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Tips From The Top: One On One With Bryon Stephens and Cameron Cummins

I spoke to Bryon Stephens and Cameron Cummins, Co-Founders of Pivotal Growth Partners, about their journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people? 

Bryon:  I have no formal education beyond high school and started in this industry as a dishwasher at a franchisee owned Holiday Inn in the early 1980’s. The great factory job I had after high school ended abruptly and there were no jobs available for a person who had no education, no special skills or experiences, so the Holiday Inn was the only opportunity I had.  It was the first experience with a franchise, and led to my great love affair with the franchise industry.

Cam: I spend a lot of time in discussion with others (employees, clients, suppliers), but prefer to be alone.  I am usually talking with someone, working through the problems of the day, planning strategy, tasks, and addressing issues. Thinking aloud with others helps me find answers.  However, the truth be told, I like to be alone.  Whether it is driving in the car, cutting grass, working in the woods (at our farm), or playing golf solo, being alone, gives me the chance to settle the activity of my brain and allows things to slow down.  Once everything slows down, it affords me the chance to replay the days/weeks events, put myself in another’s shoes, find other angles to attack issues, and allow my mind to wander to a perhaps unexpected solution.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth? 

Bryon: This is always a difficult question.  Business is a daily series of challenges, failures and setbacks.  Knowing that is the key to success in business. It not always going to be easy and smooth; in reality those easy and smooth moments will be rare. Costs Increase, labor shortages happen, minimum wage go up, real estate increases in cost, technology changes everything and costs a lot to implement and never works like it is supposed to work, good people move on, bad people have to be dealt with, customers find other providers — it never ends.  What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to be, so you have to continue to evolve in order to remain relevant. You have to continuously make decisions and ensure you have your entire organization on board in order to implement them. You must be listening to your customers, your team and the marketplace and accept change, failure, challenges and setbacks as a part of the body of work. That way the setbacks are minimal in impact and act as a feedback tool to get you back on track. 

Cam: Daily Setbacks/Failures – I look at business as a series of daily challenges that lead to both failures and successes that is what makes it fun.  Since we work in Growth and Development for Concepts, we spend most of our day in a “gray zone,” meaning there is usually no clear right or wrong answer. We weigh our pros/cons and make decisions on the best data we can gather.  Therefore, to me, business is a series of setbacks / challenges that you have to overcome.    I always have said we will make more decisions by 10am than most people will make all day, and then we spend the afternoon mitigating the mistakes we made.

Serious Failures / Setbacks – I don’t believe in a “major failure or setback.”  If you look back on major failures, for instance the Challenger O Ring disaster, it was not one issue that caused the catastrophic disaster, it was 10 or 20 little bad decisions that everyone knew were wrong but continued to ignore and move forward to a catastrophic ending.  I believe the signs are always there, you just choose to ignore them (that is what being alone allows you to realize) for whatever reasons.  I never go into any situation where we don’t have two or three fall back options.  If option 1 starts to fail, shift to options 2 or 3. You should not ignore signs along the way and stay the course on a bad plan.

Situational Setbacks that changed the trajectory of my career –  At age 29 I had a great job with a huge luxury car company and was the youngest Field Staff Manager in the company with a great trajectory.  I was fortunate in that my boss and my bosses boss where both long time mentors and friends.  At one point during my tenure with them, I was promoted and after 6 months, the person who took my old job was failing.  So, my two bosses asked me to take over both departments and see if could combine the two and get the new team to do both jobs until further notice.  I had a great teams in both so if everyone was willing to stepped up, we could get it done.  After 9 months and an a double digit increase of output from both departments, the new budget came out and there was no replacement listed for the second job and the salary was listed as a savings. I asked my bosses, since we’re saving 100% of salary and running more efficiently with higher output, could we get 40% of the salary that was saved to give to the team (my thought was this is equitable for both the team and the company).  Both of my bosses agreed with the approach and took the proposal up the line.  Upon their return, they proudly announced that they received a 4% increase for the team to be divided as I saw fit.  It prompted me to immediately look for another job where people are paid more for doing more.  You will hear me say it today at PGP, “Points on the board!”… it’s all about output!  

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Bryon:  Leaders inspire followers and they together get GREAT RESULTS.  If you have followers but no results, you are not an effective leader. If you have results and no followers, you are not an effective leader for the long haul.

Cam: Team First – Working for two major companies I watched boss after boss take all the credit for the work the team did.  I initially thought that is what you do in corporate America but then I watched the ripple effect of how it tore apart great teams.  It made everyone go into self-promoting mode, lowering the team output, and pitted friends/co-workers against each other vying for notoriety/next promotion.  Everywhere I went after those early corporate days, I made team first, creating the following;

  • Teams that got along
  • Teams that were fiercely loyal to each other
  • Protected the team – so they could focus on their job and not worry about politics or anything else
  • Promote the team members – Let each member of the team take the credit for the work they did to propel the team forward (we always call out who’s idea / work and promote their individual effort on the team)

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

Bryon:
1. Identify top 3 things (results) you must achieve to be successful as an organization, and take every opportunity to communicate those top 3 things as well as where you stand on achieving them. 

2. Align everyone in the organization around their role in achieving the top 3 things (results) we must achieve. 

3. Ensure the Culture in the organization is healthy, non-toxic and that it supports the results you must achieve in a way that celebrates the success as it hits key milestones along the way.

Cam:
1. Stay in your Lane – make sure everyone knows exactly what they are accountable for and then make sure they don’t work on anything that is outside their lane and not productive.  

2. Everyone is Important – treat everyone on your team with equal importance regardless of rank.  Everyone has to play an important role, if not; they should probably not be on your team.

3. Replace Yourself – Your role as a leader is to lift those around to another level so that one day they can replace you.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Bryon:  On my way to the Holiday Inn the first day going to be a dishwasher, I complained to my father that I couldn’t believe I would be a dishwasher. My father said, “Son I thought I taught you better than that, there is no honor in what a person does for a living, honor comes from how a person does their job.  The only job I know that you can start at the top is digging holes, so if you don’t want to dig holes for a living I suggest you be the best dishwasher they have ever seen and see where that takes you!” And so I was the best dishwasher I could be and that led to where I am now. That advice changed everything, and I have applied it in every role I have been given the opportunity to serve in.  “Be the Best You Can Be” is a powerful message to live by. 

Cam: Riches are in the Niches – there are millions of ways to make money.   In every small or big company or job you have, there is always a few items or processes that just don’t run well, or you hear the CEO or your boss comment, “if we just had THIS or THAT we can then do X” quicker or be more profitable. LISTEN TO THOSE, RESEARCH THOSE, DESIGN A SOLUTION! There are hundreds of millions of companies that have started by an employee solving a need for their employer. Figure out what is not working as well as it should, create a solution, and see where that leads you. If you can, carve out niche and own it!    

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Bryon:  Paying it forward comes in many forms and is different for everyone based on their personal passion and mission for their life. In business we can ensure we are paying it forward by making sure we are always coaching, mentoring and developing the next generation of leaders. In our personal lives, we pay it forward by how we develop our children for taking on the challenges they face in their world. A simple philosophy we can all use is to give back to the world more than it has given to us, that way there will be plenty for everyone

Cam: I have had many discussions with my friends and other business leaders about the currency of today for us is passing our knowledge and connections on to the next generation.  Take the time to help the next generation of workers with their careers.  Whether it is mentoring, making connections to open up doors for them, counseling or just imparting what you have learned – do it!

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

Bryon:  My number one hobby is reading, I read business and personal development books, always looking at the new ways to become better as a leader so that I can be worthy of the title and role for a team or organization.

Cam: My hobbies are wake surfing, snowboarding and working in the woods at our farm. My hobbies give me a chance to slow down and think about what we do on a daily basis, so we can find real and thoughtful solutions. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Bryon:  Leadership is way of being; it is not a title or a position on an organizational chart. It is about bringing your best to what you do every day.  I am constantly asking, “What else can I do to add value to this organization?” It is about helping others do the same. I’ve learned that being a leader is about staying above the line and being accountable.  Accountability is a choice to rise above circumstances and demonstrate the ownership needed to achieve the desired result. It is that simple!

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