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Ep004: There is No There in Entrepreneurship with Chris Anderson - Transcript Fri, 02 Jul 2021 08:00:00 -0500 cafa162b-f810-472d-9b74-ee355d11261f Return to Episode

Christine: Please join me in welcoming Chris Anderson, the founder and CEO of Ledge Lounger. Chris started Ledge Lounger as a phenomenal success for the last decade and he'll share his story about how as a young teenager, he's a serial entrepreneur knocking on doors and learning how to build businesses way back then. Then his experience extended into college, as well as after college and joining his dad's business. I can't wait for you hear his story about how you quite never arrive at the place you're going when you're growing a business. It's almost equating to fall summit, so no mountain top and you won't want to miss this episode. Welcome to the Christine Spray Show, joining me today is Chris Anderson, the founder and CEO of Ledge Lounger, a well respected brand and name throughout the globe. Chris, thank you for joining us today and be a guest on our show.

Chris: Hey, thank you, Christine, appreciate you having me.

Christine: Absolutely. Well, I know a little bit about your background and your story and your success that you've had and I want to share this with the rest of the world. So thank you for being here with us, if you don't mind, jump in and kick off with telling us a little bit about your background and your education.

Chris: Thank you for the question. I think, I don't know if it's too different than most I other than just the fact that I was just a very, very heavy entrepreneur at a very, very early age. While my friends were playing baseball, or football or participating in school sports, I was always out trying to make a dollar. I think really what drove me on that was just financial freedom, having the ability to make my own money and make my own decisions on when I wanted something, being able to purchase it, it pretty much drove my entrepreneur spirit. So growing up, I'd pull a wagon around the neighborhood and wash cars, make a lemonade stand, do all those things but do them pretty seriously. I had a passion that was shooting and sporting plays, sports, shotgun shooting. So I started my own shooting school when I was in high school and taught-

Christine: Wow.

Chris: Kids and women how to shoot, and actually started a school where I taught trappers how to trap sporting events, shooting events, and I would travel around the country with them and bring them to different shoots and we would trap for large tournaments and stuff. So kind of always an entrepreneur. Graduating out of high school, I had a lot of things going for me here in Houston just with the small businesses I've created, but well I always kind of like to start a new, which it's hard because you've built something, but then you want to just kind of start fresh. So went over to Louisiana State University, LSU, I really, really enjoyed my time over there but it kind of gave me an opportunity to see what I can make of myself again. While I was beginning my degree in construction management, I was very, very highly involved in the student media. I was kind of a student director of all the advertising sales of the student advertising.
So the school newspaper, the school television station, the radio station, I managed all the students selling all that product, and it happened to be at the same time that LSU won a national championship, Go Tigers, and we had a lot of public recommendation from all over the world, excuse me, all over the country and a lot of people wanted to place ads with our school and in our publication. So I grew that department and managed quite a few students there, growing that department we reach some numbers that they'd never seen in the department while I was there which was very exciting, gave me a lot of learning, learned how to manage people, learned how to grow sales, learned a lot about marketing, a lot about advertising.
So instead of using my degree, I actually used that skill set took a job with the Dallas Morning News. The very early days of online marketing, online advertising. People were still trying to figure out how to monetize online channels. So I took what I learned in college and just being in that generation that was growing up with online advertising and helped my department over at Dallas Morning News figure out how to monetize the ads spend, how to monetize the eyeballs on web and sold online advertising there. Then I took a jump to be a director of business development up in Nebraska for a gentleman that was running for governor, it was a online social media site. It was an automotive social network that we developed, I was up there. So I kind of learned a lot about online, building a website and how to again, market it, how to make money off of it, and monetize it, and where the value was there.
I did all this while I was saying, I'd never come back to work for my father's swimming pool business. It's something that I kind of grew up in, my father had owned a swimming pool company. He'd been in the industry since I was born and owned a company since I was about 15 years old, and he would bring us to job sites on the weekends, and we would do pitches for him and he would say, "This is why you need to go to college son, you don't have to do this for the rest of your life."
So I swore I'd never get back into it, but after being out in corporate America, that entrepreneurial spirit kind of kicked back and I realized I had an opportunity one day to own my own business, and saw it as an opportunity to go back and work with my dad, enjoy some time with him, and also decide if I want him to kind of spring into the pool industry or not. So then that kind of led me to develop the first product. The first Ledge Lounger was through getting involved in the family business and finding a need in the marketplace and all this history from there.

Christine: Well, so tell us more details about that because I think that is so exciting about you're an entrepreneur in the making, of course, like you said, from a young age, and it's awesome to hear all the different things you did from the shooting to the lemonade stand to the wagon lines, et cetera. So when you came back what came back to work with your dad's business, and you're helping him grow that business, obviously, all that sales and marketing background helped too. But how did that first Ledge Lounger come to fruition? Where would that idea come from?

Chris: Sure. So a couple of things happened coincidentally, at the same time. Number one, I was working on a project that had a very large tanning ledge, and for the listeners of that don't know, a tanning ledge in a swimming pool is that shallow area of water, typically somewhere between seven and 12 inches deep. We put the tanning ledges on all of our pools, and it's just an expansive area, in our case, where somebody can hang out in a very shallow body of water. It's kind of a little backstory here, when I joined my father's business all he was doing was building the swimming pool, they typically build an average $70,000 pool, and because he was the one designing it and selling it, whatever he designed, he would actually have to go out and build. So these designs while they were custom, and they were unique, they were never over the top.
But once I became the one that was designing and selling it, and he was out there building it, kind of I was never concerned about how hard they were going to be to build typically the harder they are to build, the more expensive they are and the more expensive they are, the more commission you make. So I was really empowered or motivated to design complicated and sell high end projects. So our projects kind of got bigger, because all of a sudden, we're designing and selling higher end jobs, but additionally, I was finding out that the pool is really just the entry to the backyard, there's so much more to the backyard than the swimming pool. If you think about it after you finish a swimming pool, what do you have to do? You have to furnish it, you have to put in landscaping, you have to put in lighting, you have to put up the play structure for the kids, there's just a number of other things other than the swimming pool, it just so happens in the pool industry or in the backyard design industry, the pool is the first contact for the homeowner.
Whereas if you're going to build a home, you're going to call an architect and the architect after they finish the design, they're going to maybe introduce you to some builders. Whereas in the pool industry, the first person you pick up and call is the builder. So what I really learned was the pool was the way in and money was actually going to be made more so off of the turnkey items like the landscape and the furniture and all these other items. So we took our average job from a $70,000 pool build to moreso $250,000 backyard, we'd even do some million dollar backyards. So at the moment when I kind of realized, hey, look, we can start doing the furniture in these backyards as well because everybody's going to get furniture for their backyard after they buy a pool might as well be from me.
So I made some relationship with some furniture stores local, and we realized that we could send our customers over to these furniture stores, they can pick up their products and then we could have them delivered at the time that the poll was filling up with water so they didn't have to go by the Costco and send stuff last minute that they can actually have some quality outdoor furniture and it would be additive to the design. What I also quickly realized was I could design it in from the start so I could make the patio the right size to accommodate it, make sure we pick the right colors so that it all worked together, and I found that that was pretty intimidating for a lot of homeowners to have to select cushion colors and pillow colors and all that stuff.
So we really would focus on being that complete solution for the homeowners and it happened on one of my jobs I had a big tanning ledge area in the pool and we took one of the patio items that we bought from I believe it was restoration I would put in the pool and the homeowner kind of challenged me on it and just said, "Hey, look I don't think that's made to go in the water, is it going to damage the furniture or is going to damage the finish the pool?"
But at the same time I'd seen something kind of similar to the thought process of putting furniture in the water while I was out in the trip in Las Vegas and I said, "Man we really need to develop something that's made for the pool industry, made for the pool, durable to the chemicals and the environment where a homeowner can actually lay in the water and not the above the water per se." So literally I mean it was kind of that moment, it was a need that a customer had in the folks that the time, was truly not to start a big business it was really just to create a product that I could sell to my customers because I knew my customers wanted it.

Christine: Wow. So you took all that background and experiences started designing better pools, more experience friendly pools and then had this ledge which we didn't have those when I was growing up I know that, but we had this ledge and then the concept came from putting furniture in the pool to what you have now is called Ledge Lounger and then some. So what is a Ledge Lounger?

Chris: So a Ledge Lounger in the beginning it was a core product and I'll certainly give a bit of advice here to anybody, don't name your business after your product because it certainly has caught up to us where we've been looking at shifting the brand to a more I guess not specific to a product name, but it's worked out well for us. But a Ledge Lounger is literally, it's a shave that you can lay in the pool and you can splash here, so you can lay with your hands in the water, your bottom in the water, your feet in the water and chill out on that tanning ledge, relax. We call it sunbath in style or in water in style, something that you can relax in the pool, and truly kind of get that resort feel, get that destination, I made a resort in my own backyard.

Christine: Nice, and that's been your number one seller since you started the business, but you also have a lot of other products since then. This is in pool furniture that is safe for the pool that can stay in the pool, right?

Chris: Absolutely. So I think any successful business is a diversified business, without a doubt and I think we fortunately started realizing upfront is we don't want to be a one hit wonder, we want to ensure that we're building a brand not just a product and we saw obviously the sales of our Ledge Lounger, we call it the signature shades now. Signature shades had just blown up and was gaining a ton of popularity and we were getting orders for it, a lot of it every day. Of course the obvious first answer is accessorize. It's make a headrest pillow, make a shade, make a side table, those are the easy things because it's just so obvious. The harder thing is, is now how do I increase my average order value once I've accessorized it and now customers coming to my website, it's been insane average order $1,200, how do I get them up to $1,600? How do I get them to $1,800? What are the additional items that they're going to need?
Number one, we very, very much focus on our audience, we pay attention to our product efforts in the marketplace, and we see what else our customers are buying and that's one of our kind of product development strategies, and then that's more on the residential side. I think on the commercial side, while a lot of our product was showing up in commercial environments, we were getting requests for proposals for say $150,000 job, where we were only the $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000 worth of product and then $150,000 job. So we would look at the request for proposals and we'd see all the other items on it, and then we quickly started diversifying our product line into other items that were on those lists, so that we can try and capitalize on a larger portion of the projects as opposed to just the in water furniture.

Christine: Interesting. So with all the products that you offer now, I know you mentioned several but you have in pool and out of the pool but you also have games and other things. Give us an overview or give the audience an overview.

Chris: Sure. Absolutely. So we pretty much have a full lineup in water. So you're going to see everything from chaisers, to chairs to side tables. We have in water bar stools now, I've got some cool new things coming out, I can't elaborate on too much coming out next year that kind of tie into the whole bar concept. We've actually just released an extremely popular, it's just amazing how crazy this is. We introduced a float called a laze float. It's a quality multi season type of flow that you're going to be able to have and it's washable, so you can throw it in the washing machine and getting kind of mold or mildew out of it if you leave it outside all the time, laze float. So we brought this laze float to market this year, and literally can't even keep them on the website. As soon as we release a batch, they start within a few hours, which has just been so cool. In fact I think you bought one Christine as well.

Christine: I do. I have two. My dog loves it too by the way.

Chris: Yes, dogs love floating on them, dogs laying on them, people love floating on them, very comfortable, very cool product. So that's kind of our in water line. The neat thing about our in water line is that we used to kind of be stuck to that ledge, and now we've really expanded out into the pool, market size has really opened up for us because now you don't just have to have a pool with a tanning ledge. If you have a pool, you're good. Then of course when our patio stuff, what we realized was outdoor patio furniture, honestly, for the most part is crap. There's not a lot of quality stuff out there, and we had already had a pretty significant revenue stream off of our in pool furniture and we said, "We'd really like to make some patio furniture." But we didn't need it to support the business.
So it wasn't about creating something that was going to be good for a mass market, it was about creating a really quality product, and if customers wanted to buy it great, and if they didn't, then that was okay too. It was okay for us. So we really focused on what kind of material we could use that would be really, really durable, and not only residential environment, but also commercial environment and we really also focused on developing some cushions that were really unmatched in the marketplace. A lot of companies try and develop cushions to be extremely affordable, but yet, that's the biggest pain point of any patio furniture is what I find, is people are always complaining about how the cushions stay wet after a rainstorm, or they have to replace their cushions every season. What we did was we used top line Sunbrella fabric, we use an easy dry foam on the inside, we use a mesh on the bottom.
A lot of people would say, a lot of the furniture manufacturers would say you don't want to use a mesh on the bottom because if the top gets dirty, you want the customer to be able to turn it over and use the other side. We said, "Well, why don't we just use a fabric that's easy to clean, and it's not going to get dirty and let's put a mesh on the bottom so that the cushion can actually breathe." So you can actually wash and clean our cushions with a pressure washer, they're that durable and that strong and it's really, really easy to do. In fact, in my backyard, I have white cushions on my outdoor sectional and that's just a true testament to yes do they get dirty every now and again? Sure, but they're really easy to clean and get right back to brand new.

Christine: Interesting, interesting. Well, I know from your videos as well as your website and catalogs, et cetera, that your furniture is now a great quality but it looks beautiful too. I mean, it really dresses up any backyard. Can you comment to that? I don't want to put you on the spot, but can you comment to where some of your products are just to give people an idea of the caliber and the quality that you're dealing with?

Chris: Oh, for sure. So we know a lot of, when you say where they are, I assume geographical or kind of hotels and different places around. So we're on the rooftop patios in Austin, you can find us in a lot of major hotels and resorts, Hyatt. I mean, Hyatt, Hilton, lot of the big brands W, you can find it even in Dubai. I mean, we've got a lot of product over overseas in Dubai, Australia where with UV, there's a lot of concerns with the UV and just the damage that the environment causes on the furniture. Very, very durable from that perspective. I also want to mention going out there too that, you mentioned games. Games is a big part of our brand we have some-

Christine: Yeah, tell us more about that.

Chris: Washboards. What we realized was you can go by a ping pong table, Academy or off the internet and typically have to leave it outside. Well, in Houston there's a lot of humidity and humidity really gets to any kind of outdoor games, especially when they're made out of wood or fiberboard or any of those types of materials. What we realized was the material we were building the furniture out of it's called HTPE. It's a very, very strong resin. It doesn't splinter, it doesn't crack, it's going to last forever, literally. But it also holds up tremendously to humidity and moisture and that sort of thing. It doesn't impact it at all because it is a resin.
So we developed a ping pong table out of it. Literally, it's a ping pong table you can put around your pool, you can put your backyard, you don't have to put underneath a cover. You can sit around it, you can eat at it. You can use it as a dining table of course if you choose to but it's very low maintenance and once again, if it does get dirty or if it's underneath an oak tree with a lot of pollen, literally take the pressure washer to it, you're not going to hurt it and it's going to last.
So we did the same thing with the cornhole boards that we have now, we did tinting we have some washer boards, we have some fun, oversized dominoes that work outside. So just a wide draft products and we're adding a whole lot more. A lot of our product development comes from our customers. They're saying, "Hey, I really wish I had this. We love your quality. We wish we had this, we wish we had that." Then we've got a product development team in house and we can look those things up and get them added to our catalog, if that makes sense. So we've been just introduced to an outdoor credenza that has a built in, a spot for a TV to hang on it on the back splash, if you will, and then it holds a refrigerator and towels and you can charge your phone on it and just all kinds of great things.

Christine: Wow. So Chris, to clarify too so you have products that serve everything from the commercial market to the residential market. Right?

Chris: We do.

Christine: You also have products that serve everyone from infants to small children to adults, is that correct to you as well, because you have slides and things like that as well for children, but also the products that the adults love. Can you comment on that?

Chris: We do. We introduced a slide last year, it's a toddler slide. I'd swim in my pool with my kids and they literally wanted to be on my back the whole time. They wanted to climb on my back and be thrown and I thought man, I need to create a product that will give me 30 minutes of a break when I'm in the pool just so I can enjoy the pool at the same time as they are. So we actually developed, what we found was a lot of kids would slide down our chairs, our in water chaisers. So we quickly realized that hey, there's a market for a slide. Just don't think of slide as in like on the edge of the pool slide, think a slide as like on the tanning ledge, on the edge of the tanning ledge or on the tanning ledge.
Probably two to five year old kid under 70 pounds, it's only maybe three foot drop over the whole slide and just something they climb up and slide down and really have a fun time with and it's really neat because you can put it next to some of our other products and then mom can lay there and while the kids slide and entertaining themselves. So it's been a pretty cool product. Then on the other side of it, we have daybeds. We have more adult type, the bar stools that daybed, the lounge chairs with the shades over them. So we really span a pretty big market size, not only in product types, but also considering the consumer and the demographics of the consumer.

Christine: Right. So I've had the privilege of watching you grow and remind us how long you've been in business and how many products you have now.

Chris: Sure. So we have been in business since 2010. 2010 was really the conceptual year, 2011 was when I actually started selling our first products. So about 10 years, and in 2010 through '14, I'd say we probably got up to maybe around six to eight products. In 2015 to '17 later, probably more so 2017, we introduced about 80 patio furniture items.

Christine: Wow.

Chris: Then we continued to expand, if you think about patio furniture, you can't just introduce a product you have to introduce collections. They don't just want to chaise, they want to chaise that has a dining table and dining chairs and sectional or sofa. Then it's really easy to increase your skew count quite a bit when you do that but you can obviously have to stay hyper focused at the same time. Then, really in the recent years, some more, the bar stools, the slide, laze float. Kind of really maximizing on our lifestyle branding, finding products that are fun. What we love about the float is it's something that you over year, people might want to change out because the patterns go out of trend come back in trend.
So it's good to keep it fresh with the homeowners and have something that they can come back to and purchase on a year to year basis, so they're in front of our brand and at the same time, kind of having some relatively consumable products, because if all we sell is just stuff that's going to last forever in the backyard not said that this won't last a while but we need to have some trendy stuff too so that we have a customer coming back and buying from us.

Christine: Right. Well, I know I'm a proud customer of yours for sure. But I also know, I can echo what you just said too about your customers, you do listen to your customers, and your ideas and concepts that continue to come from what your customers are asking for, which is great. But if I think about what my interior designer always tells me is, is I'm very much matchy, matchy, matchy is what she says, and it's one thing I love about your collections, as you said, because your collections are so beautiful, and it has every you have everything you need, from chairs, to the lounges, to the tables, et cetera, and everything's very complimentary and just beautiful style and beautiful taste. Do people go to to buy your stuff if they're a residential customer?

Chris: Absolutely. We have all of our stuff online, it should be relatively simple to navigate and shop our website and we were excited for people to see it and we'd love any feedback. We have a form you can submit with any ideas of new products, or just your thoughts on our products. We'd love to hear it.

Christine: Yeah, I love that about you because you're always asking your customers too what can you do you better and what can you do more of. So, for audiences listening too, I want to be clear too that, so you were working with your dad's business, but this is a business you went and started. So this is a standalone business and you're not building pools anymore, you're really specializing in pool and out of pool furniture now and accessories. Right?

Chris: Correct. So back really in 2007 joined him, joined this company kind of developed this in 2010, really worked with him through 2014, the beautiful thing of starting this business was that I didn't need the revenue to put food on the table. So I was able to put money back into the business. I think a lot of times when people think, "Oh, I want to go start a new business." They think well, I need to quit my job and go start something, but there's a value in starting something and maintaining what it is you're currently doing until you kind of feel like you have, until you can jump. For me they fed each other, every new pool I designed every project I sold for my father's company was also a job that I was selling my products on through Ledge Lounger and the more I got into the pool industry, the more I met other pool builders and other influencers in the industry that can help propel the Ledge Lounger brand.
So it was very complimentary, then I think holding on to the pool industry as long as I could was very beneficial, but there was a point where it was just too much. The business was moving so fast, and I was finding myself slowing the growth of the business down because I was trying to go sell the next pool when really, in any contractor type business, the value, you're just not going to really build a big value in a business because it's contract, contract. Ledge Lounger was building a brand and building a product line that could pretty much live on beyond me and it didn't need to be successful. So I said, "Hey, I really need to focus my long term successes, focus my time on ledge as opposed to the pool company."

Christine: Okay, interesting. I've had the privilege of knowing you I believe for more than five years now and watch you grow and talk about success and growth. It just gives me goosebumps when I think about it to watch how fast you've grown, and how much you guys have done since the inception of the business. Tell us some of those challenges, biggest challenges you've had in growing a business because obviously it was you, literally, one and only and where you're at today. But tell us some of those challenges and where you're at now.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, a couple things based on what you really kind of just touched on. Number one is when we met, one of the biggest challenges I had was not knowing what I didn't know. I didn't get an MBA, I didn't go to business school. A lot of this stuff was just learning, you don't realize when you're younger, all the skills you're learning and how you can apply them. Walking up to a customer's door to wash their car, knocking on their door and asking them for two dollars to wash their car when you're teenager, well, younger than teenager, when we were 10 years old, 11 years old, that you gained skill sets and trying to convince somebody to give you two dollars to wash their car. Who wants two kids and they're outside their house, washing their cars, it'll be much rather bring it to a professional carwash place. So I had the kind of the street smarts in business because I did it growing up, but I didn't have the true business education.
I knew about marketing and knew how to sell things but I didn't know how to read a P&L, I didn't know business acumen. Christine, when I joined Vistage that was some of the most challenging times because I didn't even know how to move the business forward and pisted certainly has helped me with all those things. I feel like every year I'm in this business and in pisted, I get another MBA, because I'm learning so much so quickly kind of drinking from a firehose. But I learned very much so that put yourself in a room with people smarter than you are, and surround yourself with people that have tons of experience, and also learnt don't be afraid to ask questions, because people that have done it are really excited to share their success, and they share their success through sharing their experience.
So people are very open, a lot of successful business people will never turn down an opportunity to help somebody else because in a way, they're also getting to relive their success when they're helping somebody else. So I think, certainly a big challenge was gaining experience, and obviously I just kind of touched on how I did it and how we were able to grow so quickly. Additionally, is finding good people. I mean, I was very fortunate that my business partner, now one of the guys that I used to pull the wagon around the neighborhood with growing up, I was able to recruit him out of a aerospace engineering degree to come over and join the team and put him in charge operations. He's operationally minded engineer, and got out of his way and just said, "Hey, look, you're going to own this, and your success and my success are dependent on each other." Got out his way and let him learn and gain the skill sets to grow the business and drive the business from an operational perspective, while I focused on my talents, which was the sales and marketing side.
So that was certainly a challenge in the beginning was trying to identify who I can bring on. Fortunately, I got lucky and found somebody that I can trust, I knew I can trust, we have a personal relationship, and just really enjoy working together. So that was a big challenge at first but turned out to be probably one of our biggest successes.

Christine: Yeah, I agree since I know who you're talking to you and you guys have both done a great job together in building a great company. Share with us some of your proudest achievements, or biggest opportunities you've had in the last decade and building this business?

Chris: I think number one is maintaining growth. Nothing's good enough, which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is you keep going, you're always driving, you always want more. 40% growth wasn't enough, 80% growth wasn't enough, 100% growth wasn't enough. There's a blessing in that, you continue to create opportunity to drive the business and the business continues to grow. The curse is, as your team grows around you, they're not all motivated and driven the same way you aren't necessarily. So sometimes you got to slow down and celebrate. So, I've learned a lot lately, how to kind of slow down and celebrate with the team. But I think I'm most proud of being able to find the balance.
I think, Christine, one thing we talk about on a regular basis is just not being afraid to say, "What can I do better, Christine?" You're outside looking in and always asking you, not thinking, hey, I'm the best at my job, but thinking, I have so much to learn from everybody else around me. I've asked you plenty of times, "What can I do better? What can I be better at?" Not because I think that we need to go find a whole lot of ways to get better, but because I want to always be open to a different way of doing things and I want to always see other people's perspectives. My wife, I'm the devil's advocate, right? I'm always the one who tries to see things from others perspectives and so many times I just need to shut up and be on her side with things but I always like to open up the other perspective.
So I think that's kind of an area that we've been successful is just kind of always keeping our ear to the ground and not just assuming that we haven't leaked, and paying attention to whether it's competition or whether it's opportunities in jumping on them and just aggressively going after things and not being afraid of failure. I think too many times people get stuck in the... For example, building a pyramid right. If you anybody that was laying the first block, ever knew what the pyramid was going to be and how long it would take to build, and they would never want to build it. But if they just focused on one block at a time, then the pyramids get built. So if the guy with the vision was responsible for placing the blocks, the pyramid would have never been built. But he wasn't, it was the guy that was just placing a block every day.
That's kind of one of the ways I look at business, when you have an idea, don't get overwhelmed with the vision, don't get overwhelmed with the final result, really, really focus on step one, step two, which is clearly it's many people I've said that before, I'm certainly not the first person to say it but I think it's one thing to hear it and then it's one thing to act upon it and really focus on one step at a time, and that's really what's made ledge. We found a really creative niche with our first product, but our growth has not been on the back of that first product, our growth has been on the back of being innovative, creative, listening to our customers, and not being afraid to try the next product and fail. We failed on multiple products, but we're not afraid to try again and try again and try again. You want to be calculated and you want to be methodical, but at the same time, you don't want to let the concern with failure hold you back from trying new things.

Christine: Yeah, I agree and just what I've known of you over the years in your partner as well, that's what makes you unique. Not only is your business and you're model your products very unique, and there's nothing else out there like it. But you guys are also very unique in the fact that you're always looking at how can you be better and what are you willing to try? So I believe that's what makes you guys unique and successful at the same time. Thanks for sharing that. I'm going to ask you another question related to, what do you wish you had known when you started out?

Chris: Wow, so much. So much. I wish I would have known how to be more patient and say that certainly be driving. But I wish I would have know more about the opportunity, never really sat down to know what the market size was. So year after year, we were constantly concerned with, are we going to be able to grow that fast again, are we going to be able to double again, are we going to be able to... We always reinvested in the business, but we never gave ourselves enough credit. I was always questioning whether we were going to grow 100% again, and 100% again, and 100% again. So while we were always kind of threw ourselves in it, we didn't necessarily put the things in place to really water that growth or fuel that growth, because we really didn't stop and kind of be a little bit more analytical into okay, what is the market size and really, where can this thing go?
A little bit about that again, is because we didn't have that education, or I didn't certainly didn't have that education experience, or how to assess a marketplace and how to understand how big a marketplace can be and really build a strong business plan. I think, too many times early on in business, people think marketing plans are literally just, well, it's a piece of paper that I can have to show somebody if I need to go raise some money. No, it's so much more than that. It's so much more than that because it makes you think about the business in a different way. It makes you study in depth, the different opportunities in the business and the market size and things to help prepare you. It's almost like a set of construction drawing when you're about to build a building, but I think so many times people are like, "Well, I don't need a business plan. I don't need to go raise money."
Well, no, you need to you need to make a business plan because you need to understand what your business could do so that you can give it the proper feel that it needs to succeed. So I certainly wish I kind of knew a little bit more about that earlier on. I feel like even though we've accomplished some amazing things, we probably could have accomplished a little bit more, and then I also probably, I would say that I wish I would have known that growing a business is a never ending road. When we're younger, and in the early days of building something you kind of have these goals and when you're kind of blowing those toads out of the water, it's just kind of like, "Well, I succeeded at that, and then what and then what and then what?" What I quickly realized is, in this business growing business is never ending. There's no point where you've gotten to the finish line.

Christine: Where you've arrived. Where you've arrived.

Chris: There's no arrival, because you just have to beat yourself year over year, over year, which is a substantial amount of pressure. Especially, we hear about like athletes at the pinnacle of their career, and then all of a sudden they can't play the game anymore and it's like they don't know what to do with themselves because they had that just ongoing pressure every year, every year, every year, they got better, and they got better and then all of a sudden, it's somebody takes away. In business, of course, you can retire one day but the business's still there. Somebody said it this way a long time ago and it resonated with me. It's like climbing a mountain, you get to the summit, and then you turn around, you look at these beautiful view, and you're just like, "Man, we're here we did it." But then you turn around and at the corner of your eye, you see the next peak at the top of the mountain, you thought you at the top of the mountain.

Christine: I love that.

Chris: You're so exhausted, because that climb just took all your energy out, and then you turn and it's like, "Man, there's another peak." Well, sure enough, you climb that peak and you're exhausted and you turn around, and there's another peak. That's business, that is business summed up in a quick story and you have to be along for the ride and you have to truly enjoy it every day and you have to find, to put yourself, hire people around you and surround yourself with people that do the things that you don't like to do, so that you can enjoy it and find pleasure in it and focus on what you're good at and surround yourself with a great team. So every client is enjoyable and it's not just enjoyable when you get to the peak.

Christine: I love that. My husband and I were just talking yesterday about a mountain we climbed in Colorado that we talk about all the time, we had to do it twice by the way, the first time we couldn't make it to the summit. But long story short, it's a mountain that had six or seven or eight, I don't know how many false summits and you get to the part where you see the top you're like, "Okay, we're exhausted, we're exhausted but we can do it, there's the top." You give it all you got to get to the top of it and you get up there only to find out that's not the top. There's another one.

Chris: False peak.

Christine: Do it again, and you do it again. That's a great analogy, I have to agree with you 100%. That's a great story.

Chris: I think looking on it now. What have I learned? What would I tell myself if I could go back? It's just enjoy that process. Yes, focus on the result in go, kick butt and go and go and go. But have a little bit more respect to the fact that you're not going to arrive, it's going to continue to get harder and enjoy it.

Christine: Enjoy it go. So my last question, you take me up perfectly leads to and you're perfect entrepreneur in everything you describe. What is the most rewarding part of running your business?

Chris: Wow. There's so many things I think. I'd say there's two, I'll two. One is just soaking up information, just learning. I don't know if I could see myself going back to a corporate world where I'm responsible for one job because I feel like there's a point where you just kind of max out. Where you've learned everything you can learn and you're providing all the information you can provide. Now obviously, in a career, the next step would be to take on the next role but the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur and potentially CEO and running a business or executive in a business is just, you can never learn enough. Everything's always changing and there's always information to be gained if you seek it out and I think that's extremely rewarding just to always be continuously improving.
What I'll also say is, is building a team where the culture is so engaged and so excited to be here and just so proud. It's extremely emotional, we just had our grand opening of our new facility and just to see the excitement in our team, I kind of got emotional. Just watching the team be successful, and the business is so much bigger than me. It has been for a very, very long time, there's so many people that we rely on every day to be great at what they do for us to succeed and just seeing their excitement when we crush these goals is probably one of the most rewarding parts of the business.

Christine: It gives me another goose bump moment for me. Yeah, I echo everything you just said because I know your team is so proud of what they do and so bought in and you guys are creating across the world, people could truly enjoy family and friend time together, the things we work so hard for. So thanks for all you do for people like us that get to enjoy and have the benefit of your products and those experiences. Chris, I want to wrap up and say again, thank you very, very much. Founder and CEO of Ledge Lounger, appreciate you sharing with us your story and phenomenal success and what you've accomplished and really honored that you were on the show today.

Chris: Thank you, Christine. Thank you very much for your time.

Christine: All right, see you soon. Goodbye. There we have it, another great episode on the Christine Spray Show. Don't forget to check out the show notes at and you can find out more about how we can be a resource to you at All the best in your continued success until the next time we talk.

Ep003: An Overnight Success with Jessie McMahon - Transcripts Thu, 10 Jun 2021 13:00:00 -0500 f25b8b64-d309-413a-85e4-1c55927bb9c5 Return to Episode

Christine: Jessie, thanks for being a guest on the show today.

Jessie: Thank you so much for having me, Christine.

Christine: No, thank you. I appreciate it. Let's start off with sharing your background, where you grew up, and a little bit about your education and training.

Jessie: Well, I am a native Houstonian, born and raised here in the Houston area. Grew up most of my life on the north side of Houston, in the Humble area. I went to high school here, and actually didn't go to college. So, my formal education stopped at that point.
I did, however, get a number of certifications, CISCO, Microsoft, some of the other major players in the technology world. Got certifications through them, and just went to work, and was working in the oil and gas industry, obviously, in the IT sector. And that's where I was when I got the opportunity to launch out and do my own thing in creating M7 Services.

Christine: Wow, so how many different titles or roles did you have in IT? How many years were you in that business before you started your business?

Jessie: I probably had pretty close to 20 years in the IT industry, the vast majority of it being in the oil and gas part. Here in Houston, that's one of the major industries here. I found myself ... I started out working in a call center, taking phone calls and helping people reset passwords and things like that.
And quickly moved on to actual corporate IT support, and from there, went on and managed some corporate IT support teams. I got more into the server, networking, routing aspect. And had, for a number of years, served as a network engineer, and just starting at the bottom in the IT world. And had just moved up through the years, and gained knowledge and experience, which helped me establish the business that I have today helping people in that technology space.

Christine: Interesting, and what was the ... I'm not familiar with the titles, per se, but what was the highest title? Because you started out, basically, at the bottom and grew way up in that 20 years. What was the last title or two that you had in that business before you started your business?

Jessie: A network engineer and -

Christine: Engineer.

Jessie: Basically, that's where you are starting from scratch, and you design and architect the layout of the network, and how many switches, and how many devices are going to be operating, and spec-ing out the equipment that would go into a particular installation. And then, of course, the ongoing support of those devices and equipment.

Christine: Interesting, and so what led you to start your own business? You said that's how you got into the business, but what happened for you to leave there? Obviously, you were doing well. The company obviously kept you, and you were doing a lot for them. Tell us how you actually started your business, or how that happened?

Jessie: Yeah, it's really a ironic case of the right place at the right time. I have a relatively large family. My wife and I have four beautiful children, and my father had passed away a number of years before. And my mom also lived with us, and so we had a pretty large family.
And for you to be able to do things like go to Disneyland, or take vacation, I always found myself moonlighting, doing a little a stuff on the side. That's exactly how this opportunity presented itself. I had someone reach out to me that was doing some temporary work at a hotel here in the Houston area.
And they said, "Hey, we're desperate over here. They have a company that provides IT support. They haven't been real responsive. Would you be willing to help out with a couple of emergency type issues?" So I said, "Absolutely," and reached out to the contact person at the hotel. And introduced myself, and told them that I'd be available to come by.
And they said, "Well, can you come now?" I was actually on my lunch break at my job when I called. And so, I said, "Well, I can be there by 4:30 today." I left the office and drove straight over there, and helped them fix a couple of issues real quick, and they offered me a job.
I said, "Well, I've got a good job. Thank you, I appreciate that." And they said, "Well, would you be interested in helping us nights and weekends?" And I said, "Sure." I had never stepped foot behind the scenes at a hotel before, had never seen the infrastructure that a hotel utilizes.
It was a brand new world for me, and I think that my work ethic ... I have to say that I'm a true geek in the sense that I love exploring, and learning new things. So I just jumped right in there, and took a lot of pride in what I was doing. They were very complementary of the fact like, "Man, we haven't gotten this kind of response, or this kind of assistance, period."
They basically signed a support agreement with me and I would ... Every day after I got off of work, I would go straight to that hotel. I would spend several hours just learning and mapping out the network, and just understanding all the different things that are going on in a hotel. It can be pretty complex with all the different connections back to their parent brand, connections out to the online reservations systems, and guest internet, and back office internet.
And so, there was a lot of unique situations that are going on in hotels, but because it was ... I had my own beta testing facility, basically. I just got in there and learned everything I could about it. This management company that supported this hotel, they had contacts, and they had needs that slowly began to pop up at other hotels.
And so, I found myself just taking on support for this hotel, and then another hotel, and three turned into four or five. And I realized that I couldn't continue to do this by myself part-time. I had a job that I was obligated to. And so, I'd start getting personal emails from my temporary clients that were during the day.
So I went out, and I found a gentleman that I hired to answer phones, and to respond to emails throughout the day. And the business began to grow, and we began to take on other hotels. Before long, we were at eight, nine, 10, 12 hotels. And I found myself leasing an office space that I had four employees going to, and I was still going to my job every day.
I would get up in the morning, drive straight to my side business office, check in with the guys and make sure everybody was okay. And then, I'd drive to work, work all day long, come back to the M7 office, make sure everything was handled. Address anything that was maybe outstanding, or needed my eyes on, or something like that, and do it all over again every day.
It was very taxing. I was traveling a lot, because although the first hotel was in the Houston area, the second hotel was in southern California. The third hotel was in Las Vegas. Then, I began to get two or three at a time, and they were just all over the country.
So anything that we needed to do, it was a flight somewhere. I found myself every weekend, and even sometimes overnight, flying out in the evening, taking care of something through the night, and flying home in the wee hours of the morning on a red eye just to get back and go to work the next morning at my 8:00 to 5:00 job. It was insane, and I had one of my clients reach out to me and say that they had a large group of hotels that they wanted M7 to begin to support.
I was very clear that I had a full-time job, and this was something that we focused on the side, so it was something I was trying to avoid bringing up. So, my client knew this and he called me. And he said, "Jessie, I've got a large group of hotels that I want to create IT standardization in, and I want M7 to support them."
And he said, "But I know that you have obligations outside of M7." And he said, "So I'm telling you that if you'll make this and us a priority, that I will give you the business." And so, I started the business in the latter part of 2014. I turned in my notice, and my last day on my job was September 11th, 2015. And so, for almost a year it was trying to do both.

Christine: Wow.

Jessie: I stepped out, and here we are several years later. We support close to 2000 hotels across North America, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It's been an exciting ride.

Christine: Wow. Well, and I only know about the last few years that I've had the opportunity to work with you as a client, so thank you for that ride and that adventure. Every time I talk to you, it just keeps getting bigger and better, which who thought? Just to clarify, you did that side job, so to speak, evenings and weekends, so to speak, just to be able to go to Disneyland with your family, and make some extra income.

Jessie: Yeah.

Christine: Which it ended up, low and behold, blowing up into its own full blown business. The gentleman calling you trusted you and obviously liked your work, to say, "Hey, you really should do this for us, and I'll make sure this is worth your value," right?

Jessie: Right.

Christine: When did you actually start the name and business entity, so to speak, as M7?

Jessie: Well, we had basically ... My parents had owned a rental property and we were ... When my dad passed away, they left that to myself. And so, we were just setting up a little DBA so that we could have a business associated. And this was going to be for a rental property, so it wasn't just personal income, but it was going to be a side business that we had.
The M ... Obviously, my last name is McMahon. The M is for my last name, and then the seven was for me, my wife, the four kids, and my mom. Interestingly enough, we spent some time in Sydney, Australia. And the main highway close to where we lived was called Motorway Seven. So instead of I-10, here in the Houston area, they referred to those motorways as the M7, or the M5. And we lived right off of the M7.
It was a unique play on our name, our family, and some of those things. I actually got that DBA back in 2012, a couple of years before the business opportunity presented itself. Very early on, I didn't know anything. I was a really good tech guy, but was not really a business savvy kind of guy.
And early on, I found myself ... I went out and got one of those answering services that would say, "For sales, press one. For tech support, press two. For accounting, press three." It didn't matter what number you pressed. It all forwarded to my cell phone, so we created that perception that, "Oh, M7 is quite the company."
But it was fun, and it was exciting. There was so much explosive growth that was going on, and to be honest, has continued to go and happen ever since starting the business. It's just been phenomenal. And I've found that what has made us so successful is just simple, the responsiveness.
And in this industry, and in this niche of a market, where we support only hospitality clients, hotels, resorts, casinos, that sort of thing, there just wasn't a good solid, truly customer service centric group out there that was responsive, that just followed up, that just listened to people's needs. And I think just getting in there, and applying the IT knowledge that I had developed over the course of my career, it was just something that was new and fresh to a lot of these hotels. Because, they're customer service oriented all day, every day.
They're pleasant to their guests. They're kind. They're welcoming. They're all of these things, but when they found that we were a support company, and a vendor that basically had the same mindset that they had about the customer first, and all of those types of things, it just really opened up a door for us to launch the business, and see all of the amazing things that we've seen.
I'd like to put one little plug that we've seen all of this happen, and we've yet to hire our first salesperson. We don't have a sales department. 100 percent of our clients have been referrals, or just organic growth of people reaching out to us. So far, all of our business that we have has been business that has come and approached M7 to see if we could help them and their properties.

Christine: Wow, and just to be clear to the average listener, most of us are probably thinking the Wi-Fi that we plug into, or connect to in a hotel room. We're not talking about that. We're talking about the entire behind the scenes, as you mentioned, from corporate-

Jessie: Correct.

Christine: ... to the hotel, to the reservations, et cetera. All the behind the scenes of IT that works and runs that operations, right?

Jessie: That is correct. That is correct. To simplify what M7 does, a lot of times I just use the terms we address, and service, and maintain everything that faces the employee. And we work with a lot of the companies, but we don't provide the actual equipment, or do the installs, or provide the service for all the guest facing.
That's another group of companies out there that we do work closely with. Sometimes, we do have to work together to get resolution on some issues. But for the most part, we handle everything facing the employee, and nothing that faces the guest.

Christine: Right, well, it's a nice segue for me to ask you the next question about your biggest challenges. And I know you echo some of the same comments that I say frequently, "God doesn't give us anything that we can't handle." You continue to handle some of the biggest things that come your way. Why don't you tell us ... In 2015, it was officially ... You were running this business, and out of being an employee at the other business. Since then, tell us some of your biggest challenges that you've experienced.

Jessie: Well, I think one of the biggest things has just simply been the lack of business management and training in that regard. It's funny that you say that God doesn't put more on us than we can bear. It's like sometimes I get to the point where I'm so frustrated, ready to pull my hair out. But I have to sometimes just stop and thing that, "Hey, this opportunity was given to me, even though I don't have that information. I don't have that knowledge."
Everything that I've gotten, it's been on the job training. Through the years, I've had people ask me for tips, and all this. Like, "How do you do this?" Or, "Man, I've seen what your business has done. Tell me how to do it."
I often tell a quick little story. I respond in such a way that, "Hey, if you're driving down a country road, you see a fence on the side of the road. And you pass one of those fence posts, and there's a turtle up there. Nobody is going to say, man, I wonder how that turtle crawled up there. The question is going to be who put that turtle up there?" So I often feel like the turtle on a fence post.
Don't ask me how I got up here. I just found myself here, and I'm enjoying the view. I would say that just simply being an IT guy ... And as you know, and pretty much anybody listening, IT guys have a tendency to be awkward and weird. I can say that because I am one.
I don't have that sales type of persona. A lot of things that others would find just routine were always challenges for me, and extremely intimidating. But I have to say that just realizing that, "You know what? I've been given an opportunity, and I find myself in a place that not everybody finds themselves in." I just really dug in, and tried to glean everything I can from the people around me.
In the early days of M7 ... We've had a lot of insane growth through the years. And I found things like ... Speaking of challenges, I found myself frustrated because our payroll dollars were just simply skyrocketing. And we were hiring so much, because there were so many things that I had never managed, or overseen, or were new experiences for me.
I found myself having to hire people that were experienced in that area, or had that talent, or had that knowledge and information. And I felt like, "Man, this is not going to be sustainable if I'm having to hire these people to do this." So there was a lot of frustration, but as we've continued to grow, and as we've seen the success of our model going forward, now I look back at that.
And I say, "Man, what an absolute incredible accident," because having all of those people in place now, and from me going from a one man band to now we have almost 100 employees. Having those people in place has given us the ability to scale with the business, and the new clients, and the new properties that we take over. And so, what was a real challenge early on has turned out to be more or less a blessing in disguise.

Christine: Wow. Wow, well, thanks for sharing that. It has been amazing to watch you grow, and watch your business grow. You have also attracted and retained some great talent. I know that's helped you along the way. Tell us-

Jessie: Absolutely.

Christine: ... what are some of the other hidden opportunities, or some of your proudest achievements? I know you're a humble person, but share some of those with us.

Jessie: I think some of the hidden opportunities ... They're always in the biggest obstacles. That's where we see ourselves learn and grow so much. I could spend the rest of the day telling you about some of the crazy situations that I found myself in, and didn't know how to handle, or didn't know what to do.
Sometimes when the pressure is on and you realize, "Look, I've got to figure this out. I've got to figure out how to address this. I've got to figure out how to handle this," is when I've really just put everything aside and just focus on these things. I've found that not only, hey, we can create a solution for something that seemed insurmountable, but I have learned so much personally through each of those challenges. Because every challenge presents us with an opportunity to either learn from it, to grow from it, how to avoid it in the future.
I think that every one of these challenges has helped me learn, and grow, and become more and more every day a CEO that everybody's not going to be embarrassed by. It's funny. I find myself all the time ... I say all the time, on a regular basis, sitting at my computer, and coming back from a meeting, and feel like all I have done today is been on conference calls, Zoom calls, in meetings. I haven't done any real work. I sit down and open up Google and say, "What is my job as a CEO?" Just to make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.

Christine: And like we've talked about before, you're still in the making, right?

Jessie: Yeah.

Christine: We're always learning every day. You definitely are not in the weeds anymore, because you've built a great team to help you. But you're also in the weeds if your clients need you. You're so humble that you're always there and available. But you have certainly learned, and grown into a great CEO, for sure. Go ahead.

Jessie: I was just going to say in the early days, I never wanted to call myself a CEO because I was like, "Well, man, I've got like five employees. I've got six employees. A CEO ... That doesn't really describe who I am." But as we grew, and I began to understand and realize that our clients were looking for that established and mature organization, some of those things were just natural progressions. But for many years, I traveled with two sets of business cards.
One was Jessie McMahon, Senior Network Engineer. And the other one was Jessie McMahon, Chief Executive Officer. Because I would be the one, because I would go to so many of our properties early on, and actually do the work. I felt like, "Well, they don't want the CEO here working. They want somebody that knows what they're doing."
So many times people ... I've gotten so many emails through the years from guys that worked for me here, from clients that I would go visit. They would email their point of contact. And they would say, "Hey, just want to let you know that we really appreciate you sending your tech, Jessie, out. He did an outstanding job, so pass this on to his supervisor, because he did a great job." It's always awesome to get kudos from somebody that doesn't actually realize that you own the company.

Christine: That's so funny. I love that. I love that story. You alluded to my next question. You alluded to this a little bit earlier, but I wonder if you could elaborate. What makes your company unique?

Jessie: I would have to say that it truly is our customer service, the level of customer service. I know a lot of people say that they're really big on customer service, but I think that we take it to a whole new level. It's attributed to our team.
I'm very, personally, customer service minded, but as our team has grown they, too, have adopted that mentality. It just has been so amazing to watch how a company really does take on a lot of the personality traits of its leaders. The leadership team that I have around me is just as customer service focused, or more even, than I am.
That has begun to just be inherited by every single one of our employees, to where it's just second nature. It's the basis and the foundation of everything we do. It's customer first. Our clients know that regardless of what happens, or has happened, that M7 is going to take care of it.
We're going to make it right. If it's a mistake we made, we're going to take care of it. If it's something ... You've found yourself in a crisis outage. We're going to go the extra mile to make sure that we get your systems back up, and whatever we got to do. Really, when you were asking me earlier about some of the proudest achievements, one of the things that I had thought to mention during that was the very first competitive RFP that we did, a request for proposal to compete against other companies like us to get a new piece of business.
At this point, that RFP was the largest group that we had done any work with up until that point. I knew we were competing against companies that were nationwide, companies that had hundreds of employees, that had been in business for decades. And then, you had M7.
We'd only been around a few years, and didn't have a lot of the other things to compete with. I found myself having to get creative to be competitive. And one of the things that we did was ... In the middle of the RFP, we were going back and forth advancing through the rounds.
And the question came up about, "Well, what if somebody calls in from the hotel to the M7 support line, and the issue cannot be resolved over the phone?" Without consulting any of my team, or really giving any real thought to it, I said, "Well, if we can't fix it over the phone, then we will go to the hotel and fix it at no additional cost. There's no travel cost. There's no meals or mileage. We'll take care of it. We're going to fix it at no additional cost if we can't fix it over the phone."

Christine: Wow.

Jessie: And that one offering was one of the key reasons we won that significant piece of business. I was talking to some of the people that were involved in the RFP from competing companies later. They were just like, "You are crazy. You are insane for making that offer. You're going to lose money."
But what we found is that the need to do that was so few and far between, that the expenses really weren't there. And we did not lose money because of it, but it set us apart. And it gave us a name to begin with that, "Hey, these guys, they're confident. They can take care of it. They're going to fix it. They're going to do whatever is required to get it."
So our customer service aspect of M7, I think, is second to none. And I think that our clients quickly see that, and have been able to appreciate that. We've been able to retain an overwhelming majority of hotels that we support.

Christine: Yeah, Jessie, you obviously walk the talk, and your colleagues do as well. It's funny. If I put a competitor next to you, which you really don't have any compared to what you do now. I wonder who ... Nobody else ... I'd like to look at them and say, "See if you can top that," because I know they can't.

Jessie: Well, we like to think that we're special in that regard. It's very humbling, it really is, to see the way that people have received what we do and our business. It's been pretty amazing.

Christine: Another question, do you do everything in house, or do you outsource anything?

Jessie: I would just say there's probably a mixture, a little bit of both. We do all of our support. When somebody calls in for assistance, every one of the people that that client is going to speak to is an M7 employee. They're right here in our Houston office.
And so yeah, all of that support aspect, it's all in house. We do have some other partnerships, but those are very unique in what those roles are. But yeah, the overwhelming majority, we do everything here in house.

Christine: All right, and then talking about your journey to becoming CEO, what do you do for professional development to continue to learn and grow as a manager, as a leader, and strategically?
Well, I am always reading, always trying to find information about entrepreneurs, and how they've been able to do things to improve their quality of life, and work, and leadership. So I do a lot of that, personally. I also am a member of Vistage, and peer groups of other CEOs that are able to sit down and share some challenges and struggles, and get some amazing feedback.
I feel that ... I've been in Vistage, I guess, going on about three years now, something like that. I just can't tell you how impactful having the sounding board of my Vistage group when those issues come up that I need some input on ... But I would even say that even more so than just being able to share my struggles and challenges, being able to sit back and listen to other leaders that have proven track records of success. Being able to sit back and hear when they bring things to the table that also need to be addressed, and being able to learn from what they're going through, and their challenges.
So many times when something comes up here at the office, it's just second nature. The first question that pops in my head is, "How would I present this to my Vistage group, and what do I already know they would tell me to do?" It's been an amazing contribution to helping me turn the corner to go from technical guy to CEO, for sure.

Christine: Interesting, thanks for sharing that, because I know there's many other business leaders and owners that listen to this podcast. So they'll get benefit from what you've done to grow, as well. What do you wish you would have known when you started out? If you knew you were going to be a business owner and a CEO, what do you wish you had known beforehand?

Jessie: Oh, man, I wish I would have known ... That's actually a ... I think if I would have known more about the risk, if I would have known more about the challenges, if I had known more about the struggles, that I probably wouldn't have done it. So, I really believe that I just wish that I would have taken the time in my earlier life to actually go to school, to get some of the training, the information, the knowledge just about business and leadership, and those things. Because it's always a challenge when you're presented with something you've got to resolve, but you don't know exactly what to do. You've got to go out and research even what the issue is, and how to fix it. It's just investing the time earlier in younger days, of just learning and getting that business knowledge and education, for sure.

Christine: Right, well, like you said, you might not have done it if you had known. But at the same token, if it was easy, everybody would do it.

Jessie: That's true. That's true.

Christine: If you could write a book, what would your book be about?

Jessie: I feel like that if I was to write a book, it would definitely probably be along the lines of just telling my life story. And how a kid that grew up in a trailer park in Greenspoint, that didn't have a lot to look back on and say, "Oh, I can be successful in life because ... " There wasn't very many of those in my life, but just the ups and the downs, and the crazy experiences that I've been through.
And the way that this business has come about, and the challenges, the rewards, all the amazing things, all in an effort to let people know that it does not matter where you find yourself in life. It doesn't matter what hand life has dealt you. You can achieve anything that you put your mind and passions to. I believe that with all my heart.

Christine: Yeah, I do too. I remember early on when I was a young teenager, I saved a bunch of money to buy this cassette. It's on CD now, Where There's A Will, There's An A. And in that context, I learned that where there's a will, there's a way. I agree with you. Whatever you put your mind to, you can accomplish, if you believe in yourself for sure, right?

Jessie: Absolutely, for sure.

Christine: So just a couple more questions, and I'll wrap up. I know you're busy, and you need to get back to the business too. What's the most rewarding part of running your business?

Jessie: Oh, without question the most rewarding part is every day when I step off the elevator and walk through the office, and just see all of our team members buzzing around and doing things. And just letting it sink in that M7 has been partly responsible for providing opportunities for these individuals. We've got such an amazing group of people here, and just seeing that, wow, they're here.
They work for M7, and they're contributing all of their efforts, and their livelihood is coming from here. It's such an humbling feeling to look around and see all that's going on. Just to know that I have a part of that is awesome.
I'm a firm believer of hiring for attitude, and giving people an opportunity to learn. We have a large number of our M7 team that when they started at M7, it was their first real full-time job. But because of their personal drive, and their desire to learn, here they are successful.
We've got guys that came to M7. One previously worked at Dairy Queen. A couple of guys worked at one of these drive through car washes, standing there waving people in. But the kind of people that they were, they just got in and took advantage of an opportunity themselves, to learn and grow, and develop.
That's just so extremely rewarding to look around and see these people advancing in their careers, just because they were given an opportunity. They appreciated it, valued it, and they put everything into it. That's probably one of the best parts about owning the business, and getting to see the team grow and develop. It's just been amazing.

Christine: It gives me goosebumps, because what you provide for them is the same thing that your clients have offered you, which was the opportunity for you to grow, and to learn. And you certainly walk the talk in that leadership role that you live in. And kudos to you for having the opportunities for all those people as well. Is there anything else that you would like to share that I didn't ask?

Jessie: No, I don't think so. I just really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to participate in the podcast. It's been great. I always take great pride and excitement to get to share a little bit about M7. I just thank you very much for inviting me on today.

Christine: Well, thank you too, Jessie. Jessie McMahon from M7 Services ... Jessie, you truly walk the talk, and are one of the most humble leaders I know. It's an honor to share your story, and I appreciate you sharing your time with us today as well. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Keep up the great work.

Jessie: Thank you, Christine. Thank you.

Christine: Bye-bye.

Ep002: Making Deals with Emily Stoller - Transcript Fri, 21 May 2021 09:00:00 -0500 4d5c37f2-23b3-4be5-9d6f-34f456f87e84 Return to Episode

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.

Ep001: Global Success with Jorge Squier Fri, 30 Apr 2021 08:00:00 -0500 d07f8a18-f6bd-4a11-816c-fdc5c9abb4dd Return to Episode

Christine: Joining me today is Jorge Squires. Thank you Jorge for being a guest on our show today, and thanks for being a client too. How are you today?

Jorge: Morning, Christine. Thank you for having me today.

Christine: Awesome. I'm so glad to be with you. And I appreciate you sharing your time and expertise with us. Please start with sharing some of your background and how you grew up, where you're from, education, training? Give us an insight to that part of your life.

Jorge: Sure. I was born in Lima, Peru. I came to the United States twice. First, as an exchange student in 1974, with the AFS organization, American Field Service. And then three years later, I obtained a full scholarship to Fulbright, to study at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, where I obtained my bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Economics.
And then after that, I went to get an MBA, international business, at another school. American Graduate School of International Management, in Phoenix. It was known as Thunderbird, which is now part of the University of Arizona. And then after that I moved to Houston in 1981. I went to work for an European company, doing petrochemical chemical trading. And I worked for this company for three years. And in 1983, then I left to join another one for the next 10 years, so.

Christine: Interesting. Congratulations on you not only coming to the US twice, but going to Thunderbird, and your education before that. It's amazing, and obviously explains why you're so successful, and you're so smart. Tell us how you got into the business? You said your first job, when you came to Houston, it was in international trading, in the chemical business, but you also started your own business, Panachem, correct? Tell us about that.

Jorge: Yeah, the company I worked for from 1983 to 1993 closed its doors, and I found myself without a job. And I had two small kids at the time, and we were right on the process of buying our new home. So, it was a dire situation. But I had a choice, and either I could leave, and start over again somewhere else, or turn it around. So, I decided to start my own company.
And that was American chemical marketing, and we found some investors, and friends, that helped me start the business. And we managed it for the next 20 years. So, the company grew to the point where eventually, three years later, one of my main distribution partners, we merged our companies, and we became GTM. And then later, we even actually brought private equity, in 2014. And the company now is one of the top chemical distributors in Latin America.

Christine: Wow, amazing. So GTM International, one of the largest in Latin America, tell us what the company does? And who are your clients? Who's your target market?

Jorge: Yeah well, we are a full liner distribution company. We have 11 offices in Latin America. We are in most countries, from Mexico, down Central America, West Coast South America, and Brazil. We're not in Argentina, or Venezuela, or Guyana, but pretty much we cover the whole continent.
Today, GTM manages industrial chemicals, which we manage from Houston. They're all in bulk by ship. We manage also specialty chemicals, performance chemicals. And we also have our customer solutions, which are blends. So, we not only distribute, but we also work closely with our clients to create solutions for them, with the specific blends. And this could be in the paint industry, as well as in the inks industry, that's so roughly.

Christine: Interesting. So I have to ask, has COVID helped your business, or hurt your business?

Jorge: Well, like everybody else, COVID was a challenge for everyone. But the way our business is, we were actually, we did very well last year, in 2020. We had one of the best years ever for the company. And I think it had to do with the fact that in the industrial side, it is all about the logistics and the supply chain. We've had a very strong supply chain with our partners in the US. And having infrastructure like terminals in Latin America, allows us to store material.
And so, at the beginning I was really concerned, because at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, we've had a load of inventory in our tanks. And the economy slowed down, and then it turned out to be actually something that turned out to be good, because suppliers were starting to reduce capacity. And we were in a position where we had enough inventory to service the market, which bought us a lot of loyalty with clients. We were able to supply their needs, as well as we were able to give them flexibility in terms of the credit concept, that ensued.

Christine: Wow. Amazing. So, you had probably one of your best years yet then?

Jorge: Yeah. Sometimes the challenges, makes everyone step up to the next level. And my team and everybody in the company did that. So, it was really good.

Christine: Right. Well you, I think you're a great leader, just from what I've known you in the time I've known you over the years. You've looked for the opportunities when something doesn't go well, and you guys have always continued to maximize that opportunities, when things weren't going exactly well. Whether it was oil and gas prices, or the shipping channel, or things like this, and people, supply and demand.
Tell us some of the challenges when you started Panachem. Let's go back to when you started Panachem, you grew that business for over 20 years, and grew it well. Tell us some of the biggest challenges, and lessons learned in starting your own business then?

Jorge: I think the biggest challenge was managing the cashflow, selling products into Latin America, 20, 30 years ago, wasn't easy. Even today, sometimes it's difficult to sell internationally, because of the issue of credit. But in the nature of this business, most clients required payment terms.
So, we are dealing with, we have to wear several hats. One is supplier, another one is banker. Not having enough capital at the time, we have to figure out how to monetize the receivables that we had into something that could help us with the pending credit lines.
And what we did is, we got insurance. We started where we use a bank at one point, and then later we used some private insurance, to be able to use that insurance as collateral with the banks, to get credit lines. And that allows us to finance the operations. There was a process, there were periods where we were really tight on cash, but overall we were able to be successful.

Christine: And so, that's how you started in group Panachem. Do you still use some of those best practices today with GTM International, now that you continue to grow, and diversify, and get bigger?

Jorge: Yeah, the company now, we have GTM now is, the majority of the company's owned by private equity. So, we have more resources today. It's a different situation, although we have had moments where we had to come up with, we have ways to also extend our financing. We have used this tool as well with GTM. It's a good way to finance receivables, and get some cash. And that has been helpful for us.

Christine: Interesting. And you had quite the ride from being a startup, an entrepreneur, and then continuing to work with, merging with GTM, or partnering with them, I should say. And then merging with them, and then taking on private equity. And now, like you said, you're one of the largest in the world, and certainly the largest in Latin America for what you all do. What are some of the goals you're still focused on with the business, and what are you trying to accomplish now?

Jorge: Well, right now, probably at one point, the core private equity businesses, they exit the company. We're looking forward to that moment eventually. And then continue the growth of the company. The company serves a need, the Latin American market, and especially the chemical market is very fractured. There's over $12 billion worth of business in Latin America. It's pretty large. And there still is a lot of room for consolidation of businesses.
So, as the company grows, we're probably going to acquire other businesses, and make our company more resilient in the sense that we expand as well our specialty platform. For example, we're looking at getting into nutraceuticals, pharma, food products. And for those specific lines of business, are very highly specialized. It's very hard to get the knowledge on your own, in-house. So, the best way to expand on those areas, is working with other companies that have expertise, so you can grow.

Christine: Wow. And that's a huge market in itself, right? Chemical division on one hand, but pharma and pharmaceuticals, and all of those things, good luck with that. I know you guys continue to accomplish your goals, since I've met you. I think I've known you for about 10 years, give or take. It's been a long ride, but I never thought you guys could get busier, but you keep getting busier. It's amazing what you have accomplished.
Tell us some of your hidden opportunities that you've discovered along the way on this path, from an entrepreneur to the merge, into taking on private equity? What are some of the hidden opportunities that you've discovered as a business leader and owner?

Jorge: Just looking at it from a philosophical standpoint, I think I would say three things. First, there's always people willing to help you, if you let them. I think that's very important. We have to realize that we do not have to know everything. I think sometimes as entrepreneurs, it's hard for us to let go, but we need to bring people also smarter than us. I think that is a part of the secret sauce here.
Another one would be, you always have an opportunity to change the outcome by being creative with a problem. And as you know, as a hobby, I like to paint and play music. So, I have a creative streak. And I found that having that ready, as well has helped me in finding solutions for problems, looking at it from different angles. And that goes in hand with the third thing. I think that convention would be the way we look at things. Our perceptions tend to be biased, based on our experiences. So, it's very important that we can step out of our perception, and challenge them, by bringing in other perspectives. I think those are very important.

Christine: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. You reminded me of Dan Sullivan, who is a founder of Strategic Coach for independent consultants or entrepreneurs, a lot of fellow entrepreneurs as well. And what Dan says, as leaders, we need to take clarity breaks. Well, everybody really should, but particularly business owners, and leaders, that are so busy, and in a hamster wheel. And Dan says, those clarity breaks that we have, really help us come back, and be more recharged, and refocused, and energized, and innovative. And it sounds like through your oil painting and music, and other things that you have hobbies and interest in, that you've been able to do that. Is that correct?

Jorge: Yes. I think it is important that you exercise both sides of the brain. Because problems come in all flavors, and shapes, and forms. And to me, having the situation with COVID last year, for example, I felt like... I don't know. I knew we had a problem, but I also felt like I was in charge of what we were going to do, our destiny. And I think it helped having that perspective to keep my team calm, and focused on what we were doing, and finding solutions for the problems that we were facing.
And with these creative things, with financing, we are getting into a lot detail for someone. Sold our inventory, bought it back, with longer payment terms, for example, was one thing that we did. Which allowed us to give us oxygen, for example. And those are not normal business practices. But we came up with all creative ways to tackle the problem.

Christine: Right. Well, speaking of your team, let's talk about your team for a second. I've had the opportunity to know you for a number of years, and meet several members of your team, and work with your team members as well. And I find you're an extraordinary leader in your best practices, and how you treat people, and care about people.
Tell us your philosophy on being a leader, and being a manager, how you believe you've been successful to build a team? Obviously you've built a great company. But you obviously have a great team, that's been with you for a long time as well. Tell us about your best practices on how you see yourself as a leader, and what that role is, and how it is important to you for the success of the team you have built?

Jorge: Yeah. Well, leadership is hard, but it's very rewarding, I think. I see a big difference between managing and leading. Managing is a day to day task-oriented activities. Leading is about inspiring. I think when we see people that follow us because they want to, and not because they have to, that right there is a telltale they're doing something right. I hope I inspire my people. I am a hardball sometimes. I want things done, but at the same time I want my team to grow.
We hear about several leaderships, it is not an easy thing to do, but it's something that we should all strive for. And I try to do that. With all my good and my bad, I always like to do good for my team. And I think that is important. And you have to be honest as well, because people see through you. You have to be honest. And if you do that, and give people a chance to thrive, you're going to do well.

Christine: Yeah. That has to be one of your proudest accomplishments and achievements, is building the team you built. But in addition to that, or if you want to elaborate on that, what are some of your proudest achievements from the time you started Panachem to where you are today?

Jorge: Oh this, I have a lot of war stories, Christine. We could be here all day. Specific about businesses, I have created crazy things that have worked out. But I think going back to a little bit more recent, the thing that comes to mind is the COVID situation, which is something of course for everybody, was something that big for everyone. Is the fact that I was able to keep my team together. When the pandemic started, I sensed some of my employees, I won't say panic, but getting very, very nervous about the situation. And I hope I gave them a sense of calm and direction, by acting calm as well. Being positive about how it look, I think helped them also calm themselves. And actually we had a great year.
So to me, that's one of the proudest achievements I have made, or I feel like that I contributed to my team to stay focused, and to stay calm, and weather this storm that we have. Besides that, well, I've got so many more moments where I have been in situations where the company... In Panachem, for example, when we started, there were moments where I thought we were going to lose the business, and that we were able to pull through, keeping our team together, and having a positive outlook. I think that is very important.

Christine: Yeah, I do too. And obviously your values come through who you are as a leader, and that's shown through as well with your team. So, let me ask you another question. Related to your senior vice president role of strategic global sourcing with GTM International, what does your ideal day look like? How do you spend your day, and what is your focus? Because I know you've been a part of, you've been in charge of supply chain as well. What does your day look like? Give us an idea of in the life of Jorge Squire, as strategic global sourcing, as senior VP?

Jorge: Yeah. Well to that, I am more focusing in strategy than day-to-day. But in the global sourcing, in the distribution business, you have two components. You have the supply, and the sales, right? If you don't have both working in sync, you don't have a successful business. So, we have people on the ground in Latin America, working on the sales side. I'm here working on the supply side with my team.
Our businesses is, our sourcing is the world. So, I do have an office in Asia, in Shanghai, that manages our Asian sourcing. I have people in... here in Houston to managing all the bulk roles that we've got in the Houston area, which is quite significant. We manage close to 40% of our industrial chemicals.
And I have people in South America as well. In Brazil, and a lady that manage our region in Peru. And a gentleman that is managing Mexico, and Central America, out of Guatemala. So, this is my direct reports. I also participate with the executive team on the strategy. And also in the innovation that the company's taking, and becoming more... We're looking to become more strategic with suppliers. That is important. So, we have to be close to them. The same way we have to be closer to the markets, we have to be close with the suppliers. So, I am focused on that. And how we're going to do that, what is the strategy that we have to follow, and how do we get everybody aligned under the same direction?

Christine: Okay. That's a lot. That's a full plate, for sure. So, remind me, how many direct reports do you have? You mentioned that there are multiple locations across the globe, of course. But how many direct reports do you have, and how many total employees in GTM International?

Jorge: Today I'm managing, have 11 direct reports. I want to keep them at 10 maximum. Another then in the whole team that I manage in procurement, we have 68 people. And as a company, we are, I think today we're probably close to 1200 employees.

Christine: Wow. That's amazing. It gives me goosebumps, just thinking about the size, and the number of people that you lead, and all the different pieces that fit together, to make it all work. Tell us, what do you do, how much of the business is run in-house, how much of it is outsourced? How you look for strategic partnerships? Explain some of that, and how that works within GTM, and in your role?

Jorge: Yeah, well, since we have private equity also as our partner, they have a lot of resources. They have helped us a lot in how we manage our business as well. And so, a lot of the staff is all in-house. But we do hire from time to time, we have consultants also helping us on the specific projects, as the company has become more efficient. For example, the IT systems, right now you hear about artificial intelligence, and that's something that is coming into our business world, is reality, right? So as we predict, for example, our forecasting, managing our inventories, all these things that are not sexy, but they are very important to run your business. The back office. Even dirty management impacts your cashflow. So, you need to know what are you doing with products. Do you have products sitting in your warehouse, that you've ordered a year ago, and you're not moving in there.
So, these things that we're getting support on, in these kind of processes, to get ourselves to become extremely efficient in our business. All of this that we're doing is to create a company, make it a... Supply chain. We imagine a chain with the connections, and less of the that pieces together. It becomes more streamlined, the better your supply chain is. And that's something that, at least realized with my team, how do we make our supply chain? Which is at the value that we provide our suppliers, is that we are an efficient company bringing the products to market. So, the leaner we can make it, the most efficient we can make it, the more competitive we make it also for our suppliers. And for our customers as well, right?

Christine: Interesting. So, those are probably some of your differentiators that... Don't let me put words in your mouth. What do your customers and your suppliers, what do they think and believe your differentiators are? Why do they do business with you then?

Jorge: I think that we have this approach of being chemistry user centric, which means that we want to know the consumers who are customers. And that is a tall order, because what does that mean? It means that we have to know, not only the guy that places the order, but we need to know all the people in their organization. We need to speak to the lab technicians, to the people that are trying to develop products, how can we help them? And at all levels.
And this is something that our company's focusing on now, that we all have to learn how to get closer to our customers, consumers as well, and support them. So, we have to view our, the same way we look at our principles as our partners, to customize the products, we need to look at our clients also as our partners, and how we help them get to their markets.

Christine: Interesting. So, obviously you're putting your customers first, and understanding what their best needs are. But you guys go above and beyond for your customers, don't you? There's lots of different things that you do for them.

Jorge: Yes. For example, we have 11 laboratories in Latin America. So for example, application labs. We have customers that need a specific solution. We have made specific solutions, for example, in the inks business, where we in flexography, equipment is an example. Now, a lot of the equipment in Latin America comes from different manufacturers. Either European, or American, or Asian. And each machine has a different kind of setting.
So for example, they're cleaning the rollers when they're printing boxes, or printing paper, or something, the downtime of those rollers is money, right? Because they are not being able to print. So, how can we help them feed that process? What kind of products can we provide? And we have managed to make tailor made solutions for these customers. For each specific customer we create a formula. And we have gone to that level of detail to service our market.
Another example is also with the paint industry, we do not just sell the chemicals to make paint solvents, we actually make also paint thinners. And yeah, so we also make different kinds of paint thinners for different applications. For lacquer, for wood, and so on. And we support a lot of our clients in that way.

Christine: Interesting. Thanks for sharing that with us. I appreciate the detail, so that people that aren't familiar with GTM International gets an idea of more what you guys do do. Obviously, you do a lot. And that gives us some of the detail behind the scenes.
I'm going to switch gears on you now a little bit. I'm going to go back to asking you some questions about your own leadership, and your own growth. What do you do for professional development? How do you continue to be a great leader, and things like that. Besides the stuff that keeps you balanced with your painting and other hobbies and interests, what do you do for professional development?

Jorge: Well, first thing I started to do was to meditate, Christine, that doesn't sound like professional development. But actually meditation has helped me also with perspective, and introspection. I think it's very important that we have time to do that. I am a high D personality, and I need to have... That was good advice that I got from our CEO in the company, that, "Jorge, you need to meditate and to eat," he has helped me.
So, that's one way internally. But at the same time, keeping up with the trends. We have to keep learning every day. The moment we stop learning, then we become irrelevant. I think that's a strong comment, but I think it's true. You have to be current with everything, and participating in a lot of industries, seminars, and conferences, and well as read books, or try to keep up to the latest things that are happening.
And I think I keep myself flexible. I think I'm a person that adapts. We have had many changes in our company, and I'm still here. And trying to learn, every day is new for me. And that is the key. You have to have an open mind. So, I keep myself busy by reading, talking to people, participating in industry shows, talking to suppliers, talking to customers. And that is very important.

Christine: All right. And you and I met originally when I started working with you and your leadership team, as an executive coach. But you also have since joined as a CEO of Vistage group, that I lead. And you have multiple people of your leadership team, and multiple Vistage groups as well. How has Vistage been a resource for you when it comes to growing you, growing your people, and using as a resource from a standpoint of leadership, or growth, or thinking outside the box?

Jorge: Yeah, I think it has been... When I started Panachem, my business was more focused overseas. At that time, I did not have a... What do you call it? Like an advisory board to help me with ideas. So, it was a little bit lonely. But we have spoke to all the CEOs, with other people that were running businesses. It gave me some perspective. It gave me some great ideas, some insights. And as the company grew, of course, I have move along with the different groups of people, and I have made great friends.
And I think this is the fact that it is managed in a circle of trust, where people can be open about certain things, it is a great venue to be able to learn new things, to see how others are doing. And at the same time to contribute. Because I don't think it's there to take, but also to give. Funny enough, I think I have enjoyed more giving than taking, as you know. I am there to provide some advice. And that is also very rewarding, Christine. I think we want to serve. We want to help. And by helping others, we help ourselves.

Christine: Well said. Well said. What do you wish you had known when you started out? When you ventured down this path to become an entrepreneur, and grow Panachem, and then obviously continue to grow with, emerging with GTM, and have private equity, et cetera. What do you wish you had known as you started out, and other lessons you've learned along the way?

Jorge: I think one thing that comes to mind, Christine, would be that there's always an opportunity to change the outcome of things. And sometimes we get paralyzed by fear, or not knowing what's going to happen. And then we have to fight against that. So, I think when I started out, I have to admit, maybe the circumstances at the time, having two small kids, got caught in the middle of building a house, and trying to find, to start the business. Also, a reluctant entrepreneur at the time. I worked for a company, and then it closes doors. And I found myself in a situation that I needed to lose something.
Maybe if I would have to do it all again, maybe how it would have been if I started by myself. But at the end of the day, sequence is different. Even with partners, it is your business, you run it, you develop it. But don't be afraid of it. I think life throws you so many different opportunities, so, we should not have fear. There's always, the sun comes out every morning. Right? And that's how you have to live, that things come up. Even when you have tough situations, or difficult situations, something is going to turn around, and turn it for the better. You have to believe that.

Christine: Well, I certainly do. And I agree with you 100% on that. You can always find a gift or opportunity in the adversity that we all go through, and that's just life. And if you don't, then it's going to hold you back, or slow you down for sure. Let me ask you another question. If you could write a book, what would the book be about?

Jorge: I think it would be, I would call it, believe in yourself, you can do it. That would be summing up things.

Christine: Right. And would you share your background, experiences, and attitudes that you were talking about, that you have to have, to overcome adversities, and always continue to learn, those things. Are there other things you would share too?

Jorge: Well, I know that part, and that would take us a while to talk about, is the details as to how I managed to come here to the US. It's a long story. But I will have to sum it up in the sense that I visualized what I wanted to do. And I focused on that. And I presented things that, at the time probably didn't make any sense, but they worked. And that's why you got me here. So choices that we make at the moment. Simple as for example, when I was still in Peru, reading about the scholarship to come to the US to study. I had another friend of mine at the university, who said, "Well, I don't think, that's no good for us. It's too expensive." And I went to the meeting anyway, and it was expensive. At the time, I didn't have the money to pay for that. But I applied anyway.
They told me there was one in a million chance that I would get a full scholarship at the time. I had to put a money contribution, I couldn't do it. And I applied, because I felt like the reason of a scholarship is to give someone an opportunity, and it's not about the money. And that speech helped. Actually, I got a full scholarship to come to the US. If I would not have gone to the meeting, have that interview, and did not deter by the fact that I did not have the down payment that they required at the time, I will not have been here.

Christine: Yeah. And so, you not only had a plan, but you had a vision, and a direction of what you wanted to accomplish, and you just continued to pursue, even though it looked like the door was going to be closed?

Jorge: Correct.

Christine: Yeah. What's some of the most rewarding part of your life so far personally and professionally? What's the most rewarding part of your life so far?

Jorge: I think it's giving back. Inspiring people. I think that is one of the most rewarding things that I'm doing now. How can I inspire my teammates? Do the same thing at home with my boys. Sometimes it's difficult with time, but you also have to do it with them, the same thing. And understanding that life is a discovery, until the day we depart we always learn, right? So, we have to make the most of it.

Christine: Right. And so, inspiring people personally and professionally, you certainly are an example of that. And you've walked that talk. I can witness that, given the time and the years of working with you, and working with your team. Is there anything else I should have asked, or you'd like to share with people, to inspire others, since that's something that you're so passionate about, and what you've done so well? Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Jorge: Well, maybe you can add about what other things also rewarding for me, would be I think, one of the most rewarding things as well, is to make it happen. When you set your mind to do something, and it happens. You see it happening in front of your eyes. So, making an idea into reality, and along the way, you can also inspire other people to be their best. I think that is very, very rewarding.

Christine: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. And on that note... I know we have to wrap up, but on that note you have, because of that, because you've been able to do that with your team, you have people that have been with you for many, many years, haven't you? Your employees, your leadership team, you have people that have been with you for a long time? What's some of the tenure that they've been with, the length of time they've been with you.

Jorge: Well, I have people that have been with me for over 20 years.

Christine: Yeah, that's what I thought.

Jorge: Yeah. And I have had people that have left the company, and they asked me to come back.

Christine: Right.

Jorge: So, I hope I was able to inspire them, and motivate them. Of course, it's not about me, but working together, trying to be not only... Before we become bosses, we become mentors. We have to mentor people. Because when you mentor them, they mentor you as well. Right?

Christine: Yeah. I love that. I love your philosophy. You're amazing. You're absolutely amazing, Jorge. Congratulations on your success thus far, personally and professionally. And all the best in the future. I know you're going to continue to do great things, and good luck with the endeavor with the private equity, and GTM International. I know you're going to do stuff even beyond that. Thank you so much for sharing your time, and your expertise, and your experience with us. I know that everyone's going to enjoy hearing your story, and I look forward to following up with you as well. Have a great day.

Jorge: Thank you, Christine. You too. And thank you for having me on the show today.

Christine: Absolutely. Take care. Bye-bye.

Jorge: You too. Bye-bye.