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.