Author Archive

Leaders That Write Make History

Posted: May 31, 2015 by Bob Gilbreath in Education, Innovation, Leadership, People

Bob-G-2015It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May. Instead of lounging in the hammock or attacking weeds in the yard, I am writing this column for the Enquirer. Why? In case you wondered, there is no pay for this piece. It is rewarding to share perspective and get a pat on the back, but the selfish reason I write is that it makes me a better business leader.

If you look around you may notice that many of the most successful business men and women in the world broadcast and exchange ideas by publishing their thoughts. CEOs of top companies write books and take the stage. In the startup world, blogs by executives are featured on websites, and venture capitalists frequently predict where the world is going. You might think it is just an ego thing, and I know there is a bit of that in all of us. But when you ask writers why they do it, most will admit that habitual writing hones their leadership abilities and contributes to their companies’ success.

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To Grow as a Leader, Stop Making Decisions

Posted: February 1, 2015 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

Bob-G-2015We often praise leaders that stand at the center of decision-making. We marvel at the technology CEO who personally chooses buttons for a new phone, the actor who also produces and directs his next film, and the pro sports coach who negotiates the power to “buy the groceries” as general manager. It makes for a good story, but often a horrible organization. Most successful leaders get there by minimizing the number of decisions they make.

For entrepreneurs, the day is filled with decisions small and large. It is a function of the habit of being the decider from day one, but also comes from the personal pressure of owning the company. For those who start a business because they think it’s good to be the king, this model is great. For the rest of us who are striving to build a sustainable, scaling business it can mean disaster.

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Redefining Competition in the Era of Innovation

Posted: November 23, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Innovation, Marketing, Startup

bob-gilbreath-ahaThis week we discovered that a competitor in our market was buying our company’s trademark with Google keywords and making an untrue claim against our product. It created a burst of shock and anger in our offices and led to some back-and-forth drama. But after handling the situation and stepping back, we realized that this was a futile effort that completely back-fired on the other company. In this new economy, the nature of competition is being redefined—and entrepreneurs must reset their views.

Clients, partners, investors and job prospects frequently ask for a list of our competitors. It is a natural way to try to size up a company, and in business we are naturally competitive. I started my career in large companies where we constantly fought for share of the same pie. I will never forget my first job in banking, when my competitor stole my largest client with a free lunch and lower interest rate. On the Tide brand at Procter & Gamble, we obsessed over every basis point of share shift.

But competition is vastly different when you are working in new and innovative markets. Instead of fighting over the same territory, innovation allows you to discover and settle completely open spaces.

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Preparing Millennials for Startup Success

Posted: October 5, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaAt a recent career fair our startup’s booth was besieged with students. It seems that startups are the sexy career choice for the generation hitting the job market today. We startup founders certainly need their energy, but too often the reality of the work shocks the Millennial graduate used to much more structure and support than a startup can give.

One could argue that the culture of startups is a product of 20-somethings. Many of the faces of the movement, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have defined the work-hard, play-hard culture that startups take on. Google and Apple headquarters feel like the college campuses that Millennials so recently left. Social media and texting are commonplace ways that work is done. Face-to-face conversations in the workplace now are carefully scheduled, if they happen at all. There are natural pluses and minuses to these changes, but the rest of us have to get used to it.

However the Millennial generation must also adapt to succeed, especially if they wish to join the fray at a startup company. I have had the privilege of leading hundreds of Millennials across two entrepreneurial ventures in ten years. Based on this experience, I would offer these three ways in which startups fit their needs, but also need them to adapt quickly.

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Let Your Company Grow Up

Posted: August 10, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaAn entrepreneur knows that a new company is his baby. Not the picture-perfect infant that looks cute and sleeps soundly. Rather, it is a bawling, hungry beast that keeps you up all night and makes you wonder why you got into this mess to begin with. Like a real baby, as the company “parent” you must be hands on at all times and personally handle many of the day-to-day tasks. But true success only comes when you let the company grow up and run on its own.

Earlier this year I was away from the office and unplugged for nearly three weeks due to a vacation immediately followed by a death in my family. It was a point at which I knew that family life would have to trump work life for some time, and I purposely logged off for the duration. I also turned over all of the hands-on sales and customer work that I had been handling myself. Thankfully, our team back at the office let me have the time off uninterrupted.

A funny thing happened while I was away: They excelled. I returned to find that there were some usual wins and losses, but no disasters. The people I had hired and coached made decisions together and independently without me. They solved problems, uncovered opportunities, and managed their customers with excellence.

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Write Your Own Rules for Success

Posted: May 18, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaAs the company that began with three people in a basement scales into the 30-plus person territory, we growing entrepreneurs begin to feel an innate need to implement traditional structures. The people we hire more often come from big company jobs where they expect policies, perks and handbooks. They don’t know the founders personally, and are not used to culture and trust as the bonds that hold workers together. But instead of giving in to the status quo, we entrepreneurs must resist and write the new rules for corporate success.

A few months into our work together, my co-founder, Michael, and I had to deal with an early employee that expected us to adopt many of the “rules” of a big company. He asked us to cover the cost of parking, wanted to select a different health care plan, and was concerned about his title. We hired the person because we thought he was strong, and we needed someone in the position quickly. But we were uneasy, and a few months in we asked him to leave.

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Bang Your Gong

Posted: March 16, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaAnyone who works at a startup company quickly learns that culture is everything. Culture is the unspoken sync that keeps people rowing in the same direction. It is the glue that keeps people operating when it is way too early for job descriptions. Culture becomes the “smell of the place” when clients, partners and job prospects walk through the door. But you cannot have a real culture until you pick your way of celebrating the wins.

When you are working at an entrepreneurial company sometimes things move so fast that you forget to celebrate. That business prospect that says “yes” triggers a wave of new work assignments. The reporter who wants to cover your company forces you to nail down your talking points.

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To Work for an Entrepreneur, Apply Like One

Posted: January 19, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, People, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaMany people advise aspiring entrepreneurs to go work with a startup company before venturing out on their own. This offers a chance to live and breathe this high-paced world and learn from founder mentors while still pulling in a steady paycheck. But to work for an entrepreneur, you must job seek like an entrepreneur.

Over the past six months I have personally been involved in hiring over a dozen people for our startup, and I am surprised how little work most people put into applying. It might be that the shift to digital applications through sites like LinkedIn make it too easy for people to apply by clicking a button. But they forget that it’s just as easy for the hiring manager to hit “delete.” Winning a great job takes hard work and determination, and that’s doubly true when it comes to an entrepreneurial business or startup.

The first step is to put yourself in the shoes of the startup’s leaders. They put in many hours, make decisions at light speed, need people who can contribute immediately, and are passionate about their companies. A single bad hire can kill a promising company, yet the right hire can double or triple sales overnight. Any spare hour that the entrepreneur spends is precious, and she must be extremely choosey on where her time is spent. (more…)

Grow Your Business By Taking a Break

Posted: October 6, 2013 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaLast week I had drinks with one of the country’s most successful and recognized entrepreneurs. Just a year ago he sold his 5-year-old company for hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked him for the biggest key to his success. The answer: “I worked my face off—traveling around the country for any opportunity and often working until 2am…but I barely saw my kids for 5 years.” The statement was something between regret, warning and statement of pride—and left me wondering if it was a success story after all.

It goes without saying that you will put in more hours as an entrepreneur than virtually any other career path. And it’s not the hours, but the intensity that takes a toll. When the buck stops with you there is no clocking out or calling in sick. Ironically, the people who choose the entrepreneurial path often enjoy the “always on” nature of the job. We love to work and build, and working for yourself can be addictive. But the addiction takes a toll when we let it rule our marriages, families and friendships.

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BobGilbreathAhaI would wager that many readers of this piece are not entrepreneurs, but rather people who work at large companies and dream of starting their own business one day. That’s great—as learning about the world beyond your big firm is a good idea. But a better idea is to begin your entrepreneurial journey by leading change in your current role.

Last week an old friend asked me to speak with his leadership team during an executive retreat. He had recently been brought in to drive change at a large corporation and wanted me to share my lessons of entrepreneurial success to inspire his people to think differently. When I sat back to gather my thoughts on when and where I learned the most, I realized that most lessons came from my time working at a very large company that you might have heard of: Procter & Gamble.

Like many others, I joined P&G for a chance to learn from one of the leading companies of the world. I longed to understand “The Procter Way” and build skills that would power my career for a lifetime. I knew at some point that I wanted to have my own business, and that my time in brand management at this company would be extremely valuable.

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