Join CEO.com for an exclusive live virtual event to hear from ETW founder and CEO Lee Benson.
Benson is an experienced entrepreneur and business consultant who has founded seven companies and worked with hundreds of leadership teams ranging in size from 4 employees up to 40,000. Lee shares his expertise in creating value for organizations and breaks down his MIND Methodology to accelerate growth and cash flow.
Lee, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us, spending some time with us. You've written an incredible book, and I think maybe we'd start there, about this whole MIND Methodology. Maybe explain what that is and what led you to come up with this methodology.
Absolutely. Clint, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it. I'm on my 7th company that I've started from scratch. And all the way along I'm always searching for how do I create value faster? And tried virtually everything out there. I've been in a number of different CEO groups over the years with overlap, probably over 40 years of participating in those groups.
You hear what others are doing, what's working, what isn't working. But at the end of the day the best laboratory is your own business. So in there, what really works to create value faster for every leader, for the organization as a whole, that's why I wrote the book.
One of the things that I figured out is that I can make just about anything work because I've got the discipline and drive and willing to work the hours. A lot of CEOs, maybe not so much unfortunately, there are a few, but a lot of them don't want to work as hard. So I wanted to come up with something that would work for 80% plus of all teams, anywhere, regardless of the type of organization, not just work when a superstar is in the room.
So I developed this operating methodology that I call the MIND Methodology, and that stands for the Most Important Number and Drivers. The most important number for an organization would be the one number that says, above all others, you're winning or losing the game, and it will drive the majority of the right behaviors.
Every single team, as you cascade down through the organization, will actually have a most important number that does the same two things. Those numbers will rarely be the same as any other team within the organization. The drivers are essentially categories of work that each team should be really good at leveraging in order to improve their most important number.
So rather than traditional goal setting where everybody sets a goal every quarter, get it approved by your manager, that doesn't feel very good, and it really doesn't stand the test of time in my experience, but having one number that says, above all others, you're winning or losing, and it drives the majority of the right behaviors.
Where are you at? Where are you going? Are you on track? Are you at risk? Are you falling behind all the way along the way? And then the drivers, what's the best work that I'm doing with my team to make sure we stay on track? So that's a really high- level description of the MIND Methodology.
What is usually the most important number?
It depends on the type of organization. If you're looking in the for-profit world, it's going to be whatever you call profit. It could be EBITDA, it could be net profit, NAP, et cetera. If the business is capital intensive, like one of my aerospace businesses definitely was, cash flow ended up being the most important number because you can show a lot of profit at the bottom line and still run out of cash and go out of business, because all your cash is sitting on the shelf or invested in equipment.
In the nonprofit world, the most important number is always impact. Why does a nonprofit exist to make the world a better place? Is it for people? Is it for animals? Is it for the environment? How would you measure that impact?
And a close second would be revenue. Because without revenue, it's hard to have the impact that you want to have. If I was thinking about the government, the most important number would be in the area of citizenry experience and return on taxpayer investment. Does that make sense, Clint?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense. I would think for-profit would be EBITDA. I love the idea that nonprofit actually is about impact before revenue. I think that gets lost a lot in the nonprofit world.
I wonder, when you were developing this book and you've founded seven companies, exits ranging from a few million dollars to well into nine figures, all of these, you worked with all these leadership teams. Was the idea like, hey, I'm going to start coaching other leaders? What led you to that path?
Well, my passion is getting teams to create value faster. And it doesn't matter the type of organization in my view, it has to be a legal organization, but that's what I really love doing and I've been connected to it. So all of the companies that I've had, the hundreds of companies that I've worked with, it's a real time living, breathing laboratory to continually work on this whole concept of value creation.
And value creation isn't just money, it's the value that you create for all the stakeholders, every team member that works in the organization, all of your customers, the shareholders, et cetera. I love this, and I'm even taking it further now, and I'm looking at how we can operationalize value creation within families.
And I published another book, it came out a couple months ago, and it's called Value Creation Kid. And the subtitle is, The Healthy Struggles Your Children Need to Succeed. And what my co-author and I outline in the book is something we call the gravy stack method. And there's only four components. Value creation, how do you talk about that? Is it material value? Is it an emotional energy value? Is it spiritual value? What's the combination? It's all about helping kids find their value creation superpower.
Second would be house rules. What are the expectations? What are the expenses? How do you earn extra money? Third would be financial competency, not just literacy, but actually being able to apply it. And fourth, healthy struggle. And it's interesting as I think about healthy struggles that our children need to succeed. It seems like parents, for example, have tried to eliminate all possible struggles to say, I want my kids to have it easier than I had it. And with the best of intentions, we're really making it harder on the kids when they launch into adulthood.
And I see a lot of team members within organizations, and unfortunately a lot of leaders, when things don't roll out and work perfectly, they actually act like victims instead of embrace the healthy struggle they need to go through to develop the capability to navigate those times better so they can use it to create even more value.
So why did I write the book? Hey, the book titled Your Most Important Number, let's help organizations of any type, any size create value faster, think about value creation differently. I'm going to keep doing this, until I can't do it, and I hope I've got another 30 or 40 years in front of me to do this word.
It's interesting this whole idea around healthy struggles, and we don't really think about that it seems like in today's society. I think, Lee, you landed on something that's pretty interesting, particularly the victimhood mentality. If something bad happens to you or something doesn't work out the way you want it to, that's not your fault, that's somebody else's fault, or you were the victim of something.
Where in reality nothing ever works out the way you want it to. Not in my experience. I don't know the cotton candy land that people live in where everything just works out. How do you approach and coach people who start with that victim mindset and how do you change that?
Well, typically when I go in and work with a CEO, I'll work with their senior team at the same time. And I've got a number of internal folks that do the same work, and we have certified consultants that do the same work. And it's a value creation journey. I'll explain for example, to some of these senior leaders, here's this concept for the kids in this Value Creation Kid book and The Healthy Struggles Your Children Need to Succeed. And they say, “Oh, that's perfect. That's exactly what they need. I love it.”
And then I watch them go through a struggle and they act like victims. And you're right, it's not their fault. They basically put themselves into a special victims unit, whatever they want to call that. And so over time, I want to take them out of it and always within a year it completely flips on its head.
So a typical scenario is, hey, we're doing okay, or we're on life support, or we're doing pretty well, but here's all this stuff that's just not going well in the company. And they talk about it like it's this terrible thing and they're victims and it's not their fault that it's going on. And I look at it and I say, isn't this exciting? You're doing okay now and we've got this list of things that aren't going well that we've identified that once we actually address them and get them in place properly, things are going to go significantly better. So let's make a list of all of this stuff and assign a return on investment or ROI to each one of them and how many resources and how much time et cetera, to accomplish it. But I love having this list of things to do to allow us to get even better results in the future. You should be excited about that, not act like you're a victim.
And so that's where I'll start. And you have to be careful with the language and how you talk about all this stuff. Everybody's developing, and when you're working with a senior team, they're all at different levels of emotional maturity, business maturity, experience, wisdom, et cetera. So you're trying to guide all of them in this direction towards improving their most important number or North Star and get them excited about what I call this dreaming list of things that they've been complaining about.
And what I mean by that is, the best definition of leadership I've ever heard is eating and dreaming at the same time. Eating is doing things to get really good results today, with what we have to work with, get excited about leveraging that and making better decisions around, don't complain that you don't have enough resources. You never will have all the resources that you want.
Eating is getting results today, this quarter, this month. And then dreaming is doing things today to get an even better result in the future. So all these things you've been complaining about, put them on your dream list, assign it an ROI, rack and stack them in the best order for the company and start going after it. And one of the ways to think about these dreaming items is to ask the question, what do I wish I would've done a year ago to ensure better results today?
And everybody has a good answer to that. They usually sit back, roll their eyes and go, my gosh, I would've done this, this or this other thing, or maybe all of it. Well, think about a year from today and the results that you want, what do you need to do today to set yourself up to win a year from today and then further out into the future?
How do you think about and talk about mental health with leaders?
That's an amazing question, an interesting topic, and I don't want to simplify it. I believe, and we talk about this in the Value Creation Kid book, but I believe that struggle does not equal trauma. And it seems like more and more lower and lower and lower levels of struggle are being seen as trauma, and kids for sure, but even adults start to get to a dark place emotionally.
And I just believe if you make your primary drive, purpose, possibly even identity, the value that you create in the world, whether it's material emotional energy or spiritual value, that it's a lot harder to be taken off your game and go to a dark place. You're going to be a lot more intrinsically motivated instead of extrinsically, so you won't have those issues. And I really believe that that can solve for it, especially when you learn to embrace struggle as a good thing.
Now, I believe that all struggle, whether it's healthy or unhealthy, can be leveraged to create more value in the world. Just think about Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning, who's gone through more struggle than that? What an amazing story and how he turned it on its head to create more value in the world. But that's not the norm.
There's going to be struggle everywhere, learn to love the struggle and we'll call it this sort of value creation cycle where you identify a capability you want, let's say as a leader of an organization. And usually it's to develop leaders better, navigate tough times better. You learn an aspect around maybe fundraising or an operating methodology or whatever it is, identify this capability you want, go through the struggle to develop that capability that'll build your confidence. Don't stop there. Use that to actually create value and prove it and then keep on that value creation cycle as you go through this healthy struggle cycle.
And I believe, and it works for me, it works for everybody that I've coached, it really helps with your emotional wellbeing when you're going through that. It doesn't matter what's going on in the world, it's like I'm really making a difference here with myself, the value that I'm creating in my organization, the people that I'm developing, et cetera. So that's my answer too, and again, I don't want to make it sound too simple, but this is a wildly powerful concept and sometimes simple is the best approach. Why make it complicated?
I agree with that for sure. I wonder, CEO.com has become pretty interested in masterminds and it's obviously not a new concept. Was it Carnegie who came up with it or someone like that? It's been around for a while. But you implement this and run masterminds at a scale and at a level and a quality that I find super interesting. Tell us about that. Tell us about creating masterminds using the most important number type concept inside of those things.
Great question. I'm not really sure where it started. My guess is it's probably been around for thousands of years, right? There's a lot of popular masterminds out there with lots of members, tens of thousands of members. There's Vistage and YPO, and EO and Renaissance and McKay. There's just a ton of them, and probably tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of groups that are just ad hoc put together without any formal association.
Now, the challenge with most of those groups is twofold in my view. One, they have a superficial problem, and two, they have a process problem. And the superficial problem is they'll have a group of 12, 16, 18 members and they talk about it more is better, look at all these minds that you have in the room. But when they meet, you can't see deeply into everybody's company on a regular enough basis, if ever, to get 80% of the brain power in the room to truly help you create value faster, grow your company faster, whatever that is for you.
And that's the superficial piece of it. And then the process part of it, is you'll bring up an issue, you're not allowed to say anything, everybody gives you their feedback, you'll answer a question, but you can't give your opinion. And at the end, what was your takeaway? What's the one thing you're going to do? Then you go off and you spend 15 minutes on this.
There's so many people in the group and they're following this process over and over again, that, my gosh, I'm really not getting the help, because if everybody could see deeply into each other's organization, the problem they brought up, 90% of the time isn't the problem, it's a symptom, it's something else going on. And if we knew more, we could actually help them with that.
So what I've done with the MIND Methodology and our EXECUTE CEO mastermind groups is we limit the size to eight. Six to eight is the normal size of a group. Every two months we get to do a deep dive on everybody's organization. And we can see, because we use the MIND Methodology, what winning looks like aspirationally for each CEO at the end of the current year, at the end of the following year, we know what the most important number is for their organization, where they're at, where they're going, so we can track progress all the way along the way.
And we create drivers that are specific to each CEO, that they can leverage to improve their most important number. And these drivers or categories of work could be leadership development, could be strategy, culture, their intentional operating methodology and how they create value inside the organization. And we capture all of this in our proprietary software to where every member can see each other's stuff and we come to the meetings and it's intense, it's fun. It's just an incredible experience and the results are just off the chart.
We have a number of organizations and one result, we've got a virtual assistant company, when we started with them we had 67 VAs placed in the United States and they're based in the Philippines. Today, fast-forward 18 months, they have over 1,000 placed and I think within three years they'll get to 5,000. And it's really the help of the MIND Methodology and the feedback from the group and everything.
And there's a whole bunch of examples with similar results like that in these EXECUTE MasterMIND groups. Now, one thing I will say with all of the groups, and I've been involved with a number of them with overlap, if I didn't say it before, probably 40 plus years, I love the community, I love the people. It's nice sitting in a room with the people that get your world and that's really nice.
But if I really want to advance the organization, grow faster, create value faster, I want both. I want the community, but I also want a really effective group. And so limiting the size of the group to six to eight, following this methodology, wildly powerful.
Everybody that's exposed to it, even master chairs and other organizations that see this, they're saying like, oh my gosh, I want to stop doing what I'm doing and I want to do this because I'm too limited by the organization that I'm affiliated with right now. I said, well, the reason I came up with this is because of years of being in groups of just being really frustrated by a couple of things that these other groups just weren't willing to change about their process.
How do you curate the groups? Because I agree with you, I think five to eight, you said six to eight, I didn't have a mastermind group, but there were five of us here in Utah around 2012. We didn't have a title for it, we just got together. And then we built Silicon Slopes, this nonprofit organization, and all of them have been wildly successful. One now owns the Utah Jazz. It's crazy what can happen when you have a group of like-minded individuals who are all at the same stage and working on similar problems and can bounce ideas and feedback, explain failures, explain where they've been successful.
I got to see that upfront, firsthand. Still do actually. And I think it's remarkable. I actually think it might be the most powerful thing that's come out of this community nonprofit, is this group of leaders who have come together, who may have otherwise not have come together and may have actually been competitive with each other, which is interesting. Our motto was always keep your logos and ego at the door and let's figure out what's best for the group, the community, all that type of stuff. It's a little bit different. It wasn't specifically about them, but it was about the community and it became about them.
And what I like about masterminds is they're like your personal advisory board. That's like how they're pitched or explained, and I think that's really interesting. But I'm interested when you start to scale that, right? I had five people who were just in my life and it wasn't a formalized thing, but I really like the power of formalizing it. How do you curate it? I would just love your thoughts on, I agree, six to eight people, great. Who are those six to eight people and how do you make sure that all of them are providing value to each other and are getting value out of the group?
When I was in a number of groups before, I always thought, hey, we really need to do a better job of stratifying the group. So companies of a certain size, number of employees, as you were saying, have similar challenges to walk through. And that's flipped on its head too, because all I care about in terms of the right persona coming into a group, is that they're in fast growth mode and they understand that they grow personally, professionally faster when they lean in to help CEOs grow their businesses in areas that are not in their area of expertise.
And every CEO in the room has the perspective of, hey, I've invested over half my retirement money in this conglomerate, the makeup of the companies in the group, and I want to make sure that I get a good return, so I've got the retirement that I want. So what do I want to know? What do I want to see happening and am I comfortable with where we're at? And so that's a really interesting perspective.
And one of my groups, for example, the smallest company is about two million bucks, but they have a plan for $100 to $150 million over the next five years. And the largest is $200 million. So all through that, and it really doesn't matter, if the mindset's right, we get the persona right. I think that's what we need. I think one of the challenges, and other than the superficial and process challenge that most other groups have, they don't get the persona right. Some people are just coasting along, they're comfortable with 2%, 3% growth a year. They're more for the community, not there so much to really grow their business.
Whereas this, we're really particular, we won't even let you in the group unless you're in high growth mode and you've got the perspectives that I just sort of outlined there. And if I'm running something that's several hundred million dollars and we've got somebody with a couple million dollar business with a plan to get to a hundred million, there's a lot of value in me leaning in to help them, because regularly, and I've done this in my other businesses, I've got new products or services that I'm standing up, and it's good to keep those chops going so you can get really good at launching that. So that's what I've found. What do you say to that as I went through that?
I think that's super interesting that it doesn't matter, or you've learned over the years that it doesn't matter, hey, they're all working on a software as a service company or an AI company, it's just about their growth. Do they want to grow, the growth of their company, their personal growth? I think that's really interesting. I've never really thought about it that way. And the fact that you could learn from if somebody has 400 car dealerships and someone else is running a high growth tech company, there's probably ways you can learn. Is that what you're saying there?
Oh yeah. They can be completely different sizes from a few million to hundreds of millions or bigger, and I prefer completely different industries. It gets you thinking differently.
Think about a leader coming up through General Electric when Jack Welch was running it, and he would regularly move the stars around to all kinds of different businesses to really get the experience. So it changes your thinking when you're looking at a number of different types of businesses and you're responsible for their success. It really develops leaders personally and professionally. It takes them to the next level. And that's what we're doing here. And it's a conglomerate.
Take one of my groups, there's a really large, global helicopter operator. There's another aerospace company completely unrelated to the first one, company buying a bunch of painting companies around the country. One that represents families that are building high-end homes to make sure that everything works out like it should, because most of the time it really doesn't. It just goes on and on, all these completely different businesses.
And it's fun just going from one and developing the capability again, a healthy struggle for a CEO, the capability to shift gears into a totally new business, thinking about strategy completely differently. And at first it can be a little bit exhausting, but after, I would say six meetings at most, it's really energizing. It's what I do every day, I bounce from one client to another and they're all over the planet in different businesses. And it's exciting to me to be able to do that. It's a great capability for leaders to have.
And your role inside of this, and your companies are all inside of this, you facilitate these, so they meet monthly. Sorry, I want to go deep because I think people are interested in this and I think they're more and more useful now than maybe ever before, although I have no reason to say that. I wonder, they have a facility, so you're meeting twice a month, I assume that's virtual?
Well, we're actually meeting once a month, it's six and a half hours. We have virtual groups and we have in-person groups and I have to stay connected to the front lines, so I run groups and I also work with companies directly to help them create value faster. But this is on the EXECUTE MasterMIND groups, it's one day a month, six and a half hours, virtual or in-person.
And that you've got the curated groups. So we've got all the personas and we've got the MIND Methodology and how we run it to keep every single leader at any point in time where they need to be to create the most value in their organization. There's literally no end to the work that we can do here. And then the third component is going to be the facilitator.
I facilitate. I have a ton of experience, I won't even let a chair come in to do this unless they've got at least three years of chair experience running two or more groups successfully. And I want to talk to their members to see how they're doing. Where I think in a lot of other CEO mastermind organizations, they'll recruit chairs, they'll come in, they build their own groups, but they lose some of the quality and it's not uncommon for half the chairs just to be really low quality. So we're making sure we get that right.
So again, three components. The members have to be the right persona, the methodology and the chair, all three very critical.
So it's monthly meetings, six and a half hours. And then is there an annual thing that you do where they all get together or is it just monthly check-in? How does that work?
Yeah, we have events usually quarterly that they can participate in and interact with other members. Absolutely.
I also wonder, as you're building this thing and how do you scale that? Because you're talking about, hey, there's all these masterminds and you're intimately involved, it sounds like, in so many of them. You mentioned you had proprietary software. Is that how you're scaling it?
Well, I think the way to scale it is just to make sure we're controlling the quality with chairs and they would be building their own groups. But I could see in the next, even though I've done this for, gosh, a couple of decades now, working with CEOs, their teams and different groups, this is something we've started in the last couple of years, but I could see the formal EXECUTE CEO masterminds.
I could see in five years where we've got a couple hundred chairs with two or three groups a piece, and all of their groups will use the software. And to your point, it makes it so easy to track all of it so that members can help each other better, but also scale this in a way that I don't see any other group doing. Nobody's doing this way.
And the technology makes it a lot more efficient to hold together. And so for chairs and for members, it's just a lot less work than they have to go through today to update profiles and data and everything else, in my experience.
What keeps you motivated? Why are you doing this? I assume you don't need to do this.
Well, if you mean I don't need to do it for money, I'm fine on money. I need to do it for me, this is my mission, it's value creation within organizations, and now I'm dual tracking value creation within families. Let's operationalize both. I think this can solve for most of the wackiness that's going on in the world right now. Everybody should be more intrinsically motivated, embrace healthy struggle, and let's create value.
I don't have data that's probably very scientific to make this claim, but I look at the country, the United States where I live, and I don't think we're getting 10 to 15% of our value creation potential, just because of the culture that we have right now. And people aren't focused on this. It's more I'm a victim, give me this, I shouldn't have to do anything. Whereas everybody switched over to healthy struggle, building capabilities, confidence, creating value. Imagine if we were running at 60 or 80%. Oh my gosh, what's possible is just incredible.
I love the mission and especially with the kids, if we can get the kids even before they get to kindergarten and how they talk about value creation in the family. I think the purpose of an education is to create value in the world, not get a good grade, get a diploma, get a degree, or get a job. That's not very inspiring. The purpose of an education is to create value.
And every kid has a value creation superpower. Is it material value? Is it emotional energy value? I'm sitting in my music studio right now and I love playing and writing music and I've done this my whole life. What an opportunity to take emotional energy value out into the world, or spiritual value. What is that? It could be through your church, it could be a greater connectedness.
Spirituality is something different to everybody, but what's your value creation superpower? This is my purpose, my mission, it's my primary driver really, and I'll just keep doing this.
We talked a little bit about mental health. I wonder about just physical, eating healthy, exercising, that type of stuff. Does this type of stuff come up in your mastermind groups? That obviously adds value to the person's personal life and to their family, but I imagine it also adds value to their company.
I was at an event once with Reed Hastings, Netflix's CEO. And he said something that really stood out, I think about it once a week. He said, "If you can't lead yourself, you can't expect to lead others." And I thought that was pretty beautiful actually. How he summed it up. And I think about that and the physical and mental health, hey, you've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of companies and other people.
Does that come up or is that part of anything?
Well, it does come up. It's important without the foundational health, that goes away, and I've had challenges throughout the years with different things, it's hard to keep your business running. It's hard to keep your motivation there. I think positive emotional energy is the scarcest commodity on the planet because when it's running on nine or 10, your arm could fall off and you'd be like, whatever, I've got another arm, it's going to be great. But if it's running on one, you get a flat tire and it ruins your week.
And so without your foundational health, if you're in a lot of pain, if you're sick, cancer, there's so many things that can go sideways. If you don't take care of yourself for long enough, you won't have that positive emotional energy, you won't be able to lead yourself very well. And maybe that's an indication you weren't to get to that point, but certainly not others. So yeah, I think foundationally it's wildly important that we get that right
And even more than that, just to make the point again, if your purpose is creating value in the world and not something else, not identifying because I'm a strong person or I was a football player or I led this successful company, what happens if that goes sideways? Does it crush you emotionally? I think that if you made that your identity, that it could, it collapses. But if you get some unforeseen illness and your identity is creating value in the world, as long as your mind is working, you can still keep doing that.
And that's what I'm finding, that's how I'm coaching others and creating more of these conditions within organizations or more and more of their leaders and their team members start to adopt it. And it makes a difference.
I remember with the largest company that I've had, I sold it in January of 2016. We had just over 500 employees. And over the years, that was one of my 23 overnight success stories. And over the years I had dozens of spouses tell me, unsolicited, that my husband or wife is a better person to live with after less than a year of working at your company. What are you guys doing down there?
And all we did was have a very intentional culture. We agreed on how we were going to create value as a company. We agreed on how we were going to interact with each other to create that value. We held each other accountable. We embraced healthy struggle. Every team member, for the most part, acted like the CEO of their own role, which I think you've won once you've done that. And that's where self-esteem comes from.
When you're accomplishing challenging things, you do it, you're in the middle of it, you feel great about yourself. That permeates out into your family. It permeates out into the communities that you engage with. And again, I go back to, I think this is a really powerful solution to a lot of the craziness going on in the world right now.
You mentioned culture, and I wonder, that word means so many different things to so many different people in so many different companies and leaders. What does it mean to you?
My experience, whether this is a popular answer or not, is that 95 plus percent of folks get culture completely wrong, probably closer to 98%. And when I ask, so tell me about your culture. It's amazing. We have great people. And they just start talking about these inspirational things, but there's nothing intentional about it. They might have some cool values plastered on the walls and a lot of great looking wallpaper around a facility.
But culture needs to be intentional and culture should be something that you can connect to creating value, whether it's financial results, customer experience, any of that stuff. And I believe at the foundation under everything, every culture out there, it's made up of the beliefs, the decisions, the practices, and the accountability from which an organization creates value. And you can audit all of those things.
What are the beliefs that are helping us create value? And what are the beliefs that are hurting our ability to create value? What's our culture of decision making? Every practice that we have in the organization, whether it's performance management, setting strategy, compensation, anything that we do as a practice, were they designed to create the most value that they can or could, or did we just check a box to make sure we have that in place? And then what about the culture of accountability? What percentage of the time are people doing what they said would, when they said they would actually do it? And so I think that's the foundation.
And I also think every organization should come up with their own, and I talk about this in my book, Your Most Important Number. They should come up with their own set of alignment tools that make sense for them. And before you develop a mission statement, first draft the purpose for the mission statement. If we have a mission statement, how will it make us measurably better as an organization?
And one of my favorite purpose statements for a mission, would be to tell our customers in a compelling way why they should do business with us. And at the same time, tell every team member why they get a paycheck. Because if we don't deliver that value, our jobs are in jeopardy. And that's it.
And rather than going with a set of values, and I talk about this in the book as well, we used to have a set of values back around 1999, and at the time only had about 70 employees, and the top value was integrity. And I just wasn't feeling that it was doing much for us. So I went and asked 10 of our employees, how are you applying integrity to make the organization measurably better?
And I got 10 crazy answers that told me I completely wasted my time. And that's where I adopted this whole process of, well, we need a reason to have a group of alignment tools or an individual alignment tool before we even draft it so we can measure whether it's working or not. And so we stepped back and said, look, and this was really my thinking, it just hit me over a weekend.
We want to create the conditions where at any point in time, 50% or more of our team members are performing, leading, and behaving as good or better than the top 10% at our strongest, most admired competitors. If we can do that, nobody can touch us. Period. Told all the employees what we were trying to accomplish, surveyed all 70 of them and said, hey, need your help. Please write down the observable behaviors of the best performing folks you've ever worked with on their best days, and this is what we're going to do with it.
And 68 participated in the survey, which was phenomenal, out of 70. And all of this stuff came in. It was a giant list of behaviors, but a lot of commonality, and it all distilled down to six. So rather than integrity, now we said high performing team members throughout Able Engineering at the time we called it Able Engineering, when I sold it was Able Aerospace, do what they say they will. Okay, well that's observable. You do it or you don't. Or they present and pursue permanent solutions as opposed to dwelling on problems. They treat company resources as their own. They're fully engaged and participate within the team. They're respectful, honest, and straightforward.
And I'll remember these forever, because every single six months, every employee had to have one example for each of those behaviors and how they applied them to make the organization measurably better. And they took a shot at an ROI. This is how it improved customer experience internal or external and or how it improved profit or cash flow.
So when I think about culture, I think about being very intentional. I think about the foundation around the beliefs, decisions, practices and accountability. And I think about the individual alignment tools that we can sink our teeth into as a management tool to talk about things when they're going well and why. And they should point to one or some combination of alignment tools that weren't exemplified when things go wrong. So they're a wildly powerful management tool, but culture can't be, if you want to be as effective as you can when it comes to value creation, it can't be culture changes just depending on the makeup of the current leadership team.
It should be something intentional, that can survive even top leadership in an organization multiple times going forward. So that's how I think about it. What are your thoughts on all that, Betts? That was a big answer.
No, I love that. I think you have to be intentional with culture. This has been said a number of times, but we did go through a period it seemed like around 2008 to 2014, where culture was ping pong tables and free lunch. And that was it. And I love this idea of, no, you got to be about something bigger, because that stuff doesn't give self-confidence, it doesn't give you a sense of accomplishment, all of that type of stuff.
Well, it's not how you feel at the time, and that's how most describe it. I'm not sure, Clint, have you ever done any work like this before in your organizations? Have you intentionally put culture in or developed alignment tools with your team?
Oh yeah, yeah, for sure. Because early on around 2013, 2014, our culture was just like, stay alive and let's figure out how we stay alive and serve the community. And then it became like, well, what do you think about values? What do you think about our purpose and how do you align that with the culture? And I'm not saying that we've done that well or unwell, but it's certainly something that has mattered to me more and more the longer I've been leading it.
It's powerful, it's important. When I met Jack Welch for the first time in 2008, I attended a two and a half day course that he was teaching, and alignment tools like mission and behaviors, which drove culture, were wildly important to him and just incredibly important.
I remember on day one, I'm sitting at a table right up front, the stage and podium is right in front of me. And Jack's looking down and he says, okay, everybody in the room discuss it within your table, members. And in five minutes somebody report out on their mission and supporting behaviors. And so we break, and at the time in 2008, I think I was coming off of a $10 million year, heading to about $13 or $14. And most people were managing over a billion dollars in business. And at my table there was a big oil company, a bank, and a global construction company.
None of these leaders knew their alignment tools. And one knew part of their mission, one knew some of their values. And I said, well, it's got to be the same company and I feel it to my bones. This is a big deal. And I went through explaining this. We were the first table called on. Jack said, okay, go. And I said, well, here's our mission. This is why we created it. And the mission was to safely reduce aircraft operating costs. And he said, that's great. What are your values? I said, well, hey, I threw those out and this is why. And we came up with these behaviors and there was this really long uncomfortable silence. And I thought, well, gosh, maybe I don't even belong in this room. And then he says, that's perfect. I wouldn't change anything.
And as he went around the rest of the room, I could see why he paused because everybody else's sounded like a marketing slogan. Nothing you could really sink your teeth into. And I remember on day one, I sat down for lunch and there was a drawing to be able to sit at the Jack Welch table. I didn't get selected. And as I took my first bite, he sits right next to me at my table, blew off his table and said, hey, I've done this thousands of times, nobody's ever gotten it right till you, how the hell did you do it?
And he and I started a friendship. He actually very shortly after that became a 10% owner in my company, ETW or Execute to Win. When he asked that question, how'd you do it? I just said, well, I believe, and obviously we're working in completely different scale, but I believe if you're trying to solve for the same problem and creating value without applying any weird politics, but you do apply math, common sense, logic and facts, we're going to go down the same road, pass the same road signs, wisdom, insight, all of it.
So that's why I'm here. I'm really aligned with where you're going and how you think about things when you're running General Electric and just business principles in general. And we became great friends. It was probably a couple years later, I went down, probably spent nine and a half hours one day at his home and we went through my whole operating methodology and that's when he told me, hey, what you have here is the best operating system I've ever seen.
And had I had it at General Electric, the results would've been exponentially better. And it all started with that culture conversation. How do we really connect culture to financial results? And you saw how Jack drove it and then as soon as the successor came in, it just sort of leveled off and pretty much completely changed the culture throughout virtually everything that was Jack Welch and what he drove about execution and being number one or number two or fix, close, or to sell it, and just destroyed value.
There's so many GE employees that had a giant part of their nest egg in there, and some of them went from tens of millions down to tens of thousands of dollars. It was really unfortunate. So culture matters. It really, really matters. But I still stand by what I said. I think most don't get it as right as they could. I don't want to say wrong, but that's powerful. They could just create a lot more value if they were very intentional about their culture.
What an incredible relationship with an icon, an American icon who really, I think everybody who was thinking about getting into business growing up is like Jack Welch is pretty great. And there was always something about him and the fact that you had a relationship with him, knew him, met him, and were friendly. That's incredible. That's something to be cherished.
I can tell by a cursory glance of your studio that you're a serious musician. How important is music in your life and does it help from a meditative standpoint? The thing about music, you are going to have to focus on it entirely if you're going to do it well. What do you like about it? How'd you get into that?
I started playing guitar when I was pretty young, five, six years old. And I don't remember not knowing how to play. I probably have at least 50 guitars around my studio here, a lot of them hanging on the walls. And I don't collect guitars. These are just ones I bought over the years to play because I like the way they sound. In the 1980s, some of those years I actually played over 300 nights and concerts, clubs. I just loved it. That's how I made most of my money back in the 80s.
And so it's really important to me, and I do hear a couple of things. I'll hear a CEO say, I need to do more stuff for myself. I need my own hobbies or whatever that happens to be. Good thing for me is that I love to work. It's really great. But I also think it's good to have an outlet.
So with music, I can, in fact later today I've got a bunch of guys coming over. We're going to be playing some classic rock stuff. It'll be a lot of fun tonight. It just completely resets you. I think it's so good to love your work and everything you're doing, but do something else to completely reset your mind, your emotions, and then when you come back to it, you're going to be even better. I think it's important to have that stuff.
And then another thing I hear regularly is, well, how does a musician become a business person? That doesn't make any sense. And I said, well, to me, I see it exactly the same. You've got a group of folks on stage that are working together to convey an emotion, which is emotional energy. There's value there. It's one of the big three buckets that I mentioned earlier.
And all you have to do is change one of those members out and the whole emotion changes and you're moving it around. Think about your team when you're running your business and the energy that's being created, the value creation energy, and you change one person out and how that changes, is it really valuable, productive, continually improving value creation energy, or is it stuck in the mud because of one or two folks that just aren't culturally quite right for where you want to be as an organization? I see it as exactly the same.
With the band I'm creating emotional energy value, and the team matters. With my different companies and the companies I work with, we're creating material value and a lot of emotional and spiritual and development value and stuff within the organization, but mostly measuring the material. We want to continually increase the value of the organization and the team matters there too. It just does.
I think about the largest company that I sold, over the years I changed out my leadership team probably five times because we outgrew them and each time you got it really right or sometimes you got it wrong. And I can remember hanging onto somebody that was not a cultural fit for a couple of years. And then when I cut that person loose, everything got better overnight.
And then I learned over time that I literally know within a month, usually within a week, if somebody is going to be the right fit on a senior team, and I moved fast and I got to where it went from two years to less than two months. If I got it wrong I'd hire slow as I could, but I would fire really fast. Always preserved their dignity, helped them find another job somewhere else. We just both missed it.
But I'm not going to leave those people in place and cause suffering or limited value creation for the rest of the team members that are really getting it right throughout the entire company.
Lee, I can't thank you enough for coming on and we should have you on again because I think your experience and everything you worked on is just incredible. I highly recommend people read Your Most Important Number book, if you have a family. I haven't read the family book, but I will. I end every interview the same way, with the same question. At ceo.com we believe the chances you give others are just as important as the chances you take on yourself. And I wonder if in your life and in your career, who gave you a chance that you think of in that context?
That one is tough. I came from a very low income family. I was kicked out of the house at the beginning of my senior year. Because I started that value creation cycle, that struggle cycle when I was six, a neighbor asked me to pull their weeds for 25 cents an hour, wasn't a friend, wasn't a family member. And then I was like, this is great. And then I started shoveling snow and I was making probably a dollar an hour because I could do two yards or driveways an hour at 50 cents a piece, and I got paper routes and then a dishwasher busboy, cook, and started playing in a band. It wasn't that somebody gave me a chance, it's that I started really early on that healthy struggle cycle to create more and more value.
And if there was anything that really worked in my favor, the energy I had to create value and I just wanted to be the best at everything I did, even as a busboy, I'm going to be the best busboy ever. When I was a cook, nobody's going to be better than me. There was nothing I didn't think I could do. But because of that energy, everywhere I went, people wanted to help me. They just leaned in to help me.
Adults everywhere as I was coming up as a kid and even as a young professional and growing my business, everybody wanted to help. That energy was, I guess infectious. And that goes back to positive emotional energy, being the scarcest commodity on the planet. If you have that, good things will accrete around you as long as you make all your interactions win-win, it'll just happen.
So there wasn't one person that gave me an opportunity. It was the whole process of embracing a healthy struggle to get a capability, to build confidence, to create value, and just keep taking bigger steps as I go through that. I think as I think about the future, I've done well financially to this point. I think I'm not even close to what I'll generate from a material value standpoint in the future. I think my best days here are in the future, but I'm loving all of this and what's going on right now.
And anyone that wants to learn about what we're doing, go to my website, which is etw.com. You can learn about the EXECUTE MasterMINDs. You can order a copy of the book. And if you want help doing this inside your organization, you'll see how we can assist with that as well.
It's incredible. Lee, thank you so much for coming on. It's been an honor my friend. Thank you so much.
Clint, thank you so much for having me.