Put in the time — this is not always the easiest thing to hear because so many of us want or expect results immediately but you cannot replace real world experience and to be considered someone of influence you have to put in the time that it takes to understand the ins and outs of the industry that you work in. For me in our manufacturing business it has been to explore each and every position in the process to at the very least appreciate the work that every team member puts into their role in the overall picture. This leads to a better line of communication between teams, and a better understanding of the things that we make and sell to our customers.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Williams of Kenyon Grills.
Williams has been with Kenyon International for over 8 years, providing him with extensive knowledge of the sales and manufacturing world. Kenyon Grills, located in Connecticut, began as a small manufacturer of aviation and marine instruments in 1931 — as business developed they led the way with the breakthrough development of ceramic glass cooktops for the high seas, becoming the standards for yachts around the world. The popularity led to the creation of models that can be enjoyed in homes. Kenyon’s products are all locally handcrafted, with the company itself being one of the largest manufacturer in North America of two burner ceramic glassware cooktops and electric grills. Through William’s expertise, Kenyon continues to surpass challenging engineering concepts to create innovative cooking experiences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I have been with Kenyon in various roles for over 15 years, and my current role for the past 6 years which has allowed me to gain extensive knowledge and insight into the world of sales/marketing and manufacturing. I have largely focused on helping (along with my awesome team) to establish a brand name for Kenyon, to help us grow out of just being a supplier to many boat manufacturers and hotel chains, or a B2B focused company. In the past 6 years our initiatives have led to 200% sales growth in the consumer side of our business with our concentration on selling through our own e-commerce website and other online retailers such as Amazon, Home Depot, and Wayfair.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
My experience and growth during my years at Kenyon have allowed me to grow in my role and at the company itself. Through working with my colleagues and learning from those around me, I have become an expert in this niche market. I have found that I have grown through my time from learning and listening to my peers and working with those new to Kenyon. It’s important to try and learn from everyone as they have the potential to bring new ideas to the table, while also sharing my experience and knowledge with those around me. By incorporating the knowledge of those that have come before me at the company for decades to the fresh outlooks of newer employees, we continue to grow as a unit to become stronger and create great products that will stand the test of time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
To me the most interesting story has been the rise in popularity and acceptance of electric grills over the past several years. It certainly isn’t a meteoric rise like many tech companies or other buzzy endeavors, but I have always believed in our products for the high quality and value as well as being a solution for many grillers across the country. Introducing the general public has taken a longer time accepting electric grills as a suitable option. The most interesting occurrence was being reached out to from our local MLB team, the Boston Red Sox after they discovered us in a local ad that we ran in a regional magazine. As a small company, reaching large audiences that many other grill manufacturers do has always been a challenge so amplifying our story and finding the right avenues has been a fun journey, by getting discovered by the Red Sox and becoming the “Official Grill of the Boston Red Sox” we have enjoyed a lot larger voice but we have a long way to go because the path to our goals is long.
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?
While I can’t pinpoint a single mistake, I sure know that I have made a lot of them from when I first started through today. Mistakes happen and sometimes they can have a bigger impact than others but no matter what, learning from them and trying to prevent those mistakes from happening again is most important. Understanding that point is very important because there will always be frustrating, funny or embarrassing mistakes happening in work and in life, but how you respond to them will lead to growth. For me, learning how people react to our story has helped to shape our growth by understanding what resonates and what misses the mark when trying to get people to see value in our product. More often than not, people will not be receptive of whatever your message is, but learning from each interaction to improve for the next one will lead to the goals that you set out to achieve.
In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is a person who is recognized as an authority in a specific field or industry that they excel in. Their expertise and insight is often sought after to share with a relevant audience. A thought leader offers more insight from personal experiences and can be a source of guidance for the industry, differentiating themselves from a traditional leader that manages employees in a specific role.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
I believe it’s worth investing time into becoming a thought leader so that you can sort of zoom out of the day to day struggles to understand why things are the way they are from a macro perspective to help understand trends and growth opportunities, which in turn will relate to the micro-level details that make the day to day work more fruitful. Thought leadership gives credibility to your brand and to your colleagues, which allows the company to grow from a well rooted position.
Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Successful thought leaders develop trust with their audience by sharing insight, learnings and wisdom because they have a genuine desire to help those around them. This sort of attitude draws people in, leading to decision makers investing into that company. Thought leadership helps brands retain and grow their customer base.
Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Put in the time — this is not always the easiest thing to hear because so many of us want or expect results immediately but you cannot replace real world experience and to be considered someone of influence you have to put in the time that it takes to understand the ins and outs of the industry that you work in. For me in our manufacturing business it has been to explore each and every position in the process to at the very least appreciate the work that every team member puts into their role in the overall picture. This leads to a better line of communication between teams, and a better understanding of the things that we make and sell to our customers.
- Meet a need — This can be done in several ways but to add value in any industry your ideas or products must meet a need for those you are trying to reach. At Kenyon, we are meeting the needs of folks who can no longer use gas or charcoal grills, which has grown from a small niche to essentially every person who lives in cities across the country because apartment buildings and condos by law can no longer allow gas or charcoal grills.
- Share insights — For our industry, educating people on how electric grills are a great alternative is the best way to show people that they should invest in the products that we offer. Creating recipes, videos, or basically any sort of content that is easily consumed are the best ways to show your target audience why they should trust you.
- Find the “why” — This is important in all aspects of life but to become someone that others will turn to for knowledge you must appreciate why you do the things you do. To be seen as a leader you cannot just go through the motions of your job, you must find your passion in the task at hand which will build credibility and lead to others respecting your opinions and positions.
- Share your vision — This can be similar to #3 but this to me is more of a focus on the people on your team. To me, the best leaders are those that have a team first mentality, so making sure that those around you share in the goals and have a real part in the process will make you a stronger leader. I always think back to one of my favorite movies “Remember the Titans”, during one of the difficult points in the movie one of the men says, “attitude reflect leadership, captain” and that has always resonated with me, whether it be on the field in sports or in business. The way you lead your team has a huge impact on the collective unit but also on the results that are seen outside of your company.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
For me personally Jocko Willink has been a fantastic example of a thought leader for how to be a better leader. I have read several of his books about leadership and personal responsibility that have helped me to grow in my roles at Kenyon. I am impressed by his ability to share insights from what he learned in the Navy Seals and the way he applies those lessons to civilian business life. The perspective that he brings in handling difficult situations has helped me, and I’m sure thousands of others, to hold ourselves accountable and strive to be better.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is you’re feeling about this?
It could certainly be seen that way because many people try to position themselves as leaders or experts without having credibility or the skill sets to back up those claims. I do not think that the term should be avoided because there are just as many well qualified, highly talented individuals who are more than deserving of being considered a thought leader, and people that move the needle in the direction of progress should be able to have a voice.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the best thing to remember is that even though you may be leading a team or a company, you are still a part of a team and there is a real importance in developing strong relationships with the members of your team. Developing relationships with team members both above you and below you in the chain is vital to thriving. By concentrating on developing relationships with the members of your team, that makes the bonds stronger and increases the chances that you will avoid burnout because the team is stronger than the sum of its parts and you can rely on your team when times get tough. I can’t take credit for that line of thinking as I have learned this from reading several books by one of my thought leader icons Jocko Willink, the principles that he discusses have had a great impact on my professional career.
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 would have everyone buy a Kenyon Grill! They are healthier and safer than other grills because they don’t produce carcinogens and they do not have open flames so you won’t risk starting a fire on your deck. You can even use them inside!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always tried to follow the “treat the janitor the same way you would treat the CEO” quote because to me it is so relevant and important to treat each and every person with the same respect and attention that they deserve as a human being. By doing this and making sure that every member of your team or company feels like they are indeed part of the team, the chances for success are exponentially greater because they will be more likely step up in times of need. It also helps to remember where you come from, I started by sweeping floors on the weekend and doing every job or task that others now handle but are still just as important to the success of the company.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to have lunch with Jocko Willink to thank him for writing down the lessons that he learned and providing such vital insight to others.
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