Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:00:05] Welcome to the Sell My Business Podcast. I'm your host Jeffrey Feldberg.
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Welcome to episode 66 of the Sell My Business Podcast.
Leon Goren believes in purposeful leadership. The type that requires us to challenge the status quo, anticipate the future, and be confident enough to step outside of our comfort zone to inspire and help those around us.
His 25 years of leadership experience underscores his unique impact on the way leaders lead, learn and live, and his ability to understand their needs and challenges. As the owner and CEO of PEO Leadership, Leon is dedicated to building communities of knowledgeable and respected business leaders by developing opportunities for shared insights and experience.
Under Leon's leadership, PEO is recognized as a premier executive leadership advisory community that positively influences the way leaders lead, learn, and live. As founder and CEO of Just White Shirts in 1997, Leon was one of the first online success stories and recognize for bringing the dot com retail experience through a combination of online, catalog, and bricks-and-mortar channels.
Leon is an authority in leadership and business strategy, as he is consistently invited to address various business audiences including the graduating classes of Chartered Accountants. His thought leadership is published in the CA magazine, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail.
Leon is a CPA and CA he is married with children and is active in sports, including triathlons and skiing.
Leon welcome to the Sell My Business Podcast. And for our listeners, I have a little bit of trivia and some history in the making here. Leon, you were our very first guest on the Sell My Business Podcast.
The first episode was myself and Steve. And then the second episode was you. So,, welcome back. It's great to have you a lot has happened in this past year. And we'll talk a little bit about that, and you're up to some incredible and exciting things. We'll talk a lot about that. But firstly, thank you. And it's so good to be with you again.
Leon Goren: [00:03:18] Thanks for having me again, Jeffrey. It's been fantastic. I can't believe it's been, yeah, it's been months. Cause it was right at the beginning of COVID when we got started and I did that podcast with you.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:03:27] That time last year. We would've thought if you fast-forwarded a year to where we are today that, hey, we'll be done. We're out of the woods. It's all history and we're getting there. Light is at the end of the tunnel, but we're not quite there yet.
But back to the order of business. So, Leon, you are doing some incredible things. And when you first came onto the podcast, it was really all about the pandemic and the Coronavirus. And you were giving some terrific leadership tips. But let's now focus on you, your wheelhouse, since we have the new normal, whatever that's looking like, it changes every day.
And, you know, I find that for most business owners, they're so busy taking care of everybody else that they forget the most important person in the room and that's themselves. And if you don't look after yourself, how in the world can you look after everyone else? So, why don't we start with Leon, the story behind the story, because you run this incredible organization, PEO, which is a CEO peer advisory group?
How did you get there? What led you to begin that journey? And again, what's that story behind the story?
Leon Goren: [00:04:28] Sure. Well, it's a very different story. I can tell you that. My background is I'm a chartered accountant. So, I've worked with the big time, I think still big six accounting firms, and had done some work there, although I've always been an entrepreneur. So, you know, the story really begins with a company that had started from scratch back in 1997.
I know it's a little way back I'm going, but I'm going to accelerate through this year. But in 1997, I had this great idea with two partners, and it was online. We were going to sell dress shirts online, one white dress shirt. And we called the company Just White Shirts. And so, if you remember, 1996, 1997, really the internet was non-existent, you'd have it in your office and you'd be sitting there and going, what do I do with this thing?
Because the big corporate offices would have access to it. So, we ended up launching a little bit of a catalog. 50% of the orders were coming in by fax. We had a header of "reasonable men no longer pay over $80 for a white dress shirt". One white dress shirt, we're making them overseas. And then the internet came along and we said, Hey, let's build a website.
And so we had built a website and automatically overnight 50% of those orders we're now coming in via through the internet. It was still being faxed. Actually, you put the order in, and then whatever was happening in the background, we'd automatically fax it to your fax machine and you'd have this order coming in on paper to fulfill.
It was the start of back into my entrepreneurial world of building businesses. I left the accounting firms. I had done both for a period of about a year. Actually. No one knew. They knew I was involved, but they didn't realize the extent of how I was involved. And, as the.com boom exploded, I ended up having to do a lot of speaking. In front of a lot of different audiences. People were curious about what was going on. And one of the audiences I spoke and I don't really remember who was in the audience, but someone came up to me afterward and said, hey, Leon, I just heard you speak on this stuff.
And I'm wondering if you've ever thought about participating in an advisory board? And I said, no, tell me a little bit more about it. So, he was an incredible sales guy as well. He, he did tell me a lot about it. It actually clicked with me because you know, my days in the accounting firms were dealing with a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of strategies, interesting stuff beyond just accounting.
And what was interesting about these advisory boards was the ability to come into a room with a bunch of peers. And again, at a very high level work through challenges and opportunities together. I found it really stimulating. And you know, the other thing is, as an entrepreneur back then you're really on your own, right?
So, there was no one to talk to. I would be talking to large audiences about what we were doing. I'm talking to my staff. But I didn't really have anybody that I could speak to or a group that I could speak to that said, okay, here are the real challenges I'm having with this business. And trust me, there were a lot of challenges in this business because we are essentially in the garment industry and it was all new to me.
So, that's actually how I became involved. At the time it was called Presidents of Enterprising Organizations. I started as a member. I was a member for two, three years. And I think in the third year, I had an opportunity to sell my business. So, I got out of Just White Shirts and the founder of PEO basically came up to me and said, would you be interested in helping me build this business?
And initially, I was like, nah, I don't think so. It's interesting as a participant. And he goes, well, you're not going to do anything for a little while. Come and experience what it's like and sit in the different groups and I fell in love with the thing. So, I ended up helping him build it. And then about 10 years ago, I ended up buying the business entirely from him and continuing to grow it.
So, I never thought I'd be in the leadership business.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:08:02] What a story. It reminds me of that commercial, the old razor commercial. I'm going to date both of us here a little bit. I liked this so much. I bought it that's your story. But what's interesting. Leon, is you went into this, you started a business, it was successful. You sold it. And then really looks like looking back at your own experience as a business leader, a business owner.
And it's really lonely at the top. I mean, who do you speak to? Some issues you don't want to speak to your family? Number one, they probably won't understand. And number two, you may not want to put some of those business risk issues out there to have them worrying over something that they can't do. And you're certainly not going to speak to your employees.
So, what's a business owner to do? It's lonely if you don't have other peers. So, let me ask you this. I'm a business owner. I'm hearing you talk, Leon. Maybe I've heard of some kind of CEO peer group or advisory group, but I've never been a part of one. And I'm thinking to myself, why would I share my innermost challenges and maybe opportunities with complete strangers.
Aren't I putting my business at risk?
Leon Goren: [00:09:07] So, I would actually look at it and say, what you're really doing is taking a step forward and saying, I realize things are changing and changing quickly around me. I'm in a business. I work every day in this business. I work within the organization.
And one of the roles you would have as an owner or a CEO is to continually keep your eyes open in terms of what's happening around you. Because otherwise, how can you develop a strategy for your business going forward? You have a responsibility of what the vision is going to look like, and you have a responsibility to your people. And it's funny, you talked about being lonely and that's exactly what happened in my household.
And I was fortunate because I had a successful wife who was working at McKinsey at the time who had income and I was able to start the business. But I'll tell you the last thing she wanted for me was to come I'm home at night and start airing I've got a problem here. I've got a problem there.
I got a bankroll, you know, a couple of new employees, and I've got to advance them some funds. Whatever the situation was, right around bank credit, bank loans, investment building. She just didn't want to hear it. She was taking enough risk as it was by allowing me to do this.
To be able to come forth in the group and actually leverage the wisdom and experience of individuals, if it's a good group, it's just huge, right? I'm not going to vent my problems with them. What I'm looking for is sometimes clarity. Sometimes I'm asking them for some counsel. A lot of the time for a lot of these business people, you're looking for courage.
You're on your own and you're going in a direction and you're like, oh my God, I hope this is the right direction. And you want to be reaffirmed on the fact that yeah, you're doing it right. Keep it going, keep it going. Keep pushing. And it's funny when I joined the group, that's not why I joined the group back when I was running Just White Shirts.
I just thought it'd be, oh yeah, it'd be fascinating. I'm going to get to share some ideas. It's going to be fun. I get to do lots of networking. But when you're in the group, what you realize is, oh my God, there's so much power and intelligence here. And if everybody's willing to help each other out, we're all going to elevate our game here.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:11:05] It's interestingly on we're calling it a CEO peer advisory group. Some people call it a mastermind group. When you go back in history, this has been around for thousands of years. King Arthur and the Knights of the round table. Well, that was a mastermind group that was taking place.
And even fast forward to today, as some famous ones include Richard Branson and Oprah who say that their success is directly attributed to these kinds of groups. So, there's definitely some magic that's happening in there, Leon. And you've mentioned something that's interesting for our listeners. You've mentioned that you're in this group, it's with business owners from different industries.
Could you talk to us about how, when you're sharing whatever issue or challenge that you're going through as a leader, as a business owner, how you can avoid that groupthink? Because you are with people from different industries that you can get insights that are in some industries, maybe not in your industry that you can make it your own and then run out there and create a market disruption.
How does that work and why does that work in your experience?
Leon Goren: [00:12:08] So, I think we actually tackle that head-on. And so we're a little bit different than some of the other organizations out there. In the fact that every one of our advisory boards, we call them paths. Peer Advisory Teams has an executive advisor responsible and accountable to everyone around that table.
It's like a chairman. If you had your own advisory board, you'd have a chairperson that was responsible for the group. So, this individual actually has, first of all, has business acumen. So, they're not just life coaches and they're not facilitators. They've run businesses themselves in the past.
Some have led businesses as big as some of your big multinationals out there in North America. But to have them understand what success looks like for you, define it through a roadmap, and then bring the group together on a regular basis.
Let's say they meet on a monthly basis. And structure the meeting, and that's really important. So, one, they have to know everybody really well in the room. They need to understand the personalities around the table. How they interact. Who's a dominant talker? Who's a big active listener? Because that will actually help them in ensuring you don't have groupthink.
But the second piece that we tend to have is how do you structure a conversation? So, let's say we have an individual that comes forth and presents an ask of the group. It could be an opportunity. It could be a challenge. So, in presenting the ask to the group, I want to hear the ask upfront.
And I want to know what are we seeking here? We are looking for some clarity, counsel, or some courage? Those three C's. I keep bringing them up. They'll state it. Now, what I want them to do is I want them to spend enough time giving us enough information that we can actually tackle their ask. Now, for many groups, some of these people have been around for many years, so we know some of the elements of it. But in every case, they're still going to put forth, here are the key things I'm looking at. Here are the key assumptions that I'm making to deal with this ask. And in many cases, what I asked them to do is I'd like to understand from their perspective, what are the two or three alternatives you're considering to answer your own question. They present, let's say it's 25 minutes, maybe it's 30 minutes.
We now get into a situation in the group where the members of the group when you're facilitating, there are allowed to ask some questions. I don't want anyone counseling. I don't want people running to the question and answering their question right away. I want questions. I want to dig deeper.
So, we're facilitating that element of it. After that point, then we can start tackling around the specific question. Now, if I know the personalities around the table, I know which one's going to influence directionally, potentially the answer, I have to be very conscious about who the other participants are and how to make sure I let them start to express some of their thinking.
And oftentimes, you're walking on a balance beam. Because sometimes you got to cut off a member and go, okay. I heard that. You've made your point. Let's try and bring Julie into the conversation. Julie, what are you thinking? Because Julie doesn't express herself the same way Jim does in that group.
And so that's how you're sort of massaging a little bit of the groupthink, and it will also depend on the experience of a group.
If I deal with a young group of young individuals, so they're not as experienced, there'll be times that the advisor is going to intervene because you know, they're going off course. The groupthink kicks in so quickly and they're going down on the left side. Instead of going on a straight path, someone has put them on a curveball here that's throwing them right up to midfield. And you start sitting there and go on given your business acumen. You already know this isn't going the way it should go.
So, let me stop the conversation and let me try and redirect again. And that's where you're not a straightforward facilitator. That's where you're actually leveraging your own experience and probably business wisdom to try and guide the group a little bit in a different direction.
So, it really comes to that individual to try and make the most of that meeting. And when you don't have that individual, I think you do have a larger chance of groupthink. I also think you have a tough time sometimes managing egos around the table.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:16:11] It's really interesting. It's like your own personal board of directors. So, you're chairman of the board, how the chairman really directs that conversation. So, for our listeners out there, I know some of you are thinking, yeah, Leon, that's nice, but there's no way I'm going to do half a day or a full day.
I'm walking into a room of strangers and sharing my concerns or maybe opportunities that are going to be out there. I can read this in a book. I'll just get the latest book that's talking about what's going on. And for our listeners, you just heard Leon in a very elegant and integrated way share how you don't get the stuff in a book.
This conversation that's taking place, that is the gold. That is where the value is. You're extracting that value from the success of the people in the room. And so, Leon, maybe you can talk about this. There's this famous saying out there or a well-known saying that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.
And when you think about that now, and you look at yourself as a business owner, really the culture of your business revolves around you.
So, hopefully, as a business owner, what you're doing, your business runs without you. At Deep Wealth, we talk a lot about that because your management team, that's an X-Factor. Step number two of our nine-step roadmap of having a very capable and talented and competent management team that runs the business. That's great. But as the business owner, really the culture and the tempo of the business, you play a very large role in that. And so, Leon, can you talk about the kind of nurturing and learning and leadership that a business owner who walks into a PEO meeting, month over month, and year over year, what they can expect to get from that. And I'll double end this question. We can circle back to it again, after you talk about that, why that would be different from other CEO peer groups that are out there in the marketplace today?
Leon Goren: [00:18:02] We talked about why not read books. I think you're referring to time as a big piece of the puzzle here. Most of these entrepreneurs are very, very busy. Why are they going to give you a time?
Whether it be a day or half a day. They're running a business, they got people. Most of them are so busy that they don't even know where their left hand and right hand is. And they don't have enough time with their family. So, I will tell you, no matter whether it's PEO leadership or any organization, our number one priority is to ensure that when you come to that meeting, within the first few months, your priority list is going to change.
And we're actually going to come up on your priority list. And you're going to realize that getting to that meeting, it should be one of your top three priorities. So, we need to drive real value for that actually to change someone's mindset to actually think that way, because they got fires burning back at the office.
So, what type of value. Let's compare a book versus a meeting. There are some fabulous books out there. Hopefully one day I'll be able to write one myself. Books are great. You read through them. A lot of knowledge has been put into them. And you pull stuff out. In a group, it's slightly different.
A good group, these are real-time issues and opportunities that are happening today. It's like a case study, take you back to your MBA, if you did case studies. Where you're presented with the case, to the extent this is actually happening right now, here, it's not, the book was written two years ago.
Here's a specific issue. And as a group, what we're going to do is we're going to dissect the issue and we're going to try and help each other or help that individual work through it. And a couple of things are happening when you do that. One is your brain is now thinking through this in terms of methodically, trying to figure out how do I address the question that's being posed here.
I've got a real challenge. And most of us as entrepreneurs, we love challenges. Put me in that thing. I got to solve the problem, solve the problem. How am I going to help solve the problem? So, you start as you're doing that. And there's a, don't forget, there's a bit of a story around it too. So, you think about storytelling. Storytelling are things that's ended up sticking with you.
It's an easy way to learn. So, you've got a combination of a challenge, a bit of a story, and the impact of influencing or helping an individual across that table. All elements that really reinforce how your brain thinks and how you keep that information. What's also interesting about that is even if I'm solving your problem, Jeffery, if I'm in the right group, so let's say you're talking to me about an employee. Their performance is at a C level. You're really challenged with it. You've tried coaching with them. You've done mentoring with them. You really like them. You're extremely loyal. What are you going to do with this person?
You're looking for some counsel. We're all getting into this conversation. We go through all the information you provide us with. And at the end we say to you, Jeffrey, you have tried everything. Maybe it's time you parted ways with this individual. And so, you sit there and go, let's say I gave you that information.
There is a high percentage chance here that I probably have an individual like that in my organization as well. Here I am telling you what to do and I can guarantee you what I'm doing is self-reflecting as well going. Well, how can we tell Jeffrey to do this and not be doing it myself? In this. So, you have an interesting two-way learning going on in any given meeting.
Even if the conversation is not really directed at you. And you just don't get that in books. You read a book, you reread a book. Books are extremely valuable. I read a lot of books, but it's different when you're actually in a meeting solving a problem or helping an individual.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:21:29] And Leon what's so nice about the situation that you described and for all of our listeners out there, I really hope you're listening carefully. What Leon is sharing with your personal board of advisors when you're in a CEO peer group, such as PEO. You're in there. You're sharing a challenge that you have.
You're not getting generic advice. You're getting advice that is spot on from the other business owners that have been in the trenches in a very similar situation. And they're going to share what worked for them, what didn't work for them. And nobody knows your business better than you do. And so, nobody can give you a prescription of exactly what to do.
But when you go around the table and you hear from five, six, seven different people who are sharing their stories, you're then going to be able to see your situation in a different light. And it'll help you make a better decision than you would otherwise. And that's so powerful Leon, in terms of what you're saying. I also like to what you're saying is how you're having that right kind of oversight with the conversation. Keep people on track. Make sure you're not going off the rails. It's someone who has got business acumen. Who's got experience. Who's really helping to drive that conversation.
So, Leon, if I'm a business owner, I haven't been part of a CEO advisory group, or maybe I am part of one, but I'm wondering if I'm getting the best value. What should I be asking in terms of, is this the right group for me? And what should it be looking for when finding a group?
Leon Goren: [00:23:01] I always ask new people that come on is what does success look like to you? Three years? A year from today? That is a question you can ask yourself before you even start approaching these groups is can, I define on a piece of paper, what success looks like?
We can do it from a financial perspective, but what other elements, if I was sitting here that I'd be smiling about in terms of accomplishments? And when you have that and you sit there and then you start assessing these different groups or these different communities, because I look at ours as a bit of a community as well.
It's sort of like a three-legged stool approach. You got to ask yourself, all right, is this group, or is this community going to actually help me overcome some of the challenges or hurdles that I may have, or create opportunities for me to actually get there in terms of what I defined as success? And so, what are we talking about here?
When somebody throws you into a peer group, who are the members going to be around the table? Can they add value to some of your thinking? To your trajectory in terms of where you're going? Do they have enough experience in what they're talking about? So, for example, in our world, one of the things I try to do, as best as we can is I tend to separate the hired guns from the entrepreneurs.
And it's interesting. So, you know, you have an incredible experience on both. They have incredible wisdom capabilities, but the conversation in the rooms is very different. You know, if I'm a hired gun, I'm responsible to perhaps a board of directors. Maybe it's a matrix organization. I may be the CEO in this country, but in another country, I'm actually reporting into an EVP.
I'm not part of their corporate head office. If you're in an entrepreneurial group, you're not thinking about the politics within your matrix organization. You're thinking about, I got my people, I have my banking relations. I got cash flow. I got payroll. You're thinking about strategy. Everything is on your shoulders.
The corporate person probably doesn't know much about how their banking relations are being done. As an entrepreneur, you're totally on top of your banking relationships. So, it's really understanding who the members are. The composition of the group is really important. If it's run by an advisor. So, some groups don't have anybody, they self, moderate. Others have an advisor chair and in there, there has to be an element of chemistry between you and that individual.
In our world, my job never ends. So, yes, I run the monthly meeting. My members show up, we have a dialogue, they go back to work. And the reality is I think about them for 30 days until the next meeting.
If our meeting is 30 days away. What does that mean? Well, I'm thinking it in the larger context of the community. Who else should I be introducing them to? I'm taking, networking into a micro networking situation. What questions could we answer as a group that I know there's an experience in the community that we should tap into, they should grab a coffee with this individual.
When something happens with an entrepreneur or even a career individual, we tend to get the first call. I can guarantee you sometimes it's the first call. Sometimes it's the third call. They phone their spouse around a major issue. And so, do you have a person in there that you can actually connect with that, you know, you can reach out, you feel comfortable to talk to?
You can share some of the pains that you're suffering as well as the opportunity. So, I think that's really important as well. And I think those two things along with the community set the culture. I've learned, this is an accountant talking about culture. Okay.
Accountants are number-driven. They don't understand culture, but ultimately when I started being part of PEO what I realized is culture is pretty well everything. I don't care if you've got the best strategy out there, you got the best budgets and numbers. If you don't know how to engage and inspire people, it's not.
So, and I used to think that's businesses. Well in our community, we have a culture too inside of our own community. And you need to be understanding of that. Ours is a culture of giving. I want individuals in our community that understand it's all really about giving.
In addition, they'll take, obviously they got to learn and take stuff, but if they don't give. Then they don't really don't belong because it's not going to work. It's very difficult to go into community and try and ask for something if you're never going to give back. So, those are the types of things I would look at.
And I know this is tough because a lot of entrepreneurs don't think like this, so they don't say, oh my God, you to think about what success looks like a year, and I'm going to write it down. Then I'm going to think about what group. But I can promise you, it will be very helpful.
And I would tell you, whoever's selling you on that community, better be asking you those questions.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:27:28] Well, some terrific insights, and Leon you've mentioned the C-word culture, a number of times and culture. I think it was Peter Drucker that says culture eats strategy for breakfast. There's so much truth to that. And so, for a business owner that has never been part of an advisory group, can you talk about how in that group, it's other business owners who aren't going to be competitors. So, it's different people, different businesses. You're not competing with each other and you have this environment of trust or a safe haven.
Leon Goren: [00:27:59] You can't have two competitors in your own group. You're crazy if you're going to do that because it's never going to be an open discussion.
In our world, what we try and do is do it corporately. So, try and understand the individuals. What's important to them? Have that conversation upfront and then try and assess what groups make the most sense? Where can they actually contribute in to a group? And where a connected group contribute back to them?
Really what you're doing by having that discussion is you're actually setting already the context of what culture is because you're not pushing the sale because ultimately at the end of the day, I talked to lots of people, but I don't get the final say on the sale.
It has to go to my advisor. The advisor has to have a conversation with them and the advisor can say, you know what, this isn't right. I don't have the right group for you or your business isn't going to fit well in here, or I'm just not sure about it. And they can just shut the door down right there.
We established the culture really upfront in terms of how we operate. We want people and it's in the commitment agreement that they sign as well. You need to be there. That's part of the culture. If you're not there 75% of the time, it's not going to work. The last thing I want to do is talk to an empty room of white walls.
Doesn't work. The second piece is, you've got to actively participate. Participating means different things for different people. So, some people listen a lot. They don't speak as much, but they're thinking through this stuff and it takes some time to digest it and they come up with some incredible ideas.
That's actively participating I don't need you talking all the time. And then you have others that's how they think they chat. They're actively participating, but they're also not going to be pissed off at you when you say, okay, hold off. I need to go to Jim and have Jim put in some points here as well.
So, those are two elements of commitment that we're looking for them to make. And the other thing is I will tell you is trust is huge. We talked about authenticity, trust, being able to be vulnerable in the room. These are things that I look at reputation. All it takes is one bad apple into any one of our groups.
And it ripples. And so, it's a lot of time and effort goes into trying to make sure that we've got the right people going into the right groups. And in today's world, it goes even well, beyond that. I had a mandate eight years ago that said, I don't want any groups that are all males.
Period. It's insane. Why would you have 12 guys together in a group and we're talking about business? You wiped out half of your population and market. How can we effectively talk? And then we're going to talk about life issues as well? It's all going to be bogus. So, we started a mandate around, we need 50% of the people should be women in these groups. And so, we started pushing that way. And the same is going with all demographics today, I want diversification, in our community, which is going to be part of our culture, part of every culture of the group, because why we believe it drives innovation and different thinking in the room.
And it actually affects reality. It's important to us. We're constantly watching it. There's been the odd time we've had to give somebody the boot, to be honest, where we made a mistake.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:30:56] Well you're protecting your culture, Leon. And it sounds like from everything that you're sharing, you put your culture first and foremost and have that be internalized by all the members of PEO. And so, we've talked a lot about the supporting foundation of what goes into make a PEO group successful and how members get value.
Let's go where the rubber hits the road. Can you share some specifics of, what is discussed and what kinds of outcomes can I expect when I'm in the right CEO advisory group?
Leon Goren: [00:31:27] Absolutely. There are so many stories. I've been doing this for a long time. So, when I think about a group, I'm like, oh my God, there's a story here. There's a story. There, there's a story. Let's talk about a few stories that are around the transaction, just to have fun, because this is around Deep Wealth as well.
So, I remember, years ago, she's still a member today. She joined my group actually back then. I had a few groups, but she is part of my group still is, and I was introduced to her by her banker, who came in and just said, you know, it'd be interesting to get this individual involved. She could really use a different perspective.
She joined us, started participating. I always let her members have a few months easy. You don't have to reveal everything in the first few months, just get used to the group dynamics. This individual was 50% owned by private equity, 50% she owned. Her strength wasn't necessarily on the financial stuff, the numbers, it was on the relationship side, around phenomenal customers.
But every time she went to a board meeting, she would get drilled. And they would just hammer around the numerical side of the equation. And so, in this group, we started learning about this, and over time we just started going, maybe we should consider taking these partners out.
Now, it's a really difficult decision when there's a shotgun in there because you could lose your business as well. And you're dealing with a group that had lots of funding and possibly could take her out equally as well. it took us about five or six months over time.
So, here's the value of a peer group. We're learning about the situation. We get to know this person fairly well. We know their strengths; we know their weaknesses. And we start slowly pushing a little bit and providing courage, actually, not just counseling, but some courage to actually pull the trigger on this thing.
And it took probably about a good six months. And, a group came together knows way more than just we're having an hour and a half meeting. We're now having a meeting that a couple of us would go to her office and we'd read through what this LOI would look like. And how we're going to negotiate this.
Where would the money come from? How would we do it? This story ends really well. We were right along the journey with her and she pulled the trigger. We hopefully provided enough courage to do that and saying that, you know what, you're going to end up with this business.
There is no way they're going to buy this business. You are the relationship. You own the customers here. You will get this business. She did end up at the business. And within years was able to repay all the money that she had borrowed. It was an interesting time. We had come through a little bit of a recession.
So, the private equity guys were not understanding of the industry. We fundamentally saw the uptick at some point in time was going to come back. It did come back. And it worked out really well. This person has been a member ever since that point and gone through different issues along the way, but that was a huge, huge success for us.
And, you know, people always say, can you monetize the value of a peer group? Now in the value of the company, it's massive what this person has done, but it's been more than that. Even the emotional side and that element, which you can't even put a price point on.
Because you go home every day, you don't sleep at night. You're worried about certain things. And just having people that you can lean in on a little bit, from time to time to help you through it is just huge. It saves years of your life.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:34:32] That's such a powerful story. And to your point, all the money in the bank means nothing if you're losing sleep at night and it means everything when you know, you have a group of people who care about you and for our listeners in the story that Leon shared you're not going to get that kind of care and support from a paid individual. And Leon, correct me if I'm wrong in a PEO group, in this particular instance, the only agenda for the group members was this individual's success. There was nothing in it for them other than how can we make sure that this individual ends up having the desired goal and is happy and has a good life ahead of her.
Leon Goren: [00:35:13] That's exactly right. You gain good groups you really get to not just respect the people around the table, you become part of their lives. I have an advisor that's retiring this year and you know, the biggest difficulty, it was never the money.
He could have retired a long time ago, really phenomenal individually, but he turned around and it was like family. He goes, it's like, I'm separating family. I don't want to leave my family. In our case, he looked at me and he says, listen, I've done five years. I feel like I'm getting a bit stale.
I want to make sure we're doing what we need to do for these individuals. We need to keep it vibrant, energized, and I want to step back. Now I can keep drawing him back in once in a while and keep him part of the group. But I think the members feel the same way. For many of them, it feels like a second family to them.
And guess what, in families, you're going to have difficult conversations from time to time. And that's what we're doing. Our job is to challenge each other, to have those options, difficult conversations in those rooms, because it's usually those that will drive the breakthroughs.
If the easy stuff is nice to share, but it's the tough stuff that really makes the difference.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:36:18] And it sounds like you're keeping the accountability on with the right kind of CEO advisory group. And for our listeners, what's really interesting. Once Leon's group came up with the strategy, they really took five or six months to understand the situation.
Once you have the strategy, once you have the direction, then at that point you can bring in the paid professionals. So, I would imagine some kind of M&A lawyer that you're going to be bringing in to do the transaction, but at least you have the strategy from all kinds of people around the table, different walks of life, different experiences.
The meter is not running like it is with the outside consultants or advisors that you bring on board. It's just such a different experience that you're going to have with the right kind of CEO peer group that you're not going to get anywhere else. And it really isn't lonely at the top is it, Leon, when you're with the right group?
Leon Goren: [00:37:12] Absolutely. And your point about the transaction's really, really important. You know, whether they're doing a sale, whether they're doing an acquisition. That's not our business running at PEO leadership. Our job is to enlighten them, to provide objective advice as a group, and to make recommendations on, well, okay maybe you want to deal with this investment banker at least go talk to them. Talk to these two or three, talk to these lawyers.
And the same actually goes with specific challenges. We may have an individual going through a real challenge where it's outside of our expertise. It needs more life coaching and where it's way beyond what we can do. So, we're guiding them and saying, hire someone for this thing. It'll be three months to six months. We'll be on the outside. We'll help you objectively with that individual.
You can use us as a sounding board. You can use the advisors. But you need someone there with you much more intensive right now. And so, you always need a combination of different things. It's not like you can remove all these consulting fees and say, I don't need this. These are all my consultants around the table. That's not what it is.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:38:15] Well, absolutely. And it's nice though, that you have a business family, as you're describing it, a business family around you with your best interests in mind. So, Leon, let me ask you this. We're still in the midst of the pandemic, the Coronavirus. How has that changed things as a PEO leadership group? At one point, I would imagine you're meeting exclusively in person. What's that looking like today? And where do you see this heading?
Leon Goren: [00:38:40] I would say March 2020, we were meeting in person in the first week of March and then everything happened. It's been an evolution. We went to Zoom technology quickly and we were very fortunate because as an office ourselves, we were already doing a lot of that virtual stuff. Not our groups, our groups were meeting in person.
So, we went to that quickly. On a weekly basis members were meeting here's the other advantage. You know, everybody talks about timing when you join a group. Well, you don't join a group when the COVID hits in the first week or two weeks. You don't know any of those people well enough. You can't get information. You don't join a group knowing you're going to be fired next month.
You join a group when you have the ability to build relationships with these people. So, when you do, if you're going to get fired, it's a year from today and you'll actually have a network worried about helping you find that next role. So, what you found in our groups was boy did they lean in on each other really fast in the early days of the pandemic.
They just were able to on a weekly basis, one-hour meetings and hour and a half meetings around the table. We had prep before the meetings around certain asks, but we had furloughs going on. We had no cash coming in. Just how do you deal with all these leases? Anyway, we moved through that. The light is very close we're almost there.
A lot of stories within this community that have been say life-saving for some of them. Where the groups have come together. I remember when we couldn't get the alcohol to sanitize your hands.
I had a company that was manufacturing bottles. Let's say they're making shampoos from all over North America for the hotel industry. Well, what happened? Nobody's buying shampoo. We had another member that was distributing different products, and says, why don't we convert some of your manufacturing facility into sanitizing products or sanitizing lotion that we can use. Unbelievable. It's not like I'm promoting transactions within the group. That's not what we do, but here is another multi-national member helping out an existing business and saying I'm going to keep you in business.
Let's make it work and see if I can keep it going. And so incredible stories. There's one after another. So, we're at a stage today where guess what the economy is roaring back and it's actually flipped a little bit. We have other challenges coming ahead. One is we're looking forward to coming back as a group together.
Hopefully, the vaccines will be out there and we'll be back to normal, some type of normalcy. It will never go back to the way it was before. You'll have an option now, Zooming in, there'll be hybrid meetings, one or two people coming in. But I will mandate if you're in the city that you need to make the meeting, there has to be a reason why you're not coming to that meeting and why you want to Zoom in.
Because a lot of us get distracted. And we're saying, well, do I get to my car, drive to a meeting? When they get to the meeting, they're like, oh my God, am I ever thankful I came to the meeting? And so, w I need to push them. I really think for the benefit of any advisory board, Zoom is good, but zoom has its limitations as well. So, I think you're going to want to force the element of coming back together again.
What I have noticed is everybody is very tired right now. Fatigue is a big thing and most of our businesses, and I worry that about that because that's from a leadership perspective. So, if you're a leader, you're an entrepreneurs, you've been running your business, you've been stretched for a year.
Many of you have been working seven days a week to be able to survive through this stuff. And if you're tired, what I am worried about is what your people are like. So, people talk about Zoom fatigue and all this. I think it goes deeper than that. I think there's a challenge right now that we're going to have around mental illness. We're starting to see it pop up all over the place. I think you need as a leader to sit back and start to think about we've been empathetic. You've been patient with people. I think you're going to need to push a little bit more in the coming months. I think you're going to have to continue to be flexible with a lot of people. And it is your people that are allowing you to succeed here. Trying to figure out how do you accommodate them and then get them back at their energy levels, back to where it needs to be, and that they become inspired, engaged. I think that will be one of the biggest challenges among all of us.
And if you're running an entrepreneur organization, you know what it's like, if you've got a great person. They're your business. And if you lose that person, it takes you months to catch up and there's no guarantee ever going to find another person like that. So, people are going to be your number one priority going forward.
They were always been important, but it will become even more important.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:43:03] And what's interesting, Leon, and for our listeners out there. Take care of yourselves. And as business owners, how you take care of yourself is to make sure that you're part of some CEO advisory group. Leon is talking about PEO and all the benefits that we've heard about today because the reality is if you don't take care of yourself, nobody else is.
And if you don't take care of yourself, how in the world are you going to be able to take care of anybody else? So, really from your business side of things, as long as you own that business, you taking care of yourself so that you can have that vision, that energy, the ability to go out there and create another market disruption.
So, you can live another day and profit from it, take care of yourself. Join a CEO advisory group. And it's something that we'll have a quick ROI, right from the onset.
So, Leon, let me ask you this. As we begin to wrap up this interview, there is a question that I like to ask every guest. And the question has changed up a little bit since when you were first on as guest number one. And here's the question for you.
I would like you to think about the movie Back to the Future. And in the movie Back to the Future, you had this wonderful, magical DeLorean car that can take you back to any point in time. So, Leon, imagine tomorrow morning you look outside and the DeLorean car is there.
The door is open, it's waiting for you to hop on in, and you can go back to any point in your life. Maybe it's Leon as the young child, the teenager, the young adult, whatever it is. You go back in time. What are you going to be telling your younger self in terms of lessons learned or life wisdom, do this, don't do that?
What would that look like for you?
Leon Goren: [00:44:47] Can I come back to the, where I am today. If I go back, I just want to make sure I can go there and come back. Because I would never trade that. I've got the kids. I love life now.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:44:57] Yes, you go there and you can come back now. Nothing's going to change. Remember it's a magical DeLorean car.
Leon Goren: [00:45:04] Excellent. There's a lot that we don't know is what I would tell my younger self. Think about the Just White Shirt days. New innovation. You're flying. And yet there is so much, I did not know at that time. Including a big mistake that I made and it comes back to one of the earlier questions was how do you know which group you should go into?
So, I remember, I recall talking in front of an audience being approached, joined a group. And so I did join a group and the individual told me, he gave me the option of which group to join. And because of my background, I said, I want to join the larger group with all the corporate guys. The Microsoft’s in the room. Cott was in the room. Hallmark was in the room. And I was the sole entrepreneur.
That was the biggest mistake because the grass was greener. The way they looked at me was like, this is fascinating what you're doing.
I want to be doing what you're doing. And the way they treated me was they were brilliant people. They were very nice, but they weren't entrepreneurs and they didn't push. And so instead of a conversation around the table, like you don't have a business yet. Get in gear, start pushing it harder.
You need to do this. You're not doing this well enough. It was a very nice conversation with these individuals without upsetting me in a way. And plus, they weren't risk-takers. And so, the lesson learned, is you don't know what you don't know and you got to be open to learning back then.
I would tell myself that. And really look around, get yourself into groups. Make sure it's the right group. And that's my second lesson that I learned from that group is, I took the first step. I just took the, probably the wrong step. And I'll tell you, it led to something at the end of the day when I got out of that business. I probably didn't get out of the business the way I should have gotten out of that business and selling it because they weren't entrepreneurs.
They didn't think that way. And so, I didn't position it. I didn't package it properly. And it was silly. So, yeah, I would do things very differently today.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:47:03] Well, Leon I think I'm hearing a third visit to the Sell My Business Podcast, where we talk about your liquidity event. And it sounds like what not to do because success is knowing both what to do and what not to do. But I love your life wisdom and what you tell your younger self and how true it is.
We just don't know what we don't know. And acknowledge that and welcome that and put that into your thinking. That's a wonderful story. And thank you for being vulnerable and putting yourself out there and sharing that with us. That's absolutely terrific.
I'm going to put this into the show notes for all of our listeners who come to the website and you don't have to remember any of this or write it down.
Leon. If someone wants to find out more about PEO leadership, where's the best place online that they can do that? And as well as even reaching out to yourself,
Leon Goren: [00:47:55] Sure. You come to peo-leadership.com and it will talk all about the organization. You can actually meet a number of the members online there. A lot of testimonials about the organization itself. Or you can also see us on our own podcast too. It's PEO Leadership's the Way Forward Live Webcast. I'm interviewing people every month. I try to look for thought leaders around the world and bring them to the forefront and get them to share some of their insights as well. So, either way, or you email me LGoren[at]peo-leadership[dot]com.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:48:23] We'll have all that in the show notes. And I have to tell you Leon's podcast is amazing. Leon, you have the ability to bring these incredible speakers. Deep topics that you're going into. And it's just fascinating. So, all kinds of options for our listeners there in terms of how to interact with PEO Leadership. But Leon, most importantly, thank you so much for your time today and coming back onto The Sell My Business Podcast.
And as we wrap this up, please stay healthy and safe.
Leon Goren: [00:48:51] Thanks so much Jeffrey, thanks for having me back. And I wish everyone the best.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:48:54] If you're not on my email list, you'll want to be. Sign up at www.deepwealth.com/podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode of the Sell My Business podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Reviews, help me reach new listeners, grow the show and continue to create content that you'll enjoy.
As we close out this episode, a heartfelt thank you for your time. And as always, please stay healthy and safe.