Ignoring Noise & Following What’s Right for Your Business with Kelley Stacy

1,000 Stories


Kelley Stacy: You’re only as good as the people you manage. If you’re not willing to sweep the floors, don’t think you’re going to become a manager. If you’re not willing to do the same job somebody else is. Don’t become a manager. You should be willing to do the same thing somebody else is. You need to be willing to work those hours that they are. You need to be willing to do those things. If you’re not, don’t.

Joe Mills: 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 make sure that those big moments are successful?

Reid Morris: I’m Reid Morris.

Joe Mills: I’m Joe Mills. We’re embarking on an investigation this season to answer that exact question.

Reid Morris: Then we’re taking our learnings and we’re sharing them with you to help you navigate your own inflection points.

Joe Mills: This is 1000 stories, an original show from Element Three.

Reid Morris: Okay, Joe, so we’re going a little bit of a different direction with the next guest we’re having on the show. I’d say there’s been a little bit of a pattern so far of we have a leader who’s going through one of these inflection points. We get some outside perspective, some SME, and then obviously we went and had a conversation with Tim, who is a leader going through an inflection point. But for our next conversation, we’re actually not flipping back to SME. I’d love for you to provide a little bit of context and an explanation behind where we’re going next.

Joe Mills: The quickest way to say it is as I was observing, where are we getting our perspective from, I felt like it was too much of the same background, like mid-market business background, SMB background. I felt like we needed a perspective from somebody who lives in a different type of world to start rounding us out a little bit.

I started thinking through the network of who’s had a different background, who works at a large company, and I think in Kelley Stacy, we’ve really found somebody who checks those boxes really well. She’s in a multinational, Japanese owned, enormous manufacturing company.

Reid Morris: Very different than the people we’ve had on historically.

Joe Mills: Super different. She’s also navigated internal changes a lot. That’s the piece that’s interesting to me. Well, there’s a lot that’s interesting, but one of them is she started very entry in the organization and how she runs the place and understanding how those different transitions have played with her and how she’s reacted to them would be really interesting to unpack. I also have a little bit of a hypothesis that at each new step she was likely wondering, “Am I qualified for this? How do I do this job well,” having to relearn over and over again.

The added layer there being manufacturing is a male dominated industry. As a woman coming up through that, Wes or somebody else mentioned an imposter syndrome piece in all of this, and I’m curious about did she feel that. If she did, how did she manage it? If she didn’t, how, frankly, as somebody who has lately started to understand, “Oh, I think I actually have some of that.” Yeah, there’s a lot of areas I want to go with her that I think are unique to her background and her company size and industry that we haven’t yet unpacked inside of this season.

Reid Morris: Yeah, I think this conversation will likely land somewhere as a hybrid between where the leadership conversations in season three have been and historically because a lot of the interest in her experience and her background is not just one inflection point.

Joe Mills: Right, it’s all of them.

Reid Morris: With Tim and crew for this season, it’s been like, “Let’s go deep on a specific point.” I think for her, we’re going to have to extrapolate some of these trends from different experiences over that period of time.

Joe Mills: Yep. Also, thinking about a settled historic company, how do they consider what would be an inflection point in our vernacular? Is there a new market for them to get into? Do they think about that? Are they growing by acquisition? Some of that conversation going back to the four inflection points that we talk about, I’ll be really interested in how do those come up inside of the organization and is it an organizational inflection point or is it like a department inflection point? I think that is one of the gaps that I’ve felt is our understanding of inflection points oftentimes presumes organizational change. This might be business unit change, this might be something that doesn’t even really hit her front door, I don’t know. Or it could be, so unpacking some of that will be interesting as well.

Reid Morris: Then for those who watch us on video, just an interesting point. You’ll see that this is our first episode on the road, so that’s also just kind of a fun, exciting aspect of this episode. If you don’t watch us on video, highly encourage you to.

Joe Mills: YouTube, what’s up?

Reid Morris: We’ve made it a lot better this season. Something interesting for you all to check out and just some expectations for you.

Joe Mills: I was thinking about this on the way over, I was like, “I feel like there’s a lot of perception on what it means to be a CEO.”

Kelley Stacy: I agree with you.

Joe Mills: I was like, I’d be interested in what your perception is. What do you consider your, whether it’s KPI or main deliverable or purpose of the role, how do you think about that?

Kelley Stacy: For myself and for this company, it’s so many things. It’s deliverables, it’s taking care of employees, it’s taking care of customers, it’s suppliers, distributors, it’s everything. I don’t think it’s that way for every organization. I mean even other companies I’ve worked for, personally speaking, the CEO was… I’m sure he was doing or she was doing things, but they were also out playing golf. They were doing things I have never gotten to do. I don’t have time. I feel like for me, if I’m not going 24/7 and I’m not making sure the box is checked and this is done and that is done, the world’s going to fall apart. That’s just how I roll.

Joe Mills: Is that natural or is that learned?

Kelley Stacy: I think both. I’m one of six girls. I’m the oldest. There was a lot of expectation there for me. I think my parents instilled an extreme work ethic for us. I think definitely we were brought up that way. But also I think in every job I’ve had, even in school, for my kids, “Oh, I’m sick. I can’t go to school today.” It’s like, “Get up and move.” I think today is totally different. I would’ve never missed a day of school, never missed a day of work unless I’m dying because “God, what’s my boss going to think,” right?

Joe Mills: That’s what you were brought in. That’s how you view the world. Then at the same time I hear you saying, “That’s not today.” You lead a group of employees who potentially don’t share the exact same viewpoint.

Kelley Stacy: For example, when we had Covid, we didn’t shut down.

Joe Mills: You would’ve been considered-

Kelley Stacy: Essential.

Joe Mills: Essential, thank you.

Kelley Stacy: We were essential. We were helping with the ventilators. Because we’re the headquarters for North America and we’re running a factory, we have to be here. We’ve got engineering, we’ve got every gamut of everything here. We have to support them. We can’t sit at home and do it. Everybody had to be here. If you were sick, if you had Covid, of course you stayed home, but we weren’t working from home.

Joe Mills: How did the employee population react to that?

Kelley Stacy: Not good.

Joe Mills: No?

Kelley Stacy: No.

Joe Mills: What was that like-

Kelley Stacy: Still not good.

Joe Mills: Oh, really?

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, still we still fight that. We still fight it from IT, accounting, just, I don’t want to pinpoint certain departments because I don’t know exactly which ones unless they’re vocal, but we still get people, “Oh, I can sit at my desk all day. I don’t need to be here. I can sit home.” “You can do that, but you can do it somewhere else.” Unfortunately, we are not that place today. We are not Google, we’re not those places. We’re a manufacturer. We have to be here to support people. I’m sure there are certain jobs here that they could do work from home, but that means as a company, we’ve got to support them. We’ve got to support them with equipment, we’ve got to support them with an IT group that can support them. I don’t have that. All those things that they don’t understand, “Yeah, you can sit at home and do that, but I’ve got to support you and I’ve got to pay to support you, and right now I can’t do that. We’re not set up that way.”

Joe Mills: Well, it’s interesting you mentioned Google and others, let’s just call them large tech firms in general, but now they’re having to walk all this back with back to work.

Kelley Stacy: Yes, it’s not easy, is it?

Joe Mills: Think about the blowback that they’re getting. Are you sitting there thinking like, “Ooh, I’m glad we dodged that bullet,”?

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, and it’s interesting to read and listen to it. It’s like these employees are even now saying, “Hey, not only am I at home, but you know what? You’re not paying rent. You should pay my rent.” You should see the things that I read about. It’s like, “Wow, they’re really fighting a tough battle.”

Joe Mills: It’s funny they say that because I do believe there’s a tax law that you’re allowed to write off your home office if you predominantly work from home. As the leader of the organization, think about navigating just the cultural differences, and also for you guys as a multinational corporation that you mentioned, “Hey, I was just in Vietnam. I’m on a call with Vietnam later.” Is there any way that you consciously think about, “All right, I’m talking to somebody who has a completely different set of backgrounds than me, likely a different worldview than me, generational, cultural, et cetera.” How much of your mind space does that take up?

Kelley Stacy: I think because I started here in 1994, it was a shock to come to a Japanese company. In fact, the first two weeks I was here I was thinking, “Yikes, I’m out of here.” It was a shock.

Joe Mills: What was your first role when you came here?

Kelley Stacy: When I first came here, I worked for the director. I just came in, I worked for the director. I was supposed to do some human resources, just all kinds of things like that. It was just not for me. Just to give you a little bit of example, we were at 30th and Franklin Road in the General Foods building, and it was in this humongous room. I did not get to see until I started on my first day. I walked in on my first day and there was 80 people in a school room setting with the metal desks. The floor was a hard tile floor that was chipped up with your cords, duct taped to the floor. People tripped and fell. There were big dust bunnies everywhere, and they were sitting this not much space. I was like, “Wow, this is crazy.”

Behind that was production. There were windows like say this was the room and then there were windows there and you could see the production right through the windows. It was pretty interesting. At 7:55 AM people would be going to their desk. At eight o’clock in the office, this huge buzzer would ring and he would be standing up looking to make sure you were sitting down and these were managers, salary people. At 12 o’clock it would ring, at one o’clock it would ring, and things like that were strange, very strange. One of my first assignments was like we were using the green screen, the AS400 green screen, and nothing was easy. There’s 30 people that he was dealing with. There would be a little piece of paper that had, “Joe, Bobby, Sue, Hannah on it with a little checkbox, Hey, I sent this piece of paper out to my team. I don’t know where it is. I need you to go find it.”

I know no one, and I’m looking around this room thinking, “All right,” I’d have to go to each person. “Hey, he sent this out. I need to find it. I don’t even know what it is.” There were several Japanese there, but mostly American people. I’m hoping to God people will sympathize with me. After getting through a few things like that, it was like, “Yeah, this is not going to work for me, not going to work.” I spent the first three weeks there thinking, “How am I going to get out of here?” My main boss was in California, so he had come back and I talked to him about it and he was like, “Don’t worry, he’s old. That type of culture just don’t worry.” I’m thinking, “Yeah, but I’ve got to be here every day.”

Joe Mills: Looking back, do you feel like it was a really short period of time and it moved fast?

Kelley Stacy: No.

Joe Mills: No? Looking back, you’re like, “Oh, that was such a short window.” But when you’re in it feels forever.

Kelley Stacy: It seemed like forever. Yeah.

Joe Mills: My first role, a week into it and I was like, “Oh, I’ve made a grave error.”

Kelley Stacy: Right. That’s how I felt. That’s exactly how I felt.

Joe Mills: What did you do?

Kelley Stacy: One of the good things was, I want to say around $30 million, at that time, less than a hundred people. Totally different, right? You take it day by day, you take things day by day, and I was able to literally, I had nothing to do. That was the type of things I was doing. As I’ve got nothing to do, it’s like, “Wow, they don’t have this,” or “They don’t have that while I’m going through my day, I can put this together for them or put that together for them.” I was fortunate enough to use my skillset to help them put things together and learn at the same time. It was like, “Wow, I don’t know anything about production.” I knew about logistics, because I worked for Hooks Drugs so I could learn the things I learned about engineering, learn about production, and “Wow, that’s pretty fascinating. They’re making these widgets and I didn’t know anything about that.” I was not liking something. I was still able to learn. It’s like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

Joe Mills: You’re looking to leave already?

Kelley Stacy: Oh yeah. That first two and three weeks, I was like, “I’m out of here.”

Joe Mills: Maybe it’s a tough wrap on the millennial generation as a whole who says, “Oh, they’re job hoppers,” et cetera, et cetera.

Kelley Stacy: I understand.

Joe Mills: I also know for myself when I emotionally am like, “I should not be here.” My determination to get better at the thing also starts to lag, I think. How did you navigate the, “I think I want to go somewhere else, but I’m also going to learn a bunch and be as productive as I can here,”?

Kelley Stacy: Well, I think also there’s a difference, and I don’t know if it’s just people or me. I wasn’t excited. I’ve never been the type of person who’s like, “Well, I’m going to go out and look for another job.” I’m not that girl. I’ll do it. Plus I was a court sonographer. I was educated to be that, and I easily could have done that. I just didn’t want to do that with little ones, right? It was in my mind, “What do I want to do here,” in my head, “What do I want to do?” While I was doing that here, I thought I had this great job because I had never been in this part of the building. What they sold me was not what I thought. Going into that in the first couple weeks, it was totally not what I thought.

Once I got in there, it was even worse than what I thought. I was talking to my husband and it was like, “Do I want to start looking for a completely different thing? Do I want to go back to what I was doing?” I don’t know. It’s so different today because I didn’t have a cell phone. I couldn’t just start flipping through, “Oh, let’s… Let me look for a job.” I couldn’t get on Google. I couldn’t do all those things. It’s a completely different thing and I couldn’t do that in front of other people. I guess being a different time, it was completely different.

It was, “Okay during this day, unless I’m on my 12 to one lunch break that I have to leave the building it was learning what I could learn, help them with what I could help with, and in the meantime look for something else.” For me, it was never exciting. During my time at SMC, there did come a point in time, I think I’d been there maybe five years where my mom worked for Key Benefit, which was an insurance company, and I got offered a job there that I really wanted. But when I decided to take it, they really, here, begged me not to do that.

Joe Mills: Do you find that it could be a negative right now, the ease with which you can just pull out and be like, “I’ll go to somewhere else,”?

Kelley Stacy: I do. I think for each person it’s a personal choice and I think you have to think of all of the things. I think sometimes it’s way too easy and there could be so many reasons. I guess it depends on the person, and the company, and where you are and where you want to go and what you want to do. I think all too often people just move on to the next thing, and I don’t think always the grass is greener. I think we have proven that here at this company many times. I wish I could count how many people have come back, have left and come back. Yeah, so many people.

Joe Mills: What do you think brings them back?

Kelley Stacy: I don’t think it’s always money, because I know that people have left made more money and come back here for less. I think our culture brings people back. I think people bring people back. I think any number of things.

Joe Mills: What do you think the difference between culture and people is?

Kelley Stacy: I think the difference between culture and people… I think that you’re with the people you work with. If you’re not working from home or I think that you’re with the people all day, every day, you’re with them more than you are with your family. I try to tell people, “You may not always enjoy or like the person that you have to work with every day, but you’re with them more than you’re with your family. You try to make the best of the situation,” especially in situations where there’s two people not getting along. What we try to do is if there’s ever a situation like that, we try to minimize any conflict or something like that. We would never want people to be sitting next to each other with conflict.

The people that you work with, again, you’re with all the time, you’re with more than you are your family, and so they become your family and you learn about them and you learn about their family, and so they become part of your family. Then the culture is what I personally feel, that leadership management, the company, the care committees and the committees that the company allows to be put together to make things fun, exciting, better. I think that is what makes your culture.

Joe Mills: We have a saying that we say culture is the internal word for brand, and brand is the external word for culture. It’s just who you are at your core. That makes sense to me. You referenced it, “Hey, I got five years in and there was an opportunity somewhere else.” Take me from the three weeks to the five years, how did you start to get to a point where you were like, “I’m here,” because you would’ve left if it was bad for five years.

Kelley Stacy: I was starting to learn a lot like, “Hey, wow,” I didn’t know anything about engineering. I didn’t know anything about production. But once I started to get into it and start learning about it was pretty exciting for me. I was able to implement a lot of things and I was fortunate enough for the company to trust in me to learn, and I became purchasing manager and got to learn about a lot of that. We have something called [inaudible 00:17:46]. It has to do with purchasing. It’s so complicated for me to explain it to you, but because we order a lot from Japan, we would have so much on the boat. I got to learn so many things about how production could be in Japan or it could be in China or wherever.

I just got fascinated to learn about all those things and I got to be promoted from one place to the next, and I found like, “Wow, this is awesome to be able to learn so much, move from this point to that point,” to be able to do that and pivot from what I knew to something else, it did take years, right? I don’t want to make it seem like it happened in five years because it didn’t, it took a long time. It was hard work. But also to be in a Japanese company that’s, I don’t know, 99% men and then be able to do that, it was pretty exciting for me.

Joe Mills: We were talking about this, Reid and I, when we were coming over and we were like “Being a woman leader, the leader of a company that, I would guess was at least at some point during your time here and perhaps still is, predominantly male.” On one hand I was like, “She might not even realize it.” You know how some people are just going through the day and they’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I guess that is a weird thing,” and other people are like, “No, that’s pretty obvious.”

Kelley Stacy: Well, okay, so at the time I was not the only one. There were other female managers in different areas. As I progressed, like today, I’m the only one.

Joe Mills: Around the executive table?

Kelley Stacy: Yes.

Joe Mills: Interesting.

Kelley Stacy: There is an outside board member. I’m on the board of Japan and there is an outside female board member, but internally I’m the only one and I’m the only female… The only… See, I don’t even think about it. I got to stop and think I’m the only female subsidiary.

Joe Mills: CEO.

Kelley Stacy: Yes.

Joe Mills: You don’t think about it is what enables you to do it?

Kelley Stacy: It must be, because I don’t think about it. In fact, I just realized that. We own a company called AP Tech. The father was the CEO. He retired, the daughter inherited. She was the vice president, I think, and then she was the CEO and she retired or left the company, and now I am.

Joe Mills: You’re also their CEO?

Kelley Stacy: Yes.

Joe Mills: What was the decision point to take on that instead of hiring or are you actively searching for?

Kelley Stacy: Right now, we’ve taken over it.

Joe Mills: Okay, so you rolled it into-

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, we rolled it into SMC.

Joe Mills: Got it. Okay. Is that normal for your acquisition strategy? I know completely-

Kelley Stacy: We do not do acquisitions.

Joe Mills: Oh.

Kelley Stacy: That’s the only one we’ve ever done.

Joe Mills: What made it right?

Kelley Stacy: It’s complimentary to our products. It’s not something we normally do.

Joe Mills: Yeah, interesting. Okay, so growth for you is organic.

Reid Morris: At this point in the episode, Kelley mentioned that they recently did their first acquisition, which on its own is a whole story to dive into, and she gives some context as to why now. But if you want another episode that is related to this idea of acquisition, if you jump over to our recent episode with Adam Ringo, it talks a lot about what do investors look for in leaders of businesses. If you have a little bit of curiosity around what happens at the inflection point of an acquisition, that’s a great resource to go listen to.

Joe Mills: When you think about organic growth for the organization, and you’re already in 83 countries, where does it come from? It’s not geographical expansion, I can’t imagine. Is it new markets?

Kelley Stacy: Oh yeah, it’s new markets. It’s taking competitive business.

Joe Mills: One of the things that I see as a theme already coming through is that you seem to have this desire to just learn the new thing. Has that always been you?

Kelley Stacy: I think so, but it’s like I like to do that with things, not just work. I love to play golf and some days I’m good and other days I’m horrible, but I will go to every golf lesson or every golf teacher, thinking it’s not me. I never have time. I haven’t played for a few years just because when I tell you, this year has probably been one of my worst travel years. How often have I been home? Maybe three weekends. I’m just gone all the time.

Joe Mills: How do you balance that out, if you don’t mind me asking?

Kelley Stacy: It’s very, very hard.

Joe Mills: Is this something you think about, the balance or lack thereof?

Kelley Stacy: I don’t ever think about it. I love to cut my own grass. If I’m going to be gone, I have three boys, but they’re all grown, right? My youngest just got married and I would be like, “Hey, I’m going to be gone this weekend. Can you cut my grass?” “Yeah.” For my Christmas present, they all chipped in to get somebody to cut my grass.

Joe Mills: “Mom, why don’t you just hire somebody to cut your grass?”

Kelley Stacy: I like to do it myself.

Joe Mills: Do it, yeah.

Kelley Stacy: That’s the other thing is I’m a type A, and if I would come home and I’d come home and they’d cut my grass, but they didn’t use the edger, I would go ballistic.

Joe Mills: “Stop, it’s not perfect enough.”

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, and so that’s why they did it. I know that’s why they did it.

Joe Mills: Have you found yourself as somebody who likes to dive in, get your hands into the thing, know how it’s done, and then try to systematize it and move about? Your operations to the core, this is so far away from my personality type.

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, so that’s the problem with this year. If I would’ve been cutting my own grass, it would’ve been growing over my house. I was not home hardly any weekend to do it. It’s like I told them, “I’m so thankful for you guys for doing this for me, but please don’t do that again.” But it’s because I don’t want them to spend their hard-earned money on that. I’d rather do that myself. If that’s the case, I’d rather do it myself. I don’t like anybody to spend their money on me or especially they work hard.

Joe Mills: It sounds like to me is like you take on a lot.

Kelley Stacy: Yes.

Joe Mills: But you can’t take on everything when you’re in a 1600 person organization, you’re running, how do you think about what you offload versus what you keep on? What becomes your hat versus somebody else’s?

Kelley Stacy: I’m a horrible delegator. There’s certain people that I can delegate to that I know I can delegate to. I don’t want to say I’m a micromanager because I don’t feel like I’m a micromanager, but I also investigate things myself. I don’t just hand off things and say, “Hey, can you take care of this?” I really do get into the weeds in a lot of things, and that’s why I work constantly.

Joe Mills: I could imagine you reading some advice stuff and it’s like “Get rid of these things and take them off your plate and have more balance,” and you just going, “No.”

Kelley Stacy: You know what? I’ve had people tell me that consultants and stuff say, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t be doing that,” or “You should just blah, blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, “Yep, I’m sure that’s easy for you to say, but I’ve tried that before. I’ve done that before. What happens is people, at the end of the day suffer from that.” I’m going to just give you an example of HR. We’ve got almost 16 to 1700 people. I’m just going to give you a hypothetical. “Hey, all you managers, we’re going to give you X amount of money to give to your people this year for raises. You decide.” Not happening, because hypothetically, if I have 50 managers and I trust the 50 managers to give them to the employees like they’re supposed to, it’s going to be easy for somebody to tell me, “Well, you should be able to trust your managers.” Yes, I should. But I didn’t train each one of those managers myself, and maybe one of those managers has something going on in their head.

Joe Mills: The people we talk with on this show are ambitious, driven individuals who feel called to create positive outcomes in all aspects of their lives.

Reid Morris: As we all know, with that drive comes pressure and stress. In order to show up and be your best self, it’s extremely important to have a professional at your side who can help you navigate that journey. That’s the reason that we’re really excited to be sponsored by BetterHelp. BetterHelp is the world’s largest therapy service. They have over 25,000 therapists and it’s all online. What’s really great about that is that if you don’t connect with the first therapist that you interact with, it’s super easy to try another. That allows you to connect with the person that’s best for you. I think it’s awesome that in this day and age, you can just do it from the comfort of your home.

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Joe Mills: For listeners of this podcast, you can get 10% off your first month on BetterHelp by going to Betterhelp.com/1000stories. Again, that’s Better H-E-L-P .com/1000stories.

Well, the very first thing I think I asked you was what do you consider the role of the CEO to be? When you said everything, I think you really meant it.

Kelley Stacy: I do mean it.

Joe Mills: You, obviously, own the P&L, at the end of the day, you are the liaison to Japan.

Kelley Stacy: I’m responsible. Yes.

Joe Mills: Yeah, you’re stewarding the company forward.

Kelley Stacy: Yes. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but it’s like I know employees don’t think so, but one of my most important things I want is for people to feel they’re being treated fairly. Going back to that same example, if I let all those people do what they wanted and just give to whoever, “Well, hey, you know what? You’re my friend, you’re going to get whatever, and he’s getting nothing.” That’s not fair. I want to make sure that people are treated fairly. Now, they may not all feel that that happened, but I could positively tell you it does.

Joe Mills: Did you experience the other side of it?

Kelley Stacy: Yes.

Joe Mills: It feels very passionate from you about it?

Kelley Stacy: I am very passionate about it. Another thing about SMC that I’ll be able to tell you is the chairman of the company, the founder, he was around here for years. He’s only been gone for a couple of years, not gone, but gone from the company. He is a type A, and he’s very focused on engineering and streamlining. When I say streamlining, I mean streamlining to the penny. Each year when we would go to Japan for budget, he would be here like this, with the red pen. It was so scary. He was always comparing us, which we’re the largest subsidiary, to Japan. “Hey, you have 50 people in your warehouse. We have 10. How can that be, because we’re way this much bigger than you?” That’s what it would be. It’d be like, “Oh yeah, okay, you’re right.” We’d go back to the drawing board.

To give you an example, we had inside salespeople at every single one of our branches. Our inside salespeople, of course, are helping all the customers, helping the salespeople. He came unglued on me for our inside salespeople because we had just way too many. When I think back about it now, it was like, “I can’t believe I bought into that because he had way more than we did.” But of course, I’m not arguing. We came back, the vice president and I, Donnie, we made a plan to look at this and we listened to over five or 600 phone calls. “Wait, what are the customers asking for? What do they want? Blah, blah, blah.”

We spent probably seven months on this project. We ended up removing every single customer service person across the United States. We went from a little bit less than 200 people down to 40, and they’re all here now. That wasn’t pleasant. It was tough. We are the only subsidiary who has… I don’t want it to make it sound like it was a good thing, because it was hard. We shut down our Canadian operation, manufacturing, we shut down our California manufacturing operation, and it’s all here, not because this is the greatest place, but it doesn’t make sense to manufacture in California. We did all those things. We’re the only ones who’ve done things like that.

Joe Mills: Well, and you’ve also, you mentioned in ’94, I think I heard you say it was like a $30 million company, north of a billion. Yeah. That’s a lot of growth. The thing in my head, Kelley, honestly, is that I feel like a lot of the stuff you’re saying is, “I have my hands on everything. People work in the office.” It’s like-

Kelley Stacy: I know you must be thinking, “Man, she is a micromanager.”

Joe Mills: No. In my head, what I actually have going through my head is, “There are a lot of people who I think would listen to this and say, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work in this time.'” What I would say back to them is, “You’ve grown like a hundred fold,” and I’m curious, how do you filter? I’m just going through this myself. It’s a very selfish question. How do you filter out information that you take in and learn from? Because you’re also such a learner. What I imagine is you don’t sit down at the CEO seat and be like, “Here’s your handbook. Now, run the company.” It’s all about the future and vision and what will be true. I imagine you’re trying to learn, what you’ve always done, but then there’s all this information always available, and if you take it all in and you have to apply it to your own thing and you’re doing things slightly different than other people tend to do them. I’m curious about how do you create filters for “What information do I listen to? What do I test and what do I not?”

Kelley Stacy: I’m somebody who, “Hey, we’re going to try this.” For example, our salespeople are not on commission. They can’t be because of the way we’re set up. That’s hard. We have had to change our bonus structure with them many times. If it’s not working, I will change it. I’m not going to just keep doing the same thing. I’ve got to be able to have time to try something, but if it doesn’t work, I will change it. I’m not just going to keep doing it. That’s one thing. Another thing is there’s sometimes, like you said, so much noise, noise, like the work from home. It’s scary. Is everybody going to leave in a mad dash to go work somewhere else? Maybe. But again, I can’t change that. I can’t change what we’re doing because of noise, so I have to filter the good noise from the bad noise. If I had a mass exodus because everybody was working from home and I couldn’t keep people, that’s something I would have to deal with. But I can’t take machinery and put it in their garage.

Joe Mills: It sounds like you try not to worry until it’s real, which is interesting too, because so much of your job is to see into the future.

Kelley Stacy: There’s so many industries we have to think about, right? There’s noise about all kinds of things. It’s much better to sit with people and try to calm them down and find out what the problem is instead of be right with them with the fire drill.

Joe Mills: Yeah. It feels like you have an ability to not let fear start to drive your decision making?

Kelley Stacy: Exactly.

Or emotion. That took me some time to learn. Believe me, there are times when I will let emotion get at me and I’ll be in my office cussing up a storm and carrying on, but then I’ll open the door and go, “Okay.”

Joe Mills: Is there a Kelley takes care of Kelley?

Kelley Stacy: Yeah, I’ll go get a massage. I’ll go get a foot massage. That’s about it. Or I’ll go shopping because that’s about all I’ve got time for and my grandkids, if I have any extra minute, that’s what I do. I get with my grandkids. Now, they stress me out, but I love them so much. They make me crazy.

Joe Mills: But we’ve basically both grown up in the world of information always at your fingertips all the time. I have just in the last probably year realized I’ve taken way too many inputs.

Kelley Stacy: I think that you guys have no choice. You guys have no choice but to take all that in. It’s like it’s coming at you everywhere. It’s TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the other things, plus the radio, the TV, it’s just coming at you everywhere. You just don’t have any choice. You don’t get calm unless you force yourself to do it. You don’t get it.

Joe Mills: You grew up in a time where you didn’t have nearly as much coming at you all the time and you worked with high level people in both. What should I, as a thirty-year-old, and other people who might listen to this or people who have just taken on a new leadership role, be cognizant. What muscle are we not building by having all this info all the time?

Kelley Stacy: I think people skills, and I think you can’t always get those from that. That’s another thing about the work from home. I think people that do that and that’s what they want to do, I think that’s great, but they’re missing something there, being around people. You know how when you’re in school and you’re around your friends and you learn how to have social skills? I have seen more people in the office coming through today that lack social skills. It’s interesting.

Joe Mills: Which don’t seem like “Skills.”

Kelley Stacy: But they seem like common sense.

Joe Mills: All of a sudden.

Kelley Stacy: They’re missing. I’ve never seen that in the past, but it’s starting to come through more now. I feel like people can learn so much from each other being in an office environment or even if it’s once a week or whatever that is. Or I think if you want to build yourself up to be a manager or a leader, you can’t just go to a class for that. You need to be around people. You have to have empathy. You have to have sympathy. There’s certain things you have to have to be able to do that. Those aren’t things you can just get from a book. Does that help?

Joe Mills: Totally. I think it’s exemplified in your own story of just constantly, every time there’s a pivot, it’s like, “I’m going to go learn the thing and I’m going to get my hands dirty. I’m going to understand it. I’m going to unpack it. Maybe I’ll delegate some of it, but mostly I’ll take it.”

Kelley Stacy: You’re only as good as the people you manage. If you’re not willing to sweep the floors, don’t think you’re going to become a manager. If you’re not willing to do the same job somebody else is, don’t become a manager. You should be willing to do the same thing somebody else is. You need to be willing to work those hours that they are. You need to be willing to do those things. If you’re not, don’t. That’s what I feel.

Joe Mills: I like it. No, that’s great. I love the energy of a few things that I’ve heard from our conversation is the theme of learning and getting your hands dirty throughout, really being plugged in. Also, just the idea of learning how to filter and stay emotionally calm and recognize the sky is not falling, especially in a world that is such a fast cycle of news, it feels like a little bit of a superpower. I think it’s an awesome lesson in how to navigate lots of change and manage lots of outside inputs. Thank you very much for coming on and the time. I really appreciate it.

Reid Morris: Okay, Joe, so we’re coming back from a couple new things for 1000 Stories. We had our first mobile recording, which was always fun to just be in our guest environment, but also a different type of conversation for this season of the show in Kelley Stacy, who is leading a much larger organization than our typical guest. We had some questions that we wanted to answer going into it, but I’d be curious what your main takeaways were from that conversation.

Joe Mills: Yeah. Well, actually none of the questions that I originally had. I feel like what we got was a reset button on new things to explore that a leader would be tasked with navigating. One thing I’ll wrap up, we talked about it in the pre-show was, “Hey, what’s her experience like being the only woman around the table potentially in her world?” She was like, “Oh yeah, I’m definitely the only woman around the table.”

I was like, “Do you think about that?” She basically said, “Not at all.” “Okay, cool.” We had hypothesized back and forth to each other that maybe she just doesn’t, and that might be one of the reasons that she continued to climb as she did. She just didn’t let this, what would turn into self-perception reality, hold her back from doing things.

Reid Morris: A label of sorts.

Joe Mills: Yeah. I’m not saying that people don’t really experience that as a reality. I’m just saying in her world, she must not have, and she didn’t create that reality for herself. The other pieces that I felt like we talked about that were really meaningful to me, and you probably heard it in the conversation where I perked up like, “Oh, that is really interesting.” She is a refreshing amount of, “I don’t listen to the ‘Best advice.'” They’re an in-person company.

They are always going to be. She’s like, “Yes, it has lost us people. That has been a thing. For our culture, for our business, we need to be next to each other. That’s how it is,” and it was like, I appreciated the fact that she was willing to be brave in the face of the entire world, all of the world, basically, saying, “You got to find a way to have remote work. This is the new reality and people want to work from where they want to work from, and you need to give your employees that.” Her basically saying, “I actually don’t think it’s a gift to give to my employees. They don’t perform well in it. They’re less fulfilled in it, and it doesn’t work for our business, so nobody wins in this environment. Your, ‘Best practice,’ your, ‘The right thing to do.’ Your, ‘Future of work,’ isn’t right. Sorry, I’m not apologetic for it.”

I love that energy from her.

Reid Morris: It actually ties to another thing we need to get into, which is cutting through noise that we’ll touch on, but it’s actually very relevant for that subject as well, because we live in an environment where there’s all this noise of should, for how you should run your business versus just standing your ground of you know the nuance and all the context of the way that you need to operate, what’s best, what your culture is, and standing in that was really interesting.

Joe Mills: Well, that was the piece that I want to go explore more now. We touched on it towards the end of our conversation. I asked her, “How do you filter out information to know what you should be doing or trying and how do you set up parameters for when a test is good or bad,” all of that energy, because the stage that I’m at in my career, 30 years old, I’ve been doing this for seven years, so I’m still really young in my career, but I’m not super green. I’m getting to a point where I’m starting to recognize, “Oh, you’re taking opinion as fact.” I’m talking to myself. “You’re taking opinion as fact when maybe you shouldn’t. You need to start developing some of your own point of view here. You need to start developing some way to take somebody’s information and hold it at arm’s length and evaluate it before you let it be part of your information, your truth, especially in a subjective world like business.”

I’m very curious about how have people done that? How have people lived through cycles of fads and best practices and new ways of work and “Oh, you have to do this during this time,” and made it work for their company and their environment, how do they consume the right information? All those things are really interesting to me right now. Let me ask you then, Reid, giving all of that, where do we go with our next type of question? I think it’s, “Hey, let’s talk to somebody that’s seasoned and been through a couple of inflection points and talk to them about how did they go about gathering advice? How do they filter that advice into their situation? How do they now in the world of infinite information continue to learn, have a mindset of learning without just moving with wherever the wind is going?” What else would you add to that?

Reid Morris: It’s also interesting because in the other conversations we have had so far, people are talking about the resources that they consume, the people that gave them advice. I feel like we didn’t touch a lot on the advice that they consumed, that they did not take. We were like, “Well, where did you get good information?” But we didn’t go down the rabbit hole, so to speak, of “What did you filter out,” would also be interesting to learn for future conversations, but maybe even going and talking to these other people again of “What did you ignore? What was bad advice that you received that you knew more nuanced to, that you were able to filter out?” I think there’s a couple of places we could go moving forward and actually looking back.

Joe Mills: Yeah, I like that.

1000 Stories is brought to you by Element Three with production by Share Your Genius. This show is part of our company mission to foster growth in people and business so they can change the world. If you’re finding the show helpful or inspiring, please help us by leaving a review on Apple or Spotify. If you’d like to stay in the loop for more updates from our show and to hear other stories of growth, please head to elementthree.com/podcast.

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