On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Rick Miller, Jr. Rick is the president of Pro356 Consulting and the director of a new incubator called "Hatched". He learned everything he needed to know about business from working a paper route as a kid, he just didn't know it. Listen to see how all this comes together in his consulting and business incubators.
Rick: Hi, I'm Rick Miller and I'm president of Pro356 Consulting, and I'm also the senior director of a new incubator called "Hatch."
Marcus: Awesome. I am so happy to have you with us today, Rick.
Rick: Man, it is so good to be here, and knowing you as long as I have, and worked with you I have this is just kind of way too much fun for us to talk about what's going on.
Marcus: So, full disclosure and on top of everything else this man has going on, he is also the facilitator, right?
Marcus: Is that correct? Okay. So, facilitating for Emerging Leaders and today is graduation day. So, in two hours I will be graduating from the Emerging Leaders program. This guy has been responsible for walking me through about seven months of materials. It's good stuff.
Rick: I can't tell you how excited I am for you to graduate.
Marcus: Yeah, you and I both, man. Wow, you and I both.
Rick: I gotta tell you just before we go into Hatch, the Emerging Leaders program is one of the great things the Mobile Chamber's put together. I'm just fortunate to be able to facilitate, which is the right word. Great companies like Bluefish and the other 19 companies in there.
Marcus: We won't mention the other companies that have graduated from that program. There's one in particular that's not allowed to be mentioned on this podcast anymore.
Rick: And now we go there. All good.
Marcus: He knows who he is. No and hats off to Danette and Brent for the efforts that they put forth in making sure that program takes place. If you are listening to this and you have a business that's over 400000. If you have a business that's doing over $400000 in revenue and you have any interest in learning more about running a business and what it means to accelerate your growth I can speak from experience 'cause I just finished the program. That there's a lot of information to be learned by going through Emerging Leaders. Definitely contact Danette at the Chamber. I think it's firstname.lastname@example.org if I remember correctly.
Rick: You got it.
Marcus: And tell her that Marcus sent you and Rick. 'Cause I'm sure they'll be looking for people. They have been approved for next year, so 2019 we'll see another Emerging Leaders class, which is really exciting. So, another 20 some odd people will go through that program and anyway. We digress, but I am very excited to have you here because we've spent a lot of time together over the last seven months. This is a chance for me to tell your story.
Marcus: Yeah. Let's go there. Why don't you tell people some of your backstories. Where are you from? You are from high school and college, but let's get some of your education out of the way, and who you are, and what you've done, some of that stuff. Tell us some of your backstory.
Rick: I'm a Mobile native. Born here, Murphy High School, Alabama undergrad in accounting. Went to work in New York for a big ad accounting firm. Now I think there's two of them left. Went from there and got an MBA in Harvard and then decided to head out west 'cause I always wanted to get out there, and worked for about 20 years in a lot of different startups some of which were technology. Mainly just went to big companies to trying to go to small companies, set up a consulting business, and ran into a lady I went high school and college with out there. We got married and had a kid, and then at that point I was running a consulting business in Oregon. We decided that's a little far for our relatives to visit. In the mid 90s, we moved back to Fairhope where I live now. Interesting along the way while we were trying to figure out do you migrate from Colorado back to Alabama. I found an opportunity in Birmingham and I talked to folks, and got offered a job to run the UAB business incubator. At the time, the money they could afford to pay was less than I could afford to live on with the family. I had to say "no," but I spent a year back in the 90s looking at business incubators I always thought what a cool concept. Fast forward to moving back here in the 90s, having a consulting business, working with small businesses, and doing projects. Last year, got a chance to talk about setting up a small town business incubator in Fairhope, and I just at the chance.
Marcus: And that's a program with Georgia?
Rick: Well, it's modeled after Clemson model in South Carolina, but it's a collaboration between the University of Alabama has got an office of business transfer where they try to commercialize intellectual property, and various ideas coming out of the university, and connect those with the business market. They're providing the base research and kind of collective connections. The model in South Carolina, an entrepreneur set up five small communities. Call them "technology villages" and they basically said entrepreneurs in this electronic flat world don't have to live in a big city. Let's put some incubators in small communities that don't have the big city incubators like Mobile or Birmingham. Fast forward, that worked quite work there, and Alabama said "Let's do it here." They spent a year looking for the right markets and they picked Cullman, Alabama and Fairhope, Greensboro, and a couple other communities. We launched it, got a little training, and up we go.
Marcus: Nice. Very good.
Marcus: Now, go back to your consulting stuff, too though because I wanna touch on that just a little bit. When you say you do business consulting, what does that usually entail?
Rick: Well, it's interesting because its evolved. Initially, because my background is accounting, CPA in New York, MBA, I had spent most of my first 10 years working up the financial side of things. CFO, those type of things, but I found somewhere along the line that really if you look at my DISC profile I'm more of a people person. In the last 10 years, I've evolved my practice into working more in team building, and working with coaching and mentoring. My passion is first tier managers or first level, so that the guy who is a great hourly worker and gets promoted to supervisor. In variably, he gets promoted or her because of their work ethic, but they get no training in how to manager their co-workers who used to be their colleagues. That's where I kind of focused trying to help organizations deal with that level of productive and management.
Marcus: Nice. Now, what was your and I always say this is your first crap job, not your first job after you got your fancy Harvard MBA, but your first crap job flipping burgers, sweeping floors. What was your first job and what were some of the lessons that you learned from that?
Rick: I was a paperboy apprentice at Hannon Park. What I mean by apprentice-
Marcus: Not even just a paperboy, you were a paperboy apprentice.
Rick: I had to get in line to get a route. For a year, I folded papers for the guy who was older than me, which meant I got paid a RC Cola and some kind of sandwich; ice cream sandwich was my pay for that. As a result of doing that when I was 10 or 11 when I was 12-years-old I got a weekly route, throw in about four blocks from here in what is now Midtown around the deer drop. My first job was being a morning, weekly paperboy.
Marcus: What lessons do you remember from that you took away that-
Rick: Well, I learned everything I needed to know about business, but I didn't know it that I learned it. When I got older, took all these other degrees, and then look back and say, "Okay, here's what I learned." Number one, I learned about various cost structures because the gig was you basically paid for your papers upfront, okay. I took all the risks. The paper got no risk, whether I sold them or not, I had to pay for 'em. Then I learned how to deal with people and dealing with collection problems because a weekly route meant that I had to go to each house on Friday, and get paid my 75 cents for that week. I learned that maybe you wanna go on a monthly route where you got the same amount of money, but you don't have four times as many activities to get that money. I also learned a lot about people because there's nothing that you'll ever forget where you're on a bike. You're 12-years old. It's Friday night, it's dark, you're walking up to the door, and you see the lights on in the living room. All of a sudden, the lights go off, and you ring the doorbell and you ring it, and you're thinking, "I'm talking about 75 cents and these people won't even come to the door." Finally, I learned that service and execution matters because when you throw a paper, you had an option. If you couldn't find your paper and there are little old ladies that's right underneath their steps and they don't see it from their door, they don't think it's there. They have an option to call the press register for a paper. Now, that seems funny today that we don't have papers, but the press register would say, "Yes ma'am, I'll deliver you the paper." They charged you 50% of your profit for the month to deliver that extra paper.
Rick: If you don't execute, if somebody calls twice in a month at that house, you threw that house for free. Now, you tell me that isn't great business experience that at the time I didn't think about business I just learned it, but now looking back I tell people everything I needed to know about business as an entrepreneur I learned I just didn't know it.
Marcus: Now, that's really cool, man. Now, as far as the consulting business goes, though, how did you get started? I mean, was there someway? Did you leave a company and decide that this is how you want it or was it? I don't know. I mean, I don't know what I'm looking for there. How did you get started in consulting?
Rick: Well, like most consultants, a necessity.
Rick: I had moved to California to Oregon, a venture capital firm recruited me to go help start a startup to put some money in. In the middle of it, I ran into a problem with the inventor, the majority owner he had an affair, and it kind of threw everything wack. I'm sitting there going, "I can't work with this company. I need to do something and I'm 500 miles away from all my friends in San Francisco." You get on the phone and you start talking, and you realize, "Well, at least I have some credentials." The good news is I invested in the right degrees. I started looking around and saying, "Okay, we'll do something like Brent McClure does here." A guy from San Francisco who wanted to go out on and then myself set up a regional consulting business out there. We would rent an executive. We were in the 90s, we were rent a C-suite. We would come into small companies like your company and say, "Okay, we'll be your CFO. We'll do it for 20% of the time. Charge you so much and if it takes off then we want a few. If you sell the company we want a piece of that."
Rick: Did that and invariably what happens like most consultants, you do a good job, and I'm doing this for Bluefish and Bluefish says "We really wanna hire you full-time as our CFO" or some position. I vacillated or count of rotated back and forth between consult for a while, get this going, and somebody makes me an offer that's hard to turn down. Finally, I just reached the point where I said, "I'm a terrible employee, I'm ADD and I really like change. I like being a consultant and that's what I'll always try to be."
Marcus: It's interesting that you say that 'cause one of the things that I've said over the course of the last couple of years is that I'm unemployable now.
Marcus: The only thing that I think, the thing that I go back to with Bluefish that I really enjoy isn't necessarily that I do like the fact that I can control the business. It's not just that, it's that we work with a lot of different people, so we have a lot of problems that we're working to solve. It's that ADD aspect that you mentioned. That there are a lot of different problems that are presenting themselves to you and I'm a teacher first and foremost. That's really kind of my leanings, but then I'm a problem solver. When someone comes to me with a problem like I want to help them solve it because I know that on the other side of that there's some sort of reward. There's a financial reward or kudos, or something. Yeah, that's very interesting.
Rick: I think every service business at some level is an entrepreneurial consulting business, if you're good.
Rick: I mean, what you're doing everybody here is you're consulting for clients, and I'm doing the same thing. You just may say I've got a contract. You change the terms, but when you get down to what makes a company successful is you gotta have a whole bunch of clients that they're serving in some manner. For me, it just fits because I've tried it, and I found as a financial person I can go about two or years, and then I get bored. In a financial role, you need somebody who loves the same thing over and over again. I am the exact wrong personality fit for what I was doing for 20 years. Thank you lord that I figured out where my ladder should be leaning, and I'm much happier even though there's more uncertainly where's the cashflow. I'm not complaining. It's what I should be doing.
Marcus: Right. That's good. This question was perfectly targeted for you. Are you ready? Just prepare yourself.
Rick: I'm glad there's no camera here.
Marcus: Now, if you were talking to someone that is getting started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Rick: I've heard the [crosstalk 00:14:55]
Marcus: I've stumped him.
Rick: Oh, you blew it. I heard five seconds of silence gets everyone's attention. I was trying to count to five.
Rick: Nothing like it. I would say make sure you understand your why.
Rick: Just make sure that if you ... Simon Sinek's books really a good book on getting back to if you understand why you're doing that. Either it's because my personality, I need to, or I have some goals that I just really wanna achieve. If you got that down, you can weather the fact that life is never what you expect it to be. I mean, you and I know each other through spending seven months trying to do a plan, and yet my wisdom would be do a plan, but expect it to be long because it's gonna change. The people I have seen that have succeeded as being entrepreneurs when you step back from it, you see they had a clear why. Their why was bigger than the what. When your why is big enough, the facts don't matter is a cliché, but it really is true. You know how many times the facts would have told you to quit.
Rick: We all do. If you're married, you've been told that you should quit a few times, but generally speaking most entrepreneurs are just dumb enough because their why is big enough to keep going. The other side of keeping going is where the success lies.
Marcus: That's good stuff, folks. That's really good stuff. Who's the one person that motivates you from the business world? Is there anybody? We've been getting a lot of, "Well, my grandfather and my principal from high school" or stuff like that. I don't want that. I want you reading Entrepreneur Magazine or you get Entrepreneur Magazine, and there's somebody who's on the cover that really gets you excited that you're like "Man, I can't wait to read this." Anyone?
Rick: Well, I gotta think for a minute because I think John Maxwell.
Rick: What I'm inspired Maxwell is his longevity.
Marcus: Let's pause for just a second. John Maxwell was the president, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and has transitioned ... No, I'm sorry, John Maxwell. I'm thinking of whatshisname.
Rick: I'm going blank on the other 'cause I'm still fixated on Maxwell.
Marcus: Sorry, Maxwell is an author who's written a lot of books on leadership and stuff like that. He was published by Thomas Nelson, I think.
Rick: Yeah, he still is.
Marcus: Anyway, so I digress.
Rick: The 17 laws of leadership. The 21 laws or teamwork, or whatever those are. He's known for those books, but some many other people in that field, he started out as a pastor, which is probably the ultimate leadership position. Because you have a voluntary workforce. You have a small staff that most of the people you have to motivate to achieve your mission are there. He transitioned because his calling was leadership. What I'm impressed about him is the fact that he is ... The volume of work that he has done inspires me because he just keeps writing a book every three or four months. He's figured out to grow his organization to each different level. When he writes about stages of growth, you can look at his example, and mainly he also always tries to bring back in the people side of servant leadership.
Marcus: Yeah, Michael Hyatt.
Rick: Yep. Yep, yep. Good job.
Marcus: It was gonna bug me. Don't get lost on that. John Maxwell stuff especially his ... I think it's the "21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" was one of the most influential books that I've ever read. That and "Courageous Leadership" by Hybels was extremely good, as well especially if you're geared towards that kind of thing. You know you're gonna be in a position of leadership. Hybels book was really interesting because it helped me understand that there are different types of leaders. I leaned towards the entrepreneurial leadership role. It helped me kind of-
Rick: Let me throw in a plug for Maxwell 'cause it's something I do that I buy. I buy 20 of these or 30 of these a year. He's got a book called the "Maxwell Daily Reader." It's 300 every day. It's like any other devotional, but it's a management devotional if you will. He takes a page out of his 25 pages, so one day it may be on a one-page day of being a person of influence. Another one may be on teamwork. I've been reading that thing for three years and I give it to all my clients 'cause what it does is it reminds me every day of an aspect of leadership that I probably know, but I forget. You can read a spiritual one. I read it and I give it to clients because Lisette Norman who we're gonna see tonight is an example. The Fairhope store, I gave it to her, and I'll be talking to her, and she'll say "Did you believe what we read today?" It's usually on management. I highly recommend any one go. You've almost gotta go look for it 'cause it's out of print, but the paperback is still great.
Marcus: Great stuff, yeah. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful moving you forward?
Rick: Ah man. There's so many. Right now, I'll say David Jeremiah's morning podcast called "Turning Point" I listen to and I always put me in a servant leadership role. A guy that's a motivational coach for Alabama, Kevin Elko's got a Monday morning cup of inspiration. I listen to it every Monday and it's three minutes. I'm an avid reader, so it's hard for me because I'm really on the latest book.
Marcus: I mean, what are you reading right now just out of curiosity?
Rick: I'm reading "Things That Matter," it's written by the John Doerr who was the original venture capitalist. He's a very famous one who invested in Google. It's talking about what they measure Google that's made the behemoth they are. It's a great book on getting back in. I was telling you about that "Traction" book.
Marcus: Yeah, the "Traction" book that he suggested to the class. It's geared towards helping you understand how to get traction. I would admit I haven't read it yet 'cause I have some other things on my plate.
Rick: There's a book by a guy named Schwartz called "Turn the Ship Around!" It's about a submarine captain who got given a different type of submarine and that's like going from a Mac to a PC only you've been training to run a Mac and they gave you a PC two weeks before. You're now in charge of the entire company. It talked about how he learned. How he learned how to trust people and delegate. It's a great read. He's YouTube has some really nice graphics in there that you can watch a nine-minute YouTube video that explains it all.
Marcus: Yeah, that's cool. Now, what's the most important thing that you have learned about running a business?
Rick: Staying positive is incredibly important and incredibly difficult.
Rick: Did I hit that one right?
Marcus: Yeah. No, it's just say that again for those who are listening.
Rick: Well, you can see my expression. Staying positive is incredibly important, but incredibly difficult. I say that because running a business means that you get slapped the hardest and the most often.
Rick: When things don't happen, you take responsibility for it, or when bad things happen. Yet, if you run an organization where you have employees, they look to you for a response just like your kids do. Probably even more so, so the ability to take the blow and still find someway to act positive even though inside you're just dying is one of the keys to being a successful entrepreneur. I wish I had more of it.
Marcus: No. Yeah, so I read you touched on things, yes. I mean, the being able to keep that positive, mental outlook is just like incredibly difficult at times. You've touched on servant leadership a number of times, too. One of the books that I'll throw out there that if you are bent that way is Jocko Willink's Servant Leadership. He talks about that whole aspect. I don't know if you don't know Jocko's story, he's been a number of podcasts, and he even has his own podcast. He was SEAL team commander. He was responsible for training SEAL teams. After they've made it through [inaudible 00:24:14] and they've been assigned to a team, he was one of the commanders that was actually responsible for training the teams to work as a team to go out and do the missions. It's such an incredible responsibility. His whole take on that is that if you are the owner of a business then it doesn't matter what it is, it's your responsibility.
Rick: I may have drawn it in our course, but I probably didn't. With most companies I do occasionally I'll do quarterly retreats and strategic retreats. The way I introduce servant leadership is I draw the traditional pyramid, which is customers below. Then you have the tiers of employees all the way to the small top of the triangle is the CEO, then I flip it. If you get that then your job, Marcus is to serve the rest of Bluefish. If you can teach, but it had to start with you. You have to model that servant leadership and yet I know from having been the numbers kind of traditional drive it down, that doesn't work. If you wanna know why employees are unhappy, I'm certified in Gallup's employment engagement because I think they're the best at it. The reason people live or businesses are unhappy is because of their direct supervisor, and where I translate that in servant leadership is most people don't wake up thinking, "What can I do to serve my team?" That guy Jocko gets it because you can't fake it when it's life and death. In a company, your emotional life and death is real, too. Most of us don't think about it. We've been raised with this hierarchy, I mean, this paradigm that's just wrong. For me it's wrong.
Marcus: It's more traditional. Yeah, traditionally it's wrong. Yeah, it was probably one of the most influential that I've read this year. 'Cause it was a slap up against the face. In the face realizing that if someone's not performing then it's my responsibility because they either need more training or they need me to tell them and guide them, and ultimately if they're not performing and they're still here, and I'm upset about that it's my fault because I'm the one that hired them. I haven't fired them, yet. Like everything, you can't make it about the person it's really about you as the leader of the company. There have been a number of other things that came out of that book, too that I really appreciated it. He's a gruff guy, though. If you listen to his podcast, if you're out there listening to this, and you listen to his podcast then just know that you're in. I mean, he's a SEAL. Let's be real.
Rick: I went back when I heard the term and I read a book, I can't remember the author, but I went back to read James Greenblatt. The Greenblatt Center for Servant Leadership, he's the original AT&T guy in the 60s who coined the term. His book is a hard read 'cause it's kind of cut dry, but he goes back and he explains how he spent inside of AT&T trying to bring this concept about. If you know anything about AT&T, it's the ultimate bureaucracy that's not a government. It truly was back then, but he was convinced that in his work led to the I guess it's James Greenleaf Center, which is in Indiana. They have courses and you can get a lot ... They have an annual conference on servant leadership.
Marcus: Very good. How do you like to unwind?
Rick: Say that again?
Marcus: How do you like to unwind? That was such a bad transition, I'm sorry.
Rick: I thought you said another term that I'm wide and that's why I gave you that look.
Rick: I like to exercise. I like to play golf.
Marcus: What's your form of exercise?
Rick: My form is golf and swimming.
Rick: Golf because I played it all my life and it's the only game you can play three generations together-
Marcus: And not know who's gonna actually beat the crap out of somebody.
Rick: Swimming is just ... I was overweight as a kid. I didn't make all the high school teams. To punish myself in college, I started running and I lost a bunch of weight, and I've just been very blessed for 45 years I've been into fitness. I'm well as a result of that. I didn't know wellness was a term, but I invested in it. My knee has finally given out, so I get in the pool because it doesn't hurt. It's the same type thing. I'm in there swimming laps and I unwind, and I have conversations with God because no one can interrupt you when you got your googles on and you're just going up and down.
Marcus: Yeah. No, it's amazing to me and I probably need to start asking more questions about this, but the importance of staying physically active when you are running a business. It can't be overstated. You have got to have some sort of exercise regime because the stress will absolutely put you in the grave if you don't get that energy out in some healthy form. And then the other thing, too let's just be real, it's really easy to go to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at some function and before you know it you've gained 20 or 30 lbs. I've recently lost like 30 lbs. Now, granted some of that was stress related because of the building that we're currently in. The reality is I've been trying to lose this weight for a decade and just not been able to. It's a long game like you're saying. Finding something you can do for a long period of time that you enjoy that allows you to kind of keep things in check because it's real easy just to look down one day and realize I spent the last 10 years of my life sitting in a chair. I'm now 30 lbs overweight. I'm not happy. I get winded walking to the car. I don't look good when I go to the beach. I'm not happy with myself. All those things. Those are all things that I've said to myself.
Rick: Most of us do. It's not the quantity, it's the consistency that matters.
Rick: I mean, I have a doctor friend that we go through this issue all the time because he's afraid to tell his patients what he knows to be true. He and I have jogged for 30 years and I said, "You need to tell your patients they need to get off their butt and go exercise." He's like, "I can't. I got to do that bedside manners thing," but he and I laugh about it when we're jogging because he says the reason they see me is 'cause they don't what they could do. It's just walking for 15 minutes is worth it, if you do it five days a week.
Marcus: I mean, obviously I've been spending a lot of time here at the building over the course of the last five months. Often times I'll come in, in the morning, get started, and not have anything to eat until I leave at six or seven o'clock at night. I'll do an 8-hour, 10-hour, 12-hour day, and not eat anything. It's like fasted cardio, basically. The other thing too is people have been asking me like what I've doing, well besides that it's just cutting back on what I've been eating, and just making sure that I'm exercising consistently. Even if it just means going to the gym for 30 minutes or 20 minutes just going and doing something.
Rick: Do you know a guy named Daniel Amen?
Marcus: Don't ring a bell, no.
Rick: Go on YouTube and look him up. He is a brain doctor, whatever. He's developed all these scans of the brain. His whole thing is it you need exercise for your ability to think. If you go look up Daniel Amen and he's got a diet and more importantly he says if you want to be a thinker and as an entrepreneur you know you need to have your brain working. You already have it working pretty hard, but for longevity, exercise is good for the brain. Not just the cardiovascular. Your brain, your ability to think and process, and deal with things it's better as result of investing in that. Not only is it going to make you look better at the beach. If you need to make critical decisions, it's worth it to make sure you put some exercise in the mix.
Marcus: I couldn't agree more. Where can people find you?
Rick: Well, Pro356consulting.com. I'm always there and they can actually see what I look like 'cause I put some videos on there, some testimonies.
Rick: We were talking about earlier, Hatch if you go to hatchfairhope.com, that's the hi-tech incubator that we started in downtown Fairhope. Even though I do consulting, I live there more than anywhere else.
Marcus: Well, Rick, I wanna thank you again for coming on the podcast and more so I wanna thank you for pouring into all of our lives for the last seven months. Seems like it was just yesterday that we got started on Emerging Leaders. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'll like to share?
Rick: Well, Marcus I appreciate you and I can say this just looking at you 'cause people can't see it on a podcast that one of the joys working with you and all those other companies was to watch the growth. And the fact that anybody who gets into a position where they can facilitate the growth of other group or other organizations, the blessing's mine. So my thank yous to you because nobody knows how great it feels when you're sitting there helping other people get somewhere they're trying to get to and they need you to help them.
Rick: I go home after those classes every time just saying thank you lord for having the opportunity to deal with great companies, great people, and to help them be a little clog keeping them moving.
Marcus: Very good. Well, Rick I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Rick: My pleasure.