Bob Weiler of Brimstone Consulting: “Restart their engines”

As Jim Collins says, productive change begins when you confront the brutal facts. For a leader to “restart their engines,” they need bring their senior leadership together and align around the brutal facts. Then they need to share these facts throughout the organization and get additional points of view. Ask for input, ask for ideas — engage […]

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As Jim Collins says, productive change begins when you confront the brutal facts. For a leader to “restart their engines,” they need bring their senior leadership together and align around the brutal facts. Then they need to share these facts throughout the organization and get additional points of view. Ask for input, ask for ideas — engage the organization.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Weiler, Managing Founder of Brimstone Consulting, where he partners with CEOs and their leadership teams on accelerating business results and large-scale change initiatives. Much of his work focuses on advising CEOs and C-suite executives on methods to address short- and long-term results, while simultaneously achieving alignment, developing leaders, and energizing the organization.

Before launching Brimstone, Bob served as: President and COO of Grand Circle Travel, an industry leader in direct marketing of travel to mature Americans; Associate Director of the Global Leadership Program, a renowned executive development program at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan; and EVP of Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, the largest Outward Bound School in North America. Working with leadership expert Noel Tichy at General Electric’s Crotonville management training center, Bob designed key modules for developing high-performing teams and individuals.

Bob has competed in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, the Spartan Peak to Peak 50-mile race, and the Leadville 100 MTB. He has also participated in expeditions in Nepal and the Swiss Alps.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Shortly after taking on the role of Executive Vice President of Hurricane Island Outward Bound, I went to Crotonville, GE’s management training center, and knocked on Noel Tichy’s door. Noel was the then-famous change management guru hired by Jack Welch to transform Crotonville into a major engine for change. I invited Noel and his Crotonville teaching staff to Hurricane Island, a small island off the coast of Maine, to participate in a three-day action learning program. Noel initially said no, but I finally convinced him.

When Noel and his team of 24 arrived on the Island, I was off on a business development trip. When I returned, I found that the program had been a disaster, and Noel and his team had left. I immediately went to Crotonville, and I sat outside Noel’s door for close to seven hours. When he opened his door, the first thing he said was, “Where do we start?” My answer was, “With an apology.” For the next three years, I worked closely with Noel, Hiro Takeuchi, and the team at Crotonville. This experience was foundational.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I don’t see hard; I see the next challenge. I am tenacious, and I am extremely fortunate in that I have been able to surround with people and a team who also lean in and are willing to work through challenges.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

We were in the final stages of negotiating a 1 million dollars contract when the power went out and stayed out. In the dark and unable to use the phone or fax, we could not continue contract negotiations. The prospect thought we flaked and awarded the contract to another company.

Just months before I had gotten quotes to install a generator because I knew power outages were frequent in the winter in what was at the time, a fairly rural part of Maine. Rather than pay 10,000 dollars for the generator, I decided to take the gamble — and I lost.

That experience taught me that small investments can have huge returns and to always have a back-up plan.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our people. Many of us have worked together for decades and in multiple contexts. We’ve hiked the wilderness together, traveled around the world together, and spent time everywhere from boardrooms to Bali.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Have a passion for what you do, have a passion outside of work, and surround yourself with exceptional people.

Also important is taking time off to reset and recharge. Over the past few months, I have heard many people say they are too busy to take time off, or that they don’t want to take time off because travel is limited. Put these excuses to the side and take time away from work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When we begin working with clients, we often start by having people share their Journey Lines — their journey, including pivotal people and events. We use Journey Lines because they help to bring people together and establish trust. They also help people to develop empathy.

I bring up Journey Lines because there are many people and many events that have impacted and shaped my journey and who I am today.

In very different ways, three people gave me the confidence, knowledge, and kick necessary for me to leave Grand Circle Corporation and found Brimstone are: my wife Wendy, my brother Peter, and Alan Lewis, Founder and Chairman of Grand Circle Corporation.

And, as I said earlier, Noel Tichy has placed a significant role in my journey and in my life.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Jim Collins asked if good companies could become a great company and, if so, how? His research found that leadership — Level 5 leadership — can transform a company from a good company to a great company.

We have seen the same thing in our work — a great leader distinguishes a great company. Great leaders energize, engage, and they ask for help. They take the time necessary to align their team and get everyone in the game.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Start by bringing your executive team together. Get clear on the brutal facts. Engage the organization in finding solutions. Give the right people the right resources. Get out of the way.

This is, roughly, our Senior Team Alignment Process (STAP), a process we have seen help leaders take a company from good to great. For example, we helped the VP of Operations at a global pharmaceutical company take her team through this process. The process and the strategy developed as part of the STAP identified nearly 7 million dollars in short-term savings and delivered more than 10 million dollars in additional savings. Most importantly, the process helped the team learn how to make better decisions and move more quickly — and take the company from good to great.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

There is a lot of research that purpose-driven businesses perform better, have more engaged and productive employees, and have more loyal customers. These are all reasons why it makes sense to be a purpose-driven business. However, being a purpose-driven business requires the purpose to be a part of the culture of the organization, part of the DNA. Becoming a purpose-driven business requires a culture change within an organization.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

As Jim Collins says, productive change begins when you confront the brutal facts. For a leader to “restart their engines,” they need bring their senior leadership together and align around the brutal facts. Then they need to share these facts throughout the organization and get additional points of view. Ask for input, ask for ideas — engage the organization.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Start by looking at your market realities, understanding your customer needs, and understanding where you are vulnerable. Once you understand the competitive forces, customer forces, and external forces, you can quickly make assumptions and see opportunities.

I also recommend taking an agile approach to strategy. An agile approach is iterative and engenders collective ownership within the leadership team and across the organization. It accelerates execution, enhances employee engagement, and drives performance and profitability. It also identifies barriers to alignment, fosters communication, increases engagement, increases trust, drives better decision-making, improves operating discipline, promotes individual leadership development, and builds the capabilities of high-performing teams.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Leaders tend to underestimate the value of an aligned leadership team and organization and the time necessary to maintain alignment.

Focus is typically put on the challenge of moving from strategy to execution. Many leaders do not recognize that an aligned leadership team and an aligned organization can mitigate this challenge and create unstoppable momentum.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Honesty, transparency, empathy, and persistence.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

We build strong and lasting relationships with our clients. There are many clients with whom we have worked with for close to twenty years -when they take on a new role or move to a new company, they bring us in to help align the organization and accelerate performance and profitability.

We build these relationships because we listen, and we get clear on our client’s goals and their definitions of success. Before we begin working with a client, we discuss ways we can help or recommend others who may be a better fit. A lasting relationship is a two-way street.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Understand what success looks like to the client and help the client achieve success.

When we begin working with a leader, we ensure that we understand their goals and their definition of success. This takes time, it takes listening, and it takes a lot of question-asking, but it is critical. If we truly understand what the client wants to achieve, we can help them succeed. Success is the ultimate Wow! Customer Experience.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

As with anything, it starts with why. Companies using social media and engaging on social media need to know their why. While brand building may be a common thread for companies, each company has its own why.

Social media can be risky when companies are not clear on their why or don’t stay true to their why.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Listening to your customers and listening to your team is critical to the success of a business. Not listening is the single biggest pitfall I see CEOs and founders make, not just when they are starting out but also throughout their tenure as a leader.

Leaders need to take the time to seek input, ask questions, and engage their customers and their team. When doing so, they need to really listen to the insights and ideas as well as to potential criticism.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking questions I have been asked.

The number of children who are homeless and who do not have enough to eat is staggering. If I could start any movement, it would be to ensure that every child has food and shelter.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Brimstone can followed on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and via the articles written by Kate Lee and others in our organization.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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