During the first 35 years of my career, I was focused on growing mid-market companies to create value and prepare them for acquisition. As the president, CEO and COB of three different companies in three different industries, I was able to achieve success – creating annualized value increases of 15%, with each company selling for a multiple between 8 and 15 times earnings.
Early in my career, my background was in sales and sales management. In my first command at Dunavant Development, I leveraged that experience to focus on increasing sales and expanding distribution to grow the company.
At LEDIC, my real estate management company, I focused on creating additional leverage from my sales improvement efforts. We took a strategic approach to influence our market, creating a unique content program that was a first for a real-estate management company. We became known for our industry publications, which were a key driver of our profitable, transferrable growth that continued after we sold the company.
Learning More About What Makes People Tick
Growing LEDIC was hard work. We had to overcome numerous challenges to achieve our success – many of the same challenges that other mid-market companies face. In my search for solutions, I realized that almost all of our issues came down to my people – my executive team, our managers, our workers, and our relationships with our vendors and partners. Executing strategy is difficult if your people are struggling with breakdowns in internal communication, demotivators, and personal problems – all issues that hinder their performance.
I was compelled to find a solution, so I began researching the science relating to human psychology – what motivates us, our different communication styles, how we respond to stress – in hopes of getting my people to be more effective on the job. While certain personality tests had been available in the marketplace for decades, psychologists had recently made scientific breakthroughs and were able to deliver something that was almost unthinkable 25 years ago: a blueprint of a person’s cognitive and emotional makeup.
Unlocking the Power of Validated People Assessments
I dove headfirst into the science, reaching out to the different PhDs and organizations that were creating these powerful new assessments, to understand their research and how to use the assessments effectively with my own people. I didn’t immediately find a silver bullet, but the psychology was fascinating and I began to see an improvement in my company. My goal was still to create profitable, transferable growth for LEDIC, but I needed to get my people to communicate and perform better in order to meet my growth and profitability targets.
As I increased my use of these cutting-edge assessments, I gained a clearer understanding of how to use a strategically-chosen sequence of validated assessments to create a complete picture of a person – a blueprint, if you will, about our motivators, decision-making processes, personality, and communication styles. Most importantly, I learned how to interpret the results and share them with my team, so they understood how to better communicate with each other and resolve the differences that hindered our effectiveness.
The results were measurable. Our organizational culture improved immediately, and our company grew faster and became more profitable. Improving the performance of my people was a key driver of our company’s ability to successfully create profitable, transferable growth.
Launching the Incubator
After the successful sale of LEDIC in 1998 to a real estate investment group in New York, I began taking an active role in coaching many of my former colleagues and friends. They were reaching out to me for help in resolving their challenges with their people and the growth of their companies.
This was the impetus for my creation of the “incubator,” which I called the Edmundson Northstar Institute, to begin shaping the most effective tools that I had used during my career into standardized offerings for the marketplace. During the next 15 years, I developed offerings for sales training, leadership training, executive coaching, strategic development, hiring, ROI measurement, and people assessments.
At Edmundson Northstar, we assessed more than 5,000 executives and trained more than 3,000 people on 3 continents, and I personally coached over 300 CEOs.
Understanding the Common Challenges Facing Mid-Market CEOs
During that time, I also took on the additional role of chair for Vistage (previously known as TEC), the world’s largest CEO development organization. This intimate work with other CEOs allowed me to see that many of them were facing the same challenges that I faced in my companies – the challenges that I had worked so hard to resolve. It dawned on me that mid-market CEOs are the “forgotten” executives in the business landscape – most of the books, material and consulting offerings are geared toward startups, small businesses and the Fortune 500. Most mid-market CEOs are operating in the gray area between the small businesses and the big companies, using procedures and activities common to each. They’ve outgrown the techniques common to small businesses, but haven’t fully transitioned to the standard management procedures and controls of corporate America.
In 2010, I combined many of the offerings from my incubator into a tangible business management system, ShortTrack CEO, to allow owners and leadership teams of mid-market companies to move out of that gray area. By deploying tools, processes and procedures that eliminated the reliance on outdated, small-business-type management activities, they were able to address the most important areas of their business with an approach similar to that of large corporations.
While this system is meant to improve the effectiveness of the management team, over time it also allowed the mid-market CEO to tailor his or her management strategy to best suit his or her personal goals – whether it was to continue growing the company, turn it around from poor performance, prepare it for a strategic sale, enhance his or her own skills to become the CEO of another company, or to keep the company operating profitably without spending as much time running the show. CEOs of mid-market companies rarely state those personal goals publically, but for most, after decades of hard work, those goals are the main drivers of their business decisions.
What Motivates Me
As my career has evolved, my personal goals have played a greater role in shaping the work that I perform. My mission is to positively impact 25,000 people: to share what I’ve learned through my life experiences, not only as a business executive, but also as a father, husband, and volunteer in the community. I’ve been achieving this through my interactions in business and in my church, and have been focused on it since 1998.
I find great joy in being able to help someone accomplish a goal that they set out to achieve. My favorite part of my work is providing career guidance to people at all job levels. Empowering someone to identify and clarify their career path, pointing them in a direction that makes them happy and allows them to be effective at doing something they’re passionate about, gives me great personal reward. It’s not a scalable or profitable part of my business, but it’s something that I will continue providing for those who seek it, because it’s meaningful to me.
Making a Difference
My focus now is on leaving a positive impact. It’s not about me; it’s about the people I work with. I don’t charge exorbitant fees to speak for an afternoon or tell corporate war stories. When I engage a client, I become personally invested – rolling up my sleeves to make sure that I make an impact. This commitment limits me to a select group of clients at any given time; if I’m spread too thin, I won’t get the results that I expect.
While I do charge for my services, I don’t charge an arm and a leg. Money isn’t my primary driver. I’m driven by the rewards of sharing my knowledge and experience – leveraging the culmination of decades of my hard work – to positively impact companies and people in the Mid-South, my home turf.
I’ve always enjoyed the challenges of business, but more importantly, I truly enjoy getting to know people, and sharing my experience to make a positive impact in their lives.