Exude hope. Absorb fear.
Jordan Raynor sits down Greg Brenneman, Exec. Chairman of CCMP Capital, to talk about how leaders can exude hope and absorb fear in times of crisis, the 1 page, 5 step plan he uses for turning around or “turning up” any business, and why in Greg’s words, “revenue growth is next to godliness.”
[00:00:04] JR: Hey, everybody! Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do exceptional work not for their own fame and fortune but for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I host a conversation with somebody who’s following Jesus Christ and also pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how their faith influences their work.
Today, we have an incredibly special guest. His name is Greg Brenneman. He’s a business executive responsible for some of the highest profiled business turnarounds of all time; Burger King, Continental Airlines, PwC Consulting, Quiznos just to name a few. By the way, right before this call, he’s on the phone with the CEO of Home Depot. What world am I living in where I can have these conversations and bring them to you.
Prior to his experience as a turnaround CEO, he was the youngest partner in the history of Bain Capital there in the glory days under the leadership of one of Greg’s mentors, Mitt Romney. Today, Greg serves as the Executive Chairman of CCMP Capital, one the world’s leading private equity firms. Greg and I sat down. We talked about how leaders could exude hope and absorb fear in times of crisis — really anytime in the life of leaders. We talked about the one-page, five-step plan that Greg uses for turning around or “turning up” any underperforming business. And we talked about why in Greg’s words, revenue growth is just next to godliness. I loved this part of the conversation. Please enjoy this episode with Greg Brenneman.
[00:02:04] JR: Greg Brenneman, an honor for you to be here. Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast.
[00:02:08] GB: Jordan, it's a pleasure to be here with you. I look forward to chatting with you today.
[00:02:12] JR: So I got a softball question just to break the ice. I read your book and then I'm reviewing the research my team did for you in this episode. I got to the bottom of your bio, and there was this odd thing that stuck out to me that I just loved. You won an Emmy award.
[00:02:27] GB: Yeah. No, it’s a great story. So I’ll tell it quickly.
[00:02:30] JR: Yeah, please.
[00:02:30] GB: But it’s kind of like your kids when they played soccer. My kids played in this soccer league when they were little. They're all grown now but called Fun Fair Positive Soccer, and at the end of this everybody got a trophy. That’s sort of my Emmy awards. So one of my best friends, in fact, a week ago Monday, I actually rode bikes with him in the mountains of Colorado. We do something every summer and every winter. He’s a guy by the name of Erik Weihenmayer, and Erik has climbed all seven summits, so he’s climbed Everest and the seven highest summits of every continent. He's climbed El Capitan twice. He paraglides, he skis, he has kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Grand Canyon, and he's blind.
So another buddy of mine who did Fox360, a guy by the name of Fran Healy, who is a catcher for the Mets and the Yankees, and I were talking one day and I was telling him at dinner about Eric and I walked over. We’re in New York. I walked over to Times Square, and there was this building-size billboard of Erik climbing an ice waterfall around the kind of no barriers theme. And he said, “I have to do a Fox360 on Erik.” That's kind of like an ESPN 30 for 30. So Fran came out to my house at one time when Erik was there, and we had a bunch of CEOs there, and they shot this video. So they interviewed myself. They interviewed Erik. We did some skiing, some blind skiing for him and all that stuff.
That finished and Fran called and he said, “Hey, Greg. You want to go to the Emmy Awards. We put this thing up for an Emmy.” I said, “How many are up in the category of this kind of documentary?” He said, “17,” and I said no.
[00:04:09] JR: Oh, my gosh.
[00:04:10] GB: I’m, “No, I don’t want to go to the Emmy Awards.” I forgot all about it. So it came to be about Christmas time. Ronda and I were in New York, and Fran said, “Hey, we need to do dinner,” and I said great. So he came and the producer came and they were carrying a couple of bags. It was Christmas time. I thought they just went Christmas shopping for their families. We got to the end of dinner, and they pulled out these bags, and it was an Emmy award for myself and one for Erik. We actually won.
[00:04:36] JR: That’s amazing.
[00:04:38] GB: I open this thing up and it says, “Talent,” and I said, “I could see, like, producer or something like — I mean, or whatever it is for the people who don't do anything but just put people together.” They said, “No, that — Roman won, one of the producers won, so you get a talent one since you were interviewed in it.” So I have some actor friends and I tease them that I’ve actually got an Emmy that says talent on it. So I say, “This can’t be that hard, right, if I can get one.”
[00:05:02] JR: It can’t be. If Greg Brenneman can win an Emmy, for example.
[00:05:04] GB: Yeah, exactly. But I'll come back to the statement at the beginning, which is I need to be a little humble about it because it was kind of like that participation award my kids won.
[00:05:12] JR: Exactly. So you told the story of your friend, Erik, in your book, Right Away & All at Once. Which, by the way, I got to the end of this thing, and there are a few books where you get to the end and you’re like, “I should’ve paid $5,000 for this piece of content,” right? I paid 10 bucks for it. It’s such a great book on turnarounds and your work, but I want you to tell the story I already know about how you got into this in the first place, right? What was the start of turnarounds for you? It all started at Bain, right?
[00:05:40] GB: Yeah. No, it started at Bain Consulting, right? Bain and Bain Capital, which are two different entities now, were one and the same. Mitt Romney kind of ran Bain shortly after I arrived. And, I actually, with two other guys as Bain was going through its own little bit of a restructuring. We, the three of us went at a very young age to Dallas. And open up the Dallas office of Bain, which is now Dallas and Houston. And there were just three of us that started it, and there are now, I don’t know, a thousand people or probably more than that that are consultants in these two offices. But that actually led me, because we were there, trying to get clients and bring people in and become known, to start what became the turnaround practice of Bain. So taking companies that were broken and turning around and fixing them.
So we did the Trammell Crow Company, which was a big real estate developer and just a number of companies that we did in that. Then one of our companies became – They came in. We got a call from a guy by the name of David Bonderman. David had been the Chief Investment Officer of the Bass Brothers in Fort Worth, and he had left the Bass brothers because he wanted to buy Continental Airlines and Bass did not want to buy Continental Airlines. So he started a thing called Air Partners and he bought Continental. We ultimately turned Continental Airlines around. I left Bain to become President at Continental at the age of 32, and that’s another long story. But to turn it around, and we ultimately did that, and the stock went from 6 to 120 dollars. It went to the number 18 on the 100 Best Places, and worked from Fortune’s least admired, 499 on the Fortune 500 list of admired companies.
We won the J.D. Power What is the Best Airline for a whole bunch of year. So we did that turnaround, and that allowed David to raise a fund called TPG, Texas Pacific Group, which is a big private equity firm now. So we did about 20 times our money on that particular investment in that particular turnaround. But I started doing turnarounds at Bain. Then David at a young age hired me away to be President at Continental, and that’s kind of how I got my career started turning around companies.
[00:07:47] JR: I want to go back to Continental in a minute. But, first, these five steps, right? You created this framework when you were in Dallas and Bain for these five steps to corporate turnarounds. Can you briefly talk through those five-steps at a high level?
[00:08:00] GB: Absolutely. So the first step is have a plan and track your progress. What we became really good at, and subsequent to Bain, is even better, is taking a piece of paper and across the top putting market financial products and people. And then writing under each category no more than four or five things that you needed to do to really turnaround the company. So we really stay focused on the key value drivers of that, and then I try to name things like, with catchy names, so people would understand it.
At Continental, we called it the ‘Go Forward Plan’ because there were no rearview mirrors on the airplane, for a reason. And the market plan was ‘Fly to Win.’ The financial plan was ‘Fund the Future.’ The product plan, ‘Make Reliability a Reality.’ And the people plan called ‘Working Together.’ And we had activities or things we wanted to accomplish under each of those but real simple. So everyone from the board to a mechanic or a gate agent could understand and become part of the team to do this, and it worked really well. I did that at Burger King, a whole bunch of other companies and advised it at Bain.
The second step was to have a fortress balance sheet, and that actually came from Jamie Dimon, who’s the Chairman and CEO at JPMorgan Chase and a good friend of mine. When we went through the financial crisis, Jamie could walk me through his balance sheet in two minutes basically and say, “Why did JPMorgan Chase survive when so many others didn’t?” He had a real command to that. So that’s basically having enough liquidity and making sure you don't have too much debt. Have your debt match your liabilities.
By the way, these steps can apply to your life too in many ways, which we can talk about. But the third step is think money in and not money out. Whenever somebody walks into a troubled company, they always think about, “How do I cut expense?” That's important but maybe more important is how do you generate revenue. So we actually have a company in our portfolio. Now, I run a private equity shop that made kids’ sports uniforms. So think about soccer, football, basketball, YMCA, high school, college. Of course, when COVID hit, it all shut down. Well, we actually switched the company almost overnight to making masks to protect people. It’s a lot about, “How do you generate revenue?” And not just how you cut expense, which is key.
The fourth step is build a team clean house, if necessary. So generally, if you're in trouble in a troubled company, and you kind of look at what your plan is and then you sort of think, “Who do I have to execute the plan?” You actually need to replace some of the folks because the people that put you in the ditch won’t necessarily be able to bring you out. You need to do that with dignity and respect. But at Continental, for example, we replaced 50 of the 60 officers we inherited with 20 people who can really get stuff done and can work together on a team very effectively. That made all the difference in the world.
Then the fifth step kind of quickly is let the inmates run the asylum. So after you have a plan, you’ve got a balance sheet that works, you’ve thought about how to generate revenue, and you’ve got a team that can execute all that, what you want to do is set something up so that the people, in the case of an airline, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, gate agents. In the case of Burger King, a fast food company, the people running the restaurants, the people serving the food are actually empowered to do the right thing for the customer. So that — I called let the inmates run the asylum, but it was really about creating a really great place to work. And empowering people just to do a great job for customers, which they always want to do.
[00:11:24] JR: When people hear the word turnaround, they immediately think high-profile stuff, right? The stuff you've done; Continental, Burger King, businesses in serious trouble that really need a turnaround quickly. But you make a point in the book that a lot of other businesses need turnarounds. It’s not those that are in emergencies. Can you talk about that for a second?
[00:11:41] GB: Almost every business does, right? So I called those businesses which aren’t obviously, that don't obviously need a turnaround. Most of them are satisfactorily underperforming, so they're just doing enough to kind of get by and maybe keep investors happy. But they're really not hitting their full potential. They're not delivering on their full potential. Those five steps kind of work, whether your business is in serious trouble, and those are the kind of fun ones to talk about because, like you say, they’re big. They’re high-profile. People know them. They’re easy to describe. But maybe even more important is the ‘turn me up’ kind of stuff that you can do with those same five steps to make sure your company is healthy and that you’ve kind of actually addressed it.
Maybe just one quick story on that. One of the best run companies in the country is Home Depot. I'm the lead director on that board. I’ve been on the board for about 20 years. The CEO of Home Depot who, I got off of, just literally now 17 minutes ago, like right before I hopped on here, is a guy by the name of Craig Menear. Craig is one of the best CEOs in corporate America. But at the time when COVID hit, we had to begin to ask the question, “Are our stores going to get shut down for 60 days?” It didn't end up happening, but we got such a culture from our founders of taking care of our orange-blooded associates, the people that serve you in the store every day — that we wanted to make sure we could pay them if we had to shut down for 60 days. That we could keep paying them. And this is before the government passed any programs or we really knew what was going on.
So we actually did the calculation. We can sell some online, but our sales will be way down. We’re shutting the stores. How much cash do we need to be able to pay those associates? When we did that calculation for 60 days, it was $11 billion to pay the hard-working men and women that wear the orange apron. So we add three billion of cash on the balance sheet. We went out and looked at our fortress balance sheet and we said, “Hey, we can put a line of credit in,” which we did for about five billion at the back of our commercial paper program. Then the bond market was completely closed. I mean, nobody could sell anything. But I said — we all talked. Craig and I and our CFO, Richard McPhail, said, “If anybody can open the bond market, Home Depot can.” So we actually opened the bond market in one morning for 3 billion of bonds. Because 3+5+3 = 11. That's what we needed. Within two hours, we had 27 billion of demand for those bonds, so we were way oversubscribed and we ended up taking five billion at about 3% interest rate. All of a sudden, we had 13 billion. So we knew first and foremost we could take care of our orange-blooded associates if something really bad happened.
That’s just an example of a company that's in fantastic shape that came back to the principle of — build a fortress balance sheet a long time ago, and that fortress balance sheet allowed us to be able to ensure that in a time of crisis we could take care of our people.
[00:14:41] JR: Well, it’s also — the Home Depot people you included know what — I was talking then with Joel Manby, the turnaround CEO at SeaWorld and Joel’s saying, he’s like, “Everyone says customers first. Customers first.” He’s like, “But what people don't realize is the customer level of satisfaction is never going to rise above the satisfaction of your team, right?”
[00:15:02] GB: Absolutely, and that goes if you're an airline or you’re Home Depot or anything else. In the airline business, I used to get the question at Continental. Why do the Continental flight attendants come up and down the aisle six times and ask you if you want some more to drink, another coke or something. Whereas the American flight attendants come up and down once and read People Magazine in the galley and during the flight? I said it’s because they want to, right? So basically, how you treat others, it’s back to the golden rule, right? Do unto others what you want them to do unto you. How you treat them is going to be a direct reflection of how they treat the customer, and there's no shortcut for that.
So at Home Depot, for example, the management team and the board protect that associate as the most important thing in the company. In fact, the founders, Bernie Marcus, Arthur Blank, and Ken Langone, left this fantastic inverted pyramid where the customers are on the top. And then the frontline associate, and then the store manager, and then the store support center. Which is our word for corporate headquarters, and then the CEO and the board. It’s totally inverted, right, because what's important is on top and what's important is the frontline associate. Everything is kind of set up to support those fantastic men and women.
[00:16:17] JR: I'm sure a lot of people are listening to you talk to the five steps who are going, “Man, that sounds like a lot. It sounds like really complex.” But one of the things I love about it is you put this on a single page of paper, and you talk about in the book how basically if you can’t understand a business and summarize what needs to happen on a single page. You just don’t get involved. Can you talk a little bit more about your rationale behind that?
[00:16:38] GB: Yeah, I know and I would say I looked at it. I got asked to run or be CEO of a lot of different businesses, and now I'm in the business of buying businesses. So what I tell our teams, and what I told myself, as I was figuring out whether to take a job or not, a CEO job. Is, if I couldn’t pull out a piece of paper, one piece of paper, and write market, financial, product, and people, that if I didn't know what that was, I wouldn't take the job. If our team now, that's looking at buying businesses can't articulate — “Why should we own this business? What are we going to do with it that’s special?” We don’t buy the business. So that sort of simplicity and figuring out what those key value drivers have been really fundamental in business for me, but also in my life as well. Because the flipside of that is you can do that same thing for your life. What are your blue chips in life? What are the things that are important to you?
[00:17:32] JR: I'm a big fan of the objective and key result framework, OKRs, as a goal setting framework made famous by Google. It’s the same thing, right? It’s like you have three to five high-level objectives, but you can only have three or four things underneath that, right?
[00:17:45] GB: Exactly.
[00:17:45] JR: Otherwise, the team doesn't get it.
[00:17:48] GB: Nobody gets it, and you kind of need to punch it up too. I found that Fly to Win. The first thing under Fly to Win, which is a market plan at Continental, was stop flying places that lose money, right? It's a very easy thing to understand. But until you encapsulate it that way, everybody — I used to ask a question. “Why do we fly Greensboro to Greenville eight times a day when both customers are on the first flight?” Somebody would say, “Well, Greg, it’s strategic.” I'd say, “When was the last time it made money?” They’d say, “Well, it never did.” I’d say, “How strategic could that be?” There’s basically some basic simplicity in those four or five things. But if you can kind of think of a way to say to them that people will remember them, it’s even more powerful.
[00:18:31] JR: Yeah. The title of your book comes from this idea, so Right Away & All at Once, right? It comes from this idea that you can't take those five steps one at a time, right? You gotta do it altogether.
[00:18:41] GB: Absolutely.
[00:18:41] JR: I’ll be honest. So I’ve served as a CEO in a really fast-growing organization. That’s really hard for me. I'm such a myopic guy, so I’m really curious. How have you managed that constant shift from one area of responsibility to the other? For me, when I was running a tech startup, you’d be in a product meeting from 7:00 to 8:00 AM, and then you’d be in a board meeting, and then you’d go talk to a customer. It’s a lot. What do you do to help manage that constant shifting?
[00:19:12] GB: Yeah. It’s interesting, Jordan. To me, I would carry that one-page business plan, and we have them for our businesses. I have my one-page life plan. I just carry it with me everywhere, and it's a fantastic reminder to understand where you are in terms of what you're executing and having in the meeting. So if you're in a product meeting, whether it's an airline, and you're trying to figure out what seats to have or what food to serve. Or whether it's a tech company and you're trying to figure out what features, you kind of know that you're sitting in that product meeting and you can explain to everyone else why what they're doing matters in the scheme of the hall and what you're trying to accomplish.
I think, actually, it helped me to kind of stay focused because when I was like figuring out — “What should we serve for lunch? That was a piece of having a great product because what we said is we should get people to their destinations on time with their underwear, serve them good food when they're hungry, and show them movies when they’re bored, right? I knew food was a piece of that. We need to serve food at mealtimes, but I could compartmentalize it and say “That's why we’re picking lunch today,” right? To me, it’s super helpful in actually having that plan and kind of making those transitions from meeting to meeting and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, right?
[00:20:28] JR: Yeah. I like having to physically present there. I gotta to imagine that’s powerful. Greg, we got a lot of leaders listening to this episode across a really wide spectrum, right. So, a lot of CEOs. It’s a lot of middle managers, some people in turnaround situations, some not. In your opinion, what are the keys to really mastering the art of leadership that cuts across, kind of that entire spectrum?
[00:20:49] GB: I think as a leader, just strategically, it’s very hard to do. But if you can sit down and write that one-page plan and get your team bought into it, that’s a super big piece of it. Then if you take that plan and you say, “Forget what your organization looks like,” draw an org chart to execute your plan.
[00:21:09] JR: Yeah. Start from scratch.
[00:21:10] GB: Yeah. It’s from scratch and who do I have, what am I missing, and where do I need to make some changes? People forget that step. To me, spending time on the people stuff. Actually, when I called Craig Menear at Home Depot, we talked a lot. He was actually in an all-day talent review meeting, so he texted me, “I’ll call you back when I get to a break.” But I think spending a ton of time on figuring out what that team is to execute your plan is absolutely critical.
Then I think when you hit times of crisis like we’re in now like COVID, just remember that leaders exude hope and absorb fear. The exude hope part is a little bit about — “Here's where we’re at today, here's what we’re going to do. But here’s kind of what the future could look like if we do it well.” So we’re a uniform business now, and maybe we can be a uniform in mask business in the future, right? How are we going to get there? What’s the exude hope?
The absorb fear part is people have at various points in time lots of fear. Particularly in COVID, there is just a ton of fear out there about what the future is. I think as a good leader, you’re kind of exuding that hope and you're being open, honest, and transparent. But you're not sharing your every worry with your team and with people because you could actually create fear yourself in that. What you want to do is be able to absorb their fear and say, “Hey, here's our plan. We’re going to get to the other side. Let’s do it together kind of thing.” I think, kind of, in times of crisis, whether it's a turnaround or a turn me up, if you can kind of think of those two things, it's helpful, the exude hope and the absorb fear.
[00:22:46] JR: Have you read Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch?
[00:22:50] GB: I have heard of the book and I read a lot of Andy’s stuff. I’ve not read Strong and Weak just yet.
[00:22:54] JR: I think this is like Andy at his best, save maybe culture making. But it’s basically exactly what you’re talking about. Through the gospel lens, how leaders should project strength and conceal, but sometimes subtly reveal weakness to show we’re vulnerable. But in a business setting projecting strength, projecting hope. Being honest, being transparent, but at the end of the day projecting strength. It’s a terrific, terrific read. Make sure you get a copy.
Greg, all of us, regardless of what our roles are, we got a lot of decisions to make at work. You mentioned something in the book that I actually never heard before but, like, makes total sense. That there’s a research that shows that we make good decisions when we’re in a good mood and bad decisions in a bad mood. That sounds so obvious, but I don’t think we really think about this. You called this the Mood Elevator. Can you talk about this?
[00:23:43] GB: It's a concept that a guy the name of Larry Senn, came up with for Senn-Delaney. Larry’s a fantastic Christian guy. Basically, they’re — he’s a psychologist. They did a whole bunch of research around decision-making. The Mood Elevator, there’s tons of research behind this, and we make really good decisions when we’re grateful, thoughtful, kind. We make really bad decisions when we’re depressed, discouraged, frustrated, angry. Curiosity is kind of the middle button in the Mood Elevator that actually elevates you up. So if instead of saying, “Man, that guy’s a jerk. That’s a terrible decision. What are you doing?” If you can flip that, “Why is that person acting that way?” If you can flip that and say, “You know, I’m just curious kind of where you're coming from, what happened, why do you think that,” and just use a series of questions of curiosity to kind of elevate the mood in the room and to elevate your own mood.
The other thing that’s really important is knowing your own biorhythms a little bit. And knowing when you're in a bad mood you’re going to make bad decisions. That can be in your family or it could be at work and just realizing that and then adjusting to it by taking a walk, doing something else. When you share that concept to the Mood Elevator with your team, you can actually catch each other. You can catch somebody and say, “Hey, it’d be great if you go grab a cup of coffee or go walk around the block or kind of clear your head and if you know your own biorhythms.”
I’m a morning person. So by four, five, six o'clock at night, that's probably not the best time for me to sort of make big decisions right then. Often I’ll use that time a little bit to kind of exercise a little bit or take a break. Then I can come back in the evening and be more thoughtful with my family. So it's an important tool I think to understand kind of where you are on the mood elevator and to realize you’re — whether you’re dealing with your kids or you’re dealing with a business colleague. You’re going to do pretty good if you’re grateful and thoughtful and kind and not so good if you're angry, frustrated, and depressed.
[00:25:53] JR: You already touched on the fact that you’re a morning person. We love talking about daily habits and routines. Can you give us the timeline of your day? From the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed, what does a typical look like?
[00:26:03] GB: My days vary so much because I’m on a bunch of boards. We own a bunch of companies. I’m on the Baylor College of Medicine Board, so I’ve been dealing with the COVID thing. There's no set day but the schedule, I usually get up around four o'clock in the morning, so I’m an early riser. I work out for an hour and a half, first thing, so I’ll do a little bit of stretching and calisthenics. And then do cardio for about an hour and maybe some weights. I’ll grab a yogurt or something. If I'm in town, I'll head into the office and I've been in town a lot lately because of this COVID. I’m usually in the office by 7:15, 7:30, something like that, and that starts.
I have, in our firm – because of COVID now, we have a consumer call for our consumer team at 8:00 Central, where I’m at. And an industrial call at 9:00. I’m on both of those calls. Then I’ll usually have an event like this, Jordan, or a series of board calls or people I need to call and touch base with. So the day is generally pretty full. We have a bunch of investors. I always like to get caught up, especially during these times of crisis on what's happening with the portfolio and things like that. That’s kind of my day. I historically had traveled four days a week, probably on average. Obviously, that came to a screeching halt, and I got to say I don’t miss it that much. It’s kind of nice not to —
[00:27:22] JR: I was just going to ask like what do you do in more of, now that we’re all kind of shut in?
[00:27:27] GB: It’s interesting because I have more time for people, right? You know that people reach out all the time, and I have more time to sort of do that, which has been a lot of fun. I’ve actually enjoyed — you know, I use mostly Microsoft Teams with Zoom or whatever. I think that technology has worked really well, so that's been good. I started this spring and it got interrupted a little bit as we got to summer in Houston here, and I spent some time in Colorado. But my son and I would go every Friday afternoon and play golf, right? That was something I never have done before. But because you're so efficient, you can actually set aside that time and we must've done that, I don’t know, eight or nine weeks in a row. So definitely, I’ve enjoyed more family time.
I think the thing I kind of learned out of this time is, I was kind of worried what retirement would be like because my wife, Ronda, who’s a saint. She gets mad when I say this, but I use it. I said — “She tells me she married me for better or worse but not for lunch.” So I think we’ve kind of found we’re going to be able to figure our way through that, in this, in our time. Each got to — after traveling for so many years, that’s kind of working for us. That family time has been amazing actually. With kids, and I got a little granddaughter. It’s just wow. There’s parts to this that I hope we keep for a long time.
[00:28:45] JR: I think a lot of people feel like that. You mentioned family. You talked about this in the book. But just this habit that you’re really passionate about of really, “Be here for now.” Can you talk about that? Why it's so important, and what practically do you do to be fully present?
[00:29:00] GB: Yeah. I’d say if you’d ask Ronda that question about me, she'd say, “The cobbler's kids have no shoes.” I talk about, “Be here now,” a lot. I’m not sure I’m that great at it. I need a constant reminder but I’ve been trying for years.
[00:29:13] JR: At least you’re self-aware about it.
[00:29:14] GB: Yeah, exactly. And there’s a lot of research around this as well. We all kind of pride ourselves in multitasking, but the definition of multitasking is not doing anything well.
[00:29:25] JR: Yeah, it doesn't happen. It's impossible.
[00:29:27] GB: Yeah. It doesn't happen, and so the whole concept to be here now is if you're in a conversation with someone, don't let that conversation get interrupted. Stay in that conversation. Don't be trying to do the conversation and answer emails if you're just on the phone and have yourself be interrupted. Or if you're talking to your spouse and for those of you who have young kids at home, we actually took this class called Growing Kids God's Way when our kids were little. They’re now, by the way, 32, 30, and 28. So a long time ago. But they taught you to have your kids — if they want to. If you were talking to another adult or another person, to have them put their hand on your arm. Then you would put your other hand on top of their hand, which let them know that you were there, right, and you saw. You know that they need attention, but they weren’t to interrupt that conversation. I thought that was a great kind of be here now training too, all right, which is, say, you didn't sort of interrupt it to stay in the moment.
With phones and technology, sometimes we think that — I remember when Blackberrys were a big deal. My kids called them ‘Crackberrys’ because they’ll say I was always on them.
[00:30:29] JR: They were amazing, yeah.
[00:30:31] GB: You have that little red light that would blink. And people would sit in meetings, and they could not let that light blink. They’d have to pick up their phone and start answering that email. It might just be junk mail, right? You were deleting. So I started, in the companies that I ran, putting a box at the door for people to deposit their phones in when they came in so that we could be here now during the meeting. And not get interrupted by technology, so fantastic. A lot of application to that. But I tell you I'm not perfect at it.
[00:31:00] JR: I’m not either but I have similar rules with my team. I do think it’s going to be interesting for leaders to think about what that etiquette looks like as we work more remotely, right? For Zoom, for example, like I’m a big fan of the rule that everybody's got to have video turned on, because when video’s on, you’re much less likely to be checking email. Like there’s just a greater level of accountability there.
[00:31:23] GB: Yeah. We do that as well. With teams, everybody's got their video screen on. If somebody doesn't, I love teasing people but I’ll just harass them a little bit, right?
[00:31:34] JR: Yeah. A little harassment goes a long way.
[00:31:36] GB: Exactly, yeah.
[00:31:38] JR: Greg, you’ve mentioned this a couple times already, applying the Go Forward Plan, the five steps of a turnaround to your life. There was a moment where you were like, “I’ve really got to apply this personally.” Can you talk about that?
[00:31:50] GB: When I was about 45, I just finished the turnaround of Burger King and I came back and I hadn't really in my life — I had some great mentors, Christian mentors in my life, and I really had by the world's view kind of done okay, right? They had given a lot of money away. We’d started a Christian school. We were in Awana’s every Sunday with —
[00:32:12] JR: Yeah. I do Awana, yeah. That’s awesome.
[00:32:15] GB: We — from a worldview, you’d say, “This guys is not into sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. I mean, it looked pretty good. But internally, I felt like the church in [inaudible 00:32:25], in Revelation, where Jesus talks about — “You’re neither hot nor cold but you’re lukewarm, so I’m going to spit you out”. So I said, “God, I wonder if it would work.” I’ve written turnaround plans, turned around a whole bunch of businesses now. As both CEO and as a consultant and as a board member, I wonder if I could write a plan to turn around me, right?
I sat down and thought about that, and so I wrote a one-page plan. And said, “Maybe I can actually do that. The first part of that plan, the first quadrant, the four cornerstones was to become an intimate of God. And that was really after A.W. Tozer, “God doesn't have favorites but he does have intimates,” right? I said, “Well, what would it take to do that?” I listed out the things you would imagine in terms of being in the word every day and scripture memory and things like that.
But one of the things I listed there that’s probably the most profound impact on my life was, I need to have a group of Christian CEOs that I can live life with. Because, as guys especially, I think the gals are better about this, but we can all use it. We just don't tend to have those. We have lots of people we know but no really close friends, like that. Since that time, and I'm 58 now, almost 59, so 13 years, I’ve actually met every Sunday morning from 6:30 to 8:30 probably 45 weeks a year. We missed a few weeks in the summer and holidays but with the same three guys that are Christian CEOs, and we share life together. We listen to a sermon usually like Tim Keller’s sermon and discuss it and do some scripture memory and then share prayer requests. That’s been foundational to me.
[00:34:05] JR: I've been surprised at how important this is, to be totally honest, right? So all throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I’ve had really wise mentors that go to practical business questions. I also had really godly friends but who weren’t CEOs and weren’t running businesses. It's a whole different dynamic window of the same person, right? It’s just a total like why changes everything in business. Speaking of which, so this podcast is really about two things at the end of the day. What it takes to master one's craft, which we’ve already talked a lot about, and how that master’s faith influences their work. I’m really curious just on a high level, how you see your work as an executive investor contributing to the work that God is up to in the world.
[00:34:49] GB: Yeah. Well, God — I think as businesspeople, the primary thing God calls us to do is to create jobs for people. Because if you can create a job for somebody, you actually earn the right to speak into their life. And you really sort of earn the ability to be able to do that. Or if you can take and turn around the company and take it from worst to first, or from lousy to good, you actually kind of earn the right to talk to people about faith. And to integrate your work and your life very fundamentally.
So whether I've been sort of as a CEO doing that, my son is now buying and growing small businesses, and I’m helping him with it. Or doing what we’re doing at CCMP with bigger businesses and talking to the CEOs constantly about it. As you’re thinking about just growing businesses and creating employment, you just have such a fantastic platform. We all have a platform in the world, right? So we all get to decide what to do with that. But you have such a fantastic platform to influence people for Christ. To me, as businesspeople, it starts with — “Are you creating jobs? Are you giving folks unemployment? Are you sort of growing families and helping them to prosper?” That’s kind of where I see the link and then I just try and live my day every day where I’m integrating my faith in my work.
At Christmas time, for example, our family sends out about 600 books, 650 books to the CEOs I know. And the board members I know, so lots of folks. We try and pick a book that is secular but has a strong faith message kind of rocking through it, so people will actually read it. I’d say of the 600 that I sent out, you can now track this more electronically, we send them out electronically for a couple years, about 300 get read. Some of them just go on the shelf. But of those 300 that get read, every year I’ll get about 150 folks that reach out and say, “I’d like to have breakfast or lunch or a coffee and just talk. I’ve got something going on in my life.” Maybe it’s a divorce. Maybe it's a problem with the kid or something. By sending that book, it’s — I call it chicken evangelism. You kind of open the door to having a deeper conversation, and we just pray over it and say, “God, we’re not smart enough to do this. But if you want to use this, please open that door.”
I’m just very conscious as I travel around to have those interactions in every city. Really every country I’ve been, I’ve had interactions all over the Middle East like that, and it’s just a very powerful way to be able to kind of share something deeper and integrate your faith in your life a little bit deeper.
[00:37:26] JR: Yeah, but it’s a good practical example of something I wrote about my last book. This idea that mastery makes us winsome, right? When you’re a world-class CEO, when you’re a world-class investor, those around you will listen to basically anything you say. This is what you're talking about, these people coming to you with real issues who may not be Christ's followers but master of your craft has opened up the door to have those deeper conversations.
[00:37:51] GB: Mitt Romney told me, Jordan, in every interaction, you either gain or lose share, right? There’s no neutral interaction, so you're absolutely right. You get the platform by creating jobs and by mastering your craft. Then once you have the platform, you can either use it for Christ or against Christ, right? It can go either way. If you just sort of think about that in every interaction, you either gain or lose share. In every interaction, are we gaining share for Christ? Are we losing share for Christ, right? That’s really the way to kind of ask the question.
[00:38:25] JR: What practically do you do to remind yourself that your worth as a human being is not ultimately in your net worth but in the work of Jesus Christ?
[00:38:37] GB: Yeah. Jordan, it’s interesting. That’s something that I know a lot of people struggle with. I never have. I grew up Mennonite, so I have Amish relatives and I have — faith was pressed into me. Fortunately, I had great business mentors that were also incredibly strong believers from the time I really was almost born and raised. My father and my great uncle, Lyle Yost, too. I talk about both of them in the book. For me, I don't know. I just have studied the bible from a young age. I never really equated my position with my self-worth, right?
[00:39:12] JR: That's a gracious gift that you’ve been given.
[00:39:14] GB: Yeah. I’ve been blessed that way. So to me, it was always about God. I said when I was 45, I realized maybe not. I’d done a lot of things at a young age and maybe was a little too cocky or something, so I kind of recalibrated. But I’ve just been very blessed with having that Christian worldview perspective drilled into me from a young age. When you were in Hesston, Kansas, the town was 95% Mennonite. It was seven Mennonite churches and one Methodist church, so we used to joke all the heathens were in one place. I now go to a Methodist or — just kidding. But you had two things. It was a dry place, so there’s no alcohol. You basically worked hard and learned how to treat people with dignity and respect, and that was kind drilled into me from such a very young age, and that was a blessing.
[00:40:03] JR: Did you have a strong theology of work drilled into you at an early age, right? Did you understand like your work was worship from an early age? Or did you learn that later on?
[00:40:14] GB: Absolutely had. My great uncle was a great example of that, and my first job he gave me was riding out to his house in third grade. And he had a bunch of trees out there that kind of lined what was a landing strip. He taught himself how to fly, and also a driving range on his farm. I’d drive out there and do it, and he had started a Fortune 500 company. And made farm equipment. He invented the auger that takes grain from the combine to the wheat. He also invented the first machine that made the first square bale and then the big round bales and the big square bales you’d see and turned it into a Fortune 500 company. If you ask him what God called him to do in his life, what his calling was, he’d say it was to mechanize things for the farmers. So you didn’t have to take a pitchfork out and throw a loose hay or scoop grain from the combine to the wheat truck, which he had to do as a kid. But if you ask him what God asked him to do with his life, he said, “It was to give all his money away before he died.”
He was like the pig, not the chicken, at breakfast. He was committed, not just involved, and he flew all over the world. He started the largest dairy in Latin America just to create jobs for people, shipped a bunch of dairy equipment. He started and that led to the founding of MMA, Mennonite Mutual Aid which helps with tornado and all that. That was my great uncle and one of my mentors. So from a very early age, I was taught to work in faith and what work was there for were just inextricably lengthened.
I think Dorothy Sayers, which you may know her, a Victorian era theologian.
[00:41:45] JR: I love Dorothy Sayers.
[00:41:48] GB: She has some great quotes on this but she says, “Work is not who you are. It’s really a gift from God, and it’s your worship to serve Him.” I’ve always loved her writing on — She is such an unusual person to begin with but I’ve always loved her writing and the linking of work and faith. So I have had. I had that drilled into me as a kid.
[00:42:10] JR: I love that.
[00:42:11] GB: It had been with me for a long time.
[00:42:12] JR: No, that’s great. Speaking of authors, one question I love to start wrap up every conversation. Which books do you find yourself giving away the most frequently to others?
[00:42:22] GB: Yeah, it's interesting. It kind of depends. As part of this thing we do every year in giving books away, we’ve given some good ones away, and one of my favorites on that is the Same Kind of Different As Me. I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s a book that was set in Fort Worth, Texas. True story about the relationship between a homeless guy and a wealthy man kind of brought together by the wealthy man's wife who subsequently passes away from cancer. But that relationship was just so precious and there was such great learning in that book. It’s not a directly faith-based book, but there’s such a great underlying kind of theme of faith in it. That’s often one. If somebody is curious, that will kind of hit home.
I enjoy. I’m very good friends with Tim Keller, the author and preacher, and he’s such a precious guy. He’s —
[00:43:13] JR: — Nobody has influenced my faith more. We actually just had Tim on the podcast.
[00:43:17] GB: Oh, you did?
[00:43:18] JR: Yeah.
[00:43:18] GB: Good. Yeah. No, Tim is fantastic.
[00:43:20] JR: What’s your favorite Keller book?
[00:43:22] GB: It’s funny because I was given the commencement address at my son's graduation at Asbury, which is a Methodist seminary. There's a college there. He went to the college, so I did do this like four or five times at different graduations. I was like, “Heck, I’m going to go give a commencement address at a college with a bunch of theologians, so I better sharpen this up.” I was doing a talk on faith that works. I sent it to Tim and I said, “Tim, can you read this for me and just let me know, like, if you disagree with anything.” He said, “Greg, this is awesome.” He came back with a couple suggestions which are, of course, great. He said, “But I think you took this mostly out of my book, Every Great Endeavor.”
[00:43:58] JR: You just copied and pasted Every Good Endeavor, yeah.
[00:44:00] GB: I had read the book probably 20 years before, 15 years before, however long. It’d be a long time before. I sent him back a book and I said, “Yeah, I know. Tim, you took everything from C.S. Lewis, who took it from King David who took it from Solomon.” He said, “No —”
[00:44:16] JR: — There’s nothing new under the sun.
[00:44:17] GB: Nothing new under the sun, dude.
[00:44:19] JR: I love it.
[00:44:20] GB: Give me a break. But I love reading Tim’s books as well.
[00:44:24] JR: He’s incredible, and we’re all praying very hard for him.
[00:44:26] GB: He and Kathy wrote The Meaning of Marriage, which is great. I asked the two of them, “What was the hardest book you wrote?” They both said that one because they had to agree on everything.
[00:44:35] JR: Right, right. Exactly.
[00:44:37] GB: So I love reading Tim’s stuff. It’s always inspirational.
[00:44:39] JR: He’s incredible. What one person, one Christ follower who’s world-class at what they do would you most like to hear talk about how their faith influences their work maybe on this podcast?
[00:44:49] GB: That’s a great one. There are some great folks out there in terms of — there’s a banker at City by the name of Tom Cole who runs New Canaan Society’s New York chapter who is a good talk. Bob Doll is fantastic if you’ve heard Bob. I don’t know if you know him. He’s at Nuveen and he’s a phenomenal Christian business leader. But there’s so many. Britt Harris who actually is one of the top investors in the world, he ran TRS, Teachers Retirement System, a Texas plan. He’s now running UTIMCO, which is Texas/Texas A&M. I’m actually catching up with Britt tonight. But just a phenomenal teacher of the integration of faith and work and he does it in such a profound way. Those are all special people.
[00:45:34] JR: Well, mention to Britt tonight. If he wants on, I’d love to have him on. That’s a great suggestion. All right, last question. One piece of advice to leave this audience with, people across a wide vocational spectrum but who believe their work is a means of glorifying God and doing good for others. What would you leave them with?
[00:45:51] GB: Yeah. I think that, actually, statement that we started with, Jordan, at the first part of this conversation. That I think if you can remember that leaders exude hope and that hope includes eternal hope. And absorb fear. That has a really interesting double meaning in business and in life. The fear of where you're going to go when you die, and where the deeper meaning is, plays in as well. I think if you can remember that, that we all have our platform in the world that God’s created for us. Really, as business people, our platform is to create jobs to give us a right to talk to people, and then that we need to exude hope and absorb fear. I think that's probably a pretty good place to start.
[00:46:31] JR: That’s good. Greg, I want to just thank you for the important redemptive work you do every day. For creating jobs so that we can share the hope of Christ and continue guarding God's good creation. Thank you for serving your teams and investors and customers through the ministry of excellence. Hey, guys, if you want to go deeper on the five steps, make sure you pick up Greg's book, Right Away & All at Once. Greg, thanks for being here.
[00:46:55] GB: Jordan, it’s been a pleasure and have a good day.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:46:57] JR: That's an episode I will listen to many times in the future. I hope you guys enjoyed this one. Hey, if you’re loving the Call to Mastery, make sure you subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss an episode in the future. If you’re already subscribed, take 30 seconds and go to leave a review of the podcast, so more people can find this show. Thank you guys so much for tuning into the Call to Mastery. I’ll see you next week.