As a leader, you never stop learning and teaching. When you can instill in your team that curiosity is healthy for growth, they start learning for themselves and feel committed to being an element of change. Creating this kind of working environment has been the mission of Garry Ridge and his group, Marshall Goldsmith, where learning and teaching is the number one objective to improve commitment and engagement at work. After helping over 100,000 entrepreneurs start and grow profit from their business, Aaron Scott Young observed the common mistakes and successes of many business owners. As an unshackled business owner, he shares his insights on how to build a business when you aren’t there to oversee the progression.
We have Garry Ridge and Aaron Young here. Garry Ridge is CEO and member of the Board of Directors for WD-40 Company. He’s written a book with Ken Blanchard and he’s also a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches. He’s done a lot of amazing things as Aaron Young has done as well because he is as the CEO of Laughlin Associates and he has served as a strategic thinking partner for more than 80,000 business owners across so many industries. It’s going to be really fascinating to talk to both of them.
Listen to the podcast here
Helping People Win At Work with Garry Ridge
I am here with Garry Ridge who is the Chief Executive Officer and a member of the board of directors of WD-40 Company. He’s a native of Australia and has worked directly with WD-40 in over 50 countries. Currently he serves as a member of the board of Governors of the San Diego Foundation and the University of San Diego School of Business Administration. He’s the recipient of many awards, including Director of the Year for Enhancement of Economic value by the Corporate Directors Forum, the Arthur E. Hughes Career Achievement Award from the University of San Diego, and the Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur Award. In 2009, Garry co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard titled Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.” Garry is also a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s MG 100 Coaches. It’s so nice to have you here, Garry.
It’s great to be with you.
I love that since I’m a professor at different universities and it’s really fascinating the variety of things that you’ve done and just your background in general was interesting. I got to meet you recently at that Marshall Goldsmith event, the 100 Coaches. You guys are quite an impressive group.
It’s a great fun group to be with, but it’s great because there are so many smart people in the room. When I walk in, the level of IQ drops dramatically, it’s just that everybody’s there for one true heartfelt reason and that’s to see how we can help make, particularly the environments where people work every day, a better place to go to work and great places to work. Make people happy, they go home happy, and hopefully that makes for a better life. Marshall’s swan song is “Life is good,” so that’s what we’re about.
What I found interesting about your group is I’ve gone to a lot of these networking groups where they’re all trying to sell to one another or it costs a lot to join it and there’s all these financial incentives to be there and you guys are not like that at all. In case anybody’s interested in this group, can you just give a little background because it’s fascinating to me.
Marshall Goldsmith saw an opportunity. He was at an event and it was put together by the lady who wrote the book Design the Life You Love. What a beautiful lady, Ayse Brisel. She asked a question about who has influenced people in your life, and he thought of people that influenced him like Peter Drucker and others. She said, “They all did it for free, right?” He said, “Yeah.” Marshall said, “I’m going to find fifteen people and I’m going to teach them everything I know for free as long as they commit to paying it forward.” That bloomed out. He went out on the Internet through LinkedIn and whatever and put this out there as a “Maybe I’ll do this.” He got 16,000 people that said “I want to be part of this.” It started from fifteen, it went to 25, I was in the first cohort of 25, and then it bloomed to 50 and now it’s capped at the MG 100. We’re having a great time and eventually we’ll bring younger people into the group that we can mentor so it’s this multiplier effect around servant leadership.
Do you stay in it for a certain amount of time or is this indefinite? I’m just curious how that works.
I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it. You stay as long as you like. There are a couple of rules. No expectations and no guilt.
Everybody was so nice. I really enjoyed it. I knew a few people that were part of the group who had been on my show, but I know a few others like Sally Helgesen and others. I’m like, “Hi,” because they have been on my show. There are so many from the group. I couldn’t get over how many people had been on my show and they were all the best people. They were just great and you just walk around the corner and there will be ten more people who were more amazing than the last group. I’m fascinated by your work with WD-40 and the fact that your company name and your product name are the same, though you have other products of course. You don’t hear that very often. Why is that?
Many years ago we were called Rocket Chemical Company and the then CEO said, “We don’t sell rockets. We sell WD-40, so why don’t we change the name to WD-40 Company?” As we brought on other products from time to time, we’ve had very brief conversations about whether we should change our name. The reason we haven’t is if I was to walk up to you and say, “Hi Diane, I’m Garry from Global Brands,” you’ll go, “Okay.” If I walk up and say, “Hi, I’m from WD-40,” the first thing you’ll say is, “I remember when.” It’s the cornerstone of who we are because our purpose or why we exist is to create positive lasting memories in everything we do. We solve problems, we make things work smoothly and we create opportunities. Our brand does that and our culture does that, so it really goes together.
I used to work for AstraZeneca and they were the fourth largest chemical company in the world at the time. No one ever knew who they were. People knew the products, I get that. I was watching some of your videos and you talk about the difference between having a team and a tribe. You talk about tribe a lot, your culture is tribal. Can you talk about that a little bit of why you see it that way?
If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy to self-actualization, the first two steps in that are, “Can I survive? Am I safe?” The third one is belonging. We all want to belong to something in life. You and I and others probably left a company, a party, or possibly even a relationship because we didn’t feel like we belong. Many years ago when we were talking about our culture, we said we are a team. I said, “Yes, and I know what a team is. When I grew up in Australia, I played rugby in high school and I was part of a team.” What did we do? A selected group of people would get together against the selected other group of people and in a specific amount of time they would play and they would either win or lose. It wasn’t always that you are going to be on that team and normally you were only on for a period of time. I said that teams that are important within an organization, but they don’t bring us together. I went and looked at tribes that have been around forever. Simon Sinek talks about tribes in his book, Leaders Eat Last. Seth Gordon has written a book on tribes. There’s a lot of stuff about tribes.
I went back and I looked at what were the attributes of a tribe that made them enduring over time. Interestingly enough, one of the major responsibility of a tribal leader is to be a learner and a teacher. I said, “That’s exactly right.” If you think about what Nelson Mandela said, he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and if we could become a learning and teaching organization, people would see value. There are other attributes in our tribe. You have best values, we are warriors, we celebrate, we are future-focused, there are those elements that make up the total. We said we’re a tribe and people just loved it. If you talk to our people anywhere in the world, they’ll probably tell you “I’m a WD-40 tribe member.” In fact, we just did our bi-annual employee opinion survey, which we do every two years. The 2018 results came out and one of the measurements I absolutely am just over the moon with that continues to be higher says 99% of our tribe members globally said, “I love to tell people that I work for the WD-40 Company.”Our overall employee engagement in the last two years went up 50 basis points to 93.3%, which is really cool. Our goal is to get it over 95%. We love getting the feedback from our people. 91% of our people around the world said of WD-40 Company, “I experience a strong tribe environment as our culture defines it.”
When you’re talking about engagement, it goes back to what you were talking about in Maslow’s hierarchy. A lot of it is a pyramid shape, there’s a scaffolded up the way Maslow’s works. There’s the foundational aspects to the different aspects of what makes people feel engaged. I’m writing a book on curiosity. I heard of all the learning and teaching that you talk about and it all helps to me if you can improve people’s curiosity. They’re learning, they’re educating themselves, and that’s helping improve their commitment and their engagement because a lot of it is they want feedback on how they’re doing and they want to know how what they do ties into the overall goal and the vision. I love that you said your value statement that paper should be tattered. You want to make sure everybody knows about it. How are you getting these engagement numbers? Is it because you’re sharing these values? How are you getting that?
By having a very dedicated culture towards belonging and tribalism, by having a very clear purpose, why do we exist? By having a set of values that set people free and protect them at the same time. Then by removing fear and by having an environment where instead of failing, you have learning moments. We don’t make mistakes at WD-40 Company, we have learning moments. A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that should be openly and freely shared to benefit all.
Importantly around all that is to be dedicated to the fact that we are here not to mark people’s papers, to help them get A’s. Most of the reasons we let each other down in life is we’re not clear about what we expect from each other. We spend a lot of time defining what an A looks like and then when we know what it looks like, our job as leaders or coaches, because everyone in our company is called a coach, is to help the other person succeed. With that, you end up with numbers like we’ve got and being continued to improve on year over year. The thing that’s wonderful about all this is we’re a public company and we’ve now been able over eighteen years to track how increased employee engagement build shareholder value. Our market cap fifteen or so years ago was in the $200 million to $300 million range. We’re now at $1.8 billion-dollar market cap company. If I want to get really basic, people could say that “All you do sell oil in a can.” No, we don’t. We sell memories. We are in the memories business. We create memories for our customers, we create memories for our end-users, we create memories for our tribe members, and we create memories for ourselves.
I liked it when you talked about a fear being a disabling emotion that you can have. I studied emotional intelligence for my dissertation and I loved your little presentation about values that are banks of a river and how you pictured that. What I found fascinating in my research for the importance of curiosity is how much fear holds people back from being curious. How do you get people over that?
Firstly, you’ve got to win their trust that you mean them no harm. People are fearful about being curious. You mentioned emotional intelligence. Probably the biggest reason that I’ve seen most people who are very smart fail as leaders is because their ego eats their empathy instead of their empathy eating their ego. Leadership is not about “Me.” I love what Simon Sinek says. He says, “Leadership is not about being in-charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge.” You’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin. Brené Brown wrote that wonderful book, Braving the Wilderness, where she talks about vulnerability. We’ve got to be vulnerable. The three most powerful words I ever learned in my life was, “I don’t know.” Once I got really comfortable with saying I don’t know, amazing things happened. It’s amazing how much you learn when you actually admit you don’t know.
In sales we were told “Don’t ever try to fake that you know.” You just tell them, “I don’t know, but good question and I’ll get back to you once I get the answer for you,” because people respect you so much more.
They do, but people with high egos, they have to know, don’t they?
How would you deal with Steve Jobs, in terms of his emotional intelligence? Why do you think so many people wanted to follow him?
I don’t know Steve Jobs. I only know what I read or seen, I have watched the movie. As Apple was developing, they, there was such a culture of excitement around new creativity that people, I don’t know whether they followed him or they actually just tolerated him for the excitement of where they were. Obviously a brilliant guy, obviously someone who we wish was still here and giving to us in the way he did. If you look at Steve Jobs and if you believe the movie and you look at how he developed in every way, he was gaining a lot of empathy later in life. It may have been because he knew that his life was a little less predictable than it was in the beginning. For a short period of time, you can just pay anybody to be anything and can do anything, but if you want to build an enduring company over time, there has to be another reason why they come to work every day other than the money.
I can’t imagine him following Greenleaf’s way of doing things. I teach some courses where we get into servant leadership. It’s so important to know the principles of it. Younger generations aren’t doing things the way the boomers did things in the past in terms of what they want to do and changing the world and having more of an impact. You and I are from probably the boomer generation. We came up from the mad men era, it was just so different. How did you get to be so progressive since you come from my time and we were taught a different way back then?
I got comfortable with the fact that I’m consciously incompetent. I was lucky enough back in 1999, 2000. I became CEO in 1997, I moved from Australia to here in 1994. That was a wonderful life changing experience because I was in a culture that even though both countries nearly speak the same language, the cultures are very different. I was smart enough or dumb enough to go, “This is different. What is different?” Also I went back to school. I went to USD and I did a Master’s degree in leadership and that’s where I met Ken Blanchard and he’s become a dear friend of mine. I saw things that I felt were right and that gave me confidence to be able to use those tools of vision and values. I worked out that micromanagement wasn’t scalable. I started to try stuff and it seemed to work and overtime it did work. Now as I look back, I go, “This was simple but not easy, and time is not your friend as you build cultures around organizations or any way.”It feels much better to be a servant leader than to be a non –servant leader. It just feels better.
I worked at the Ken Blanchard School of Business. I worked for different universities, and they do have a strong focus on servant leadership and the leadership course. I teach there, and I could see why it’s such an important thing. It’s really hard for a CEO though, to be in the public arena. You’re judged by so many different factors. What do you think is the hardest part about that for you?
The hardest part is not having clarity around your purpose and therefore you will be in anybody else’s purpose easily. If you’re very clear about what you stand for, what your values are, if you understand what servant leadership really is, then it’s not so hard. If you want to be the servant to Wall Street instead of the server to your people and yourself, then it becomes really difficult. Leadership is 365, 24-hour a day role. It’s like being on Broadway without a break in the dance performance with a spotlight on all the time. If you can’t take that, don’t do it. People deserve to be lead better, and if you can’t be a good leader, don’t hurt people by trying to be, because it’s not easy. This is not easy, but it’s so rewarding if you can get comfortable with it. The Dalai Lama said our purpose in life is to make people happy. If we can’t make them happy, at least don’t hurt them. If you’re a poor leader, you’re hurting people.
We’ve talked about a couple of different important leadership principles and authors and different things. You talked about, “Don’t hurt for people,” but we’re in business to make money and all that. I’m curious what you think of Mackey’s view of conscious capitalism.
I’ve always wondered about the title of Conscious Capitalism and we’ve done some work talking about that. If conscious capitalism means consciousness around society and understanding how you can impact it, but I don’t think making money and being a good citizen of people are disconnected. I think they are very connected. In fact, one of the values at WD-40 Company and it’s in fact our last value is we value sustaining the WD-40 economy, which really means that for us to give our people what they need, we have to be financially sound and growing. If not, we couldn’t provide all that we’re providing our people, so I take that responsibility very seriously. My leadership style is not about Kumbaya singing on a Friday afternoon. My leadership style is a balance between being tough-minded and tender-hearted, and the genius is in the middle. I struggled where I am, but servant leadership is two words. It’s servant and leadership. The leadership part of the servant leadership is our role as leaders is to make sure that we do have a clear purpose. We do have a clear set of values. We have a strong strategic business purpose, we’re great at execution. When we’ve got all that in place, then we become the servant to help people achieve those goals, and the applause of doing great work is profit. That’s how I see the difference.
There are so many interesting ways of looking at leadership, from Jack Welch’s getting rid of the 10% to Google’s giving creative time, to just all these different ways. I’ve had Doug Conant on my show from Campbell Soup and he was very interesting. What he did with engagement and what you’re doing with engagement is fascinating. Do you think that there’s one right way? Do you have to base it on the personality of the CEO? Why do you think so many people just aren’t doing and having the great results that you’re having there, when there’s so much written about from what others have done?
I think that there is one core element about it and that is do we appreciate that it’s all about the people. If we appreciate it’s all about the people, our job as great leaders is to bring the best out of the people. There are a lot of ways of doing that and some people do it better than others. I would like to think I’m okay at it and I hope I’m going to be better at it tomorrow than I was today, but some people just don’t get that it is about the people. I wrote an article called Are You the Accidental Soul -Sucking CEO? Because it really does annoy me that 66% of people who go to work every day basically don’t like their jobs. Whose fault is that? That’s our fault as leaders. We create that soul-sucking environment. It gets down to a few things. There’s no compelling purpose. The values aren’t in place to help keep people free. The ego is too strong. They met their short term decision reactive instead of being more long-term. They don’t keep their promises. There’s a lot of stuff that’s in that and you either are like that or you’re not.
When we went to school, we did science. You get a petri dish and you put some stuff in it and you can grow culture. There are two things about growing culture. One is whatever you put in the petri dish will decide if it’s a good culture or bad culture. The second thing is it doesn’t grow overnight, it takes time. Bad ingredients grow bad culture and it only gets worse. Good ingredients grow good culture and it only gets better. What are the ingredients you’re putting in your leadership Petri dish? Are you growing bad or good culture? Remember, what you plant is going to grow.
That’s a great book, “Your Leadership Petri Dish.” That should be your next title. Many people are going to want to know how they could reach you and find out more about your books and what you do. Can you share all that?
I have a website, www.TheLearningMoment.net. If you want to follow me on Twitter, it’s @LearningMoment. The website has other contact details on there. I post blogs on there, and I’m on LinkedIn. I publish articles on LinkedIn. The article, The Accidental Soul-Sucking CEO, is published on my LinkedIn site and also it’s referenced on my website.
This has been so much fun, Garry. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you for what you do to help spread the word.
You are welcome.
The Unshackled Business Owner with Aaron Scott Young
I am here with Aaron Young who’s a lifelong entrepreneur, trusted advisor to CEOs and business owners, and creator of The Unshackled Owner, a program for entrepreneurs looking to build a business and not just a glorified job. Aaron is the Chairman and CEO of Laughlin Associates, a 44-year-old company that has helped over 100,000 entrepreneurs start and grow profit from their business. This gives Aaron an ideal vantage point to observe common mistakes and successes in business from Main Street, to America’s largest yacht broker, from medical professionals, to manufacturers, and to investors. For more than 34 years, his experience funding, acquiring, and directing multi-million dollar businesses as well as working as an officer for a publicly-traded multinational sets him apart from the crowd as a voice of real-world knowledge and authority. I’m looking forward to talking to you, Aaron. This is going to be fun.
That’s so many words to say a business owner and goat farmer, and really that’s who I am. I also raise horses but that sounds cooler than goats. I bring up goats just to divert people’s minds for a minute.
I’m really interested in what you do and how you got to this point. To be a trusted advisor to CEOs, you have to have gone through a lot of experience. Can you give a little path of what we’re talking about here?
I don’t know if there’s a little path. It’s been quite the amazing journey. My birthday is coming up, I’ll be 54. I started my first company just before my nineteenth birthday, a real company with a payroll, several employees, and about 5,000 customers. We didn’t know we’re really starting a business; we were just trying to make some money. I had to pay people, we had equipment, we had to buy these trucks, and so it started to develop. I grew up very active in the Mormon Church. At nineteen you go off on a mission, you’ve seen these guys with the white shirts. I got the business going, we built it up to 5,000 monthly customers, and it was in the recycling industry when that was unheard of back in 1982. I leave on a mission and the company runs for the whole time I’m gone and every day there’s money being put away for me because I’m the owner, so money is accruing while I’m gone. When I got back when I was 21, the business was still going and it had gotten bigger, but I had all this money waiting for me. I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” You can have a business that’s operating and you can make money without having to be there. I picked that up as a 21-year-old. I built a series of companies. I did take that job. My only job I’ve ever had was vice president of sales of a pretty big 350-office, big board, NASDAQ company in financial services.
I knew nothing about the industry but I knew how to sell. We built that up and then I made so much money in the stock that I left there after three years and just started to buy companies and start other businesses. That’s been going on since 1996, and that’s a while. You asked about being a trusted advisor. I’m only good at a couple of things. I’m pretty clear that I’m not good at very many things, but what I am good at and what I’ve always been good at is being able to see where we are and where we’re trying to get and not get bogged down in all the clutter of the activity. I’ve always been good at keeping either myself or helping others get through the weeds. I’ve done that with lots of little companies, very diverse from waste treatment facility to a Zipper-making company, to Indian reservation, to military contractors, to one of the major Procter and Gamble brands to Web MD. I’ve done this all over the place and it never matters that I know much about their industry. What it is I’m pretty good at is being able to figure out how do we get from A to Z and not get too cluttered up in the alphabet there. That’s why people have called me for a long time now. They just say, “Can we work through this, and can we hire you to come in for a couple of days?”
I’ll be down at Pelican Bay Prison as part of a team working with the maximum security in an entrepreneurial training program. I’m one of the people that was invited to go do that and work with these inmates. The skills that I’ve picked up are not really industry-specific, but they are business-specific and business progress-specific. Thankfully, it has provided a tremendously interesting life for me and for my wife and our kids.
You’re helping inmates learn business skills?
The recidivism for inmates drops to almost nothing if you can have them be organized when they come out to be able to get anxiously engaged in a good cause. As they come out and they actually have something to do besides go flip burgers or work at a gas station or have to go have to go into the black market because that felony is keeping them from getting a job or keeping them from renting apartment, if they can come out and land on their feet right as they come out, that recidivism goes to almost zero instead of the incredibly high 70% or so for those people who don’t have the hope that comes with a plan.
You are saying your first job and your only job other than starting your own company, you started at the VP level. You don’t have that lower level experience of climbing the ladder and knowing the horrible jobs that you have to get through to get to that level. Do you miss that you didn’t get that experience or are you just glad that you didn’t have to do it? I’m curious about that.
The CEO of that company had been seeking me out for a long time with quarterly lunches to say, “How are you doing this?” They have grown quickly, they had all these offices all over the world, and they didn’t have a great system for continuity across that. I built a multi-unit cellular phone business starting back in 1986, so that’s early in the cell phone days. I built it up into the nineties and I was well known with newspaper advertising. People in the northwest part of the country, Portland and Seattle, they knew who I was. This CEO had been inviting me out to lunch and I thought he was super cool because he’s CEO of this public company.
The cellular phone business all changed in one meeting one day. As I was closing down my stores, selling my equipment and so on, he invited me to lunch again and said, “Is there any chance that you’d be willing to have a job?” I thought I got nothing else to do right now, so why not? I took the job and I did cause a lot of a feather ruffling amongst some of the other leadership of the company. The controller was very dismissive of me for a while, the VP of operations was pissed that I have this position, but here’s what happened. Over three and a half years we quadrupled sales, so it didn’t take very long as our stock price climbed. With our better quarterly reports, our 10-Q’s kept getting better and better, their stock value and their stock options value kept getting better and pretty soon I was very popular. Did I need all the other stuff? I don’t know. Maybe I would’ve really benefited from it, but I wasn’t seeking a life in corporate America. As a matter of fact, when I left that job, it was completely on a whim. I was walking in to the office one morning. I saw the CEO coming from the parking lot, I went downstairs, met him, I said “Let’s go to breakfast,” and gave my notice. I hadn’t even thought about giving notice.
What made you do it?
I don’t know. I looked at it as a day in day out, rinse and repeat life. I thought, “This sucks. It’s not what I want to do.” He said, “Is something wrong? Is it the money? What do you need?” I said, “No, it’s just not my dream. It’s not you, it’s me. This is my problem.”
You have this Unshackled Owner, which is a program for entrepreneurs. What does that entail?
Over these 35 years, I’ve inadvertently developed, I didn’t know that I was doing it, but I developed a process. If I was going to start a company or go into a company that I was buying, or even with that public company, I have to do step one, then step two, then step three. I just knew how to do it and I’ve done it many times for myself, just head down, working on my things and not thinking about anybody else. I was invited to speak for a big organization called the Exit Planning Institute, which provides the training for lawyers and accountants who want to specialize in helping privately-owned companies get ready for sale. These are companies that are in the, like $10 million to $50 million range. They had me as their keynote speaker to talk about what does somebody who’s buying a company look for or what is someone who’s selling a company doing to get the company ready. I thought, “This is weird. Why don’t these people already know this? They’re the professionals,” but I came in and I did my three hours. I gave a 90-minute keynote, 90-minute workshop. You would’ve thought I was Moses coming down with the tablet. I thought, “What is going on here? Why is everybody so excited?” I was blown away because I’ve got one year of junior college under my belt, so when I’m sitting in front of a bunch of lawyers and CPA’s, I just figure they know more than me.
I realized that the presentation that I created for them, which broke things down into an order, I thought if everybody’s so excited, maybe I should offer this. Very gently in a Facebook post, I offered to do a class. 120 companies later, people seem to like it. I was called about speaking both in Dubai and also in Thailand for business owner groups that want to hear that Unshackled Owner thing. I was contacted about speaking for a large manufacturing association because while they don’t need me to change the owners. They have executives coming up and they want them to learn the same thing. How to be an interpreter, how to build a team and create a culture and get the right reporting and so on. It’s basically just how you can operate something without having to be there to oversee it every second and how do you build a business that becomes an asset and not just your critically important, glorified job.
That’s so important. Thank you for bringing in the words. Is this building your corporate fortress speech? Is it based on that at all?
Not at all. You’ve been looking at my speaker website. One of the companies I own is a great company called Laughlin Associates. We’re now 46 years old and over 200,000 companies we’ve helped. That company forms corporations and LLCs but also has a ‘do it for you’ program for board meetings. Most small, not even small but just closely held companies with one or two owners, they don’t have board meetings. They don’t write minutes or keep right resolutions or issues, stock, or membership. They don’t do any of that stuff, and most of them don’t even know they’re supposed to do it. If they don’t do it and they get sued, audited, they want to sell ownership, sell equity in the company. They want to go to bankruptcy court, or if they ever get examined and they don’t have those minutes, resolutions, and the stock ledger and all that, whoever is in authority, the court or the IRS, will ignore your business, your corporation or LLC and treat you like a sole proprietor, which is horrible. I’ve seen people lose a quarter million dollars in one day in tax deductions because they didn’t have minutes and resolutions in their book. The IRS says, “No, we’re going to treat you like a sole proprietor and not like a corporation because you didn’t act like a corporation.” Building your corporate fortress is all about what are the rules that you’re obligated by law to follow so that your company can protect you.
You’ve served on so many boards or advisory board from CEO Space International, A Human Project, The California Women’s Conference, Ripple Effect, Catarinas Club, International Crowd Funding Association.
I also had a lot of public and private companies that I’ve been on their boards.
What is the biggest thing they needed help with when you’re on these boards?
One of the biggest problems with public company boards is that the major stakeholders are the ones who are sitting on the board, the people who put the most money in. Most of the time, they’re interested in just getting good reporting so that they can have a big liquidity event someplace and get their venture capital money back out. A lot of bad decisions are made based on just trying to beef up the 10-K’s and the 10-Q’s.That’s a problem. Flip that around to non-profit boards, I sit on a lot of non-profits, and there the board members typically know very little about running anything. They’ve mostly been brought onto the board because they’re big donors. They want to keep these big money donors coming along, but you end up with the blind leading the blind in a lot of these nonprofits. It’s not that everybody’s not trying to do the best thing, but they don’t have very much operational experience. Trying to understand that the critical things that have to happen to make the machine run, this is sometimes not understood because they think everybody should just be more efficient, or because they’re putting so much money in, they want to do things that float their own boat that maybe aren’t good for the non-profit. They want to pursue their own agenda sometimes, so you have a lot of dysfunction on boards of directors.
Occasionally, you’ll get on a board that actually wants to get something done instead of protect their interests, and those are fun to be on. Remember the board’s only job is to set the direction and to hold management accountable. Beyond that, they’re not supposed to have operational control. That’s the other thing I see in political boards like school boards, is they want to have operational control instead of just a directional control. That’s how you get a lot of squabbles and things don’t get done. That’s what I think about boards.
What about advisory boards?
Advisory boards are all about the company wants to be able to put as many good names on their advisory board and good bios and in exchange, you get to say that you’re on the advisory board for the American Lung Association. Advisory boards generally are more window dressing. Before we got on this interview, I was invited to come out to United Nations’ project for charter schools in difficult areas where the kids are disadvantaged and a lot of ways. Maybe a lot of dangers, a lot of drug, and a lot of gangs. What would normally be a $25,000 speech, I’ll pay my own bills and go out there for free because I want to help and I want that on my resume. I’m delighted that they called me and wanted me to participate. Just like this prison thing, it’s exciting to go get invited, but all that comes because they say, “This person is already helping in a lot of ways. They’re already giving back in these ways. Maybe they’ll help us too.” That’s what I think about all those different boards. Advisory boards are useful for the founder or the CEO of an organization if they will actually call their advisory board and ask them the occasional question, try to get a little help for free, then it could be super-valuable for everybody involved.
I served on a few and they really can be useful. I’m on the board for DocuSign and they have quite a large list. When you usually go to these boards, how many people do you usually have at your board meetings when you’re on an advisory board?
On advisory boards, I’m rarely ever invited to a meeting. It’s almost always a phone call thing, maybe a Zoom call. A very effective board is like five or seven people. That’s a good size. If it gets smaller than that, it doesn’t seem very legitimate to me. I was on the board of directors for Portland Center Stage, which is our largest professional equity theater up here in the northwest. We did a lot of cool things like we built a $30-something million theater while I was on the board, we had a lot of good stuff, but we were like 25, 30 people on that board because most of them were big donors. It was a very unruly group and it’s not a very efficient way to have a board meeting unless you’re loud like a few of the business guys like me. I was invited on not because I was a wealthy retired doctor who was going to give a quarter million dollars to the theater, I was a young business guy who liked theater and was interested in the city. A few of us ended up being the active, outspoken ones. Everybody was like, “We’ll let those guys do it. Let those kids do it.”
That’s so funny. You fascinate me because I’m writing a book on curiosity and you obviously must’ve been a curious kid to start a company at eighteen.
I was desperate. Let me just be super clear about this. I went to this private two-year college because I didn’t have the grades to get into Brigham Young University where all my smart friends were going. I got into this little school and I came home for Christmas and I had no money for presents. I reverted back to what I learned being a boy scout. Let’s go on a paper drive. I borrowed a pickup truck and I went and just started knocking on doors asking for old newspapers. I didn’t know I was starting a business right there, I just needed to fill the truck bed up with old musty newspapers and go get $65 a ton for the newsprint. After about a week and a half and about $3,000 in collection, I thought, “There’s something here.” I went back to the next semester when I got home to the end of April, I just started it with a plan and it turned into something that made a lot of money.
Most businesses that I’ve ever run into that actually went somewhere were things that were done somewhat out of desperation and solving a simple need for the customer. They wanted to get these smelly newspapers out of the basement and I wanted to make a little money so I could go on dates and buy a nicer car and pursue my 19-year-old interests. If you keep it simple and you provide a service that is not being provided, you find an under-served market that’s affluent enough to buy your product or in this case affluent enough to take the daily newspaper. They’re taking the paper and nobody’s picking up the old papers. That’s a beautiful formula for a business. Everything I’ve done in my career was searching for an underserved, sufficiently affluent market or a group of people, and then you just give them what they want. It’s super easy to get rich. If I know what somebody wants, go out and get it and give it to them. It’s super easy to get rich. What’s making it so hard?
How did you get to be this way? That was really my only question on the curiosity thing. Were you always curious? You solved a problem and all that, but did your family encourage that? Do you think you can develop that in other people?
It’s hard to develop personality traits and other people, but you can help them develop habits. Yes, and I’ve taught this Unshackled Owner formula to a whole bunch of people around 120 companies and they’ve come back and said, “This has changed my life.” I know you can teach habits, you can teach principles, you can teach formulas, it’s hard to teach personality. If somebody is truly curious, they can learn new habits and create new habits.
I would say I was always imaginative and I like to play imaginative games. My dad tells the story of coming into my room, a friend of mine, we were both in seventh or eighth grade. He came in and said, “What are you guys working on?” I said, “We’re talking about Disneyland.” He said, “Do you want to go to Disneyland?” I said, “No, I want to buy Disneyland.” He’s like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I read a newspaper article that said that they’re in danger of going into bankruptcy so somebody’s got to buy it, so why couldn’t it be me?” I knew logically I couldn’t do it, but I still wanted to think about it and chew on it.
What’s your dad reaction was to that?
I think he loved it because he still tells the story.
Did he make you think it was possible though?
No. My dad, who’s one of my great heroes, my dad was always behind the eight ball financially. From the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I was figuring out how to make money because I was the oldest of five kids and we didn’t have very much money. My mom did daycare, my dad worked was a sales guy for a trucking company, made a sufficient living but you’re not going to get rich. If I was going to have a second pair of tennis shoes or back then my Britannia Scroll Jeans or stuff that were important to me, I had to buy it myself. I never did work at a hamburger place or I never, I just never did that. I figured out ways to make money.
You can do it on your own and it’s amazing what you’ve done. I want to make sure that we get some notice of how people can find you because I’m sure they want to know about your Unshackled Owner program and your company and how that reach you.
First of all, I’m thrilled that you invited me. You can get Aaron Scott Young, and I have that everywhere. Facebook, LinkedIn.com, @AaronScottYoung everywhere. If you want to learn about making sure your corporation is safe, making sure you’re in the right business, and making sure you’re following the rules, you can go to LaughlinUSA.com. It’s the most significant company that I get to be one of the two puppet masters of that company. I love that company. I’m the third owner. My business partner and I are the third owners and it’s a great company with a huge database of clients and a terrific staff, and I feel like it’s our stewardship. We’re just taking care of it right now and someday somebody else will have it. I find a lot of pleasure in being the chairman of that company. It’s an honor to have my turn with it. You can learn about me in either of those places.
Thank you Aaron, and thanks for bringing so many interesting words for the show. This is so much fun. Thank you so much to Garry and to Aaron. Please check out DrDianeHamilton.com for past episodes if you’ve missed any and join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
About Garry Ridge
Garry Ridge is the chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors of WD-40 Company. He is a native of Australia and has worked directly with WD-40 Company in over 50 countries. Currently, he serves as a member of the board of governors of The San Diego Foundation, and the University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration. He is the recipient of many awards including: Director of the Year for Enhancement of Economic Value by the Corporate Directors forum, the Arthur E Hughes Career Achievement Award from the University of San Diego, and the Ernst & Young – Master Entrepreneur Award. In 2009, Garry co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard titled “Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A”. Garry is also a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s #MG 100 coaches.
About Aaron Scott Young
Aaron Young, is a lifelong entrepreneur, trusted advisor to CEOs and business owners and creator of The Unshackled Owner a program for entrepreneurs looking to build a business and not just a glorified job. Aaron is Chairman/CEO of Laughlin Associates, a 44-year-old company that has helped over 100,000 entrepreneurs start, grow and profit from their business. This has given Aaron an ideal vantage point to observe common mistakes and successes in businesses from Main Street to America’s largest yacht broker from medical professionals to manufacturers to investors. For more than 34 years, his experience founding, acquiring and directing multi-million dollar businesses as well as working as an officer for a publicly traded, multi-national, sets him apart from the crowd as a voice of real world knowledge and authority.
- Garry Ridge
- WD-40 Company
- Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches
- Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.”
- Marshall Goldsmith
- Design the Life You Love
- Sally Helgesen – previous episode
- Leaders Eat Last
- Braving the Wilderness
- Conscious Capitalism
- Doug Conant – previous episode
- Are You the Accidental Soul -Sucking CEO?
- Twitter – @LearningMoment
- Garry’s LinkedIn
- Aaron Young
- The Unshackled Owner
- Laughlin Associates
- Exit Planning Institute
- Aaron’s Facebook
- Aaron’s LinkedIn.com
- @AaronScottYoung – Twitter