Playing the Long Game in Business with Tim Leman

1,000 Stories


JOE: What we’re here to answer this season is how do business leaders navigate these major points of change, these inflection points in their businesses, and then what are the tools and practices they use to ensure those big moments are successful? 

REID: I’m Reid Morris.

JOE: And I’m Joe Mills. 

REID: And we’re embarking on an investigation this season to answer that exact question. Then, we’re taking our learnings and we’re sharing them with you to help you navigate your own inflection points. 

JOE: This is 1,000 Stories, an original show from Element Three.

REID: Okay, Joe. So we are coming into the next episode of this season with a bit of a different frame than we’ve had, right? We got some interest. We got some conversation around. Mark Caswell’s inflection point that he just navigated. We got a little bit of subject matter expert perspective, and we’ve had some interesting conversations, but now we’re stepping in.

JOE: Yeah, I’ll start with the why. So I felt like coming out of our conversation with Adam and the other perspective of leadership transition, like the outside, I am now investing in the leader position. I felt like we had a really good consistent theme among those three conversations, like all about identity. And I was like, okay, cool. I think we’ve understood that it’s very important in this leadership moment to have your identity straight. Now, let’s talk about a different inflection point. Let’s see if that theme carries over, or doesn’t, or is it brought up at all? does that become a central theme for all of these? Or is there something else that, in a different transition point, becomes important? So, that’s the why. As with many leaders, Tim could talk about a few of our different inflection points. he could talk about leadership transition, he could talk about new market entry, which is what we’re gonna really focus on with him. So, a different piece now is a new market entry. Gibson is the company, Gibson Insurance, and they’re based out of northern Indiana. They have offices in a few different places, but they really started with the expansion proposition of within a car ride. They do consulting like us. So there’s value to being in the room with the people feeling the energy that Kalamazoo, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne have. So they were all around the region, but they’ve recently expanded to Salt Lake City. So boom, across the country, they have a Phoenix office boom across the country. So I’m really curious about talking to him about what it’s been like to open those markets. What have you learned across the various years of 10 or 15 years ago? They opened their first one outside of their headquarters. how is that different than Salt Lake now? And what did you learn, and what seems to be valuable? what does it ask of you as the leader? Yeah, super diverse. Gibson has an ESOP program, and all their producers also get equity. So it’s this interesting mix of leading a decentralized location team. And I also have ownership all throughout the organization to manage as well. So I think it’ll be very interesting to talk to him about just how he manages that as a leader and what it asks of him in his life and he’s got kids and how does that get affected and, and all these things.

REID: So that’s the thought… How does that, as we think about Mark’s inflection point and stepping away from a leadership role, inherently a highly personal decision? It’s very easy to tie the idea of identity to stepping out of a role that has been such a big part of your life. But as you’re sitting in a role and it’s your environment that’s changing, You might be able to say, like, well, why would identity be a part of that at all? 

JOE: We talk today about market entry, and it’s important to know just a little bit about Gibson’s business model. So that you understand where we go in this conversation, Gibson is actively expanding their market presence and for their business. To do that, it is entirely predicated on their ability to attract and retain top talent. So as we start getting into this conversation, you realize they keep talking about like how to hire and how to find producers and what they do wrong in that space, that is the market entry strategy for them. And that in and of itself is a lesson for us around. Going into a new market might mean a set of activities in your brain that may or may not actually align with how to do it well. And so getting clear on what is most important for you is obviously the very first point. and so Gibson’s done a good job of understanding for them. It is, again, all about hiring. So keep that in mind as we talk today with Tim.

JOE: Tim. Good morning. Welcome to the show. Thanks for coming on. Appreciate you kicking off your week with us. If you could give 30 seconds of where you’re at in your career and. What you’re focusing on in the immediate future at just to kind of set the stage for what we’re going to talk about That would be an awesome place to start.

TIM: Yeah, thanks, Joe. I appreciate you having me on. So I just turned 49 a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve read that this is the prime of your life and career. Kind of that awesome mix of having the energy level still, but also. You’ve accumulated a little bit of wisdom along the way, I really feel that every day. So we’re just super excited at Gibson with what we’re doing. We’ve got a new vision called Vision 2033. We’ll be a hundred-year-old company in 2033, and there aren’t many organizations that last that long anymore. And we’re going to be in 20 markets around the country and go from being a regional firm to a national firm during that time period.

JOE: That’s really exciting hundred years is a long time. Just to orient a little bit, how much growth from a number standpoint is that?

TIM: A few years ago, we had four Midwest locations: Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. And since then, we’ve opened up Phoenix and Tucson. We acquired a great partner in Salt Lake and hired a couple of people in Chicago. Kind of doubled from four to eight during that time frame. And so we’re going to work on absorbing some of that and filling in around it in 2024. And keep looking for all the best places to be. We’re really fortunate to have some great relationships that we’ve gotten involved with on the economic development side and gotten some awesome behind-the-scenes data of where the next best cities are at. And we’re really focusing our efforts on those places. Some are obvious, but some will probably fly a little below the radar.

JOE: One of the things I’m really curious about is for a company like yours that benefits from the face-to-face interaction; my sort of assumption is that when you think about entering a new market, you think about people like feet on the ground. This is not a, “yeah, let me just target them digitally. I need to be there in person.” Seems like a fairly large commitment. So when you think about entering a new market, how do you start considering that process, and how do you choose them and take us through that process a little bit?

TIM: A lot of firms in the insurance brokerage space are knee-deep in M&A and lots of roll-ups and aggregation. we’ve got an ESOP that owns a little over a third of the company, and then the other, two-thirds or so, is direct stockholder ownership. So we’re 100% owned by our employees. In fact, you’ve got to be an active employee to be an owner of the company. But with that comes some challenges when it comes to M&A; it’s not as easy to pull off with the ESOP. There are some regulations around that. so we’ve really committed to doing this. As my banking friends say, I “sit on centers bank, board, in a DeNovo way.” So a startup from scratch sort of thing. And that’s really important to us because all of the growth and the things that will come with it, the growth for our people, our company, we’ll be able to do more for our clients. We’ve all agreed. All of us partners have sat around and said it’s not worth it if we lose our souls in the process. And so we’re really, really committed to only bringing on people that pass through the filter, for us from a cultural standpoint to be an absolute great fit. And along with that, we want to really try to snag that best of the best or that up-and-coming person. So, what we end up with is a highly productive, highly successful group of people who fit our values perfectly.

JOE: When I think about your team, and I know some of the focus when we’ve worked together has been around that employer marketing side of things, do you think about grabbing the up-and-coming person? Because it seems to me it would be difficult to know if somebody is going to be good or not in your space from the outside, looking in, what does it mean to be an up-and-coming producer?

TIM: Somebody who would be a good asset for Gibson on the ground in a new location. Like a lot of things in my life, I’ve just tried a lot of different things to find out what works, and one of those that’s worked best for us is that I don’t think people take advantage of enough, regardless of the industry is, we go to our suppliers. In our case, that’s the insurance carriers, Hartford’s and Travelers, and United Healthcare’s Blue Crosses of the world. And I love talking to them about these new markets. And usually, just reach out and let them know what we’re doing. They’ve heard this story before from a lot of people, but they’ll always tell me that no one else actually executes and gets it done. But I try to lean on some past relationships to say this: call is going to be different. And then to talk to them about how we’re going to be a different kind of partner for you. We have high expectations of you, and we’re also going to be a great firm to work with. And we’re going to bring you great clients because the process we go through, even to acquire clients, tends to bring us better buyers along the way. And so I just asked them, it’s not your job to get the recruiting done for me, but I need to know where to look. Can you point me in the right direction? Who fits this particular model that we have? Who is frustrated that they can’t get ownership in a company? Who’s frustrated with a lot of bureaucracy? Who doesn’t have the tools they need because we really offer this Goldilocks sort of way?

We’ve got everything we need, we’re big enough to matter. We’ve got all the right tools and resources to work on the most complex clients, but I think we’re still small enough to care and to be very people-oriented. I know all of our employees by name. That kind of thing really matters.

And so I usually will get this list of eight or 10 people, and most of them have attached to it, but you’ll never get them. But if I was going to start this up, that’s where I would go. The second part of that is we’ve got just a great leadership team in place. We use traction and EOS, that’s helped a lot, but it’s allowed me, as a visionary, to spend all my time doing what I’m best at. And so I’m out on the tip of the spear actually recruiting because if we can get some of these producers to come over as the starting point, it’s like if we were a manufacturer and we were buying a 5 million dollar custom welding machine from Germany, that producer is our custom welding machine. So they’re not used to getting called on by a CEO. I’ve had a lot of them say, “I thought you were a bot on LinkedIn or something at first, but then I knew the language you were using. It couldn’t be.”And once we get a lot of that going, we can then put them through the filter that we use. We’re big on assessments. We have a couple that we religiously use across the board. One is Kolbe, K O L B E. A lot of EOS Companies utilize that in every position in the company. We use that, and then another one named sales drive, which I’ve found is one of the best assessments to really identify this true originator gene that’s out there. And they’ll tell you it’s innate to that—a lot of that of long-term sustained success from a sales standpoint. There are just some innate qualities and criteria there. And then the other thing that we do on the front end, and it might sound really simple, is we have a little five-question HTML link that I’ll often send at the moment, and it’s a great way to connect with somebody and get their cell phone number, text it to them, and it’s not that there’s a right or wrong answer, but these five questions really help us learn a lot more about them. We learn if they can tell a story. We learn about their stories and the depth of their stories. Those three things are really key to making a move on to the next level. The other thing we figured out, Joe, is that in the past when we didn’t have everything squared away from a leadership standpoint, I’m a natural galvanizer. I’m a natural recruiter. I’m a natural enthusiasm builder. And so I would do that on the front end and get people lathered up. But then I felt the need to be the chief critical officer too on the back end when we were making decisions, and as a former sales jockey myself, I think my filter is okay on the front end, but sometimes I can begin liking salespeople, and if salespeople aren’t likable, then there’s something wrong, to begin with.

So, we didn’t have the scrutiny we needed on the back end. And so we changed up our process about four or five years ago. I have never been on both ends of it, and I’m almost always on the front end of things of getting them excited about why take this opportunity because they’re either coming from a smaller firm where it feels a little scary and what we, our expectations, our goals and so on, are a lot bigger than they’ve seen or done before. Or we’re pulling them away from one of the national firms, and they’re frustrated, but they don’t know if we’re going to have everything they need to be successful for their clients, and with my first almost decade of my career at two of the big global brokers, I can speak to those differences and what it looks like and how it works here and then we can run them through the process. And I let the team make the decision nowadays.

JOE: Do you guys run into the same challenge when you’re trying to get a new client where they might be coming from a smaller shop, and they presume like, “Oh, I’m getting better service than I would get it bigger.” Or they’re coming from a national firm, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m getting all the best rates. I’m going to spend more money if I go smaller.” Does it mirror that?

TIM: That’s a great point. It really does. And we spent a lot of the same time helping them understand that we’ve got actually a foot in both worlds, and they get the best of both. Again, it kind of goes back to that ‘Goldilocks’ feel of being big enough to matter and small enough to care.

JOE: I’m curious. You mentioned a bit ago I’ve just had the opportunity to get it wrong a few times, and I’ve learned from that. What has changed? What do you feel like you’ve gotten wrong when you’ve entered markets before, whether it’s with people or with trying to find new clients? What are the lessons that you’ve taken from those failures? Maybe an example of one would be helpful.

TIM: When we first opened up our Indianapolis office about 15 years ago, it was the very first stockholder meeting I attended, and that’s when I learned that that’s what we were doing. We didn’t have the right person in place to get things started. And so, about that same time, I was moving into the president role. And so I thought, “Okay, well, these people, the small firm, they don’t get it. I’ve seen the movie before I’ve lived in a national land. We didn’t spend enough.” I really let that be a guiding light. And just because you spend a lot doesn’t mean you get great outcomes. We use a recruiter. And so all I did was repeat my predecessor’s mistake. I just spent about three times more than he did. And we ended up in the same boat. What I learned from that is how important leadership is, and as you’re opening up these new offices in new territories where you don’t have any brand, you don’t have the things you can rely on true leadership skills, the kind of person you want to be in the foxhole with are so critical. That being said, we’ve got to be adaptive. We have to be flexible. And so if we’re putting together a starting five basketball team, I got five slots I have to fill. And when I come across the center, the forward, I need to take them, even if they’re not the leader I’m looking for. But what I’ve gotten better at then is making that really clear upfront when I’m talking to somebody. “You would do great in our model. What do you want to do? What’s important to you?” And a lot of great salespeople don’t actually want to be the ultimate leader. They want to have a leader they respect, that they can work with, and that appreciates them. But their ego tells them they do. So we get these things out of the way up front now and say, look, I’m looking at you, Joe, as thinking you’d be a great addition to the team. I’m going to need you to act like a leader, but the best thing I can do for you, me, and Gibson is we’re going to find somebody who actually doesn’t mind all the administrative parts of leadership and who’s willing to do some of the hard things and not so fun things to make you and I really successful here. And I’m going to need your help to help us do that. But I don’t want to have the awkward conversation a year from now or 6 months from now when that person comes on board. So, don’t call your mom and don’t tell all your friends that you’re the new office head, but you’re employee number one, that’s worth something, and we’re gonna put the office where you want to put it. We’re gonna do a lot of that kind of things, and I’m not going to hire a leader that you don’t want to hire along the way. But those real leadership skills are where it’s at. Looking back, If we had just had a leader in place, things got really good once we had a great leader, and things never got really all that good until we had a good leader.

JOE: How do you address the ego part of it? Because I could see myself sitting in that person’s shoes. I’m sitting down with the company’s CEO, and I’m interested in moving roles I see a big opportunity for me, and you start asking some leadership-style questions. I could see myself as an individual saying number one, being motivated now. Maybe I want to be that leader when it’s not necessarily true. Or number two, just being this is a big opportunity. And they want me to be the leader, or they’re looking for the leader. So I’m going to show up as that person. And you said, “Hey, I’m a sales jockey too. Salespeople are good at chameleoning, right?” We’re good at being like, how do you want me to mold myself in this moment to match your energy? How do you help them be truthful in that moment to themselves and you?

TIM: As I’m thinking about it, I think instinctively. I’ve probably gone there in many different ways over the years. I really try to pay attention when I’m talking with someone and listen to them. Really look at their body language. Look at their entire body of work. It’s hard even for the best salespeople. And so, based on how their LinkedIn profile is written, based on their emails back and forth, based on how conscientious they are, and the amount of detail that they provide or don’t provide, none of those are right or wrong. But the kind of putting the whole thing together. And I’m also able to tell them too, that I’ve been in your shoes before and I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and there were some things I needed. So, Joe, we’ve created a really cool team selling model, and that phrase kind of gets cliched and overused, but we truly co-mingle compensation in our sales teams. And with that, the sales team leader role is a really unique one that doesn’t exist everywhere else. And so for most of the salespeople, when they tell me that they do want to really want the ultimate role of being like the market head, I talked to him about the sales team leader role because it really tried to create this an image of something that I would have really enjoyed and that I needed because some salespeople are just enough entrepreneurial and creative enough that they want some of that leadership, but they usually don’t want any of the headache stuff that comes with it. They don’t want a lot of the administrative part. They don’t want HR, they don’t want IT, and so that sales team leader role is built for that really entrepreneurial salesperson. They can lead three or four salespeople and five or six salespeople. Salespeople tend to be a little less sensitive about things. And so I don’t mind giving quarterly conversations, salespeople providing those to other salespeople, just not to the service team and the staff and everything that usually doesn’t work. And so, for most of them, that really satisfies that bug. You can usually tell along the way by the questions they ask, the depth of their thoughts, and how big of a strategy and vision they might have. And then talking about their current teams, how they’ve gotten along with them, how they get along with the current people, why they’re even talking to me? A lot of those things tend to filter out. And so I can share and relate that to my background that has been in your shoes before. And I realized that at some point in time that in as much as I could lead a sales team everywhere I’ve been every year, that wasn’t as exciting and interesting to me as putting a bunch of people together in this team that the sum of the parts is way bigger than the individual amount here’s what some of the assessments tell us. Here’s what I think after talking with them. What do they think? Ao, really kind of simple, just being really transparent, direct, open, honest, we find that we usually what comes out of that are the answers that help us both get to a really good spot. We also spend a lot of time talking to them about how our process will differ. You’re going to get irritated probably by a couple of these assessments, the kinds of interviews we’re going to do, the things we’re going to do together. But, we don’t have ‘uncle somebody’ in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco paying the bills, and we’re supposed to hire five salespeople and hope to work out. We’re hiring future partners, and because of that, we want to make sure it’s the right fit. I don’t want to ruin their career, and we can’t afford not to get it right. So we have a lot higher outcome along the way, too. And those things and our track record have really led to getting honest answers from everybody.

JOE: So, taking a step back from the weeds for a second. When you think about getting into a new market, it sounds like you first talk to your providers, and you say, “Hey, what sort of data do you have on different markets?” We could be going to get some of that information from them. And then you look, who are the people on the ground that we could get onto our team to help the entry be easier?

TIM: On the data side, we start on our own, and we’ve pulled together four or five different sources now. We made our start in a bunch of minor-league baseball cities. And now that we’re moving around into major league baseball cities, things have changed, but we know how to be successful in five, 600,000. M. S. A. people, M. S. A. around the country. And so now, when we’re looking at a Chicago with 9.5 million, yeah, things are not the best in Illinois these days, but if 500,000 people leave, there’s still 9 million, and that’s a whole lot more than South Bend or Elkhart, Niles, Michigan of 650 million. So we pull together a lot of these sources to know where the trends are at, where the type of the number of companies that fit really is the sweet spot are thinking about our industry classes that we have a lot of great experience with. And as an example, we’ve whittled it down to about 35 or so markets that we would be really comfortable being in. And now we will be opportunistic in those 30, 35 markets.

Where are the people? And so that’s where we’re going back to the carrier people because they know they work with these people all day long. They know who’s frustrated. They know who’s just gone through a merger acquisition. Sometimes, those are public. Sometimes, they’re kept quiet. Compensation plans are changing all those dynamics of change that are in place. And I just relied on all my skills that I used to use as a salesperson, myself looking for clients, and it really just transitioned those into looking for great people because if we get that one or two great producers, they’re going to just naturally like magnets, just attract all the other great people. They’re going to pull the great service people. And by what they do, they are so committed to their clients and doing great work for their clients. They’re going to do amazing things for us. So we just have to make sure they’re a great fit in our team environment, and they want something a little bit different. And then the ownership piece is usually a huge part of it as well. And there’s nobody at Gibson with the last name “Gibson.” There hasn’t been for probably 30 years now. And it’s a complete meritocracy. And those things just don’t exist anywhere else in our industry.

JOE: So you get to 30, 35 locations that could be good spots for Gibson to expand into, but you only need to make 20 happen to reach the goal for 2033, which sounds like being really specific with your qualifying for what makes in being patient to have the right timing. What are the triggers that tell you that over this market? What are some of the things you’re filtering through that help you make that decision?

TIM: As us being in the risk management and benefit space, we want to see high-growth areas so that organic population growth coming. With bigger MSAs, that’s easy to see the current population. Then, getting into some technical things, something like worker’s compensation differs from state to state. So we’ve got to check out the regulations. There are about four states in the country that have a state monopoly on workers’ compensation. Well, that’s a big part of what we do, so that’s probably not a preferred state for us to spend much time working on. But then we’re going and following where the acquisitions have happened. In the last five years, there have been 3,500 plus acquisitions of insurance agencies. It took 12 years before that to equal 3,500 acquisitions of insurance agencies. So, the rate has picked up substantially along the way. Most of those folks have earnouts in place where they’ll acquire a firm. And, of course, everybody says everything’s wonderful at first. But usually, earnout that’s around a three-year period in our industry anyway. So we’ve purposely followed up on the 2014 to 2018 and 2019 acquisitions, which cities had the most of that going on. Because that is usually going to present some type of discomfort in the marketplace, it will cause a lot of disillusionment and disgruntledness from these producer types. And we were following that back around.

JOE: So what it sounds like you’ve done is essentially the hard work of knowing who your ideal customer is and who your ideal producer is. And then matching those, being patient enough to wait for them to happen. 

TIM: We’re putting together a playbook then with all of this too, Joe, and some of the things that we’ve figured out are really critical to us. One is to have this operating system that we use. It happens to be EOS, but it wouldn’t need to be EOS. And we found we’ve actually gotten really, really good at this. Even in these Midwest offices, we’ve fixed the leadership issues we had in the past, and we know how to do this well. And it’s definitely harder in the short run, and it’s definitely more expensive. It’s a little more painful on the cash flow model. On the front end, we have to fight through some non-solicit agreements and pay people for a few years, even while they’re not able to go after their old clients. But we’ve been able to maintain this semblance of, “You’re getting the same happy meal in different locations.” Because of that piece, we’re able to identify issues as they come up a lot faster an that. Another thing that we’ve done is realize how invaluable it is to have an outside board of advisors. We did that first with Big Gibson. In some ways, we’re kind of like a law firm or an accounting firm where I’ve got 26 partners, I’ve got a lot of friends who are like, that must be the worst CEO job ever. And I’m like, you know, it’s not like that. We’re not a democracy. I’m hired to run the company. I’m an owner, too. And we’re all on the same page together when it’s all said and done. It’s not like that. That being said, out of that group, we have a board of directors. That’s our legal BOD. We realized how important it was to get some outside perspective, and that’s just been a game changer for us. But it kind of hit us along the way of, well, wouldn’t this be great to have some friends of the program in these new markets that we’re going into? So we’ve begun to establish as part of that playbook and formula. A marketplace board of advisors as well. And so far, we’ve kept that to around three people. If one of them is an implementer, a professional implementer from EOS, for example, because they get us, they’re also out looking for clients, their type of clients get us, we get them. One of the members of the marketplace board of advisors, we want one to be a professional EOS implementer or somebody very familiar with EOS because we can really pivot off of that and utilize that. And it’s amazing what that’s done for us to give us credibility in the marketplace, to get plugged into the right not-for-profits. A lot of our marketing strategy over the years has been to engage with boots on the ground, culturally. It fits us. We like to be involved in our communities. And so having a business leader from the community can help us understand that, gee, if I were you all, I would invest in one of these three not-for-profits. It’ll give you a lot of exposure. You can do some great work. You can get connected to a lot of people. So that’s another part of the playbook that’s been really, really valuable to us along the way. And can’t say enough for these people. We try to treat them really well but really make enough to make up for the time that they put into us. But what we found is there are a lot of people there in communities that would love to be on some type of board like this and share and help a little bit. And they’re just not being asked. And here we are, we’re asking they’re saying “yes.” And so we’re probably punching above our weight class with these marketplace boards that we’re getting.

JOE: I was going to ask a question because playbooks are very, very helpful tools. But I could see in a world where you are so human to human, and it’s such a trust business that geographical differences, like even cultural differences between the way that you talk and act and just being with people in business in Chicago versus the West coast, is different. Do you try to balance replication versus individualization for new markets?

TIM: I think that applies to both hiring a great producer and bringing somebody to the board. We spend a lot of time talking about some of the cultural differences in the different markets that we’re in, and that’s one of the reasons why these boards are so important to help us understand some of those nuances.

We’ve just been really fortunate over the years. We’re a place where a lot of people have come from national firms. In their past life, they wanted to do national quality work, but they wanted to do it in a different work environment. They wanted to be outwardly focused on their clients and not on conference calls all the time. And so we’ve been able to lean into that network of our own stockholder partners to connect with past relationships that they’ve had. And it’s really been cool to see some of these people, and we’ve got women, we’ve got men, we’ve got people that are at the end of their careers and people that are right in the middle of it all as well. I also can’t say enough about being a part of a peer group like YPO, Joe. It’s just been such a great organization. I’ve learned so much from being a part of the Indiana chapter for the last 11 years or so. But in addition to that, I’ve been able just to put a phone call in when we made this acquisition in Salt Lake. And I’ve messaged a lot of the members of the chapter just saying, “Hey, I’m new. We’re new to the marketplace. We just acquired a firm there. We want to get involved. We’re going to be going upstream. Can you help point me in the right direction?” And it’s just so cool to see that come to life. These YPO members are always willing to give and to help and make those connections for us.

JOE: Two places I want to go in my head. One of them is actually hearkening back to a thing you talked about earlier. You mentioned when you’re recruiting producers, and they’re coming from a smaller shop, your goals, numbers, and expectations are simply higher than what they’re used to. Do you help them bridge the belief gap between “this is what I’ve always done. I’ve never hit that kind of number before.” But maybe you see in them you can, and they want to be that good. What’s that process like to help them think beyond what they’ve always done historically and meet the kind of numbers that you’d be looking for?

TIM: Usually I’ll just tell them a couple of my stories, Joe, of when I started right out of school. I was plugged into a service role and went with one of the global brokers in Indianapolis that would never work for me. I started cold calling and landed the biggest client in the office within about 60 days of being there. I usually will joke around a little bit and say they would build little bronze busts out at the front lobby for you if you hit X in a given year. But I did that at 22. I was taught that there was a glass ceiling that was kind of in place. And then, when my wife and I decided that we needed to get out of Indiana and move somewhere, we looked at Atlanta, Denver, and Phoenix. We went to Phoenix, sight unseen, and didn’t know anybody. Just presented the best job opportunity. I had an inkling a little bit, on the interviews that, and the phone calls, the words they were using, and the way they were describing it, I knew it was a smash mouth sales culture, but I really didn’t know until I got there. I’m there a few weeks ahead of my wife moving with all of our stuff, and the regional officer came walking around one day and said, “Mr. Leman, what are you working on?” Well, sir, in the book of lists, he said, “Son, people better than you have tried that line on me in the past. It didn’t work for them. It’s never going to work for you. The next time I ask you what you’re doing, you better have the right answer.” So when I got done messing with myself, I called my wife and told her, “I think I’m going to get fired. I don’t think I can keep up with what their expectations are. And she said, should I still move out?” Like, well, yeah, they’re idiots. They gave me a big raise from Indiana. We’re going to live in a vacation city for a year. I mean, it’ll be great. We don’t have to tell anybody I got fired. We’ll just move back. I lived in fear like that, but I realized that I could do it, and I did, and so I replaced the old goals with the new ones along the way. So I think I can kind of share with them some of those past experiences. And I also usually finish up, Joe, was saying something to the effect of basically, all I ever did during my active sales career is I just kept moving the glass ceiling up, but I still kept one in place. And it’s really one of those things of what you believe in the people you’re around and how that influences you. There really isn’t anything you can’t do along the way. So we let them know we’re going to help them. We’ve got a track to run on, they’re not going to be alone. And that’s what comes back to this The unique team-selling model that we have is they’re going to be embedded with many other people who are literally and figuratively vested in their success. They need and want and will ensure that if that person does the right sort of things and follows the program, we’ve got a really, really high level of outcome that they’ll be successful.

 JOE: I’m just curious, as a sales pro, what did your activities change to when you got to Phoenix or when you figured it out in Phoenix? What were the things they asked you to do that were uncomfortable or that you had to do in the past?

TIM: I started calling on bigger things. And then I started doing more of it. I realized quickly I needed to get a network built, and I was really fortunate at 24 and 25 years old. got a really high-end, not-for-profit board that took me on. And I gave them a lot of great energy and effort over the years. But everybody else on the board was 40-something along the way. So, that worked, too, started having more confidence than most of the clients I was talking to. And it wasn’t going to matter anyway, I had to figure this stuff out. So you might as well lean into it and be confident about it. I think the other thing is that good competition of being around other people who are achieving at a really high level, what that does for you and how that changes you and how you think about things. That made an absolute, huge difference in everything I was doing because I didn’t want to get left behind on this. So, it sounds kind of cliche, but I just forced myself to do it along the way. And it’s amazing what happens.

One other thing kind of just crept into my mind, too, is it’s probably about the time when I started giving up pieces of perfectionism that I had along the way. I had to do more and be kind of a volume player and take on more stuff and handle more. And I couldn’t keep doing it as I’d always done it. And so I had one of those mentor types tell me, “Along the way, your book of business will increase, and you got to keep reinventing yourself and how you do business.” And so I started trimming things down. I started getting a lot more efficient, started using tools, and started being okay with 90 was good enough, and it didn’t have to have the perfect email. I just needed to move and move faster and take action. So I suppose that speed and action thing became a lot more embedded into what I was doing, too.

JOE: Gibson has a really great culture now. And I sometimes think when people hear high-performance expectations, high sales culture, they hear burnout on the back end of that. And so what I’m curious about is how you balance as the visionary. You have to see the future before others do and then bring them with you to make it. And therefore, you’re going to ask people to achieve things they haven’t done before, and you’re going to ask them to do things they haven’t done before. I’m just curious about how you help them to have that belief without also pushing them into burnout.

TIM: Balancing that and keeping people from burnout is something that was beginning to happen to me. It’s been 17 or 18 years since I moved back to Northern Indiana from Phoenix, and I was 30 or 31 years old. I was making way more money than I ever thought I’d make. My wife and I just built a new home in Scottsdale. We had a couple of boys out there, and she was missing our family. And I didn’t lead on to that a lot because I really didn’t know how I could possibly get off the treadmill and stop and move. But Dave Gibson had reached out at just the perfect timing that summer of 2005. And he said, “Hey, Tim, you know, you ought to move back to Northern Indiana. Gibson is struggling. I’ve sold the company to my senior partners. The succession plan they have in place really isn’t going to work out, and I think they’d be thrilled to have you, and you could buy in and be the leader along the way.” So, that was intriguing enough that my wife said we were definitely going to talk to Dave. And so we did, and it ended up being the best thing that ever happened. I tell people now I’m just a little bit chubby, but I was really, really, really overweight out there. I was literally working about 80 hours a week, and people say that sometimes, but I truly was working that much. I mean, 6.5 days a week. Every night was seemingly a double happy hour and or dinner with clients and prospects, and it was terrible. But I don’t remember a lot of my second son’s early first year and a half out there. Even when I was around, I wasn’t around. I just really couldn’t figure out how to get off, though. Because the treadmill was going so fast, money was there and everything. So when you ask that question about how we do that nowadays, I know what I let myself get to. And part of when we moved back to Indiana was to reset everything with that. I work really hard with our team to not let that happen nowadays. Best I can lead by example. I’m a fanatic about my calendar on Outlook. I have everything planned out. It annoys some of my friends who fly by the seat of their pants, free spirits, but I still want to accomplish a lot, and therefore, I don’t want to waste time on different things. So I’ve got it all planned out. But when I get my calendar going for the year, where I typically start is when my kids’ school calendar comes out, and I look at where all the cross country meets, all the basketball games, the track meets, my EA puts those on my calendar as a starting point. So, I don’t just go to the Kalamazoo office in Michigan whenever they want me to come. Months in advance, I’m telling them what day is my Michigan day, and they’ve got me all day until about four o’clock. And then I’m going to be at this particular school at about 4:30. So let it rip. I’ll do everything I can during that day. And with my kids, Joe, I’ve talked to them too about, I’m going to be at nine out of 10 things. And my dad always did a great job of that for me. He was a salesperson as well. I really can’t remember him ever missing a game. I know he did, but I don’t remember it, and I’ve told them the same thing, that they can count on that. They’re very important to me, but there is going to be that one out of 10 that they have a great life, they get to experience a lot of great things, and because of that, there are some things where I owe it to my partners. I owe it to the up-and-comer that we brought on board. They needed me, and then we had a scheduling conflict, and I got to be there. But it’s part of the sacrifice that they have to put into it. And just having those adult conversations with the kids, and everything has worked out really well with all three of them. And I know they feel supported, but I’ve done that to try to, as just one small example, here today talking to you. And also to my team that, to get it all and then, to not have, what’s really important, it’s not really worth it. And I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it. I’ve done it, and take my word for it. It’s also not out of the question for me; my wife hates this, but we’ll go to dinner with one of our younger partners and their spouse, and I might decide on a dinner that night to pick on them about one of their skills or things that they need to work on a little bit better, a little bit more, one of them, in particular, was a perfectionist to the core. And so, when we were talking with him and his wife, I had calculated how much that would cost them. And like hard dollars over the course of the next 10 to 20 years and in their career and all kinds of things, I had a lot of fun that night. I don’t think he had much fun. His wife had a lot of fun, too. She’s like, “Oh, somebody who finally gets him.” And I’m like, “Man, you can be perfect on a few things, or you can be better than almost everybody else. You’ll never face lots of things. And That’s what it’s going to matter in the end.” So I actually get involved with them I’m in their lives a little bit. That can cause some friction from time to time. And sometimes I have to apologize and say, maybe I stepped in a little too far, but know that they know it’s only because I care about them and want them to do really well. And that includes even in their personal life. And when things like that are coming up, they need to deal with that first. I really never met very many successful people who don’t have things going well at home either. I want them to focus on that first. Because we’ll get the best out of them if they’ve got things going well at home.

JOE: I’m just very interested in how you calculate what perfectionism is costing people.

TIM: I usually try to relate it back to others that have gone before them. One of the cool things about being a 90-year-old company is that we’ve had many great people here who helped build the foundation of Gibson. And so I’ll relate them to such and such, and I’ll compare and contrast them maybe to a couple of people from our past. And I know one of them will really irritate them if I do it that way. But I’ll point out that, “Hey, the smartest person in the room, the smartest person in the office,” but he or she never really got that far and why, and maybe it’s how they treat other people. Maybe it’s because of perfectionism. But to identify what those root causes were, and they were more talented and better, and yet this other person over here, look what they did, and they did it because here are some things that, you know, how they did it, and that’s actually worked pretty well along the way, because you have so many individual producers over the course of 90 years, and you guys keep data on it. 

JOE: You’re actually able to look back and say, these are the things that make a high-quality producer. And here’s what they act like, how they perform, and what their life looks like. That’s really cool. I hadn’t really thought about that being an opportunity.

TIM: I give a lot of credit to my predecessor at Gibson, a guy named Greg Downs. And our 90-year history has been four of us that have sat in that CEO chair: two Gibsons and then Greg Downs, and then me. And that’s one of the things I think Greg really did a great job with me in my early years at Gibson when I was so frustrated with things. I wanted to move faster. And I’d taken over this, older company, a lot of great people, it’s like, you’re right. And if you want to fire that person, or if you want to terminate that relationship with that supplier, if you want to do these things, you can, but do you want to win the battle, or do you want to win the war? And so you need to think longer term about this thing, and you can be right all day long, but if your goal is to end up here. You won’t get there ever because it doesn’t matter, these little things. So, understanding what game you’re playing and what the long run looks like would really help shape me and my thinking. It was something that I needed to overcome.

JOE: The themes I’ve heard as you think about, we obviously walked into this talking about what does new market entry looks like, but also just what is big change and how you manage it. Well, what does that playbook look like? I hear a couple of themes from you, and correct me where I’m wrong here, but it sounds like get really clear on what you want. That’s part of knowing who your ideal customer is and what environments we do our best work in and then being patient enough to wait for those people or the right market to come around. But also in your own life. Being patient, like you were just referencing there with, “Hey, you can make that decision sort of an emotion right now, but it’s going to burn you in the long run. Does it feel really good right now? Maybe, but you need to wait for it.” And also getting clear on what your own life needs to look like so that you can do it sustainably for a long time and reach the goals that you have. I’m seeing some parallels between market entry and sort of building the life that you want. And some of those key aspects that you’ve talked about, it takes a lot for someone to leave a really great thing and to come over and join a startup organization in a new city. 

TIM: We’ve been around 90 years and all that, but still, at the end of the day, I have just so much respect for people when they’re willing to do that. To leave good for the potential of great, and we can show them, and I’m able to tell them I’m a big owner inside of Gibson were patient. We have patient capital. If you work here, we won’t run at the first sign of trouble. We’re going to fight through it. Chances are 1 of the 5 great people we bring on will leave sooner than we want them to. We’re gonna have to fight through all of these things. But I’ve realized in my life in general, Joe, I’ve oftentimes just stayed in the game. One plays longer than somebody else. And it’s amazing what that’ll do for you. the other thing, too, I wanted to say of learning patience. Because people would not describe me as a patient person per se, one of the ways, though, in recent years where I’ve learned a lot about patients is I’ll go back to YPO. and I’m gonna go back to your CEO Tiffany Sauder, one of the things that YPO has brought to me is an opportunity to be around some amazing female leaders. I think women tend to have a little bigger, better patient genes. I sometimes may have wanted to smash something at the moment. Some of my male CEO friends probably are like that a lot more. Some of the women I’ve been able to learn and get to know, learn about, and learn from over the last decade or so, and Tiffany is definitely one of them who is playing that longer game with what that can do for you and that patience that comes with it along the way. And that’s because we look at all this too. It’s about our culture. It’s about who we are. We care about winning, but we don’t want to win if we don’t get there correctly. And so every single thing we do is long-term oriented. And yes, we track our results. Daily and weekly and quarterly and all those kinds of things, but we’re playing a long game here. We plan to be around. We plan to be independent. And because of that, I think we make a lot better decisions. And we have some of that patience that’s needed because going into these markets and the growth that you want to have is hard work. It’s not easy. No one knows you. No one’s heard of you. And if they have, they’ve heard the same story before, and it’s not worked out for the other people they’ve heard it from.

So everything’s kind of stacked against you, and that just makes it all the more fun, though, when you come out on the other end, and you succeed, and you do it together, and you build something special with other people that they never thought they could do. We’re just sitting right on the cusp of this right now. So, the next decade will be an absolute blast at Gibson. Play the long game. Surround yourself with people who want to play it with you.

JOE: Tim, I appreciate all the knowledge you dropped for us today, and talking about balancing professional expectations with not burning out and being patient while driving towards results helps people believe bigger. There are a lot of good nuggets of wisdom in here, and I appreciate your time.

TIM: Hey, thank you. I appreciate you having me on, Joe.

REID: Okay, Joe. We’ve had our first conversation as we step away from the initial inflection point. And so we’re going into this idea of a new market entry. And how does that business environment affect a leader navigating that transition? So we went to talk with Tim. Tell me where you went and what were some of the key things that you found are. Either similar or different from the other inflection points or other discussions we’ve had so far?

JOE: Probably more similar than different. We didn’t explicitly go into identity, which was different from what we talked about in the leadership transition piece. But we did talk a lot about the people-to-people side. And that potentially has to do with the orientation of their business, which we talk about in the episode; they’re very people-centric. The fact that we talked a lot about finding alignment among people was a continuation of the conversation. In fact, if you think about our last conversation with Adam. Adam talked a few times about the need for alignment as the priority and the point of the beginning. And Tim talked a lot about some of the similar things that Adam talked about regarding when they’re evaluating as a leader. The right person for them to purchase a business from and to keep in place post-acquisition Tim talked a lot about is this person right to help us open an office in this city, and one of the continual conversations that I think keeps coming up is I often think when I feel like somebody says “Hey, you’re not right for this,” it makes me feel like lesser. You’re not right for that opportunity., or not smart enough. I’m not good enough I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the network, or whatever it is, when in reality, what Tim talked about, he said a few things around, “Do they actually want to be the leader of the office?” It’s okay not to want that. It doesn’t make you a worse employee, a worse person, a worse asset. It just makes you a different one. And he said there are plenty of salespeople who don’t want the administrative headache. They don’t want people’s headaches. They don’t want the HR headache. They don’t want the IT headache. They don’t want to be an entrepreneur, or maybe an intrapreneur is a better way to word it. And that’s okay. It did still touch on being clear and honest about what you want and how important that is. But from a new standpoint, one of the things we hadn’t really talked about before is he talked a lot about perfectionism being a problem. He talked about perfectionism and he talked about patience. Perfectionism is a problem, so stop trying to make it perfect. Do you want to make it perfect, or do you want to make progress? Which I think when you get too far into that, like, “Oh, it’s done better.” You can fall off the other end of the spectrum where it’s not good enough. But I think figuring out that it’s never going to be perfect. So how do we tell ourselves when it’s good enough? And then the other one on patience. He said, “Look, we’ve tried to go too fast. I want it tomorrow. I want to be in that market tomorrow. I want to find the person tomorrow. I want to be there doing the things.” And he’s like, “Going too fast has burned us. We gotta make sure it’s right.” And so, taking the time to make it right was another key point he was saying.

REID: That’s interesting because that idea of you don’t need to be an entrepreneur, don’t need to be an intrapreneur, right? We operate in a world that tells you you need to. There’s a lot of stuff that says you have to versus the fact that it is completely fine to be an individual contributor. You don’t need to raise vertically if that’s not what you want. So I think that’s an interesting thing. That is pushing against the current circumstances of business and the world around you, the world we consume, which is interesting. And then the other one that is a thread that actually connects to our conversations with Adam and others is the idea of the right person, the right seat as an EOS framework, and that you could be the right person for the company. And it’s about aligning your skill set and the evolving needs of the business. So you might not serve the seat that you’re in today, but if you’re still the right person, well, then let’s find you the right seat. And I think that kind of plays with that as well.

JOE: Yeah, it’s an interesting point you make around the, “Hey, you need to be the entrepreneur, you need to be this.” But you don’t have to rise vertically. I think there’s also this weird thing where you only get to rise vertically if you want to lead people, which actually isn’t true.

REID: Completely.

JOE: But it does feel like it. And even at Element Three, we have the growth academy and the leadership academy, which is open to everyone. You don’t have to lead other people to go through the leadership academy. Part of its function is to help you determine, “Do I want to lead other people?” And you can be very high up in our organization without direct reports. You can be an executive without direct reports. Ao, I think not every company is going to operate that way. But if you love execution and you love the work that you do, being inside of it and leading people takes you away from doing that, and it’s a huge high value for you. Understanding: “Yeah, I might have a couple of people that I lead or know people that I lead, but maybe you need to stay inside of the lane that you’re awesome at and keep getting great at it.” So, I think trying not to put value statements on roles is important, and that’s something that I want to explore more as we go.

REID: So, talk to me about your questions now as we’re looking at where we could go next for another conversation.

JOE: A few places. I do think the one you’ve just highlighted about rising vertically is an interesting place to go. We haven’t done a lot of large org in our conversations. And we’ve talked to many people who see the whole business because it’s smaller. And so, getting perspective from a large organization inside this conversation would be really helpful. I also think understanding as you rise in an organization, what are the pressures that you face? What are the ones that you expect to face? Like, “Oh, there’s more responsibility.” Okay, obviously. But what are the ones you put on yourself? Is there an area that was unexpected that you didn’t see it coming from? We haven’t had a big co-perspective yet. And so I think getting some of that would be helpful to round out our conversation. The perfectionism pieces are something to talk about. And some of the patience pieces. They all play together. As you rise, you probably want to be perfect in your new role, and you won’t be. You’re going to have bumps. But then you also want to be great tomorrow, and you want to get the promotion tomorrow. So, how do you be patient with them and appreciate where you are? All those things, I think, are areas we could go into.

REID: Awesome. Well, let’s find that conversation. 

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