Find a support group of other CEOs — life as a CEO can be a very lonely thing — CEOs are in a unique position in their businesses. It’s nice to have friends in the workplace, but ultimately you are in a position to hire and fire people and this automatically creates a difficult environment that does not foster personal relationships. Finding other like-minded CEOs to share your experiences with can be very cathartic.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Gillis.
Mark Gillis, the President and Founder of ENOF, has over twenty years of senior management experience with numerous middle market entities. Prior to his founding of ENOF, Mr. Gillis served as the Operating Partner at Salem Investment Partners, a middle market Small Business Investment Company (“SBIC”) specializing in providing mezzanine debt and equity to companies located primarily in the southeastern United States. Earlier, Mr. Gillis was the CEO at Good Health Natural Products, a private equity owned natural foods and health and beauty products company which he successfully restructured culminating in a sale of the business in late 2013. Additionally, Mark served as an Executive Vice President at the turnaround management firm Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos & Co in Greensboro, North Carolina and a Senior Consultant for Price Waterhouse LLP in both their Los Angeles and New York City offices.
Mr. Gillis has managed the sell side process of both individual assets and complete corporate divestitures as well as due diligence in corporate acquisitions. His industry experience encompasses manufacturing, distribution and the retail sectors including consumer packaged goods, technology, furniture, apparel, real estate and casual dining.
Mark earned a B.A. in Physics from Pomona College and previously held the Certified Turnaround Professional certification.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wish I could say that I have had an interest in nutrition for my whole life and that my decision to start this business was a natural extension of this interest, but I’d be lying. The truth is that ENOF was born out of necessity. My wife and I were really struggling with my youngest daughter when it came to meal time, specifically getting her to eat vegetables. After developing ENOF as a solution to my own problem the decision to launch a business to make the same solution available to others dealing with similar issues seemed like a risk worth taking.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
One of the biggest issues I have had to address as I got ENOF off the ground was communicating exactly what the product is and how it is differentiated from the scores of other products that purport to address nutritional deficiencies. What I have learned (and continue to learn!) is that consumers are actually pretty sophisticated when it comes to evaluating the marketing claims of products. Most people are not taken in by “miracle cures”, and businesses that make claims that are too good to be true. Rather, consumers want to be educated, even if only a little bit, so they can make properly informed decisions particularly when considering health and wellness purchases. If we can be seen as a credible source of information when it comes to our little corner of the nutrition equation then I think we have provided a meaningful benefit to consumers and, ultimately, this translates into a more successful business.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I would say that one needs to define success very specifically. Only by setting milestones can you ever really claim success. In fact, the very process of setting goals is probably the most important factor that has led to success for the business up to this point. For me starting a business from a standing start, the first goal was to achieve a breakeven cash flow — to get to all of my “bigger picture” ideas I knew that I required an economically viable company. Thus, all of my energies were directed in this effort for the first several months after I launched.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Stay focused — I often talk to people about my business and when they hear what I am working on I am often peppered with questions that start out as, “Have you ever considered doing things this other way…”. People mean well and are demonstrating their interest in whatever you are doing, however it would be a huge mistake to lose focus on your primary mission. Most businesses, even really big ones, generally can only do two or three things well — they generally need to focus on these things to the exclusion of the other million ideas that are floating around.
- Ask for help — CEOs often feel like they have to have all the answers, but in truth the best CEOs realize when they are out of their depth and proactively find others who have the expertise to help in a particular situation. I personally thought that I could handle the development of my own website and, while this may have been accurate, the result would have taken five times longer to complete and have one fifth the functionality and not look too good to boot.
- Understand that the voyage is not a straight line — You cannot model the ups and downs of a new business. It’s tough to do even for an established business, but for a start-up CEO you cannot lose faith in the business when its results jump all over from day-to-day.
- Starting a business is perhaps the riskiest thing you ever undertake — make sure that you are prepared to handle the risk — Running a start-up is risky not just from a financial perspective, but on a personal level as well. When you make the decision to start a company make certain that the important people in your life are on board too.
- Find a support group of other CEOs — life as a CEO can be a very lonely thing — CEOs are in a unique position in their businesses. It’s nice to have friends in the workplace, but ultimately you are in a position to hire and fire people and this automatically creates a difficult environment that does not foster personal relationships. Finding other like-minded CEOs to share your experiences with can be very cathartic.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a CEO, it is imperative to unplug periodically. Get away from the office and clear your mind. The business can probably do without you for at least a couple of days. If the business cannot do without you then at least you now know with certainty that you need to find help! I personally find that when I return from a break I am more focused and often bring new insights to the business.
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?
My wife was my inspiration as I embarked on this startup journey. Her support, encouragement and willingness to act as a sounding board gave me the confidence I needed to actually take the plunge into entrepreneurism. One moment in particular stands out as I contemplated starting the company. She reminded me that I could plan and dream and then regret that I never actually did it, or I could grit my teeth and know that I had my family’s support as I attempted something completely new.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I am working to change, even if only in a small way, the national conversation about health. In the U.S., we have been so focused on ways to pay for rapidly expanding healthcare costs that we have forgotten that the root of the problem is not that our healthcare system is broken, but rather that our health is broken. If we were a healthier population our healthcare requirements would be vastly reduced. The impact of improved health on people’s economic and emotional well-being could potentially change society in ways that are frankly hard to comprehend, but in all cases only beneficially.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope that people will look at me and my business as having had a materially positive impact on their health and wellness and that people are a little better educated about what steps they can take to improve the health outcomes for themselves and their families.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
My movement, consistent with my earlier answers, would be focused on improving people’s health through diet and tools such as ENOF. Our society has deprioritized nutrition in association with diet — we need to change this as rapidly as possible for the sake of our collective health and wellbeing.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can like us on Facebook at Simplyenof or Instagram @enofnutrition