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TITAN CEO: Why Surrounding Yourself With Successful People Matters With Jaime Zawmon
11th September 2020 • Business Leaders Podcast • Bob Roark
00:00:00 00:34:26

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Who you surround yourself matters. Especially in business, being in a circle of successful CEOs and entrepreneurs can offer a lot to how you position yourself to succeed as well. In this episode, Bob Roark interviews Jaime Zawmon about the importance of being in a CEO peer group. Jaime is the President of TITAN CEO, which works with Colorado-based companies to help CEOs work through business-related challenges. Here, Jaime shares with us their TITAN CEO peer group that is building a community for CEOs and entrepreneurs to build strong connections and help each other out. She takes us deeper into what being in the Titan 100 feels like and what benefits they can expect. Learning from these great people, Jaime then tells us some of the important traits successful people have that took them to where they are now.


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TITAN CEO: Why Surrounding Yourself With Successful People Matters With Jaime Zawmon

We are fortunate we have Jaime Zawmon. She is the President of TITAN CEO. She's graciously agreed to be a guest to talk about what she's doing with the TITAN CEO Group. Jaime, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.

Thanks for having me, Bob. First and foremost, TITAN CEO is a company that I started that is essentially a CEO Peer Group, or a series of different CEO Peer Groups. We work with Colorado area-based companies, CEOs ranging traditionally between $1 million and about $50 million in annual company revenues. We work to do experience sharing, to help CEOs work through business-related challenges. We also work on building business valuation inside some of the work that we do with the CEOs because every CEO is looking to grow their business either, to build it as a lifestyle business or to grow it in order to sell it. That's a big blend of what we do within our groups.

You're somewhat of a resident of the Rocky Mountain area. Tell us a little bit about your background because you have a long history of working with CEOs.

I'm from the East Coast, originally born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. I went to school at Towson University in Baltimore County. I was recruited to a magazine publishing company back in 2003. I fell in love with the concept because the magazine was a magazine that was focused on CEOs, and every month we would feature one of the region's most enterprising CEOs. We would tell their story on the cover of the magazine. We would write about the success and/or the failure, obstacles, trials, and tribulations of running a company and growing it. We did that on a monthly basis. After about a year, I went to the owner and said, "I love this concept. We should expand it to Washington DC." He made me a partner and I moved down to DC. In 2005, we launched with Ted Leonsis, the former Chairman and CEO of AOL on the cover of our first magazine and we took stride ever since.

We grew the magazine to seven cities up and down the East Coast, reaching over 100,000 CEOs on a consistent basis. We pioneered award programs that recognized the best of the best. We recognized CEOs that created incredible cultures, those that were technology-based CEOs, or growth companies CEOs, and the 50 fastest growing companies in each region. I've always surrounded myself with some of the region's most enterprising CEOs and it was an incredible ride. During that time I met my husband on a ski trip, ironically in Colorado, which is what brought him back to the East Coast for me for a short period of time and then I made the promise that I would eventually move back to Colorado for him because it's such a beautiful state.

I can see where you compare Denver and Baltimore.

It was like, "Your love for the water or your love for the mountains?" Unfortunately, I'm more of a water baby than I'm a mountain lover, but I'm an avid skier and so as my husband.



I grew up in the deep South on the Lake, so I'm a water skier and you go, "It's a lot colder when you do the skiing up here." I'm the business owner going I don't know that I'm familiar with the TITAN 100. How do I find information? What it takes to qualify?

To explain a little bit more about how that evolved, I have always believed that it's important that who you surround yourself with matters, which is one of the reasons why being in a CEO peer group is extremely valuable. I have been in CEO peer groups in my time in running the magazine back on the East Coast. I have run dozens and dozens of CEO-related roundtable discussions, moderated discussions and there's always incredible information that comes from it. Beyond that, it's also important to build community, and I am a big proponent that the individuals that you can connect with, learn from, surround yourself with, and the community that you can build is one of the most powerful and important things that a CEO can do. The TITAN CEO peer groups are one style, but it's directed for intimate smaller group settings.

The TITAN 100 is a community platform that I launched and that platform is forward, outward and public-facing and the design of it is to build community and to connect CEOs and entrepreneurs together to build strong connections and to recognize what they're doing and what they've done in their careers. I launched the TITAN 100, and it's purpose is to recognize Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-level executives, 100 TITANs of industry.

I'm thinking back to when I was a kid and titans and so on. How did you come up with the name TITAN?

If you Google a titan, the definition is a person of exceptional importance and reputation. Arguably Albert Einstein is a titan in the world of science. Shakespeare is a titan of literature and Wayne Gretzky is a titan of hockey. The noun titan comes from Greek mythology in which the Titans were a race of god. Now, a TITAN is someone who is unique and preeminent in their certain field. Titans are distinguished, they're reputable and that's what the name came from and it's stuck.

I think about all those qualifications like, "I'm going to have to get a checklist and score myself." You think about trying to transmit the culture that you developed in the TITAN world from the East Coast, transplant it to Denver, and bring that forward. When you first started out with the TITAN 100, what was the reaction of reception in the Rocky Mountain region to what you're doing?

We started with an open call for nominations and we asked these entrepreneurs, these CEOs to apply and to tell us about their entrepreneurial journeys. We asked them to tell us why they thought they were a titan in their industry and a TITAN isn't necessarily the biggest or the largest. It's not about, "I'm the biggest in this industry or my company is the largest." It's about doing what you do better than how anyone else does it. It's about finding your niche and exploiting that. That's some of the criteria that we looked at for the application process. We had upwards of 200 applicants gunning for the top honor of being selected as one of Colorado's Titans of Industry here in our first year. It was an independent committee that reviewed Colorado's regional experts and scored all of the applications to select this year's list ultimately. Collectively, the 2020 TITAN 100 is responsible for companies that employ more than 83,000 individuals and generate over $56 billion in annual company revenues. It's an impressive set of statistics.

What I've observed, I ran across TITANs 100 on LinkedIn to start with and I go, "That's one of the guests." I was going like, "What's this?" When you're a business owner and CEO that gets accepted into the TITAN 100, what should they expect after that?



When we made the announcement that nominations had closed and we'd gone through the scoring cycle, we then sent out the congratulatory letters to all of the TITANs that made the list. One of the big benefits that the TITANs will receive is that they're being invited into this gated community to be recognized as Colorado's Top 100 CEOs. They represent all different industry verticals and the idea for them is that it's an annual program. It will start with the announcement, the press release initially announcing the TITAN 100. They'll have individual landing pages built out on our website that highlight and feature them. We are producing and have produced a TITAN 100 book, which is a collection of their stories.

Please share with us for the people that are reading.

Here's the TITAN 100 book. It is a collection of the region’s Top 100 CEOs and C-level Executives 100 Titans of Industry inside. You'll find individual profiles on all of our TITANs and their stories. We ask these entrepreneurs about their greatest leadership lessons learned and to tell us information about the trials and tribulations of starting their companies. What did their entrepreneurial path look like? It's an incredible book. I'm humbled and proud to publish it and we will be debuting it live on September 10th. It will also come in the form of a digital edition, which can be read by anyone anywhere.

My observation after working with the business owners on the show is one, the notion is they know everything when they don't, but they go like, "No, I don't know that." What's interesting is they're willing to share that, which they do know. For you, as you go through and effectively, you're getting introduced by doing this to the community up and down the front range, what struck you about the diversity of skillsets in the CEO's that are in the 100?

The path to success for every entrepreneur is never a straight line. It's always got its twists and turns. We asked all of the TITANs to tell us about their journey to success, and it's not always easy, but the one constant that remained the same was their desire and passion to never give up. We asked them about their greatest leadership lessons learned, and many of them spoke for a constant thirst to learn, surround themselves with the brightest and best talent, lead from the front in times of challenge, sit in the shadows in times of success to let their employees bask in the limelight. They believe that authentic leadership begins with humility and that listening is one of the most important traits that a leader can possess. It's these incredible important tidbits that remind us and help us as entrepreneurs and CEOs as we navigate the waters that we can be motivated. We can learn from the tenacity and be influenced by their leadership.

What struck me is there's always this cry of there's a lack of leadership. I look at the business community and you look at the true leaders in the community they have many of the traits that you talked about, humble people. I don't know it all. I was supported by the key people in my organization. I was here to help them along. They're self-effacing, rarely do you find one that it's all about me thing. Rarely does that happen. I was thinking about the ongoing benefit of putting a bunch of people like that together, where they can have community and to be able to cross-pollinate. What are your thoughts on the wisdom of the crowd of CEOs? What happens to the CEO when they get exposed to all these other CEOs?

[bctt tweet="Who you surround yourself matters." via="no"]

The design of the program on an ongoing basis was to connect them at one big inaugural award celebration where we would unveil the book live, and then subsequent events would take place over the course of the 2020, 2021 calendar year. Those are things like networking events with round table breakouts, or doing a charity community day at the local nonprofit that we're supporting down here in Colorado at Project CURE down in Centennial, Colorado. A couple of other additional events that were scheduled, including a Colorado TITAN Ski Day, all of these things are being either postponed or modified due to COVID, unfortunately. We are going to be rolling out some virtual events series and we will look to do some smaller intimate based events for smaller groups that can provide for social distancing.

We were talking before we went live about the challenge. You're a startup for doing this. You got issued COVID. You have a group event that said no group. Distancing going like, "Are you kidding?" For you, for the 100 of 2020 and potentially for 2021, given the COVID challenge, how do you see all of that working?

We're still trying to figure it out. As you know, it's a moving target and because COVID restrictions and details are coming out daily, we have assembled a TITAN 100 board made up of ten of the TITAN 100 themselves. We are working together to identify the path forward. Whether the program will evolve itself into a new cohort in 2021, or we blend the two together to continue to build this gated community of vetted TITANs is still to be determined.

That sounds like almost every other business owner that I've talked to since, in the absence of clarity, we're going to be flexible. I think about the wisdom within the group. These people are facing many of the same challenges that you're facing. I think about that perspective and sharing that perspective with their peers in that setting. It's not just you. You're not by yourself. We all have bad days and you go, "I thought I had all the surprises behind me." The answer is no, not much. You go, "I want to have a finite date when this is over." You and most of the rest of the planet, we want to be done. We want to get back to life. Like that old movie, I want to have lunch. I think that was Goldie Hawn a long time ago. You've been exposed to much talent and influence through the years. If you were going to take and talk to the CEOs that are going to qualify or are looking to qualify, what piece of advice might you offer to those folks given this timeframe?

If you're interested in applying to be a TITAN 100, like anything, when you write an application, the more experience sharing and impact that you can quantify the better. When you tell us that your organization, your company is great. What makes it great? Provide us with those quantifiable metrics? How are you making an impact on what you do? What do you think defines how you own your own space? We're also looking for inspiration. We're looking for people who can be vulnerable in their storytelling.

When we ask about your path to entrepreneurship, to CEO, to whatever your title is, being vulnerable with what you share is imperative because there's always something that someone can identify or relate to. We appreciate that. There are some great wordsmiths out there that can paint this picture, but I've always had CEOs, even when I was running a magazine, say, "How do I get on the cover of the magazine, Jaime?" I said, "Success is not always the story. It's what's behind the success." Where were the lessons learned? What mistakes did you make along the way that you can share with people? That's what we want to know. That's what we want to read and write about. That's where the greatest inspiration comes.



The thing that's interesting for the lifelong learner, you go, "Let me see a role model." I've been in a fire a bit and what seems odd is the stuff I need to know seems to show up in a book, podcast, or publication or so on. I think about the CEOs that are out there in that cohort that maybe, you're going, "I'm struggling a bit in here." They go through and look at the stories of the people that are in there. It takes one little thing. The CEO that offered the one little thing is trying to get back and they may or may not know that pebble in the pond may ripple through this other guy's company or other ladies company and help. That's the unsung story that comes out of all that sharing through all the people all the time. At least I think so.

I believe what you said wholeheartedly. The universe, what we attract to it, we bring to us. If you're seeking inspiration, advice, and knowledge and you open yourself up to receiving it. It will come to you.

You think about, if you could look back over your career prior to Denver, how many mentors can you point a finger to that offered to help you for no reason, other than to say, "Somebody helped me on passing it on."

A ton. There are too many even to name or count. It's been incredible. That's the humble nature of an entrepreneur of a CEO. They bring people along with them. They're never afraid to offer you support advice or counsel. That's why I believe strongly in the community, which is why we created the TITAN 100.

As an example, I'm thinking, let's say I'm in the cohort and I have a specific question, I don't know about this or is there somebody in the cohort that has expertise in this particular neighborhood? I suspect you would know who that might be or who they would be, what would that process look like if I needed to reach out to another member?

One of the things that we did in our intake form is ask our TITANs, once they were selected to tell us, what would be meaningful connections for them? Who would be individuals that they would like to learn from, or seek knowledge? Who could be valuable introductions for them to meet? We did gather that information and I've already made dozens of connections for people looking for specific information or maybe a product or service even, which has been nice to use in a networking way.



As I think about that, "I know someone." It has nothing to do with you and you go, "You have a problem. They can help." You think as you go through the years of community and particularly where you were doing all the work on the East Coast and if you're doing it all those cities, soon you go, "I need to do something in Richmond." You go, "I know somebody down in Richmond, that's an expert in that area where they might've had this." The value add for membership, there are a lot of groups and you look at it and go, "How do you stand out in a group?" Much of that's predicated by the person that puts the group together. You've had experience in that, what would you say is the key 1 or 2 hallmarks of a successful group like the TITAN 100, as far as keeping it together, creating value for the members?

You get out of something, what you put into it. You do want to have entrepreneurs or CEOs that are open to being servant leaders first, who have that great mindset because if they give, they will get much more. That's true of the TITAN 100 based on what I've seen and what...