In the past I've interviewed veterans involved in Franchises. Gordon started a company that has become a franchise with over 1,700 locations, and many of their franchise owners are veterans. He gives an incredibly vivid look at what it is like to start and grow a company, how to remain fresh and grow with your business, and how failures are never final.
(1) Franchises - we continue our deep dive into a career as a franchise owner - why this may be appealing to veterans and how to succeed at it. (2) Honesty about skill set - Eric talks about how vital it is - in franchising and in any career - to be exceptionally honest and reflective about your strengths and weaknesses. (3) Long-term investment - Eric talks about viewing a franchise investment as a 5-15 commitment (which, coin end tally is a great asset of veterans who often have approached the military as a long-term commitment). He talks about doing your homework - especially around culture, and making sure the business won’t be uprooted by technology in the long-term (4) Market Research - Eric’s career has been in market research and he provides some insight into what this sort of career is like.
New Politics identifies top talent, helps them build a winning campaign infrastructure, and provides mentorship and support throughout their campaigns. In their pilot year in 2014, New Politics supported 5 national service candidates in key state and federal races across the country. They won three of those five races, including Congressman Seth Moulton’s unprecedented win in Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District. In 2016, New Politics supported 23 candidates in local, state, and federal races across the country. They won 17 primaries and 13 general elections.
Steve started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served for 5 years as an officer in the Marine Corps. After the military, Steven joined IBM as a Sales Rep, and then earning his MBA at the Darden School of Business. After Business School, Steven joined the Marriott, Roy Rogers division, before moving on to PepsiCo’s Pizza Hut division, where after two years he became President & CEO of Pizza Hut. During his time as CEO, he introduced home-delivery as a distribution method, overtaking market share of rival Domino's Pizza within 2 years. Steve then moved to PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division as President & CEO, and then promoted to PepsiCo president and COO before being named to CEO two years later. After his tenure at Pepsi as CEO, Steven served as the Dean of the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy and Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University for six years.
"Open your eyes, be receptive, try to learn about what's unknown to you, in addition to what you're already aware of."– Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe is a career coach, author, and columnist. He is the author of OUT OF UNIFORM -- Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Transition, as well as a columnist of 11 years for CivilianJobs.com. Tom has over 29 years of experience in the Career Development industry. Tom is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer and Admiral’s Aide.
In this interview we discuss:
- Stereotypes about veterans - how to use stories in interviews to reinforce the positive ones, and preemptively combat the negative ones
- Common mistakes veterans make - like being too humble or understated in an interview
- Job hunting techniques (like using informational interviews to see if you’d like a career and potentially get your foot in the door of an organization)
- Using Filters for your job search so you can avoid boiling the ocean when looking for your ideal job
- Using a career coach as a personal trainer for your career
- Tactical exercises you can use to improve your self knowledge as part of a job search
- And much, much more…
QUESTION OF THE DAY: How can I make these episodes more valuable to active duty military personnel considering transitioning to the civilian world? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- Tom's book: Our of Uniform
- Contact Tom at: http://www.tomwolfe-careercoach.com/index.html
- Tom's book's website: http://www.out-of-uniform.com
- Canines for Service: http://www.caninesforservice.org/
[3:10] - Tom’s background in writing and career coaching
[4:10] - The most common mistakes Tom sees veterans make in their career transition
[13:27] - Stereotypes - how to reinforce the positives and preempt the negatives
[24:26] Reasons why veterans get rejected in interviews
[27:00] - A surefire way to succeed in an interview
[28:33] - How to gather information about what you want to do as efficiently as possible
[33:18] - Using Informational Interviews to figure out what you want to do… and potentially get your foot in the door
[36:12] - How to use filters to simplify your job search
[43:20] - 1/2 of veterans end up working for a company they weren’t aware of at the start of their search..how to broaden your search to be aware of broader opportunities
[47:50] - A personal trainer for your career - Career Coaching
[57:03] - Using mistakes to learn in you job search
[58:32] - Where you can learn more about Tom’s work
This is the third article in a series of posts to provide Naval Officers with information to aid in their decision making process about a post-military career. You can read more about the purpose of this information, as well as what Industries Naval Officers pursue, or sign-up for updates about additional data to be distribute in the weeks ahead (to include information on the US Army and Air Force). Executive Summary: Across the board, Naval Officers flock towards Operations roles, followed distantly by Functional Roles in Engineering, Program & Project Management and Sales. Within Warfare Specialties, Submariners are more likely than other Naval Officers to seek more numeric roles (Engineering, Program & Product Management, Finance, Information Technology, Research), while SWOs are more likely than their counterparts to pursue a wider range of choices ("Other", Sales, Consulting). Marines are the most likely of Naval Officers to pursue Entrepreneurship as a Functional Role, while Naval Aviators are the most likely to pursue Operations or Military & Protective Services.
You can view the complete interactive data visualizations here.
Within the various industry options available to transitioning military veterans, there are a range of Functional Roles to serve within civilian careers. Based on a Naval Officers hands-on leadership experience while on Active Duty, it's no wonder that the #1 industry for all Naval Officers is Operations (29% of all Naval Officer veterans). With the Navy's focus on technology, it's also no wonder that the #2 industry is Engineering (11% of all Naval Officers).
The full breakdown of Functional Roles is:
- Operations (29% of Naval Officers)
- Engineering (11% of Naval Officers)
- Program & Project Management (11% of Naval Officers)
- Sales (9% of Naval Officers)
- Military & Protective Services (7% of Naval Officers)
- Information Technology (7% of Naval Officers)
- Entrepreneurship (7% of Naval Officers)
- Finance (5% of Naval Officers)
- Consulting (5% of Naval Officers)
- Business Development (4% of Naval Officers)
- Education (4% of Naval Officers)
- Research (1% of Naval Officers)
I found it more interesting, however, to look at how each branch of the Navy compares to each other in terms of the Functional Roles they pursue. As with Industries, I've restricted my analysis to Submarine, Surface Warfare, Marine Corps, and Aviation Officers, as there was insufficient data for other service groups. For additional information about methodology you can read more here.
You can view the complete interactive data visualizations here.
Submarine Officers (Submariners) Compared to all Naval Officers, Submariners are the most likely of their peers to take on a Functional Role of:
- Engineering (13% of Submariners): likely due to their required training in nuclear engineering, Submariners are the most likely of all Naval Officers to take on a Functional Role in Engineering. Submariners are 120% more likely than Aviators, 88% more likely than Marines, and 32% more likely than SWOs to pursue an Engineering role
- Program & Project Management (11% of Submariners): perhaps due to all the rules and regulations related to nuclear submarines, Submariners are the most likely of all Naval Officers to take on a Functional Role in Program & Project Management. Submariners are 77% more likely than Aviators, 18% more likely than Marines, and 6% more likely than SWOs to take on a Program & Project Management Functional Role.
- Finance (7% of Submariners): all that number crunching in Nuclear Power School pays; Submariners are most likely of all Naval Officers to pursue a Functional Role in Finance. Submariners are 39% more likely than Marines and 16% more likely than SWOs to focus on Finance. Data was unavailable for Aviators for comparison.
- Information Technology (7% of Submariners): again likely related to the nuclear training, Submariners are most likely of all Naval Officers to pursue a focus on Information Technology. Submariners are 33% more likely than Aviators, 15% more likely than SWOs, and 13% more likely than Marines to focus on Information Technology.
- Research (4% of Submariners): Beating a dead horse here... Submariners are nerds; they're most likely of all Naval Officers to pursue a focus on Research. Unfortunately the other groups did not have data not have sufficient data for comparison, but they were less than 4%.
Submariners are most likely to end up in a Functional Role of:
- Operations (21% of Submariners)
- Engineering (13% of Submariners)
- Program & Project Management (11% of Submariners)
- Sales (7% of Submariners)
- Finance (7% of Submariners)
You can see the complete data for Submarine Officer functions here.
Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) Compared to all Naval Officers, SWOs are the most likely of their peers to take on a Functional Role of:
- Other (19% of SWOs): Maybe SWOs are the jack-of-all-trades; they're more likely than any other Naval Officer to have a Functional Role classified as "Other." They're 111% more likely than Aviators, 32% more likely than Submariners, and 6% more likely than Marines to have their Functional Role classified as "Other."
- Sales (8% of SWOs): SWOs beat out all the other Naval Officers when it comes to sales. They're 20% more likely than Aviators, 16% more likely than Submariners, and 10% more likely than Marines to end up in Sales.
- Consulting (6% of SWOs): Not too away from Sales is the art of convincing someone to take your advice. SWOs are the most likely of all Naval Officers to take on a Consulting role. They're 17% more likely than Marines, and 1% more likely than Aviators (insufficient data for Submariners)
SWOs are most likely to end up in a Functional Role of:
- Operations (18% of SWOs)
- Engineering (10% of SWOs)
- Program & Project Management (10% of SWOs)
- Sales (8% of SWOs)
- Finance (6% of SWOs)
You can see the complete data for Surface Warfare Officer functions here.
U.S. Marine Corps Officers (Marines) Marines are the most likely of all Naval Officers to choose a Functional Role that is:
- Entrepreneurship (6% of Marines): All that critical thinking and leadership come in handy for Marines looking to strike out on their own; of all Naval Officers they are most likely to pursue Entrepreneurship. Marines are 25% more likely than SWOs, 17% more likely than Aviators, and 10% more likely than Submariners to pursue Entrepreneurship.
Marines are most likely to end up in a Functional Role of:
- Operations (24% of Marines)
- Program & Project Management (9% of Marines)
- Sales (8% of Marines)
- Engineering (7% of Marines)
- Military & Protective Services (7% of Marines)
You can see the complete data for Marine Corps Officer functions here.
Naval Aviators (Aviators) Aviators are the most likely of all Naval Officers to take on a Functional Role of:
- Operations (36% of Aviators): Aviators dominate the largest category of all Naval Officers - Operations. They are most likely of all Naval Officers to pursue operations, a full 100% more likely than SWOs, 74% more likely than Submariners, and 50% more likely than Marines.
- Military & Protective Services (8% of Aviators): This one surprised me; I would have thought that the Marines would dominate this field, but it turns out that Aviators are the most likely of all Naval Officers to pursue Military & Protective Services.
Aviators are most likely to end up in a Functional Role of:
- Operations (36% of Aviators)
- Military & Protective Services (8% of Aviators)
- Sales (7% of Aviators)
- Engineering (6% of Aviators)
- Program & Product Management (6% of Aviators)
You can see the complete data for Naval Aviation Officer functions here.
While Naval Officer veterans can take on virtually any functional role in the civilian world, I hope these trends are helpful. My intention is to make active duty personnel more aware of the broad spectrum of jobs for which they are extremely well qualified. At the very least, the trends my help spark the career search for active duty personnel who are planning their transition to a civilian career. Next, I'll show data for which Size of Company Naval Officer veterans pursue.
00:00 Justin Nassiri: Welcome back to Beyond the Uniform. I'm Justin Nassiri and each week, I interview military veterans about their civilian career. Today's episode number 60 with Matt Miller.
00:09 Matt Miller: Thought the corporate world was gonna be the answer and what I found out was, yeah, the corporation didn't control me as much Uncle Sam did while I was in uniform but the reality is, the rules changed the all the time and they never changed in my favor in the corporate world. At least you knew what to expect with Uncle Sam for the most part, right? So anyway, I started doing some stuff on the side because I wanted to really have more control over our future and had a buddy of mine from church one Sunday mentioned the fact that he and his young daughters had some gumball machines and they were doing some stuff together as a family and making some money and I remembered that. And so, initially, I started off just selling gumballs.
00:50 JN: So I have to admit that after this interview, I was ready to sign up as the President of the Matt Miller Unofficial Fan Club. This is a energy shot of jet fuel for those of you who are considering starting your business or excited to forge your own way after the military. The top three reasons to listen to today's episode are: Number one, empire. Matt went from being turned down for a payday loan to work in nights and weekends on his side project to running an empire of franchises. And he's done it completely solo for the first eight of the last nine years. Provides tactical advice on how you could do the same. Number two, personal growth. Matt has some great advice about allocating 10% of your budget for personal growth and development, and provides tons of very specific recommendations on things to take advantage of with this budget. The show notes are chockfull of links to things I plan to check out and would encourage you too, as well at beyondtheuniform.io. Number three, creating the life you want. Matt burned his ships. He turned down opportunities necessary for promotion in the Air Force in order to have the time to devote to developing his own company.
01:55 JN: He talks about how he has constructed the life he wants for him and his family and it is very, very cool. As always, at beyondtheuniform.io, there are other episodes, show notes, and resources. So check it out and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest resources for veterans. And with that, let's dive in to my interview with Matt Miller.
02:18 JN: Well, joining me today, normally in Stephenville, Texas, but today in Buffalo, New York, is Matt Miller. Matt, welcome to Beyond the Uniform.
02:26 MM: Hey, Justin. Thanks for having me on, man. I'd literally just picked up some takeout at the place... It's called 'The Anchor Bar'. It was the home of the very first Buffalo chicken wings in the country.
02:40 JN: Oh wow.
02:41 MM: And so we were in Buffalo and we'd figure we had to come and give this place a try so we could say we had been there, done that. So [chuckle] thanks for accommodating, man.
02:52 JN: That place is probably accountable for taking a year off my life with all the wings I've eaten in my days.
02:57 MM: Oh, dude. No doubt. No doubt.
03:01 JN: Well, I guess, to start off, I'm wondering, how did you first go about starting School Spirit Vending?
03:10 MM: It's crazy. I got out of the military. I was an Air Force pilot, an Air Force Academy grad, and I got out back in '98. Thought the corporate world was gonna be the answer. And what I found out was, yeah, the corporation didn't control me as much as Uncle Sam did while I was in uniform, but the reality is the rules changed all the time and they never changed in my favor in the corporate world. At least you knew what to expect with Uncle Sam for the most part, right? So anyway, I started doing some stuff on the side because I wanted to really have more control over our future. There had been some financial decisions made with the companies that I worked for that had really put us on a bad financial spot. And had a buddy of mine from church one Sunday mentioned the fact that he and his young daughters had some gumball machines and they were doing some stuff together as a family and making some money and I remembered that. And so, initially, I started off just selling gumballs and I found a used candy and gumball machine on eBay, and went about figuring out vending. Well, fast-forward a couple years, I kinda learned that industry had about a 120-plus locations around Houston where we lived at the time. And then '07 and '08 hit, and the market tanked, and less people were frequenting the businesses that I had equipment in and I was frustrated.
04:40 MM: And I had four young kids come knocking on my door in a span of a couple of weeks selling me stuff for the local school fundraisers. And I didn't know the kids so they were coming to strangers' doors essentially selling to raise money for the school. And I thought, "Man, maybe there's a way I can tie what I'm doing in vending into school fundraising, shelter us a little bit from the ups and downs in the market and what's going on in the economy, and also get some kids off the street." And so, the whole idea of custom Spirit stickers for schools, it was kinda born out of those kids knocking on my door and my frustration with what was happening in the economy. And because I was in the advertising world at the time and print advertising was my speciality, being able to get stickers printed was not that complicated a thing. And so, came up with this idea, had a good buddy of mine who was an elementary PE teacher and he got me into his school down in West Columbia Elementary about an hour and a half south of Houston, and we were off to the races from there, man. It was pretty crazy.
05:54 JN: And when you were doing that initial vending machine business, you were still working full-time. This was just kind of a side project that you were taking on?
06:02 MM: Oh yeah. Nights and weekends, I was wanting to put something together on a part-time basis that would help solidify our financial position as a family, and ultimately, the goal was, if possible, to be able to walk away from the corporate gig altogether and be able to do our own thing. That took a number of years to get there, but the cool thing about vending is, you put a machine out there and you see what it makes, and you add another machine the next week or the next month, and you know what that makes, and over time you can run the numbers very easily to figure out, "Okay, how many of these locations do I need to have in order to make the impact financially I need for my family?"
06:45 MM: And so, I just systematically got busy with finding locations anywhere that I could in the area that would take our equipment. So it was pretty wild. Initially with gumballs and all, you're talking a quarter at a time, but we were in a place where I needed to see a return pretty much right away. And so, I put that very first candy and gumball machine in, in a karate studio in Kingwood, Texas, which is on the northeast side of Houston, one of the suburbs where we lived at the time, went back after a couple weeks, because I was just wondering, "Okay, does this vending thing really work?" Because my kids had never used vending machines before. Went back on a Thursday night, the karate studio is packed with kids and they're [07:37] ____ that machine up and quarters spilled out all over the place.
07:41 MM: And I was like, "Holy smokes, I think I found my answer." And of course, we slowly built things up from there as we had the money to where today we're a national franchise with a business in about 40 states. We've been in the Toronto area here in the last few days exploring the idea of franchising in Canada beginning next year, and it's crazy how we've been blessed and what's transpired since then.
08:12 JN: And one of the things I'm really impressed with is, from an outsider's standpoint, it looks like you run multiple organizations, all of which seem to feed into each other. For listeners, could you provide an overview of the different entities you formed and basically what they do?
08:29 MM: Yeah. So there's several things that we do. First off is obviously, SSV franchising or School Spirit Vending itself. We set up and teach people how to do what we do in our industry and help schools raise money with our program, and help families develop passive income streams as franchisees. We also own a company called 'Sticker Swarm' which is our supply company. We manufacture and provide stickers for not only our team, but make them available, custom stickers to businesses and organizations all over the country. I started a comic book company a couple of years ago, because I was inspired to read comics as a kid and saw the stuff that was available to kids today, most of it with adult themes and that type of thing, and wanted to start to provide something in conjunction with our machines in the schools that would allow us to hopefully inspire some kids to read as well. And so, all those things kind of worked together and complement each other really well in all that we do.
09:47 JN: One of the things I love about the life that you've created for yourself out of the Air Force is you've built a business that not only benefits you and your family financially, but it has a greater impact on the franchisees families, it has an impact on the children, and it has an impact on the schools, and it's just really cool to see a company that's creating value in so many different ways for so many different constituents.
10:10 MM: I've always believed Zig Ziglar's quote about, "You help enough other people get what they want and you will be taken care of." So our focus, especially now that we finally have gotten ourselves out of the financial hole that we were in for years is to make sure that those that we work with are taken care of in the best way we know how and that we're providing the absolute best program for our schools, for our franchisees, and for the kids that are our customers as possible. And in doing so, the rest takes care of itself. And by keeping that focus on others, it keeps our priorities straight, it keeps us humble, and it's so cool to see families all across the country that are learning entrepreneurship, learning how to build a business together, and to see them go, many of them, from never having any business background at all, to now owning a successful franchise with our company.
11:18 MM: When I was an Air Force instructor pilot for the first five years after pilot training, I loved seeing a student pilot come into my and sit down at my desk as one of my students not knowing anything about the T-38, which was the airplane that I flew. And within a month and a half, they were going solo. Four and a half months later, they had their wings as full-fledged pilots in the Air Force. And when I left the Air Force, and left being an IP, I lost that kick that being an instructor brought, and I've got that back today with what we do with SSV because so many of the people on our team have never owned a business before or have definitely never done anything in vending before. So to be able to teach them and then watch them put things together at their own pace, to watch their kids get excited and learn a business because they're doing something with their mom and dad, is just a huge rush today.
12:20 JN: That's really incredible. And for veterans listening, I think it always helps for them to get that visceral feel for what your life looks like. What does a typical day look like for you between these four organizations that you've built?
12:36 MM: Well, what's cool with today's economy is the fact that most everything you can do today can be virtual. I was a solopreneur up until 18 months ago. I did and ran it all. Today, we've got multiple contractors that work for us. We've got our first employee part time and we're about to hire some others. But most of our organization is decentralized literally all over the country and in some cases, around the world. So I run all of our companies out of a office that we built off of our house, and I've got some local help for some things that we do locally. But otherwise, it's all managed with video conferencing and of course, all the different tools that are available on the web today. And so, believe it or not, it doesn't take nearly as much time as what people might think just because the technology that's available out there and the possibilities that that brings.
13:45 JN: And where do you go right now to learn? I'm thinking of a veteran listening who just really admires where you're at and wants to follow in your footsteps, where would you point them in terms of books, websites, podcasts, communities? What will help them learn what they need to do to follow in your footsteps?
14:06 MM: The biggest thing is you are the sum total of the books you read and the people that you hang out with. And you look who your friends are and that's gonna kinda determine your future. And one of the best decisions I made was, several years ago, I hired a guy as a coach, a guy by the name of Aaron Walker. And I'm an introvert normally. I like to kinda do my own thing, be in my own space, not really like to be bothered a whole lot. And Aaron encouraged me to start getting out to conferences and start getting to know people, develop relationships, and that type of thing. And so, for the last several years, the biggest thing I've done is I've made a point of making sure that I attend at least a couple of events a year. A couple of years ago, Aaron said, "Matt you need to go to Social Media Marketing World in San Diego. I'm going, why don't you come with me?" And I was like, "Okay, I don't know why I would go because, yeah, I got a Facebook page that I use personally, you know, with friends and family and I'd just gotten a LinkedIn profile but that really didn't have a whole lot on it. He said, "Why don't you just come with me and let's just go hang out?"
15:23 MM: So I ended up going to the conference not really knowing why but in the process I got the opportunity to meet a bunch of amazing people. I also learned the power of podcasting at that event. And within a couple of months, a guy by the name of Cliff Ravenscraft who's kind of the Granddaddy of Podcasting at least as far as audio quality is concerned. I ended up taking his Podcasting A to Z Course and became a podcaster myself. And then of course, I also started being a guest on a multitude of shows as well as an opportunity to kinda spread the word about what we do and the benefits of it, and to share some of the success principles and that type of thing that I found it to be beneficial for us along the way, similar to what we're doing now. I've attended several Seth Godin events. I don't know if you're familiar with Seth. He's kind of the marketing guru online and has been for years. I've attended several Dave Ramsey events. His EntreLeadership Program is incredible. And so, just making that decision, and every year not necessarily knowing where I'm gonna go, just committing to go. Darren Hardy who's a well known guy in the online space.
16:46 MM: He said something to the effect that his goal is to spend 10% of the money he makes every year on self development. And so, I began to really try to do that very thing for myself and just to make it a part of what I budget every year and the travel that I do so that I can continue to get out there and continue to be challenged, not only in thought process but also to get a chance to meet some amazing people whose relationships have really helped propel us forward in a lot of ways.
17:24 JN: That's great. And for listeners I'll add links to all those amazing resources he referenced there in the show notes. And after the military, when you got out of the Air Force, you started out in sales. Is that a path you'd recommend to other veterans? And how much does that play the role in your success as an entrepreneur?
17:44 MM: I think being in sales can provide a huge amount of experience just for life in general. A book that I read years ago, Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' was the one book that really got me headed down that path. And when I first heard the book, saw the title, I was like, "Man, I don't... " I thought it was about manipulating people and all that. And that couldn't be further from the truth. It's just about learning how to relate to people and how to develop relationships. And as an example, he talks in that book the power of someone's name. In fact, that's the most important word in the English language to anybody out there is their name. So the importance of learning their name, remembering it and then calling them by their name on a regular basis. The fact that people don't wanna hear about you, they wanna tell you about them and being willing to be a good listener instead of just throwing up all over everybody that we run into with everything about us, little things like that, made a huge difference, and then just getting out and learning how to make them work in life and in business has been invaluable.
19:09 MM: It's no rocket science at all and a lot of people would think, "Well, I'm not a salesperson." That couldn't be further from the truth. We all are salespeople in our own way and it's not a... It's a learned skill. It's not something that you're born with because like I said earlier, I'm an introvert. I really prefer not to be out there, but I can do it for a period of time and then I go back to my hole for a while and kinda regenerate before I come back out again.
19:40 JN: That's awesome. And you've been running your own company for nearly 10 years now. That puts you in the 1% of companies that are able to do that. I'm just wondering, if you were to have gone back in time to when you just got out of the Air Force, could you have started this right out or what were the skills that you needed to acquire before going out on your own and starting your own company?
20:10 MM: I probably could have started something... I could have started a vending business, no doubt about it. But I'm a firm believer, Justin, that God puts in our path challenges along the way because we've got stuff that we've gotta learn. And the only way we will learn is by being put through some junk sometimes. And 12 years ago, we were in a really, really, really, really bad financial place. I got turned down for a payday loan at one point. Here I am, Air Force Academy graduate, former Air Force pilot and instructor pilot, getting turned down for a couple of 100 bucks. But we were in a bad place financially and I know now that I had to go through that and figure out how to work through it, figure out how to live in that place for a while and continue to provide for my family as I was figuring it out, because today, I can empathize with folks that I come in contact with and give them hope because if they're in a similar situation, I've been able to work out of it. And if I can do it, they can do it, too. If I hadn't gone through that, I probably would be an arrogant jerk and people, number one, wouldn't care to listen, but number two, I couldn't help people with something that I hadn't done and been through myself.
21:35 JN: That's incredible. That's really, really awesome. And if a veteran is listening right now and I believe a quarter of veterans if not more aspire to start their own company, what advice would you give to them on how to do that? How to make that dream come true?
21:54 MM: Well, there's a couple of different things you can look at. You can look at being an innovator and creating something from scratch, or you can find an entity out there that's already successful and just choose to duplicate that system that's already in place. Either path will work. It just really is up to the person and how they feel that they're wired. But the key is this, I think, more than anything, its thought process, it's realizing that... You and I were kinda taught in the military that Uncle Sam... It's gonna be difficult to survive without Uncle Sam taking care of our every need. And so because of that, I've seen person after person after person who's decided to stay on, who had abilities far beyond what they were doing in the military because of that fear of the unknown. The benefits and the healthcare and all those kind of things. And what I've learned, it's not that big a deal.
23:01 MM: And if you're willing to work for it and to apply the discipline and the knowledge and the skills that you learned in the military, you have no idea what value those can have either working for a company out there corporately or in getting things and putting them together for yourself. The things that I've been willing to do, Justin, a lot of people around me think are nuts, but those are also people that never were in the military and never had to go through what you and I had to go through, whether it'd be in basic training or just some of the godforsaken places and situations we found ourselves in, overseas or what have you. You learn a mental toughness and you learn how to just kinda roll with the punches.
23:56 MM: And there's a lot of people out there that have never been through anything like that. So the minute something hard comes their way, they don't know what to do, and in many cases, they quit. Well, we were taught not to quit. We were taught to suck it up, to not make excuses, and to figure out a way, right? And everybody else who has worn the uniform, like you and me, has been in a very similar situation. In fact, many of you guys who spent time over in Iraq or Afghanistan or that type of thing, went through a heck of a lot more than I ever did being a pilot and flying in and out of those places with cargo and then being gone four hours later.
24:43 JN: I love that and I really echo your thoughts on that. And one thing I'm wondering, especially for someone who's listening who's maybe on active duty right now. If you were to give advice on one action that they could take today to take one step closer to that goal of starting their own company, do you have any thoughts on what they could do right now?
25:05 MM: If you're committed to do something on the outside, then start laying the foundation now for your success. You have time off on nights and weekends, just like most everybody else does, and especially with the web today, there's more opportunity to be learning and to be putting stuff in place while you're still on active duty. The other thing is, if you're truly committed, you gotta be willing to make some tough decisions. As an example, one of the things that we had to do in the Air Force in order to get promotion to Major, etcetera, is to go to something called 'Squadron Officer School', SOS. And everybody around me went to SOS. I turned down SOS multiple times at the risk of my future in the Air Force. But I had already decided that the minute my commitment was up, I was gone. So it made no sense for me to go spend a month and a half in Alabama, learning and going through this program like everybody else, if I had no desire to be promoted to Major and take that career path. So I burned my boats, I burned my ships, as the story goes, in relation to my career, once I knew that I was not gonna be the next General of the Air Force. And I didn't accept every last assignment that they wanted to throw my way.
26:38 MM: I didn't end up becoming an aircraft commander in the C-5, which is what I flew the last three years that I was in the Air Force. Everybody else around me became an AC. I told 'em, "You know what? I really don't want to do that." And they looked at me cross-eyed and wondered, "What the heck are you doing, dude? You're not gonna be able to go to the airlines or do anything if you're not an aircraft commander." Well, I had no plans to go to the airlines, and I had no plans of getting promoted. So why take that time? Why take on that responsibility? Why take on that stress, flying all over the planet and being responsible for an airplane and an entire crew when I could just be the guy sitting in the right seat, still doing my job, still saluting smartly, but not having all the responsibility because I had already decided that I was not gonna be a career guy. I wasn't gonna go to 20, I wasn't gonna retire, so why kid anybody including myself, why not do my job but not raise my hand for those extras? And because I didn't, I had more time to lay the foundation on nights and weekends, etcetera, to prepare for my getting out.
27:50 JN: I love that. I love that thought of just burning the ships and knowing what you want and going after that. I know that we're running short on time. I always like to leave the last question to be more open-ended for you, and I know I asked a lot of questions that I think would be helpful for our listeners, but knowing that you have an audience of active duty and veterans listening to this, what advice would you give to them? Or, what else would you want them to know about their personal life or professional life?
28:21 MM: You can be in control. You can live a life that you truly want to live. You can live a life where your family is the priority and can develop and build a life to where you don't have to be subject or at the whim of Uncle Sam or anybody else. I put my faith and my family front and center in all that I've done, and it's made it difficult at times, granted. But the reality is... I came across a guy in the mastermind group that I'm a part of. We had a retreat weekend here about a month ago outside of Nashville, and he got up in front of the group and was sharing a bunch of stuff, and he mentioned the fact that he was stuck. That Uncle Sam had control. He had already put in his 20, so he could get out at any time, but he felt stuck because of some injuries and some medical necessities that still required surgery and all that, and I told him, I said, "Dude, you don't have to be gone from your family all the time. You can change all of that. Trust me. It's all right on the outside and you'll be taken care of. And if your family is truly as important to you as you say it is, then, man, start living for them, not for what the next assignment is, or the next job. It puts you out there at risk.
30:05 MM: But he had been so indoctrinated for so long in service above self and above family, and above everything else, that he had kinda forgotten and gotten his priorities a bit mixed up, in my mind. And to be able to talk to him now and to see the change because of that weekend and some of the other conversations he had, and for him to really understand that he can build a life that is best for him and what makes him tick and his family and what their priorities are. We home-school our kids. We run our own business. We're pretty weird in the whole scheme of things. We don't fit in in a lot of places, but we put this life together for ourselves because it's what we felt was best for us.
31:01 MM: So don't be scared to begin to craft a life that is best for you and your family, because you live in the freest country in the world still today, with the most opportunity in the world, and too many people settle for what comes easy or what they think others expect them to do instead of what they really in their heart want to do. And I would just encourage them to follow their heart, to follow their passions, and figure out a way to follow them and make money in the process because it's possible. It's gonna take some work, but it's possible more today than ever before.
31:50 JN: That's great, man. That's a shot of motivation right there and I just love the... I love in both your story and in your personal life just this proactive nature of being able to make anything happen and being able to shape the life that you want, and it might not be the life that someone else wants, but it is the life that's right for you and your family. That's great.
32:12 MM: To give you an idea, Justin, I was in the Toronto area today. And my daughter, Rebecca, she's our youngest. She's 15. My two oldest kids are off in college. We have had our kids as part of our business since the beginning. So Becca has been around my businesses since she was three or four years old. Well, because we homeschool, she's got some flexibility in her schedule. So a couple weeks ago, I said to her mom, I said, "What do you think about me taking Becca to Canada? She's never been out of the country, it'd be an opportunity for she and I to do some father and daughter time together." So today, we met with a franchise attorney in Canada. We met with an accountant. We met with a machine supplier that we're probably gonna work with. Here she is, 15-year-old, sitting at a boardroom table of three different companies with her dad and other men talking business. And in all three cases, the guys were completely floored that she was there. They weren't upset by it, they were like, "This is the coolest thing I've ever seen."
33:20 JN: Yeah, guess who's bringing their kids to work tomorrow? All of those people, right? [chuckle] They're like, "I need to do this too."
33:27 MM: Yeah. But you know what? School was in session today, and no, it was not the standard curriculum that a high school student is "expected" by the educational establishment, but she learned more in the last couple of days being with dad and experiencing the real world of business than she'll learn in an entire year of school. And we had the ability to do that because we put a business together with the family as a foundation of it all, and have the ability to do things like that today, financially and time-wise, because we made some decisions, starting a decade ago, that now give us the freedom to come and go as we please, and to have our kids involved at a very, very early age.
34:20 MM: My son, Zane, who's a sophomore in college, he was our very first graphic designer at 10 years old for our company. At 10, he traded two hours of yard work in a good buddy of mine's yard who was a graphic designer in exchange for two hours of training in Photoshop and Illustrator. Today, he's done design now for hundreds of clients, thousands of jobs over the last 10 years. He recently was recognized at his school by the head of the school's marketing department. The guy called him into his office 'cause he had seen some of Zane's work around the school and he was like, "Where did you learn how to do this? 'Cause you're a sophomore." And Zane went on to tell him about the fact that he's been in the middle of his mom and dad's business starting at 10 years old. The guy hired him on the spot to begin to do marketing for the university starting next semester as a part-time job on top of his work load in school. Why?
35:29 JN: I'm realizing Matt, that you don't have four jobs, you have five, and the fifth one is an entrepreneur factory. You're just churning them out of your house. That's incredible.
35:39 MM: Well, a lot of it Justin, is just them being around a mom and dad who have a dream, and a mom and dad who are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. And my kids saw me, at times, not at home much. There was a period of time where I was working full-time. I was building my traditional vending business, I was building my School Spirit Vending business, and I was delivering pizzas at Pizza Hut for 18 months 'cause I needed extra seed money to grow our business. And they've seen their mom and dad buckle down and delay gratification, and do what others around them probably would not be willing to do. And today, they're seeing the benefits of that. And of course, they've learned along the way many of those skills, and they're now getting to the age where they're being able to utilize them in the marketplace as well.
36:32 JN: I'm very jealous of them. I think that that's not only the business acumen that they're developing at such a young age, but what a cool way to spend time with their dad. Like just to be able to have that one on one time with you, that's just really cool, and I respect you for having built the life that you wanted for you and your family. That's really admirable.
36:55 MM: Appreciate it. It wasn't all work. We went and visited Niagara Falls a couple of days ago. We went ziplining by the falls. We did a bunch of that too. So it wasn't just purely work, but why not mix the two and get a chance to spend some time together in the process?
37:11 JN: That's great. Well, Matt, I know I'm keeping you from some amazing wings here.
37:16 JN: And I really appreciate your time speaking to me, and I think it's just a great example for the veteran community, and it's just very helpful to hear some tactical advice on how you got there.
37:26 MM: No, I appreciate it, Justin. Hey, if you wouldn't mind, I'd love to give something away for anybody that's interested in the audience. I wrote a short ebook, it's called 'Live Your Dreams: The Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Own a Vending Business'. And it just talks about some basics that I've learned in the last decade plus about vending that most professionals have never even thought of in relation to vending. And we've gotta page that they can go to specifically for your audience.
37:58 JN: Yeah. That would be great.
38:00 MM: Yeah. They can go to ssvbusiness.com/uniform, and they can download that for free if they like to learn a little bit more about vending if they want, or if they wanna talk more specifically about what we do with schools, I'd love to begin a dialogue either way. And I hope that our little bit of time tonight has been an inspiration for folks because there is so much opportunity out there today. You just gotta be willing to go grab it, and to realize that you've got more skills than you think you do that that are very, very, very, very valuable on the outside, if you're willing to figure it out, and to put those in play for yourself and your family.
38:43 JN: That's great, Matt. I really appreciate that offer as well, and for listeners, I'll add that into the show notes, so you can check that out, and make sure you grab a copy of that book. So Matt, thank you for your time. I appreciate your family letting us borrow you tonight, and have a great rest of the day.
39:00 MM: You too, Justin. Thanks, man. God bless.
39:08 JN: Thanks for listening. As we wrap up, I wanted to share three quick but important announcements. First of all, if you haven't already, please sign up for my newsletter at beyondtheuniform.io. Although I publish on LinkedIn and Facebook, I'll be starting to use a newsletter as my primary means to share new articles, episodes and resources relevant to the veteran community. Second, I would love to hear from you. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a relationship where I do all of the talking. You can view me as your very own dedicated resource to help you and other veterans in your civilian career. Have feedback on what I can do differently? Let me know. Someone in particular you want me to track down for an interview? I'm all ears. Know of another way that I could help the veteran community? I'm dying to know. You can find me on LinkedIn, comment on any post at beyondtheuniform.io. Email me at email@example.com or if you're in the intel industry, I'm sure you can track me down in some super creepy way. However you do it, take me up on it. I thrive on feedback.
40:05 JN: Lastly, a quick plug for a few resources I think would benefit any veteran. American Corporate Partners and Service to School both provide free assistance to any veteran. American Corporate Partners pairs you with a mentor in your desired industry, and Service to School finds a mentor at a suitable undergrad or graduate school program to help you with your application. Check them out. As always, tons of great content and resources available at beyondtheuniform.io. I'm Justin Nassiri, and I'll be back soon with more great episodes.
00:00 Justin Nassiri: Welcome back to "Beyond the Uniform." I'm Justin Nassiri and each week I interview military veterans about their civilian career. Today is episode #59 with Dr. Patrick Leddin.
00:09 Patrick Leddin: It was literally something we started above our garage, and over the next 12 years or so we grew it to a few different offices. It was one of those situations where it became to some degree all consuming. We have two children, my wife and I do, and they're adults now. And it was kind of a situation where we felt like we always had this third child, our business, Wedgewood Group, and it probably came to every dinner conversation and every car ride. Wedgewood was just there. I think for me the point where I realized, "Oh my gosh, this thing is really real," is when our payroll was every two weeks and when our payroll hit about $100,000 every two weeks, all of a sudden I was like, "Holy cow, what did I get myself into."
00:47 JN: The top four reasons to listen to today's show are: Number one: Growing a company. After two years in consulting at KPMG, Patrick left to start his own consulting firm. 10 years later, Inc. Magazine recognized them as one of the fastest growing companies in America, and they were acquired one year later. Patrick shares the details of this exhilarating ride. Number two: Marriage. Patrick started his consulting company with his wife and has advice and thoughts about starting a company with your significant other. Number three: Puzzle. In looking at Patrick's career and life, he's done a really effective job of integrating his professional life in a way in which there's diversity that adds more fulfillment to his life. He currently is a Professor at Vanderbilt, consults with FranklinCovey, and is an author. I find him a fantastic role model for building fulfilment into one's professional life. And number four: Life circle. At the very end, Patrick talks about evaluating all the components of your life as a circle and evaluating how you're performing in each area. And he talks about the incremental effort in making them better. It's some of the best advice I've had on the show.
01:50 JN: As always, show notes and link to all of Patrick's great book recommendations are available at beyondtheuniform.io so let's dive in to my interview with Patrick.
02:03 JN: Joining me today in Nashville, Tennessee is Dr. Patrick Leddin. Patrick, welcome to Beyond the Uniform.
02:09 PL: Hi, Justin. Thanks for having me today.
02:12 JN: So for listeners, I wanted to give them a quick inside on your background. Patrick is a professor at Vanderbilt University's Managerial Studies Program where he teaches both corporate strategy and principles of marketing. He started out in the Army where he served for over six years with the 82nd Airborne Division as a platoon leader, staff officer, and company commander. After transitioning from the Army, he worked as a senior consultant at KPMG. He then started his own consulting firm, the Wedgewood Consulting Group and served as managing director. In 2011, Inc. Magazine named Wedgewood one of the fastest growing private companies in America, and they were acquired in 2012. Patrick holds a PhD in communication from the University of Kentucky and has also worked as a director and senior consultant at FranklinCovey for nearly 16 years. So Patrick, maybe to start, just reversing the clock, take us back to the moment you decided to leave the Army and how you approached that decision.
03:12 PL: Well, yeah, it was an interesting time. When I did this would have been in the late 1990s, so its before the current OPTEMPO that people are going through right now. So when I got out of the Army, maybe I was naïve at the time to think of this, but I remember a lot of people telling me... I was in the 82nd Airborne Division and I had done a couple leadership jobs there, and people were always telling me, "This is the best time of your career," type of thing. And my mind kept thinking, as the mind of some 20-some-year-old might think, "Well, if this is the best of times, maybe I should just go on and move and do something else."
03:43 PL: So I made that move to get out of the military, and now I'll be honest after I initially transitioned, I really missed it for a long time. So one thing I would think about, when you're getting out or when you choose to get out, think twice about it and make sure it's the good decision for you. Because for me, I spent about a year where I kinda yearned for the uniform still. But that was my thought process. I felt like I'd been there and done that some, and now I was ready to move on to the next phase of my career. I just want to make sure if I was ever to go through that again, I'd just really think it through even better than I did the first time to make sure I'm really comfortable with the decision. In the end it was a great decision for me, but that transition can be a little difficult.
04:21 JN: Yeah, I echo that too. I don't think at the time I realized how much it was a part of my identity, and how much purpose that kinda gave to my life even if it wasn't in front of my face all the time. And then once that's gone, you really notice its absence in a way that I wasn't quite aware when I was actually in.
04:40 PL: Exactly. There's an expression out there that says, "Fish discover water last."
04:44 PL: Because you're in it. And it's the same type of thing. You're in it, you don't realize the value of it until it's not there, and then you yearn for it for a little while. So for me... And I had actually joined the National Guard right out of high school, so I had a few years of wearing the uniform on a part-time basis, and then several on a full-time basis, and it was just something that had become part of my identity.
05:06 JN: And when you got out, I think it's always interesting to look at that first job search. What was that like and how did you ultimately land a role at KPMG?
05:16 PL: Well, it was not the easiest of situations only because I didn't really recognize the value of what I had learned in my military service. It's hard to go, "Okay, I'm in the infantry. What does that equate to in the "real world" type of thing. And for me the ability to articulate what I had learned in the Army, and how that does feed over to the business world was something I had to learn to do. I remember working with a few colleagues of mine. We were all transitioning out around the same time and we would spend a lot of time, like many, many hours sitting in somebody's apartment just drilling each other on interview questions so we could get comfortable explaining how what we did in the past in our military life translates over to the business life.
06:02 PL: And for me, at least when I talk to students now, and they ask me about interviewing for jobs, I'm like, you have to always be connecting. You have to have people... When they ask you a question, you need to be able to explain it in a way that you're already doing... That you have already done the type of job they're hiring for. So for me, the ability to really think through, what does it mean to be a staff officer in the military? How does that relate to the "real world?" What does it mean to lead a platoon? How does that relate? And be able to tell stories, in ways, to people who are interviewing me. Saying, "This is how what I've learned in the past, demonstrates that I will be successful, in what you're hoping for me do in the future." So, for me, I actually came out of the Army, I had a little, a little space between the time I left the Army, and the time I joined KPMG where I was trying to figure out which direction I wanted to go. I had a former Army buddy, who was working at KPMG, who I was talking to, he told me a little bit about his world, and what he was doing. And I thought, "Okay, that seems to make sense to me." 'Cause I like the idea of helping to solve problems. And come in, and take a client wherever they currently are performing, and help them get to a new level by my helping them think through the problem. I just liked that type of work. So, that's how I ended up going there.
07:09 JN: That's great. And I love that thought too, of no one wants to take a risk in hiring anyone. And so, if you can convince them, "Hey, I was wearing a uniform when I did this, but what I was doing, was essentially the same." I think that just de-risks it for them, and helps them, more quickly understand your background, in terms that makes sense to them.
07:28 PL: Right. And I think that there's, Justin, there's a delicate balance. The ability to say to someone in an interviewing process, "I've been there, and done what you want me to do." But not do it in a way where you're like, suggesting that you know everything about their world. Because what they were doing at KPMG Consulting, was different than what I did in the military. But I wanted to make sure that they didn't realize it was a big stretch, or their risk was too high. But on the other hand, I didn't wanna, like, diminish what it is they do at Consulting World. So, trying to find that right balance of saying something like... It's been a while since I had interviews like this, as far as for jobs, but I would say something like, "I would imagine that in your world of consulting, these things matter to you. They were also important to me in the military. Here's how they played out; I would imagine they play out in similar ways, in your space."
08:17 PL: So that type of thing. And I always tell people when I'm talking to them, "You have probably done the type of work that you're looking to do in the future, you just haven't been able to frame it that way." So, if they say, "Customer relationship management, really matters in our world." "Well, tell me about the time you did that." Maybe it was at McDonalds, but you were out there working with customers, and you understood the importance of the relationship. Managing projects matters here, in your future job... Well guess what? You've managed projects before when you were at a live-fire range. So, helping them make those connections, I think, are important things.
08:49 JN: Yeah, I agree. I remember a friend at business school helping me. I told him a couple stories of things I did in the military, and he basically walked me back through. And he's like, "Look, in a consulting mindset, what you just told me you did, is you identified the problem, you figured out solutions, you ran that by key stakeholders, and then you sold it to a group." And he's like, "That's basically what your doing, is consulting. But let me help you re-package your story in those terms." And it was the exact same story, it was just re-framing it in a framework that would make sense to the listener.
09:18 PL: Exactly. And it just speaks to that listener in a way they go, "Okay, you get what I'm trying to do."
09:23 JN: And the first of several things that just really blew me away with your background is that after two years at KPMG, you decided to start your own consulting practice. And I'm just curious, what that was like? At what point you realized, "Hey, I could do this on my own." And how you worked up the courage to actually leave a very secure and reputable job and strike it on your own?
09:50 PL: Well, I think that there's always a story behind the story. So, from my perspective, what might look like was such a smart move, or a bold move, in hindsight, was probably short-sighted in some ways, to be just completely honest. So, just like when I left the military, I joined KPMG, and I was there for, I guess, about two-and-a-half years or so, and I was really fortunate in that I started on a project, where it was myself, and one other person. And we were... Our portion of the work was worth about $300,000 a year, for the two resources. When I left, two-and-a-half years later, the project was worth $13.5 million, and I was leading the project with a whole team of people underneath me.
10:33 PL: Yeah I know. It was kind of one of those things like, "Oh my gosh!" It wasn't necessarily anything I did particularly, although if I hadn't done some things well, I would have been gone quickly. But, I just was in the right spot. Opportunity meets preparation type thing. I had some good people around me, and all that type of thing. And I ended up in a really good spot two-and-a-half years later, and my natural inclination, for good or bad back then, was just like with the military. "Okay, I got to this certain point, but what's next?", type of thing. And I wanted to go to the next challenge. I've learned over time that being a good sprinter is important. I can sprint from point A to point B or I used to be able to. And sprint from point A to point B at a project, or whatever, but it's also good to be a marathon runner. And people want both, and at that point, I was so focused on the sprinting thing, I was kind of like, "Okay, I got this. I know what's going on. I'm going to take it to the next level, and I'm going to start this business.", type of thing.
11:23 PL: And I just had one client and I was working for them above my garage. And, my wife and I were working together. She was a professor at the University of Dayton, at the time. And then it just snowballed from there and kept growing. So, it was one of those things that, had I thought it all through really well, maybe I wouldn't have done it. But, it was the right move for me to make, bold or otherwise.
11:44 JN: And before we get into what that was like, growing that, I'm just curious if you were advising another veteran? 'Cause you said that in retrospect you might not have done it this way. If you were advising, let's say, a veteran who's in the exact same position right now. Maybe they're at a consulting firm and they're thinking of starting their own consulting firm. What would you advise them to do differently? Would it be to get more experience at that consulting firm or to get an experience somewhere else or how would you advise them to proceed?
12:15 PL: Yeah. That's a great question. And I guess I would have to tell you all commentary like this is autobiographical. It's kind of like me giving advice to me in the past. When I think about this particular thing I think it played out really well for me but I didn't let go of my full-time job until I had the other one up and running. So I was doing my full-time job at KPMG, which was pretty time-consuming. And then I literally started with one client doing some additional work on the side. So, it wasn't like I jumped across this big [12:48] ____ curvas that I could have fallen into. I was already working my way across it but at some point it became, "Gosh, I've got this work on the side going and this could really take off on its own if I really step into it but if I don't step into it, it never really will." So I would say make sure letting go of one thing is important in order to grab something else but make sure there's something tangible there to grasp on the other end. And in my world I was fortunate enough to make that happen. So that's one thing is I would make sure you do that.
13:15 PL: The second thing is, when I think about, if I were to do it all over again what would I do differently? I probably would have built the business from day one as if I was gonna sell it because when you go to sell a business there's a lot of things you have to go back and I don't want to say clean up 'cause there wasn't anything done particularly wrong. But there was a lot of manual processes that were in place that had to be revisited to making sure everything was straight and a lot of accountants and attorneys that needed to be paid that had I done it a little bit differently maybe it would have been a little bit smoother. But as far as when's the right time to jump from one thing to another, I don't know if there's ever a right time I've heard people say before. I heard a guy one time he was retiring from the news media and they asked him, "Is it the right time to leave? Aren't you leaving to early?" He's like, "You can never... If you leave... If you wait too long then people say you should have left a long time ago and if you leave too early at least people will say he's bold and willing to step out." I would just make sure you have some place to go to.
14:12 PL: I have students who often say, "Well, how did you get where you are at?" I kind of explain the path and they think as I am explaining to them I can clearly tell that I am kind of disappointing them because they think I had some grand plan that I just unfurled in front of myself and have been walking the same path. The reality is it's not that. The reality is it's a series of decisions. You try to do the best job you can in the job you're in because that's going to be the best job you ever have type mentality. But then when you get to the next fork-in-the-road, try to make the next best decision.
14:46 JN: I think that's such great advice. It's something honestly I'm just learning through these interviews, is that sometimes I view people further ahead as having had some master plan. And oftentimes, most oftentimes, it turns out to be just doing the job before them; doing the best thing possible and things precipitously come into their lives but it's not this master plan of jumping from one lilly pad to the next. It's just really blowing out every job that they do.
15:15 PL: Yeah. I heard somebody say one time that, "You'll never have a better job than the job you're in right now." and oftentimes that's not true. But if you can act as if it's true [chuckle] and put your all into it, it opens up other doors for you. 'Cause people see talent around them. And what I've noticed over time is that whether it's a client or a leader in a business, whomever it might be or even somebody in the military in a leadership position. They have more things on their plate that they can handle and they're always looking for good talent to come along and help them out. So, from that perspective, just putting yourself in the position where if somebody's needing help you're willing to step in and close that breach, creates opportunity.
15:56 JN: That's great. What was it like growing your own consulting practice? Take us from when you were working with your wife above your garage to what that was like just the day-to-day of growing it.
16:10 PL: Yeah. So, it was literally something we started above our garage. And over the next 12 years or so we grew it to a few different offices and many employees, not hundreds of employees but dozens of employees, if you will [chuckle] and lots of contractors and people we worked with. It was one of those situations where it became to some degree all consuming. We have two children, my wife and I do and they're adults now. It was kind of a situation where we felt like we always had this third child, our business, Wedgewood Group. And it probably came to every dinner conversation and every car ride; Wedgewood was just there. I wouldn't go back and change it because by having that business and being able to succeed in that business was a lot of a bunch of different opportunities in life. But you really have to realize when you step into situations like that it's really hard to go, "I have a personal life and then I have my business life." It's like, "No, you have one life and this thing is going to play a big role in it for a while." I imagine just like these interviews that you're doing with me. Me, myself and other people probably sometimes can become very consuming and you just have to be willing to say, "Okay, when it's tough I am going to double down on this thing."
17:16 JN: That's great.
17:18 PL: I think for me the point where I realized, "Oh my gosh, this thing is really real," is when our payroll was every two weeks and when our payroll hit about a $100,000 every two weeks all of sudden I was like, "Holy cow, what did I get myself into. I got to keep this thing going," type of thing. To me and so much of it is not myself or my wife but the people we surrounded ourselves with were just great.
17:41 JN: I'm curious and for listeners episode 37 with David Cho was an interview where it's a husband and wife combo running; in that case it's like a beauty e-commerce company. But I'm curious, what advice do you have for veterans listening who might want to start a company with a significant other?
18:03 PL: I think my biggest advice, if I was to go back and change it all... I didn't necessarily do a very good job of recognizing that she's my business partner but she's also my wife and she's my wife first. And I can't enter every discussion talking about business because she has other needs and things she wants to talk about that need to be satisfied and sometimes I didn't get really clear in my mind that there were two different roles that I was fulfilling with her and vice versa so sometimes it just became all about business. So I think that the ability to kind of... Even though it's all one life and hard to do, at least not, maybe, turning off the business side sometimes but hitting pause more often and making sure you're feeding both sides of the relationship was probably the biggest thing that I've learned. I have a bad side of me which is the side that makes me not want to turn off opportunities and the reality is no successful business person has been successful without saying no to certain things. So for me, the desire to keep every opportunity open has sometimes held me back from excelling really well at them so I think as I look back, excelling really well at certain ones of them...
19:10 PL: So I think as I look back on when we had the business, I wish I just closed the door on this project and that one and that one sooner and spent a little bit more time nurturing our marriage. My wife and I, we just crossed 25 years of marriage so...
19:22 JN: Wow.
19:22 PL: We're doing great but the road's gonna be bumpy but just making sure you don't forget that at the end-of-the-day the marriage will still be there.
19:31 JN: That's such great advice and I think it's so... There's a Harvard Last Lecture on that where the professor just talks about how it's so easy for us to invest in our career 'cause it's so objectively measured by how much money we make and these other areas of our life are just as important but they're so qualitative to know how do you measure a good marriage versus a great marriage or a bad marriage and I relate to a lot of what you're saying is that it's very hard to turn down opportunities and it's very fulfilling and exhilarating just to throw yourself into work and having the foresight to pull back and invest in these other areas in our life is so crucial.
20:12 PL: Exactly. And I'll tell you, there's one thing that was kind of interesting. When we'd been in the business for a little while, especially when we first began, my wife and I, even if we went to meetings with the same client together, we would be pretty guarded about using our last names and things like that with new people. I would just... My wife's name is Jamie. I'd be like, "This is Jamie," or she'd be like, "This is Patrick," and we wouldn't necessarily say our last names 'cause we were fearful of showing that we were husband and wife and maybe we'd seem like a lesser than type of business but several years into the company's existence, we hired an outside marketing firm to help us with some research and also to gain an understanding of what our clients really valued about us and the thing that came back from almost every client, it was, "We liked the fact that they're husband and wife because we feel that they're very invested in what we're trying to do. This isn't just a job for them. This is something bigger they're trying to build together,"
21:00 PL: Or "We like the fact that they've been together for 10 or 15 or 20 years as a married couple and we like that showing that level of commitment to each other demonstrates, essentially, a commitment to us as a company or our customers," and I think it was... All of a sudden, it was like, "Wow! The thing that I'm trying... We're almost trying to run away from, if you will, is one of our biggest strengths." So instead of trying to diminish it, just embrace it.
21:21 JN: That's great.
21:22 PL: It wasn't like we walked... We didn't stroll into meetings holding hands but we certainly didn't... We didn't hold off from letting people know, yeah, we're married.
21:29 JN: That's awesome.
21:30 PL: And which is an interesting dynamic. So I think finding that situation where clients are cool with it, made it easier for us in the later years of the company.
21:42 JN: You mentioned the moment when you looked at the payroll and you realized that this was bigger than you expected. I'm just wondering in the 11+ years that you were running Wedgewood, was there... Do you remember a moment at which it kind of hit a pivot or it just hit an inflection point or it went from being pushing a boulder uphill to having the wind behind you? I'm just wondering if there was some critical moment where everything seemed to change.
22:12 PL: Well, Jim Collins talks about the idea of the flywheel and if you can get enough pushes on the flywheel, it'd become prisoner of its own inertia and the company takes off type of thing and I'm probably not capturing that right but you get the idea and I remember he was talking in "Good to Great" about the company Kimberly-Clark and he said, "When did the flywheel really take off on its own?" and the answer was, "Sometime in the '70s." So, in other words, there wasn't one big push that made it all change but I think that there were a couple different inflection points, as you said. One of which, is I remember the first time we had a couple of employees and our employees were going to meetings on behalf of the firm and Jamie and I, we weren't there, and that was a point where we looked at each other going, "Oh my goodness! They're in a meeting with our client right now. We trust that they're going to do this and we're nervous. We can't wait for them to call us after it's over with but they're out there doing it." So there was that kind of moment where you start going from feeling like you need to control everything to starting to release things.
23:08 PL: That was probably an inflection point for us. I think we hired one gentleman to run our office in Washington DC. We had an office up there in Crystal City area and when we hired him, it was a big inflection moment for us, if you will, because he came out of... He was actually a former military officer. He came out of the 82nd as well. We hired him. He went in there and he just, in his own way, took it over... His business and started building it and that was a real inflection point for us and I think that one thing that wasn't necessarily... It was little moments over time where things like when we were sitting in a meeting one time as a firm and we were talking... We had an annual meeting. We were sitting there talking with everybody about, "Well, we do this kind of work, human capital type of work and we do it for these type of clients so are we more about human capital or are we more about this kind of client?"
24:03 PL: And the answer was, "No, we're really more about human capital type solutions." It just happened to be we're doing that work in a certain client space. That kind of, okay here's what we are and what we aren't type moments, were very helpful as well. So I think it's a series of moments like that where it's like, "Wow! I'm standing at the American Society for Training and Development, standing up as a key presenter talking about what we are doing as a firm." Those moments came over time at little points though, like, "Wow! This is where we feel like it's really starting to move."
24:32 JN: What was the worst moment? I imagine there must have been some harrowing times. Was there one particular moment that just stands out as the bottom of that exhilarating experience?
24:46 PL: Well, when you say harrowing times, it kind of reminds me of who the audience is, that's listening to this, there's nothing [chuckle] harrowing in what I'm gonna talk about like what many of these people have faced in life. So lets put that in perspective.
24:56 JN: That's great.
24:56 PL: We had one time where we had a client who was just, if you're familiar with the idea of an alpha-male, a real aggressive type of person. This guy was an alpha, alpha, alpha, plus, plus, plus type of guy. Just an in-your-face aggressive type of guy and I remember one time where he just addressed one of our consultants, he addressed her up one side and down the other. Just inappropriate, the way he got mad at her. And I remember stepping in and telling him, "Hey, you can't talk to my people that way." It was really an uncomfortable moment and this guy was responsible for a significant portion of our business but I remember saying, "We're willing to walk from this." And we didn't actually walk from it, not because I wasn't willing to walk from it, but because when we went back and decompressed as a team and talked about the situation. The team members, including the lady who was involved, were like, "No, we don't wanna walk away from this client but we need to handle the situation differently going forward."
25:52 PL: So the ability for me to go back in and have a conversation with him about, "We're willing to stay and do work with you but if it continues down this path, we don't wanna stay. We wanna break the relationship." I think that was a nervous point because the part of me that wanted to defend my people was like, "Yep, I'm walking away from it" the other part of me that was scared for the business was like, "I hope that if I walk away, can we survive?" In the end we actually did release that client for different reasons and releasing that client, although it took away 30% of our revenue, was probably one of the best moments ever for us. So I think it's that whole mix of dealing with, I've got so many eggs-in-the-basket with this one client and maybe we've got ourselves over leveraged. That moment where you realize "I've got too many eggs in this basket here.", is kind of concerning. I don't know if I articulated that very well...
26:36 JN: No, that's great. Yeah.
26:37 PL: Yeah. The idea of being over leveraged is concerning and I know I felt that in the pit-of-my-stomach like, "Oh my gosh, can I not do what I think is the right thing because of this?" So ultimately, choosing to do the right thing was the best thing for us.
26:51 JN: Yeah and like that wake-up call of realizing that at that stage in your business, the importance of diversifying and de-risking of not relying on one client. That's pretty incredible.
27:02 PL: It's tough to do, right? Because you're spending so much time trying to service and support the few clients you have, finding other ones is hard to do at the same time but you have to figure that out.
27:12 JN: And then, just under a year after Inc. Magazine recognizes you for your incredible growth, you end up selling. I'm wondering what that acquisition process was like and any advice for any veteran going through a similar process?
27:31 PL: Sure. So, little bit of background on that, so what happened was, when I actually left KPMG Consulting, one of the companies I started working with right away was a company called, FranklinCovey and people may know FranklinCovey from the old Franklin Planning Tools, time management system, they might know it from when the founders wrote a book called, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, they've written a number of books like, Speed of Trust or Four Disciplines of Execution. So they were a client of ours and built a really good relationship with them and what happened was, in 2011, one of my contacts at FranklinCovey said they're getting ready to launch a new program, a new training program and they wanted to know if I'd be willing to go out and kinda be the marketing face of it for some presentations. So they were these little three hour presentations explaining the business case for this particular offering and explaining the content to people and then hopefully they'll say yes, they wanna engage with FranklinCovey. So I said, "Sure, I'll be happy to do that. Where do you want me to go?" and he said, "Well, there's 175 cities around the world we're gonna launch this program in. How about I send you the list of cities and you tell me where you want to go."
28:43 JN: That's like a dream. That's incredible.
28:44 PL: I know. Crazy moment, right?
28:46 JN: Yeah.
28:46 PL: Yeah, so I get the list of 175 cities and I'm sitting down with my wife and I'm like, "Well, where do you want to go?" I mean how often do you get that question asked in your life? So we started picking cities, we're like, "Well" we're like, "Obviously we'll do some here in the States. We can go to Canada and then we'd like to go to Europe and we'd like to spend some time in Asia." It was like this whole thing like this, but can we do it and leave our employees back here running the store, if you will. And we said, "Yeah." We talked it with them and they said, "Yeah, we think we can do it." So my wife and I and our son at the time, 'cause our daughter had just left for college, we spent three months overseas. And we came back in November of 2011 I guess it was, came back in November 2011 and I was talking to one of my former bosses at KPMG Consulting, this is why it's important to keep friends close, have a good network.
29:31 PL: I was talking to him around the holidays and he said, "So what's been going on?" I said "Well, believe it or not man, we just spent three months overseas. We got to go to Asia and live in Malaysia and Singapore and all this stuff." And he was like, "And your clients are still with you?" I'm like, "Yeah." he goes, "And your employees haven't quit?" And I'm like, "No." And then it was this pause, he was like, "Would you like to talk to my boss?" And I'm like, "About what?" He goes, "We're looking to acquire some businesses, maybe it makes sense for you two to talk."
29:55 JN: Wow!
29:56 PL: It was just like that type of thing, yeah. So I wasn't looking to sell it but then when he and I started talking, it's like, "Okay, this makes sense." I said to my wife, "Do you want to sell it?" And she's like, "Yeah, we could do that!" [chuckle] So, then it was about a five or six month process. We had some government contracts so those had to go through, I believe it's called novation, where they're checking to make sure that all the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed and it could be, the contract can be moved over to another company and all those type of things. And working with our employees, and getting the evaluation of the business figured out... All that stuff took about six months, and there was a couple points throughout all that where you feel like, "Oh, this thing might fall apart", type of thing.
30:32 PL: I remember at one point, my wife and I had made the proclamation to ourselves, "Oh, we're gonna take a percentage of what we sell the business for, and we're gonna give it away." And we were bold with that move, and then we gave it away, and then we weren't sure if the business was gonna really sell, [chuckle] so there was a moment of, "Oh my gosh! What do we do?" So I remember we got to the point where we're like, "I don't know if this thing's gonna go through." And we just talked to the guy who was purchasing the company and no accountants on the phone, no attorneys on the phone, we just had leaders-to-leader conversation saying, "Here's what we really need to get from this business."
31:03 PL: He's like, "Here's what I can really pay." And we just said, "Okay, lets do that." And then we went back to the accountants and said, "Here's what we're gonna sell it for." And you imagine the accountants were like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you doing talking to them?" But at some point we just needed to talk to each other and make a decision and that's what we did. And I'm happy to do that, because nowadays I can still go back to that guy's office who bought our company and talk to him and he likes me and I've sent students from my university over to interview with him for possible internships. So, it's nice to be able to have that relationship out there in a good way.
31:33 JN: Yeah, it's so refreshing to hear, rather than this thought of just fighting tooth-and-nail for everything, and this adversarial relationship that I would have assumed initially this was, but to hear that it was much more cordial and collegial is very encouraging.
31:48 PL: Yeah, it's been a good thing.
31:50 JN: And you pursued your PhD while running the company, is that right?
31:55 PL: That's right. That's right. Yep.
31:56 JN: What was that like? Was that... I imagine it was great to be able to be learning, and applying it directly to your work, but I imagine at the same time that was extremely strenuous from a time perspective.
32:10 PL: Yeah, it was pretty insane, to be honest with you. And many of your listeners probably can think of times in their military life where it's like really intense, and there's a lot going on and you look back at it afterwards and you say, "Oh my gosh, I don't wanna take that hill again, it was really tough!" And this is one of those things. This is one of those things where you look back and say, if somebody said, "You have to go back and get your PhD again." I'd be like, "Ugh, I don't think so." [chuckle] It was definitely tough. There were times I remember, I was living in Louisville, and I was going to University of Kentucky, so that's about a... I can tell you it's 63 miles from door-to-door and all my classes were on campus, so there wasn't anything on the Internet or anything, so I'd go back-and-forth every week, lots of times. And then there were also times where I remember being in Phoenix for a meeting, jumping on a plane, flying back to Lexington, going to class, turning around, getting right back on a plane and flying right back to Phoenix. I mean, just crazy stuff like that for a few years. But, if I hadn't had my own business there was really no way I could have pulled that off 'cause there's no company that would allow you to be that flexible with your time. So, I think if I hadn't had my own business it wouldn't have happened.
33:13 PL: I think if I hadn't been in the military and hadn't had the GI Bill available to me, it would have been a much tougher discussion to go through, but ultimately, the reason I went back was because, I felt like... One thing you do in consulting, just like you said, Justin, is the idea of looking at the situation, stepping back, evaluating it, figure out where you wanna go to, coming up with a process to get from here-to-there, all that type of stuff is great, and every firm, every consulting firm has their process. "Here's how we do business process, re-engineering, or whatever. Our eight step process or whatever." In my mind, it's always like, "Okay, you say that's the eight step proven process. How do you know it's proven?" It's kind of just my mindset, so I wanted to go back and earn my PhD, more to scratch-an-itch around, "How do I know what the research is behind the things we say that'll work?" Just 'cause they work once or twice doesn't mean they're gonna work every time. So I really wanted to understand that and that's what drove me to go back to school.
34:04 JN: And how would you explain your work today at Vanderbilt?
34:09 PL: Yeah, so I would explain, it's a lot of fun, I enjoy it. You mentioned the term "Inflection Point", and I use that in my own mind sometimes. I think that people are on a course of trajectory in their lives, and then every once in a while somebody can speak to them, or give them an opportunity that can be an inflection point that'll change that trajectory. And to me college is one of those times, where if somebody can be there that might say something to you, that the person who said it might not think it's much at all, but it really made a difference. So one of the reasons I said I wanted to be in college is because of that. My day-to-day is typically, I teach classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I maintain office hours throughout the week at different times. I also still do a lotta work with FranklinCovey Company, in fact I actually have a book coming out with them next year, about how to lead in the government, how to create effective cultures in government organizations. That's coming out next year, so I spend a lot of time writing and doing things like that, but as far as the time at the university, most of my days are spent, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are spent just working with students, doing some research and writing and I really enjoy that.
35:15 JN: It just seems from an external standpoint like you've done an effective job of constructing a life that energizes you. First in creating your own company, and working with your wife, and being able to travel and do all of these things, and pursue education, but even now at Vanderbilt, where you're able to teach and mentor and engage with students, but also scratch-that-working-itch with FranklinCovey, and then it sounds like on the side writing. It just seems like, I'm envious of your ability to find the very different, diverse things that make you happy and weave them all into your professional life.
35:50 PL: Well, thanks, I appreciate that. Sometimes I don't see it that way 'cause I'm in the midst of it. But yeah, you're right. If I think about it, I'm able to scratch two or three itches that I'm really interested in taking care of and I think, one thing that drives me these days, not only in addition to trying to help students, and maybe give them some words of advice or guidance, or suggestions, or whatever it might be. Or just some truth that somebody needs to speak sometimes to them. I also like the autonomy that it gives me. I'm a person who... I've learned over time that I like the flexibilities to go the route I wanna go next. And I've kinda, in many ways, kinda created a life that allows me to do that. So that's pretty fun.
36:29 JN: That's great. No, that really resonates with me as well. I feel like independence is very important and autonomy. And that's one of the advantages of having your own company. In many ways, sometimes, I feel a slave to my clients and employees, and shareholders, and all these different things. But in other ways, you do have that freedom to create your own different aspects of your life. And that's encouraging and inspiring to see how you've done that.
36:53 PL: Well, and I'll tell you, getting back to the whole military veteran component to it is, I think that the drive that the military helps instill in you or bring out in you, or however you wanna look at it, it causes me to always say things like, "How can I be a better version of myself next year?" Or, "How can I... What's the next thing I wanna tackle? What's the next thing I wanna take on?" And I have a bit of... I'm the youngest of five kids from a Catholic family. So I have just enough guilt in my head that keeps me driving towards something else... [chuckle] That I need to keep going, keep going.
37:26 PL: So I think that those type of things, that perseverance, that drive that the military often brings out in us, and challenges us, I think that that helps us. Even though it may not be a physical thing I have to do. But there's still a mental thing that I need to do, and other things that I need to keep leaning into it. And I'll tell you, one thing that I... I can think of one thing that, really, the military helped me out in over the years. When I talk to students sometimes or just other people about the work that I've done, how did I choose the path that I chose, I remember when I was in the infantry, it was like being at the pointy-edge-of-the-spear. We could have an argument about this forever, but in my mind at least, the army exists in so many ways to support the infantry person who's on the ground. And I always like that idea of being on the pointy edge of things. So when I'm in consulting, I wanna be the consultant. When I'm in an academic area, I wanna be the teacher. I feel like those are the pointy-edges-to-the-spear. And I wanna be in those positions, because if you're able to put yourself in those type of positions, you're always in demand. People need somebody who's willing to step in the classroom, step in the consulting engagement, make the next sale, take the next hill and just... Not that I'm always great at it, but I'm willing to step in and give it a shot.
38:36 JN: That kind of leads-in-well to another question I wanted to ask, which was, what were the habits you built up in the military that really helped you be successful in your civilian career? And on the flipside, what were the habits that you had to break because they wouldn't really serve you well as a civilian?
38:57 PL: I think that there's a lot of things in the military you just take for granted. Like showing up on time and being in the right uniform [chuckle], and those type of things. But those things matter. The ability to be respectful of people around you matters. The ability to work with a diverse team of people matters. And those are things that you learned in the military. The military teaches you things like, activities matter, but outcomes matter more. So the ability to focus on the goal, not just the activity that gets you there. So those basic things that I learned from the military have been very helpful. The ability to manage my time and things like that.
39:35 PL: But I think, on the flipside, everything's a double-edged sword. It seems to be that, at least, the strength can also be your weakness. I think the biggest struggle for me was probably, and continues to some degree even today, of sometimes because we're in the military, you're used to kind of, "Okay, I know how to bow down to the people up the chain-of-command type of thing. Be respectful like that." Sometimes in business, people don't want that. They appreciate you calling them, "Sir," being respectful, but they want your opinion, they want the push back. They want that type of thing. And that was a hard thing for me to do sometimes, because that person's basically saying, "Hey, argue with me about this." And I'm thinking, "Wouldn't that be disrespectful? How would I do that?" So trying to find that right balance, if that makes sense, of being able to be respectful, but not deny self [chuckle] and not deny your ideas.
40:27 PL: And I also think that, because the military is very much like, "Okay, you serve in this position, you serve this much time, you attain a certain rank, you get to move up and get other experiences." Sometimes in the business world, it's not that way. Sometimes you can go from, "I walked in the door, and a year later, I'm running some big project." That type of jump can happen and the ability to say, "Whatever table I get a chance to sit at, I deserve to sit at that table." Doesn't mean I can't be... I have to be respectful and all those type of things, but I'm here for a reason. And I don't have to feel like I'm an impostor, I'm ready to go. And that's been one thing I've had to learn to do.
41:05 JN: That's great. Man, I think, even 10 years out, I notice there's still this deference to authority, and this unwillingness to challenge authority in many contexts. And I love that you used the word "impostor." And I know that, especially at business school, my entire time three, I just felt like I was playing dress-up in my dad's suit. I just felt like, I was such an impostor and that I didn't deserve to be there, or that I was less qualified. And I think it took me multiple years afterwards to realize, and I love that visual that you have of, "I deserve this seat at this table," like, "I deserve to be here."
41:39 PL: Yeah, and I didn't, Justin, I didn't come up with that. Actually, a colleague I was working with one time was, I think, was watching me, and said something. He came up to me one time in the hallway and was just like, "Let me tell you something. You deserve the right to sit at that table, if you've been invited to sit at the table, you sit at it." And "deserve" is a word I don't really like, 'cause I always have that mindset like, "We don't deserve anything, you earn it.", type of thing. He was basically saying, "You've earned it. You've earned the right to sit at a table with senior leadership at a company and have a conversation with them and bring something of value to the conversation."
42:12 JN: Yeah exactly, and I love that other part. And the reason why that's great is that everyone benefits. When you're fully showing up and fully participating, they will take away more and they will add more value to the meeting. And I just noticed for myself, too, the times in which I sit back or I'm not as willing to contribute, everyone suffers because they miss out on that unique perspective.
42:34 PL: Exactly. There's this professor down at University of Texas, Brené Brown, you may have heard of her.
42:41 JN: Yeah. Yeah, from her TED Talk.
42:42 PL: And she talks about vulnerability from that TED Talk and if people listening haven't seen that TED Talk, look it up. Brené Brown.
42:48 JN: I'll add it to the show notes as well. It's a great, great TED Talk.
42:51 PL: It is. I love what she says there. She talks about courage is being vulnerable. Being willing to put yourself out there. And one thing the military taught me was, don't be vulnerable. Be guarded, be... Create a certain... Carry yourself a certain way. The whole military bearing thing sometimes, in my mind, was like the opposite of being vulnerable. And it's like, no, that's not what that means. She's basically saying... She uses the idea of a gladiator. Get in the arena and fight. And if you're not in the arena, I don't care what your feedback is. Don't tell me how bad I am if you're not willing to fight yourself. So that whole... If you listen to what she says, it's all of a sudden I went from this vulnerability to weakness to this vulnerability to strength. And I'm pretty good at these... You're asking me to talk about myself for an hour, but I'm pretty good at going into a client situation and saying, "I don't know the best way forward on this." Or I'll tell my students, "I'm probably the best person to teach this class and probably the worst person to teach this class." So the ability to just be real is something that's hard to be sometimes when you come out of the uniform. Not that you're being fake, but there's a little bit of being... Sometimes when you have the uniform on, there's a bit of a facade we construct or a certain way we have to carry ourselves, and on the corporate side they don't always want that.
44:04 JN: I was also curious about being in academia, just thoughts on... Especially for someone listening who might want to instruct at a collegiate level, just your thoughts on the path you went, which was obtaining a lot of practical experience before going on to teach, versus those who might take a more direct path, and just any thoughts on the trade-offs between those two?
44:32 PL: Well clearly, going the route I went means that I don't have a big research book behind me. I don't have like a body of research behind me. I don't have 50 articles I've published in top peer-reviewed journals and things like that. So that's a negative. The other side is I have a lot of experience where I've had a chance to work all around the world in different companies and lots of companies you recognize, that's a strength. So I think part of it is, I think anybody can go in and be a good instructor playing the cards that they've been dealt, or the table they choose to sit down and the cards they chose to keep. [chuckle] So for me, I go in and I predominantly lean more on not just my own anecdotal experience but also just a lot of research and work that's been done in the field, out in the field, as opposed to other people rely more on the experimental design-type stuff they do in-house. So I don't think either one's bad.
45:28 PL: I know a really good professor who came out of undergrad, went right up to Michigan, got his Doctorate in Economics and he's awesome. So I think it's a matter of, don't try to be somebody you aren't, just go in and be authentic. Again, be vulnerable. Say, "This is what I know a lot about. I'm going to bring this to the classroom. And if I don't know certain things, I'll go find somebody who does." And trying to find that. I think the department I work in has really good [45:54] ____ bench of people of a lot of practical, real-world experience. So that's valued a lot in our department. But the university overall values the experience, but they also value the publishing. So I have to kind of bone-up and get better in that area. So it's kind of finding... Don't run away from what got you there, but just work on filling in some of the gaps.
46:13 JN: And I'm thinking of earlier when you talked about speaking truth to your students, and I'm thinking particularly to those on active duty who are thinking of getting out. Is there any resource that you would recommend to them, just something that's held a lot of significance for you, whether it's a book, a course, just something that they could take ahold of today and invest some time in that's been rewarding and enriching for you in your civilian career and might be beneficial to them as well?
46:43 PL: I'm a pretty avid reader and I especially like to read a lot of business books, so that's kind of where my head often goes. Working with FranklinCovey, I still think that, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is a... When you read that, for me at least, it was a bit of a watershed moment. So it's been around 25 years, it's sold 25 plus million copies. If you've never read it, pick it up and read it. But, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven Covey is pretty darn good stuff, foundational stuff. I think that there's a lot of good pieces out there you can read. Jim Collins, "Good to Great" is great. Anything by Collins I really enjoy. Some of the stuff... There's a book out by a guy named Ram Charan. R-A-M C-H-A-R-A-N. It's a very simple book called, "What the CEO Wants You to Know." And in this very simple book, he teaches you the five elements that drives business: Cash, margin, velocity, growth, and customers. And understanding those, all of a sudden, you realize, "I could talk to any senior leader, because I understand the five major components that drive business." I think there's a lot of good books out there about how to read financials, 'cause you're gonna be lacking in that regard.
47:47 PL: So pick up one of those. I think that those are some useful things. I got a couple books out myself. So if you're really desperate, you can read one of those. [chuckle] But things like that kind of help you realize here's what matters out there in the business world. Being well versed in some of those things is helpful.
48:04 JN: That's great. And for listeners on the show notes of beyondtheuniform.io, I'll add links to all of those books as well as to Patrick's books as well. Patrick, I always like to leave the last question more open-ended and you've answered a lot of my questions and provided a lot of great advice for me and for our audience. I'm just wondering what else have we not talked about that you would want veteran listeners to know about personal life, professional life, or any other final words of wisdom?
48:36 PL: I had a guy who comes to my class every semester. He's a former CEO of Kraft Foods and his name is Roger Deromedi. He's a graduate of Vanderbilt and got his MBA from Stanford, really, really bright guy. And he talks about just making sure, and I guess this echoes back to what I said earlier about the relationship between myself and my wife, is realizing that you have different roles that you play in life and it's important to make sure you service all of those roles and clearly differentiate among those roles. Obviously you have to take care of yourself, that's a key piece. You're gonna get out of the military and who's gonna care if you do PT in the morning, no one. So you still have to have a discipline around being active. You look around our country and there's a lot of people who are inactive and their health declines because of that. So if you don't have your health you lose that, so take care of self. You have to take care, if you have a spouse or a key relationship in your life like that, you need to take care of that relationship. Your children, if you have children and the idea of, "When the work's all said and done do I still have a relationship with them?"
49:44 PL: So defining the different roles in your life. FranklinCovey has a really good tool that they use sometimes and just maybe I'll leave you with this. Think about, if you were draw a circle on a piece of paper, I encourage you to draw a circle on a piece of paper and then divide it up in five or six sections and think about all the various roles you play in your life. You may have 10 or 20 or 30 roles. Like I'm a husband and I'm a son and I'm a brother and I'm a friend and I'm a colleague and I'm a consultant, I have all these different roles. But what are the five or six or seven key ones right now? And label the piece-of-pie with those five or six ones that are really key right now and then take a moment and assess for yourself, how are you doing? Are you underperforming? Are you doing a normal job or are you doing extraordinary job? And for the couple that you maybe underperforming in, just take the time to say, "Okay, I'm gonna dedicate the next few months to try and to move these couple pieces-of-the-pie to a new level." And for me, personally, several years ago I went through that exercise, I said I was gonna do it. One of the pieces I put down on that piece of paper was son, S-O-N, and I thought I'm kinda underperforming.
50:47 PL: I'm not this horrible child but I'm definitely one where I call back to talk to my mom and dad and say, "How's the weather and what's going on?" Just real quick conversations. And after I put down son, I tried in my own way to get better at that and shortly thereafter within about six months to a year my mom passed away. And I was glad that I took the time to spend working on that particular piece of my life. So I would say, we're so prone in life to go, "Okay I have to optimize everything" or "I have to get better at everything." And just to say, give yourself a little grace and say, "You know what, I'm gonna pick a couple of things and try to get better at those couple of things." And I think if we learn to do that, you can move mountains over a period of time.
51:24 JN: That's great. That's such great advice for anyone listening. I think that's just an incredible worthy goal to examine all the different facets of our life. And when you said son I was thinking of your son, it took like five or 10 seconds to realize, oh, your parents and that relationship and I think that makes me realize how seldom I think of that and how critical of a relationship that is.
51:47 PL: Exactly, Justin. I put that down, I put down son and I did some... My parents must have thought I was dying of cancer or something 'cause I'm sending 'em postcards and things like that. [chuckle] But it was those little things or instead of calling 'em up then going, "Hey, what have you guys been up to and what's the weather like?" I would actually ask their opinion about something. And learn from it. So those little nuances... And I remember when my mom passed away after the funeral we were back at my dad's house, if you've ever been through one of those situations, it's always those uncomfortable moments 'cause somebody's missing, mom's missing. And we're all sitting there and I remember saying to my wife, "I'm glad that I kinda spent some time on that piece-of-the-pie." And then she said to me, "You're still a son." I'm like, "Oh, dang, I am." [chuckle] And I look across the room, there's my dad. I love my dad. He's always been the kinda guy, I feel like, "Dad, I won the lottery and I'm gonna buy you a new car." He'd be like, "No, my car's fine." [chuckle] He's got that personality. So she told me, "Get over there, you're still a son." And I was like, I walked over to my father and I said to him, I said, "Hey dad, I travel a lot for work, any chance you'd wanna go with me on a trip for work?"
52:46 PL: And I like braced myself for him to tell me to go away. [chuckle] And he goes, "Where are you going next?" And I was like, "Ah, I'm going to Topeka, Kansas." And he's like, "Oh, okay, I'll come with you." And he went to Topeka, Kansas with me, and he went to Florida with me, and so he got to see me kinda of doing something different like giving a presentation or doing something like that. And it just changed the dynamic in a lotta ways. So that's what I mean. In so many situations, what takes you from good performance or normal performance is some type of great level performance isn't some herculean effort, it's just a couple of little things. And then just consistently hammering on those. And if nothing else, the military teaches you the idea of realizing, "Oh hey, a couple of things make the difference and you better get really good at those." and that's what I'm talking about there.
53:30 JN: Yeah. Well, this has been great Patrick. I really appreciate your time on this and just the example you have of having grown your business but also just diversified what you do to really be fulfilled in life in many different areas. So thank you for taking the time to speak with me and the Beyond The Uniform audience.
53:48 PL: Oh my pleasure Justin, thanks for inviting me and I wish everybody the best of luck and if I can ever do anything to help, let me know.
54:01 JN: Thanks for listening. Before you go, three important announcements. First, if you believe in what I'm doing, and believe in supporting veterans and their careers, please, please, please help me spread the word. The best way I know to do that right now is by taking 18 seconds to write a review on iTunes. It would mean a lot. Second, based on my interviews, I'd advise any and all veterans to look at servicetoschool.org and the American Corporate Partners. Both are completely free for veterans, and give you a lot of great resources for your education or professional life, respectively. Third, there are a ton of other great interviews, resources, and data at beyondtheuniform.io. Check it out, share it with your friends, and drop me a line if you have any feedback, because I'd love to hear from you. Thanks and see you on the next interview.
Listen to Interview | Download Transcript 00:01 Justin Nassiri: Welcome back to Beyond the Uniform. I'm Justin Nassiri, and each week I interview military veterans about their civilian career. Today is episode number 56 with Steve Reinemund.
00:10 Steve Reinemund: Well, frankly, it was never anticipated. I certainly never expected to be the head of PepsiCo, and that was not my aspiration. And I say that because I think it's important for the people to take positions and work in places that they really enjoy what they're doing, not that they're doing something in order to just be prepared for the big job sometime down the road. Because the problem with that is it's... First of all, you won't enjoy it, and secondly, if you're not happy in doing it, likely that the people around you aren't gonna be happy with you doing it either, and therefore you probably never will get to the top position.
00:54 JN: Normally I give you the top three reasons to listen to the episode. We're not doing that today. Here is Steve's bio, and I'm sure you'll agree that any veteran and non-veteran could learn something from today's episode. Steve was CEO of Pepsi from 2001 to 2006. During that time, revenue grew by $9 billion, net income rose 70%, earnings per share went up 80%, and PepsiCo's market cap exceeded $100 billion. Steve started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served for five years as an officer in the Marine Corps. After the military, Steve joined IBM as a sales rep, and then earned his MBA at the Darden School of Business. After business school, Steve joined the Marriott, Roy Rogers division, before moving on to PepsiCo's Pizza Hut division, where after two years he became president and CEO of Pizza Hut. During his time as CEO, he introduced home delivery as a distribution method, overtaking market share of rival Domino's Pizza within two years. Steven then moved on to PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division as president and CEO, and then was promoted to PepsiCo's president and COO before being named to the CEO position two years later.
02:08 JN: After his tenure as Pepsi's CEO, Steve served as the dean of the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy and Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University for six years. Steven has served on multiple boards, including the ExxonMobil Corporation, Marriott International, Walmart, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Chick-fil-A, the United States Naval Academy Foundation, and the Salvation Army. As always, at beyondtheuniform.io, you'll find other great episodes, as well as the show notes for this episode. So with that, let's dive in to my interview with Steve Reinemund.
02:49 JN: Well, joining me today in Denver, Colorado is Steve Reinemund. Steve, welcome to Beyond the Uniform.
02:55 SR: Great to be with you. Thank you, Justin.
02:58 JN: So, Steve, the first thing that I wanted to dive into is at what point did you know you were going to leave the Marine Corps? And how did you approach that decision?
03:10 SR: Well, it was a tough one. I really hadn't had plans to get out until probably a year before my commitment was up, and it's coincided with meeting my now wife of 42 years, when we first met in DC and started dating. I started to think about what the future might look like, and assignments, and where I might be, and we just made the decision to get out at that point. But it really wasn't in... I was probably three-and-a-half years into my commission. Loved the assignments, had great assignments. Still wonderful memories of those years. And it was not an easy decision.
04:01 JN: And you went straight from the military into IBM as a sales rep. What led you to that first initial job?
04:11 SR: Well, I think, like many other military officers in situations like mine, I really didn't have any experience in business whatsoever. Didn't grow up in a business family, had no exposure other than I did frontline jobs through high school, but I didn't really understand business. So, when I was thinking about getting out, I made the decision, I really wasn't gonna start looking until I finished my commitment, which I did. So I looked at a number of different places, and IBM was a great opportunity, and probably accepted the position without completely understanding what the nature of the job was. But it was certainly a great experience to be there for a year, and met some wonderful people, and worked for a great company.
05:05 SR: During that time, I realized that I really didn't know enough about business to be able to compete and sort of achieve the positions that I was interested in. So I decided after a year to go back to business school, and so I went full-time to University of Virginia, and got my MBA. That first year with IBM was a good introduction, but it really wasn't, in my opinion at the time, enough preparation, so that's what I decided to do.
05:40 JN: And at the time, what were some of the common career paths that you saw other veterans taking? I'm wondering if business school, at that time, was a very popular option, or what some of the tracks were that you thought were available?
05:56 SR: Well, I think it was probably more of a popular option then than it is now, as a permanent, even as a full-time student. The popularity of MBA was growing at the time, it was not a mature market like the MBA market is today. And it really qualified you for a different set of jobs, than coming straight out there. To answer your question about what most military people coming out did at the time, sales was a popular item and that's sales related front line type positions were the ones that were the most common at that point. I think that's changed over the years and frankly, today, I think military officers coming out into the workforce get a much stronger reputation and much stronger opportunities and are broader than I think they were back in those days.
07:03 JN: And I'd read in a Bloomberg interview with you that it sounds like when you were at Darden, you decided fairly early on that you wanted to pursue a career in general management, and I was just curious what attracted you to that general management type role, rather than a more specific functional expertise?
07:24 SR: It's really a great question and when I'm counseling students when I was at Wake Forest, I oftentimes counseled them to try to get at what I would call as a "hip pocket skill" or a functional specialty that you could carry with you through your career, even if you didn't stay in that function forever. But I didn't do that myself, and so I sort of followed the path of taking positions similar to what I had experienced, frankly in the military and I don't think I articulated it as well in those early years as I do today. But my passion has been probably as far back in my life as I can remember is to organize teams to take on missions that people think are difficult or impossible and to achieve them together as a team, and to develop people in the process. And that's what I really enjoyed doing in the military, and that's pretty much what I've done most of my professional career.
08:29 SR: And that's what led me to get into general management, so that I actually was leading. I led teams from basically the time I left graduate school, they were small and I'd [08:40] ____ the restaurant business and after an orientation period of learning all the front line positions, Bill Marriott who hired me wanted to bring people and start them at the bottom, give them a chance to run businesses and prepare 'em for senior management. So, I started out as learning the hourly positions in a fast food restaurant, had an assistant manager position, then a manager position.
09:06 SR: And a manager in a restaurant is a general manager, but it's a small operation but you're totally in charge and I really enjoyed that. I didn't expect to be a restaurant manager my whole life, but I have to look back and say that those were great days. I really enjoyed going to work, and pulling the team together and serving our customers. And then I had four restaurants as a district manager, and then I had 25 as a regional manager. Then I moved up into chief operating officer and was lucky enough with some acquisitions we made that I became a general manager, vice president, general manager of the division running all of the fast food restaurants for Marriott. So, really started out in my career without specific functional knowledge or development, and that's pretty much what I did the rest of my career.
10:08 JN: And what drew you, 'cause up until your time at Wake Forest it seems like you did have this emphasis on restaurants and on the food and beverage industry. I'm wondering was that a specific choice or was it because they were this inaugural program at Marriott that you initially found yourself in that industry and then kind of continued in it?
10:29 SR: It's a great question, Justin, and as you look back it's hard to actually answer that. It wasn't as conscious a decision as it might look today, and as is true for most people's careers. I certainly know that there are people who plan out their careers very methodically and follow that track. But most of my friends and fellow CEOs, I think we would admit that our paths were not as meticulously conceived as they were opportunistically presented. So my movement from restaurants, which I really enjoyed, into the consumer product business when I ran Frito-Lay, that was only made available because PepsiCo owned both restaurants as well as Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola. Had I not been with Pepsi, I probably wouldn't have had the chance to lead a business like Frito-Lay. So, my advice to the young people thinking about their careers is don't overthink it 'cause it's likely not to turn out the way you might expect it to.
11:47 JN: That's great to hear. One of the things... So in a little bit we'll get to some of the questions that some of our listeners sent to me when I told them I was gonna be interviewing you. And that was one of the common questions was just... And I share this as well, I was wondering at the point at which you thought, "Man, I could be CEO of a Fortune 100 company." I think that there's this general sense of wonder of if that was always this goal or if it was kind of just one thing was leading to another and then before you know that you were there and I was just curious, like at what point did you think, "Man, I could go all the way to the top of this amazing and enormous organization."
12:29 SR: Frankly, it was never anticipated. I certainly never expected to be the head of PepsiCo and that was not my aspiration. And I say that because I think it's important for people to take positions in working places that they really enjoy what they're doing, not that they're doing something in order to just be prepared for the big job sometime down the road. Because the problem with that is it's... Personally, you won't enjoy it, and secondly, if you're not happy in doing it, likely that the people around you aren't gonna be happy with you doing it either, [chuckle] and therefore you probably never will get to the top position.
13:15 SR: So in my case, certainly in my days in the restaurants, because restaurants were not the primary business of PepsiCo, there was having highly unlikely that I would have ever become CEO of the company and that was never my expectation. And when I moved to Frito-Lay, although Frito was the largest piece of the PepsiCo business, I never expected to be CEO of PepsiCo and I was quite pleased and happy to have the opportunity to run Frito and would have been happy to do that for the extent of my career.
13:50 SR: But things happen and people move and changed. Life has its strange way of presenting opportunities, and frankly, in my case, my mentor for 10 years who was, is still fabulous leader that I've learned so much from got cancer and passed away and had he lived his complete career, the likelihood of my becoming CEO would probably be far less. It's just hard to think about in a large company, the sort of planning at your career so meticulously that you have one goal in mind and I would strongly encourage people not to think in those terms. Frankly, I'd say most of my peer friends, CEOs, had similar situations. Things happen, opportunities come up, the businesses do well, you're at the right place at the right time and there's kind of things that happen and many very qualified people that could very well be CEOs don't become CEOs for reasons that has nothing [15:11] ____ to do with their capability.
15:16 JN: That's great. I think for some reason that's so comforting to think that it was just, it sounds like it was just an experience of trying to do your best in every role you had and trying to be present with that and enjoy it and just be a good leader and then that ended up leading to good things for you but it wasn't this heavily orchestrated plan of trying to get from A to B.
15:42 SR: No, I never had that in my career, and when I left the military, I certainly didn't have a specific plan and I'd say that was pretty much the way I operated the rest of my career and even when I retired. I retired from PepsiCo at an age younger than I had planned originally to retire because of some family reasons and when I [16:17] ____ my move to Academia was certainly not something that I had planned either but it was an opportunity that came available and I did it and it was a very gratifying experience, but again, it wasn't something that I'd ever expected to do.
16:37 JN: One of the things I wanted to ask about is I really enjoyed the last lecture that you gave at Wake Forest and for listeners, I'll add that in the show notes, a link to that video, it's definitely worth watching. But you talked about this defining experience you faced back in 1986, when you first became CEO of Pizza Hut, and I believe at the time you were just 38-years-old, you were three months into being CEO and you had this challenge and I'm wondering if you could share that story and what you learned from it.
17:11 SR: Well, it was one of the great defining moments of my career and I oftentimes talk about the failures of life and I put them in three categories: Business, personal, and cultural. And in 1986, I was faced with a pretty severe business challenge that was not going well. We were trying to move our business as a pizza restaurant company, Pizza Hut, to becoming a delivery and restaurant company which doesn't sound like a big change, but it is a very big change in number of ways and we had a formidable competitor that had a head start on us at that time which is the Domino's. We were much bigger than they were overall, but they had taken a leadership position in the delivery business and that's where all the growth in the industry was going.
18:08 SR: So we made a decision to get into it and I was responsible for a plan that was put together that totally failed. We had four plans to the strategy and all four of them were flawed. And as a result, we at one point, we were losing a million dollars a month which for our business at the time was quite a bit of money on a plan that really was never gonna succeed. So we had to take a time out and I was very fortunate to work for a leader who recognized our vision was right but our plan was wrong. When I went to him and expressed to him that it wasn't working and he agreed, he was patient enough for us to come up with a plan that did work and we put it in place. Within 12 months and certainly within 18 months, everyone else could see that this worked and we ended up moving into the number one delivery position in the country in US at the time with a different plan. But it was a very defining moment for me.
19:19 SR: First of all I was lucky to work for a boss and for a company that allowed you to fail. But I learned the patience, the requirement for patience in innovation and how oftentimes and I've seen that many times since then that the initial ideas may be right but the plans just don't work and if your vision's right and your leadership is in place, you can recover from that.
19:46 SR: So that was my primary lesson, but I learned a lesson from each one of those strategic ideas that didn't work and those lessons carried through. In fact, they still carry through today as I think about businesses both in terms of investing and on the positions, on the boards that I'm on. I think about these leadership lessons like when you're testing something, test it an inch wide and a mile deep instead of a mile wide and an inch deep. Once you have your model corrected, you can roll it out fast but if your model is weak, it's very difficult to succeed. So that was one of the key lessons that I learned. I learned not to get ahead of your technology. At the time we decided we were gonna roll out with our 1800 number which sounds like a pretty simple technology today, but 1986, it really wasn't as easy because we had all these units that were producing the pieces that were connected to this 800 number. And to make a long story short, it's just basically the technology we were ahead of our SKUs. I learned you really have to make sure that you use technology properly. Take risks but not embedding the form on those types of leading edge or bleeding edge technologies.
21:13 SR: And pricing, we overpriced our product in order to get the margins right and didn't listen to the consumer. That was an expensive lesson to learn. So those were the kind of things that I learned in that early piece but the major takeaway was that innovation, true innovation, transformation of the business is difficult. It often doesn't work on the first track. But growth in innovation and transformation are critical for successful businesses and you have to drive for change and incremental growth seldom ever sustains a business long term.
21:50 JN: I loved the candor on that and I loved that sense of how these failures have shaped how you interact with companies today. I really enjoyed that in your last lecture as well, the sense that of commitment and how these train wrecks really help us evaluate our grit and how that's a great way to learn. And it's certainly painful and I imagine a lot of this was publicly embarrassing as you were leading this team and you've got a lot of pressure to grow. But it's encouraging to hear how these failures and these mistakes you learn from and that seems to have made such a big difference in your overall trajectory and the value you're still able to provide in businesses today of just having made these mistakes first hand.
22:33 SR: It's so counterintuitive too, Justin. Oftentimes we think about our careers and we... And I certainly, maybe not so much after that, but before that I used to think about the risks of taking new initiatives and the reality of it is that you never would wish for the failure that you get and that failure was something I never would have wished for. But I would say it was more than a defining moment for me and for the company and for all of us who were part of that management team who went on to do other things 'cause we redefined in our own minds what was achievable and possible. Really, all of us, came away from that experience saying incrementalism just isn't the way to grow and there is risk with major change in innovation but it's really, really important. But the other piece that I think came out of it, I'll never know why Wayne Calloway, who was my boss, who's chairman of the board of PepsiCo at the time I was running Pizza Hut, why he gave me the opportunity to Frito-Lay or why the board gave me the opportunity to run PepsiCo. I've never asked that.
23:51 SR: I've always wanted to ask Wayne but unfortunately he passed away and I never really got to ask him why he did that but I would suspect that failure, being able to rally a team to recover from the failure, probably had something to do with my ability or my opportunities that came after that. I'd like to say that it was the only failure I ever had and I never had more but that's not true. I had several others that through all the failures that we have, the lessons we learned are important. And also the idea that just motoring through and digging deep to provide the leadership to the team to get through that is really important and that's the testing that we, as leaders, get.
24:54 SR: Frankly, for most of us that started with that similar kind of testing that we got in the military. I think that when I look for people to promote or select or recommend, I always wanna see how do they react to crisis, to failure, to difficulties. It's important to know that about a person because it's likely that if you put somebody in a leadership position that you're probably gonna be faced with that. It's helpful to know how they've reacted to that kind of thing in the past.
25:34 JN: That's great. It seems like a theme that's come up with people I've interviewed, in particular that the entrepreneurs of just how vital that tenacity is, of just knowing that if you get knocked down 100 times, you're gonna get up 101. That every single time you get pushed over, you're able to, like you said, dig deep, learn from it and come back and keep showing up. It's just very encouraging to hear that that has been your experience as well. 'Cause I think that sometimes I, at least, I sugar coat a story like yours where it seems like, man, maybe he just had all of these breaks along the away or just played the perfect game and just never missed a hole, never missed a shot. And it sounds like instead, your experience was facing just as much adversity if not more than so many other people but continuing to come back and continuing to learn and continuing to try.
26:31 SR: Well, I think that's really important. I know when I counsel students in the MBA program, one of my major messages is "Don't try to plan your career through riding the top of the waves and not getting deep into the business, and trying to avoid challenges and conflicts that's... " It's the difficult situations, many of them filled with obstacles that present failure. Frankly, those are the fun ones, and also, they are the ones that define the characteristics of leadership that were so important through [27:19] ____ and growing a business.
27:23 JN: I wanted to ask about the progression from Pizza Hut to Frito-Lay and then from Frito-Lay to PepsiCo CEO, and in terms of how the job changed. And I think of this in terms of, I got out of submarines when I was a division officer and I just remember there were department heads that you could just tell they were exceptional division officers. And that skill set was the ability to just get things done and execute. But then, when they moved on to department head, the game changed. It was no longer about personal execution. It was about delegation, and about managing a team and about being able to distribute workload. And there were some department heads that just didn't make that shift well. That they were exceptional as division officers but when the game changed, they weren't able to change with it. And I was curious, how did the game change when he went from Pizza Hut to Frito-Lay? And then, again, how did that layout shift again when you went from Frito-Lay to Pepsi? I'm just curious, what skill sets were required that were very different as you took that step up each time?
28:31 SR: Well, contrary to what may seem obvious, the step from Pizza Hut to Frito was not nearly as difficult in terms of the nature of the job as it was from Frito to PepsiCo. And the reason for it is even though the businesses are dramatically different in consumer products, particularly with Frito-Lay, which is a completely vertically integrated business from you growing the seeds to the farmers growing the crops to the manufacturing of the product and the shipping of the product to the stores and actually putting the product on the shelves. It's a completely vertically integrated company completely owned by PepsiCo. And we are the largest commercial fleet in the country at the time. It's a big operation and it's very different than the nature of the restaurant but not as different as one would think because going back to an earlier conversation about what you like to do, what an individual likes to do, both jobs required the CEO to be the quarterback and you had functional experts surrounding you that you operate it together as a team.
30:02 SR: The nature of the business was different. The functions had different responsibilities but it was still basically a team effort. And that role of the CEO was the quarterback. Moving from Frito to PepsiCo was one that, frankly, I debated in my own mind quite a bit as to whether I could even do that job. And much like when you talked about your department head, I knew that I had had, up till that time, 25 years of experience in being a quarterback and really enjoyed it. That was what made me get up in the morning with excitement, was to find the mission, and setting the goals, and helping the team develop and grow, and selecting people, and helping them develop. That part I really enjoyed. Moving from Frito to PepsiCo was really moving from quarterback to coach. And the skills are very different. I wasn't sure that I could make that switch because one of the things about PepsiCo that I really appreciated, and one of the reasons I joined the company, is that the division presidents, the general managers, got to run their businesses.
31:32 SR: Wayne Calloway was my boss, both at Frito-Lay and at Pizza Hut when he was chairman, and he was a fabulous boss. And he was a great coach. He could have won a Super Bowl coaching a professional football team. There's no question in my mind 'cause, he's very technically competent. But he's a tremendous leader and motivator, and doesn't try to do the work for you. And I wasn't sure how I could actually make that change. I thought about it for a while. I didn't actually accept the position the first time it was put out there because I just wasn't sure that that was what I could, wanted to do, could do well, and would be successful in doing. And after thinking about it for a while I decided I'd make a shot at it. But I knew I had to change my style. I couldn't imagine the way I had, for all the years before, that I had to learn how to help other general managers, empower them and coach them, but not direct the individual efforts. So that was a huge change. Frankly, I admitted to my team then, when I bid the job at PepsiCo that, "I need your help to make sure that I could actually perform the way it needed to be done."
32:58 SR: So we had some interesting discussions about that from time to time, 'cause I'm sure I wasn't perfect at that kind of delegation, but it did work out and I loved that position and it was a completely different kind of experience, but one that I'd say that I don't think I had a job anywhere in my career that was as gratifying as being the CEO of PepsiCo. But it certainly wasn't what I had ever prepared myself to do.
33:28 JN: I admire so much about that, this willingness to get out of your comfort zone and really stretch in a role that you knew would be very demanding. One of the things I wanted to ask about is related to how you prepared for that role when you were saying you weren't sure if you had the abilities, or that you knew you needed to shift your leadership. I wanted to ask specifically about mentorship or anything else that helped you grow into that role, and I just know that even leading a small startup as CEO, it's very lonely, and it's very difficult to get that feedback and coaching that I've had in other roles. And it's caused me to have a lot of empathy for any commanding officer I ever served under, and kind of reviewing that role and thinking, "Man, if you're CO of a ship or of a unit, it's such an isolating location. And it's so difficult to get that mentorship to excel, and to expand, and continue to develop." And so, I'm wondering, when you are at the helm of PepsiCo, how did you seek out mentorship? And how did you get feedback on areas in which to grow?
34:36 SR: That's a really good question. I never thought of the job as being a lonely job, frankly. I did think about the importance of getting feedback, and developing, and there's many different ways of doing it. Certainly, creating an environment as best as you can, where your team will actually give you feedback is important, and if you have strong leaders in those positions, they will. And they did for me. It wasn't always easy to hear. I'm sure I wasn't always receptive to it, but certainly the team feedback was important. The board is... I had a fabulous board of directors and got tremendous, both collective and individual coaching from them both, mostly when I asked for it. But sometimes it came even when I didn't ask for it, but that is another source. But one that I really enjoyed was shortly after I got into the position, I realized that there were several of us in the same geographic area of Westchester County, New York City area, that had similar backgrounds.
36:00 SR: Several of us came into our roles, having had a long career at the company, taking over successful companies from charismatic predecessors we had in common. There were four of us that sort of formed this quarterly CEO group and we'd dinner together, we'd rotate around the different places in Hanover. Sam Palmisano, who had recently taken over the CEO of IBM, and Ken Chenault, who had recently taken over American Express, and Jeff Immelt, who had recently taken over GE. We all became CEOs within six month of each other, and we had then and still do have a friendship. I don't get together with them in the same way, 'cause Jeff and Ken are still in the job, and Sam and I are both retired, but we still see each other socially, and serve on boards together and so forth. But that was really helpful, because we weren't in competing industries and we had similar problems and challenges, and we could sit around and talk about 'em, we trusted each other to keep the confidences when we did that.
37:08 SR: Those were some of the areas, and then the last one I'd offer is something I suggest a lot to students, and that is to have a personal board of directors. People who you have close personal relationships with and, in many cases, have had it for a long time, who are willing to hold you accountable for what you say you wanna do. In my case, the chairman of that group was my wife, who... We've been married for 42 years, and she's not bashful in giving me advice, and keep holding me accountable. There were several other important people in my life, who have served in that role. I think that whole concept of a personal board of directors is really, really important.
37:54 SR: And not to belabor this question, but I'll just end with my point of view from having watched many leaders over my career, now that I'm at an age where I can look back and say that I've certainly seen a lot. And in my own challenges, I think the biggest single area that leaders need to really be thoughtful about, that is their own personal conduct, and their own personal character, and their own accountability. Because the biggest failures and the ones that are the most costly to the companies, to the families, to the associates of the companies, are personal failures that are often brought around by leaders who lose accountability and lose perspectives. And it's oftentimes not technical competence, it's more moral and character competence, and the execution that causes the problems. So long winded answer to your question, Justin.
38:57 JN: No, that's great. And I appreciate it as well, and that last lecture, your comments on character and this moral compass that guides you. And maybe this relates to the next question, 'cause I wanted to ask kind of three aspects about leadership. I was curious, what leadership trait that you learned in the military, that you try to retain in your civilian career and strengthened you? But then, second, if there was anything in terms of leadership that you learned in the military, that you actually feel like you had to change when you got out, that you actually had to let go of and modify to succeed? And then lastly, if there was any leadership trait that you developed after the military that was really critical to your success in your civilian career?
39:49 SR: Well, there's a lot in that question, that series of questions. But I would start off by saying, I don't think that in my own experience of reflecting back in my own background and thinking about it in today's context, I don't think there's any difference in the basic, the most basic characteristics of leadership in the military or in the civilian world. I think they're just almost identical. The crucible of testing those characteristics are sometimes different, but the characteristics themselves are the same. And people sometimes think of them different, because they have a false understanding that say, for instance, in the military you just order people to do things and they get them done. That's no more true in the military than is in civilian life. It doesn't work that way. People don't respond, now in combat, that maybe a different situation, but it really isn't, because at the end of the day, if teams are well trained and there's a good communication and a good respect, then the relationships and the decisions, and the way they're carried out are very, very much the same.
41:07 SR: I think that part of your questions were how do you develop as a leader over time, I think whether you stay in the military or you get out, certainly as you grow, you have a different perspective on yourself and on life. But I don't think the most fundamental aspects of leadership are different. And for me, I saw these in the military, and I've seen them in the civilian world. One is what we just mentioned, character. And what is the moral compass? What are the traits and habits that a leader has that is so important to be able to get others to follow? We could go deep in that character, but I, for the sake of time, I won't. The second piece is competence. And competence, certainly in the military, you learn the importance of confidence and you're provided with training and testing and technical capabilities, and that's certainly important.
42:12 SR: The second part of competence is experience. You put the two things together. You take technical competence and capability and intellect, and you put it together with experience, and that's the picture of true competence. And I think it's so true in the military as well as it is in the civilian world. Many mistakes that have been made in the last decade and failures of business have been made. They've been characterized often by failure in character, and sometimes that's true. But oftentimes their failure in competence that ends up sometimes looking like character. So for instance, if a leader is not competent in accounting and understanding what's accepted in accounting, you can make huge errors that look like they're character, and maybe one way of looking at it would be character. But really it's not having competence. And it's extraordinarily important.
43:25 SR: The third area is commitment, and just being committed to the associates you work with, the mission of the organization, and the goals that you set. We talked earlier about grit. It's that ability to get knocked down and get up. And it's the strength of character that just committed to a vision and getting it done.
43:54 SR: And then the fourth one is compassion. And that's really caring for the people around you. Some people think compassion is part of character and it is. But I think the whole area of people and having the focus on others is so important it justifies being called out separately than just being a part of character. So those are the four C's that I think about in leadership: Character, commitment, compassion, and competence, that are just critical in any aspect of a successful life.
44:38 JN: That's great. One of the many reasons I was excited to connect was your most recent experience at Wake Forest, and just how you went from industry then to the front lines of education. I'm wondering how the landscape has changed now. Or maybe put a different way, if you were starting all over again right now and you were just leaving the Marine Corps, is there any way in which you'd approach your career differently today than you did when you first started out?
45:14 SR: Good question. First of all, I don't spend a lot of time looking back. I don't know if that's a fault or not, but I don't, and I don't second-guess. So I haven't given a lot of time to that, the nature of that question, primarily 'cause I consciously try to look forward. What am I gonna do next? Where am I gonna make a difference? What am I called to do going forward and use the experiences of the past? So I don't really think I have much of a substantial answer to your question. I'm sure on the edge there's things I would probably do differently, but not significantly. So maybe I would've gone straight to business school instead of had a year detour at IBM, but I learned a lot at IBM, and I met some great people. I worked for a tremendous organization. It wasn't a fit for me in the sense of what I really wanted to do and the passion that I had, but I don't regret it. So for what it's worth, that's just who I am. I think everybody's different and you have to understand yourself to be able to make decisions. But for me looking back has just never been something that has been very fruitful.
46:41 JN: No, I think that's great. And I think it's probably one of those things, too, if you're happy with where you're at right now, you realize everything, the good and the bad and mistakes and everything together, that all culminated in where you're at now, and you can't really pick and choose and remove or extract any of that. One thing I wanted to touch on as well is the fact that you've been married for 42 years. That, in many ways is even more of an accomplishment than everything you've done in your professional life. It's just so rare to hear that now. And for those who are listening, who are in a partnership, I'm just wondering if you have any advice on what you've learned in 42 years of marriage, and how to make that work, and how to make that something that's vibrant.
47:27 SR: One of the questions that I used to get often when I was in the business school world recently, and I get it in the professional groups that I speak to, as well. In fact, I spoke recently to a Harvard class of middle managers and we spent most of our time together talking about the subject and it has to do with balance. I think it is a struggle that every leader has about the balance that you have in your life. And I don't have a silver bullet answer. But I think it's something that it's important to think about and it's important to have, to find boundaries that you have developed for your life and consciously thought about. Don't often live up to them but you at least have define them. And in my case, I think about it like a pendulum in a clock. Then if you think about the pendulum passing through the center point for a fleeting moment as it goes back and forth from one side or the other, that's sort of the way I think of balance in my life.
48:37 SR: I think there are fleeting moments when I'm totally balanced but they don't last very long. To me the secret in that is, one, to have your purpose in life well understood so that you can calibrate this balance, and then, secondly, what does that really mean. And, to me, I visualize it like keeping the pendulum or the arc of the pendulum in a defined space and not going from one end to the other. Probably, many people that are gonna listen to this have never watched the pendulum of the clock 'cause that's an old thing, but in the old days, if you had a pendulum clock and the arc went too far, the weight fell off. I remember I had a cuckoo clock and that's what used to happen. If the arc got too wide, the thing would just fall off.
49:31 SR: And that's what life is like. If you get that arc too wide, your life is not gonna work. What does that mean? Just to bring it down to a graphical example. Oftentimes I run into people who say, "Well, I have balance in my life. I'll go off for two or three weeks and be away from home and then I'll be home for the weekend." Well, that may work for some people but it doesn't work very often for families because kids aren't gonna wait until you're home for two days to save up all the things they wanna talk to you about and the times they wanna be with you and the games that they have. You have to be there in the moment or you've missed it. So defining that pendulum is, with your significant other and with your kids, if they're in the picture, and with parents, is really an important piece. In my way of thinking, it's, on a day-to-day basis, it may not always be perfect, but if it's not working on a week and then a month and then a six-month and then a year basis, it's probably a problem. I think that idea of developing the appropriate balance for your life is something worthy of someone's time and thought.
51:06 JN: That's great. Well, there's a hundred other questions I could ask but I know we're short on time and I always like to leave the last question just to turn the tables. And I know that I have asked a lot of questions but knowing that you have an audience of people on active duty and other veterans who have transitioned already for their civilian career, is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you'd want to share with them, advice on personal life or professional life or anything we haven't covered?
51:39 SR: Well, I'd start by saying for the people that are listening who have served and who are serving, I thank you for your service to our country and for your willingness to do that and my hope is that, in that service, you've learned and benefited from it and I suspect you benefited a lot more than you think you have. This goes back as long as I can remember. I think most of us in the military underestimate the value that we bring to the civilian world either while we're in the military, serving in our communities or after we get out. I'll never forget when I made the decision to get out and went to my commanding officer, a tremendous leader, wonderful person, who went on to be a three-star General. But he was really, I think, convinced that a military background, that you are just not gonna survive and succeed in the civilian world and that's just not true. And it's certainly not true today. Your service is more valuable to your potential future opportunities in the economy than they have ever been.
52:56 SR: When I got out during the Vietnam era, we were sort of in a downturn of how people thought about military service. But clearly now, the service to our country is valued and companies are looking for great leaders that can come in and bring the servant leadership that the kind of care for people that military leaders have been developed to do. So, my message, my single message would be, "You are lot more valuable, a lot better, a lot more capable than you probably think you are and don't ever lose confidence."
53:34 JN: That's great, Steve. Well, I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me. I just appreciate all the words of wisdom and just also the example that you are to a lot of veterans who aspire to that pinnacle of leadership in the civilian sector. So thank you for the work that you have done and thank you for your time today.
53:53 SR: Great. Take care, Justin. I've enjoyed it.
54:02 JN: Thanks for listening. Before you go, three important announcements. First, if you believe in what I'm doing and believe in supporting veterans in their careers, please, please, please help me spread the word. The best way I know to do that right now is by taking 18 seconds to write a review on iTunes. It would mean a lot. Second, based on my interviews, I'd advise any and all veterans to look at service2school.org and the American Corporate Partners. Both are completely free for veterans and give you a lot of great resources for your education or professional life, respectively. Third, there are a ton of other great interviews, resources, and data at beyondtheuniform.io. Check it out, share it with your friends, and drop me a line if you have any feedback, because I'd love to hear from you. Thanks, and see you on the next interview.
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JUSTIN NASSIRI: Hey there listeners, this is Justin with a quick note before today's episode. Audible.com is offering Beyond The Uniform listeners one free audio book. You can see this offer, as well as a list of every book guests have recommended on the show, at beyondtheuniform.io/books. That's, beyondtheuniform.io/books. Thanks, and enjoy the show. Welcome back to Beyond The Uniform. I'm Justin Nassiri and each week I interview military veterans about their civilian career. Today's episode, #43, with Chris Pestel.
CHRIS PESTEL: From the process of going through West Point and then being an officer and then deciding where you're going to go next, one of the things that's first told to you is, that once you do that you can do whatever you want. You basically can write your path. I think I took that to heart. If I can do whatever I want, this is what I want to do. Again, it was a thing where I'd picked up a camera. I started photographing a few things and really, really enjoyed it. It was very intuitive and I liked that. It was the closest thing I had found to playing sports to where it was develop the muscle memory and then just let that instinctive ability take over. You get lost in the flow of what's going on. I really, really wanted to keep doing that. If I got to choose what I could do, that's what I wanted to do. That's how I found myself in that situation and then just dove neck deep in it and tried to figure it out.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: This is my 53rd episode with Beyond The Uniform and I have to admit it's probably my favorite interview to date. Chris is an incredible human being and I found his story very inspiring. If that's not enough reason to listen, here are my top four reasons to listen to today's show. Number one, courage. Chris left the Army to become a photographer. I found it difficult to dive into entrepreneurship and that was from business school in the Bay Area where start-ups are very normal. Chris, on the other hand, took a leap of faith to follow his passion. Initially he had to tell people to ignore his background in education in order to consider him for jobs for which he seemed overqualified. And it worked. He owns his own company and has worked with both Playboy and ESPN. Two, do what you know. There was no road map for Chris. He talks about how he took baby steps to start with what he knew and then worked tirelessly to fill in the gaps. Three, Craft. Chris is a case study in honing one's craft. He talks about it in a way that could benefit a listener in any industry, how he immersed himself, surrounded himself with the community, researched in the library and more. Number four, don't panic. Chris went from earning $75,000 a year in the Army to $19,000 a year initially.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: He talks about making sacrifices to get to where you want to go and the difference between patience and panic. As always at beyondtheuniform.io, you'll find other great episodes and resources, including show notes to links to all the things we talk about in this episode. So let's dive in to my interview with Chris Pestel. Joining me today outside of Chicago is Chris Pestel. Chris, welcome to Beyond The Uniform.
CHRIS PESTEL: Thank you for having me.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: So quick bio for listeners. Chris is the founder of Pestel Photography. He's worked as a freelance photographer for ESPN for nearly nine years now. He started out at West Point after which he served as an Army officer for five years. After his transition he started out as a photographer at Carolina Sports before moving on to Playboy Enterprises as a junior designer and photo editor. He's also served as the Director of Public Relations for his high school Alma mater, Montini Catholic. Chris has run his company, Pestel Photography for over nine years making him on the verge of the 4% of entrepreneurs who keep their company running for 10 years. First thing I always like to ask is if you could take us back to when you knew you were going to leave the Army and how you approached that decision?
CHRIS PESTEL: It was probably about six months out, in the Fall about 2007 was when I really first picked up a camera with the intention of doing that as a career. It was a matter of just picking up a camera and not looking back. I had put my paperwork in about a year out. I knew I was getting out. For the majority of the time that I was in, I was a single father and so I knew pretty quickly that it was going to be about a five year plan to stay in the Army and then move on to something else. Like I said, within that six months was really the window with which I decided what my path was gonna be and here we are, eight plus years later and I'm still shootin.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: And that was one of the things I was really excited to learn. So you said about a year before you got out was when you picked up the camera with the thought of doing it professionally. Had you been doing photography your whole life, or when did you first get into photography?
CHRIS PESTEL: That's been an interesting re-discovery for me. The photography aspect of it was here and there, but never really a focal point at any point in time. In about 2003 I picked up a Poloroid camera and used that kind of extensively for the last year, year and a half of West Point and I actually took a creative writing class. I was a Art Philosophy and Literature Major at West Point. We had a creative writing class and in that I talked quite a bit about the desire to capture imagery from a story telling perspective. I didn't realize that until maybe about two years ago when I was going back through old papers. And so it's been this process of kind of connecting the dots to some past points in my life to where this desire to do this was springing up but not quite taking hold yet. And the photography aspect, it was a new thing basically.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: I was just really excited. So Annie Taft, who's also been on the show connected us, and I was just very excited 'cause it's such a different career path that you've chosen and I'm wondering was that difficult when you made that decision was there, were you just immediately all in or was there some inner doubt or people trying to talk you out of this or what was that decision process like when you did say, "Hey I'm gonna actually give this a go?"
CHRIS PESTEL: One of the things that gets fed to you a lot, from the process of going through West Point and then being an officer and then deciding where you're gonna go next. One of the things that's first told you is that once you do that, you can do whatever you want. You basically can write your path, and I think I took that to heart. Where it was like, if I can do whatever I want, this is what I want to do. It was again, it was a thing where I picked up a camera, I started photographing a few things. I was working as a door guy at a small, small music venue in South Carolina and once the initial rush of the door kind of subsided, I would take the camera and start photographing the acts, the musicians, and really, really enjoyed it. And it was this thing that it was very intuitive and I liked that. It was the closest thing I had found to playing sports, to where it was develop the muscle memory and then just let that instinctive ability kinda take over and you kinda get lost in the flow of what's going on. I really, really wanted to keep doing that. If I got to choose what I could do, that's what I wanted to do. And so, that's how I found myself in that situation and then just dove neck deep in it and tried to figure it out.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: That's so awesome. When you separated then, I know you went on to work at Carolina Sports, how did you navigate? Take me from when you got out of the military 'till you started at Carolina Sports, how did you find that?
CHRIS PESTEL: Okay. So, like I said I had about a six month window where I was like, "Okay, what do I do? Where do I go? Who do I talk to?" And I had come across this photography clinic and I had been an athlete my entire life and so the advice that writers always get is you write what you know, and so I just kinda transposed that over to photography and I said, "Well, I'm gonna shoot what I know." And so it wasn't a real desired outcome to be shooting sports team or the team portrait stuff, but I knew it was an arena that I was comfortable in. And so, I just went and did a little bit of research. Found a company that basically had a strangle hold on all of the athletics throughout the State of South Carolina and went on a shoot with the owner of the company, he was going up to Clemson and he had this, he had an air... He was a pilot too. And so we jumped in his plane from the little regional airport, flew up to Clemson, photographed the team, I was like, "I'm in. When can I start." And he goes, "When are you done with the army?" I'm like, "Done on April 15." He's like, "Okay, you can start on April 16." And I was like, "Okay." I had about 45 days of terminal leave saved up. And I went to work, I signed out at about 2:00 on a Monday and I went to work on a Tuesday. I made the transition from making, I don't know it was, I was probably making close to 70-75,000 as the captain with BAH to making $19,000 and didn't care.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Man, there's so much I love about what you said. One of the things that jumps out at me as your talking is, so many people that I've interviewed have gone on much more traditional paths of business and things like that. And even for them it's such a, coming from the military it's such a jumping off point of like, what do I do and who do I talk to and who are my role models. And it seems like you made a jump even further by comparison where there's not a lot of role models and a lot of guidance and so I really like what you were saying about do what you know, you took that baby step in the direction of what was familiar enough to find your own way and I just admire the willingness to jump off to take that pay cut to have alignment of something you were just really passionate about. I think that's very rare that people have the courage to do that. So next thing I wanted to ask about, so you're at Carolina Sports, you've taken this pay cut but you're just completely passionate about this. What did your day-to-day life look like? What does it look like to be a photographer in a sports team like that?
CHRIS PESTEL: You'd show up, it's somewhere in the morning time, depending on what the shoot that day required. And you'd hop in one of the company vehicles, you drive to some corner of South Carolina usually after school because it's when the majority of the shoots would take place. And you'd be there from about 3:30 to about 5:00 maybe shooting anywhere from one team to six or seven teams in a day. And hop back in the car, head back to the office, maybe download the images right then and there or maybe you'd do it the next morning before you go out to your next shoot and kind of repeat the process. And so, it was monotonous to a certain degree, but it was very different being presented with a lot of different challenges on a daily basis, from who to coordinate it with, with the schools, is it a coach? Is the athletic director? Is the athletic director in tune with the coach? And so there's a lot of potential pitfalls there, and then on top of that, then you don't know what, you shooting inside or you shooting outside? Is the gym well lit? Is the gym poorly lit? Is there a big mural that they wanna have in the background? Is there a big parking lot you wanna avoid?
CHRIS PESTEL: And it's a process of problem-solving on that daily basis which is, even though it was a monotonous sort of process, there was enough within that to keep it... It was a really good stepping stone for somebody who had never done it before because you learned how to problem solve quickly in the presence of all these other people. Sometimes you can get into a studio situation where it's just you and a still life or you and a model or a subject or whatever, and you can slowly go through it. But when you've got a line of 75 kids that are all high school learners, all talking and then you got a coach that doesn't want practice to be interfered with, it's a different beast and it's... It doesn't sound like a lot, but when all that's thrown at you and then you got to collect the forms, and you're taking all that time, there's quite a bit to it. And it takes a little bit of time to figure all that out. So, it was a good...
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Yeah I imagine... You know when I was... Yeah, When I was thinking of your bio, I was thinking it seems like you're getting your reps in, you're getting the practice, you're building up the different muscles that you need to perfect and hone this craft. And I was wondering as we're doing this, was it a 100% on the job getting experience, or were you trying to learn Photoshop through a class or online? Or how did you go about building up all the components that you needed to be successful?
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah, it was a full-fledged, like I said, immersion. Everything from, what you were doing that day and that day's shoot, to assessing that day's shoot and trying to learn from it, to spending the evenings going to bookstores or the library. Library was my best friend, I'd go there and I would just, anything on any subject that related to it, whether it was photography specifically, or design, or any number, anything from, everything from film... The different languages of visual storytelling, and web design and graphic design, it was pulling all these different things together, and, to create your own education for it.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: And, especially if someone's listening, and they're liking this path that you've forged, is there any particular books or resources specifically that stand out to you that you would recommended to them that would be a great resource for them in learning more about this?
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah, there are. I've used linda.com quite a bit. There's so many different angles you can take to try to learn something there, and I know with a lot of public libraries, or community college libraries, you get that for free with it. So it's invaluable in that sense. If you gotta pay for it, it can be a little bit expensive, anywhere from like 20, 25 bucks a month or something like that. But I know it's a really great resource and there's endless topics there, but as far as a book goes, the book I always recommend is Stephen King's memoir on writing, which is a little bit... Not quite a photography manual, but if you go through that book and you substitute writing with photography, it works about 95% of the time. And it's a fantastic resource for voice and for vision and for... I've always taken a little bit more of a storytelling approach to photography, and so that was a big help for me, was that book. And it's again, also anything that has to do with visual arts I think can apply, so it's, I don't really recommend a photography book because a lot of em are manuals and technical. And I try to stay away from that, 'cause that's one of those things again, you learn by doing a lot, with a lot of that.
CHRIS PESTEL: And you can learn by doing and then supplement that with technical manuals and learning all about shutter speed and aperture and ISO and those things. But those other aspects are the ones that really... I think they're harder to come by in resources.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: I read Stephen King's on writing as well, and one of the things that stands out to me most, and I think this applies to entrepreneurship as well as arts in different fields. But he described this loft he lived in and they had this board across the roof and this inch-and-a-half thick nail, and he got his first rejection letter and slapped it up there, and he said by the time he was finally had just an article in a magazine published, that inch-and-a-half or two-and-a-half-inch nail was full, just completely full of rejection letters. And I think it's just such a powerful example for anyone who forges their own way or takes a risk of just how much rejection you need to be willing to face. And I think I grew up, I love Stephen King and I just grew up assuming he just wrote and was successful. And to realize, like the amount of adversity and challenge and rejection he faced and overcame and persisted with, is really inspiring and I think it's such a good valuable lesson for anyone to know that that's the attitude you have to go in with.
CHRIS PESTEL: Yes, I've conducted a photo-a-day project for the past almost two years now and probably within the first three weeks or so actually started reading that book in conjunction when I started it. And so day 15, 16 or 17, somewhere along that lines, it's that quote, it says, "I replace the nail with a spike and kept on writing." Or the [0:19:01.3] ____ crumbled up piece of paper. Again, it's the writing, the drawing, painting, the business you're creating, just replace whatever it is you do with what you do with writing and it makes sense. And it's about forging and forging on ahead despite all the people that say no and/or say that you're doing it wrong or that's what you're gonna do. It's not easy. A lot of people have circumstances around that doing alone to do that, but, I think a lot of us have the right circumstances for stepping off and taking that risk. And if you're looking for the perfect scenario, you might not ever find it.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: That's great. And so, you're at Carolina Sports, how do you make the transition to Playboy? It seems like in some ways it's a different subject material and then it's also going from a relatively smaller company to, I imagine, one of the more difficult organizations to get through to.
CHRIS PESTEL: Yes. I stayed at Carolina Sports for about a year. I left in May and by the time that next June rolled around, I'd already developed the relationship at ESPN. So I would commute from South Carolina every so often back home to Chicago and would shoot for the ESPN the local radio station, some of their events and what not. And came home one time and found out that the Blackhawks, the Chicago Blackhawks were hiring a team photographer. And so I put in a word with, that I was interested in that through some of the people at ESPN and whether that helped or not, I ended up getting... I got an interview and flew home just for that. And it was in the process of doing that that I realized I needed to be back home in a bigger market. There would be more photographers in that bigger market but there would also be more opportunity.
CHRIS PESTEL: And moved back home, went to that interview, didn't get it, but then tried to figure out what to do next. And so, it was a process of, "Well, if I wanna do something, you're supposed to go to school for it." And so I went to... I took a couple of classes, couple of semesters worth of classes at a community college in hopes of developing a creative community for me to be a part of. I knew that that was probably really extremely important because the communities I had previously, be it, West Point, in the Army, we're not filled, the ranks weren't filled with other creative people who had kind of done or were doing what I was doing. And so it's a little bit of a challenge and so I said, "Well, let me go see if I can create this other community."
CHRIS PESTEL: So took two semesters worth of classes. And in the summer of, it would have been 2010, I had decided to stop the community college route and took what would have been an internship, 'cause I wasn't taking classes, I was just volunteering basically at a local newspaper, a suburban newspaper. And after about a week of doing that, I found a listing for a job opening at Playboy. And I had been shooting my high school's football team on that previous fall and had come across a guy who actually graduated from the high school on the sideline of the State championship game, and he was a senior photo editor at Playboy. Now, we shared the commonality of both being photographers. We shared the commonality of both graduated from a catholic high school.
CHRIS PESTEL: And within a moment, after meeting him and then seeing that job opening, we then shared the distinction of both working at Playboy which was kinda interesting. And it was a matter of forging that relationship by being out and shooting. It was that act of being on the sideline of a football game and putting a project together that he became aware of me. And then, the stars aligned and then I was able to get my foot in the door there. So simultaneously, I was taking basically two... I was doing basically two internships. The job at Playboy was, I was making $8.25 an hour working three days a week in conjunction with volunteering at this suburban newspaper. So that's what my career looked like at that point in time. The work I was doing for ESPN was far and few between and maybe once a month. Maybe at that time, it was once every other month. It wasn't like that was a big pay day there. It was just some consistent work that I had come across.
CHRIS PESTEL: And so, at one point in time I was working for free at one hand and then making $8.25 an hour working at Playboy. And I came in as a photo editor and it was a really interesting interview there because they looked at my resume and they said, "Why are you applying for this?" And I basically had to tell them, "Can you please ignore where I went to school and ignore my job history in the army and don't tell me what I want, cause I want to get my foot in the door here." And yeah you're right, the subject matter... Subject material was not... It was... I wasn't in glamour photography. I had no interest in that sort of output, but getting a foot in the door at a company like that was of very much... That was a lot of interest to me.
CHRIS PESTEL: And it was through that process of being a photo editor, being on the other side of the camera then that it opened my eyes to the idea that as a photographer your creative process stops when you take a picture for the most part. Your process is over. And then for me at the photo editor side or for the layout designers that were in our department. Our process just began. And so, there was this really interesting realization of how the creative process works from start to finish. And I was able to turn that three day a week into four days a week pretty quickly. And was able to... I got a promotion within the first few months of being there, and then I was working as an image technician doing retouching. And then, through the process of them downsizing, they let go of one of their layout designers and they asked me to fill in the void.
CHRIS PESTEL: And so again, right place right time, but also the ability to take that chance and... Yeah, I know how to do that or I can learn it. And that was probably the biggest thing was that they took a chance that he can learn how to do it, and I did. I ended up getting... I was there for about two years and in those two years I actually... While people were getting laid off and the art was getting taken off the walls and the office was getting boxed up I was... I managed to squeak out two promotions. So that was kinda interesting. And so I ended up walking away with not only a photo credit in a Playboy magazine but also as a layout designer. And I never... I don't know I was... It was... And that still kind of baffles me that that happened that way, but it doesn't make any sense because the next job I took was at my Catholic high school as a communications director, so that's a lot of different 180s there that you pull...
CHRIS PESTEL: It's that flexibility that kind of figure out what the common thread is through all that. And that can be tough especially when you're changing jobs and you've got these full-time to part-time positions that are in the same world as being a photographer but not maybe not fully being a photographer. And that's what Playboy was. I wasn't a photographer there. It was an interesting dynamic. But I shot still, I was able to photograph some freelance jobs in conjunction with that being a part time position.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: And I love this theme of immersion though. Where you immerse yourself and you're at your high school and you're immersing yourself in this field, in this community, and because of that it seems like these connections form where you're just living and breathing this so you find these connections that lead from one opportunity to the next. What was day-to-day life like at Playboy? What would be a typical day?
CHRIS PESTEL: So I worked in the department called Special Editions. And we had... We were an autonomous unit under the Playboy umbrella. And we weren't the main magazine, we were a subset magazine, and it was nothing but pictorials. So it was very much like a... We completed, I think it was, two sometimes three magazines a month, we would have put together. They were about... They were 96 page magazines and we did everything from start to finish. And so, those magazines were filled... The pages were filled through a casting call. And so, part of our department would go out to a new city once a month and conduct a casting call. Images would come back, that's what my initial job was, was to help our editors, our executive editors, help them get all those images together so that they could process them and figure out who they would then give a call back to, and then setup a photo shoot with one of the freelance photographers.
CHRIS PESTEL: They would shoot those... They would do those shoots, and those images would come back and then they would go to the layout designers and the image technicians. And so, you would prepare those images and then all the while you're... There's a theme in mind for each issue and so it was just from one month to the next, that process kind of repeated itself. And it was great because like I said, I was able to be a part of just about every step of that process, and never really picking up a camera. But bringing all of the photographic knowledge that I had to the table of being a photo editor or a designer. Again that's worth... And I talked before about how when I would go to the library and you would just gather things that looked interesting to you. Not necessarily, I wanna learn how to be a photographer, looking at a photography book. It's about learning visual language and that's what that job also taught me, was that the visual language, there's more of it beyond the actual task of taking a photo.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: I'm just trying to put myself in your shoes. You're going down this path initially of photography. You're always taking photos, then this incredible opportunity of Playboy pops up, and it's more on the editing side. Was there a part of you that was like, "Oh, I want to stay behind the camera, and therefore, this might be not what I want." Or was there more excitement of like, "Yes, I get to build out another skill set and build up another muscle I haven't used." I'm just wondering if there's that hesitation of doing something that wasn't a 100% in the direction you were originally going?
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah. At first, my initial response was, no, there was no concern at all. But then as I started to be there a little bit longer, my day-to-day was not photographing, that's when I decided that I might commute. I daily commute. I would take a train into the city every day. And I'd have a two-mile walk to more offices. That's when I started doing street photography. It was this process of, again, supplementing the day-to-day work, with basically a personal project, because I wasn't obligated to anybody, and any of those images. It was all just for me. It became an outlet. And the really great thing about doing street photography, especially in a bustling city like Chicago is that, it was never sit around in a place and photograph. It was always just on my walk. People were coming one way, and I was going the other, and it was a matter of just kind of trying to capture something out of the chaos of those movements everyday. And it's not all that much different than shooting sports photography, because there's this thing that's happening, and it's gonna happen whether you're there or not, and it was about timing.
CHRIS PESTEL: It was about knowing what the camera's gonna see. Most of the street photography that I did was shooting from the hip. It wasn't with the camera up to my eye. And it was a really, again, it was a really great lesson to learn, because I was able to shoot, and learn what my camera was seeing, without the obligation of what the output needed to look like. I could shoot for two, three week and not get a single image, but it didn't matter. But I was getting those reps in, those being like, we did talk of for getting those repetitions in. And it was about building muscle memory. So then if I was ever in a situation shooting a game or an event or whatever, and I know that I need to get that shot, but I can't have my camera to my eye, I know what it's gonna give me. You will see, those sporting events where a photographer is holding the camera up above their head, and people are like, "They don't even know what they're getting." Yeah, they do. They know what they're getting.
CHRIS PESTEL: They actually do know what they're getting. If their good, they know what they're getting.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Do you have mentors or role models in photography? I'm just kind of trying to construct this image of going from the army and choosing a career that is just... It has so little in common, at least from my perspective. It seems like so little in common, and I'm just very impressed with this immersion that is in the library, on the walk to work, just constantly finding ways to hone this craft. And I'm curious if mentors or role models, have in some way, influenced you as well, or other ways, you've kind of sought to forge this path through this unknown territory.
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah. That was one of the things that actually peaked my interest initially about photography, was that I... There was this concept of, "The Apprentice and The Mentor." And when I first started getting into it, there were a lot of people that were kinda like, "This is on its way out." Probably, like the old guard was kind of, "Well, digital's gonna take over and ruin it." I never really... I kind of got that like, "Old cranky man," feeling from a lot of people that I first originally kind of reached out to, and that wasn't the attitude I had. I had a very green, excited attitude. And for the most part, that hasn't really left. I still kind of feel that way. I still feel pretty good about... I don't get worried about those aspects of it. But I find that, more than anything, it's other art forms that I look to. More so, than another person. I'll look to other visual medium. Film, or maybe more the language of film. Or the language of comic books.
CHRIS PESTEL: The language of graphic design. I look to those things, be it for inspiration. I think maybe because the idea that I had that opportunity of being behind a camera, and then working at a magazine where I wasn't behind the camera. And it was more like a directorial approach, and understanding that big, wide realm of a film maker, is more of what I was more interested in, rather than how to get a specific photograph. Pretty early on, when I was making the decision to be a photographer, I had some people that would ask, "Oh, what's that mean, five, 10 years down the road? What's the big picture?" And everything. I remember saying very specifically that, "There's a chance that I won't always be a photographer, but right now I feel like that's gonna get me to the next thing." I've always had kind of an openness with it. I kind of fought the idea of labelling myself as something specific. Just because people make a lot of preconceived notions about that.
CHRIS PESTEL: You tell me you're a photographer. They almost immediately think I take family photographs, family portraits, or shoot weddings. I have nothing against those things but that's just not what I'm really all that interested in. It becomes this process of once you get into that world, then you have to defeat that stigma. It's, "Well, that's not what I do." and it's like, "Oh, okay, what do you do?" And then you can't even explain that. It can be difficult. So I've always taken an open approach to what it is I'm gonna be. Like I said, the photography led me to a magazine. So that's kinda why I was okay with it. But with that comes not a real strong sense of a specific mentor. I've reach out to people. I've built up a bit of a community of people I will reach out to if I'm trying to figure something out and there's a... That's been a little bit tough but they're out there and you just have to find them and find the right people. It's something I'm always still looking for. It's never too late to have one of those and that's how I look at it.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: That's awesome. How did you go about starting Pastel Photography then? At what point in the story do you decide to create your own organization?
CHRIS PESTEL: It was when I moved back to Chicago. And it was when I decided to go back to school. That's when that materialized. One of the first things I did, one of the books that I came across was some entrepreneur books. The more and more I dug in the idea of being an entrepreneur, the less I wanted to be that. There's the general census, "Automate as much as you possibly can. Scale, scale, scale." I wasn't interested in that. That was a tough thing to come to grips with trying to find your footing because you're a business but... I think Steven Pressfield wrote a book called "The War of Art." It's a little play on "The Art of War." It's a pretty good breakdown of some of the hang-ups you can get yourself into by trying to do something creative and have it be a business because you have to put...
CHRIS PESTEL: You gotta make money but you also... There's a weird thing that happens when you try to create stuff. When you're creating it and you're not being held obligated, there's no obligation, you create nice things. They're for yourself and then suddenly someone pays you for it. This weird collision that somehow stifles the... Or can stifle the process. It's a weird thing and I haven't figured it out totally but everyday I hopefully get a little better at walking that line. But I knew early on that taking myself seriously with what I was doing, be it at a small level, be it at a part time level. It was important to have that distinction if nothing else to have separate bank accounts. That was the driving force with it. It was really nothing more than that.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: I think that's so interesting. I do think about creativity a lot. I like what you said with a lot of entrepreneurship, there is this pressure to scale and monetize and it becomes a process and it starts to distance you from the active creation that I think attracts a lot of people initially. I don't know if you've ever read... Elizabeth Gilbert has this book called "Big Magic." And I just have found it. It's one of the few books that I've read multiple times but she talks about creativity and like you had said about Stephen King, it's mainly for writers but you can insert different art forms in there. Just all of these different ideas she has on how you feed creativity and how you can also kill creativity and a lot of that comes when you're putting pressure on your inspiration to generate money rather than just doing what it sounds like you've tried to align your life with, of enjoying the craft and creating for the sense of creating. And I think that's just the fascinating topic in general. I wanted to also ask about how you started with ESPN and it sounds like that preceded actually your work with Playboy. It sounds like it started a little bit slower and then ramped up. How did that initially take hold?
CHRIS PESTEL: My brother had been working as a part-time in their promotions department right out of college. So he was working there. They had a golf outing. They needed a photographer. I had just started doing that so they called me up, or he called me up and said, "Hey, can you come shoot this golf outing?" That golf outing led to another job later in the fall which led to something else. And then it started to... It was a good fit for everybody. It just took hold and like I said, I was able to photograph for them maybe once a month or so, maybe 10 times a year over the course of a few years. It's not as sexy as it sounds. It was a lot of just live broadcasts and I was able to get... Through that though, there were several situations that were kind of interesting, I was able to photograph ESPN's Mike and Mike, the morning show guys, as they threw out the first pitch at Wrigley. Was up in the booth with them when they sang the seventh inning stretch, and I did that for two or three years in a row. That was kind of cool, because when I was a kid, growing up in Chicago, being a Cubs fan, I remember I heard a story about Jim Abbott and he had written on a piece of paper, that one day, he'll play in the major leagues. And he had put it underneath his pillow every night. And I did that as a kid, as an 11, 12, 13, 14-year-old, whatever. And I had, "I'll one day play at Wrigley Field." And that was under my pillow.
CHRIS PESTEL: And I didn't play as a baseball player, but I got to go play as a photographer. That was one of those moments where it was kinda like, "Okay, cool." Like, this is, "Not everybody gets to go do that. The camera is starting to open up doors for me, to places I have wanted to go." And so, that was really cool. And the relationship with ESPN has stopped now, at this point. I moved on from those jobs, and so it's... It was a good thing to have, back in those days when I was working, either full-time or part-time, at a photo-centric job. And that became a job I would go and shoot every so often. And so, it was, again, even when I was working at... There was one day at Playboy where I worked at Playboy all day, and then, went to Wrigley Field, and shot there, and I was like, "Awesome! That's what my life is." [chuckle] It's like, "I'm every day at Playboy, and then I go to the field, go shoot at Wrigley Field." That was pretty cool, so...
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Looking back, in what ways do you think that your military service has helped you in this direction? And in what ways have you had to break habits from the military, in order to be successful in this?
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah. Yeah, it's a question, that comes up in different ways. Usually, when I see somebody I haven't seen for awhile, and they've been following what I've doing, and they're like, "Do you feel like you've made right decisions?" The way that you took the long way to get where you are, and... " I don't look at it that way. You hear people say like, "It's the journey that matters, not the destination." And it's like, it's all those experiences that I've gathered along the way, that have helped inform me as a photographer. So when you Google a photographer, or something like that, or you're searching for somebody, and you're gonna pick between one and the next, like, everybody's got good cameras. If you're, I would hope that most people that are presenting themselves as a professional are somewhat technically competent. So what's gonna be the differentiating factor? It's you as a person, and so, I get to bring all those past experiences with me to every shoot that I go on. And whether it comes up in small talk before the shoot, what my past was, or if it comes up after the fact, all of those things, they inform it, they help me produce. They help me forge those relationships.
CHRIS PESTEL: So the people skills that you're able to develop in the Army, the tenacity that you're able to develop, the work ethic, all of those things help differentiate you from being a flighty creative person. A lot of it, the biggest one is, for me, that through four years at an academy, and then, five years in the Army, you develop a sense of confidence. And you can't turn away from that path, unless you're confident. And so, I know that I made the right decisions, because I don't know if I would be where I'm at today, if I had gone to an art school, if I would have had the confidence to believe in myself to do it. So, going through those worlds, and developing a sense of confidence of who I am, it allowed me to take that path out of the military that was a little weird, or eyebrow-raising. Conversely, the things that haven't, the things I've had to break, that's also an interesting concept, in terms of... It's funny, because a lot of the things that would make me a competent creative person, such as the desire to be different, or an urge to buck a trend, those are the things that would not necessarily provide the best, "Oh, we are" bullet. So that's an interesting aspect, too, because, I was that way as an officer. And it didn't always, that outward appearance of that, didn't always play well.
CHRIS PESTEL: But I didn't necessarily believe in that part of me yet, when I was an officer. And so, it didn't play well. But I'm the same thing today was I was then, but now I'm, that same quality is a good thing today. But then it wasn't. That's a weird thing to have to learn about yourself, and that self-awareness of, "I need to be who I am, and frame it properly," and then it's gonna be a positive quality. Also, one I think that comes not so, that's something that's kind of defeated a lot, especially in a military environment, is the idea of being the loudest person in the room. The alpha-male, the aggressive kind of mentality that's kind of required in that world, and counter to that is, when you [0:47:52.8] ____ something, you're hoping that it connects with people.
CHRIS PESTEL: And sometimes, the best way to connect with people is not by being the loudest in the room, or being real aggressive. It's about being vulnerable, because people connect with vulnerability. But that's not really a great trait. Not that it's not a great trait, but it's a misunderstood trait, probably as an officer or someone who's supposed to be a leader is this idea of vulnerability, that's something that I've had to not necessarily defeat, but kind of just understand that's more of who I am, is putting myself out there in a way that's going to be vulnerable. You create something and put it out there, you're making yourself vulnerable, and that's not an easy transaction, no matter what it is. Sometimes you just have to embrace that. I just can't imagine that conversation happening in a professional development in the Army, being more vulnerable. That's a big difference between those worlds.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Man, I've asked this question now, I think this is the 47th interview. I think that's by far the best answer I've gotten. I think it's just so true. I think that there's so much of what you said that is so spot on and so good for any veteran or person in general to listen to. I personally believe the biggest gift any person can offer the world is just to know who they are and find a way to just own it absolutely. As you're saying that, it makes me realize I can see the way in which so many traits that will make us all successful in our civilian life, which is being who we are. In some ways, that can be suppressed in the military where there's this sense of uniformity and there's a very... There's just reasons for that, of being in extreme circumstances and having to lead in life or death situations. That liberating feeling when you're outside of that environment, to really just dig deep and figure out who you are and just really be that person. So I appreciate the way you put that. One more question before I turn things over to you for just any catch-all or anything we missed. If you were able to go back to when you just got out of the Army, knowing what you do now, what's one piece of advice you would give to yourself at that age about the career that you've set out on?
CHRIS PESTEL: I think it's about a realization of, there's a really fine line between patience and panic. And as you decide to make a jump, no matter what the jump is or how far the jump is away from what you were doing, there's that tendency that we have to get right back to the level we were at. So for instance, when you leave the military, you're trying to find a job that's gonna pay about the same or more than what you were making. It wasn't designed that way, but I had the opportunity to make a lot less, and that's a head scratcher for a lot of people. Then I took a job where I made 8.25 an hour, and that's a head scratcher to a lot of people. I don't know if those things are sustainable over the long-haul, but I'm still doing it almost a decade later. So I think I've been able to at least somewhat successfully walk that line of being patient without panicking, but at the same time too, whether it's a day-to-day thing, it teeters back and forth, aggressively sometimes. And so, I think I would try to find a way to tell myself about patience and panic.
CHRIS PESTEL: Sometimes you can tell somebody that the stove is hot, but they actually have to touch it in order to know that it is, and I think you need to allow yourself to be in some of those, if you have the ability, if you have the circumstances that allow you to do those things. Is to take that chance and don't be so worried about success coming in the form of a dollar sign. And to go out there and make something for yourself. That doesn't necessarily mean something creative. You could be building a company, you could be building an idea. But to make it for yourself, not for somebody else, not for an amount of money, and see where that takes you. I don't like that whole, "Oh, do what you love and the money will follow." You can do that, but that's kind of a recipe for a disaster.
CHRIS PESTEL: You've got to be a little bit more careful. Again, you've got to make sure that the circumstances that you have, or you have securities built in place. But I didn't either. I wasn't saving up to start a photography company coming out. And so, I was kind of forced into that world of dealing with that patience and that panic simultaneously. Yeah, I think that's a really hard thing to do because you wanna be real productive, you wanna get right back into it, you wanna go and get the MBA real quick and get this real quick and get that and get on to the next thing. I said it before about the journey being more important than the destination. I think that's kind of what helps you balance the patience with the panic, is that the moment you're in is the moment you're in and that's all you can really handle and take care of. And so having that mindfulness of the moment and that moment, if approached properly, can lead to another moment down the road. You start to piece together those things and you look back a couple years down the road and go, "Hey, I've made some steps." I might not be exactly where I wanna be, but I've made some steps in the right direction."
JUSTIN NASSIRI: That's awesome. Well, I know we're running short on time and I always like to leave the last word and the last chunk just to turn it over to you. And I know we've covered a lot about your history and your career, but anything we didn't cover that you wanted to share and just knowing you have this community of active duty and veterans listening, either about personal life or professional life, anything that we haven't covered that you'd wanna say?
CHRIS PESTEL: I don't know. I think we hit a lot of touch points along the way there, so there's nothing really standing out with it. Just take a chance, I think, is really the biggest takeaway is... If there's something you like doing, go try it. It is... Another cliche is it's never too late. Just 'cause you're reaching 30 or because you're reaching 35 or because you've already put time and effort into something doesn't mean you can't start over again. And I think there's a lot that can come from taking that chance and starting over. It's humbling, sure, but you never know until you start exploring those things, what things you wanted to do when you were 17, 18 and they come back and they smack you in the face and being like, "I guess I should have believed in that back then." 'Cause here it is again right in front of me. 'Cause when I left high school, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I wanted to go play division one football and I chose playing football at West Point. And that got me back to something very close to being a graphic designer.
CHRIS PESTEL: And again, like I said, along the way, I found these little things as I dug in my past that showed I was on the right... Not necessarily that I was on the right path, but this was something that was speaking to me my whole life. And so, it's now just a matter of time of me now believing in it, and going out there and trying to figure out how to make it happen.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Well, I have so much respect for the path that you've taken. In hearing your story, I hear so many echoes of my own decision to pursue entrepreneurship, but in comparison, I realize how much more... How many more people go down the entrepreneurship path than the path that you went down. And so I'm just replaying as you're talking, all these conversations I had of people doubting my decisions and kind of second-guessing me and just imagining how much more you've had to deal with on that. So I just have tremendous amount of respect for your willingness to kind of answer that call and that vocation. And it does seem like what you're doing is a calling. It's not just a job. It is something that just clearly lights you up as a person and it's so refreshing to hear your perspective on your journey and to see...
JUSTIN NASSIRI: You almost see this string of fate weave throughout your story of starting with graphic design and then things coming back full circle and it makes... It seems like the universe has just supported you in this decision that you've made and you've had the courage to continuously make decisions to go down that path when I'm sure it was far from clear in every step of the way. And so, I appreciate your time in the interview, but I also appreciate the example and role model you are to other veterans of being able to take that leap, and whether that's after 20 years of service or after five years of service, knowing it's never too late to identify that passion and to go after it and you can make that... You can make that happen, and so thank you for both of those.
CHRIS PESTEL: Yeah, you're welcome. Thank you.
S3: Surface, surface, surface.
JUSTIN NASSIRI: Thanks for listening. Before you go, three important announcements. First, if you believe in what I'm doing and believe in supporting veterans in their careers, please, please, please help me spread the word. The best way I know to do that right now is by taking 18 seconds to write a review on iTunes. It would mean a lot. Second, based on my interviews, I'd advise any and all veterans to look at servicetoschool.org and the American corporate partners. Both are completely free for veterans and give you a lot of great resources for your education or professional life, respectively. Third, there are a ton of other great interviews, resources, and data at beyondtheuniform.io. Check it out. Share it with your friends and drop me a line if you have any feedback, because I'd love to hear from you. Thanks and see you on the next interview.