Jeff Davis

Episode 17: Key Attitude Attributes that Build the Right Culture with Jeff Davis

Who is Jeff Davis and what are the key takeaways in this episode?

For many years, Jeff Davis has worked for multi-national companies and has traveled to different parts of the world. He has held key positions and managed teams. But his experiences were not without times of failures and disappointments. In this interview, we’ll get to know the impact of his experiences in the corporate world and how it has helped him in building his own company.

Some of the key points we’ve discussed include:

  • The key attributes of attitude
  • What Jeff’s ‘aha’ moment was
  • Jeff’s thoughts on what company culture is and should be
  • Why Jeff admires Google’s company culture
  • What book changed his life
  • And more…

The Questions

[21:45] What was your ‘aha’ moment?
Answer: I remember my ‘aha’ moment happened when I had almost run us to ground, because we almost ran out of cash for the payroll and everything. It was like, even with all of my financial acumen and experience at P&G, I had never really run a cash forecast properly, where you really have to know where the new business is, its payeables and the receivables, and be very clear on the cycles of this cash.

[7:55] Can you tell me a story of how your culture helped you accelerate your business?
Answer: Yeah, I think I’ll use an example. Perhaps my last assignment at Procter & Gamble was a very unique one. Procter & Gamble had acquired Wella, a 130-year-old company out of Germany. You know, P&G was a 170-year-old company from the US. How do you think that acquisition went? It was P&G acquiring Wella. It didn’t go so well.

[16:06] How do your physical offices reflect that culture and how does it help you keep and attract the type of individual who doesn’t come from the traditional space?
Answer: I think that’s a great question, John. So one of the things again, you and I have the same demographic, and so this is one of the things that most leaders, I think, don’t completely understand about the millennials, and by the way, about even the folks that are now entering the workforce. Today, they’re just— there’s a different expectation of culture. And there’s a different expectation of office space, and how it works. During my time at P&G, in the various countries we went from the traditional, you know, all the leaders in the office and everyone in cubicles, situation to a purer, open space with myself being in the cubicles and huddle rooms for everyone. And so, I actually learned that while it wasn’t the best place to work individually at times, that open space, I was a big fan of it, because you absolutely did create culture, and you had discussions, and you had interactions that just didn’t happen in a more closed environment.

Culture According to Jeff Davis:

My definition of company culture would really relate to my mantra where I talk about two things: attitude and results. It’s a simple mantra that I’ve brought with me to every multinational business I ran, at P&G, and I’ve also brought it to my first start up and we’ve incorporated it into my second.

What I mean by that is, what I mean by attitude is, well, attitude is really what creates culture. You have to have a believer’s attitude. You have to have the attitude of being a student and a learner. You have to not believe that you’re a know-it-all. You have to have an attitude of humility, that you can learn from everyone. You have to have this attitude of pro-activity, where you don’t wait to be told what to do, but you really try, and particularly in small companies, it’s very, very important to learn and iterate.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • Good to Great by Jim Collins

What Jeff Davis Wants His Company to BE:

  • BE Reverse
  • BE Attitude
  • BE Results Driven

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Jeff Davis:

Connect with John on

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

John: Hey Jeff, how are you doing?

Jeff: Hey, I’m good.

John: Thanks for taking your time to spend it with us today. I really appreciate it.

Jeff: Yeah.

John: Just a little background on me. For 30 years, I’ve been in the interiors business and my wife and I have been together about 30 years, doing it together. We’ve worked for major manufacturers and about a dozen years ago she looked at me, said, “You don’t fit corporate America. You want to do things differently, and let’s go do it together differently.”

Jeff: Wow. What was the industry you’re in, John?

John: I worked for manufacturers such as Westinghouse Electric’s Furniture Divisions.

Jeff: Okay, yeah.

John: I worked for Knoll. I worked for Timberland International. Climbed the ladders, a kid coming out of college and started as a receptionist, and worked my way to President of the Division, and then got recruited by Westinghouse and by British Tyre & Rubber. Then, sat in board rooms, Jeff, and everyone nodded their head, and I said, “No, it doesn’t make sense.” And sometimes when you don’t agree with the guy, the chairman of the board, that’s not a good thing.  So we decided it would be my best interest not to be sitting at his right anymore. So I went off on my own. Yeah, you know what, it’s like a square peg in a round hole some days. I grew up with eight brothers and sisters and was the youngest, and just kind of learned through the hard knocks the same “here’s how life is versus how you want it to be. You might as well deal with how life is.”

Jeff: Yes. That’s good, John. So where are you physically located now?

John: We are located at Parsippany, New Jersey. We run an interiors distributorship for the H and I Corporation. We’re about a 15,000 square-foot showroom. We also have the media business on the front-end of our business, where we do the BE Culture Radio. About a year ago, my partner, better known as my wife, said there’s a better way to send our message and she went out and brought in a really smart, young man named Nick Bulwin, who is a PR Marketing Specialist for emerging companies, and said, “You guys have a great story, but we just need to do it differently. If you let go of the reigns, I’ll show you how to do it.” So what I did, Jeff, is I let go of the reigns, and here I am running and doing a podcast. Imagine that.

Jeff: That’s cool. That’s totally cool. I like it, John.

John: And you have quite a background, I see.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s been an interesting journey for myself, so the short version’s 23 years of Procter & Gamble, hired right out of the University of Utah, did five different countries, you know, six different businesses. Eighteen of those 23 years outside the US and I really was part of P&G and many multinational companies scaling the globe, and really becoming more international. For my first assignment, I left San Francisco and went to Slovakia, just after Czechoslovakia had split into two separate republics. I spent a couple of years in Slovakia, a couple of years in Prague and the Czech Republic, and just, you know, an incredible life journey I once led. There were some quite interesting professional moments as well. A couple of times in Germany, Toronto, Canada. In my last time in Germany, I was responsible for the Global Professional Salon business and spent most of my time in the BRIC countries, so mostly Russia and India, China and Brazil. So it was a fascinating career that very few multinationals can provide. I took my family in tow. We just had this amazing experience. We joke around. We have four kids and we joke around that our kids are either going to be in therapy at 30 or they’re going to be pretty well-grounded for this international world. The jury’s still out, we’re not sure. But we’ll see.

John: We’d like to say in our house, “They don’t come with directions, so quit turning it upside down and looking at the bottom.”

Jeff: Exactly.

John: You know what, I just got to ask you, you’ve probably seen more different cultures than most people will ever see in a lifetime, in just a few short years. What do you think in your early life prepared you? If our listeners were listening and they were saying, “You know what, I really want to understand what he did growing up that made it possible, so he was able to kind of make it work, roll with the punches and really assimilate with all these different cultures that you talk about.” How did you do it? What was that like for you? How did you evolve going through that?

Jeff: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. I was impressed very early on. My father was, this was quite amazing for the time, worked for Sperry Univac which became Unisys. And they sent a team over to work in Germany in the ’70s, ’70 to ’72 so I was 10 to 12 years old, and we just had a wonderful experience there as a family, and I learned a bit of the language and became very aware that I loved other cultures, loved other peoples, and then I came back here to Salt Lake. You know, I grew up here in Salt Lake City. I’m Mormon and I had a chance to serve these Mormon missions, that I would say that even if you didn’t believe in the doctrine or the religion, you know, Mormon missions are just an amazing life journey. It compacts about 20 years of experience into two years. You know, you take a young man or a young woman and you send them off in the world to share a message about service and Christ, and also to serve. You basically serve. 50% of the time you’re working and serving people. You’re just helping people. It’s like a peace corps effort, but it’s just an incredibly wonderful experience. And I returned to Germany, so I did that in Germany from 19 to 21 years old. And it just really opened up my life and my perspective on cultures and people.

So I returned to the University of Utah and got a degree in Marketing and in German, and had this desire to live internationally, like I had when my father – you know, when I was 10 to 12 years old. I had this great desire to do so, and then P&G came and recruited on campus. They did need a whole lot of young guys to work internationally, about 25% of P&G’s business was international at that time, but it was my desire. And I spent about six years in the US and then got this crazy opportunity with Procter & Gamble to help them expand into the Eastern Bloc countries as communism fell and they couldn’t get a lot of Western European folks to go. But a lot of Americans said, “Hey, we’ll go.” And so, I had this chance to go do it. So then that evolved into this very unique journey. And I always say, “You know, I’m an American but I’m really a citizen of the world.” And I’ve come to appreciate the best culture is a combination of at least the five that I lived in.

John: Wow.

Jeff: And so you begin to appreciate things. You appreciate the US, you appreciate just different things in Germany and Canada, and Slovakia. And I would say that no one does goods in services like the United States, having lived outside the US for so long. But as I’ve been back now for five years and running this start-up. We had one successful start-up now exit, so I’m on my second. And I think it’s amazing here what we do in the United States, but we pay for it. That 24/7 lifestyle we live and the goods and services, and you see different lifestyles in Europe, certainly even Canada. Canada, I liked the most because it was kind of a blend of the United States and Europe. You have some focus in belief and lifestyle, and vacations and balance, and yet you had a lot of goods and services there as well. But in Germany, for perspective, where I lived almost a decade in my life, they don’t have, though there’s a big push now, they don’t have retailing on Sunday. It’s a beautiful thing, you know. You actually think differently.

You rest, you walk in the forest, you go walk through the old town with your family and in our US society we’ve gotten away from that. I’ll give you one other anecdote to add to it, about what I think built this culture and talks a lot about how you form yourself. So while I lived abroad, I often took two week vacations. And it was kind of the norm for Europe. I actually, at one time, took a three-week vacation. One time when I was switching assignments in P&G, I took a four-week vacation. And I have people that are in my age (I’m in my early 50s) and I have people who I know today here, who are my friends in the United States and who have never taken a two-week vacation. And you can appreciate that until you’ve taken one, and then you say, “Wow.” It’s not just, you know, the Germans, and how they are such a productive nation yet they value so much their vacations and their days off, and their holidays. Well, because when you actually unplug and go take time, you actually come back with new thoughts, new ideas. I can make a really good case for taking time off based on the experience that I had there.

John: That’s amazing. You know, I think far too often in the States, people equate working 80 hours a week while ignore the things that they’re working for, with being successful.

Jeff: Yes.

John: And I’ve just never been able to connect those dots. It’s like, when I was in corporate America, and my phone rang on Sunday, someone will say, “Well, I called you on Sunday.” I said, “Yeah, I saw it. I don’t answer my phone on Sundays. I was on the way to church with my family, with my wife.” “But I called you.” “Yeah, I’m not saving lives, I’m not curing any big diseases; it’s office furniture.” I literally had a boss once said, “You know that I called you and you didn’t answer.” I said, “Yeah.” “But did you know that you were interrupting my family?” And he looked at me when I said “You were interrupting my family on a Sunday?” I said, “You know, you called and the only reason I carry a phone is because we have a special needs child, but you called twice during the services.” And he looked at me and I said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, but God is far more important than you even though you may not think that.”

Jeff: Right.

John: And I think, Jeff, I think that’s what got me into a little trouble. I could have stopped at that point, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Jeff: Yeah, you couldn’t help it, but I love that. And I think there are few people like you, John, that do that. And actually, there are few people around who lived deliberately; Henry David Thoreau said that “you need to live deliberately.” And that’s what I think he meant. You know, you make these choices. You take these vacations, and you unplug, and I think it’s even harder, right, today? I mean, I think for our kids and their kids’ generations, it’s so hard to actually find space and time, and unplug.

John: I shudder to think what the kids – I have two children, one is a senior in college and one’s a sophomore. All through high school, they would come to the house, and you know, they’ve got their face stuck in a cellphone and Twitter, and the thing is, as my wife used to say: “When you walk through our front door, that phone goes on the counter. And unless there’s an emergency, someone’s dying or bleeding, if you pick that up, I promise you one of those two things might happen to you.” And they would say, “Dad.” I said, “You know, we’ve been married 25 years and she hasn’t really spoken very harshly at any time ever since I’ve ever known her, and so I would take her really, really seriously.” And they’d say, “Well, Dad, you know, can you talk to her?” I’m like, “Guys, I’m happily married. I’m not going to talk to her about this at all.” So we’ve kind of made this… Go ahead.

Jeff: No, I just wanted to say that yeah, that’s not going to make your radar straight, right?

John: No, no, no, no. You know what, to this day, we sit down at dinner, and even my 24-year-old who is an autistic child and is the love of our life, and we’ve gone through the trials and tribulations, and he’s just a gift from God, as far as we’re concerned.

Jeff: Yes.

John: And everybody said, “You know, he’ll never walk. He’ll never talk. He’ll never read and write.” But Alex walks, he talks, he reads, he writes. He’s learned to be engaging. We’ve always said to him, “Just because you’re special needs, doesn’t mean there are any special rules for you. Participate.”

Jeff: That’s good.

John. And people said, “You know, John, you make him go to a homeless shelter once a week and cook, bake cookies.” And I’m like, “Yeah, so what?” There are no special rules. You’ve got to give back like everybody else. And so, Alex would sit down the table, his sister and brother would come home from college, and he would be like, “No phones at the table, guys.” They’re like, “Dad?” I’m like, “Uh-uh. You heard it from the mouth of babes: can’t do it.” So to your point, Jeff, you know what and I’ve just got to jump backwards for a moment, if I could. What I find amazing, you have a tremendous career at P&G, and then where most guys would have said, “Okay, I’ve got four kids. Life’s been good.” You started all over. How do you do that?

Jeff: Yeah, it is crazy. You know, it is funny because I got to the General Manager level at Procter & Gamble which is not easy and was able to and in 2009, they were like most multinationals, trying to shed part of the top. And it lowered the terminations, so it was kind of an unplanned exit for us. I planned to maybe work a couple of more years at least, and then I wanted to go. I’d always had this dream of either teaching at university level or I always kind of thought I wanted to try and run a small company. Run my own little business, which is a really kind of an odd combo, because mostly, when you’ve run multinational, billion-dollar companies, you kind of stay on that track. And I certainly had some really interesting offers when I came out of P&G, but we decided to really reboot. It was kind of a strange thing because it was unplanned, so the question (I really wasn’t going to, and really wasn’t retired) was, “Where are we going to live and what am I going to do?” Most of our network was kind of in Europe and Asia.

We hadn’t really spent much time in the US. But we had this strong impression. We have family in California and Utah, and had this strong impression, you know, of “let’s return to Utah”. This made no sense for a big multinational, billion-dollar guy here with all the innovation and small companies in Utah, but it actually worked out okay. So I’m an Adjunct Professor at the University of Utah. So that first year back, I talked and helped the David Eccles School of Business there, created a strategy for the future, business plan for the business school, and it was just a terrific experience. And I started to do a little consulting, and sitting on a few boards, and then I had this company come to me, it was called Orabrush. And I was introduced from a friend, another kind of investor, you know, board guy who had befriended me here in Salt Lake City. And this was a fascinating little story. I had been trying to figure out new media as we were building. Well, I was responsible for Wella in Procter & Gamble, the Salon Professional Business. And we then tried to figure out social, you know, Facebook and some of the new evolving media platforms, YouTube. And I met these Orabrush guys, you know, two young guys, and a 70 at the time, now 76-year-old Dr. Bob. And they were selling this tongue cleaner — Orabrush is a tongue cleaner — and they were selling this tongue cleaner using YouTube videos, and they had like 3 million views on YouTube, which in 2009 was just a huge amount. And so I was fascinated with that story. They needed some money, so I and this other guy were the angel investors. And we then, you know, it got more interesting. We helped them set up a board, and then we needed really a CEO, and so I went part-time CEO. And then the next thing you know, six months later, I was full-time CEO. So I’ve been full-time CEO for the last…

John: There’s no part-time CEO, Jeff.

Jeff: Exactly, and that was kind of what my investor and board colleagues knew, they knew it. So they’ve got me going part-time, I would be hooked and do it. And so, yeah, it was a bit of a strange path, John, but it’s been very, very rewarding. And this is a very unique company, Orabrush. We have these new millennials, you know, teamed up with me and a few of my board members who were more of the boomer crowd. And it was just this clash of what I call “traditional marketing and advertising, and brand building” with “new brand building”, which I called “reverse marketing,” where you start out with digital, you start with video first, and then you expand to traditional means later.

It’s just this amazing opportunity. And so the short version of the Orabrush story is told by Google, which is more important than me, and is that Orabrush was the first commercial product to be commercialized on a global level just using YouTube videos, just using YouTube advertising. And actually, we divested that brand to an oral care company in December, to DenTek. So we created this brand and divested the brand to DenTek. But the investment for me and my investors was always about the technology of how we did it, you know, using the YouTube advertising. And so the new company that we spun off in December is called Molio, and Molio in Latin means “to build or construct.” We think of ourselves as online brand builders. And so what does Molio do? Well, we write, edit and produce videos.

We optimize those videos by changing the links, changing the buttons, changing the annotations, changing the text action, all kinds of optimization to figure out who’s viewing the video and why Then the last thing that we do is as we’re actually the media company, we actually serve. We’ve built programmatic software that takes that video and serves it to the most relevant target audience that is most likely to watch it, and eventually convert them over to a website or something like that. So we call it the “Molio Method.” And the Molio Method is simply the integration of the best creative and the best technology in terms of programmatic ad-bidding to build the best campaigns to build your brand. And it’s been an interesting journey, and that’s kind of now phase 2 for me.

John: It’s pretty interesting for us because it resonates very much with our brand at BE Furniture because we literally started with these millennials, and it’s a whole, as you so succinctly put, eclectic group that comes together. I’m in my mid-50s and then I got the 20-somethings and the 30-somethings. And I’ve got to tell you, Jeff, they speak, and sometimes I’m like, “What language?” When we first started talking, I was like, “What language in God’s name are you speaking to me, son?” And he was just like, “Just trust me, man. Just trust me.” And I’m looking at this young man in blue jeans, in a tattered shirt, he said, “I’m going to put this on YouTube, and it’s going to blow up, man.” I walked back over to my wife, and I’m like, “Are these kids serious?” She said, “Just go with them.” She said, “You know what, you have to, they know how to deliver it.” Well, let me tell you, they did a YouTube short, three-minute, 30-second video, put it on YouTube.

Jeff: Yeah.

John: No pre-launch, no nothing. Just kind of, as they say, “Just spread it among some people you know, man.” I’m like, “Okay.”

Jeff: Yeah.

John: 6,200 hits later over three days.

Jeff: Wow.

John: The guy walks in. Nick Bulwin walks in and goes, “Now, do you believe me?” So he’s done the whole thing with us. I mean, that’s why your story with Molio resonates so much with me personally, as I look at it. And I’m like, you know what, from all the multimedias, and all of our listeners who are entrepreneurs should listen, there is a different way today to go about sending your message than a traditional one, because, Jeff, I’m not sure the traditional one will give you the return you want in today’s market, if you’re trying to get to the market of emerging companies, millennials. And I frankly think that’s where the market is going.

Jeff: You’re exactly right, John, and I think so. The latest data I think from Forrester, you know, for an eMarketer would be, now you’d get 60% to 70% of our media is now consumed online. And to your point, if you’re in business and you want to be around a decade from today, or maybe five years from today, you know, you can’t actually just do traditional media. First off, it’s cost-prohibitive still to do most traditional media. And so, that’s why I really love the Molio method, or this resource marketing, where you start off with digital, start off with video. And by the way, on YouTube, we just picked the right platform.

There’s a billion unique visitors to the platform each month. I mean, I remember our young guy, Jeff Harmon, how was one of the original founders, and I remembered when I asked him, “How did you get the customers?” And he said, “Well, you know, we pick them up at YouTube. We have a video on the YouTube channel. We pick them up on YouTube, and then we drive them over to our website.” So it was just brilliant thinking, and he had never thought traditionally. He never thought differently, but it was brilliant. You simply went where the audiences are and then pick them up, and then got those interested to go to your website. That’s a very different way of thinking than creating a website and then trying to market and trying to get people to go to your website, right? It’s just a different way of thinking.

John: Jeff, I mean, we’ve all had our “aha” moments, and I want, in a second, I want you to share with me your “Aha” moment, because for me, it was about, oh, 72 hours ago when the whole—we’re talking about the multimedia and how you do it, and drive people to your site. Well, everybody in my business had these static sites, and they had SEO’s of 72, 91, well, big deal, right? Well, a young man walks in my office and says to me, “You know, we tied this all together. We launched the website. You know how many visitors you had on Friday?” Mind you, Jeff, I probably had 50 visitors in a year to that website.

Jeff: Right.

John: 1,200 on Friday.

Jeff: Wow.

John: He’s like—he’s favorite line to me every time he turns, he goes, “You believe me yet?”

Jeff: “Do you believe me yet?”

John: And I’m like, “Nick, you’re killing me, guy. I believe you. I’m all in. Look around.” So help me with what your “aha” moment was?

Jeff: Well, I would say, you know, there’s a couple of ‘aha’ moments in the life of a small company entrepreneur. I guess one that just popped in my mind, probably not the best example, but every entrepreneur will be able to relate to this, so you know, running a big multinational business like I did at P&G, you always had kind of the backstop of the big multinational, but I really remember an ‘aha’ moment for me was, I don’t know, we were probably a year in, we were trying to figure out which way to go, and figured out if we could build a software to scale our model, if we could actually grow our brands. We had Orabrush and then we had Orapup, a tongue cleaner for dogs, which we still have. And I remember my ‘aha’ moment was when I almost ran us to ground, because we almost ran out of cash on payroll and everything.

It was like, even with all of my financial acumen and experience at P&G, I had never really run a cash forecast, right, where you really have to know where the new business is going, the payeables and the receivables, and be very clear on the cycles of this cash. And so, I remember one month having to pay payroll on my credit card, because we had almost run ourselves to ground. And it was an ‘aha’ moment. It was also a very sobering moment. You know, I had people’s families that were counting on these jobs. We were about probably 15-18 people at the time, and it was just a really sobering moment for me. And that was the day that I then set a threshold for cash. We cut some things and made some adjustments, and I set a threshold for cash that I would never go below after that day, and you know that served us well. We never had a problem after that, but I think every entrepreneur has to learn how to manage your cash to grow your business. So it’s not an unimportant lesson to learn.

John: It’s a tough one. I mean, we like to refer to it as the “skin in the game.” All the entrepreneurs put all their skin in the game. Myself, having come out of corporate America, as you know, there’s a big brother, and the mother ship is always there, so to your point, you don’t run out of cash, you just owe, running a deficit.

Jeff: Yeah.

John: You’re upside down and you go to a meeting and you explain the budget’s upside down, and you get additional funding. And when you’re running a small business, who are you going to go to? The bank does not want to hear from you.

Jeff: Nope.

John: Hey, Jeff, share with our listeners what your definition of company culture is.

Jeff: Yeah, I think my definition of company culture would really relate to my mantra where I talk about two things: attitude and results. And it’s a simple mantra that I have brought with me to every multinational business I ran at P&G, and I also brought it to my first start-up, and we’ve incorporated it into my second. And what I mean by attitude is, well, attitude is really what creates culture. You have to have a believer’s attitude. You have to have the attitude of being a student and a learner. You have to not believe that you’re a know-it-all. You have to have the attitude of humility, that you can learn from everyone. You have to have this attitude of pro-activity, where you don’t wait to be told what to do, but you really try, and particularly in these small companies, it is very, very important to learn and iterate. And as I’ve said to my employees, “I want you to have freedom to test and drive, but if it’s anything to do with a lot of financial downsides, you’ve got to enroll me.” But if not, that’s what it’s about, it’s learning and growing. So it’s this attitude of people who collectively create that culture with their collective attitudes. I mentioned a few of the definitions of attitude because that can be a very broad term. But humility, leadership, learner, those are kind of the key attributes of attitude as I’ve envisioned and built cultures in the past.

The second word, “results,” is not unimportant. And the two are virtuous. So results: at the end of the day, your culture won’t matter if you don’t see success and you don’t deliver results. And so, I remember one P&G leader that I worked for, we were in a very bad period: business was down, we were losing money, we were losing market share and our culture was really bad. And we were talking about how do we improve the culture? And he just made this simple observation. He said, “Well, you know, probably the best way to improve the culture is to improve the results, and that success is fun. And no success is not fun.” And again, it’s a very practical, obvious statement. But if you think about it, it has a lot to do. So when I talk about results, it’s really delivering those things that you set out to in your strategic plan, your key performance indicators, your metrics, and you often talk about it. You share it with the employees. You share the good results. You share the bad results, but you’re really transparent and open.

That’s one of my other parts of having an attitude, one of transparency as well. And when you have good results, you normally have people with better attitudes, and when we have better attitudes, you normally have better results. And that’s what I have used in the past to create and develop and sustain the cultures that I have worked on.

John: Now, can you tell me a story on how your culture helped you accelerate your business?

Jeff: Yeah, I think I’ll use an example. Perhaps my last assignment at Procter & Gamble was a very unique one. Procter & Gamble had acquired Wella. Wella was a 130-year-old company out of Germany. You know, P&G was a 170-year-old company from the US. How do you think that acquisition went? It was P&G acquiring Wella. It didn’t go so well.

John: Ouch.

Jeff: Yes, none of those employees really wanted to be part of Procter & Gamble. There was even an attempt, initially, for them to solicit offers from other companies, a Germany company, a Dutch, a UK company. And so, I guess the best example was that. I call it “leading change,” and so one of the real challenges that I had was that we had 10,000 employees in 52 countries. I was one person, and I was the leader with another gentleman who was in Geneva. And we were the two P&G people parachuted into this organization to integrate it into P&G, and deliver better business results, and then create a culture. We ended up implementing what I call an “engagement score.” It was at the time when we were beginning to have electronic abilities to do surveys and stuff. And so, we set this up. An engagement for me was a combination of, well, an engagement score was a combination of a number of things. The three that I remember most from the survey would be, “Do you believe in the strategy of the company to deliver the stated results?” That was question one.

Question two was, “Do you believe that the leadership has the capability to lead us, to execute and implement these strategies?” And then number three was, “How personally engaged are you to deliver the results?” And the results were both cultural and numeric from our financial standpoint. And that third question was a real indicator of someone who’d bought into the strategy and the leadership, and was a proactive architect of the culture, versus someone who was going to be critical of the culture. And a low engagement score overall, and particularly a low engagement score in question number three “How personally engaged are you to deliver the changes required to deliver the results?” became a real indicator. If I recall, when we started out, we had an engagement, and I guess the literature on this, I remember being educated on it, having an engagement rate or a participation rate in an organization in the 60s or 70s is pretty good. That would be pretty darn good. And I remember our first once was in the 20s or the teens if I recall.

John: Wow.

Jeff: It was quite bad, and I knew it. I actually, it’s what I figured. Let’s take a benchmark as soon as we can because I can only go up, I thought. Well, I think it maybe even went down further for a couple of quarters. And then we began to just implement a lot of the the things that I’ve done in previous assignments, with attitude and results. We created a very strategic plan, brought in the right people. I’m a big believer in Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great.” It’s his section on people, if I remember right, people and getting the wrong people off the bus. So I was a real student and a believer in that philosophy. We brought in new people, got the wrong people off the bus. Got the right people in the right seats, and began to just see progress. And if I recall, John, I think that I was there for a little over two and a half years and if I recall, we ended up with engagement scores in the 80s. I think it was the high 80s eventually.

John: For two and a half years?

Jeff: Success, yeah. It took a while. It definitely did take a while on an organization of that size.

John: Well, you have this huge organization. You go from the 30s to the 80s. I think that’s a pretty monumental stuff.

Jeff: Yeah, and it was very rewarding too. I remember when I left. I remember the most rewarding part of me leaving that assignment wasn’t a lot of the business results. And we were still struggling with business results because my assignment was 2006 to 2009, so it was not one of the easiest market times to be running, to be transforming a business. So I remember we were under significant pressure on the business side. But I remember one of the most rewarding things for me, when I took the early retirement package and left, was just all of the e-mails that I got and well wishes from the Wella employees, who said – because we kind of had a couple of false starts with P&G when they acquired them. And it was just so rewarding to hear people talk about and recite attitude and results, and talk about the engagements scores, and just articulate the things that you would hope to create. And you hear it now being said back to you as you’re leaving. And it was rewarding as a leader.

John: Jeff, I want to shift gears a little bit because you’ve mentioned that in Molio, you have an eclectic group of people. And you’ve hired these talented individuals. That being said, how do your physical offices reflect that culture and how does it help you keep and attract that type of individual that doesn’t come from the traditional space?

Jeff: Yeah, I think that’s a great question, John. So one of the things again, you and I have the same demographic, and so this is one of the things that most leaders, I think, don’t completely understand about the millennials, and by the way, eventhe folks that are now entering the workforce. Today, they just have a different expectation of culture. And it’s a different expectation of office space, and how it works. During my time at P&G, in the various countries, everything went from from the traditional, you know, all the leaders in the office and everyone in cubicles, situation to a purer, open space with myself being in the cubicles and huddle rooms for everyone.

And so, I actually learned that while it wasn’t the best place to work individually at times, that open space, I was a big fan of it, because you absolutely did create culture, and you had discussions, and you had interactions that just didn’t happen in a kind of a more closed environment. So today here, if you remember the strategy of what I articulated Molio does: we are integrated and we deliver the best campaigns and we do that through the integration of the best technology, and the best creatives. So I’m taking an agency component and combining it with a software company. And if you think about those two environments, those are two very different environments. And so, the challenge we’re having, and you know, we’re not there yet. We’re actually working on this right now. But we have this really cool space here in a real tech area of Salt Lake City. And what we’re trying to now create is the right environment and design of the building, where we can accommodate the development group, the software developers who, by the way, normally, you know, like really open space where they can talk to each other, but a very quiet space where they can just sit and code, and do what they need to.

Obviously, the agency and the brand-building side of my company is very open, collaborative, loud. Video production and editing is also again pretty loud and engaging and collaborative. So I think that office design is a really important component of culture. And right now, I’m going to spend some money to have a designer come in and help us figure out how to combine those two elements, because if I were just building a software company, that would be one design of office and culture. Or if I were just running a brand-building company, an agency, that would be a different one. But it’s a bit of a unique challenge for me and my executive team here to figure out, how do we create that environment where our developers are collaborating appropriately with our brand-building and accounts team, and vice-versa, and yet provide them working space that really engenders and helps to get their work done?

John: It’s quite a task. I’ve seen it done a couple of times, probably about seven or eight years ago, before XM and Sirius, and they all came together. They had a period where they had the creatives and they had the programmers, and they had to take them to a space and put them in there, together.

Jeff: Right.

John: And I had a great opportunity to meet a designer. He’s now out in California at IA, Billy Halusky. And Billy came up with the design that literally on a 22,000 square-foot floor, had him separated but together, and separated by a collaborative area in the middle. It was such a cool concept, because when you walked in, it all felt the same. Literally one side was quiet and peaceful and one side was that magnetic intensity of creativity. And you could almost feel it, when you walked to the different sides.

Jeff: Yes.

John: He’d say to me, “Come with me, John.” I come here standing, I’m like, you know, at the time, because we would always talk about culture and how it’s not just that you’re selling furniture. You’re selling a solution and the design first, and you’re using your design and furniture to create someone’s culture.

Jeff: Right.

John: And so many people, I got to tell you, Jeff, they miss it. You know like, well, how much does it cost? Or how much does it cost if you do this wrong?

Jeff: Yes.

John: And you get that really quiet moment, and they’re like, “What do you mean by that?” I’m like, “You know exactly what I mean by that.” You can’t fix it once you’ve damaged your people, and you’ve damaged your brand, you can’t repair that.

Jeff: Yes.

John: But that would cost you thousands of dollars, but I think you’re on the right track, and there is a guy out there I know that does it, and does it well. He left the Northeast a few years ago. He’s killing it out in California with interior architects. He’s a phenomenal talent. Actually, he’s going to be on our show in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to talk.

Jeff: Really? I have to listen in because I actually think there’s more to this. One of my executive staff thought “I will just think it through, I’ll knock a few walls out and do this,” and I said, “No, we really need to measure twice and cut one’s investment, because you only can do this once the right way.” And I said, “No, really, we’re going to spend some time and get it right.”

John: Super. Hey, I’m going to ask you something. You got an amazing round of funding. Would you mind telling a story about how you were able to do that, and what that experience was like?

Jeff: Yeah, in Procter & Gamble, you technically don’t do fund-raising the way you do it for small companies. I always let people know, it’s not easy to fund-raise in a big multinational. You can appreciate that too, John. But it’s incredibly different than raising money for a start-up. And so it’s technically, I guess, my third time raising money. I raised money the first time, the series A for Orabrush, then we had an extended round on Orabrush. And then to fund this new company, Molio, independently, I would say a couple of things that are interesting. It’s such a story of momentum when you’re fund-raising. And you have to have your message right. You have to have some clarity about what you’re seeking. And then, you have to be introduced to or get in with the right folks who understand what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it. And this will be, if there are any investors on the call, they’ll be a bit offended, maybe, but I think I can say with the background, I have that I’ve really come to appreciate that fund-raising is an incredibly clear moment for a founder, executive and their team, and it’s a really great experience for the first two or three visits to a venture capitalist or a private equity group.

And what I mean by that is they are completely independent. They view hundreds of deals. They are not led to, you know, drinking any of your Kool-Aid, and so without that first visit with the VC, the second visit with the VC, the third visit with the VC… It’s so incredibly helpful, because they see things. They point out holes. They ask you the tough questions. You have to really think it through. Your persuasive argument is where you really learn about a lot about your strategic plan. You learn about your weaknesses and opportunities. You learn about the value of your idea and what you’re trying to do. What I would say, however, after that is you got to have good momentum and close on that second or third deal, ideally. Because then, if you’re not as successful, and then you have to do what I’ve had to do a few times, where then you’re meeting, you know, several. It’s a bit of a slog for the rest of the time that you’re doing that, because rarely does anyone come up with something new that hasn’t come up, and usually that’s in first two or three meetings, because they’re very smart people and they generally come up with it.

So then you find yourself answering the same questions on the same issues, and the same poke at the same weaknesses in your plan, and essentially they’re trying to drive down the evaluation of your companies. They’re talking to you. So it’s a bit of a slog, so that’s my one kind of — it’s on the side in a sidebar about fund-raising, which I think is a plus and a minus. For us, it was very important for me this time to ensure also that we got investors that were in the media space and were willing to understand the disruptive nature of our integration of not building it creative, in a really good content-creating company, as well as a technology company, who then took that content and serve it to the right audiences. And so, we, you know, did we go after software investors or did we take time to take a look at what we might do? As usually is the case, we were introduced to a very preeminent investor in the space, Greycroft was the investor that led our round.

Greycroft is anchored in Los Angeles and New York. And Dana Settle was the partner there on the team. She was amazing. The first time we met with them, they had really tough questions and really good questions. And they really understood the space. They were very well-connected. And so what happened is, while it took a little longer for me to close that round. I knew even after having talked to several others, that Greycroft was really who we wanted to lead the round. And so, then they’re taking about, I guess, five months instead. We had targeted to plan and raise money in three, but for me, as an executive and entrepreneur, gathering the right team, and from an investor standpoint, adviser standpoint, and executive standpoint, this is the most important thing that the founder or executive does. There’s not anything more important because getting the right team will get you eventually the right strategy, getting the right team gets you the right people and connections, and then it’s more operational in getting it done. But we were thrilled. Greycroft led the round. They were then followed by True Ventures out of San Francisco, Subtraction Capital which was one of our original investors in Orabrush. Advancit Capital out of New York, a really media-focused fund again, really important. Peak Ventures, an analytics group here out of Utah. And then, our final participant was Technicolor, the Technicolor. They have a venture arm of their company. And so I had this really great syndicate of Greycroft leading and then these really capable folks to really help us network and create Molio, and build it. So that closed in December. We raised $3 million, and we are very excited now to expand and accelerate the vision of where we’re going with Molio.

John: So that takes me to the next question: What are your growth plans? You’re now in what sounds like a very exciting time for Molio. You’ve got it in the right place clearly. What are your plans, Jeff?

Jeff: Yeah, so we really believe that the team I’ve assembled. We’re not just trying to build a new little company in the media space. We really are looking to disrupt the way that you build brands in the new media environment, both traditional and new media with social and paid media — paid digital. And really, if you take a look at the fastest-growing segments of how media is being consumed, it’s on mobile devices — mobile would be smartphones and tablets – and on video. Video is the most compelling offering for building your brand or getting an audience to do so, I think. So we’re thrilled that we are creating this company that will both build a brand with content and creating a video, and then with the technology of our programmatic ad-bidding software, where that software will then determine on a hyper-targeted basis the most efficient ads then to get awareness for John. John, if you’re in our target audience, to get you to watch that video on YouTube. We’ve begun to also expand.

Facebook is making a lot of progress now on video. Twitter just recently announced they’re embedding videos into their feeds. So the space of video marketing, digital video marketing, is really a hot space. I think Molio is going to be one of those companies that will be a pivotal company in combining not only the software and technology, but actually thinking on a bigger basis with the content, the messaging, and building the brand. And that’s what we’re going to do. We expect to build a high-growth company that solves the problems for many brands and services to how do you get awareness, trial and repurchase on your product? Well, Molio. The Molio method is one of the most efficient ways to do that.

John: So, our listeners are excited to hear what you’re doing. They also would like some advice from you. They would like to know what tips you have for them as they are hiring and building these great teams and building their culture. So what tip would you have for them and what is the most common mistake you see that young entrepreneurs make time and time again?

Jeff: Yeah, tips. So this is one where I’m tried and true, chained to the servitude of what has got me to the dance in previous success stories, and it is absolutely a cliché, but anyone who’s actually built something or turned something around will know exactly what I mean. So I think it is assembling the right teams. It is making sure that you have the right capability in the company. It’s often, by the way, also, particularly in start-ups, where you have the right people maybe for the start-up phase, but then as you shift gears into scaling, it’s critically important that often, the founders may not be the right people to take it to the next level. And so in being able to really assemble the right team, I think of the title or the topic for the podcast here about culture, I mean, the people and the culture. And that’s coming from a P&G guy who believes strongly in strategy and financials, and all that kind of stuff. But really, at the end of the day, I believe most companies succeed and fail based on the quality of their leadership and the quality of the teams that work with them, and the cultures they build. That would be my tip. And as a CEO, it is the job one of the CEO to do all three of those things.

So job one is to, the CEO leads in terms of culture, sets the agenda, sets the expectations, sets how much to spend on culture. He’s responsible for the strategy of hiring and firing, and training, and all of that. I mean, if you take a proactive lead there. And then thirdly, in terms of financing, and the financials of the company, most investors – I could say again, I’m not a veteran here, and there are people with far more experience than I – but the three times I raised money, I can’t tell you how many times they told me they weren’t sure about the strategy, but they believed in me and my track record, and/or the track record of the team that I’d assembled. So from an investment standpoint, it’s more about you having the right people than perhaps the strategy and/or results of where you are in the fund-raising process.

John: Great advice. alright, I’m going to take you to lightning round, Jeff. You’ve been very generous with your time. So I want to respect that. But if I could take you in the lightning round, we’ll go quickly, okay?

Jeff: Very good.

John: What book changed your life?

Jeff: I would say “Good to Great.” Jim Collins’ “Good to Great.” I’ve used it. I read it about 15 years ago and I’ve used it in every leadership team that I have assembled.

John: What is your go-to quote for inspiration?

Jeff: My go-to quote for inspiration, I would say, “If you’re banging your head against the wall by doing the same thing over and over again, maybe you need to do it differently.”

John: And outside of your company, what company do you admire the most as it relates to their culture and why?

Jeff: I love Google. We’ve had a unique relationship with Google. I’ve met several of the executives. And they just really have a passionate culture, a culture with great results, a culture of attitude as I’ve described before. And I’m really impressed with Google.

John: Great. Why should people work for Molio?

Jeff: Because we are a fun-loving, flexible, group of people with great attitude and we deliver results.

John: Okay. Last question: if you had to describe the culture of Molio in three words, and remember, you’re on BE Culture Radio, so you got to start with B, what would those three words be?

Jeff: There you go, well, I would say – I’m repeating myself, but I’m a simple-minded guy. So I would say first, kind of sort of reverse. I think people, particularly in our generation, John, and I say this, that if you’re over 20, you kind of have a deficient chip. So I think you need to think in reverse. I’ve mentioned a lot, reverse would be one of my terms. Secondly, attitude and I think third, results. Reverse, attitude, results.

John: Perfect. Now, Jeff, if our listeners want to contact you, can you show them how they can reach out to you and connect?

Jeff: You bet. I mean, so Molio.com – “M-O-L-I-O”.com. Molio.com, the website there. My contact information is actually on there.

John: Super. I cannot thank you enough. I never end this show without sharing my favorite quote with my guest. It’s from Maya Angelou and it is, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And Jeff, we hope we made you feel welcome. We hope we made you feel part of our tribe. And we hope we made you feel that you mattered because you do matter to us, and we can’t thank you enough for coming on our show. And we hope you’ll come back again.

Jeff: Hey, I’d like to. And listen, this was a great interview. I do a lot of interviews. You’re obviously a good man and good leader, and a good coach and mentor, I can tell, John. So thanks for the time. I really appreciate you taking the interest.

John: Hey, it was our pleasure and if you run across any of your friends who you think would be well-served to be on BE Culture Radio, please send them my way, because if Jeff Davis sends them to John Gardner, they’re good by me.

Jeff: Hey, that’s great, John. Best to you and your listeners.

John: Thank you, BE well. Thank you so much.

Jeff: Alright, see you later.

John: Bye-bye.