FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Colorado’s Opportunity Coalition Adds Three
Advisory Board Members in August
DENVER, CO – The Opportunity Coalition is proud to announce the addition of three experienced and spirited new Advisory Board members, Mr. Scott Bemis, Mr. Josh Hanfling, and Ms. Purnima Voria.
Scott Bemis, former Publisher of the Denver Business Journal, now serves as Director of Business and Community Partnerships at EKS&H, public affairs executive Josh Hanfling is Co-Founder & Principal at Sewald Hanfling, and Purnima Voria is the Founder and CEO of the National US India Chamber of Commerce (NUICC)
“All three of these stellar individuals have a reputation as upstanding business leaders who are also actively invested in our local communities – all of us at Opportunity Coalition are thrilled to have them on board,” said Brian Watson, Founder & CEO of the organization.
“Scott, Josh, and Purnima will no doubt offer valuable insight and strategic connections throughout Colorado as the Opportunity Coalition continues to expand its audience and influence across the state.”
Scott Bemis has more than 30 years of experience building relationships and developing partnerships while leading publications for the American City Business Journals. He was the past board Chair of Visit Denver and is active in the Downtown Denver Partnership, Junior Achievement, and the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve already been impressed by the quality events and robust lineup of featured guests that the Opportunity Coalition consistently brings to the table,” Bemis said.
“It’s encouraging to see the meaningful and pertinent topics we are tackling head on. I’m grateful for the chance to be involved on a deeper level.”
Josh Hanfling is a business veteran who has also always been involved in the political and nonprofit spaces. Hanfling was named one of Denver’s 25th most powerful people by 5280 Magazine and elected to the 40 under 40 by the Denver Business Journal. He serves on the boards of the Denver Justice Council, Friends of the Denver Fire Department, and The Denver Health Foundation, among others.
Hanfling observed that, “The Opportunity Coalition is clearly a place for local innovators and thought leaders who are genuinely interested in the health and well-being of Colorado businesses, individuals, and communities.”
“I’m happy to be a part of these exciting endeavors.”
Purnima Voria is an international business owner, freelancer, educator, motivational speaker, and a U.S.-India expert. Nationally, she has been appointed to serve as an Advisor to the Obama Administration on the National Advisory Council on Minority Business Enterprises for a two year term to shape future policies and programs that will set the foundation for the growth of $100 million companies across all industries that are owned and operated by U.S. minorities.
“In many ways, at Opportunity Coalition, we are working to build bridges of understanding and connections among the diverse people of Colorado, in order to create a more positive future together,” Brian Watson noted. “We are honored to have community leaders like Scott, Josh, and Purnima to help make that future even better".
To read more about Scott Bemis, Josh Hanfling, and Purnima Voria, as well as to learn more about the Opportunity Coalition, please visit: www.opportunitycoalition.com.
Brian Watson: Today we’re honored to have Shari Williams, the founder of the Leadership Program of the Rockies. Shari, welcome to the show.
Shari Williams: Oh, thank you, Brian. I’m glad to be on.
Brian Watson: Shari, tell us a little bit about you and your background, and the Leadership Program of the Rockies, specifically.
Shari Williams: Oh, great. Well, I’m the President of the Leadership Program of the Rockies, and I often introduce myself by saying I am helping to build the army for freedom, and that sounds like a pretty outrageous statement, unless you know the 1,300 graduates that have been through our program, and how they are constantly influencing Colorado politics and public policy, and the issues of the day.
And so my background is political and issue-based, and I’ve been doing this for, gosh, over 30 years, in the political realm, and I have the thrill of getting to organize and help teach a wonderful set of influencers all throughout Colorado.
Brian Watson: Well, LPR has had an amazing impact, not only in Colorado, but around the country, and frankly, probably around the world. Tell us a little bit about, what does the program look like? How many students go through that? And what is the training and discussions that occur?
Shari Williams: Right, well what we do is we try and equip people with the ways in which they can discuss current public policy issues, kind of through the lens of liberty, and understand the founding ideas behind the country, and what makes it so exceptional. And so our tagline is that we have timeless principles and leaders in action. So what we do is every year, we select 65 people from a competitive pool of applicants, and it is very competitive to get into this program, we turn away more people than we can accept.
And those 65 people represent all sorts of different industries, political backgrounds, they’re often people from all over the state, in fact, I think we have over 17 counties represented this year, and they go through a nine-month program, where for an entire day, on the second Friday of every month, and they hear from some of the best national speakers, actually international speakers, on topics including the Constitution, the founding documents, capitalism, education, national defense, and a number of other issues that really help spur on their thinking.
And then they are required to be very interactive, be debate-oriented, and do some reading like Atlas Shrugged and Economics in One Lesson. And the whole idea behind it is to equip these leaders with the tools, so that they can have a thoughtful debate, and go out and be influential on their other fellow citizens.
Brian Watson: With regards to the people that you’re looking for, what does that look like? Do they have to have a long resume of public service, or do they have to be a certain age, or have a certain background? What are you looking for in those different candidates that you then accept into the program?
Shari Williams: Well, I’m glad you asked me that question. It’s a good question, because we have a great cross-section of people. We have people from 21 to 75 that go through the program, but they have one thing in common, and that is that we think they are influencers, or they have potential to be big influencers. So we look for leadership potential, their ability to communicate well, their experience plays into it and how they frame their experience, and then also, their ideological fertility to some of the ideas that we teach in the program. So we look for those four characteristics. So some of them will have very long resumes. They’ll be in elected office, they’ll be captains of industry, they’ll be major influencers within the education or the energy committee, and some of them will be earlier on in their career, but we see potential in them.
For example, Gale Norton went through the program many, many years ago, but she went on to be the Colorado Attorney General, then she went on to be the Interior Secretary in President Bush’s cabinet. When she first went through, she didn’t have all of those elected offices, but I think that she would agree with us today, that helped shape her viewpoint, and gave her a team of people that would help her in her political success.
Brian Watson: Well obviously, LPR has had a phenomenal impact in Colorado. Have you thought about taking the program on a national level, or for our listeners that may be outside of Colorado, are there resources that they can garner to help them in their walk?
Shari Williams: It’s funny that you mentioned that, because in fact, we’re working on that, as we speak. We really would like to take this to a national platform, and we’ve had – I think I’ve had over 24 states contact me, and tell me that they’re interested in having something similar, because there’s nothing like the Leadership Program of the Rockies in the rest of the country. There’s think-tanks, there’s political organizations, but there’s nothing that focuses on the founding principles and the three concepts that we work with in LPR, as much as we do.
And so currently, I have one class member, in the most recent class, that’s coming in and driving nine hours from Missouri, just to attend. Last year, I had people coming in from Kansas and Nebraska and Oklahoma, and we are looking at expanding, and we’re currently raising the funds to make that a reality.
Brian Watson: When you speak about funding, how is funding usually handled for LPR? Is it all by private donors? Do you have bake sales? How do you fund the program.
Shari Williams: Well, we haven’t had any bake sales lately, but what we do is we go out and we take our message to people that understand our mission, and what we do is, the class members pay part of their tuition, but the full cost for each individual to go through is about $5,700, and we are able to raise a lot of money from people that understand that the country is going down the tubes, and that the only way we’re really going to change things in the long run is by educating new leaders that will go and make the right decisions, when they’re in positions of influence. And so, we get some grant funding, but it’s all private grants, and we get a lot of individuals that agree with us on our mission, and are very generous. So it’s exciting.
We do some events. We have an event in February at the Broadmoor, and it is what we call our annual retreat, and it’s kind of a regrouping of a lot of people that have gone through people, and a lot of people that are supportive, and they come in to hear some wonderful speakers, and kind of recharge their batteries with the network. We speakers like Charles Krauthammer, or last year, we had George Will, and a number of speakers you might not have even heard of, but you go away so excited and reenergized, and a lot of our donors then ante up some more, because they know we’re doing the right stuff.
Brian Watson: I’ve got the opportunity to attend that event before, and I’ll tell you, my wife and I have gone, and the conversations that we have, it just doesn’t stop. You’re so excited, there’s just some unbelievable influential people and ideas that are brought forth, and it’s a great group of people, and I encourage anyone to go down there. How could people learn more about that?
Shari Williams: Oh, I appreciate that, Brian, because it is a lot of fun. People are just on fire afterwards. The – if they would like, they can go to our website at www.LeadershipProgram.org, and hit on the Retreat button, and it will start to tell you more information about how to sign up, and we’ll start announcing speakers soon, but they can get it on their calendar right now for February 20th and 21st.
Brian Watson: Shari, you’ve had an amazing impact, and LPR has as well, and I guess I would like to ask you, what would be your definition of success, not only for the program, but for somebody who has the opportunity to go through that? Is that holding an office somewhere, is that affecting their community? What would be the definition of success for LPR?
Shari Williams: Right. Well, it’s kind of like my own vision of success, which is to define success as a life led with integrity, where your principles and your actions actually align. And that’s why we focus on principles. A lot of people say, oh, you know, you talk about the latest issues of the day, and we do, but what we do is focus more on an underlying principle, and then we teach people how to actually think about their values, as it aligns with that principle. And so for me, there’s no cookie-cutter formula for what success will look like, because we’ve had lots and lots of success, as far as elected officials. I think right now, half of the Republicans at the Colorado State Legislature have been through our program. We’ve had Congress people, we’ve had federal judges, we’ve had successful businesspeople, we’ve had political leaders.
I’m excited by the Douglas County School Board members that all were graduates of LPR, that decided that they wanted to change Douglas County schools, and implemented fundamental education reform, and I love how that’s spread to places like Jefferson County, where we were able to win some new seats on the school board there. And we see all sorts of success like that, but it can’t be defined as just one kind of goal. What we try and say is, whoever the influencer is that’s going through LPR, we want to give them the tools, the ideas, and the network to go out and be successful, as they define it.
And so different people come in with different objectives, but what I love the most is how enthusiastic they get, and how they work as a team to do things that you’d never imagine. For example, the gun recall elections that happened last year, those were led by LPR grads, people that understood that your Second Amendment rights are very important, and that we had some legislators that didn’t understand those principles. And so, that’s kind of how I look at success. I know it’s not definitive in one way, but what we want to do is maximize influencers, to remind the country about timeless principles.
Brian Watson: And I think you hit the nail on the head. Having those timeless principles, and they are timeless. There are certain principles in this country that have helped to make this country great, and have empowered people, and have been like none other in the history of the world, and to build that army of freedom, I just think is absolutely important. So I really appreciate your efforts with regards to LPR, and I encourage our listeners to learn more about it. It’s a phenomenal program that’s impacting many, and having ripple effects, not only all through our state, but the country as well.
I’d like to transition, Shari, if you would, to a few that are more on a personal level, because you have been involved in so many things, and I’d like to ask you a few questions. I’d like to start off with what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings, and why?
Shari Williams: Well, it’s funny. I often use this quote at the very beginning, in the very first class, partially because we have everybody in the program read Atlas Shrugged, and it’s an Ayn Rand quote, and she says: Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom, and political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom. And a free mind and a free market are corollaries. And I like that quote, because I think it kind of sums up what my whole life’s passion has been. Even since I was a five-year-old kid, I was walking neighborhoods, handing out literature for candidates, and I don’t think I knew it then, but I think I was trying to actually pursue this idea of political freedom and economic freedom. And to this day, that’s where my passion lies.
Brian Watson: I don’t have to tell our listeners, if they haven’t had the opportunity to read Ayn Rand, and specifically Atlas Shrugged, hands down, it is one of my favorite books, and she’s just an amazing, amazing writer. And you look at how that book has impacted many, and I think that’s a great quote from a wonderful book that I would highly recommend for people to read. So thank you for that.
Shari Williams: Yes, and it’s interesting, because it seems like it’s happening a lot these days, and so, it was written a long time ago, but boy, does it feel like it’s happening in the country now.
Brian Watson: I think you’re absolutely right, and it’s amazing to see, I think, sadly, each year that goes by, it seems to be coming more and more true. And so, glad that they made a movie of it, but at the same time, there’s nothing like picking up the book and going through that, and just a great, wonderful read. Shari, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Shari Williams: Oh, that is a very good question. You know, I think it is, really that, trying to be true to yourself, and understanding and continuing to learn, and having the confidence to speak out. If I had anything that I could change about our country, it would be that citizens would feel confident that they, in fact, are We the People, and that they should speak out and be assertive about their individual rights and responsibilities. And so, I think, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to be confident about that, and to learn as much as I possibly could.
Brian Watson: That’s very wise. Absolutely. Tell us about one of your proudest professional moments.
Shari Williams: Ooh, that’s a hard one. I think, you know, it’s funny, because my career has had a couple of faces. I’ve worked with political candidates for almost, over 30 years, and I was thrilled when we won by 121 votes, and found out five weeks later, that Bob Beauprez was the new Congressman from the 7th Congressional District. I remember how many people told me it couldn’t be done, and in fact, a week beforehand, told me it would not be done, and I remember yelling at my team, saying, we will make this happen, and we will work until the polls close and not a minute beforehand. And when we won by 121 votes, I was really proud of that.
And then my career kind of went into – I’ve also worked on things like term limits. I was the first campaign manager in the entire country that actually helped pass state and national term limits. And then, I got an opportunity to go and travel to 24 other states, helping them put that on the ballots. And it’s not that term limits by itself was so important, but it was a way of organizing citizens towards something they felt like they could make a difference, and send the signal to their elected officials, that they wanted to change the system, that systemic change was important, and that they weren’t expected to be in office forever. They were expected to live like citizens. And so I think, those are maybe two examples of things where we did some pretty tough battles, but we came out on top.
Brian Watson: I think a key part there is making sure that you’re involved and informed. Oftentimes, I think in society today, people think that their vote doesn’t matter, and when you look at some of these elections, that literally come down to hundreds of votes, this can help change the direction of a state, or a country, and frankly, the world. And each and every person needs to get involved.
Shari Williams: Yes. I agree, and as I’ve always said myself, as kind of a political coach, I don’t know that I’m the best to do it. I’m no Elway, or no Peyton Manning, but I think I can help people understand the fundamentals of how to get involved and how to make a difference, and how to assert themselves, and how to have influence. And so that’s how I see my career, and LPR for me is just a great way to do that.
Brian Watson: I think it’s a phenomenal platform, and a great impact. What do you think is one of the biggest challenges or threats facing our country or world today?
Shari Williams: Yeah, well, especially for our country, and we should be the leaders in the world on this, is too many of our citizens become passive, and they have allowed the government to take new liberties with our individual rights, and it threatens free enterprise, it threatens our American way of life, and I think it threatens the entire world, when we’re not the thought leaders on this. And it’s unfortunate that our prestige has been diminished in the world, because I think people have gone toward thinking that they’re entitled to things, rather than in fact, the highest calling is when you earn something, rather than you have an expectation that you get a benefit, when it’s unearned. And I think we were the leaders for so long in that, and I see our government going the opposite direction.
Brian Watson: It’s interesting you say that, because I was interviewed recently, and they asked me a similar question, and I said, you know, I believe that apathy is a very bad thing for the republic, and I also believe that this entitlement syndrome, that unfortunately has gripped a part of America, that people think they’re entitled to something. And you’re entitled to get up in the morning and go make something of your life, and bless others, and to try to make a positive impact. And I think, when you look at apathy, and you look at things like entitlements, specifically within American society, it is a very concerning trend in our country. Would you agree?
Shari Williams: Oh, I would, and in fact, I couldn’t agree with you more, because not only for our country but for individuals, how it erodes the soul to understand that you didn’t earn something, and yet you got the benefit. It might be temporarily nice, but in fact, it’s not meant to be that way, and to rob people of a sense of accomplishment, I think that’s dangerous, and downright evil.
Brian Watson: I think it’s not only that, it’s immoral as well, as you’re saying. And it really, I believe that most people out there want an opportunity. They want to go achieve their dreams, and those dreams and opportunities do not come from the government. Yes, there’s a certain role of government in society, but true empowerment of the individual, and the freedom and the liberty to go achieve those dreams are much more rewarding, and much longer-term lasting than anything else that a government can do for them, at the end of the day. So I appreciate you say that.
Shari Williams: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s – when we talk about, well what does LPR actually teach, we say individual rights, the proper role of government, not only limited government, because I think a lot of people think, if it’s limited, that means you get a lot and I get a little, but instead, what is the proper role of government at every level, and how in fact does that proper role protect individual rights? And in fact, if that’s government’s not doing that, how to engage and activate your fellow citizens. And if you put all of that together, we call it the proximity impact model, and what we want people to do is think about sharing those ideas with their fellow citizens within their reach, and kind of going viral with them, in a way that says no, this is stuff we can take back. We don’t have to listen to Washington on this. This is something we can control. And if we can change the country that way, I think we’re going to be the new founding fathers and mothers of the next phase of America.
Brian Watson: Well I agree with you, and I think communicating that message, and that connection, that the more a government gives you, the more it’s going to take from you in terms of your individual freedoms and those different things, people really need to make that connection. Government cannot be this entity that just gives and gives and gives, without expecting something back in return, and I think people need to realize that their freedoms and their liberties are at stake when they start going down that path too far.
And frankly, sadly, it’s a fundamental shift in American society, where government is going now. Regardless of your political affiliation, it has been changing, and we need to make sure that we push back on that, and listen to those timeless principles from the founding fathers. So I appreciate the work that you do in that regard. Shari, who are some of your mentors, whether living or historical?
Shari Williams: Right. Oh, such a good question, because I’m so fortunate and blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life. Well, first and foremost, my mother and father. From an early age, we were arguing politics at the dinner table, and at a very early age, they were supportive of me having the confidence to question the system, as it was. And so, I was never punished for speaking out. In my early career, I was lucky enough to work for US Senator Bill Armstrong, and talk about a man of integrity and a thought leader, and to this day, he’s still one of my best friends.
And then I got to work with Terry Considine, who is an incredible visionary, and we worked together on term limits, and so many other profound issues. And just to see the way his brain worked. To this day, I worry – or I’m sad that the United States never benefited from him being in the Senate, because he would have been phenomenal there.
Also, Helen Krieble, with the Krieble Foundation. She is very visionary, and has such a love and passion for the country. So I’ve worked with so many phenomenal people across the country. It’s kind of even hard to narrow it down, but I feel very blessed to have such great role models.
Brian Watson: Well, I know a few of the people that you’ve mentioned, and I would agree with you. These people are wonderful people, and they’re salt of the earth. They really are people that want to help serve others and make a positive impact. I think it’s unfortunate, in a lot of the political realm today, that sadly, a lot of these leaders are all about themselves, and the people that you just mentioned are people that care about others, people that care about future generations and our country, and I believe we need more leaders like that within our country, so I appreciate you saying that. What parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom would you like to share with our listeners?
Shari Williams: Ooh, a golden nugget of advice. That is a good question. Well, I guess it’s be passionate, to learn as much as possible about the country and the issues that go on, and to take a stand, and try to influence your neighbors, the people in your community, and not sit tight be happy with the status quo. To understand individual rights at the most profound level, and to understand that we’re not entitled to other people’s productivity. I know it sounds like it kind of goes along with everything else I’ve said, but when I think about my life, that’s everything I try and do on a daily basis. It’s what I try and help teach my nieces and people around me, and I think I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to it.
Brian Watson: Well, I appreciate that you’re doing that, because it does make a positive impact. And I really believe that if more of us could just take some of that wisdom and advice, I think it would be absolutely transformational in American society. Shari, what is the best way for our listeners –
Shari Williams: Brian, I just wanted to say one thing is, I just wanted to thank you for all you do. I recognize in you someone who not only steps up in the business community and the political world and the thought world, and a person that leads others. You’re generous with both your time and your money and your ideas, and we need more people like you, Brian, and so thanks for the opportunity.
Brian Watson: Well, that’s very kind of you to say. We feel blessed, and want to come alongside and bless others as well, because you see how fortunate we’ve been, and how a special a place we live in America. So thank you for that. Shari, what is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you, again, at the organization?
Shari Williams: Yes. Well, we’d love to have everybody go to our website, which is www.LeadershipProgram.org, or they can feel free to give us a call at 303-488-0018. We take applications for new class members, and the deadline for that will be August 31st of next year, and then we have all sorts of events that go on that are open to no-class members. And so, we’d love to have people sign up and participate and learn more about the founding principles.
Brian Watson: Well, Shari, thank you again for your time. Thank you for your work, and thank you for your impact. And I’ll look forward to seeing you somewhere on a campaign trail, or somewhere down the road.
Shari Williams: Great, thanks Brian.
Brian Watson: Thank you.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today, we have Tim Brown with us, the Founder of Three Creative, a business consulting and coaching firm, and Tim is also a newly published author.
Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim Brown: Thank you, Brian, great to be here.
Brian Watson: Tim, for our listeners who may not be familiar with Three Creative office a little bit about your company, and why you founded it, and what is its purpose?
Tim Brown: The purpose of Three Creative is, everything centers around living from the inside out and servant-based leadership. And where my three core areas of focus are specifically, I'm a newly published author, which we can talk about in a moment, and also keynote speaking. I help companies, number two, with coming in, and improving their sales, branding, marketing, or leadership within the company, and where they want to go as an organization. And third is coaching, which leads back into some of the organizations that consult with, or coaching on an individual basis.
Brian Watson: Well, let's talk about this concept of servant-based leadership. I think in society, that people don't often necessarily think about that, that being a leader has to mean that you are tough, and that you're out in front, and sometimes leadership has a lot of ego that comes with it. But those two words in front of servant-based leadership puts a completely different tint on it. Talk to us a little bit about what that means.
Tim Brown: I believe that when you are serving others, you are at your highest and best self. Leadership happens anytime you can influence the thinking, the behavior, or the development of another person. And many times you learn the most about yourself through others, and how you help them. And so, when I think of servant-based leadership, there's really two different models out there in terms of how you can run a company.
And the first model is very top-down driven, it tends to be more controlling, and there are attributes where this model works better. In a servant-based leadership model, it's a -- where you are leading from the bottom up. It's very -- tends to be more of a flat organization, of how it's run, and what you're trying to create is essentially the ability to leverage a lot of different areas within the company, because they've been empowered.
I think of the highlight of that being able to look at your pool of employees, and seeing things inside of them that they can't see yet for themselves, and developing the areas of their head, their heart, their habits, and their hands, to perform better. Not just what they do professionally, but across all aspects of their life.
Brian Watson: So the concept of servant-based leadership, is this a new concept, or are a lot of companies already employing this? Talk to us a little bit about its history, and where it started from, and what kind of impact it may be having in society today?
Tim Brown: I think servant-based leadership has been around, literally since Jesus Christ was who was on the earth, and that model of teaching people through your words, teaching people through experiences, teaching people through creating an environment that allows them to make mistakes. We started to see probably more of a resurgence of that mindset here over the last twenty years as the United States has moved more from being more manufacturing-centric to being more services based.
Brian Watson: So in terms of employing a servant-based leadership mindset in an organization, does somebody have to have an understanding, or a grasp of faith, or are these principles that can be learned by almost anyone, if they're willing to have an open mind, and wanting to make a positive impact the organization?
Tim Brown: It can really be learned by anyone. One of the core tenets to a servant-based leadership model is you move away from a fear-based mindset in terms of how you lead, and things become much more courage-based, more love-based, more open to sharing. And when you think about how that transcends in the organization, a lot of times, the work that I do when I go into an organization culturally is finding out how comfortable people feel, in terms of sharing their ideas.
I look at what the path perception is, of the people within the organization. I will look at, in terms of whether people feel they're being built up or torn down culturally. A lot of those things. So you're putting the development of your people first, and you're looking at, if I make these long-term investments in people, the company then will do better, our customer experience will be better, and we'll be able to innovate new products differently and better, because a lot of times your teams have the best ideas. It's just a matter of drawing them out, and those people feeling that they're in a safe and trusted environment to be able to give their thoughts around improving things.
Brian Watson: It's interesting, when I was young, I had the opportunity to have different leadership roles. And in high school, whether it be head of my student body, or President of Future Farmers of America, and back then, I thought leadership was about to me having to go out and do it, because if I didn't do it, nobody else would.
I had the opportunity to go to the University of Colorado at Boulder and be a part of the President's Leadership Class, and we studied many different ideas of leadership and concepts, and really walked away with this idea that my role as a leader is helping to understand, to love, and to empower our people. And when you do that, great things happen, and you see them blossom.
My question is that, like anything in life, some people believe that leadership, you are born a leader, or that leadership just happens to you, if you happen to be at the right time and right place. But what I'm hearing you say is, is leadership is something that should be studied, should be understood, and then properly implemented. Is that a fair assumption?
Tim Brown: That is a fair assumption. At the heart of that is whether you have what I call a servant's heart or not, and a servant's heart is something that is not necessarily taught. I believe that it exists in all of us. It's just whether people know it exists, and so it's discovery, and then realizing that you're a lot more powerful, not be confused with forceful, you're a lot more powerful in an organization as you continue to empower other people to make decisions, and to feel better about themselves.
Those are all things that we have the ability as leaders to unlock within each of our people that are on the team. I'm a big believer that if you look, time and time again, at the companies that have been super successful, those leaders have always surrounded themselves with people who, many times, may be smarter than them, and they've allowed them to do those specific jobs that they were brought into the organization. And as part of that, like I mentioned earlier in the interview, make mistakes, and have the ability to learn from those mistakes within the organization.
Brian Watson: I think a part of the servant's heart, as well, is to make sure that you have empathy, and empathy and understanding only come from having experience, and a history of wins and losses, and sort of that blood, and that sweat, and those tears that you shed, and in building that team, some great things happen. Understanding of people, and understanding of putting your people first.
I know at Northstar Commercial Partners, and my other companies, we try to do that, and we're not always perfect, but I can tell you, I am grateful for those valleys, just as much as those mountaintops, because I think they help to give you perspective in terms of priority, and in terms of putting your people first, and creating a very effective team.
Tim Brown: I completely agree with you. Just in looking at my own history, I have probably learned ten times more from quote-unquote failures, than I have from success. By nature, anything that we're passionate about in life, we're always going to have setbacks as part of that, and those setbacks are nothing more than opportunities for us to get better, to learn. And life is just a collection of experiences. It's up to us to choose how we want to use those experiences.
Brian Watson: That's so true, and I would submit that the only true failure is to never try, at the end of the day, and each one of those challenges, you look at the 2008 economic crash, and what each of us went through, and I know I went through it as a real estate owner, and it was a very painful time, but what I tell people a lot in our talks and conversations today is that to really embrace those moments, that a lot of people would love just to put in a closet or sweep under a carpet. But to embrace them, and to learn from them, because at the end of the day, we all go through those experiences. The only question becomes, is what did you learn, and how are you going to build it better, smarter, and faster, or more impactful for society. Tim, I want to transition a little bit to your new book. Tell our listeners a little bit about and the title, and why you wrote it?
Tim Brown: The book is titled Jumping into the Parade, and it is really my story about, as a child abdicating self in lieu of a model of, make it out there and I'll be fine in here. Me growing up through my 20s, becoming a self-made millionaire, made some companies and growing those very aggressively in my 30s. Having the economic meltdown that we had in late '08, early '09, me losing several millions of dollars. My entire life was about connecting my worth as a man to my works as a man, and all of a sudden, everything sort of comes crashing down.
And so my book is about redemption, it's about hope, it's about letting people know that they're not helpless out there. That we all go through a number of changes in our life, and we get to choose how we want to use those. We can use them for our upliftment, betterment, or learning, or we can choose to be victims of it. Much of my life was very victim-oriented, in my thinking. I just didn't know it at the time. I have let failure get wrapped around my talent in so many respects. In terms of losing the several millions of dollars when the markets collapsed in late '08, early '09.
And so my book specifically is about how do you live your life from the inside out, and how do you use the tools of reframing to where you can position all of your experiences to your betterment, and to -- frankly, how do you hold your story? What kind of perspective do you use, and how does that serve others as part of it? And I used to think that our weaknesses were something to be ashamed of, but the reality is, our weaknesses are really our strengths in life.
Brian Watson: It's interesting that you wrote that book, I think that there's a lot of people in the world who have a struggle with sharing the raw underbelly of their experiences, and who try to put on their game face that everything is fine, and that they're positive about the future. So it must've taken a lot to write a book like this. And through that process, have you started to see other people be encouraged by your writing in terms of sharing more of their raw feelings and experiences, to help make them better on a long-term basis?
Tim Brown: I have. The book came out a little over a month ago, and I have had readers who I don't know send me e-mails. I've had other people who I do know read the book and say how impactful it was. Forbes Magazine included a couple paragraphs in this month's edition, where the author of that article said, it's about time that somebody came out and was this vulnerable, talking about these types of topics. So it really made me feel good. The whole reason I wrote the book was really never about my story. It was really about my readers' stories, and how to get perspective in our own lives, that we're not as hopeless, we're not as helpless, we're not as alone as we may think.
Brian Watson: Personally, I decided a long time ago not to put my stock in things, and it is interesting, when you come to that realization, and you come to right up front with your ideas of what some people would consider failures or your vulnerabilities, and you face them, and you embrace them, how much more free you can be, and how much more impactful you can be for other people. Because at the end of the day, it's not about stuff, and frankly, it's not even about you. It's really about serving others and understanding your place in the world. So really appreciate that you wrote that book. If our listeners wanted to get a copy of it, where would they go?
Tim Brown: Any of the local book retailers here, in the Denver area, or frankly, nationally. Barnes & Noble, as an example, has it in stock in most of the locations. Amazon.com. You can also purchase it directly through the website, which is JumpingIntoTheParade.com. But I would encourage everybody to use whatever channels that they're used to using.
Brian Watson: I want to transition now, Tim, to you on a personal level, though we've obviously talked about you on a personal level a little bit already. But I want to talk about some of the things that drive you, and some of the lessons that you've learned in life, because obviously, you've been very reflective and thoughtful about that. And so I'd like to start off with what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings, and why?
Tim Brown: That is a great, great question. William Toms has a great, great quote that I love. Be careful how you live, you may be the only Bible some person ever reads. The magnitude of that quote, about how we show up in the world and the influence that we can have on other's people lives cannot be overstated.
Brian Watson: It's very interesting, when you think about that, and the ramifications of that, because you are that that point of light out there in the world, and in being so, it doesn't mean that you're always perfect. It means that you're authentic and real, and understand that there is something larger than you out there at play, so that's a very interesting one to think about. Thank you for sharing that. What is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Tim Brown: It would be from my former father-in-law, when I had just lost several millions of dollars, and he still believed in me enough to give me the encouragement to start what would become the biggest company I've ever run as CEO. He specifically looked at me in the eye, and he said, Tim, you never let an event define who you are. It's nothing more than an event. He had said something to me a little bit before that about the power of second chances, and that in life, there are no mistakes, that we get a second, third, fourth, fifth time up at bat, to make the healthy choice.
And when I think about that, and why that was so powerful, is for me, standing underneath that banner that has been my title of what I did professionally was all I knew, in many respects, about my worth. And so you now remove me from underneath that banner, and who am I? That whole process of not letting an experience define me was also one of those that helped reignite, rekindle that creative side in me, that innovative side of me, to go out there and be an entrepreneur again, and to build something meaningful. I just can't thank him enough for, again, him seeing things in me at that time that I couldn't in myself, and encouraging me to take that experience, and learn from it.
Brian Watson: It's very wise advice. We just finished my eleven-year-old son's football season this past weekend, and the coach told all the boys they had fought hard all year to get to the Super Bowl, and they ended up losing, and the boys were very emotional. And the coach said to them, as he said throughout the whole year, 10% in life is what happens to you, and 90% is your response to it. And it's so true. Events will happen. Companies will come and go, sadly, some relationships will come and go. The question is, what is your response to it, and what is that impact that you plan to have, to benefit others? So appreciate that very wise advice. Tim, what is one is your favorite, or most highly recommended book?
Tim Brown: Well, the Bible would be number one, and number two would be Atlas Shrugged.
Brian Watson: Well, Atlas Shrugged is no easy read. I have gone through it. What are some of the tenets specifically that you like about that book, and why do you think it matters to anybody living today?
Tim Brown: It matters because when you look at capitalism as a way of life, and what that does to a society, what that does to the self-esteem of people, it's everything that I believe the core tenets of a successful society are, and I think that Ayn Rand did a brilliant of making it very easy to understand, despite her books being very lengthy. I still firmly believe in the American dream. I firmly believe that the backbone of America is, and will always be, entrepreneurs, and not the government creating jobs. It's people that take the risk, who are willing to personally guarantee things, and sign on the line, and get up every day and have to make it happen, and do that by empowering the team of people around them.
Brian Watson: I agree with you 100%. Hands down, she's one of the best writers that I've never had the opportunity to to enjoy their work, and the concepts that she has in there are very, very powerful. And you look at when she wrote that book, and how she came to this country from Russia, and what she experienced there. And sadly, I think as a country, we often take capitalism and the job creators and our freedom for granted. And I'm a big believer that when you take something for granted, it can very well be taken from you. And I think it's important that those principles outlined in that book, and several others, are communicated appropriately. So thank you for sharing that. Tim, what is your personal definition of success?
Tim Brown: When Plan B works?
Brian Watson: What do you mean by that?
Tim Brown: I think we all have an idea of where we want to go, with success, whether that be in business and personal relationships in life, but many times the path that we set is very different than ultimately the path that gets us there. And when I say when Plan B works, my point there is, you have to remain open and not rigid. It's important to be able to discern all the different information that's coming into you, and to remain somewhat on target, right? But to be open enough to where you realize that there are different methods, many times, of achieving the same goal.
Brian Watson: That's true. I think oftentimes, people are so focused on Plan A, and when Plan A doesn't come to fruition, which is oftentimes the case, then they think there's nothing else that they can do. But when Plan B works, it's a beautiful thing, as well. Make sure you have a Plan B. Tim, what you believe is one of the biggest challenges or threats facing our country or world today?
Tim Brown: Without question, it is entitlement. One of the concerns that I have right now with a number of things that you read or hear in media in general, is that it seems like it's created almost this class warfare kind of mindset, that working hard, being an entrepreneur, accumulating wealth is a bad thing. And when I think about how most charities are supported in terms of the top donors into those charities, they're from entrepreneurs who pay it forward, who care about how they show up in the world, and give back, and are not villains. And so I don't think entitlement ever serves anyone. I think it is a victim mindset in many respects, and not something that is ever going to have someone living the fullest potential of their life, their purpose.
Brian Watson: You combine entitlement with -- in the stew of apathy as well, and that can be very dangerous recipe for society. So I would absolutely agree with your thoughts and comments there. If you could make one change, in order to make the largest positive impact in our country, world, or your business or industry, what that be?
Tim Brown: I would remove the stigma around depression, and what we have called mental health. I think of it as more mental fitness, and in terms of how I live my own life, it's very holistic, where my physical fitness, my spiritual fitness, and my mental fitness all need to be working together, in order for me to really be playing an A game. I feel like, when you look at the 40 million Americans suffer from depression right now; it impacts every single family in the United States. Yet 80% of depression is curable without medication. What that tells me is that there's a real opportunity here for us to help people realize that they are way more in control of their lives, and they're able to shift to a higher level of outcomes by simply changing the perception, the perspective of how they hold their story.
Brian Watson: Depression is one of those silent killers at times. At the end of the day, they can grab ahold of somebody and just continue to pull them down. I think shining a light on that, and coming alongside people in love and understanding and empathy would be very, very powerful in a lot of lives that are out there. So thank you for sharing that often overlooked and un-talked-about topic. What is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you and your organization online and in other ways?
Tim Brown: You can find me on Three Creative at www.3Cr8.com, or you can always feel free to call me as well, and my phone number is on the website, or through LinkedIn.
Brian Watson: Tim, in closing today, what is some parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom that you would like to share with our listeners?
Tim Brown: I believe that life comes down to the community of people around us, in order to really live a filled life. And so my parting comments would be, always embrace three Fs, your faith, your family, and your friends. And if you always keep those as your highest priorities, in that order, your life will be fantastic.
Brian Watson: Just focus on those three Fs, and that will definitely help out, without a doubt. Tim, I want to thank you for your time today, and for your positive contribution to the many lives that you've obviously impacted already through your business, and through your coaching. And also for all of those people yet to be touched by your book. And it takes a real and authentic individual to be able to write about things like that, and I know that it's going to have a positive impact in many, many ways. So I want to thank you for that.
Tim Brown: Brian, thank you again, and to your listeners, for having my today as a guest. I really appreciate that. Very grateful.
Brian Watson: Well, to our guests, thanks for listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We would love to have you subscribe on iTunes or like us on Facebook. If you'd like more information about the Opportunity Coalition, or if you would like to see a schedule of upcoming events that you can attend in person, please visit OpportunityCoalition.com. See you next time.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition Podcast. Today we have Michael Hidalgo, the lead pastor at Denver Community Church. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Hidalgo: Thank you. It's good to be with you.
Brian Watson: Now, Michael, you are not only the pastor of a church but you’ve also recently written a book, and tell our listeners a little bit about what you do at Denver Community Church and your outreach, and then we’ll talk a little bit about the book that you recently released.
Michael Hidalgo: Yeah, well we at Denver Community Church, we just opened our second location. And so we meet in a little place called Wash Park here in Denver, and then we meet right Downtown, steps away from our capitol building. And our heart in that really reflects the heart that our church has for the City of Denver. We really operate with the belief that the church is at its best when we act through the hope and love of Jesus, and so that we become a healing agent in our city. And two locations enabled us to do that better and allows us to connect with more people in more places. And it’s been an amazing, amazing place to be a part of. I’ve been there now a little over seven years. And our whole heart really is about being those who are transformed so that we can be a transforming presence in our city and in our world.
Brian Watson: You know as a full disclosure, I am a member of the church and I have been to both locations. And, you know, the church always hasn’t been necessarily maybe in a growth mode and hasn’t had the outreach that it has. So, Michael, talk to us a little bit about that, of, you know, how long have you been there and how has the church maybe changed over the last number of years?
Michael Hidalgo: Yeah, well when I came it was quite small. And what happened is we began to see people interested in serving our city. And so when I started I was the only staff member, and people would routinely come to me and say, “Hey, I want to work with homeless youth” or “I would like to work with our immigrant population.” And so what I had to do is I knew I couldn’t oversee all of that, so I began to network throughout the city and just find ministry partners, people who were doing great work in the city, and then connect the people from our congregation to people already doing work in the city.
And so one of the ways I’ve really seen our church change over the years is that we’re not doing more in-house. What we’ve identified and what we’ve been able to see is that there’s people throughout the city doing great work. And so we’re able to empower our people to go and pursue their areas of passion and their areas of ministry to which they have been called. And we’ve also seen in that time a lot of growth, a lot of new people come. Our staff is now 17 people, so there’s been a lot of changes with that. But I think the exciting thing for me is who we’ve been at our core has always been the same, and our heart is really to be those who model our lives, who pattern our lives after Jesus, which means that we’re always doing everything we can to understand God’s heart for this world and pursue that.
Brian Watson: Well let’s talk about that concept of, you know, being “called.” My gut tells me that maybe you didn’t always think that you were always going to be a pastor. Maybe you did. Kind of talk to our listeners about your personal history and journey and that concept of being “called.”
Michael Hidalgo: Yes. So I grew up in a Christian home. I was in church, as people have said, three times a week, so Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. And really, honestly, I had this thing from an early age, I just never really bought into it. I was not interested in Christianity. I was not interested in religion. My family moved. My parents moved from New York to Michigan in the middle of all of that. And so I really saw two different cultures, two different ways of doing churches or doing church, which confused me further. So by the time I was in high school I really cared about very little with regard to the church and brought that attitude into college. But in all of that the one person I could not get past was Jesus.
Philip Yancey, in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” says that we see people in the Bible running to Jesus, and today we see them running from the church. And that was me, running from the church but running to Jesus. And so after college I was a bit directionless and I met a pastor who really -- really, I was able to build a great relationship with. I had a lot of questions. I was really confused. And he just listened. He didn’t judge. He didn’t tell me all the ways that I was wrong. He also, by the way, had a really nice MasterCraft ski boat, which I was more interested in than anything else.
But the more I spent time with him the more I began to see a life that was well-lived and a life that made sense. And as he helped me kind of untangle the knots that were in my heart and soul, I began to think, “Man, I wonder if I could do this for somebody.” And I began to just pursue that slowly. What if this is what’s in front of me? And eventually my relationship with him grew. He asked me to go and teach a group of about 300 students and preach my first sermon. And I was about two minutes into that years ago, and everything began to click, and when I say “click” -- and we talked about this idea of “calling” -- I began to see how I was wired, what I was made to do, and I began to find the thing that gave me life, but not only gave me life but as it gave me life and energy I was able to give that to others.
Brian Watson: Now, do you believe that each person has a calling and a purpose to be living in this planet?
Michael Hidalgo: Absolutely. So it’s interesting, as a pastor I’m frequently asked, you know, “When were you called” or “How were you called to ministry?” And that word “ministry” I think, in some ways, has become toxic because there are people who think for some reason, like if you’re a missionary or if you’re a pastor or if you’re in nonprofit work or if you’re working with some sort of church organization, that somehow you’re like the upper -- in the upper echelons of Jesus’ favorite people. But I think all of us are called. I think all of us have passions that are knit deeply within us. I think there’s this deep sense of we know what we love to do. And I believe that God is one who invites us, even from the earliest chapters of the Bible we see this, God who invites us to work with him to transform this world into what he wants it to be. And so whatever that is I think that those are the places where we find callings.
I have a friend named Pamela, and she’s an attorney. And so there’s all jokes about lawyers. I mean, there’s jokes about pastors, too, I suppose. But I look at her life and what she has done with her work as an attorney in helping those who are unable to access the proper and necessary legal help in our world. She works, for example, with women who are abused. Many of them feel stuck. Many of them feel like they have nowhere to turn. And so she works in the City of Denver with the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic, gives her expertise, her job, to help these women. And it’s not just her work that does it or her job that does it. It’s her calling that she knows she exists to be someone who helps others. Her calling is to give a voice to the voiceless.
And so I think she’s one example of many who aren’t in full-time ministry, they don’t work at a church, but really, really begin to understand their calling that God has placed on them to participate with Him in renewing and redeeming this world.
Brian Watson: If one of our listeners is unsure of their calling or maybe doesn’t know if they even have one or haven’t thought about it, what would be your recommendation to them to explore that idea in their own lives?
Michael Hidalgo: Well there’s a few things. The first thing that comes to mind is there’s an author and pastor named Frederick Buechner who says that “Our calling is the place where our great happiness meets the world’s great need.” And I said earlier that when I was teaching and preaching I began to feel this, like, deep meaning and this excitement and this energy and this joy that came out of me. And what I began to find is that other people resonated with that. And so this calling is what are the things that you love to do, like, if you were never going to be paid for it, you just couldn’t stop doing it. And is that the same thing that other people love to see you do?
So my friend Jess is an artist. She can’t stop doing art, but what she’s done is she’s begun to take that joy and she’s beginning to transform it to work with the refugee population here in Denver. And she’s using it to educate single moms to begin working on projects that really help them reach a sustainable way of life, but she’s doing it through what she loves to do. And so for those who are listening, I would say what do you love to do? Not what your job is. What do you love to do and do you find that people resonate with that when you’re doing it? And if that’s the case, begin to ask questions of how can I do this in a way that’s transformative for others and for this world?
Brian Watson: It’s an interesting, unique paradigm shift when, you know, a lot of people may look at themselves and figure out what do I have to gain, but that idea of meeting the world’s needs and what do I have to contribute, and that’s a completely different perspective. You know, Michael, there are some in the world today that would critique the Christian Church or Christians themselves as being known more of what we’re against than what we’re for, or that the whole lot of people in faith are people that are uneducated or uninformed to the real reality of the world today. What would be your response to that critique on those two different areas?
Michael Hidalgo: Yeah, well, first I think any critique -- actually I’ll say it this way, any fair critique usually carries some weight with it. And so for me, I have learned if someone’s critiquing me I ought to listen. It’s different than blaming you. Blame and accusation never go well. But a critique is “This is what I see, this is where you can grow.” And I think for the Christian world -- and I use that term broadly and I recognize I’m a pastor so I’m kind of like a spokesperson for it in some ways -- I think we should acknowledge that a lot of the critique that we receive from our world is actually warranted.
When there’s been accusations of “You speak in an uneducated way” or one of the things I always hear is “You’re always preaching at us,” talking to the Christian world, and I believe that that is true, because there have been some, and I say some, not many, but some with a loud voice who have presumed to speak on behalf of Jesus and have condemned our world, have condemned people, have told everyone how bad they are. And my feeling is the Church is at its worst when we exist as the moral police of culture. And I think we’re at our best when we exist as a healing agent in our culture and in our world.
And so for those, and I meet many people, who, especially when I tell them I’m a pastor, it’s kind of become defensive, and I get that, because pastors have done a lot of damage over the years. And I know I’ve hurt people. So this is not me pointing the finger. But I think we need to own that. I think we need to teach people what repentance and forgiveness, asking forgiveness and apologizing looks like, and recognizing as much as I’d love to throw other Christians under the bus, these are our brothers and sisters.
So to be able to own that and say, “Yeah, I see how we’ve done this,” but also, then, to take the conversation a step further and begin to listen, begin to see how people view us, and begin to listen to that critique, I think, would be incredibly, incredibly helpful not only for the Church but also for our world.
Brian Watson: Well I would agree with you. And I appreciate your, you know, thoughtful response, because, you know, oftentimes, you know, as a Christian, I think that to be known more for our love and our service to our fellow man, it could be truly transformational, and hopefully that message gets out there.
Michael Hidalgo: There are few things less compelling than starting by telling people what you’re against. I think we should tell people what we’re for.
Brian Watson: Yep. Yeah, in a compassionate, empathetic, and understanding way, that is for sure. Michael, I want to transition a little bit from the Church to the book that you recently released. That has been a journey for you. You’ve been working on that for a while. Talk to us a little bit about that and what that experience was like.
Michael Hidalgo: Yeah, well the book is about the simple idea that so much of what we’re taught in life and what’s subtly taught is we have to achieve, we have to reach the top, we have to do things so that we will be considered worthy. And it’s no surprise that that really has leaped its way into religion from the most primitive time, that we have to make sure that the gods are not angry with us. And so when you look at Christianity you see people that carry that with them. I had a conversation with a guy a few weeks ago who told me, “I would love to go to your Church but I’m pretty sure God would strike me with lightning as soon as I walked in” because he had made angry. And so he thought, “I need to do things to make God happy.”
And so the whole book is about this idea that we actually have the whole narrative backward, that from the earliest story in the Bible, which is the first man and the first woman, when they eat of the fruit that God has told them not to eat from, so they do what God asked them not to do. Instead of God being angry God comes to them and says, “What have you done?” He doesn’t condemn them. In no place does he say, “You’re awful. You’re terrible. You’ve sinned against me. I will now punish you.” But he does say, “Here are the results of what life will be like when you choose what is contrary to what I want.” But the thing I love about the biblical narrative is from that first story, three chapters into the Bible until the very end of the Bible, it’s God’s pursuit of humanity. It’s God continually coming to us.
And that’s what the book is about, it’s about realizing that we are actually worth loving, that we are worth being redeemed. And so I spent a lot of years thinking about that book. I finally had an opportunity to write it. And it was released earlier this year. And as far as the process goes, I think the biggest thing that was a surprise was the anxiety that comes with it. I have a friend who’s an author who said to me, “It’s pretty much like stripping down naked and standing in front of a group of people to see what they think about you.” And there is a sense of you write a book and you put it out there and people are going to tell you if they think it’s good or bad.
And so these are the reasons I don’t go to Amazon and look at the comments and why I don’t go to Goodreads and look at what kind of rating it got. But I really, really began to realize that when you put a piece of yourself out there, when you put everything into something, you really are forced to make the decision of whether or not you’re going to hold onto the outcomes or surrender the outcomes. And on my better days I’ve been able to surrender the outcomes. And if I’m honest, on my worst days, I’ve held much too tightly to them. But it was a great, great experience writing it. It’s titled “Unlost.” And I actually have another book coming out in the middle of next year that I’m excited about titled “The Changing Faith.”
Brian Watson: Wonderful. We’ll look forward to that. Well thank you for sharing that experience. You know, I think a lot of our listeners may have thought about the idea of writing a book one day, and I’m sure it helps to sharpen one’s ideas and thoughts as they go through that process, but it also makes one very vulnerable as well. So I appreciate you sharing that and being candid about that. Michael, I want to transition now a little bit to you, the person, starting with what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?
Michael Hidalgo: My favorite quote is “No man is a failure who has friends.” If you’re a fan of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” you no doubt know exactly where that quote comes from. If you’ve never heard of that movie or if you’ve never seen the movie, you should probably make plans to watch it tonight and then again on Christmas Eve for the rest of your life. But that’s just my advice.
The movie is about a man named George Bailey, if you don’t know, who is really racked with this idea that he’s just worthless, that he’s not worth anything, that he’s better off dead than alive. And the end of the movie -- this is a spoiler alerts, so if you don’t want to hear it turn down the volume -- is his friends basically come to the rescue, and everything that seems wrong with his life he discovers is right because of his friends.
And one of the things that my wife and I have always held very, very central is that relationships are some of the most important things in life, both our relationship with one another, with our children, with our friends. And it’s interesting, in the first chapter of the Bible when God is creating the heaves and the earth he keeps saying, “It’s good. It’s good. It’s good,” and in the second chapter he sees that the man is alone and he says, “Oh, this is not good.” And this is not just about marriage, it’s about the idea that we as human beings are created for community. And for us, we just have really begun to see that even in our darkest moments, in our weakest moments, in our most broken moments, my wife and I look and we see very clearly the reason we have been able to continue to grow, continue to flourish is because of men and women around us who love us deeply. And so that really is my favorite quote, and that speaks a lot about the importance of relationships.
Brian Watson: You know, and I think, sadly, in a lot of society today, you know, we try to avoid those tough moments, those broken moments, you know, as you turn them. But at the same time, you know, I try to encourage people that those are some of the greatest learning experiences you will ever have, not only for, you know, what are your priorities in life but also to have empathy for others. And sometimes when you’re in that valley it’s really hard and it’s really dark and it’s really tough, but at the end of the day, to realize that there’s lessons to be learned there and it’s not something to be swept under the carpet or just to have always a smiley face on, but to really have people around you that you can commune with to get through those times together, so I appreciate you saying that. Michael, what is some of the best advice that you have ever received?
Michael Hidalgo: Best advice, be present and pay attention. And I say that because – and you and I, Brian, have talked about this before, but we live our lives in, I think, often one of two ways. I meet people who live life only ever looking ahead to what’s next, there’s almost this escapism of the present moment where people who spend time before ever given it, always just looking ahead and hoping it’s going to get better. And then there’s people, other kinds of people that I’ve met who live tied to the past, and this is not always the fault of their own. Sometimes it’s because of wounds and abuse that they’ve received. Sometimes if they beat themselves up over a missed opportunity, or they have regret. But I know very few people who actually live fully and completely in the here and now. And I think it’s important and I think it’s the best advice I’ve been given, because all that we’re ever guaranteed is this present moment. And if we tend to the present moment, what I have found is we’ll actually have everything that we need.
We can address our past mistakes or we can address wounds that we’ve been given with integrity and find the courage to go there and recognize that even our greatest agony can be turned into glory. And I think if we understand our present we can also understand where we’re going. So many people talk about where they’re going without knowing where they are, and it’s a really difficult thing to get where you want to go if you don’t know your starting point. And so I think that’s a really important deal.
And the other piece of this that I just read recently is that the more we’re present and the more we pay attention, we actually begin to see our world, and when we see our world we’re able to remember. And it’s interesting, the most frequent command in the first five books of the Bible – in the Torah is the command to remember. And God says over and over, “Remember the Lord, Your God. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” And it’s interesting because studies have shown the more that we remember, the slower time actually goes. And we’re in such a frenetic and frantic society, we’re always dialed into all sorts of things, we don’t want to miss anything, and the irony is, by having that attitude, we seem to miss everything.
And so I’m not naturally someone who slows down and pays attention and is present. I have to work at it really, really hard. But that would be my encouragement to anyone who’s listening is just slow down and be present. And if you want to know, by the way, if you’re doing this well, think of the last time you went out for dinner and ask yourself “Are you able to describe the place you were in and do you even know what your server looked like?” Because most of us, we’re so distracted we don’t even notice little details around us. And I think if we’re present and we pay attention and if we remember, we will be able to recognize where we are right now, which is really all we’ve ever been guaranteed and all that we’re ever given.
Brian Watson: It sounds like a recipe for a more rich and blessed life, that’s for sure, so thank you for sharing that. Michael, I know that you read a lot. And what is one of your favorite or most highly recommended books and why?
Michael Hidalgo: This is easy for me. It’s called “My Name is Asher Lev” by the author Chaim Potok. Chaim Potok was a Orthodox Jew, who, in my opinion, was one of the most brilliant novelists maybe ever, and I might be overstating that. But unbelievable -- had an unbelievable mastery of words. And this book is about Asher Lev who’s the protagonist, the central character, growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. And what he finds from a very young age is he can’t stop creating art. And his father doesn’t want him to just be drawing pictures, his father wants him to follow the tradition and do everything right. And he’s caught in this tug of war to the thing that he can’t stop doing, which is art, but he also wants to honor his father and feels compelled by the world that is creating for him all of these things that he’s supposed to do. And so it’s a liberating book because it’s about his journey toward accepting who he really is down deep inside. It’s him recognizing that it’s not just that he wants to do art, but that he can’t stop doing it because of how he’s wired.
Parker Palmer, who’s an author, says, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to what it intends to do with you,” and that’s really what this book is about. So many of us are living according to all the demands of others, and it’s no wonder so many of us are miserable. And so I think this book is an important message for us, because we try so hard and in so many ways to please all of these people around us. And it almost seems selfish to say that we need to first begin to recognize what we have to offer because if we listen to ourselves, if we begin to hear the voice of God telling us, “This is what I’ve created you to do,” we actually begin to give to others our best self. And too often what we’re trying to give to others is all the things that they need to be pleased, and we realize it’s just a dead-end road. And so this book talks about that in great depth, and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys reading. Even those who don’t enjoy reading, if you read this book you will begin to enjoy reading. I guarantee it.
Brian Watson: You know, Michael, I always enjoy speaking with you. And the answers to each one of these questions, we could talk about for the rest of the afternoon, that’s for sure. I appreciate it. Thank you for sharing that.
Michael Hidalgo: Absolutely.
Brian Watson: Michael, what is your definition of success?
Michael Hidalgo: You know, I just mentioned it earlier, but I think the definition of success is pushing through to really discover who we are created to be. And I really, truly -- it’s not a fatalistic thing. But I could talk about moments and high points and all these things, but it’s interesting to me, the most compelling people in our world are not the ones who’ve always been the most successful by cultural standards of our day. You look at someone like a Mother Teresa, she had nothing, but at the same time you look at her work and you go, “This is someone who understood and lived out of the heart of God.” And so I think if we begin to tend to that, if we begin to listen to who God’s wired us to be, to begin to understand our gifs and our talents and our passions and our abilities, and they can converge in such a way to serve our world well, that, to me, is success.
There’s a guy here in Denver named John Hicks who runs what he calls “network coffee,” and it’s really a haven for the chronically homeless. John’s been doing this for three decades. If you were with him, he’s not -- doesn’t have a ton of degrees. By all measures -- normal measures of success he doesn’t have any of it, but when you’re with him, you’re so compelled by the way that he loves those who would deemed oftentimes unlovable or those who would be called the least of these. And when I look at a guy like that, I say, “That’s success. That’s someone who understands what it means to actually begin to look outside of themselves and not try to achieve and get to the highest point, but really engage the heart of God for our world.”
Brian Watson: Very interesting. Thank you sharing that. That’s interesting. You know, I think everybody has their different views and there’s that worldly definition of success that I think, unfortunately, leaves a lot of people, you know, wanting through their lives. And then there’s this idea of, again, loving and serving your fellow human being and see what that entails. It’s a different path and I think a more rewarding path.
Michael Hidalgo: Absolutely. Let me add one thing to do that, if I can. When I was 24 years old I was brought into a church where I was thrust onto a stage speaking to 6,000 people every week. And so it was like -- I mean, as a pastor, like, that is the high point. Like, that’s the apex. And so I started, like, at the top, which is always a bad place to start. But one thing I’ve learned, even in that height of success, so to speak, is it will, as you just pointed out, Brian, it will always leave you wanting. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And the only place I could go from there was down, and that’s actually where I’ve discovered true life, is not in ascending the ladder but in truly imitating Jesus who, even though he was God, made himself nothing, as the Apostle Paul says.
Brian Watson: Well it’s like you said earlier, you know, are you living your life in the future or are you living it in the here and now? And to realize that that’s what you have and how are you going to make that impact in someone’s life today, and I think that’s so crucial and important. Thank you for that. Michael, what do you believe is the biggest challenge or threat facing our country or world today?
Michael Hidalgo: You know, I think it’s our inability to simply just listen to other people. And that sounds really, really simple and, like, “Oh, come one, there’s bigger things.” But I have a friend who’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. And when I say that, he doesn’t just listen, but he has this thing. Like, everyone I know wants to spend time with him, and it’s not because he’s famous. It’s not because he’s accomplished a lot. It’s because he’s somebody that when you’re with him, you really, truly begin to feel like you are the only person in his world. He empathizes. He understands. He carries burdens with people. And he’s one of those people, I always joke with him, like, everyone wants to tell him their darkest secrets because something about him screams, like, “I’m safe. I’ll hear you. I’ll listen to you.”
And I often wonder, like, what if our world, like, what if our world was filled with people like that? Like, how would we respond to some of the crises of our day in some of the poorest places in our world? What would conflict look like? What would politics look like if you had people from opposite sides of the aisle with different opinions who simply weren’t waiting for their turn to talk, but really wanted to hear from the other side? And it’s not cheap in the sense -- like it’s not just agreeing to disagree, but it’s truly looking at people in the eye, giving them time, hearing from them, interacting with their story. And I think when we can listen to others and we’re truly taking in what they’re saying, we lend them dignity, and I think in the end all people really want at the end of the day is to know that they have dignity. And I think listening is a first step toward discovering the humanity in others. And when we can hear and see the image of God in somebody else, we’re all image-bearers, that is the first step toward ending conflict. Not that we’ll all agree, but actually just beginning to treat others with that kind of dignity.
Brian Watson: Well I think, you know, in talking in terms of human dignity and service and coming alongside people and empowering them, you know, those are principles that you wish that not only were in our communities but as, you’re right, this is the highest levels of political office throughout our country and how transformational that could be versus people just focusing on themselves. And so very interesting. I appreciate you saying that. Michael, who are some of your mentors, whether living or historical?
Michael Hidalgo: Well I’ll start with historical, and that’s Johnny Cash. I don’t know if he -- where he'll go down in history. But the thing I love about him, and always have loved, is he had a deep and real love for Jesus and was also able to hold onto this reality of, like, I struggle and messed up, like I’m simultaneously a saint and a sinner. There’s a line from one of his songs called “The Wanderer” where he says, “I went out there in search of experience, to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents.” And he was somehow always tethered to the heart of God, and he was so honest about his struggle that it was just refreshing to see that kind of life. I would -- I can’t wait for the light to come to sit down with him for a few centuries and just hear stories, because I’m sure there’s a ton.
And then I would say living, there’s a guy named Ed Dobson. Ed was a pastor in Grand Rapids who gave me my first job. He’s currently dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. And Ed has taught me more about life, about love, about humility. I call him my spiritual father. And I’ll give him a little plug. If you want to learn more about him you can go to edsstory.com. He is one of the most compelling human beings I know, and I’m forever grateful that I can call him a mentor and a friend.
Brian Watson: Michael, what is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you, your books, or Denver Community Church?
Michael Hidalgo: Well the Church, we have the simple website of denverchurch.org; they can learn more about the church there. I do have a website, it’s michael-hidalgo.com, and that’s important because all joking aside, michaelhidalgo.com, I found out the hard way, is a lingerie photographer. So make sure to put the hyphen between Michael and Hidalgo, michael-hidalgo.com. And then if you Google on Amazon my name, my book that I released, “Unlost: Being Found by the One We Are Looking For,” is there. And my new book, which is coming out in May, has just hit Amazon, and I believe it’s available for preorder, that’s called “Changing Faith: Questions, Doubts and Choices About the Unchanging God.”
Brian Watson: Well it’s amazing the difference that one little hyphen can make in the world; right?
Michael Hidalgo: Yes, it is.
Brian Watson: So pay attention to that. Michael, what is some parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Michael Hidalgo: I would say don’t take yourself too seriously. And I say this because in my experience it’s often all the wrong things that cause us to think that we’re a big deal, whether that’s money or our title or position or our Zip code or the things that we own. And none of those things ever matter because no one on their deathbed, to my knowledge, has ever said, “Man, I wish I had had a nicer car” or “I wish I had closed that sale” or “I wish my net worth was double.” Like, when you’re on your deathbed, no, we want to be surrounded by friends and family and loved ones. We want to know that our life mattered and that the world’s a bit better because we went through it. And so in the hard times we wake up to those things. And if we take ourselves too seriously I think that we’re going to miss all the things that really matter. And so laugh a lot. Be with people who mock you, who tease you in a loving way. And just remember, like, at the end of this we’re image-bearers. We’re human beings. We’re created to live a life of joy and peace. And if we get too serious about ourselves we’ll miss all of that.
Brian Watson: Well, Michael, I want to thank you for participating in the Opportunity Coalition Podcast today, and also for the positive transformational work that you do in the community. I know that you and the Church are affecting many lives and people that you’ve never even met before. And, you know, my family told me a long time ago, you’re very blessed if you’re able to affect one life, and if you can affect more than that, that’s wonderful, but focus on the one. And I think that you have done that and the work of you and the Church and the books that you’re writing are definitely their impact in our community. So thank you for that.
Michael Hidalgo: Well thanks for having me. It was fun to be with you.
Brian Watson: Wonderful. Have a good day.
Michael Hidalgo: You, too.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition. Today, we have Gary Rosberg, the Founder of the Rosberg Group and America's Family Coaches.
Gary, welcome to the show.
Gary Rosberg: Brian, thanks so very, very much.
Brian Watson: Tell us a little bit about – you have two different hats that you wear from time to time that are connected in some ways. But tell us a little bit about your organizations and what their focus is.
Gary Rosberg: Well, thank you. Just in 2014, Barb and I launched a for-profit group called the Rosberg Group, www.therosberggroup.com, and we both do coaching for executive couples and their families, including multi-generational families. And so we partner with men and women that have been incredible and successful in the marketplace, and yet what they really desire to do is to help deal with the transitions of their life, to win with their adult kids and the next generation, and to strengthen their marriages.
One couple we worked with recently went overseas to see them at their European office, as well as their U.S. office. And they just said, you know what, we're just in our, whatever, 50s, 60s; we're getting ready to move into the latter phases of our life; and we have done incredibly well financially. But what we want to do is make sure that we button down the right toolbox for a strong marriage and family.
And so Barb and I are their coaches. So we do intensives, and we'll spend a few days with them, usually at their home or a place that they bring us to, and spend a couple of days digging deep, and loving on them and encouraging them and coaching them and assessing what's going well and where they need to sharpen their serve. And then over the next year or two at least monthly interact with them through videoconferencing for a minimum of 90 minutes at a time and coach them up and come alongside as their marriage and family coaches.
So primarily, Brian, they'll have executive coaches and financial coaches and attorneys and all sorts of different experts speaking into their lives. But what Barb and I want to do is to really bring the breadth and the depth of a strong marriage and family, and so we're absolutely humbled to get to do that.
Brian Watson: With regard to that, was there a particular experience or situation that caused you to create this, I mean to see this need that you're trying to build?
Gary Rosberg: Yeah, that's good, Brian. I did 25,000 hours of marriage and family therapy in the '80s and '90s. And then we began writing books and doing syndicated radio and speaking nationally and internationally. And so I've got a clinical background.
My wife is -- you met her briefly when we were at the C Lazy U Ranch -- and she is the greatest exhorter I've ever met. Whether it's kids or elderly or people in Malaysia or Singapore or Africa or people all around the world, Barb Rosberg is deeply loved; and she loves people. She's a (inaudible) person. She coaches people up.
Two different people, a friend named Dwight Bain from Orlando, who is the Executive Director of the International Christian Coaches Association, and then our mutual friend, (inaudible) Baldin, both came to Barb and I, unbeknownst to each other, and said, as we step in this next phase of life, of influence, continue to win in the big with radio and conferences and the things that we love to do through our non-profit.
But they both said, if the two of you took the training, which we did, and became executive coaches for couples and families, you wouldn't have a large number of families, but you could go deep with influencers. And bringing Barb's exhortation and encouragement and my coaching and counseling background, and so we're coaches. And that's also the name of our non-profit, America's Family Coaches. So it really was kind of a conversion of our giftedness at a stage of life that will also help us when we work with folks to contribute and help fund the work that we're so passionate about with our non-profit.
Brian Watson: Now, I think there may be a perception in our society that the more successful a couple may become financially, the more pressure that may occur on their marriage. Do you believe that's true from the work that you're doing?
Gary Rosberg: Yeah, I think it is, keeping in mind that the couples we work with are incredibly motivated. And they are very, very successful. And yet I think the further we go up the ladder – there's a famous pastor down in Dallas, his name is Chuck Swindoll. And in one of his books 20-25 years ago, he had a chapter called The Lonely Whine of the Top Dog – so The Lonely Whine, w-h-i-n-e, of the Top Dog. And I'll never forget that chapter, Brian. Essentially, when any of us earn our way or are thrust into an area of leadership, there are times when that is lonely.
And so when we can have people in our life that -- your audience doesn't know my style on this – but the thing I'll often say at men's events and at couple's events is, Surround yourself with some guys that aren't impressed with you. And it doesn't mean they don't honor you and respect you.
But you know what, Brian? We all need guys that love us enough and develop friendship and walk with us that are not just going to tell us what we want to hear. And within the marketplace, it's easier to lean into people that have got a dog in the fight. They'll sometimes tell us what we want to hear. And so that's where the work of, in our situation, executive marriage and family coach that is committed to one thing. And that is strengthening and helping that executive sort through life. Help him or her sort through – okay, I've done it great in the marketplace; I've been successful. But I've got unique pressures sometimes that I didn't have when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I'm experiencing them now at these levels of significance.
And so I think there are some pressures. And sometimes it's just people wanting a safe place to unpack and to experience and experiment and just say, let's take a deep breath because we want to have a strong impact and influence in our family and our family legacy.
Brian Watson: When you look at marriage counseling and/or coaching and people coming alongside – and I love how you use that expression, I use that a lot in my conversations in things that we're trying to do to have a positive impact on society – but I think a lot of people assume that if you're going to have a marriage coach, then maybe there must be some issue that you're having, and that's why you need to go and have this. But it sounds like a lot of your work is strengthening and developing and being more proactive than necessarily reactive. Is that a fair assumption?
Gary Rosberg: Yeah, Brian, that's a great insight. In our material, in our website stuff, we say not everybody needs a marriage therapist – although I've been trying to find a good one, not for my marriage but for myself, for years. But we all need a coach, and so Barb and I demystify that; and it doesn't take long because we lead relationally. And we just climb in with them and just let them know, hey, we're going to speak in your lines and coach you and help sharpen your serve. And we all need that.
One of the highest net worth executives that I've worked with came to me and said, here I've got all the money; I've got all the influence; I've got all the history; I've got everything. But I need some new tools in my toolbox at this stage of life. And that was a great way to put it – I just want some new tools in my toolbox. And so that's what Barb and I are committed to doing is helping equip. And I think we all need that. We all need to be teachable; we all need people around us that will coach us up.
Brian Watson: My wife and I before we got married, we did some premarital counseling through our church. And it's one of the best things that we ever did to really talk about some of those priorities, about putting God in the center of your life and then your marriage and then your kids and all the other things that are on the outer rings. But the most important thing is that relationship with God and also your marriage because that really is that bedrock and foundation.
Do you believe that as a country, speaking about the United States, that marriage – it seems that there is just this onslaught and attack on marriage and keeping those strong. Do you think we are worse off today than we were at any time in our history, or are you seeing some bright lights where people are saying, you know what, this is important and I'm really going to commit to this and to make this what it should be?
Gary Rosberg: My answer is yes, yes. I think in many ways – and this has happened on my watch because, Brian, I've been helping families for over four decades; so it's happened on my watch. Barb and I have sold almost a million resources between books and DVDs, syndicated radio; we've been in radio for 20 years. We've traveled the world, and this is our deal. And so on my watch, it has eroded more significantly, I believe, than ever before in the history of this country.
We were gathering with some of my Board members for dinner the other night, and I just made a comment to a guy on my Board, a guy I'd led to Christ in his 20s; and he's an incredible man of God. And I said, you know, I was doing a video conference in my office last week. It was in the evening, and there were a bunch of men who were on the conference. And I jumped in the car and I was driving home and it was about eight o'clock. And I was driving through my neighborhood, and it's a lovely neighborhood; and I could see big screen TVs flashing in just about every house.
I commented to Steve, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, if Barb and Gary Rosberg were hosting a date night in this community, there would be 700, 800, 900, 1,000, 1,200 people at the event, and everyone would come out of those houses. Today, a lot of guys are either not establishing appropriate margins and boundaries; kids are dictating the pace of the family; husbands and wives are being great parents and not so effective as lovers. People are cocooning more.
There are so many variables, I think, Brian, that are facing off hurried families in the midst of this culture. So a lot of those guys aren't coming out of those houses; and if they are, it's taking the kid to a basketball practice. And so I believe, Barb and I have experienced the top of the influence and impact when there was more of a vibrancy. Yet we still see it in South Africa.
We go to South Africa every year; this will be our seventh year. And when we go there, we'll do sometimes 20 events, 20 events, typically 20 events, all around that great country. And it's almost like living in the U.S. in the '80s and the '90s. People are still coming out. People are still enthusiastic. People are crossing churches and having non-denominational gatherings. People that don't follow Christ are coming to events; and we love to influence there because we're embedding, if you will, the message that God has given us for the last 14 years to teach these teachable people.
So I think it's tougher, Brian. I think it's tougher. And it's tougher for our kids' and our grandkids' generations.
Brian Watson: So if people wanted to take a first step about learning more about having a coach or some of your work, how would they go about getting that information?
Gary Rosberg: Well, they can go to the Rosberg Group; and Rosberg is R-o-s-b-e-r-g: www.therosberggroup.com. And we have a very simple website, and they can learn. We do essentially three things. We partner with couples for a year, but preferably more than a year; so we do it couple to couple. The second thing we do is small group gatherings, and that's where we met you and your wife. We were at a ranch with a friend who had heard us speak at a marriage conference and brought nine of his best friends and their spouses. And we spent three days, I think, with them, doing what we do – just loving them, and speaking into them, and teaching them what we call Six Secrets to a Lasting Love that we believe will strengthen a marriage.
And then we do platform events for corporations, for churches, for cities, and quite a bit with military, such as one of the biggest parts of our non-profit, America's Family Coaches, and in South Africa.
Brian Watson: Well, thank you for sharing that. You're doing good work in strengthening those marriages, and I'm sure you have some wonderful stores to share.
I want to transition now though to you a little bit on a personal level and try to understand a little bit more about what drives you and the impacts you'd like to make. Gary, what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?
Gary Rosberg: You know, Brian, if you had asked me yesterday – if we did this interview yesterday, I would have answered differently. But I was up in the night. Do you ever get up in the night? God is stirring in your heart? And Barb and I have toured with a national artist, a guy named Geoff Moore. And Geoff did a song a number of years ago called Only A Fool. So I got up at about one, and I was up until about three; and I was reading in the Bible. And Paul in his writing to the Corinthians made a statement that is a little bit of an unsettling statement because he talks about those who think that we are wise in the world's eyes many times have to become a fool with our passion for Jesus in order to really grasp the meaning of life.
And so he talks about finding the big in the small. And something is stirring in my heart, Brian. So this is a very – your listeners are the first people to hear it, I guarantee. But it's finding the big in the small. Barb and I, again, we have done all of the big arena events. I've spoken to hundreds of thousands of men at Promise Keepers over 12 years. We've done everything in the big arena of marriage and family in our country and beyond.
But the greatest joy that Gary and Barb Rosberg have is in the small. And so it's coaching these executive couples; and that's our for-profit. But then there are two groups that we get to work with. And one is my wife has designed a storytelling necklace, Brian, that teaches the Six Secrets of Lasting Love that we've been teaching since the year 2000. She designed it for South African women, and they're women from the Zulu tribe. The last couple of years, Barb has placed these necklaces that donors purchased and donated to our ministry to give them to 400 Zulu women in South Africa.
Now, the uniqueness of these women is they're caregivers for double orphan children whose parents have died of AIDS or vulnerable, at risk children whose parents are dying of AIDS. And so I want you to envision stepping out of the city of Cape Town or Durban or Johannesburg and going off into these villages where these kids are starving; these kids have no parents; these kids have experienced sexual abuse and all sorts of pain. And these precious women, they're gogos. So they're grandmothers; that's South African for grandmother. They're aunts; they are just women that care, feed these kids.
And then Barb Rosberg shows up in their life and bestows this necklace upon them in a ceremony with a Zulu translator. And here's where it gets really crazy with the big in the small. Barb texts them every week. So these women, most of them don't have homes. Many of them live on the street, and yet they all have cellphones because that's the only way of communication in Africa. So Barb texts them; it's translated into Zulu.
So when we return each year, my bride is like a rock star with these women. And they can't understand her without a translator, but they love her; and she loves them. And she hugs them and she kisses them on the cheek and she prays over them and she embraces them. And they rush to see her. They wear their tribal dress, and they paint their faces to honor Gogo Barbie they call her. And so we're finding the big in the small, and that's where my wife's greatest delight is.
And then on the other side is for me, we had served military families for eight years; distributed over half a million dollars of our books and DVDs to military personnel worldwide, over 24,000 resources; and now we have become specialists in working with wounded warriors. The big in the small for Gary Rosberg is working with a double amputee; a burn victim; a traumatic brain injury; post-traumatic stress; a soldier, a marine, an airman, a sailor that has been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, is married. 80% of those guys will divorce. And so I'm working with Green Beret couples; I'm working with airmen, and have found this niche. And we've become the marriage coaches for a group called Helping a Hero out of Houston that builds houses for heroes, and then we are their marriage coaches. And also now working with the Green Beret Foundation.
And so, Brian, that's a long answer to your question; but it's amazing to have done – and, again, I give God the glory. We've gotten to do so many remarkable things. So we're spending much of our life in these very, very unique places with executive families; and we love it. Yet I'll turn around and then be with a guy that was at the top of his game when he joined the Green Berets or top of his game when he was a soldier and went off with great intent to help protect our country, and he comes home a different person. And that life and those kids deserve everything we can do for them.
So Barb and Gary Rosberg are finding much of our call in ministering in the small places in order to be found faithful. And not walking away from elevating Christ, Brian, because only a fool would do that. And so we're giving our lives to that.
Brian Watson: Well, Africa is one of my favorite places on the planet. I've been to South Africa, and I absolutely love it there; and I appreciate your work. And as you were speaking, it always is interesting to me that what as humanity we may think is big is probably small to the Lord and vice versa. What we sometimes think is small is what is the most important thing to pleasing Him. And so it's great that you're having that; that is for sure.
What is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Gary Rosberg: I think part of it is, don't give up. I was a freshman in high school during the riots of the '60s in Chicago. My freshman year of high school, I earned 27 "Ds" success and 3 "Cs," had parent/teacher conference student meetings every six weeks of report cards every six weeks. Five thousand kids in my high school; it was chaos; it was mess. And I was playing in a rock and roll band, way in over my head; and my heart was hard. And I was flunking everything, and so every six weeks my parents would face off every one of my teachers, my counselor, and hear how much of a failure I was.
And there was a first-year English teacher, a guy named Mark (inaudible), long hair, loved the Rolling Stones; I loved the Rolling Stones at the time. And he would come into that room – he was 21-22 years old -- slouch in his chair. It drove the school counselor crazy that he would slouch in his chair. My parents would hang on to every word he said because he said, you know what? Gary is doing very poorly in English. Something is going on in the kid's life, but I believe in him. And. Gary, I'm telling you, don't ever give up. And I believe Gary will make it through high school. I believe Gary is going to be successful at some time in his life.
You know, Brian, when we all look back – the Hebrews, when they read a letter, they don't read from left to right; they read from right to left. And so when we read right to left, we get a better understanding of the aha's in our life. And so when I read right to left, as a Hebrew letter, I understand God's sovereignty; I understand his providence; I understand the situations he's allowed me to experience of depression, of loss, of incredible stuff that I've gone through in my life. And I realize that there's purpose in it.
And then you pick out those people that have showed up when it wasn't popular to show up. And this freshman English teacher showed up in Gary Rosberg's life at just the right time. And I was hard hearted towards him; but I tell you, on the inside, I was screaming for someone to believe in me. And I think we all need to recognize those people in our life. We need to be those people in other people's lives and look for the opportunities to celebrate those that have done it for us.
Brian Watson: Yeah, I believe that's so true. I've had the opportunity to be a mentor in what we call Save Our Youth, which is an inner city mentoring program. And it's the idea of coming alongside and investing in another life and believing in that life and having an impact. And so I actually believe about those moments; that's so true.
Gary, what is your personal definition of success? You obviously spend a lot of your time around very successful people from a worldly perspective and in other areas as well. But in seeing all of that, what is your definition of success?
Gary Rosberg: I think it's living well and finishing strong, Brian. If I write you a letter or chat with you on the phone or whatever, invariably I will close it with the three words, "Guard your heart." And I did a book on that years ago; it's from Proverbs 4:23. And when Solomon wrote it, here's what he said. He said, "Above all else, guard your hearts towards the wellspring of life." And that verse is the key verse in my life that I live by.
And I think if Gary Rosberg is successful at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I will have guarded my heart. And that means guard my heart from temptations, from power, from control, from negative emotions, from resisting the integration of the public man and the private man. Because I believe the more we are integrated with who we are when nobody's looking, which is our character, then we are pleasing to God; and we can help imprint and encourage other people. And so that's really, at the end of the day, how I would define success: He guarded his heart.
Brian Watson: That's very powerful. Thank you for sharing that.
Gary, what do you believe is one of the biggest challenges or threats facing our country or world today?
Gary Rosberg: Well, I think it really connects, Brian, to what we just chatted about. It's the hardness of the heart. And we get hard hearted because we're hurt; we get hard hearted when we're betrayed; we get hard hearted when we're deceiving ourself; we get hard hearted when, quite honestly, we believe our press clippings. Up close and personal – and I've worked with Nashville artists and famous sports people and heads of state, of governments – and when you get up close and personal and you peel that stuff away, I mean, it really is true. We're just a man; we're just a woman; we're just a person trying to make sense of our lives and make a difference in other people's lives.
And I think when we give ourself to a hardened heart, Brian, that's when I think it's the biggest risk to being used and to use the breath and the life that we're given by God every day because he numbers our days, I believe. And I think that's the biggest risk; it's becoming hard hearted and isolating, deceiving, controlling, disconnecting, having a dislocated heart.
And when you contrast that, Brian, the biggest influencers I know are the people that walk with a limp. It's people that have embraced the pain; they have embraced suffering. They have people in their lives that love them enough to tell them the truth. And at some point they realize that their live is not about them; and it's about giving their life away so that you can experience what you thought you already had, and that is significance. And it happens with surrender. It happens with serving. It happens in the small places.
Brian, I don't know if you've ever read Henri Nouwen. He was a famous priest, taught at esteemed colleges and universities, an author and speaker. And he spent the last number of years in Ontario, Canada, in a home for disability. He is defining for me. He and Nelson Mandela are the two guys that I most study today, two men that lived in the big but they ended in the small. And they ended in the small places with gratitude and faithfulness. And it's where people captured something in their lives that we're still reading about today. That's much of what's storied in my heart as I sit and interact with people today.
And people want to do that. They want to make a difference. They want to be useful. They want to be significant. Success comes pretty easily to most of us. But it's significance and surrender and service that I think is when we're at the top of our game.
Brian Watson: I've never heard it put that way: People walk with a limp. And I think being real and true, and I've often thought even in my own world, you see a lot of people that attain success. But they don't attain the significance, and significance is about that service and loving on others and having that positive impact. And it's very powerful some of the things that you just shared for sure, so thank you for doing that.
Gary, if you could make one change in order to make the largest positive impact in the country, world, or within marriages, what would that be?
Gary Rosberg: I can tell you. When my daughters came to me and said, Dad, what do I look for in a husband? My first comment was future income potential; and they would laugh, and I would laugh. I would say, you know, you guys need to take care of me and Mom later. But then they'd say, no, Dad, really, what do you look for? And I think this is – it's the one word, Brian, that if it became epidemic, we would all be better off. And it's two words, be teachable – be teachable.
And Barb came to me one time, my sweetheart – we've been married almost 40 years now – and she said, "Gary, you are the strongest man I've ever met."
And I looked at her and I said, "Is there a second part to this comment?" And she said, "Yes."
And I said, "Do I want to hear it?"
And she said, "Probably not." And she said, "If you want to."
And I said, "Yeah."
She said, "You're the strongest man I know; but when you get a smidgeon of yourself, you're dangerous."
And I tell you, Brian, only a lifelong mate can speak that boldly into the chest of a man. And she said, "Gary, when you walk with a limp, when you're teachable, when you embrace that frame, when you walk in brokenness and your spirit is open to what the word of God is giving you, to what godly men are speaking into you, when your kids and your grandkids want to spend more time with you than they do with a video game or going to see somebody else because they know that when they're in the room with you, they're the only person in your life, when you're teachable and you embrace that, that's when you're at the top of your game."
And so I think that's what I would pass to you – your great listeners and constituents, Brian, that entrust you with this incredible opportunity -- that we need to be teachable. We need to be willing, like that executive couple I talked about earlier, to say, you know what, Rosberg? We've got it all, but we need some new tools in our toolbox. I love that. I love that kind of spirit, and I'll go to the end of the earth for that guy because he's teachable.
Now, you contrast that with somebody that's not teachable; they become hardhearted; they disconnect. And I think that's when people break down, marriages break down, families break down, communities break down, and the culture breaks down.
Brian Watson: It's interesting the interaction between being teachable and that hardness of the heart. And it's also interesting how the lord will tend to put things in your life to have you be a little bit more teachable, shall we say, whether you want to be or not. So I appreciate you sharing that.
Gary, if you could provide some parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom for our listeners, what would those be?
Gary Rosberg: I think love well. You know, Brian, life is so short. I mean, life is so stickin' short. And having spent 40 years working with people below the water line of life – and I worked ten years in corrections, ran a correctional institution, was a probation officer – spent 20 years doing therapy, and then the last 10-15 years writing books and radio and speaking. But what Barb and I do is we spend our lives below the water line of life; and whether it's with America's Family Coaches, our non-profit, or the Rosberg Group, it's up close and personal.
What I am imploring people to do, including the wife of the Green Beret yesterday on the phone, the young man that emailed me in the night that just came home from a Black Hawk helicopter pilot unit in the Mideast because is his wife is leaving him and it's crumbling; and his commander sent him home to meet with me to speak into his life. And he's just saying, "Dr. Gary, will you help me? I'm reading your books. Will you help me personally?"
And when we hang up this phone, I'm going to call him. And what I'm going to remind him is to love well because life is short. And you know what, Brian? Every one of us, at the end of the day, I think we want to be remembered as somebody that loved well. And we grasped every day that we had; we showed gratitude to God for it; and we loved those in our lives better, with more abandon, with more passion.
I went through cancer two years ago. And the two best friends in my life, virtually every time I see them or talk to them, I tell them I love them. And they say, "I love you, Gary." And these are strong men. But you know what? I'm not going to miss expressing my passion for other people and reminding them of the impact that they're having on my life.
So I think it's to realize life is short and to love well and to express it to other people. People – they need to hear it; I need to hear it; we all need to hear it.
Brian Watson: It's interesting when you were saying that. I think that the world would tell you to live well. And when you remove that "i," just one little letter, and you transition that to "love well," what a positive impact that makes. And so take more of the "I" out of it and focus more on loving others and being transparent, real, I think is very, very powerful. So thank you for sharing that.
Gary, if you could tell the listeners again a little bit about how they can get ahold of you and reach your website, we'd appreciate that.
Gary Rosberg: Yeah, if there's a couple that would like to be stepping into a relationship with Barb and I as their marriage and family coaches, it's: www.therosberggroup.com. And it's R-o-s-b-e-r-g. That's also for speaking; so we do speaking all over through that process.
And then if they're interested in learning more about our non-profit – our books, our DVDs, our work with military in South Africa, the storytelling necklace that now is going to India and New Mexico and indigent areas around the country in the world – that's: www.americasfamilycoaches.com.
Brian Watson: Gary, I want to thank you for your time today. And thank you and Barb for the great work that you're doing in the big and in the small, and having a positive impact around the world and sharing proof.
Gary Rosberg: Brian, thank you. And to all of your listeners who know you – they don't know me, they know you – I just wanted to bless you, Brian, and to encourage all of your listeners to realize the impact and the influence that Brian is having. Because we met on a dude ranch when nobody else was looking, and I was there to serve couples; and you were there with your wife and a colleague, and I think your teenage or college-age son. And we met in a very small place; but very quickly, we began to talk about things that made a difference.
And, Brian, I believe you're tribe is going to increase. You're having an influence and an impact. And for those that have followed you, it was fun to see up close when nobody else was looking, and to hear your passion and your care to reach out to other people. I'm cheering you on, and it's good to be your friend.
Brian Watson: That's very kind of you. You and I only spent a few minutes together, and this conversation here is the longest we've ever spent together. And I was just moved by your work and really appreciate it. It's interesting, I think, oftentimes to be open to those new relationships and meeting people and learning about what they do. And I don't think things happen just by mistake or by chance. I think there's a reason behind it. So again, I really appreciate your time and the work that you're doing and look forward to growing a relationship. I appreciate it, Gary.
Thanks for listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We'd love to have you subscribe on iTunes or Like us on Facebook. If you'd like more information about the Opportunity Coalition, or if you'd like to see a schedule of upcoming events that you can attend in person, please visit: www.opportunitycoalition.com. See you next time.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today we’re honored to have Dr. Dan Feiten, President and Founder of Greenwood Pediatrics. Dan, welcome to our show.
Dan Feiten: Thank you, Brian.
Brian Watson: Dan, if you wouldn’t mind, for our listeners, maybe give us a little bit of a background about Greenwood Pediatrics and how it came to fruition, and what you focus on within the Colorado community.
Dan Feiten: Sure. So Dr. Andy Bower and I came together 22 years ago to create what we envisioned as a more focused approach to primary care pediatrics. We felt at the time that working in teams would allow parents to have the best opportunity to have focus on their children, and in particular children with special needs. And so by combining the concept of team with listening to parents and gathering parents around in focus groups to learn about what their needs are, we were able to come up with a system that, well, nowadays healthcare always talks about working in teams, etc., and I’m proud to say we were thinking about it 20 years ago because it is a system that I think works extremely well.
We have three offices that line the southern aspect of Denver Metro Area in Littleton, Centennial and Parker, and 24 providers, and I have to say that I am extremely fortunate to have amazing docs that I work with. Fortunately they’re all smarter than I am and that makes a huge difference.
Brian Watson: You and I share that with my people that I get to work with as well, that’s for sure. Now you’re one of the largest pediatric practices in the state, is that right?
Dan Feiten: Yes. Uh huh. And I think that I can attribute that to having the right kind of people and having all of those people that are smarter than you. But also really trying to look at what’s happening five to ten years down the road. So out of Greenwood Pediatrics has evolved other companies and we have generally been on the leading edge of technology. So we have another company called Remedy Connect, formerly Pediatric Web, that has developed innovative ways for patients to engage from a technological perspective with their providers. And we were the very first company and the very first practice in the country to use a digital answering service. We were the very first practice in the country to provide a symptom checker on our website. And so it’s been fun because that’s a creative way to look at things and try and meet the needs of families.
Brian Watson: So I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing transitions within the healthcare industry in general, typically over the last year but probably over the last number of years. And it sounds like more and more there’s a transition towards technology and enhanced customer service, but what are some of the more challenging things that you’ve had to deal with in terms of new growth and in terms of meeting the demands of what is needed today versus when you first started the practice?
Dan Feiten: Well, things have changed dramatically, and we have a system here in the United States that there are a lot of people involved, a lot of different shareholders, or stakeholders if you will. And that means you have to get everybody around the table and talk, and that’s very difficult to do, whether it’s the government, or the insurance company, or the provider, or the patient. Everybody has certain needs, and unfortunately I think sometimes we’re not able to put the patient first and foremost. Obviously paying for healthcare is a big issue. And then we have to discover or create ways that the healthcare provider could be scalable. And by that I mean that the personal relationship that a patient or a parent and child have with their personal physician is one of great trust. Most people trust their personal physician, and we have to figure out ways to scale that to be able to provide information that the physician recommends or some guidance, etc. And we’re trying to figure out how to do that through technology in order to save cost, provide better access, and provide a better experience for the patient.
Brian Watson: Absolutely. You know, I get the opportunity to serve on the Colorado Association of Family Medicine, and it’s just fascinating learning that first hand. And granted I’m not a doctor and on the front lines, but I’ve got the opportunity to learn a lot about healthcare in our state specifically. And there’s always this tension between increasing the quality of care and trying to either maintain or hopefully decrease costs over time. What are your thoughts on that because it seems like there’s a definite tension there, and, you know, is there really a solution for it?
Dan Feiten: Well, hopefully the focus on quality rises above most of the other things that we have to deal with. There’s so much that we can do in medicine to improve the lives of patients. But there’s a limit because of the cost. And so the government at this point in time is trying to think about better care at lower cost, and all of us are starting to really think about that, and it’s becoming a group sort of a thing. And I think that that’s good. We’re going to make a lot of mistakes down the road, but I’m encouraged by at least people coming together and thinking about new ways to do this.
Brian Watson: You bet. You know, I’ve always thought the U.S healthcare system being one of the, if not the best, in the entire world. Do you believe that we still maintain that or do you think that that is going in the wrong direction in our system and where things are today?
Dan Feiten: Well, there are, statistically, that depending on what you look at, whether it’s complications in newborns, birth rate-death rate, and everything from the beginning of life to end of life, overall I think people would say we have a phenomenal healthcare system and people have the greatest opportunity to have a better life by being more healthy. We also, though, have a culture that perhaps – I don’t want to say promotes, but perhaps has a lot of things in it that make us less healthy, whether that is smoking, lack of exercise, more junk food for all of us to eat, etc., that are going to affect our life and make our lives “less healthy.” So it’s going to be a balance.
Brian Watson: You bet. What always amazes me is that you can put a label on a product that clearly states this product kills, and people will still want it and crave it, actually, and so you’re dealing with the human element as well, which is always a challenge.
Dan Feiten: Yes.
Brian Watson: So what do you think is one of the greatest challenges facing healthcare today? And if you could make one or two changes that could make the most dramatic impact within healthcare, whatever that might be, what would that be and kind of explain that to us a little bit.
Dan Feiten: I think that we need a high level of transparency. I think that we need to make sure that patients have access to information that has been kept in the background at this point. Healthcare, understanding your body, is difficult enough. Trying to get yourself through the maze or the jungle of the healthcare system is even worse. And so patients have to rely on their personal physician to help them understand their body, but they don’t really have anybody that’s helping them to navigate the jungle of the healthcare system. So we need better ways that the patient, the healthcare consumer, can navigate it more simply. By having more transparency and a better understanding of their costs, of the risks involved, of the options that I have, etc., I think in the end will provide a better healthcare system for the patient.
Brian Watson: Yeah. I would agree with you. And you know, you talk about costs, and one of the critiques of the healthcare system by many is that the patient isn’t really involved with the costs in that they go, and some people may want every test under the sun, and doctors may want to give them every test under the sun just for liability reasons and protecting themselves, but there’s no real competition with the costs and saying well I want to go to this doctor versus this doctor based on cost, or, you know, I have to pay X amount to participate in that. Do you agree with that critique or do you think that’s unfounded and people are getting more educated these days in terms of being consumers of healthcare like any other product or service they may go out and search for?
Dan Feiten: Well, people are becoming more educated, but it’s not even close to being where it needs to be. We’re in the first few years of recycling. We’re in the first few years of when smoking became unpopular. And what I mean by that is that if you look at things like smoking, or recycling, the way that came about was that the kids in the schools learned about it, and they grew up with it, and a lot of times they taught their parents about recycling. Or about smoking, etc. And so these sorts of shifts in our approach to healthcare take many, many years, and it’s actually probably going to be influenced by people who grow up with it, frankly, and I think it’s going to take a long time.
Brian Watson: Yeah. It’s really fascinating, though, when you think about that and it’s the very children that your practice helps to serve as well, and that impact of a child and bringing that into the home and how they grow up with it, and it really will be interesting. I mean, I remember when I was a kid that my parents, we’d drive 65 miles an hour down the road without seatbelts, and the parents were smoking in the car.
Dan Feiten: That’s right.
Brian Watson: And today, you know, that’s almost considered child abuse, you know.
Dan Feiten: Yeah.
Brian Watson: And so it’s really amazing how that’s transformed.
Well, appreciate that about the background about healthcare. I could talk to you about that for a very long time, and you’re so wise about it and I appreciate your comments. But we’d like to transition a little bit and talk a little bit more about you on a personal level. And I’d just like to ask you a few questions. So what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?
Dan Feiten: Lead yourself. I think that in the business that I’ve been in, I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of phenomenal leaders like yourself. I love the speakers at the Opportunity Coalition, by the way.
Brian Watson: Thank you.
Dan Feiten: What I’ve realized is that if you’re going to make a difference, a positive difference, in other people’s lives, you have to take time for self-reflection, for exercise, for personal learning, for sleep, for better diet, etc. And so you have to lead yourself first. And I think that I am not very good at that, and so that’s a constant little mantra in the back of my brain that I continually say, Dan, lead yourself, get yourself in order first if you want to serve others.
Brian Watson: Yeah. That’s very, very wise. You know, I’ve seen that first hand in my own family, and that has been individuals who always thought that they would have their health with them and they’d always just about working hard every day. And when you take your health and some other things for granted, your relationships, etc., then all of a sudden you wake up one day without those and you sorely miss them, and it impacts everything. So that’s some very wise advice.
What is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Dan Feiten: Oh, boy. Again, I’ve talked to a lot of people, but one of the ones that has helped me personally, Dr. Dick Krugman, who is the Dean of the Medical School at the University of Colorado, received some information from his predecessor who said that in the business of leadership, people are often coming to you and, if you will, hounding you about a lot of things. And really what they’re doing is they’re coming to you with a problem and they’re looking for you to be the problem solver. And so when I think about patients coming to me or staff or family or whatever, and you’re always trying to turn that around a little bit and just understand that they’re coming to me with a problem and they want me to help them solve it. And I tell that often to parents in my practice with teenagers. That teenagers, despite their acting out, etc., they don’t necessarily recognize their inner struggles, their inner problems, their social misgivings, etc., and they’re actually acting out because they have a problem and they need a problem solver. And take that perspective and I think that that helps you when you’re communicating with your adolescent to make a difference for them.
Brian Watson: it’s interesting you say that because I’ve always found it a struggle that sometimes people want – they come to you because they’d like to have a problem solver and sometimes people want somebody just to listen to them. And it’s a struggle of do they really want someone to come alongside them and help them or are they just wanting an ear, which I guess, in some respects, is helping solve the problem in general of actually listening to somebody.
Dan Feiten: That’s right.
Brian Watson: So, it’s always fascinating.
Dan Feiten: Good.
Brian Watson: What is one of your proudest professional moments and why?
Dan Feiten: Well, I’ve been fortunate to, you know, be recognized for a lot of things. I have been fortunate that the Department of Pediatrics recommended me for a clinical scholar teaching award which is awarded very rarely, only a couple of primary care docs in the state get that award, so I’m proud of that. But I think the other one is when I was 16, I went to a leadership conference. And the 200 kids there in the state, at the end of the four days they vote on somebody to give them a speech, if you will. And they chose me to do that keynote address at the closing dinner. And so I worked for three or four hours and wrote down a little speech and gave it, and everybody stood up and applauded and cheered and so forth. But on my hour-and-a-half drive home from the retreat, my mom came to pick me up and I told her about it, and she said, read me the speech, so I pulled it out and I read it to her. And when I got done I looked over and these tears were just streaming out of her eyes. And, of course, I didn’t know at that age what was going on, and I said, what’s wrong? And she said through her crying, I think you’re going to be president one day. It didn’t matter to me – I didn’t care about being president – but what she was saying was I believe in you. And I think that – I often think about that situation when I’m meeting with teenagers who are juniors or seniors in high school because they’re looking for people who are important in their lives, whether it’s their parents, or their uncle or aunt, or their doctor, whoever, a teacher who simply can say I believe in you. And I think that’s an important message that we need to give to kids.
Brian Watson: I agree with you 100%. And if more of that was done I think it would be absolutely transformational in society. I got the opportunity to be a mentor and the Chair of the Board for a group called Save Our Youth in town.
Dan Feiten: Right.
Brian Watson: And it’s about 300 adults mentoring 300 inner-city youth, and it’s that idea of coming alongside these kids and doing exactly that, that I believe in you and I care for you. And I think when you do that, it absolutely is a positive, positive impact. And sometimes you don’t even know what those impacts are. And it’s amazing that you sit here today after all of your accomplishments, and the very thing that you think about in terms of one of your proudest moments is with your mother in your car when you were 16 years of age, and that just shows you the positive impact. Well thank you for sharing that story.
We talked about some of the biggest challenges in the healthcare industry, but what do you believe is the biggest challenge or threat facing our country or world today?
Dan Feiten: Well, I suppose we all would say that security is a big issue. Of course I would be biased and say that health is a big issue. But I think really trying to get down to the meat of things, and I’m speaking personally here, but I think what concerns me significantly is that there seems to be a lack of dignity for every human person. And what I mean by that is that our technology now allows us to bash people because we’re not talking face to face. Things that we would never do face to face. But we’ve got to the point where we really don’t respect the thoughts of others. We really don’t respect the plight of others. We don’t respect the way that people serve us, whether it is at the fast food chain, or in our building, or wherever. And so it’s my hope that somehow we would begin to understand that every person is dignified just by their mere existence and humanity and that we would recognize that we are a larger brotherhood and sisterhood.
Brian Watson: I would agree with you. I mean that idea of having respect and love and service to others, no matter their station in life. It is another human being, and I’ve got to personally travel a good part of the world, and I believe at one point America was really a leader in that and I think that you’re right. That technology tends to create a disconnection with people and that has some rippling effects. And I think realizing that whether you’re sitting down face to face with somebody or whether you’re typing an email or doing a post on Facebook, it’s still a person that should be respected and loved even if you disagree with them at times. So that’s very valuable information.
Dan, what’s the best way for our listeners to learn more about you and your organization online?
Dan Feiten: Well, they could visit greenwoodpediatrics.com and learn more about us. They can also learn about our other healthcare technology business, remedyconnect.com or pediatricweb.com. Those are some of the services that we’re providing to try and improve patient engagement and provide technology tools for patients.
Brian Watson: Wonderful. Well, Dan, I really want to thank you for being on the show today, and you’re making a very positive impact in the lives of children and also just your view of the world, and that comes across in that leadership that you’re talking about. I can’t tell you how many people that I run into in the Colorado community who have been patients there of your practice, and it always comes across it’s very highly respected and you’re doing a great work out there in the world. So I really appreciate your time and being on the show, and please keep up the great work.
Dan Feiten: Thank you. And I appreciate the good work that you do to get positive messages out to people, Brian, so I appreciate that.
Brian Watson: Well thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.
Dan Feiten: Thank you.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today, we have Doug Price, the CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS with us. Doug, welcome to the show.
Doug Price: Great to be here, Brian.
Brian Watson: Now, Doug, all of us have not only grown up with PBS, but also seen different shows. But for our listeners, just to make sure everybody is on the same page, tell us a little bit about your station and your programming and what you’re about?
Doug Price: Well, I think most people would know we’ve been on the air here in Denver since 1956, so exactly my age. And generally, we’re the second teacher of Colorado’s children, whether it’s Sesame Street, WordGirl, or other things like that, our forte has to been to be an educational resource for the people of Colorado. That continues to this day, and then it’s leavened by other great entertainments, whether it’s Downton Abbey or our own local shows, Arts District, and The Colorado Experience, the goal is to really help the culture advance, and to be a player in preserving the democracy as we know it.
Brian Watson: Well, let’s talk about how much people are viewing TV and specifically PBS, and you and I got together recently for coffee, and you were sharing some of the statistics that help support that concept of being the second teacher of Colorado’s students. I think oftentimes, people assume, well, kids today are out playing video games, and not really watching educational TV. What is your response to that?
Doug Price: Well, I think that television as a whole is becoming more and more stratified. By that, meaning, there’s a lot of different opportunities and a lot of other channels. But one has to look at the progress we’ve made over the last five years, and PBS, when I arrived, was the 11th network in the country, and it’s back to being the fifth, along with the four majors. PBS is right there with Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC. So we’re back. It’s ironic in a way, when people are thinking all the entertainment is elsewhere, the most important networks in America continue to be the big, locally available networks, that are marked by having local stewardship of the content.
So that’s one thing. I think that from a ratings perspective, we just had the best ratings quarter we’ve had in 5.5 years, led by The Roosevelts by Ken Burns. So the number of people watching television in Denver and Colorado as a whole is stable from the time I arrived in 2009, which is somewhat counterintuitive, when we think of all the distractions and disruptions that have occurred in media.
Brian Watson: Now Rocky Mountain PBS, you obviously serve the Rocky Mountain area, maybe you could outline that for us, but the PBS affiliation in general, kind of walk us through what that looks like on a national scale, and how you receive your funding to put forth good quality programming?
Doug Price: Well, I think there’s two big questions embedded in that one. One is that, in terms of funding, 90% of all funding we receive comes from Colorado. It comes from people like Brian Watson, and your lovely wife, writing a check. Our average donor is about $120 a year. We have 70,000 donors. Corporate support, a variety of other issues. And then the federal government, through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, provides about 10% of the budget we have.
And we spend almost double that getting a signal into every household in Colorado, for kids particularly whose families cannot afford cable, still should be the beneficiaries of the rich educational content we have, and we have a strong commitment to making sure that happens. And so that’s generally where we are, in terms of what public support has been. Right now, our budget is roughly $15 million, and almost all of it is raised right here at home.
You asked the question of who we serve. Although we’re Rocky Mountain PBS, dominantly, we serve the state of Colorado. It is true that currently we go into Wyoming, a little bit into Kansas, Utah, and New Mexico, but our emphasis is on serving the people of Colorado.
Brian Watson: So in terms of your support for the federal government, there have been people who have run for office over the last number of years, who believe the federal government should be out of the business of funding such programming. There’s others who believe that it’s vital and necessary. What is your thoughts and response with regards to those critiques?
Doug Price: Well, I think first off, you have to think about, in the western world, where do we rank as a culture, in terms of the support of public media, and we’re dead last. So the investment in public media in the United States is very limited. I think most people don’t understand that it’s a dime on a dollar for a group like ours. They just don’t get that that’s really cost, they think it’s far more expensive. And it seems counterintuitive to me, in a time when you can have a public-private partnership that can educational opportunity as deeply as we do, that you would think that you would go in another direction. Nobody does what we do.
We’re the non-profit sector, and there’s no other media organization that has the emphasis we do, on providing educational, or arts and culture entertainment for that matter, but particularly the educational realm. Why would you choose to have an enormous cultural facility like PBS, and then not repair the roof occasionally? And that’s really where it is. We have hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, billions of dollars nationally, in the public media assets, and these are vital utilities to help protect the democracy.
If you think about what we just went through, all of public media in Colorado gets around $3 million, $3.4 million from the national groups. You just had an election campaign where well over $100 million was spent. So 3% of that is being invested, if you will, by the government, in a utility that provides a great resource, and fact-based information across the board. So it just seems like you’d be squandering an investment, if you chose to back away from it, so that’s my perspective. I have a good friendship, of sorts, with Doug Lamborn, who’s the key guy in terms of opposing public media, and he’s supportive of what we do, he just isn’t supportive of funding at the national level, and others are.
My point remains, is it’s not the question of the funding, it’s a question of what gets lost without the funding, and my argument is that I’m spending between $4 million and $5 million a year on getting us an air signal to a home on the Western Slope, and to me, I always use the trailer on my cousin’s farm, where the farm family that does the labor for them, exists. And that kid’s not going to get cable television access. To him, the provision of a signal to his house in Montrose County is the key element of helping him bridge from poverty, if you will, to the middle class.
And I take seriously that responsibility, and I hope the political environment will continue to embrace it. There are certain places where you have to invest to get the return that you want. This isn’t expenditure, it’s not something that’s not going to be returned to the American people. Where else? It’s a 10 to one ratio of private investment to public investment. If anybody else gets that elsewhere, let me know, and we’ll work with them.
Brian Watson: Well, I’m glad that you take it seriously, because as you know, I come from a small town on the Western Slope of Colorado, being Olathe, and when I started growing up and watching that programming, that’s when I was in that community, and it’s vital to have that outreach and impact.
Doug Price: It’s funny that you mention, I’ll just interject. That trailer is in Olathe, and I forgot that. Their property is out near Pea Green, so it’s funny that you say that, but I think that that’s really – I grew up in a household that had – I was the first kid, as you know, born into a house that had plumbing. My family’s farm was over there, near Montrose, just up above Olathe and [Boston Park], and decision of government to fund rural electrification had a great impact, on what occurred, and that’s the same thing with us. The ability to provide core services to people who otherwise would not receive them, through fairly archaic technology now of television, but also through a really strong commitment to digital activities, is really important.
And whether you’re conservative or liberal, whether you’re a democrat or a republican, or an independent, I think there are certain investments in the culture that we really have to protect, to make sure that everybody gets a chance at what we think of as the American dream. We’re one of the most traditional and patriotic organizations in America, and I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to think about a small amount of investment creating a great deal of leverage for the American people is valuable.
Brian Watson: Not many people have heard of Pea Green, so you’re after my heart when you bring up that, so thank you for doing that. You come from a background, you’re now CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS, and you were also President of FirstBank at one time, so you have a unique perspective, in terms of how business operates, and how to measure outcomes, and to making sure that you’re having that impact. How do you go about measuring the impact of your programming? Specifically a lot of these communities that are in special need of what you have to offer?
Doug Price: I think you do it in two ways. We really have three distinct segments of programming that are interesting to us, that we think are not being realized in the private sector, the way that they once were. And I go back, fundamentally, to the view that I’m a capitalist at heart, and in the American system of capitalism, you have government, you have commerce, but you also have this incredible role of the non-profit with what we do. And so the non-profit sector is unique in its importance in the United States, in terms of its impact on capitalism. And so what we look at is sort of things, that if you think about the three segments we serve, we are in public service journalism, we’re in arts and culture, and we’re in education.
With respect to public service journalism, we measure our impact retrospectively. We never go into a story choice, we never go into a project in journalism thinking about what we think the impact is going to be. We sort of deal the cards, and let the chips fall where they may, if you think about it. So our view there is a very retrospective look. What did we publish, and what was the impact of that after the fact? And again, we do a form of journalism that is no longer prevalent in the commercial media. Long form, long lead, deep fact-based, almost always data based, oriented.
Losing Ground is a great example of that, which tonight is the night that we expect the Ferguson hearing, the Ferguson grand jury to come out. The Gannett Broadcast Group, led by Channel 9, will have that as the forefront, and so they will use the work we did on Losing Ground, which is a treatment of Black and Latino families, educational and economic prospects in a post-civil rights movement world, as the basis for some of the reporting they do tonight. So that’s an example of something they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
So we measure ourselves by the use of the data, the use of the fact-based information that we create for the broader public. That particular thing was in 104 different publications. It had a life of about, well now, it’s over a year. So that work is valuable, as source material for other reporting, and that’s how we would measure the journalism. What happens once we’ve done it.
With respect to education, we have specific acts we want to motivate. So for example, we’re in the process of starting a campaign to inform people about the resources we have at Rocky Mountain PBS under our digital learning media segment. We have over 80,000 digital learning objects, and the purpose of that campaign will be to get parents and children to access this rich and free educational content, to enhance what they do in early learning, particularly. So we’ll measure that by the number of people that access learning opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and we’re planning for that impact, so we’ll look at a prospective impact there.
With respect to arts and culture, I think we say we measure ourselves by the ability of an artist to sell more, the ability of an artistic venue in Colorado to attract more of an audience, and our view is to support rather than just to criticize the art. That we think it’s wonderful, the creative industry is an important component of the Colorado economy, and what we try to do is make sure we’re supportive of the artistic groups that exist, and their ability to have a favorable impact on the culture as a whole.
Brian Watson: Going back to one of the comments that you have provided, this interaction between government, commerce, and the non-profit world. And I think sometimes, as Americans, we forget that those are three distinct, yet connected, interconnected things in society. And in a lot of other countries around the world, government takes care of this thing of non-profit. This idea of giving. Not in all respects, but in large, to good degree, it’s the responsibility of government. In America, we believe that it’s the responsibility of the people, and to encourage that philanthropy, and that giving.
Do you believe part of that social contract and responsibility has been diminished in some respects, being the ever-changing role of specifically the federal government in American society? That people are abdicating more and more responsibility to those needed things in society, or do you believe that it’s alive and well, and people are giving maybe as they should or could give?
Doug Price: I think the American people are really generous, and if you really begin to look at the per capita role that government plays, it’s not increasing erratically. You had a time where, for each of the past six years, ever since the Recovery Act, spending in government has actually gone down. This is kind of unprecedented, Brian, in the way that employment in government decreased, on a state level, particularly throughout the course of the recession. So that’s not really happened dramatically the way it has in this particular recession, before.
So I think the role of government has actually decreased in a lot of ways, in the recent past, both on a state and national level, compared to where it was. You’ll have a big thing like the ACA or Obamacare that comes to the fore, and people will think that more and more things are being taken care of, but the response to a lot of the problems of the country are still built around having a robust non-profit sector. And so I do think it’s alive and well, and it’s alive and well by measuring both the contributions that people of Colorado give to these non-profits, and the proliferation of non-profits that are looking at meeting it. I think it’s one of the more virtuous parts of American life is that, anybody, irrespective of political background, or even financial ability, has the capacity to affect the lives of a lot of people, by using the non-profit sector as a guide, as a place within which to do it.
Whether it’s churches, I think that again, you see a resurgence of church-based activities, and certainly the parish that we’re in has been revivified by a young priest that is just terrific, and has the congregation really focusing attention on addressing the needs of the neighborhood and the state. So I think it would be dangerous to think the American people haven’t embraced philanthropic giving. Think about Colorado Gives day, and the Community First Foundation, and how swiftly that has grown, with my old bank, FirstBank as its leader, from $5 million or $7 million to who knows, $30 million or $35 million this year is possible, that people of Colorado would give in a single day on the, I think it’s the 8th of December.
I think that, anecdotally and practically, you see great evidence that the American people of all political persuasions are jumping to fill the void that isn’t being filled by government, because that’s not the nature of the system we’re in, that we tend to have government do a few things, and certainly in the healthcare arena, it has had to do more and more, because of its nature, but for a lot of other things, the poor, which suffer enormously, were it not for the non-profit sector, and the arts would suffer enormously, were it not for the patrons that support. Which by the way, has a lot of the artisans at the lower levels of the economic ranks. So I’m actually proud to be part of that. And I know what you and your wife do as well, so you’re party to that idea, too, that charity and philanthropy has a great role in the future of the country.
Brian Watson: It really does. To me, it’s one of the great blessings of life, to be able to give, and I agree with you, that Americans in general, were one of the most, if not the most, giving country, and like anything, it’s something that needs to be learned and developed, and so I’m glad that we have these different programs to help promote that. But I want to transition now, Doug, to you on a personal level. I could talk to you probably all day about what you’re doing at Rocky Mountain PBS, and it’s good work, so thank you for your efforts there, but on a personal level, what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings, and why?
Doug Price: I think that it’s a little bit long, but one of my moments I had, Allan Boesak was with the African National Congress, and this was probably in the mid-1990s or so, right after apartheid had been lifted, and he had been one of the ministers that had served Nelson Mandela. And he was giving a talk at the Macedonia Baptist Church, if I remember right, and I went there for Sunday dinner. And he said, the greatness of a nation is no longer measured by the size and strength of its arsenal. The greatness of a nation is measured by the future it provides its children.
And to me, that was the most telling thing I had thought about, and that began, in some ways, my transition into focusing on early learning as the core civic activity of my lifetime, because of that awareness, as he conclude the quote: The grace of God does not fall like rain from the sky. Instead, it manifests itself in the actions of ordinary people.
For us to have social change, it wasn’t going to be led by government, it wasn’t going to be led by some great charismatic leader. It had to be led by individuals making a cumulative bunch of decisions in the right way. And so, to me, that was the most impactful thing I had ever heard, is that somebody who is as completely ordinary as I am, could have an impact by my own personal actions, and that struck me as a spiritual moment as well, having been led in many ways by a personal relationship with Christ, is how is it going to drive you in directions that will manifest itself in positive change for people, not just in a prayerful appeal to a higher authority.
Brian Watson: Yeah. That’s definitely something you can think about and dwell on for a while. A number of years ago, even in my business at Northstar Commercial Partners, decided that I’d start connecting my passions with my profession, and to figure out, what could I do with my sphere of influence, to help someone’s life for the better. And it really is interesting, when you take stock of your own life, and decide what resources do I have, and it might something as simple as encouraging somebody, by saying a positive word to them in a given day, to investing in somebody’s life and coming alongside them.
So you never know the path that that’s going to lead you down, and it obviously has led you down a very interesting path, yourself. So thank you for sharing that. Doug, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Doug Price: I think the great line is always tell the truth, so you won’t have to remember anything. I can sometimes be more direct and gruff than I need to be, I suppose, but the idea that integrity is the core of what of we do and truthfulness is the key to that, you don’t have much to do otherwise. The other thing was, the advice I give to others, I don’t know who gave it to me, was when you make decisions as a 17-year-old or a 22-year-old, make sure that you’re comfortable with them when you’re 50. Ask yourself that question all the time.
Brian Watson: That is interesting. Well, you know, telling the truth, so you don’t have to remember what you said, it would be nice if more people in society would use that, that’s for sure.
Doug Price: I think that’s a Mark Twain line, if I remember correctly.
Brian Watson: I think you’re right.
Doug Price: Whoever gave me the quote, I was like, yeah, I like that. It makes sense to me.
Brian Watson: It really does, it really does. What is your personal definition of success, Doug?
Doug Price: I really look at success in sort of three tranches, and I think the commercial component is the least of them. One is to be at peace with your family and your god. Two is to enjoy your day, to like the pace and the activities that you have in the day. To like the contribution you’re able to make as a result of that. And then finally, I think that financial and stable success is valuable. Really, I think if you don’t take care of your family issues first, if you don’t take care of your spiritual life first, it’s highly unlikely that the other components of life will be successful.
Brian Watson: Yeah, it’s very interesting. And I think sadly, at times, we all invert those, where we make that financial success or whatever it might be the highest priority, and I think that that’s a fallacy, and if you don’t have your relationships and your health and your peace about you, you can’t be very productive in some of those other areas.
Doug Price: I look at the Millennial, my kids are Millennials, more or less, I think. And I look at what they do, and I think they tend to have their priorities in the correct order. And spirituality doesn’t have to be in a dogmatic relationship with Christ, or Judaism, or Islam. I think to lead the spiritual life is possible without strong religious beliefs. Simply to understand that there is a higher purpose in what we do, and to be attracted to always being a part of that, whether we’re a successful business leader, or a media, non-profit manager, or somebody just laboring as an artisan or in the crafts. I mean, it’s the same thing, is that we all have contributions to make, and we should be led by a higher calling.
] Jim Wallis, who’s an evangelical minister out of DC, says before you can reach common ground, you have to reach higher ground. And I think that in our lives today, particularly when you watch some of the activity in the political realm, and the advertising and other things, it doesn’t feel like anybody is in it for higher ground, and if that as a culture is what we want to do. And we seek to do that every day at Rocky Mountain PBS. It’s certainly a secular world that we live in, yet we always try to say, what is higher ground for the culture? What are the things we can do to defend the democracy, in a sense that is potentially vulnerable to increasing money spent to give ways to occasionally extreme views. What is it we could do to preserve the culture that is part of the fabric of the American way of life? And so I think everybody that’s in the building, all 84 of our employees, think when they come to work that we’re serving a higher purpose than we would have in other lines of work.
Brian Watson: Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re in pursuit of higher ground, because sadly, there’s some programming out there that seems like they’re in pursuit of the base nature of humanity, and lower ground.
Doug Price: It’s a funny deal, Brian, because I think that if you compromise your standards, then I think that you can lose ground, and when I look at what we’ve done, we’ve gone from being the 11th network to the fifth, I think a lot of that is the quality that we deliver every day. We’re not afraid to talk about the current events of the culture, so it’s not like you’re avoiding the things that are controversial, that we refuse to talk about the legalization of marijuana or something. No, we have to be in the culture that we serve, or we’ll be gone.
Some people can do things from an ivory tower, but we prefer to think of ourselves as Mother Theresa like, in the sense of being in her order, and being the muck of – slums of Calcutta. We have to be in the culture to serve the culture. But I think we are able to provide a level of aspiration and education to the people of Colorado, that is distinctly different from some of the others that are strictly in pursuit of a more base audience. And so, I get that. That’s why our guys like coming to work every day.
Brian Watson: That’s wonderful. So what do you believe is the biggest challenge or threat facing our country or world today?
Doug Price: Just throw out a little question there. I think to an extent, the culture is being stratified, into tribal groupings. When we look at Africa, some of the struggles they’ve had with tribalism, some of the countries that have a more nationalistic sense are more successful. So on account, you look at that. And I think there’s this idea of getting into really smaller and smaller groups is a dangerous one. I worry about that a lot. We have fewer and fewer common experiences through media. That when you look at the campaign we just ran, so much of it, I was saying, in a culture where the Supreme Court has said that money is speech, you have to have places where speech can’t be bought by money.
And I think that we find ourselves in that position, where we’re at risk of having fewer and fewer groups, have more and more to say, about the future of what we do, and I think that’s where something, an organization like Rocky Mountain PBS comes in. And we have 70,000 individual contributors to what we do. I went through this with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it’s incredibly balanced in terms of the political perspectives that we have. It’s incredibly balanced in terms of the ethnic groups that donate to us. It’s incredibly balanced, frankly, in terms of the economic willingness of people of limited means to contribute, as well as those with significant means to contribute.
And so we think of ourselves as an institution that has to fight this idea of tribalism and stratification. That we have to provide emotional events through the programming we create that unify the American people into a purposeful view. And it’s not that we have to tell them what they should think. On the contrary, we’re never going to be in a position, we’re never advocates, but we’re only conveners. And so our role to be a safe place, where the important conversations of the day can be, is really something that is significant and important to our team, because I do think that otherwise, you have this feeling that everybody is in a group of five, and then we’re going to fight to the end to battle for our interests, as opposed to the shared interests of the culture, and of the democracy.
Brian Watson: Doug, I don’t know if you remember or not when we first met, but I was a young freshman, going to the University of Colorado, and had the opportunity to be in the President’s Leadership class, which you were involved with, and thank you for your service there. But you know, at the President’s Leadership class, we talked a lot about building common ground and empowering others, and how to use your skill set. And I agree with you, that as technology has increased over time, in one way, it’s been very empowering, in another, it’s also been very limiting, in terms of people going into these subgroups, and specifically extreme subgroups, which is unfortunate. And I think those are things to be addressed and to be looked at. We’re one community, and to try to create those relationships and bonds is just so vital and important to our future. So thank you for sharing that. But if you could make one change, in order to make the largest positive impact in our country, world, or your business or industry, what would that be?
Doug Price: Another light question. You know, you have to look at what is going to have the most impact, right? And what is clear to me is the earliest stages of human life are the ones that are worthy of the greatest protection and support. And so, if I were the emperor for a day, I would really ask the culture, the society, the democracy, to pay closer attention to the needs of the youngest children amongst us. That we have done things for economic reasons that are useful, in terms of the way parents work, the participation of both parents in the workforce is something that is remarkably different than it was when I was born, and even when you were born, knowing that you’re 20 or so years younger than me.
The world in 1956, when I was born, is radically different than today, when we had – in 1956, you had about one in nine women in the workforce, post-World War, they had gone back during the war, but they had settled in, in a pretty traditional view, and so kids had a lot of adults that were paying attention to their lives and supporting what they did, and I think the resulting impact was really favorable on our economic prospects. You took kids who had loving parents, and contributed a pretty good education through the GI Bill and other things, and all of a sudden, we had this period of great robust growth.
And so I worry today, when roughly 70% of women work, and you have a great number of people in the workforce, and too few people paying attention to the early learning care stream, that’s an area that I think I would change. And obviously, I spend a lot of my adult life working on that area. To me, that’s the most important area of investment and attention the culture can pay, is to kids, before they’re the age of six and hit school. At that point in time, we have this investment curve that Jim Heckman has popularized, the Nobel-prize winning economist out of the University of Chicago, where 90% of the brain growth occurs before a child is six, but only 10% of the investment occurs in roughly the same period of time for those kids, and that’s something I think we have to think about as a culture addressing.
And the good news is, in a time in Colorado, or in a time, nationally, where we’re polarized between the parties, both parties, I think, generally can default to having an appreciation for young kids, and helping to act on them. So maybe this is an area, in the next two years, we can pay a lot of attention to, and have both parties say hey, if we disagree about a lot of things, at least we can agree that young kids deserve the best we can give to them, and figure out a way to make that system more functional, and that outcome of early childhood more favorable for these young kids.
Brian Watson: Very true, very true. The younger you can start, the better, to have that positive impact. Doug, what is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you and your organization online?
Doug Price: We’re easy. You think about it, you just go to RMPBS.com, and we have an enormous staff. We’re probably the best, of the people that you had an opportunity to interview, we probably have the best online presence of anybody, because that’s what we do. So if you go to RMPBS.org, it tells a lot about what we’re doing, and what we’re about. You can look me up on Twitter, and follow me there, as well. So it would be fun to have folks be part of it. But I think we were one of the few institutions that really authentically embraces people from all walks of life, all economic resources, all political perspectives, to come together and form that great public square that is Rocky Mountain PBS.
Brian Watson: Well, Doug, I want to thank you for your time today. I also want to thank you for your heart. You obviously have a heart for the community, and you have a positive impact in your role as CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS, so thank you for that, and please keep up the good work.
Doug Price: Brian, thank you so much, and best of luck to you, as you continue your own endeavors.
Brian Watson: Thanks for the listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We would love to have you subscribe to these podcasts for free on iTunes, or like us on Facebook. If you’d like more opportunity about the Opportunity Coalition, or if you would like to see a schedule of upcoming events that you can attend in person, please visit OpportunityCoalition.com. I hope you have a great day.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition Podcast. Today, we have Tommy Spaulding, President of the Spaulding Companies, and New York Times’ best-selling author of "It’s Not Just Who You Know." Tommy, welcome to the show.
Tommy Spaulding: Thank you, Brian. Glad to be on the show.
Brian Watson: So Tommy, for our listeners who are not familiar with you, tell us a little bit about what you do at the Spaulding Companies, and then we can dive into your book and your speaking engagements.
Tommy Spaulding: I’m on a speaking circuit full-time. I wrote a book five years ago, or almost five years ago, and doing that, it’s an honor to share my message around the world, and to corporate America. I do some consulting and some coaching, but my main passion is really working with leaders, and teaching them how to be heart-led leaders.
Brian Watson: You know, I read your book, It’s Not Just Who You Know, and you’ve had a very interesting beginning to your career. It’s not something necessarily you have planned, but you were there at the right time, and took advantage of those opportunities. But there’s a real common theme. It’s about connecting with people, and where that leads you. Talk to us a little bit about that.
Tommy Spaulding: You know, we live in such a transactional world, and a selfish world, and people always want something from somebody, and I just think that the best business leaders, the best organizations, the best sales teams, the best managers, the best friends that we have are when you build relationships that are pure, that are authentic, that are genuine, that are vulnerable, that are giving. And not so transactional. And so the book that I wrote, published by Random House, is really a testament to the power of building authentic genuine relationships in your professional lives and your personal lives. If you can build those types of relationships, they’ll transform your organization, and transform your relationships.
Brian Watson: Do you believe in society today that we have become more transactional and disconnected, because of things like technology, or do you think we are more connected than ever before, but it needs to be in a more intentional meaningful way?
Tommy Spaulding: Yeah, I guess there’s two sides of that coin, but I’ll pick the tails side, and I think we’ve become more transactional as a society, and I think the Internet has actually changed that, because we text, we email, we send notes, we do everything electronically. And when was the last time you wrote a handwritten note? And when was the last time you got a handwritten note from someone in your mail that just shared their heart about how they feel about you? Just that personal touch is just lost with technology. And so I believe we need to have a revolution to get to back to the old ways of building authentic relationships the old-fashioned way.
Brian Watson: Now, before you launched Spaulding Companies, you were an interesting career with Up With People. Would you mind talking a little bit about it?
Tommy Spaulding: Sure. For those listeners that don’t know Up With People, it’s an incredible worldwide leadership organization, one of the largest leadership organizations in the world, and it was founded in the ‘60s, and the mission was to bring young people from all over the world, usually 18 to 25 years old, and in different religions to different political beliefs to different socioeconomic classes, I mean from all over the world, every walk of life, they bring these young people together for a year, and you travel all over the world, living with host families and doing community services. And then they stage this two-hour musical show, which is really about building relationships with people that are different than you, and building relationships, and building bridges of understanding among cultures and religions.
And so when I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t really destined to college because of my grades. I have dyslexia, and really struggled academically in high school, so I wasn’t really going to go to any really prestigious college. So I didn’t go to college when I graduated high school. I joined Up With People at 17 years old, and I spent pretty much nine years of my life, in my 20s and 30s, working on and off with Up With People. I eventually did go to college and get a business degree. And then 25 years after I was a student with Up With People, I became the CEO and President of Up With People, and ran that worldwide organization for four years.
And Brian, much of my message about love in the workplace, and about authentic relationships, about changing the world, and having a heart for serving others, with the bottom line results of building profitable businesses, really came from my experience traveling to 60 countries with Up With People, and living in Europe, and living in Asia for two years, and living in Australia for two years, and living in Europe for 2.5 years, and traveling the world. It really impacted my heart for serving others.
Brian Watson: You know, you bring up an interesting concept, about showing love in the workplace. What do you mean by that? I mean, do you think that is something that actually occurs in society, and do you think it’s well-received?
Tommy Spaulding: Yeah, you know, there’s always these buzzwords that are in our business code. When Jim Collins wrote the book Good to Great, everyone talked about the hedgehog concept and the flywheel concept, and people on the bus. And these great authors come out with these wonderful taglines, and the word love in the workplace is a bad word. It’s a word that’s not used in the workplace. And the next book that’s coming out, that I’m writing next year with Random House, it’s called, It’s Who You Are, it’s really all about heart and love in the workplace. And if you’re scared of the word love, because you think it’s more of a romantic word, or love, a word that’s just used for your wife and your children, then use passion, then use care. There’s so many other words to use, but love does exist in the workplace.
And if you look up the word in the dictionary, as my friend Dee Farber likes to say, you don’t see an asterisk next to the word love, and it doesn’t say not applicable 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. The great leaders in America, the great organizations of America, are run by heart-led leaders, that know how to bring love, which is vulnerability, often, to see care, character, integrity, and heart, transparency into the workplace. And organizations that get that are incredibly profitable and incredibly successful, and organizations that don’t get that are going to die, period. They’re just going to die.
Brian Watson: You know, you bring up some very interesting points all through this, and as a leader in an organization, do you believe they inherently have love and passion that they bring, and that helps them to rise to become that successful leader, or do you believe it can be a learned trait that they share, and become an even better leader in time?
Tommy Spaulding: That reminds me of that whole thing, are leaders born, or they’re made? And I’m a firm believer that they’re made. You might be born with leadership qualities, potential, but they’re made. And I think for a leader to become an incredible, what I call heart-led leader, which means you lead from the heart, you have to have experiences in your life that help shape your life, to become a humble, genuine, caring leader, and not lead from a place of arrogance. I think through volunteering, through unique experiences.
Brian, just two weeks ago, I’m writing this book, and I really wanted to research organizations that have been transformed by heart-led leaders, and so my new book kind of talks about all of these companies in America that were billion-dollar companies, that were built by leaders that led with their heart. Interviewing all of these great leaders, but I didn’t want to just do corporate America. I wanted to do non-profits, and I wanted to do schools, and interviewed Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal at Columbine High School. He was the principal during the tragedy back in 1999, when those children were killed in the school, and how he transformed that school a decade later to one of the beacons of life and love and hope, using heart-led leadership.
And so I’ve become addicted to meeting leaders that have transformed their organization through using love and heart-led leadership in their organization. And one of the people I interviewed was a guy named Warden Burl Cain, what a story, Brian. In a nutshell, Warden Cain was hired to be the Warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and everyone knows about Angola. 15 years ago, Angola was the bloodiest prison in America. Number one. More murders a year. They had 600 murders or capital crimes inside the prison. 5,000 people in that prison, the largest prison in America, and by far, the bloodiest. 98% of the people in that prison were lifers without parole or death row. They never get out. And it was the fifth largest – it was the fifth dangerous prison in the world. So it was the bloodiest prison.
They hired Burl Cain, and in 15 years, through love and heart-led leadership, he changed that prison, Angola, to the safest prison in America, and the story that is told there is just unbelievable, what he has done. And if you can transform a prison with hardened criminals, rapists and murderers, where there is zero murders, and the culture is incredible. I went there and I spent two nights. I slept in his home. I wanted to see first-hand what love in the workplace, what heart-led leadership in the workplace can do, and it’s transformative, and I can’t wait to tell that story in my book. There’s so many other amazing stories, Brian, of companies, organizations. Fortune 500 companies that have been transformed with leaders that lead with their heart.
Brian Watson: Who do you believe is one of the greatest leaders of all time, and why?
Tommy Spaulding: I’m going to answer that in a couple of ways. One is, I think one of the greatest thought leaders that’s out there on the speaking circuit, because that’s really my full-time job now, I’m on the circuit, so I meet all the speakers out there. I’ve met all of them. You name a leadership speaker, I’ve shared a stage with him or her. I think the most authentic guy on the circuit is a guy that’s kind of retiring from the circuit, because he’s getting older, but a gentleman named Ken Blanchard, that wrote The One Minute Manager.
And a lot of people know him for that incredible book, and he’s written 35 incredible leadership books, but what’s so neat about Ken is that he’s the real deal. He’s just – his heart is so pure and so authentic, and he totally believes and lives servant leadership. And we use and abuse that word, servant leadership, in all the wrong places, but he truly gets what leading, serving, and loving is all about. And so that’s probably one of the best leaders on the circuit.
Probably one of my favorite leaders of all time is just Abraham Lincoln. I’m just a big of his, for what’s he done for our country, but I love the story that he basically failed in just about everything he’s done, business and school, and every election he lost, and the first election that he actually won was when he became President of the United States, and I resonate with that, Brian, because I failed out of high school, completely dyslexic, and went to summer school and really was struggling academically, and bottom of my class. I struggled all through college academically, graduated with a 2.0. I like to joke with my friends that I had a 4.0, only if you added my high school and my college GPA together. I like Abraham Lincoln’s tenacity, what he stood for.
Brian Watson: That’s powerful. What would be your recommendation? Clearly, you’ve led a very interesting life, and not the planned life of this path is where I’m going, it’s been by, again, being at the right place at the right time, and also, you’re going after certain things. But what would be your recommendation to somebody who is struggling right now, and maybe even failing from a world perspective in different areas? What would be your recommendation to that?
Tommy Spaulding: I think the most important thing for leaders, and people try to figure out their career is to really think about what’s truly in their heart, and what they want to do, and then not think about making money. I think we’re just programmed to pick the top job out of college, or the job that’s going to make us the most amount of money, and times in my life that I’ve been the least happiest is when I pursued money first.
For example, when I graduated business school, I thought the right thing to do was to get a job with a Fortune 500 company, so I got hired by IBM, which owned Lotus Development in Boston, and worked in the software sales, and I just hated it. I made a lot of money, but I hated it. And when I lived my life with passion and followed my heart, and being an entrepreneur and starting organizations and leading organizations, that was my heart. When I made decisions based on my passion, not money, the money always follows. That’s number one.
And number two is, I think mentors are hugely important. When people ask me how I became so successful at what I do, I immediately say the people that got me there. I mean, it’s the Ken Blanchards, it’s the people that mentored me, that inspired me. The mentors in my life that have helped me become a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better leader. So those people that are struggling their career, figuring out what’s next, ask yourself, who could you work for that would invest in you, and invest in mentoring you, and helping you become a great leader. That’s pivotal in their career choice.
Brian Watson: I always think it’s kind of interesting in the world that sometimes, when you look at making yourself vulnerable, how in fact, that makes you stronger, and this idea of finding a mentor that you can share with and walk the path of life with, be encouraged by, or sharing love in the workplace. From a lot of people’s perspective, that would be making yourself vulnerable, when in actuality, it helps to strengthen you and make you a better leader, or a better person. It’s amazing, the power of that at the end of the day.
Tommy Spaulding: Brian, before your next question, I want to touch on that vulnerability piece, because I believe that in ten years, we’ll look back at that word, and we’ll just say, I can’t believe leaders even led without being vulnerable. I mean, we know those leaders. We call them the command and control, the old-school leaders that know all the answers, they’re strong, they’re articulate, they have a vision, they don’t cry, they don’t show emotion. They know every answer, and if they don’t know the answer, they fake it until they make it. There’s no vulnerability. Old-school, I mean, believe me, I’ve worked for those leaders before. Those leaders are dinosaurs, Brian. They’re dying. They’re like World War II veterans that are becoming 80 and 90 years old, and just moving on into Heaven.
You cannot lead an organization without being vulnerable, and without being authentic and genuine and transparent. First of all, Generation Y and X won’t even listen to you unless they trust you, and trust is such an important part of leadership. And when you’re not vulnerable. And vulnerability doesn’t mean you go to work and you share all of your dark deepest secrets, but vulnerability means you go to work, and you let people know what’s on your heart, and what you’re thinking. And some of your challenges, your opportunities, your struggles, and telling some of your stories.
I was always embarrassed or afraid to tell people how I couldn’t read, that I was dyslexic, that I went to summer school all through high school. That I graduated at the bottom of my class. That I got a 2.0 in college, and went to summer school during college, and I was always embarrassed to tell people I couldn’t get into law school. I applied to 37 schools, got rejected at every single one of them. Every one rejected me. I couldn’t go to law school, because of my grades and my learning disability. I was afraid to tell people, because I was afraid of being judged. Afraid people thought I was stupid, or I was ignorant.
And when the book came, I wrote about my story, I literally see thousands of emails, thousands of them, from all over the world, thanking me for opening up my heart in my book, and sharing the vulnerability of what I struggled and overcame, and how I became to really appreciate the importance of relationships in my life, because of my handicap. And I think vulnerability is contagious, and when you’re vulnerable with someone, they become vulnerable to you. And if you want to lead people, you’ve got to be able to lead their hearts, and to be able to win their hearts, you have to be able to show them yours. And so I’m a big fan of vulnerability in the workplace.
Brian Watson: That’s very powerful. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. Well, I could talk to you for a very long time about leadership and the different things that you’re doing, and the positive impacts you’re having, but I want to transition to you now on a personal level, so our listeners can get to know the real Tommy Spaulding. And so with that, what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings, and why?
Tommy Spaulding: Oh, I probably think my favorite quote is Kennedy’s quote, Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And I’m a patriot. I’m a moderate Republican, I’m a compassionate Republican, but I’m a patriot, and I love our country. And I’m worried. I think there’s things that happened in our country that has just disengaged America to really believe in our country. The lack of trust in our government. I have some strong reasons why I think that disengagement happened, but I want people to raise the flag, and be proud of our country. And I want people to wake up in the morning and ask themselves not what the government can do for me, what people can do for me, what society can do for me, but what I could do to help society. What I could do to help government, what I could do to help my company, and have a heart for serving others. I think Kennedy said it best.
Brian Watson: Well, you and I share that. I’m a patriot as well, and I think it’s so important to figure out how we can do our part to help, and I often tell people, you have won the historical and locational lottery of all time, to live where and when and how you do. And in that, you also have a responsibility to contribute in a positive way, and to come alongside people. So I really appreciate you saying that. Tommy, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Tommy Spaulding: Well, my grandfather, who lived to 82 years old, every Christmas we’d surround a table, and he’d say, there’s three most important things in the world, and that’s family, family, and family. And I’ll never forget that. He said it every Christmas. Just the first the thing that came out of his mouth at the toast, and I grew up with a family that valued that, and I think that we live in such a busy world, and a fast world, and I love building businesses. I love being busy. I love changing the world, but the bottom line is, my love for my wife and my three children are the most important thing. And my legacy is in raising my three kids to love the Lord, and to love and serve others, and am I modeling a great marriage, and I’m just a big fan of, you want to change your family? Then stay married, and model a great marriage, and that’s just one of the things that I’m committed to do.
Brian Watson: So important, so important. What is your definition of success?
Tommy Spaulding: I think the definition of success is not monetary success, because that just comes naturally with it, but I think the definition of success is your ability to lead and love and serve others, and to make a positive impact in the world. And when you look back at your journey, have you changed hearts? And have you built relationships that are authentic and real? I think the journey of leadership is critical, and the next book I’m writing is called It’s Who You Are, and it’s all about the 18-inch journey, and I want to introduce to the world what this 18-inch journey is. And we’re so worried about this 6-inch journey between your ears, what’s in your head, but the 18-inch journey is connecting your head to your heart, that’s 18 inches, from your head to your heart. And we can send a man to the moon, we can travel around the world on a jet. We can travel hundreds of thousands of miles, but we can’t, as leaders, travel the 18 inches.
And I think if we, as leaders, can travel the 18 inches from your head to hearts when you go to work, whether you’re a teacher or a politician or a principal or a lawyer or a businessman, businesswoman, or stay-at-home parent, that you lead with your heart, and bring those qualities of vulnerability and authenticity and transparency and love to the workplace, that’s what’s going to bring America back. It’s not our government. I think it’s business. It’s our citizens. It’s our local communities that’s going to win back America, and do that in a way that we’re bringing our hearts to our communities.
Brian Watson: Well, you’re giving us little pieces of that book, and I can’t wait to read it, so looking forward to having it come out. When is that going to be released?
Tommy Spaulding: September 7, 2015, by Random House.
Brian Watson: Seems like a long time away, but I know it will be here very quickly, as time goes on. Tommy, what do you believe is one of the biggest challenges or threats facing our country or world, today?
Tommy Spaulding: Oh, I got it. The word is apathy. Apathy. It’s the cancer that’s killing our youth, because they’re entitled. The lack of engagement, and the apathy we have as a country. And I’m going to say one thing on your show that might be a little controversial, but you know what, the heck. I think it should stir some minds. I’m one of the few Americans that believe that getting away with the draft was a bad decision, and I don’t want my sons to go to war, I don’t want to lose my kids. So I’m, in a way, relieved that we don’t have a draft, because I wouldn’t want to lose my boys to war. But I think, personally, that where America started to downward spiral into apathy and disengagement is when we did away with the draft, because the draft, Brian, is the greatest litmus test of engagement of society.
Because if you can lose your son, if you can lose your daughter to war, then you’re going to pay attention, and not just watch the war on TV. America went to war and sent their soldiers, but we as citizens, we didn’t go to war, we went to the mall and shopping, and we’re not engaged. And I think once that happened, and we outsourced our military to a professional military, we became disengaged as citizens. And there’s five or six things we’ve done as a society that sparked this disengagement, and it’s killing us. It’s killing us, and I think that we need to bring back this sense of love, duty for our country, and serving our country. Not just the military, but other parts of the world, and other parts of society. The apathy, we need to get people engaged, and be proud of being American.
We live in the greatest country, and when I worked for Bob Dole, when he was running for President, and he put all of us in a room one day, and he told the story, that when he was running for Senator, and at a war, 35, 36 years as US Senator, he said that he heard hundreds of people call him on the phone, thousands of letters to his office, saying that Senator Dole, please help my uncle in Mexico get a green card. Please help my aunt in Bosnia get a visa. He said he received hundreds and thousands of letters in his 35 years as a servant leader in government, begging to get into our country. People begging to get into our country. And then he said, but in 35 years, I’ve never got one letter that said get me the hell out of this country.
And so that just taught me that America’s not perfect, and we have flaws. We definitely have some parts of government that’s broken, but our Constitution is the best in the world, and people are fighting and dying and wanting to get into our country, not get out. And so we do live in the greatest country in the world. And quite frankly, I think our country and our citizens need to start acting like we live in the greatest country in the world.
Brian Watson: It’s interesting, I was interviewed myself not too long ago, and they asked me a similar question, and I mentioned apathy. It’s apathy, but also the entitlement syndrome. And both are very bad for a Constitutional Republic like we have, and for a society based on capitalism. And so it’s interesting, but I’ve never heard somebody bring up the draft, and I appreciate that. It’s a very interesting concept, and one I’ll definitely have to think about a lot more. So I appreciate you sharing that.
Tommy Spaulding: Well there’s one thing that, I think that there’s a lot of hope, is about 15 years ago, I started a high school leadership program. It’s a nationwide program called the National Leadership Academy. We bring in high school kids from all over the country. Hundreds of them, for four-day leadership symposium at Denver University, and it’s incredible. We’ve had thousands of kids go through the program. It’s probably my most prized thing I’ve ever had a part of being a part of, and founding. And we teach kids about citizenship and leadership and servant leadership and community service and volunteerism. Bring kids from all over the country, that are black, that are white, that are Jewish, that are Christian, that are Muslim, that are public school, private school.
And we teach kids how to love themselves, and love to serve others, and have the self-confidence to befriend and have relationships with people in their school and their community, that are different. And teach them to be servant leaders. It’s an incredible organization and program. And more information is NationalLeadershipAcademy.org, but I share this, because when I attend these academies, and I meet these high school kids, and I’ve met thousands of them, I’m inspired, Brian.
So in one breath, I say there’s a lot of apathy in the world, but this younger generation, they get it, and they care. And they want real leaders. They want servant leaders, and they don’t want dictators, and they don’t want command and control leaders. They want vulnerability. They demand it, and they have a heart for changing the world, and I have a lot of hope when I meet young people like that.
Brian Watson: Well, I agree with you. I think there’s a lot of rays of hope out there, and a lot of positive things happening, and it’s about planting those seeds, especially with the younger generation, that appreciate that you’re doing that, because that’s going to have a rippling effect, a positive effect, throughout society. Tommy, what is some parting advice, or golden nuggets of wisdom, that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Tommy Spaulding: Important decision in our lives. One is to have faith. I’m a believer of Jesus, I’m a Christian, and I choose to have that faith, but whatever your faith is, and I respect whatever that faith is, but whatever that is, to have it. Know there’s a God here on this earth to serve, and love.
Two is to marry well. I’m just now 45 years old, and I’m watching all of my friends get divorced, and what that does for kids, and what that does for society. And I think really the most important decision we can make is our spouse and who we pick, and then being committed to staying married. I watched my parents get divorced and grandparents get divorced, and it’s something we need to work on as a society.
And then lastly is just our careers. I would like to part with really challenging our listeners to really think about what they do for a living, and why they do it, and who they are, and what contribution they are really making. And I would argue that half of the people listening hate their jobs, they’re not really in the job that they really want to do, and life is just too short. And start surrounding yourself with mentors. Start to really thinking about what you really want to be doing, and going for it. Everything that I’ve ever accomplished in my life, I have accomplished because I took risks, and I came from nothing, came from a middle class family with no money, public schools, struggled through school, failed out of school. I grew up the hard way, but I think when you have the work ethic and the love in your heart for serving others, and a vision for changing the world, if you have those three things, you can do anything.
Brian Watson: Each one of those is so powerful at the end of the day, and that last one you were talking about, your work, I encourage people all of the time. I say, your work is such an integral part of your life, you spend a good amount of hours there, you should enjoy it. And really trying to make that transition to, instead of just focusing on your profession, focus on your passion. And I think when you turn your passion into your profession, some very, very positive things happen, and transformational things. So I appreciate you saying that. Tommy, what is the best way for our listeners, again, to learn more about you and your different organizations online, or in other ways?
Tommy Spaulding: My website is TommySpaulding.com, and that’s Tommy Spaulding with a U, TommySpaulding.com. And then the nonprofit that I founded is the NationalLeadershipAcademy.org. That’s the best way. And then also more information is BrooksandSpaulding.com, and that’s a wonderful organization that I started with my partner, Maureen Brooks, that we have heart-led servant leader speakers that are consulted, and speakers around the country, that we’ve brought together in a family of a speaker management company.
Brian Watson: Well, Tommy, I want to thank you for your time today. You know, I always love spending time with you. It’s very encouraging and instructional, and you’ve had a very positive and transformational impact on many people around the world, and so I just want to thank you for that service, and you never know the lives that you’re impacting, and what that will look like down the road. So I appreciate your time today.
Tommy Spaulding: You bet, Brian, and thanks for what you’re doing. And I just want to wish everyone in the Opportunity Coalition a happy new year.
Brian Watson: Well, thanks for listening to Opportunity Coalition podcast. We’d love to have you subscribe on iTunes, or like us on Facebook.
If you’d like more information about the Opportunity Coalition, or if you’d like to see a schedule of upcoming events that you can attend in person, please visit OpportunityCoalition.com. See you next time.
Brian Watson: This is Brian Watson. Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast, your go-to podcast for compelling interviews, speeches, and discussions with some of the most accomplished and well-respected influencers from around the world.
Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today we are honored to have Lloyd Lewis, the President and CEO of ARC Thrift Stores joining us. Lloyd, welcome to the show.
Lloyd Lewis: Thanks very much. It’s a real pleasure.
Brian Watson: Lloyd, if you wouldn’t mind, for our listeners, tell us a little bit about what you do at ARC and a little bit of your personal background and how you got to where you are today.
Lloyd Lewis: Yeah. ARC is a 46-year-old nonprofit, and we collect donated household items including clothing and furniture and everything in the house, and we resell them in our retail thrift stores, and the net funding of all that goes to support 12 ARC advocacy chapters across the front range. They’re in the largest counties and municipalities from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and they work with thousands and thousands of individuals and families who have intellectual developmental disabilities like Down’s syndrome, like autism, like cerebral palsy. And they help them find jobs, and housing, and medical services, and services in schools. And we operate now 22 stores, again from Fort Collins to Pueblo. And the public has been very generous to us. We collect over 100 million items a year. We process them in our stores and resell them. And, again, the net proceeds go to fund advocacy for a lot of deserving folks.
My own personal story, I was in the private sector as a CFO most recently prior to ARC. And I had done a business degree at Chicago and had worked for a variety of companies including IBM and Smith Barney and had been on a financial track. In 2003 I had a little boy born with Down’s syndrome, and I became very involved in advocacy, and initially scientific research followed by more general advocacy. And so when I was asked to join the ARC of Colorado board, from there this organization, I felt it would be a way to help generate funding to improve the lives of people like my son and my son’s life.
Brian Watson: That’s extremely powerful. I really appreciate that. It’s amazing how life’s circumstances lead you down the path in maybe a direction you didn’t think you were going to go and then now look where you are today.
Lloyd Lewis: Yeah, when my son was born, we were unaware he would have Down’s syndrome. And, in fact, when the doctor walked in to inform us, he unfortunately told us he had no good news to tell us about our son, you know, and I thought well maybe he died. I said what do you mean? He said, well, we suspect he has Down’s syndrome. So when I asked him what that was, he used an inappropriate term, and, you know, it’s just been a real blessing for me to have my son and to meet a lot of great adults who work for us with intellectual disabilities who are just very positive people, big contributors, just a lot of fun to be around. And it was something that I never anticipated happening, but it opened up this whole new world that I was largely unaware of at the time, and it’s been a real blessing in my life and my family’s life and my son. It’s just a huge part of my family.
Brian Watson: I’ve been to several of your events, and I must say it’s just amazing, one, to see the support of the community coming out, and two, as you have some of the people that you serve there, just what a positive impact it makes in their lives and it’s just great to see the interaction and the compassion and coming alongside those people and lifting them up and creating those opportunities, so hats off to you and to your entire staff and team for all the great work that they do.
Lloyd Lewis: Coloradans are very generous. The business and corporate communities are extremely generous. Very supportive. And as you mentioned, when I started with the company we had about ten employees with disabilities. Today we have well over 20.
Brian Watson: Wow.
Lloyd Lewis: And they’ve become very central in how we operate the company. And they’ve really been positive role models for other employees in terms of their commitment to work. They hate to miss work. They love to contribute. They’re very positive. They have extended friendship networks across the company and in their stores. And in a lot of cases they’re sort of characters, so we have one gentleman with Down’s syndrome who brings in his bowling score every week and announces it over the PA system. And all the customers (inaudible) applaud. We have another lady with cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair, very physically challenged, but very infectious personality, who told my CEO group she was gunning for my job because she’d throw better parties. And when I chided at bowling night, she said she was throwing me under the short bus. So it’s practically impossible to work around our guys and just not feel better about what we do in life and be more positive. And what I found is that when you look strictly at traditional measures of productivity, in some cases you may not have the same traditional unit productivity that business people think of, but the impact on morale, and as you know with higher morale in a work place, it impacts productivity, which impacts revenue and earnings. So I think it’s a real Godsend to any company. There are a number of companies in Colorado doing it.
Brian Watson: Absolutely. How was ARC originally founded, and are there similar organizations throughout the country? Can you expound on that a little bit?
Lloyd Lewis: Probably the first organization founded by parents of people with disabilities was ARC in the United States in the 1940s. At that time there weren’t many – if any – advocacy organizations. And parents started by advocating for humane treatment of their children in large institutions. So way back in the day, people like my son were sent away to large institutions, and unfortunately more or less ignored and abused and not really cared for well. So it all started with parents forming an organization, ARC, to advocate for humane treatment of their children in institutions. That was followed by a movement for de-institutionalization, which has been followed by mainstream and inclusion as a form of advocacy that we now engage in. And there are ARCs across the country. There are probably nearly 200 chapters. There’s probably nearly a million members across the country. In many states they provide direct services. They are the largest direct service provider in New York as an example.
In our state they perform advocacy and they fund their advocacy efforts to avoid conflicts of interest through the operation of the self-sustaining thrift store organization.
There are other organizations that also participate in advocacy for people with disabilities. I’m the past Chair of the Rocky Mountain Down’s Syndrome Association, current Chair Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Easter Seals does a great job. Ability Connection, the former Cerebral Palsy Colorado, does a great job. The Autism Society of Colorado does a great job. There are a lot of people in Colorado who are making a real different, and ARC, fortunately, is one of those organizations.
Brian Watson: You know, I have to say a little bit about your organization, you know, that it’s a private sector solution, that parents came together, and the organization helps empower the parents and helps empower their children to really go out and make a positive impact, and I just love that story, and thank you for sharing that. I really appreciate that.
Lloyd Lewis: Across Colorado there are nearly a half million people with various forms of disabilities inclusive of physical disabilities, mental health issues, etc. Intellectual and developmental disabilities are a big portion of that. But what’s interesting to me is how many people are really impacted across Colorado. The Chairman of my Board, who is a very successful entrepreneur now, a principal with a very large company, has a son with a rare neurological disorder that he cares for. My CFO had twins born with cerebral palsy who have fragile health conditions that he’s very committed to, and he also did a Master’s Degree and had worked with a number of energy companies prior to joining us.
I have people working for me who have family members with disabilities, including my assistant, and, you know, Frances Owens, who is a good friend of yours and mine, has her great brother in Texas who was born blind and a sister-in-law with cerebral palsy. So what’s interesting to me is that disabilities are really very common, and they cross spectrums. And when you meet people who have these family members, the level of commitment is just very striking and very impressive.
Brian Watson: Yeah. When you think about that, how that’s going to transition, even in our country, as you were saying, you know, at one time, with society, those individuals would be maybe put into some type of facility and maybe taken out of society. And what I love about it is it’s an embracing of society, it’s coming along, and it’s having encouragement, not only for them but also for their family members. And it seems like there’s a great family, it sounds like, that’s built with that.
Lloyd Lewis: A lot of progress has been made. People are almost universally positive about people with disabilities just through mainstreaming and inclusion. People with Down’s syndrome, as an example, have gained an average of 20 IQ points over the last 20 years, going from moderate to severe impairment to moderate to mild impairment. And while a lot of progress has been made, there are still some issues that we’re working very intently on. One is employment. Unfortunately 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed. That’s something we’d like to change, and we’re doing that here at ARC.
And another very unfortunate statistic that people may not be aware of is that 80% of women with disabilities will be abused, 40% multiple times, and 40% of men. That’s a very troubling statistic. The ARCs in Colorado are working with law enforcement and prosecutors and advocates, families trying to get awareness out and prevention and prosecution.
But on the one hand we’ve made a lot of progress. And on the other hand there’s still some issues that we really need the public’s help on.
Brian Watson: Yeah. When you think about that, at the end of the day those are very troubling statistics, and it’s great where we’ve come from, but we’ve still got a whole lot of work to do it sounds like.
So with regards to the funds you receive from these different stores, first of all, anybody can go in, obviously, and shop at these stores, and then the money that’s received, give us an idea of some of the specific programs or where some of this money goes in terms of helping to support the efforts of what you do.
Lloyd Lewis: During the course of my tenure, nearly ten years, we have now distributed approximately $70 million in funding to various charitable activities. Principally the ARC chapter is about $43 million. And, again, they use those funds to do systemic and individual advocacies so they can work with families and individual show may be having problems in school, may be having problems in employment or finding an employer, maybe having a problem with a housing provider or locating suitable housing, so that the majority of our funding goes to the ARC advocacy programs.
We also operate a very large vehicle donation program. Work with hundreds of nonprofits through the country inclusive of organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and humane societies and public radio stations, and we accept cars donated on their behalf, process them for them, and over the course of nine years, have distributed funding of about $18 million to those various organizations.
We have also allocated about $6 million over the last nine years (inaudible) people with disabilities. We have funded about $3 million to Cerebral Palsy Colorado. And we have distributed about $2 million in vouchers to victims of various disasters like fires and floods across Colorado.
We have also, during the course of my tenure, collected a thousand tons of food for Meals on Wheels through Volunteers of America programs.
And then we also support and participate with a number of other organizations. We’re a little unique. We’re a nonprofit and also at times can (inaudible) to other nonprofits. And I don’t think that’s a typical way that nonprofits operate. You know, we’ll support my friend Michele C. at the Global Down’s Syndrome Foundation, and our friends at VOA with their Western (inaudible). And we were just yesterday at a breakfast for the Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation helping support their efforts. So we try to do as much as we can with the stores that we have and the employees that we have.
You mentioned shoppers. We have four million customer transactions annually. Our average shopper is a female 25 to 54 on a budget with kids, so we’re providing a great service to people, you know, to help with their families. And we have sales events on Saturdays and senior days and veterans days, etc. But we’ve become pretty large in terms of the people we serve in a community and with disabilities. Also the shopping public is a donating public.
Brian Watson: I must say I love the work that you’re doing because you think about it for a moment, if ARC wasn’t out there doing what you’re doing, there would be a huge gap and a huge need, and I know that you’re positively impacting many lives.
For our listeners, talk to us about a few specific ways of how they can come alongside and help your efforts, and obviously, it may consist of everything from donations to shopping to other things. So could you outline a few of those ways people could get engaged?
Lloyd Lewis: There are a lot of ways the public helps us and can help us, starting with donations. So as people do spring cleaning, or they have certain household items that they’d like to clean out, all they have to do is call us at 303-238-JANE, or they can sign on to our website, arcthrift.org. We can take donations and set up pickups by our online website. So, again, we have a million donations a year, 70 million pounds of donations that are kept out of landfills, and over 100 million items donated a year, so the public is very generous. We continue to appreciate that.
In addition to donations, dollars spent in our stores are a big contributor to the funding that we do through our various programs. So they can shop any of our 22 stores. Fort Collins, Loveland, Greeley, Thornton, Broomfield, Louisville, Arvada, four in Aurora, four in the Springs, one in Pueblo, balance Denver Metro. You can sign on our website and see the locations of our stores. Open 9:00 to 9:00 Monday through Saturday and 10:00 to 6:00 on Sundays. And so shopping is a big part of the support that we get from the public.
People can send in cash donations to our corporate office, and you can find that address on our website.
We have a very large volunteering program. We have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers every week that help us in all aspects of our organization from stores and collecting and sorting and qualifying and producing product and helping out on the front end of our stores. Helping in our warehousing activities. We maintain a warehouse to store off-season product that rolls out seasonally.
We have various activities we do with our employees with disabilities. We have a lot of volunteers who are very generous and kind in assisting with that.
We just did our large annual gala this past Friday at the Hyatt Regency Tech Center and we had 600 people in attendance. A lot of volunteers helped us put that together in addition to corporate sponsors and individual sponsors.
So there’s just a number of ways that people can help. And if you go to our website you can find suggestions on how people can support us if they’d like to help.
Brian Watson: That’s wonderful. Well thank you for that.
I also just want to ask you about a few questions. Because you’re such an interesting individual and are creating an impact. And so tell us what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings that you may live your life by and why.
Lloyd Lewis: Well, there are just a lot of different quotes that I turn to and use, and use when I talk with my management group. But one that I really like is Ralph Waldo Emerson. And his quote is, The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived. And I’m inspired by a number of people who have made a big difference in the business community and the charitable community. And that’s a quote that I really like in terms of honor and compassion and the end result of our lives is trying to make a difference.
Brian Watson: Absolutely. I absolutely love it. And if all of us did our part to do that, it could absolutely transform the world for the better, that’s for sure.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Lloyd Lewis: I think the best advice I ever received was probably just to work hard. Just to try to get results. Try to get things done. Not be someone who tries to grab the limelight without real results, but just, you know, growing up – I grew up in a blue-collar family, and there wasn’t a lot of philosophizing, it was all about sort of working hard and getting results. And whether it was when I was ten when I was delivering newspapers, or in middle school when I was working in agricultural fields in Washington picking fruit and vegetables, or when I had my career as a door-to-door salesman, for me most of my life has been committed to trying to get things done to make a real difference.
Brian Watson: Yep. A lot of very good advice.
What would you say is your definition of success, whether as an individual or at ARC in your role there?
Lloyd Lewis: I measure my success in life and at ARC in a couple of ways. One is am I growing this organization, am I growing funding? And luckily we’ve been able to grow funding for our organization at the fastest rate in its 46-year history. So I look at ARC in terms of are we growing revenue? Are we growing earnings? And I just had a managers meeting before this interview and told the group that our fiscal year, which ends Sunday, will be our ninth successive record year on revenues, on earnings, on distributions to the chapters we support, on customers, on all measures that make a financial difference in growing the organization.
And then the other way I look at success is making a difference for people who just need a little extra help. So if you have an IQ of 30 or 40, you want to be included, you want to contribute, you want to be successful, but you have some boundaries that other people don’t have. So what we try to do here is to create a path and an opportunity for people to contribute wherever their intellectual level is. And we’ve created a program called ARC Ambassadors, and we do monthly social activities like movies and dinners and trips to the zoo, and just try to get to know the people with disabilities that we work with and have them feel included and appreciated.
And then the other thing we’ve created with ARC Ambassadors is something called ARC University. So with a grant from the Daniels Fund we created something called ARC University which is a series of 12 successive post-secondary-style classes on money, or computers, or cooking, or pet care, or we even had a class on sharks. And the idea is for people to have fun and learn some stuff and gain some self-confidence. They typically has less-than rewarding academic experiences in high school, so we try to create an atmosphere where they feel appreciated. And we designed it so that if they participate at all they get a certificate. They do six out of 12 classes they get a Bachelor’s, nine out of 12 a Master’s, and 12 out of 12 a PH.D. So at our last graduation with Angie Austin as commencement speaker with three or four hundred people in the audience and 100 graduates, we had 30 Master’s, 30 Ph.D.s, and ten Ph.D. emerituses. We’ll probably have to create a Chancellorship next year. And when they walk across the stage you would think it was Harvard commencement because they’re really proud.
So, on the one hand, making a difference in the business, in the way that business people look at making a difference. And then on the other hand, making a difference in the lives of the people we serve. And those are the principal ways I measure my success and the success of the organization.
Brian Watson: Those are good ways to measure it without a doubt.
If you could make one change in the world that could make the most positive impact for people, what would that be?
Lloyd Lewis: I think it would be to have even more employers jump on board employing people with disabilities. I think that by including people with disabilities in the workplace, people will get a real sense of who they are and what their potential is and what they contribute. And, you know, that used to be impossible. We’re making a lot of progress in that regard. But to have people jump on board and create their own employment programs. I’ve talked with the Chief of Staff for the Governor, and she thinks that it would be a great idea to have a task force comprised of the private sector that would tackle this problem. And I’ve talked to the candidate also running for office, the Beauprez folks, and they agree. So I’m hoping with the next term that we have a real statewide task force comprised of the private sector really looking at how do we create employment for people with disabilities.
Brian Watson: I think that would be very powerful and very positive as well.
Well, Lloyd, there’s many more questions I could ask you and I could talk to you all day because I really appreciate what you’re doing and you’re making such a positive impact, you and your team there, and I just want to encourage our listeners to think about this and to figure out how they can come alongside and help your efforts. So really appreciate your time today and look forward to support you in the future.
Lloyd Lewis: Thank you so much for your time, and I really appreciate having this opportunity to speak to your listeners.
Brian Watson: Thank you. Have a great day.
Lloyd Lewis: Thank you for all you do.
Brian Watson: Well, thanks for listening to Opportunity Coalition podcast. We’d love to have you subscribe on iTunes, or like us on Facebook.
If you’d like more information about the Opportunity Coalition, or if you’d like to see a schedule of upcoming events that you can attend in person, please visit OpportunityCoalition.com. See you next time.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today we’re honored to have Eric Chester, an award-winning speaker and best-selling author. Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Chester: Well, thanks for having me, Brian.
Brian Watson: Eric, for the listeners who may not know you, would you please tell us a little bit more about yourself and some of the books that you’ve written.
Eric Chester: Well, I’m a former high school business teacher and football coach turned motivational speaker for youth. I spent about a dozen years standing in gymnasiums and on college campuses helping young people figure out how to get from where they are to where they wanted to be even if they didn’t know where they wanted to be. So kind of a school-to-work transition guy. For the past 15 years I’ve worked with companies and organizations, major brands, many of them that you would recognize, McDonald’s to Wells Fargo to Harley Davidson to Alcoa, working with companies and organizations that rely very heavily on the young emerging workforce, whether that’s recruiting employees as part time hourly employees in their first job all the way to right off college campuses from major universities across the world. So many employers are struggling with the new emerging workforce and want ideas and tools in terms of recruiting, training, managing, motivating, making connections to get employees up to speed. So my books are basically leadership books written for managers and employers who are trying to get young people to work harder, to perform better, and to stay longer.
Brian Watson: You know, Eric, I’ve also had the opportunity to attend one of your speaking sessions, and I must say they’re very, very powerful. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about that?
Eric Chester: Well, my passion is being in front of an audience and helping them to make certain adjustments in their life. I think all of us learn a lot better when we can pick up ideas from people who have a delivery method. And so in working with great companies and organizations I’ve had an opportunity to find a lot of best practices. What does it take? You know, motivation to me, Brian, is cotton candy or a warm bath. It leaves once the motivator is gone. But if you can provide solid, actionable strategies and ideas that people can walk away with and say, hey, next time I come into this situation, or this is really what’s happening and it becomes applicable, then they can rely on some of those strategies and ideas and make a measurable difference in their life. So my opportunity or my privilege is to get to speak in some of the world’s largest stages. I probably do 60 to 70 conferences, meetings, conventions each year and have been doing it now for about 30 years and very much enjoy the opportunity any chance I get to get in front of an audience. Of course I do that for free. They pay me to fly on airplanes and stay in hotels, which is not so fun.
Brian Watson: That’s part of the process in getting that positive message out there, that’s for sure.
You know, Eric, I’ve read some of your materials, and I must say they’re very well done, and thank you for the contribution and the work that you do. You know, one of the themes that you have is that as a Western culture, we may have an issue with work ethic. Talk a little bit about your research in that and your feelings with regards to that issue.
Eric Chester: Well, I started speaking to companies, Brian, that I was kind of like Paul Revere. I mean, the workforce when I started working with businesses was largely comprised of traditionalists, baby boomers and Gen-Xers. And I was the first guy to write a book on this new millennial generation. Having been in the trenches with them as a teacher and a coach and as a speaker for them, I knew a little bit about what made them different, so they brought me in basically as a Paul Revere to say, The entitler coming! The entitler coming! And it was enough to say here’s the generational differences. But that has all changed. Now companies and organizations and most leaders first of all know some of the attributes, traits, what they can expect from the emerging workforce. We know they’re highly talented, very skilled, but they may not have the same – they may not approach work the same way we did, or older members of the workforce. So the content of the material has changed now to where people are really wondering, how do I engage the emerging workforce? And let me clarify. The emerging workforce is not necessarily a age demographic. You can’t say somebody who is this age has a work ethic and somebody that’s this age doesn’t because that has been dispelled. But there are certain assumptions, generalities that you can come to the conclusion that you can bring forth when you’re looking at pieces of the generational pie. So now it’s more strategic. Much more practical in terms of ideas. What does it take to create a culture that really drives people to want to perform better and want to stay longer. And so that has been a really – that’s what I do and it’s because I’ve had a chance to peek inside, behind the curtain of so many of these great leaders and these great organizations to figure out what they’re doing to motivate people and to keep them inspired.
Brian Watson: That’s very helpful. You know, there’s a critique by some that the United States isn’t as competitive as it used to be, that the work ethic has waned. What is your response to that?
Eric Chester: Well, I would say work ethic is certainly not an American problem, it’s certainly not a generational problem, it’s a global problem. Work ethic simply defined, first of all, Brian, if you go to look – and I wrote the book Reviving Work Ethic, which is the first book on work ethic – business book on work ethic in over a hundred years. And so I had to start with a definition of what is work ethic, and really when you look it up in the dictionary, you break it down to two words. Ethic is based upon ethos, that which you know. The difference between right and wrong. That comes with knowledge. So ethic is based upon your knowledge. And work is an activity. It’s a sustained result. It’s performing, doing something. So work is to do and ethic is to know. Work ethic is simply knowing what to do and doing it. And so it’s not enough that just somebody knows what to do. That’s the cognizance. They have to have the compliance that they will do what they know to do. So great leaders teach people – are part teachers – teaching people what to do and then motivating them to do it.
Now, is this just something that happens in America? No, but there’s obviously a stigma attached to work. We remember our parents sacrificing their careers for the companies that they built. They sacrificed their life. The company came first, etc. But we also have seen, and this generation has seen, more of a free agent mentality, or adopted one, because they’ve seen their parents outsourced, right-sized, downsized by the companies they gave their lives for. So it’s more like, okay, what have you done for me lately? What can you do now? And a lot of that breeds this, as I mentioned, free agent mentality where an employee will come into the workplace and say, okay, what do I have to do in exchange for what am I going to get? And how long will I stay here? What are you going to do, because if you’re not meeting my needs today, I’m going to look for something else tomorrow. And that’s a different mindset, different mind frame. Again, it’s not just happening in America, it’s happening all over. But that trying to get something for nothing seems to be more rampant than we know, and it is – it’s happening in all cultures. Because I do have an opportunity to speak around the world, and no matter if you’re in India, you’re along the Pacific Rim, in South America, over in Europe, people are saying the same thing. We’re struggling with that. People, you know, there’s this tendency to want to get something – what did Dire Straits sing, your money for nothing and your chicks for free. How can I get that? And I’m not saying it’s inherent in everybody, but there is that tendency, how much am I getting instead of what am I doing, you know, what can I perform, how can I contribute.
Brian Watson: I tell my kids that at Northstar Commercial Partners, which is the company that I founded 15 years ago that every day I get the opportunity to go to work, not that I have to go to work. And it is a different mindset when you look at it that way and it’s not for everybody, but I agree with you that this entitlement mentality that has gone through America and probably other parts of the world is one of the most concerning things that are out there.
So in your book Reviving Work Ethic, you have a quote – or you state that passion doesn’t fuel ethic, work ethic fuels passion. And I think that’s very powerful. Why don’t you expound on that a little bit?
Eric Chester: Well, you know, you think about the way, and we’ll look at America here, look at the way that the coaching that so many young people get from their parents in terms of this thing called a job. It’s, hey, find your dream job. Do what you love. You have to be passionate about that every single day. And it leads people to believe that work has to be fun, it has to be enjoyable. And that isn’t the case. If the goal was to get everybody a job that they really enjoyed, then we’d all be the next American Idol. We’d all be playing in the NBA. It doesn’t work like that. We need labor in all kinds of jobs. So it’s not just finding a job that’s fun, it’s putting your best into your job. When you put your best into your job, when you focus on I want to be the best at what I do, regardless of what that is, I want to be the very best at what I do, something happens. You become passionate. You become focused on that which you do. And then guess what? It becomes fun. So it’s not, hey, I’m going to wait until I find a job that I’m passionate about and then I’ll do my best. It’s do your best in whatever job you have now and eventually you’ll be very passionate about what you do. Because the better you get at what you do, the more opportunities are open to you, the more that you will progress in your career. You may move down the path of entrepreneurship or up into management or whatever, but as long as you focus on being the very best at what you do bringing your whole self to your work regardless of what that is, it doesn’t take long before you find yourself completely and totally in love with that which you are doing.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to love every day, and you know that, Brian. You know you’re not going to love every single day. You’re not going to love every aspect of what you do because work is work. It’s not always fun. So we shouldn’t set that as a goal, that it has to be fun. Hey, do the best at what you do and you’ll find fun and enjoyment in it.
Brian Watson: I agree with you wholeheartedly. You know, a number of years ago I made a conscious decision to say I’m going to start connecting my passions with my profession. And my passions are creating jobs and opportunity for people and hopefully superior returns in our real estate investments, but I think when you do that and you’re connecting your passions with your profession, you’re not going to work another day in your life in many respects, in terms of the normal definition. Yes, there are hard days, but do what you love and really be focused on that and put your gusto behind it. And so I’m glad to hear you say that.
You know, one of the things I think for young people today that’s a little bit challenging is that one, like you’re saying, that in their home life people say just go do what’s fun, and two, I think that there are so many choices out there, which is a good thing in some respects, that they can go out and do, that it almost becomes paralyzing for them, that it’s hard for them to make a decision on anything because they don’t want to pick option A and, you know, they don’t know what’s behind curtain B, and there might be something even better out there. And so sometimes they don’t make a decision at all. What are your thoughts on that?
Eric Chester: Well, again, culturally, think of some of the messages they get. Within the past several years there have been anthems, songs that have come out, that a number of adults may not be aware of but the kids certainly know what they are. One is YOLO. YOLO, Y – O – L – O, which means You Only Live Once. So, hey, if you only live once, do all the crazy things that you possibly can so that you can maximize every second. Well, that’s a very dangerous message. Granted, you only live once if that’s your goal, but that doesn’t mean be bizarre and be crazy.
Another one is continually just look for that which is the easiest, the best, the fastest, the quickest way to the top. Success doesn’t come that direction. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, arduous process. So if you’re looking for that quick hit, that get-rich-quick scheme, and they’ve seen people become the dot com millionaires overnight. They find the Mark Zuckerberg model, the what-have-yous, just hey, I’m going to come up with an app and I’ll try out for this reality or this game show, and the next thing you know I’m going to be living the high life. It’s a very short-sighted view of what life is really all about. And you become focused on a result instead of focused on what you’re doing at any given point in time. And it’s the focus on being the best at what you do, you know, taking perhaps sometimes the longer, the harder road, you know, the high road definitely, to get the results that you need.
Brian Watson: So true. So true.
Eric, before we transition to you on a personal level so our listeners can get to know you, how many books have you written and how can our listeners get a list of those and learn more about them so that they can garner some of the wisdom that you’ve written down?
Eric Chester: Well, I piloted a series of anthology books for teenagers back in the nineties. Those are no longer in print. They were anthology style, meaning that they would have ten to 12 different motivational speakers each write a chapter. It was in a series called Teen Power. And those are no longer in print. So I won’t spend a lot of time on that. But the focus of my work is, again, transitioning, school-to-work transitioning. So I founded an organization called the Center for Work Ethic Development. The Center for Work Ethic Development has a curriculum designed to help the emerging workforce, everything from high school students to college students to returning military veterans, with gaining the work ethic, the soft skills that are in demand by employers. So those books are available through the Center for Work Ethic Development, which is an easy Google search, or workethic.org.
My own organization, just Eric Chester speaker and author, I write books for managers, business leaders, etc. My website ericchester.com has Employing Generation Y, Understanding, Managing and Motivating Your New Workforce, Getting Them to Give a Damn, How to Get Your Front Line to Care About Their Bottom Line. Most recently Reviving Work Ethic, a Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. And my new book, which will be out in 2015, which is called On Fire At Work, How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion In Their People Without Burning Them Out.
All of these are well-researched business books with actionable strategies for getting the people that work with you – they’re written for leaders – getting the people that work with you, by you and for you to commit more fully to the organization so that you can drive better sales, better profits, etc., but not by manipulating them, but by creating a better culture where they win as well.
Brian Watson: Well let’s transition a little bit to you the person, and so I want to ask you a few questions for our listeners so they can get to know you better. What is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?
Eric Chester: You know, there’s an old English proverb that says the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and I have to remind myself that every day because oftentimes what happens through the way that we’re blitzed with imagery and messages during the course of a day, we always think that somebody else has it better than we have it. You know, if I would only have done this, if I would have taken that shot, that chance, couldn’t I have that guy’s this. You know, that individual’s that. Boy if I was only in that situation. So the saying the grass is always greener may be true, but there’s a tag-on line. It’s just as difficult to mow. If you are not in that individual’s seat, you don’t know what they’re dealing with. So it’s really important to keep proper perspective. To be where you are 100% of the time. You know, the grass may be greener over there, but work on your own side. Work on making your grass green as opposed to longing for somebody else’s. I would say that’s a quote that I really love.
Brian Watson: You know at the Opportunity Coalition we have our monthly speakers, and I usually take a golden nugget of wisdom from them and reaffirm it to the crowd, and I really like what you just said that be where you are 100% of the time. I think that not only applies to our work life but also our family life. Oftentimes people may be in a room but they’re on their cell phones, smartphones, whatever they’re on and not really paying attention, spending quality time together, or being in that moment 100% of the time, and so I think that’s very powerful. So thank you for sharing that.
Eric, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?
Eric Chester: My dad used to say create two lists. Create two lists. Put on one list all the people that – all the things, the events, the experiences you’ve had that make you feel like you’re less than average. Right? You’re cut from your football team. You’ve had a girlfriend drop you. This guy said you’re never going to amount to anything. Create a list like that. And on the other list create the people that have been in your corner, the successes that you’ve had, the talents that you can apprise yourself that you know you can do. So create these two lists. And then realize every single day you have an opportunity to look at either list. You know, when you approach a project, when you come across a difficult assignment, when you and your spouse come to a bump in the road, when you’re struggling with your kids, when things are going bad, realize you’re going to pull out one of those lists. And whichever list you pull out, it’s going to decide how you’re going to respond. Naturally what he was saying is pull out the positive list. We all have our failures. We all look back and say, oh, that’s the fish that got away, the sale that I didn’t make, the company that went bankrupt, the relationship that didn’t work out, the person that didn’t like me. We hear that all the time. There’s those voices talking inside our head. You’ve got to find a way to turn them off. Don’t be – that doesn’t mean be pie in the sky and ignorant and naïve. By the same token, rely on the people who will be in your corner, who will back you up. Look at the successes that you’ve had in life, and develop the confidence, learn your lessons as you move forward. That’s been great advice.
Brian Watson: You know, so much of life is about perspective and attitude, and obviously to things that happen. I know personally in my own life owning a commercial real estate company, we were hit by the down economy, the worst economy in 80 years since the Great Depression, and there were times that many people said and those voices said go crawl in a hole and be done with it. And we persevered as a team, and we worked hard, and it made us stronger and better, and yes, we took our nicks, and it was bloody through that process, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world because there’s some wonderful lessons that were taught and now it’s made us better and stronger to go into the future. So I love that idea of creating those two lists. Very important.
Eric Chester: Absolutely. And I think the economy, when it flipped up, it hurt everybody. But what it did is it also helped us because it thinned the herd. The strong survived. It got rid of the posers. So what winds up happening is sometimes that’s a natural progression. And I put that on the positive side of the equation. You know, hey, you survived, you made it. We persevered. What did we learn? And that’s one of the things that you pull out on your positive list.
Brian Watson: I agree with you a hundred percent. Hundred percent. Eric, what is your definition of success? Or one of your definitions of success?
Eric Chester: I think being able to say no to the work that you don’t find interesting. When you’re basically a freelancer, and I’ve been on my own for 30 years as a speaker and author. And you live in calendar land. You know, what’s the business on the books that’s coming up. And I just want to make sure that my self worth is not directly tied to my net worth. That I realize up ahead as I look at that calendar that there’s going to be peaks and there’s going to be valleys. And sometimes when there’s valleys you start saying yes to work that you really – maybe you’re not qualified for, you don’t want to do, you just do because you go, oh, geez, I have to do it to survive. I think success to me is being able to say no to work that you don’t find interesting. Having time to enjoy life while you’re still in the peak of health and fitness. And enough money to enjoy it on your terms. And having earned it in a way that makes you and your children and your significant other proud to tell your story. I don’t think I ever defined success walking into a 7-11 and plopping down a dollar on the counter and getting a winning lottery ticket because I didn’t do anything. Success to me is pride. And pride is not something that you can buy. You can’t – you can buy happiness. You can find money, you can go out and say, hey, I bought a new car, I’m happy today. But it doesn’t make you proud unless you worked for it. And so that success, it has a lot to do with the feeling of pride, knowing that you’ve given your best, you’ve taken the high road, you’ve treated people well, that, you know, that you’ve done right by your family. You’ve chosen a difficult right over the easy wrong. That may be too lengthy, but just having that pride and knowing that you can live life on your terms. I think it is the greatest success that you can have.
Brian Watson: I believe it would be really transformational if a lot of people took that saying of self worth is not tied to your net worth, and to really think about that, and dwell upon it, and to say, okay, what does that mean in my life and what does that look like in my relationships and my work and what I’m doing, because none of us know how long we have on this planet, and it’s important to keep that perspective. So thank you for sharing that.
Eric, if you could make one change in order to make the largest, most positive impact in our country or world today, what would that be?
Eric Chester: I would think we would make a change in the education system. I believe that, being a former teaching and coach, I remember that teachers were charged – Bill Bennett once wrote in his Book of Virtues, that teachers are the architects of the soul. And I agree with that. Teachers had an opportunity – we can all remember our favorite teachers who walked into the classroom and we thought it was going to be a normal, typical experience and yet they flipped a switch in us we didn’t even know we had. There was a connection there, and whether that person was very nice and friendly to you or really hard on you, they made you become a better individual in the process. And I think today teachers are so focused on teaching to the test, making sure that kid can fill out a corresponding bubble on a standardized achievement test – not because the teachers have decided that’s what’s important, but that’s because citizens have decided that’s what’s important. We’ve all got to prepare our kids for Harvard. A practice I call Preparation H. And in the process, we have forgotten who we are, that we need to develop those character values. We need to start focusing on being people of integrity who are going to choose the high road. People who are going to be responsible. Be punctual. Be on time. Focus on what we can give, not on what we can get. I believe teachers could do a great job in furthering that. And I’d like to change the education system so that there’s more character development and less focus on just science and math and everybody’s going to be an engineer.
Brian Watson: I’m glad to hear you say that. Education is extremely important to me. In fact I believe it’s one of our civil rights issues of our day, and at Northstar we just launched a new fund to be able to go buy vacant buildings for charter schools and for competition to occur. And just like you’re saying, having different models and different approaches so that it’s not just a standard cookie cutter approach and that we’re encouraging true learning and true life development. And so we’re excited about that. And so I’m really glad to hear that education is so important and I agree with you.
Eric, what are some of the parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom that you would like to share with our listeners? You’ve obviously shared a lot, you know, during this time, and we appreciate it. But do you have any parting words of wisdom for us?
Eric Chester: I call a rule that I live by every day, Brian, the Shanahan principle. I’m a big fan – I live in Denver and I’m a big fan of the Denver Broncos, and Mike Shanahan was a great coach, won a couple of Super Bowls, and yet the teams in his final years of the Broncos were under-performing. They had the top-rated offense but always the bottom-rated defense. Went through a number of defensive coordinators and he was called in after a year where they didn’t make the playoffs, and the owner, Pat Bowlen, said who are you going to bring in as the defensive coordinator next year, and Shanahan said, you know, I’m going to stick with the defensive coordinator. He goes, we finished last in the league, obviously you need to bring in somebody else, and Shanahan, who was also the General Manager, said, no, I’m going to stick with the guy that I have. And at that given point in time, Pat Bowlen fired him. Said basically, we can’t do it. We’re going to switch directions.
So a brilliant guy by the name of Mike Shanahan who had won Super Bowls was now an unemployed coach. A couple of weeks later in the Denver Post, a sports journalist asked a question. He said, let’s just say now that Denver’s out looking for a coach that they would bring in Mike Shanahan, and he hadn’t been here before. They brought in Mike Shanahan. What would be the first action that he would take? And the obvious answer was he would fire the defensive coordinator. I think each and every one of us need to take the Shanahan principle and look at our businesses, what we’re doing today, with fresh eyes. If you inherited your situation today, exactly the way it is, what would you do? We can give advice to other people. We can say, hey, you need to go on a diet. Hey, you got to start saving money. Geez, by the way, you’ve got to start focusing more on this. You’ve got to spend more time with your kids. Boy, if you only make a few more sales calls every day. We can all do that for other people, but we’re so protective of what we do. Instead of coming in going hey, what can I do? If I just inherited this business today, what would I do to make the biggest change. And odds are you know the answer to that question. Now the only question that remains is, why aren’t you doing it?
Brian Watson: So true. You know, I’m a huge Broncos fan, and I’ll remember that principle, so thank you for sharing that. Very, very wise.
Eric, even though you’ve already stated it, could you please tell our listeners again how they can learn more about you and your different books?
Eric Chester: Sure. Ericchester – E – R – I – C – C – H – E – S – T – E – R - .com is my website. I write a blog. Put three, four good articles out each month. I never spam anybody. I don’t put on boot camps. I don’t do that kind – I’m not a direct marketer. Just a guy trying to help people live a better life, and so if you hit ericchester.com you’ll see videos of what I do with audiences and you’ll also be exposed to the books that I’ve written, the blogs that I have. And if anything there is of use to you, I’m very easy to get a hold of. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Eric_Chester. Anything I can do to help your listeners, I’m all in.
Brian Watson: Well, Eric, I want to thank you for your time today, and I want to thank you for your positive words of wisdom and your transformational work. It is making a difference, and I know you’ve affected many, many people throughout Colorado, our country, and frankly the world, and so please keep up the great work.
Eric Chester: I appreciate that, Brian, and I appreciate what you’ve done for me as an investment counselor as well, and I’m just delighted to have been on your program today.
Brian Watson: Great. Thank you so much.
Eric Chester: You bet.
Brian Watson: Thank you for listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We'd love to have you subscribe on iTunes. If you'd like to learn more about the Opportunity Coalition, please visit www.opportunitycoalition.com. See you next time.
Brian Watson: Welcome to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. Today we have George Michel, who is the CEO, also known as the "Big Chicken," of Boston Market.
George, welcome to the show.
George Michel: Thanks for having me here, Brian.
Brian Watson: George, let's start off with on your business card, it says that you're the Big Chicken; and I love that. So tell our listeners a little bit more about that.
George Michel: You know, when I first started here, I noticed that employees when I went to the restaurants -- because I always loved going to our restaurants and speaking to our employees, engaging them in the discussion, getting their point of view of the business -- that when I introduced myself as the CEO and President, sometimes there is the fear factor or the fact that these young kids are not interested in the title.
And then I looked at our business and the idea came to me, why not call myself the Big Chicken? And it really results so well with our employees that most times when I go to the restaurants and I introduce myself as the Big Chicken, I get a big laugh. Usually, eight out of ten times, the employee wants to see my business card because -- is this for real? Show me your business card. And a few actually wanted my business card so they can show it to their family and friends. So it breaks the ice, and it allows me to get own to their level and talk to them just as a person to a person. That's why I've changed the title, and it's worked really well for me in communicating with our employees.
Brian Watson: I think it's fantastic. I've seen a lot of business cards in my day, but never one with The Big Chicken on it. So I appreciate that.
George, for our listeners, most everyone has heard of Boston Market. But would you mind giving us a little bit of background about the company and where you've come from and where the company is going today?
George Michel: Sure, Boston Market started as Boston Chicken in Boston; and that's where the name came from. We've been in business for 29 years, celebrating our 30th anniversary next year. We started as a home meal replacement with very small restaurants. They were primarily takeout restaurants. And the concept really took off in the '80s and became the darling of Wall Street at one point, and it grew very rapidly.
And at that time, there wasn't much competition in people being able to pick up a meal, take it home and practically put it on the table ready to be served for the family. So it was a concept for busy moms and busy parents looking for a solution to their busy lives. And we grew very fast. At one point, we added other proteins; and during that time, the name was changed to Boston Market.
With such a phenomenal growth, that led to basically lack of execution in the restaurants and lack of focus on operations and standards; and the company got into trouble and actually went into bankruptcy at a certain point and got delisted from the stock market. Then the company was picked up by McDonald's, who owned it for seven years. And in '06, an equity fund group, Sun Capital Partners -- who I work with at this point, they're the current owners of Boston Market – acquired the concept from McDonald's. And in the last four years, we've been really focusing on turning around the business and improving the customer experience in our restaurants. And we've fine-tuned our menu.
We've had some great success. You know, we've enjoyed comparable sales growth of about 28% the last three and a half years. That's same restaurant sales. And for the first time in seven years, we opened our first new restaurant in 2013.
Now, myself, I've been in the restaurant business for over 44 years. I started as a part-time burger cook at an A&W restaurant in Toronto, Canada, when I was going to university. And that really funded my university studies, and I grew up with that chain and ended up as CEO of the company after 20 years of being with the brand. And I moved to the States to run A&W International and have been in the restaurant business ever since then.
I've worked for brands such as Burger King for eight years. I've also worked for Brinker in their international division, which comprised brands like Chili's, Macaroni Grill, at that time On the Border, and Maggiano's. And then I also spent, with Sun Capital, two years running a coffee business in Canada, and I moved to Denver in October 2010 to actually lead and run Boston Markets.
So that's a bit of my background and a background about the company.
Brian Watson: So the company obviously went through a roaring period of growth. And my understanding that it got up to about 1,700 locations or so around the country, and then it had its challenges that it went through and decreased the amount of locations. And my understanding is that it's on a growth period again. And, obviously, you stepped in at a very crucial time for the company. Talk to us a little bit about that in terms of when you stepped in, how many locations were there from the height, and what you are putting in place to make Boston Market the company that's a known name and that a lot of people want to go and visit.
George Michel: Great, Brian. You know, the concept grew through developers at the height of growth. And when we went into bankruptcy, all of the developers were acquired. In a number of cases, restaurants were shut down; and a number of restaurants basically were taken back by the company. So when I stepped in, all of the restaurants were company owned and operated with no licensees or franchises in the system.
So when I came in, in October 2010, we had about 515 restaurants; and currently, we have 460 restaurants. So we had to go through a period of closing some of the underperforming restaurants that did not do well. And in some cases, closing restaurants as visas were expiring because those restaurants that were opened 20-22 years ago were in the wrong place. You know, markets move and trade areas shift in a lot of cities and towns. So we had to look very carefully at our portfolio and do that.
At the same time, we looked at our business; and there was a transition from the growth period through the acquisition by McDonald's and then when I stepped in, in that the focus was on turning the business into a fast food concept whereas originally it started as a fast casual concept. So we decided that the best thing to do is to go back to our roots and operate the restaurants as a fast casual.
So we implemented America's Kitchen Table, which was mainly a focus on better service. And at the same time, we introduced plates and real cutlery in our restaurants, as opposed to plastic ware because as you can imagine, it's very hard to cut into a chicken with a plastic knife and fork on a plastic plate.
We also invested some money in updating some of our restaurants. Well, the changes we made resonated extremely well with our customers. So between November 2010 and the end of 2011, we enjoyed some tremendous success with our comp sales. You know, we reversed the negative trend that we had been experiencing for quite a while.
At the same time, we looked at our menu offering. We took out menu items that were not selling. We eliminated some costs from our operations that were not necessary. And we really redeployed some of those savings into additional service at the restaurant, as well as training of our employees so that we can focus on the guest experience.
Then we also made a commitment to reduce sodium levels in our food. And so in 2012, we took away all of the salt shakers from all our restaurants and placed them on a counter where it was not easy for a customer to access a salt shaker and add salt to the food. And we made a commitment, working with the University of Colorado Health and Wellness Center, to reduce sodium by 15% on our menu. And we've been able to achieve those targets this year, and we're very pleased with the work we've done on sodium reduction in our food.
In 2013, we introduced ribs to our menu. And we believe that chicken and ribs go very well together. That has also been met with tremendous success by our customers. And then I went around in 2013, and I did a tour of all of our restaurants across the country. I spent one and a half months visiting restaurant managers across the country to learn from them, to engage them but, importantly, to find solutions for how we can take the service to the next level. We called those meetings the Big Chicken Chats. I learned a lot, but it allowed me to interface with every restaurant manager across the manager in a month and a half. Really, it was a win/win relationship, a win/win dialog; and it really helped us understand what are the areas we need to focus on.
And then this year, we introduced America's Kitchen Table Version 2.0, where we really are upping the guest experience and making sure that we continue to work on how we interact with our customers in our restaurants and bring the service level to the next step.
So all of those initiatives, engaging our employees, working with our employees, and we've learned all along that the best way to have an effective turnaround is to engage the employees. And we call that internal PR. And without internal PR, it's very hard to then go to external PR. So we've decided, let's engage our employees, work with them, get them involved; and then they're usually our best ambassadors to effect whatever changes or improvements we need to make in the restaurants. And that's what has led to our success in the last three and a half years.
Brian Watson: Well, it's interesting that you say that. You know, I think that there's a perception out there sometimes in the world by some people or groups that say, big corporations, all they care about is themselves. And obviously, I'd love to hear the number of how many employees you have around the country. You're focusing on your employees and getting them involved, and that obviously partly comes from your personal background and how you grew up through different organizations and had interactions being an employee yourself and now being the Big Chicken at Boston Market.
But I also like how you're focusing on your customers, the idea of reducing salt and trying to provide a great quality product for them. So what would be your rebuttal to some of those out there that say, big corporations are only out for themselves and they take advantage of their employees. They may even take advantage of their customers in feeding them food that may not be the best for them. What would be your response to naysayers like that?
George Michel: Well, you know, we at Boston Market really strive to work with our people because we believe that our employees are, at the end of the day, the difference. And they're the ones that interact with the customer. So we've created values to make sure that we work with our employees. We want them to focus on service. One of our values is love to serve. We also want to make sure that they have fun while they're doing that. But anything we do, we always want to make sure that we first engage our employees before we talk to the customer.
So even this year, when we introduced America's Kitchen Table Version 2.0, we went around the country and held 52 meetings. We did 26 meetings with the George Michels and the Assistant Managers of the restaurants. And that same afternoon, we brought the hourly employees into a conference room and talked to them about what it means to effect a change through America's Kitchen Table.
And technically, America's Kitchen Table 2.0 was tested in a couple of markets; so it was not an idea that we came up with. It was ideas that were generated by our employees in Phoenix and Philadelphia. They were the ones that actually provided the training materials that then we showed in those 52 meetings. So they were employees talking about how excited they are about AKT 2.0, about how they came up with the ideas and the impact it had on the customers.
At the same time, when we look at food, we look at our employees. We have 11,000 employees that eat in our restaurants. So whatever we do to the menu, whatever changes we make to the menu, we know not only it impacts our customers, but it impacts our 11,000 employees that eat in our restaurants on a regular basis. And so when they're proud in what they're eating, they're going to be proud in serving that food.
And we are proud of the fact that we have no fryers in our restaurants. So we really focus on making sure that since we provide home meal replacement to busy moms and busy parents, we want to make sure that the food they buy at Boston Market is the type of food that they would personally cook at home and are proud to serve their families.
Brian Watson: And that's so important. And you know, I've seen firsthand the culture of your employees. For full disclaimer, I, as the owner and founder of North Star Commercial and Partners, one of the buildings we own is the corporate headquarters building for Boston Market. And every time I go in there, the employees look to be very engaged and very happy to be doing the work that they're doing. And obviously, that's coming through in terms of your performance.
In terms of the future for Boston Market, would you be looking to grow the locations and the footprint of the company in the coming years?
George Michel: Absolutely, as you and I chatted before, the main focus was to improve execution in our existing restaurants. We also developed a new operating system where we can serve the customers faster. So we've redesigned the kitchen and, more importantly, the front service area. We've implemented those changes in about 12 restaurants right now; and we're getting some great, great response and success. So all the new restaurants that we're going to be building would be modeled after the new operating system.
As I mentioned to you, we opened our first restaurant in 2013 in Jai-Alia, Florida, after a seven-year hiatus. And then this year we opened a new concept for us. It's a Boston Market in a food court in a regional shopping center in Syracuse, New York. It's a much smaller footprint. It's about 900 square feet. And that has had a lot of appeal so that we can now develop some of the Boston Market restaurants inside shopping centers.
We also signed a 20-year agreement with the Army Exchange, where we're going to be opening Boston Markets on Army bases throughout the country and eventually overseas. In October, we open our first Boston Market on an Army base in Fort Bliss in Texas. Just this weekend, we open at Fort Meade as well our second Boston Market location.
At the same time, we're focusing on growth in some of our great markets in the Northeast. We have leases for five locations at this point in the New York, Bronx, Brooklyn area. We're also focusing on New Jersey and Florida as sort of our top markets, followed by Texas. And we just started also looking at international expansion. We're actually engaged right now with a group out of the Middle East to potentially open 40 to 50 Boston Markets throughout the Gulf countries and the Middle East.
And we believe that chicken is international. Chicken is a protein that is consumed all across the world. And in meeting with some of the key players around the country, they say the future is in birds; and we believe that. And we really believe that we can take our concept to places like Asia; down the road, we can take it to South America and at the same time to Europe. But we believe that there is going to be tremendous growth for our brand in the U.S. as well. So we're very excited about the next few years and the potential for the business.
Brian Watson: George, I want to transition now to you on a personal level, specifically as a CEO. You've had a very interesting life and been involved in many international ideas and things like that. So my understanding is that you speak four languages. And obviously, you're not originally from America. So tell our listeners a little bit about that.
George Michel: Yes, I'm a U.S. citizen; but I also hold a Canadian citizenship. I was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, so I had the fortune to be born in a city with diversity, grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew, and I learned French and English at school. And then I came to Canada when I was 17 and went to the University of Toronto. I graduated from there and then moved to the U.S., where I got married in Detroit. Both my children were born in Detroit, and currently one of them resides in the U.S. And my daughter at this point is pursuing her undergraduate studies in Canada, eventually moving back to the U.S.
It's been great for me to speak the four languages, but also the fact that I've lived in different countries. Throughout my career, I've done business in Canada and the U.S., back and forth. Also, as a family, we lived in Dubai for four years, when I was responsible for the Burger King business in the Middle East and Asia. I've done business internationally in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe. And the fact that I speak languages has allowed me to communicate very well with employees because the U.S. is a mosaic of diversity.
And every time I step into any one of our restaurants, I usually look at people's name tags. And a lot of times, I can connect with them by finding out from which country they originated from or their parents are from. And then when I switch to their language, using my four languages, it resonates so well with our staff. And it has helped me as well a lot in doing business in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East – the fact that I can understand the culture but, more importantly, use my languages where it's needed.
Brian Watson: You know, I got the opportunity to visit the Old City of Jerusalem and one of the most amazing cities of the world. So I'm sure that that did prepare you well for a lot of diversity and being involved on an international basis. So thank you for giving us that background.
George, what is one of your favorite quotes or sayings and why?
George Michel: Good question. You know, my favorite saying is by John Quincy Adams. And I really believe in it. I try to remind myself every day that that is the purpose of me being a leader. And the quote goes like this: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader." I love this quote, and it really resonates very well. And it reminds me every day about the purpose for me being here at Boston Market.
Brian Watson: You know, I hadn't heard that quote before; and I really like that a lot. And that's just so true in that role of a leader and helping to empower others and help them achieve their dreams and create a greater good overall. So appreciate you sharing that.
George, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?
George Michel: The one advice that sticks with me throughout is more of an advice that the Director of Operations when I was a restaurant manager at A&W used to write on cards for people. Normally, when people are leaving a company or moving on or they get a promotion, you know, cards are sent around; and we sign them with a message. But this Director of Operations, whose name is Bill Armstrong, used to always write: "Make your own luck." He never used to say, good luck. And that always stuck with me that it's not about having good luck; it's about making your own luck. And I've always lived by that and continue to remind myself that it's your actions that create your luck.
Brian Watson: It reminds of that saying that the more and more you see lucky people, you realize that those are the people that work really hard and are well-prepared for the moment. And it's so true at the end of the day. It just doesn't happen to you; you've got to go out and start to be a force to make that happen. So I like that a lot.
George, what is your definition of success on a personal level?
George Michel: It's about the team achieving incredible results beyond my expectations and their wildest expectations while having mutual respect and trust. That's what I always feels is success on a business level. On a personal level, it's the kind of family I have and the success that my spouse and children are enjoying. That is what to me is the definition of my success. And that's how I treat my personal life, and that's how I look at the business aspect of my interactions with my people here and the teams that I work with.
Brian Watson: Interesting, well, I agree that those are two good measuring sticks for success because it definitely impacts a lot of people.
George, tell us about one of your proudest professional moments.
George Michel: You know, the one that comes to my mind is opening our first Boston Market after seven years of hiatus, of closing restaurants, of shutting down underperforming restaurants, is to open a brand new Boston Market. Just the excitement that created with our employees and our management and our support staff here in Denver. The look in their eyes when we cut the ribbon and opened that first restaurant, which is the signal of the future. That, to me, was the proudest moment I've enjoyed.
Brian Watson: Well, that definitely signaled the turn of the tide; that's for sure. And I'm sure that that was very, very powerful and, frankly, probably very emotional for a lot of the employees. I've met a lot of them out there and at your corporate headquarters, and several of them have worked there for many, many years and saw the upside and then the challenge period and now the growth period in creating that foundation.
George, what is the best way for our listeners to learn more about you and Boston Market online or in any other way?
George Michel: The first one is to look at our website. Our website is very comprehensive: www.bostonmarket.com. There are different tabs because we're in two or three businesses really. I mean, we're a bit of a hybrid. We're not a restaurant and we're not a supermarket; we're in-between. Customers use us for three different occasions.
One is to eat in the restaurants, and they can look at the menu. We also do a lot of takeout. We do very well during Thanksgiving. The next four weeks is really our Super Bowl, where people are looking for solutions. And we provide great solutions during the holidays and Thanksgiving, where people can come and pick up ready-to-heat food at our restaurants.
And then at the same time, we have a catering business. And we do very well with catering where, again, we take food to offices. We take food to work places. We provide food to airline employees that work behind the scenes during holidays. So our website would be a great place to look at our business, where we do in dining; we do takeout with a lot of families; and we do, at the same time, catering through the whole year but especially during the holidays and on weekends as well.
At the same time, we have a Facebook. People can get on our Facebook and enjoy some of the news stories and clippings and interviews and press releases that we have, and the interaction that we have with the customers so that they can learn more about our business. So these would be the two areas that I would suggest that if people are interested in Boston Market is to go to those two sites.
Brian Watson: Thank you for that. And what parting advice or golden nuggets of wisdom would you like to share with our listeners?
George Michel: You asked me about quotes. I have sometimes my own quotes as well that I always use with our people here because it helps them understand how I manage and how I look at the business. So the first thing I always say to my team and to people, "It's not about how fast or how hard you skate; it's all about how many pucks you can put in the net."
And the second thing that I aspire to is as a leader, you have to walk the talk. You cannot ask or tell people what to do. You have to be the role model for them. One example of that is, as I mentioned to you, Thanksgiving is a big period for us; and it's our Super Bowl. Thanksgiving Day, myself and my wife, we put on uniforms; and we work in the restaurants. And then at the end of the day, we serve our employees their Thanksgiving meal. Because when we're asking our employees to work on that day to take care of our customers, I need as a leader to be a role model and show that it's okay for me also to work on Thanksgiving Day and not to be home enjoying my time off while our employees are working.
And then the last thing is, I always say, "I operate under the no surprise principle." Don't surprise me; I won't surprise you. If you're in doubt, just let me know what's going on. It's okay if we're failing; let's learn from it. But don't hide anything because at the end of the day, we should always operate under the no surprise principle.
So those would be three things that I'd like to share with you about areas that I focus on and I use in my management day after day.
Brian Watson: Well, each one of those is powerful and could have a positive effect. And I especially like the hockey metaphor from someone who has spent some time in Canada. So I appreciate that one.
George, I want to thank you for participating in this podcast and sharing your story about the company and congratulate you on your success. And I also want to thank you for your tenancy in one of our buildings and look forward to being a customer of yours for many years to come. So thank you for your time today.
George Michel: Thank you, Brian. We really enjoy our relationship with you as well. We love being here in Denver. We love doing business and being a solution to busy people. Thanks so much.
Brian Watson: Thank you for listening to the Opportunity Coalition podcast. We'd love to have you subscribe on iTunes. If you'd like to learn more about the Opportunity Coalition, please visit www.opportunitycoalition.com. See you next time.