[Podcast] The Power of Vulnerability with Michael Mack

As co-founder and CEO of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., Michael Mack led an expansion from 2 to over 125 Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants.

But Micheal's journey would see him fired from the company he founded.

How he handled being fired and the years following is a fascinating study in the power of being vulnerable.

On this episode, Jon and Michael go through three defining events in Michael's career and how they demonstrate his core beliefs.

Show Notes

Michael has seen high's and low's that most entrepreneurs can only dream of. Jon took Michael on a trip down memory lane with some old news clippings and articles to revisit key events that define his career:

Event #1 - Leaving His Job to Found a Company

In his 30's, Michael made the decision to leave his consulting job at Bain to do something radically different: open up restaurants. It was the 80's and he believed American society was about to embrace a healthier way of life. He believed so strongly in this mission that he set out to find a restaurant making food matching his vision and spread it nationally.

Jon dug up this LA times article from 1986 where Michael and co-founder Tony Brooke are described as, "The two young entrepreneurs hope their all-you-can-eat, self-serve Souplantation, which they bought two years ago, will ride the coattails of the health-food movement and propel them into the big leagues of the restaurant industry."

Micheal reflects on these days and how they had the confidence to make a small company larger.

Event #2 - Being Fired from the Company He Founded

At 39, he had taken the company public and seen success few entrepreneurs do. But, with growth slowing and costs rising the pressure was intense going into the 90's. The board, which included his father, would eventually decide to fire Michael from his position as CEO.

This article from HBR details the day he was given the news and how it rocked his world. Micheal digs into what it was like that day and the weeks, months and years after. He offers advice on how to navigate your own thoughts or 'head trash' as he calls it and make the decisions that are best for you and those around you.

Micheal credits his willingness to be vulnerable during those times as the main factor that lead to Event #3...

Event #3 - Being Rehired as CEO

Instead of just retreating into the shadows, Michael remained as a board member and actively helped transition the new leadership into power. By continuing to be a positive force he fostered trust in those around him. Years later the board voted to rehire him as CEO.

He has since left Gardenfresh group but he talked about how his time away from the job of CEO in the 90's changed him and helped him successfully lead the company in his second tenure as CEO.

Micheal's journey demonstrates the power of humbleness and vulnerability.

Where to find Michael:

LinkedIn

Website

About the Hosts

Nicole Mears

Nicole is a former PPC analyst, department head, and product manager. She focuses on marketing and customer success.

Jon Davis

Spent years as a PPC consultant and agency analyst before focusing on making software.

Transcript

[00:00:00] - Jon
Welcome to shape the conversation. This is a podcast where normally me, Jon Davis and my cohost, Nicole Mears talk about working with the team here and growing Shape.io from our offices in Bend Oregon. Nicole has the week off this week and I was lucky enough to welcome Michael Mack into the shape studio for our first interview of the podcast. Really excited for you guys to hear this conversation. Michael is a super interesting guy that I've been lucky enough to meet a bunch of times over the last six to eight months and get to know him a little bit better and really learn a lot from him and his experiences and how he talks about his experiences and kind of translates them in a way that makes it easier for you to learn from him. He's seen things that a lot of entrepreneurs can only dream of. In his 30s he left the consulting career to open up restaurants. He believed that America, in the 80s, was going to start embracing a more healthy lifestyle and part of that being eating habits. So Michael set out to really find a restaurant that was making food that matched his vision and expand nationally. And he had some big dreams. And him and his business partner eventually found that chain of restaurants that they liked, that there was only two locations, and over the years expanded that to 125 locations under the brand Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes that covered 15 states. It was a crazy fast growth story as we talk about a little bit but it was definitely came with ups and downs. Michaels was able to grow the company and eventually take it public, but after that growth slowed a little bit, costs continued to rise, and with the pressure higher than ever the board, which included his father, eventually decided to fire Michael and we really dig to this moment kind of in the podcast. And what we did was I broke it down into three different sections so Michael's career as I see it breaks into three phases. 1 he leaves to found a company, he's kind of high on expectations and all the possibilities he executes on that vision and a lot of his dreams come true only to see himself fired from that same company he founds and how he reacts to this is I think the most interesting part of Michael's story and is really a testament to vulnerability and humbleness in the face of not only just challenges but when times are going well and I think these are virtues that maybe we don't focus on as much as we could. And today today's world but for Michael they really became some of his most powerful attributes that helped him to regain the trust of his board. And kind of the third phase as I see Michael's career was, he eventually was rehired by that board as CEO a very Steve Jobs like kind of trajectory in terms of being fired and rehired. But Michael really credits that opportunity for learning as he calls it to what helped him lead the company even more successfully during his second tenure as CEO through the 90s so Michael is a really interesting guy to talk to as I think you'll find out he is now coaching CEOs and people through difficult times and through growing their careers and I know he's somebody that everybody can learn from and I really just hope that by looking at these three phases and I dug up some old news articles and some L.A. Times articles from the 80s and it was fun to hear Michael kind of respond to some of those quotes from years past and reflect on those as we talked and the way he describes what he calls "head trash" I found really powerful. He talks about battling your own emotions and feelings and ways to cope with that so that you can make better decisions and foster trust in the people around you. So we're going to kick off here the interview and you'll hear me kind of jumping in kind of setting the premise a little bit for Michael and then I'll read some quotes. We'll get Michael's initial feelings about where his head was at during those times and the conversation kind of moves from there. So here we go. Our interview with Michael Mac. Founder and former CEO of Garden Fresh restaurant group.

[00:04:56] - Jon
All right Michael thanks so much for being here at this point I would have given you a little intro so the listeners kind of know a little bit about who you are so I wanted to jump in and I've done some research here on a few articles that from the past year career and just want a kind of prompt you with those. See what you what you think. Kind of where that puts you and we'll go from there. So the first article I found is from the LA Times 1986.

[00:05:30] - Michael
Way back

[00:05:30] - Jon
It come up pretty high on Google when you search for Michael Mack and here's a little excerpt from that article, "Tony Brooke and Michael Mack have launched an ambitious plan to expand their three outlet soup and salad bar operation to 50 by the end of the decade. The two young entrepreneurs hope their 'all you can eat self-service souplantation' which they bought two years ago will ride the coattails of a health food movement and propel them into the big leagues of the restaurant industry. That journey they believe will take them throughout California and eventually to other states such as Texas and Florida and even New Mexico. The company now generates about 4 million in annual sales and if expansion unfolds sales by 1990 are projected to reach 90 million" later in the article you say "Tony and I had the confidence to make a small company larger." What do you think about somebody at that time i believe you were 36 when writing this article I'm 35, just turned 35 last week, so I try to put myself where you're at with three stores there with ambitious plan for the future. Where do you get that confidence to take three restaurants and see I can be spearheading force that helps drive us to 50?

[00:06:57] - Michael
Yeah. First of all that's a that's a wonderful quote to reintroduce me to. And what's interesting to me is that almost everything in that quote came true except the specifics of what we wanted to reach by 1990 we fell short of that. But the rest of it we really got there and I'm actually very touched to be reminded of that sometimes you don't quite have that overall perspective. I'd say there is two things going on with the confidence level. One was a lot of arrogance. We had come out of a very high profile consulting careers. We thought we knew a lot about business, we did. But there was more that we didn't know and so we were we just believe we knew what we were doing at the time and time proved that we didn't are so much more for us to learn. The second piece was there was a sense of intentionality. In other words I knew what outcome I wanted to create. My partner eventually left and despite all the missteps and the walking and into places of uncertainty and unknown that were unanticipated I kept the company on the same course and there was just a lot more course corrections than I ever expected. And so that was really overtime a lesson in what do you do when things go haywire and can you find a way to take one step towards whatever that that big goal you have whatever that big intention you have if you can take a step in that direction. And many times the next step becomes a little more apparent.

[00:08:42] - Jon
Yeah what I hear a lot when we talk and you've been lucky enough to impart some of these words on me over coffee and over a few meetings and when I hear you talk you're a real journey based thinker to me, real process oriented. You're spontaneous but you also like have mantra or daily practices that help reinforce the spontaneity which I think is a really interesting kind of a dichotomy there kind of using both perspectives so do you think that that is an important part of building something ambitious is having intentionality and a real clarity of vision but also being comfortable with the murkiness that might be underneath that clear vision or really what it takes to get something done. Because I think what we see here all the time is, around these offices or even software which is completely different than the restaurant industry, that really getting it done is is always a lot messier then you think or making it happen and managing tens of restaurants over many states? I can't even imagine.

[00:09:53] - Michael
Yeah, it's like learning how sausage is made. It's a little unseemly sometimes and from the exter it looks like everything's running pretty smoothly. I think it's important, as you said, to have a clear vision a clear mission whatever clear purpose whatever you want to call it and to have some comfort with the murkiness that occurs on a day to day basis. But it's not that comfort comes from being comfortable with your own head trash whatever you want to call it your own emotional baggage the way that the stories that we each make up about the events that are occurring. So you know I could have a restaurant that didn't open very successfully that might fall below expectations. That's a fact. You know I can say here was the original budget, here's where the restaurant actually came in, here's the delta. But the story that I then make up, the messages I tell myself after that is all fantasy. You know, "I'm terrible. The company is going to fail. I'm going to be viewed as a bad manager. This is the beginning of the unraveling and we're doomed!" That's all made up. And so I think for each of us as leaders if we can begin to separate what's absolutely true the facts, which is usually a minor part of what's in our head from the story then we can kind of observe that story and say hey I'm just making stuff up here and now what do I want to do to try and move forward. And that makes it so much easier to deal with the murkiness and the uncertainty of the moment.

[00:11:32] - Jon
Do you feel like... can you put yourself back into this space in 1986 and remember some of that head trash? Do you feel like you have more or less kind of head trash now than you did back then or is it just different?

[00:11:49] - Michael
Really good questions. First of all just speaking of heads I had a lot of hair back then and I have none now. So I'll give you one example. I had a level of defensiveness in that time period that affected my work with others not so much with people below me or my peers but people who you know shareholders and investors who might challenge me on something and if it got to a certain level I could be a little defensive and that clearly got in my way in terms of my relationships with some people as to whether or not. And so a lot of the things that got in my way then I do a much better job with. The dynamics are still the same. You know these things don't go away. We just see them they lessen in intensity. We have a greater ability to manage them and we will, at least for me, I've discovered more things about myself as I've created a little deeper awareness and have been more introspective about here's where I want to go, what's getting in my way, what do I need to do differently. So I don't know that I can measure whether there's more or less. I've certainly discovered more. I've certainly dealt with some. And again you mentioned the kind of journey versus event. It's not an event it's an ongoing process. I believe we're either kind of growing and thriving and expanding our capabilities in some way or we're declining that steady state doesn't really exist. The first time I was made aware that I was being defensive I declared myself cured because I had awareness of it. Of course that was ridiculous to everybody in the room with me.

[00:13:46] - Jon
So do you think that would manifest in that you'd get criticism or feedback from a shareholder and it would manifest in that you weren't able to see if there was benefit in that criticism or vice and pulled that out of it you just disregarded it completely or did you feel like it was just too hard for you eventually to get to that place to see it right and you just made it harder on yourself by being really defensive? What ways do you feel like it really kind of popped up during those times when you weren't managing it maybe as well?

[00:14:20] - Michael
Yeah I viewed it as either this person is right or I'm right. You know there's a right the wrong here and of course that that is a false and not very productive view of the world. And so if that person is right and I'm wrong then I'm flawed in some way. My thinking wasn't perfect. And so I would resist their thinking often. Sometimes I'd placate them sometimes I would push back and create a different argument. And over time I learned to just say this is just a different point of view and who knows what's right or wrong how can I kind of incorporate that into my thinking and just not take it personally.

[00:15:04] - Jon
Yeah.

[00:15:04] - Michael
Doesn't anything do with who I am.

[00:15:06] - Jon
Right.

[00:15:07] - Michael
It's a different point of view.

[00:15:08] - Jon
And that's something I think especially at the early stages of a venture that I personally struggle with. You know separating the you from the idea or, in the startup world, it's really the idea. In business world a little bit more broadly it's separating the you from the company you know the company has a good quarter a good month. I'm amazed at how much like during a lot of times that really like directly tracks to my mood.

[00:15:38] - Michael
Sure.

[00:15:39] - Jon
And playing sports in the past too, you win the game. Like you're more fun person to be around. You're better around your family all these types of things. Have you ever done anything or thought intentionally over the years about ways to kind of like disassociate that? Because you are a guy working in the consulting world for Bain and Company at that company where, I would say as an outsider looking in who's never had a job at that type of level at McKinsey or Bain type, that's an all encompassing profession. As far as I can tell from the outside especially through your 20s and 30s as the levels who have already gone through that ringer. Now put you through that ringer and as it embodies so much of your day that you becomes your job, career, company, performance. Do you feel like it's healthier to try to actively disassociate that? Do you think there's some things that you let in because you need that when you're looking at two restaurants and you take it to 50? You can't be too numb. You can't back off too much. You need some of you to be in there and have you felt that balance through the years, have you felt a change, have you thought actually you can get better performance by letting go a little bit of some of those things and be a little less defensive and get to the right answers faster?

[00:17:08] - Michael
Yeah. So you touched on some interesting dimensions around this which is my identity wrapped up in what I do for a living and if I create some separation do I create numbness? What would I have found is that my job and my career are not who I really am. And that's just a process I've gone through of kind of examining my self-awareness and recognizing that no matter how well or badly the business does, I'm the same person I'm unchanged and that's upside and downside. I had a good example the other day I was with a group of CEOs in San Diego that I worked with and I recently accomplished something that was pretty significant and they wanted me to be pounding my chest and high fiving everybody and I'm very happy about it and something I'm very very passionate about and I put a tremendous amount of energy into, but I'm not defined by that success. It's a great thing in my life but I'm the same person if I choose that or didn't achieve that. So I think there's a separation of identity which is different from having or not having passion and a cleas sense of purpose. So I'm very passionate about what I'm engaged in right now, I have a real clear sense of purpose around it, I know what I want to accomplish, and I'm less defined by that then I probably was say as a consultant at Bain and Company my identity was pretty wrapped up in that business.

[00:18:41] - Jon
As you kind of moved out of this early stage of moving from three restaurants to 10 restaurants 15 restaurants. I can't imagine like the energy enthusiasm around the shareholders and the team and all the problems to solve at that point. But looking back and kind of moving into the second passage here that I've got research you know those early years went smoothly. You know you launched restaurants left and right. The health food craze you predicted the future in a lot of ways because of that. You know I think that's something you deserve a lot of credit for looking at that. 1986, I can't imagine too many people were thinking about carbs or thinking that a salad bar company could pull it off. And you did and I think you did touch on arrogance earlier. I think there some healthy balance there to get things going. You know and I think you have to trust yourself to evolve a little bit along the way but you might need to dip into a little bit more of that passion reserve that fiber early on. So this next kind of passage I found in a Harvard Business Review article that you can can find, we'll put some links in the show notes. But here we go okay, "Until he was thirty nine, Michael Mack had a perfect resume. A B.A. from Brown, an MBA from Harvard, six years at consulting firm Bain and Company, and then a successful move into entrepreneurship. As co-owner of a healthy diet chain launched in 1983, his restaurant group Garden Fresh grew rapidly leaving Mack and his venture capital backers riding high. But then came the smack down. In 1990 the business started to lose money. Mack's partner Anthony Brooks stepped down and although Mack worked feverishly to cut costs, in April 1991 his directors decided that he should go to." You said at the time, "'I was out visiting our Rancho Cucamonga restaurant and I got a message from one of our board members which I returned to my car cell phone.' Mack recalls. 'He told me I was fired and I was rocked to my core. This company was my baby. I called my wife who was eight months pregnant at the time. And then since I didn't feel like driving three hours home I went to a hotel and spent the evening alone with my thoughts.'" So I can't imagine the head trash that was filling your mind that night in the hotel. How do you process that and continue on this journey forward?

[00:21:25] - Michael
Yeah. So there's a couple of things that come back to me very quickly. One was the second phone call I made was to my dad who'd been an investor in the company and really my mentor since I started this venture. And I hadn't realized the depth of his business savvy or what a great strategic thinker he was. And so he did a marvelous thing and he was also on the board he was a significant investor. He said "Okay this is done you're fired. We're significant investors in the company and so we're now going to turn our attention to how we can be supportive."

[00:22:06] - Jon
When you say were you meet you and him still have a big piece the company still have a stake in this.

[00:22:12] - Michael
It was all of my net worth and a nice chunk of his. And so he just kind of defined the mission you know as if to say I know you're pissed off, angry, sad, you know hurt, deal with that but not at the expense of the company. Because the company didn't really do this. It happened to you. So that was incredibly helpful. The second thing as I process this over time was to realize that my firing was really my own creation and by that I mean I did some things that weren't as co-operative as they could be with my board. And as I look back on that I said "wow if I had been them I would have fired me as well." And that was a marvelous revelation because it put me back in the position to do something from that circumstance.

[00:23:15] - Jon
Did that take weeks months hours to kind of come to that?

[00:23:18] - Michael
I'd say weeks I'd say you know probably five or six weeks. And so I worked on repairing my relationship with the other board members. I was a contributor. I met several times with the new CEO to help him out at his request and eventually the board rehired me three years later. And so this was a kind of a profound lesson in accountability for me and I didn't blame myself for what happened but I realized that I had a role in it. I had a contribution in it and then if I had handled myself differently it probably wouldn't have happened. And that was a powerful lesson because I brought that understanding of accountability into the way I ran the company and had a huge impact on our financial performance.

[00:24:04] - Jon
You do a lot of CEO coaching now and talk to a lot of CEOs and when you see them navigating really tough times I mean I think in terms of tough times you were facing Chernobyl here in terms of you know there might be some smaller bumps along the way a lot of times you're coaching people through. What are you first trying to hone in on with them to help? Do you have them look within first and really assess their emotions? Do you play psychologist or is it more you know military leader, okay let's look at the facts. What do we need to do here? And some of that could obviously vary by person and how well you know them but you have a general tact that you can look at when you're helping coach people through that if you had somebody in the room going through a tough trial or tribulation?

[00:25:01] - Michael
Yeah I'd say there's several ingredients that are very very important. First, what is it that the individual wants to happen? Where do they want to get to what do they want to be different? There's got to be a desire for a change from the current circumstance create some energy in that direction. So let's be clear about the outcome that you want to create. Two, what's your contribution to what is not working well here? What have you done to move towards that outcome? What have you done that's getting in the way of achieving that outcome? And that's a process of discovery. And then the third piece this is kind of how do they stand in relationship to it? This is kind of back to that identity question. You know if I don't solve this my career is over. Well maybe, maybe not. You know. But let's kind of separate the facts from the story that goes with it. And I think those are kind of the starting points and then if we need to get more tactical, we need to get more tactical. If this is a style question where they're pissing everybody off that they talked to we can begin to deal with that. So on and so forth.

[00:26:10] - Jon
What you've kind of led me through before is the way you think about it and what I like is you kind of talk about separating yourself from it a little bit and being able to look at it and be like, "It's kind of funny how intensely you're reacting to this. Pretty funny that this little bump in the road makes you think your whole career is going down the tubes and it's so funny how we can let one little negative event spiral us into that negative thinking." And I think especially in those moments when you're really confronted with a tough situation, I think those are the times it does really help to go numb a little bit and go a little bit more zen about it and more try to observe yourself as part of the environment and be able to step away from it because I think what we've talked about before a little bit on the podcast is managing your emotions to the point to where I have to think those stretches when you were being defensive, people were less likely to bring you bad information. And bad information sometimes is probably more important than good news in a lot of ways.

[00:27:30] - Michael
Absolutely.

[00:27:31] - Jon
And if through those bad times are there things you did with your team to kind of like cultivate that bad information coming to you? Do you regret some of the ways you handled it during those rough times? Would you have handled that differently if you had gone through this time? I imagine obviously would knowing how much you've learned.

[00:27:52] - Michael
Yeah I want to come back to one thing you said, I don't ever... to me there's a difference between being a little zen and being numb and I don't ever advocate numbness. Our emotions are our life their energy and I think being able to observe them lowers their intensity a little bit but running away from them it kind of makes them the driver of the bus. Each of us had the experience where somebody said something and we kind of blew up and was like whoa where did that come from.

[00:28:21] - Jon
Yeah. You feel like you got put into the passenger seat even if for five or ten seconds.

[00:28:27] - Michael
What I established kind of early on in my company was some values and they were things like integrity in all actions accountability for results, respect for each individual, and so on and so forth. And then we would have regular discussions about how well we were all living up to all those things. And you know that will be part of our discussion of the numbers and then we would also just take a day about once a quarter and go off and talk about how are we interacting with one another? How is that working well that we want to sustain and how are we getting each other's way? And you know the rules were they could say anything they wanted about me or to me even if they didn't think it would be helpful they want to get it off their chest. And I would often have those facilitated by somebody outside so that I could participate fully without having to worry about running what was going on. Some people view that as a little bit touchy feely a little bit you know Kumbaya I view it as incredibly courageous and I think a leader's power lies in his or her willingness to be authentic. And that mean sometimes being vulnerable and that was one of the hallmarks of my style as a CEO and one of the foundational pieces of the success that the company created.

[00:29:51] - Jon
I would say in 2018 probably vulnerability is viewed less as a strength than maybe it has in the past. What really concerns you? To me that's a deeply concerning thing to where we look at people in leadership that are working day to day with teams and one of the things that does strike me about tech may maybe a little bit in contrast to other industries are that some of the CEOs do seem to be a little bit more authentic at times you know they're former computer programmers they have been in the trenches they're you know speaking their mind they're being real human. But I even see a lot of transformation happen as companies then move from the startup phase to the next phase. The leadership tends to run the party line a little bit more it gets a little bit more PR-ie. You know they're less vulnerable and I imagine if I had a company that was growing that rapidly fast too I might think I have all the answers also in a lot of times. But can you think of scenarios where being vulnerable was actually a real powerful strength of yours and I think that highlighting those types of things can help people tap into that when they are leading or working with people.

[00:31:21] - Michael
Sure. I'll give you two examples. One when I realized the importance of purpose and values in an organization and I created what I believe to be the first version of that and I presented it to the company at a company wide meeting so I had you know hundreds of people in the room. I was teary eyed because I was so touched by what I had created and so passionate about what I wanted our company to be and what it stood for and kind of letting in how much that dream meant to me personally. And I just allowed them to see my my passion my caring for it. And a lot of people remember that meeting because that really galvanized their commitment to the company and they wanted to follow a person who could talk so passionately and so with so much open heart. A second thing occured, we had a food borne illness event we made a lot of people sick. And this was a true crisis. And of course we had PR involved in the health department and I had a great organization who was taking care of everything and so my job I decided was to talk to people that had become sick and lawyers said you can't do that. And I said I'm doing it, tell me what the boundaries are. And so I did that. And I remember one event I walked into a hospital where a 12 year old girl was in critical condition. Her parents had already said some nasty things about us to the L.A. Times and as I walked in, and I can kind of feel it right now as I walked in the hospital door, I just said to myself This is why CEOs don't do this sh** because they feel so vulnerable as leader of a company with parents of a sick child. Now as it turns out the hospital administrator came down and said, "You're an amazing man for being here, but the parents don't want to talk to you." And so I think we left some flowers or something and went on our way. But I'll never forget the feeling of vulnerability. And everybody in company knew where I was. Not because I told them, we just were communicating what was going on, how we handled this, what's going on with this article in The L.A. Times, and Michael's going to visit her.

[00:33:42] - Jon
Yeah I mean I think that's definitely a common theme when you look at your story is that vulnerability. I imagine after that the conversation with your dad, and you jumped the gun on me, that was part of the third passage I had here. You know you can tell how much that puts you right back into that. But I imagine walking that next time into the boardroom right, you like probably felt a little smaller you know like your ego had taken a day and you know you had to lean into that vulnerability and doing that taking the meeting, showing you were willing to be humbled, and work through it. I think you touched on it a little bit, but, after three years they brought you back on as CEO after all that and the passage I had was, you touched on it almost word for word crazy, but you said, "'I wanted to hear from my father. Let's get back at these guys.' Mack says 'but he told me this is done. Wrap your head around being supportive. We have an investment here. That was a fundamental lesson in accountability. How do I accept responsibility for what I did and move toward what is on my end and the company's best interest.' It was the start of a transformation that would eventually result in Mack being rehired as CEO by the same board that fired him. He has since built Garden Fresh into a 300 million dollar company with 117 restaurants in 15 states operating under name Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes and he attributes much of that success to the opportunity for learning created by that gap in his resume from this article in 2010." So you were able to kind of make that full transformation that I have to think you're one of only a few CEOs that have really are able to look back at their career at a public company and getting fired and rehired, you're able to have that holistic kind of perspective on it. And when you look at that, and you see CEOs either at the beginning middle or end, do you try to get them to like deemphasize any one moment to kind of see this bigger journey? Is like vulnerability and humbleness a common theme that you are always extolling because you see the virtues of them? When I think about you and I think about our conversations I do think of kind of Zen like I think of, you do hate when I use the word numb you've corrected me on that a few times now, but I view it as like a real positive way like you started at the beginning. You're able to, whether the results were up or down, I imagine through this next phase of your career when they brought you back your wife probably saw a little bit more consistent version of you when you came home that night. For me personally a little bit, I think some people they listen to it they be like "Alright well that next time through, he didn't get as much done or he wasn't as successful because it wasn't consuming every hour." I think there's this belief that you know if you're not in front of the laptop or grinding every hour of the day you can't make it as a CEO. But I think there needs to be a little bit of pushback on that because I think you probably that second time through you were probably even more productive and were working you know smarter instead of you know wasting a lot effort.

[00:37:20] - Michael
Yeah I was getting way more done because I was doing it through other people.

[00:37:25] - Jon
Right.

[00:37:25] - Michael
There's not many CEOs that a company from startup to rapid growth to being publicly held and then stay with those publicly held company for ten years because there's a lot of different phases of that. And I think the challenge for CEOs is that we all tend to seek stability. "Okay, I got this figured out. Now I see how to grow it." and that's the beginning of the end because there is no stability as a second law or third law whatever some of thermodynamics, systems begin and so do leadership styles. So I think it's important for leaders to think about, how do we need to transform purposefully transform to be the leader of this company going forward. And part of that is how do I work thoughtfully and sustainably. You know being at your laptop 24/7 is not sustainable and they've done a lot of studies to know that you don't do your best work all the time. So how can you pick the areas that are most important and devote the best of what you have to that and set people up around you to do the same thing? And to me a lot of it is revolves around culture, you know, is it a rules driven organization or is it a purpose and values driven organization? Purpose and values driven organizations tend to be more self-governing and filled with more inspired people. You get a lot more sh** done with inspired people than people married to their laptops.

[00:39:04] - Jon
I think with that in terms of inspiration and purpose, where do you balance that with performance? And I think that's where you kind of even mentioned you took criticism through those years of ot being lovey dovey or you know touchy feely like you said those kind of things. Did you have any checks and balances in place there to try to marry performance alongside of that or is it a true faith and trust that we need to focus on on these mission or these value drivens and the revenues and profits are a byproduct of that?

[00:39:46] - Michael
Well it's important to remember that this whole thing started when I left Bain and Company because I saw the disconnect between great strategy and the lack of a fully aligned organization.

[00:39:55] - Jon
You felt like Bain had the intelligence and they came up with great strategies for a bunch of companies. So for those less familiar Bain is consultants that massive corporations come in to solve their toughest problems that they can't solve.

[00:40:09] - Michael
Absolutely.

[00:40:09] - Jon
And so you're saying you'd see Bain come in, lay out great strategic initiatives, but the teams left behind and the employees were not impassioned to actually execute on that mission. It was like taking with the assumption that you had this passionate workforce and you want to try to marry those two things.

[00:40:31] - Michael
Yeah I saw the passionate workforce as actually being in some ways the more important part because you have inspired people thinking about the mission of the company and if the strategy is a little off, they're going to come (knock, knock, knock) knocking on your door saying "Hey I think we need to course correct because I really want this to be successful and I'm looking at this and there's this discussion and this dynamic." and so you course correct. There was not empirical data for that back then. Through the course of my career I demonstrated great performance at 16 years of positive same store sales in the restaurant business which is unprecedented except for maybe Panera and I had a top tier margin's at my restaurants which were just kind of inarguable and people looked at the performance stats we achieved and said look this is an amazingly well run company. I'm not going to throw too many rocks at the cultural stuff. We're in a different era now than there is clear evidence that inspired organizations with a clear sense of purpose and values and cultures that have been nurtured by thoughtful authentic CEOs create fundamentally better financial performance.

[00:41:39] - Jon
You know what I think it's a great place to cap it. Michael I just appreciate so much you coming in taking your time and walking us through the story. I've learned a lot from talking to you. Hope is not the last time we have you in here.

[00:41:54] - Michael
Me too.

[00:41:56] - Jon
I could have picked on five or six different topics there to talk for a really long time. So you are a humble guy. The one thing I do hear you be confident about as you say you're really good with words and you're good with language. So look up Michael Mack'a LinkedIn profile you've got a lot of great articles on there that extol a lot of the same decibels you kind of talked about here one of the things that makes me excited to talk about you and continue to kind of have these conversations is the consistency of your message and to me what that shows is that it's kind of been proved out the hard way over years and years of a career that's kind of seeing all the ups and downs so go online look Michael up see his own words better than I could even filter them. Anything you want to leave them with?

[00:42:51] - Michael
Yeah, a couple of things one, thank you for doing this because every time I talk about this stuff what I care about it gets reinforced for me. Secondly great questions really really nicely done. And I think the third thing that is important you know that Harvard Business School article is a great example. A lot of CEOs are reluctant to talk about the ups and downs and I have found that useful because other people can learn from that but I've learned tremendously by really examining the things that haven't gone well and I don't learn much when things are going well. I learn more when things are not going so well. So that's kind of the gift of having things go off the tracks. It's a learning opportunity.

[00:43:36] - Jon
Definitely yeah. I knew from knowing you that you can handle a few curveballs. So thanks for being okay with me bringing up L.A. Times articles.

[00:43:43] - Michael
Oh no, that was good.

[00:43:46] - Jon
All right. And so until next time. Thanks for listening and over and out from Shape.io headquarters in Bend Oregon.

END

Contact Us

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Credits

This episode was produced by Max Bettendorf.

A big thanks also to 🎼 Music Flow Teaching for the intro and outro music, if you are in Central Oregon you should look them up for in-home creative music lessons.🎼)