I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew DeWalt, the co-founder and COO of Rhumbix which builds mobile smartphone tools designed specifically for the construction industry and its craft workforce. Drew started in the construction industry by working on large energy infrastructure projects in Chile where he helped develop and build the world’s largest ocean pumped hydro combined solar base load capacity energy asset. His interest in the energy space began as a nuclear submarine officer in the US Navy and developed while working on his MBA and MPP at Stanford University.
Chris: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Can you tell us about your military background?
My family has a rich military background with my grandfather serving as a Navy Seabee in WWII and my father and older brother both serving in the Air Force as pilots (F-4s and AC-130s respectively). I knew I also wanted to serve my country in some capacity so as an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, I joined the Navy ROTC program and chose to join the Nuclear Submarine force upon graduation and commissioning. I spent over 6 years with the Navy, most of that time aboard the fast-attack submarine USS CHEYENNE in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and deployed to locations across Southeast Asia.
Chris: What from your time in the military, do you think most prepared you for business?
The overall environment in the military was the best testing ground for, in my opinion, the most important skills in business. Early on in your career, sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines are pushed to act and develop a bias toward action that requires making decisions under stress with incomplete information. If you wait to be fully prepared and have all the information before moving forward, it’s usually too late. So you learn to make good decisions quickly and then be vigilant for new information that may necessitate a change in execution. In business, the most important decisions very rarely have one clear, “right” answer. Good soon is better than perfect late.
Chris: How would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style is driven by empowering others to execute and then supporting them to do their best work. I believe that hiring well means hiring people who are more capable experts in their respective areas than I am. In doing so, I become less qualified than those in specific functions of our business so it isn’t necessary to micromanage. So I focus on hiring capable people I can trust; equip them with the mission to motivate, the tools to execute, and the consistent communication to inform; and then let them run.
Chris: What are your “6 Leadership Lessons Businesses can learn from military experience? Please share a story or example for each.
Empowered Execution — When I navigated our first major fundraise, it was so time-consuming that I wasn’t able to stay as up to speed with our product build and progress as I would have liked. I remember getting pulled into a meeting with a customer and being surprised by some of the things my team was sharing. We’d delivered features I had only heard about and didn’t expect to be built yet, and the features looked and worked better than I had envisioned. It was both a proud and humbling moment for me.
Clarity of mission and values — At Rhumbix, our overarching mission is to always keep workers first — our own workers and the construction workers for which we build. When you have a mission and a set of core values that are authentic to your organization, it drives so much of the most important team decisions along with the myriad of individual decisions at the margins. This allowed us to say “no” to some big opportunities in our early days that, for a company with no revenue, were compelling economically but didn’t line up with the direction we wanted to take Rhumbix. In retrospect, saying yes to them would have sunk the company in our early days.
Never quit on a hill — Effort and persistence are the most important things to look for as a startup and possibly even more important in larger organizations. We do some complicated things to build our software platform and pull insights from the data we collect. But I joke that even at a company like SpaceX, most of the work is not rocket science. A consistent effort by capable, well-intentioned people wins the day. Anything worth doing is hard, and it’s easy to quit and rationalize it. You want people who never quit on a hill. If you never quit on a hill, you’ll probably never quit.
Perspective — Very rarely in business are the stakes as high as we make them out to be. We tend to create and feel stress unnecessarily. The truth is we’re not operating a mobile nuclear reactor deep in the ocean or in the middle of a desert with bullets flying overhead. No one is going to die. We’ve had our fair share of the “near-death” startup experiences at Rhumbix, but we’ve been able to adapt and overcome in large part because we never panicked, never pushed stress onto our team, and kept a “we’ll figure it out” confidence that got us through.
Consistent communication — Every Monday morning we have a 30-minute O&I (Operations & Intelligence) meeting in which each department pushes out the most important information and priorities to the entire team, both good news and bad news but focusing on the challenges ahead. It’s better to have all 40 of our people thinking about our biggest challenges and how to overcome them instead of insulating information inside a small group
Culture matters — This may seem like a cliché, but there’s a difference between a communicated culture that’s marketed to a team or company that doesn’t reflect reality and the real culture that drives a company to row in the same direction in the same cadence. Every company has a real culture, but you might end up with a culture that you don’t like. Leaders need to be intentional and consistent in building and fostering the culture they hope for. We have several investors who have commented that we have one of the best company cultures they’ve seen and it’s not by accident. We work at it.
Chris: The future of many industries relies heavily on Millennials and Gen-Z in regards to consumers and talent. Can you tell us something you or your company is doing to stay ahead with attracting both?
For talent, it’s easy. Most everyone wants a career that offers a sense of ownership where they can have an impact on the business and feel fulfilled. The biggest difference may be that older generations were more patient with the promise of those things to come in the future. Younger generations are a bit more impatient and want those things sooner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a fast-changing world.
Chris: Can you tell us one person in the world, or in the US whom you would want to sit down and have a drink or cocktail with? He or she might see this. 🙂
For a drink, dinner and interesting conversation, I’m not sure there’s anyone better for me than Anthony Bourdain. His intense curiosity and lack of hesitation to get down on the deck plates and “go local” in the communities and restaurants he visits are admirable. I see that as living at the core to better connections and more success in any endeavor. So if you see this Anthony, the first round’s on me.
Chris Quiocho is a combat veteran and pilot. Millennial leader and CEO of Offland Media, the premier content partner for business aviation. Chris is an insightful and motivational public speaker, and an emerging thought leader for the business aviation industry.
Originally published at medium.com