At our breakfast Tuesday, November 24, 2020 we hosted our second panel discussion with a few selected leaders of our 2020-21 Texas Consilium Business Excellence Award nominees.  Building off our initial award nominee interviews, we will explore further what these leaders have in common — inspiration, lessons learned and challenges.  Every business leader is sure to feel a connection with the issues we all encounter, while gaining insights from this sharing of journeys of excellence.

Enjoy our November 24 breakfast video with Moderator Craig Beck, and Award-Nominee Leaders and Panelists:

Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP – Jeremy Fudge, Managing Partner
BenefitMall – Scott Kirksey, CEO
E4D Technologies – Tammi Carter, CEO


Jim Ratchford: Hey, I appreciate everyone being here with us today. We’ve got quite a few online with us as well on Zoom. As we get started, I’m going to go through some of what we touched on last month as well. We’ve got a number of new folks with us, so I want to orient them to what we’re doing today and refresh for those who’ve seen this before.

I want to call out our naming sponsor for our upcoming event for 2020 and 2021, Ryan. They’ve been a tremendous supporter of us last year and this year as well. Got a lot of other sponsors in the growing list that have stepped up, and we appreciate and thank all of them for their support.

Just a few housekeeping items for our meeting this morning. This is a Zoom webinar, not a Zoom meeting. Things work a little bit differently here in a webinar in that only our panelists are on video and audio. If you are an attendee, you won’t be seen or heard, but we do want you to communicate, so there is the chat function, and then there’s also the Q&A function. We encourage you to ask questions. We’ll have our panelists on in just a little while. Ask any questions of them that you would like. Do it through Q&A. If you see that someone’s asked a question that you like, go ahead and click “like” to promote it. The more attention a question gets, the higher in the list it will go. We’re going to try to respond to all the questions that we can.

Enjoy your breakfast and our time together. One of our reasons for this introduction is not just to orient everyone, but also give our panelists time to enjoy their breakfast at the club there. This webinar will be recorded, and we’ll have a playback of this available within a day or two after we conclude today.

Briefly, our agenda for today. We’ll have some welcome and introductions. We’ll do an audience poll of business issues. Brief overview of Texas Consilium and our Business Excellence Award. Then we’ll move into our award nominee board room discussion, and we’ll have Q&A for those panelists. There’ll be a chance for any other business or questions, and make a note that our next breakfast will be Tuesday, January 26th. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month, but we do not meet in December, so enjoy your Christmas. We’ll see you after this in January, if not at some special activity before then.

I want to start out here with a Zoom poll. Let’s get a little input from our audience. Here’s the question. I’m going to display it on the screen here. You won’t be able to answer from just what you see here, but I want to preview what the question will be. The question is: “If we could help you resolve one issue in your business, what would you most like it to be?” You’ve got seven options there. It could be capital resources, communication, efficiency & productivity, innovation, marketing & telling our story, profitability, or risk control. Those are the options.

Just want to see what our audience might find of particular interest in their business, and maybe our panelists can gear a few of their comments toward responding to that. So I’m going to launch the poll here. Those of you on Zoom, go ahead and respond to that as you can.

All right, this is consistent with last month as well. Most of the issues do have some votes, but the number one, once again, is marketing and telling our story with 60% of respondents saying that marketing and telling our story is their number one issue they’d like to resolve. Appreciate all those responses. Panelists, when we get to your point where you’re telling, if you have any thoughts on that, the audience would love to hear it.

Moving on, let’s take just a few minutes to do some welcome and introductions. For those of you who are there in person at the country club, let’s take about three minutes, just go around quickly and introduce yourselves to each other. If you are on Zoom, let’s use the chat function and just type in your name, your organization or contact info, and what brings you to Texas Consilium. Let’s just take a few minutes here and connect. We’ll be back shortly.

Let’s go ahead and resume. Still add in to the chat function on Zoom any time you’d like. Hopefully our folks at the country club have gotten to touch base with each other just a little bit there. Just going through a little background on Texas Consilium and our Business Excellence Award – as with last time, I’m not going to get into all the details, but I’m going to step you through, primarily on our website, where you can find information and provide you with some overview and a framework about us.

If you look at our homepage, “What if your business could achieve its true potential?” That’s really what drives everything that Texas Consilium does. Under the “About” on our website, there’s a tab for frequently asked questions. If you select that, there’s a lot of information there that probably will answer many questions that you might have. If you type in, on FAQs, “What is,” it’ll bring up a whole list of possibilities.

One is “What is Texas Consilium?” It will tell you that Texas Consilium is about the pursuit of excellence. We are growing Texas through growing Texas businesses. We’re an economic development organization for the state of Texas. Unlike most economic development organizations that focus primarily on recruiting new businesses to the community, we instead work with existing Texas businesses to improve their performance, growth, and prosperity, thereby also improving the prosperity of the state of Texas. In short, we work to help Texas businesses get from where they are to where they want to be, could be, or should be, ultimately achieving their true potential. In a nutshell, that is that we’re about.

Also under “About,” there’s a tab for Business Excellence Award. That’s what brings a lot of our folks together, as well as our panelists. They’re all finalists in our award nominee process. A few shots from our event in 2019, where we inaugurated our Texas Consilium Business Award with a Lifetime Achievement Award to Jerry Jones. Great event, well attended. That was somewhat the model as we roll forward. It was our coming out party, if you will. But the award is really designed to be given to Texas businesses rather than simply individual entrepreneurs. So this year, 2020 and moving into 2021, we’re focused on Texas businesses that exemplify excellence.

On our website you’ll also find a video from Governor Abbott, who supports Texas Consilium. I’ll play this because I think it’s a highlight for us that Governor Abbott –

Governor Abbott: Hi, this is Governor Greg Abbott, and I want to say congratulations to my good friend Jerry Jones on being the inaugural recipient of the Texas Consilium’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence. Jerry exemplifies what it means to be a leader in business as well as a leader in the community. Thank you for being an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders everywhere. And also, I want to say thank you to the Texas Consilium for the support that you all provide to businesses across the entire state. Thanks in part to your hard work and dedication as well as collaboration, the Texas economy is stronger than it’s ever been. Working together to build a thriving business environment, we will continue to elevate the Texas economy to even greater heights.

Jim Ratchford: I love to play that video because he tells it so well that it’s hard for me to duplicate that as well as he did.

Our awards event attendees include our award nominees, CEOs, and guests, so our panelists who are with us today as well as our other award nominees and their guests will be at the event. We’ll have our 360 Peer Group members and leaders, sponsors and their guests, speakers, VIPs, luminaries. We’re anticipating Governor Abbott will be participating with us, Senator John Cornyn, and others. And then we’ll have other business leaders and supporters and the media. Those are our attendees expected for the gathering.

One thing we’ve said from the beginning is that the event is not just about the event. It’s about the relationships we create and enhance because of the event that matter. Yes, it’s the event that has brought us together, but it’s things like we’re doing today, engaging with our panelists, getting to learn more and know more about each other, and that’s what’s really important. We hope to build on that and turn this into some great relationships with everybody.

Part of our relationship building is with our Texas Consilium app. It’s tied to the event, and all of our event registrants will be able to access and use this app. You can use it on your iPhone, Android, or your laptop. It’s a free app. Search for Texas Consilium on your iPhone or Android, and you can download it. Once you’ve registered, you can access all of the features if you’re registered for the Executive Summit. You can look at our featured speakers, you can select any of our 25 nominee finalists, see a description, their website, and a link to our video with them. Select any nominee, any of our sponsor info, website documents, any of our speakers’ photos/bios. That’s all in the app and accessible to you. With the event itself, you’ll have access to your schedule for all sessions as well as whatever you’ve registered for.

Then there are other actions you can take. You can connect with any of the other attendees at the event. You can send them messages, schedule appointments, build and manage your contacts, add notes, and so on. It’s a great tool for connecting. And by the way, the app is available and live now, so you don’t have to wait until the event to use it. In fact, I recommend as soon as you can, download, activate it, start connecting so that when we do get together in May, you’ll know that many more people and be that much further ahead.

There’s a few other things on the app, which you can navigate through. I won’t get into all that now, but there is a game component, and the more engaged you are in the app, the more points you earn. We’ll have some fun with that.

Our event is scheduled for the evening of Monday, May 3rd, with our Reception and Awards Dinner. We’ll have the awards presentations kicking off on Monday evening, and then we’ll resume Tuesday morning, Executive Summit. We’ll be starting about 9:00 with check-in and then we’ll move through some orientation, and then move into our 360 Pursuit of Excellence program. We’ll have a little bit more on that here in just a minute.

We’ll be breaking out into a variety of workshop sessions, all geared towards CEOs, presidents, and other top C-level leaders.

The 360 Peer Group, we’ve touched on this in the past. Again, on the website, we’ve got a great deal of information about it. There are a lot of great CEO peer groups out there. We’re a big supporter of them. I know that Tammi is a member of one of the peer groups, and I know she’s positive about that. But we’ve found that all peer groups have a certain shortcoming. The members come together and talk about what they know about their business, but it’s unknown issues in a business that tend to be the most critical to resolve. Our program helps identify and diagnose some of those unknown issues so that we can bring those onto the table to each of our members and let the monthly meetings focus on those.

We’ve got a whole series of benefits and actions related to the 360 program. Again, that’s on our website. We’ll share with you as we move forward.

One of the keys of our program is that we do some diagnostics up front, a baseline, and then we have a methodology for tracking improvement actions that are taken, creating a scoreboard and a metric for the improvement journey of each member, which we can compile into an overall “How’s the group doing?” scoreboard. It’s a great way to encourage everyone in the group to get on an improvement journey and make meaningful improvements in their business and track their progress. It also sets up an opportunity for some competition among groups as to who’s doing the best on their improvement journey and what we might learn from them. We believe it’s a very powerful concept, and we’re anxious to get that launched and hope to really showcase it by the time we get to our May event. We’re also developing an online dashboard for each of our members to track their improvement progress.

Also at our event, at our luncheon, we’ve got a special event, NASCAR pit crew challenge. We want all of our award nominees to take a side on a pit crew team and we’re going to have some fun competition with lessons in teamwork and everything that it takes to really pursue excellence using racing as an analogy. A lot of application for business in general. So we’ll have some fun with that, and hopefully you all will be able to join us and really participate.

After lunch, we’ve got a whole series of workshops with some great speakers on a variety of different top CEO/ leadership issues, wrapping up with Drew Pearson talking about pursuit of excellence in sports and the comparison of that to pursuit of excellence in business and in life in general.

Also on our website, there’s a subcategory here, sub-tab for Award Nominees Gallery. All 25 of our award nominees are presented there, including the ones on our panel this morning. We have the logos here for our 25, and we have a 30 second video for each of those who are with us this morning. All 25 are on the website, but we’ll be sharing these today.

I will add a note that I got an email from Seth Gordon of Comm-Fit that he had a family emergency. This email came at about 3:00 this morning. So he is not joining us today. I hope everything goes well there. We are down to three of our four panelists today. We’ll reschedule Comm-Fit and Seth when we can.

On our website also, for each of our 25 award nominees, there’s information about them – a link to their website, the CEO or president that we interviewed, brief description, and our full video interview. Great information about each of our award nominees.

Then we’re publishing a book titled Texcellence: The Pursuit of Excellence in Texas. Each of our award nominees will be represented in this book. I think all of you should have received a request for some additional pictures that we could use to help tell your story in there. I know most of you have responded. The book is coming along well, and we are actually sending it to layout to get our first digital version of it here within a week or two. We’ll be sharing information about each of you, a few selected quotes from your interview with us.

The whole purpose of this is part of our driving mission with this event is to inspire excellence in all business leaders in Texas and to provide a vision for what may be possible and provide some information that may give them ideas that could help them. So appreciate, again, all of your participation in helping make this the best event and everything related to it that we can.

The objectives of the book: to inspire, to inform, to recognize, to connect, to honor, to celebrate, to promote, and to expand. I noticed this morning that we have Margaret on from the Texas Museum of History. Delighted that she has stepped up to partner with us and provide some historical perspective on the pursuit of excellence in Texas. I think that’ll be a fun addition to the book, just providing some great Texas culture and history of excellence beyond just our current business climate. Texas has an outstanding story, and we want to include that in here as inspiration and perspective for our Texas culture.

I want to touch also that this is made possible by great support from our sponsors. It’s not just Ryan, but it’s others on our website. Our sponsor that we have and our sponsor benefits, we are still actively seeking sponsors. We’ve got a whole variety of great benefits. They’re all laid out on our sponsors page. It includes everything from highest levels of recognition, being able to put on a workshop, an exhibit at the event, invite your prospects or other guests to attend the Executive Summit and the reception and the dinner, an ad or recognition in the Texcellence book – lots of great benefits if you’re trying to reach Texas business leaders and can help them improve their business.

We’ve got three of our team members with us today that can help you with sponsorship questions. Jeff Stalker is our Director of Sponsor Relations, and Barbara Lynch is a business advocate, as is Doug Taeckens. So connect with any of them and they can help you.

Registration for the event is now open. We have a variety of registration options for individuals for the Executive Summit. Again, you can access the app and begin to connect and build relationships. That’s all laid out on our website.

That’s the quick run-through on Teas Consilium, the awards, and the event. With that, I’d like to introduce Craig Beck. He’s our moderator at the country club. Craig moderated our October event as well. Craig’s an engineer, attorney, and MBA, and I’ve worked with Craig for quite some time and found that he is one of those people who listens, and he listens with an intent to understand. He’ll ask appropriate questions, and I have found that ultimately when he speaks, it tends to be as a wise advisor. Craig has a lot of experience as well, as you can tell by the color of his beard. With that said, I’m going to turn it over to Craig, and I’m going to step back and assist from here as best I can. Craig?

Craig Beck: I want to welcome everybody that’s joined us virtually. As Jim said, I’m Craig Beck. I’ll be moderating today’s panel. We had scheduled to have four panelists, but as Jim said, we received information early this morning that Seth Gordon of Comm-Fit won’t be joining us. But Tammi Carter of E4D, Scott Kirksey is online as well with BenefitMall, and Jeremy Fudge, the managing partner of BAL, is with us as well here.

Well just get started by introducing the first panelist. Jim, if you wouldn’t mind putting up the 30 second video for BenefitMall, I’d appreciate it.

Scott Kirksey: Don’t assume you know everything about a particular issue. The number one thing is listen, and then listen some more. And when you ask questions, ask those questions in a way that it’s clear you’re asking questions to genuinely get feedback.

Craig Beck: That’s a piece of a longer interview that was recorded earlier this year by Scott and BenefitMall. Scott, if you wouldn’t mind, just take it away and expand on what you’ve done at BenefitMall to drive it to apply some of the concepts that you reflected in the interview and drive BenefitMall to excellence.

Scott Kirksey: Certainly. Thanks, Craig, especially for including me this morning. As I’ve learned more about Consilium, I’ve developed an admiration and enthusiasm for your mission and how we can be a part of it. So, thank you, and I’m glad to be here this morning.

First, as background, let me tell you a little bit about Benefit Mall. We are a general agency for health insurance and benefits that focuses primarily on serving a small group market. We serve brokers and their customers by bringing technology and product knowledge and strong service to the challenge for a small business of evaluating their health insurance and making informed decisions about the coverage that’s right for their particular group of employees and then making that enrollment process seamless.

Our mission is to empower brokers and consumers by providing them with the fastest, easiest, and most trusted benefit selling and buying experience. In that vein, we work with over 15,000 brokers across the country, representing almost 140,000 small businesses. As I’m sure all of you can imagine, maintaining health insurance coverage is a priority right now. Our team is highly focused on providing exceptional service in a virtual environment.

Fortunately, because of the technology investments that we’ve made over the last 10 years, we are able to facilitate the entire process in a virtual, interactive environment, which of course has been a huge value to our brokers and clients, especially now. In late March, because we had developed this ability to service and manage and support in a virtual environment, we were able to move our entire workforce out of harm’s way within a week and at the same time maintain productivity and service levels at a very high level.

Craig asked me to expand on one of the key things that I discussed on my interview as a nominee. The discussion at that point was centered on the importance of communication, especially in the environment that we find ourselves today. I believe I focused on the importance of listening as critical to the communication process. Early in my career, a manager told me, “Scott, you’re a really smart guy. You think things through, you ask questions, and when something isn’t working, you try to figure that out.” I wanted to make sure that I got that part into my comments early on so that everybody could focus on that – smart guy, I think, question, focus on making things work. It sounded great, right?

I’d like to really stop right there, but he didn’t stop right there. He pointed out that when I approach something, I’m certain that I’m the smartest guy in the room, and then is when I stop listening. At that point, the solution that I could come up with is only as good as at that very moment. The experience and the knowledge of the other folks in the room are lost to me. I felt a little bit chastised. I closed my notepad and acknowledged that his comments were something I would work on. But unfortunately, he wasn’t through. He said, “The worst part of that approach is that no one feels ownership to see your idea through.” Even if it’s the correct idea, the only way it could come to fruition in that environment is if I execute it myself.

I didn’t help myself. I interjected, “But that’s impossible. I can’t do it all myself. I need everyone to do it.” He leaned back, smiled, and said, “Exactly.” That stuck with me throughout my career. I think that as leaders who’ve experienced success in leading a company, we all reach points where we’re tempted to think that we’re the smartest guy or girl in the room on occasion. I’ve found that if I or the others on the leadership team begin to think that way, the rest of the team that we’re looking to help work on a strategy become less actively engaged in the conversation. While we didn’t necessarily stop listening, we weren’t actively listening. We weren’t probing and asking for ideas or concerns.

Clearly a big challenge of focusing on listening and taking that time is that conflict with that sense of urgency to get going, which is a key trait of leadership teams. Especially Type A personalities. And Lord knows it serves a company well and the drive to compete and grow, but when it overrides the need to listen and gain buy-in and build ownership, it can be a big hurdle to successful execution. And it isn’t just when you’re developing that particular strategy; it’s important to listen all along the curve of a product cycle or even a company. The discipline of slowing down in interactions and actively listening. It saved us [unclear 00:30:47] at the time but didn’t benefit from probing and listening, especially to the folks who were on the frontlines.

Of course, once a project starts, we make a diligent effort to listen to every milestone. As concepts or strategies take shape, and it’s really to that point where it’s starting to appear to everyone involved as what it looks like when it’s in action – that’s a relevant insight, and then they have a concern or an observation to share, and we’ve got to be open to that. We’ve got to be seeking that. None of what I’m saying is in any form or fashion remarkably insightful. There’s countless books and management courses, of course, that address this issue in a bunch of different ways. But I can only recount our experience.

And I would add one other perspective. In a virtual environment, it is very easy for some of the team to withdraw and not be as directly engaged in meetings and in planning. There’s no doubt the experience of having hearts and minds and whiteboards in the same room to solve a problem can build its own energy, and if you are practicing active listening, you can draw out everyone. But in this virtual environment, the role of listening becomes even more important. It requires a more focused effort than an in-person environment would. It often requires circling back with smaller groups, which I do quite often and seek input from folks who haven’t spoken up or haven’t shared their concerns.

I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t always get it right, but it is an important part of how our management team conducts themselves. And by the way, when you do focus on active listening and probing, you don’t always hear flattering things. But of course, if we never hear it, we’ll end up with a less than optimal solution and potentially an unengaged employee. You can’t fix it if you don’t face it.

Craig Beck: Thanks, Scott. Appreciate those comments. I’m sure people will have questions for you. In fact, anybody who has questions that’s connected virtually, please put them in the Q&A section and we’ll get to those after everyone has presented. Likewise, anybody here in the room, if I’m not looking up, don’t hesitate to try to get my attention. Last session I did about as poor a job as I could do as far as getting people in the room connected to the questions.

Thanks again, Scott. Next up is Jeremy Fudge with BAL. Jim, if you would roll his 30-second video, I’d appreciate it.

Jeffrey Fudge: My pursuit of the exceptional. Good is not good enough. It means you don’t get complacent, it means you don’t get stagnant. It means you keep pushing and asking questions and challenging and finding ways to do things better. That has been the single most reason that we’ve been as successful as we’ve been in the last few years.

Craig Beck: Thanks, Jim. That was a 30-second snippet out of the interview that Jeremy gave earlier this year. Jeremy, if you wouldn’t mind talking further about how you’ve implemented some of the things that you expressed in that interview in BAL to drive it to excellence, I’d appreciate it.

Jeffrey Fudge: Thank you. Thanks for being here. Thanks for this large audience that came through the rain to be with us this morning. In the very beginning o that video I said a phrase that we use called “Pursue the exceptional,” which I’ll talk about more in a second. But that gives context to the rest of that.

It’s interesting when I talk to people – “What does BAL do? What do you do?”, the difference between the question of “What do you do?” and “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing it?” On one level, my answer would be, what do we do? We do corporate immigration. What does that mean? It means any company from Fortune 10 to a startup who needs to get somebody from somewhere to somewhere in the world, we’ll do that. We’ll do whatever paperwork is needed with the respective government of wherever they’re going to make that happen. It is the practice of law, by definition, although I don’t think through the lens of we’re a law firm.

So that’s what we do, but what are we doing? I don’t know if y’all have heard this story – I don’t know if it’s real or not, but a guy’s walking down the street, walks past a guy laying brick and he says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m laying brick.” Then he keeps going a little further and there’s another guy laying brick on the same thing. He says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m building a cathedral.” Then he goes a little further, third guy, and he says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m connecting people to God.” The perspective on what we do and what we’re doing I think is hugely important.

For me, what we’re doing, what we’re really doing, is we’re trying to pursue the exceptional. I’m trying to lead us in a way that is how we develop our people – and you’re going to talk about this, I think – how we develop our people, how we develop ourselves to be better, to keep pursuing greatness and excellence. That’s pursue the exceptional. You don’t get stagnant, you don’t get complacent, those things I said in the video.

What does that look like? We started with the person. Everybody that comes in our door. We have people ranging from front-end data entry, $15 an hour people, to paralegals, kids coming straight out of college who don’t know anything about the world yet, to lawyers who pretty much don’t know anything about the world yet either, to – I’ve got in essence a tech company within the firm. 30-40 people in this thing that are developing all kinds of cool products for us. On and on – knowledge management, all these different functions, quality, etc.

I’ve got a gamut of people, backgrounds, experiences, resources, all those things, but to me, it all starts with each person who comes into the place. What are they doing as a person to pursue the exceptional? That’s personally, mind, body, spirit, the traditional aspects of a person, and can you look at yourself today and go “I’m better than yesterday or last year” or whatever your measuring stick is? Are you getting better? Are you improving in those things? And you have to improve as a person to be great to other people. I believe that. You’ve got to be taking care of yourself.

Immigration is not like any other area of law. Most litigation, you have a trial, super busy, it’s over. You do a deal, super busy, it’s over. Whatever it is. Immigration just stays here, and then occasionally goes into insane mode. It’s stressful. It’s hard. We’re dealing with people who are going through a major shift in their life. They’re changing countries or companies, they’re moving families, all these things. Our client is super stressed. And side note, we have B2B, B2C, both, because we’re dealing with a foreign national going through some process, but the person paying our bill and who has the contract with us is the company. So we’ve got a whole different set of services that we’re delivering to them too for their program. In any event, you’re dealing with a stressful thing. So how are you going to take care of yourself to be able to deliver to them? Mind, body, spirit, all those things.

Professionally, how are you pursuing the exceptional? We’re going to come alongside people, obviously, heavily in that regard. How do we help you develop? And I tell anybody that starts with us, don’t think linearly. Don’t think you’re a paralegal and you’re going to be a paralegal one, two, this is your life, this is your job. I think if you think through the lens of that, it becomes very rote. It becomes very depressing, frankly. The world is broad and wide. How are you wired? How are you skilled? What are your experiences? You may be thinking this, but you may end up over here entirely, and that’s part of the adventure, I think.

Being as big as we are, being as diverse as we are in what we do, it allows people to look around. They may start as a paralegal and end up in the training department, or they may start here – we had a paralegal in ’97 who started learning code at night, and he developed our first proprietary database system that we have. Those kinds of things where it’s like, think through that lens.

Pursue the exceptional then as a team is our next level we talk about. Everybody’s in a team, probably in most companies now, but certainly in ours. Everybody’s in some team. How as a team are you getting better? Can you look and say “We’re better now this year than we were last year as a team. What are our goals for 2021 going to be? How do we get better in this metrics we look at?”, whatever it might be? Everything runs on teams. I think if we have great people in great teams, then by default we’re going to have a great company. So I tend to focus there in small and work towards the big versus big and work towards the small.

Then the third way we talk about it is, how are you going to pursue the exceptional in the firm itself? How are you going to make the firm better? That’s where I think we have the most fun, honestly, and where we deviate from so many business norms, in a sense, which I love. Everybody who comes through our door, everybody here in the room, everybody on chat, we’re all uniquely created and wired. We have different backgrounds and experiences and education and all these things that come together to make us uniquely who we are.

If you can tap into that, if you discover who you are and all of that sort of thing, you can contribute something, therefore, to the firm and to the world that no one else can. What is that? Do you know what that is? Can we help you discover that? If you already know what it is, how do you contribute it? So that’s where we get so much innovation throughout the company from all levels of people who say, “You know what? This.” Okay, great, let’s figure that out.

I had a young paralegal come to me the other day and she said, “I think we ought to have a podcast. Here’s what it would be, and I’ve got this vision for this.” She’s got a great speaking voice, podcast voice. I’m like, “This is awesome. Let’s run with this.” So we’re going to run with it and see where it goes. But that spirit of like “Let’s all dig in. This is our company. It’s not my company. It’s not my owner’s company. It’s our company.” So how do we all contribute to it? How do we do that?

That’s how we talk about pursue the exceptional at BAL. In that sense, what I love is I don’t come to work thinking I’m going to do immigration law or I’m a lawyer. I come to work thinking, how are we going to make people better? How are we, by doing that, going to make an impact on the world? We see the micro impact really easily, which is these people’s lives that are in our hands and we’re their trusted advisor guiding them through this process and easing their stress. Our program management, HR or legal, whichever it is at a company, same thing. How are we helping them? How do we make their job easier? How do we make them look good to the C-suite, etc.?

But I think the broader view of what we do is where it gets pretty compelling for our people. I think you could do this with lots of businesses, but we certainly do it with ours. We’re not just helping this person get to the U.S. on a visa to do medical research. This person actually is the Chief Scientific Officer for Johnson & Johnson, he’s the head of the World Health Organization’s COVID response team. So we’re actually empowering the solutions to COVID by getting that guy here to do that job. We’re getting people here that are engineering the rockets that Elon’s blasting off to space. So you see this broader view of what we do, and that purpose and that why drives our people to put in the effort to keep pursuing the exceptional.

I think it’s that combination of those two things: knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the relentless pursuit of “get better, get better, get better, get better, improve.” So that’s what we do and why we do it.

Craig Beck: Great. Thanks, Jeremy. Again, if you have any questions – I see there’s one question that’s been inserted in the Q&A. We’ll get to that as soon as everyone gets a chance to speak. We’ll move on to the next panelist, Tammi Carter of E4D. Jim, if you could roll that 30-second video, that’d be great.

Tammi Carter: You first have to work on yourself. You can never stop working on personal improvement. I belong to a CEO peer group where there’s people to not only be resources, but to hold you accountable and make sure you don’t get blind spots. Sometimes the farther up in an organization you go, the more people tell you what you want to hear, so it’s important that you have people in your life that are real and honest.

Craig Beck: Thanks, Jim. Tammi, if you could expand on those concepts that were in your interview – which that was just a snippet of – to drive E4D to excellence, that would be terrific. Thanks.

Tammi Carter: I do feel like Jeremy, who’s sitting right next to me, we could’ve said some of the same speeches, so I’ll have to think of something new to say.

E4D Technologies, probably most of you have never heard of it, but we design and manufacture – our largest customers are in the dental equipment space, so we design and manufacture very high-tech dental equipment, which we private label. Then we also have a side of our business that’s all contract, where people bring their own ideas to us and we help them take their ideas, whether it’s from design to manufacturing, where they’ve already designed it and they just need someone to produce it.

I have 85 employees, and we often talk about – we call it “reverse the status quo” because we realize that if we ever start to accept the way things are, we’re a dead company. When you’re doing product development, if you’re not thinking of new ways to innovate product, you’re dead. If you’re not thinking about new ways to innovate processes, you’re dead. We talk a lot about celebrating our success one day and then the next day looking at the next thing we can do to make it better. I have 85 employees, and kind of like Jeremy described, I have everything from people who have PhDs in physics and write very complex algorithms and do math that I don’t even understand, and when they do write it on the whiteboard, it looks like some sort of graffiti to me, all the way to people in production who may not have even graduated from high school.

We’re all in one building under one roof, so it’s very important in the culture that we’re all recognizing the importance that we contribute to the team. We do talk a lot about the fact that everyone brings something unique and important to work every day that makes us a great company. We compete regularly against companies that are five and six times our size and win, and we do that because we have an amazing group of people. And that group of people has that same vision of innovation, whether it’s innovation in manufacturing, a better way to make a product, better quality, faster, easier – everyone has this mindset of “What can I do to make the product, the process, the company better?” It’s just built into their DNA.

My job is just to facilitate that because, frankly, most of my employees are way smarter than me. I think Scott earlier talked about listening. My job is to listen and hear the opportunities and the know how to filter through and decide what the priorities are, because I have a really talented team.

We have been in-office during the whole COVID season because we’re considered essential. We do the whole product lifecycle. I talked about designing and manufacturing, but we do all the equipment, spare parts support, repairs of that as well. So we have been continuously busy. Our main core business has been down, new equipment sales, because dentists’ offices have been shut down globally off and on for several months. But we also have quite a bit of work we’re doing for some other customers in the disinfection space. So that side of the business has been very active, as you might’ve guessed, during the COVID season.

I talked about personal growth in the video because one of the things – prior to coming to E4D, I was with a very large global contract manufacturing company, and in that world, with many divisions and billions of dollars, there were resources around all the time to grow you, to coach you, to develop you. But when I moved to a company of 85 people and became the CEO, I quickly realized I had to reach out to resources like this, like peer groups and other things, because suddenly it’s easy for you to not have anybody around who wants to tell you what’s really going on.

As Scott mentioned, I work hard to be present. I’m on the manufacturing floor. I listen to meetings because my team needs to know I’m there and I’m listening and I’m available. And I have to probe for questions because even by default, even though we have a better open – people talk about most things to anyone – there’s still that reluctance when you’re the CEO. So you have to have other people making sure they’re speaking into your life, or you can just become complacent and think you have all the answers, and you never, never do, even when you think you do.

I think the way you’re competitive – you were talking about this, and somebody mentioned marketing – is who you are. We’re unique. 85 people competing against big companies, but we have a depth of resources so that we can often do the same sort of things that much larger companies can do. We think we have this little unique niche. Medical device, which means we get regulated by the FDA, but our products are sold all over the world. So I actually work with every other country’s version of FDA as well. So we understand global regulations around medical devices. Importing and exporting. One of the largest growing markets for my product is China. We take a little bit of delight in saying that we’re shipping product the other direction and dealing with that whole global supply chain.

I think that makes us unique to who we are, but I also think it creates part of our culture. Because in order to do that, you have to be really innovative and you have to be willing to try things that maybe other companies can’t do or won’t do. So we have that freedom to just be – lean manufacturing has been around for a long time, but one of those principles is you eliminate waste and you just try things. If they don’t work, you just go, “That didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” So we’re pretty free to experiment and see if something works. If it doesn’t, we learn from that and we move on to the next thing and try that. I think that creates a very innovative, creative culture, and that keeps us really competitive to companies that are much larger. And maybe more because we don’t have some of the bureaucracy and silos that end up happening in much larger companies.

I think the other thing that probably makes us unique is that Richardson, Dallas, is a very diverse – and I’m realizing I might need to hire you, Jeremy. [laughs] Because of the type of work we do, I have a lot of people that are – I think we have more than 10 countries represented in the company of 85 people. And I don’t mean “My grandma came from…” I mean they came from. Diversity in language, diversity in culture, diversity in experience and education. We think that actually makes us very competitive because we look at products with a global lens. It’s easy to look at products with an American lens. Americans are very different consumers than the rest of the world.

So having a group of people that reflect the larger world that you’re selling to I think has made us very competitive. A lot of our competitors have people that are all just like them, but that makes you relevant to the people that are just like you. What about a product that needs to be relevant to people who maybe are different than what you’re used to? We love that our team is – if there’s a language that needs to be read or interpreted, I think I have somebody on my team who can do it. But also, they bring their perspective of what matters to them in their country. We think that’s part of what makes us always striving for excellence, because we’re looking at the world and challenging all of our assumptions and being prepared to go and question what we knew yesterday and see if it still makes sense today.

Craig Beck: Thanks, Tammi. Since all the panelists have had an opportunity to talk about how they’re driving excellence in their companies, we’ll go to questions now, and I’ll open it up to the floor here. Are there any questions here? No? No questions. Then we’ll go to the Q&A online.

The first question is for any of the panelists. “If you could go back in time and do something different or better, what would it be?” Scott, you up for that one?

Scott Kirksey: Sure. I think first of all, I learned and developed how to put into practice something I spoke of earlier, which is how to ensure that you’ve got the collaborative energy behind something. The more unique, the more strategic it is, the more change it reflects. That type of engagement that only comes with listening, probing, and frankly, sometimes asking questions that aren’t about the specific issue to keep people more emotionally engaged. It’s easy to head down a path that says “This makes all the sense in the world. Logically, it’s the right answer,” but that emotional commitment to it is very important. Thankfully, I work with a team that understands that perhaps even more deeply than I, and we certainly strive to live up to that.

Craig Beck: Thanks, Scott. Jeremy, what’s your take on that?

Jeremy Fudge: If I could go back in time and do something different, I’d buy Amazon stock and not think it’s a stupid bookstore online that’s never going to work. [laughter] That’s what I thought.

I think the biggest thing for me probably would be when you know someone’s one fitting culturally, when they’re pulling against the oars the wrong way, just move on it. Get rid of it, move on. I think somebody – I can’t remember who it was – said that last month, but I totally agree with their answer. It just sucks it out of you. You feel compassionate or you feel whatever you’re trying to feel to not make that hard decision, but when they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go.

Craig Beck: That actually leads into the next question. Tammi, you touched on it in a little different way when you talked about the variety of people that you have working for you from an international perspective. That question came from Scott Scoville, and that is “How important is culture to the success of your company?

Tammi Carter: It’s everything. If I was going to go back, I think I had some instincts that that was true, but I wish much earlier in my career I would’ve realized how that really is a key differentiator. And I hate that expression because I think it gets overused, but I’ve seen – in my career, I’ve had the privilege of working a lot of different places overseas, and time and time again I have found that the team that has the best culture outperforms a more skilled, maybe more educated, more – they look like they’re the A-players, but they have a bad culture. The team that maybe isn’t as skilled, at least on paper, will outperform the team that is more skilled that has a bad culture every day.

It’s a priority to us to keep a good culture because, being the little guy against much larger people, if we don’t have a good culture, we won’t compete. Every company has to find their own culture. And that’s my job. As leaders, if you’re not the culture leader, it leaks. You think they all know it, but they’ll have forgotten it. So part of my regular routine is talking about our culture and reminding people of what’s important to us so we never lose that. I think that’s probably the leader’s number one job.

Jeremy Fudge: I agree. I think the interesting and hard thing for me has been, how do you scale culture? We’ve worked with most of the big Silicon Valley tech companies, name brand companies, since 2012, 2010, a long time. So we’ve seen them grow and how their cultures have changed over time – not in a positive way, in a lot of their cases. So for me, coming in with 200 people when I started this role, that’s one sense of culture and how you get everybody on the same page. And then to be at 1,100 now, that’s different. How do you do that? “I’ve never even seen you. Who are you?” We’ve done a lot of different things, and we’re still trying and experimenting, and that’s part of the journey, I think. How you figure this stuff out. Yeah, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Tammi Carter: I think one of the things you were saying earlier is a lot of times our leadership team, we’re gauging them on their skill and we’re not gauging them on how well they cast vision and culture. And we don’t get rid of people because they’re good at writing code, they’re a good attorney, but they’re not casting the culture down to their team, and we let them stay because we judge their skills more highly than their ability to transfer culture. So that’s another place where I’ve learned if the person at the top may be skilled but they’re not modeling your culture and casting it down, it’s going to get even worse as you scale. That has to be a reason to let them move on to a culture that fits them as well, whether they’re a great attorney or a great person who writes great algorithms.

Jeremy Fudge: And you’ve got to be super intentional about it because it doesn’t just happen.

Tammi Carter: Absolutely.

Craig Beck: Yeah, I can see where it’d be hard to give up somebody that actually is contributing significantly but doesn’t [unclear 00:59:36]. Tammi, there was a question specifically for you. “Is Mexico better than China regarding intellectual property risk and medical [unclear 00:59:46]?”

Tammi Carter: That’s a really loaded question. [laughter] I think you have to protect your intellectual property everywhere. I have a hard time because I’ve been working with China for 20 years, and definitely there has been traditionally some expectations that IP isn’t as protected in China as it is in other places. They’ve done a lot to make that better. But I would generally say if you have intellectual property, you keep that as close as you can to you. I don’t even care if it’s somebody down the street in Texas. There’s always ways to carve out non-intellectual property from intellectual property and parse it out so that you control the part that you need to control and you let other people have things that don’t have any value without the other component. But we source products all over the world and we ship products all over the world.

Craig Beck: The next question was also asking Tammi, but I think it’s the type of question that applies across the board, and that is: “What is your screening and interviewing process to determine if somebody is a good fit culturally before you hire them?”

Tammi Carter: I love that question because we actually spend as much time interviewing for culture as we do for their skillsets. I have a couple positions that are extremely challenging to hire, very high tech, and most of the people who do this work, work for some of the people in Silicon Valley and I’m the little company of 85 in Richardson, Texas, trying to convince them to come here.

We had a person come in that was from a skill level brilliant, and after the interviewing process was done – which, by the way, is a process in our company – the team came to me and said, “We can’t hire this person. They won’t fit our culture.” I may have gone in my office and shed a tear or two because we had had this position open for one year. But they were right, and they knew the damage of this person who didn’t fit the culture would outweigh the value of their coding skills.

So when we interview, we have lots of different people from the company interview. We are screening them for technical ability, but we’re also screening them and we have specific questions that judge whether we think they’ll fit our culture, and we hire based on both. Because again, we know that if they fit the culture, they’ll contribute to the team and will outperform versus their skill but they don’t fit the culture. So we have a process where you interview with peers, you interview with managers, and part of the questions that we’ve identified go to how we think you would fit in with us.

One example is when we first moved into our new building a year and a half ago, basically the contractors were done and we were moving in at the same time, so there was a lot of dust. We’re in medical device, plus we just like a clean environment. It had already been cleaned once, but as the dust kept settling, we needed to clean again. We basically just put the word out, and every single person is grabbing a mop, a dustpan, cleaning. We started asking interview candidates, “If I needed you to mop the floor, would you?” Most people won’t tell you no, but you can tell by their facial expression very quickly if they feel demeaned by that question. We don’t normally want anyone to have to mop the floor. We have a janitorial service. But if the need arose, and we think that we’re all part of a team, you should be willing to mop the floor.

So we have little questions like that that probe people. We laugh a lot. When you’re doing product development, if you don’t laugh, you would cry a lot. So we ask people about humor and how they’ve used it at work. Those flesh out people who fit together. We actually want them to be scared off, because if they come, we want them to know what they’re getting into. As a result, we have very high retention and people that come to work there want to stay there because they knew what they were getting into when they came.

Craig Beck: Scott, do you have any thoughts on that? I think I was muted, so you may not have heard the question. The question was, “What’s your screening and interviewing process to determine if a person is a good fit culturally before you hire them?”

Scott Kirksey: First of all, we talk about our culture and our values at the outset. It’s even part of the communication process as we’re setting up interviews. I’ve always enjoyed the kind of approach that Tammi describes – ask something that’s not on the list of questions that they would’ve expected and been prepared to answer, because then they have to let down and answer from here. I think you gain a lot of insight into that. It’s always difficult to get more than you do out of an interview. That’s why I think you’ve got to find little ways to ask either a different question or listen and then probe on their answer and just develop that little bit of experience. Unfortunately, experience comes with the mistakes as well, but developing a little bit of experience about what works and how people respond when they’re caught off guard.

Craig Beck: Thanks. I think that gets all of the questions in the Q&A. Did anything come to mind by anyone here that they’d like to ask? Sometimes other questions prompt questions in my mind, anyway. Any other comments that the panelists might have on any issues that arose?

Well, with that, I appreciate all the contribution by all the panelists and the questions by everyone out there. I think that’s all we have here. Jim, I’ll hand it back to you for closing.

Jim Ratchford: Going back to the audience poll that we did when we started, something over 60% of our audience said that the one business issue they would like us to help them resolve if we could would be marketing and telling their story. We did a survey of our panelists, and that was an issue for some of our panelists as well. But maybe if each of you could comment on your experience with marketing and telling your story – what challenges have you seen, or do you currently have, and what advice might you give to those in the audience on that marketing and telling their story issue? Tammi, you want to take a stab at that?

Tammi Carter: I relate to that being a problem. E4D for many years wasn’t even known to anyone. We were just private labeling for a couple of companies, and if you went to our website you wouldn’t even have found us. I don’t know anything about marketing, and the best thing I did was hire somebody who did, because honestly we didn’t know how to tell our story. We knew we had something special and unique, but it’s also what we do every day. I think this is knowing what you’re good at and knowing to find people who fill in the gaps where you don’t. The best thing we did was find a company that knew how to tell our story and help us learn how to tell our story, and not try to think that we have all the answers.

We found a small boutique marketing firm here in Dallas, and they see things in us we don’t see, and they write things and we’re like, “Are you talking about us?” Because they have perspective in answering questions and probing about us. So we’re starting to have our own identity, which is great, but we couldn’t have done it without somebody else. That was just not a skillset we had in-house. We know how to write code and build things; we didn’t know how to develop a website or any other marketing collateral.

Jim Ratchford: Very good. Scott, you want to take a stab at that same question as well? How would you advise people to market and tell their story, and what issues, if any, are you dealing with?

Scott Kirksey: Well, we do have a strong marketing department. I would say the most consistent thing that they’re doing all the time behind the scenes are immediate user surveys. We’ve established councils of brokers that work with us to probe. I think that’s what brings the most important part of communication we have in marketing, is identifying those “aha” moments, those bright spots in that conversation that speak and are very relevant to our brokers. That’s the way we’ve always approached it: a little bit of a continuation of listening to them and probing and understanding why they use us, because there’s nothing better than a referral or a testimonial of someone that loves what we do.

Jim Ratchford: Very good, thank you, Scott. Jeremy, your thoughts on marketing and telling your story?

Jeremy Fudge: Two different angles to the idea of marketing and telling your story. One is we’ve historically not done very much at all in terms of marketing in the sense of selling to customers marketing. We’re the second largest immigration firm in the world, so if there’s an RP, we’re getting invited by default, basically. So we were like, “Why are we going to spend money on marketing?” Still sort of the case. But marketing in the sense of the pursuit of talent is a whole different kind of marketing, and that’s where we’ve done poorly, frankly, in telling our story and what makes us special and why you’d want to come work here. We’re just starting on that journey. So I’m behind, but I’m catching up there.

Jim Ratchford: That’s interesting. When we talk about marketing and telling our story, we often think of the pursuit of prospects and customers, but for your situation, it’s marketing and telling your story to attract talent. There’s multiple stakeholders that you’re often trying to market and tell your story to.

Very good. I don’t have any other questions. I think it’s been a great morning. Let me just wrap up here with a few thoughts. We’ll wrap up a little bit early, which is fine. We’ve had some good wisdom that came through this morning. We have recorded this. We’ll do a little editing, we’ll make it available, or maybe a few extracts from this that I think will be valuable for everyone going forward. We do look forward to getting everybody together and continuing to build on relationships that we have started here.

Feel free to reach out to us and find our role. We’re always looking for people to get involved with us. We have a lot of moving pieces at Texas Consilium. We have a lot of projects. If you’re interested in getting involved in any way, I’d encourage you to reach out to myself or Craig or any of our Texas Consilium representatives. Just explore your interests, and we’ll be happy to find a way to get you involved. We have a wonderful mission and a great passionate team, and we look forward to getting everyone involved who shares an interest in our mission.

With that said, any other questions, suggestions, or other business before we wrap it up? Let me check the chat here, just to see if there’s anything else that someone’s bringing up online. Craig, nothing else? Nobody’s raising their hand there at the country club?

Craig Beck: No, I think we’re good today.

Jim Ratchford: Very good. I do appreciate everyone’s participation. Special thank you to all of our panelists. You did a wonderful job, great wisdom. We look forward to continuing to work with you. Appreciate all of you coming out and getting involved here. I know we’re dealing with COVID, we’re dealing with Thanksgiving, and probably in many respects it was a challenge to have a meeting this week. But I think we’ve pulled it off, and many thanks to all of you for everything that you have done. Go forth and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and continue to pursue excellence and prosper. Thanks to all.

Scott Kirksey: Thank you.



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