Momentum Podcast: 681
Learning, Leading, Persevering and Loving It (With Brent Pohlman)
by Alex Charfen
When you are just starting to grow a business, the challenges you face can feel overwhelming.
The reality is that, as you grow a business into the tens of millions of dollars, the issues you face are exponentially more difficult.
We have a concept we share in our organization. In order to navigate the challenges facing your business, you must learn to lead your business from the passenger seat.
What it means is that, as you grow, you must develop leaders to operate your business because you won't be able to do everything anymore.
As a CEO, you're not growing a business. You’re growing leaders to grow leaders in your business.
In this episode, we are joined by Brent Pohlman, CEO of Midwest Soil Labs. Brent runs a massive company with over two hundred employees and an incredible amount of revenue. Throughout the crisis that has gripped the world this year, Brent has led his company to break their all-time top revenue in the company's history without a single furloughed employee. His company gave back $2.8 M in PPP money in June and purchased a new 176,000 square foot building on 27 acres.
Brent is an incredible entrepreneur, and his commitment to learning how to lead his company has allowed him to build an incredible organization that is changing the world.
Full Audio Transcript
This is the Momentum Podcast. Today, we're joined by a very special entrepreneur, Brent Pohlman, CEO of Midwest Soil Labs. Brent runs a massive company with over 200 employees and an incredible amount of revenue.
Throughout the crisis that has gripped the world this past year, Brent has led his company to break their all-time revenue in company history without a single furloughed employee. Not only that, but his company gave back $2.8 million in PPP money in June and they also purchased a new 176,000-square-foot building on 27 acres. Brent is an incredible entrepreneur and he runs an incredible organization because he's committed himself to learn how to be a leader. We have a concept that we share in our organization that in order to navigate the challenges facing your business, you must learn to lead your business from the passenger seat. In fact, we even say as a CEO, you're not growing a business, you're growing leaders to grow leaders in your business. This presentation Brent gave at a recent Charfen Summit, and it's a powerful testament to learning how to lead effectively. I hope you enjoy.
I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum Podcast made for empire-builders, game-changers, trailblazers, shot-takers, record-breakers, world-makers, and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future, and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution and we always will be. Brent Pohlman: Well, let me begin. I tried to think of a title for this. I'm always learning. I'm one of those guys who's always learning. It's really about that. Leading, I think just in the last two years, I can't tell you the transformation as far as leadership that this program can offer you. I'm going to specifically talk about me, but I hope you grab something from this. At the end, I don't know if there'll be time for questions, but I sure hope so. I'm going to go kind of fast, but again, save your questions, because I do want to make sure that I do answer those. With that, I'm going to start here. Okay, why did I join Charfen? I have to tell you, the summit itself, when I first attended, I did not know if I was really an entrepreneur or not. When I was in that room with a hundred people and I could feel it walking into that room, I knew something was something about it was like I was attracted to it. What I learned through that process was deep down, I have always been an entrepreneur. I just got stuck in the corporate world for many, many years. But the fact that you have already said that you're different puts you at a different place. I can't tell you the difference that just made, just that first summit. What I really wanted was a system. I think I did the online Billionaire Code for six weeks and I just really wanted to get into a system to make sure that I could understand it and put it in place as fast as possible, so I was all about speed. That was just me. I was going to get it done. I was going to take the class and I was very transactional through this program in the beginning. I wanted to get it done in about another month. I even called, I think, Alex and I said, "Hey, it's not going as fast as I thought. Can you just come into our company and talk for a couple of days?" What he told me is "You have to go through the process" and he was right. I couldn't get this done. This is not something you go through in two days or two months, even a year. It's life. It's ongoing. That's really what I joined. I didn't know where to start. That last bullet, I'll talk a lot about that. I really thought self-care was selfish. I wanted less than me and more of others. I really didn't like myself and through that, I didn't realize how terrible I was treating people. For my business, we were going, going, going. I thought the more projects I could put in the company, the more we'd get things done. I was on a course for disaster. I was overloading my people and I just thought, "Come on. Where's the deadline? Let's go. Why is this not happening?" I was just probably one of the worst leaders starting about three or four years ago and I couldn't understand why I wasn't getting things done. Through that, there was some attrition and I just knew there was a better way to do all this. Then it was the awakening. When I say this "awakening," I went to the summit a year ago in September, I'll never forget, because we had to leave a little early on Friday and there was some bad storms and our flights were canceled and I was with my operator, Dana Burkey. I said, "How are we going to get home? Are we going to wait till Monday or Tuesday? That's what they're telling us?" She's an entrepreneur. She's had three businesses, sold them for profit. I have an outstanding operator. She said, "Nope, we're going to do this." She found a flight out of Dallas. I said, "Well, how do you get from Austin to Dallas?" She said, "We're just going to go do an Uber ride," so for two-and-a-half hours, we did an Uber ride. It's the longest Uber ride I've ever been on, but through that drive, I really talked about the whole process and she kept asking me more and more questions. I really understood why I was in this program and why I needed to do it. From there, I completed the Billionaire Code and I loved the structure and the plan. I had all the pieces somewhat, it seemed like, but they weren't coming together, and through this program, it helped me put things together and we started down that process of really going through that and that took months. Last fall for three months in a row, we just got through our client-centric mission, we just got through our values. You'll see our mission, our values, and I was developing a leadership team. I did not know that it was going to take three or four months just to do that part, but that was so critical to the start of this whole process. Then 2020 comes around, and again, we've had a simple process. We're just starting to put things in. I'm starting to realize that I'm different. Through that, I had to get the right team on board and I had that leadership team, but then, again, we started those waterfall activities and we're just starting to go and then that's when COVID happened. Then with COVID, I think it really took me a step back and said, "You really need to look at self-care just a little bit," so that whole self-care happened, I would say, in the last two years, but especially accelerated this past year. With self care, I began to work with a personal trainer, so twice a week, I go work with a personal trainer. I don't know, guys, but I'm in my 50s. I had no idea that I even had hips when I first started with the personal trainer and my balance was way off and I wasn't managing my stress. My trainer could see the stress in my shoulders and then on some days he would say, "Wow, things are working out," or, "You don't have as much stress as you do now." I found a routine. Every morning, I get up at 4:30 in the morning and I either go for a run or a walk. I used to go to the gym, but because of COVID, I like to get outside and it's been so refreshing to be outside. The other thing, probably the most important, I can't tell you this, I'm sure you've heard it over and over, that momentum planner. The things that stook out for me was you always have to write your purpose every day, it gives you direction, and then you have to be grateful. It forces you to be grateful. I was not being grateful for things that I had. The other one I add to it, also: You have to list what you're uncomfortable with. It's amazing to me to go back and see how many of those items I listed that were uncomfortable that have turned into wins, so any time that I get even a little bit of uncomfortability, I go and write it down in that book. The reason I do that, if I don't write it down, I'm going to be reactive and I'm going to say something I'm going to regret a few days later, but by writing it down, it makes me slow down and I have to stop, and ultimately, what that's done is it's helped me to treat myself better so that I can treat others better. Well, last year, I started with an executive assistant. That person, we just really didn't get on the same page. I also had the issue where I thought, "Well, I'll just share this person with another person, too, to get the most out of that person." That's not right. You're a CEO. You should have your own executive assistant. You need your own person. It should not be shared with any other person. That person has made me so much better. Tracy has just been phenomenal. She came on and she has taken so much off my plate it's phenomenal. That's part of self-care. Growing up, my father never had an executive assistant. He started this company that I'm at now 45 years ago. He has never had an executive assistant. He thought it was, again, a waste. But think about that: If you don't have people to take this stuff off of you, he's lived with the stress, and I've seen what it's done to his body and I don't want to be that person, so by having an executive assistant, it has made all the difference for me from a self-care standpoint in and, obviously, a production standpoint. Next phase, this was the hardest one for me, was getting out of the day-to-day. I just felt very important. I had to know what was happening. I knew things being there, I've been there for 15 years. I knew some things that I could help people and I realized that I was the roadblock and getting out of the day-to-day, I've done it since this summer. That really takes a lot and we had to do a whole reorganization to do it and when you're talking about a company with 208 employees, that makes it very tough. Again, you can't do these things in a week with that many pieces and people, but it was the best thing that happened. Being out of the day-to-day has given me new life, new spark. People could definitely see it, the direction of the company, and I'll get to some of those things, everything changed the day I did that. As I talked about these things, the hardest thing to do, and then the daily huddles during COVID. We met because of COVID. That was my first reason to meet as a daily huddle. We had a COVID 15-minute. We should've call it 19- minute. Anyway, but every morning at 9:15, we would meet and talk about the COVID issue. But out of that, just that daily huddle, we now have a 170-page COVID handbook. We got so proactive and did a number of things that helped us as a company and it was all because we decided to commit to that daily huddle each day. Getting out of the day-to-day really helps with building an infrastructure. What do I mean by that? I have an infrastructure now in place that can operate the company so that I can continue to do the strategic things. The strategic things at this level, they're so critical and so important. It's amazing how much I probably missed out because I was in the day-to-day. I can't stress that enough: When you get to that level where you need to get out, you need to get out. Again, it'll be so much, the growth in your company from all phases will be phenomenal. It has for me. Then our operator, that final bullet, I needed some way, so getting out of the day-to-day, I've even gone so far as I'm not in the daily huddle. Some people are. But I meet with my operator every single night. She gives me a summary of what happened during the day, or if she needs something, but every single night, we do a talk, 4:30 to 5:00. It just seemed to work for both of us. Again, you have to find what works for you, but we needed the space. She needed space, too, and more authority on her side. I needed the space and authority on our side, but we both need each other in the end. We both have to know what's happening on both sides. She's the trusted person, again, that I always go to, but I found a way to make it work. Again, you have to find a way that you can make that piece work for you. Let me talk a little bit about the outcomes, too. I think this first one is probably the most critical. Right now, my focus is on people. I want to know what's happening. I have one employee, even this year, her husband committed suicide. We're trying to get her back into work. I'm much more in tune with what's happening with other people and I'm much more in tune with if something's doesn't feel right, I ask more questions. I wasn't that person two, three years ago. My whole focus is on people because the only way we're going to ever grow exponentially is through our people. People first. We'll get the processes, but those people are such a critical asset to me. Again, we have to treat everybody with the utmost respect and understand where they coming from. With COVID and people at home and teaching their kids, I even went so far during COVID is I sent an email, I tried to reach as many people as I could personally and my question to them was, "Are you your kids' favorite teacher? Because if you're not, I want your kids to know that you should be their favorite teacher right now during this time, because we know a lot of schools have shut down." But when you, as a leader, can actually try to empathize with your team, it's amazing how much they will do for you, how much they want to be a part of something like that, so I really look at it as we're trying to become, even though we're bigger, private, we're still families. Then trust, oh, man, that's a big one. I mean, you're going to have issues, but again, that momentum planner, if you can write it down, I tell you what, you can build that trust. You build your trust in yourself and then you let the little things go, and actually, you write them down so that you see that they can turn into wins later on. We celebrate wins, any type of win. Heck, I'm going to celebrate it because it's big. We're more agile. We can do so much more right now because people know that they have a voice. People feel safe. When people know that they feel safe... I went so far as to hire 24/7 safety. Now, I'm not a security guard. I'm not saying you have to do that, but I wanted people to feel safe where they were at. If people feel safe, they will also, again, feel like that you care for them. We're building that strong infrastructure. Our culture has really turned 360 degrees. People are coming together. We made the front page of the newspaper because of this building last week. I took that picture and I went into our receiving area and told them they were all stars. I've never seen young people take their phones out and take pictures of a newspaper and say, "Okay, that's my new profile," or that "I got to share that on my social media sites." That's what we want, though. We want that wins, that excitement. You just never know how people are going to react to that. The next one is probably really a key: Do not overreact. Yesterday they were giving me a hard time because I have all these figures and I'm really trying to be humble during COVID and I'm trying to listen. They said, "You said that and you were just so calm with all your numbers." I'm calm both ways because I really do believe that's important, too. When you start to win, it's a whole mentality. I can just really see that. Of course, I'm a huge Chiefs fan and I follow them so closely. I watch them on the sidelines. I probably watch more of, not the game, but the other part, because I really want to see how that team comes together. It's just taught me, again, if you've got the right people, you've got people and you've got the process and the execution and you're really just kind of watching that and caring for each other at the same time, all of that together, as that one graphic really displayed, that those things matter most. I really do think that's what matters most is really honing in on people. Let's talk about some measurable results, too, because of this. I will try to get a little more excited than I did yesterday, but we are, actually, in this year of COVID, I had no idea what would happen, I did put it in here, but we actually got PPP money of 2.8 million and had to give it back. I didn't feel right taking it because we were doing so well. Our biggest soil volume ever. We're going to break 1.8 million number of soils. We haven't gotten that far in five years. Five years ago was the last time we hit that record. I talked about the COVID handbook. There's no way. If I wouldn't have spent that time last fall with that leadership team, that wouldn't have happened, or those daily huddles. Work from home. We implement it for out of our 208, obviously, they're in the lab, so they have to come in, but 70 people had the tools and the laptops and the connections that they needed to and we got that done in 48 hours. We just purchased a property. I showed the growth scale people here. It's phenomenal. 176,000-square-foot building. If I was not in this program, I would have never seen that. I would never even thought to even look for something like that. We got it at such a discounted rate because of COVID. The company here March 16th just took off and made everybody work from home. But again, if you're not in the strategic, you're not going to see those things. I talk about personal care. I'm really working, again, on the whole weight thing. I've lost, again, 15 pounds just in the last six weeks. Really, I'm focused on that, too. Again, I think all these things come together; the closer relationship with workers, friends, and family, the overall revenue increase. At our level, if you can hit 10% more than you did the year ago, that's phenomenal. I haven't seen that in almost like 10 years now, so these things. Then more projects. That last one, I said we had over a hundred projects. I've lost track of how many projects that we have talked about. In the waterfall, we celebrate every little sub project, too. I've probably completed more projects this year than any other year and it's all because we took the time to get our people, our process, our systems in place so that we could do more. Again, probably the key is treating people the best way that we can. Alex Charfen: What a powerful presentation from an incredible entrepreneur. If you're ready to understand what it takes to be the leader of a massive organization like Brent and how you can start working to get there today, we want to help you. If you go to billionairecode.com right now, you'll be able to connect with a member of our coaching team and find out which one of our memberships best fits the needs of your business right now. Let us show you the systems and the processes and the frameworks that we teach entrepreneurs to learn how to lead from the passenger seat and grow world-changing empires. Go to billionairecode.com right now. We'll see you there.