Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?
Chris: When I decided to transition out of merger and acquisition investment banking, I was looking for a business to invest in and lead that would be insulated from either technology of movement of the service offshore. In 2006, I was offered the opportunity to invest in and lead the turnaround of Archadeck, a franchise business that designs and builds Outdoor Living Spaces. After completing the turnaround of Archadeck, in 2008 I partnered with an investor to form Outdoor Living Brands with the vision to construct a multi-branded outdoor lifestyle home services franchise company. We acquired the remainder of Archadeck, acquired Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, a landscape lighting franchise, and Mosquito Squad, a start-up outdoor pest control franchise from their respective founders. Since the initial acquisitions, we also developed two additional franchise businesses including Renew Crew and Conserva Irrigation.
Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Chris: Almost immediately after nearly two years of planning and launching Outdoor Living Brands in June 2008, and then consummating two acquisitions within our first four months, the economy entered the severe recession in late 2008. Future revenues and cash flows that were carefully modeled during due diligence were immediately being stressed. Our focus on driving long-term future growth had to be temporarily set aside in order to focus on navigating the new company to the other side of the severe economic cycle. It was an immediate setback and quite challenging after the excitement of launching the company to see the businesses that we had just acquired begin to experience significant challenges.
However, the recession forced us to accelerate and get serious about several cost-cutting initiatives we had planned as part of pursuing the “synergies” from putting these three companies together under one umbrella company. Navigating our new business through that recession shaped us as a leadership team. It made us operate in an extremely fiscally conservative and disciplined manner, a philosophy that we continue to embrace today even though the company is much larger and more profitable than in its initial year. Figuring out how to do more with less was a challenging, but important lesson, but one that continues to pay dividends today.
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?
Chris: Two attributes that I’ve come to believe are absolutely critical to effective leadership are clarity and transparency. Clarity of communication for a leader is essential to ensure that the organization and its team members are implementing the leader’s and the company’s vision. Also, an effective leader must be able to very clearly articulate strategic goals, resource allocations, timeframes and the definition of success in order to hold the organization and its people accountable for the expected results.
Second, transparency is critical to building trust and employee alignment across the organization, both internally and externally. Transparency implies openness, communication and accountability. While everyone will not agree with every decision or policy of an organization, leaders that are able to clearly explain “why” a certain strategy, decision or policy was adopted, and which alternative options were considered, are far more likely to secure the support and trust of those needed to implement the initiative(s).
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to an audience of entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Chris: Never confuse activities for results. People in organizations can often be overworked and extremely busy. Bureaucracy and red tape have a way of naturally seeping into organizations as they grow and scale. However, leaders need to guard against bureaucracy and busy work taking over and consuming the productive hours in their organizations. One way of doing this is to make sure your teams are incented, rewarded and recognized for the results achieved in light of the expectations set and the resources allocated. While many people are “always busy,” top performing teams and organizations are typically driven by results oriented people and cultures, not simply hours worked or appearances of being busy.
Start early and don’t be afraid to fail. Instead of waiting for the perfect time to launch a new business or make a career pivot, don’t be afraid to go ahead and make the move. After all, no progress or innovation in society or business comes without taking risk and being temporarily uncomfortable with the associated change.
Surround yourself with people that complement your personal skill sets and strengths. It can be easy and comfortable to want to surround yourself with people similar to you. However, strong leaders seek out team members with complementary, even opposite, strengths and weaknesses. Diversity in skill sets and perspectives across an organization will help to ensure that it makes well thought out decisions.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Chris: Outside of my family and professional responsibilities, I have competed in numerous triathlons, generally Sprint and Olympic distance events. Triathlon training has taught me discipline, mental toughness, perseverance, and working to overcome obstacles (both mental and physical), all of which are important attributes to success in business!
Adam: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Chris: Mark Mullins, the investor who backed me and our team in the formation of Outdoor Living Brands, told me a story about delegation and empowerment. Early in his career, he went into his boss’ office and asked him what he wanted to do about a certain situation. His boss paused for a long period of time, looked back at him, and finally said, “If I tell you, what portion of your salary are you going to give to me?”
In a simple exchange, his manager taught him the important of delegation and empowering people to make decisions across the organization. Specifically, if an owner or CEO tries to make or directly influence every decision, the organization would be limited directly by that person’s individual capacity. Instead, in order for organizations to truly grow and scale, leaders must create cultures that provides the autonomy, responsibility, and accountability for management and staff to make decisions consistent with the company’s values and goals.