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“Finding a mentor who has traveled your path is critical.” with Mike McCarty and Chaya Weiner

Finding a mentor who has traveled your path is critical. I surrounded myself with a small group of 3 other business owners who range from established leaders to starting out like me. Your spouse or partner understands you are stressed and launching a business and they clearly understand it from a financial perspective, so you […]


Finding a mentor who has traveled your path is critical. I surrounded myself with a small group of 3 other business owners who range from established leaders to starting out like me. Your spouse or partner understands you are stressed and launching a business and they clearly understand it from a financial perspective, so you cannot always go home and talk to them about cash flow, fear, revenue problems etc. You need someone who has walked in your shoes, who can coach you and also provide hope for where you are heading. I can remember telling my group that I had driven to the post office the prior morning, praying that I had received a check I was waiting on or I would not be able to make payroll. One of my mentors said, “do you need it today, literally, or do you need it today to feel better inside?” I smiled. The check arrived two days later but I learned a lesson in faith as well. My mentors did not sound the alarm bells to add fear to my life.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike McCarty. Mike is the Founder & CEO of one of the fastest growing background screening firms in the U.S.- Safe Hiring Solutions– with thousands of clients such as Liberty Mutual Insurance, Kiwanis International, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs and Mennonite Mutual Insurance Company. Mike has more than 25 years of violence prevention experience that includes being a violent crime detective with the Metro Nashville Police Department where he was instrumental in developing and implementing the largest law enforcement-based family violence program in the U.S. as well as a lieutenant at the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Academy. Mike is the author of “Choking in Fear: a Memoir of the Hollandsburg Murders” which was the basis for a documentary on the Discovery Channel titled Very Bad Men. Mike has facilitated violence prevention training and consulting nationally and internationally to organizations such as U.S. Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Justice, National Sheriff’s Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Mike is also active in the community has served on numerous boards including Northview Christian Church Stepping Stones, Outreach Inc., Domestic Violence Network of Indianapolis and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career path to violence prevention and security started when I was nine years old. There was a brutal, random murder of four children in our community which gripped us with fear. My father was an Indiana State Police Officer assigned to the case and it took months to determine who committed this crime and to capture them. It lit a fire of justice inside of me that led me to become a violence crime detective after college with the City of Nashville, TN.

Simply solving crimes made no sense to me, there had to be a way to prevent violence. I helped develop and implement the largest law enforcement-based Domestic Violence Unit in the U.S. in 1994 which resulted in a 50% reduction of domestic homicides in Nashville. I left Nashville in my early 30’s and started a violence prevention training and consulting firm providing services to U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. This led to expanding our violence prevention efforts by launching Safe Hiring Solutions, a global background screening firm; SafeVisitor, a complex and proprietary visitor, volunteer and vendor management system; and RefLynk an automated solution for conducting text-based reference checks.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The journey to become a police officer required a 26-week intensive Academy training that included physical competency (running, calisthenics, physical defense tactics), academics, weapons/ firearm proficiencies and being subjected to enormous physical and mental stress in order to perform. This training provided me with the tools and endurance to work through the stress and struggles of launching a company. Too many entrepreneurs are focused on seed money to get their businesses off the ground, but I think they lose out on important foundational experiences for founders. The pain of starting the business, generating cash flow, balancing payables/ receivables, and building the business with sweat equity is critical to a leader who is completely committed and driven to succeed in the long-term.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My experiences as a violent crime detective, operating under enormous pressure and stress, coupled with being an athlete through college, gave me discipline and a competitiveness to succeed. I also believed then, as I do now, that this was a calling in my life.

So, how are things going today? How did grit lead to your eventual success?

Successful companies move through different phases that all present stresses and challenges. We have been around for 15 years, but we are never satisfied, always learning, always adapting to what clients want and need. We have been recognized for the past 4 years as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company and recently named Indianapolis Business Journal Fast 25 for one of the fastest growing companies in the Indianapolis region. Scaling quickly brings more stresses and challenges such as cash flow, keeping pace with recruiting and labor, and maintaining our high standards of customer care.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Patience may be a virtue but it is also my Achilles’ heel. This is partly because I am justice-oriented and justice requires immediacy. I had grand visions of launching Safe Hiring Solutions and becoming the next Google overnight. The struggles during the first few years were not pleasant with a wife and young children depending on me. However, looking back, our company would not be successful without the heavy lifting, struggles and what is learned from building a business brick by brick.

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

We hire great people who own the vision of the company. We employ nearly 50 employees who have children, grandchildren or someone they love in a school or an organization where we provide services. We invest in customer care and quality. This past week, we had a client call because we ran a background check on a school volunteer. We found that this candidate was a convicted sex offender. The school called because they had received a report from a neighboring school (not our client) with a background check that was clear. This is a systemic problem with the background screening industry, limiting searches or relying on cheap databases. Yet this was a person who had a history of harming children and had gained access at a prior school. That is the satisfaction we receive when we know that we keep children safe from a predator.

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

I am a hard charger but I have learned to balance life. I make sure our team works hard and plays hard. We need outlets, spending time with family, vacationing, running, lifting, whatever brings you life balance and re-energizes you.

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?

Finding a mentor who has traveled your path is critical. I surrounded myself with a small group of 3 other business owners who range from established leaders to starting out like me. Your spouse or partner understands you are stressed and launching a business and they clearly understand it from a financial perspective, so you cannot always go home and talk to them about cash flow, fear, revenue problems etc. You need someone who has walked in your shoes, who can coach you and also provide hope for where you are heading. I can remember telling my group that I had driven to the post office the prior morning, praying that I had received a check I was waiting on or I would not be able to make payroll. One of my mentors said, “do you need it today, literally, or do you need it today to feel better inside?” I smiled. The check arrived two days later but I learned a lesson in faith as well. My mentors did not sound the alarm bells to add fear to my life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We truly feel a responsibility to bring good to the world. We donate both money and time to large numbers of not-for-profits and ministries. Our employees are encouraged to donate 4 hours a month to a not-for-profit of their choice while on the clock for Safe Hiring Solutions. Our leadership team is encouraged to join not-for-profit boards and use their leadership experience to make a positive impact through these organizations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Growing too quickly can kill your business as quick as no business. It is very easy to chase large clients early in your startup. I spent 6 months chasing a large national retail chain and had great penetration with their leadership team, but they had long sales cycles. I learned a number of lessons. First, I become tunneled on one large client and the huge revenue stream it could generate. I also spent 6 months avoiding other smaller clients who would have converted more quickly. Second, I learned that if I had landed this large client, I would have created a business based 90% on one client and this would have been dangerous. Third, we did not have the infrastructure yet to manage a client this large.
  2. Recruit GREAT people not just experience. Nearly 100% of the people we recruited in our early years were sought because of experience and nearly all of them are gone. When I started to recruit and develop great people, our company has become great. Our leadership team is more than 90% comprised of great people we hired in operations who embraced the vision of the company, understand how everything works, and now lead it.
  3. Learn quickly what you are not good at! I am a great visionary, marketer and relationship builder. But I do not enjoy driving the day to day operations, minutiae of the business- contracts, finances, processes. I have learned how to surround myself with great people who are mostly very different from me. Our differences collectively make us a high functioning leadership team that complements, pushes back, and views problems and opportunities from different lenses. Diversified leadership teams are a must!
  4. I have to trust others to love my company as much as I do. This is the biggest fear any successful founder faces. You reach a level where you cannot grow any further without letting go and letting other leaders lead. It reminds me of our first child and thinking my parents could not be trusted to care for them as well as I could (although i had survived with them as a child). Letting go and letting our leaders lead has taken our company to a level we could have never reached before.
  5. There is no such thing as 8 to 5. I am a problem solver and our companies are solution driven which means my brain never shuts down. And I have a leadership team that has the same drive and commitment. In 15 years, I know that when I go on vacation, or in the evenings, or early on Saturday morning I will be answering emails, maybe taking a call or working through a problem. This is the work-life-balance. I also expect our leaders to take off in the afternoon for children events, lunch at school, to re energize. The world we live in is always connected. In all honesty, I would be terrified to be disconnected. This has also allowed my family to travel more because I can also lead from a distance.

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. 🙂

We have become a highly trusted partner to thousands of schools across the U.S. Keeping our kids safe is a movement that needs to lean on parents and moms in particular. We have no shortage of experts who are peddling new solutions, a majority of which will never keep a child safe. We have no shortage of politicians with knee-jerk solutions and policy requirements that will never keep a child safe. We need a grassroots movement of parents who understand what keeping children safe at school, church, volunteer groups means. Government cannot solve the safety of children and schools, it takes communities and parents understanding what prevention means. The Marines adopted a program years ago to get “left of bang” which is prevention-based, and that is our approach to child safety in the U.S. Move the discussion left of bang because too much of the conversation is focused right of bang after something happens.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/safehiringsolutions/

Instagram page:

https://www.instagram.com/Safe_Hiring/

@safe_hiring

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-mccarty-8835a14/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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