We have Jason Korman and Bob Fisch here. Jason is the CEO of Gapingvoid and its Culture Design Group. Bob is the author of Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer. We’re going to talk a lot about culture, Millennials and Boomers. This is going to be fun.
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Culture Change Through Culture Design With Jason Korman
I am here with Jason Korman, who’s the CEO of Gapingvoid Ltd. and its Culture Design Group, a thought leader in the area of adapting change at scale to large organizations. He’s a proven innovator combining industry models and unexpected ways to create novel effective approaches to business creation and growth. I’ve seen you everywhere, Jason. I was excited to have you on the show because we both attended a Joe Polish’s event here in Arizona, but we didn’t get a chance to connect. Welcome.
Thanks, Diane. Joe’s annual event is always a highlight for us. It’s full of amazing people and everybody and anybody is there. If you’re not there, you know what that means.
You’re out. I just interviewed Garrett Gunderson. He said he was the comic relief with JP this year. How did it go?
He tried hard. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than stand-up. It has to be crushing. I have enormous amounts of respect for anybody especially to the amateur who will stand up in front of 400 people and do stand-up.
He’s fearless though. For me, that would be hard but the event was great and I missed it this year, but you and I have attended ones in the past together. It’s an interesting look at how to grow business and there’s a lot we learned from that. I want to ask you since you’ve been successful with Gapingvoid and the groups that you work with. What led to this success? What was your path like? Can you give me a background on that?
It’s completely random. I’m a big believer in luck and in being open to new ideas. I spent my life in the wine business. I started a couple of wineries in California. I had started with what we call La Crema up in Sonoma County when I was in my twenties and then I did some work in Europe and wound up with a South African winery. It’s a long story. Here’s an insight into the wine business which is that everybody who makes wine wants you to think it’s difficult to make great wine. That’s simply not true. What is hard in the wine business is selling and marketing it. The proof of that is walk to any wine shop. I don’t know if you’re a wine drinker or not, and look at the thousands of labels that you are overwhelmed with and you look at it and go, “I have no idea what to buy.”
You reach out for whatever seems to appeal to you at the moment. It’s one of the most difficult marketing challenges that exists is how do I differentiate my product on that shelf? How do I get you to pick me? It’s a huge challenge. In early 2000, 2004, 2005, we had this company based in the UK. We wound up owning a little winery down in South Africa. We were selling to mostly the major grocery chains and we discovered the internet and blogs. It was the beginning of social media, pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook. For me, the conversation and as a wine producer, this is amazing because we have a lot of incredible stories to tell but we don’t have a method to get to the market because it’s too expensive.
You can’t buy the media, you had to run around and do dinners and stuff like that. What we did was we started a blog and I found Seth Godin through the internet and he’s become a great friend and supporter. His website led me to Gapingvoid which was run by an active blogger by a guy named Hugh MacLeod who’s our Chief Creative now, talked about marketing. He also drew these amazing little profane cartoons. I looked at that and I went, “That’s fantastic. That’s what we’re going to do.” To make a long story short, we ran a series of campaigns where we had people run dinners at home or with friends who want to talk about an event. We sent them these little prints, they would hold the prints up and then blog about the dinners we have. It was the first social media marketing ever done. We won an AdAge 50. It was us, Starbucks, Zillow, the big companies and a few people that no one ever heard of, that was us.
That turned into this crazy thing called the Microsoft Blue Monster which became a meme within Microsoft and kicked off culture change at scale within the company. There were hundreds of articles written about it. This was 2006, 2007, even 2008. We wound up creating Blue Monster Wine for Microsoft but the point was that we put an idea in the hands of a few people. That got mostly a fellow named Steve Clayton who’s now Chief Storyteller from Microsoft. He runs comms for Satya Nadella who’s a CEO and has orchestrated the culture change there, which has taken their company from a $400 billion market valuation to $1.4 trillion.
Steve’s been the architect of that and it started with this meeting in a bar where a little cartoon called the Blue Monster. It went viral within Microsoft. It shifted how some people have looked at their work. In the process of doing that, what happened is I looked at that and I went, “That is interesting.” That’s far more interesting than selling wine. It went. We sold the business in the UK, we wound up setting up Gapingvoid Culture Design here in the US. The last many years have been an exercise in how to deconstruct what happened by accident within Microsoft. How do you create the frameworks and models to understand organizations so that you can design the change that needs to happen? That’s what we do.
That’s not easy when you say that’s what we do. That’s tough to deconstruct anything going backward. It’s a challenge. I’m thinking of all the work I’ve done with curiosity and things. What you tie into to work with culture within organizations? Everybody is worried about being innovative and everybody wants to talk about soft skills. There are certain things you hear over and over again. What do you hear the most? What do you think people are making the biggest mistake with?
The number one mistake is that people assume that people in the business are rational and they are not. Everyone is nuts and we were asked to show up every day and do things that don’t make a lot of sense without a lot of good explanation and making sense of the world is a difficult thing to do. If you think about the culture within an organizational and societal level, what it should do is help people make sense of the world. Help and guide them to how they do their work, connect with others, what matters, where the lines are that can’t be crossed. The real big problems in organizations happen when people navigate gray areas poorly. Read the paper. Any major corporate scandal is always about that. Most people, not everybody, thought they weren’t doing anything wrong, but it didn’t look that way to the outside of the server.As humans, there are some fundamental things that we all want. Click To Tweet
For us, one of the interesting approaches that we have is we are what I call an anti-disciplinarian. We have no allegiance to any of the social sciences, math and science or anything. What we do is an experiment. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to work at places like Zappos, Rackspace and Microsoft over the years. Most of our clients that come in are business people and try things and let’s see what works. Based on what works, we’ll do more of that and less of the stuff that doesn’t work. What we’ve done over the years is studied some of the behavioral economics of Kahneman, Dan Ariely, Taylor and those sorts of people and figure out what those principles are that can be applied to changing organizational culture.
Everything we do is built on Maslow one way or another. Things like the Self-Determination Theory. Bob Cialdini, who is a neighbor of yours, uses heavily his principles around how you influence change. We’ve done a lot of work with BJ Fogg at the Stanford Behavior Design Lab on how to do you design behavior that you want people to have and build in ideas, etc. Marla Gottschalk, who’s on our team, is the number one psychologist on LinkedIn and she has two million followers. She spent a lot of time with Ed Schein who was the godfather of culture when he was at MIT. MIT is a client too. We get to do work in a lot of different places.
What we’re able to do is put together a combination of social sciences, management science, and neuroscience to understand organizations and then design the change that needs to happen. A huge differentiator for us is that once we figure out what is going on, where do we need to go, how do we design the change, we wrap all that change up into marketing to make the change irresistible. That’s the thing that most change management people don’t understand which is why their projects fail. You’ve got to make people want to do it. You have to answer the question for people. What’s in it for me? Why should I care? Why is this exciting? Why should it inconvenience me? Why should I do anything other than show up and get paid?
It’s fascinating because my next work is about perception. When you’re trying to make change seem irresistible, what’s irresistible to me is going to be completely irresistible to somebody else. How do you get to that? What’s in it for me? It’s different for everybody, isn’t it?
Yes and no. I would disagree because as humans, there are some fundamental things that we all want which tracks back to a massive discussion. If you’ve done a reasonable job hiring, you have to question people who most of them want to grow and succeed in their roles. They want to feel good about what they’re doing. They want to feel connected to a real purpose and meaning in the work they do every day. If you can articulate that for people and spread it at scale, then you can make magical things happen. It’s not that hard. There’s no mystery to that. The question is what is going to matter to most people, no project is successful 100% of the population. It’s never going to happen. You’re going through the people who care and the people that don’t care.
Once you articulate a real belief system around what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, if they’re not part of it, then they’ll go someplace else. They’ll find their happiness elsewhere, as we say. This is another piece is I always see all transformation is linguistic. If you don’t have the language to describe the culture you want to have and you can’t have the conversation with people, then you’re never going to get the shift you want ever. It’s not going to happen. Once you do have that language, then you can have conversations with people you’d otherwise never have.
That’s an interesting discussion because I’m dealing with a couple of companies like Verizon, Novartis, and different companies that want to have a culture of curiosity. What language are you talking about there if that’s what they’re trying to achieve? What advice would you give them?
We’ve done a lot of pharma work over the years and we have a model that we use around how you design cultures and we have a flywheel that we use. The principle is that everyone is focused on core values. Core values are mostly not useful, shall we say. There are platitudes there that people don’t get and they don’t help people do their work. What we do is design belief systems. Its belief systems around some meta behaviors and mindsets that we want people to adopt. Every company wants to be more innovative, you can’t become more innovative. What you have to do is create that environment where innovation is possible and then innovation is one of the outcomes. The good news is it’s not the only outcome, you get a whole collection.
We’re in the middle of redesigning and we’re creating an innovation culture for the Global Strike Command. Those are the people on 34,000 airmen on ten bases who control all-around nuclear arms. They want to have a more innovative environment there but the problem is, do you want people innovating with nukes? It’s quite nuanced. It’s a different conversation than you’d have in a place like Novartis where it’s fundamentally an R&D organization. They’re monetizing R&D, that’s what they’re doing at its core. You’d have a completely different conversation about the risks you’d want to take and the mindset you do want people to have, but all of that turns into language. How do we differentiate smart risks from a dumb risk? You’ve got to figure out how do you define that, articulate it and then how do you embed it into the employment experience? That’s the challenge.
You brought up something that I talk about a lot in the courses I still teach for a lot of MBA students in that. When you talk about lines being crossed and what people are able to do, they think that they’re getting away with doing things that are okay. Wells Fargo comes to mind because I was in banking and pharmaceuticals and different things in sales in my past. I’m thinking the pressure that we put on salespeople to make a certain amount of sales, that’s when people start crossing lines. Everybody is confused about where the line is anymore. Even in advertising because you’ve gotten such amazing viral campaigns and all the things that you’ve won for ads. We’re getting to be where we don’t know what we can say and what we can’t say. Is the Gillette ad over the top or not over the top? Do you feel like we’re at a time where it’s hard to know what everybody is going to react like?
It’s definitely made things more complex. We’re living in this time when people have become ridiculously sensitive around things that didn’t used to matter. It’s almost as if there’s a percentage of the population that has a filter. The first filter when they see something is, “Can I be offended by this or should I be offended by this? Would it fit my self-image if I became offended about whatever this thing that came in?” For a group of people, they default to, “I’m going to be outraged and offended by this thing.” It’s nuts because none of that stuff matters. All of this outrage you see every day which has been brought on through these social media amplifiers. We feel like our voice matters more than it does and that we have a right to comment and everything. It’s quite negative. It’s in navigating that line for a company and this is why culture matters more than ever.
For most companies, you’d have to know where you stand and you have to know where you are willing to have a conversation and where you’re not. What constitutes appropriate behavior and what doesn’t? The fact there was some news story about Victoria’s Secret and what went on there with models and all that. Was I shocked by that? No, I wasn’t shocked by that. I asked myself, “Why this hadn’t come out sooner?” It’s not shocking. Everybody needs to be treated with respect, but there is a system there and they are selling something. If we were totally honest about it, they’re selling sex and they’re selling sex appeal and all the customers are fine with that because they’ve been successful with that.
The fact that there is a toxic environment behind that shouldn’t shock anybody. I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m saying it’s not that surprising. There are systems that are set up which are toxic so Hollywood, modeling, I don’t know much about it, and politics. I’m thinking from a cultural perspective. In many ways, those systems because they are not designed, they’re random, you wind up with these outliers of negative behavior but that shouldn’t be a surprise. People enter that system knowing the way it is and then there’s the shock and awe that it happens. It’s nutty. This is unpopular but it’s true.
You can’t get into the alcohol and cigarette business and not expect a certain thing or whatever it is. We used to say no publicity is bad publicity. Everything is bad. Let’s go back to the Gillette example. Was the talking about it a good thing even the bad comments? How do you know?Everyone's focused on core values, but core values are mostly not useful. They don't help people do their work. Click To Tweet
I don’t know how it went and we don’t think of ourselves as marketers. I tend to believe that provocation is a good thing. I’m going to track this back to culture. What we all want in organizations is things to change because we ask people to change. We say we want to do it like this instead of doing it like that or show up with this in mind rather than that. It doesn’t work well. It doesn’t work because you can be writing SOP. You can tell people to do things differently but change never happens in the absence of tension. It doesn’t. Think about any change. If you’re not applying tension to the system, then you’re never going to get things to move but we all want things to happen just because we want them to happen. It’s to track back to your question. I look at Gillette or I look at the old Nike stuff they did, they’re generally clever because of the fact that we’re getting people to talk about them, ultimately people disassociate why with the fact that you have a bigger share of mind. That’s the thing that as long as you can’t cross it, it seems to be working for our president. It’s tried and true. What you have to be careful about is how far you go.
It’s tough to know how our culture comes across sometimes to our employees. A lot of leaders who I’ve worked for think that they’ve made their culture very clear and yet it’s not embraced at lower levels because it isn’t clear. I’ve had Bethany McLean on this show who wrote about Enron. The people at the bottom of the chain didn’t know the same things as the people at the top. How do we get to that disconnect?
Every time we sit down with the CEO, I am going to say CEO like in the Air Force General is a CEO, whether it’s military or it’s public or private companies, they will always talk about their strategy. If you say to them, “Nobody understands the strategy,” and they will look at you and say, “I’ve told them once, I’ve told them 100 times, we’ve had town halls, I’ve sent out emails, there’s a list of the stuff they’ve done. How is it possible that they don’t understand?” They ask that question. It’s easy to understand why because you’ve got people under pressure, they have no extra time, they know they’re supposed to be paying attention to whatever’s coming down from the CEO. That’s not part of their KPIs. They’ve got to deliver what they’re told to deliver.
They get 300 emails a day, they spend almost their entire working hours in meetings. They haven’t heard you not because they don’t want to, but because they simply haven’t had the time and it’s not measured. It’s not important to the organization. There are ways to solve that and it has to be solved. If you want people to buy into where you’re going and they want to be part of it. You must do that. You got embedded into the fabric of the organization and it’s a much more difficult solution that requires completely different tools. That email, all that hands and all that stuff is only going to get you far, but it’s not going to get you that broad base acknowledgment of the strategy that you want.
If somebody reading this and they’re a CEO and they think that the culture’s not what it should be of what I have envisioned. If they come to you, what would you do for them? You meet with them initially and do what?
The first and most important thing you do is you have a conversation with them and other leaders. From then, you get what I would refer to as the pretend version of things. That’s what they aspire for things to be, but it’s not the way things are. What you need to do is capture the stories that people are telling you about their actual work experience. It’s narrative, it’s all about the stories people are telling because that’s when they’re telling the truth. Engagement surveys, a lot of the data are not a useful business because it’s biased or there are problems with it. We want to know the stories people are telling about their work experience. You match it up to the way you want things to be. You see where the problem areas are and then you design for better outcomes. It becomes a series of interventions that get people thinking differently about the problem areas that you want them to address.
You give them the language and the ability to make the changes so they can align to whatever the ultimate reality is that you want them to adhere to and then you design for that to be embedded into the work experience. It’s no different than any real consulting occasion. First is discovery, then you diagnose where we are? Where do we need to go? Three, you design change that gets embedded into the work experience. That’s interesting and it doesn’t look like training and running a bunch of sessions to telling people what to believe. That doesn’t work. Culture is a social construct. It’s about how you socialize new norms at scale relentlessly so people have to change and that’s it. That’s the model and it works.
I’m sure a lot of people who are reading want to know more about how it works and how they could reach you. I was wondering if you would share a link or anything you’d like to share with people if they want it.
I can be reached at Jason@Gapingvoid.com. If you go to Gapingvoid, one of the wonderful things about having a strange company name is that if you put those two words in or put it in as one word, Gapingvoid then you will find us on page 1, 2, 3, 4 through 20. That’s number one. We’re about to release a research report that we did, which demonstrates how culture impacts operational outcomes at scale for CEOs and it talks about how it leads to sustained profitability, innovation and influence within industries and organizations. If people would like a copy of that, just email at Culture@Gapingvoid.com. We can get them a copy of it when it’s out.
Thank you, Jason. This is interesting. I wish we had more time because you have much experience across many areas, be it from marketing to culture and everything else that you do. Thank you for sharing all of that.
Thanks, Diane. It’s been fun.
Generational Conflict With Bob Fisch
I am here with Bob Fisch who is the author of Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer. He is recognized as a pioneering merchant for his bold and successful innovations in value-priced fast-fashion retailing notably at rue21. He has this book that is published by Forbes Books which I’m fascinated about. It’s nice to have you here. Bob.
Diane, it’s great to be on the show with you.
I give a lot of talks about generational conflict so this will be what I like to talk about ally because a lot of companies have conflict and then there’s a lot of misinformation. There’s a lot of Millennial bashing that I don’t necessarily believe is accurate. There’s a lot of thinking that Boomers are too old to know things, which I don’t think is accurate. I want to talk about what made you interested in talking about this? I know you consider yourself an honorary Millennial because you say that you teach them the business, they teach you life. How did you get to this level of interest in Millennials and Baby Boomers?
What you said is right, I teach them business, they teach me life. It all starts with my retail career. When I built rue21 and re-founded it, I had 20,000 employees and 90% of them were Millennials. In my office, out of the 400, almost 300 were between 20 and 30 years old. I was able to build a whole business around the young generation in addition to some of the people that were older in Generation X and Baby Boomers. I always enjoyed working with young people but you have to remember, we were all 25 years old once. We all want recognition, admiration and acknowledgment. I have enjoyed working with them which I call mutual mentoring which I’m sure we’ll get into.
I do want to get into that. You talk about your time in retail and all that and I saw that a Chain Store Age named you one of the 10 CEOs to Watch in 2010. I’m curious why you left that industry.
First off, it was a great run of building something at rue21 and I took business into bankruptcy, re-founded it, and then took it private again. I took it public and then I sold it back to the equity people for over $1 billion. We built the company to over 1,200 stores and became the largest specialty of power retailer in store count in America in a time when people were closing stores. To me, being straight about it is that I was going to try to take it public again and do something historic that nobody has ever done that many times. It was the right timing with my equity people that it was for me to move forward and to me retailing started to change. It was time for me to move forward. I left the company and luckily, it’s still around for a while. There were five CEOs after I left. The equity people left the business and then it got refocused in which I’m happy to see and that’s what happens sometimes. Here’s the key thing in life, people think that because I was in business for 40 years, I ran roof for 16, 17 years and I’ve been in other big companies like the Casual Corner Group that, “You’re now going to be retired.” No. I was not going to be in the retail profession as much, but I wanted to make sure that I could give back and build on my legacy.
No one cares, Diane, as you move forward that you built this big business. They care about what you can do from your experience that helps people grow and that you can give back to help them make successful. If I had written the book when I was working at rue21, it would have been a memoir, it would have been all about rue21 and I and that wouldn’t have been right. I do talk about stories of that in school official lessons, but it’s all about what I can do to take people further than they ever thought they could go. By my experience, not theory. I’m not about theory, I’m about the experience. That is why I went into this. It was a reinvention of myself. It’s not Millennials building their career, it’s also Baby Boomers and going on to the next chapter and how they can be successful in business and life.
You brought up a lot of great things in that and I hadn’t thought about the Casual Corner in a long time. I used to shop there. It was great. As you’re talking about this, I had given a talk about some of this for Forbes a long time ago about the future of the workplace and all the differences with the Millennials and Boomers. Gen X gets left out quite often because they aren’t as big of a population, they’re a smaller number. Everybody focuses much on the Millennials and the Boomers and now Gen Z is getting a lot of attention. Do you think that this is something that can be useful for every generation to read? What do you think about leaving out the Gen Xers or should they start to follow?
It is for all generations because Millennials are up to almost 80 million people. They’re going to be taking over the business world, but right behind them is Generation Z. The forgotten generation is Generation X. I formed a Millennial Advisory Board. I have Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers all in the fold as a Millennial Advisory Board. They helped me not only work on the book to make sure that I’m seeing things properly and not only through my eyes but through what’s out there for people, but also to help me in my branding and my franchise. They’ve been a great life source and that’s part of it also. There is something emerging. When I was with Steve Forbes and with Adam Witty who was the CEO of Advantage|ForbesBooks. At a conference, they all felt that there was a lot of white space opportunity, not only for this book but the whole thing about Millennials and Baby Boomers. You mentioned about the misinformation or the bashing.We're living in this time when people have become ridiculously sensitive around things that didn't use to matter. Click To Tweet
There’s a whole thing of OK Boomer and that’s where Millennials are bashing Boomers saying OK Boomer and the T-shirt says, “Have a terrible day.” I did a blog for Forbes where I did not only OK Boomer, I did, “OK Millennial, have a terrible day.” That’s what’s not about, there are some frictions in places and there is some misinformation but it’s the most important thing which we should discuss of how Millennials and Baby Boomers bridge the gap and work together. That’s what I work on. That’s what I became successful in my company because we work together and that’s what I want to pass on.
That’s an important thing to pass on. As you talk about this, it reminds me when I interviewed Ken Fisher of Fisher Investments about this. He was talking about how when he puts people in training together, he doesn’t skip a generation. He might put a Gen X with a Boomer or a Gen X with a Millennial. He doesn’t necessarily put Millennials with Boomers when they’re helping mentor each other. I see what your thoughts were on that. Since you talk about mutual mentoring and generation splicing, what do you mean by mutual mentoring and generation splicing?
To me is that what people think is sometimes that the Baby Boomer is there to mentor the Millennial and teach them. No, it’s not just that. The Millennial teaches the Baby Boomer. What I mean by that is that the Millennial has great creativity and vision and helps you get out of your comfort zone in business and life. The Baby Boomers sometimes and Generation X understand how to take that business to fruition which sometimes the Millennial doesn’t know yet because they need to have the experience of people in business to tie in with their vision. Mutual mentoring and generation splicing is all about integrating into the workforce. I don’t agree with the work-life balance. I’m tired of that work-life balance. Its work-life integration and it’s how we work together. For example, as you were saying and I alluded to some things before, when I was at rue21, I don’t believe in staying in your lane. Everybody talks about you should stay in your lane. We had our pod setups of the merchandising team, the planning team, the allocation team and the marketing team, all in a group so that it’s not separate where people don’t communicate with each other.
I’m all about communication and I think leadership, mentoring, listening and communication are important. We pulled that together. There are many good things of working together on that it’s not the Baby Boomer teaching the Millennial and the Baby Boomer has to be careful not to worry that their job is jeopardized because of the Millennials. The Millennials can’t think that the Baby Boomer is in their way. I didn’t promote people because of age or experience. I promoted people who were the best that had the best desire. There’s nothing better in my life now of seeing people progress and sometimes you have to push the Millennial because they think they do have all the answers. You have to push them to open their minds and listen more. Don’t be frustrated by it and that’s what people are. When I talk on TV or on the radio, people tell me about how frustrated they are at Millennials but are they spending the time to work with them, train and mentor them?
That’s a huge thing. When you’re talking about staying in your lane, that leads to many silos and many issues, no matter what generation we’re talking about. Some of the lessons that you’re talking about are so important to the messages that I work with organizations. As you talk about weaponized listening, I was looking at your School of Fisch Lessons. I love the listening aspect and I often tell a story of how horrible, embarrassing thing I did as a salesperson because I didn’t listen. What is weaponized listening? How do you help people with that?
Even in that chapter, the best thing was I sat in a meeting with somebody at a retail conference, Steve Richter, who was in the book. The most important thing is you should be talking about listening or whatever. When I met with them, I said, “You’re in my book.” He goes, “You listened to me.” It’s always about reinvention and the best is yet to come. Even though I was CEO at 36 to 37 years old and I was a CEO for 30 years, I didn’t think I had all the answers then. I was brash and aggressive and all that but I wanted to listen to people and what makes you successful is listening to your customer. In my case, the customer is a couple of folds. One is the customer out there who’s buying your merchandise and whatever, which is a whole other subject of whether people are adept at that, but it’s also listening to the people that work for you and with you. Listening to the people that might be your superiors in business or partners and to hear what they have to say. Too many people, whether it’s younger or older like, “This is how I’m going to do things and I’m going to go forward on this,” but they’re not always listening to make sure they take their vision to fruition.
It ties into my work with curiosity as well because to truly listen, you have to be curious. It ties into emotional intelligence and empathy as well and you have to realize that when you’re listening. Sometimes you’re hearing things from your own perspective instead of your perception can be different than somebody else’s. There’s much to listening and it’s such a powerful topic. I was glad that you included that. I hear of more introverts in sales lately because they’re good listeners and that’s a tough thing to develop.
One other thing, in my book and in my life experiences, I’m all about an understanding of tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge is not just about pedigree. I didn’t hire people pedigrees that had great resumes or whatever. I hired people that wanted to make a difference and wanted to want it. Even though that can sound corny and stuff and it’s basic down-to-earth is dealing with people that say, “I’m going to help you be successful and I want to build this company or I want to do things in my life tied into it,” and not just on their own. That’s a learning experience also in the listening of even hiring people. The best I did was more in my 50s and 60s on that than my 20s, 30s and 40s. You learn from that and that’s my whole thing.
I’m all about building for the future, whether you’re a Millennial, Generation X or Baby Boomer and being open to listening to people. It all ties around leadership. Mentoring people and it’s all about people because you to start bringing up something. We all talk about data science and Artificial Intelligence, all those are important but I am a real disruptor when it comes to that people first, product and marketing first and data don’t make the decisions first. When people and companies think that that’s what’s going to make things successful first, that’s when they have problems.
You brought up mentoring which is a huge thing that we’re going to see a lot more of this 2020. I had David Novak from Yum! Foods on the show and he’s got a site that I’m mentoring. I’m working with Keith Krach who’s behind DocuSign who is an Undersecretary in Washington, but he created this Global Mentor Network. I’m on their board and this mentoring word is coming up quite a bit and it will be interesting to see how much the Millennials can help the Boomers as much as the Boomers can help the Millennials. You touched on a hot topic. Another hot topic you’ve touched on in which I thought was interesting was cultivating an office persona. You should highlight your assets while staying true to your character. What do you mean by that?
I didn’t sit behind a desk with my door closed all day long. I learned that from day one when I worked at a company called Abraham & Straus. Most of the companies that I worked with that are in the past, nobody knows what they are and what these companies changed. It was the best-federated department store in America at that time. I remember the CEO walking around the floors, talking to us as buyers or managers. I would get out there and what I also did in this whole trying to make community action. When the Twilight Series or Hunger Games came out, there was about 8 or 9 of those films, I took my whole office to the movies before the movie came out and had them have popcorn, soda and T-shirts. We all sat there together as a team and we got messages from that goal together and everybody felt good.
I tried to integrate and forget age. It’s not how old you are, it’s what you are, it’s who you are and working as a team together. That was my mentality. I was a different CEO and I was able to build a big business corporation with a family operation mentality. That to me was important because I feel that that’s what’s missing in the world now. Data is important but building around people and having people trust you and trust is important. It’s probably a corny word but it isn’t. It should be all about that. I still believe you can work with people to teach them that while they learn to be successful.
I love that you didn’t sit behind a closed door. I used to work for a company where everybody sat on the top floor, all the leaders, and you couldn’t even get to up there out of the elevator without a key card. They never came down. It sent a seriously negative message. It’s great to have that persona that you’ve built. You write about in your book to find out what motivates you and use it as your driving force. I write about curiosity and how it ties into motivation because no matter how many motivation experts I’ve had on my show, they all have agreed that curiosity comes first. What can a leader do to help develop curiosity in their followers? Do you have any tips that worked for you?
It’s a thirst for knowledge, learning and understanding. I’m all about taking risks, working on, not being afraid to take a chance and not afraid to speak up. That’s the thing that we say when you talk about Millennials is that sometimes they feel, “I’m sure that they’ll promote me. I’ll get ahead. I’ll get a raise. I come to work every day.” You’ve got to push for it. One thing is that mentoring to me is not something that you’re lucky to have. You push to have it. People always said you were lucky to have mentors. No, you make them. With young people, they have to seek out. It’s not always your boss as we’ve learned in our lives but you learn from your bosses good and bad things but seeking out other people. It was Mickey Drexler who built not only the A&F and started, he built a small little business called the Gap and J.Crew or Michael Jeffries from Abercrombie & Fitch and people like that. You seek people out and you learn from them and you have a curiosity level to push that, “How can I be me, the more successful?”We were all 25 years old once, wanting recognition, admiration, and acknowledgment. Click To Tweet
A lot of these people, 25 and 30, feel, “If I’m not successful by this time, I’m not a millionaire, multimillionaire, then what’s going to happen to me?” No, the best is yet to come. The 25 to 30-year-olds now are going to live to 100. The people born now are going to live to 110. They’re going to be working for 80 years. You’re going to be in different professions and you have to pace yourself and not feel, “If I’m not successful, can I build my family at the same time as I’m working?” All these are a yes but you have to take a stride. That’s what we have to work and teach them that because they don’t always like to take it in stride and they get nervous. We have to work with them. It’s all that way so that is what helps build people to make people successful.
That’s why Rich Karlgaard’s book, Late Bloomers was successful to some extent because there are many people that are putting this pressure on their selves to, “I should be this X, Y, Z by this year because that’s the way it was in the past.” You bring up some important points. You had talked a little bit about your Millennial Advisory Board that you use to coach you on issues. What issues did they point out to you? I’m curious about what that board was like. That’s a fascinating thing.
You said you talk all about business and life. One of them told me and said, “Put that on the cover of your book.” I teach the business, they teach me life. What they did is I have a few people from the Millennial Advisory Board and friends who sometimes push me and say, “Bob, you pushed me to say, I have to reinvent things and I have to get out of my comfort zone. Are you doing that to the degree you should? Make sure you do that same thing.” You’re reinventing yourself in business and in life, they challenge me and I think that was good. When we have subjects bringing up about the workforce, how do Millennials handle things? What’s going on with Baby Boomers? They come up with good thoughts and ideas that we should listen to. There’s a lot of interaction working together. That is the most fun.
Nothing is better than seeing young people and we don’t have time to give those examples of all that, but the people I’ve seen that I’ve mentored that even started in a company as an intern and 5 to 6 years later, developed and now are at the top of their game. My world is seeing people grow and taking them to a level that sometimes they never thought they could achieve and working with them. They do want that if you care about them but you have to show you care about them. You sometimes get friction with the younger people and sometimes, we don’t see eye to eye but that doesn’t mean you don’t work on that to build together.
All these things that you’re talking about are important that I talked to a lot of people about the board of directors and how diverse they are. Do they have people who are culture experts? I serve on a lot of boards of advisors in different groups. We hear that a lot of these boards of directors want to have people who give advice about culture and how to get along and all these kinds of things, but then you hear much and they’re focused on financial experts in different things. Are you seeing some of the board of directors starting to see the importance of having people talk about these things within the board?
I’ll give you a good example of where they are but I think it’s mixed. An area where they are and because I’m fascinated by it, I did a blog on that with Forbes. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this guy Fabrizio Freda from Estée Lauder. He’d taken that company in ten years from being $7 billion in value to $70 billion which is absolutely incredible. Some are saying, “Is he stuffy? Is he Fabrizio Freda?” I see his picture and he’s dressed nicely. One of the people who are the Audit Committee Head on his board happens to work with me and I’m in a company board of directors called Ally’s. I know a little about him. He did something great. He said, “I need to change the company a little more to understand younger businesses.” He started developing Millennials having a reverse mentoring program where he took Millennials and had them shop in different states and countries and looking at stores coming up with ideas. “What should we carry? What businesses maybe should we take over?” He then started working with senior management. He now has 475 Millennials working with 300 corporate leaders in 22 countries on a reverse mentoring program where the young people are teaching Baby Boomers how to be successful. I could sit back and say, “That sounds nice.” This guy took a business from $7 billion to $70 billion, obviously it’s working. That ties in with my thoughts on a smaller business of how I took 20,000 people and most of them young people and build them together to build the business.
It isn’t that you can’t have Millennials help you in the workforce. I won’t mention the TV program or the channel, but I was on a program and all of a sudden, out of the left field, the guy started saying to me, “How do you handle them? Millennials are affecting negatively the Baby Boomers in the workforce and not doing the job to build their business.” I was like, “He doesn’t understand.” I had to twist it around, “I don’t agree with that.” Why are people saying that? I still believe that it’s our responsibility as leaders to push people to understand. If they don’t want to understand then that might not be right for your company, they don’t have tribal knowledge. If they want to understand, you have to push them and then they will come through with things. They get me out of my comfort zones. That’s the other new Millennial Advisory Board. They get you out of your comfort zone to think differently, to get you into understanding digital and internet more and social media. I’m becoming a social media animal. I’m learning how to do that which is not easy.
To some of these people, its second nature. I have a good friend, Danielle Bernstein, who has 2.3 million followers. She’s writing a book. She’s got all these new lines of merchandise. She’s doing something with Macy’s. We’re going to be doing things together and helping her out, but also being part of her groups. I’m going to be mentoring people and discussing things but that’s where a thirst for knowledge earlier, of curiosity. I need to learn how to do that and not just rest on my laurels. I’m not ready to sit in any rocking chair in my ass. I’m all about myself building things and helping build people because that’s what it’s all about. I don’t know anything different than building on your next chapter in your life. The best is always yet to come.
That’s a great place to end because it is. A lot of people here who are reading would love to know how they can get your book and find out more because I’m sure they want the best as well. How can they reach you?
The best way is that I have a website called MillennialBabyBoomer.com where you can read all about what’s going on in there and you can also get books in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and some bookstores but you can get it from there. Check out my Instagram site, @Fischtales1, because there’s good stuff there. When you get my book, there are many good examples in there. It’s not how many books I sell, it’s being able to give back to many great stories, ideas and thoughts in there that can help people do better than they ever thought they could get to in business and life.
That’s awesome, Bob. Thank you for being my guest. This was fun.
I love doing it too, Diane. It’s great speaking with you.
I’d like to thank both Jason and Bob for being my guests. We get many great guests on this show. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer
- Bethany McLean – Previous episode
- Ken Fisher – Previous episode
- David Novak – Previous episode
- Keith Krach – Previous episode
- Global Mentor Network
- Late Bloomers
- Amazon – Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer
- Barnes & Noble – Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer
- Target – Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer
- @Fischtales1 – Instagram
About Jason Korman
Jason Korman is CEO of gapingvoid ltd and it’s Culture Design Group, a thought leader in the area of adapting change at scale to large organizations. He is a proven innovator, combining industry models in unexpected ways to create novel, effective approaches to business creation and growth. He has broad experience in the alcoholic beverage industry, leveraging supply chain strategies, social media and channel marketing.
About Bob Fisch
Bob Fisch, author of Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer (www.millennialbabyboomer.com), is recognized as a pioneering merchant for his bold and successful innovations in value-priced, fast-fashion retailing, notably at rue21. As CEO, he took rue21 from bankruptcy to a fast-track winning streak that included a hot-stock IPO, building a national network of 1,200 stores, and a billion-dollar-plus valuation. Fisch began his career at Abraham & Straus (A&S) New York and within a dozen or so years had risen to become president at Casual Corner, a division of U.S. Shoe. Prestigious retail magazine Chain Store Age named Fisch one of “10 CEOs to Watch in 2010.” The criteria for making the very short list, wrote the magazine, was “the influence they wield in their respective categories—and because they are willing to shake things up a bit.”
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