Author Archives: Greg Slamowitz

About Greg Slamowitz

Greg Slamowitz (www.gregslamowitz.com) is an entrepreneur, investor, author and speaker. He was a co-founder and former Co-CEO of Ambrose Employer Group, LLC, a professional employer organization (PEO), which was ranked among Crain’s New York’s list of the 50 fastest growing companies and was also recognized by the New York State Society for Human Resource Management as one of the “Best Companies to Work For in New York.” Greg co-founded Ambrose in 1997 with $95,000, never accepted outside funding, and sold Ambrose to Trinet (TNET) in July 2013 in a $200 million cash transaction. Greg has also invested in, and is on the board of, a number of early stage companies. Greg enjoys learning and teaching and has spent considerable time over the last several years meeting with entrepreneurs and business leaders and regularly presents his seminar, “Flip the Pyramid”, around the United States. Read about Greg’s presentation to the Morris (NJ) Tech Meetup. http://bit.ly/1rxbxB8 Greg’s book titled “Flip the Pyramid: How Any Organization Can Create a Workforce That Is Engaged, Empowered, Aligned and On Fire!” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes/iBooks. http://amzn.to/ZrNw8a Greg has also spent considerable time in Washington DC with members and staffers of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives educated them about the challenges to and solutions for America’s businesses. He was a board member and president of the his industry’s trade association and founded and led its political action committee (PAC). Greg was instrumental in the passage of the Small Business Efficiency Act. http://bit.ly/1vprSd1 Greg is passionate about helping America’s businesses focus on growth, profit, hiring and creating an awesome and healthy experience for each and every working American. Greg was the recipient of the 2001 Ernst & Young New York Entrepreneur of the Year® award in the employment services category. Greg also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for Emory University’s School of Law. Prior to co-founding Ambrose in 1997, Greg practiced tax law with Brown & Wood (now Sidley Austin Brown & Wood) in New York City. He holds two law degrees – a Master of Laws in Taxation from New York University School of Law, and a Juris Doctorate, with distinction, from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. He received his undergraduate degree, cum laude, from New York University. Please visit Greg’s website www.gregslamowitz.com, his LinkedIn Profile and Twitter @gregslamowitz His passions include developing highly functional organizations, engaged cultures, growth companies, health care and wellness, skiing and sailing (www.teammanitou.com)

James Marciano of Strategic Exit Advisors Interviews Greg Slamowitz

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Today I’d like to welcome my good friend, Greg Slamowitz, to E’s with X’s. Greg, thanks for joining us today.

 

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James, thank you for having me.

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Today we’re going to talk about Ambrose Employer Group, a company Greg co-founded and recently sold. Greg, please give our listeners some background on Ambrose.

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Sure, James. I founded Ambrose Employer Group 21 years ago with a good friend, John Iorillo. We were both practicing law with large New York City law firms and we were young associates, very unhappy and miserable in the practice of law.

I read an article about the professional employer organization businesses in the New York Times and it really intrigued me. I approached John and after a bit of discussion we decided to quit our jobs and go into the PEO business.

I have to say in retrospect, it was one heck of a leap of faith. We really did not know what we were doing and what we were getting into. We founded the company with $95,000 in 1997. We worked really hard, figured a lot of things out and I think we were very lucky. Right place at the right time. We were fortunate that we grew very rapidly very quickly.

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You had a special strategy around working with certain clients, didn’t you?

 

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Yes. We decided very early on to be a niche, very focused PEO.

From the beginning we focused on high-end, white-collar companies, particularly venture backed technology companies.

Later in our life cycle we built a huge practice around financial services, private equity firms, venture capital firms and hedge funds.

What that focus allowed us to do was to really deeply understand the needs of our client base and put in an incredible amount of effort to tailoring our service offering and our service platform to the needs of those types of companies.

Strategically that was our inside advantage and I think was the reason for our success.

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Also, you built a very special culture, which you wound up writing about in a book. Tell us more about that if you would.

 

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Absolutely. I tell that story in my book Flip The Pyramid. So we spent a lot of time thinking about whether customers come first or our internal employees come first and we came to the conclusion that it’s really not the proper question to ask.

We came to the conclusion that leadership’s responsibility was to put an incredible amount of energy and focus on our internal workforce, on our employees. Our responsibility was to build an awesome culture for our employees. Our responsibility was to get every single employee to the top of Professor Maslow’s pyramid.

To get them self-actualizing. To get them out on the court playing the best possible game they could play each and every day.

When you do that, then your employees will deliver an unbelievably awesome experience to your customers. So that was our formula for delivering a wow experience. For us, as leaders, the plan was to put all of our energy into our players and let our players deliver a great experience to the fans and the customers.

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If people want to read more about this empowering culture, the title of the book again is Flip the Pyramid.

 

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Yeas, Flip the Pyramid and it’s available on Amazon in Kindle and hardback. http://amzn.to/ZrNw8a

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Terrific. So let’s talk now about the sale of Ambrose. When did you know it was time and what was your main goal around selling the company?

 

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Really good question. So very early on we knew that the day would come that we would want to sell our company. So I would say that from the beginning we focused on always dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s. From the beginning we focused on building an unbelievable company. A top tier, an awesome company. We never cut corners. We always did things the right way. We built a very durable, strong, focused, goal-oriented company.

We knew if we did that, when the time came to sell, we would have choices. Now what happened to us, which I think happens to a lot of entrepreneurs, we were in business 15-16 years and we had built up a very nice company. Our EBITDA was approaching $20 million per year and what happened to me, which I know happens to a lot of other entrepreneurs, you do start getting very nervous that substantially all of your personal net worth is tied up in a small or mid-market company. You don’t want to lose that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

We were getting a lot of phone calls from the private equity community. We were getting a lot of phone calls from bankers and we were getting a lot of calls from our competitors.

The valuations were high. We felt that for our industry valuations were at a very nice place and our business was performing the best it had ever performed and we felt that the convergence of those factors, the desire to take some of our equity, in this case all of our equity, off the table, and the fact that our industry was very attractive and multiples were the highest they’d ever been and our business was performing very well. We thought that it was just a great convergence and a great time to sell.

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When it came to that moment, Greg, did you hire an investment bank and go through a typical auction process, or how did it work for you?

 

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Another good question James. So, we interviewed a bunch of bankers but we did not hire a banker. All the bankers that I spoke to, I asked them whom they would market the company to and they were already the people that I knew. We had a lot of interest from within the industry and that was the logical sale. So the multiple that General Atlantic and Tri-Net was willing to pay was really a top multiple.

So we did not go through a formal auction process, although we did speak to a number of potential purchasers. So I would say it was a very abbreviated auction process.

Honestly, in retrospect, I am not certain whether that was the right decision. I sometimes think that we probably would have benefitted by hiring a banker and going to a full auction process.

I’m not just saying that, James, because I’m here today speaking to you. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

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I know you hired a top-notch attorney to help you with the documents; how do you think it would have turned out differently if you had hired a banker?

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I think I might have been able to get one more turn on the sale if we hired a banker. Then you did allude to something. I have to say since we didn’t hire a banker, I hired one of the best lawyers I’ve ever worked with. Actually I hired the best lawyer I ever worked with, Filip Moerman over at Cleary Gottlieb. I had never been so happy to pay a lawyer’s bill in my life. Filip was really phenomenal and he and his associates did an amazing job for us.

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What would you say was the most difficult part of selling your business — either during the process, or after?

 

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Well, the most difficult part of the process was walking away from the company immediately after closing. I spoke to enough friends who sold and stayed that I knew that wasn’t going to be an experience that was would work for me. So I had to make the decision that if I were to sell my company that I would leave the day I got my wire transfer.

I was lucky. I raised that with General Atlantic and Tri-Net and they were totally cool with that, but coming to that conclusion pre-sale was emotionally really, really difficult.

Then we sell the company and we announce it to everybody and I get my wire transfer and you’re feeling pretty awesome about that and then I’m packing up my desk and hugging people and crying and leaving. Very emotional.

Then you go home and you’re like – what do I do now?

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I know it’s pretty surreal. Let me ask you two last questions. First, what are you doing now, and second if you could only give one piece of advice to an entrepreneur thinking of selling their business what would it be?

 

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So first, what am I doing now. So I’ve been out of Ambrose now three and a half years. I look back at those three and a half years and I have to say I don’t know how I ever had a day job. I’m busy.

I’m busy all the time.

It’s just amazing how you’re just a Type A entrepreneur. That doesn’t change. Trust me. You will find things to do. Your phone starts to ring. In this day and age if you have a nice transaction, you were a success in your industry, your phone rings.

Also because of my book, I’m spending more time than ever on the speaking circuit, which I really enjoy doing. I’m a guest lecturer at Rutgers Business School, at Tufts University, at Harvard Online Extension. . .

I’m speaking at a tech conference in Gdansk, Poland in May. I’m spending a lot of time working with a private equity firm flying around the country helping them assess leadership teams and companies.

I’m also doing some leadership coaching of a few mid-market companies. Working with leadership teams on a quarterly basis helping them set goals and build a highly functional corporate culture. This is all a lot of fun.

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You’re busy.

 

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Yeah. I also wanted to say that I think any entrepreneur selling his or her company should anticipate having some anxiety around it.

You can’t ignore it. You have to think about it and emotionally work through it.

So based on my experience, I have two pieces of advice.

One is I think you have to do a very frank assessment of your company. Is your company ready to be sold? Is it a high functioning, highly performing company that’s at the top of its game or is it something less than that.

You really have to, I think, assess objectively your company and where it is in its life cycle because that is gonna have a big impact on the valuation you’re going to get for that company.

I’m seeing right now when I’m flying around the country with the private equity firm I am working with, I’m seeing a big disconnect between where these companies are and where the entrepreneurs think these companies are and their valuation expectations.

That can be very sobering for a lot of entrepreneurs. They’re not objective about where their company really is in its life cycle, and their valuation expectations are out of whack.

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That’s great advice.

 

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Then I think the other thing that I see is a lot of entrepreneurs, they want to take significant chips off the table, but they’re not ready to let go of the company and sometimes that is not an option you’re going to have.

If you’re going to take off a significant number of chips, you have to be emotionally and intellectually prepared to step back and let go.

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Absolutely. Greg Slamowitz, the founder of Ambrose Employer Group. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today. I really appreciate your time.

 

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Thank you James.


WHAT I LEARNED ON MY VISITS TO WASHINGTON DC

On December 19th, 2014, the President of the United States signed into law a bill in which I, and others, had put a tremendous amount of effort. This bill, the Small Business Efficiency Act (SBEA), provides Federal statutory recognition of the professional employer organization (PEO) business model. This is the industry in which I had been involved with for 16 ½ years as the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Ambrose Employer Group, a PEO based in New York City. While I was in the industry, I was passionate about the passage of this bill. I believed that Federal, statutory certainty would benefit the whole industry and our customers.

Now that the bill has finally been enacted into law and that I have exited the industry (we closed on the sale of Ambrose to TriNet on July 1, 2013), I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences, and what I learned, in my endeavor to pass Federal legislation. This blog post is written for entrepreneurs and industry leaders (and I use this latter term broadly) with grit, perseverance and vision, because that is what it takes to pass a bill in Washington.

Our three most formidable obstacles in Washington were a dysfunctional Congress, which had a proclivity for not passing legislation (we needed a larger legislative vehicle, and there were few); the slow, arcane and laborious legislative process, which provided the labor unions with plenty of opportunities to foil our efforts; and our own industry, which was hobbled by petty politics, malicious gossip and small mindedness. As to the last item, the industry itself was one of its largest obstacles!

Up until my election as the president of our trade association in 2008 (thankfully only for a one year term), I was not involved at all in our Federal lobbying efforts. In fact, very few in our industry were involved in this critically important effort. The effort was entrusted to a very technical, and expensive, Washington DC tax lawyer (i.e., a lobbyist), a mid level government affairs director at a comparatively stagnant PEO where leadership had lost interest in the industry, a founder of a small, local PEO, and a series of transient, mediocre trade association “government affairs” people.

Our industry, through our trade association, had been funding this small group for over a decade without accountability, transparency or results. Each year they would report to the trade association board that they were the right “experts”, they didn’t need anyone’s help, especially from their industry colleagues “unfamiliar with the ways of Washington”, that these things take time, and that the labor unions, and thus the Democrats, were blocking our efforts (the last two points were true; the first two were not). Does this sound like a recipe for success? Absolutely not. Einstein said this is the definition of insanity. The same tactics, over and over again, whether feeble or heroic, were not going to get our bill passed in Washington.

If we continued to allow this small, insular group to retain sole responsibility for the passage of the bill and continue with its myopic more of the same strategy, it just wasn’t going to happen. I knew we had to change our strategy and this became one of my primary agenda items while leading our trade association and for some time thereafter. We needed a larger tribal effort. We needed more people in our industry involved, more people heading to Washington, and more capable people advocating our value proposition for America’s small businesses and their employees. The people in business who were successfully selling our services to America’s small businesses were the people who could sell our value proposition to our elected Members in Washington, of course with the help of skilled lobbyists. This strategy ultimately prevailed.

What was astounding, however, was the juvenile blow back from the small group of technical “experts”—they didn’t want any help at all! They refused, pouted and then, very late in the game, finally, and reluctantly, cooperated.   It took a tremendous amount of energy to work around this petulant group and dodge their petty, disruptive shenanigans. I think they spent more time trying to undermine and stop others who were joining in the effort than on the passage of the bill. This was total insanity and, something as a leader of a highly functional growth company, for which I was not prepared.

Their first argument, which they relentlessly peddled to our industry, was that only they could advocate on behalf of our industry because they were the “trained professionals” and they knew how to talk to Members of Congress and their staffers. This is one of the biggest lies in Washington. Banal lobbyists and government affairs folk routinely perpetuate this lie. Do not succumb to this nonsense. The truth is that elected Members prefer to talk to entrepreneurs and people in industry, and to the contrary, they generally loathe talking to middling government affairs people and second-rate lobbyists. In fact, our trade association’s “professionals” were rather inept in advocating on our behalf. On one memorable visit, the trade association “professional” told the congressional staffer the reason we needed this bill was so more of its members could go public. The Democratic staffer was flabbergasted with this rationale. This was an embarrassment. This bill was for America’s small businesses and its employees! Not for us. The other “trained professionals” involved similarly failed in articulating our compelling value proposition. At this point, while the technical had its place, I knew we needed more people in our business involved in conveying our value proposition for America’s small businesses and their employees and we certainly needed top-tier lobbyists who shared, and agreed with, this broader strategy. Just like in business, in Washington, you must clearly and relentlessly articulate a compelling “why” to Members and their staffers (see Simon Sinek’s work).

After this small group reluctantly retreated from this argument, that only government affairs “professionals” can lobby, they then spent a year or so arguing to trade association membership that individual companies were prohibited from directly engaging in any lobbying activity in Washington pursuant to an implied trade association rule and thus any such activity had to be approved and controlled by the trade association (they insisted that one of their “minders” had to accompany me and others on any “approved” Hill visits and then they proceeded to bring me before some trade association “disciplinary” committee to have me sanctioned for “unauthorized” lobbying). This was a royal distraction to our advocacy efforts in Washington and was finally dropped simply because I refused to participate in their kangaroo court. I just stayed focused on the prize, continued my trips to Washington, and clearly articulated our why.

In truth, I ignored this nonsense because I recalled from my law school days (where I read the United States Constitution) that Article I of the Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” This is exactly how our Founders intended for our government to work. Citizens travel to Washington and petition our government. Thousands upon thousands of people travel to Washington each year with this sole intent. When you go to Washington, and walk the halls of Congress, you will meet your fellow citizens everywhere. Washington has worked this way for over 200 years. So, if you have an issue that is important to you, go to Washington! Don’t let some middling government affairs functionary or lobbyist tell you otherwise. They do not have an exclusive right to petition Washington, although some will tell you this with a straight face and with absolute conviction. Do not let these naysayers intimidate you. On the contrary, our Country’s Founders expressly gave you the Constitution right to advocate to Members of Congress and Members know this. This is one of things that make our Country great, so go to Washington and state your case!

Now, once I started visiting Washington (where there are some exceptional hotels, I love the Willard, and a number of awesome restaurants), thinking of Einstein’s maxim, I quickly learned that we also needed to make political contributions to increase our access to Members. This is just how it works in Washington. The math is simple. Four hundred and thirty five House Members are up for re-election every twenty-four months and the average house campaign cost close to two million dollars per cycle (in 2012, each House Member on average raised $1,689,580 per cycle, $2,315 per day; Senators, on average, each raised $10,476,451, $14,351 per day.). Campaign reform limits the amount they can raise from any one individual, and if a Member is in the minority or not a chair of a committee, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to raise this amount. So while I was the president of our trade association, in 2008 I created a political action committee (PAC) and raised $329,439 from my industry peers over the following four-year period. I also supplemented this with tens of thousand of dollars of my own personal political contributions (I was rather dismayed when I learned that political contributions are non-deductible). Unfortunately the PAC was also stymied by petty trade association politics (the business people raised and contributed the money but then the government affairs “experts” wanted to spend it!), so my personal political contributions were a necessary work around.

Because Members spend an inordinate amount of time raising money in drips and drabs, there are a myriad of opportunities to meet Members in small group settings. Although important, I did find the fundraisers back in their home districts larger and less intimate. Fundraisers in Washington, on the other hand, where often small gatherings and generally attended by DC lobbyists. This was a great advantage for an entrepreneur—you will stand out. For better or worse, political contributions, to both sides of the aisle, are just a necessity in Washington. It is how our system works.

With this in mind, I picked up the pace and started flying to Washington once or twice a month visiting with Members and staffers in Longworth, Cannon, Rayburn, Russell, Dirksen and Hart (the office buildings for Members). I also made political donations and attended fundraisers for Members. I did this for five and half-years (from 2008 through first half of 2013). In total, I met with close to 200 Members and their staffers in Washington and a dozen or so visited with me and toured our operations in New York City. I quickly learned that Members would much rather talk to an entrepreneur or someone from business than a technical lobbyist or mid-level government affairs director. Building relationships with Members was a lot of fun, and I can honestly say that every Member I met, whatever his or her politics, was a patriot. The House is definitely the “people’s house”—a reflection of American society.

I often found myself at many events, where I was the only entrepreneur, with a dozen or so lobbyists, and the Member of Congress, and the Member would invariable spend more time with me than anyone else. I also quickly learned that I was also way more capable of advocating our value proposition for America’s small businesses and their employees than hired lobbyist or government affairs people. I had sold and closed our value proposition and stood behind the delivery of the service. The lobbyist and government affairs people had not. I had credibility, and the Members, and lobbyists, knew this. In fact, the better lobbyists in Washington are not threatened by industry leaders but are skilled at leveraging industry’s entrepreneurs and leaders. Find these lobbyists!   They are worth their hefty monthly retainer. While political contributions can be used effectively to gain access to Members to advocate on your behalf—be sure that weak and ineffective government affairs “experts” and lobbyists do not squander these face-to-face opportunities. This is a royal waste of money.

I was fortunate in that one of our larger competitors had a very talented in-house lobbyist based in Washington DC, who I consider a tenacious industry leader and excellent political strategist and tactician (he also lived near the airport and was gracious enough to meet me curbside even when I took the 6 am shuttle! :-)), and together and with others we executed on this collaborative journey. We went outside of the trade association and directly hired two exceptional Democratic lobbyists. Another large competitor had also retained several exceptional Washington DC lobbyists who then also joined our collective efforts. Other entrepreneurs joined in as well. Over the vociferous objections of our trade association, a few of its members, and its small group of “trained professionals”, we continuously refined and coordinated strategy and tactics, while trying our hardest to avoid the petty politics and malicious gossip which was debilitating the trade association. We tried to get them to focus on, and work towards, our agreed to prize: the passage of our bill. We adopted the maxim: lead, follow or get out of the way. They reluctantly followed. Six years after adopted and implementing a broader and more sophisticated strategy in Washington, in December 1014, the Republican controlled House and Democratic controlled Senate passed a tax bill that included our industry’s legislation. Unlike the past, where labor had been successful in blocking our legislation, labor’s objections fell on deaf ears because we had tirelessly articulated our compelling why to so many Members and their staffers, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle. Shortly thereafter the President signed the bill into law. Success!

So, in sum, here is what I learned on my visits to Washington. If you want to pass legislation in Washington, avoid the petty politics, malicious gossip and small mindedness that seem to consume trade associations. Find a group of similarly minded, driven companies and industry leaders, and find and hire top rate lobbyists and government affairs people who aren’t threatened by your involvement but will enthusiastically compliment and leverage your involvement. Work hard, go to Washington (at lot), make political contributions to both sides of the aisle, and make a lot of friends. Finally, remember, it isn’t about you but about making America better (e.g., your “why”), and every no is one step closer to yes. You need grit, perseverance and vision. I wish you Godspeed on your trip to Washington.

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Dashiell and me with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

 

Meeting with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1)

Meeting with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1)

With Senator Snowe

With Senator Snowe

With Majority Leader Eric Cantor

With Majority Leader Eric Cantor

With Congressman Xavier Becerra

With Congressman Xavier Becerra

With Senator Gillibrand

With Senator Gillibrand

With Congressman Bill Owens

With Congressman Bill Owens

With Congressman Tom Reed and Congresswoman Nan Hayworth

With Congressman Tom Reed and Congresswoman Nan Hayworth

With Senator Corey Booker

With Senator Corey Booker


FANATICAL CUSTOMER SERVICE

Do you love fanatical customer service?  I do.  Here is a recount of my recent, awesome customer experience (I am so happy I need to blog about it).

Several weeks ago, we dropped our daughter off at boarding school.  We were there for one, very busy and emotional day.   Because her new school’s campus is big, we all agreed a bicycle would be nice (and she loves to bike).

Sitting outside the school’s post office, I pulled up Safari on my iPhone and Googled for the local Eastern Mountain Sports store.  I immediately hit the “call now” button.  Rose answered and I explained to her my predicament.  We wanted a bicycle for our daughter, who we were dropping off at the boarding school across town, and we were leaving town that afternoon, so we would be unable to deliver it to her.  I then asked Rose if she could arrange for delivery to our daughter.  She immediately said, in a very positive and upbeat voice, “We have no process for that but we pride ourselves on going above and beyond for our customers so let me see if I can figure out a solution”.  She put me on hold for less than a minute, returned to the phone and said “We have a solution, one of our staff members will drive the bicycle over to her when it is ready.”  This was the answer I wanted to hear!

After our daughter was settled in and we said our good-byes (which wasn’t easy), on the way out of town, we stopped by the local EMS store, met Rose, and her colleague Vilius, who had volunteered to deliver the bicycle.  We purchased the bike and all of its accessories (helmet, bell, basket, lock etc.)(we spent a small fortune).  It took Vilius one week to order and assemble the bike and, as promised, he delivered it to our daughter across town at her new boarding school (of course, he called me on my cell phone the day before delivery).  We were all very happy.

Here is the point.  Yes, this made us very satisfied customers (so much so that I have been compelled to blog about this experience).  But this just didn’t happen by chance.  This happened by intentional design.  Leadership set a strategic vision: fanatical customer service (an excerpt from the EMS website on a page titled FANATICAL CUSTOMER SERVICE  reads, “At Eastern Mountain Sports, our store guides will stop at nothing to make you happy. It’s all part of our commitment to doing whatever it takes to earn your business and keep you coming back.”

Rose and Vilius knew that fanatical customer service was their company’s priority and culture and they were empowered to tactically execute on this vision without first asking for permission.  As the customer facing employees of EMS, they were aligned and liberated to tactically execute on leaderships’ clearly articulated strategic vision.  This is leadership.  Well-done Rose, Vilius, and EMS (and its owner, Versa Capital).


TriNet Acquires Ambrose

Friends,
On Monday, July 1st we closed on the sale of Ambrose to our good friends at TriNet.  This is a win, win, win, for our clients, for Ambrose and for TriNet. There is a very strong cultural similarity between the two companies.  Thank you Team Ambrose for 16 1/2 awesome years!  After our town hall meeting Tuesday morning, taking breaks from cleaning out my office, there were a lot of hugs and tears.  I love you guys and will miss you all.  You are in good hands.

Here is the TriNet press release: prn.to/10xZsm9

Have a great day,

Greg


“Flip The Pyramid” Now Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes

Flip the Pyramid zooms in on the core tasks for any organization that wants to endure: To identify the core values that guide decision-making, and to develop the discipline and teamwork necessary to live out those values hour by hour, day to day, and year by year. The principles behind this book set a high standard. The advice and examples in it tell you how to reach that standard.”

– Daniel Pink, author of DRIVE and TO SELL IS HUMAN

“This is a practical how-to book on getting the best from your team written by someone who has been there and done it.”

– Verne Harnish, author of MASTERING THE ROCKEFELLER HABITS and THE GREATEST BUSINESS DECISSIONS OF ALL TIME

I have taken the posts that have appeared on this blog over the last several years, worked closely with a very talented editor, and turned them into a book, Flip the Pyramid: How Any Organization Can Create a Workforce that Is Engaged, Aligned, Empowered and On Fire.

This process has been fun and rewarding and I am excited to say that the book is now available in hardcover and electronically.

Click here for Amazon and click here for Barnes & Noble.  The book is also available on iTunes

To give you an overview, below I have published the book’s introduction.

I do hope you have the time to read the book and please provide me with a review and your feedback.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day,

Greg

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FLIP THE PYRAMID: HOW TO UNLEASH YOUR SUCCESS STORY

Individual heroics, brute force, micromanagement, command and control. These things will get you only so far in managing the workforce of a growing organization. This sort of journey is hard, miserable and unpleasant. I trav- elled that road for 12 years after the launch of my com- pany. It was a slog, and I became very unhappy with my “job” as an entrepreneur. I wanted to quit! We got to about

35 employees, and we were relatively successful, but we were stuck in the mud and exhausted. We had reached the end of that road and just weren’t going any farther.

I knew there had to be a better way to manage the growth of our human capital, so I embarked in an intense learning journey. I read more than 100 business books, some excel- lent, some not. I attended dozens of business seminars, and devoured each issue of the Harvard  Business Review. I got others around me to start doing the same, and we saw a much, much different way. The first several years of this process were hard, but then things got dramatically better.

Once we found this very different way, a way in which all of the people in our company were aligned, empowered

and engaged, we began to rock and roll. We began to grow with aplomb, and our growth and profits accelerated. Our journey be- came much more enjoyable, and we started going to better places. I wish I had figured this all out much earlier in life.

A fully actualized workforce is an exciting thing to behold. What follows in these pages is what we have learned and what we have done to implement this much better, easier journey to success.

ON FIRE: LIBERATING  YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET

To be successful—all you can be—your organization’s leadership must learn that human capital is its most important asset. Your leaders then must structure and arrange the organization’s environment to enable individuals to thrive—to get the best out of everyone. Building an en- vironment that helps everyone to participate, contribute and achieve must become a strategic imperative.

If every organization  were to do this, our economy and society would be in a much better place. People working in an aligned, engaged and empowered way tend to feel great about themselves—they get to the top of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” (self-actualization), which in turn allows them and their companies to achieve big things.

You can move mountains when this is done in the right way. What’s more, doing so is your obligation to the organization and its people.

Unfortunately, most organizational leaders do not understand this imperative. Or, if they do, they have no darn idea how to deliver on it. For years, I was in that category, but I continued to read, study, listen and experiment. I found an incredible amount of literature on this topic, as well as many others who have successfully gone down this road. No need for a lot of original thinking. This road is rather well marked; you just need to find it.

It will take time, however.  Results will not be immediate. There will be naysayers—people who want to hold fast to the well-known “com- mand and control” approach to leadership.

WHERE I WANT TO TAKE YOU

I have two primary goals for this book. The first is to help you realize the importance of this mindset shift toward your organization’s human capital. Professor Douglas McGregor wrote about this mindset shift in his 1960 book, The Human Side of Enterprise, in which he articu- lated his Theory X and Theory  Y. Theory  X assumes people are lazy, will shirk work, and therefore need to be micromanaged through com- mand and control. Theory Y, in stark contrast, assumes that people are ambitious and self-motivated, take pride and satisfaction in their work and their achievements, but need the proper organizational environ- ment to bring this human attribute to fruition.

Based on 16 years in business, I am a firm believer in McGregor’s Theory Y. I hope this book makes you a believer as well. This mindset shift is a necessary prerequisite for unleashing your organization’s hu- man capital.

My second goal in writing this book is to give you a proven meth- odology to execute on McGregor’s Theory Y. Please note, however, that a sine qua non is leadership’s  abandonment of Theory X (command and control) and embracement of Theory Y (aligned liberation).  That first step, letting go, isn’t easy for many people, but it is a mandatory requirement. Once you make that pivot in your mindset, you then can rely on the seven necessary organizational  components to execute on Theory Y, all of which I explain in detail in these pages.

These seven components for success are as follows:

1. A Constitutional Framework

2. A disciplined meeting rhythm

3. Metrics literacy

4. A tribal culture

5. An obsession with communicating

6. Embracement of change, risk and failure

7. Great people and physical and mental wellness

Within this organizational construct, you’ll be able to let go, liberate your human capital and achieve big things.

BUILDING YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

To play a great game, people need to know its rules, purpose and goals. How can you step back and let your people take the field and play their best unless they know that stuff? If you simply stop micromanaging, if you simply dispense with command and control, you will run astray.

When this occurs, the unfortunate knee-jerk reaction is to revert to micromanagement and say “Look what happens! People need to be micromanaged!” This is the wrong, emotional response—Professor McGregor’s Theory X. I tried that and it doesn’t work.

On the contrary, you need to build a Constitutional Framework, the organizational construct that sets the rules and the goals that enable people to play an excellent game—allowing them to self-actualize. This concept is central to this book, and so important that I capitalize it. You need to put an incredible amount of time, energy, thought and faith into building the environment and the organizational construct that will provide guidance and support self-actualization in an aligned, engaged and empowered manner.

So how do you build your Constitutional Framework? The details are in the subsequent chapters, but I’ll tell you right now that you need to begin with core values, a core purpose, a brand promise and objec- tively measurable goals. This is classic Jim Collins (more about him later). This framework, if strong and vivid, provides every individual in your organization with the guidance they need to self-actualize—to take tactical action steps with confidence, within clearly defined be- havioral boundaries and toward clearly defined goals. Everything else flows from there.

A TRIBAL CULTURE

Once you have that Constitutional Framework, you can nourish a powerful tribal culture. Many founders, entrepreneurs and leaders just don’t get this: We are tribal animals. We are pack animals.

Too many leaders are too focused on their own egos. They think it is all about them. It isn’t. Leaders must shift their focus to everyone else. You have to deliver an awesome tribal experience to everyone in your company. This is a responsibility of leadership. People want, people crave, a tribal experience. It is human nature. It is simple. People want to belong to something bigger, to something exciting, to a movement, to a journey. So leadership must deliver this experience.

This is why we join civic organizations, political movements, re- ligious organizations,  clubs, follow sports teams, but with no real need to understand why. Just understand that we like to belong to something bigger than ourselves. So give this to people. And let them take an ownership interest in your organization’s culture. This is an essential element to building an aligned, engaged and empow- ered workforce. People will thank you for this.

A strong, healthy, positive culture is also one of your most important assets. It protects all stakeholders:  employees, family members, part- ners, shareholders, lenders, vendors, clients, the community and our government. Is your culture healthy enough? Is it strong enough? Lead- ership must constantly worry about the organization’s tribal culture.

OUR BACK-STORY:  HOW WE LEARNED WHAT WE LEARNED

My own company’s Constitutional Framework and tribal culture has proven to be powerfully  effective, and it’s  getting better every day. However, it didn’t happen overnight. It also wasn’t created in a vacuum or solely through theoretical discussions in a conference room. Instead, it was born from experience—the fits and starts we had as a rapidly growing company in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What we experi- enced in those often heady and sometimes frustrating days informed our unique path to the realizations that have resulted in what we call our Flip the Pyramid approach.

Because our own experience as a startup was central to the success we’re  enjoying now, I’ve included our back-story in this book’s  first two chapters. As you read them, I hope that they resonate in ways that provide additional perspective on your own issues and aspirations as you prepare for your journey toward becoming a fully functioning, aligned and self-actualized organization. At that point, you will be fully prepped and equipped for the main course—the blueprint for success encompassed by Part Two.

ACHIEVING BIG THINGS

The responsibility of an organization’s leadership is setting people up for success in their job and in life, enabling them to feel great about what they are doing every single day—and to do it in an aligned way where everyone is individually and collectively moving toward clearly defined goals. This requires a full-time commitment on the part of leadership and the organization. Again, it isn’t easy, but it is absolutely achievable.

I truly hope you enjoy this book and are successful in putting these methodologies into practice. With your full commitment to the prin- ciples and practices described in this book, I’m confident that everyone in your organization, including you, will ultimately love what you are doing, and will achieve big things. I look forward to hearing about your success.

Oh…and don’t forget to have fun on the journey.


Flip The Pyramid to Publish April 15, 2013

Flip the Pyramid zooms in on the core tasks for any organization that wants to endure: To identify the core values that guide decision-making, and to develop the discipline and teamwork necessary to live out those values hour by hour, day to day, and year by year. The principles behind this book set a high standard. The advice and examples in it tell you how to reach that standard.”

— Daniel Pink, author of DRIVE and TO SELL IS HUMAN

“This is a practical how-to book on getting the best from your team written by someone who has been there and done it.”

— Verne Harnish, author of MASTERING THE ROCKEFELLER HABITS and THE GREATEST BUSINESS DECISSIONS OF ALL TIME

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