GFEP 33 | American Comeback Story


On a blue-skied September morning twenty years ago, the civilized world gasped as a typical Tuesday turned into a horrific historical event. Award-winning reporter and former columnist Dean Rotbart, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, takes a never-before look into the Journal’s reporters, graphic designers, technicians, and delivery truck drivers that came to work expecting a normal news day and in less than 24 hours wrote firsthand accounts that would later become a Pulitzer Prize-winning edition. Join us for captivating tales of heroism, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of the story.

Watch the episode here:

Dean Rotbart | September Twelfth: An American Comeback Story

If you are older than twenty years old, then everybody remembers or has been told where they were on a historic and tragic day in America’s history. I’ll never forget where I was on September 11th, 2001. Working at Game Face with a bunch of clients in our offices that day who were waiting for me to arrive to provide some services to them. Instead, I arrived and had to deal with some very afraid and scared individuals because of what they were watching and seeing on television in their hotel rooms that morning, trying frantically to get ahold of friends and relatives who were in New York and Washington DC areas. The world has never been the same since.

I’m very pleased to welcome my friend and award-winning author, Dean Rotbart, who has written a fantastic book, September Twelfth. That is the name of the book. Dean is going to share more with us in our interview on how you can get your copy of this. It’s a compelling read with facts and stories that most of us have either never heard or have forgotten, which bring us into the moments of September 11th and the aftermath. Dean, welcome to the show.

Rob, it is truly a pleasure to be here with you and to have this conversation with you. This is a milestone for America and for the world, in that we are marking twenty years since the day that many of us will never forget and can honestly remember in quite a bit of detail, almost like the Kennedy assassination for that generation of, “Where were you? How did it all come about?” It’s a good time to be talking about this.

GFEP 33 | American Comeback Story

September Twelfth: An American Comeback Story

The other thing is that there’s a lot of sadness in the 9/11 story. It is primarily a tragic and sad story. What I have tried to do with September Twelfth is it’s subtitled An American Comeback Story. I have tried to point out that what happened in the aftermath of 9/11 is something that all Americans can be very proud of because, for a brief moment, everybody was united. It didn’t make a difference what your politics were or what your income level was, everybody came together. Not minimizing the tragedy that it was, it was a very nice time in this country. The book tells some of the tales of how strangers helped other strangers during this whole thing. It was a period where neighbors were helping neighbors.

Communities throughout Greater New York, especially in New Jersey and Connecticut that were hit mightily, losing lots of moms and dads on 9/11, how they came together and supported one another. In my case, what I had uncovered and most of what’s in the book has never been told before. It’s the story behind the story of how The Wall Street Journal, which had its headquarters located, seven storeys, just across the street from the World Trade Center. By 9:30 AM on September 11th, its headquarters were destroyed. Everybody had been evacuated. They had no access to their computers, emails, file folders and any of those things but they still said, “We will not be defeated by terrorists,” and they made a commitment.

I used to work for the Wall Street Journal so I know that it has a lot of people with diverse opinions, but there was universal agreement that they would do everything they could against very tall odds to publish the paper the next day. It was for two reasons. One is they wanted to reassure their readers that the world was going to be okay, that there would be the next day. They understood the obligation to their readers. They had about 1.8 million subscribers, and what a shock it would be if the paper didn’t arrive.

The second thing was, and they talked about it, that they truly wanted to respond to the terrorist and say, “Despite your desire to disrupt our lives, we will not let you.” It is a comeback story and it’s a story of a group of people. These were business reporters and economic reporters. They were not war correspondents or soldiers, but they behaved in many ways like war correspondents on 9/11, literally having to walk through decapitated bodies and pools of blood to interview people, and to escape on their own.

[bctt tweet=”This is a milestone week for America and for the world in that we are marking 20 years since a day that many of us will never forget.” username=””]

It’s interesting when we look at comebacks, all that transpired on that day of September 11th, for many of us, it took days, weeks, months, and in some cases, depending on your person or your industry, it’s taken years to recover. Some might claim we’ve never been able to recover in certain ways. Yet, what you’ve just described is that The Wall Street Journal staff recovered within less than a 24-hour period. They were able to come back and produce a newspaper, granted the content wasn’t a typical Wall Street Journal issue, but it was filled with compelling news, information, commentary and observation. While the book is full of stories of individual journalists, technicians and drivers within The Wall Street Journal family, can you talk to us a little bit about what was it that allowed these individuals to come together in such rapid formation, while at the same time worrying for their own safety and the safety of their families?

In the book, September Twelfth, hidden in plain sight, there is a leadership and management book. It’s not written as a book specifically targeting leaders or managers. I have a chapter in there titled September 11 Didn’t Happen in a Day. The reason it’s titled that way is because many things preceded September 11th, that Dow Jones, the parent of The Wall Street Journal and the paper did correctly in terms of management directive, preparation, and setting motivation for people. Have that not been in place, there’s no way the newspaper would have published the next day.

I have here the wording from the Pulitzer Prize committee. The next day’s edition of the journal, for the first time in its 109-year history at the time, won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. The Pulitzer committee said, “It won it for its comprehensive and insightful coverage executed under the most difficult circumstances.” The interesting part of that is the beginning, “Comprehensive and insightful coverage.” They did a phenomenal job.

I’m going to continue to address your question but let me set the stage just a little bit, where technology was in 2001. We’re talking over Zoom. There’s no Zoom, Facebook and Twitter in 2001. Most people and most Americans got onto the internet to the extent that they had internet access, dialing up on America Online. It was a dial-up connection. Some of the more sophisticated internet surfers had DSL lines, but many just use conventional phone lines. On 9/11, lower Manhattan was a communications hub. There was a huge 9X, which used to be New York telephone switching stations down there.

The World Trade Centers themselves have television towers. Communication was horrible on September 11th, besides the fact that the technology was still in its infancy of things like the internet. People couldn’t reach one another by mobile phone. Most of the people in lower Manhattan couldn’t use wired lines. Not only did you have a Wall Street Journal that couldn’t access its own newsroom and headquarters, but most of the journalists could not talk by phone to anybody. They certainly had no video communications. In the end, they relied primarily on email, which continued for the most part to work. Journalists who were dispersed stayed at home and dispersed all over.

In the book, I detail one journalist who made his way to an elementary school across the Hudson River in New Jersey and worked from there. Another journalist made it to the Highlights for Children magazine headquarters in Massachusetts. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Highlights for Children, but most of us who have children or grandchildren know this magazine. It’s quite common in dentist offices and doctor’s offices. This journalist, her name is Ianthe Dugan, went there and said, “I need access to the phones. I need access to the internet. Can I work from here?” They graciously said yes. It’s a little bit humorous and I tried to infuse the book with some humor. She would call up people and leave a message and say, “Would you call me back at this number?” They’d call back and get an operator or an answering machine that said, “You’ve reached Highlights for Children,” but she was a Wall Street Journal reporter.

[bctt tweet=”It’s a story of a group of people. These were business reporters, economic reporters. They were not war correspondents or soldiers.” username=””]

What it took on the part of these people was a sense of, “I can do this without being able to talk to a manager or a boss. I feel empowered to do it. I sense what needs to be done.” Dozens of people with no direction, either did their jobs, the same jobs that they had on September 10th of 2001, where they saw that somebody was missing. There was a copy editor missing. There was a reporter who covered a certain beat who was missing. They filled in without instruction. It is a terrific story on leadership and management.

I do go back to the 1960s. I trace how the culture of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal prepared. Nobody anticipated it, there wasn’t a soul who anticipated losing their headquarters and not being able to return for about a year but they had systems and more importantly, a culture of professionalism in place. It allowed them to publish a paper when, by anybody’s standard, they never should have been able to publish.

When you talk about culture, they had internal permission to do what was necessary to produce award-winning journalism. In the beginning chapters of the book, you talk about how the managing editor of the journal was missing.

Missing and presumed dead.

Everyone’s waiting for marching orders, especially those who aren’t on-site, they don’t know that the Journal’s office has been essentially destroyed by the falling of the towers across the street. Everyone has to make some real-time decisions to act on their own instead of sitting on their hands. The other thing that you’ve talked about extensively in the book is that their journalistic nature took over. I’m curious if you could describe a little bit more about what it means to be a journalist in that type of environment. I love your characterization that journalists are professional observers. They couldn’t just observe though. They had to act. You have a background in journalism. You got your undergraduate degree at Northwestern and your graduate degree at Columbia. You’ve been a journalist all your adult life. What is it about journalists in that particular environment that you believe causes them not just to observe, but to observe and act?

GFEP 33 | American Comeback Story

American Comeback Story: What happened in the aftermath of 9/11 is something that all Americans can be very proud of because for a brief moment, for a brief period, everybody was united.


Do you remember that Clark Kent would go into a phone booth and would come out as Superman? In some ways, when journalists are faced with a breaking story or a crisis. Usually, it’s not about their own news organization or something that’s happening just across the street. In essence, they do go into the phone booth and they do come out with a somewhat different persona. In some ways, it’s a dangerous persona because they disregard the physical threat to their own lives. It is what’s behind war correspondents and their willingness to be embedded. They delude themselves into believing that since they have a mission, and the mission is to witness and tell the story, that they’ll be okay.

In the case of The Wall Street Journal, that was almost true. Not entirely but almost true. Many of the journalists who put on their Superman capes on 9/11, days, weeks and years later, started suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome based upon things they witnessed during that time. You talked about the missing managing editor. He says he wishes he could forget and never will the sight of the people jumping off of the Twin Towers, and making these pink puffs when they hit either the canopies or the streets.

There’s another journalist in the book who I talk about. He’s in the first chapter, Jon Hilsenrath. Years later, he was out with his kids in a barn and he saw the straps on the cowboy’s legs. Magically, they turned into disembodied limbs, arms and legs that were hanging in the barns. He saw piles of grass cuttings and thought they were bodies. One of the graphic designers for The Wall Street Journal, Joe Dizney, developed a bad case of posttraumatic stress a decade or more after 9/11.

For that 12-hour to 24-hour period, they go into this mental state, where they think wrongly that they are impervious to it because they’re there to cover the story. It’s not a mentality that happens. I was a reporter for the Journal. If I have to go down to the New York Stock Exchange and interview some of the traders on the floor, I didn’t think to myself, “I’m Superman here, I can just do anything.” As a journalist under tough circumstances, I had a few where at one point I thought some assassin had been sent to kill me. I ducked under a bed in a hotel room and it turned out it was room service. At the time, it seemed probable that it was an assassin but I was still on duty.

You mentioned Jon Hilsenrath and his story, which grips you. As soon as you begin reading the book in chapter one, his story is very gripping. It pulls the reader intimately into the story. I commend you for that. Those who are fortunate enough to obtain a copy of September Twelfth will attest to the fact that it’s the proverbial page-turner because these are real stories that you’re reading about. One of the things that Jon said to the managing editor as things were unfolding that morning, and they were all still gathered within The Wall Street Journal offices, and I’d like you to comment on this. He walked into his boss’s office and he said, “I’m ready to go. What do you want me to do?” There are many lessons to be learned from that. Once again, drawing from your journalism background, is that the way journalists have been historically trained or is that more a reflection of Jon’s character? How would you comment?

[bctt tweet=”The selection bias is the people who go into journalism have that predisposition of in fact, wanting to be involved, wanting to be engaged.” username=””]

I don’t think it’s trained. The selection bias is the people who go into journalism, not just Jon Hilsenrath, have that predisposition of wanting to be involved and engaged. I want to tell you a quick anecdote about Jon Hilsenrath, and then I want to tell you a second anecdote that is one of the more amazing anecdotes in the book that I don’t think has ever been publicly reported before.

First on Jon Hilsenrath. He was married to a journalist on 9/11. She was a broadcast journalist and she happened to be at home, and all of this is detailed in the book. Before phone service went out, he was on the phone with her. Her name is Christina and she begged him. She said, “We have two small children at home. If you die down there, I’m going to be a widow.” She thought she was going to become a widow that day. Christina begged him to leave the story, “It’s a job, leave the story and come home.” He said, “I can’t.” He acknowledges that it was crass. He said, “This is the Super Bowl of journalism and I’ve got to pursue it.” That’s one anecdote. Jon is a terrific reporter. At the time, his beat was academic economics. It had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or dead bodies or whatnot, but that’s what he did.

The second person is even more amazing. His name is Phil Connors. He was a copy editor on the paper’s leisure and arts page. The Journal is two papers in one. Rob, you realized this. There’s the news section and then the editorial and leisure and arts pages. Phil Connors was not a reporter on the news side. He was a copy editor, working for Paul Gigot and at the time, Bob Bartley, on the leisure and arts page. Leisure was an operative word because the editors came in leisurely. It wasn’t like they have to cover breaking news.

When the Twin Towers were hit, Phil Connors was riding the subway into lower Manhattan and could look out the windows and see it looked like two flaming industrial towers. He saw that and he said, “The paper is going to need me today.” He’s a copy editor who normally edits book reviews, film reviews, dance reviews but said, “The paper is going to need me today.” There’s a long story about what happens but what transpires is they kick him like everybody else off the subways. He wants to get there. He shows his press pass, they won’t let him by the police barricades. The policeman says, “I don’t care if you’re the President of the United States, I’m not letting you through.”

He sneaks down into a subway station. There’s nobody in the station. There’s a train in the station, half out. He crawls down onto the tracks. It’s pitch black. He feels his way along the wall with some light from the grates above until he gets closer to where The Wall Street Journal is located and then surfaces again. He walks up nine flights of stairs to The Wall Street Journal newsroom which had been evacuated two hours earlier. He is the only person in the newsroom but is still trying to figure out how he can contribute to that day’s reporting. That gives you a sense of how driven journalists are, even journalists who are either covering academic economics, or are copy editing film reviews, book reviews and the like.

American Comeback Story: The September 12th edition of the Wall Street Journal, for the first time in its 109 year history at the time, won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.


I would add that within the book, September Twelfth, you’ve included some fascinating photos and images of that day. The pictures of The Wall Street Journal offices after the towers came down and the devastation that the offices experienced, handwritten notes from reporters who were covering it in real-time. It’s full of great images as well, which your readers will find fascinating. If you were to summarize the purpose of writing September Twelfth, what would that be? All these years later, many years after the fact, why did you feel compelled to write this story?

I’m an ink and paper addict. What happened was I started to write a biography of Paul Steiger. He was the managing editor who went missing. He’s a very fascinating journalist. He’s one of a kind in his generation. He served totally for sixteen years as the managing editor of the paper. The longest-serving managing editor ever. He left and started ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It has become a major force of investigative journalism, particularly politics but other topics as well.

I set out to write a biography of Paul Steiger. He and I were conversing weekly so I could take his oral history. I thought that his role on 9/11 would be confined to a single chapter in his biography. Being a journalist, I started not only asking him but asking other people who were involved in 9/11. What I came across was incredible amounts of information that I knew had never been seen in the public before. I have more than 1,000 emails that were generated on 9/11 by the staff of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal in real-time. I have hard copies of emails that were generated. I have diaries that reporters kept.

When I started, I thought I was writing a chapter in a biography of one journalist, but it was too tantalizing to let it be there. By July of 2020, I knew that the twentieth anniversary will be coming up in September 2021. I thought, “I’ve got to tell this story.” It is that. I had to tell the story. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I dedicated nine months to writing this book because it has to be told. There’s so much in there that I know that people have never read before. It goes to what you were asking, why does Jon Hilsenrath, an academic economic reporter, go to his boss and say, “Put me in the game?” It’s the same thing, “Put me in the game, I want to tell this story.”

I don’t want this point to be lost as well, within the book, those who obtain the copy of September Twelfth will also have exclusive access to interviews that you do with panels of journalists that were involved in this. Could you share with our audience a little bit about that? It’s a bonus to the book that is going to be interesting.

In March of 2021, I put together four different panels featuring nineteen different journalists who are listed in the book. The goal was not so much to get them to recollect what I was already writing in the book but in many ways, to talk about how it impacted them and what has become of them over the last twenty years. We did it in four different panels that had one panel focused on what happened at the copy editing and production pop-up newsroom that they created on the spot 50 miles from Manhattan in South Brunswick.

[bctt tweet=”Most journalists don’t really get to know leaders in business or the arts. They get to interview them, but they don’t get to know them.” username=””]

In another session focus, there were five writers and all five writers participated. I talked about what they did in the book a month after 9/11. The journal around this opus feature called Five Lives where it went back and not only have I looked at five of the people who had been caught up directly in the World Trade Center, but it looked at their families and how it all impacted them. I had one video panel on that.

We had video panels featuring Jon Hilsenrath, Alan Murray, who at the time was the Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal in Washington DC., Dan Henninger, who was and is the Deputy Editor of the editorial pages. To some degree, they repeated some of their story from 9/11. As importantly, they reflected on the lessons that the country has learned and that they themselves have learned. In the book, towards the back, there are instructions on, if you have the book, how you can access the videos for free. There’s no additional cost. There are Zoom videos. Each of the four panels had five journalists and I moderated them.

They’re fascinating. I would encourage my audience to get access to those. It brings even so much more value and rich content to your work, Dean. Speaking of journalists, it’s interesting that in this case, you’re telling the story of the people that tell the stories. You’re giving us insight into their thinking, what they experienced, and what they’ve experienced since. Many of the audience members of this show are people in business, government, academia, the arts and entertainment, but they’re considered leaders. What do you think leaders in all these disparate industries can learn from journalists? Also, I’d be interested to know, what do you think journalists can learn from leaders in business, arts and academia?

Let me answer the second part first, which is most journalists don’t get to know leaders in business, the arts, etc. They get to interview them but they don’t get to know them. Periodically, along comes a journalist who crosses over and gets into the corporate world. He or she either starts their own company, their own organization, or they become a fairly senior person at a company. Over the course of my career, I have interviewed thousands of journalists about their work. Without fail, whenever I talk to these people, they are amazed. No matter how many years they were reporting on business, they never understood what it felt like to walk in the shoes of a business executive. In terms of your audience, they would understand that journalists don’t understand what they do. They don’t understand their goals and what motivates them and their pressures. Journalists need to read books from some of these people that reveal what they do.

GFEP 33 | American Comeback Story

American Comeback Story: War Correspondents delude themselves into believing that since they have a mission and the mission is to witness and tell the story that they’ll be okay. In the case of the Wall Street Journal, that was almost true.


The other side of the question is, what can your audience learn from journalists? I want to also tell you that for the most part, the answer to that is not much. What my book, September Twelfth, says is that they can learn a lot from effective managers and leaders within news organizations. It’s not so much that the rank-and-file journalist has a lot to offer. I started out to do a story on Paul Steiger. It’s people like Paul Steiger who merits an American Management Association Award for Management, not for journalism. He’s won an incredible number of journalism awards, but the reality of it was during his sixteen years at The Wall Street Journal, he was an incredible manager. There were three parts to what he did that made him effective. One is he shared his vision for what he wanted the people who reported to him to do, “This is how I see The Wall Street Journal. This is what our mission is. This is how I want you to approach your jobs.”

That was step one. Step two was to hire competent people who would understand that mission and weed out those people who didn’t. Step three was to get out of their way. Don’t micromanage. Give them the authority they need. What I say in the book is that Paul was always quick to praise publicly and reluctant to criticize privately, but that’s what he did. In public, he was always pumping up his team and his staff. When somebody did something that they shouldn’t have or missed an opportunity, he quietly corrected them and he built loyalty.

His staff was willing to walk through blood, guts, broken glass and all sorts of stuff because they thought he might be dead. There is a great quote from a woman named Cathy Panagoulias near the end of the book where she says, “We would have done anything for Paul Steiger. If he was dead, we would have done it for his deputies. If they were dead, we would have done it for whoever stepped into their place.” She was basically saying, “We were loyal team players on Paul Steiger’s team.”

Those three steps are to express your vision clearly, put the people in place who understand it and can follow it, and then get out of their way. One of the other things I liked about the way Paul Steiger managed The Wall Street Journal was he encouraged people to take risks. It’s a very competitive industry. The Wall Street Journal competes with Reuters, Bloomberg, the business section of The New York Times, and The Financial Times. He wanted his people to be first and to be best, but he would let them take risks in order to do it. When those risks blew up in their face, he told them to move on. “We tried. It didn’t work. You tried, you’re a good journalist, you’re a good reporter. Forget about it and move on.”

I don’t like too many sports analogies but it reminds me of world-class quarterbacks who throw that interception. It reminds me of a baseball player who is in the bottom of the ninth inning, with bases loaded and his team behind, strikes out. If you dwell on those mistakes, then you’re going to fail. Steiger understood that in the journalism realm, that you have to let journalists take a chance and when they fall on their face, you’ve got to tell them, “You’re a good quarterback. You’re a good hitter. Get back up and pick up your reporter’s notebook. Go back out there and go back to work.”

[bctt tweet=”It’s not possible to be purely objective in anything that you write, but it is possible to strive for that. ” username=””]

You’re reminding me of a show that’s gained a lot of popularity in 2020 or so, Ted Lasso on Apple. They’re quickly becoming in our lexicon, Lassoisms, around offices and gatherings. One of the Lasso quotes I remember is in the early episodes, he took one of his players aside and he said, “Do you know which is the happiest animal on Earth?” He said, “No, coach.” He said, “A goldfish. Do you know why?” “No coach.” “Because they only have a ten-second memory.”

Perhaps if managers had ten-second memories when allowing their folks to take risks, not dwelling on it, or not holding it against them, and that goes back to your comment about culture. The kind of culture that The Wall Street Journal had and continues to have. I couldn’t complete this show without querying you about the journalism industry. It’s no secret that you’re in an industry right now where the trust seems to be plummeting among the public and journalists, or maybe journalistic institutions. Whether it’s warranted or not is a completely different story, but the fact is that when it comes to politicians or media, they are neck and neck as far as the institutions that the public is increasingly not trusting.

First of all, what’s your reaction to that? This is your craft and career. You spent years doing great work that’s been noted nationally and internationally. How does that make you feel when I say that the journalism industry is taking it on the chin when it comes to that trust factor between you and your readers?

I’m very old school. I believe profoundly that you shouldn’t know my politics. You shouldn’t know my opinion unless I’m writing for the opinion pages. That has changed radically since I left The Wall Street Journal. Somebody asked me whether I think it will ever swing back, and the short answer is no. I don’t think it will. We have reached a point in this country where every news organization, including The Wall Street Journal, will be labeled with either progressive or with conservative, far right, far left. That’s not the editorial pages. It’s the opinion pages. America has lost something for that.

I also believe that organic and smaller news organizations are emerging and will emerge that will still embrace my old school value that says, “Try to tell the story and what your opinion is doesn’t matter. Keep your opinion and your thoughts out of it to the extent humanly possible.” It’s not possible to be purely objective in anything that you write, but it is possible to strive for that. I don’t think journalists now do that. You asked me before why I wrote this book and I told you that one, it’s a story I couldn’t resist. Another reason for writing it was to remind people what good journalism looks like.

I know the demographic composition of the newsroom on 9/11. The newsroom was very different politically than the editorial pages now, but it didn’t matter. These people didn’t sit there and say, “Do the terrorists have a case? Should we be looking into what drove them?” Maybe eventually they came out with some of those stories too, but on 9/11, for the September 12th paper, it was, “What happened? What did people see? What will be the immediate impact on this country, on travel, on business, etc.?” I hope that September Twelfth reminds people what journalism is when journalists keep their personal views and opinions to themselves and concentrate on reporting what the story is.

As I’ve read the book, not only was I interested in it, it pulled me in because it brought back history to me and history reported accurately, I would add, but it also felt nostalgic. No one’s nostalgic for tragedy. I felt nostalgia for just pure reporting that was not tainted with personal ideologies or opinions. If I want that back in those days and even now, I know where to go. Getting that straight down the line journalism, you reminded me of the people in that day, including yourself, that that’s the way they were trained, thought and wrote. I appreciated that journey down memory lane.

Quite candidly, the books have only been for sale for a short while. It is available on Amazon. I don’t know yet what the feedback will be to the book. It’s early on, but it does strike me that I am going to come in for some criticism for not taking an opinionated position in the book. I’m not even sure what that opinionated position might be, but it certainly might be that some class of people I didn’t represent well enough within the book or whatever it happens to be. That’s the age we’re living in now. I’m old enough that for the rest of my authorship and journalism career, I will continue to do it as I always have. You were talking about younger people. If you’re going into journalism in your 20s or 30s, the broader expectation at national news organizations is that you are going to infuse what you write or broadcast with your opinions.

GFEP 33 | American Comeback Story

American Comeback Story: Try to tell the story and what your opinion is really doesn’t matter, keep your opinion and your thoughts out of it, to the extent humanly possible.


I encourage people to get their copy of September Twelfth as soon as possible. Not only read it for the accurate history reporting that you include but also read it so that you can get a glimpse into what traditional or proper journalism is all about. I commend you, Dean, for doing that. That’s why I admire you and your work. Please share with us, not only how we can get a signed copy of the book, but also where else can we find information about Dean Rotbart and the other work that you do.

Thank you. I’ll give you a few leads and thanks for the opportunity to be a little bit self-promotional. I appreciate it. The book does have a website, it is There is additional information that’s not in the book up on the site. Because of the time constraints, some of the things like a full source note, I haven’t had time to put in the print edition but you can get them online. There’s a longer biography about me.

There’s a website if you want to get a signed first edition. It’s available in softcover and hardcover that I can direct you to. It shows some of the other books I’ve written and members of my family have written. My wife, Talya, who helps me with everything, is a successful children’s book author. She’s done that with my son who is a middle school teacher and has written a book for middle school students. My daughter who is a professional photographer has a book of her photography, a gallery of her photography available. It’s at There, this book September Twelfth is available in three formats. Hardback, which if you purchase it, I’ll sign it and send it to you. Softcover, which if you purchase it, I’ll sign it and send to you. As a digital eBook, which I haven’t figured out how I could possibly sign but which if you purchase it there, I will make sure that you have that.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re going into journalism now, the broader expectation is that you are going to infuse what you write or broadcast with your opinions. ” username=””]

While you’re there, you can browse some of the other Rotbart family books. Gutenberg’s Store is a captive. One other thing is you reach with your video and show an audience that is very complementary to an audience that I have been speaking to for more than a decade. I host and produce a weekly podcast called It either features business owners and leaders talking about what they do and how they have achieved their success. It features various experts like Ken Blanchard, Charles Duhigg, Jen Sincero and some others who I’ve had on as guests talking about what business owners, founders and entrepreneurs ought to know. That’s pretty much my background. Thank you for the opportunity to share it.

Dean, we congratulate you on September Twelfth and the terrific work that you’ve done to put this together. It’s page after page full of great content. Thank you not only for this twentieth anniversary of September 11th, for reminding us of the history and the sacrifices that thousands of Americans made on that day and on the days that followed, but also for honoring those people who live to tell us about it who have given us the proper and accurate history. I commend you for it and thank you for it. All the best as September Twelfth becomes read by so many people around the world.

Rob, it’s terrific to be with you. I sincerely enjoyed our conversation.

Thank you.

Important Links: 

About Dean Rotbart

Dean Rotbart is an award-winning former reporter and columnist with The Wall Street Journal, which nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

He is the chairperson and editor-in-chief of the Business News Visionary Awards and News Luminary Awards programs. Previously, he published the TJFR Business News Reporter, a trade newsletter focused on influential business and financial news organizations.

Since June 2012, Rotbart has produced and hosted Monday Morning Radio, a popular weekly small business podcast.

He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Rotbart, a native of Denver, Colorado, lives there along with his wife Talya, a children’s book author. They have two adult children.

GFEP 32 | World Record


Tetsuya Minami changed his goal from obtaining two contracts a week to two contracts a day. As a result, he earned a world record for sales with his record-shattering insurance business. In this episode, Tetsuya talks with Rob Cornilles about how his aim in life insurance is to protect futures. Tetsuya wants to save as many people as possible. He believes it is his love for his people that gave him success. Join in the conversation to learn more about how Tetsuya, a former octopus restaurant owner, achieved record-breaking success.  

Watch the episode here:

Tetsuya Minami | A World Record In Sales – Made In Japan

How A Former Octopus Restaurant Owner Turned His Love For People Into A Record-Shattering Insurance Business

This show is so pleased to take our audience overseas to meet our guest, someone who has made a name for himself in the Guinness World Book of Records. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Tetsuya Minami from Tokyo, JapanThank you for being with us. It’s such a pleasure to have you and to know your story, which we could all learn about. Let’s begin with that story. We would love to know the specifics. How does someone end up in the Guinness World Book of Records in Sales? 

First of all, I’m happy to be able to be on the Guinness Record for thGibraltar Financial group. There are three important partsfor whatwho and why do I do what I do? For what and for who would I do the things for the people around me? How can I make their life better and by thinking that I think there is success? 

[bctt tweet=”By thinking about how you can make life better for those around you, you’re on your way to success. ” via=”no”]

When you set a world record for sales, did you know at that time that it was happening? Was that a goal of yours or did someone bring your attention to it after the fact? 

I wasn’t thinking about the world record. I was thinking about doing my best for my clients and then we got it. 

What were the actual numbers that qualified you for that distinction? I recognize that you focused on your clients and that was your focus and your charge. In the record book, what does it tell us about the record you set? What numbers are we talking about? 

IThe Gibraltar Life Insurance Company, we have a saying called, “Two week, but basically what it is, they said, “If you can get two contracts a week, you’re doing great. I changed that to two a day, meaning get two contracts a day. I focused on getting that goal for the whole year. We have 365 days and I have two contracts a day, and the record is 732.5 signed contracts. 

That is an amazing number. Congratulations, Minami-san. You said you worked very diligently. You worked very hard. That’s obviously unquestioned. There had to be something else inside of you that wanted to work that hard, to have that kind of success, to obtain that many clients. Where does that drive come from? Your success obviously is unquestionable and yet it had to take something more than just hard work because a lot of people work hard. What do you think really drove you to change the company’s expectation from two a week to two a day? Why would you want to do such a thing? 

Our job as life insurance sales is we protect people’s futures. I wanted to save as many people as possible and that’s what made this goal. 

While you were working at this pace, what did your supervisor or your boss have to say about your work? Were they telling you to slow down? Were they telling you to speed up or were they just leaving you alone? 

Before I got into insurance, I owned a Takoyaki shop. We had a lot of customers who are happy. When I said I was going to close the shop, we had a lot of people who were sad for usI had a warm feeling. If I was going to quit this Takoyaki store, I wanted to help more people through insurance. I was telling that vision to my supervisors as well and we were like a group. We said, “Let’s do it, let’s go have more.” They never said to slow down. They were on my team and we worked together for the goal. 

You had over 760 accounts in one year, but you also had a half account. Can you explain what that means? 

We have something called the joint. When someone asks you to come together, come along, and partner up to sell. If you sell together, then the contract becomes half. That’s how we got a 0.5 in there. 

It’s teamwork. In America, if you are number one in a sales department, your colleagues either love you or despise you. They’re jealous. Sometimes they don’t want you to be that successful. Did you find that to be the case in your office or is the Japanese business culture different than in America? 

There were some people who were jealous obviously, but the number was outrageous. It was unachievable. A lot of people were like, “I can’t do that but good for you. I’m cheering you on. 

have lived in Japan. I used to speak Japanese fluently, but I’m not fluent anymore. There’s a word in Japanese, ganbatte, which has a very unique meaning to the Japanese people, the culture, and the language. Could you please explain in your words what ganbatte means especially when you’re working hard to accomplish a goal? 

GFEP 32 | World Record

World Record: You need to proactively take leadership and proactively add energy.


The word, ganbatte, obviously you can say that to people. It’s easy to say, but I think it’s also a word that you say to yourself. It’s something that says, “I can do it.” After you say it to yourself, I can do it,” that’s when you get to say to people, “You can do it as well. The word ganbatte is something to motivate yourself and people who are motivated and people who are working towards their goals are the ones who can say ganbatte to others as well. 

When you were working with colleagues who were not having anywhere near your success and they were perhaps getting depressed or discouraged and they were seeing you having this recordsetting pace of success, what could you say to them that would still encourage them to ganbatte, to keep working hard? 

It’s important that you start from yourself. At these moments, you need to be proactively taking leadership and adding energy. For example, in Japan, we have a culture of saying, “Ittekimasu,” when we‘re leaving the house, the office or wherever. People would say, “Ittekimasu, but I would say, “Genki ittekimasu, which means, I will go with energy. When people hear ittekimasuthey will usually say itterrashai. After I did this for a while, some people started saying, “Genki ni itterrashai, meaning, go with energy. Some people started to copy me and said, “Genki ni ittekimasu. Your influence spreads to others, it starts with you. You have to do your own thing and when people are struggling, you say, “Look at me, I’m doing my best. I’m working hard. You can do it. 

As you know in the United States, in North America, I train sales teams. I train them for sports teams and train them within corporations and small businesses. One of the principles that I teach is, to be successful, we must act successful and that means that customers and clients want to be around success. They don’t want to be around people that they perceive to be failing. Do you believe that principle is true? Were some of your clients buying from you because they knew that you were successful and that’s all they needed to know about you? 

I understand that people like to be around successful people and obviously, success accelerates more success. It generates more success. There are three important parts in succeeding. First, you should believe that you can succeed. Second, when something bad happens, something negative happens, you change that to a plus. Change the negative into a strength or a positive. The third part is to have a set goal in mind and work towards that goal every day, little by littleYou do this not for yourself. You do this for people. It’s not for me, but it’s for you. If you can do this for people and work diligently little by little every day, those people are the people who will succeed. 

[bctt tweet=”Success accelerates more success. ” via=”no”]

That’s a sales game-changing piece of advice. Thank you very much for that. There’s some great insight there. I have to ask you, there had to be some days when, as we say in English, you weren’t feeling it. It wasn’t happening for you. How did you get out of those doldrums as we say? How did you lift yourself up or was every day for one year was perfect? 

Obviously, there were hard days that you’re just not feeling it. The longer you live, the more negatives there’s going to be, but I can change the negatives into positive for myself. I do this every day. That’s why for me, I rarely have an off day. What I do is, first, at night, I ask myself, “What kind of learnings that I learned today? What kind of things did I learn today?” Second is“How would I apply that to my life in the future? Third is, “By when would I have applied that and made it something or have a shape for it in some way? I do this feedback session with myself every day before I sleep. If you feel like you have to do this, it’s very hard. I love to drink sake every night. I connect this with something that I love to do, drinking every night. I connect it with the feedback. I do it together as a set and that’s how I am able to do it every day. I drink, do a feedback session with myself and go to bed every night. 

That‘s a fascinating technique and a suggestion we can all learn fromI’m not much of a sake drinker, but I do appreciate the approach that you take. With all the distractions that each of us has in our jobs every day with the internet, our phones, email and things on television, how do you stay focused? Isn’t it more difficult now for professionals to stay focused on the job at hand? If that’s true for you, what kind of discipline did you have to use in order to put aside those things that would distract you and even friends and family that might distract you from your goal? How did you always stay focused? 

lot of people say their distractions are that they go home and watch TV and they just bingewatch, but for me, I don’t watch any TV. When I go home, I have the time to read books, to do feedback sessions. I have a goal. I have a weekly, monthly and yearly goal. I do the math backward and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit in my schedule. For example, let’s say you have a goal to lose 10 kilos, which is around 23 pounds in a year. For that to happen, you need to lose 0.833 kilograms a month. If my schedule says that I won’t be able to lose 0.833 kilograms in a month, then that thing that’s going to stop me from doing that is not going to make it into my schedule. 

There are patterns to how people act. We have three kinds of patterns. One is the things you want to do. Two is the things you can do and three is the things you have to do. People who can’t achieve goals are people who are not successful, usually prioritize these as things I want to do, things that I can doand the things I have to do. People who are successful do the other way around. They start with things that I have to do, things I can do and things I want to do. 

How they do these things that they want to do is, they create time for the things they want to do and this is the mindset that I have. I start with the things that I have to do. For me to be able to do this, if that’s going to distract me and not going to make me do what I have to do, then it’s not going to make my schedule. I believe I have that mindset and that’s how I was able to maintain and stay away from distractions. 

GFEP 32 | World Record

World Record: Have a feedback session with yourself every day before you sleep.


Thank you for that explanation. Let me ask you generally, is there a point in someone’s life or in their career when they’ve set a goal, but they have to recognize at some that it’s not going to be achieved? Maybe they’re in the wrong profession. Maybe they shouldn’t be in sales or maybe they shouldn’t be in school or they ought to be doing something different and they had a dream, but they’re coming to the recognition that maybe they had to set their sights on something else. Is that a fair conclusion that people should come to at times in their life or is anything possible? 

Let’s say, as he did with his hands, you start here and then you’re going to Point B and that’s your goal. A lot of people think that it’s a straight line. You go from Point A to Point B with a straight line, but the reality is that we’re human beings, whatever we do is not going to go as planned. It’s not always going to be good. We’ll have bumps. We’ll go up and down. At the down moment, if you think that you won’t be able to do it, the possibility of you achieving your goal will decrease. If someone can just go past a certain point and keep working through it at a certain point, their results will dramatically improve. The key is to be able to believe that even through the hard times you can do it. If you keep working hard, if you can keep believing that you can do it and you strongly desire your success, those people would work towards success. 

I must ask you, are your mother and your father proud of you? 

I believe that they are proud of me. 

As I recall, your father started a factory and your mother worked in a barbershop. What did you learn from your parents as you were growing up about developing this type of mindset and this type of work ethic? 

learned a great deal from both of my parents. My father taught me that you only live once, you only have one life, and success is not being rich or it’s not being famous, it’s doing what you want to do until however many years you are. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself and live by asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for?” When I was an owner of a Takoyaki restaurant, my mother worked at a barbershop. She taught me that selling Takoyaki is not your job. Your job is to make the customers who come happy. 

If you can go to whatever barbershop and everyone pretty much have similar skills, there’ll be some differences, but they can do pretty much similar things. The important thing as a barber is not to be able to cut hair well. It’s to provide that environment where people say, I come here because I want to see you, or I come here because I want to be in the same environment as you.” That’s what my mom has taught me. I’m absolutely sure that I learned a great deal of these mindsets from my parents. 

[bctt tweet=”The key is to be able to believe that even through the hard times, you can do it.  ” via=”no”]

Someday, will you introduce me to your parents? 

Yes, absolutely. 

You talked about the Takoyaki shop that you started. For the audience that doesn’t understand what Takoyaki is in Japanese, can you please explain that to us? 

Takoyaki is Japanese soul food, from little kids to grandparents. If they have a small craving for food, you can eat it in one bite. We have a food called Okonomiyaki, which is great as well. Takoyaki, the great part of it is that you can enjoy the whole food, the whole flavor in one bite. It’s not something that you have to sit down and eat. You can walk and eat. AJapan has grown its economy, these foods started to rise where you can casually eat. Takoyaki is a food that can give you some relaxation and the feeling of safety in your heart. 

You didn’t tell us what’s in Takoyaki but I know, I‘m not going to tell my readers. I want them to try it next time they go to Japan. You mentioned Okonomiyaki. I learned how to make an Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. I like to treat my family to Okonomiyaki anytime we can. It’s probably not very good to you but we think it’s delicious when I make it. 

That’s great. 

You’ve been an owner of a Takoyaki shop. You’re a chef. You make something that the Japanese people love, a food that is a comfort food to them. Also, in your collegiate days, you were in cheer. You spent at least a couple of years, as I recallbeing on the cheer team, which is a huge responsibility within the Japanese University. It’s not a position that they take lightly. There’s a lot of responsibility associated with that position. Those two jobs or roles that you’ve had, how do you think that prepared you for being so successful in sales? 

I worked parttime for four years after I graduated high school to gather tuition fees for college. I went to university when I was 22 to 26 years old. After I graduated from university, I hitchhiked around Japan. Within five years, I decided I wanted to start my own restaurant. I did work at other restaurants and saved 98.9% of the money I made. I drank something called kinako. It’s some powder that you mix with milk. I saved around $100,000. I started a Takoyaki shop in a place called Koenji. I owned and ran it for nine years. 

To think of why I wanted to do this, why I started doing this is in high school, I wasn’t able to go to the high school that I wanted to go to. That was the first time where I realized that I couldn’t live the story that I wrote. From that, in college, I decided I’m going to try something that I want to do even if it might be hard. That’s how I decided to go into cheerleading. When I went in, I first thought, “You can’t receive money. You can’t receive any trophies. How can people cheer people on for no motivation?” 

We wear this black suit kind of clothing. We cheer people on, but then I realized that we weren’t able to cheer because of us. There were brass bands that were cheering whenever someone hit a base, or there were fans that were cheering on. That’s when I realized that we were able to cheer because other people were helping us cheer on. Through cheerleading, I realize that you have to start it. We initiated the cheerleading, even though we received a lot of help from others. That’s what I learned. 

Another thing I learned is that if someone does something good for you, pass it on. If someone tells you something nice, pass it on to another person. If people keep doing that, that might come back to you. That’s where I learned that you should start it. With cheerleading, we start cheering, and everyone follows us. That’s where I learned that we have to initiate by ourselves. That translated into the Takoyaki store. In the Takoyaki store, I realized what I was doing was correct and I was able to translate that into sales. 

Even though you and I speak different languages, the meaning of what you’re saying resonates with me. It’s a universal language. The principles that you’re teaching us about being a self-starter, having that can-do spirit, working hard. Anyone who’s reading this, regardless of their position, especially my younger audience members, I hope that they’re getting from you that it doesn’t matter where you start. There are things that you can learn in every position and every role that you play. There is no job that’s insignificant. Every job is a place where you can learn important principles and life lessons that will translate to the next job or the next position that you might explore. Minami-san, what is your favorite baseball team in Japan? 

GFEP 32 | World Record

World Record: Success is not about being rich or being famous. It’s doing what you want to do for the rest of your life.


Rather than watching pro baseball, I watch more college baseball, so I don’t have a favorite team in the pros. Rather than actually watching baseball, I go to see the cheerleading teams. The reason why I go watch them is because I see them shouting with all their hearts, with all they got and then I get a flashback of what I did. I said, “I did that as well.” I then compare myself and say, “Am I working as hard now? Am I doing my best now as well?” It’s a good reminder to keep working hard so that’s why I always go a few times to the baseball games to watch the cheerleading team. 

Next time I’m in Japan, we have to go to a college baseball game together. Afterward, you can make me some of your famous Takoyaki and I will make you my famous okonomiyaki. I look forward to visiting with you again. This has been an enjoyable interview. I thank you for all of your experiences that you share with us and all of your wisdom. 

I thank you so much for a great time as well. I hope that some of my experiences will translate into people’s courage and help them move forward. My life goal is to become happy. For that, I need to be with people who I love, eat great things and be successful in work. My purpose for my work is to make people happy. I was able to share a lot of experiences and I hope that it can help people become happy. 

Thank you. 

Important links: 

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching


Anyone who has experienced building either a professional or personal brand knows how hard it is to accomplish, given the many factors that must be taken into consideration. This is where brand coaching comes into play. Every business will always benefit from reliable advice and guidance, and that’s exactly what Elizabeth Lindsey sets out to do for the athletic scene. She sits down with Rob Cornilles to talk a bit about her work as the President of Brands and Properties at Wasserman. She delves into the right balance that brands must learn between reinvention and innovation, how to create a deep connection with fans, and the best way to navigate branding blind spots. Elizabeth also shares her advocacy in empowering women entrepreneurs and how their transition due to the pandemic impacted experiential marketing.

Watch the episode here:

Elizabeth Lindsey | True To Who She Is… And “Wass”

Elizabeth Lindsey loves to make things better. She leads the Brands and Properties Division of Wasserman, one of the world’s largest sports marketing and talent management companies. Whether working with such iconic brands as American Express, Microsoft, AT&T or the NFL, brands that are willing to test and learn, as Elizabeth explains in this encompassing episode, are music to her ears. Join me and learn how Elizabeth’s team, using the mind of a consultant and the heart of an artist, helps brand partners stay ahead of change while always being true to who they are.

Elizabeth, when we talk about Wasserman, it used to be Wasserman Media Group many years ago. For my audience, those who are well-versed in what your firm does, but also for those who aren’t familiar with Wasserman, can you give us a quick synopsis of Wasserman space and what you do for the industry?

Specifically with respect to the sports entertainment and culture spaces in which we all operate and are fans of, our job is to sit at the intersection of that and make those very powerful consumer connections between brands and sports, between sports and fans, between athletes and their fans, our athletes and brands. That whole ecosystem around what it takes to bring that content to the community, that’s what we like to sit in the middle of and make it happen.

Wasserman represents athletes, brands and properties. The athlete’s side of your representation is vast. Many athletes from all sports. On the properties and brand sides, or as the name of your division is Brands and Properties, talk to us specifically about that. Who are your primary clients? Who are you going after to represent?

If you think about our business in its simplest term, it breaks down into two paths. There is the talent side of the business. We’re fortunate and lucky to be able to represent close to 2,000 athletes worldwide across every major sport you can think of. It’s clearly the biggest sports agency in the world. That’s easier for people to dimensionalize and wrap their heads around. Predominantly thank you, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. They get their head wrapped around what that means. If you look at the brands and properties, I think about it in the same way. My job is no different than an athlete’s agent. My job is to be an agent for the brand. My job is to represent the brand and the brand’s interest with respect to its investments in and leveraging sports and entertainment content. If you think about it in the exact same way, that’s what we do on behalf of our brand clients and our property clients.

Some of those brand clients I think of Microsoft, Target, American Express and Nike. Also, on the sports side, you represent all the five major league brands in the United States and Canada.

We’ve worked with all of them. We do a ton of work with all five of the big team sports. NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS, and everything to do with commercialization and go-to-market strategy. How do you take your product to market? How do you commercialize that? How do you measure its effectiveness, and how do you continue to improve the product that you’re offering sponsors and fans based on the information that you get from a robust measurement program? Every single one of these guys is in the business of making their product better and keeping their fans happy. We like to think we have something to do with helping them do that.

Those who know you say that you are not someone who gets ruffled easily. I don’t want to say you’re laid back because I know that you have a great intensity about you and your work, but you’re someone who doesn’t get ruffled very easily. In this environment, I’ve got to think a lot of your brains, a lot of your clients are getting ruffled because of the uncertainty and all the different curveballs that are being thrown at them. Would you mind giving us a little bit of a glimpse? If we were to walk into their boardrooms now and hear those internal conversations, I know you can’t give away confidences, but what are some of the things that you’re hearing and how are you a part of those conversations?

[bctt tweet=”Know exactly who you are and do not waver from that.” via=”no”]

I’ve been at Wasserman for close to twenty years. Prior to my work on this side of the table, I was at the brand, and I ran a program globally. It gives me a particularly unique insight to look at our clients and understand the challenges that they face and did their jobs. I’ve sat in those seats. Did I sit in a seat in the middle of a global pandemic? No, but I sit on the brand side in the middle of the internet bubble burst in the late ‘90s, beginning of 2000. For the tech industry, that was a crisis. I sat there during September 11, 2001, and the subsequent economic challenges we faced after that, also a crisis. I’ve lived through some on the brand side and many on this side. What I’m struck by always is we’re very fortunate to represent some world-class brands who know exactly how to face these challenges.

Were very fortunate to work with American Express, Microsoft, AT&T and Target. These are some incredible brands. We also work with a few more up-and-coming brands and helping them. This may be a different challenge for them than someone who’s been around 50 or 100-plus years. The one thing that I always see in successful brands, and I helped try to coach into other brands as they are emerging and building their equity in the space is first know exactly who you are, and do not waiver from that. If you keep that North Star as a guiding light for your decision-making, you rarely make bad decisions. Know who you are, and don’t waiver from that.

One of the things that I love about American Express as a brand, and they’ve been around close to 170 years. Someone said to me once, “Do you know what the stated mission of American Express is?” I’m like, “Credit card brand or travel company.” “No, it’s world-class service and personal recognition.” There’s nothing to do with the product. It’s who they are, who their ethos is. They know who they are. When you have that ethos, it’s been your ethos for 200 years, and you know exactly where to go with it, then you’ll succeed. When the decisions are made on quieting the noise around you, put the crisis on pause for a second, take a step back, know who you are and don’t waiver from that, you’ll make the right decisions.

In that realm however, how many times are brands needing to reinvent? Certainly, personnel changes, conditions change, how do you balance the reinvention and always being innovative and on the cutting edge? What I’m interpreting from what you’re saying is there’s a bit of traditionalism that you have to respect and honor about your brand. Where’s the balance?

I wouldn’t say traditionalism. I would say consistency. Take that example that I said. What world-class service meant back in the day of travelers’ checks is different than what world-class service meant when they launched plastic credit cards. It’s different than what world-class service is going to mean in the future of mobile payments. There’s not traditionalism or an inability to change or adapt. It’s the consistency as to why. A lot of brands, when you ask them, “What do you do?” They’ll always tell you what they do. “Tell me how and tell me why.” We even try to think about that in our own brand as we build Wasserman around the world. We service talent and brands, and we provide this set of services, but how do we do that and why?

The ‘why’ is what drives any brand and the consistency of how hard you hold onto that why matters. For our brand and us, we talk about a concept of the pursuit of better. Everything we do in our brand for our talent, brands and property clients is to make things better, to make their brand better, their business better, our industry better, to push forward the industry on key areas that are important to us, including the work we do with women, and the collective that we spoke about earlier. All of those elements are why we do what we do. What you do can change who you are, how you do it, why you do and shouldn’t. That’s a consistency thing.

Some of the people at Wasserman know that we at Game Face have always hung our hat on a hook that’s called results. We’re speaking the same language here. We always try to focus on what are the results our clients are looking for. That is our charge. It’s to help them achieve those results. That’s the ‘why,’ isn’t it?

Exactly. Our business exists to push your brand and your business forward.

Are there some 1 or 2 examples where a brand was going through this transition, or perhaps they had to be re-awakened to their why? Whether it was through a campaign or an initiative, they either rediscovered it, or they were able to rebroadcast it to the world and make it very clear to the world, “This is why we exist.” Is there an experience that you can think of where Wasserman played a role in that?

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching

Brand Coaching: You’ll make the right decisions if you go into a quiet place, take a step back, and look at who you are.

I’m lucky that I get to work with some of the brands I mentioned earlier, who are steadfast in who they are and understand how they do what they do and why. We’re lucky in that respect. I’m honored every day that they choose us to work with them. We have had some interesting evolutions in some of the programs that we’ve done in the sports and entertainment space with our brands. I think back on something as simple as an initiative we did with AT&T in 2020. We’re fortunate enough to work with AT&T. I love those guys there. They’re some of the greatest clients to work with, innovative, and want to push the envelope. We were challenged with helping them launch a 5G initiative with the Dallas Cowboys.

Everybody’s talking about 5G, but very few people understand its potential and impact. It’s like, “Let’s get down to the simplicity of what it does.” It makes your experience. It brings you as a fan closer to the experience. It makes it more robust. It lets you interact with it in a way that you couldn’t in a pre-5G world. Let’s get down to the why. I could have done 160-second spots to talk about 5G, but we did a simple initiative called Pose with the Pros. We’re using the power of the robustness of the 5G network. We were able to take that old-fashioned concept of standing in front of a green screen with a picture of a trophy or whatever. Let’s modernize that.

We’ve picked an augmented reality. We built an augmented reality activation where as a fan, you could walk up to the screen, and you could pick the players that you preferred. They would walk onto the screen, and interact with you in this AR environment in a real-time robust way. You could then capture the content, send it to your friends and say, “Look at me, hanging out with this player.” It’s something simple but powerful, and it was a huge hit. It went everywhere. The most fun part was watching the players themselves come and interact with themselves on the screen, which is hilarious. It’s something simple instead of this big heady concept, realizing why you’re doing this big, heady, technical concept and making it real for the fans and improving their experience. That’s finding your why and your purpose and help explain that to the fans. That was a lot of fun to do.

When you speak about those kinds of campaigns or those projects that you do with your clients, give us a little bit of an overview of the people that make up the brands and properties side of Wasserman? What kind of skillset and functions do you have within that division?

We talk about the end-to-end solution of what we provide, and then we build our teams around those services. For us, it’s a simple acronym called SEAM. We talk about S for Strategy. These are the people who are experts in understanding consumer segmentation, audience understanding, deep analytics. Who should you partner with and why? What’s the best for your brand? What market should you enter? What partners will move the needle for you? It’s that very deep strategic thinking. We talk about E, which is the Execution against that strategy. By execution, I mean creative. How do you bring it to life creatively? How do we have these robust experiential opportunities? How do we share it with your consumers in a hospitality environment, a promotional environment, retail and sweepstakes? Anything that you can think of to bring that strategy to execution level awareness.

We talk about A, the Amplification of it from a digital and/or paid media perspective. How do we amplify that and get the message out? Last but not least is Measurement of a tree falls in the woods. You can have the greatest program in the world, but if you don’t measure it and tell people about what its effectiveness is, so what? We want to have that end-to-end experience of the strategy, the execution of that creatively, amplification of it in a digital space, and the robust measurement that comes in the backend. We’ve built all of our services around those four buckets.

You’re an expert in sports marketing. When you see and work with sports leagues, more specifically sports teams, what are some of the pieces of advice you give them or would give them? Perhaps they’re making some blind spot mistakes or not capitalizing on certain things? If you were sitting around a conference room with a bunch of sports sponsorship executives who want to know, “Where are these blind spots? What are we missing?” What are some things that would come to the forefront of your mind?

I talk with these guys about the frontend and the backend all the time. On the frontend, audience segmentation, audience understanding, deep audience analytics. That’s all our property clients and our brand clients. Remember, you are not your target demographic. Just because you think something doesn’t mean the entirety of your consumer base does. Understanding them is important. Spend the time and effort it takes to understand where their fandom comes from, how they choose to spend against it, what they are prioritizing against it from not only a share of wallet but a share of voice or a share of time clock. What are they choosing to spend their time on? Understand that because understanding that from a deep level will help you make the proper decisions on how to market your team and keep loyalty among existing fans but recruit new ones. Going just to see season ticket holder base and talking to the people who have been PSLs for twenty years is not deep audience analytics. Let’s spend some time understanding that on the frontend.

We speak to measurement on the backend. Making decisions in our space is a very emotionally based thing. This is a passion-based industry for a reason. As a result of that, there’s a certain amount of art and interpreting how to invest and what the success of those investments looks like. We maintain their science too. For those who say you cannot measure the effectiveness of a sponsorship program, you’re wrong. You can measure the effectiveness. I get a lot of grief from certain brands going, “I wish that there was a CPM measurement metric for sponsorship.” I’m like, “Why? I don’t need that.” There are seven other methods that are going to measure it better. Let’s understand what they are.

[bctt tweet=”The biggest mistake people make is thinking that experiential marketing is only about live experiences.” via=”no”]

We spend a ton of time talking with our property clients about that frontend audience analytics and the backend return on investment modeling that they can then share with their sponsors. You need all of that. You need the right audience coming in. You need the sponsors making it effective, and you as a property are the gatekeeper to both of those pieces of information, own that. Those who own that and understand it are incredibly successful.

You were talking about knowing your brand, market and audience. You have spent a considerable amount of time and energy becoming a leader in making sure that our industry understands the role and the future of the women’s voice both as a consumer. We know that women make the vast majority of consumer decisions. We know that wealth is largely gravitating towards the women dynamic or demographic. There are these ebb and flow, but it’s also very clear where the tide is turning. You have created at Wasserman what’s called The Collective. My audience would be very interested in knowing the genesis of that and how it relates to this that I’m introducing here.

I’m proud of The Collective. In 2020, it celebrated its one-year anniversary. What I’m most proud of about The Collective is it’s been like a 15 or 20-year journey for us. It wasn’t something that in 2019, we just went, “This would be cool.” We’ve been at this for a while and representing one of the most robust portfolios of amazing female athletic talent and the work that we do in our company, but also focusing on deeply understanding brands and how they talk to women. What I’m very interested in is the growing number of CEOs and CMOs that I deal with that are women. Of our top twelve brands, we have 9 out of the top 12 brands we work with that their CMOs, senior leaders and CEOs are women.

You’ve got this brand perspective that we work with from a female perspective. You’ve got this athlete perspective that we are fortunate enough to have a ringside seat for it, and then inside our company, we’ve worked hard to curate diversity of thought. Diversity of thought comes from a diverse group of employees in our own company. I’m pleased to say we have almost complete gender parity in my division because it’s important. Those voices are important. Understanding us as members of this industry, the athletes we work with, and the brands we work with, we stepped back and looked at it and went, “Let’s put an ethos around that and push it out and say, ‘This is important.’”

You are correct. Women control most of the financial decisions. If you want to see it even stronger, look at Gen Z women. Sit back and wait because what is around 85% is going to be like 95% when they hit their peak of how Gen Z women is controlling the financial decisions in this country, and most particularly women of color in that group. If it’s an audience that you have not yet courting, you are woefully late to the table. Get on it because they’re becoming more powerful. The women bring a unique sense of purpose to the decisions they make too. It’s not just that they control the dollars. It’s how and why they control the dollars and how they’re going to hold you accountable as a brand or as a property in sports for delivering against their spending with a purpose. They want you to have a purpose and to who you are. They want you to understand who they are. If you don’t, they don’t have time for you. That’s going to be a serious economic impact, given their control of the wealth.

The Collective was established to harness all that work we were already doing and put it in one place and say, “As an industry, we need to make things better for raising visibility and opportunities for women in and around the sport.” That is the simple purpose of The Collective. It’s fascinating to me how little work has been done in this space. When we launched it, I vividly remember being asked by the New York Times reporter, “You’re raising all this awareness of how important this demographic is and how lucrative they will be economically. Are you worried that your competitors are going to copy you?” My answer was, “I hope so.” Here I am many years later, “Where are you all at? Let’s go. Come on. Join the party.” I hope everybody sees the potential here because when women win, we all win in this industry. I welcome more people to that party.

Can you talk about the causes that you’re finding as a very esteemed woman executive in our industry? If I was a marketer or an advertiser, and I wanted to appeal more to that audience, which maybe I’ve neglected or I don’t realize their power, what are some things that perhaps I need to be keener to?

First, women don’t want to be treated as different fans. They want to be treated as fans like, “We’re fans.” For the longest time, early in my career, there was a whole phenomenon of shrink and pink it. The way to court women was to take t-shirts and make them smaller and pinker for women, and we’re going to market those, and they’ll become fans. We used to always talk about shrink and pink are gone. People are at least past that a little bit, thinking that’s the way to go after women. They are past the concept of Football 101 like, “We’re going to host girls’ night Football 101 classes, so you understand how to engage with your man.” No, we’re past that. We are fans on our own right. We understand the game. We like the game. We like it with as much passion. They might like it for different reasons.

Take the time to understand that and know my fandom is not in the context of someone else’s. Too often, people market to women and their fandom in the context of or in service of someone else’s. You’re a fan because your husband watches, and you want to be there with him. You’re a fan because your kid plays it. You’re a fan because it was passed down by your dad. Our fandom is not a context of someone else’s. Talk to me about the fan that I am why I engage, and what I like about the sport. The key is getting to understand that, doing the work. Do the work, do the analytics, do the deep insight work you need to do in understanding this segment of consumer, and it’ll pay it out.

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching

Brand Coaching: Women don’t want to be treated as different fans, but just the same as other fans.


Can you help us also understand how you would term or define experiential marketing?

People make the mistake that experiential is live. I’ve got a ton of calls at the beginning of COVID, a lot of people are calling going, “Are you worried about your experiential business?” My experiential business was through the roof in2020. The reason behind that is something that we keyed in on pre-pandemic many years ago. All experiential is not live. Millennials and Gen Z, those audience experience life and their passions through this. That’s what they care about. They want to look at the screen and are experiencing it in a different way. The biggest mistake people make is that experiential is live, and it is not. That doesn’t mean that the minute the pandemic is over, we are never going to see an in-person activation again. We’ll never have big concerts. We’ll never have fanfests. We’ll never get together in person again, which is also as much BS as the fact that experiential is all live.

There is something incredibly powerful about human connection, and we’ve all learned that the hard way in 2020. It is how much we miss that and exactly how endemic it is to our lives. It’s essential in a way. I don’t want you to co-op the word and associate it with first responders and healthcare workers who are way more essential. That concept of how we connect as humans over shared passions is a deeply essential, almost existential part of who we are. I’m reminded of that quote in Dead Poets Society that law and medicine are all necessary pursuits to sustain life, but art, music, passion, sports, and all these other things are what we stay alive for. I’m reminded of that comment a lot. It holds true, and we’ve learned it the hard way that we need a blend of both.

We were lucky from an experiential perspective that we began to migrate all of our products and our services many years ago to that hybrid model of in-person online, predominantly less because of the pandemic because it didn’t exist, but more because that’s where the audience was going. Follow the eyeballs, follow the audience, and you’ll win. The audience was moving there, so we moved there. A lot of our activations from an experiential perspective are both. Even Pose with the Pros that I spoke to earlier, it’s a perfect in-person experience right there at AT&T stadium with the Cowboys, but it also had many extensions for people to engage with and share in a virtual second-screen environment. It’s a combination of both.

Some of the brands, properties and talents that Wasserman represents are major brands, big corporations and all-stars. Connectivity and being able to get up close and personal with them isn’t something that I as a common fan would be afforded that opportunity. I remember getting started in sports many years ago. The idea of being able to associate with players then was beyond us. They are beyond our reach. They’re not the everyman. They are many years ago when they lived among the community members during the off-season, and they’d be mowing their lawn next to you. It seems like more athletes and brands are almost not personalized. Now I know you’re working against that. You’re working to change that. Tell me how my perception is wrong or tell me how it should be evolving.

I think your perception misses one key thing, which is social media. Twitter happened, Instagram happened. As a result, I believe for those who do it right and authentically that it brings you closer to brands. It brings you closer to athletes and heroes that you work with. It gives you an opportunity to have that one-to-one voice, to be heard, to have a relationship in a way that going to Madison Square Garden and watching someone play is almost a voyeuristic way of interacting with the athlete. You’re sitting back watching. In these in-depth arenas of social media, you have an opportunity to have a conversation. You have your voice be heard.

That’s changing a little bit. There are some bad to that in people who don’t use that responsibly and kindly. For those who do and the athletes, celebrities, musicians, brands, or whoever who interact in that arena in an authentic, respectful way, what you see as a closer relationship with their consumers or their fans. It’s a good thing. It’s a chance to understand them on a human level that you couldn’t afford. You could buy a ticket, go to an arena and watch them from afar, and hope they made a highlight on the sports center. Now, you have a different way of interacting. Those who own it, respect it and use it responsibly are creating a closer bond between fan and sport.

If you don’t mind me drilling down a little bit more on that, you’ve mentioned a couple of times using it respectfully and responsibly. The flip side is you have this new tool, which social media, to connect with your consumers and your fan base, and sometimes it’s almost like you pulled down the curtain and we see too much. How do you advise your clients to create that happy medium where there is transparency and authenticity, but there’s not so much exposure that the fan or the consumer decides, “I don’t like this brand anymore. I don’t like this athlete anymore. I know too much.”

It goes back to what I said originally like how a brand survive a crisis, know who you are and stay true to that. That is the North Star. Where people get into a little bit of trouble is if you’re a brand that is more serious and thoughtful, and you try to be flip or funny, it’s a disconnect with who you are. If you are a brand that is about irreverence and you try to tackle serious issues, that’s a disconnect. You’ve got to figure out who you are, and what your space and voice is there, and how to handle that as respectfully as possible. It all comes back in authenticity, which is something that I believe sports fans can smell from a mile away, more so than any consumer group I’ve ever worked with. It’s all sports fans. They know how, and they will hold you accountable if you mess it up. You’ll have some random fan from many years ago pull out some play from some obscure game that counteracts whatever you just said. It’s like, “How does anybody remember that?” They did. We spend a ton of time focusing on that truism. Know who you are and stay true to that.

[bctt tweet=”The concept of how we connect as humans over shared passions is a deeply essential and almost existential part of who we are.” via=”no”]

It’s true that you work with big brands as opposed to small businesses. Game Face is a small business, for example. To use the old metaphor, it feels like when I need to make a pivot, I can do it with a speedboat but if I’m working with a large brand, a multinational brand like you work with, it’s an aircraft carrier. How are they navigating these treacherous waters we’ve been in when things seem to be changing daily and certainly weekly? How are they able to transition a move as quickly as a small business does, or are they not? Is that where they’re tripping up or where they’re making mistakes?

It depends on the brand, and this is where I will reserve the right not to call them out by name. First of all, the ones that succeed, he who has the most information does well. The ones that I see most adaptive and able to adapt are the ones who spend the time and the research. Those were very deep in the analytics of understanding their consumer base, understanding their product, doing well with it, being honest about what works and what doesn’t. There is a lot of hubris that goes on inside corporate boardrooms. The ones that I see that are the most effective are the ones who listened to the data and through the data of what their consumers and customers are saying.

We had a CEO once who used a phrase with me that says, “The problem with trusting the analytics is that the person in the room who gets paid the most isn’t the one making the decisions.” I always thought that was an incredibly insightful way of looking at it. You’re the CEO, and you’re the one in the room making the most money. In this case, you’re going to listen to the data and what your consumers are telling you. You’re not the one making the decision, your analyst is, and you’ve got to trust that. I thought that was a bang all the way to look at it.

The other one that I’ll tell you is those who do well and able to move the fastest are those who do two things that I found best in class. Number one, act today, plan for tomorrow. We have one client that we work with that runs in a parallel path, and we’ve done this for them for a number of years. They are active in the middle of planning for this season, “What are we going to do with the NBA? What are we going to do with the NFL today?” At the same time that we’re looking at the plan for today, we’re doing what we call a 3, 5, 7 planning for them. Where are you going to be in 3, 5, 7 years? We run that every year for them. Today and 3, 5, 7. Understanding that, act for today, plan for tomorrow, has been the number one thing. People who do that succeed well and can move fast because you’re acting in today and you’re planning for tomorrow. Those are adapting as you’re moving along.

The second best practice that I would share is to be willing to test, learn and fail. Test and learn. The brands that I know that have that in their mantra did well in terms of staying ahead of the game. “I don’t know how that’s going to work. Let me do a small pilot and test and learn.” If I’m ever in a boardroom and I hear the phrase ‘test and learn,’ it’s music to my ears. This brand is willing to move quickly. Let’s put a pilot out there, let’s put a program, let’s do a small deal, let’s do something tiny and learn from it, and then be okay if we fail. If we fail, we turn it off. If it succeeds, we turn it up. Those that can do both of those things are strong best practices.

Before you and I started this interview, we were talking about a brand that you and I have both worked with where we’re already looking at 2022. 2021 is we hope for the best, but there are a lot of things even now that are out of our control, but we’re doing our best with 2021. We’re already laying down the groundwork for 2022. Your point is even 2022 is not far out enough, 3, 5, 7. I’ve got to imagine, there may be some cynics who are reading this and will say, “How can you plan for seven years out when everything is different from a year ago now? Aren’t you wasting a lot of time, resources and energy trying to predict what’s going to happen 5 or 7 years from now?”

What I would argue back is how do you win a race when you don’t know where the finish line is, and you aren’t pointing towards it? Are there things that I have done in 3, 5, 7 planning that didn’t come to fruition? You bet. To me, knowing where I want to go, knowing where the finish line is, it’s the best way to win the race. Worst-case scenario, you plan for something, it doesn’t come to fruition. If you’re constantly in the mode of doing this 3, 5, 7 planning, then the minute one thing doesn’t work, the next thing does. You can’t just parachute in and do it once in a blue moon. You’ve got to keep that commitment and continuity. If you do, there’s as many win as to lose in that planning process.

What I love about what you’re saying is that you develop the muscles of planning, innovation and vision going through that exercise, which is only going to make you and your team even better. I want to talk to you about Wasserman’s vision. Before we go there, we’ve talked about your brands. I don’t want to leave out the property side of what you do. Can you tell us a few of those properties that you work with or that you have worked with that we would all recognize, and perhaps give us an idea of the kind of work that you do for them?

The properties we work with, what we like to do is what I call commercialization or go-to-market strategy. What we don’t do is sell. I don’t sell on behalf of properties. I’ll get you ready to sell. I’ll tell you who to sell to, what you should price it for, how to resonate with them, how to package it to get the most money, how to attract the most sponsors, commercialization. I’ll get you ready to sell. We don’t sell for primarily two reasons. Number one, defensive. I find it a conflict of interest with the brand side of our business. I don’t know how to be responsible for making an objective, agnostic decision and making recommendations to our brands, and still profiting off the flip side of selling into a property. Many of my competitors do that, and quite frankly, I don’t know how they sleep at night. I don’t do it.

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching

Brand Coaching: Social media allows everyone to start a conversation at any time.


We don’t sell, but we’ll get you as a property ready to sell. The other flip side of why outside of the defensive is offensive. I represent enough brands to know this firsthand. They want to have relationships with the properties they sponsor. They do not want to have relationships with some third-party salesperson who’s going to sell them a package and then be gone five minutes later. They want to have her direct relationships with the properties they sponsor. Because of both that offensive and defensive reason, we put aside sales, we focus on that service element or that consultative element of getting you ready to go to market.

What that means is everything from a very robust valuation, portfolio or platform end-product, which is to help properties understand how to kick their assets to market, from naming rights to a jersey patch, from a kid sponsorship deal to a practice facility, naming rights. Any of those elements that you’re going to take to market will help you understand what the value is of that on the open market. What are sponsors willing to buy that asset for? I tell properties all the time, “I will never tell you what to sell your assets for, but I’ll sure tell you what people are willing to buy them for.” That’s more valuable information.

We have a whole suite of services that come after that, which is, “If this is a fair market value, then how do you get the most out of that? How do you monetize that in the most effective way as a property? What are the services you can put around it? How do you package it? What brands do you target to sell that to?” On the fan side, it’s everything from understanding and helping them understand fan engagement platforms. It’s bringing fans a lot in 2020 on online ways of figuring out how to make sure that they keep their fan community-engaged, how to attract new fans, how to understand new fan demographics, such as the work we do with The Collective, how to talk to them, how to pitch them, how to market to those segments? It’s all about taking that brand to market and being accountable to the fans and the sponsors.

Are there some innovations that the pandemic has forced you to explore and even perfect?

Necessity is one hell of a mother of invention. When you get stuck in certain environments, you have to react to that. Those who react the most quickly win. I saw tons of people stick their heads in the sand and saying, “I’m going to wait until this is over.” I’m like, “This is going to be a while.” The ones who adapted and stepped up and said, “We’re going to figure this out,” will be leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors when we come out of this. I’ll give you one small example. What to do with no fans in an arena? It’s a big problem for the fans themselves. They want to be there. They want to engage with the content. It’s a pretty big problem for the properties. What do you do? You’ve not only lost the revenue streams, but you’ve lost the ability to engage with your audience. How do you know the revenue streams are going to come back if the audiences don’t back?

Last but not least, it’s incredibly important to the athletes. The athletes don’t like performing in front of empty stadiums. They don’t perform up to their potential or their A-game. There are a lot of implications to what that looks like if you don’t do it well. I got a call from one of our technicians in our experiential marketing team in London early on in the pandemic. He’s like, “I have this idea. We have this little piece of tech that we hadn’t used to bring crowd noise from an arena into off-premise locations. If you couldn’t go to a game, but you were in a pub. We would capture the content of the fans in the arena and send it back out to the pub where the supporters were watching a football match.” I’m like, “It was a way to keep those in the stadium and those out of the stadium together.”

He said to me, “Why don’t we reverse that? Let me re-engineer it and bring everybody from their homes into the stadium to engage in a way? It’s the same piece of tech, I’m just going to flip it.” I’m like, “It sounds awesome.” That’s a lovely little product called CrowdAmp that we built in the middle of the pandemic, and it was born. It was all about capturing these people watching at home on their phones, looking at a computer, capturing them, bringing those voices back into a stadium, but not just for the noise’s sake, but also for the ability to engage and have opportunities to interact and feel like they’re still part of the environment. We were proud of that. It’s won some awards during the COVID time. It’s something as simple as we get the noise, quiet all the gimmicks, and what you are trying to do and why. Making things a little bit better is our brand ethos. No matter how good you are, the next day, you can get up and try to be better. That’s what we did with CrowdAmp. We made it better.

I don’t use this term in a disparaging way. It’s a compliment. Wasserman is a marketing group. Looking ahead now, help us get into the mind of Elizabeth Lindsey, what is your marketing group? What would your company look like 5 or 7 years from now? Don’t give away any secrets. I know you won’t but can you help us understand?

I could give away a secret or two, but then what this company would look like in five years would be without me. I feel like you never go wrong focusing on the core of the fan. What are people fans of, why, and how can you serve that fan-driven insights? If you were to ask me many years ago when I started my career whether or not something like eSports would fill an entire arena, I would laugh at you. Even back then, we were trying to get our heads wrapped around what we called at the time Extreme Sports of everybody on a surfboard or a skateboard being a “real sport.” We try to follow our own advice.

[bctt tweet=”Knowing where the finish line is located is the best way to win the race.” via=”no”]

Number one, I’m not my own demographic. I don’t have a desire to sit in the arena and watch someone play Fortnite. Every one of my fifteen-year-old son’s friends would. I don’t, but they would. I’m not my demographic, they are. We try to get our own heads out of it and realize that we’re serving that fan. We are not necessarily that fan. We have to serve all fans. You have to do your own version of 3, 5, 7. We spent a ton of time looking at the industry. Where do we think it’s going to be 1, 3, 5, 7 years from now, and how do we get ahead of that?

That’s what put us in the space of research and analytics way before anybody else paid attention to them in sports. That’s what put us in the space of focusing on female fandom, and the division of The Collective before anybody else did. That’s what put us in a position to survive the pandemic because we were already online and in-person as a hybrid long before other experiential companies were. It’s that same ethos. What we teach our clients to do, we have to do for ourselves. Remember, you are not your own demographic, just stay ahead of the game, 3, 5, 7.

Let’s finish with some personal thoughts. In the show, we like to hone in on the power of influence, persuasion and inspiration. Occasionally I like to ask my guests, and I’d like to do this with you. Who was either your biggest inspiration as you are growing your career? Who has persuaded you to think the way you think? Who’s been the biggest influencer, either professionally or personally? If you wouldn’t mind sharing a name and a little bit of background for us.

I have been asked this question before, and I answered it the same way every time for strange reasons. My mother was the biggest influence on me in terms of my worldview. My worldview informs my business view. My mom is not in the space. She’s retired now, but at the time, she was an executive in the hospitality industry. She ran very high-end resorts and golf courses. I learned the power of relationships by watching my mom. It’s not anything that she actively taught me. I just watched and paid attention.

There are stories you hear about trading a paperclip, and somehow you end up with a Ferrari. My mother is one of those people who could trade a paperclip for a Ferrari. Give her a couple of weeks and she’d figure it out. I watched her as a child being transparent and open with, “Here’s what I know and here’s what I don’t know. For what I don’t know, I know one who does,” and that ability to call anybody for anything. There was nothing that people brought her that she either didn’t know the answer to, or she would go, “Give me a minute. I’ll figure it out. I’ll find someone who can help me.” What’s beautiful about knowing who can help you, it only works is if you have spent a lifetime cultivating that relationship. When you do need them to help you, they’re willing to help you. I’m willing to help anybody in this industry, but I keep a mental list of the ones who’ve helped me back, and they get my calls first.

That power of relationships, building network, understanding who to call, but also understanding how to cultivate a relationship in a way that it’s a two-way street. When you do pick up the phone, someone’s willing to answer that. It’s very powerful in our industry. There was a phrase she used to say a lot when I was a kid, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” It was her way of saying, “Yes, you do have to clean your room. Yes, you do have to eat your vegetables. Yes, you do have to do your homework.” That phrase is in my head a lot, all the time in my day-to-day professional life because it conveys two very powerful things. One of which is gratitude, like stopping and acknowledging everything that you’ve been given.

Nobody, myself included, yourself included, got to be sitting in the seat without a ton of people who helped us. Stop at the moment and be grateful for that, but also obligation. People look at obligation like it’s a nasty word, expectation, much is expected. It’s not a nasty word. It’s a powerful word. I feel obligated to those people who have helped me get where I am. I feel obligated to the generation of women who come behind me to make it much easier. It was not easy to grow up as a woman in this industry. I want to make it that much easier for those who come behind me. That is an obligation that I feel. That power of recognizing both ends of that equation, gratitude and obligation, both of those things, that power of relationships, the impact that comes with respecting, being grateful, and taking that obligation forward, I learned both of those from my mom.

It would be wise to end on that note. I hope your mom would be proud. I’m sure she would be.

She still doesn’t understand exactly what I do for a living. She still asks everybody, “What is it that she does again?” She did influence it.

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching

Brand Coaching: The ones who succeed are those who listened to the data and learned what their customers are saying through it.


That’s a wonderful note to end on because I’d like us to hang on to that thought. The power of obligation and responsibility that we have, and then the fantastic role that gratitude should play in our lives and in our careers. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the show because you demonstrate that, and you have that throughout your career. I admire the work you do, and I look forward to seeing great work in the future from you and your team. Thanks for joining us, and thanks for all the wise counsel.

Thank you for having me and let me ramble on. It’s been an experience.

It was no ramble. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth and Wasserman have done the work. That’s why their Talent Management Division represents more elite athletes than any agency in the world. That’s why Elizabeth has risen quickly in the dog eat dog world of sports marketing. She explains fully in the rest of our episode how to act today, plan for tomorrow. Join us on YouTube, Apple, Spotify, or your favorite platform to learn more from the woman who is true to who she is.

Important Links:

About Elizabeth Lindsey

GFEP 31 | Brand Coaching

President, Brands and Properties

Liz leads the Marketing Division, and has been a central force in building out Wasserman’s full end-to-end service offering.

Liz is ultimately responsible for overseeing the development, negotiation and execution of partnerships and activations on behalf of all brands and properties.

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC


Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC has been recognized in the sports industry for building a brand that embodies unity. But when 2020 hit us all in the face, “unity” was probably the last word anyone would use to describe its home, Minneapolis. As the racial hotpot community broiled in unrest with the murder of George Floyd, the team was confronted with the challenge of stepping up as a catalyst for inclusion and unity. Add to that the impact of the pandemic on the sports industry as a whole, and you’ve got a formidable conundrum to face. Despite his rich experience in the industry, Chris Wright found his leadership being put to the test with all these tough nuts to crack. If you can see what the team has done and become throughout the months, however, you would see how uniquely qualified Chris is to lead his team to greatness despite everything. Listen in as he shares with Rob Cornilles how he puts his game face on as he leads the team to its goals.

Watch the episode here:

Chris Wright | A Unifier Under United

CEO, Minnesota United FC

What’s your legacy play? If you could be defined by one event, movement or accomplishment, what would it be? My guest is Chris Wright, a long-time Senior Executive in the NBA. He was given an opportunity few sports leaders are ever afforded, the chance to take an expansive franchise backed by great owners in the game he loves and turned it into his own legacy play. A man of great influence and persuasion here’s Chris Wright, CEO of one of Major League Soccer’s most admired and exciting new clubs, the Minnesota United.

I have with me our guest on the show, someone who I have admired for a long time in the sports industry. When I was thinking about who would be a real gentlemanly voice that I could bring to the conversation, Chris Wright came to my mind immediately. Chris Wright is the CEO of Minnesota United Football Club based in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and a long-time well-respected sports executive. Chris, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Rob. I admire the backdrop that you’ve created for this call. You’re all branded up. You’ve got a Ronaldo jersey going. It’s so good to see you after such a long time.

Thank you, Chris. I want to get right into something that’s on the minds of everybody, whether they’re into sports or not, the progression or the digression, depending on how you look at it, the sports industry has been historic. You had a multi-decade career in the sports industry. We’ll talk about that here. You have a unique perspective for a number of reasons. As a leader of an MLS club and a leader of one that’s fairly new inside the league, I’d like to get some idea from you on what it was like back in the Spring of 2020 when the virus started to spread around the country. We started to take immediate precautions and your season, which had launched, was pulled out from under you. What were those conversations like with the league, with your fellow franchises, and also with your team, your staff?

To set a context for you, Rob, we opened the 2020 MLS season on the road. We played two games. We played one in your old city, Portland. We had the second game in San Jose, where we played the Quakes there on a Saturday night. We landed on a Thursday. Immediately when we landed, we heard that the San Jose Sharks versus Minnesota Wild game ironically was in jeopardy for Friday night because this thing called COVID-19 found its way to the San Jose San Francisco market. It had become a hotspot. We quickly began to work with not only the Quakes but also the Wild, the Sharks, and the city government in San Jose to begin to understand whether or not that game was even going to be played or not. The mayor had walked to a podium and said they were going to shut down all major gatherings inside of the market.

In the end, the Wild game got played. Our game got played on Saturday night. We got on a plane and came back. We were celebrating starting the season off 2-0. We’d arranged a meeting for our players with all of our owners in a hospitality area of a building in Downtown Saint Paul. We had an incredible night that night celebrating our fourth season and the incredible stop that we had made. Three days later, we were told to shut it down by our league, by our city, county, and state officials. We pulled an all-staff meeting together. Back then, you will not socially distance. You weren’t wearing masks. You had no idea of the protocols that were going to be put in place quickly. We gathered everybody in a room inside of our office and we said, “Starting tomorrow, you’ll be working from home. Here’s the IT department. Whatever you need, please go to them. We’ll begin to work through that process with you.”

As quickly as we were euphoric about our start of the season, three days later, we were shutting everything down, our training facility, our offices, our stadium because we did not know anywhere near the knowledge that we have now about how COVID spreads. One of the first things that we had to do was decide the cadence of meetings that we were then to have with all of our 120 employees and our players. We have to give them all of the information that they needed to be educated about what was going on, not only in the Twin Cities but around our league, relative to the pandemic. The precautions that they needed to make, testing protocols were starting to be developed at that point. It got complicated quickly because we never knew. We didn’t know when we were going to play.

[bctt tweet=”The art of engaging in dialogue and finding a middle ground has been lost to a great degree in our country. We need to address this chasm.” username=””]

Two months later, the MLS established a bubble in Orlando. Even as we went into the bubble to start off our season, we never knew whether or not we would be coming home to try and finish out our season. You can imagine all of the things that an organization has to go through to be able to manage those circumstances. Here we are, getting ready for our fifth season. On April 17th or whenever we played, we still don’t know whether or not there will be fans inside of our stadium cheering our team on.

The Minnesota United had a fantastic opening in 2018, 2019. In fact, ESPN gave you quite an award. Can you share with us that award? You had great momentum going before this. I don’t want to say it derailed your momentum but it certainly didn’t make it easier for you to continue the momentum you’d been building up. What was that award that ESPN gave your franchise?

We worked very hard, to open Allianz Field, our brand new $250 million, 20,000-seat purpose-built soccer stadium. We worked very hard to launch it in what I consider to be the right way. We had a tremendous number of events leading up to the opening of the stadium in 2019. We went into every space and brought all of our clients into every space and create an event for everybody all through the stadium to be able to look at their experience, feel their experience before we even played a game inside the stadium. That’s difficult in Minnesota because we get snow and yet, we created some remarkable events. The baptism of the stadium was wonderful. We worked very hard on our overall game-day experience.

Our supporter section is called Wonderwall. When we win games, 20,000 people inside of our stadium will sing the Oasis song, Wonderwall. That’s a big tradition inside of our stadium. We have multiple traditions that people resonated around that are truly Minnesotan. ESPN does a survey analysis every year and we were fortunate enough to win The Best Stadium Experience in the MLS of 2019 as we opened the stadium. That comes with people working hard but listening to your consumer, listening to your fan base, the stakeholders of every area, delivering on an experience that you know that they want, for the investment that they’re making inside of your club. We were fortunate enough also to have a winning team that year. We went to the playoffs for the first time. That all built towards this incredible crescendo at the end of the season when we played against the LA Galaxy and Ibrahimovic, which ended up being one of his last games inside of our league. Unfortunately, we lost that game but it set the tone for our franchise and the expectation and the vision for where we wanted to take this club longer-term.

We talk a little bit about the pandemic and how that created an instant pivot for you and your sister clubs around the league and in sports in general but something else happened in 2020 specific to your market. As everyone knows, back in the summer of 2020, riots broke out in Minneapolis because of the situation that happened there. We were talking about a market, the Twin Cities, that not only has the pandemic but also became the epicenter for social and civil unrest. You have been a long-time resident of the area. You’ve been in that community for a long time. I want to know from a perspective of a resident and one who makes his living downtown, what was going through your mind and your heart when you saw these events unfold?

As an individual club aside, I was devastated, number one, that there was another loss of life at the hands of the police. Societal racism, systemic racism does exist in our society. I felt awful that this was happening 11 miles away from where I live. It was about 11 miles from our stadium and 11 miles from where I myself have a home where I’ve raised our three kids. As much as I deplore what happened to George Floyd and many others before him and some since him, it was a massive wake-up call for me as an individual. With my family, it opened up an incredible dialogue with my kids, with my circle of friends, certainly inside of our club, certainly inside of our play circles.

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: What made the MUFC win the best stadium experience distinction was its commitment to listening to its fan base.


In the end, you hope that the tragic loss of life leads to some level of deeper understanding and thinking about what is going on inside of this country. At times, the country is divisive and there are extremes. The middle ground where people, for me, are able to engage in dialogue, be accepting of dialogue, and be accepting of opinion that might be contrary or different to yours. The art of that to a degree, has been lost in certain areas of our country. I’ve endeavored as an individual. I’ve endeavored with my family, my circle of friends, and our club to begin to address it in a meaningful way. I’m not saying that we never addressed it in the past but what is it specifically that we can do as human beings to try to bridge this chasm?

In this particular case, it does speak to the African-Americans and the black people who live inside of our country, our neighbors, our friends, and our players. For me, it also goes deeper, regardless of race, religion, and lifestyle. Are we inclusive? Do we provide an inclusive environment for everyone? How do we open ourselves up to think about it in that way? It was devastating because it was in our backyard. It had incredible ramifications to us as a club and as a team and to our location in the Midwest.

I have to assume that because it originated in your market, that as one who runs a sports franchise within that market, where you are inviting tens of thousands of people to come to enjoy an experience together, both as families and as companies, that it gives you certain challenges and opportunities when you do reopen. Those people are able to come back maybe in part or in whole. Give us some insight as to what your franchise is doing and how you’re leading this effort to prepare for that eventuality in light of everything that’s gone on since then.

I’ll give you the top line for me inside of our club. There were a number of different things. We have nine black players on our roster. They came together as a group. They approached me and said, “Chris, we want regular meetings with you because we want to understand, number one, what is your philosophy and what is the club’s philosophy. Also, what are the action items, and what are the things that we can build out together that can eradicate racism inside of our club, our market, throughout the nation? What is going to be our role?” They helped us identify a number of different things that we weren’t doing that we should have been doing. I give them all of the credit in the world because they worked very hard on educating us about what it was like to be in their shoes. I don’t think any of us who are Caucasians have a real deep understanding of what African-Americans and black people inside of our country go through on a day-to-day basis.

One of the things that we did that was unique but I’m not sure that many of the teams did around the country. Most teams came out with a DEI statement, “This is who we are. This is what we believe in.” We said that we want to be authentic about whatever we do and whatever we say. We want this to be meaningful. We want people to understand why we’re doing it this way. For about a two-month period of time, immediately after the George Floyd murder, what we did was we gave all of our social media channels over to our players.

Whether that’s Twitter, whether that’s Facebook, whether that’s Instagram, whether it’s articles on our own digital space, our website. We said, “We want you to help us with and control the content from a messaging standpoint.” Honestly, they so appreciated that. It came from a point of view of, “I’m not qualified to talk about what you’re going through as a human being, as an individual with your families, with your circle of friends. I can’t talk about your history. I can’t talk about things that have happened to you in your life that would be great examples of systemic racism in that particular situation. You can tell that story.”

We have some young Black players on our roster who were incredibly well-educated, beautifully articulate, that wrote some editorials for people to read that would make you cry. It would make you have tears rolling down your face. We became good listeners to them. Everybody in our market, in the end, said, “This is different.” It’s not just a statement from the team. It’s allowing the members who have been impacted by racism inside of that club. Let them be the voice. Even with Black History Month, that same group of people providing the majority of the content for us to go out and celebrate Black History Month. There are many other examples that I could bring but that is the most meaningful example of the way that we have looked at it, treated it, and try to be authentic around the issues that exist inside of that world.

[bctt tweet=”As a symbol of unity, the stadium offers a big opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity.” username=””]

Chris, what you described is something that you’re doing internally as a club to create a culture that is full of openness and transparency. I appreciate that example that you shared with us. As we consider the fan experience, which you’ve been awarded for and you’re noted for throughout the league and throughout sports, there are some very unusual challenges coming your way because of safety concerns related to the pandemic and distancing but also safety concerns perhaps to go into a downtown location. I don’t know if that’s true in your case but can you speak to that a little bit about some of the plans that are being put into place for Allianz Field? I know that you can’t share everything with us. I know it’s constantly changing but any insight you can give us so far?

What I try to do is lean into philosophically where we are as a club on all of the above. I’ll give you a couple of examples relative to racism, the treatment of racism, and how we can utilize our stadium as an opportunity for healing, inclusivity, diversity. When I first got to the club, you know that I’m an avid reader and I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek. I’ll read anything that this guy puts out. I listen to his podcasts. I’ve always been a big believer in his book Start with Why. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” What I did when I first got to the club, I put about 72 people through a two-day workshop. The Brave New Workshop, John Sweeney, a comedian, helped us with it. It was a fascinating opportunity for us to all get on the same page relative to this one question. What are our clubs? Why? What is our purpose?

We’re a soccer team. We’re going to build a stadium but truly, what is it all about? One of the things that people fail to understand about the Minneapolis marketplace is that there are 251 languages that are spoken here. If there were 251 languages spoken and dialects inside of our market, that means that all of those good people came from somewhere, whether you’re 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation. You arrive from somewhere around the world and you landed in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. You made this place your home. All of those people have a history in our game, in the beautiful game, the great game, the world’s game. We came out of that meeting with a why that was through the world’s game, through the beautiful game. “Let’s inspire and unite, our community of 251 languages. How do we make Allianz Field that? Wherever they come from, whoever they are, they are welcomed, they’re embraced, they’re part of our family, they are fans of our club?”

Our staff reflects those 251 languages. Our part-time staff reflects those 251 languages. Our food and beverage opportunities inside of our stadium reflect those 251 languages. When people come into Allianz Field, it becomes this place where they’re going home, they’re coming together, being inspired, and uniting them around our brand. That has resonated in our community in the biggest of voice. When you walk into our stadium and you see all of the different ethnicities from people all over the world inside of our stadium, it is remarkable. I honestly believe that although the George Floyd situation is a massive setback. We as a club, because of our why, our purpose, and the core values that back all of that up, we’re in a great place to bring those people back and say, “We care about everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, about your religion and your lifestyle. I care about you as a human being and as an individual. We want you to come back and support your team.” That’s one thing.

COVID, on the other hand, is interesting because we have not hosted one supporter for an entire season having sold out Allianz Field 20,000 people in 2019. Imagine our staff who basically won that award with ESPN hosted 22,000 people for nineteen games and hosted a whole season on the back end of that with not one fan inside of the stadium. I think that there will be some resistance in certain states where you have not been able to open your doors and welcome people back. There will be some resistance to fans returning to games. The great thing about us is that we know that it will be a ramp-up. We might be able to host 2,500 people initially when we opened our season all the way, hopefully to a false stadium by the end of 2021. We have 15,500 season ticket holders and we have 5,000 people on a waitlist to become season ticket holders.

Inside of those season ticket holders, there’ll be 2,500 of them who will want to come to games that will live in that world and will be open to masking up, socially distance, and want to be part of an Allianz Field experience. If for whatever reason, there are not, then we will go back to our group sales leads. We will go back single-game buyers. We will go down the channels that you have worked in all of your life to see whether or not we can get to capacity based on whatever the guidelines that the governor gives us are.


My audience, Chris, need to understand that this is someone who’s speaking and you don’t speak off the cuff. You’re a strategic thinker. You plan well. On top of your smarts, you also have a tremendous amount of experience and history in that market. You and I first met many years ago when you were the President of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lynx Organization, the NBA, WNBA franchises. You were in the NBA for 25-plus years. Many people associated with the NBA thought you’d never leave. Not because anyone was pushing you out or wanted you to leave but because you were becoming an institution. This is for people who are maybe new to the sports industry or aren’t in the sports industry at all, historically, the Minnesota Timberwolves in particular, when they began in the ’80s, began to produce talent out of the front office, out of the business office that was spreading throughout sports and making a tremendous positive impact throughout the industry.

You were right there in the center of it all. You were training. You were mentoring. You were identifying good talent. You and I could talk about names that came out of your system and the system that you helped build. Could you help my audience understand why would you leave such a great environment, such a comfortable situation with the Timberwolves? You have a wonderful relationship with the owner of the Timberwolves and the Lynx, Glen Taylor. Why would you leave that to go start up an expansion franchise across town?

It is a good story because I started off in the beautiful game. I played a little bit in England. I got injured and I coached over there. I came to the United States and work for Edward J. DeBartolo who owned the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Penguins and he bought a soccer team. He needed a general manager. I was the guy that he chose. He gave me a PhD in running a professional sports organization. From there, I moved to Minnesota to work for Joe Robbie, another NFL owner who owned the Miami Dolphins. I worked for him and then closed the Minnesota Strikers down. I did work for Rudy Perpich, the Governor of the State of Minnesota, for a little bit. We built something called the National Sports Center up in Blaine, Minnesota but the NBA expanded to the Twin Cities.

A good friend of mine coming out of soccer, Tim Leiweke got the job as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He said, “Wright, Come on down.” Ironically, I was on a Zoom call with him and we’re telling a lot of the stories from the early days. You’re right. The names that came out of that franchise were incredible. In 1995, the franchise almost moved to New Orleans. A white knight on a big white horse called Glen Taylor rode in from Mankato, Minnesota, and took the franchise away from Bob Arum, the boxing promoter who was trying to buy it and move it down to New Orleans. Twelve years in with Glen, he made me the president of the team. I was the president for the last twelve years that I was there. Along the way, I try to encourage him to look at other investments in different sports teams and try to do what a lot of professional franchises have done, which has grown their stable of different operations.

There are so many synergies that evolve when you’ve got multiple properties. I tried often to encourage Glen to get into European soccer, where I’ve got a background and I know a little bit about what is going on over there. Years ago, a group led by Dr. Bill McGuire wanted to apply for the expansion rights for Minneapolis. They went up against the Wilfs, the family who own the Vikings to see who would get the rights. Glen said, “Go and meet with Bill. Let’s see if you can get me as part of that group. Let me be one of the investors in that group. You’ve always wanted to be in the game. Now, you can look after my investment in the game.” I did. I met with Bill and in the end became part of a group that put together the presentation to Don Garber and the expansion committee inside of the MLS. We won the rights to bring the franchise here. I went back to my day job, which was running the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx.

As we went down a path with Bill, it was obvious that there were only a couple of real opportunities that franchises have to establish themselves in markets and gather a share of voice in a very cluttered market. We’re the fifteenth largest marketplace in the country. We have all of the different professional sports leagues here. We have Minor League Baseball here. We have a Division One university in downtown Minneapolis. We’re a destination for all of the major events that happen around our country. It’s very competitive. The ownership felt that as we started to go down a path of securing the site for Allianz Field, they wanted somebody experienced to run the franchise, build a team, build the business, and then build the stadium.

Glen said, “Chris, this is an opportunity for you to return to your roots, the game that you love, the game that you’re passionate about. What an incredible legacy play this could be for you.” I met with Bill McGuire. I met with the Pohlad family, who were also big investors in Minnesota United. In the end, I decided to accept the role of first CEO of the team. I work day-to-day with the Pohlad family, with Glen Taylor, with Bill McGuire, and this incredible group of owners that have been put together that have vested in the MLS inside of our market.

[bctt tweet=”Never lose sight of exemplary fan experience.” username=””]

Now that you’re in MLS, you’ve been in it for a few years and you’ve got your hands dirty, so to speak, what have you learned in the MLS that has surprised you? Do you think that this is something that maybe your former league, the NBA or the NFL, because you have relationships there as well, that perhaps they could learn from the Major League Soccer experience? Is there anything that comes to mind?

The incredible thing about the MLS is that it just celebrated its anniversary. Think about the longevity of all of the other leagues on where they were at after many years as compared to this incredible beast of a league that is building purpose-built stadiums everywhere. The crafts are trying to figure one out in Boston. New York City Football Club trying to figure one out in New York, as well as all of the expansion teams of Nashville, Austin, St. Louis, the potential of Sacramento, Cincinnati, ourselves, all building purpose-built soccer stadiums. The development of the stadiums, generally speaking, the land around it is providing incredible opportunities for this to go again.

When you think about the World Cup coming back here in 2026, it’s going to be another incredible opportunity for to grow the game dramatically. Sometimes I don’t think in other leads you’ve got these major tent pole events that come in that are out at your control to a degree that are going to elevate the awareness perception following of the game. I’m not sure that those exist. People might say, “Super Bowl do that or the NBA Championships do that.” We also have our championships that are relatable to those big events inside of those other leagues. I would say that also from a participation standpoint, the MLS franchises, everybody that I talked to in our league is vested in growing the game. They’re all vested in young players, male and female. They have the growth of the game at heart.

Not always do you necessarily see that in all leagues. The NBA did. The amount of opportunity resources that you pour into the development of the game itself and the young lives that are looking for a sport to be able to play is remarkable. With the advent of all of these young American players being farmed by your top European teams and playing over there. Watch out when we play Christian Pulisic, Reyna, everybody else’s desks, and all of the young talent that is on Greg Bird holder’s team and squad, watch out if they make some noise in the World Cup. There were some amazing things happening inside of our game that I don’t necessarily believe are happening in a lot of the other professional sports in the United States.

You mentioned that the MLS just celebrated its anniversary. Not to put myself in that same class, but so did my business. The reason I say that is that in our first or second year of business, we were invited by Major League Soccer when it was twelve franchises who work with those initial twelve and building their sales operations. Mark Abbott, one of the founders of the league, as far as writing the original business plan, now the President of Major League Soccer, not the commissioner. He called us the official sales coach of Major League Soccer. We held that role for about three years as an advisor, a consultant trainer to the league. Now it’s at 27 franchises with three on the horizon. It’s a couple of short of all the other major leagues. That growth you spoke of is real and impressive.

When I think back to those original owners, the Anschutz, the Hunt family, I think about their vision for this sport and their commitment that come hell or high water, they were going to make this thing work. It wasn’t going to be the old NASL. It was going to be Major League Soccer. What a testament to their vision, to their commitment, to their resources, and all of the people around them, including as you mentioned, Don Garber, the Commissioner and the fantastic job he’s done. I have to ask you. Let’s come back a little bit to reality after all of those accolades. All of sports are suffering and that we don’t have any attendance going on largely speaking because of the pandemic. Television ratings have been going down pretty dramatically in sports. The Super Bowl, had about a fifteen-year low in viewership. Chris Wright, as seasoned as you are, what is your prescription to draw people’s attention back to sports, not only in buying tickets but also sitting in front of the television watching like they used to?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The biggest challenge for MLS right now is how to come out of its complete reliance on local market revenue.


I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet, Rob, because you’ve got to do an awful lot of different things right. We talked a little bit about purpose, our why. That’s got to be right. That’s going to wonder pin everything that you do. You’ve got to believe in that. When our fans and supporters do come back into our stadium, the fan experience has got to be exemplary. We can never ever lose sight of that. Going forward, it’s also going to be a safe environment. You’ve got to figure out a way to make all of your facilities safe. There is science and different studies that have been done around large outdoor events. Fortunately, we have an outdoor stadium. I was reading a report where it’s almost 1,000 different outdoor events since the pandemic struck us. There’s only one that can be deemed a super spreader event. This particular study was aware of all found.

We’ve got to educate our fans that the environments that we’re going to create for them are going to be safe. You’ve got a chance. You’ve got to make sure that your product on the field of play is exemplary. We don’t have the millions of dollars of some of the other leagues to be able to spend on players. It’s important that you have systems in place that allow you to target identify and procure talent that is additive to the way you want to play. I think that the MLS style is growing. It’s getting much younger. It’s getting more creative. It’s getting more skillful and technical and the product in the end has got to lead. On the social and digital media side, the content that you allow your fans access to, behind the scenes access, the storytelling, the background of players. We have some incredible players from South America. People understood where they came from and how soccer became their way out. It’s compelling content storytelling around our players particularly.

I would say that the biggest challenge for our league is to find the balance between revenues that are generated by the league and local market revenues. We’re completely reliant on local market revenue. In 2020, which was devastating, your reliance on those 20,000 people coming to Allianz Field. If you have a season where zero fans come in, you get zero revenue. We’re in a fortunate place to have 74 corporate partners. We saved around 60% of the resources inside of those deals by coming up with unique activations. Some of it is community-based, social media-based, around our games that were all televised, and some of the assets that we were able to control around all of the television games. We’ve got to grow that support as well with our local partners.

The league is looking at different revenue streams out of television agreements that are up in 2022. It will be interesting to see by then where the rights fees go. We do about $19 million a year on an annual basis into our league, which is then distributed down into the teams. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes, given cord cutters, given the diversification of what people are claiming the content, where they’re going for content. It’ll be interesting to see where that bar that needs to be moved upwards goes in 2023.

My readers appreciate this insight you’re giving us into the mind of a sports executive. Thank you for that. In the few remaining moments that we’ve got, I’d like to ask you about more Chris Wright, just the person. I want to go back to your sports roots. You and I both know you were a keeper in soccer. I don’t know if you’re a great keeper but I got to think you were. I like to have this conversation with students. If you were to pick one position in sports and turn that person into an executive after they retired from the game, with the characteristics inherent with that position, what position is most likely become an effective executive? I want to ask you, is it a keeper or you have a different idea?

If I think of what Tom Brady has done with his career as a quarterback in the team, the only problem that I have with the analogy that you’re trying to have me make is that Tom Brady is only on the field half the time. He’s controlling the entire game. A lot of people would argue that he is. At the same time, the defense is on for half the time but the quarterback sees it all. He’s got to make a lot of tough decisions. He might call a play but he’s got to be nimble. There are things that open up in front of him that he’s got to take advantage of rather than pull his arm back and make the play that was prescribed at that particular moment in the game. He’s also going to be able to work in the pocket.

Outside of the pocket, he’s got to be able to run. He’s got to be able to sprint. He’s got to be mobile. He’s got to be nimble. He’s got to have one heck of an arm that executes all of the different strategies that are put in place for his organization. Of all of the positions that I see in sports that I think would make a great executive when you think of the traits, the skills, the techniques, and the execution of all of those, a quarterback in football is where I would go.

[bctt tweet=”Life is much easier when you’re on the same page with your loved one.” username=””]

You were half a homer, you said football, but we all have to recognize you’re talking about American football.

I get into trouble with that all the time. I did a spot for SPIRE Credit Union in our market. They asked me a question and I had the audacity to say, “Soccer is the real football. Football is not football.” They edit. I can’t tell you how my Twitter account lit up.

Second personal question, you and your lovely wife, Walla have been married for years and yet you are in an industry, Chris, where the pressure is on you to be at the facility, be at the venue, late in the evenings, weekends, holidays, then you got to be back at it the next morning running the business. It takes its toll on a marriage. May I ask for my sake, for my reader’s sake, I am fortunate, blessed to have the woman in my life that I do who I’ve been married to for years. What’s your secret? How do you and Walla maintain a love affair?

There are two things that I would talk to. Number one, you’ve got to find your soulmate. You’ve got to find somebody who believes in you but you also believe in her. I hope that your readers take this in the right way but I am a believer in purpose. I’m a believer in why. What is your personal why? What we talk about all the time is not necessarily the club’s why but what is Walla Wright’s why and what is Chris Wright’s why. I can articulate it the same way that I can articulate my club’s why. My personal why is to live my life every single day through my three Fs, my Faith, my Family, and my Franchise. They’ve got to be in that order. My wife lives her life in exactly the same way. She lives her life through her faith. She lives it through her family. She’s in your business. She works for a company called Wilson Learning owned by the Japanese. They are a training company in sales, service, and executive coaching.

The good news is that I have a wife who I go to bed with every night who there isn’t one problem that Chris Wright has that she can’t have an answer for. Synergistically, when you are on the same page with your loved one the way that we are on the same page with each other, life is easy. It is easy because you’ve got your priorities right. We can celebrate our faith together. We can celebrate our family together. We certainly celebrate on both ends of the spectrum. She’s into MNUFC, and is into the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m also into Wilson Learning and all of the events that she’s got to go to as well. I’m there with her holding her hand. That’s where I play second fiddle where she plays second fiddle at all of my events but it works.

Chris, I wish we could talk longer. There’s so much more I’d like to inquire and learn from you about. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people. You’ve been persuasive in my career. I think that this conversation we’ve had will have an impact on others as well. I wish you the best, you and your team. Are there any final thoughts from you?

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC: The quarterback role in football illustrates the traits, skills, techniques, and execution that make an effective executive.


I appreciate the opportunity. It’s wonderful connecting with you again. Thank you for everything that you’ve done for my franchises along the way, all of the experience and the professionalism that you brought to every single session, training session that we’ve participated in. I appreciate you. I appreciate the Game Face. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.

Thank you, sir. Go loons. Chris Wright, thank you very much.

Thanks, Rob.

Chris and his club have been recognized in sports for building a brand that reflects its name, Unity. In 2020, that was the last word observers would use to describe the community of Minneapolis, where so much social and civil unrest occurred. Catch the rest of our heartfelt conversation to learn how Chris’s leadership was and is being tested. How will he bring Minnesota together through the beautiful game? If you’d like to learn some marital advice from a man who’s been blissfully wedded to the same wife for years, stick around for the end of my conversation with Chris Wright, a Unifier under United.

Important Links:

About Chris Wright

GFEP 33 | Minnesota United FC

Chris Wright joins Minnesota United as the organization’s first CEO after 26 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx, including the last 13 years as President.

Growing up in England, though his first love was soccer, and it was only after a — by his account — brief career as a player and then a coach and manager that he came stateside to work in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He eventually made his way to Minnesota to serve as the general manager of the Minnesota Strikers.


This pandemic period is changing the global economy. In this episode, Dr. Brigitte Madrian, a leading behavioral economics researcher from Harvard University who has since become the first female dean of Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business, joins Rob Cornilles in giving some advice on how businesses and households can adjust to the new economy during this coronavirus era.

Dr. Madrian tells how she advanced to the office of dean, her role leading one of the most prominent business schools in America, and how she manages BYU Marriott to adapt and thrive. She shares her vision and the programs she aspires to foster for students preparing to enter the workplace. As she says, “Our motto at BYU is: ‘Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.’” Listen to their conversation and pick up some constants despite the changes outside our homes today.

Watch the episode here:

Dr. Brigitte Madrian | The Dean That Delivers

No one has higher expectations for higher education than this Game Face exec, Dr. Brigitte Madrian, the first female Dean of Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, now leading a program that Bloomberg Businessweek named as the best at producing trained MBA graduates. Brigitte leads a business school that also boasts top rankings in accounting, HR and entrepreneurship. Formerly a faculty member at such renowned institutions as Harvard, the University of Chicago and Wharton, how is this native Utahn helping to transform a school steeped in tradition?

It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Brigitte Madrian, the Dean of the Marriott School at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Dean Madrian, you know I’ve wanted to have you on this show for some time. Sometimes, we pass in the hallways at BYU. I don’t know if you were avoiding my glance, but you finally succumbed and agreed to come onto my show. I know you’re a busy woman, so thank you for joining me.

Rob, it’s good to be here.

For those who aren’t very familiar with the world of academia and some of my audience may not huddle around the halls of a campus like you do each and every day, I’d like to start from the beginning if we could and describe what the Dean of a business school does especially in nowadays world of academia, which I presume is constantly evolving. How would you describe your role, Dean Madrian?

That’s a great question and not a question I get asked very often. My job is to make sure that the business school at Brigham Young University is doing what it’s supposed to do. Our primary mission is to educate students. We hire faculty, we decide what classes they’re going to teach and what kind of programs we’re going to run. As the market evolves, we make changes to some of those things. I’m also involved in a lot of people development because the business school is an organization like any organization.

We have lots of employees and need to make decisions about what their jobs are going to look like, how well they’re doing, hiring decisions and promotion decisions. You’re always trying to get the best out of the people that you have. Inspire them to do the best that they can in their jobs, figure out what opportunities might lie ahead and how to prepare them. At a business school, that’s exactly what you’re also trying to teach your students to do. A business school is an interesting place to do all of this. You need to practice what you’re preaching to your students and sometimes, you discover there’s a little bit of a disconnect there.

It sounds like you described the role of a chief executive officer of a school. Is that a fair characterization?

That’s a good characterization.

Approximately, how many employees are under the roof of the Tanner Building where the BYU Marriott School is located?

It depends on how you count them. We have about 140 full-time faculty members and 85-ish full-time staff. We have another 80 adjunct faculty who teach part-time and then we have a vast army of student employees. Over the course of a calendar year, we employ about 1,500 students doing various things in the business school. That’s a different model than a lot of other academic institutions have. We rely heavily on students to do work that at other universities, you would hire full-time employees to do. It’s a great learning opportunity for students on campus.

They get handed responsibilities that they wouldn’t get if they were students anywhere else in the country. They get a lot of great experience but it also means that the model of how we operate is different. All of our full-time employees are doing a lot of management of student employees. Their jobs look different and then you have a lot of turnovers because the students don’t come and stay for ten years. You’re lucky if you get them for two years. Many of them, you might only get for a semester. You’re doing a lot of training and retraining as you get a new crop of students. It’s rewarding to work with these bright, energetic, talented students and help them learn how to be successful in the world of work, try to set them up to go out and do well.

This is one reason why I’ve wanted you to be on our show for so long. You are a model of success, Brigitte, and I don’t say that just to flatter you. You have broken some glass ceilings in your career. One of those is you are the first female Dean of BYU Marriott School. I want to ask you a little bit about that process. You’re going into the third year of your position. I’m sure that the interview process began about three years ago or so. Now that a little bit of time has passed, can you give us a little bit of peek into the history of how that process unfolded? You’re a trendsetter. When you were announced as the Dean, there was terrific excitement on campus about it but we never got a peek as to how it all happened. Can you tell that story for us?

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At that time, I was a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I had a fantastic job and I had no plans of going anywhere. I wasn’t looking for anything different, although I’d had this niggling feeling in my mind that change was going to happen. I thought it was going to be change at Harvard because I have this feeling. I was open to thinking about different things. I received an email from one of the faculty members here at the Marriott School saying, “We’re looking for a new dean, would you be interested?” I read it and I thought, “I’m not sure I would be a good fit for that role because I was at a public policy school, not at a business school.”

I have been at business schools in the past but at that time, I was in a public policy school. I didn’t have a lot of strong connections with the business school here at BYU. I was an undergraduate here in the economics department. I have lots of good connections over there but the economics department isn’t part of the business school. It had been a long time since I interviewed for a job. Going through the process would be a good experience for me.

There was an interview on Skype. The people who were on campus made them do it in the same way. Literally, everyone was having the same experience. They narrowed it down to four people and they invited us all out for a day or, in my case, it was more like a day and a half of visits on campus. I flew out, I had to do a presentation to the faculty and staff with Q&A and then I had a lot of meetings. Some one-on-one, some with groups of people, and meeting with the academic vice president who was in charge of hiring me. A few weeks later, they offered me the job. I had a tough decision to make.

At first, you weren’t sure if you were a good fit and you had a tough decision to make. Would you mind giving us a bigger peek into that? Why wouldn’t you be a good fit in your mind? You had a great position at Harvard. Was that part of the tough decision-making?

That was part of the decision-making. When I came out here and was doing my day and a half dog and pony show, for me, that was as much about me deciding whether I was interested in the job as it was about BYU deciding whether they were interested in me. In my background, I had spent significant time at two different business schools. I was on the faculty at the University of Chicago for eight years at their business school. I was on the faculty of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for three years. While I was at Harvard, I was doing a joint degree program between the Harvard Kennedy School which is the public policy school and the business school. I had a business school background.

In that sense, I didn’t feel like it was crazy for them to be talking to me but I hadn’t spent my whole career in a business school. My approach to the world is I think about things from a public policy standpoint, “How do we make the world a better place?” As it turns out, that’s a great outlook and viewpoint to have for someone in this type of administrative position where I’m trying to help all of the students in the business schools succeed regardless of what they’re majoring in. Trying to help the whole college, not one department versus another. In terms also of building connections and bridges and trying to help the university as a whole.

The background is relevant but it’s definitely not the traditional path that you see for business school deans. There’s been a learning curve, that’s for sure but I’ve felt very supported. It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn new things. I can see how the institution benefits from having someone come in from the outside but I’ve also had to learn when to bow to precedent, culture and things like that. When to maybe push on, “This is the way you’ve been doing things for a long time but would you be open to considering an alternative?”

What’s been your biggest surprise since you’ve arrived on the campus, either a positive surprise or a disappointment that hasn’t turned into a success yet? After being on the job for a couple of years, what’s taken you by surprise?

The biggest positive surprise is realizing how many people are out there who want to help. I knew I would come in, we would have alumni who were supportive and there would be lots of people who would be interested in helping the institution succeed, but I completely underestimated how extensive that reservoir of goodwill is from many friends of this institution out there in the world. Not a week goes by without several people reaching out and saying, “What can I do to help?” For some of them it’s, “How can I help financially?” For many of them it’s, “What can I do to help mentor students? What can I do to help you as the Dean? What can I do to move your initiatives along? What can I do to be an ambassador?” It’s heartwarming to realize that you’re not in this alone. You have this whole army of people and only a few of them are on your formal payroll.

You talked a little bit about the background before joining BYU. You started your professional career at Harvard, you went to the University of Chicago business school then to Wharton then back to Harvard, now to BYU. Were you recruited for each of those moves? People would be surprised to learn that a recruitment process takes place in academia. The old stereotype is we have stayed professors who stay hunkered down in their office, come out and teach and then go back and do research. It sounds like in your case, there was a lot of movement professionally and a lot of opportunities being presented to you. Is that how it worked in your case? You were doing your thing and they found you.

There is recruiting that goes on in the academic world. I feel lucky to have had the professional trajectory that I’ve had. Over the years, I’ve worked at a lot of interesting places and learned a lot of important things from those different institutions. It’s good to be able to compare and contrast what I like about this place that I want to bring going forward. What do I like about the experience that I had there? There are a lot of people in academia who haven’t moved around but when I’m talking to students particularly graduate students who are going off, graduating and getting their first job, I tell them not to be afraid of moving. You’re not interviewing for the job you’re going to keep for the next 30 years of your life. You’re interviewing for something you’re going to do for the next few years.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: Don’t be afraid of living someplace different and going a little bit outside your comfort zone. That’s how you learn.


I tell that to the students here at BYU Marriott. A lot of them are graduating and they’re focused on that first job coming out of school. It’s the only job they’re ever going to have and they better get that decision right because they’re going to be living with it for 30 or 40 years. I find myself doing a lot of recalibrating. You’re taking a job for 2, 3, maybe 5 years if you’re lucky. Find a job that’s going to give you good experience for a few years, get all that you can out of it and think about what you want to do next.

I like how you are encouraging people. You are pushing them out of the nest. One of BYU’s themes or slogan is, ‘Enter to serve and go.’ Repeat it for me, Brigitte.

“Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” There’s another motto. That’s at one entrance of the campus and then on the other campus entrance is, “The world is our campus.” I refer to those mottos a lot. We want our students to go out into the world and learn what they can. There are certain things you can learn on campus but if the world is our campus, we’re not just learning about the world on campus. We need to go out into the world and make the world our campus, go forth and serve other places as well. I spent most of my growing up years here in Utah County. My father was a sociology professor here on campus when I was growing up. I literally grew up on this campus. I went to the pre-school program.

I started here when I was four. I wouldn’t trade the experiences that we had living in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia for anything. I learned many valuable things living in those other places. When I was fourteen, when I was in high school, my father led a six-month study abroad program in Europe. He took the family and with a group of 30 college students, we spent six months traveling around Europe and that was eye-opening. I definitely would encourage our students to go out and live someplace different, learn something, make new friends, learn about the people in a different part of the country or a different part of the world. Eventually, you’ll come back to Utah if that’s what you love or go back someplace else. We’ve got students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. Don’t be afraid of living someplace different and going a little bit outside your comfort zone. That’s how you learn.

Speaking of learning, you could share with us 1 or 2 examples. What did you learn while on the campus at Harvard or Wharton that you are trying to bring into the BYU culture and within the Tanner Building? What are some lessons or some things that you saw or were a part of there that we should expect to see as part of the culture here at BYU Marriott?

One of the most important things I learned from moving around different places is the culture. The corporate culture is different. It can be dramatically different but you can shape it. You can have an influence on it. My first job in the Harvard Economics Department, this is when I was in my mid-twenties, straight out of graduate school. It was a very isolating culture. It was an environment where people were kings unto themselves. They put the junior faculty down in a little hallway on the first floor. We were all off by ourselves and didn’t have a lot of interaction with other people. I learned that physical geography influences who you talk to. I went to the University of Chicago, the business school there and the culture was completely different.

They had a culture where everyone got together for lunch. You’d have twenty people eating lunch together either in the faculty common room which had seating for a whole bunch of people. People would show up there for lunch or there was a faculty club. Big groups of people would go over there for lunch. I learned so much over the eight years I was there from having lunch with colleagues who were in different disciplines. I loved that ability to meet people who thought about things differently, learn from them and get to know them. When I went to the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton School, it was halfway between Harvard and Chicago. I went in and the department I was in, we moved floors in the building shortly after I got there.

I said, “Before we bake everything in stone, what if we set up a lounge area where people can come together and hang out?” They didn’t have that. I had seen how influential that was at the University of Chicago. I was able to shape that with my department at the University of Pennsylvania. Since I’ve been the Dean at the Marriott School, having these different experiences with what the culture is like and what kind of an impact that has on how people feel about their job, whether or not they’re excited to come to work and things like that. That’s been on my mind and I’ve been thinking about that both in terms of the students, the faculty and the staff.

When I first came in, I didn’t know any of the students because I came in from the outside. I was thinking, “How am I going to get to know the students?” We did some work early on after I got here, trying to come up with what our strategic objectives were going to be. We did some interviewing and discovered that a lot of students across campus were afraid of the Tanner Building where the business school is housed. They viewed this as a big, intimidating place. Students in that building wore suits to class sometimes.

I thought, “How am I going to get people to major in business if they’re afraid to walk in the building? That’s not any good.” We spent a lot of time trying to think about how we can make the physical space feel more open, welcoming and less intimidating. As it turned out, it didn’t take a lot of work. We decided to start doing things that were fun and get the deans out to meet the students so we’re not scary. We handout donuts, candy on Halloween, decorate the building for different holidays, try and make it seem more fun.

I’ve received dozens of emails, handwritten notes and LinkedIn messages from students saying things like, “I used to be afraid to walk in the Tanner Building. Now, I’m telling my friends to come over here and hang out with me because it feels so different.” Not quite a year ago, when COVID hits and the world changed, we had to send all the students home. Faculty and staff are now working from home. I felt like we need to do something to still help people feel connected because we’re not running into the hallways anymore.

I don’t know how well I’ve done with this but it was something that I was thinking about and decided we needed to be proactive. We started doing town halls and we did them every two weeks because we had a lot of information we had to convey. It wasn’t just about conveying information. It was also around trying to help people feel connected. For several months, I was sending out an email every week trying to create a sense of community. Picking 1 or 2 people to spotlight. Those were all intentional responses to the experiences that I had had over my previous places of employment with cultures that I thought helped people feel they were part of a community and cultures that didn’t do that. It wasn’t necessarily pulling specific pieces in but more pulling in this general idea that you can impact the culture and it makes a difference.

[bctt tweet=”We should be setting a program that’s true to the values we believe.” username=””]

It does make a difference. I’ve noticed a difference. You may not want me to tell the world but I am an adjunct at the BYU Marriott School. You maybe don’t know that, Brigitte. That’s why I still have my job and I’m still teaching. I teach one class but I’ve noticed because you’ve included adjuncts as well as the full-time faculty in those town halls. It’s been a world of difference. You were hired at the right time in the right position because you’ve been able to create that connection and that sense of community even enhanced communication channels.

I thank you for that. Let me ask you a little bit more about culture. If someone were to ask me what difference has Dean Madrian made so far in her tenure, I would have to say, the first thing that comes to my mind is culture. Because of your breaking through the glass ceiling of the Tanner Building as the first woman Dean, you have sensitivities that perhaps some of us don’t. One of those sensitivities that you’ve brought, which has been front and center, as far as your town hall discussions have been, we need to be very intentional about diversity and inclusion. Can you share with us a little bit of your thinking on that and where does that come from? Does it come from top-down and you’re the messenger? Is it part of your makeup and part of your background, and you see that as a gap we need to fill?

I don’t think those are mutually exclusive. It’s a little bit of both. One of the decisions I had to make when I came here was what are my priorities going to be. I realized that as the first female Dean, there were going to be people looking at me and watching to see how I approached this job through the lens of diversity and inclusion. I could decide that I wanted to embrace that or wanted to focus on more traditional things that a dean might focus on. What’s the point of coming in and being the first female dean if you can’t use that as a platform to create a more inclusive culture? From my background, that would be with respect to gender but we need to be inclusive more broadly. That’s the piece that I have felt personally.

Through my career, I’ve also seen how inclusion benefits organizations and how different people have been impacted when they felt more or less included. My experience at the Harvard Kennedy School was influential there. In the Harvard Kennedy School, about 40% of the students were international. We had students from all over the world and it was a joy. It was wonderful to teach them and learn from them. I learned so much from these students who came from all over but because we had students from many different backgrounds, there were a lot of discussions around diversity and inclusion on the basis of all sorts of different metrics. I also saw some of the challenges that Harvard was having with diversity and inclusion and their public policy school.

You have a lot of students who are interested in changing the world. I spent thirteen years with these students who came in because they wanted to change the world and we accept them because we thought they had the potential to do that. That culture is not quite as ingrained in most business schools. It helped me realize that you can’t effect change if you have a strong leader who believes in something. You can effect change. When I came in, I decided that was going to be one of the things that we were going to focus on. I started talking about it from day one. I started talking about it before I even arrived.

Things for me took on a new sense of urgency last June 2020 with the Black Lives Matter protest after the death of George Floyd. I had this moment where I realized that I had been talking about it. Talking about it in a way that was different than it had been in the past, but it wasn’t enough and we needed to do more. That’s where I decided we needed to talk about it more often, talk about it in concrete and specific ways and make everyone feel a sense of accountability for this. You see a lot of organizations, they’ll bring in a chief diversity officer or diversity and inclusion manager, and that person becomes responsible for diversity and inclusion in the organization. You’ve got one person who’s thinking about it but if you want to effect change, you need everyone to be thinking about what they can do and how they can do things differently.

That’s the culture change that I’ve been trying to affect. It’s not just me in the Dean’s office thinking about it. It’s not the Diversity and Inclusion Manager that we did hire last March 2020, and she’s got specific things that are part of her job. I need everyone to be thinking about it and we need to create a sense of accountability around it. Here at the university, January, February, beginning of March is performance evaluation season. This 2021 in the business school, we’re trying to make a discussion around diversity and inclusion part of every single performance evaluation interview that happens. We’ve sent all of the full-time employees who were part of this process, diversity inclusion, accountability checklist.

It’s four pages long and it’s lists of things, “Here are things you could be doing as an individual, as a department, as a program, as an administrative unit and what are you doing. What are you going to try and do better this next year so that people feel some accountability?” We’re also giving them some ideas. They don’t have to figure it out on their own, “Here are 50 things you could do,” and then we’re creating conversations around it. Everyone is involved, not just one person or a handful of people. We’ve started to see change and change happens slowly. It’s not going to happen overnight but we’ve started to see a meaningful change in how people are thinking about things and what they’re doing. That’s been rewarding because it’s the right thing to do, it’s what we need to do and it’s happening. I feel lucky to be a part of it.

I would note too, you indicated that you hired the Diversity and Inclusion manager in March 2020, where socially speaking, it wasn’t front and center in American dialogue until the summer. You were obviously ahead of it, if you will. Let me ask you this though, in a private institution such as BYU, we have something that we call The Honor Code. The Honor Code requires both staff and students to make commitments that they will live a certain type of life. When I say that, I mean standards, that they will maintain certain standards. I know you find it a plus because it elevates the quality of individuals that we find on campus but it’s also got to be a challenge because in order for diversity and inclusion to work someone coming to BYU, considering BYU, also has to make the commitment that they will raise their own standards. How does that fit into your overall plan or the vision that you’ve got to improve in this area?

When a lot of people think about The Honor Code at BYU, they focus on what I would call the visible aspects of The Honor Code. For example, men can’t wear a beard here on this campus. We have certain standards about the dress. We expect people to dress nicely. There’s no smoking. People are very focused on those visible things. I do think they’re important and they make a difference. I’ve seen things like that even outside of the context of BYU. For example, my oldest daughter spent pre-school, kindergarten and first grade at a Catholic school and they had to wear a uniform.

There were lots of good things about that. There are lots of reasons that organizations put in an honor code, a dress code or things like that. The most important part of the Honor Code at BYU is there’s a phrase in there about respect for others. We need to have respect for others. That’s how it ties into diversity and inclusion. Not just with respect to things that are typically part of the diversity and inclusion, gender or race. In 2020, we’ve seen a lot of political divisions in this country and a lot of not respect for others when it comes to people who have differences of opinion. If you want an organization to function well and you want to get the most out of all of your people, they need to feel like they can come to work, express their opinions and be respected for that.

They also have to be able to come and express their opinions in a respectful way that doesn’t demean others. That’s a skill. That’s not something that most of us are born with. That’s a skill that you learn from being empathetic, being secure from having a strong sense of self-esteem and how you feel about yourself. You don’t have to elevate yourself over someone else even if they disagree with you from being willing to listen, having self-control and self-restraint if you don’t agree. All of that is part of respecting others.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: If you really want to effect change, you need everyone to be thinking about what they can do and how they can do things differently.


Giving place for someone else to come in and have a difference of opinion. That’s much more important than, “Did you shave this morning or not?” I wish that would be a bigger focus on campus. It’s not that it isn’t a focus. There are lots of people on campus who are focused on that. That’s what we need to be striving for. It’s making us better people. Isn’t that what we want? It’s to become better people to grow, develop and become better people. Part of that is learning how to interact with others, respect them and love them even if they’re completely different from us.

I really admire the way you positioned and teach that. Going back to the motto, “Enter to learn.” When people enter the campus to learn, it’s not just from the textbook but from their classmates, instructors and events that we have on campus and so forth. I also appreciate what you are building and what you’re still working to build within the Marriott School. Maybe these are anecdotal but unfortunately, we’re hearing too much around academia or college campuses, specifically increasingly this notion that if you don’t have the right opinion, then your opinion doesn’t matter. It might even need to be snuffed out. What you’re suggesting and demonstrating through your tenure thus far is that all opinions, all styles, all personalities, all belief systems are welcome here as long as we’re all willing to live a certain standard because that will make a better learning environment. Is that a fair way of saying it?

That’s absolutely a fair way of saying it.

Not so much the students you have now on campus but the students of tomorrow. Those who are considering BYU may want to transfer or begin their college career at BYU. You’re an educator before you’re an administrator. I have to ask you from your vantage point, is there anything that concerns you about nowadays incoming students? Anything that you would either ask them or caution them to watch out against, stop doing or start doing that will make college a better experience for them that can turn into the life and career that they envision?

One of the trends that is true on this campus and almost every other college campus in this country is a dramatic increase in the fraction of students with behavioral and mental health problems. Part of that is driven by universities being better set up to serve students who have those challenges, to begin with. More of those students are coming to campus and succeeding, whereas in the past, they might have never come to college or would have dropped out early on. That’s good, but a lot of it is an overall trend in behavioral and mental health problems among young adults across the country. I see those challenges upfront. I see them in the students we have. I hear about them when I talk to employers. The employers that hire our students are talking about the challenges they’re having with the recent college graduates from schools from across the country and their challenges in the transition from school to work related to behavioral and mental health.

It’s part of the broader ecosystem. I see a lot of students focused on achievement rather than on learning. When they’re focused on achievement and then they don’t measure up, that’s where they start getting into trouble. A concrete example would be they’re graduating and looking for a job. They feel like there’s a pecking order out there. If you don’t get a job at this particular company, then something is wrong with you and you failed. That’s not a healthy attitude to have because there are lots of ways to be successful in the world. Hardly anyone is going to stay at the first job they get out of school for more than a few years. I would much rather have my students focused on, “What can I learn? What skills am I trying to acquire? What technical skills can I learn that is going to make me valuable as an employee? What interpersonal skills can I learn that will help me be more effective, both in the workplace and in my personal relationships? How can I become a better person?”

Use school as an opportunity for personal development and growth, rather than as a yardstick to try and assess how I measure up. The former like, “What can I learn? How can I grow?” There are lots of good research from psychology saying that’s a healthy attitude. You’ll be happier and you’ll be more productive. That’s the goal we all want. It’s not the name on the top of your resume. It’s not the size of your paycheck. It’s how happy are you. How fulfilled are you? Are you finding meaning in your work, personal relationships and with your family? That’s what success is. We need to do a better job of helping our students understand what success is and what success isn’t.

I’m no sociologist but it makes me think that the social media culture we’re growing up in where your social media post is your daily grade as to how you’re doing socially and socioeconomically. Perhaps, that’s feeding that tendency. You can see if someone is having a good day based on their social media posts. If they’re popular that day or they want a big something at school or at work. That’s a contributing factor. I appreciate what you’re suggesting here. We have to take the long view and what the purpose of university education.

Forgive me if this is contrary to what you teach. I say to some people who ask me, “Which degree should I get?” With all apologies to the business school, I’d say, “It doesn’t matter. As long as you get a degree that demonstrates that you are in the process of learning, you know how to learn because you’ll never stop learning throughout your life.” You may get a degree in Engineering tomorrow but in two years, you could be working in sales. I hope that’s aligned with your thinking as well and your advice.

If someone were to ask me that question, I’d say, “Get a degree in something that gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning.”

You spoke about how we, as individuals, have a pecking order that sometimes we get caught up in. Not to turn your words against you but at BYU, we are always very concerned about rankings and accreditation. It’s our measuring stick as to how well we’re doing compared to our peers out in the world of academia. From an administrative point of view, can you give us some insight into how BYU and the Marriott School, in particular, look at rankings? I know in many categories, we ranked high and something that we’re all proud of, but we can’t get complacent about it. How do rankings work into your setting goals for the institution? What are some of the differentiators that BYU has that makes us highly ranked in certain categories?

Shortly before I started my job, I had a meeting with my boss, the Academic Vice President, and I’d been talking to deans from a lot of other business schools from across the country. The common story was that they had been hired either to move their school up in the rankings typically the MBA program, or they had been hired to go out and raise money. After having all these conversations, I thought, “I’d better find out my boss, this man who’s hired me. What does he expect me to do? What is success going to look like in his books?” I went and explained this all to him. I said, “How are you going to decide whether or not I’m succeeding? What does doing my job well look like?”

[bctt tweet=”Your first job is not where you’re going to get your gold watch.” username=””]

It was clear that no one had ever asked him that question in that way before. He hemmed and hawed for a few minutes. He finally said, “It’s not all about rankings. I don’t want you to chase the rankings. I want the school to do well but it’s not about rankings and fundraising. I want you to deal with the problems over in the business school and do the best that you can.” That was great to hear from him that that’s not what he was concerned about. There are a lot of different rankings that are out there and they’re constructed in different ways. Some of the things that go into the rankings, honestly, I don’t care about and I don’t think we should be focused on. There are other things that don’t show up in the rankings that we should be focused on.

For example, some of the rankings factor in things like the starting salary of your graduates. The starting salary is not an irrelevant metric. Certainly, our students are going out and getting jobs and we’d like them to be paid well for what they’re doing. If someone is taking a job in New York City and getting paid 25% more than someone who’s taking a job in Dallas because the cost of living is lower in Dallas, do I care about that difference? No. I don’t, personally. If someone would rather live in Dallas because it’s got a lower cost of living, they can buy a house, start raising a family earlier and it’s going to bring them more joy and happiness, then I’d rather have them move to Dallas. There are things like that that I don’t care much about.

There are other things that I care a lot about that don’t explicitly show up in the ranking. For example, Bloomberg Businessweek does a ranking of MBA Programs. In doing these rankings, they do surveys of graduates. In 2018, they asked some additional questions that didn’t go into the rankings, but they asked them and put out rankings just on those questions based on the student responses. One of the questions was my MBA program has inspired me to pursue an ethical career. It was something like that. That wasn’t the exact wording but close enough. The answer to that question was not used in the rankings that they put together for MBA programs.

If you were to ask me how much do I care about the answer to that question relative to starting salaries, I care a lot more about knowing that our students have come out with a desire to be moral and ethical leaders in business than their starting salary. One of those gets included in the rankings and one of those doesn’t. Where did BYU end up in inspiring students to pursue an ethical career? We were number one in the country on that one. You have to take the rankings with a grain of salt and you have to decide what we stand for.

Here at BYU Marriott, we stand for training leaders of faith, intellect and character. Part of the character piece is we want our students to act with integrity. We want them to work hard, be good examples, be grateful and be humble. Those aren’t all things that the rest of the world values the same way we do. I feel like we should be setting a program that’s true to the values we believe in. If we do that, we’ll do okay in the rankings. The rankings will follow.

That’s encouraging as a member of your staff. I appreciate that explanation and that point of view. Speaking of point of view, you have an extensive library of research and papers that you’ve written. Your core area of expertise long before you became the Dean at BYU Marriott, you’re an expert in behavioral economics and household finance. I hope I’m describing it correctly. I would encourage my audience to do a little research into your writings because they are vast and extensive. I don’t know how much you’re able to do that anymore. I suspect not much in your current role. Are you able to teach even now as a Dean at the Marriott school?

I am not teaching any classes but I do take advantage of every opportunity I can to interact with students. I get a lot of those opportunities and that brings me the same joy that I got out of being in the classroom but I don’t have to write exams and grade papers.

As we begin to wrap up here, I want to tap into that expertise that you’ve got because it could be helpful to this audience and frankly, anyone. In this unusual economy we’re going through, hopefully we’re starting to see some semblance of normalcy returning. Who knows? What is some advice or even an observation from your vantage point that you can give us as it relates to how a business or a household can adjust to this new economy and the changing world that the pandemic is creating for us?

When people ask me what I do research on, my little tagline is I do research on all the ways that individuals and households screw up in managing their money and how institutions like employers and the government can help facilitate better outcomes. We’ve seen a lot of interesting things going on in the country lately in financial markets and the decisions that households and families are making. A couple of lessons that come out of my research and the research of others who work in this area is a lot of times, we overreact to changes that happen. A lot of times, we don’t benefit from overreaction in the long run. A good example would be what was happening with GameStop in the stock market. Prices were changing and people were overreacting.

Some of them were overreacting by buying into the stock. Some of them were shorting the stock. There was a lot of psychology fueling investment-decisions that weren’t based on what the underlying economic prospects of this company were in the long-term. You saw some people making millions of dollars and hedge funds losing billions of dollars. Those are the types of things that people who were in this behavioral economics and household finance space are studying. There are very few decisions that you need to make on the spur of the moment when it comes to managing your money. We’re almost always better off by taking stepping back, not making rash, quick decisions and taking the long view.

When people ask me about investment advice, the vast body of literature suggests that most people are lousy investors. They buy-in at the wrong point and they sell at the wrong point. Instead of buying low and selling high, they buy high and they sell low. We’re not very good at timing the market. You’re much better off with investing a little bit, continuously buy and hold, long-term strategy. You’ll do well enough. If you’re not greedy and not trying to be at the top of the totem pole, that strategy will save you a lot of stress and grief, and you’ll do well by it at the end of the day. I do a lot of research on saving. A lot of stuff that has come out of that is many households are not saving enough.

We’ve seen some interesting disparities when it comes to saving over the last little while. On the one hand, we’ve had households who have good white-collar jobs where it’s easy to work from home and they’ve been relatively unaffected in terms of their income by the recession, but the pandemic means that they haven’t been able to travel. They’re eating from home instead of going out to restaurants and things like that. They were working in jobs where they had a retirement savings plan to begin with and their savings rates have gone way up. They’re saving a lot more as a result of the pandemic.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics: We’re almost always better off by stepping back, not making quick, rash decisions, and taking the long view.


On the flip side, we have households in more blue-collar jobs much more impacted by the pandemic. More likely to be subject to layoffs. They didn’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work, didn’t have other savings and they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic induced recession. The economy has laid bare the fact that we have winners and losers in society, and even widened the gaps between those two groups. I highlighted the need to come up with better institutions that facilitate savings throughout the income distribution, not just for higher educated white-collar workers that benefit everyone.

It’s obvious we could do a whole new episode on your expertise in this one topic. I really appreciate that. I encourage people to do a little poking into the writings that you have done over the many years that you’ve been in academia. Thank you for those insights. I know some of these questions have been a little bit surprise and a curveball here and there. I’m not trying to fool you or anything like that, but I want to end on two questions if we could. The show is centered around how individuals persuade, influence and inspire, also how they are persuaded, influenced and inspired. I’d like to start by asking you, Brigitte, if you could. In your career, life now or in the past, can you share with us one example of someone or something that has inspired you?

I feel I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of good people that I’ve looked to for inspiration. I had an amazing advisor in graduate school named Jim Poterba. He was very generous with his time, encouraging and supportive, and he has a whole army of former graduate students who are now working as academics or professional economists throughout the country. He’s now the Head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is the largest economic think tank in the country. He puts out lots of influential research and runs dozens of conferences.

He has done an exceptional job at creating an environment where economic research can flourish and inspiring people to do high-quality research that has an impact on the world by mentoring junior scholars and giving them the training and the support that they need. I certainly felt that from him. He’s influenced how I do research, but he’s also influenced my leadership and how I interact with other people. He’s been someone that I’ve had the good fortune to interact with for over many years now. That’s been a meaningful relationship in my life.

GFEP 29 | Behavioral Economics


Thank you for that. Also, thank you for the lead. We’re going to have to reach out to Jim and make sure he becomes an audience of this show. My last question for you. I don’t wish this upon you but let’s say that someday, we have to write something on the inscription of your tombstone or headstone and it’s going to say, “Brigitte influenced…” How would you finish that sentence for us?

I would change the ‘influenced.’ I would hope it would say, “Brigitte inspired people to be better.”

I really appreciate everything you’ve shared with us. Congratulations on the position that you have now, the influence that you have on the BYU campus and in the Marriott School specifically. Thank you for all your work in scholarship, and thank you for your work as a leader. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us. We’ll see you on campus. I hope that when we cross paths in the hallway, you won’t avoid me next time.

Thank you, Rob. I would never avoid you.

I’m teasing you. Thanks, Brigitte Madrian. It’s been a pleasure to have you.


With that unique distinction, should the development of such qualities as character, work ethic, gratitude and humility be a part of one’s formal education? We get into that with Dean Madrian in the full episode as well as the inspiring story of how her impressive academic background eventually led to interviewing for this job she wasn’t sure she wanted. I asked her how BYU’s unique Honor Code differentiates and disrupts the way the school is perceived. Brigitte discloses what most concerns are about students now, not just at BYU but around the country. Come join us on YouTube, Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Important Links:

About Brigitte Madrian

GFEP 29 | Behavioral EconomicsBrigitte C. Madrian is the Dean and Marriott Distinguished Professor in the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business where she has a joint appointment in the Department of Finance and the George W. Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics. Before coming to BYU, she was on the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School (2006-2018), the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School (2003-2006), the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1995-2003) and the Harvard University Economics Department (1993-1995). She is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and served as co-director of the NBER Household Finance working group from 2010-2018.

Dr. Madrian’s current research focuses on behavioral economics and household finance, with a particular focus on household saving and investment behavior. Her work in this area has impacted the design of employer-sponsored savings plans in the U.S. and has influenced pension reform legislation both in the U.S. and abroad. She also uses the lens of behavioral economics to understand health behaviors and improve health outcomes.

Dr. Madrian received her Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied economics as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University. She is a recipient of the Skandia Research Prize for outstanding research on “Long-Term Savings” with relevance for banking, insurance, and financial services (2019), the Retirement Income Industry Association Achievement in Applied Retirement Research Award (2015), and a three-time recipient of the TIAA Paul A. Samuelson Award for Scholarly Research on Lifelong Financial Security (2002, 2011 and 2017).


Who could have imagined that a fierce hockey player, who butts heads with opponents would eventually transition into the tranquil world of luxury travel? This is exactly what Hockey Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Chris Pronger did when he and his wife founded Well Inspired Travels. He shares with Rob Cornilles how his years as an athlete is now reflected in his life as an entrepreneur, especially when it comes to handling business pressure and maintaining the drive to move forward. Chris also explains the right mindset needed by every leader to motivate teammates, whether on the ice or in the office.

Watch the episode here:

Chris Pronger | From Hostile to Hospitable: A Hockey Hall of Famer’s Journey into Luxury Travel

I have got with me some circles, the infamous Chris Pronger, a Hall of Fame Hockey Player. A man who, if you know anything about the game of hockey, you know he is one who has several records to his name. He retired several years ago, but before he retired, he was one of the few people that, not only won the MVP of the National Hockey League, but also the Defenseman of the Year Award in the same year. He was the first man who had done that for almost 30 years, the only other name next to that is Bobby Orr. Chris Pronger is joining us on the show. It’s such a pleasure to have you, Chris.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Chris, you and I have said that we’re going to have a very all-encompassing interview, but you’ve promised me you’re not going to treat me like one of those locker room reporters, right?

No, I’m going to lay off as long as the questions are good, Rob.

I’ll do my best. Before you and I knew each other, I’ve got to tell you I was a fan of yours and an admirer of your play. You have skills and qualities I could never touch. First of all, you’re 6’6”, you’ve got about a foot on me, Chris, as you know. We’re going to talk about your hockey career and how that positions you for what you’re doing now, but first, let’s fast forward to the present. You and your wife, Lauren, have started a business called Well Inspired Travels. Can you share with my audience a little bit about your business and the genesis of it because it’s such an inspiring story?

It’s my wife’s baby. It stems back to her childhood when she was six, her father was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. With that, he looked at his wife, my mother-in-law, and said, “I want to see the world for as long as I’m on earth.” They went off to Europe that first summer and my wife got to see him full of life, energy, and happiness, and off the chemo. They went back for school and he started planning the next vacation and went back on chemo and radiation. She got to see him, the shell of himself and a beaten-down man. He fought hard enough for them to get to that next destination, which was Asia.

My wife is a firm believer that he chose to marry Western and Eastern medicine. He would go off for weeks at a time into the jungle with a medicine man, learn about holistic healing methods and transcendental meditation, and immersing himself in Eastern culture and Eastern medicine. With that, they’re off looking at the Great Wall of China and all the different sites in Asia. He’s really at the forefront and ahead of the curve and marrying Western and Eastern medicine. He was able to learn some things that allow him to stave off death and wait for Western medicine to catch up. Fortunately enough for them, they get back and there was a radical new surgery over in Western medicine. We had it two years later, he was given a clean bill of health, was cancer-free, and a medical marvel.

My wife got to see the healing powers of travel and what the mind, body, and spirit can do. That left a mark on her and they continue to travel all through her childhood and then early adulthood. When we got together, I would travel and we would travel together, and I’d be in the middle of training in the summer times. I’d become a little bit unglued when I couldn’t eat the same way as I was when I was training. I was a little maniacal about my training and she looked at me and go, “You get all this money, you get all this stuff going on and you can’t relax.” I’m like, “I’m preparing. This is the way I prepare for the season.”

We would try to source and look into different properties where they would cook the food the way I wanted it cooked. There was either on site or nearby a workout facility I could go to. As we started doing that, my wife started to get calls from other girlfriends, wives, athletes, and asking about how we sourced the property. “Can you set us up?” That was the beginning of learning about our network and what that trust factor can do.

As my career went along, she would continue to get calls from people. When we got to Philly and social media started to take off, she had a little private account and we would post pictures on there and she kept getting other athletes, celebrities, and friends asking her, “How did you find that place? Can you hook me up? Can you set me up?” It started getting 20, 30 people, and I’m like, “There’s something here.” At the same time, we got three young kids at home. I finally get hurt in Philly. Her mother has breast cancer, and her father has a debilitating stroke and is paralyzed on his right side. From a timing perspective, it wasn’t right. We came back here in St. Louis, I got healthy. Her mother is now healthy. Unfortunately, dad passed away a few years ago. Our oldest started driving and we started seeing some light at the end of that tunnel as it relates to the kids and needing a lot of our time as it relates to driving around and getting them around to different events and things like that.

Lauren had a lot of time on her hands and wanted to start this. It was her baby, and I told her I’d help support her on the business side and support in making introductions, networking, and things like that. I started having so much fun. Hospitality is an interesting industry and the fact that people are happy. It’s a very jovial atmosphere. Everybody wants to help one another. I found that intriguing coming from where I came from where everybody’s like this, look secretive, and looking for that hidden gem, etc. I found it appealing and interesting.

I was always the guy that planned the fishing trips with all my buddies, golf trips, Super Bowl pool, Masters pool, all that stuff. I’m an event planner at heart anyways. It was exciting and I was happy. At the same time, I had kicked the tires on a few other companies with a friend of mine because I wanted to run my own business and be my boss. It didn’t work out. It’s funny how timing works out and this presented itself. It was exciting and a passion of mine, a passion of ours and something that we feel we’re lacking in the marketplace. I jumped headfirst into it and haven’t looked back since. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of work obviously, but if anybody knows anything about me, hard work is not the issue.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Athletes tend to have a certain desire to always perform higher than anybody else.


You don’t become one of the top 100 players in hockey history if you’re averse to hard work. Chris, when you speak about Well Inspired Travels, it’s more for the executive audience rather than for family travel. Is that a fair statement?

It’s both. Our niche clients are athletes, celebrities, CEOs, C-level executives, business owners, high net worth family offices, and the reason for that is that’s what we know. From the standpoint of demands on your time, the stress of the job, pressure on home life, the fame, fortune, all this stuff that when you look at that section, there are many parallels amongst that group. We do leisure travel and some corporate work. It runs the gamut. The more interaction we can have with our clients, the better we’re able to serve them. Whether it’s corporate work rolling into a family, leisure travel or vice versa, we’re able to dig deep and learn more about you and understand who you are, what you want to get out of travel, your likes and dislikes as it relates to your travel.

That’s very important to us because it helps us get a feel for who you are and that allows us to peel back the onion a little bit and understand how we can better serve you. How we can better help you in your personal life and your professional life, whether that’s from a leadership standpoint, the home front. There’s so much going on in the world right now. We feel like we’re in a position to help people through travel but also in their everyday lives as we get to know them. There’s a mentorship side that comes into play with us. As we learn more about you, we can steer you in a direction based on what we know. That’s why it’s important for us to manage a lot of our travels to get to know and have these conversations. Maybe my wife having a 30-minute conversation with somebody’s spouse or myself having a conversation with an athlete.

There are all these different things that can go on behind the scenes that sometimes have nothing to do with travel, but it allows us to get a feel for where you are in your given profession. The different stress points, the areas in travel that can help you the most, whether that’s as simple as learning a new sleep technique for a CEO that’s going to allow him to be a better leader. I knew the holistic healing method for an athlete. That’s going to allow them to recover faster and play at a higher level. We want people to be able to implement those things into their everyday life, both personally and professionally, whether it’s a two-day trip or a two-week trip. We try to dig deep into our client’s lives in a non-obtrusive way and get to know them and become friends with them.

Listening to a former player, such as yourself, you had an eighteen-year career. You retired about ten years ago. It’s interesting and fascinating for those of us who are fans or admires a professional athlete without being, as you said, intrusive to get a peek inside that private life because we know them on the ice. We know them on the field or the court. What are some things that athletes go through that we don’t have visibility to that if we did understand, perhaps we’d appreciate greater what they have to go through to maintain that high level of performance?

There’s a number of factors. I think number one, for me personally, was that internal struggle of pressure, stress that I would put on myself to perform. Let alone the outside world, the fans, management, ownership, and teammates, I had a certain level that I needed to play to and wanted to play to that always was higher than everybody else’s. I expected to be at a certain level every single day, whether it’s practice or games. That internal struggle as we talk about in society now, a little bit more mental health and things like that. Things that are going on at home with your kids, struggles with management, whether you’re negotiating a contract, all of these things have an effect.

[bctt tweet=”I knew it was time for me to retire when I was done learning.” username=””]

It may be a subtle effect here and a subtle effect here, but when you’re making a diamond, it’s not one giant piece of pressure. It’s constant pressure pushing down, creating it. I think having somebody who’s gone through that, that understands the healing powers of travel, the mind-body-spirit, and what that can do to help you let go. Early on in my career, I was like a ball of intensity and passion. I would be a week or two weeks out from a game where I made a mistake and I would still be mad and angry about that mistake. I couldn’t let it go. It drove me bananas and that inner turmoil, people don’t know. They think, “He’s just going to turn a page and he’s going to go to the next game.” Sometimes you’re able to, and sometimes you’re not.

You never understand or know what somebody is thinking about because a lot of times, as an athlete, you’re not going to talk about it. I never talked about it. The media always asked or fans asked, “Who was the toughest player to play against?” I’m like, “Nobody.” I never thought about it in that regard. I didn’t ever want something like that to enter my mind because then I’ve already lost. I think that guy is too good to play against, I can’t play against them. I never would answer that question. I never wanted to say the words because I didn’t want it to creep into my mind. There are all kinds of things like that people don’t understand and don’t get because they haven’t been in those shoes and been in those situations. That’s where our experiences come to the forefront because we’re able to understand people on a much more personal level.

You’re talking about experiences and you’re in the travel business now. It’s my understanding, especially the rising generation are not so much interested in things as much as they are interested in experiences. I had a client and I was attending a conference with them, they are in the travel business. At that conference, it was made very clear among all the speakers and such that experiential travel is the future. It was focusing on international travelers coming to America and what we can do in America to give them more memorable experiences. It was all about the experience. It’s not about sight-seeing. How are you seeing the travel industry evolve since not only you were a participant in it, but now that you’re a practitioner in it? What are you seeing in experiential travel?

When you look at our business, that’s a lot of what we do is creating life experiences, everything. Our company is set up that no two people are alike. No two travelers are alike. What you like is going to be different from what I like. No matter how close we are in ideology, family life, etc., we’re not because no two people are alike. All of our itineraries are different. There’s no cookie-cutter approach here. That’s why the conversations are important is so that you can understand what type of culture somebody is interested in learning about destinations, culinary and adventure. All these things help create those experiences for people so that they are getting to learn, understand, and value more of what their interests are. As we continue to build out our company and build out our business, I think that’s a hallmark of what we do. One of our core values is understanding people and that relationship is vitally important to what we do.

I have to wonder, on the ice, you frankly made some enemies, your teammates. For those reading, who may not follow hockey as religiously as others, he was a dominant force on the ice for nearly two decades. Certainly, that’s what earned him induction into the Hall of Fame in 2015. It’s funny to hear you talk because I’ll bet some of those players that you butted heads with or fists with are probably now really good prospects to be your clients. How do you turn that page mentally?

When you’re playing a game as we do in sport, it’s a physical sport, I can’t tell you how many times whether I’ve met somebody or somebody that I’ve known has talked about meeting somebody that I played with or against. They played a brash style of the game. It’s like, “I didn’t realize that guy. He’s a nice guy.” I’m like, “I realize that.” Some people step on the ice, and then they flip that switch, and it’s war. They’re doing whatever they can to win. People love seeing it, but they don’t understand that most of the time, that’s not who you are off the ice. You have your own life and whatnot, but when you put your skates on and you’re either filling a role, playing the villain most nights, or that’s the way that you play the game. I played the game this way since I was seven years old. That’s the only way I know how to play.

Your older brother taught you that, right?

Yes. I had to keep up and play with the older kids. I had to play the bigger boy hockey. When you’re getting shoved around, you’ve got to learn how to use your stick, leverage, and all that good stuff. When you grow up bigger, all those things play to your advantage.

It’s so ironic, but it’s cool. Now, you’re in the hospitality industry. Who wouldn’t have thought that several years ago that Chris Pronger would be making sure that I’m having an enjoyable evening with my family?

Everybody can turn the page somewhere somehow.

You’re turning the page. You’re showing a different side of your personality that your former career didn’t call for.

When you asked that question about what people probably didn’t know, this would be the other part is as an athlete, you’re on this stage and how often do we see your real personality? You’re answering questions about a game when you’re in this mode. You’re not asked about this, that, or the other thing, it’s this right here. This is the person people are going to see, whether it’s me chirping at somebody in the media, having fun with them or cross-checking somebody in the back in front of the net, or taking a slapshot from the point.

There are all kinds of different things that they’re going to see, but most of them are not going to see me at home with my family or see me at home in my community walking around, going to the coffee shop, going to the grocery store or outside of the barbecue cooking everybody dinner. They’re thinking, “He’s got a chef, he’s got this, or he’s got that.” I don’t know what people think. I don’t think they realize they put athletes up on a pedestal and they think this but, we’re good at a sport and we’re good at what we do. Like everybody else, you always hear the same cliches that I chew my food the same way you do.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: No matter how close two people are in ideology, they are still two extremely unique individuals.


You’re good at so many things. I want to learn some more things from you and I think my audience would as well. We have many executives who are listeners and viewers of the show, so help us understand a little bit better from your experience. Let’s say, even though you mentioned, you could have gone back and you had a bad moment two weeks ago in a game. Maybe the crowd doesn’t even notice it, or maybe it was the blender that causes a loss, who knows? Either way, you have a bad experience and many athletes say, “It’s just time to move on.”

Coaches say, “Let’s forget about it. Tomorrow is another game.” In business, we have a bad moment, when we have a bad meeting, when we have a client that has surprised us with their disdain for our services or our product, or they tell us that our people are not performing and they don’t want to do business anymore with us. From your athletic experience, Chris, what advice can you give us on the business side to be able to put those incidences aside, or at least learn from them and keep moving forward?

There’s another meeting. There’s another client. I think one of the things that I always try to do, obviously you’re going to fail and you can’t fear failure. It’s going to happen. Hockey business and that’s why when you look at the client list, it’s the same because if you make a mistake in hockey, you better learn from it. If you make a mistake in business, you better learn from it. What mistake did you make? Reverse engineer it and look at what mistake you made, where you made it, how to not make it again, and start moving forward again. It’s a wash, rinse, repeat, that cycle.

[bctt tweet=”I pushed everyone in practice so the games would be easier.” username=””]

I always like to talk to the young players that I played with. As I gained more experience, I’d be like, “Stop trying to make the hard pass all the time. Stop trying to be noticed. Stop trying for everybody in the crowd, on the TV to know that you made that play. Make the simple plate, make sure that nobody knows you played this game. You are going to be fine.” As you gain confidence, as you gain experience, as you gain it, you’re going to then be able to use your talents and be able to gain more and more success. People are going to know, “This guy played ten games. He hasn’t turned the puck over once.” You’re going to gain trust from the leaders, the coach, the CEO, your manager, whoever it is. Start small and then set little goals. Too often, people are like, “I don’t want to do this.” If you set goals, they’ve got to be attainable goals.

You can have a dream and I want to do this, but how are you going to get there? You set these little goals and every time you can track your progress, you’re gaining confidence, motivation and power. With each one of those things as opposed to looking up and going, “I want to be there. That’s far, how am I going to get there?” There are many things that when I look at sports, I look at business, there are many parallels. It’s crazy how businesses operate. As you know, there are good businesses and good sports franchises, and then there are not so good. There’s always a reason and it’s funny, it’s always the same reason.

I want my audience to know. Chris knows what he’s talking about here. Chris played for, let’s see the Hartford Whalers, the St. Louis Blues, the Edmonton Oilers, the Anaheim Ducks, and then wrapped up your career with the Philadelphia Flyers. I would add that with the Flyers, the Oilers, the Duck, those are the last three franchises you played for. Every one of them went to the Stanley Cup because of you.

Along with my teammates but, yes.

You were a captain on those teams. You were assistant captain, as well as the fact that the Ducks won their first Stanley Cup the year that you arrived. Even though the previous year, they were your rival when you played for the Oil. Chris knows what he’s talking about taking an organization from good to great. Something else you said there, Chris, that I want to touch on. It’s interesting as a professional athlete, you get to watch the tape. As a professional executive, there is no such thing as tape. I can’t watch tape of a bad meeting so I had to figure it out through review. I’ve got to figure out what I did wrong. I guess that suggests that I need to talk to the people around me. I need to talk to the people who I work with, my colleagues, even though they report to me, I’ve got to humble myself and maybe ask them, “Did I do something wrong?” Have you found that even when you were captaining teams?

No. I think that’s the leadership side and ownership side, not owning the team but buy-in from everybody. Ownership in what you’re trying to do, whether you’re the CEO or you’re the low-level executive or employee. You need people to want to come together and come every day, passionate about what they do, feel like they’re a part of the team, and feel like they’re a part of something. You’ve also got to push people. It’s funny when you pushed people, a lot of times there’s pushback or there’s hate or angst about odd. “Why is he doing that?” Once you leave and you go to the next team and all of a sudden, their play drops off, they realize, “He was pushing me to be better. He was pushing me to get in the gym. He was pushing me to strive for excellence.”

Whether that’s sports or business, pushing your employees, pushing yourself. I was always harder on myself than I was anybody else. I was always pushing myself in the gym, pushing myself in practice. I pushed everybody in practice because the games would be easier. If I was out there defending you as hard as I could, I guarantee you that games are easier. When we were at our best, we were all practicing at that level, the game was nothing. It’s pushing people to strive for excellence, but incorporating that into the group mentality and we’re stronger together. If everybody’s going in a different direction, the business or the team is going to fall apart.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Many people sometimes put athletes up on a pedestal, but in fact, they are just like everybody else.


I think when you say we got to push each other in practice so that the games are better and even easier maybe, in a business setting, it suggests to me that maybe we ought to practice our meetings. Practice our presentations to clients, to each other, and go hard at each other so that when the clients are finally sitting in our conference room, it’s a piece of cake.

I think when you see mock trials when you see defense lawyers and prosecutors do mock trials, they’re doing that for a reason because they want to see what works and what doesn’t work. “What verbiage should I use?” There are all kinds of ways that people can improve on what they’re doing, whether it’s me and my current business now or public speaking, or what have you. There are many different things that you’re constantly looking at to improve on.

I go back again to what I learned when I was playing, I knew it was time for me to retire when I was done learning. If you’re not learning, you’re going back because everybody else is learning and getting better. The same holds true in business, it’s knowledge, its understanding, the client’s understanding. The business you’re in and the competitors and what they’re doing and understanding where you need to be focused. Which part of the business is slacking off? Which part of the business is excelling? Those metrics, I’m not a great analytics guy, but there’s a number of things where when you’re looking at it, you’re like, “That makes sense to me.” Numbers don’t lie, that’s a fact. Numbers are unbeaten when studied correctly.

It’s a great point there. You talked about knowing what your competition is doing. For everyone reading, Chris and I have something in common, maybe there’s one thing other than being friends. That is that every franchise he played for a game phase, have done some work for, and one of those cases, when you, Chris were at the Edmonton Oilers, I think you were only there for one season. Isn’t that correct?


You took them to the Stanley Cup finals. Before that, you beat the Anaheim Ducks in the conference finals, right?


That was a rough series, as I recall. Edmonton trades you in the offseason to Anaheim. Now you’re going from the Oilers to your nemesis, the Ducks. With the Ducks, you go on the neck next year, again, to win the Stanley Cup finals this time. I have to ask you, what’s that transition like when you’re walking into the locker room or the training facility with those people that were your enemies a few months previous? How do you make that mental switch in your mind because I think in business, sometimes we hold grudges?

Sports are no different. When the trade was made, I didn’t know a lot of players on the team either. There were a couple of guys that I was friendly with. I knew Rob Niedermayer because of the same draft year and things like that but there were hardly any guys that I knew. John Scott, a little bit from All-Star games and things, but went in there cold turkey. Normally, you know somebody pretty well on a team and that one, I didn’t know anybody. I think they knew they had a good team and they knew they were getting close. When I got traded there, they felt like, “Now we’ve got a chance. We’ve got our team.”

[bctt tweet=”The more interaction we can have with our clients, the better we can serve them.” username=””]

That’s what’s great about that team, we gelled right away. We had the mindset and belief that we’re going to win, nothing else. It wasn’t going to be good enough to get to the finals. It wasn’t going to be good enough to win our conference. It wasn’t even good enough to win a playoff round. It was only going to be good enough to win the whole thing. If we didn’t win the whole thing, it was going to be all for not. Everybody in our locker room bought in from day one and we put the work in. We practiced hard and we prepared hard. That was probably one of the funniest teams to play on because we could play a 2-1 tight-checking game. We could play a 6-5 barn burner. We could play a finesse game. We could play a physical game and beat you up.

It like, “Pick your poison. What do you want?” You don’t let the other team decide. The fun part is when you can play all those different styles. We played a heavy, hard game. It fit the way I wanted to play and everything was set up for the players that we had on the team. Everybody that we brought in had a specific role, they knew their role and they played their role to a tee, which is like a business. Understanding your role, doing your job. Can you paint outside the lines? Sure you can, but you need to be focused on your job and then you can do that, and focus on what you do best. These guard rails aren’t here and you can’t go over them. You need to do this first so that everybody else can do their job, and then you can freelance a little.

It’s crazy to me how you can go from one mindset about a certain group of people and then the next day, they’re your teammates. The past is the past. We’re going to win together. I’m reminded, Chris, do you remember Paul Ryan? He used to be the US Speaker of the House. He retired a couple of years ago from Wisconsin. One time he said to me, “Grudges are for rookies.” When it comes to politics, you go hard against your opponents, whether it’s a person you ran against or the other party that you’re running against. Once the election is over, grudges are for rookies. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to find common ground and success together. That’s what athletes such as yourself if that’s such luxurious careers have learned to do. I think in business, sometimes we think, “I could never work for that company. I could never go work for that guy because I’ve heard his reputation.” Athletes don’t have that prerogative. They have to make it work and I find that very admirable.

Every time I was traded or anytime we got somebody in, you immediately have 22 new friends. That’s why it’s harder on the families and the player because they’re coming in and the kids have to make friends and then the wife has to make friends, but you’re coming in and you immediately got 22 new friends. You come in and you start practicing playing. Everybody tries to get to know you a little bit and get immersed in the team. You have dinners, you go out on the road, you go to a movie, you go to dinner, you do this, you do that. You’re immersed more in a group and then it’s seamless. I think that to your point as I played hard against Teemu Selanne. In my old career, I was always matched up against him.

He was always on my side. I used to always pound on him and all that. We always used to battle. I got there and the first day, we got into the room, I looked at him, I go, “What’s up T?” We hugged it out right there in front of everybody like, “Let’s go boys.” There was a bigger issue to deal with and that was to win. It’s a game, and like it’s business, get past it and move on. If you’re holding a grudge, you’re not focused right here. You’re worried about this stuff that you can’t control. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned as my career went along, whether it’s worrying about that play or worried about a grudge. His day will come, I’ll get him another time.

We need to focus on winning. Some of the guys I played with would always be like, “If something happened to me on the ice, it would be like a count of five, just wait. It’s coming.” 2 or 3 seconds later, I’d find that guy. As I aged, matured, gained experience, I learned to manage my game better and my emotions better and not hold an immediate grudge, but find a time in due course. Whether it’s, you’ve got to do business with somebody at some point, you’re like, “They’re going to have to come to me.” Why not go to them? Why not be proactive? Why not get past these things? There’s a lot of times you hear what you said, “I’d never do business with that company.” You never know.

I learned a long time ago to never say never because honestly there’s going to be some point in time where you might have to deal with that GM, owner, CEO, or that CFO. You never know. Unless you’re 100 years old and about to die to say never, there’s a lot going on out there in the bigger world than this little area in front of me. The vast space out there, there’s too much going on in the world to say never. I get asked all the time, “Are you never coming back to hockey?” I’m like, “I’m not going to say never, but it would have to be something pretty special because I’m loving what I do and I’m enjoying it. It’s a passion.” I’m not going to say never because I’ve learned my lesson. I said never one time before and it came back to bite me. I’m never going to say it again.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: Business leaders must inspire people to remain passionate about what they do and feel like they’re part of the team.


You came after your playing days, you worked for the Florida Panthers for a while, that Jersey is on the wall behind me. As a senior advisor, was that something that you were anticipating, you were looking for or were you doing the right things and the right opportunity came along?

I was working with the league in the Department of Player Safety. I had two passions growing up. One, I wanted to run my own business and two was, I wanted to be a GM or a president of a team. At the time, I spent a couple of years after I got hurt to get healthy. As I was at the tail end of my recovery, I got a phone call from Bill Daly, the Deputy Commissioner asking me if I would take on this role in the Department of Player Safety. They had lost Rob Blake, Brian Leetch was done and Brendan Shanahan was going to Toronto. There were a lot of turnovers. They wanted somebody that had recently played, had some stature in the game and would be able to talk to players and do all that.

Once this started coming to fruition, you see one path and whether it was working out or not, this opportunity was too good to pass up. To be able to build a business from scratch and to be working at home with my wife and, and now our staff. It like when I speak to some of the managers and staff that are with the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights, being able to build something from scratch and being able to get in from the get-go, you’re able to see from ground zero up. You’re able to learn so much more about how businesses succeed, how businesses struggle and do a lot more research and understanding on how those pieces all interweave together.

[bctt tweet=”You will eventually fail, but you must not fear failure. You just have to learn from it.” username=””]

It’s a lot of work but I like hard work. In my head, I work 24/7. I’m always thinking. When I was playing, at night I’d be watching TV, but I’d be watching clips of a guy that you’re going to play against, whether it’s a game or two later. You’re storing in your head the move that he did on a certain play. You get into that position, you know the move he is going to make. You know when a guy is going to make a play like that. You have seen it already, having the experience and understanding of playing against players, you know when a guy’s going to make that move. It’s no different in business. You understand the competition, you understand clients. You understand where your business is at a certain point in time and where you need to get to and what you need to do to add tangible value to have people want to partake in your services.

Chris, as we begin to wrap up, I want to tap into your player experience, but also see how it’s translated into your experience now as a business owner. When you were on the ice, you would feel so much energy from the crowd. I perceive that but correct me if I’m wrong. That positive or negative energy depending on which it was, you would either ignore it perhaps or you would feed off of it, or maybe you’d feed off both, I don’t know.

I want you to share that with us, especially when we’re in a climate right now because of the pandemic that we know travel has been affected. You could be getting negative influences right now and naysayers saying to you, “Chris, good idea but you and Lauren, you’ve got to think of something else because nobody wants to travel right now. You can’t go any place easily right now.” You’re getting all that negative energy. What did you learn on the ice about that you’re now translating as a business owner?

I was fortunate enough that I got booed in a lot of buildings so I fed off that energy. I fed off that home crowd, energy, and excitement. For us, I don’t worry about the outside world. I don’t worry about what other people are saying. We track what’s going on in the marketplace. We track what’s going on in the hospitality industry. We track what’s going on in the world globally, domestically, and get an understanding of where things are at, especially as it relates to the pandemic. I think as it relates to our business, we’re in it for the long haul. We’re making an investment in our business now and putting resources, training our staff, learning about what’s out there, having a conversation with suppliers, and still sending people on domestic travel and some smaller international stuff. Mexico, Caribbean, things of that nature until things open up more globally.

It’s been pretty good to use this time to test out different functions and things that may or may not work. While we’re in the midst of this pandemic to get a feed and a read on what works, what doesn’t work, what messaging works, what do people think about this product that we want to institute and put into our systems, our processes, our interactions with our clients. There are many things to think about and many things to look at as it relates to our business. It’s given us an opportunity to move a little more slowly, to make sure that everything is in alignment and following the right guidelines, if you will, for our business. When things open back up, as you said, we’re going to hit the ground running and we’ll be able to service all of our clients in the manner that they expect, and we expect to be able to serve them.

GFEP 28 | Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel: If you’re holding a grudge, you’re not focused right here. You’re worried about things you can’t control.


You’re getting ready, right?

Yeah. It’s work, but it’s also practice.

To be clear to everyone reading, it’s not like your company is not producing results right now for clients, but the pace probably afforded the opportunity right now to practice and to hone so that when things open up, you hit the ground running. Let us wrap up with three rapid-fire questions. You, athletes, are accustomed to this because reporters are shooting questions at you all the time. You can give me a one-word answer if you want. You can treat me like the Philly Press Corps if you want. We like to talk about things that persuade us, things that influence us, and things that inspire us. In that order, I’m going to ask you, who is the one who has been most persuasive in your life to become what you are today?

I would say, my wife, in guiding me, being supportive, pushing me to be me and not be somebody that people will think you are. Be yourself and be who you are. Too often, people want to play into this persona and that’s when people get into trouble. They think that’s who they are because that’s what people think they are. As I’ve aged and gained more experience, I’m just, “That’s who I was.” Too often you want to say, “That’s LeBron James, a basketball player, Michael Jordan, the basketball player, or Chris Pronger, the hockey player.” No. I’m Chris Pronger and I used to play hockey, but I don’t play anymore. That was my former job. Now, I’m in job 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, whatever it is. From a persuasive standpoint, I think being comfortable in your skin and being who you are.

The next word is influence. How do Well Inspired Travels influence the travel industry?

With our business model and how we want to interact with our clients, it’s a game-changer for those that want that type of service, that type of interaction, and understanding of who they are, who they want to be, and how they want to get there. For us, it’s understanding the why and that’s why the questioning. That’s why the peeling back the onion, understand who you are and what you’re about. Where do you want to get to? Often like my journey, it can be erratic. A few people continue on that path. There’s going to be a few zigzags along the way.

Lastly, in your hockey career as well as your business career, in either one of those or both of those, who has inspired you? I think by the way, on the hockey side, one time you told me about a particular player who also ended up in the top 100 players of all time. You said may have been your greatest inspiration, but I don’t want to give it away.

It’s funny how things come full circle, especially in the sports industry. When I was growing up as a youngster, my favorite player was Mike Bossy, then my favorite player was Wayne Gretzky. It’s funny how one team won four cups in a row and the next won four in five years then I didn’t have a favorite player, but I enjoyed watching Ray Bourque. I enjoyed watching Al MacInnis. It’s funny how everything comes full circle. I got a chance to be with them all at the top 100 induction in LA at the All-Star game in 2017. I had a great conversation with Mike Bossy and told him about it, had 30 minutes chuckle, and got to know him a little bit more personal. Those are the types of conversations you love to have and talk to players, watching him go down the wing and let a slapshot go over or a little quick slapshot. It was impressive. There’s a reason he scored 50 goals in 11 straight years.

Chris, this has been a really helpful conversation. It’s obviously fascinating to talk to someone of your stature and your background. We wish you the best along with Lauren in continuing to grow Well Inspired Travels. I would encourage my audience to look into it, for your company, for your executive team, for your family, or for yourself. There’s so much that Chris and his staff provide and it’s a service that we need, and sometimes we don’t even know we need it until we’ve experienced it.

That’s exactly the tagline right there. That’s why you do what you do, Rob.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re not learning, you’re going backwards because everybody else is learning and getting better.” username=””]

It’s been great. I wish you the best. Please say hello to Lauren for us and your staff. Keep doing well out there in the travel industry.

I appreciate it.

This sense of control is something Chris learned over a hard thought career. Though the unwinding pressure from all sides to perform at the highest level, as he describes it, could have been easily overtaken him. That’s why Chris and his wife, Lauren are so passionate about Well Inspired Travels. Their family-owned luxury travel business for athletes, entertainers, CEOs, companies, and families. Hear the inspiring stories of what prompted their new business and how his lessons in professional sports informed their business decisions. Join Chris and me for the rest of the conversation on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform for what promises to be a front-row seat into the mind and life of one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all time.

Important Links:

About Chris Pronger

GFEP 28 | Luxury TravelAs a professional athlete with twenty years in the NHL, I’ve heard and seen it all. But, I didn’t start my career in luxe gyms and training facilities – I grew up in a small town in Canada where I groomed my hockey skills with countless road hockey games. These games grew with intensity and when I wasn’t playing the game, I was weightlifting or biking at my local rec center.

Toughened by street hockey, I was able to make the jump to the NHL, where I’d be introduced to proper nutrition and training during my second year with the St. Louis Blues. After four years of living the life of a professional athlete, I was committed to eating properly and training with a purpose. My game took off, and this new way of life paired with my natural abilities helped me secure a spot as a finalist for the Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman). Eating, sleeping, and training with a strong ideology helped me to achieve the honor of winning the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Norris Trophy in the same year. This achievement had not been seen since the great Bobby Orr did it in 1972, and it hasn’t been done since.

Playing the way that I did took a toll on my body, so it was important to me to stay on top of the latest health and wellness offerings. From ART (active release techniques), specialized nutrition, and making time to recharge my batteries at health-conscious resorts, I’ve always studied and implemented the best practices available into my lifestyle.

I’ve played hockey in four Winter Olympics: Nagano, Japan, Salt Lake, Utah, Torino, Italy, Vancouver, British Columbia; I’ve had the honor to train alongside athletes at the very top of their careers. Olympic athletes use state-of-the-art equipment, train endlessly, and treat their bodies with the utmost care. Watching these athletes, learning from them, and living these experiences were essential to my health and fitness education. The Olympics introduced me to a whole new level of dedication and commitment to the game and to health.

But, it hasn’t been all glamorous traveling and time on the ice. I’ve had fourteen surgeries during my career and countless concussions, sprains, and strains. Hockey is tough on your body, and as a hard-hitting defenseman, intense physicality isn’t optional. I lived by the saying “mind over matter,” which kept me on the ice for so long – until a freak accidental high stick caught me in the eye and I was forced to quit. Recovery from an unplanned accident that ended my career was tough on my body and even more so on my mind. It wasn’t easy to walk away, in fact, I tried to make a comeback. But, I strongly believe that the body knows when the time is up, so with an incredible support system I made the decision to officially leave the game as a player.

The damage of my final injury took a toll on my overall health, and I had beefed up more than I would have liked. Battling blurred vision and fuzzy feeling in my head, I returned to nutrition and fitness to heal. To recharge, I searched for special destinations featuring fitness centers, clean menus, and an emphasis on health. It’s my belief that nurturing a healthy lifestyle is how I was able to overcome the depths of concussions and injuries I endured.

My passion for travel sparked during my career as a professional athlete. I loved being able to see different cities constantly and made sure to try something new during each visit. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a whole new culture or community helps you to continually grow. In my current job with the Florida Panthers, I make it a conscious decision to stay at hotels that have fitness centers or are close to gyms so that I am able to continue living my best life! While I’m on the road, I pack healthy snacks that keep me satiated and fuel my body with what it needs. I believe that a healthy lifestyle can be achieved by anyone who’s willing to commit to it and I’m inspired by our ability to share our stories with one another.

Chris Pronger

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence


How do you carry a firearm with confidence and still slay it, fashionably speaking? A question like that easily conjures images of Lara Croft or Alice, but it touches on something that is of real concern for women – and even men – nowadays. Whatever your opinion about guns is, the need for personal protection is real, and it weighs upon more people than you think, especially women. However, most of the women’s apparel in the market is not specifically designed for women who want to conceal firearms in their person comfortably. Amy Robbins solves this through Alexo Athletica, a unique women’s apparel company dedicated to defend women and help them find the confidence to live and protect themselves as they see fit. It is certainly a brave step at a time when the nation is much divided when it comes to the gun question. In this conversation with Rob Cornilles, Amy talks about the driving factors that led her to embark on this unique crusade to the point of marching against the tide of popular opinion. 

Watch the episode here:

Amy Robbins | Choosing To Carry With Confidence

Empowerment, self-preservation, choice, strong words that evoke a variety of emotions and which have motivated Amy Robbins. Amy is co-founder and CEO of Alexo Athletica, a unique women’s apparel company whose mission is to defend and to help women find greater confidence to live and protect themselves as they see fit. Fast becoming a national phenomenon, Amy is this episode’s Game Face exec.  

It’s a real thrill to welcome Amy Robbins, the co-founder, and CEO of Alexo Athletica straight from Dallas, Texas. Amy, welcome to the show.  

Rob, it’s good to be here with youI have to give you kudos because Alexo Athletica is hard for people to say. I need to know, did you practice that several times before I came on?  

I’ve said it many times before. I stumbled the first few times I tried it but by now it’s old hat.  

It’s the alliterationThere’s a lot behind how we chose Alexo Athletica but I always have to give props to people that get it right the first timeGood job.  

Thank you. I appreciate that. We’re off to a good startLet me ask you, Amy. When you and I have spoken, it’s interesting to find your background and your varied interestsWhen people ask me, “How would you describe Amy Robbins?” quite frankly, I don’t know how to put it into one phrase or even certainly one word. I thought of, She’s an entrepreneur, she’s a businesswomanshe’s a gun rights advocate, she’s a non-traditional feminist. How do you describe Amy Robbins? 

Rob, honestly I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve never been somebody that gets too wrapped up and concerned with titles and descriptions because honestly, I feel that puts you in such a boxhave several titles that you gave and those are all good, but I definitely want to add mother and wife to that list as well because those are the two most important things. I would say it’s the two most important titles that I hold over any of the other things that I do. 

I appreciate that because you became a mother in 2020, didn’t you?  

I did, probably during one of the craziest times in my lifetime. He came five days after Dallas shut down everythingWe’re right in the middle of the pandemicI said, “It’s going to make a great birth story. We saved the frontpage newspaper for him so we could tell him everything that was going onI had my first child in March of 2020It’s been an exciting year for sure.  

CongratulationsYou and your husband cofounded the business. Is that fair to say?  

[bctt tweet=”The self-reliant woman is the most confident woman. ” via=”no”]

We didcouldn’t do this without him. He’s been incredibly supportive the entire timeI pitched this crazy idea to start a clothing company that gave women the ability to carry self-defense tools to himI had all my research planned out because I wasn’t sure how he was going to accept this because there’s a new athletic company popping up every ten minutesTo get him on board, I had to make my case and show him all the research that I had done, and also share my personal experience with him as to why I thought this product was incredibly neededIt didn’t take that much convincing. I laid it all out for him and he was like, I’m in, I’m on board. What do we need to do? I looked at him and I said, I have no idea. I don’t have a background in manufacturing. I don’t have a background in fashion designI’m not sure what we do but I know enough people in this industry that we can figure it out. Let’s go and let’s do this. Let’s make it happen. 

Let’s get into that story a little bit, Amy because it’s a fascinating storyAs more and more people learn your story, they say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” That’s a concern that I’ve hadI don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here but you’re an avid runner. We know that. You’re a marathoner, you love fitnessIn your private and personal workouts, as you tell the story, you’d be outside, you’d be running maybe at twilight or at sunsetYou had a bit of a concern as you were engaged in your hobby, which turned into a businessTell us the story of how Alexo Athletica began.  

It goes back a couple of years even before my marathon experience and what happened to me when I was training for my marathon because honestly, I had never thought about firearms as a means of personal safety except for in the homeWhat had happened, I grew up in a house where my dad always had firearms. We had all girls in my family but he was an avid hunter. He carried firearms when we went on family tripsThe way that they were always presented to us was these firearms are tools that are here to protect and defend our family and also provide food and provide essentials for our familyThat was my framework for firearms growing up my entire life but it didn’t become personal to me until I started hosting a television show.  

It was a lifestyle show focused on Millennials and firearmsI was like the newbie on the show. My dad had bought me my first firearm that Christmas right before I had started the show. I didn’t know anything about them. Honestly, I was quite intimidated by them because I didn’t know how to operate them but I knew that it was important. We lived out in the middle of nowhere. The cops were going to take forever to get to our house. My husband traveled all the timeI was like, I want to at least know how to protect myself if I need toIf the firearm is going to be in the house, I need to know how to do it safely, responsibly and I need to know how to take care of myself.  

That was the beginning of my journey into the firearm world.” I never looked at myself as a gun girl. I looked at the firearms community as something that was very much not me. I didn’t think I looked like a gun owner. I didn’t think I fit the mold of what a gun girl or a gun person wasI never thought that they were going to be accessible to meAs I did this show, everyone around me carried a firearm for personal defenseThey had their license to carryThey took this lifestyle to heart and it was then that it became something that I started to considerThat was the framework for what led me into even thinking about starting this company with Alexo.  

First of all, what does your dad think about what you do?  

He thinks it’s cool. It’s funny because now my dad and my husband both come to me when they have questions about what firearms to buy. I’ve almost outpaced them a little bit in my skillset and in my knowledge of firearms and they think it’s cool. I was always the tomboy in the family. My dad said I was the son that he never had, and I never understood that or thought that was a compliment until I got older, but they think it’s cool that I can help give them adviceThey even pass me off to their friends now when their friends have questions about what firearms do they buy themselves or their wives for home defense or if they want to take the next step further and make it a lifestyle and carry on the body all the time.  

In the evolution of the company, you have almost by default become a gun rights advocateWe both know because we’ve talked about our businesses before. We’re both small business owners. In order to survive, you have to stand out, you have to almost be edgy in this world whether you’re using social media or your product or sloganeeringYou definitely have an edgy feel to your business. Is that because of your television background, your marketing background that you knew? In order to get the attention of a prospective buyer, you had to stand outIs that one way to do it?  

I don’t think it was anything that was ever intentional on our part but we did understand the environment and the controversy that surrounded firearms in generalThe interesting thing about our company is Alexo started focusing on women’s apparelWe focused on women’s apparel because we truly believe that the self-reliant woman is the most confident womanWe also knew that giving them the ability to carry a tool is a small piece of this entire lifestyle of being a fully capable personIt was interesting because I’m going to say we launched our company right at the height of the #MeToo MovementWe were able to capitalize on the controversy that was surrounding the #MeToo Movement and we weren’t trying to be controversial.  

What we were trying to tell people was like, “We want to solve this solution of the women that are saying #MeToo, that these things that happened to them, this assault, this sexual assault.” We wanted to provide a solution for womenThat didn’t mean putting a firearm in the hand of every single woman. We wanted to give women the tools to feel confident, to be able to defend and protect themselves and carry whatever it was that made them feel confidentThey got in a situation that they found themselves where they might have to say, “Mtoo. We wanted to give them the option to never have to say, “Me too. If something had happened to them, we wanted to make sure that they never had to experience that againNaturally, there was controversy surrounding that because sometimes, especially media outlets, couldn’t see past the fact that we marketed things with a firearm because we had built holsters in the pants of our outfits.  

For a lot of media, that is very antifirearm because they don’t understand it. They look at everything that has a firearm in it and marketing as promoting guns or maybe gun violence and that simply wasn’t the case. We looked at it as we’re providing a solution to a problem. We’re providing confidence. That controversy worked to our benefit because we were a small business and we were completely self-funded. We didn’t have any money for marketingWe were able to pick up a lot of free media and free marketing that helped propel and launch our company to the level that we’re at now because there was also nobody else doing it at that pointWhen we launched in 2017, we were the first and only company on the entire lifestyle brand that gave women the ability to choose how they wanted to defend and protect themselves.  

I like to get inside the mind of an entrepreneurLet’s go back to your hobby. You’re a marathonerYou had some experiences that were the inspiration behind Alexo. Paint that picture for us a little bit.  

Anyone who runs a marathon understands, especially as a woman, you’re running crazy hours early in the morning or late at night and a lot of times you’re doing it by yourselfWomen face a lot of different issues when it comes to running than guys do. We both face itIt became very personal to me. I was out running one day out in the country. I did the same awesome back road run at a 7mile loop that I would do and never unsafe. At this point, I was not carrying any self-defense tool on my body. I hadn’t thought about itI remember I went out for a run one day and on my path I see this white van coming over the hill that was full of men.  

Typically, it wouldn’t bother me or scare me, but when they slowed down and they rolled the windows down and they start doing the catcalling and all that, it makes you a little uneasyFrom there, they passed me. They went to the stop sign but then they turned aroundIt was at that point I turned around, I was like, “Maybe nothing is going to happen,” but that gut intuition told me like, “What are you going to do? I’m outnumbered. If something were to happen, what are you going to do, Amy?” I started planning my escape route and all these things like, “What am I going to do? Luckily, my story ended thereAs I went and started researching, what I started finding was 80% of women runners, walkers and joggers had experienced some form of harassment or assault. 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Cloth holsters are super convenient and super comfortable to carry. It eliminates a lot of barriers of entry for women to want to carry on their bodies.


Unfortunately, there have been numerous women that have even been murdered when they’d been by themselves on a runI saw this problem and I’m like, “Fifty-four percent of women choose walking or runningIt’s a large population. Many of those runners have experienced this.” I forget what the stat was when we did this years ago, it was up to like 70% of those women carrying some form of self-defense tool when they ran or walkedI’m like, I went and got my license to carry. I started seeing how many women got their license to carry as wellWe’re all wearing athletic clothes 80% of the time, even if we’re not working out. There has to be a better way for us to carry these tools in a hidden place on our body so that we could access them very easily and quickly and we can be handsfree.” We all know that when you’re handsfree, it helps you be situationally aware a lot more than when you’ve got a lot of stuff in your hands and you’re distracted 

That’s the genesis of the company. It was a personal needI started seeing how many millions of women had this same fear. I was like, I don’t want to stop running because I had a fearful experience. I want to be prepared and have the tools that I need to continue living my life in complete confidence that I’m able to handle and take care of myselfI don’t have to change my daily routine because I can’t fend for myself. When we started developing this idea, it was like, I want this to be so much more than just a clothing brand or an apparel brand. 

It was the ethos, it was the community behind what we were doing that we knew we had something specialThere was no competition in the market at that pointWe’ve since started to see people popping up and trying to do the same thingI think they think, “It’s easy. We’ll put some holsters built into athletic pants and we’ll do exactly what Alexo is doing. They don’t understand the importance of that ethos and that mindset of what we were trying to accomplish that I believe set us apart from all the other people that are starting to enter into the market at this point 

My readers will have to secure one of your pieces of apparel to see how it works or they can go on your website. There are some great videos there. I will tell you, as one who has not put on an Alexo piece, but it seems to me like a heavy firearm would be very uncomfortable. Granted, there are people who are concealing weapons constantly. They have the license to carry but when you’re exercising, it seems that that would be uncomfortableHow did you work yourself around that?  

I always say that the women’s line was a lot easier to overcome that challenge than the men’s line. We’ve been working on our men’s lineCOVID set that back a little bit. Men like to carry super heavy firearms but because I was in the industry before this, I knew what the most common models were that women were carrying on a daily basis. They were small, subcompact, microcompact, evenI knew for a woman, it’s a lot harder to conceal big gunsWe typically will gravitate towards smaller modelsWhen we built that, we built that with that in mindThe factory recommendation is 23 ounces loaded weight or less, which shows the most common models for women carrying firearms save P365, a SIG 938, a Glock 43, a Ruger LCP.  

Those are small modelsOf the most common models, those are the ones that fit under our pants. I do get asked every now and then, “Are you going to make a model that we can carry our Glock 19? I’m like, “Probably not because I don’t know a woman that wants to go run 12 miles with a Glock 19 on her hip. Usually, that’s from law enforcement officers that we get asked that question because their duty weapons are typically heavier. They have a higher capacityWe get asked that a lot from our FBI agents and our law enforcement but most women carry small firearmsAnother concern was the comfortability of it. A lot of barriers to women carrying is how uncomfortable, big, bulky Kydex holster isWe wanted to eliminate thatThat’s why we went with these great cloth holsters that make it super convenient and super comfortable to carryIt eliminates a lot of barriers of entry for women to want to carry on body. It eliminates the need for them to throw it in their purse, which is ineffective. It gets more people carrying on the bodywhich to me is the most effective self-defense method if you are going to choose to carry a firearm.  

Quite frankly, we’re wearing athletic gear when we go shopping, when we’re going to watch the kids’ soccer game. It’s not just for exercisingAlso, I’ve seen your apparel and it carries all kinds of instruments like a phone, for exampleIt’s not just for firearms.  

We wanted to make a very functional utility line because we want to give the tools to men and to women to live a self-reliant lifeWhatever can help you be hands-free, whatever can help you, we load those things with pockets. Our signature line has over ten storage spaces built in the leggingsYou can go pursefree if you want to and not have to worry about that, which I did. I went to NASCAR and didn’t even have to worry about taking a purse because I packed all my pockets out and it was super convenientMoms are wearing these pants, the moms that don’t carry a firearm, they’re wearing them because they’re finding it super convenient to put everything on their body and have quick access to it when they need it.  

That’s what’s been most exciting to usThere are a ton of women that are understanding like, I may not carry a firearm. I never have a need for that but I do want to have functionality and utilities and pockets and placesI like the idea that this company supports my right to choose how I want to defend myself. lot of people are jumping on board with the Alexo community and the Alexo mindsetThey understand we’re not about empowering people and giving people confidence through the ability to strengthen their bodies. We want to help them have a sharp mind, a strong body and the tools that they need to say, I can take care of myself in any situation. That ethos and the mission of our company is truly what sets us apart from other athletic companies that are entering into the market on a day in, day out basis.  

[bctt tweet=”We have the right to defend our life. It’s important that we hone in on the fact that women are able to do this. ” via=”no”]

This idea of empowerment to me is inspiring because frankly, it’s tragic that you even had to think about starting this company. Yet thankfully, your mind, your experience and your spirit said, “There’s got to be a solution because I have the right to exercise or to be out in the public when I want to be out, where I want to be outI shouldn’t be limited by my fears. You’ve empowered womenI like how you’ve described it both here and also in your marketing materials that you’re giving people, especially women, the right to choose how they want to defend themselves but also how they want to liveThat’s brilliant.  

Thank you. That was the most important thing to meespecially since we started out with women’s apparel only. It doesn’t change. Even men want to be competentcapable and able to take care of themselves no matter what situation they find themselves inMen and women, we’re seeing them every single day going out and finding tools and places to sharpen their mindset, to increase the strength of their bodyFor many people, especially in America, they are a part of that. Being an ultracapable person is being a prepared person whether that’s prepared with your selfdefense, prepared by having a spare tire in your car just in case you need it. They’re starting to think of preparation a lot differentlyBeing a prepared person is the number one thing that gives you peace of mind, no matter what situation you find yourself inThat’s true at the core of what we’re doing. There’s such a deeper message than, “Here’s a place to put your firearmGo carry. That’s a piece of it but it’s definitely a lot deeper than that as well.  

You talk about selfpreparation. I love the way you described that. It also reminds me of selfpreparation is also the precursor to self-preservationIf you’re not prepared, it’s hard to preserveHow do you get around the notion and perhaps the misjudgment that many might have that you’re not promoting selfpreparation or self-preservation, you’re promoting violence? You’ve addressed thatAmy, but if you could go a little bit deeper into that because in today’s climate especially in the United States where it seems like firearms are becoming more prevalent in the newsThey seem to be the instigator of more news events. I’ve got to perceive that some people are cheering you on while other people wish you would go out of business.  

We definitely have seen both sides of thatThat’s why we feel such a responsibility to continue to educate and to continue in our marketing efforts and the promotion of this entire mind, body, armor idea where it’s so much more than the firearmWe want to continue to push on this idea that we have a right to choose in this countryWe can play that game too with the right of choiceWe‘ve done a good job and been able to navigate these tricky waters because it hasn’t always been about the firearm to us. It never was. It never started out that way. I’m a licensed firearm instructorIt was natural for me to carry a firearm but with our initial messaging and branding, it was never about that.  

We’ve been very consistent in our messaging from day oneWe can always point back to this isn’t just about the firearmThere are some media outlets that have wanted to make it all about thatOddly enough, the thing that surprised me, most of the pushback came from other womenIt came from a lot of women who believe in misguided stats when it comes to firearmsI try to push back and educateOne of the biggest stats that they like to tout as a woman is more likely to die in a household where there’s a firearmI’m like, “Women are ultracapable of learning about that firearm and using it in a self-defense situation they want to.” I don’t like the idea that a woman isn’t smart enough or strong enough or capable enough to learn something like a firearm and use it in a self-defense situation.  

It’s super important to me that we continue to honein on the fact that women are able to do this. They’re capable of doing thisWith the right training and the right safety measures in place, it can be a tool that could be used to their benefit. It has been interesting to see this but we say on our website that we want to apologize for being Second Amendment advocatesI believe the Second Amendment gives us the right to choose how we want to defend ourselves. It’s about bearing arms and bearing arms is the pinnacle of a self-defense tool but ultimately it recognizes that we all have a right to life and a right to defend that lifeIt still gives people the opportunity to choose mace or a taser or whatever else they choose to defend and protect themselves. It is recognized under our Constitution that we have the right to defend our lifeI don’t apologize for thatThat will always be at the core of who we areIt’s been interesting as we’ve navigated all of those. Everyone has very strong opinions on firearms.  

Some of those opinions, I’m not saying allare probably based on either side on misinformation or misunderstanding and give an example of that. You and I have chatted before about the fact that I have a relative who is very much a gun advocate because the things that you articulated, they feel the sameThey’re strong in thatThey have educated me on things that I never considered in the pastOne of the things that I’ve learned from them is that gun owners who are responsible, which are the vast majority of gun owners, have a strict rule of ethics that they abide byIn fact, I’d like you to talk a little bit about that in the world in which you find yourself in which you are commercializing your hobby, which turned into a business. Those who are responsible gun owners do certain things and are required to do certain thingsIt’s not because they’re compelled to do it. I find it’s because they have a desire to act and live responsibly as individuals and as citizensCan you give us a little bit of peek into that world? 

I’m glad you brought that up because there is a misconception about gun owners that is flat out wrong. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Every gun owner that I know takes safety and training very seriouslyThey take it seriously because they understand that if they don’t then they’re a part of the problem. They’re a part of the problem that could that right stripped awayThey go to the range and they practice. They know how their firearm operates. They know the four basic gun laws of safety to make you a responsible gun ownerThey’re storing their firearms. They’re thinking about the safety of their family and their home. They don’t have to be told or mandated by the government to be safe gun owners. They’re doing it because they understand the importance of doing that helps preserve the Second AmendmentEspecially to take it the next step further, those that have their license to carry, that’s a whole other level of safety, training and responsibility.  

You’re talking about a group of individuals who have said, I want to take my safety into my own hands. I don’t want to have to rely on anybody elseIn order to do that, I need to be extremely trained. I need to think of all of the scenarios. It starts with the mind. The mindset is the most important thing for people that carry a firearm because they’re thinking about every way to get out of this situation to have to use their firearm. They’re not thinking about going into a fight and using their firearm. Every concealed carry holder that I know is thinking, I need to be so situationally aware that I can get out of this situation and never have to draw my weapon,” but you can’t do that unless you’re trained in situational training. You can’t do that unless you’re looking at your surroundings constantly 

When I say these people are very responsible and they have good mindsets, these are the things that they’re thinking about on a daily basis, which is it’s a higher level than the normal gun owner who keeps their firearm at home and never touches it and never has to go to the range and use itThey’re spending their time, their money. It’s an expensive hobby to get into shootingWhen you’re going to carry a tool on your body that can take life, you better take it seriously. You better be at the range knowing where your target is, knowing what’s beyond your target. That’s super important when it comes to shooting. You better know how to store that, how to operate it, how to draw safely so that you don’t harm yourself or anybody else that you weren’t intending to.  

There’s a lot that goes into carrying a firearm on your body than grabbing a gun and putting it in a holster and calling it a day. I have to educate people on that because a lot of people that are anti-gun, a lot of that is based on fear. Not every one of them but a lot of people who are anti-gun or who are pushing for this legislation to remove and restrict people’s rights to own a firearm is because they don’t understand the safety, training and the responsibility, or they’ve never picked up a gun and shot it themselves, and they can be extremely intimidating. There is a lot of fear behind that. I take a lot of my friends who are “anti-gun” to the range. They’re like, “That wasn’t so bad.” We have a responsibility as gun owners to help educate as many people as we can, especially those that are afraid of them. Take them, show them how to operate it, how to be safe with it. That’s one way to combat what we’re seeing in our country. 

My friends, my readers know that I’ve never voiced any advocacy for gun rights. It’s not because I’m opposed to guns but I’ve never been an advocateOne of the things that come to my mind as you’re describing this, Amy, is that it’s like driving a vehicle. We all have to get a license to drive a vehicle, those of us who want to and yet there are some people out on the freeways, out on the streets who will run the red light, who will weave in and out of traffic on the freeway at dangerous speedsWe look at those people and we say, “Those people are crazyThey’re putting all of our lives in jeopardy, they’re endangering us,” but we would never think that we should take everyone’s cars away from them or to limit people’s ability to drive. We simply say, “Thlaw needs to take action against that person and we need to have better training, better schooling in responsible driving. Is that a fair comparison? 

It isIt’s interesting that you pointed that out because if you think about it, all the scenarios that you mentioned, running the red light, even drunk driving, speeding, there are already laws on the books that make all of those activities illegal but it doesn’t stop people from doing itTo me, when this restrictive gun legislation comes into play, you can put all of the laws on the books that you wantThe very small amount of people in this country, if you look at the hundreds of millions of firearms that are in our country and the hundreds of millions of gun owners that are out there and we compare that to the few that are using that firearm for criminal acts, it doesn’t matter what law is on the books.  

They’re criminals. They’re using it for a criminal act. They’re going to continue to do thatI always taught people what the stricter legislation does is it infringes on the rights of the lawabiding citizens. Those who are already taking responsibility and safety very seriously would never do anything to intentionally harm anybody or do anything criminal with their firearmThat’s why I push back on a lot of this legislation because I don’t think that it’s going to solve the problem. It doesn’t solve these people that are doing these acts, it’s evil intentions that are in their heart and you can’t legislate evil. You can’t legislate that out of somebody. They’re going to do it whether or not there’s a law on the book or not then we have more laws that are infringing on lawabiding citizens and not doing anything to solve the problem. 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Being a prepared person is the number one thing that gives you peace of mind, no matter what situation you find yourself in.


I know that you’re a CEO of an apparel company and I’ve driven you down this path of talking about gun rightsI apologize but I’m also grateful for shedding some light on this and making us all more aware of rights that do exist in our country. They’ve existed for centuries and we need to honor people’s ability to exercise those rightsLet me ask you one last question about this. I want to query more about Alexo, but if someone is interested and they’re hearing you and they think, I’m persuaded by what Amy is saying, what would you recommend they do if they feel now is the time to learn how to protect themselves?  

They would be joining the eight million first-time gun owners that bought firearms. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people going out and buying firearms. On one hand, I’m excited about that. On the other hand, I’m like, “It’s not about going and buying a gun and calling it a day.” I highly recommend many steps and many things prior to buying your first firearm. Making sure that you get to the range can work with an excellent certified instructor who can show you how to operate that. You need to know how to operate your tool. To use your car analogy, you would never throw somebody in a car, give them the keys and then say, “Go have fun with that,” because the car can be used as a deadly weapon as well. With the firearm, it’s no different. You want to know how your specific model works.  

The best way to do that is to find a great trainer depending on the state you live in. I’m in Texas, there’s a gun range on every corner around here that is full of certified instructors. They love helping first-time gun owners feel confident and comfortable utilizing that tool that they are either going to keep in their house or keep on their body if they decide to take the next steps and get a license to carry that firearm. Training is the most important thing that I push. When my friends come to me and ask me, “What gun do I buy?” It starts us down an entire conversation of so much more than the gun. While we talk about situational awareness, I ask them, “What’s the purpose of the firearm? Why do you want to use this firearm? Are you prepared to use a tool like that if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use it?” If the answer is no, I don’t direct you to buy a firearm. You need to think through many of these situations and that makes you a more responsible gun owner. We talk through that and then if they do say, “Yes, I’m ready to take that next step,” it’s helping them find the right training that makes them feel comfortable and confident and proficient in using that tool. 

appreciate that advice for those who want to follow up on thatYou mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that the name Alexo was inspired in some way. Can you give us more insight? I said Alexo Athletica properly and some people don’t. Where did you come up with the name? Obviously, a name usually means something. lot of small businesses starting, especially in the tech industry, come up with names. You don’t know what the heck that means but I sense that there’s something behind your name so help us.  

It’s funny because a lot of people think we’re sister companies with Athleta and I have to constantly be like, “No association.” I don’t think The Gap wants to be associated with a company that allows people to carry a firearm. No relation to Athleta whatsoever. It was interesting because with my background in marketing and advertising, words are super important. I want it to be able to encompass many different things in one or two words. For me, I’ve always loved the Greek language for that reason. It can take one word and have an entire definition of what that one word encompasses. The Greek language is unique in that sense. We’re a little different from the English language. We’ve got to say a lot of words to me to say what we want to mean. 

[bctt tweet=”Infringing on the rights of citizens to carry guns doesn’t solve criminality. You can’t legislate evil out of anybody.” via=”no”]

In the Greek language, you don’t have to do that. I was looking through the Greek word that sounds like I want something that embodies strength, confidence. I didn’t know if I wanted it to be this warrior spirit or what, but I wanted it to embody all the things that the brand was going to embody. I started googling the goddess of war and warrior, and Alexandra popped up as the Greek Goddess of War. As I looked into that, the root word, Alexo, was the part of the word that meant to defend and to help. I was like, “That’s it.” It was literally gotten dropped out in our lap and I was like, “That’s it. We don’t even have to look any further because that’s exactly what we want to be able to do.” 

We want to be able to help men and women find what they feel confident in defending themselves and being prepared. I loved the word Athletica because I thought that Alexo is a little masculine. Athletica is feminine. You have that good juxtaposition but also since you have two As, we are two A company. It worked out perfectly. It was funny because I was reading Sara Blakely. She is one of my idols. I love her story about how she created Spanx. I was reading in her bio after we had launched the company why she put an X in the name of Spanx over a KS. She said that X is a very bold, common letter that people use in their words. I didn’t even know that. I hadn’t read that yet. She said, “It’s like Kodak does it and Spanx did it.” She listed off all these companies that use an X. I was like, “We’re on the same wavelength as Sara Blakely. We must be doing something right.” That’s where the company came from. It was that Greek word, Alexo, which means to defend and to help. 

We get a peek into the mind of a marketer with thatThank you, Amy. We’ve got Amy, we’ve got Alexo, we’ve got Athletica, but we also have within your company, ambassadors. Another wordHelp us understand what’s an Alexo ambassador?  

Alexo ambassadors are women who helped us from the grassroots level. They’re already authentically living this life of being self-reliant and being prepared. They truly believe in a woman’s right to choose how they want to defend themselves. Not every one of our ambassadors carries a firearm. Not even all of our ambassadors even own a firearm, but they all believe at their core that a woman has a right to choose and a woman has a right to defend herself. They were building a community. It was super important for us because we didn’t have any money for marketing. We knew right out of the gate that we wanted to go out, make all these touchpoint contacts, like personal contacts. I was spending hours before we launched reaching out to different accounts that I would see on Instagram. Some with huge followings, some with small followings. 

I liked the smaller following accounts more because I was like, “These women are living this life authentically, sharing about their journey and to self-reliance with their normal everyday audience.” They’re not doing it because they’re getting paid by a gun company. They’re doing it because they truly wanted to share their journey of how they got into whether it’s firearms or tasers or a mace, why they chose to carry a self-defense tool. I loved that idea. I would reach out to them. I was constantly asking them about their stories, “Tell me what was your a-ha moment? What happened in your life that got you to a point where you wanted to carry a self-defense tool? Tell me that story.” By doing that and truly caring about these women, they jumped on board when we launched our line and truly helped us launch this entire company.  

When we launched in October of 2017 with pre-order, mind you because in manufacturing, you’re never going to get your stuff when you think you’re going to get it. That was a lesson that we learned. We were all excited about the launch. We were launching in October and then our stuff didn’t get here until December. We pivoted very quickly and had to like, “We’ll do a pre-order.” Luckily, we had built these great relationships with many of these women on a grassroots level that they all bought our stuff. We were already sold out of our inventory before it even got here. That was a great sign to us. Now, we encourage women to sign up for our ambassador program to vet it. 

We do obviously want to make sure that every person, if they are going to post firearm pictures, we’re not going to go and sign on an ambassador that we see are not handling their firearm right, that doesn’t have good trigger control, that is pointing their gun in an unsafe direction. They’re not utilizing proper trigger protection. We do vet our ambassadors because we don’t care about the numbers and the number of ambassadors. We care about the quality of the ambassadors, especially when it comes to something as serious as promoting firearms and concealed carry. We have to know that these people are living the life and they’re taking the safety, training and responsibility very seriously. 

You indicated that you and your husband, when you founded the company, basically bootstrapped this thing. You didn’t need to raise the capital. I have a lot of entrepreneurs who read Game Face Execs, people who are thinking about starting their own business or have recently done so, and that’s a debate we always have as small business owners. Should I raise capital? Should I get partners and investors or should I go it alone? What was your thinking? 

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: There’s a lot that goes into carrying a firearm on your body than grabbing a gun and putting it in a holster and calling it a day.


My husband and I, when we said that we’re going to go allin on this company, I quit my job. He was still working his job at this point in the corporate world but we made the decision to sell our homeWe took a chunk of that, which was $30,000. We invested that in the first round of inventory and said, “That’s our risk tolerance. We’re either going to lose it or we’re going to make enough money to put it on another round of inventoryLet’s see how this grows and where it goes. Originally, we did start with a 3 to 5-year business planWe did start with our end in mind and how we’re going to get this.  

How we’re going to grow this company to be where we want it to be in 3 to 5 years. Naturally, our minds went to, “We don’t have a ton of money. We need to go to investors and we need to get people to help us out on this. How much of the company are we willing to give up?” The challenge for us was because nobody was doing this. This was a very foreign concept. I can’t even tell you the endless amount of Angel investor meetings. I had venture capitalists’ meetings. No offense to any of these guys. They are successful but I’m sitting in a room with 50 to 60-year-old men trying to sell women’s apparel to them that can carry firearms.  

The concept was so far out there. Most of them were not in the apparel space. For a lot of investors, that’s too risky for them. Retail is a risky investment anyway but especially on an idea that it’s not proven, that has no proof of concept, and they don’t even understand that space. It was a very hard sell but I would never give up that experience of making that pitch because it helped me hone in the message. It helped me get super comfortable and confident, you would think my hearing no that many times would make me be like, “I guess I’ll go home. Maybe I don’t have an idea.” Every no I heard, it strengthened my resolve and made me dig in and say, “No, I know I have something here. I know we have a product. You aren’t getting it. It’s my job to make you get it.” 

I would go home and be like, “What’s going to resonate?” Each time, I would tailor my pitch a little bit differently and we got close many times too. We’re right there on the brink of getting investment and the risk wasn’t there. Also, we didn’t have money for marketing. We were limited in how much inventory we could buy and then sell. The sales numbers weren’t there right out of the gate for a lot of investors. That was fine. It saved us because at this point, we own 100% of our company and we’re doing great, and we didn’t have to give up a percentage of our company and a percentage of our dream to work with partners that didn’t understand the concept.  

At our next level of where we’re going, we do see the potential. Now investors are calling us. I don’t have to call them and set up the pitch meetings. They’re calling us. It’s nice that we get to navigate through that and say, “Not right this second. We don’t need it now but here’s where we’re headed and maybe in the future.” I never burned a bridge there. I always keep those relationships going in case we do need that in the future. Every company is different. You said you’ve got a lot of entrepreneurs that are reading this and it’s such a personal decision on what you choose to do. It can be extremely stressful to bootstrap it yourself, but it can also be very rewarding if you’re ready and willing to put in the time and the effort to grow it. Do you believe enough in your dream that you work hard to make it happen? I don’t have advice for people one way or the other because I tried both ways. The investor route didn’t work out for us at the beginning, but I would never trade that experience for anything because it truly helped us continue to hone in our messaging and believe in ourselves and our dream even more. 

It’s a very inspiring storyI have to ask you because you’re a husbandwife team and you’ve made a strategic choice to make you, Amy, the face of the companyI have to ask you, there are a lot of people who want to start a business but perhaps the spouse or the significant other isn’t on board. You’ve been able to succeed because of each other, not in spite of one or the otherIs there any advice for the married entrepreneur or the one who has a significant other who perhaps is not quite thereThey don’t have that entrepreneurial blood running through their veins. They may not see the vision. How do you navigate that? Is that something you’ve never had to encounter because you were so in line with that?  

No, that’s scary. I didn’t know how my husband was going to respond to the initial idea. I would say though since you do talk a lot about sales, if you can sell your spouse on your vision and your dream, that’s probably the toughest hurdle to overcome. You can accomplish anything because they’re going to be your toughest critic. They see all of your flaws, they see how driven you are. They see what you do on a day in and day out basis with your habits. For a lot of people, it is important to get your spouse on board, especially if it’s going to financially impact your entire family. It’s hard for a lot of spouses that have a good job. 

My husband had a good job to say, “There may come a point where I’m willing to sacrifice that because I believe in this vision and where this is going.” Some people are not in a place that they can do that or they simply aren’t there yet. I would say practice your story and your message so that you can make that sales pitch to your spouse, but then also start setting daily habits that they can see that make them feel more comfortable and confident knowing that you got this and you can do this. My dad instilled a super hard work ethic in all of us since I was a very young girl. My husband saw that I’m already up at 5:00 AM. I’m working, I’m goal-oriented. I’m very driven. 

[bctt tweet=”It is a woman’s right to choose how she wants to defend herself. ” via=”no”]

He knew, “If anyone can accomplish this, you can. I’m willing to put my eggs in that basket,” because he’s seen how I operate on a personal level and a professional level in other situations. If there are some areas that you might need to tweak a little bit to prove to that spouse that you can do it, that’s a great place to start. Not everyone is that fortunate, but I’m super fortunate to have a supportive spouse and I couldn’t do it. His skillset is what helps driving, keep this company going. He is that detail-oriented operations CEO, the perfect COO type, where I’m the visionary and the relationships and the connector. It works. Not every couple is bent that way to work in such a tandem with the other one in a business setting. It might work in a marriage but it might not work in a business setting. You might have to come to terms with that. 

That was great advice, very insightful. As a professional sales consultant, trainer, author, I love how you said that if your spouse is not seeing in you the attributes that they believe even innately are required to be successful in your own business, then you can say all you want to them but it’s not going to be convincing. It’s not going to be responsive. That’s a good point. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk before you can make that “pitch” to a spouse. Amy, you know that this show is themed around individuals like yourself who have motivated people, who have influenced people, who have inspired people, and you certainly have done that and you continue to do that. I congratulate you and I commend you for that.  

I also like to find out from my guests who have inspired them. You’ve given us a little bit of insight on that but I want to go a different route with you as we concludeWho is currently inspiring you to continue this journey into entrepreneurship, into growing this business, even in some people’s minds, our eyes, what could be construed as a controversial business, continues to inspire you, not what started it but what carries you through this journey?  

One hundred percent, it’s our customers and the people that are utilizing our products that send me stories on a daily basis about how our products have changed their life by giving them the confidence that they need to live their daily life. When I get emails from college girls who can’t carry a firearm on campus but can carry a little mace in their pocket, they tell me, “I never realized how afraid I was to walk home at 11:00 at night from the library to my dorm, but what you guys stand for gives me the confidence. It is empowering to know that I’m part of a much bigger community and a group of women who are all self-reliant and who are all empowered.” That is what keeps me going every single day because let’s face it, being an entrepreneur and starting a company especially in something like this space is extremely challenging.

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence

Carry With Confidence: Alexo ambassadors are living this life authentically, sharing their journey to self-reliance with their normal everyday audience.


The highs are high, the lows are low and you have to find and dig in and say like, “What is it that keeps me going every single day?” There are many things that have happened along our journey that most people would have quit. Honestly, we thought about it several times. Right at that moment, I would have gotten an email from either a college student or an FBI agent telling me like, “Thank you so much for making me feel feminine when I carry.” The reasons why people love Alexo are all over the map that I couldn’t have even written the script on all of this. To hear from each and every one of them about what the brand has meant to them and what our stance because we take a lot of the punches for them.  

It gives them confidence when they see that I’m able to go out there and I’m able to face the media. I don’t back down from what I believe in because I’m doing this for all of those women and the men too. I’m out there fighting for each and every one of them because of how important I believe this mission is. That gives them the confidence to know that they have. They can look at somebody who is not only making awesome apparel for them that makes them feel good and look good, and gives them all of this ability to carry their self-defense skills. They know we’re out there standing up for their rights. That is super important to them and that’s when they feel like they’re a part of this community, and they are truly the ones that keep us going every single day. 

Amy, I’m pulling for you. That’s why you’re a guest on this show. I love how you have been able to explain your motivation and what continues to motivate you and inspire youI would encourage my readers to go to to learn moreWe’ll continue to watch your success. I wish you and your husband all the best as you continue forward.  

Thank you so much for having me on. This has probably been one of my favorite shows that I’ve ever done because I love not just focusing on the firearm section but the actual business itselfI appreciate this opportunityThank you.  

It’s been a pleasure. Take care.  

You too.  


How did Amy, who at one time was very uncomfortable even handling a firearm, go from being a fitness fanatic who lived with fear to an inventor of fashionable apparel that can accommodate whatever tool of protection a woman or man choosesWhether or not you’re into runningwalking, firearms or entrepreneurship, you’ll want to read Amy’s inspiring story and the customer stories that inspire her each day in leading Alexo Athletica. 

Important Links:

About Amy Robbins

GFEP 27 | Carry With Confidence While hosting several different lifestyle TV shows, our CEO and Co-founder Amy Robbins’ passion for firearm safety and proficiency grew along with her desire to see women everywhere live a confident, self-reliant lifestyle. As an avid runner with a few bad experiences on her runs, Amy wanted the ability to train for a marathon wherever she wanted to, even in the wee hours, without fearing for her safety, so she obtained her License to Carry. After much research, she realized many women shared these same experiences and she wanted to do something about it. However, she quickly realized that having a license to carry or carrying other tools such as mace or a taser does a woman little good if there are no comfortable, functional (much less great-looking) apparel options that would allow her to exercise while also exercising her right to carry and still look and feel great.

Soon after, in 2017, Amy created Alexo Athletica because no product existed on the market that met her need to feel fashionable while carrying in activewear. She saw white space in the market and jumped on the opportunity to not only provide fashionable, functional carry wear but create a movement of empowered, independent women that could #carrywithconfidence.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit


This may sound overly simplified, but the bottom line to any business’s profitability is increasing revenues and decreasing expenses. Marc Freedman, the author of the bestseller Expense to Profit, helps companies identify those hidden costs in their business and reduce overall expenses to keep more of their revenues. In a way, he exhumes expenses to help clients get extraordinary profits. But Marc’s work isn’t always about finding cheaper vendors. It’s all about what brings the most revenue and the most value for the business. In this conversation with Rob Cornilles, Marc describes how his diverse team of industry experts finds the best solutions for different clients and how the consultancy makes money from that service. Do you think you have an expense in your business that you’re not too sure you’re getting the most of? Chances are you do, so listen in to this episode and learn how Marc and his team can help you.

Watch the episode here:

Marc Freedman | Exposing Expenses For Extra Profits

Excuse this oversimplification but for your business to be profitable, two fundamentals have to be achieved. You have to increase revenues and decrease costs. For decades, I’ve been trusted to help organizations grow revenues through sales. My guest is at the other end of the spectrum. He’s helping companies everywhere reduce expenses so they can keep more of those revenues. I’m a big admirer of the work done by Marc Freedman, consultant and author of the bestseller Expense to Profit. As the forensic accountant for expenses, Marc and his team find the hidden costs that’s keeping companies from becoming wildly profitable.

It’s my pleasure to welcome a friend and bestselling author, Marc Freedman, to the show. He is based in the Washington DC Metro market. I’m glad you’ve been willing and able to join us, Marc. Welcome to the show.

Rob, it’s great to be here. It’s exciting.

Before you and I met or before we became friends, I got to admit, I didn’t quite understand that your business or the type of work that you’re in even existed. Let me set this up for our readers. They all know that I’m in the business of producing revenues. That’s what I do with my clients and that’s what I assist them in. On the other hand, you’re on the opposite side of the ledger. You assist your clients in reducing expenses.

Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum.

We bookend people. If people would hire both of us, we could cover all facets for them.

Think about how much success that business would have.

We’re making a good promotional team already. Marc, you are a certified Expense Reduction Consultant, a title I did not hear before you and I met. Describe for my readers what that means.

The expense reduction process is forensic accounting for expenses. There are specific methodologies and different strategies that you use when you look at how businesses spend money. As anything else, you can be a certified financial planner. There are all different kinds of certifications out there. I felt it’s important when I changed my business from being a business advisor to specializing in the expense side of the equation, which is where I always loved being to begin with when I helped businesses. I felt it was important that I learn the processes that we’re going to make the most amount of success for my clients when I was reducing their expenses.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense To Profit: Getting the information from the vendor is a source of truth.


You’re the Founder and CEO of Expense to Profit, the name of your business, which is also the name of your bestselling book. Before you launched the business, can you talk to us a little bit about your background and what you’ve done professionally?

Originally, my first two years in school were in Rochester at RIT, Rochester Institute of Technology. I was in accounting. I was going to become a CPA. I realized in my sophomore year when I came to the Washington, DC area with my roommates who were twins, “Why am I in Rochester? I got to move to Washington.” I went back, got applications, and I transferred to George Washington University. My goal was to be a tax lawyer to specialize in tax law. I then took curriculum for both businesses in accounting and law. When I got done, I was like, “I don’t like sitting behind a desk.” Now what? Another pivot. I spent four years in the finance world, helping people and businesses be more successful more or less from an operational standpoint. I don’t have the talents that you have on the revenue side. I did that for some clients but not successful.

Years ago, one of my good friends, who also happens to be on the revenue side of things that lives around the corner from me said, “Why don’t you concentrate on the expense side? You’re good at that. You ought to talk to this guy. His name is Phil Gross.” Phil belongs to a franchise group called Expense Reduction Analysts. I thought about joining them. There’s a fee upfront. A lot of dollars but not a big deal. What bothered me more than that was they were going to take $0.18 out of every dollar that I earned in fees. I was like, “That doesn’t sound right.” I said to Phil, “I’m going to get in this business. Do you mind if I hire you guys and some of your partners to help me out when I need specialists in those different categories? If I can’t make it on my own, maybe I’ll think about hooking up with you guys.” He’s like, “Sure, no problem.” That was it. Expense to Profit was formed and it’s been positive ever since.

You and I, when we’ve visited in the past about our respective businesses, I’ve joked with you about Expense to Profit. The cynic in me says, “If you’re an expense reduction expert, it sounds to me like you’re the Grim Reaper.” You come into an organization and you simply look at headcount and say, “We have to have a reduction enforce. I’ll reduce your expenses that way.” You’ve done a good job explaining to me that’s not exactly how it works. Can you clear that misconception for anyone who’s reading who may have the same idea?

One of the areas that we stay away from is belly buttons. We’re not worried about how many belly buttons you have or don’t have. We’re assuming that as a business, you know how many belly buttons you should have. You’ve probably had already gone through that exercise to make sure that you’ve right-sized your business from an employee standpoint. Our goal is to look at how you buy the things that you’re buying to use in your business, whether it’s a service-related thing or whether it’s a commodity-related thing, meaning wireless cell phones, telecom, data services, leased cars, logistics if your business is a high user of UPS, FedEx or one of those types of services.

We’re looking at how you are spending money and where you are getting them from. Eighty-nine percent of the time, we’re able to affect positive change from three aspects. It’s what we call our three-legged stool of our process. The first leg is quality of product. It must be equal or better than you’re currently getting. The second leg is the service levels. Are the service levels what you expect? If they’re not, we then help get those to the levels that you want. If they are, we make sure that they stay at those levels or excel to higher levels. The third piece is the price. Price is always last because if you can’t get what you want when you need it, what good is the price?

[bctt tweet=”Every business has hidden costs. They may not know it yet, but they all need help.” username=””]

When you engage with a client and they engage with you, who’s your primary contact? I presume at the outset, it would be some of the folks in the C-suite, the owner, CEO, CFO perhaps. Are you working more with the folks on the finance side of the office or on the operation side of the office? Help us understand what that looks like.

It depends. We like to start right at the top of the food chain. We want to talk to the business owner, the CEO, the chairman of the board, whoever is that’s going to drive this change that we’re going to bring to the organization. If that person says, “We’re doing this.” There’s no longer a conversation of, “I’ll get it to you in 30 days or 60 days.” A great story of that is four guys own a large mortgage company in our area. One of the guys, although his title is chairman, said to me, “I want to hire you. I’m going to hook you up with our CFO, Dave. Dave will contact you and he’ll get you what you need. We’ll see what you come up with.” I said, “If we don’t have a meeting together with Dave and you do a referral today by email, I will be calling you in 31 days to tell you that in the last 30 days, Dave hasn’t contacted me.” He’s like, “No, that’ll never happen.” Sure enough, 31 days later, I pick up the phone, “Mike, it’s Marc. I haven’t heard from Dave.” “I can’t believe that.”

Here’s even the funnier part of that story. A week later, in one of these networking events and it happens to be a lunch meeting, the guy who sits down next to me is the president of the mortgage company. It’s by happenstance. I look over and I’m like, “Craig.” He goes, “Do you know who I am?” I said, “Yeah, you’re one of the owners of the mortgage company.” He goes, “Have we met before?” I said, “No. I met your partner, Mike. I do expense reduction. He thought that it would be a good idea if we took a look at some stuff for you. He did an email introduction to Dave, your CFO, and I never heard from Dave.” An hour and a half after I returned from that meeting, Dave called me. Sometimes even when you’re in the C-suite, it depends on who in the C-suite has more leverage. Maybe they were embarrassed that Dave never called me. I don’t know which but there you have it.

You seem to have a lot of fortuitous meetings, Marc. If you’re having a hard time getting a hold of those people, maybe you need to take one of my courses in how to reach decision-makers.

I should sign up for that.

You work with the primary decision-makers. I have to assume, the actual nuts and bolts of the work cascade down throughout the organization. Is that fair?

That’s correct. After they make a decision, they want to move forward. We move down to the finance department. The CFO is too busy, so they’ll usually push us off to a finance person, which is fine. I need about five minutes of somebody’s time, it’s probably less than that but I always say five minutes because maybe they’re not as efficient as other people are. We need three things, an invoice, the contact information of the vendor, and then a contract if you have one. Those three things are where we start.

We always believe that getting the information from the vendor is a source of truth. As you’re probably aware, people put things in accounting systems when they buy things. Sometimes, they may get moved into different categories. When you do an export of a report, sometimes those things get lost. When we go to a vendor, they know exactly what they sold you in the last twelve months. Plus, we get it from them electronically and it’s a lot cleaner. We get UPC codes. When we do analysis, we take everything down to a unit piece. We need to know what everything costs by each unit.

What’s the reception of those vendors when you reach out to them? How do you represent yourself?

We have ownership call and they’ll say, “We’ve hired these guys. You’re going to be getting a call from Marc.” In addition to that, they’ll sign a letter of authorization and it’s addressed to each individual vendor. On their letter, it says, “We’ve hired these guys. They’re a partner of ours. They’re calling to get the information provided to them on a timely basis. By the way, they have no authority to change anything on our accounts.” That gives the business a comfort. As one of my government contractors has said, “You’re not going to do any hanky-panky with our business.” Of course not. We’re just getting information.

When you’re engaging with the vendor for your client 89% of the time, you’re not recommending or instigating any change in vendor relationship. You’re simply trying to find and improve relationship for both parties and cement that relationship for a longer-term.

Our goal is not to displace anybody. If you think about it from our standpoint, if you change a vendor and something goes wrong, who’s going to get blamed? Me, regardless of whether I had anything to do with it. If we hadn’t been involved, it would never happen. For us, price change, service level increases, and product quality increases are easy, especially if they’re happy with the vendor relationship. If they’re not happy with the vendor relationship, then we take a different attack. We’ll got to the market place and we’ll find somebody who may be able to solve the problem.

We’re doing that for a bunch of clinics down in Florida. They’ve got 22 different locations. Their lab provider is one of the major providers in the country. To them, because they only have 22 locations, they treat them as if they’re like a real small business and they’re not important to them. We’re going to the marketplace to replace them to find somebody who wants to be a partner that can solve the problems that they have. They’re sending almost 80,000 lab tests to this company every year and growing. You would think that would be important but not when you’re the size that you are of this large company.

Our goal there is to improve the relationship. In this case, the service levels are not great. They’re certainly not proactive, they’re reactive. They want somebody who’s going to be a partner, who’s going to help them grow their business, and be a partner with them and integrate with them. When they get reports, their reports are being faxed. The reports are coming in through their ER system, through their electronic medical record system. These are the things that we look to do process improvement for clients if we have to make a change for vendors.

Before I go further, Marc, describe your team that is a part of Expense to Profit. What does your team look like?

My team is extremely diverse and it’s made up of guys who have spent over twenty years in their discipline, their expense vertical. What does that mean? For instance, my guy who specializes in logistics spent 37 years at UPS, retired, and now he’s doing consulting in the logistics space. It doesn’t matter whether it’s UPS or FedEx. The man started as a porter, became a truck driver, moved into management, and when he left UPS, he was the chief designer of their pricing schedules. There are different tiers of how they gave people discounts. That’s the guy you want on your team.

My guy who does medical supplies spent his entire career with Cardinal Health. He was the chief pricing officer and then became the president of Cardinal Health, one of the largest medical supply companies in the country. He’s been doing expense reduction for the past twelve-plus years. These are the people that we bring to our team. We’ve got about 43 different categories that we look at Expense. I always say, there’s no category that’s safe from us.

[bctt tweet=”You don’t know what you don’t know. Get professional help to take a look at your expenses now.” username=””]

I almost thought that I was going to have to change that line when we were presented with an opportunity with a Boeing subcontractor. They stress-test airplane parts and I was like, “I don’t know anything about this. What am I going to do with stress-testing airplane parts?” We’re all independent contractors who all have our own company but we work on a hub and spoke system where I’m at the center. Anytime a client has an issue, they come directly to me. They don’t have to worry about who they’re going to talk to. I sent an email out, “Anybody knows anything about this?” One of my guys responded back, “I’ve got a PhD in that.” Not stress-testing airplane parts, but stress-tests. He had a PhD in stress-testing. That was funny.

I thought I was going to be stumped. No, not at all. As it turned out, it was even simple. It was a matter of taking a consumable. They bought sand that was used in the process that was non-hazardous. When they were done, they would dump it into a rubbish container that they would pay for it to be hauled away. They would have these great 55-gallon line drums that were in good condition, nice and clean with tops. Some guy would come and pick up 100 drums for them. He’d bring in a flat load truck. They would put 100 drums on the truck and take them away. That was a service he provided. He would be there three times a week and charge $500 a load. I’m like, “That doesn’t make sense. Both of these didn’t make sense.” They were charging you undermarket rates for taking stuff away. That said to me that there’s probably a revenue opportunity here.

We ended up turning the cost of hauling away the sand into a revenue source by recycling the sand. It probably ends up at Home Depot and Lowe’s because it’s fine sand, the sand that you would find in playgrounds for kids or something like that. These 55-gallon drums were being sold on the market for a minimum of $110 apiece. We said, “We’ll take 50% of that revenue.” We turned an expense of almost $1 million into a $750,000 revenue swing for this business. Everybody says, “Think outside the box.” I use the Albert Einstein approach. If you use the same methodology to get to a solution, trying to find an answer to that solution, you can’t use the same methodology. That’s our theory of how we go about solving problems for clients.

You’ve related to us a couple of different industries. The members of your team come from different disciplines. Is there a particular industry or market that’s your sweet spot? Despite your airplane example of Boeing as far as stress reduction, is there a particular industry that you’d want to stay away from if anyone called you on that?

I don’t know about staying away from any industry. We always try to help people, even if we realize we’re not a good fit. We say fit means finding impact together. If we realized that doesn’t work for us, a lot of times, we’ll have a conversation. I don’t mind having a 25-minute conversation with someone to realize that we can’t be helpful. I may find some solutions for them that will be helpful. It may not be helpful for us. Our biggest client is Fuji USA Holdings. They do over $2 trillion a year in revenue as a worldwide company. There are 23 different companies here in the United States. We work through the holding company, but then we work indirectly for 23 different companies finding solutions.

At one of the companies, we found $2.3 million in overpaid premiums for workman’s compensation. You would think that a company like that would probably have those issues buttoned up. It’s not so. However, when they gave us their temporary labor spend to review, which was $12 million a year, they had no idea if all the different companies were using those contracts, and if they were getting the right pricing. We found $12,000 in errors. We handed it back to them and said, “Here are the errors if you want to go collect them yourself or not. We’re okay with that.”

We also saved them $185,000 a month on their wireless phone bills. They have over 8,000 employees with a lot of devices. They were on the wrong plan. You don’t know what you’re going to uncover and what you’re going to find. We’re always doing different things for them. I’ve done a sales tax recovery on a manufacturing facility for energy spend that they shouldn’t be paying sales tax on. We’re doing for them. There are all these different categories and all these different businesses. A lot of people need help but they don’t know it.

When you engage with a client, are you spending a lot of time at their facility in their offices? Is this mostly done remotely?

We’ve always been a virtual company. For us, what happened with the pandemic didn’t change how we did business. We probably had an initial face-to-face meeting to go over everything at the beginning and sign a contract and what have you. After that, everything was pretty much done remotely except for them. When we come back with our results, we would then have another meeting to present our results, what our findings are, and what we think is the best process going forward. That’s changed a little bit. It saved them money because we don’t have to charge them for our travel. It saved us money because for those that we didn’t charge for travel, we’re not paying for the travel.

Our clients are all over the country. I’m talking to a large university in Kentucky. We have a medium-sized city in the state of Ohio that we’re working with that we found probably about $4.4 million that we’re savings for. For us, we’ll talk to anybody because everybody needs help. I don’t know if I can help them. There are five churches that came to us down in Missouri and we couldn’t help them. I said, “Why are you doing business with this refuge company and this refuge company? Why don’t you just do business with the local guys, get rid of the main brand name who’s charging you three times what these other guys are charging? Your two churches are around the corner from each other.” They never thought about that.

As we’re talking about the level of savings that you can find and create for your clients, a lot of my readers are probably wondering, “That sounds great. Is this going to cost me an arm and a leg? I need to reduce expenses, not increase expenses by hiring Marc and Expense to Profit.” Tell us how the fee structure works.

We call that our seven-layer win dip. First of all, there’s no risk to hire us. Our goal is to find savings. If we do find savings, then we share in the savings. For every $1 we save, you keep $0.50 and we keep $0.50. We manage that process for 24 months. Typically, we’ll do a 36-month contract with a vendor, whether it’s existing or no. It doesn’t matter to us. You get that flat price in the pricing that you know. We’re going to monitor that on a monthly basis because that’s how we get paid. We know that you bought this much from that vendor. We then provide you a report that shows you that.

If pricing doesn’t match the contract price that you were promised, we go to the vendor and we say, “Mr. vendor, you priced this wrong. You owe the client $125 credit,” whatever the dollar amount would be. There’s nothing that you have to worry about. We’re another layer in your finance department that’s catching errors even before you guys paid any bills. That’s how we manage it. That’s how we get paid. The impact piece that we have is 5% of the fee that we get paid, you as a business get to direct to either a nonprofit or some community event or some program that you want to sponsor to make yourself a better citizen. We’ll donate that in your name. Of course, you have the option as a business to match that too.

To me, that sounds like the business is getting 55% and you’re getting 45%.

No, because 5% is going to the nonprofit. We’re getting 45%. The business is getting 50%.

What I mean by that is they’re benefiting from you. They did that in their brand’s name.

That is correct.

That’s wonderful. As far as time consumption, if I were to hire you as opposed to an auditor, with all apologies to my accounting friends who are reading, you’re not going to come in and require a lot of my time, and I don’t need to clear hours and days aside to work with you. You can work independently of my current staff and operation.

Our total process is an eighteen-minute presentation to decide whether you want to move forward. I need five minutes of somebody’s time for each category we’re going to review. We’ll come back to you and we’ll make a presentation of what we found and present you with what we call our baseline report. Our baseline report shows you what you’re spending with the vendor, and what we believe the opportunity will be. That’s our measuring stick. You sign off on that.

Once you sign off on that, now we’re into, let’s say we’re doing two categories, that’s ten minutes, eighteen-minute presentation, and maybe there were a couple of questions, let’s say twenty minutes, now we got half an hour. We got to see the presentation and the sign off to move forward to another half hour. You’ve got an hour’s worth of time for us to potentially save you 18% of whatever it is that we’re looking at. If you think about it that way, isn’t worth an hour of your time, if we’re looking at $1 million to spend to save $180,000? I would suspect it probably is.

I don’t think it takes a mathematician like you to answer that question. I love that. Marc, you have been helpful to me and my business as well. You decided to make your expertise available on a broader scale by publishing your book, Expense to Profit, which became a bestseller quickly. I want my readers to be able to have access to that book. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on as a guest. While I try to assist them on the revenue side, I know you can assist them on the expense side that you’ve been eloquent about. Talk to us a little bit about your book. Who is it for? Is it for a small business owner? Is it for a major corporation? Who would be reading that? Who’s your primary audience?

In the book, I lay it out at the beginning that it’s for three different marketplaces. It’s for someone who’s at a $0 to $10 million business that’s trying to get up and running. Some guidelines or guiderails of things that you can do and shouldn’t do. It’s then for the business that’s already past that point, that’s trying to scale up to the next level between the $10 million and $100 million revenue point, and then for the $100 million-plus revenue point. I even have businesses that do over $1 trillion a year in revenue that we help. Size is not a problem on the upside.

For us, we try to concentrate on businesses that are larger, above $10 million, because it takes us as much time to do a $10 million audit as it does to do a $100 million audit. For us, it’s more economical to do larger size businesses. I’m happy to offer my services to anybody who has a question and I’m happy to spend a little time with them. Everybody needs help and I’m willing to do that as well. The special that we’ve got for your readers is we’re running $0.99 for the digital version. It would be the best $0.99 that you spend. If you want the paperback version, we’ve got that for $12.99 rather than $20. That’ll be offered to your readers.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense to Profit: Eliminate the Costs that Sabotage Your Growth

Thank you so much.

The great piece about the book is the first couple of chapters tell you about expense reduction, what it is, what we do, and how we do it. It’s not down to the brass tacks into a lot of different detail because you can’t put too much of that in a book. I also go through different examples of different clients in areas that we help them across different expense categories, and some of the most common expense categories about how we help them and who we help. Those are also good lessons for business people to look at to be able to understand that there are these opportunities.

Thank you for that. For my readers, all of that is available on Amazon, Expense to Profit. Let’s say I’ve never met you before. I want to tap into your wealth of experience. Is there a common philosophy, strategy, or tactic that you find that people who are spending too much in any one category share? There’s something that commonly we’re doing either incorrectly or naively, and it’s always an easy find for you.

Think of it this way, businesses that are large enough to have a CFO, what is the CFO doing on a daily basis? He’s running the business. He’s trying to find solutions but he can’t be an expert in every single different spend that a business has. You’ve got a lot to spend on your business. You got your whole telecommunications piece, wireless, wired, data. Now remote is a big piece. You’ve got your benefits, your health care, the insurances, and all the stuff that goes along with that. Each one of these categories has layers and layers of different things.

We found a solution for our clients to be able to get rid of their own regulated medical waste on-site rather than using a service to take it away. You’re going to eliminate the liability costs of having to file with the federal government. Everybody that has gone to a doctor’s office sees that red box on a wall, that’s a sharps box. When that box is full, they pull the whole box off. They don’t empty the box. The whole sharps box comes off. It must be regulated and removed by a proper waste system. We have a device that you can put that into. It sanitizes it at 137 degrees centigrade, grinds it, and you can put that in your regular waste stream. It’s crazy. It costs about 25% of what it used to cost to have it removed.

We’re finding solutions all the time. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s the biggest problem. We’ve done over 25,000 audits and reviews for clients over the years. We found over $1 billion in savings. That tells you that we have some information that you’re not going to have. We know market prices. We have strategies that we use like reverse auctions. Think about eBay. If you go to buy something on eBay, it’s an auction. The price goes up because more people are bidding.

On a business standpoint, we’re trying to buy a whole pool of products and the price was going down as people were bidding versus auction. Once we get two bidders back at the end and we know they’re 1% apart, we know we found the market price. You wouldn’t ever have it if you didn’t use that process before. Most people don’t even know what it is. These are the strategies that we have in our toolbox that we use to help businesses be more successful. You don’t know what you don’t know is true. There are a lot of businesses that think they know. When we come in, they found out they didn’t know well.

As we wrap up here, there’s a question that’s stirring in my mind. I don’t know if I can articulate it properly. My business has always been a service provider. If we are scrutinized by those who are charged with cutting costs, my frustration may be that it’s difficult to judge qualitatively the value of our service versus a quantitative judgment perhaps of a commodity. Help me understand how would you guide someone who’s trying to decide in a qualitative sense, related particularly to service, that you’re paying too much for that service that’s not producing the ROI you need. Here’s another service provider that may be a little bit more expensive but the ROI is much greater. Is that a discussion that you have both internally and with your clients?

It’s a discussion we certainly can have. It’s not a discussion that we have often. However, when a client says, “Look at everything,” we see this big consulting fee, “What are you paying?” Let’s say that one of our municipalities hired Deloitte to consult with them on different processes. We already told them what to do. Our cost is $0, but they weren’t sure because they didn’t pay somebody for advice. Now they went out and hired Deloitte to tell them the same thing we already told them.

It’s hard to quantify. The bottom line is, is the value of the services you’re getting equivalent to the price that you’re paying for the ROI you expect? What’s the issue? How important is it to fix that issue? What will the impact be once that issue is repaired? Whether that’s on the revenue side or the expense side, that’s how we do a measuring stick and the same thing, what’s your return on investment? Are you better off paying 20% more for a service that gets you 100% better results or paying the lower cost service? That’s probably a pretty easy answer. We find in practice, as you’re aware, not many people subscribe to that. When governments bid, they call it lowest in best. You buy the best at the lowest. If I can buy the best at the lowest, isn’t that a better solution than lowest at best?

Marc, you know this is better than I do but I’ve often said that cheap is expensive.

100%, because if it’s cheaper, then you’re going to have to do cheap again and again.

Not to mention the morale that it could cost you, the goodwill that it can cost you among your exterior audience or your external customers. Cheap can be expensive. What I’m hearing you say is you may not come in and make the recommendation of the cheapest option. Your Expense to Profit is all about making the recommendation to get the most out of your money.

Not only the most out of your money but the best solution for the client. Even if we may find a better solution, it’s still the client’s choice to make that change. They may not want to make that change. We’ve had that plenty of times. We found a better solution and they say, “We like what we got.” We’ll reduce the price then. We’re happy to do that for you. It’s your call. You’re the client. Our job is to satisfy you, the client. We’ll make less when that happens. We’re willing to take that risk. That’s part of our business model.

[bctt tweet=”Buy the best at lowest, not the lowest at best.” username=””]

I like what I’m getting from you here, Marc. Every time I talk to you, I learn something more about my own business and how I can run it more efficiently. Give us a takeaway. How can we make today a little bit better because of something you can teach us? What’s your tip of the day for people to run more efficient, more cost-effective businesses?

I ask a business owner what is the check they hate writing the most every month? Most often, it seems to be healthcare-related expenses. My suggestion is if you’re using an insurance agent, that’s the wrong solution. You want to be using an insurance consultant or someone who can consult and review what are you offering your clients. Why do I say that? The government contractor that I’ve mentioned before about the hanky-panky, we looked at what they were doing on their health insurance. They have three different plans like most people do, an HMO, a middle tier, and then a high tier. Who’s in the high tier? The business owner, one person.

When we did the analytics, it was costing him $150,000 a year to offer that. Here’s your business improvement. Here’s your benefit for an employee. We took the HMO and left it alone. We took the middle tier and made that the top tier. We then took and created a new middle tier. Do you think the employees were ecstatic that they were now in the highest tier for their benefits? It costs nothing for them. When we removed that top tier, it saved the business $150,000 a year. It cost us about $18,000 to buy a special program for the business owner. It didn’t matter. It still nets $132,000 and the employees were ecstatic that they were on the best plan. We created a new tier. Some of them then move to the middle tier, saved more money for the business, which was a combination type of solution. There’s a lot of different things you can do. We’re not insurance agents. We can’t sell it. You have to have an agent sell it. We can find the solution that’s going to help bring everybody a better environment and a happier employee base.

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Expense To Profit: A company’s CFO will never be an expert in every single spend that a business has.


This show is themed around our ability to influence, persuade, and inspire people. A lot of what you’ve said has influenced my thinking. It persuades me to think differently and to take action. I’m inspired in some areas. I hope my readers as well, and remind them to go out and get your book. Your eBook is available for $0.99 at Amazon. Your hardcopy, your paperback, you’re going to make it available to us at $12.99 also on Amazon. That’s Expense to Profit by Marc Freedman. I would encourage people to let Marc know that you’re a Game Face Execs reader, and you’ll treat them a little bit better, won’t you, Marc?

Absolutely. It would be my pleasure for you, Rob.

Thank you, Marc. I look forward to our next conversation, which will be soon, I’m sure. Thanks for all the great work you do and all the savings you bring businesses that need it most.

Thank you, Rob.

If you run a business or department, which check are you writing every month that you hate the most? Are you confident, for example, that you’re not paying more than you have to on your phone plan? What about your health insurance, your daily operating expenses, transportation, waste management, the list goes on? Catch more of Marc’s expertise by joining us on YouTube, Spotify, Apple or whichever platform you prefer. Marc exhumes expenses to help us clients get extraordinary profits. Thanks for being a part of this episode. If you found any of it useful or helpful, please rate, like, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. I always appreciate you referring us to others as well. I’ll see you next episode. Until then, persuade, influence, inspire.

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About Marc Freedman

GFEP 26 | Expense To Profit

Marc Freedman is a Certified Expense Reduction Consultant and currently serves as our Chief Cost Evaluator, expertly advising our client management team on how to help you successfully achieve your business and financial growth goals. He is a respected mentor to all he consults with. He is an avid collaborator and contributor to the spend consultant community, guiding thought leaders to formulate, design, and install the best operational solutions available to their clients.

As founder and CEO of Expense To Profit, he utilizes his 40 years of experience by efficiently implementing his comprehensive solutions to control client costs and focus on individual successes. With his guidance, over 89% of his clients have found no need to change their partners or vendors, enabling them to continue with their daily operations as usual. He would be thrilled to talk with you about how to improve your financial strategy.

International Association for Expense Reduction Consultants
Executive Director

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Virtual Coffee Series: Leaders Adapt to the New Normal

Non-Profit Leaders of The DMV


Author, speaker, and consultant Kathryn Hamm, this week’s featured guest on the Game Face Execs podcast, hasn’t just made a career bringing people together; she’s made a difference amplifying voices of the overlooked around us. As an educator, former account executive in professional women’s sports, and an LBGTQ wedding expert, Kathryn has been an industry innovator and is now a strategic advisor for individuals and business leaders seeking a transformational understanding about their assumptions, habits, and blind spots. As a pioneer of online wedding planning resources for same-sex couples, our game face exec gets personal and shares how her experiences informed her work as an advocate and educator supporting the unions of all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Watch the episode here:

Kathryn Hamm | Building Bridges Over Troubled Waters

How often do five passing words uttered by one acquaintance to another turn a normally brief encounter into a decades-long mutual business relationship of mutual respect? That’s what happened to me many years ago when I first met the very talented Kathryn Hamm. She was then the account executive with the WUSA’s Washington Freedom, 1 of the 8 teams in the first women’s professional soccer league. Though I’m a straight man and Kathryn is a lesbian, this episode’s conversation provides more proof that as equal members of the human family, there are certain outcomes to all friends you’re in to find, embrace and celebrate.

If you have read my book, The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love, you’re going to love our guest. In that very first chapter, I tell a story right at the outset. That story involves my guest. Her name is Kathryn Hamm. She is someone that I have long admired and respected. I’ve wanted to have her on our show ever since we began. Finally, welcome to the show, Kathryn.

Thank you, Rob. I’m glad to be here. It’s fun to have this little reunion.

I’ve had many people comment to me about that story that I tell in the book. They want to know more about you. I was tired of telling them myself. I thought, “Let’s get Kathryn on the show.” As you say, it’s a great reunion. You and I first met many years ago. We were in a different place in both of our careers. Let’s go back. I was working with a women’s professional soccer team called The Washington Freedom where you were a leader. Take it from there. Tell us how you got into that job in Washington DC.

Professionally, it was a window in time that was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. I had been working in independent schools in the Washington DC area in the lead-up. I experienced some burnout at a school and was looking for something new and different to do, and to take a break. My wife and I were season ticket holders of the Washington Freedom. I played soccer my whole life. I went on to college to play soccer. I am as the same age as a lot of the girls of summer of 1999 class, and I wasn’t as good. My career had ended. Yet there was this entity that I felt passionate about and connected to. I thought, “Why don’t I send a resume?”

I know soccer and I love being a part of it. It would be such a tremendous honor and pleasure to support this team, and to support women’s professional athletics, which when I was a kid, it wasn’t an option on the table for us. It so happened that the day I sent that resume in, they had to let go an account executive. I got a call from the sales operation saying, “We’ve got this position. This is an entry-level position. It might not be your deal but if you’d like to come in, we’d love to talk to you about it.” As it may be obvious to your readers or anyone who follows soccer, one of the fun pieces is I had the right last name since our marked key player was the great and incredible, Mia Hamm. I like to say that I played right cubicle while she was out scoring a lot of goals. She’s the penultimate player, and such a wonderful asset for the club and for women’s soccer.

I always thought that you got her a position on this.

[bctt tweet=”It feels fulfilling to have a career that is part of something meaningful.” via=”no”]

Is that how it went? Maybe. I’m sure that I must have set up the one-shot that she needed to make to advance to the national team. I had so much fun, and that is what led me to meeting you. The league was looking to enhance, develop, and support the skills of its account executives. We all loaded up into our cars and headed down to North Carolina, and you were running a workshop on sales. I’m a total dork. I love to learn and sit in class. I was one of those kids that thought school was fun, both for the academics and the athletics.

To sit in a workshop and get skills that were new or were being taught to me in a different way, I was a young professional at that time. It was great to get this concrete articulation of skillset to help me do my job and hit my marks. I remember it well because you’re such a fabulous storyteller. You’re such an energetic teacher and I was completely enthralled by the educational opportunity. The anecdote, which I was surprised and pleased to find at the start of your wonderful new book. I do remember talking with you after, and feeling moved and connected to what you were saying and teaching us.

There was a mutual connection because during the workshop, which lasted a couple of days, you were always engaged, asked great questions and challenged me. When you came up at the end and we said our goodbyes, thinking that we would meet again, work again together, what you said to me opened up a whole new perspective of what I do for a living. I’m not going to steal my own thunder, I want my readers to read that first chapter. I’ve been forever grateful for that. As I say in the book, I’ve shared that story numerous times with other clients. When they hear what you said, they all nod affirmatively like, “She’s insightful.”

That must be our chemistry and dynamism because it was something that was very clear for me. It was organic at that moment. It felt like a light bulb moment. I love those moments. I like them more when they’re comfortable, which your workshop was. I liked the last one. I felt like it’s blood, sweat and tears, lots of kicking and screaming to get through it. I love those light bulb moments that provide some of insight, which like turning on a light switch and it sheds light, which helps everything that you’re doing next to be that much easier.

I have to ask you though regarding your start with the Washington Freedom, which the league did not last too long, unfortunately. It’s since been reconstituted now, but you went from education when you were in the classroom, is that correct?

At that point, I was a high school administrator. I taught but I was doing a little of everything on the school side.

For many of my readers, sales and the whole topic, even taking a sales job would be the last thing on earth they’d ever consider doing because they’re not “cut out” for sales. I’m interested to know what was going through your mind coming from an administrative position, from a coaching standpoint to accept the idea that, “I’m going to take an account executive position. I’m going to become a salesperson.” Most people won’t touch sales with a 10-foot pole. For you, what happened? Was it, “This is something I’ve got to do?” Is it a necessary evil to get to something better or is it something you aspire to?

It’s neither or none of the above. There were two parts to the answer. The first around what I was doing was this was an extension to participate in something that mattered. This was part of being a member of a team and a sport that I cared about, and something I wanted which was professional women’s sports. We forget how much it’s changed in such a short amount of time, but there weren’t professional sports. I was a young kid who was a sports junkie that grew up in a time where my sport wasn’t in the Olympics. It now is. It didn’t have an opportunity for professional athletics as a choice. To me, this was a piece of that story. That part was easy.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: Not a lot of people were out in the 90s. Nobody talks about LGBTQ communities and families.


I was happy to do whatever. I’m sure part of my comfort with something that involves sales might be connected to that I was totally that kid in your neighborhood. If you live in a suburban neighborhood situation where the school was asking us to do a readathon, a swimathon or whatever athon, and I was out there to go and raise money. I was the kid that nobody wanted to see coming because while I did come trick or treating for candy which was the easiest exchange we had, I also came to your house asking for you to sponsor me.

For the families who underestimated the number of books that I would read or the number of laps I would swim, sometimes we had to negotiate what the donation would be. I’m fortunate in being an extrovert and seeing it as an opportunity to be connected to something meaningful. To me, that’s not sales. While I understand your point from what I’ve read in your book so far, you’re dead-on right. It’s being connected to something, to a mission, and to an opportunity that’s meaningful.

When the league did fold, no fault of yours, Kathryn Hamm, but when it was not in the cards at that particular time, women’s soccer has resurrected and is doing well in a variety of markets, more markets than the original league enjoyed. Nevertheless, when the Washington Freedom folded for a time, you had to move on professionally and you’ve talked already about following things that are meaningful to you. Where did your career go next? I’m assuming you were not looking for a paycheck, you were looking for something that was meaningful to you. Could you describe that path for us?

By that time, I was in my third iteration of a career from education to working in professional sports to working in the wedding industry. As I was reflecting on what is this common thread, I realized that I was always connected to something that had some connection to social justice. The education, teaching of kids, supporting women’s professional sports, and bringing empowerment for women and girls to the forefront. My mom started a business in 1999 called and also the companion site, It was an outgrowth of her response to struggling to find products for my wedding to my wife in 1999. It’s not legal. Those were the days of commitment ceremonies and there were commencement ceremonies certainly happening. There was a market to be served, but there weren’t companies embracing our community in other ways, serving couples who were looking to have ceremonies and celebrate their commitments.

My mom was in the early years of having launched that business and needed some support. In the course of the things that I have done professionally and as a person, I love things that involve marketing, writing, sales and strategic thinking. I’m a natural entrepreneur in a lot of ways. I want to help my mom launch a business that is groundbreaking of which I felt proud of her, and which I saw a need for. I joined her in 2004. I started helping a little bit part-time. In 2005, I became a full partner in the business. That’s the time in which we acquired and rebranded as We’re moved from being a boutique where we offered products for people planning their weddings, to much more of a comprehensive resource site so that people could come and find vendors, and vendors could find couples.

This is what moved me into the wedding space. Relatively quickly, I found myself referring to what I did as I’m a gay wedding expert, which I find hilarious. It still makes me laugh to this day. Truly my expertise somewhere is I have spent a substantial chunk of my time as an LGBTQ wedding expert, working within the wedding industry, trying to support couples, trying to support wedding professionals, and trying to shift the space. There are lots of fun stories that we can talk about within that, but I would say to you that I found my way accidentally into it, and yet in hindsight, always being 2020, I can see the path and understand quite clearly why it was a great match. Let me add one more little thing that I did along the way. I had gotten a Master’s in Social Work when I was teaching. There is a piece of clinical work, communication, and thinking from a community organizing standpoint. There were some ways in which my graduate-level studies were also well connected to this business opportunity.

I don’t think it’s too unusual that an entrepreneur would fall into a business. We’ve often been told that you should follow your passion, but if I look around the world and see successful entrepreneurs, with apologies to those who have been able to turn their hobby into a career, and I love what I do, let’s be clear on that. You love what you do, but many entrepreneurs do what they do. They start the business they do, not because they’re passionate about that particular product or service, but because they do see an opportunity. There is a void in the market, they want to fill that void, and recognize that it would be financially fortuitous if they did, and more power to them. In your case, as I’m hearing it then, two things collided or intersected in a good way. You do have a passion for social justice and social issues. You had a mother who is in need of your expertise and abilities, and then you had the desire to be your own boss. Is that a fair characterization?

I do tend to be my own boss. It was perfect timing to solve that, “What am I going to do next? Who am I as a professional?” It fit the bill to help me figure out the question of what’s next.

[bctt tweet=”Being LGBTQ-identified isn’t that different from being straight-identified. You’re still a person who has feelings and connections.” via=”no”]

I have to ask you about the need that your mother initially saw and she was working to fill at a time when gay weddings were more ceremonial than official. When you joined her, had you already gone through the experience yourself or had that yet to come?

My wife and I had our wedding, which we called at that time a union, the language was still evolving. What we were doing was relatively new. We got married. We had our wedding union in 1999. To this day, that is still the ceremony that we celebrate, even though we’ve since made it legal. I had been through the process and understood what some of the challenges were, not just from saying, “We’re going to do this thing,” but we planned a wedding and encountered wedding professionals. We understood what our challenges were. We recognized how hard it was in making choices to say, “Here’s who we are. Will you help us?” It’s what was happening at that time because any phone call could lead to hanging up, a polite decline, or some unkind words said.

Rolling back the clock for anyone that can go into the ‘90s, a lot of people weren’t out. We didn’t talk about LGBTQ communities and families in the way we do. We were often closeted at work. We weren’t all running to get married. Many people in my community didn’t even see weddings or unions. It’s such a beautiful relationship and an important relationship statement and ritual. We didn’t even see that as a possibility because it wasn’t anything that was part of what our experience could be. That’s a whole other topic that I’m incredibly passionate about and it has changed my life. The shorthand context of it was that I came out thinking I was making a choice where my family may reject me. Marriage, which is something I’d always imagined I would do and having kids, was not an option for me. This is who I am, this is what it is to be authentic and true to myself, and feeling like, “There may be these costs to accept that truth and to live authentically.”

As you were talking, I’m reminded about a gentleman who has since passed away, who was a dear friend of mine. His name is Dennis Richardson. He was a politician in the State of Oregon where I used to live and work. He was a state legislator when first met him. He became Secretary of State, which is a Lieutenant Governor, the second in line to the governorship of the State of Oregon. He fought against same-sex marriage. Many people, his followers, and those who are that ilk fought hard against it. You’ve encountered many people in your life and your career who at one time were may maybe political enemies.

The reason I bring up Dennis is I was impressed with him after gay marriage became legal throughout the country. He was asked a question on television during his last campaign, “You lost, Dennis. What do you think about that?” Rather than digging in his heels and saying, “The Supreme Court made a bad decision,” and those types of things, I was impressed with the grace in which he answered the question. He said simply, “I congratulate them that they now could enjoy marriage like my wife and I have been enjoying it for years.”

I want to say that because we’ve talked about this. You and I are the same on every issue and policy. There’s a mutual respect that we belong to the mutual admiration society. I love that about you and I hope that’s true of what I said. That’s the way I feel about you. I have to ask you though, some of the hardships that movement has experienced, can you give me some insights? I’m not in that constituency. My wife and I have been married for many years so I don’t understand the things that you’ve lived through. Perhaps you can give us a little bit of a peek into the issues that you faced back then versus now. How is it evolving? Is it better in your world? Is it still challenging in your world? I would like to learn from your experience.

It’s a mutual fan society, for sure. When you use the phrase, political enemies, maybe it’s because I live in Washington and we think about politics differently. I live in an industry town and my wife is a non-partisan analyst. There’s a different way we approach this. There are people with who I might have policy disagreements. Particularly in my work when I was working in the wedding industry, trying to support people and understanding why this mattered, approaching things from a standpoint of, “Are we enemies or friends?” It’s how I am. It’s not how I roll. I also find it doesn’t serve a higher purpose of how we take care of each in our immediate communities, our families, or our broader city communities to our national community.

I’d love to try to answer your question through my professional experience. It’s one of the easiest ways to tell that story. To me, it’s one of the things that is intriguing about watching a group that has largely been disenfranchised, sometimes treated unkindly, still being on the receiving end of hate crimes, losing jobs, losing housing, not having access to medical care, losing family, struggling in accepting a parent’s love or receiving that. The wedding space was interesting because the whole conversation is about love. Being LGBTQ-identified isn’t that different outside of being straight-identified. You’re a person who has feelings and connections. One of the differences between when I was coming up versus now is it was rare for a parent who would say, “I see you. How can I help you? Are you interested in boys or girls?”

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: How do we provide space if someone feels disenfranchised from an institution or a community?


Many kids growing up now are given the space where they may have a preference for what they want, but the parents aren’t setting the table in a way that means there’s a course correction down the road. There are ways to be more inclusive in general in language so that the kid can be who they are. To give you a personal example, which my parents know that I use this example. Not long after I came out with them, one of them said, “Secretly, we were afraid it was true.” As a young person, I was 21 so I was relatively late coming out.

While the parent side of me and the compassionate daughter’s side understands what they were saying, there is a deep part of grief I have about that because I asked myself, “God, what years were lost? If you understood this about me, in what ways did you unconsciously or without intention help to construct a reality that you hoped for me, a way that I might be, or what my life should look like? If there was a truth that I couldn’t articulate, but that was speaking to me from a place of my heart, it’s hard to describe it and understanding what it was then, what did I lose in that process?” Fast-forwarding back into the wedding industry and conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of wedding professionals, event planners, photographers, caterers, you name it. One of the most interesting groups to speak with would be the officiants. Some of whom were religiously affiliated. Some of whom were not.

I was involved in this business my mom started. It was the first of its kind. We were the first in having this conversation. In the earliest days, the wedding professionals who wanted to advertise their business and find same-sex couples, very few or some were happy to be out there with it. The majority were like, “I want to do this. I’m open to it, but I don’t want people to know because I’m afraid of what I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of the business and the clients I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of what people are going to say to me.” The work in those early days was helping people to understand the opportunity. They may feel like there’s a risk but recognize that there is a goodwill, feeling aligned with your values, and an opportunity to have customers who are going to be happy about the choice that you made to serve same-sex couples.

As the tide with what was happening from an advocacy standpoint and from a legal standpoint began to turn. People felt much more comfortable. I framed it to people like, “Your wingman has arrived. You’re not going to be the one who’s standing out there alone doing this. You’ve got an industry that saying this is okay.” One of the things that as an educator and consultant that made a big difference for me was I had a national company, WeddingWire, which now has acquired The Knot and is known as The Knot Worldwide. It had me on their main stage, front and center, teaching what I had to teach about understanding same-sex couples and LGBTQ people, and what they might need.

When you have the validation from a nationally accepted brand, it changes the game further. For those who still feel some fear, afraid or aren’t sure what to do, it helps bring the temperature down. I had this interesting perch as a business owner, educator, and a person who personally was invested in this, watching how opinions and comfort levels changed. One of the things that made it easiest was we were talking about love. When I spoke with some professionals or officiants who had some fear that was grounded in some of their religious teachings, it was easy for us to find some commonality around, “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” around love, respect and relationship, that there is plenty of both to be had in the conversation.

I don’t mean to be too Pollyanna about it either because many days, it came at some cost to me. People say some hurtful things to me. I was good enough as an educator and as a listener that they weren’t recognizing that some of the questions they were asking and things that they were saying were deeply dismissive, hurtful, and less fun. I would say it was in my commitment to say, “I want to have this conversation and figure out how I can help you understand me more, which helps me hang in because I understand that you’re afraid. How can we continue this conversation? There are plenty of rooms for me to get married and for me to support love, commitment, all these values that I know most religions are about at their core.”

I cannot anticipate the questions that my readers may be having now. Perhaps you could identify or even predict their questions better than I can. Can you help me understand what are some common fears or questions people have about the gay wedding industry that you have had to overcome? If you had a chance to speak one-on-one with them and when you do, that fear is quickly overcome or never realized because they have more information, more insight from you. Can you give us an example or two of the things that you’ve encountered along the way?

I went from being in the gay wedding industry, which was more of a niche market into the wedding industry. One of the things I do professionally now is I’m a wedding pro for The Knot Worldwide, which means I provide education and support. It is built around marketing for small business owners, which many wedding and event professionals are. I like to talk more broadly about inclusion. The LGBTQ community is part of that story, but there are also many other non-dominant groups and oftentimes that’s nonwhite for example. In the wedding industry, it might also be non-female. Many of them are men who are routinely disenfranchised and shut out from conversations. They are brought up to believe that weddings are about the bride or the woman. They’re not about the couple or about him, which I spend a lot of time talking to wedding pros about.

[bctt tweet=”Never assume you understand what someone’s reasoning or motive is. ” via=”no”]

In some ways, the question you’re asking is about the old days. There are so much that have changed. I went from my first wedding conference where I said what I did, and this woman who was based out of Richmond turned on her heel and walked away from me. She couldn’t tolerate the audience I was looking to support, to being greeted and people excited to tell me about a wedding that they’ve worked, a friend of them who’s got married, or something that they’re doing that is cool. We exchange tips around, “How can I work on the marketing practices in my business? What are the relationship things I need to be aware of? How do I work through some of this cultural competence?” It’s a general framing I use.

In other words, we try to do as much as we can to know what we don’t know so that we can be more open and available to support the client who needs our services. Maybe they found us and maybe they haven’t. For me these days, it’s much broader than that. With that said, service refusal was a big contentious issue. I would suggest that even with the Marriage Equality legislation that was passed in 2015, the service refusal question was a can that got kicked down the road. I don’t have an answer about that. Personally, I had days of more grace and space to hold the conversation than others, depending on how tired can I feel.

It feels like we’re in the place of somebody has to win this fight. I’m not sure that we’ve come up with a creative solution to figure out how we provide space for everybody. The bottom line is it’s something that is true that same-sex couples still wrestle with. Not in larger urban areas but in certain smaller towns or some areas. They may say, “I’m looking for your services for my wedding.” The vendor will say, “I refuse to work with you. I don’t believe in same-sex marriage.” We can talk more about embracing and upholding where people come from in that. There is a piece of, “This is what my church tells me. This is what our community believes and supports. This is what I’ve always thought.”

It’s linked to, “I’m afraid of what might happen if I question this or I’m curious about it.” What I have come to find is never assume you understand what someone’s reasoning or motive is, but in the end, it’s hard to be someone who comes in and is like, “I’m looking for flowers,” and someone says, “Your relationship doesn’t count.” As an LGBTQ-identified person, as someone who has a wife, and we have a son, who I don’t want to know that there is the stuff out there. He does know. He understands it, but the thought that there would be this one side detail about us that might lead to being refused services or told we’re not enough, we’re not okay, or we don’t count, which is how it feels and I’m speaking personally, it’s hard.

Jumping ahead to where the question is, and that’s the unfinished business, which is about service refusal and how we coexist and how we empower each other. How do I feel about that now? With the last few years of what’s been happening, it’s even harder than ever because I’ve seen people circle up wagons and we have lost communication. We have struggled to find the bridges. We have struggled to build a relationship and to listen to one another. We’ve struggled to remember the art of compromise. There is a responsibility for those of us who are in a dominant identity group.

For example, me being a white person, how can I approach my relationships and understanding the experiences of someone who identifies as black or African-American in our country? How do we provide space if someone feels disenfranchised from an institution, community or belonging? We’re in an era where this is hard work, but this is the work. Thank you for the time to answer that. What I would say is there is a piece of advocacy, or some might say sales in that. There’s a piece of relationship building, engagement, and how we get to the end of the conversation together without hanging up on each other.

Another side of this discussion for me is the anticipation that there will be families that are coming together in a union. Let me use a simple example which may be stereotypical in nature, but one family is more traditional, as you might say. They may have religious beliefs that are ironclad. That’s admirable. For me, there’s nothing that should be dismissed about that like values. I am a traditionalist when it comes to religious beliefs. The other family though that may have more of this free spirit where, “We want to make it up as we go. We want the ceremony or the union to reflect the persons who were being married rather than the institution of marriage.” I’m asking you as an expert, how would you counsel individuals or families that are coming together because of a marriage who may have different viewpoints on how it should be executed?

It’s an interesting question along with the setup to it, which feels like there are a lot of bunny trails that would be fascinating to talk about. The shortest point from A to B on that would be my experience, what I’ve come to understand, what I valued about my wedding and that ritual. I’m a big believer in ritual. I think ritual matters. The question I heard you asking is, “Does the institution get to determine the ritual? Does the family get to determine the ritual? Does the couple get to determine the ritual? Does another family get to determine the ritual?” I’ve talked to a lot of straight couples who tell me that what’s been hard about their wedding planning or what they wish was different were the ways that the family engaged, fought and laid expectations.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography

I realized when I heard a few couples sharing these stories with me that one of the great benefits and opportunities I had in designing a same-sex wedding or a wedding with my wife was we had to figure out the ritual parts that mattered most. What is this union about? While we’ve developed shortcuts to represent sacrament, we have had an opportunity to build one that would be ironclad in all of what a permanent lifelong union and commitment look like. We built it around who we were as individuals, but informed by our own experiences, traditions, and understanding of why some institutions might introduce certain rituals. A lot of same-sex weddings often look like the greatest hits of various religious wedding traditions, whether it’s the stomping of the glass to a father giving away a child, to who officiates, and what the language is around who is bearing witness.

If some of your kids have got married, you’ve wrestled with some of this question. My counsel generally to the couples is to listen to what your people have to say but to remember that the union or the ceremony is about you. In my day, parents didn’t even know what to do and they weren’t paying for it so there was no tension. Whereas if you’re a couple that says, “We want to do it this way,” but one family is like, “We’re paying for it so we’re going to do it our way,” you’re not having an authentic meaningful conversation that’s about what matters. That gets into family communication. That gets into what the couple wants. I would even challenge the couple. Sometimes couples rushed to the altar too quickly. In an era where we spend less time in communities and institutions that might support how we consider lifelong commitment and what that means, we get too fast. That creates problems down the road. This is the social worker in me. There’s a multifaceted answer to that. I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer other than as a professional, I tend to lean in protection of the couple because I think it is a universal issue that comes up for all families.

I recognize my question was broad and every situation is idiosyncratic. There’s so much nuance and personality to it. I appreciate your answer. It’s very fair. Let’s turn to Kathryn Hamm, the businesswoman and the business owner. You’re in the wedding industry. As I understand it, the pandemic did a number on the wedding industry.

The hospitality and services industry, for a relatively resilient and constant industry, it’s taken a big hit. I have done less consulting and have been less involved. I still do a little bit around small business consulting but haven’t been under the hood in the same way that I was before. In 2008, we struggled economically and it was very interesting, that was with the rise of popularity and openness to same-sex weddings. At that time, there was a way that there was this interesting economic storyline around this market that was interested and had dollars to spend because there was pent-up demand from couples who hadn’t yet got married. I don’t know yet how this is going to turn out for the services industry.

There are a lot of people who do this part-time and I’m not sure that it would be sustainable for them. It may be that there’s a whole new batch of young professionals who enter it because they lost their other jobs. There is a difference if you’re an officiant, a wedding professional, photographer. For the people that are in catering and event rentals, it’s complicated. From a standpoint of people who are looking to think about the bottom line, it’s going to be challenging. As someone who thinks that weddings quickly get bloated and are more expensive than they need to be, this is a beautiful opportunity to help people get back to basics on what weddings are all about.

I believe that a wedding is organized from the ritual, ceremony and out, not from the reception, and then you do the rest of it. That comes from my experience specifically as an LGBTQ person. It is about my belief as a social worker around ritual and thinking about spaces. It’s wildly unpopular with a lot of people, but this is one thing that I hope becomes a good change. I want the very best for all of my colleagues in the industry. I also want weddings to have meaning. I don’t want them to be just empty exercises and money machines. That’s not the work I do.

I haven’t told you this before, but one of my sons, among his many talents and one thing he does on the side is he captures weddings through video. I recognize and he does as well that everybody who has a camera phone thinks they can do that. He is a real artist. One of the things that impressed me most about his work in 2020 was how he was able to capture the intimacy of these small scale weddings with the couple, perhaps their parents, maybe siblings at most, and the officiant. They were beautiful stories that he was telling through a video that to your earlier point, you don’t necessarily see when there’s a reception of 500 people. Tell us a little bit more about the other consulting that you do and areas of expertise that you have. I know you’re certainly an author. We didn’t talk about the book that you wrote about wedding photography. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about that. My audience would like to know what you’re doing and what’s capturing most of your attention now?

After my days with the Washington Freedom, I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what is it that I do. You’ll appreciate this, Rob, too. I was reading chapter two of your book and it occurred to me like, “This describes intuitively some of the processes that I’ve been going through. That is trying to understand, who am I and what is it that I bring? What is the value proposition that I bring?” I found it hard to define what I do because it’s many things. The three categories that I’ve come up with are educator, strategic thinker, and partner and empowerment. I ended up doing that in any number of domains.

[bctt tweet=”Weddings should have meaning. They shouldn’t be empty exercises or money machines.” via=”no”]

I’m on the board of trustees for a school. I’m interested in doing leadership work that’s strategically oriented. I do a lot of small business consulting. I’ve been doing some mentoring with people who might not otherwise have had the same access to resources that I did as a young person, graduating from school with no college debt, and with the network I have, how can I help promote and support them in achieving their entrepreneurial dreams? I do a little bit of consulting in the wedding industry as a wedding pro through The Knot Worldwide. I’m a parent and I also do some work supporting my wife and her business, which is a little bit of a Jill of all trades. We’ve got a couple of things cooking that will be interesting in 2021. What I realized was in this interim phase as I was doing less in the industry, I needed to explain to people, “If you want to work with me, what does that involve?”

If I want to answer the question, “What do I do for a living?” How do I answer that? It is both a work in progress. What I understand is there is still a connection to social justice. I’m interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I now have had some corporate clients that are interested in having leadership-oriented conversations around cultural competence, about recognizing their blind spots, about figuring out how can they be efficient, responsible, and ethical business owners, which I love. That’s a little bit of the value of being a little older. Part of it is I have some wisdom from the various hats that I’ve worn, and having the opportunity to connect with people that are interested in engaging in conversation around that.

You talk about being a little older, you don’t look that older. I am interested in that comment because hopefully with age comes wisdom. I’m interested to know the difference between Kathryn Hamm of 2021 and Kathryn Hamm of 2000 when we first met. What would you tell the Kathryn Hamm of 2000, if you could speak to her now, that you’ve learned and experienced over the years?

There would be different nuggets of advice from the concrete to the general. As you can tell, I love themes and at that time, I would have benefited from understanding a little more of how to engage more deeply in my listening to understand experiences outside of my own. I always knew that adversity could be an advantage, but what I didn’t understand was how I was collecting all these different experiences, relationships, professional moments, and challenges that would come together and lead to the next thing. One example is you referenced my book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. I’ve loved writing my whole life.

As a kid, I was writing journals and poetry. I loved my English classes, the whole nine yards. There was a part of me that always wanted to write a book. I thought that would be cool to be an author. There is no way that I ever would have thought that what I would be writing would be a book about same-sex wedding photography. That would have struck me as completely cray-cray. There’s no way. As it turns out, my Social Work degree, my experience as an educator, my involvement in the wedding industry, my ability to recognize what small business owners needed to help them, my desire to make a difference, my desire to support marriage equality, becoming something that we stopped thinking about or arguing about, and accepted as an opportunity for dignity for all couples to participate in these unions, it was natural. I don’t think in 2000 that I would have understood that possibility.

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d said I was going to be in the wedding industry. I would have thought that was crazy. One of the things that helped me is I delight a little more in what the universe provides in front of me and I look for what is it that sparks my interest and passion, and feels like it connects, that it’s time to show up, and here’s a great outlet for me to do what it is I do to be of benefit to my community and the people I’m engaging with. It’s also deeply satisfying for me to be able to exercise authenticity in personal challenge and growth. That’s probably the easiest way to answer that question.

Speaking of themes, you know that this show is centered around the game-changers out there such as yourself who have the ability demonstrably in influencing, persuading, and inspiring other people. I have to ask you, who inspires you now?

I have to give that honor to my son. There’s a multifaceted answer to it, but let me give you a nugget. This can be our next conversation, whether on or offline as a parent. Our kids bring great lessons to us and they also bring forward-looking lessons. When we’re in our 20s and 30s, it’s easy to look ahead and see the impact we can have. As we get comfortable in ways in which we’re empowered and the wisdom we have, it becomes easier to stay in that space and to lose sight of what the future can look like. My son has brought me many gifts, both in how he sees the world and thinks about it. He’s got this incredibly creative mind.

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

Gay Wedding Expert: The value of being a little older is having the wisdom born out of wearing various hats and connecting with various people.


He says and thinks things that are opposite of the way I think. That’s a delight. As any parent will know, he also holds up a pretty hard mirror. I hear me coming out of him sometimes. Sometimes I’m proud and other times I’m not so proud. I have to go back and do a little work. The other thing that has been important in my growth is we’re an adoptive family. Beyond understanding what it is like to be an LGBTQ-identified family and parents. Our son is adopted and he is mixed-race. My growth experience has been learning a lot about adoption. Some of which is wonderful and a lot of which has some hard truths connected to it that involve a lot of grief, involve a lot of trauma, and calls me to figure out how to hold some hard things that sometimes are in competition.

As a white parent of a brown son and as a white friend to many brown and black people, it has forced me to take a look at the world differently in ways that as a white person, I never had to be conscious about. My experience as a lesbian coming out helped to inform some of that. There have been some deeper lessons that have been important to me. Through understanding what I believe my role is as a responsible parent and what my son’s experiences in the world I want him to live in, he has been an incredible teacher to me in that regard. It inspires me to do work that is uncomfortable a lot of the time.

Your son is a teenager.

I’ll call you for some advice.

I’d love that you call me but maybe call my wife.

I believe that you are an intentional parent as you are an entrepreneur and business owner. I know that’s a credit to your wife as well. We’ll have a different conversation if you weren’t as engaged as I suspect you were.

I have three sons and I am fortunate the way that they were raised and the way that they turned out. I’m sure you’re experiencing that now. I appreciate this conversation that you’ve had with us. I appreciate your honesty. As I said at the outset, you have my utmost respect and admiration. I love what you do to make the world better. I’m grateful that you’re my friend. We’ll have to do this again. I have these kinds of conversations offline and not wait so long to get your thoughts and your perspective out to my little world. Thank you for making us better through this conversation.

It has been a pleasure. I’m appreciative that you’ve carried with me all these years and that we’ve been in contact. It’s been one of my favorite professional relationships. I have a few where no one else knows this person who I enjoy connecting with. Congratulations on all that you’ve done, the way you’ve grown your business, this book that you’re launching, and this show that you’re doing. I’m proud of you and the work that you’ve put out there. I’m grateful that you’re in my world. I’m glad that fate has brought us together. Thanks for having me.

All the best to your family.

Thank you, Rob.

Curious what this diversity, equality and inclusion specialist might understand about being a sales game changer? I invite you to join us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform for the rest of this conversation. Kathryn describes more of the means she’s involved in for those who have historically felt unheard and undeserved.

Important Links:

About Kathryn Hamm

GFEP 25 | Gay Wedding Expert

A dynamic small business development consultant and marketing advisor, Kathryn Hamm is an Education Expert and Diversity & Inclusion Specialist for WeddingWire and The Knot. She is also co-author of the book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014).

In 2004, Kathryn joined her straight mom in the family business, (originally known as the two websites, & – the pioneering online wedding planning resource for same-sex couples since 1999. In 2015, under her leadership, GayWeddings announced its acquisition by WeddingWire, the nation’s leading technology company serving the $100+ billion wedding, corporate, and social events industry. Shortly thereafter, she and her mother, GayWeddings founder, Gretchen Hamm, celebrated news of full marriage equality on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015.

A natural educator, Kathryn Hamm writes, speaks and consults with wedding professionals about same-sex wedding trends, best practices when serving today’s couples, and how to think ‘outside the box’ when considering the modern market. From 2005-2015, she managed day-to-day operations and the strategic vision for GayWeddings, and she’s been interviewed by sources such as MSNBC, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, NPR’s Tell More, The Diane Rehm Show, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times, and a column for The Huffington Post.

Kathryn has a Masters in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and an Undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Princeton University. Prior to becoming the President of GayWeddings, Kathryn spent 10 years as an educator and school administrator in the Washington, D.C. area. She also worked for Discovery Communications and the WUSA’s Washington Freedom. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at The Lab School of Washington.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management


Many of us understand the value of sales in any company, but there has not been a lot of focus on sales management in the last decade. Sales management expert Jason Jordan saw the need to tap this area of sales and wrote the book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” which has since been a staple on the reader’s lists of MBA courses in major universities. Jason is a bestselling author and sales consultant who focuses on sales management best practices, sales metrics, pipeline management, CRM, leadership development and more. Joining Rob Cornilles in this episode, he shares the important realizations he had in his sales career that prompted him to write a book about sales management. He also sheds light on the critical role of frontline sales managers in ensuring smooth processes in all aspects of sales.

Watch the episode here:

Jason Jordan | Cracking The Sales Management Code 

I want to thank Jason Jordan for joining us on the show. Jason, it’s great to have an author and an educator like yourself to participate in these conversations. Welcome to our show.

Thanks, Rob. I’m glad you’re having me.

Jason, as you and I have spoken before I am a fan of yours, the books that you’ve published and the articles that you’ve written. You have a very interesting career path because most people either want to be an author from day one or want to get into business and then authorship comes down near retirement. In fact, I had a conversation with an executive, who’s nearing the end of his career. I asked him, “What’s the one thing you still want to do?” He says, “I want to write a book.” It’s not an easy thing to have a bestseller as you have and to be an influencer in the sales industry like you have been. Tell us a little bit about how that started. Did you intend to be a researcher and an author, or did you just discover things in the sales industry and recognize that you’ve got to share some insights and some discoveries with the rest of us?

Thank you for the compliments along the way. It was an interesting path. I don’t know that anyone has a path in their career, but I started out in sales right out of college with 100% commission, hardcore sales. I went to business school. It’s funny. This was before the dot-com boom. When I was coming out of business school, you went to banking or consulting. Those were your two choices and there was no idea of being an entrepreneur. I went into consulting.

In every management consulting firm I went to, I was the only person who had any sales experience. Anytime there were sales discussions, it’s like, “Go get Jason. He can talk about sales.” Most of my career was consulting. Anything you can do in a sales force, a comp design, territory design, process design and CRM implementation, all of it. I was going down that path and I had respect for authors. I didn’t necessarily have the intention to be one.

It was like my life’s thing, but when I was in sales, throughout my career, I was reading Neil Rackham. He was very influential. I got fortunate enough to work for him and consider him a friend now. The SPIN Selling and Rethinking the Sale are all legendary books. He is a great guy. Solution Selling, all the classics and Miller Heiman’s books. I respected people who could create content. What Neil told me one time about writing was very interesting. He said that, “Writing forces clarity of thought.” The best authors are good at presenting complex things in very simple ways. While most authors try to present simple things in complex ways to make it seem more than maybe it is.

The way the book came about and I’ll be brief with the story because I know we want to go on to other things. I was at American Express’ headquarters in Manhattan, and this has got to be several years ago. I don’t even remember what the project was but during break and coffee and stuff. One of the guys said, “I was in the room believe it or not with the global head of sales of American Express.” I’m sure he’s 1 of 500 people. The head of sales asks an interesting question. He said, “How do I know if my salesforce is any good?” He went on to say that, “If my European revenues are growing faster than North American, does that mean I’ll have a better salesforce in Europe?” “I don’t know. What are the regulatory environments? What’s the competition like? Give some more examples.”

He’s like, “How do you know if salesforce is any good?” As a sales consultant, I felt that I should have an answer. That’s one of those things that when you’re driving around by yourself and those moments where you reflected, I started thinking about it and I said, “Let’s look at some sales reports, some management reports.” If people are bothering to gather and report data, this must be what they think is the definition of good. Measuring ourselves against good. The book came out with this interest and understanding of how people were using CRM and what reports, what measurements they were using. I played with the concepts for a while. I put it into a presentation and some folks had hired me to go do roadshow stuff because they were interested in the industry.

I was giving a presentation at a random conference and a guy from McGraw-Hill came up and said, “I thought that was interesting. Here’s my card.” I thought it was a sales leader, trainer or something, but he was just looking for fresh content. He said, “Would you like to give a proposal?” I gave him a proposal, they accepted it and then I wrote a book. I avoided all of the writing a book and having to shop it and no agents were involved. I fell into it in all the right ways, but I did fall into it. It was a good experience. People ask me, “How it is to write a book?” My only response is, “It’s long.” I spent about a thousand hours just writing the book. Not counting all the stuff that went into it, but that was a good process. It was fun. It definitely clarified my thinking. That’s what my people have been drawn to the book or at least that’s the feedback I get is it’s approachable. It’s nothing engineering about it. It’s common words and common concepts. I’ve been very fortunate in that way.

[bctt tweet=”In trying to implement change in sales processes, implementation success always comes down to the frontline sales manager.” username=””]

As I’ve told you before, Jason, I teach an MBA course at a major university and Cracking the Sales Management Code is on our reader’s list. It’s required reading within our course. My students have always benefited from it. It spurs conversation and a little bit of debate, but they walk away, grateful that it’s on that list. It’s one of the few books that focus at least that I have appreciated. It’s one of the few books that focus on management. We have a lot of sales, methodology books. I’m coming out with a book on sales methodology. Sales management is one that I think we’re all scratching our heads constantly trying to figure out. I’ve got to ask you a couple of questions about the origination of the book. The title itself, Cracking the Sales Management Code, it suggests something has been hidden from us. What was the thinking behind that? What did you discover that caused you to put that title on it?

There are a couple of things to talk about there. You’re right. There’s not been a lot of sales management-focus. At the time that book came out, it was late 2011. I went on to Amazon and looked for sales management books. They weren’t there. Since there’ve been several good sales management books that have been written, whether the time was right or maybe I spurred some interest in the area, but that may be a little overly ambitious and indulgent. Understanding my career, I was a management consultant. I came at all of these issues from a management’s perspective. I didn’t spend my entire career in sales.

I had a career in sales, but I didn’t go straight from being a salesperson to writing a book. I’ve been studying management issues. What I realized in trying to implement change and this is a truism that people have come to realize. If you’re trying to make any change in a Salesforce, whether it’s implementing a new training program, new process or implementing CRM, in my experience managing those projects, the implementation success always came down to the frontline sales manager. The frontline sales manager understood it and bought into it. It would at least get done 75%. If the sales manager didn’t understand that it wasn’t behind it, it became the third priority and it just never happened.

It’s a truism. That was the interest in particularly frontline sales management. The title, I have to give credit to my co-author, Michelle Vazzana. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. I live on an old farm situation. In here, any property over 5 acres has outbuildings that have been converted into cottages or whatever. I have my cottage out behind our house with the guest cottage and that’s where I do my work. Michelle was down, she lived in the DC area, we had outlined the book and we put the poser together. We got to have a name, we need a name for it. I said, “The name is obvious. It’s Focused Sales Management because that’s what this is all about.”

The entire book in focusing sales management and salespeople on doing the right things. She said, “That’s stupid. No one is going to buy a book called Focused Sales Management, how about Cracking the Sales Management Code.” That’s where it came from. To your point, it did crack open some ideas. The standing idea that we manage outcomes. If you could manage quota, everyone would make their quota. It shifted the focus to the activities. Since I’ve had many people say, “We’ve been running our Salesforce like that for years. I can’t imagine running it any other way, focusing on the activities and what people are doing and what we’re providing by way of enablement.”

The last ten years have been transformative for the sales management discipline. I think that maybe the time is just right. Maybe people have gotten as far as they can with the existing training, methodologies, and all the stuff that they’ve poured at the sales team. Technology has definitely changed and has been a huge enabler and that’ll continue to change in the salesforce for a while, but the fundamentals of management and coaching are immutable.

I certainly would like to talk about that with you. Let me go back to the chicken and the egg question if I could, what does come first? Is it great management, a great sales leader or a great salesperson? What would you rather have if you had to pick one?

I take a great sales manager every time. Neil Rackham would say the same thing. He’d say, “If I had a choice between having ten rockstar salespeople or one rockstar sales manager every time because that gets replicated.” The scenario people describe is, “We take our best salespeople and we promote them into sales management.” We lost our best salesperson and we created a shitty manager. You have done double damage. The question is, “Can you take someone who’s not a great salesperson and make them a great sales manager?” My response to that has always been, you can’t take someone who’s incompetent at sales and make them a sales manager, because they don’t know what good looks like, or they can’t look at something and go, “This is wrong.”

There’s also an issue of credibility to promote someone who is a peer who’s not respected into a management role. You can’t promote bad salespeople into management positions, but I think you can promote average and better than average people that have management capability. If I was given a choice between having ten great salespeople or two great sales managers, I’d take the sales managers every time because I feel that within 24 months, we have twenty great salespeople instead of ten. There’s a span of control of 10 to 1, which is maybe a little high, but not unrealistic.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance

In one of your articles, you talk about a 30,000% ROI. I love that article. It came out in 2017, 2018 if I’m not mistaken, I could be wrong. Could you talk about how a salesforce or an organization could get a 30,000% return?

You could still get that vantage points website if you look. You have a choice. You can train your entire salesforce of salespeople. Let’s say you have 100 salespeople and 10 sales managers. You can train your entire sales team of a hundred people and spend a bunch of money and maybe you’ll get some lift, or you can spend 1/10th of that train your sales managers. I believe you get an even greater lift because the research that vantage point has done over time has shown that sales managers are the leverage point for improving sales performance. It’s a simple observation and simple math that I’d rather train the ten sales managers before I trained a hundred salespeople every single time. That’s a dividend that is going to keep giving. As more salespeople rotate in, the sales managers are still there. It’s a much better and much more leveraged model of focusing on improving a sales team.

Excuse me for the fundamental nature of this question, but I want to make sure that our audience is following what you’re saying. When we talk about training sales managers, are we talking about making them better salespeople themselves? What do you mean exactly by training them? If I’m going to invest that money in 10%, where am I directing it specifically?

Let’s look at it this way. The sales managers are trying to change the behavior of the salespeople and the salespeople in turn are trying to change the behaviors of the customers to obviously buy from us. I’ve reversed-engineered the question. Plenty of people will say, “Here’s what we need to be doing in front of the customers. Therefore, here’s how we need to train the salespeople.” I don’t stop there. I say, “If this is what we want, the salespeople would be doing, and this is how we train the sales managers.” For instance, if we wanted the sales team to make better sales calls, and we even defined that. Asking better questions, or having a specific agenda beforehand, or maybe communicating that agenda before you get into the specific practices of what you want the salespeople would do.

You can train the salespeople to do that or you can train the sales managers to train daily. We reinforce that constantly, sit down and coach them to, “We’re going to sit down and plan this call and you write them an agenda. You’re going to email that before to the person you’re meeting with, and then we’re going to record it or I’ll join you.” That sales manager had that same conversation ten times. It’s more powerful than training the salespeople to do it because the sales manager takes ownership of it. They can oversee it. As I said, salespeople are coming and going, management is a little more stable than salespeople. That investment is a little stickier than another way. I always reverse-engineer it from the behaviors you want in the field. I don’t stop with a sales salesperson. I take it back a level to the sales manager because if the sales manager understands and motivated, the sales manager can make it happen.

Do you find in your experience then, Jason, that sales managers are as receptive to coaching as frontline salespeople?

I think more so even. They want it and they don’t get it. There have been times in my career when we train sales managers and then we train the sales manager’s manager to coach the manager. That’s an interesting thing. You’re a salesperson and you get coached. It’s an expectation, particularly the younger generation, the more they expect it. It’s part of the value proposition of working for you is that you’re investing in them and their development. It’s pretty common to think, “We coach the salespeople and the sales manager does that,” but it’s weird to think that once a person’s a sales manager, we don’t need coaching anymore. We need them to make the reports and do the stuff.

What we found is not only when you engage the coach’s coach, not only does the manager like it, because it’s an investment in them that they’re not typically getting. Oftentimes the coaches, the coach likes it as well. The VP of sales is like, “I haven’t coached anyone in fifteen years. This is pretty rewarding. I like this.” I had a real job of managing people. All the way to the CEO and the CEO has executive coaches. He or she has people that are working with them to keep them home. It’s a weird thing that we think once we take a great salesperson and promote them into a management position, then we’re done. Magic is going to happen.

Jason, you know Game Face, the company that I lead started in 1995 in the sports industry. Our clients were a lot of the teams right around your area in the DC Virginia area. When we began the notion that you would train or coach executives for a sports team was a head-scratcher to most organizations. It’s like, “Why do we need coaching?” Just put out a better product on the ice, the field, or the court and we’ll sell more, whatever it is, sponsorship, tickets or suites. This is several years ago, I had convinced sports teams as they train players the best in the world at what they do.

[bctt tweet=”You can’t take someone who’s incompetent at sales and make them a sales manager, because they don’t know what good looks like.” username=””]

They’ve probably should also devote resources to training their executive team. Now, thankfully, it’s just a given in our industry of sports. I don’t work entirely in sports anymore but it is still a large part of our business. That was just an expectation people like you said, young people expect it to be a part of the value proposition. Why they will say yes to a potential employer is because they get coaching from it. From that experience, that employment and more managers are asking us, “What about us?” It’s interesting. Some industries are way ahead of this and you probably have been a catalyst to that. In other industries, there’s still that same old view that as seasoned veterans, we don’t need the training and the coaching. Just help those young folks. That’s a sad commentary, but it’s still out there, maybe not so much with the large B2B enterprise companies that you work with. I still see that in a lot of small businesses. I don’t know if you have any opinion on that.

Someone once said or I once read that, “When you’re in your twenties, you learn the trade and in your 30s, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade. If you don’t keep learning, by the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’ll only have the tricks.” It resonated with me that at 35 or 40, you can’t know everything you’re going to need to know. Some people come to that with disposition. People just liked her and people are driven. They like to read. Now, the websites, YouTube and things that you can develop yourself. Other people get to 40 and they’re like, “We’re good.”

I think you’re right that larger companies are more focused on executive development. They’re focused on succession planning and things like that. Whereas in smaller companies, it’s not part of the game because it’s expensive bringing people in to deal with the executives and the time it takes and trying to find the right person because there’s a lot of personality stuff that goes on at the executive level. Finding the right person to train or coach. It’s time-consuming and resource-consuming to continue to develop people. It’s easy to get a sales training course for 1,000 salespeople.

You’ve noted in your writings that it’s even more expensive not to develop your people.


Let’s go back to Cracking the Sales Management Code. You did a lot of research. You pulled from your own experiences. I’m sure you pulled from your own mentors if you will and people that you learned from. In that research, as you were writing the book, was there anything about your findings or your conclusions that surprised you when it finally went to print? When you began writing it, you didn’t think you would have discovered this particular point or truth about sales management, but after concluding it, you had converted yourself almost.

I don’t think so. In that book, we’re on a quest for reality. We were trying to define what we saw around us. What are sales processes? Why do you measure and what do you measure? We were trying to find foundational components. It’s like discovering math like, “One plus one equals two.” That’s surprising. You’re like, “No, we just didn’t know one plus one equals two until we wrote a one, a plus sign, a one and an equal sign and a two.” Now, it’s obvious. That’s why some people gravitate toward the book and why it ends up in universities. I’ve used it when I teach at university and other professors use it as well that I know because I think it’s foundational. Other stuff that I’ve done, I’ve been surprised because I was on a quest but in this case, we were just trying to write it down.

A word that you’ve talked about a lot in your writings and one that is the core word in the work that I do is the word, results. You mentioned that a lot in your book and you make a very clear point that you have to be able to define the results you want in order to be a good sales manager. Do you find and have you found over the years that in your work with various organizations that it’s not clearly defined because it seems so basic? Do you have to start with the result in mind before you can go to activities and tactics, but do some not get that or do some get it backwards?

People understand the desired outcome clearly, which is to hit your quota and to hit your budget or your target, but that’s where a lot of people stop. I don’t think there’s any shortage of people knowing what the outcome is they want. It’s a shortage of people knowing how to get there. In reality in salesforce, you’re given the outcome. It’s called a quota and remarkably you’re often not guided on how to get there. That’s what the work we did at VantagePoint was all about it.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Sales Management: There is no shortage of people who know what outcome it is they want. There is a shortage of people who know how to get there.


You talk a lot about tools that sales managers must use. The one that’s become in vogue over the last many years is CRM. I like how you beat it up though. By that, I mean we assume that we need a customer relationship management system. You talk about how that’s wrong and we’ve let it get away from itself. Can you share with the audience how you view CRM and maybe where we’ve lost track of what its original intent was?

It’s funny you say original intent. I was a consultant in the late ’90s and Siebel became a thing. In the early 2000s, when everyone had to have it, customer relationship management started out as exactly that it was like, “Marketing customer relationship management, software sales used it.” There was a piece in there’s a module in CRM called Sales Force Automation, SFA. Their SFA practices started popping up and we don’t talk about sales force automation. We don’t use those terms anymore, but it’s funny because I think that’s what has become, has never evolved far beyond that. If you look at the core of CRM the way most people use it, it’s a way to track opportunities and contacts.

We took Act! which is everyone’s favorite software who’s ever been in sales, who has been around since the ’80s and ’90s and it took Act! and put opportunities in it. That’s what we now have and we call CRM. Now we have marketing automation that does a lot. The terms are a little bit convoluted in the way that it’s evolved. What we have is sales force automation and the thing that we called it that it would be a little clearer exactly what the scope and reasonable expectations are for that software that is sales force automation. People treat it as a strategic advantage. It’s funny because we still hear people talk about, “What’s the ROI of CRM?” No one talks about what’s the ROI of email.

CRM is infrastructure. You don’t need to justify it anymore. You don’t need to talk about the ROI of your cell phone or the ROI of Outlook any more than you don’t need to talk about the ROI of It’s just there. The challenge is, now that everyone has it, how do we use it? The fundamental idea that it’s a tool there to support better selling is lost on a lot of executives. They see it as a pipeline and reporting tool. If I’m cynical, if it weren’t for forecasting, I don’t know that a lot of sales leaders would give a damn about CRM. We need a forecast, we need a pipeline because we have a pipeline, we need CRM and then that’s where a lot of it stops. It’s a shame because it’s the backbone. It is the plumbing of the Salesforce and it’s not a free-flowing.

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to elaborate on that a little bit more. How are we using traditional CRM incorrectly in the sales world?

It’s a tool to enable salespeople. It’s not a tool to enable reporting. It’s viewed from the top-down, not from the bottom up. I’ve talked to people over time and they’ve said, “When we started putting activities into the system and tracking things that were correlated to productivity, then CRM became useful. Using it as a pipeline and reporting tool is not all that great. That’s why salespeople don’t like to use it. All I’m doing is giving this machine data, then the machine gives that data to someone else in a different form. Salespeople get some value out of reporting. It’s so funny, you don’t have to make people use Outlook. You don’t have to make people use their cell phone because it’s inherent to them what the value is.

You have to make people use CRM because it’s not inherent what the value is. That tells me that we haven’t valued engineered CRM or sales force automation in a way that says, “How could the users of this find it useful?” Also, I say that quickly, “That’s overly complicated.” I had some sales operations person said that as soon as he implements a new CRM tool, he envisions himself as the mechanic, under the hood of a car, just pulling out hoses and wires. They try to sell it so feature-rich and they sell that as the value proposition. Whereas I think, the value proposition should be there like four buttons and three reports and six things that you need to do in this, but they’re the important things. It’s grown beyond its usefulness, ironically, at the same time, it’s not proving itself to a user.

Thus, the lack of or the low number of adopters in most offices is it’s a constant struggle, a tug of war to get your salespeople to use the CRM. Because they don’t see an inherent value, how is it going to help them make a sale? As I’m understanding you describe it, they think it’s simply a mechanism to provide reports to the people upstairs, but for them, they have more important things to do. They got to make a commission and that means they got to get back on the streets or back on the phone, you get to interact with customers. They’re not seeing how CRM helps them get there. Is that a fair summary?

That’s very fair. It’s a database of records. That’s what CRM has become in most sales forces. I will say that this whole industry, particularly around because they sell a very rudimentary product. It doesn’t have a lot of great reporting. They know they know this. They put the AppExchange in place and they want people to build all these extra capabilities around what is this simply defined CRM tool. There are many great tools out there that do add value. They’re expensive. If you mapped out what salespeople do and thought, “How could we enable this?” That’s where you started building CRM, you’d have a different CRM. We go in and go, “We need a forecast and new management reporting. Now, how do we get that?”

[bctt tweet=”A CRM is a tool to enable salespeople, not a tool to enable reporting.” username=””]

That’s how you backed into CRM. It’s not, “Here’s the sales process.” If we have strategic account managers, what in there is helping them manage their accounts more strategically? Are their data feeds bringing in alerts to their strategic accounts where every morning when they log in, like, “Some new executive at this division over here. I need to call that person.” If it’s lead generation, you’re pursuing opportunities. If you log in to CRM, “Are there opportunities there? Are there leads? I’d log in to see that.” If we could just map out what salespeople do, identify the places they need to enable that, and enable that through CRM, then people would love CRM. That’s not the way, it’s an architect and that’s not cynical, but I’ve seen it many times in my mind it’s become reality, in a form. Maybe I’m being a little too pessimistic.

Another term that may get you up on your hind legs as well. We talk about it constantly. I want to get your reaction. When I use the two words, pipeline management, what does that mean? What should it mean in your experience?

Pipeline management is not what takes place, what takes place is data management in most cases. When we’ve all said in these meetings where there’s a salesperson and there’s a sales manager, and they’re going through the pipeline and what they’re doing is they’re updating close dates. They’re updating dollar amounts, they’re updating probabilities, that’s forecasting. They’re scrubbing the forecast. Pipeline management is when you’re doing something to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the sales pipeline. Good pipeline management looks like coaching. Pipeline management in most people’s minds is just keeping the data clean and making sure that as deals get at the later stage, they’re treated a little bit differently.

I would use pipeline management and coaching almost interchangeably. The pipeline is the nexus for almost everything in most sales forces. It’s where we keep the activity like, “What are people doing?” They’re working on these deals is where we keep the deals is where we generate the forecast. The pipeline is the centerpiece and most sales. When you see what meetings are taking place, salespeople and sales managers talking about stuff in the sales pipeline. The pipeline report is what they go through. It’s mostly viewed as a stage along the way, it creating a forecast. It’s seeing what deals are coming in the near term, which is another way of saying forecast. It should be a coaching tool.

With these best practices and perhaps some inherited worst practices, I’m interested to know if you’re able to share with us, who are some organizations that you admire for the way that they are managing their Salesforce and their sales system? Any companies that you can illustrate that they’re enabling people properly and exercising these principles on a day-in and day-out basis?

I see good practices in almost every salesforce. I’ve never seen a salesforce that I would hold up as perfect. I’ve worked with very large companies that are held up as operationally excellent companies and they are, but there’s always something. I’ve been in various small companies that were innovative and thought about things in the way that you probably should because they had probably 1 or 2 leaders. If those 1 or 2 leaders had a square head on their shoulders, then things went well. We’ll get into a big company and they’re pockets of things that are going very well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one company that I said, “This is it,” but I’ve picked best and worst practices along the way. You probably had some experience I would guess.

A couple of more questions, if I could. If someone aspires to be in sales management, whether they’re young or middle of their career, what advice are you going to give them if you’re mentoring them? What should they be doing now so that when the opportunity is presented to them, they qualify and when they get the job, they excel?

There are two different things. To qualify, you to have to be a good salesperson. Probably demonstrate some interpersonal and some political skills. There’s a way you get to be promoted to sales manager, which is through success. If you wanted to think about, how do I become a good sales manager? I had the same advice I’d give to existing sales managers who want to become better sales managers. As a salesperson, I would ask myself the question, “What would a great sales manager do for me? How could a good sales manager make me better, more effective and successful at my job?”

If you think about it as like, “You spent some time helping me go through deals, but not just to scrub the data but to point out, to test me, to push me on how might I do this?” Perspective is what’s lost. People become sales managers and they think they need to be in this headspace of sales manager, but what they’re going to be is in the headspace of the salesperson and understanding what they need to succeed. If a sales manager got up every day and thought, “What can I do today to make Jason a better salesperson,” rather than get up and think, “How am I going to get to the quota?” I think they’d be more effective at their job. As a salesperson, thinking through how I send you to succeed, you get the opportunity and then you become the sales managers that you wanted to have that you never, ever get.

GFEP 24 | Sales Management

Sales Management: Over time, we’re just finding better ways to do the fundamental things that salespeople need to do.


Jason, as a thought leader within the sales space and as one who has obviously been a part of innovating good practices for sales management and the like, where do you think the industry is going in the next few years? I know that’s a loaded question because the economy is in an uncertain space and we’ve got pandemics. We’ve got some communities and industries that are a bit in unrest. If you were to put that thumb out there, where are you seeing us a year from now, five years from now and what should we be doing to prepare for the future as sales managers?

I have what’s not a typical view for someone who’s supposed to lead thought and things. Change comes very incrementally in sales. We think the internet came and everything changed in a day and CRM came and everything changed in a day. The internet, the CRM or sales force automation was very rudimentary when it came. What we’re seeing is we’re just getting better and better at what we’ve always been doing. I had this idea that we have no new problems in sales. We just have unsolved problems in sales and the data point I like to use. It was a book called Birth of a Salesman. It was written by a Harvard professor years ago and it’s a great story.

It’s a little bit academic in the way that reads, but there’s a quote from a salesperson. It says, “My sales manager is gone about systematizing sales. Now, I spend all day chained in my desk doing reports.” It’s in 1927. I don’t think things have changed as much as we think they have changed. The internet and LinkedIn, but LinkedIn when it started wasn’t LinkedIn than it is now. What we’re doing overtime is we’re finding better and better ways to do the fundamental things that salespeople need to do, which identify opportunities, qualify them, demonstrate value through the sales process and shepherd the buyer across the finish line. If you’re managing accounts, the things that you do when you manage accounts.

I don’t think the sales motion has changed in 100 years. The tools we have and the way we viewed it has gotten sharper over that time. That’s going to be a trend that continues. I don’t see many revolutions. In fact, I’ll give you one final comment on the question. When the internet came about everyone said, “This is the death of the salesperson.” This is a cynical way. I can’t believe I’m saying it out loud because it’s so cynical. Like, “Why would someone interact with a salesperson if they didn’t need to?” That was the thing is, “Salespeople will be replaced by websites. We’ll never need to see a salesperson again.” People that I respect in the industry was like, “Half the salespeople will be gone in ten years.” That would be devastating to the sales career.

I did this several years ago, but I went back to 1999 and I looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States and looked at how many salespeople there were. What percentage of the workforce was employed in sales? It was 2015 or ’14. Several years later, I went back and looked at the percentage of the workforce that was in sales. It was exactly the same. It was like 14.1 versus 14.3 or something. It was negligible distinction in the composition of the workforce. We need salespeople. Now, what has to happen, salespeople will evolve. The salesperson, of now is much more valuable than the salesperson fifteen years ago because they had this realization like, “My salespeople know as much about my products as I do because they can go to the website. They can read reviews.” The internet pushed salespeople into a different place but again, it’s been incremental. We’re getting better at our craft.

Can you give us any peek into what you’re writing next? What topic you’re particularly pursuing now or is that something we’ll just have to read about?

As you and I were chatting about, in fact, some of it. I wrote a book and I published it in 2017 under a pen name. This 2020, I republished it under my name. It’s called Sales Insanity. I don’t know if you’ve come across that one. It’s twenty stories of the stupidest stuff I ever saw in my career of sales. I love that book. I’m as proud of that book as I am of Cracking Sales Management Code but in a very different way. It was a lot of fun to write and people have been inspired but the topic that I’m intrigued with now is very timely is video conferencing.

Sales certainly, but any profession who uses video conferencing in the way that we are now. This is truly unprecedented with the amount of video conferencing is taking place for obvious reasons. I’ve got a couple of research instruments and surveys I’ve put out trying to understand, what are best practices, what we’re doing now, and how should a professional interact with the camera and the background. If you have an important meeting coming up with another executive or whatever, how do you orchestrate that? In the same way that Cracking Sales Management Code was driven by curiosity, I’m genuinely curious in this. This is different than we would have been doing before. There’s going to be some writing coming out of that. The research is coming in and I think it’s timely, but we’ll see what’s after that. We’ll see what other questions I can’t answer.

That particular question about video conferencing, it’s a wonderful area to pursue. I think it would be very valuable as you and I have discussed previous to this, I see a lot of bad examples of salespeople trying to sell through video conferencing and their intent is good. Their heart is in the right place, but their presentation, their professionalism is suspect.

[bctt tweet=”We have no new problems in sales, only unsolved ones.” username=””]

I’m not on sales calls anymore in the way that I used to be. Every morning, I watch the financial news during the day. You see the folks reporting from their houses, their homes, and this is on national television, global television. I can’t believe this person thinks this is a good idea. There’s no reference point. Maybe I’m going to foundationally define the way you work with a video camera. We’ll see.

I know exactly what you’re referring to. I’ve said to you with someone who’s sitting underneath a ceiling fan and it looks like a helicopter is descending on their head or they’re they look like they’re in their hallway. Granted, I like the rawness and the authenticity that this has forced us to adopt and customers like it too. It’s fun to talk to a salesperson when they’re in their kitchen or when you can hear their kids playing in the background. It makes everything more human.

We’re trying to establish credibility, but I was talking to a professor who also teaches sales. He was saying, “That’s a fascinating idea. Do you mind if I take this idea and start putting together some research and do some academic research on this?” You’re not only there, how do you have a first interaction where you’re trying to build credibility and establish that you’re right? He said, “What about three months later at the end of the sales cycle, do people still have the same expectations? You probably wouldn’t be in the kitchen and your first call with your kids in the background. Maybe it’s endearing once you have a relationship to have that personal view.” This is such interesting idea. Until people started bringing their business into their homes like an earnest, these issues never popped up. That’s where my head is now just because of the nature of my life.

I encourage my audience to be following Jason Jordan, see what’s coming out next. Jason, how could someone find you if they wanted to pursue more, the things that you’re sharing with us?

LinkedIn is the best place to get in touch with me.

We’ll encourage everyone to do that. I’m sure I appreciate you spending the time with us. It’s fascinating, the work that you’ve done and the work that you’re going to be doing in the future. We at Game Face appreciate the relationship. We will encourage people to reach out to you then, as questions arise, not only in sales management but even this new topic that you’re now raising. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to provide great instruction to the sales world.

Thanks, Rob.

Take care.

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About Jason Jordan

GFEP 24 | Sales ManagementSales management expert focused on developing sales leadership effectiveness in large B2B sales forces. Clients include GE, 3M, Tyco, TIAA, Essilor, Aon, FedEx, Sungard, Gates, and other global organizations.

Best-selling author of Cracking the Sales Management Code and Sales Insanity. Conducts ongoing research to advance the discipline of sales management.

Specialties: Sales Management Best Practices, Sales Metrics, Pipeline Management, Forecasting, CRM, Change Management, Leadership Development, and Coaching.