I believe that success in protecting and empowering millions upon millions of households will make society a better place. We will greatly improve human life by teaching people life-transforming skills of how to live free under the rule of law.
I had the pleasure to interview Jeff Bell the CEO of LegalShield. Jeff was named Chief Executive Officer of LegalShield in July 2014, the leading provider of legal services in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, with nearly 650 employees and 1.75 million members. Previously, Mr. Bell had been the Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Global Marketing, Interactive Entertainment Business (Xbox). He also served as Vice President of the Chrysler and Jeep Divisions. At Microsoft, Bell oversaw Xbox marketing. He joined the company in 2006, and under his leadership, the Xbox had its first profitable year in 2007. He expanded Xbox Live to include Netflix, as well as launching the video games “Halo 3,” “Gears of War,” and “Rock Band,” to name a few. He received the prestigious 2008 Titanium Lion at the Cannes Advertising Awards for Halo 3. In 2005, Jeff received the Advertising Age Award for “Interactive Marketer of the Year,” and was named the AdAge “Entertainment Marketer of the Year” in 2007 for his work at Chrysler and launching Gears of War, respectively. Bell honed his skills during his time at Chrysler and Ford, where he rose through the ranks. He was instrumental in turning around the Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler brands with “That Thang Gotta Hemi?,” the Chrysler 300, “Stow ‘n Go” minivan and Jeep 4-door Wrangler launches. Mr. Bell earned a B.A. degree in History and Spanish from Kenyon College in 1984, a M.A. in International Relations from Johns Hopkins in 1988, and a M.B.A. from The Wharton School in 1989. He and his wife of 31 years have three sons.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As the Grateful Dead sang, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” I spent 17 years in the corporate world as an “intrapreneur,” and then six years as a venture capital investor and consultant. I learned a great deal about leadership and business at Microsoft, Chrysler and Ford, where I gained tremendous technology insights working with start-ups. When I was approached to become LegalShield CEO, it was a chance to lead a 47-year-old start-up! I was ready to truly disrupt an industry in a mission-based company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was blessed with the chance to spend time with the founder of LegalShield, Harland C. Stonecipher, before he passed in 2014. He told me that he started the company because “on the front of the Supreme Court building it says ‘equal justice under law,’ but there is just one problem with that. Today people get just as much justice as they can afford.” We exist to provide the liberty, equality, opportunity and justice that every human deserves. Hearing from our founder touched my heart and set me on a personal and professional crusade.
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?
In my 3rd month as CEO, I invited the top 10 independent business sales leaders to a dinner at Nobu Dallas, and we served sushi to all attendees. The late great Dave Savula, who earned over $2 million marketing LegalShield and IDShield plans with his organization, refused to eat sushi saying, “my God can’t we at least afford to cook the fish!” As it turned out, more than half the sales leaders opted out of sushi and asked for steaks instead. Lessons? Know your audience, the details matter, and keep a sense of humor.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Do you have the legal app? You know, the mobile app that puts a law firm in the palm of your hand? You don’t have it? Well, it is free to download on iTunes and Google Play. You can create legal forms for free, and ask your legal assistant chatbot, Erin, any legal question. You will also see that if you become a member for $24.95/month, you can have your Last Will and Testament prepared, ask your law firm unlimited personal legal questions and have representation for your speeding ticket. There are many social, music and video apps that people think they cannot live without, but the LegalShield app is one that you definitely should not live without.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working to disrupt the legal services business in the same way that Uber, AirBnB, Spotify and Netflix have disrupted their industries. We are building a service that will be available 24/7/365 for members to speak by phone or video to a lawyer or private investigator.
What advice would you give to other C-Suite executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
First, you must have a north star or big hairy audacious goal to set the direction of the organization.
Second, you must define the mission, or what Simon Sinek calls the corporate “why.”
Third, you must show your people that you care before you ask them to listen to what you have to say.
Fourth, you must be committed to personal development of core values and skills along with practical and technical training to increase productivity.
And last, you must employ a profit-sharing plan and hopefully an employee stock ownership plan.
How do you define “Leadership”?
I believe that to serve is to lead, and to teach is to lead. When you place other people before yourself, they will want to follow you. When you teach them skills that add value to their life, they will want to follow you. Characteristics of leadership include intelligence, compassion, constitution and charisma. As my father, Jerry Bell taught me, “In life there are only two things you can control — your attitude and your effort. Your attitude should always be positive and your effort exemplary.”
What advice would you give to other C-Suite executives about the best way to manage a large team?
For large organizations it is critical to have clear direction, alignment and commitment (DAC model from the Center for Creative Leadership). You must set a clear direction of who you are, where you are going and why. Then you must ensure that everyone understands the direction and their role in success. When people get it, leave them alone, and when they don’t feel prepared, be ready to step in to teach and support.
On the journey, you must have feedback to make adjustments in people and process, but not in the mission and direction.
Finally, as Jim Collins says, you must get the right people on the bus. If people are not committed to the direction, they must leave the bus and be replaced with the right people.
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 about that?
This is a tough one for me because I lost my father in an airplane crash when I was 21. Then I lost my father-in-law, who I trusted and loved, to cancer when I was 35. So, I have not had ready-made advisors as I’ve grown in business. With that said, Jim Schroer at Chrysler was a visionary and inspirational leader who cared about me and my development. He taught me to take risks and think outside the box when solving problems. He approved the “Grab Life By the Horns” advertising tag line for Dodge in 5 seconds.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the wonderful things about LegalShield is that you can “Make a living while making a difference.” My wife, Colleen, and I also support our church. In addition, we contribute to higher education. Colleen works at the Seattle Humane Society and we support that great cause.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
- “Every day will be a roller coaster”: I have had days where I am informed of winning a multimillion-dollar employee benefit account, and in the next hour I am informed that our legislative initiative is stalled. Every day has highs and lows. Stay calm and crack on. Not too high and not too low.
- “Hiring great people is the fastest way to success”: if you have great people, go get more. If you have capability gaps, go get great people. Always be building a deep roster of potential talent. Do not wait for an opening.
- “Be grateful”: So many times in my career I have been asked to either turnaround a troubled business or to start something brand new. This develops a sense of urgency. But as the CEO, you must place the company above yourself, and when you do, be grateful. It is an honor to serve the employees, customers, partners and suppliers. An attitude of gratitude helps keep you balanced.
- “Some people liked your predecessor more than they like you”: I followed a founder who had run the company for 40 years. The natural bias is to think that you were hired to “fix things,” which is probably true. However, if you assume your team wanted you to be hired or agreed to fix things, you may be rudely surprised.
- “Create a Board of mentors not critics”: Every CEO needs to have people that care for the CEO and has her or his best interests in mind. They will give the best advice when facing the challenges of the job. I give my board specific assignments that are critical to our success. When faced with strategic alternatives, I ask them individually for their counsel before each meeting.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
I live every day inspired by our crusade for equal access to equal justice for every person. Why am I at LegalShield? I’m not in it for the money. I believe that success in protecting and empowering millions upon millions of households will make society a better place. We will greatly improve human life by teaching people life-transforming skills of how to live free under the rule of law.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. As a younger leader, I was driven by a belief that things that were broken needed to be fixed. I believed that there was a right and wrong answer. I was more focused upon what than how. This quote has helped me understand what it means to be a servant leader, to inspire and to attract people to change and improve.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I have a tremendous respect for Jamie Dimon at JPM Chase. I think Serena Williams is the Greatest of All Time. I would also like to meet Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@LegalShieldJBell on Facebook, @jeffbellseattle on Twitter, and @Bell801 on Instagram, and jeffbell801 on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.