CXO Conversation Podcast

CEO Insights & Self Care with Chris Younger

CEO Insights & Self Care with Chris Younger:

Chris Younger is the CEO of Class VI Partners and is an executive with many chapters in his career. As President of Expanets, a telecom reseller, he acquired 27 companies in 3 years and then sold them to Avaya. He owned a Private Equity Firm and now provides transactions and strategic advisory services to middle-market businesses.  

Chris provides insight into:

  •         Managing the stress of leadership – why you must
  •         Importance of executive presence
  •          The Dinner Test with CEOs

Chris has bought, sold, and led companies across all business sectors and advises organizations and family offices on transactions. This provides Chris with insights on C-level leaders that he shares in this episode.

He also shares the physical toll of being an overworked President and how it changed him.   

Enjoy the show? Review us on iTunes– thanks!

Thank you Jalan Crossland for lending your award-winning banjo skills to CXO Conversations.

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Transcription:

Chris Younger:

I think as a leader, you may not have all the answers, but you do have to have been thoughtful enough and planned ahead enough to say, you know what? I may not have all the answers, but I know I’ve got the team, or I have a plan.

Michael Mitchel:

CXO Conversations talks with C-level executives on how they became one and share advice to those who want to be one. Today, Chris Younger joins us. Chris is an executive with many chapters in his career. President of a telecom reseller that acquired 27 companies, owned a PE firm, now provides transaction and strategic advisory services to the middle market businesses and entrepreneurs. More on Chris’s background and his bio can be found in the show notes. Needless to say, Chris will have an insightful perspective on C-level issues from being one and consulting with many CXOs. Chris, welcome to the conversation.

Chris Younger:

Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Michael Mitchel:

I like getting to know people- what’s a unique life experience?

Chris Younger:

Great question. I don’t know if these are unique life experiences, but after the experience doing all those acquisitions that you just mentioned and trying to integrate that, my wife had been asking me to go get a physical for years. And so I went to the physical, I was probably 25 pounds heavier than I am now, and went to go get the physical and the doctor comes back and he says, here are all the different issues that you have and here are all your prescriptions. And I was 34 years old, 35 years old, and I said, well, how long? Is this like a week? Or He said, no, these will be for your life. And I said, well, do I have choices? He said, well, yeah. I mean, you could go exercise and change your diet. He said, but most people aren’t going to do that, so here’s your prescriptions.

And so I said, well, can you give me six months? And literally, that meeting really changed my life, right, in terms of I completely changed the diet, started doing triathlons, ended up doing three of the long distance triathlons, the Ironman distance. And it was, for me, that was a little bit of a wake-up call, 34 years old, and my dad and my grandfather had heart troubles. And so it was again, it was more of a wake-up call for me. But I think what it demonstrated for me was if you kind of put your mind to something that’s important to you, odds are with you, right? You’re going to be able to get it done. And obviously staying alive, I had three young kids at the time, was pretty important to me. And to this day, I think you saw when you saw some of the guys who worked for me, I help they probably wouldn’t refer to it as help, but,

Michael Mitchel:

I heard them haggling over an apple. So that’s a good sign.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Yeah. No, like I said, they’ll laugh about me being the lunch police, just trying to help them think a little bit differently about, Hey, how do you live your life and make sure that you got plenty of years left.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, somewhat, two things to that is I was basically kind of in the same situation. I was in my 30s and I saw a photo of me, I was like, oh my God, who’s that fat bastard in that photo? And I started working out, I started and I dropped so many pounds that my friends actually are like,

Chris Younger:

Are you sick?

Michael Mitchel:

Are you sick? I’m like, no, I have a personal trainer and I’m eating better and I’m on the bike and I end up racing on the bike in the mid-odds.

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

But the other thing that struck me from that story you just told me, you were 35 and you were just coming off being a president of Exapnets and you just acquired 27 companies and sold a company to Avaya at 35.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. Yeah. No, I was way out over the tips of my skis as a youngster so.

Michael Mitchel:

Wow.

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, when we talk about the 27 companies within three years, I mean, you were averaging 1.3 companies a month.

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

You kept the transaction team pretty busy, I would imagine, right?

Chris Younger:

We did. We had, so our transaction team, it was myself and I had a couple of analysts, and then we had an outside accounting firm that was doing our financial diligence. We had an outside law firm helping us with the legal diligence, and then we had a couple of industry kind of veterans that helped us evaluate the companies. And so we had, that total team was probably eight or nine people across the different disciplines.

Michael Mitchel:

How did you manage all the teams? I mean, you’re integrating these companies, you got HR, you got IT, you got sale, I mean.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. So we had a fairly large corporate group as well. So we had a great HR team, we had a great finance team, we had great operations team, good IT team. So we had the different groups and the business was organized to do this consolidation. So we had hired people with experience doing those integrations. And so hey, we had a deal team that was there responsible for getting the deals done, and then we had an integration team responsible for bringing those folks on board. I used to always joke when I was on the deal side, now I’ll explain why this is funny. When I was on the deal side out of those 27 deals, I joke that a third of those, I looked way smarter than I am. A third of those kind of went as we planned. And a third of those, I absolutely should have been fired for doing.

So for that third that I should have been fired for, I always joked with the operations team that when those businesses inevitably didn’t perform, I’m not sure what happened. It was a great business when we acquired, and I’m not sure what you guys did to it. And then my reward for that was the president. I ended up becoming the COO. So I ended up having to integrate all those businesses. So all the problems that I had created for the ops team were now mine, so.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, how did you at 35 become the, well, that’s when you left. So 32, 33,

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Your president of Expanets. How did you achieve that level of career success so early?

Chris Younger:

I was really lucky and so I was working for the investor group doing the acquisitions, and then we hired a CEO, his name’s Jim Walker. He lives here in Colorado, and to this day is still a great mentor of mine. And Jim, when he came on board, I actually went to my boss and said, Hey, I’d like to go work for Jim. I knew I was going to take a big pay cut, but I wanted to go work for him just because I just, I loved his style. I knew that I would learn a lot from him. And so I originally joined a head up marketing strategy, and then I became the COO and then the president.

And that was all because of Jim and his tutelage in mentorship. And he was just an awesome human being, but also he taught me a lot and was kind enough and generous enough to put me in that position. But what was interesting, even when I was in those positions, I never felt like I was on my own. Jim was still the CEO, and Jim was a outstanding leader. He was there through 9-11 and through a lot of challenges in the business, and again, I learned a lot from him and I was very fortunate that he put me in that position.

Michael Mitchel:

Was there a moment during this time when you’re like, okay, I’m going to hit the C-suite?

Chris Younger:

Well, I know when I moved into the COO role, as the head of marketing and strategy, I probably had three or four folks that reported to me. So it was really, really small team. And obviously when I was running the deal team that was eight or nine folks that worked with me, then I went to managing about 4,000 people. And I certainly felt, yeah, I was anxious, right, but Jim purposely put my office right next to his. And so anytime I felt like, Hey, I’m definitely out over the tips of my skis on this, I would just go sit down with Jim and he would walk me through it and give me the advice that I needed. And as I reflect back, make a lot of mistakes, right, at that age in that role. But those are the things you learn from and how you develop and how you grow. I mean, that’s what I tell our team here is, unless you’re slightly nauseated from time to time at work, we’re probably not stretching you enough,

Michael Mitchel:

Right. If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing,

Chris Younger:

For sure.

Michael Mitchel:

You’re not doing something right.

Chris Younger:

For sure.

Michael Mitchel:

You’re not trying hard enough.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. And we want, I’m a big believer here. Right. I would much rather clean up broken glass than have to push someone. And that’s something that Jim taught me.

Michael Mitchel:

I’m also asked for forgiveness rather than permission kind of guy.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. And that’s the type of folks we want on our team, right, is, Hey, we’re hiring talented people with the right intention and the right motivation. Let them run. And yeah, they’re going to make some mistakes, but that’s inevitably how you learn and how you grow and how you develop.

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah. If someone’s like, well, I don’t make any mistakes. I’m like, well, you’re not learning.

Chris Younger:

For sure.

Michael Mitchel:

If you’ve never been fired from something, you didn’t learn anything,

Chris Younger:

Right. Right.

Michael Mitchel:

And we’ve all been fired. And so if you tell me, I’ve never been fired, I’ve said this before on the podcast, if you tell me you’ve never been fired, either you’re lying or you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not learning.

Chris Younger:

Well, I do remember we used to have the executive team meetings. And I was by far the youngest person there, and we had very experienced people in HR, in IT and the CFO and Jim was there, and I’ll never forget, I mean, it was a pretty challenging, when you acquire that many businesses and trying to do that in integration. We were dealing with the .com bubble bursting, 9-11, trying to integrate those businesses, and we were doing a big IT system conversion. And when I would go out and talk to our teams, I would always say one of those things can kill a business. Right. We’re dealing with all three of them.

Michael Mitchel:

Right.

Chris Younger:

I remember to this day, and Jim laughs about it, we were going through something and he said, we’re making a lot of rookie mistakes right now. And that was clearly pointed at me, and it was right. And at the time I took it pretty hard, but in retrospect, it was the right thing for me to hear.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, looking back on those times, we were talking about earlier, a little bit earlier about the teams HR and integration, how did you support them? I mean, obviously Jim’s supporting you, but how are you supporting your teams?

Chris Younger:

It came down to, I mean, I knew that I didn’t have the level of experience that they did. I certainly didn’t have the level of experience managing people that they did. And maybe it’s just a style thing, but I ask a lot of questions and I respected their experience and their expertise. And I think that just that collaboration and saying, Hey, here’s where we need to get to as a team. Here’s the help that I need from you, and here’s what the organization needs. And they were all really professional. I will say, so that was the corporate group. And then we had three regional presidents, and then about 17 VP GMs around the country. And again, we were running through some pretty challenging times, and that’s probably where a fair number of the rookie mistakes came in is my solution to a lot of things was work harder and longer. And as a young person that was my go-to and dealing with folks that had just had a lot more experience, I know that I pushed some of them probably in the wrong direction. And those were great learning experiences.

Michael Mitchel:

Anything you’d do differently?

Chris Younger:

Oh, yeah. How long is the podcast? Yeah. I would do a lot of things differently, for sure. Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, let’s rephrase the question. What was the big take away from that time that you applied going forward?

Chris Younger:

Just how important people are as you’re acquiring a company. One of my old bosses was one of the early folks at Nextel and Nextel, I don’t know if you know the story behind that, but they basically built their company by buying taxi companies in different cities because the taxi companies had the radio frequency.

Michael Mitchel:

Oh, interesting.

Chris Younger:

So they were buying these companies just to get the radio frequency, and then they would obviously divest of the rest of the operations. And I remember him telling me, acquiring a business that’s entirely dependent on people is a way different ballgame than acquiring an asset like radio frequency. Right. Just a lot easier. You know exactly what you’re getting, you know how to protect it. When you’re acquiring a business that is all people, that’s a lot trickier. The need for communication is greater, the need for kind of anticipating potential issues is greater, your risk level is way higher. And so as I think about our business today, right, in the M&A game, learned a lot of lessons about, Hey, what makes for a great company? What makes for a poor company? And learned a lot about how do you think about the people equation, and certainly in the context of acquisitions. And there’s, like I said, countless lessons on that.

Michael Mitchel:

I’ve heard from previous guests, a reoccurring theme of lonely at the top. Sometimes cliches are cliches for a reason. Right. I remember in an earlier conversation we’ve had, you mentioned that your biggest stress was responsibility of 4,400 families that were depending on you. How did you manage it?

Chris Younger:

The stress?

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah. Well, I think because this applies to your current clientele base, I would imagine. Right. It applies to everybody. I mean, even me. I mean, I’m responsible for payroll.

Chris Younger:

Yep.

Michael Mitchel:

How did you manage that?

Chris Younger:

Well, as evidenced by the first story, right, about my health at that time, I’m not sure I managed it terribly well. And again, I think my solution was work longer and harder, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. I just felt like, Hey, I know that I had in my head if there are times that I’m not working, I’m letting those folks down. Right. And so, as my wife can probably attest to, those are pretty stressful times around the house. And I’m not sure that I was the best help at that time. But I think what I’ve learned since then, probably more relevant, is just, hey, how important it is to have a good diet and to sleep well, and to get exercise and to take breaks and to step away from time to time, all of that stuff. I think I’ve managed stress now much, much better.

And so it’s a lot easier for me to help our clients, our CEOs, Hey, here’s how to think about this. I also think most CEOs are pretty type A. We’re very driven. We’ve got a goal in mind. We’re going to do anything it takes to get there. Sometimes all it takes is just reorienting perspective, because I can look at what you’re going through and give you a different perspective, and you could look at what I’m going through and giving me a different perspective. And oftentimes, I think for leaders, just hearing that different perspective, it may not change their mind, but it may cause them to think a little bit differently. And sometimes I think that’s all that’s required to get people reoriented. And out of that, the cycle of worry and despair and feeling like, Hey, I don’t have any options.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, yeah and I can agree with you more on the exercise and the sleep.

Chris Younger:

For sure.

Michael Mitchel:

I mean, I can tell when I haven’t been active and I’m sick. This head cold. Right. As of this recording, the week prior, I was so sick and I got so trying to address it, hopped up on Sudafeds that I actually went through a bout of a week of insomnia,

Chris Younger:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

And I’ve never had insomnia before. Trust me, you don’t want it if you’ve never had it. It was the worst thing I think I went through. It was like this, I’m never going to sleep again. And then the compounds the stress because I’m not getting this work done. I had to cancel these meetings. And then just you get in a cycle.

Chris Younger:

Obviously, there’s been a lot of research on sleep since 20 years ago. I mean, 20 years ago I think, the common refrain certainly among high achievers was I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Right. I’m going to grind through this, and the more hours that I can put in, the better. And again, obviously your effectiveness decreases over time. If you’re not sleeping well, your ability to deal with that stress goes down significantly. And now you’re in a position where, okay, now I’m stressed and I can’t actually manage it. That’s the vicious cycle. And then it’s to your point, and it becomes much more difficult to sleep or get the right kind of sleep. So all that stuff I’ve learned probably in the last 10 years. But yeah, if I could go back and change something, I probably would do that. And I think I would be more tolerant of team members who were taking those breaks, who probably were doing exact right thing. I just didn’t recognize it.

Michael Mitchel:

How many CEOs do you think you’ve advised over the years? Because currently now you’re the owner of Class IV Partners, and so you’re advising family offices and entrepreneurs. And so that’s the now, but over your career, how many CEOs would you roughly guesstimate?

Chris Younger:

Probably a couple hundred, maybe 250 that I’ve worked more closely with, whether that’s helping them sell their company or helping them grow their company and get ready. Or obviously a lot of the entrepreneurs that when we bought their business, I worked very closely with them. So yeah, that’s probably a good number. I haven’t really added it up, to be honest.

Michael Mitchel:

Fair enough. If someone asked me how many Placements I’ve done in my 22 years, I’d say hundreds.

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Right. I mean, I don’t do thousands. I couldn’t count. So when you look back at the hundreds of CEOs you’ve advised, any observations on successful CEOs, those characteristics?

Chris Younger:

Yeah. Actually during COVID, I had started a project. I was going to write a book. I was interviewing all these CEOs that had exited companies successfully, and I got about 30 of them done. I have another 70 I’d like to do at some point. We’ll see when it gets done. But what I learned from listening to them… The first and foremost I think, is the successful CEOs that I’ve worked with, they’re all kind of servant leaders, and I know you’ve probably read the book, but basically they’re very concerned about their team and they’re very concerned about taking care of their team and making sure that they develop and making sure that they’re doing everything they can to support them. And Jim Walker is a prime example of that, right, my old mentor. That focus in addition to the successful CEOs and entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with are all persistent as hell.

They are going to do whatever it takes to kind of work through things. And in talking to a lot of these, some of them they took family money on, right, friends and family money when they were starting their companies. That pressure, right, basically that meant there was no plan B, they had to succeed. And so they would do literally whatever it took. And so when I think about successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, that’s part of it. Right. You have to have this core belief and a core commitment to, I’m going to pretty much do whatever it takes. But that combination then of I’m going to do whatever it takes to support my team and develop my team, right, and have that integrity. Because you can get a lot of CEOs, they can have that commitment to win, but if they’re not committed to the team and the team’s not behind them, their ceiling is going to be pretty low. But if they’ve got that commitment and care for the team, then they’re going to do great things. And they’re setting that example of, yeah, there is no plan B.

Michael Mitchel:

Any areas where you see a common theme of where they come up short?

Chris Younger:

The CEOs that I’ve seen probably in terms of what are those things that I would put in the category of came up short, it’s some of the stuff we’ve talked about before, which is they’re not terribly balanced. And to be honest, I don’t know that for a lot of CEOs and certainly entrepreneurs, that they can be, if they want to be successful, they’re probably are going to be a little bit out of balance. But sometimes you see that get way out of balance, and I would say that’s certainly harmful to them. It’s going to be harmful to their business. And again, if you ask my 35-year-old self, right, I would never have recognized or admitted to that. The other, I think the only other issue that I see is a lot of CEOs, particularly of growing businesses, have a very difficult time disengaging from certain aspects of the business and delegating.

When we look at companies, one of the risk factors that we see in almost all of them, we deal with a lot of small to mid-market businesses, is the business is way too dependent on that CEO or the owner. And so helping them understand a couple of things. One is there are tasks that you should be delegating that other people can do better than you, and quite frankly, will free up more of your time to do the things that you’re really good at and that you like doing. But the second piece is to help them get more comfortable, kind of just letting go. And that’s a challenge for a lot of CEOs. Right.

I think there’s this core belief which has been reinforced throughout their lives I’m sure, that they can do most things better than anybody else. Right. That I have this confidence. That’s why they’re an entrepreneur a lot of times. I have this confidence that I can do this better than anybody else. And so helping them start to at least challenge that belief system is, that’s one of the primary objectives, right, when you’re trying to get a CEO to let their business scale, is to give them that perspective.

Michael Mitchel:

I’ve known friends that have gone to be a CEO for a family owned business. The founder wants to retire, but the family’s still involved, and we talked about the challenges, getting them to let go. What advice would you give to someone in that situation?

Chris Younger:

We use an exercise in our firm with these CEOs, it’s really a succession planning exercise, and really it starts with analyzing where they’re spending their time today.

Michael Mitchel:

The current CEO or the incoming CEO?

Chris Younger:

The current CEO.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay.

Chris Younger:

Right. When we’re talking about, Hey, how do you bring somebody in? And a big piece of that is around understanding of the time that they’re spending today, how much of that time is truly value added? How much of that time is really something that they enjoy? How much of that time is stuff that they really are good at? And then starting to whittle away at that, and that helps the outgoing CEO, right, or whoever’s going to be delegating, that helps at least start this process of, Hey, we’re going to start taking things off of your plate.

If it’s a flash cut, particularly in your example of a family owned business and you’re bringing in an outside CEO, that’s particularly challenging, if that outgoing CEO or the family member in a lot of cases, usually that that’s going to be a second generation or third generation CEO, right, within that family. There’s a lot of ego and family baggage and just psychology for that particular person. And if they haven’t resolved some of those issues, it’s going to be really, really difficult to bring in an outside CEO and have them be effective or have them feel like, I’ve got the autonomy to do what I need to do to make this business successful. That’s a big challenge.

Michael Mitchel:

I want to kind of talk a little bit about your PE, your private equity days. When you ran a PE firm, I think you mentioned you bought 10, 15 companies. When you were assessing the leadership team as you were looking at the transaction, what were you looking for?

Chris Younger:

First and foremost is integrity. And I think Warren Buffet said, “You’re never going to make a good deal with a bad person no matter how you structure the contract.” And he’s absolutely right. And his business partner, Charlie Munger, biggest piece of advice was don’t do business with turkeys, which I, so that’s the first step is, Hey, is this a, in our firm we call it the dinner test. Would we enjoy going to dinner with them and their spouse or significant other and enjoy that evening? And if they fail that dinner test,

it’s typically a no. And I’m sure there are lots and lots of investment opportunities that we probably passed up just because, hey, it wouldn’t be that much fun to work with that. And we use the same principle here in terms of clients that we work with. If they’re not going to be fun to work with, we’re just not going to do it.

Michael Mitchel:

I think I read a statistic, I don’t know how dated this is. When a PE firm buys a company it’s like a 85% chance, some of the C-level executives are being replaced. So when you look at the business, you could just say, okay, well, we’re going to just get rid of the CEO anyway, but you’re like, no, not so much.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. If you’re doing a turnaround, replacing the CEO makes a ton of sense. If you’re buying a business because you believe in the prospects of the business, which is usually based on how well the business has done in the past, one of the riskiest things you can do is change that CEO out.

Michael Mitchel:

Gotcha.

Chris Younger:

If I believe in the story of the business, a lot of that story has been created by that CEO. And so if I go into that with the plan that I’m going to replace them, I must not feel that great about what they’ve already done.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. Post transaction, how do you decide who to retain and who to top grade? I mean, obviously, let’s say in the situation you just described, you keep the CEO, but the chief sales officer or the COO, CFO?

Chris Younger:

A lot of that is just going to be based on, Hey, how’s the business doing? As you, I’m sure you’re aware, businesses that hit certain milestones as they’re growing, they’re going to outgrow certain people. And that becomes, if you’re measuring the right things and you’re looking at the right kind of trends in the business, that’ll become painfully obvious. Right. Those are fairly straightforward things to be looking at, whether it’s a sales issue or a marketing issue or an operations issue or a client sat issue, it’s pretty clear, Hey, who’s responsible? One of the phrases that Jim always had was coach, coach, coach, change. So, hey, you’re going to give them the opportunities and the rope to be able to try to go fix these issues you’ve identified. And hey, if they can’t do it in a certain number of tries, then hey, it’s time to make a change.

You always want to do that respectfully and make sure that you can take care of them financially as best you can, and make sure you can protect their pride as much as you can. That was one of the things at Expanets, we had to do some layoffs. And one of the things that Jim taught me as well was, if you can take care of somebody’s financial issues as much as you can and you can protect their pride as much as you can, it’ll probably be, that’s how you build a reputation as a firm, right, by how you exit people. So those were good lessons.

Michael Mitchel:

All right. Any advice to those who seek leadership roles in the middle market, PE companies?

Chris Younger:

Nothing other than really try to understand, Hey, where’s that business headed and what’s important for their growth plan? And hey, how is your role going to either help de-risk that business or make their growth plan more credible? If you can kind of zero in on those two pieces, that’s what will drive value, which is really what the PE investor wants. Right. Their ultimate goal is buy low and sell high.

Michael Mitchel:

So even a corporate president, a PE buyer got an M&A, you’ve sold companies, so you’ve seen executives internally and outside looking in. Do you have any insights you’d like to share on all this? Nice narrow question there.

Chris Younger:

Yeah. Sure. Sure. I think, again, the best advice that I can give to an executive is probably, again, if you genuinely care about your team, if you can communicate effectively, right, where you’re headed, if you can communicate effectively where you’ve got issues, I’m a huge believer in transparency as a CEO. It’s very difficult for the team to execute if they don’t know what the score is. And I’ve found a lot of CEOs are anxious to deliver bad news, and they don’t want to necessarily share bad news. And what I found in my career is when we were at Expanets, I would send an email out every week because we were going through a lot of change. We were integrating businesses, we were implementing this new system, which wasn’t going well. We were dealing with a sales fall off because of 9-11 and the .com bust. I just did this and my dad advised me against it, and my dad’s one of my other mentors.

But I would send an email out to the entire company every Friday night and basically and say, Hey, here’s where we are. Here are the issues that we’re experiencing. Here are the problems that we’re having. Here’s what we’re doing as a senior team about them. If you have any questions, let me know. And the first week that I sent that, yeah, I may have got five emails, and then I responded to all five over the weekend. The next weekend it grew. By the fourth or fifth weekend, I was getting four or 500 emails a weekend, but I responded to every single one of them because I wanted to make sure that they knew, Hey, in spite of all the change and the challenges and the adversity that we’re experiencing, we’re listening to you, right?

And sometimes, right, the answer is, we know that’s an issue. Right now we can’t do anything about it because it’s down on the priority list. But thank you for alerting us about it. In a big organization, one of the things that I learned was you might have an account executive that’s having a big problem with one of our systems, so they tell the sales manager about it who tells the sales director, who tells the VP GM, who tells the regional president. By the time it gets to me, there’s no problem anymore. Everything’s good. And so one of the things that that communication allowed me to do was to really hear, here’s exactly what’s going on at the field level. And again, just burdensome, right? Because you got to answer a lot of emails, but it gave me a really good window into, all right, hey, here are the true problems that we’re experiencing. How do we go get them fixed?

Michael Mitchel:

What advice would you share to the next CXO?

Chris Younger:

Again, care for your team, be transparent, set the example. One of the things that we acquired a business from Lucent, who was a spin out from AT&T, and I always felt, Hey, sometimes some of those managers felt like the higher they got in the organization, the less responsibility that they had. Right. Hey, they could now delegate a lot more. And I’ve always felt that’s the opposite. Right. The higher you go in an organization, the more responsibility because you have more families depending on you. And so take seriously that role as a CXO, which is, Hey, you need to set the tone for the rest of the organization. Again, be transparent, communicate a lot, both good and bad, and take care of your team.

Michael Mitchel:

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and what positive influence do you still use today?

Chris Younger:

The worst job, after we sold Expanets one of the companies that we made an investment in was a construction business. And I’d never intended to have a job in the construction business, but through a series of unfortunate events, ended up basically having to run that business for a little while. And that was by far the worst job I’ve ever had. Both the worst investment I’ve ever made, as well as the worst job I ever had. I mean, talk about a hard industry and thankless and risky and just very little upside. I would never do that again.

The best piece of life advice I got, I’m going to revert back to Jim, but when we were out, we were dealing with all this change, and we would do these road shows where we would go present to different regions. And so we would go for a week and we’d try to get 10 to 15 regions that we could talk to and present where we are. And Jim, let me do all those presentations. And it was a particularly stressful time, and I had gotten some bad news. I don’t remember what it was, some morning. And so I gave my presentation and it was the same presentation I had given for the last five days. Right. And I’d come off the stage, we were asking questions, and Jim said, if you ever do that again, I’m going to fire you. And I said, what Jim? And he said,

Michael Mitchel:

Now, he’s got your attention.

Chris Younger:

Oh, yeah. No,

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah.

Chris Younger:

He had my attention. I said, what are you talking about? It’s the same presentation that I had given before, which was fine. He said, no. He said, no, the content was fine. He said, but how you delivered it, your whole body language was you communicated to everyone in that room that they had something to be worried about versus if you’re showing up with a level of confidence and a level of conviction about where we’re headed. He said, everybody shows up and they take their cues on how they should feel based on how they think the boss feels. And so I’ve taken that with me and communicated that to folks that I’ve worked with, which is, Hey, when you show up, show up as the leader. Right. And yeah, you may have some concerns, but the moment that you betray that kind of stress or anxiety, that’s going to spread throughout the organization very, very quickly.

Michael Mitchel:

Do you remember what the body language you were doing was? Were you slouching, or you,

Chris Younger:

I probably looked worried. I probably was short. I probably, if I think about it, I mean it’s like sometimes with your spouse, right, you can kind of tell when they’re stressed.

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah.

Chris Younger:

And Jim clearly knew it, and I think our team knew it, and it was well taken. I mean,

Michael Mitchel:

How much sleep did you go the night before?

Chris Younger:

Not very much. Not very much.

Michael Mitchel:

Wow.

Chris Younger:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

I mean, again, cliches act as if.

Chris Younger:

Correct. Well, and I think as a leader, you may not have all the answers, but you do have to have been thoughtful enough and planned ahead enough to say, you know what? I may not have all the answers, but I know I’ve got the team, or I have a plan, right? If you’ve got a plan, then there’s no reason to be stressful. Go execute the plan, right? Go get to work. I think there’s a lot of value in just being in action. Right. And that’ll relieve a lot of stress.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, Chris, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. I’ve learned. I’ve taken away a lot,

Chris Younger:

Great.

Michael Mitchel:

On this. Hopefully, everyone else has. Thank you for your time and I want to thank all the listeners. And if hopefully, you enjoyed the interview as much as I do, give us five stars on iTunes, and you can find me, Michael Mitchel with one L on LinkedIn. I’m out here in Denver. And I’d like to thank Jalan Crossland for allowing me to use your most amazing music on the show. You’re the best banjo picker I’ve ever seen or heard. Thanks again for joining the podcast. Thanks, everybody.

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