a plethora of strategies and advice available at your fingertips. Seemingly, this is great, but it can also make it hard to decide a plan of action when there is so much to choose from. It's no surprise that many business owners can feel like they are just spinning their wheels and are unsure of what really can turn their business around.
Gary Frey, CEO confidant and business "MacGyver, sat down with our CEO to share his experience in creating successful turnarounds and building strong values for brands. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses how to become an effective leader in generating business growth and developing a successful brand.
Gary is a connector, “MacGyver,” and confidant for CEOs & their teams as they scale up their businesses, as well as the co-host of the “Anything but Typical” podcast featuring vulnerable, behind-the-scenes stories of ripple-making entrepreneurs. In his career, he’s served as president of four successful companies, has done two turnarounds, and held executive positions in two Fortune 100 companies. Not to mention he is a successful author as well with his book Silence the Imposter. Now, he leads business growth coaching and business development efforts for a regional CPA firm that serves privately held businesses and their owners.
Question: How did you get here today? I mean, you have worked at some BIG companies along the way, and you own an advertising agency. You have checked a lot of boxes to say that you actually know your stuff.
Answer: That's very gracious, but actually, my career is: I plan, God laughed. And that is no joke! I was a graphic designer early on in my career, and I had a nose for being able to decipher kind of right-brain creative thought and problem-solving to left-brain CEOs early on in my career.
I thought everybody did, but evidently not, and so I was tagged to do my first agency turnaround in...1990, I guess. I thought that would be my forever home, quite frankly. We successfully turned around this agency. Had my name and put on the door, and we grew it, and we had a funky place, you know...We had a very cool place. We had Redone, a chili factory in Wichita, Kansas. It was really cool, and I loved it. I loved my life, I loved my career, I loved my work family and my home family, and it was wonderful. And then I caught my partner in his financial impropriety—that's a nice way of putting it—a couple of times. And so, the difficult part of that was, I mean, besides the financial devastation to me, was just the betrayal of it all. He was twenty years older than me, and so I became painfully aware at age thirty-two that I'm going to have to leave my own company that had my name on the door or destroy my name. I was either gonna have to destroy him, and I didn't want to do it. He had just made a series of you stupid mistakes, you know, like, and it's a slippery slope we're all capable of. We're one stupid decision away from destruction, I'm convinced of it. I learned that at a very tender age. So, that was tough...I had to leave.
Now, I saw myself as a designer, turnaround guy, I guess, because what we did was kind of cool. I just took it for granted. But then, all of a sudden, I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Take equity in another place, bring in a couple million dollar account, one of my top people with me, and as soon as we delivered everything we said we would, my "partner" said, "got what I needed, have a good life." Literally. And he knew I forgave hundreds of thousands of dollars of me, about thirty grand in commissions at that point, and we were six months into Charlotte, North Carolina, and we had to start all freaking over again. And we were on fumes. I had two little kids at home with my wife, and it was on my shoulders. So that's what took me into corporate America.
Again, I kept thinking of myself, "I got to get back into the agency world," but they saw me—and actually, I was at Bank of America as a nation's bank of time—they said, "We have a 'Macgyver' role." They recruited me away, and they had made a massive acquisition in an eleven-state region in the country. All the numbers were upside down, and they were very good at acquisitions on the east coast, but this one was an anomaly, and because I was from the midwest, and I had this reputation of being a bridge builder across kind of warring factions at another bank, they were like, "You're our guy." And they thought it was a communication problem...well, they were half right. It was a communication problem, but the bigger thing was—and this is what really kind of did a hard pivot on my career—I learned that it was a culture problem. It was a culture problem more than a communication problem. The other communication was symptomatic of an underlying problem. And that's where I learned 'Holy Moly,' just because the numbers look good on an acquisition doesn't mean that it's going to be successful, and it's culture that always upends everything.
Question: You've talked about core values—you're talking about your mission, your values statement, and you think about these as being very outwardly facing and how you want to be perceived. But if you don't start it inside your own business, agency, or the like, those wheels that I mentioned before are firmly off the bus. Where does it start?
Answer: Management always sets the tone, and if they just think you can outsource that to marketing, well, it's going to feel that way, and everything is going to feel hollow and not real.
Question: If you're leveling up and almost reaching bankruptcy, how do you grow your way out? How do you find new ways to get money in?
Answer: Well, each situation is different, but what I did in two turnarounds was we had to assess, first of all, who's on our team with? And in one case, everybody quit except for my partner and me. So it's just him and me. But then we had to go in and tier our client base. Who's making money? Who's not? Who's loyal? Who's with us? Who's not? We had to look at our processes. In one case, we were billing by the hour, which was wasteful. I said, "screw that we're going to be doing everything value-based pricing, and we are going to be on the high end of the market, but we are going to kill them in service and give them a creative product that they could not buy somewhere else."
So we just got really simple, really basic. But understanding what's our value? Understanding what drives us, you know? If we don't take the time to understand why do we exist—go back to the Simon Sinek Golden Circle—then we're just chasing the wind, I think, and then it's just chasing anything that grows that has money. And that's hollow, especially with this workforce. Today they demand more. They want to know, "what am I signing up for?"
Question: In many companies, there is a divide between generations and how they view work. The younger generation wants to have a purpose, and older generations are saying, 'no, this isn't how things are done,' This is in every organization, so what are your views on how to bridge this divide for a better business?
Answer: I still think it comes down to understanding your why, and aligning with other people that have similar—now, that doesn't mean everybody thinks the same. I actually believe that you need diversity of thought, and I'm not talking about checking the box, diversity & inclusion; I'm talking about can somebody look at a problem or can you have a completely different and polar opposite view of something and still show respect for one another. Then you can get a whole lot of amazing stuff done, and you can create some amazing solutions that you wouldn't have thought of if you were just in the same echo chamber.
But I think it still comes down to, "why am I doing it," and getting into some creative problem solving as to what's the root cause of this or that, and bringing value. If you truly long to bring value to somebody else versus what's in it for me. Scarcity mindset versus abundance mindset. If you see the world and the marketplace as a big ocean with lots of fish, your competitors don't threaten you; but if you have a scarcity mindset, you see a competitor that catches a fish, you see that as a threat. Because "hey! That's one or less for me." Guess what, everybody? The ocean is filled with fish!
Question: What mistakes are business leaders making?
Answer: Every CEO that's confided in me has, at one point, said, "I don't know what I'm doing," and it was imposter syndrome. They say, "I'm in over my head, you know if people just knew this about me, they wouldn't respect me..." The reality is we all deal with this. Most of us. Sociopaths don't because they don't feel, but if you're not a sociopath, I've got good news for you...we're all made anything but typical. We're all different, and our thumbprints prove it. Eighty some billion people on the planet, and think of all the people before, now, and after; and nobody has the same thumbprint as you. That's by design. I truly believe that...but to understand, hey, you're unique and embrace that uniqueness, and everybody else, too. Be who you are.
Gary has so much great information from his experience in being a business and leader "MacGyver" Check out the podcast below to learn more about how you can find your true values, overcome imposter syndrome, and build a successful business in the process.
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Topics: Podcast Interviews, Podcast, HB Podcast