Ep. 32: Randy Nelson: CEO of Gold Dolphins, LLC and author of “The Second Decision”

Today’s guest, Randy Nelson, is CEO of Gold Dolphins, LLC author of “The Second Decision: The Qualified Entrepreneur.” It’s a wonderful book that has changed the way I lead my own business.

The first decision is your decision to start a business. The titular Second Decision comes in after the business is up and running smoothly.

The Second Decision is whether or not you, as a Founder of a business, are the right person to run a business. The book helps you answer the question, “Am I the right person to lead this company for the next 3-5 years?”

Randy defines five roles in the book – three are qualified to help run a business and two are not.

  • The Leader is the person who is at CEO and wants to be the person to lead the company’s future.
  • The Role Player is the person who doesn’t want to lead the company but has their own expertise, and they might fill a position like Chariman of the board.
  • The Creator is the person who loves getting businesses off the ground, they’re a startup person, but they aren’t passionate about running a business.
  • The Dabbler is the person who wants cash but isn’t interesting in learning everything they need to learn to build a business.
  • Status Quo is the person who is happy where they are at.

Randy models his qualification system around the tests he went through to become a submarine pilot. It features a qualification card that asks you every question anyone will need to be able to answer to run a business for the foreseeable future, built around the top reasons companies fail or underperform.

“I really am pushing leaders for self-awareness on whether they are the right person in that right seat. It’s a combination of self-confidence and self-awareness. If you have both, it’s a powerful combo. If it’s just the self-confidence piece without the self-awareness, it’s a risk.”

Randy wants leaders reading the book to be more self-aware of the role they are best at and enjoy the most. It’s okay if you aren’t the leader and don’t have a role to play in running a stable company – you just have to be self-aware enough to hire someone better suited for that role or leave the company behind.

Randy is currently working on “The Third Decision,” which will explore how leaders and entrepreneurs can avoid some regrets in their lives by being more self aware of the decisions they make in their personal lives.

If you haven’t already, pick up “The Second Decision: The Qualified Entrepreneur” and become more self-aware about the role you should have in your business. It’s a must buy.






Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: Hey, I’m with Randy Nelson today and Randy is the author of “The Second Decision: The Qualified Entrepreneur” and Randy has his foreword written by General Hugh Shelton, 14th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. So, first and foremost, that’s very impressive. Second, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, Randy, to spend some time with me on my podcast.

Randy: Thanks for having me. I appreciate your time.

Peter: Oh, I love doing this. I love having this conversation. Randy and Ii met a little over a year or so ago, at Advantage Media. We both had our books published by Advantage Media and that’s where we crossed paths. His book, correct me if I’m wrong, “The Second Decision” was the number one book in 2015 at Advantage Media Group?

Randy: You are correct, yes. I was somehow made Author of the Year in 2015.

Peter: That’s what it was. Author of the Year in 2015.

Randy: Yeah.

Peter: Yeah, well congratulations on that.

Randy: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

Peter: That’s quite an honor from from a very accomplished publisher who puts out a lot of books a year, and well deserved. So how did you ever get a joint chief of staff, a general? Was he a cousin, relative, uncle who’s a retired colonel in the Air Force? I’m real curious about this. How’d you get this persona to write your forward.

Randy: It’s a great question. I’m probably not going to give you the answer that you would expect. So, just a quick background. My first career I spent almost seven years as a submarine officer, got out a Lieutenant, spent my time on ballistic missile submarines, and then, when I got out, my first business that I started, with a couple partners, we placed people coming out the military into full-time jobs. That company turned 25 this year, we started in ‘91, and we’ve placed over 36,000 veterans into full-time jobs over these past 25 years.

Peter: That’s great.

Randy: Fast forward to 2001. I read in my local newspaper, I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina, that General Henry Hugh Shelton, who is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and had all military – by the way, he was he was the chairman from 97-2001, so he was sitting chairman on 911. He was the only plane flying over New York City that day.

Peter: Wow.

Randy: So, after his four years were up, he was required to retire and NC State University, in Raleigh, is his alma mater. So they knew that they had a rare gem, one of our nation’s greatest leaders, and they asked him if he would be willing to be part of the leadership center and with his name attached. So I read that the Shell leadership center is going to start enrolling and I immediately raised my hand and said, “I know John Shelby doesn’t know who I am I but I want to be a part of it, what can I do?” and I was on some of the initial planning meetings and was lucky enough to be selected for his his board of advisors, so he’s got 25 other people on that board.

Peter: Wow.

Randy: So pretty high level. There were two people who did not know him, by the way. Myself and one other guy who retired from the board this year at age 95. But most of the people, as you would imagine, they know him. In is stellar career, he has met a lot of people and impressed a lot of people. Very, very long story short, that board started in 2002. It is now in its 14th year, 2016, and I had the honor of Chair of the Board in 2014-15. I didn’t know him, but I can now call my very good friend and I just love being associated with him because you talk about a leader of leaders. He’s a great man to be around, as well as the other people on the board.

Peter: That’s an extremely impressive story, by far, and the thing that I really like about that is you didn’t know him from anybody, and you just raised your hand. How can I help? And, through this help, you become acquainted with him and next thing you know he’s writing your forward for your book.

Randy: Yeah, you know the way I look at leadership is you gotta earn your respect.

Peter: Indeed.

Randy: In the military, there’s two things. You’re given, in my case because I was an officer, your bars. I started as an officer so people had to salute me, they had to respect the position, but they didn’t have to respect me. I had to earn that respect, and I felt that with General Shelton too. I was lucky enough to be selected but, over time on the board, I thought my job is to help add to his building this thing. I love startups, so it was essentially a start-up. So you add value to the board and eventually you get to know the man and. Yeah, in 2014 I am proud to say that I was selected to run the board for two years.

Peter: That’s – wow. I’m at a loss for words. That’s pretty cool. You mentioned that you drove a submarine?

Randy: Yes, I did.

Peter: So you’re not claustrophobic at all?

Randy: No, no. I’m one of the few people, I think you can relate to this. Back in 1982, I had to choose. When you’re in ROTC, you have to choose between a Pilot Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear, and you can go nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier, and I had done well in school so I tried to get into nuclear power but I was an accounting major.

Peter: There you go.

Randy: So I was able to sell that I’d be a good person for their program. So they let me in and, after lots of schooling and lots of qualifications, I finally got a chance to get mine. In the air and the pilot world, they call it wings. In the submarine world, you get your gold dolphins. So, when you’re qualified as a submariner, you earn your goal dolphins. When we talk about the book, that’s where the whole qualified concept comes from. Because, as you would want, they didn’t let me drive submarines until I knew what I was doing and I was qualified.

Peter: So there’s a lot going on here. Submarine, accounting, and then you did tell me beforehand you get your degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, which is one of the stellar accounting programs in the state of Ohio as well as nationally. You’re a submarine driver, you get out, and I heard something that you said: I love doing startups, which gravitated you towards helping out the general. So, startups, help me there.

Randy: Startups is the environment where, every day, you have to figure out what’s the next thing to do and, in the beginning, I guess my history, from a macro standpoint, is I’ve built two companies and I turned one over at year 12 and the other one over at year ten because, once it gets too operational for me – too steady stated, if you will – then I really want to go back and and start something else.

Peter: Okay.

Randy: But I think the creation, just the energy and the creation that goes into starting something new from the ground and building it up. I’m not the startup guy that wants to start it and then a month later leave. I start up and built it for 12 years. I turn over a pretty good engine when it’s at 11 to 12 years, but then I’m motivated to go back and start something new.

Peter: That’s really interesting. I started my business, and nothing to to the capacity that you have built, but there’s something new everyday and it’s just a ton of fun, and you wake up the next day and you don’t know what’s coming at you. I can see why, if you have 12-13 years and it becomes a little bit more mature, little bit more stable, the systems are in place. Let’s go back and have some fun, see what we can create from scratch, and what can we build?

Randy: Yeah. I think to describe it best is the startup world is a lot of uncertainty, whereas my wife I could not do her job (she’s been teaching first grade forever and she’s fantastic at it). I don’t think I have the patience and I couldn’t do what she does so well. She like certainty, so every day where today looks like something she has seen before is what she wants. Uncertainty? No, that’s not her. For me, I’m the opposite. I thrive on uncertainty, and that’s where you have a chance to do the most sometimes.

Peter: Wow, I guess we are a lot of alike, because I struggled in a certain corporate America type of structured world where, in an uncertain world… I tell people that, since 2010 when I went full time, I have not worked a day in my life since that time. Ask my wife, who loves certainty, she’ll say he works all the time.

Randy: Right, yeah.

Peter: And I don’t look at it as work. So, with the startup stuff, is that what triggered writing the book “The Second Decision”?

Randy: No, I’m in a number of CEO peer groups – Vitsage, Entrepreneurs’ Organization – and since ‘98 I have been around other entrepreneurial CEOs, so we’re talking about building our businesses, learning from each other, and having made so many mistakes in my own companies over the years and looking back to when I sold my second business. I sold it to a very large German firm and had a chance to go build my business out throughout Europe and Asia. I had a lot of time to sit on planes and I said, okay, I was able to sell one business and I was able to sell a second. If I could teach anything to anybody, what would I be able to teach people? That was really my question, and how it worked was I spent a year putting content together and then I got to present it to my CEO group. I actually asked my wife to come, it was this big build-up, I said I’m about to unveil this, I’ve spent a year putting content together, I have two and a half hours in front of my CEO peers… and when I get done they get they had two takeaways for me. They said, Randy, number one that was quite possibly the worst presentation we have ever heard in our life.

Peter: [laughs] Okay.

Randy: Not what you were expecting, right?

Peter: No, no.

Randy: So what I did was, because I’d put all this content together, essentially I vomited my content out for two and a half hours. I was going to get it all out, so I wanted to prove to them that there was good content. The second thing they said was, even though it was the worst presentation, we think there’s something here. We think you should go write a book, because people need to hear this content, and that’s why I wrote the book. I never had the desire to be an author. One less I’ve learned is I’ve always been pulled rather than pushed, so when people say listen you should go do this because of that, I do listen, and a couple years later I had had my first book out. But it was it was not the start that I thought it would be.

Peter: So I just had a curiosity: when they said this is the worst presentation ever, and you and your wife are there, did you have this really sick feeling in your stomach, or did they say that with a little bit of a twinkle in their eye so you knew the however was coming?

Randy: Even funnier is my wife had gone because she had to get back to school, so when I got home she says so how did it go? How did they think you did? And I could see she wanted to hear from me first so I told her, well, they said it was the worst presentation ever. She said, “Oh, thank you, because I didn’t want to have to break that news to you.”

Peter: [laughs] Oh, that’s funny.

Randy: She said, “I’m your wife and I was trying so hard but I was thinking ‘Oh, make it end.’”

Peter: So basically the accountant in you came out and you were just doing a lot of content.

Randy: Oh! You know, there’s some speakers that are no content and all motivation, and then there’s some who are all content. Well, that day I was there. It was all content. So, I deserve it, but hey that’s what we gotta learn, right?

Peter: Yeah, it’s a great learning experience. So, the title of the book, “The Second Decision,” which makes me ask what’s the first decision?

Randy: So the first decision is when you decide to start your company, and the idea on the napkin… all of a sudden it works. Imagine yourself at a dinner with your wife or your best friend and you’re giving a toast to the fact that your business is off the ground, running, you’ve got employees and you got a good future ahead of you. That’s where “The Second Decision” comes in. You have to look at yourself and say, “Am I the right person to lead this company for the next three to five years?” Because it’s not whether the company works, at this point, it’s whether you work right for the company. So “The Second Decision” is, number one, do I want to leave this business? And, number two, I have five roles that I define in the book. Three of them are qualified and two are not qualified, so I go back to my Navy days where I had to be qualified before I ran the business. As entrepreneurs, we don’t have to be qualified to do anything to start a business. We just have to get the certificate, start and go.

Peter: Right.

Randy: So the three roles that are qualified are the leader, and the leader is the person who is at CEO and wants to be the person to lead the company future. The role player is the second choice, and that’s the person who says I don’t really want to lead, I like sales, I like marketing. Maybe I want to move to a chairman of the board role, or something along those lines. The Creator is the person who says I really like to start businesses. I’m the creator, I love to get it up and off the ground, I’m the startup person, but when they get going… well that’s not really me.

Peter: Right.

Randy: And then I have two unqualified roles: a dabbler and status quo. The dabbler is that entrepreneur that wants cash but is not really that interested in all this other crap they gotta learn to build a business. Status quo is I’m happy just where I’m at. So the qualified entrepreneur is somebody who is willing to get qualified, and in the book I mirrored what I did in the Navy. In the Navy, I had a submarine qualification system. It was the the qual card, and I created the entrepreneurial qual card in the book and said if you actually had to sit in front of a board of directors and prove to them you know what you’re doing, would you want to or could you?

Peter: And I was gonna make a comment about that because I’ve read the book and – first thing, I read the book and I said this is great – and two, you’ve got a workbook to help to determine if you are that qualified entrepreneur. Now, I call that January in my business because I’ve gotta slate it out to now go back through the book, in January, when I’ve got time to sit down. You have things laid out just ideal in here to help somebody make that decision.

Randy: Yeah. Going back to my Navy days, the way it worked there was they had all the qualifications that you needed to have a general understanding of running that submarine. So when the captain said you’re qualified and gives you your goal dolphins, he now trusts that you really have a feel and an understanding of what’s going on. The way it worked was there were lines. There were qualification points and I had to go in front of an expert, anytime I wanted to go get checked out on something. So, let’s say it was the main steam system on a submarine. I would go find the expert, I would go talk to that expert that expert would ask me question after question after question, and when they thought I knew enough about the main steam system they would sign my card. And I would do that for the 15 pages of qualification items and then I would end it with an oral examination and then another one in the final with the captain. When you think about “The Second Decision” book, all I want leaders and entrepreneurs to do is to go through there and it’s a self awareness issue for me. Do you really know enough about running your business that you could answers some of these questions that I built around the top reasons companies fail or underperform? This is not Randy Nelson’s theme of the month or because I’m successful entrepreneur and I have it all figured out – No. These are based around the things that everybody’s gonna have to know and do for the next 10, 15, 20, 50 years. You have to have cash, you have to understand how you spend your money, you have to learn the basics.

Peter: When you talk about cash, I’m going through the book here and you’ve got three chapters there from the financial perspective, and the one thing that you said you highly recommend for entrepreneurs is, at the beginning of every month, figure out what your cash flow is for the next six months… and I read that and I thought I should be doing that. I’ve shared that with others, when I’m speaking, and I get the same look from them that I had. It’s like duh. That’s probably the most important thing I should be doing: looking at cash flow for the next 6-9 months and ensuring I have enough cash to run the business, but I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t think that way or think about that, even an account.

Randy: Yeah, maybe this will help because you can get different numbers with different people, but up to 70 percent of businesses fail because of lack of cash – and I think a lot of the time people think I’m going to run out of cash because I’m not successfully but it’s just the opposite too. I’m growing too fast.

Peter: Right.

Randy: And you know the story that I always tell is January 2004 I had $650,000 in the bank. I have a credit line of a million dollars that I can tap based on a receivables formula, so I can tap $700,000 that money. So I’m I have $650,000 in the bank and I have $700,000 more on the credit line. I’m sitting absolutely pretty.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: I went to my two partners and I said we need to contribute $200,000 a piece by March 1st and they said are you nuts? We have 650,000 dollars in the bank. And, because this forecasting out the bank balance, I forecast (and I got pretty good at it) our bank balance was going to be minus -$650,000 in June.

Peter: Okay.

Randy: So we will be within $50,000 of tapping out the credit line, if things went just as I predicted. And you know that in our world things don’t always go that way, too.

Peter: Right.

Randy: So number one: with cash, you gotta understand that trends are different than the bank balances, so looking out six months can help you make some good decisions before you’re forced to make bad decisions.

Peter: I have taken it to heart, I do it now, I’m religious with it and I’ve made some modifications into my business based off of that six months cash flow model, because when you see it from a cash perspective and black-and-white you really open your eyes.

Randy: Well, coming from somebody who understands financials like me, that’s a great thing to hear. Because, if you’re doing it, imagine somebody like you and I who really are financial people going way back and we went through school. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs who really do not like numbers.

Peter: A lot of them.

Randy: Yeah.

Peter: And a lot of times, in stories… I’ve got a friend who lost three-quarters of a million dollars because his controller went to the Caribbean with his money. I was playing golf with him a couple years before that and I made the comment, are you looking at reconcile, are you just double checking the stuff? He says no, I completely trust my controller. I’ve known for a very long time. And I said you’re setting yourself up for something disastrous, potentially, and he just kind of blew me off. I saw him soon after that happened and he said you’re right, I should have paid a little bit more attention, but I’m always looking at that bigger picture.

Randy: To me it’s the number one, until I sold my business and it was it was taken away from me, I’d check my bank balance every single day. And then when it gets sold to a large strategic company they sweep the money out so you aren’t really in control of your cash anymore because the big company controls it. Number one thing I looked at every single day of my life when I was an entrepreneur – and still do.

Peter: I don’t know if you know this but I’m a former banker from back in the day and I used to lend commercially, and even though I may not have done the six months I still had my former VP of lending in the back of my head going “cash is king, everything else doesn’t count. Cash is the lifeblood of the organization, net income is not all cash.” So I’m not worried about that, I want to see cash flow. I want to see how they are paying that debt service and marrying that with your six-month plan, because now it’s much more visual, but it just very striking when you see it.

Randy: Yeah, six month cash is king. That’s what I like to say. I also want you to look at your covenants, from what your lenders are doing out six months, because you might be within the covenants now – and the interesting part was, because we put money into the bank, our commercial lender trusted us more because I shared with him what we were doing and why we were doing it. Our lender, who was a great business thinker, he was much more supportive of our business because we were taking responsibility as well, not just asking the bank to bail us out.

Peter: And it sounds like you created a partnership with him if you went and shared this information with him, because I know a lot of times those who borrow go to the back asking for forgiveness vs permission.

Randy: You go it.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: And I’ll tell you one more story about the three financial chapters. When you write a book, and you know this like I do, the final edit cuts a lot of the book out.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: In my case, I don’t know what, it was about forty percent. You work your heart out, you say okay here’s my baby, you think all your book’s going to get published, and then the editor cuts out a bunch. They said we didn’t cut out anything in the three financial chapters. We think it’s that important and that information needs to be there. We didn’t touch it. When I’m speaking, and I speak with lots of CEOs and leaders, I say, if you read one chapter, take one of the financial chapters, because that gets you thinking the “I’m big and I don’t know what I don’t know” philosophy. What I want to do is get some people outside their comfort zone because this is not real complicated. I’m not asking to become MBA’s, like you said, all we really want to do is get cash forecast about six months, not just one.

Peter: Right, and I think coming from someone with your background, who is an entrepreneur who has started and businesses, and I like how you talked about it earlier. You’ve got some scars, you’ve had some failures out there as well, but that’s all part of growing businesses and being that entrepreneur, and throwing the three financial chapters in I would assume it’s getting people’s attention. I don’t see CPA or accountant, only maybe in the sleeve of it where it’s not that bright, that maybe they’ll listen to you just a tad bit more than maybe their own account.

Randy: Yeah, I think when I point out the the the metrics… I would say one of the most prominent takeaways from when I speak the group’s is that they have to improve their metrics. They understand that they’re going a little bit too much on their gut and a little less on the pure data that exists inside the business. They may not necessarily love it, but if, when I go ahead and coach companies, the very first thing I do is baseline that company with their metrics. If I can look on one sheet of page and I can see three to five years worth of history of your company’s metrics, and I can see where you’re at today and I can see where your were before, we can build a forecast out 2-5 years. That is powerful information. I don’t need to know anything about your business, but if I know your numbers… number one, you can’t hide from the truth and your numbers are what they are.

Peter: Right.

Randy: So I would say yes, from a takeaway standpoint, the whole financial area, the whole metric area, is something that I gets their attention. Outside of that, outside of the financial area, what what gets their attention? What makes them get that look where you see the light bulb go on over the head and their eyes get nice and wide and and their pupils dilate? What is that piece in your book, outside of the financial pieces?

Randy: The general challenge I give to them at the beginning is that the growth of a company is limited by the growth of its leader. It’s a self awareness issue that, for you to ask anybody else to do something, you really have to ask are you prepared, yourself, to help them grow as a person. Because we all know what to grow our company we have to grow leaders, we have to grow the people below us so that they can take on more responsibility, but what I learned the hard way, and I use this program called Birthing the Giants in the book. My first decade in business we grew 50 percent a year.

Peter: Wow.

Randy: We had grow from a handful to over 200 employees, we had grown from nothing to over 20 million. We had grown from one to nine offices. And, in 1999, I get accepted into this program called Birthing and Giants. Now there are 60 of us, 60 of us entrepreneurs around the world, that are sitting on campus at the MIT Endicott house and I’m just ecstatic because I have been so successful and I’m so excited to learn. It’s right when the dot-com era was booming and, quite honestly, I was pretty cocky at that time. So I remember getting into the room and the first person comes up and they’re talking about the critical success factors for growth, and I’m like I got this stuff. I mean, look at how I’ve been growing. I feel pretty confident.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: And then they start talking and I start taking notes because I don’t really know what they’re talking about… and then I take more notes and I take more notes I take more notes, and by the end of that week I humbled and embarrassed. I was shocked at how little I knew about really running a business, so what I try to get out to the entrepreneurs, leaders, CEOs out there is it really took somebody showing me how much I didn’t know I didn’t know. We all know what we know, we all know what we’re good at, but until somebody pointed out just how how much I needed to learn – and from that point on I committed that I was never going to be the leader who asked anybody to do anything I was not doing myself first, and then it just goes from there. We talked about all the different aspects of the qualification card that I built, but I really am pushing leaders for self-awareness on whether they are the right person in that right seat. It’s a combination of self-confidence and self-awareness. If you have both, it’s a powerful combo. If it’s just the self-confidence piece without the self-awareness, it’s a risk.

Peter: So, listening to what you just described and you said that you were a little cokier back then, so when you’re hearing this you had to really just put your ego aside in order to accept, listen, learn and grow. Because, if you maintain that complete self-confidence and that ego was in the way… it would have stopped you, wouldn’t it, or would you still have gone, I don’t know what these guys are talking about? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing?

Randy: I tell the story that in my first decade, even after the Navy, as an entrepreneur, when you’re getting success, you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself. You have the guts to start a company and then it’s successful, you’re feeling pretty good but you feel like nothing can go wrong, and I tell people that until I really took Stephen Covey advise that you don’t listen with intent to reply you listening with the intent to understand, I was replying a lot because I thought it was right. I thought I knew everything and I was just telling people how to do things. I’m a different leader now and I try to get that across to people. You have a lot of people with really, really good opinions and thoughts, if you’re really open to listening to them.

Peter: Wow. I actually didn’t realize that that came from Covey, because we use that a lot in improv. It’s the ability to listen to understand vs listening to respond, and if you can listen to understand and park your agenda, you’ll go a long way; versus listening to respond, interrupting, pushing your agenda, don’t care just keep driving that way… it does go a long way. This whole listening to understand, we used to call that active listening back in the day but we’re not in that environment anymore where everybody’s just trying to butt in, respond, push the agendas, and it becomes… it’s defeating.

Randy: Yeah, the entrepreneurial role, and leaders in general, I think we think sometimes we have to know all the answers, that it’s a sign of weakness if we don’t. I turned it around, I tell people you don’t have to know all the answers. I challenge him to be able to ask really, really tough questions, the right questions, by listening. Because that way, when somebody comes to you, if you can ask the right questions then they still have to figure it out for themselves, but you’ve challenged them and given them the direction that they need to go. I think that that’s a skill that everybody needs to learn, or be self-aware to say I don’t like doing that crap. I want to go back and start businesses, and I want to hire somebody else to be the leader of my company, which is really “The Second Decision” that I ask people to make. If you hate doing all the stuff, if you don’t want to learn about all the leadership stuff and you don’t want to take all that responsibility, if you’d much rather just be in the startup world, then go be a creator. Hire or leave behind.

Peter: So let’s go back to that, because the qualified were the leader, the role player and the Creator, but one of the ones that didn’t qualify was the dabbler. Remind the audience about the dabbler.

Randy: So if you look at the the entrepreneurial qual card that I created, and if you had to have all that knowledge to run your company (and I consider it general knowledge that you should know. You should know about strategic planning, you should know about leadership, you should know about cash, you should know about expenses, you should know about lots of things to run your business.) The dabbler says I know I need to know that stuff but I’m going to kind of skip six of those pages because this doesn’t really interest me. I’m not really that interested in numbers so I know I probably should know about metrics, but I got cash and I got cash and I’m really good cash so I just choose not to look at that stuff. I am not really interested in marketing and I know it’s important to know and people tell me I should try out this Twitter thing, and I understand that social media is not going to go away, but I’m not that interested. So they dabble. And you know, I think a key point that I that I want to bring out is I’m not judging people, either.

Peter: Right.

Randy: The people who make the decision to become an entrepreneur, good for them, it takes guts to do that. So I’m not going to say it’s wrong to be a dabbler if your company is successful and you’re dabbling. What I am going to do is I’m going to point out two facts: I’m going to point out, number one, that your competition may be led by a qualified entrepreneur, which means they’re trying to build that company day in and day out. So you’re at risk of falling behind them, if you care. The real numbers that I point out are that fifty percent of all businesses fail within the first five years and seventy percent fail within the first 10. Business is tough.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: It’s easy to get that first sale, and maybe to get a couple sales, but to sustain it and build it overtime – businesses is tough.

Peter: So let’s say there’s somebody in the audience who happens to be a dabbler. They say okay, that’s me, but you know what? That Randy’s right. So, if my competition are qualified and I’m over here in the dabbling world, how do I move to the other side? Is it going back through this process and learning about becoming a qualified entrepreneur, as well as somehow changing that mindset that you have a thirst for knowledge for everything?

Randy: The first challenge I would give them is, what are they telling their employees? Are they challenging their employees to be the best that they can, and then they’re a dabbler? Because if they are then, as a leader (which is really what my book is, it’s a leadership book), I’m challenging them as a leader to do the right thing. Because yes you started the company, yes you’re the entrepreneur and yes you’re the one who owns the company, but if you’re holding everybody accountable below you of being qualified and you’re dabbling, then I have a little problem that and I think your employees will have a little problem with that over time. If you have a bunch of employees that are dabblers, just like you’re a dabbler, then that’s okay. What I don’t want you to do is I say you’re building great company and say you’re doing all the right things, but in fact you’re really not. I had to go through one of my biggest learning experiences. Our military recruiting business that got 36,000 veterans jobs over 25 years, that company has done really, really great things, it was sold to private equity in 2007. I remain on that board and remain active, so it’s a success story. We’ve done really, really well. Well, in 911, when everyone remembers where they were, our business, our supply, went away because the military went on stop loss. People couldn’t leave the service and demand went away because the economy went away, so our company that I mentioned that had grown 50 percent a year for a decade got downsized by seventy percent.

Peter: Wow.

Randy: So, when you look at the book, you know, a lot of these are lessons like the metrics. If you know your metrics, you can get through any type of either upswing or downswing. But, in the end, the real key for me is the leader making leader decisions. Dabbling is great as long as everybody understands that’s the expectations, but if you have employees that are relying on you and put the trust in you… they have families and they have goals, and if the leader’s dabbling and they expect that leader to be leading, then at some point there’s a mismatch there.

Peter: The house of cards will fall apart.

Randy: The house of cards will fall apart at some point, yep.

Peter: Because you’re really not walking the talk. You’re trying to get everybody else to do it but you, as the leaders who is in charge the business aren’t putting in the same effort. It’s not gonna be sustainable.

Randy: It’s a house of cards, and hopefully it never falls, but you look at the fortune 500 list of 1980 versus 2010 and not a lot of the same names are on there.

Peter: No, and a lot has to go to leadership. A lot has to do with complacency, too. We get complacent. By the way, do you have a Blackberry on you right now?

Randy: I have an iPhone.

Peter: Yeah, but 15 years ago I bet you had a blackberry.

Randy: I did.

Peter: Yeah.

Randy: But I have an iPhone 5c and I feel like I still have a blackberry.

Peter: [laughs] Well, you might wanna upgrade, but that’s okay. I mean, you’re looking at your cash flow, right?

Randy: You bet.

Peter: So, before we end this, what’s next on the horizon? You got another book or two out there?

Randy: I’m writing “The Third Decision.”

Peter: Okay.

Randy: “The Second Decision,” as we’ve talked about, is built around the top 10 reasons that companies either fail or underperform. “The Third Decision” goes to all of our lives that we have outside of business that we don’t talk about a lot but we lead, which is our personal life, and the book is built around the top regrets that each of us have in our lives – based on research, based on statistics, and then I’m giving that to the entrepreneurial world, the leadership world, for how is it that we deal with these regrets? Again, it’s a self-awareness book. I’m asking people to, especially from a regret standpoint, I always look out for 3-5 years. I don’t talk about your legacy or your whole life. I don’t want to talk about too far out, about three to five years. What I’m looking at is how can you avoid some regrets in your life by being more self aware of the decisions you make in your personal life. I’ll give you one example. I have asked every audience I have talked to, what are your personal non-negotiables? And a personal non-negotiable is not up for discussion and you’re not going to compromise. I’ll give you an example. For me, it was coaching my boys in baseball when they were 7-15. It was not negotiable. it was scheduled. I coached them, I went to the game. I didn’t get there twenty percent of the time. If somebody has really, really solid non-negotiables then that might actually restrict the growth of their company because they’re not willing to grow at fifty percent clip because all of a sudden they realize they’re non-negotiable. I think we’ve all heard, when we have a death in the family, those are the times when we think I’m going to change, I’m going to learn from this. Nobody does, we all forget about it. Like in “The Second Decision,” in the third I want to talk to you and I want you to say, he’s talking to me and he’s asking me some hard questions that I really can’t avoid answering. So it brings an account of personal life. I’m excited about it, it’s coming along good. Hopefully it’s gonna be out sometime in late 2017.

Peter: I’m looking forward to it coming out because I will pick that up because I thought it’d be a good read. It made me think what are my non-negotiables, and I need to put a little more thought into that, but if it’s anything like “The Second Decision” then, once again, you’ll be author of the year.

Randy: No, you get that one next time.

Peter: I am working on it, but I’ve got some pretty stiff competition. I’m looking him square in the eyes right now.

Randy: I’ll vote for you.

Peter: It’s a pleasure talking with you. The book “The Second Decision: The Qualified Entrepreneur.” I would HIGHLY, highly recommend it. It’s a must buy. You can be any type of entrepreneur, you may want to think about being an entrepreneur. Do the read, do the work. Don’t be a dabbler, be qualified. Thank you so very much, I’m looking forward to the next time that we can get together and chat again.

Randy: Me too. Hopefully it’s soon. Take care.

Peter: Thanks!

Production & Development for Improv Is No Joke by Podcast Masters

Ep. 31 – Bob Dean, Founder of Dean Learning & Talent Advisors LLC

Bob Dean is a collaborator, innovator and talent developer. His firm, Dean Learning & Talent Advisors LLC, consults with companies on learning and development, talent management and customer experience.

“I believe that learning and development needs to be a life-changing experience for people.”

He is a ”Certified Experience Economy Expert” and joined the first group of professionals certified by the authors of The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore. The book explores the opportunities that businesses have in order to create a better experience within whatever platform they’re on.

Bob is passionate about virtual meetings, virtual collaboration and virtual learning – he has been ever since he saw the first virtual meeting platform in 1997 – but the PowerPoint platform has had a negative impact on both face-to-face business and virtual experiences.

Bob was very excited about the potential for the virtual classroom because he envisioned subject matter experts being able to extend their reach to many, many more people than they ever could in a classroom. He thought we would have a revolution on learning with virtual classrooms. Unfortunately, we’re 20 years later and it really has not taken off as much as he had hoped and expected, and a lot of that is due to the challenges with virtual facilitation.

“I really believe that, as businesses go global and as the Millennials become such a significant part of the workforce, that virtual learning, virtual meetings will become a differentiator for many companies.”

Bob has used a lot of virtual web platforms, but ThinkTank is the game changer for virtual collaboration. ThinkTank is over 25 years old and the company developed many of the guiding principles for best practices in collaboration, including the importance of anonymity.

Anonymity is a critical element of virtual collaboration and education because participants are more honest, open and eager to participate.

When participants are collaborating anonymously, they still need a virtual facilitator who is able to direct the process and optimize productivity. Bob believes virtual facilitation will be a core competency for future professionals. Facilitation requires two key skills:

  • Confidence. You need the confidence to direct people who you can’t see or identify.
  • Improvisation. You’re dealing with the unknown so you have to be listening to what is being said, whether that listening is what has been written or on the call, and you have to be completely focused in order to adapt to the situation.

“I think the relevance of improv is greater now, in business, than it ever has been”

Improvisational skills are viewed by many business people as something that is fun and out-of-the-box, but not necessarily totally relevant to the way they interact with each other or with clients. However, in a world with instant communication, instant responses are critical to both face-to-face interactions and virtual interactions. It requires some level of improvisation to be able to respond quickly, with helpful information.

Improvisational facilitation ties back into the experience economy because working with different participants and adapting ThinkTank to provide different types of classroom experiences allows participants to retain more information than they would from a PowerPoint-driven type of presentation.

I greatly appreciate Bob for taking the time out of his schedule to teach us about virtual learning, virtual collaboration and virtual facilitation, and how they relate to improvisation.




  • ThinkTank
  • The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore
  • Yes, And by Second City
  • Look by Jim Gilmore



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in. I’m with Bob Dean, who’s a collaborator, innovator and talent developer. First and foremost, Bob, thank you so very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be part of my podcast.

Bob: My pleasure, Pete. Anything for you.

Peter: Oh thank you so very much. Bob, why don’t you take a moment and tell the audience a little bit about Bob Dean. What you do, how you got to where you are. Just so everybody has like a baseline before we get into our conversation.

Bob: Okay, sure. Well, my fundamental background is I’m a CPA. I started out in public accounting right out of college and spent seven years doing audits of public companies, middle-market companies. It was a tremendous experience and foundational in my career, and that was with one of those, at the time, big firms and I quickly moved into learning development, by chance. I became part of the audit education team of what was then Arthur Young and, as Ernst & Young became a merged firm, I was head of audit training for the firm. And then I got into a lot of technology and learning innovation, so I was very intrigued when the internet first came out and we got laptops in these firms, in trying to find new ways to do learning beyond the classroom. So I spent 25 years at EY and then I became the Chief Learning Officer of Grant Thornton, and that’s when I moved to Chicago. That was a great experience. That firm had a much smaller firm, at the time a big four, but was really ready to do a lot of learning innovation. Then I became the Global Head of Learning for Heidrick and Struggles executive search firm, which is where I really got more into the talent management, talent development area. That’s what that firm does – they’re focused on talent and helping companies find the best talent. So that’s my career in large companies, Pete, but since then I’ve had my own firm consulting with companies on learning and development, talent management and, one of my new favorite topics, customer experience. I got certified in a book called the Experience Economy, which I know you’re aware of, about 10 years ago and that was pretty life-changing for me because I believe that learning and development needs to be a life-changing experience for people. I’m working on uber learning, as you’ve called it. Learning innovation with virtual classrooms and e-learning, and many other things right now. So long answer but hopefully that’s helpful.

Peter: I think it is. We met back in 2011 at the Business Learning Institute’s thought leader conference and what struck me on your “TEDTalk” that we did that day was this whole thing around the experiential economy and it’s really piqued my interest. As I’ve gotten to know you, I periodically go back and reread it because, while it talks a lot about what’s currently in business, I look at it as talking a lot about the opportunities that businesses have in order to create a better experience within whatever platform they’re on, and I love the story of coffee: how coffee has gone from beans to, over time, the experience of going to Starbucks, and why do we go to starbucks.

Bob: Yeah, it’s a great story of the experience economy. Another one, Pete, would be Apple. When the iPod and the iPhone came out, Apple was trying to attract a new customer base with some very innovative products, but the Apple experience became much more than just the device in your hand. When they came out with iTunes, iTunes online became a part of that experience that extended the device to get you music and other content. Then, when they came out with the Apple Store, the experience, all of a sudden, became more physical and real, and people go into Apple Stores not necessarily to buy something but just to browse, perhaps talk to the geniuses at the genius bars, perhaps talk to each other about their experience with Apple products and, ultimately, as you know, Apple’s retailing environment actually leapfrogged over other retailers. They want to be like Apple because of the Apple experience. Hopefully that’s helpful in explaining the experience economy.

Peter: Oh that is, because I’ll look at my own computing purchasing and I used to be all in Dell, but I didn’t have that great customer experience. Once I came to Apple, it has been a wonderful customer experience in all aspects and it’s got me now all in Apple. I know we’re not here to talk about Apple and everything around it, but one thing I really want to discuss today is that you are a pioneer. You’re a pioneer in this this virtual facilitation, the virtual classroom, and we’re not talking web apps. We’re not talking just a PowerPoint slide. It’s how to facilitate a virtual classroom, a virtual meeting, and I’m just going to throw that to you and let you run with it.

Bob: Okay, well I’ve been passionate about virtual meetings, virtual collaboration, virtual learning ever since I saw the first virtual meeting platform, which was back in about 1997, and I got very excited about the potential for the virtual classroom, Pete, because I could see subject matter experts being able to extend our reach to many, many more people than they ever could when they were in a classroom. I thought we would have a revolution on learning with virtual classrooms. Unfortunately, we’re 20 years later and it really has not taken off as much as I had hoped and expected and I think a lot of it is due to the challenges with virtual facilitation. If you combine the challenges of doing that with the overload of PowerPoint that we have in business – PowerPoint has not only had a negative impact on face-to-face meetings and learning but it’s had a huge negative impact on the web, because we all go to webinars and in most of the webinars we attend we spend 80 percent of the time spent pushing PowerPoint out. I’m sure you can relate to that.

Peter: Hah, yes.

Bob: And very little time spent interacting with the audience, either through polling, through texting or, worse yet, through voice, because people are probably on mute multitasking and, if you call on him, they’ll have to scramble to come back and answer you. So that’s kind of the current state but I haven’t let that hold me back. I really believe that, as businesses go global and as the Millennials become such a significant part of the workforce, that virtual learning, virtual meetings will become a differentiator for many companies, and I’m working with some right now that are passionate about achieving that differentiation.

Peter: We’ve had this conversation for many years. We’re talking about virtual learning, not virtual compliance, where we’re just checking the box. This is about true learning in an online environment, because this is something else I remember from your “TEDtalk” on the experience economy, about scrapping learning, and when you walk out of a classroom how much is being held back, how much are you retaining and then how long after that are you down to maybe retaining only 10 to 20 percent, and we should be retaining a lot more leaving a classroom.

Bob: Yeah. That’s one of the deep dark secrets of not only could the corporate training environment – of which, as you know, companies spend billions of dollars on corporate training for a variety of reasons: sometimes for compliance, sometimes because employees just feel entitled to training as part of what they get every year, whether they have compliance requirements or not, and sometimes it’s used for strategic purposes, but it’s not always effective. We really need to move the needle on low retention, low application to really powerful impact of learning and development. I spent on my career trying to do this and I’ll probably spend the rest of my career trying to help companies do it, and try to do it myself.

Peter: Well, if we think back to when we first met and you introduced the platform of ThinkTank to me (and we’ll talk more about that), when I was introduced to it I think one of the first things I mentioned this would be the greatest thing for learning how do we develop a course around it? And I think in 2011 it was still somewhat new, but can you describe to the audience and tell us more about the ThinkTank platform? Because I think it is the game changer out there.

Bob: Yes, I have used a lot of a virtual web platforms and some of them, unfortunately, have been very good but have actually gone away because the company acquired and the software got retired. We’ve had some really good ones over the years but, today, we basically know four or five that are primarily used for meetings, and that would be things like WebEx and GoToMeeting and Adobe’s products, but ThinkTank has actually been around for over 25 years. It was pre-internet. This was not somebody’s really good idea when they saw the web. It actually was an outgrowth of research that was being done at a university by faculty, and the research was on collaboration. This was way ahead of their time back in the late 80s, researching collaboration, and what they came up with was some guiding principles for best practices in collaboration – and one of them was the importance of anonymity. Now, if you think back to the late 80s, most of the collaboration that was going on was in a conference room with flip charts and so, if you called out an idea, the only way it would have been anonymous is if you had a mask on and muffled your voice because otherwise everybody knew that came from Pete, he’s the boss and I’m not going to take issue with that. So ThinkTank created a software platform, at the time the company was called Group Systems, that allowed people to enter their ideas – say, in a simple response to a brainstorming question – and when they typed in their response it was anonymous. So if you had 10 people online together and, again, this could have been in a room. At the time, people could walk into a conference room, a laptop would be ready for them to sit down at, the software would have been installed and then the facilitator would start the brainstorming process, or the polling process, and it was all anonymous. That really has been a breakthrough because, if you think about virtual meetings where you want to get collaboration or virtual learning where you want collaborative learning to happen, and the anonymity opens it up. People are going to be more open, they’re more honest, they’re more eager to participate, they don’t hold back, and that’s the fundamental of ThinkTank from the time it first was started. The company and its platform have had a long journey but I started using it in my consulting business five years ago and I use it every day.

Peter: Correct me if I’m wrong but you provide a lot of feedback to ThinkTank on things that they could be doing, other things that could be adding to this platform, and they’ve made a number of changes based off of your suggestions over the years.

Bob: Yeah, I mean they have a few people, in the country and around the world because it is being used globally, who really do use it all the time. Those power users are able to give them ideas and tips and, as with any software platform, if you really want to master a platform – and that that’s hard because very few people have mastered PowerPoint or Word – you really get to the point where you begin to see little glitches and challenges that need to be fixed, and every time you do a new version of the software they try to fix the little things. So I enjoy helping them continuously improve their software.

Peter: Okay, so let’s talk about being anonymous. This platform can be used here in Chicago but you could have your team from around the world on here, and you’re doing brainstorming and the great thing is we’re all anonymous, which takes me back to one of the brainstorming things that I teach: the use of post-it notes, because those who are in our profession tend to be a little bit more introverted, per se. They may not want to say something because of that fear, so for the brainstorming session just write something on a post-it note, stick it on the wall. I can’t read handwriting, I’m getting ideas out of people’s heads. To me, when I think about how powerful that is just from a post-it notes perspective and knowing what I know about ThinkTank, I look at that ThinkTank as the superhero in this whole thing.

Bob: There is no doubt. We do have a problem, more and more today, reading people’s writing because we don’t hand write that much. We’re typing all the time. So when you do use post-it notes you do run the risk that you can’t read a lot of what goes up, and if you can’t read it and you want to capture it later and type it up you can’t get it all because you can’t read it. So, in ThinkTank, it’s kinda natural Pete. We all know how to type and some of us type really fast, and in ThinkTank, if a question gets posed and I have 10 people online together, I can get 30 responses in about two minutes. Matter of fact, I’m working on a very creative application with ThinkTank. I’m working with the great grandniece of Thomas Edison, Sarah Miller Caldicott, and we are doing very strategic innovation sessions on ThinkTank. We have an application, or an activity I should say, where we ask people in a small group, seven or eight people, to list a bunch of needs that they have related to a problem they’re trying to solve. What are the needs of the users? It’s amazing how seven people can use ThinkTank and they can generate 50 to 60 needs that are very substantive, in just about 10 minutes, and then once we have the list we can use the categorization functions of ThinkTank to bucket the ideas, discuss them in buckets, move them around, copy them and then, finally, take the pockets and rank them. So it’s a very iterative collaboration process that ThinkTank enables. But, to drive this home, you and I talked about this a long time ago. I mean, you taught courses on IFRS, and when you would get into a course with people who needed to learn IFRS, probably one of the first things you wanted to know is what questions do you have about IFRS? If you’re standing in the front of a classroom and you ask that, you may be lucky to have one or two hands go up. Partly because people don’t know what to ask, they don’t want to look like they’re not knowledgeable, but with ThinkTank and the anonymity they can type in the real questions, even the stupid ones, and then they can see what other people are typing and they may think “I have that same question, let me word it slightly differently because of my situation,” and now, as an instructor, you have great raw material to make your class better. So that’s just an example of how this can be used with learning in a technical topic, even. Does that make sense?

Peter: That makes sense and I know we’ve talked about that a lot, and the ability for people to feel much freer in asking questions and making comments, and you and I both know the only stupid question out there is the one that’s never asked. Nine times out of ten there is really no such thing as as that “stupid question.” I know that you have a pilot course out there on business writing that I sat through a 90 minute version thereof, and I’ve got a face-to-face course on business writing, and I think my immediate response after that 90 minutes was “oh my god this thing is awesome,” and it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing in that type of classroom. Can you give us an overview of that class?

Bob: Yes. It’s actually a course that I have been using as a Chief Learning Officer, with a consultant that has been a longtime colleague of mine, and we ran that course at Grant Thornton and some other firms. It was a classroom course, so it was a two hour course or a four hour course, and it was targeted at groups of people who did similar types of writing. So, auditors, national office technicians who were writing white papers and responses to interpretations of FASB bulletins. Think about that: how important that writing is. It could be customized for different audiences and it was extremely well-received, and I think more and more it was because it was a rare opportunity to actually do some writing in the class – not just look at PowerPoint slides. It wasn’t going back to college. What’s really striking, when we started doing this online, Pete, is we would ask the question of everyone who came: what writing training have you had in your career? And it was astounding. The answers were coming back from a wide variety of people in a lot of different farms, and they were going back to college or high school and they hadn’t had any formal writing training, in their companies. It wasn’t really surprising, but to get it validated through responses – and you saw that, in the class you went to – was pretty amazing. It really does show a huge gap in the communication skills of people in business and so everything they learned they do from habit. They may read some good emails and see some things they like and change, but they’re really not getting a chance to have training from an expert in business writing, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re running a writing for today and tomorrow course that’s highly interactive in ThinkTank and my role is to be the virtual facilitator, and Curt Peoples’s role is as the subject matter expert because he’s been teaching business writing courses for 20 years.

Peter: You said something very important: that you are the virtual facilitator of this course. Let’s talk about skills and being a virtual facilitator. What are some of the key skills in being a virtual facilitator?

Bob: Yeah, it’s really great question because this is a key competency of the future, I believe, and I have done so much training of people over the years in presentation skills and facilitation skills related to that that I basically, and I’m passionate about doing, so I want to improve. I take feedback very seriously, and I have gotten myself to where I’m very confident when I go into a virtual facilitation situation, even executives who, obviously, you better keep engaged or they could be out of there in five or ten minutes. For example, we recently did a series of virtual focus groups attended by senior people in a professional services firm and we kept them engaged in a virtual focus group on a very important topic, for two hours, and it was very exciting to see not only the engagement and the contributions but also the level and quality of input that we were able to gather in ThinkTank, in that timeframe. If you go back to the skills, I think one thing that makes people anxious about doing this, first off, is that they can’t see their audience. When you don’t know how your audience is reacting, it could be negative, it could be people multitasking, it could be people have left the room and you don’t know. That causes one level of anxiety. But the the bigger issue around the skills is is how you pose questions and how you gain responses that you aren’t necessarily expecting. So, if we go back to the IFRS example, you could get 30 questions and you might see 15 that you can’t answer, and you might immediately get anxious about how you’re going to respond to that, so you have to have a confidence of being able to improvise. Perhaps looking at new questions that come that you’re not familiar with, perhaps going back and asking for follow-up, or perhaps connecting the dots between a few questions improvisationally and going back to the group. So I think one of the things that we talked about is that improvisation is a really important skill for virtual facilitation, and I don’t know if that’ll make sense immediately to people, but it’s something that we could probably spend a whole hour on.

Peter: Well, yeah, I was kind of leading the witness there because we have had a long conversation about improvisation skills in virtual facilitation because you’re dealing with the unknown so you have to be listening to what is being said, whether that listening is what has been written or on the call, and you have to be completely focused in order to adapt to the situation. I know that you and I spent a lot of time earlier this year talking about virtual facilitation through the use of improvisation. So much so that we both attended, along with a colleague Alice, a workshop at Second City called Improv for Business.

Bob: Yes, that was extremely powerful and it really kind of crystallized for me some of the things I was already doing naturally and being able to understand that some of the improvisational techniques at Second City are really very relevant to business, and I’ve actually been involved with Second City people training business people for years. Generally it’s seen by business people as something that is kind of fun and out-of-the-box but not necessarily totally relevant to the way they interact with each other or with clients, but in the world we’re living in now – in this instant world, Pete, a lot of people expect an instant response. If you get a text and it’s somebody texting you to get information and you don’t respond quickly, for whatever reason, it’s going to leave an impression. So I go I wonder why he doesn’t respond. Does he not know what to say, does not know the answer or is he not there? So this notion of the instant response in a face-to-face situation, or in a virtual situation like we’re in, it requires some level of improvisation, sometimes, to be able to respond quickly and I think the relevance of improv is greater now, in business, than it ever has been. The other thing is we know there’s a new book out from Second City called Yes, And and we learned that the power of Yes, And is very, very relevant to virtual facilitation. So let me again make this clear because, when we have a webinar where there’s 47 powerpoint slides in an hour and five minutes of Q&A has been carved out at the end, there’s no room for improvisation there.

Peter: No.

Bob: The PowerPoint is there. It’s not going to be changed, and if somebody goes off topic the presenter usually goes right back to the PowerPoint. But if you’re in a virtual learning program where there’s only six PowerPoint slides in two hours and most of the content is going to be created by the learners – in response to questions, doing activities, doing polls – then the facilitators have to be ready for anything. Not only that but every session they do could be different. Different questions, different responses, and improv is really an important part of being effective. Does that make sense?

Peter: [laughs] Yeah, just a tad bit. Just so the audience knows, I did not bribe Bob. He had a copy of my book and he’s been reading my magazine articles, and one of the articles really struck him. We got into this conversation about, “Wow, I didn’t really realize I’ve been improvising the whole time I’ve been doing virtual facilitation because really I’m not working with a script.” Really, to tie it back to the experience economy, I’m working with my learners and adapting a program to provide a different type of classroom experience for them so that, when they walk out, they’re walking out retaining more information than they would from a PowerPoint-driven type of presentation.

Bob: Well, actually, it’s great that you brought it back to the experience economy because the tagline for that book, on the cover, is work is theater and every business a stage, and when I got certified in that book my goal was to change that to learning is theater and every classroom a stage. Now, when I use virtual, I’ve got to say learning is theater and every virtual learning platform is a stage. So there’s a chapter in the book he called the four forms of theater because, if they’re going to have theater on the front of the book, they better talk about it and Pine and Gilmore, the authors, took it upon themselves, when they wrote this book, to get educated on the four forms of theater and one of four forms of theater is improv.

Peter: Yep

Bob: And so when we took your book around improv and the experience economy I made a connection that I had seen at a fairly high level, but now I see that it’s the future. I believe it’s the future. You don’t you don’t hear the word improvisation in business that often today but I think, if I’m going to be passionate about the impact of virtual facilitation and virtual learning for the rest of my career then I’ll be talking about improv a lot from here on out.

Peter: Well I’m glad you embraced the passion because I think, when I first read Experience Economy, I loved the first part of it when it talks about how we’ve gone from mom making a cake to chucky cheese on birthdays, but it was it was that second half of that book, when they’re talking about every business as the theater aspect of which I really gravitated to, and obviously I saw the improv piece, which really struck my attention, but when I think about when we all left Chicago, I think that was like April of 2016, so we went in with kind of my book, we understood my work and my perspective of it. We got the perspective of Second City to the Yes, And book, which I’ve bought and read a couple times, and it was so easy to make that tie-in to the experience economy. But I love the twist you just added to it, and I’ve never heard you say this before but I’m a complete believer in this: where learning is a theater. We’re there to perform, and I guess when I think about it I really feel much more confident when I say I am the Chief Education Officer.

Bob: Yeah.

Peter: Because I look at it as a theatre.

Bob: Well, you know another word that you and I had a big AHA together with, at the Second City training, was ensemble. The word ensemble. I was just at Second City last Saturday with my wife at a show called Unelectable, which is very timely for today’s political environment. By the time people here at this podcast, the election may be over, Pete, but right now it’s still uncertain and I watched with new, fresh perspectives what was happening on that stage because the ensemble that had been chosen to play in that show, and there was six people, were unbelievable in their ability to work together, to co-create, to have each other’s back and make sure that they were going to be successful in whatever they were trying to do spontaneously. I think another aspect of virtual learning is, if you have a three hour program on writing for today and tomorrow and you have two facilitators and a couple of clients sponsors in the virtual program, along with 20 participants, those facilitators and those clients sponsors, or color commentators if you will, they’ve got to be an ensemble. They can’t be a silo group who’s never talk to each other before. How many times in training have we seen the client sponsor comes in to open the program and then immediately leaves the room, and that’s not an ensemble. That’s a siloed approach to learning, and if learning is theater then learning requires an ensemble of people to get the job done, and part of the ensemble, Pete. may just be people who got involved in the design process and a dry run and are very excited about what’s going to happen, but don’t have to always be there for the the live or the archived experience.

Peter: You’re talking about this show that you saw Second City and we talked about an ensemble and we talked about taking current events and being adaptable to the current environment that’s out there, and I remember that you sent me an email saying that you were going to be attending this, and then you sent me another email after that, and this was right around the Olympics–

Bob: Yes

Peter: And do you remember that email that you sent me?

Bob: Yeah. That Ryan Lochte had just become a star for the wrong reasons, at the end of the Olympics, and it just happened four days before and this showed had been going for several weeks, but Ryan Lochte not only became a topic in the show, so they changed that the show because of that, but there actually was a multimedia element to that Second City show on the stage that I’m eager for you to see because his picture was also up on the stage, on the screen.

Peter: Wow that’s really adapting to the current situation, making things relevant. If we can do that in the classroom as well, because, as you as you described earlier, I’ve got 47 PowerPoints that I’m gonna drill through and how often we are adapting those to what’s current in the learning environment? Or even what’s happening in today’s world? Bringing that into the classroom has a much stronger impact in the learning process. The better the story we can tell in the classroom, the more were able to retain.

Bob: So there’s another thing going on in the learning space that is definitely using different language but you’ve probably heard of it. It’s called of the flipped classroom and the notion is to take some of that content, some of those 47 powerpoints, and make a video off youtube or a ted talk or whatever, and make it pre-work so that, when we do bring the group together, we don’t have to read the powerpoint. We assume you digested it, however you got it and whatever that content was, in pre-work, and if it took you more time than somebody else that’s fine. You’re doing it by yourself so you take the time you need, but once we come together as a community of learners let’s use that time for collaboration. We both know Tom hood.

Peter: Mhm.

Bob: He’s been on your podcast. He’s a huge believer and the fact that he believes that collaboration is the future of learning and that collaboration is actually more important than experience, and what we’re getting at there is we all know we learn from experience. We have, just in the audit world, we have significant experiences with client projects and we learn from those, but how often did we actually share them? When did we get a chance to, other than at the water cooler back in those days, how did we share them? Well now we can share experiences through collaboration. We can get them out quicker, we can get response to them quicker, and the essence is that collaboration is more important as a learning design element today. So, if we can get that content behind us in pre-work, we can then use the live time to collaborate. One of the things that you saw in that writing course that I’m really excited about, and this is hard to do, is using ThinkTank for pre-work because you can design some very compelling activities that might include questions and polls, and what I’ve seen lately is really encouraging. People actually will do it because they’ve been used to this concept of pre-work through email. You sending out a PDF of a white paper, as the instructor, and telling people they need to read it and saying, “oh, by the way, if you have any questions or comments go ahead and email me back.” Well if that really happens and everybody gets CC’d, we’ve got an immediate overload of stuff that most people don’t want.

Peter: Right.

Bob: So the notion of going into ThinkTank and individually providing your comments, your input. Read the white paper but put your comments, and in an activity that everybody can read. That’s been very well received.

Peter: You took me down a path that I haven’t thought of before. You’re talking about pre-work and the flipped classroom and those who do the pre-work and those who participate in the pre-work can collaborate at a higher level than those who do not do the work, which took me back to my early stages of being introduced to improvisation. I still I tell the story of when I was in my third workshop and I’m still trying to figure it out and the instructor, after we were done, said, “Okay, for next week I want everybody to go out and research the seventies. Book, music, current events, shows, movies, whatever. Just research the seventies.” And those of us who did that pre-work came in the next week and we rocked. Those who didn’t failed miserably. As you were describing this pre-work piece, it took me right back to that because, in that virtual classroom, we’re all coming with what we’ve read and we can apply what we know and our experiences to be much more collaborative in that environment than if we’re just pushing PowerPoint out. Bingo.

Bob: Well, I will go back to experience economy again because the reason this book is so compelling and that the authors have been able to certify over 200 people in the world in the models and frameworks of the book is because every chapter, just as I talked about the four forms of theatre, has a new model. One of the models that I learned from this book was the five stages of an experience. We think about an experience, and I have a great experience that you know about frequently, and that’s going to Wrigley Field to watch a Cubs game.

Peter: [laughs]

Bob: And that’s my immersion in the game. That’s my engagement with the games. But there are two parts of that experience, on each side, that people often don’t think about. On the front end, there’s attracting people to the experience and then entering the experience, and at Wrigley this year the entering process was actually unique because we had to go through security screening to get into the stadium for the first time ever.

Peter: Oh wow.

Bob: It’s not necessarily viewed as going to be a positive experience, but they’ve actually made it a positive experience because they realize we don’t want entering the stadium to become a downer for people who are excited about coming to a Cubs game. And then the other side of the experience is exiting and extending the experience, and so the exiting process is really walking out, no matter where you’re leaving the stadium, and having all these smiling people with Wrigley caps on and Cubs caps on thanking you for coming and hoping that you come back soon. That’s just a little thing but it does leave you out with a smile on your face, and then of course extending the experience is when I email you when I get home and tell you about this great Cubs game I went to or the great Second City thing I went to and we’re talking about it now, so we’re extending the experience. Now that’s a long way of sharing where pre-work fits in. Pre-work is attracting people to the learning experience and entering the learning experience, and when you have entered the experience through some compelling pre-work you’re ready to go when the live experience starts. Does that make sense?

Peter: Yes and you’re able to contribute a higher level then you would be able to, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s what you contribute to the conversation, how we build on the conversation and your experience and knowledge, and helping to grow that conversation. Yes, I am very jealous of Bob because of his season tickets at Wrigley. I’ve been to Wrigley, I’ve extended the experience, but I think my version of extending the experience was going to Sluggers after the game and maybe going to Sluggers even before the game. But then I’d go to the Atlantic ballpark and you can’t extend the experience because you leave it and there’s nothing there in that extended experience.

Bob: While extending experience at Wrigley can, for me, oftentimes include just going and getting on the L to leave Addison station and go to wherever my car’s parked, and it’s kind of fun, Pete. You get on there and all these people on the L just left the Cubs game, ninety percent of them were at the game, and you see people from out of town who don’t even know if they’re going the right direction on the L and so they want to ask the Chicagoans, “Am I going the right way?” and I’ll say, “Why, was this your first time at Wrigley?” and they’lll say yes and I’ll say, “What was it like?” So just riding the subway out of the stadium is a cool way of extending the experience. Again, when I got certified in the Experience Economy, going back to my fundamental background as a CPA and then becoming a learning leader, I thought we can do better than that learning scrap and that ten percent retention, but maybe what we need to do is apply business principles to learning and development – and the experience economy is a business book. It’s not a learning book. So I’m trying to take these models and frameworks from business that work with companies like Starbucks and Apple and many, many others and use them in learning.

Peter: We will leave that to some degree as the last word because what I want to do is stop the the interview now, but before I do I’ve got about ten questions I want you to answer so the audience knows you. But I think it’s a good stopping point to let people digest this information to this podcast. You well know that you will be back on this podcast again for part 2, to extend the conversation even further and pick up where we left off because, quite frankly, we both know that we could be here for a couple hours just because we’re both so passionate about learning and development that this conversation could go a very long way.

Bob: Yeah, let me just leave another parting shot, since you kinda opened this with the experience economy and virtual learning. I believe virtual learning needs to be an experience.

Peter: Yes, all learning needs to be experienced but even much more so virtual learning. In order to get rid of the distractions you want to be immersed in that process of learning. So, before I let you go, I don’t think that I’ve prepped you for this prior to the podcast but I like that kind of end my podcasting by trying to get the audience to know you just a little bit better. I’ve got ten questions, they’re easy. Are you ready?

Bob: Yes, I’m ready.

Peter: He’s a little nervous. I can tell by the voice. I’ll just start it off easy. Bud Light or Old Style?

Bob: Bud Light.

Peter: Now you surprised me.

Bob: Only because it’s hard to get old style today.

Peter: Oh really?

Bob: They used to sell it at Wrigley but Budweiser bought them out.

Peter: Oh, I didn’t know that because the last time I had Old Style was when I was at Wrigley. PC or Mac?

Bob: PC, although I’m very loyal to Mac from the standpoint of an iPad and iPhone, but I still am sitting here in front of a Dell laptop.

Peter: Okay, Midway Airport or O’hare?

Bob: O’hare. I actually think O’hare is a very efficient airport. A lot of people who come there to make connections have a bad experience, but as a hometown airport it’s pretty cool.

Peter: [laughs] Okay, and I know a lot of my friends who have gotten transfers and connections in O’hare and have not had that great experience. So who’s the biggest villain: Steve Bartman or the Billy Goat curse?

Bob: Well it’s probably the Billy Goat curse. Bartman got a bad rap.

Peter: I agree he did get a bad wrap. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s your all-time favorite song?

Bob: That’s an interesting one. I’m a big Nat King Cole fan from way back. I’ll say many of his songs, but I’ll say Mona Lisa.

Peter: Okay. What’s your all-time favorite movie? You’re sitting there on a Saturday, you’re flipping through the channels and all of a sudden you see it on and you can’t flip any more.

Bob: Yeah, well you know I’m a big baseball fan so there’s actually two of them. One is The Natural.

Peter: Yep.

Bob: And the other is Field of Dreams.

Peter: Ah. Build it and they will come. What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Bob: My favorite restaurant in Chicago is Harry Caray’s, both downtown and in the suburbs.

Peter: Okay, so I know that your big Cubs fan and Wrigley lover, and that’s one of the great ballparks in the U.S., but what’s your favorite ballpark to visit that’s not in Chicago?

Bob: Well, it’s Camden Yards in Baltimore. I lived in Cleveland for 11 years and I was there when Jacobs Field opened and that was cool because that was a great stadium, but it opened right after Camden Yards and I used to go to the DC area a lot and I made a lot of visits Camden Yards and that is just an incredible ballpark. I have been in the old memorial stadium in Baltimore and I could see the difference, just as I also saw it in Cleveland. Camden is a great place.

Peter: Well I just learned something new because you and I were both in Cleveland at the same time, because I remember when the the Jake was built and opened and I had spent a number of times at Cleveland Stadium. Me and 5000 my closest friends watching an Indians game, back in the day, and I was actually at the game when the A’s are in town playing the Indians and the ball bounced off of Canseco’s head for the home run. So that’s my claim to fame in Cleveland baseball. I know you’ve traveled a lot. What’s your favorite city to visit on business?

Bob: It’s probably New York. It’s fun to go to New York on business for a short trip. I wouldn’t want to live there but there’s always cool things to see, including going to Broadway shows there.

Peter: Exactly.

Bob: Which is always great.

Peter And last but not least, what book are you currently reading?

Bob: Well, I’m reading a book that we talked about earlier: Yes, And.

Peter: Oh, you are.

Bob: I haven’t made it through the whole book and I’m reading that one, but I think I’m going to send you another book that just came out from one of the authors of The Experience Economy, Jim Gilmore, and this book is called Look. This book is about improving your observational skills and one of the things Jim says, Pete, is that we’re deteriorating in our observation skills today because we spend much of our day observing a screen in front of us.

Peter: Yes.

Bob: And not looking at the world that we’re missing behind the screen. So this will be a wake-up call to some people when they read this book and I highly recommend it. It’s going to be great. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be a lunch and learn with Gilmore and in Chicago in a couple weeks and I’m really looking forward to it. So I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s coming.

Peter: Well cool. I’m going to have to pick that book up because that that sounds like something I would want to read, and when you were saying that it reminded me of the comedian George Carlin. Not about the seven words but he coined the phrase vuja de: to look at everyday things as if you’re looking at them for at the very first time, and I think if we’re behind that screen so much then just by removing the screen and looking at everyday things for the first time, what perception do you have, how does it look to you now and what can you do with that, and what kind of creativity can you draw from that?

Bob: You can’t be improvisational if you’re looking at a screen.

Peter: Exactly. So Bob, once again, thank you so very much for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and I know my audience will too.

Bob: Okay, thank you Pete. Great to be with you. Good luck with the podcast.


Production & Development for Improv Is No Joke by Podcast Masters

Ep. 30 – Peter Margaritis: The Host’s Year In Review


2016 flew by faster than a european swallow, or maybe that’s an African swallow?

Well, in any case, on June 27th this podcast was launched with the intent to help my audience strengthen their communication and leadership skills through improvisation.

I wasn’t sure what I was walking into but I did tell myself that I needed to invest a year’s worth of time to see if this was right for my business and I can answer that question right now with a resounding, “Yes!”


This episode includes a short review of the past 29 episodes and my favorite quotes:

Ep. 1 – Clarke Price: Former CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs – Leadership and Not-For-Profits

“Great leaders have the ability to explain that their path is the right thing to do.”


Ep. 2 – Mike Sciortino: Founder & CEO of Gratitude Marketing – Founder & CEO of Gratitude Marketing

“I’m about building long-term relationships and you do that by being concerned more with what the customer or client wants than what your agenda might be.”


Ep. 3 – Tom Hood: CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs & Business Learning Institute – Forward Thinking

“The old idea of ‘if we train them they’ll leave’ needs to take a back seat to the more critical message of ‘what if we don’t train them and they stay?’”


Ep. 4 – Ed Mendlowitz: Partner At the Law Firm Withum Smith & Brown – Building Client Relationships

“Referrals determine if you’re doing a good job or not.”


Ep. 5 – Karl Ahlrichs: Senior Consultant at Gregory & Appel Insurance – The Next-Gen Wi-Fi

“The ability to simplify the complex and communicated will be invaluable in the near future.”


Ep. 6 – Steve Sacks: CEO & Founder of Solutions to Results, LLC – Leadership and Firms

“Ask a question, listen to the answer, then deliver on what the client wants.”’


Ep. 7 – Karen Young: President & Founder of HR Resolutions, LLC – Hire Slow and Fire Fast

“Drama occurs in the workplace when we fail to communicate fully with our people.”


Ep. 8 – Pam Devine: Manager, Professional Development Customized Learning & Solutions Specialist – Learning Environments

“The learning curve is truly the earning curve.”


Ep. 9 – John Barlow: Principle Engineer At Honda R&D Americas, Inc. – The Yes And Mindset

“Because people are so busy with their lives these days, I think part of that forces the, ‘Yes, but,’ in our culture.”


Ep. 10 – Professor In Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences At the University Of Stirling, Scotland – Improvisation in Education

“If one approaches the challenge with a ‘Yes, and’ attitude, it becomes an opportunity as opposed to something that’s bad.”


Ep. 11 – Jennifer Elder: President At the Sustainable CFO – Millennials in the Workplace

“The definition of a professional is someone who does their best work when they don’t want to.” 


Ep. 12 – Bret Johnson: Director Of Channel Management & Development at AICPA – Developing Partnerships

“There’s a certain amount of fear when it comes to working with partners. You have to trust; you have to take a bit of a leap of faith.”


Ep. 13 – Jack Park: Certified Speaking Professional, Corporate Advisor, Football Radio Commentator & Best-Selling Author – Leadership and Football

“With almost no exceptions, the great coaches were great coaches because they were even greater leaders than they were coaches.”


Ep. 14 – Tami Gaitten: Founder & CEO Of Gaitten Wellness, LLC – Improve Your Health With Small Changes

“Nature is designed to provide us the foods that we need in the season that we’re in.”


Ep. 15 – Hayden Williams: CFO & Former VP Of Education At the Washington Society Of CPAs – The Future of CPE

“We have to start thinking about how we embrace our audience. How do we create that experience for that audience member?”


Ep. 16 – Kristen Rampe: Founder & CEO of Kristen Rampe Consulting – The Value of Soft Skills in Public Accounting

“It’s time for accountants to get out from behind our desks. Talk to your clients and learn more about their business.”


Ep. 17 – Dan Swartwout: Standup Comedian, Councilman & Attorney – Public Speaking Skills

“The great speaker and a good speaker are both prepared and ready and on top of what they’re going to do. The great speaker, however, doesn’t appear to be over-prepared.”


Ep. 18 – Mark Wyssbrod: CPA, Local Capitalist & President of Small Business CFO, Inc – Entrepreneurship

“Stop saying What If and start saying Yes And.” 


Ep. 19 – Judy Carter: Keynote Speaker, Coach, & Author Of “The Message Of You” – Find Your Message

“Take command of your life story. Take command of The Message of You and find your message now. Find that message now. Find it, and use it to become an influencer in the world.”


Ep. 20 – Lisa Anderson: Partner At Morse & Company In Tulsa, Oklahoma – Divorce, Taxes and Opportunities

“I have knowledge and I have a skill set that I want to share with people. If I’m not presenting it, it’s not getting out there. So it’s worth having that fear initially.”


Ep. 21 – Greg Kozera: A Writer & Speaker with Extensive Knowledge of Valuable Subjects From Leadership Skills to the Science Behind Fracking – Leadership to Fracking

“Leaders know where they are going.”


Ep. 22 – Greg Lainas: Senior Vice President and Division Director of Robert Half Management Resources – Power of Networking

“If I can network my way into a book, you should be able to network your way into a job.”


Ep. 23 – Claudia & Tom Trusty: 30 Years of Marketing, Communication and Design at Trusty & Company – Optimize Your Marketing

“The bottom line is, if you’re not on page one on Google, you’re nowhere.”


Ep. 24 – Brette Rowley: The Career Coach to Millennials – Marketing Your Job Search

“In the job search process, you’re ultimately marketing yourself.”


Ep. 25 – Bill Sheridan: Chief Communication Officer at the Maryland Association of CPAs – Changes in Technology and its Impact

“If we can get there first, if we can figure out how to become a little bit more future ready and then show our clients and customers how to do that as well, then our role as trusted business advisors just gets stronger.”


Ep. 26 – Ashley Matthews: Senior Tax Manager at Rea & Associates – Adaptability in Public Accounting

“I found that you have to be stern and you have to mean what you say in order to be taken seriously. People have a tendency to pile on and see how much you’ll take, and so pushing back is always appropriate.”


Ep. 27 – Janis Cohen, The Intuitive Therapist – Using Your Intuition

“I have no problem with people not believing. I know that I don’t need to convince anybody of anything. I understand the skepticism really only comes from a place of being unaware.”


Ep. 28 – Jamie Richardson: VP of Government and Shareholder Relations at White Castle Systems, Inc. – Making a Difference

“The greatest part of networking is about friendships and part of that friendship is being a good listener.” 


Ep. 29 – Dr. Jay Young: Founder of College Bound Advantage – You Need a Trail Map When Selecting a College

“I do what college consultants don’t do and I do what high school counselors don’t do. I know colleges in Ohio and I know their academic programs. I know their co-curricular programs and I know the trade-offs that result from connections between those.”


I hope you enjoyed this podcast and will continue to download them in 2017. If you think a friend, colleague or family member will get value from the podcast, then please share it with them. If you’d like to be a guest on my podcast, please send me an email at Peter (at) PeterMargaritis.com.






Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: Welcome to Episode 30 of Improv is no Joke podcast. Happy holidays and thank you very much for downloading this episode. I can say that 2016 flew by faster than a european swallow, or maybe that’s an African swallow. Well, in any case, on June 27th, this podcast was launched with the intent to help my audience strengthen their communication and leadership skills through improvisation. Friends have been telling me for a long time that I need to have my own podcast and even my mother suggested it too. She said, “son you really need to start your own podcast because I’ve always told you that you have a face for radio.” Now she really didn’t say that – or did she?

I wasn’t sure what I was walking into but I did tell myself that I needed to invest a year’s worth of time to see if this was right for my business and I can answer that question right now with a resounding, “Yes!”

This podcast has been so much fun because I’ve had great guests that provided wonderful advice, along with lots of laughter. This has been a blast and a big Thank You goes out to all of you who have given your time and knowledge to this podcast. Another big thank you goes to Cody Boyce and his team at Podcast Masters for the outstanding behind-the-scenes work to make this podcast a success. Thank you all.

One of the biggest question marks I had about launching a podcast was, “Will anybody listen?” I’m recording this episode on December 17th and to-date there have been over 2,500 downloads reaching 24 countries, including the United States of America. Some of these countries include Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, France and Australia. I am just blown away. Seeing this type of growth helps me with the motivation to keep this podcast moving forward. I’m going to do a short review of the prior 29 episodes, which includes the guest’s name, a summary title for the episode, and my favorite quote from the interview.

Now, if something catches your attention, go to iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play and download the episode. Okay, here we go.

In episode 1, my guest was Clark Price, who is a retired CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs and his episode is titled “Leadership and Not-For-Profits.” My favorite quote is, “Great leaders have the ability to explain that their path is the right thing to do.”

In episode 2, my guest was Mike Sciortino, who’s the author of Gratitude Marketing. His episode is titled, “Founder & CEO of Gratitude Marketing.” Go figure. Now my favorite quote from this interview was, “I’m about building long-term relationships and you do that by being concerned more with what the customer or client wants than what your agenda might be.”

In episode 3, my guest was Tom Hood, who is the CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs, and his episode is titled, “Forward Thinking.” My favorite quote is, “The old idea of ‘if we train them they’ll leave’ needs to take a back seat to the more critical message of ‘what if we don’t train them and they stay?’”

In episode 4, my guest was Ed Mendlowitz, who is a partner in the accounting firm of Withum Smith And brown in New Jersey, and his episode is titled “Building Client Relationships,” and my favorite quote was, “Referrals determine if you’re doing a good job or not.”

In episode 5, my guest was my good friend Karl Ahlrichs, who’s a senior consultant at Gregory & Appel Insurance, and his episode is titled, “The Next-Gen Wi-Fi,” and my favorite quote was, “The ability to simplify the complex and communicated will be invaluable in the near future.”

In episode 6, my guest was Steve Sacks, who is the CEO and Founder of Solutions to Results, LLC. His episode is titled, “Leadership and Firms,” and my favorite quote was, “Ask a question, listen to the answer, then deliver on what the client wants.”

In episode 7, my guest was Karen Young, who is the President and Founder of HR Resolutions, LLC, and the author of the book Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama-Free HR and her episode is titled, “Hire Slow and Fire Fast.” My favorite quote was, “Drama occurs in the workplace when we fail to communicate fully with our people.”

In episode 8, my guest was Pam Devine, who’s the Director of Learning and Development at the Maryland Association of CPAs. Her episode is titled, “Learning Environments.” My favorite quote is, “The learning curve is truly the earning curve.”

In episode 9, my guest was John Barlow, who is a principal engineer at Honda R&D Americas Inc, and his episode is titled, “The Yes And Mindset.” My favorite quote was, “Because people are so busy with their lives these days, I think part of that forces the, ‘Yes, but,’ in our culture.”

In episode 10, my guest was an old school friend of mine for many years ago, Kevin Tipton, who’s a professor at sport, health and exercise scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, and his episode is titled, “Improvisation in Education.” My favorite quote for this interview was, “If one approaches the challenge with a ‘Yes, and’ attitude, it becomes an opportunity as opposed to something that’s bad.” Well said, my friend.

In episode 11, my guest is my good friend Jennifer Elder, who is the President and Founder of The Sustainable CFO. Her episode is titled, “Millennials in the Workplace” and my favorite quote was “The definition of a professional is someone who does their best work when they don’t want to.”

In episode 12, my guest was Bret Johnson, who is the Director of Channel Management and Development at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and his episode is titled “Developing Partnerships.” My favorite quote was, “There’s a certain amount of fear when it comes to working with partners. You have to trust; you have to take a bit of a leap of faith.”

In episode 13, my guest was Jack Park, who is a certified speaking professional, corporate advisor, football radio commentator, best-selling author and all-around great guy. His episode is titled “Leadership and Football.” My favorite quote was, “With almost no exceptions, the great coaches were great coaches because they were even greater leaders than they were coaches.”

In episode 14, my guest was my neighbor Tami Gaitten, who is the Founder and CEO of Gaitten Wellness, LLC, and her episode is titled “Improve Your Health With Small Changes.” My favorite quote was, “Nature is designed to provide us the foods that we need in the season that we’re in.”

In episode 15, my guest was Hayden Williams, who is a CFO and former VP of Education at the Washington Society of CPAs, and his episode is titled “The Future of CPE.” My favorite quote was, “We have to start thinking about how we embrace our audience. How do we create that experience for that audience member?”

In episode 16, my guest was Kristen Rampe, who is the founder and CEO of Kristen Rampe Consulting, and her episode is titled “The Value of Soft Skills in Public Accounting.” My favorite quote was, “It’s time for accountants to get out from behind our desks. Talk to your clients and learn more about their business.”

In episode 17, my guest was a friend of mine Dan Swartwout, who is a stand-up comedian, councilman and attorney. His episode is titled “Public Speaking Skills.” My favorite quote was, “The great speaker and a good speaker are both prepared and ready and on top of what they’re going to do. The great speaker, however, doesn’t appear to be over-prepared.”

In episode 18, my guest was Mark Wyssbrod, who’s a CPA, local capitalist, and President of Small Business CFO, Inc, and his episode is titled “Entrepreneurship.” My favorite quote was, “Stop saying What If and start saying Yes And.”

In episode 19, my guest was Judy Carter, who is a keynote speaker, coach and author of The Message of You. Her episode is titled “Find Your Message.” My favorite quote was, “Take command of your life story. Take command of The Message of You and find your message now. Find that message now. Find it, and use it to become an influencer in the world.”

In episode 20, my guest was Lisa Anderson, who is a tax partner at Morse & Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and her episode is titled “Divorce, Taxes and Opportunities.” My favorite quote was, “I have knowledge and I have a skill set that I want to share with people. If I’m not presenting it, it’s not getting out there. So it’s worth having that fear initially.”

In episode 21, my guest was Greg Kozera, a writer and speaker with extensive knowledge of valuable subjects from leadership skills to the science behind fracking, and his episode is titled “Leadership to Fracking.” My favorite quote was, “Leaders know where they are going.”

In episode 22, my guest was Greg Lainas, who’s a Senior Vice President and Division Director of Robert Half Management Resources, and his episode is titled “Power of Networking.” My favorite quote was, “If I can network my way into a book, you should be able to network your way into a job.”

In episode 23, my guests for Claudia and Tom Trusty, the crack marketing duo at Trusty & Company, and their episode is titled “Optimize Your Marketing.” My favorite quote was, “The bottom line is, if you’re not on page one on Google, you’re nowhere.”

In episode 24, my guest was Brette Rowley, who is the career coach to the Millennials, and her episode is titled “Marketing Your Job Search.” My favorite quote was, “In the job search process, you’re ultimately marketing yourself.”

In episode 25, my guest was Bill Sheridan, who is the Chief Communications Officer at the Maryland Association of CPAs, and his episode is titled “Changes in Technology and its Impact.” My favorite quote was, “If we can get there first, if we can figure out how to become a little bit more future ready and then show our clients and customers how to do that as well, then our role as trusted business advisors just gets stronger.”

In episode 26, my guest was a former accounting student of mine, Ashley Matthews, who is now a Senior Tax Manager Rea & Associates in Dublin, Ohio. Her episode is titled “Adaptability in Public Accounting.” My favorite quote was, “I found that you have to be stern and you have to mean what you say in order to be taken seriously. People have a tendency to pile on and see how much you’ll take, and so pushing back is always appropriate.”

In episode 27, my guest is my dear friend Janis Cohen, who’s the author of the book The Intuitive Therapist, and her episode is titled “Using Your Intuition.” My favorite quote was, “I have no problem with people not believing. I know that I don’t need to convince anybody of anything. I understand the skepticism really only comes from a place of being unaware.”

In episode 28, my guest is a good friend of mine Jamie Richardson, who’s the VP of Government and Shareholder Relations at White Castle Systems, Inc, and his episode is titled “Making a Difference.” My favorite quote was, “The greatest part of networking is about friendships and part of that friendship is being a good listener.”

Finally, In episode 29, my guest is another good friend of mine, Dr. Jay Young, who is the founder of College Bound Advantage. His episode is titled “You need a trail map when selecting a college.” My favorite quote is, “I do what college consultants don’t do and I do what high school counselors don’t do. I know colleges in Ohio and I know their academic programs. I know their co-curricular programs and I know the trade-offs that result from connections between those.”

In thinking about these past 29 episodes, I’ve come up with my top five quotes, and they are:

Coming in at number Five was Jamie Richardson: “The greatest part of networking is about friendships and part of that friendship is being a good listener.”

Number 4 is Jennifer Elder: “The definition of a professional is someone who does their best work when they don’t want to.”

Coming in at number three was Tom Hood: “The old idea of ‘if we train them they’ll leave’ needs to take a back seat to the more critical message of ‘what if we don’t train them and they stay?’

Coming in at number two was Mark Wyssbrod: “Stop saying What If and start saying Yes And.”

And the number one top quote was Greg Lainas: “If I can network my way into a book, you should be able to network your way into a job.” The book he networked his way into is called Flashback by Gary Braver and he’s actually on page 115, if you want to check it out.

I hope you enjoyed this podcast and will continue to download them in 2017. If you think a friend, colleague or family member will get value from the podcast, then please share it with them. If you’d like to be a guest on my podcast, please send me an email at Peter (at) PeterMargaritis.com.

We kick off 2017 with episode 31 and my guest is Bob Dean, who’s the CEO of Dean Learning and Talent Advisors, LLC.

Once again, thank you all for downloading and taking time to listen and have a safe and happy new year.

Production & Development for Improv Is No Joke by Podcast Masters

Ep. 29 – Dr. Jay Young: Founder of College Bound Advantage

Today’s guest, Dr. Jay Young, just launching College Bound Advantage to provide more value and information to any college applicants, and their families, in the Ohio area.

At College Bound Advantage, Jay will use his 20 years of academic experience and months of in-depth campus research to provide applicants with a trail map and all of the information they will need to make the best decision. His expertise and knowledge is only $549 – well under the $3,000 it costs, on average, to hire a college consultant.

“People look for colleges but it’s really like hiking without a trail map.”

When people apply to colleges, they are often going into the experience somewhat blind. College consultants and school counselors have a keen understanding of the academic timeline and the best strategies for applying to a college, but they don’t necessarily know about academic programs.

Jay’s primary focus is on academic programs. He’s interested in the ways that they are connected to each other and the kinds of opportunities they provide students, both while attending and after graduating.

College applicants really don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t really know what to look for – and they certainly might not know where to begin or where to go. Now there’s College Bound Advantage.

“I do what college consultants don’t do and I do what high school counselors don’t do. I know colleges in Ohio and I know their academic programs, I know their co-curricular programs and I know the trade-offs that result from the connections between those.”

Jay went to more than 50 Ohio colleges to prepare for his launch. When he visits a campus, he makes sure to do at least three things:

  • A student-led campus tour to see the campus and talk to students who are actually attending there.
  • A meeting with admissions to talk generally about programs, what schools they compete with, what they’re proud of, what’s going well and what’s new.
  • A meeting with a faculty member who is in one of the programs that they are particularly proud of to talk specifically about
    • the program as a whole
    • other similar programs in Ohio
    • the best programs outside of this school
    • important accreditations
    • required academic standards

Speaking with faculty members in unfamiliar, different disciplines helped Jay dive deep into how academic programs are structured and organized, what represents a quality program, and what doesn’t – even outside of the business programs, which he is very familiar with.

When you come to Jay at College Bound Advantage, he will go through a three-step process to give the student and their family an edge.

  • Intake – Transcripts, standardized test scores, personality test and a short interview to establish the student’s and family’s top priorities. Jay also educates the family on issues related to student debt.
  • Trail Map – The trail map basically provides them feedback on the personality inventory, re-identifies the criteria that were discussed and prioritized, then identifies five to eight colleges that meet those criteria. For each school, he then provides feedback on how each criteria is or isn’t met and exactly the ways in which the school meets them.
  • Coaching – Depending on the majors and what the student prioritizes, Jay provides a set of things to make sure the student covers and to make sure they do when they visit campus, so that they make those campus visits meaningful and better enable them to make the best decision.

“I can help them get to the right schools to look at the right programs and ask the right questions so they can make the best decision.”

I greatly appreciate Jay taking the time to talk about his new business endeavor. It’s an insane value proposition for the price he is asking, so I highly recommend heading over to College Bound Advantage to learn more or email DrJay (at) collegeboundadvantage.com to discuss a consultation.






Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: Hey, welcome back everybody. This is Peter Margaritis here and I’m with Dr. Jay Young and he’s got a really exciting new business that he started, but, first and foremost, I just want to thank Jay for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to spend some time talking to me about his business. Thank you for attending, Jay.

Jay: Sure thing, Peter. Glad to be here.

Peter: Jay and I go back to number years. I don’t know how many we go back, but we go back a lot of years. Since I know a lot about you, but my audience may not, can you give us a little history lesson on Dr. Jay Young?

Jay: Yeah, I was a banker, actually, for many years, and once I left banking I went back to college to get a couple additional degrees and I moved over into higher education. I’ve been in higher education for about 20 years and I moved to Columbus around the year 2000. Prior to that I was at TCU and Fort Worth, and then after moving here was at Franklin University – I spent a little bit of time as the Dean of Graduate Studies at Franklin – and then moved over to Ohio Dominican University. I was there for 13 years as a faculty member and administrator in their division of business. About a year ago I actually began seriously thinking about trying something on my own and it was the idea of providing families an opportunity to learn a little bit about colleges that were in the state of Ohio from someone who had actually visited all those colleges. I finally decided to make a go of it and left last May and have spent the last five-and-a-half months or so visiting about 50 to 53 colleges here in Ohio. It’s been a lot of fun.

Peter: And what’s the name of your business?

Jay: College Bound Advantage.

Peter: So you started this about six months ago and you visited 50-some odd colleges here, and this is just here in the state of Ohio, correct?

Jay: It is, and if you know Ohio you probably realize I’ve seen more corn and soybeans than anyone alive. I’ve driven all over this state and just had some great days at some of Ohio’s terrific public and private colleges, as well as a few community colleges.

Peter: So when you have been out visiting these colleges, what are you trying to get? What type of information are you trying to ascertain from from these universities and colleges?

Jay: Well, my background is as a faculty member and as an academic administrator, and so my primary focus is and has been on academic programs: the way that they’re linked and connected to each other and the kind of opportunities they provide students, both while attending the college as well as after they leave the college. So I focused a lot on academic programs. When I visit a campus, there are three things I try to do for sure: [one] I do a student-led campus tour and this gives me an opportunity to see the campus and talk to students that are actually attending there. [Two,] then I spend usually an hour so with the admissions person to talk generally about programs, what schools they compete with, what they’re proud of, what’s going well, what’s new. And then, [three,] I also asked to speak to a faculty member that’s in one of their programs that they are particularly proud of and, as a result of that third piece, I’ve had a chance, really, to visit with faculty members across academic disciplines and around the state, and with each one of those meetings I get into, if it’s a nursing program, tell me: a little bit about nursing programs in general, about nursing programs in Ohio, who is really good at nursing other than your school, what kind of things are important to look for in a nursing program, what kind of accreditations are important, what kind of academic standards are required for admission your and in other programs? So it’s helped me really dive deeply into academic programs, how they’re structured and organized, and what represents quality and what doesn’t – even outside of the business programs, which I grew up in and I already know.

Peter: Okay, so I want to talk more about that but I also want to ask a question. Who else in Ohio is doing this, what you’re doing?

Jay: Well that – it’s really interesting. Years ago, every year, I would meet my brothers in Montana and we would fly fish and hike and we stayed at this Inn every year, Josie’s bed-and-breakfast, and Josie by day was a college consultant. She told us stories of the clients she was working with and the families that she worked with, and what she always said was that “people look for colleges but it’s really like hiking without a trail map. They really don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t really know what to look for and they certainly don’t know where to begin or where to go. That sort of stayed with me over the years. I have a son right now who is a senior. A couple years ago, when he was a sophomore, at the end of the sophomore year, he wanted to major in physics or geology and I know nothing about physics or geometry, and so recognizing how little I know about those areas and the schools in Ohio I decided to see if I could find a college consultant could help me. So, I called seven or eight different college consultants that sort of emerged from web searches and none of them could help me. I fairly quickly realized that college consultants are typically born out of admissions or high school counseling and so they’re really good at knowing how the academic calendar flows, how the admissions process works, how to prep for an ACT exam, how to fill out a FAFSA form, how to fill out a college application, what the college app is, when you need to do this and when you need to do that. They are terrific and all of that but I don’t do any of that – I do what they don’t do and I do what high school counselors don’t do. I know colleges in Ohio and I know their academic programs, I know their co-curricular programs and I know the trade-offs that result from the connections between those. As far as I know, there is no one who does what I do.

Peter: Wow, and that’s exciting. You’ve created something, and I forgot about the story on how this all came about and that trail, and you use that in your branding with your logo and you take them on this trail – on more of an academic trail. My son is is a sophomore. So, if he were sitting here and we came to you, what’s your process to take them on this path?

Jay: It’s really a very quick process. I do an intake, and as a part of the intake with the family I ask for a copy of the student’s high school transcript so I can see what courses they’ve taken and what grades they made. Pretty much a general sense of the journey they’ve been on academically. I ask for a copy of, typically, ACT or SAT scores. Whatever they have, in terms of standardized tests. That gives me a lot of information in terms of fit, what schools might work or might not work, admission standards, those kind of things. Then I go through an extended discussion with the family around priorities. What is it that they’re really interested in? Is their student interested in Greek life? Is their student interested in being at a large University versus a small University? Public or private? Is there a denominational interest? Is that important to them? What college majors or minors have they thought about? What courses were they good and did they enjoy in high school? So a structured set of questions and discussion around trying to identify all the things that are important to them and then prioritizing them.

Peter: Okay.

Jay: I also administer of a simple but effective personality inventory that also gives us some input in terms of the kinds of majors that the student might find interesting, so if the student begins in pre-med and then decides that it’s probably not for them, as eighty-five percent of the students who begin pre-med decide, then they have some other alternatives that they can investigate (maybe even take a couple courses to try and figure out if they like or don’t like). So it gives them some ideas in terms of potential majors and that’s really the intake session. That’s an hour to an hour-and-a-half. It’s not really a big deal.

Peter: Okay.

Jay: And then I build for them, honoring Josie, I build what I call a trail map, and the trail map basically provides them feedback on the personality inventory, it re-identifies the criteria that we discussed and prioritized, and then it identifies five to eight colleges that respond to and, typically, meet those criteria, and then some information on each school. For each school I go criteria by criteria in how it does or doesn’t meet them and exactly what ways it meets them. So student might, for example, want to play club sport men’s volleyball and so that would be important for them, so I would make sure I found out about that. They might be interested in majoring in engineering, but they’re really interested in the automotive industry.

Peter: Okay.

Jay: So that probably means that they’re looking at mechanical engineering and a number of schools have auto industry student organizations on campus that play students in co-ops and so forth. So there are ways to find out which schools focus on what particular areas that a student might connect to. So I build a trail map that includes five to eight schools that fit or nearly fit the criteria and completely explain why I believe that to be the case. I also provide them information on cost. I use a national data source that provides average discounting.

Peter: Okay.

Jay: Because, typically, students don’t pay sticker price in public or private.

Peter: Okay.

Jay: So this provides some general information of what the state tuition is and what the average discount is. Based on their academic performance in high school I can also typically get close to estimating their discounting, so I get close to a true price for them. That can then determine, depending on what they can or can’t afford or want to or don’t want to afford, I can use that as a criteria as well. But I provide them a cost comparison and then I also give them some coaching on what to do when they visit a college. So, staying with the engineering example, I might tell them you know you want to visit with a faculty member in engineering. You probably want to ask the faculty in engineering to give you a tour of their engineering labs. If you’re interested in co-op-ing or interning, you might want to take a look at who they are placing students with and what their mechanism for managing co-op experiences is. Anyway, depending on the majors and what they’re interested in, I provide a set of things to make sure they cover and make sure they do when they visit campus so that they make those campus visits meaningful, in terms of what they’re interested in, and better enable them to finally decide what they want. Once the trail map is delivered we completely debrief the trail map. I go through all the pieces of it and I answer any questions that they’ve got and then they’re off and running, in terms of visiting campuses.

Peter: Do you provide some type of guarantee in this service that you provide these families?

Jay: That’s the last piece of the trail map. I just sort of walk through that, because I think what happens for families is they think they want X, Y and Z, particularly when it comes to majors and minors, but once they get out there they may determine that “maybe I don’t want to do physics,” like my son decided.

Peter: [laughs]

Jay: Maybe engineering, which is sort of Applied Physics, maybe that’s more me. So, the guarantee is basically, if you get out there and you sort of migrated into a little bit of a different perspective, then your criteria change. You can come back in for no additional cost and I will generate you a new set that fits whatever modifications in the criteria that you’ve determined and my entire price for this – the national average price for college consultant, who typically do contracts that include comprehensive services but oftentimes not including the service I offer, is over $3,000.

Peter: Really? For college consultants? And it doesn’t really help in the academic side, it just helps you in the process to get in?

Jay: Now I don’t do the process to get in, in all fairness, but for what I do I charge $549: a single, flat fee. It’s very affordable. My target is middle class to upper middle-class folks here who are willing to do the application stuff, work with high school counselors, do the slug it out kinds of things to get applications filled out and things like that – and what I do is the things that no one else can help them with. I can help them get to the right schools to look at the right programs and ask the right questions so they can make the best decision.

Peter: You said $549 dollars?

Jay: Yeah, people tell me I’m underpriced.

Peter: We need to raise the price because, for what you’re providing – I mean, you’re providing a tremendous amount of content to help parents make that academic decision with their child on where to go to school. That, in itself, and I mean nobody’s doing it, and I’m just thinking selfishly and thinking about my son, and that would just help tremendously. Basically you give them ammunition to go out and to ask the right questions that to talk to faculty in order to look for the best program, by school, for them. That is just outstanding, my friend. We’ve been talking about this. You shared this idea with me about a year or so ago and I told you then that it was a wonderful idea. I will tell you again, after spending some time with you (and we’re in his world office center here in the mecca of Worthington, Ohio) that you’re onto something big because I think what you’re providing, value-wise, the amount of work that you’ve done. At the end of the day, you said that your business will “open the doors” on December 15th and you have a few more colleges to go visit. Tt the end of this process, when you turn the lights on and put the open sign up, how many colleges will you have visited?

Jay: Directly visited: probably close to 60, in Ohio. So I’ll hit all of the large public universities, I’ll hit some of the community colleges, typically those that are around the larger cities, and I will hit all of the privates that are 8-900 students and above, and maybe a few that are really small. For the most part, any private you’ve heard of I’ll have been there, any public that’s any level of prominence I’ve been there and even a large number of large community colleges, and unique community colleges, like Hocking College for example, that have these incredible natural resource programs. I’ve been there.

Peter: Yeah, and through this process of going and gathering of all this information and providing it to the family to say, if you give them five to eight colleges, you give them that information about those five that a college, so they can dig into it… you’re saving families lots of time too.

Jay: Lots of time, lots of scouring the internet and those kind of things, but every college I visit I do what I call a campus field report and it’s an extensive document – 10 to 20 pages of information that heavily focuses on academic programs that they do particularly well, and it explains why they do them well and how they’re invested or not invested in them, and also it looks at co-curricular programs and has the photographs I’ve taken my iPhone over the schools – and for every college that I recommend I send the family a PDF of the campus field report, for each college that I recommend. So, if I provide a family eight colleges they may think, “I don’t want to visit 8 colleges,” but they can take a look at why I recommended them, in terms of the trail map, and then, if they want to, they can read the campus field report that I generated on each school and break it down to a smaller subset based on the varying degrees to which it meets their criteria.

Peter: And the only way that I would be able to do that would be on my own if you’re business wasn’t created. That’s a lot of work. That’s a tremendous amount of work, one, to get that deep in academic program as well as that deep into the school and to know the ins and outs to the different programs that they offer, the different activities that they have. I’ve seen these these field reports and they are extremely detailed. It answers every question I think any parent would have about a university or college and about the programs that they have. Like you said, you don’t worry. Your business is not so much about the ACT and what forms to fill out, whatever, but you are providing them with the college with the annual tuition minus a discount based on the grades. Are you doing room and board as well, as part of that calculation cost?

Jay: We do, yes. So room and board figures are an estimate that’s provided by the college, also in terms of both books and supplies. In the intake session I do a component on student debt. I think myself, along with many people around Ohio and around the country, are really concerned about the increasing level of student debt that people are taking on and the effect of that in their life, so I do a piece up front that really looks at different categories of Ohio colleges and about what they cost, and then another piece that looks at some data on student financial aid and student debt levels. For example, about 70-percent of Ohio students leave college with debt and the average amount of dead among those students is about $29,000 right now, and so I do some pieces where we just sort of take a look. Of course, the range is $10,000 to $80,000, so if we do a quick look at what what average payments would be over 10 years, what average payments would be over 20 years, and compare that to what starting salaries might be if their major suggest a starting salary. We look at the effect of accrued interest over the period between the time they first start taking out debt when they finally start paying for debt, at which time the amount of the loan is going to be quite a bit higher than the number of dollars they’ve actually taken out in student loans because interest has accrued over those years. So, anyway, we do a piece that tries to be sensitive and raise awareness around the effect of taking on debt and a variety of options at different price points, which include doing the first two years at a Community College, living at home, working part-time, paying the tuition yourself and really own only incurring costs associated with the final two years – or there are even other options, so depending on the sensitivity of a family around some of those financial issues and concerns we can provide them a number of different options that can still provide them great outcomes.

Peter: Wow, I didn’t realize you did that piece because I think that’s a huge benefit. I guess if a child doesn’t really know what they want to do, but they have an idea and there’s some financial constraints, you could point them to a Columbus State, you can point them to like a Sinclair Community College for the two years and then here’s the universities or colleges in the area that would meet that criteria, and you can still visit them in the meantime. That’s huge. That’s great, and actually the business idea you were coming out talking about accrued interest and helping the families realize how much debt it would take on. The other part I like about it is, because you have the student in the room with you when you’re having these conversations, you’re having some early business training counseling with the student on the cost of education and how we ultimately are going to have to pay that cost back over time, and I think that’s an additional benefit to provide that. Do college counselors do this?

Jay: You know, I don’t know, to tell you the truth.

Peter: Okay. I don’t know either, but you do, and that’s all part of the package that you put together and information that you give families. Wow. This is only for colleges in the Ohio area. Now, I know part my audience is outside of Ohio, but if their children are thinking about coming to Ohio to come to school they need to talk to you and for those of you in my audience in Ohio who have a child as a freshman or sophomore in high school, and you’re now starting to have these conversations about College, you need to look up Dr Jay Young and College Bound Advantage. It will save you a lot of time and at a great value. You are providing a wonderful service to a lot of families, Jay.

Jay: I hope so. That’s the goal. We’re really excited to get started.

Peter: Like you said, by the time this podcast airs the open for business sign will be out at the corner in Worthington, Ohio, and I will put in the show notes – well, what is your email address, Jay?

Jay: DrJay (at) collegeboundadvantage.com and the website is www.collegeboundadvantage.com.

Peter: Go up and look at his website. It’s very interactive and it can be viewed on a mobile phone and an iPad and just tool around on it, and if you’re interested pick-up-the-phone, drop him an email. I know he will give you sound academic advice for your family and your child as they get ready for their college experience. Jay, I’m real happy for you and I’m very proud of what you’ve built. I’ve known you for a long time, we actually met at Franklin University, so we we go back 15, 16 years. We worked together at THE Ohio Dominican University here in Columbus.

Jay: [laughs]

Peter: I’m glad that you’ve done this and, knowing you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile this much. I mean, I know you can’t see it on this podcast but he’s got a lot of passion for this and he’s smiling. He’s got a great business model. I’m out of words to say what you’ve built is great and I believe this will be, as our president elect might say, huge. It’s gonna be huge, huge. Huge business here.

Jay: Well, Peter, let me just say, first, to see you without words is rare

Peter: [laughs]

Jay: and I really appreciate that – and, secondly, thanks a lot for having me on your podcast. I really appreciate it.

Peter: I appreciate it too. Thanks, Jay.


Production & Development for Improv Is No Joke by Podcast Masters

Ep. 28 – Jamie Richardson: VP of Government and Shareholder Relations at White Castle Systems, Inc.


Today’s guest on the show is Jamie Richardson, the Vice President of Government and Shareholder relations at White Castle Systems, Inc., the Chairman of the Ohio Restaurant Association, and a family-owned business advocate.

“It’s 95 years ago that the epicenter of all cravings was launched, and we’re going better and bigger and having more fun than ever.”

White Castle is celebrating its 95th birthday this year – and its 95th year as a family-owned business.

Jamie is an advocate for family-owned businesses. He believes it is important for family-owned businesses to share their story with thought leaders and lawmakers, whether that’s at the state level or the federal level, to ensure that lawmakers consider the impact that new policies might have on family-owned businesses.

Jamie believes that family businesses are unique in a number of ways.

  • “They are very distinctive… because a lot of the the businesses that are known for treating their team members well… tend to be family businesses.”
  • Being family-owned gives them the freedom and flexibility to make good decisions for the long haul.
  • Family-owned businesses are less likely to get caught up in what Jamie calls “the sudden tug” in an emergency.

“We feel it gives us an anchor and we call it the base of all metaphysics here in Castle Land.”

Jamie is also a great networker, which comes down to being a great friend. Jamie approaches community engagement and networking events as opportunities to make new friends, and that opens him up to connect and start helping them more easily.

Jamie engages with local communities, professional communities and charitable communities because it opens him up to a more diverse network of friends from different industries, different backgrounds, different worldviews and different perspectives. When you start to listen to people and genuinely appreciate them, then networking can begin to unlock some doors.

“The greatest part of networking is about friendships, and part of that friendship is being a good listener.”

Since 2008, Jamie has seen bigger barriers to entry in the foodservice industry, and more restaurants are going out of business. These barriers are put in place by regulators at the local, state and federal level – often with good intentions – and it puts a strain on an industry that already operates with compressed margins.

The impact of regulation is real. The struggle to remain profitable is only made more difficult by the fact that these threats are often more external than they are the result of a foodservice company’s own decisions.

“We think it’s our responsibility to focus on being good citizens and let them know what the real world looks like.”

I appreciate Jamie for taking the time to talk to me. He’s a great person and a great friend, and that has taken him a long way in his career.






Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: Hey, I’ve got Jamie Richardson with me this morning. He is the vice president of government and shareholder relations at White Castle Systems, Inc. I’ve known Jamie for a while and he’s an extremely busy individual. He called me yesterday, he was in the state of Kentucky on a tour, and he’s also the chairman of the Ohio Restaurant Association – and just an all-around great guy. First I want to thank you for joining me this morning on my podcast.

Jamie: Hey Pete, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for the invitation.

Peter: So what you been up to these days? I know you’re a busy guy, just from what I said. You also have a wonderful family with with five children, and I think your oldest one is a little bit older than my son. Is he about 16?

Jamie: That’s right. Yeah, they’re getting older every day.

Peter: [laughs] Well, yeah. Yes they are.

Jamie: and people say I have an amazing sense for the obvious captain.

Peter: There is Captain Obvious. And your youngest is how old?

Jamie: He is seven. Then we have a 14, 12 and soon-to-be 10, in between. It’s a great crew. Brendan, Chloe, Mary Grace, Maggie and Fin.

Peter: Wow. I understand why you’re on the road a lot, because there’s probably a lot more work at home. [laughs]

Jamie: Yeah, my wife is the one with the conductor stick. She keeps us heading in the right direction.

Peter: And she’s a wonderful woman. I’ve met her a number of times. You’ve got a great wife. So what are you up to these days? What’s going on in Jamie world?

Jamie: Well you know, here in White Castle land we’re always busy. You know, the Castle never closes. We’re open 24/7, and we’re having a blast. We’re really having a lot of fun, hopefully making memorable moments every day for customers, feeding the souls of Craver generations everywhere. If you can believe it, this is our 95th birthday year. So it’s 95 years ago that the epicenter of all cravings was launched and we’re going better and bigger and having more fun than ever. So we’re keeping real busy and just having a blast.

Peter: 95 years old – wow, that’s awesome. So I imagine, within the next five years from now, you’re going have one heck of a 100th anniversary.

Jamie: Oh yeah, this whole year has been a dress rehearsal for the hundredth birthday party. We get up early, we stay up late, but but we’re selling a lot of hamburgers in between. So, yeah, it’s been a really, really fun year, and to be a family-owned business after all these years is really unique these days. We just transitioned from the third-generation family leadership to the fourth generation of family leadership. That’s just been really, really incredibly invigorating and good, and we’re really, really grateful for all that the previous generations have done to bring us to this point in time. Now it’s kinda up to the 4th generation to see what’s next and where we take it from here.

Peter: And running a family business is very unique compared to running I any other type of business.

Jamie: Yeah, I think so. I think family owned businesses are unique in a lot of ways. They are very distinctive because, if you look around, a lot of the the businesses that are known for treating their team members well, for taking a longer view, tend to be family businesses. Candidly, we believe that it’s a better business model because it gives us the freedom and flexibility to make good decisions for the long haul, to not get caught up in what I would call the sudden tug in an emergency, but rather just really kind of taking the perspective of not only how that’s going to impact us next week or next month, but what’s this look like five years from now, if we make a good decision today? So we have that chance to pay it forward for for the duration and we think that’s really distinctive in a world that’s, candidly, become kind of alphabet soup sometimes, in terms of this merger, that transaction or this takeover. We feel it gives us an anchor and we call it the base of all metaphysics here in Castle land.

Peter: I’ve talked to other individuals who have been part of family-owned businesses and it sounds like your family business, the White Castle business, is not dysfunctional at all compared to some other family businesses that I have talk to it. I know at one time, I think it’s been two years or so, weren’t you travelling around the country speaking on family businesses to family business conferences and things like that?

Jamie: Yeah, good memory. We’re part of a really great group called Family Enterprise USA and so I was doing some volunteer work as a member their board, and actually I did get to about 32 different family business centers around the country and was able to share more about our perspective on family businesses at White Castle – especially why it’s important from an advocacy point of view for family businesses to share their story with thought leaders and lawmakers, whether that’s at the state level or the federal level, just to make sure that, when they are putting policy in place, they’re really taking into consideration the impact it might have on family business.

Peter: And that is primarily your role right now: the advocacy side of White Castle’s business?

Jamie: Yeah, I’m really fortunate. I get to share the the story of White Castle with all kinds of different friends and our focus is really on making friends wherever we go. So, part of my responsibilities include our government relations, as well as our shareholder relations, our public relations and then actually our philanthropy, as well. Notice how I got Yes, And in there because you know what? Improv is no Joke. I read that somewhere.

Peter: I know you did. You were one of the first people that that got the preview copy and gave me a wonderful review. Thank you very much, but Yes, And – that was a nice plug.

Jamie: [laughs] Well, it’s it’s a good way to approach and I think, if I look at our family business and what’s happened over the decades, candidly, the philosophy you talk about in the book has been the philosophy for how we built the business, in terms of not seeing things as a trade-off but instead how can we get to a situation where we’re all better off. That’s what we do in our communities every day. We have nearly 400 restaurants in 400 different neighborhoods and that’s where we live, where we work and where we raise our families, and the heart and soul of it to us is how can we provide more jobs, how can we provide more employment opportunity for these individuals who otherwise might not have that chance for a path to prosperity? So, for us, it’s about how we make a difference every day – not just in serving up hot and tasty food, but how can we nourish the souls in a way that’s distinctive and we think that’s part of what that makes us a little bit different.

Peter: And your burgers are never flipped at all on the griddle.

Jamie: You are a connoisseur. We have to get you into a Castle for National Hamburger Month next May, but that is correct, yeah. Five holes to allow that melding of flavors. You got it. You’re making me hungry!

Peter: I think after this interview, since I live in Westerville and there’s a Castle here in Westerville, I think I know where I’m going for lunch today.

Jamie: Tell Kathy Gunderson, the general manager there, we said hello. She’s making it happen.

Peter: That’s awesome, and I know that with this government and the advocacy piece you’ve been able to do some pretty cool things. I think you told me a couple years ago that Castle went to the capitol.

Jamie: Yeah, that’s right. We actually had Castles at the Capitol – Wow, time goes by quick – five years ago. We celebrated our 90th birthday and actually set up grills and and, I know there’s been a beer summit, but we had a beef summit and we brought members of both parties together to share some White Castles and everyone raved about it. It was a lot of fun and we had a lot of hungry staffers lining the hallways of at the Capitol building that day and many members of Congress, and so it was really a fun and memorable moment.

Peter: So did to the lawmakers and staffers come out onto the lawn of the capitol, and were they served there, or did you have to take them into the capitol, and by doing that did you have to go through the metal detectors and screens and scanners.

Jamie: That’s a great question. We were preparing the food just outside the Capitol dome and it looked something like Roswell, man. We had tents, we were sheltered, we had everything going on and everything was great. The morning of there been so much preparation, so much good work. I mean we would work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Capitol Hill police, the architect of the Capitol, the sergeant-at-arms, anyone you can think of we had the chance to meet with them and talk through this. We had measured twice and cut once – everything was perfect, until we realize that security was asking us that they would need to hand wand each single burger.

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: Thankfully, someone had the foresight to bring crave crate packages with us that hold 100, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief when that crave crate very narrowly just cleared the bar and fit through the metal detector on the conveyor. So we were taking a hundred at a time versus one at a time. There’s Yes, And thinking for you right there my friend. We didn’t give up and we fed the masses and it was a beautiful day.

Peter: So about how many of those tasty burgers did you feed our capital with?

Jamie: About 5,850 at last count, according to the records. You know, it’s government accounting, so it might have been off a little, but it was a great time and a unifying day for everybody who had the chance to take part.

Peter: And I do believe one of our, at the time, members of the house was a big, huge fan (and still is) of the Castle.

Jamie: That’s exactly right. In fact, the gentlemen that we honored that day as we inducted into the Cravers Hall of Fame was then the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who grew up just outside of Reading, Ohio, in the Cincinnati area, and he loved his Castles as a boy and loves them still today. His favorite is the double cheeseburger, but we inducted a speaker into the Hall of Fame and he told great stories about having his newspaper route as a kid. He’d stop on his bike and make it to the Castle now and then. So good times.

Peter: Wow, so how many are in the Hall of Fame?

Jamie: Well, I’m glad you asked me that, Pete, because many are called and few are chosen. So, in fact, we’ve done some pretty scientific research and – just for anyone who’s listening – it is easier to get into Harvard then it is the Cravers Hall of Fame. Less than 1% of those nominated actually get inducted into the hall of fame and we’re at about 120 members in the Cravers Hall of Fame and we just inducted our most recent class. Notably, in addition to Speaker Boehner, another notable nominee who was actually inducted is the only person in the Rock and Roll hall of fame who’s in the White Castle cravers hall of fame: a gentleman by the name of Alice Cooper.

Peter: Ahhhhhh

Jamie: [laughs] And so he’s a great fan of the brand.

Peter: So is Alice originally from Michigan?

Jamie: He is. He grew up in Detroit, or as we say here de trois, the Paris of the West.

Peter: Because I know my friend Mr. Richardson has Michigan ties.

Jamie: That is true, yeah. I’ve done the border crossing before, so I was born and raised in the state north of Ohio but I got here as quick as I could.

Peter: [laughs] Yeah, did you go to Michigan State?

Jamie: I did not. I have a two younger sisters who attended there, which converted me to be a Michigan State fan early in life. I attended Siena Heights University in Michigan.

Peter: As soon as it came out of my mouth I went, no no, he went to Siena Heights. Just for my audience to know, Jamie is actually a former student of mine. He was in the MBA program at The Ohio Dominican University in Columbus and he was in my MBA accounting class, and he’s the only student I’ve ever taught that was able to get an F within the first five seconds of walking into my class.

Jamie: [laughs]

Peter: Do you want to explain how you got an F there, my friend?

Jamie: Well…

Peter: A metaphorical F.

Jamie: You know, before the first class there’s always that pre-meeting to get the first assignment for week one, so in that pre-meeting Professor Margaritis mentioned, “Hey, if my Kentucky Wildcats make it to the finals on Monday night, which they will, and if they’re in that NCAA championship game, which they will be, we will probably not have class.”

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: And in the course of that weekend, in that specific year, it turned out they came up against the mighty Michigan State Spartans and I was so overjoyous about this victory and, remembering that Professor Margaritis had indicated his Wildcat fanaticism, I thought that, well, he seems to have a good sense of humor. I thought I’d wear my Michigan State jersey to class and he wasn’t smiling. In fact, he looked, shook his head, and said, “You can leave now.” [laughs]

Peter: [laughs] Okay, it was something along those lines, because you had a little drama there because everybody was in the class and I was just about to close the door and you came walking through.

Jamie: Hey, that was not intentional.

Peter: [laughs] and I just looked at you and I went, “Wow, that’s the quickest F I’ve ever given anybody, why don’t you leave now?” [laughs]

Jamie: [laughs] That’s okay. It was my coping mechanism. I repressed the memory of the F, but now that you say that it does come back to me. It’s kind of hauntingly familiar.

Peter: And that was a very bold move, my friend, but, as we see in improv, you kind of assess the situation and took a risk and–

Jamie: It motivated me to work harder because I knew, if it was anything that was subjective, I was gone.

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: I really had to nail it. I couldn’t be somewhere in between. There’s a precision to accounting and it inspired me to be precise.

Peter: I tell that story to so many people and it goes to the thing of the improv, but it also goes to the thing of developing a network. I mean, to get to where you are and what you’ve done over the years, you’ve called on me a couple of times to say, “Hey, do you know somebody, can you help me here” and vice versa. How have you been able to establish and grow such a very strong network over the years?

Jamie: I just think a big part of that is just making friendships wherever you go and really risking the vulnerability of putting yourself in situations where you might not know as many people, and giving yourself the chance and permission to go places where you think you might meet those you want to spend more time with or learn about from an organizational point of view. I’m a member of our downtown Kiwanis Club in Columbus and I love it. Great friends and an incredibly great group that does so much for our community and our neighborhoods. Along the way, I’ve made friendships that last a lifetime and I think I found that having the chance to volunteer and serve on different charity boards has been another great opportunity to just meet incredible people who are dedicated, have similar values and care about our community and want to make a difference – but also it really opens you up to a more diverse network of friends from different industries, from different backgrounds, from different worldviews and perspectives. To me the greatest part of networking, which is one of those words that can kind of have loaded meanings, is about friendships, and part of that friendship is being a good listener and really getting to know somebody and appreciate who they are, where they’re coming from, and then I think it does start to unlock a lot of doors, in terms of what you have in common. It also gives you permission to maintain those friendships. When you have that, you’re able to listen. You’re actually really listening, and not thinking about what you’re going to say next. You hear things that you’re able to remember so that next time you see that person you can circle back and say, “Hey, how’d that go,” whatever it may be. I think there’s so much fun in that and I have discovered so many incredible people that we have, wherever you are, wherever you go. I’m sure people from all over will be listening to this and I just think, if given the chance to be apostles of hope, we should just go for it and see what happens. We’re given the gift of time, let’s make something out of it.

Peter: You said something really interested in that: friendships. I think most people, when they go into networking events, that’s not a thought that they have (friendships). I think people, when they go into networking events, one, their mother is in their head, and I say that because your mother always told you, “Never talk to strangers.”

Jamie: Right.

Peter: And that hampers people in networking because they view everybody in that room as a stranger vs as an opportunity, and that’s the way I’ve always approached it, but I like how you put it: developing friendships, because I think that really does drop the whole stranger-danger out of it. For me, it even takes the cold side of business out of it and it becomes more embracing. There’s more ability to connect easier with it.

Jamie: Yeah, and I think obviously there’s benefit to mutual gain through voluntary exchange. That can happen when you meet somebody who might be in a role where you can help one another out. I think the less transactional feels the more authentic it will be, and then that transactional part, in terms of where there’s an exchange that occurs later or whatever might happen, I think that can happen naturally. I think if it’s forced then the other person feels that and that’s like I’m just gathering names so I can put you in my rolodex, and it shouldn’t be something that you’re trying to to to collect – it shouldn’t be I’m missing that Pokemon card, let me get this person over here – it really, to me, should be about that authenticity piece, where you’re having a real exchange that may or may not lead to something that’s actually tangible because then that part takes care of itself. It feels less forced.

Peter: Okay, so for my audience that like be in the Millennial generation, a Rolodex came before Outlook. It was a thing we used to put our business cards in to keep them, just so everybody understands what maybe a rolodex might be. I have 17 other antiquated references I’m hoping to weave in throughout the course of our time here this morning.

Peter: So, I want to share a networking think that happened between us around 2010. Because I knew of your advocacy work at the state level and at the federal level, the AICPA every other year goes to Washington to lobby Congress on issues as it affects the accounting profession. One of the gentlemen who was going up with us from the Ohio Society had a connection with senator Sherrod Brown. We were actually having breakfast in the Senate dining room one of the days that we were up there with him and there were about six of us from the how society of having breakfast with them. Before I went to Washington, I called you and I said, “I need something Jamie. I need something. I need a nugget. Give me something,” and you gave me the best nugget ever. Do you remember what that was?

Jamie: I do. I think it had something to do with Senator Brown’s desk.

Peter: Exactly.

Jamie: His Senate desk.

Peter: When you say the Senate desk, what do you mean?

Jamie: Well, I happen to be aware that Senator Brown was, at the time, working on a book about his actual desk that he had been assigned in the Senate. The actual piece of furniture that was on the Senate floor – not just because it was the Senate chamber but because of who had had that desk before him. I know Robert Kennedy was one of the individuals who had that desk and there’s this whole line of incredible people who had also had that desk, and I knew, if it was something that he was writing a book about, he surely must be fairly passionate about. So I was able to mention that to you ahead of your visit, I believe.

Peter: Exactly, and you gave me a list of 5 names, but obviously Kennedy was the biggest name, and he started talking about his book and I made a comment: “Senator Brown, don’t you have the same desk as Robert Kennedy?” And his eyes got big and then I rattled off three other names, and he said, “How did you know that?” And I just looked and said, “Senator, I did my homework before I came.” He stopped the meeting. He says, “Do you want to go see it?”

Jamie: [laughs]

Peter: Everybody just kind of looked around as he gets up and says, “Let’s go.” Our whole group gets up and we’re walking and the next thing you know we walked into the Senate chamber. I’m sitting there going what the heck is going on. He takes us over to his desk, opens it up, shows us – and then, Ted Kennedy was still alive at that point, we went over to Ted’s desk and he had John F Kennedy’s old desk. Then he goes, “Hey, let’s look at some Republican desks. Let’s look at Mitch McConnell’s desk.”

Jamie: [laughs]

Peter: He then proceeded to give us this tour of the Senate chamber and behind the back of the Senate chamber, to the Senate reading room, and we end up coming back for breakfast and had a great time and I saw Senator Brown a couple years later. He was coming in for an endorsement for the Ohio Society of CPAs and he saw me and he goes, “Do you remember?” and I said, “Of course.” That was that was probably one of the coolest tips that I’ve ever gotten that opened some really unique opportunities, and if you hadn’t walked into class with the Michigan State jersey this never would have happened.

Jamie: [laughs] That’s true, that’s true. See, there’s a real call for bipartisanship embedded and all that. That’s what the country needs.

Peter: Exactly, but I mean it’s amazing what you can do in networking if, one, you just ask and, two, if you just do. But I think a lot of times it impedes us in and what we’re trying to accomplish, or just that fear or I don’t want to bother this person. You could’ve said I got nothing and that would have been fine, but you did take the time to give me that and, by the way, the monthly check for that is in the mail again. [laughs]

Jamie: [laughs] Nothing like royalties to keep you going. Yeah, I think I think you’re absolutely right. There’s always that risking of vulnerability and I do think that, by reflex, so many of us are more inclined to say, I don’t want to bother someone or I’m just going to do this myself or not seeking that larger circle of influence or that chance to connect to others who, candidly, might have something meaningful to share – and do it willingly, and I think that’s definitely situation where one plus one equals three. Where we will have the nourishment that comes with that. If people don’t want to help they’re not going to, but I think more often than not people are are happy to and want to see you be successful.

Peter: I agree that. I think I think that people in your network, to your point, who you’ve developed a friendship with (and we’ll use that friendship in a broad perspective versus a business transaction) are always willing to help in any which way shape or form, whether it’s a professional perspective or even in a personal perspective. They’re always there willing to be able to help

Jamie: Absolutely. I absolutely believe there’s a Beatles lyrics embedded in this. Do not play this backwards on a vinyl record. I know I’m bringing in more archaic references, but on Abbey Road, in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make, and I think there is like something where if you do the right things for the right reasons good things are bound to happen.

Peter: And be genuine and be vulnerable and just be willing to help.

Jamie: Yeah.

Peter: I think that goes a very long way. So, we were talking about business, we were talking about the Craver world. Now, if you could put on your economic binoculars and look into the future. We are sitting here today on October 26 and by the time this airs we will have a new president in the White House. What do you see on the landscape?

Jamie: Well, you know, it’s really interesting. That’s a great question. It might take a Hubble telescope to get that close enough to really be able to predict much certainty but I think that we have an incredibly resilient economy. We definitely have seen more people in our neighborhoods in the past year-and-a-half eating out more often but I think, when we look at what what retail and restaurants have been through the past eight years, there’s always some hesitancy with good times because, candidly, there were some tough years in there where people weren’t dining out as often, where it was a real scramble to make sure we were maintaining visits, and to provide the hospitality we know we’re known for to be able to hold onto those visits. So I think, economically speaking, we’re gonna head into a brand new administration, a brand new year in 2017, and I think there’s grounds for incredible hope. We live in the greatest Age in the history of humankind with regard to technology and the possibility for productivity gains and just the general notion of human progress. Where we live, sometimes the people in government, despite the best intentions, find ways to make that harder and so you what we’re facing every day are things that increase our food costs, things that increase our cost to hire people and maintain the the number of employees we have. That’s real world. At the same time, a nice counterbalance is this notion: the idea of progress and creativity and the fact that you really can’t hold technology back, you can hold the human spirit back. Creativity is the great equalizer so it will be interesting to see what emerges from a policy point of view and I think we’re likely to see a lot of energy and effort on both sides around comprehensive tax reform. It needs to happen. From a bipartisan point of view, there’s acknowledgement that are our tax system is broken, that we have the highest corporate tax rate in the free world, and there’s a hunger for that. So I think that we might have a window of hope where there’s enough common ground that some good things might be accomplished. But, you know, we’ll take it as it comes.

Peter: The whole about tax reform… that’s gonna take a lot of work. Even as a CPA, you’re right. The system is broken. There’s gotta be a better way. It’s just way too complex, but it’s going to take a huge effort because there’s been enough tax reform pieces done that are still sitting in the bowels of Congress collecting dust that have never been acted on and there’s been some really great ideas but something bogs down that process. I know you have been interviewed number of times for Business First (the Columbus, Ohio business periodical) but I just saw something recently about on the cover of a Business First about some of the struggles that some of the restaurants are having here in the Columbus and the Ohio area. What are some of the causes of these struggles and how have you guys been able to avoid them?

Jamie: What restaurants represent, I think, is probably one of the more pure symbols of creativity and entrepreneurship. Whether it’s that family recipe that has been handed down for generations until someone finally takes that leap of faith and decides, hey, I’m going to open a restaurant and serve this famous Greek chicken that’s been a part of my family heritage for generations, or whatever it may be. What we see is bigger barriers to entry than there have been and, candidly, a lot of those barriers, whatever the good intentions are coming from regulators – whether that’s at the federal level, whether it’s a state or city level, whatever it may be. So when you have a an industry that typically runs on pretty compressed margins and the typical net income for a restaurateur is somewhere in that range of 1-3% percent, in terms of what they’re really able to capture at the end of the day. That puts a lot at risk if you crank up the cost of food, if you crank up the cost of investment in people. So, for instance, the new overtime rule that’s set to go into effect on December 1st: many in the restaurant world are hoping that the six-month delay that the House passed is also passed by the Senate and signed by the President during the lame duck session, because people need more time to absorb what that means for their costs. That’s just one small example. We hear a lot of talk around the state that the city of Cleveland is going to have on the ballot, in May of 2017, something that would raise the minimum wage to $15 for starting pay. We’re 100% in favor of high wages for our restaurant employees. We’re against the idea of a government thinking they know what it’s like to work behind the counter and telling us how to run our business because, candidly, it’s unworkable so many times. So those are real world struggles that I think some face and, candidly, what’s hard is we’ve been seeing, since 2008, with some of these new laws and regs and everything else, is gonna make it tougher for restaurants to stay in operation. We’ve gone from 418 restaurants in 2010 to 390 today, so the the impacts are real but you struggle through it, you make it work, and you find a way to continue to be profitable – but it’s not easy and it’s it’s tough because sometimes those threats are more external than they are the result of your own decisions.

Peter: Exactly, and when you say that, at the end of the day, you hope that you’ve got a profit margin somewhere between one and three percent, I like to put it in a different way, for someone who may not be as financially astute, to get their mind around it. For every dollar that your customers give you, out of that dollar you’re able to keep a penny to three cents of it.

Jamie: Right.

Peter: Off of every transaction. So your payroll costs, your food costs, everything else is eating up so much of that dollar that, at the end of the day, you only get a penny. Now multiply that by the number of transactions that go on, but those are really tight margins and, if you sneeze the wrong way, you’re in the negative.

Jamie: That’s true, and we we understand that. We come into this eyes wide open. We’ve been in the restaurant business for 95 years now, but we do think it’s important that policymakers, especially, understand that there are unintended consequences to an idea you think is a good idea. On the surface it might appear to be that way, but did you know the rest of the story? We think it’s our responsibility to focus on being good citizens and let them know what the real world looks like.

Peter: That’s right, and I imagine that it falls on some deaf ears because not everybody, in any legislature, will be as fiscally conservative or fiscally knowledgeable that they think they’re doing something good, which could ultimately put you out of business. How many associates do you employ?

Jamie: Thank you for asking that, because if you asked what’s allowed us to continue to be successful over all these years and really, truly the the secret for our success is incredible team members. We employ 10,000 people in 12 states around the country, and of those 10,000 people – and this is hard to believe in fast food – more than one in four of those 10,000 team members have been with White Castle 10 years or more, so there’s incredible loyalty. The other thing that I think really stands out about our business model is that, of our top 450 restaurant leaders, of the top 450 people in restaurant operations management, 444 started behind the counter at an hourly job. Many of them when they’re 15. You know, we love the six who didn’t–

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: –but it’s awesome that we’ve got this incredible loyalty and this promote-from-within opportunity that we’ve created to provide people a path to prosperity and a chance to allow their dreams to come true. For us that’s a sacred trust and it is really the heart of hospitality that motivates us every day. That comes from each of those individuals who make it possible.

Peter: So if I said that you, White Castle, really embraces the fact that they’re in the people business, first and foremost, everything else comes second, that would be a valid statement.

Jamie: Yeah, absolutely, and I think the people business and how we do that is.. it’s not just a vision statement we put a piece of paper and throw in a folder somewhere. To nourish the souls of Craver generations everywhere is what motivates us, is what guides us – it’s what helps us make our decisions. Then the secondary part of that, our mission, is to make memorable moments every day. That gives us the chance to not just give someone a sack of ten.

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: But it’s also about what goes with it: it’s the smile, it’s that connection point, and it’s being there for people when they need us the most. We’re that Oasis, man – one on the highway of hope and life.

Peter: Exactly, and I know you guys do a lot here in the community. We’ve met a couple times up at the Kidney Road location. What was going on that one day? There was some voluntary effort that you were working on and the next thing you know the restaurant was full with all these volunteers. You guys were going out to… I’m blanking on that.

Jamie: We have so many really nourishing partnerships with so many really great groups around town, and I think that day we might have had our friends in the American Red Cross coming in for a check presentation for dollars that we had raised around the Castles, where customers donated to turn White Castle red before Valentine’s Day. We have a great friendship with the American Red Cross. Autism Speaks is another group we work with in town, and our hope is to feed hunger, hopes and dreams. To really look at how we can empower the human spirit so people have the best path forward, and so we do give back quite a bit to community. It’s not to pat ourselves on the back but because we think it’s really important to put our money where our mouth is and to really help those individuals in the neighborhoods where we are everyday.

Peter: And since we’ve met back way back when, in talking to you and your brother-in-law John, who is the Senior Vice President of People? What’s his title?

Jamie: He is our Chief People Officer.

Peter: That’s right.

Jamie: He has the conductor stick when it comes to empowering all of our people. He does an awesome job.

Peter: and that’s John Kelly III. Having gotten to know you, and actually John was in the class with Jamie, but having gotten to know these guys over the years I’ve seen White Castle in a completely different perspective – one of community, of how they treat their people, their team members, of how socially conscious (and I use that a very broad sense) that the organization is. You’re a family business, so we can’t see the numbers behind it, but you’ve been around for 95 years – that says a lot. The company’s well-respected, well-known, and even to the point that – I remember it was doing that the NCAA tournament and you, me and our good friend Dr. Jay Young (who will be on a future podcast) were at a local restaurant and one of those specials was sliders

Jamie: [laughs]

Peter: and I went, “Wait a minute guys, you’ve got that trademarked,” and you said, “Yeah, we have a trademark,” and you said early on you may have challenged a few, but after awhile you went, “Why? We’re just throwing money down a very deep hole,” and actually when you say the word slider we all know we think of: White Castle. So it’s like a subliminal advertising.

Jamie: [laughs]

Peter: You have other restaurants advertising for you! How do you do that, my friend?

Jamie: Hey, you just revealed our secret plan to win the war.

Peter: [laughs] That just happened.

Jamie: That’s alright. We’ll leave it in. Sharing is caring you. We were open source before it was popular. I think, for us, it is about being comfortable with who we are. The brand itself has meant so much to so many people, but also, as our CEO said to the first group that was inducted into the hall of fame, “Do you realize that your love White Castle has led to the scorn, ridicule, and derision of others because they simply can’t understand your deep and unending devotion?” At that point Michele Purcell, who was an inductee that year, started to cry. Then he shared, “Do you realize that, this year, more people won super bowl rings, more people won nobel prizes. You are a very elite group of people and you might be made fun of by others, but in our hearts and hallways your names will always be held as sacred,” and that’s when Michele Purcell, who was weeping, gently raised her pant leg to reveal a White Castle ankle tattoo.

Peter: Oh, nice!

Jamie: And tattoos, by the way, since we’re sharing all the other secrets I might as well share this one too – a White Castle permanent tattoo is a guaranteed shortcut to get you into the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame.

Peter: Oh, my wife’s not gonna like you at all.

Jamie: No, but you know what? You will be famous for the ages. Your name will live on.

Peter: And just having the White Castle candle doesn’t help at all?

Jamie: White Castle candle, for those who are unaware, you have to experience this: it is aromatherapy for the modern age. Our good friend Laura Slatkin, who is known as the queen of home fragrances (she has designed for Elton John, Vera Wang, Martha Stewart, the British Royal Family and White Castle) created the original White Castle hamburger scented candle, which has a base of bun, a great amount of beef, the perfect blend of onion and the top note of pickle. It’s available on the House of Crave.

Peter: The House of Crave, yes. I actually may have to get another because I think mine is completely used up.

Jamie: You’re on your path to the Hall of Fame doing things like that.

Peter: Thank you, I do love your business. It’s great. I love when I’ve been able to come and visit, and before we leave we have to talk about, because you guys said you’re comfortable in your own skin, what was that movie that came out awhile ago? Can you help me here, Jamie, I’m drawing a blank.

Jamie: Well, we’re still a little bit upset it didn’t win the 2004 Academy Award for best picture, but the film I think that you’re referencing, Pete, is Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

Peter: Bingo. Yeah, and what role did you play in that?

Jamie: I was fortunate enough to answer the phone call when one of the entertainment clearance individuals from LA was calling and she was telling me about this great film about these two likable underdogs who spend a night of misadventure, as she called it, searching for a White Castle. I honestly, truly believed it was an April fools prank or one of those deals where they get you all excited and then they tell you, by the way, for small video $350,000 dollars you can have your name in this. So they sent us the script and turns out it was real and it also turned out it was rated R for “somewhat raunchy.”

Peter: [laughs]

Jamie: The language is a little rough and she failed to mention that the Cannabis sativa was involved in their hunger pangs, and that after smoking some weed they went out in search of White Castle, but that we were fortunate enough to be able to participate. I remember some trepidation in asking our CEO about it, to make sure he was okay with it, and Bill Ingram (he just retired as our CEO last year, God love him, he’s the best, he’s still chairman of the board), when I went into chat with him about it, I thought I’d better be straight ahead. I told it’s rated R for raunchy; it has sex, drugs and rock and roll; and, other than that, it’s a love letter to White Castle. He got really quiet and I thought, oh boy. He looked, he paused, and he said does it make fun of our team members? And when I said, “No, it’s actually very complimentary,” he looked and said, “I’m okay with it then.” That was it. That was the approval process that allowed us to participate.

Peter: Did you talk to LA at all?

Jamie: You know, Kate, my brother-in-law John, my sister-in-law Meg and I had the opportunity to go to the premiere and it was a blast out in LA. That was fun, but nothing was more fun than the day the movie launched and we encountered something we hadn’t encountered since 1921 – we literally almost ran out of hamburger in the restaurants. The sales spike was so strong and so incredible. It was unprecedented, and the only time that happened again was when the DVD came out had the following winter. So it was historic. It hit some highs, in many ways, metaphorically, and also it hit historic highs that from a sales point of view, as well. Our thought was that the nature of the film was good-natured. It wasn’t mean spirited at all.

Peter: Right.

Jamie: and that it connected to a whole new generation of Cravers. We might not, otherwise, have had the chance to meet like we did. It was a lot of fun.

Peter: I can’t believe it was back in 2004.

Jamie: Me neither. We maintain a nice friendship with John Cho and Kal Penn, they’re great guys. They have gone on to do great things in their careers and, actually, that resurrected the career of a gentleman by the name of Neil Patrick Harris, who appeared in the film and when we had the opportunity to meet him a few years later he thanked us profusely because, in that film, he says he was able to kill the ghost of Doogie Howser. If you haven’t seen the film, you’ll understand when you see some of the scenes. I won’t get into the granular details at this point.

Peter: I have to go back and watch it because I forgot that he was even in that movie.

Jamie: Yeah, he’s in the film playing himself and yeah… it’s out there. It’s good.

Peter: Isn’t one of the characters, one of the two guys, isn’t here in Washington?

Jamie: Kal Penn continues to have a very successful acting career – he has actually taught film at USC, he’s been in all kinds of films, and he’s currently starring in a new TV show – but he also took time off from acting and worked in the Obama administration. He worked in the White House and was part of the cultural office. His heritage is that he’s Indian, and so he worked in the cultural affairs for Pacific affairs and Asian affairs. He’s really a great guy: super smart, well informed, and just a good friend. Nice, nice person.

Peter: That’s really cool. So after this interview is over, I have to go get a sack of sliders and then maybe I’ll just take the rest of the afternoon off and watch the movie. [laughs]

Jamie: Do a critique, man. Be a film critic. Critics are craving.

Peter: As we wrap up, I know you love to read you read a lot of interesting books. What book are you reading today? What’s out there?

Jamie: I am reading a historical fiction book called The Last Days of Night and it’s actually about the legal battle that happened in the 1880s between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, through the eyes of this young attorney who has been hired to represent Westinghouse. It is a really interesting perspective because I know we, appropriately, have a lot of reverence for for Thomas Edison, but this book is not so flattering. It’s a whole new picture of of Thomas Edison I hadn’t expected, so that’s pretty intriguing as we go.

Peter: Wow, so what is your favorite book? If someone said you can pick up another book and read it again, what is your go to?

Jamie: You know, there’s a a an Irish author who I think is just brilliant. His name’s Colum McCann, he lives in New York City, he’s from Ireland. He has written a number of incredible works. They have the the poetical sense of a Dylan Thomas but he’s able to weave a tale and just do it so vividly that it really stays with you, and of all of his books – they’re just all fantastic – my favorite is one called Let The Great World Spin, and again it takes real world events that happened. It re-creates the scene when highwire artists actually walked between the world trade centers back in like 1974. Let The Great World Spin is just an incredible read and I recommend it to anybody, if you’re looking for something good.

Peter: Cool, I will definitely pick that up. You’re a really cool guy and I love our conversations that we have. My only complaint is we only do this on a quarterly basis because both of our schedules are extremely busy, but I look forward to those times. Whether it’s breakfast or, as we say, getting the band back together, and apparently getting the band back the the Monday before the election. Me, you, John and Jay Young to talk a little political season, a little politics, which is always good – and maybe share a little bit of that Kentucky brown water.

Jamie: [laughs] Sounds like a good plan.

Peter: Yeah. So, one, thank you again Jamie for taking time out. I’ve really enjoyed this and I hope you have too. It’s been very informative and I know my audience will enjoy this as well, so thank you so very much.

Jamie: Pete, Yes, And crave on my friend.

Peter: [laughs] Thanks.


Production & Development for Improv Is No Joke by Podcast Masters