Change has been going rapidly for the past few years. Where that leaves many businesses and entrepreneurs is having to move alongside it; otherwise, you’ll only get left behind. Someone who has found comfortability with change is Lisa Miller, the President and COO of Spearhead Advisors. In this episode, she joins Bob Roark with guest co-host Jaime Zawmon, the founder and president of TITAN CEO, to share with us her career journey and how she is acquiring the skill stack to adopt. Lisa further tells us about her company and how she is working to maintain being a Titan in the industry.
Thank you for having me. Greatly, I appreciate being here.
I love the picture in your background. It's the mountains with a herd of horses in what looks like a loop and meadow.
It is Granby, Colorado at a dude ranch.
With that being said, Lisa, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve?
At Spearhead Advisors, we are a master agent. In the industry, if you are an enterprise customer and you need communication services, we are working for you. We provide about 100 different vendors that we can supply services for an enterprise. Coming from a former carrier myself, the benefit that we have is we can provide you services and capabilities from many different options versus one single provider. That's the value proposition. CIO staffs are smaller and getting smaller by the day. Technology teams are getting smaller. What we are is an extension of your organization to provide services and capabilities from a consulting standpoint.
[bctt tweet="Many times, people forget the people or the culture. It's important to be able to look at how every action you take impacts on others. " username=""]
I failed to mention in the introduction, you were a President with CenturyLink, where you had 2,400 people in your organization. For the business owner or CIO that's out there, what are the typical problems that you can bring as a solution from your company to them?
Many times, what a CIO sees is they have to go out and meet with many different suppliers to determine who is best in breed or class in the industry. We can do that for them. For example, security, top of mind for everyone. There are many bad things going on the dark web. There are many hackers out there trying to break into your data because data is power. CIOs are constantly having to control the perimeter and having to worry about who break into their company and take their data that they count on to run their business. Security is a big feature that we can help with and we can bring best in breed solutions to many of the enterprise customers.
I love your experience on both sides of the coin, which is unique unto itself. That's fantastic. Lisa Miller is one of our 2020 Titan 100 honorees. We recognized her. This is a copy of the book that she was recognized in, The Titan 100 recognizes Colorado's Top 100 CEOs & C-Level Executives, 100 Titans of Industry. One of the questions that I always love to ask all of the Titans that we interview in our series is what characteristics do you believe that it takes to be considered a Titan of Industry?
To be a Titan in any industry, you have to constantly be looking at all of the challenges in front of you and being able to say, “How can I attack that? How do I think differently?” There's the book, What Got Us Here Won't Get Us There. That statement is true that our industry is changing rapidly. Think of COVID. COVID itself has even been something that as Corporate America, we have had to go, “Holy moly.” We have to rethink how we go to market, how we lead, and every aspect of how we do business with our customer base. Especially, if you were a small business where people walked in your door every day, and that's not easy to do anymore. To be a great leader, you have to be nimble and flexible. You have to constantly be questioning, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I facing the market the right way? Am I appealing to my customers? Where is my competition?” Flexibility, constantly being creative and thinking of different ways to look at every business and every aspect of your business is critical.
I'm in the role of the reader and I'm going, “How do you acquire a skill stack that allows you to adopt that view and mindset? What was influential for you to get to where you are?”
One thing that helped me. I had been with CenturyLink in Level 3 through acquisition for eighteen and a half years. Prior to that, I was with Sprint for ten years. The telecommunications industry was constantly trying to reinvent itself. During my years with CenturyLink, we went through eighteen integrations and every integration was larger than the prior. When you think of one brand, that brand may have eighteen different integrations inside it. Every company that was integrated also had 10 to 20 to 30 different companies inside that brand. When you think of bringing that together, what that skillset taught me for almost twenty years was that I had to quickly assess people, a team, and a situation. What you're looking at as an executive is being able to say, “How do I put two companies or many companies together and make certain that 1 plus 1 equals greater than 2.” You never want 1 plus 1 to equal less than 2.
[caption id="attachment_5543" align="alignleft" width="200"] What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful[/caption]
Many integrations in America never get the full value or potential out of the two companies that they've brought together. Many times that's culture. It may not always be that the company is capable of getting more return and value for the industry but many times people forget the people or the culture. It's important to be able to look at how every action that you take and how it impacts the people. It's like throwing that pebble into the lake and you see the ripples that go out. That is one lesson that I learned. Every time you throw that stone or pebble, is it going to have a big ripple? Is it going to have a little ripple? Have you thought about how to manage through all of those ripples? Most of the time when you go through an integration, speed can sometimes be your enemy because you never get a chance to look and manage every detail. What you have to be thinking of is, “Did I throw a pebble or did I throw a big rock? What is the ripple effect going to be?” If you don't plan for those ripples, maybe those ripples never come, but you have to plan for it if they do.
For most of my career, where you are having to look at integrating another company or many companies. In one of my worst career years, we tried to integrate nine companies in twelve months. Mentally, I thought I might lose my mind that year, but the valuable lessons that it taught were, “Where did we get it right and where did we get it wrong?” Most of the time, when we got it wrong, it was always the people aspect. We went too fast. People couldn't accept the change. We didn't think of the impact on their family and their job. We didn't think of how culture was going to play into that. You take maybe one mentality and then a progressive mentality, and you put them together. That might not be the winning combination. That career experience has helped me, especially going from a large corporation to an entrepreneurial company. I am always thinking of the people and I'm at the size that I can influence and impact every decision.
The theme that's resonating with me is that you are comfortable with change and the capacity for change. All of these different integrations are a profound thing that a lot of people don't take comfortably. Corporate America, where you have unlimited resources as you're going through these integrations to launching a new company being that entrepreneurial inside of you and experiencing more change going through change because you welcome it. What has that been like? Tell us about that transition.
It has been fun but sometimes nerve-wracking. In Corporate America, many times, you think you never have enough resources until you go to the entrepreneur and start over. You realize even on a bad day, I had more resources than I knew what to do with. It has given me tremendous perspective. As I was looking to start my next career path, there were a couple of things that I wanted to look at. I have always cared about my employees and many times in Corporate America, that's hard. It's a hard decision because you're always having to balance the profitability of a company. Making certain that you're cost-effective and that you can get a return on the investment for your shareholders. Is your EBITDA numbers growing at the rate you need it to and sometimes caring about employees. That's a hard combination because you're constantly having to make certain that you can hit those shareholder objectives. As I started to look at my next career, I started to realize, “What is it that I love? What is it that is my passion?”
As I continued to go through in Corporate America, climbing the ladder, what happened is you start getting more employees, departments, and divisions. When I go back to the fundamentals and I say, “What do I love?” I love being in front of a customer. I love being able to help an employee solve a challenging problem and stretch them to grow. I always can see in an employee what they're capable of in many times they can't. I love that interaction. I love mentoring. I love being able to say, “You can do it. We have a big hill decline and we're all going to do it together.” Having that interaction is phenomenal. When I started to look in the industry, I started to realize, “Do I want to get back into that big company again?” Yes. “Would I have resources? Would I have support? Would it be comfortable? Would it be easy and familiar?” Absolutely.
I realized what I love and what I've always been passionate about has been investing in the people. Being in front of a customer and understanding what the problems are that a customer has to face every day. In enterprises, the challenges are huge. You go back ten years, “Did we have a chief security officer? Did we have to have SOX and NOX and all these things that are commonplace in large enterprises?” You didn't have a lot of it. You may have had a network operation center, but did you have a security operation center? You didn’t. That's becoming almost standard place. I want to be close to those customers. I want to be able to be out there. I want to know every one of my employees. I want to be able to understand my customers intimately. That's what started to lead me to look at more of a smaller company.
[bctt tweet="When you have a smaller team, communication is daily, hourly, and minute by minute." username=""]
At Spearhead Advisors, even a year from now, we'll only have about 45 to 60 employees. That is exciting to me coming from 2,400 employees where it's hard. You have to embrace change because change is constant. It happens every day. With that change, sometimes change is slow because the company is large. It's like turning the Titanic. While the industry is changing all around you, sometimes your company is changing too slowly and you can't adapt to a trend as fast as you need to. You're trying to bring people along faster than they can absorb it. In a smaller company, you can be nimble. You can be quick.
When you have a smaller team, communication is daily, hourly, and every minute by minute. That is exciting to me that at Spearhead Advisors, I can go out, spend time with customers and my teams to understand how we solve their business problems and also how we help them adapt to the change. After coming from Corporate America and knowing how much change over the years we've gone through, I know what shareholders are looking for. I also know what employees are looking for. I know what executives that companies need to accomplish and the problems that they want to solve. Change is constant, but going to a smaller company, I can be more nimble, quick, and adapt faster, which is going to be important to respond to our customer's needs quicker.
As you were going through the pebble in the pond, I'm thinking you're good at surfing so you don't know if you've got a big wave or got a small wave from the pebble. About your skill stack, I was intrigued by some of your commentary about how you grew up in the environment you grew up in, how that set the stage for your approach, how you're trying to transmit that to your daughters, and your grandkids. I'd be interested for the parents out there going like, “How do I take and set an environment up for the next Lisa to be able to prosper in that environment? What was that environment?”
One of the things I've always said to my team and I feel I learned it from my parents was, “Work hard, play hard.” I grew up in a small town in Iowa with 1,700 people. To think that I had more employees than the town I grew in is crazy. My dad was an auctioneer. My parents owned a furniture business and restaurant business. During my childhood, my parents always were a small business. They were that entrepreneurial spirit. They were always trying to employ a good customer experience. What I learned at a young age is if you work hard, good things will come from that. I was the youngest of five children and I learned that life is not fair. I have always told my children when they go, “Mom, that isn't fair.” I say, “Life is not fair.” The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be.
If you look at my career climb, there are few women at the president level. At a lot of these carriers, there are more now than there used to be. I've had to climb, have sharp elbows, work my way through everything I've done, and work hard. My parents took a lot of pride in their business. They wanted to make certain that every time they worked with one family or one customer, that customer would come back and buy from them because they did everything right. One of the things I've always taught my kids is, “You're not always going to choose the easiest path but make certain that everything you do, you're ethical. You do it with pride. You make certain you take care of people along the way. You do your best.” My kids used to tell me, sometimes, “Mom, you're a hard driver.” I'm like, “All I ask for is your best.” Sometimes they say, “I don't want to do my best.” I said, “You have to live with whatever you do. All I'm going to ask for is your best. As long as you gave it a good try, then you did your best.”
I'm raising four daughters. I've always taught them to have a voice. My dad used to say, “We all put on our pants, one leg at a time. Everybody in the country, male, female, child, adult, or whatever, we all start out the day the same.” That gave me a lot of comfort in knowing that I felt I was equal to my peers from the time I was a young age. I've always taught that to my daughters as well, that their voice matters and they can make an impact and a difference. I feel that one of the things that people have always said is, “You're a tough leader but you're a fair leader.” I said, “If I'm fair, that's something I was taught to always be fair. That's something I've always taught my children. Thanks for the compliment.”
[caption id="attachment_5544" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Adapt To Change: You're not always going to choose the easiest path but make certain that everything you do, you're ethical. You do it with pride. You make certain you take care of people along the way. You do your best.[/caption]
That’s a sound advice for a mom of young children at this point because I'm trying to navigate and figure out how to raise them to be the best human beings as possible.
Jaime, as we all know, it is never ever easy having four daughters. My victory was when my fourth daughter graduated from college because I didn't know if she'd graduate high school. We always have one that loves to challenge us more than the others. We aren't perfect at being parents. We aren't perfect at being leaders, but as long as we never give up, we'll get them through it.
It would strike me as intention. You go intentional. You intend on doing a good job, on keeping integrity intact, and tending on leading from the front, set the example, and do the right thing. It sounds simple, not easy but simple. Jaime, we run across this on many of the discussions with the Titans. They all have core principles it seems. Their skill stacks, no one's issued with a skill stack and you get your skills as you go. If somebody is looking for you, Lisa, and your company, how do they find you?
They can find me at Lisa@SpearheadAdvisors.io that is my email. Our website is SpearheadAdvisors.io. We would look forward to working with any enterprise customer and helping them solve their business needs. I'm committed to doing that.
Jaime, with the Titan 100 book hitting the press, how do people find that book?
If you're interested in learning more about the Titan 100, you would go to www.Titan100.Biz. There's a full list of all of the Titan 100. You can view their individual profiles to be inspired and read more about their stories. You can also visit the page on that website, which has a digital link to the digital version of this Titan 100 book, which Lisa is in and many of the other Titans here in Colorado. Additionally, someone could learn more about Titan CEO by visiting TitanCEO.com to learn more about the CEOs that we work with. It's an incredible list of Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-Level Executives. Their stories are amazing like the details you heard more from Lisa, as she told us her story.
[bctt tweet="If you work hard, good things will come." username=""]
Bob, I'd love to put in a Titan 100 plug because I have been recognized by a lot of organizations over the...