The Christine Spray Show

Successful CEO Stories and Insights

Ep002: Making Deals with Emily Stoller - Transcript

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Christine: Joining me today is Emily Stoller, the president and CEO of Glesby Marks. Thanks for being a guest in our show, Emily and welcome.

Emily: Hi, Christine. Really happy to be here. Good morning.

Christine: Good morning. How's your day going so far?

Emily: It's been good. How about you?

Christine: Awesome. Awesome. Life is good. I count my blessings and love what I do, and being with people like you and learning more about how you became successful is exciting. So I look forward to learn more about that.
Tell me a little bit about your background and where you grew up and about your education and training, that helped you become a business owner and your success.

Emily: Absolutely. So, I actually grew up in Los Angeles and went to college in Washington, D.C. And after college, I got involved in a political communications' company, working with the government. And while I was there, I actually met an entrepreneur and he was looking to start his own web development business that catered to the government.
So we met and we worked a little bit together, and he recruited me to sort of be actually his first employee at his business. And so, really sort of help him grow it. I was pretty young, I was about a year out of college at that point. So I decided to take that risk. I remember actually calling my parents and saying, "Hey, I think I'm going to leave my job. And I met this great entrepreneur and he wants to start something and I really want to take this leap." And I think a parent first wants the safety and security for their child. So, they wanted to find out a little bit more and I didn't have a ton to give other than, the guy I was going to start working with was a really inspiring, really smart and really had a vision for where he wanted to take the business.
So I decided to take the leap. And I went over to his business and we started basically from nothing. And over the course of two years, it was just he and I, sort of learning the technologies, teaching ourselves how to best provide the products to our clients. And we really began to build and we became a sought vendor within sort of the congressional government space and built our team, and built the company to a really reputable place.
I worked there for about seven years until we actually sold it to a competitor. And it was really a life-changing experience for me because I gained so much knowledge of a business from really every aspect. I was a project manager, I led the operations and I became sort of a... I don't want to say a Jack of all trades a little bit cliched, but you had to be able to do a lot of things. At a startup, when it's just two people, and when you're starting to try and grow it. And you're learning a lot of things along the way, and you're sort of stumbling as you're doing it, which only made me grow more and which allowed the business to grow.
And so after we sold that, I realized, I had never gotten sort of formal business training in college. That's not what I studied. I studied international relations. And so while I had a lot of hands-on training, I realized I didn't have sort of more technical, formal education on certain business matters like accounting, like finance and whatnot. So I actually wanted to go back and get my MBA and get a little bit more structured training.
So I went back to school and got my MBA. This is all in Washington, D.C. So at this point, I think by the time I started my MBA program, I had been living in Houston only for about 12 years, 13 years at that point. And the MBA was a great program because number one, I actually continued working so I did it part-time. But it allowed me to sort of, fill in some of the gaps that I was not going to be able to teach myself at a business. And so when I finished my MBA, I was looking for my next opportunity. And that's actually what led me to Glesby Marks today.

Christine: Wow. How interesting, what great experience right out of the gate from college, and going into a startup. And obviously some lessons learned, you're already alluding to some of the gaps that you didn't have. What do you wish you would have known or what are some of the things you've learned? You've mentioned accounting and some others, but what are some lessons learned that you wish you had known before you actually did that startup?

Emily: Right. I was a young manager and I had had jobs in high school or whatnot, and throughout summertime when I was on break from college. But I think that having managed more would have helped me maybe not make some of the mistakes that I had made.
Just sort of see, maybe how you handle different situations. I would have loved to have been able to maybe have a little bit more experience being managed before I myself became a manager. But look, I can't really complain. I think I was able to really turn that into a success and I think I am a good manager. I think that there were times where it would have been helpful to be able to draw on experience of my own-

Christine: Well they say people is the hardest part, right?

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. It is because your work force, that's how the job gets done. And so you want to make sure that number one, you're doing an effective job, making sure that people are reaching their potential-
And making sure that they are doing the best that they're able to do and you're providing them those tools. And I was really young and so, I had some missteps along the way, but I think that I moved really quickly with that. And I think I learned really quickly. But I think if I could go back, it's an experience I would never change because it really has made me who I am today. But I guess if I had to pick something I would have loved maybe a little bit more experience in working an environment like that-

Christine: Okay.

Emily: To be able to bring the other people.

Christine: That makes sense. Thanks for sharing that too. I would say, running a business, because you have people involved, that's the hardest part, making widgets is the easy part, right?

Emily: Right. That's right.

Christine: So you said that led you to Glesby Marks. Tell us about how you got into the business and how you became president and CEO of the company.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it goes back a little bit. I ended up meeting my now husband while we were living in Washington D.C. He was actually from Houston, which is where I live. And my dad was actually born and raised here as well, and I bring that up because we were deciding, when we decided that we wanted to leave D.C., Where we wanted to live. And it was really between Houston and Lafayette for us. We wanted to be by family. So we were making those decisions and we ultimately settled on Houston. So then it became about us, so what are we going to do to get there? And I bring up my father because he was born and raised here. So I have actually extended family that lives here. And my family has a lot of business background.
We own different businesses' sort of throughout the country, both in Los Angeles and in Texas. And for my generation, family business was never really in the cards. There were a lot of cousins and there are a lot of people in my generation. And so really, my parents' generation sort of took the approach... The best way to sort of handle this is to... Because we're not going to be able to get everybody involved just because there wouldn't be enough room. So let's just not get anybody involved, so everyone's sort of found their own path, right?
Everyone, my brothers, my cousins, we're all doing our own thing and as designed. But an opportunity came up with Glesby Marks where the now former president had been there for years, 38 years, I think. He had been there at that point, and was one day going to really want to retire.
And so the chairman who is a family member, had known my trajectory and had known my path. He's up my parents' generation, but he had seen what I had been accomplishing. That had done the startup that we had made that a successful business, that I had gone back to go get my MBA. He first approached my dad and said, "I'd like to reach out to Emily about a job at Glesby Marks, because I think that she could be an asset here." And they discussed it, and ultimately just said, "Given her education, given her training, given her work experience, this is appropriate, right? yes, we are making an exception to a rule that we made, but it wasn't unarmed." So I was approached and it wasn't to immediately take over as president and CEO, because I wouldn't have been equipped to be able to do that yet.
But what it was, was that I trained under the current president at the time and learn the business. And it feels like I would be able to do this both from the company's perspective and from my perspective that yes, I would then take over as CEO and president. So I actually had to think about it for a bit because number one, it really had never been on my radar. And number two, working for a family business is a big deal. There are a lot of dynamics that sewn into that and I wanted to make sure that I was prepared for it.
So my dad works for one of our family businesses, out in Los Angeles. So I really went to him for guidance and I went to him to get his feedback, and to really help me make the decision. Clearly, ultimately I made a decision that this was something that I wanted to move for here. And I think a lot of it came from my family's response, and it was key, they said to me, "Look, if at any time during the training, you realize this job isn't for you, then that's okay. You don't have to do it, we'll walk away. And that will be fine." And I think having that pressure taken off where I could ensure that I could commit and ensure that it was the right thing made the decision to get into the business a lot easier because ultimately it was going to be my decision if ultimately it did not work out. If it wasn't the right fit.
So that's how I got into it. And I worked under my predecessor for two years and he always said, he didn't want to retire but after investing at that point, 39 years into a business, he was never just wanting to leave. He was only going to leave when it was right. So after working under him for two years and training under him for two years, he is actually the one that made the decision and said that I was ready. And so, I took over in January 1st, 2017 and have been going ever since.

Christine: Wow, what a story. It gives me goosebumps thinking about what you went through, not only in the startup and everything you had to learn there. But then the pressure, even though you had the opportunity to walk away at any time. Just the pressure, since your family was steadfast on not having, the kids in the business, to actually coming into the business, learning for two years. What were some of the biggest surprises to you during that two year period? As you learn the business and learn the dynamics. And of course, now you get to really put your MBA to the test too. Right?

Emily: Right. Yeah. You know, it's interesting. So I run a fleet leasing company and we are basically an asset based lender, right?

Christine: Okay.

Emily: So a customer comes and they say, "I want to get a pickup truck for my business." We don't do any consumer leasing. It's all business to business. So I have no inventory on hand until I go and get the actual vehicle that the customer wants. So we're credit lenders and so we lend vehicles, we lend inventories, but these credit decisions that I never was really exposed to with my previous job. We were a web development business, that's completely different. So the challenge for me, was really how do you evaluate the customer and the prospect that is looking to come on, right? It's not just about going to sell your business.
You didn't have to make sure that their financials can take the loan that you're about to provide them.
And so, for me, it was the difference in not only how the sale and the decision to go with the customer, it was how I had to evaluate everything. I didn't ever have to do that type of evaluation before in the type of business that I was in. So it was a interesting shift for me. When the sales person spends a lot of time meeting with prospects, and it is not a quick sale for us, right? You don't just walk into a business and someone's like, "Yes, I need a pickup truck." Its a longer sale. So you watch the salespeople really work so hard and then the person says, "Yes, I'd love to work with you."
And then it's not necessarily a yes or it's not always clear cut. And so that was something I had to wrap my head around. How do you make a deal happen? I was always taught, and my predecessor made it clear, you can never make a bad deal, good. But not everything has to be perfect either. So how can you work with people to make sure that you can help their businesses run by getting them the vehicle they need while also serving our needs? So it also allows you to get creative with ways to bring customers on. And that can be through a variety of methods, whether it's credit lines or security deposits, or just different ways that you can make relationships and deals work. And I had never really been exposed to that before. And so it was learning a different way to sort of, think about the sales experience and to think about bringing on customers. So that was really interesting for me.

Christine: How interesting I love that quote, by the way, "You can never make a bad deal, good." That's really a great takeaway as well, and it's so true. And in course, you really add a lot more people experience in this job because you're on both sides of the table, right? You were not only learning in getting to know and building trust and rapport with your customers, but you're also doing it with your staff, right?

Emily: That's right.

Christine: And in probably a much bigger company too.

Emily: Well, that's right. And, it's interesting that you bring that up because I think one of the biggest challenges, once my predecessor left was, the predecessor had been there basically since the company's inception, he could make decisions very, very quickly. You could bring him something and he could review it and sort of know exactly what to do almost immediately. And that came from experience. It came from him being there for 39 years, seeing what he had seen, experiencing what he had experienced. And I frankly just was not going to be that fast. And so, I think that one of the challenges that I was going to face, once I was sort of quote, unquote on my own, meaning not under him anymore, was being okay with making assessments more slowly than he did. And so actually what I did was... I can't remember if it was before the left or basically day one of me being president.
I brought in my direct reports and I sat them and I was very honest and straightforward. And I said, "He was able to tell you guys things very, very quickly when we bought them to him. and I'm going to let you know that I'm not going to be able to be that quick. I need to make sure whatever you bring to me that I fully understand and that might take me a little bit more time than it took him. I need to understanding the whole root of an issue, what the problem was and get background information, if necessary to make me fully understand. Well, that's going to obviously take a little bit of time." And I think the key was conveying to them, I'm going to be a little bit slower, so I need you to be a little bit more patient.
But it was also on me because I can't slow down our means of operation. Our customers are used to a certain speed, a certain efficiency. And so I can't be a wrench in that. I can't slow that down. So I had to work to make sure that I understood issues, which would take me a little bit longer, but I couldn't take too long that it impeded our business. And so I think, I was really honest, really open from the get-go frankly. And they understood and that's really something that I have tried to foster within our company is, I'm going to be very straight up and honest with you. I'm going to tell you exactly how I see it and what I need, because I think that, they were able to work with that.
They understood that I was going to need more time, so they could build that into their expectations as well. And of course, I'm quicker today than I was in 2017, but I still need that extra time. And of course, there are some decisions I can make pretty quickly, but there are other things that I need to investigate. And I do that to make sure that I make the right decision. That we make the best decision possible. And I think the challenge was ensuring that I got all of the information I needed, but I did it without slowing down what the business needed to do. I think that was one of my biggest challenges. And I don't want to say it's a challenge today, but it is existent today still. But I think because I was really forthright with everything at the beginning, my team completely understands.

Christine: Well, you're doing a lot of things right, because you're obviously very successful and the company's continued to do very well under your leadership. So kudos to you because obviously you've learned not to come in and try to be somebody you're not, to come in and be who you are and put the experience and skill sets that you have and your own leadership style into work and your people, I believe, respect that. And that's what you've seen. Right?

Emily: Right. Yeah. Because we have a lot of the employees have been there for actual decades, 20, 30 plus years. So for me that's amazing. This is great. I'm walking into a great situation because I can reach into their brain and try and get their experience and find out what they know. And it can become collaborative.
My leadership style, obviously I lead, and ultimately the decisions fall on me, but my employees as my greatest assets. They have so much knowledge, they have so much experience. And they're so intelligent that I want to draw on what they know to help me get to the best decision. So I really want to take a collaborative approach. I want to get my team together and I want to bounce ideas off each other because we don't all think the same. We all have the same goal, but we don't necessarily get there the same way. So if I can tap into my team's viewpoint and experience then I can come up with the best decisions and the best path to move forward for the company. And so that that's really what I've been trying to do.

Christine: Well, it sounds like you've been doing a great job of it too. So congratulations. Tell us, off track on that note. What are some of your successes that you've had some of your proudest achievements, since you have been leader over the organization? Obviously in getting to know the people and services and product offerings and all those things. What are some of your proudest achievements and accomplishments?

Emily: Yeah. So I think that one thing is, the company was started in 1976 and the company founders had a vision to have a very relationship based business so that when you come on with us... In a lot of businesses, a salesperson will sell to you and then they're going to pass you onto an account manager. That's not the way our business works. Your sales person is your point of contact. We want you to truly build a relationship with them. We want to be an extension of your business. And the founders, that was their vision and that is how they ran the business. So as I have come in, I have tried to modernize a few things, look, updating technology, bringing in some more strategic partners, but in doing it, I want to ensure that we never lost who we actually were at our core.
So by bringing on maybe more strategic partnerships or maybe making ourselves a little bit more technology user friendly, I didn't want that to translate to a loss of relationship with the customer. So I think one of my achievements has been that we have been able to modernize without losing our personal touch. And so that's been a really important part of our business, that I've never wanted to change. And so it was about modernizing that and keeping that.
The other thing I think is, widening our credit approval. And what I mean by that is, I think that I have opened the idea to taking a little bit more risk than we had before. Not unnecessary risk, but allowing us to become more creative with deals and opportunities to help us growth some more. Businesses are changing so much now and with the advent of more and more technology, I wanted to make sure that when we were evaluating customers, we took into account, not necessarily the sort of rigid way of evaluating them, but taking a more open approach and finding a way to do the deal.
Again, not making a bad deal, Good. But taking something that you need to be a little bit more creative with in terms of how you provide their credit, but can ultimately lead to really long lasting relationship. And again, allowing someone that needs your services, to be able to get their business going. So I think one of my achievements is growing our business by expanding the way that we evaluated customers. And I think that, I've done a good job with that and I think we have grown and I think we have brought on a lot of good business since I've taken over.
And we've been thriving. By sort of taking on that additional risk we've been successful and we haven't suffered from that. We've only really thived and so I think that's been another big achive-

Christine: Yeah. Interesting, very interesting. And I agree, I concur. I'm going to have to switch gears and ask you something personally, back to your own education experience and lessons learned. What do you do for professional development now, to be the best leader and best manager that you can be for your organization and your team? Right.

Emily: Great question. So I'm part of Vistage, which is a professional group of CEOs. And I've been in that group for now, two years. And the group for me, has really been a wonderful way to include myself in my position. They obviously aren't in my industry, but they're all CEOs. And so when I have come with issues that I am facing, they all have had so much experience with their own business. They're able to give me a lot of insights. So For me, Vistage has been a way for me to grow as a CEO and to grow as a manager, trying to grow a business, right?
Not just how I manage people, but really how do I manage sort of the growth of this business. So Vistage for me, has been really invaluable. The other thing I've tried to do is, I've tried to take courses. I've taken a couple to continue my development as a leader. I've taken some courses there. And then I've become friendly with people in my industry that I call upon, or they call upon me where we just sort of professionally talk about what's going on in the industry and what we're doing in certain areas. So that gives me some industry knowledge about what's happening and how I might be able to leverage that for my business. So I think I get it from both Vistage, from sort of formal education training, and then also from my relationships within industry professionals, is how I stay up to date and try and better myself.

Christine: Oh, that's awesome. And all that on top of, of course, being married and starting a family and juggling it all. Good for you. Good for you.

Emily: Thank you.

Christine: You inspire me. You inspire me and motivate me for sure. We have time for one more question. I'd love to hear from you. What is your most rewarding part of running the business?

Emily: My coworkers, I absolutely love them. They are smart, they are driven and they want to make our business better and they want to help the customer. So getting to collaborate with my team on a daily basis, jazzes me. It just completely, completely excites me. My team never really is into the status quo, always wanting to say, "Hey, what else can we provide for our customers?" We get going on conversations like that and trying to come up with new service offerings or looking for new strategic partners, that excites me and that excites me. Everybody wants to keep gloves Glesby Marks moving. And so I think, the most rewarding part for me is getting to work with the people I work with. I genuinely enjoy getting to speak with them, getting to collaborate with them and getting to grow with them, frankly. So my team is the most rewarding part.

Christine: Well, like you said earlier, people are our greatest asset and It starts with your first client, is your employee and you've taken that obviously, to heart. And you can tell, just in your tone and how you talk about them, that you're in your element and your passion really, really comes through. So Kudos to you. I'm sure that's a huge part of why you've been successful and why you were successful too, in your first startup as well.

Emily: Thank you very much.

Christine: Well, thank you, Emily. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your experience with us. Again, your inspiration and your success just motivates me, inspires me and I'm sure many others as well. I really appreciate you taking your time to share your time, your experience and expertise with us. And I wish you all the best in your continued success. And look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Emily: Thank you, Christine. I had a blast on this podcast, so happy to come back anytime. It Would be great.

Christine: Awesome, awesome. Well, and anybody that needs help when it comes to your fleets and your leases, please call Glesby Marks because you'll be in great hands for sure. Emily, have a great day and we'll talk soon.

Emily: Wonderful. Bye.

Christine: Bye. Bye.