In this Best Of The 6 to 7 Figures Show episode, I talk with Gene Hammett who works with the CEOs of the Inc 500. He talks about what makes the difference between a CEO of an Inc 500 company and other companies. He also talks about why the importance of focusing on his niche has been critical to his success.
Gene Hammett is a leading expert on high-growth company culture and leadership. He has decades of experience with more than $40 million in revenue for the companies he has led and owned. Gene has interviewed more than 300 CEOs of high-growth companies to understand the core principles of fast growth. He consults companies to activate new growth and reduce the high cost of ineffective leadership.
Frank Bria: 00:32 Welcome to the six to seven figures show. I’m Frank Bria and I am joined today by Gene Hammett good friend of mine and a leading expert in the high growth company culture and leadership area. He’s got decades of experience with more than $40 million in revenue companies for the companies that he’s actually led and owned himself. Gene’s interviewed more than 300 CEOs, high growth companies in order to understand the really the core principles of fast growth, which we’re going to talk about a little bit today, and he consults companies to activate new growth and reduce the high cost of ineffective leadership. Gene, welcome to the program.
Gene Hammett: 01:14 Thanks Frank.
New Speaker: 01:15 It’s a, it’s a really great to have you here. I know from your experience, like you’ve been working with tons of CEOs in the growth area. What, what are kind of the areas that you’re focusing in now? What, what is, what has you really excited right now in this space?
Gene Hammett: 01:32 I, I really focused my, my work on the top 500 from the inc list. If I gave you the numbers at which some of these guys are growing, like I talk with ’em Swan leap CEO Brad, they grew 75000% in a three year period. Yeah. Those, the, the numbers in that list are always like, you know cause I’ve applied for that list a couple of times and written the numbers down and then I see what shows up and I’m like, okay. So I felt like 400% was really good. It takes about a thousand percent to hit the 508, you know, it changes because it’s the top 500. Sure. But you know, really excited about understanding those leaders and what they’re going through as they transform. Cause here’s the thing that we all know as, as any kind of leader who you are today, you have to let go of to get to that next level.
Frank Bria: 02:32 Sure. And you have to work really hard to get to whatever level level you’re striving to to turn and go, Oh, now I have to forget that to move to another level. So my work comes in when they’re looking to get some insight into how they can navigate that growth period. Not everybody’s going to grow at 1000% across the three year period, but companies that strive to want to create the leadership. And I, you know, I found out a lot of research behind it, which we can dig into, but that’s, I’m really excited about working with these really fast growing companies. Yeah. That, that is fascinating. So I think a lot of people are kind of familiar with the concept that that as a leader, as a founder, you kind of have to change fundamentally in order to, to get to that next sort of quantum level of growth.
Frank Bria: 03:21 But are there, are there specific things that you’re seeing in these leaders that, that end up on the inc 500 top lists that are sort of unique or different or differentiates them from the folks who just aren’t able to generate that kind of growth?
Gene Hammett: 03:38 I think a lot of it is they actually do what the mantras of business say. So one of them foundational, they have a mission that is bigger than just make money. And it’s amazing that they’re growing really fast, but, but they have a mission and the mission is important because they have to get people that are coming on board that align with the mission. And that makes it easier to get top talent that makes it easier to find the right people. So that’s just one example. You know, a lot of companies say they have a mission, but to make money is not a mission They also live by their values. This means they don’t just create them once as a project, put them on a wall and kind of move on with the day. They literally make decisions by, by each of those values. And they want to hire people more for cultural fit than for their resume skills and whatnot. So those are just kind of a few that these companies just over index on. Like I, I talked to one of them the other day in the, some of them run I don’t remember the exact name, but the company who said, you know, we had three employees and one of them was chief people officer and his friends were like, you don’t need that kind of overhead when you’re just got three employees. And that was his fourth. And they’re like, well, culture is so important to me. I want to create a great place to work now that he’s made, you know, the inc 10 list.
Gene Hammett: 05:07 He’s like, they’re laughing at me, I over-indexed on culture and, and, and I won. So that’s the kind of thing they’re actually doing what people know to do. It’s kind of like working out, like we both probably try to eat well and be healthy. We know what to do, we just don’t do it. These companies actually live it,
Frank Bria: 05:27 do, do the thing. And what’s fascinating about that is I think that anyone with any sort of corporate, you know, you know, fortune 500 experience, I, I know this from my old, my old consulting days when I used to work with fortune 500, a lot of corporations talk about vision. They talk about mission, but they end up not living it. So I think that’s the foul, that’s a fascinating sort of insight that, you know, it’s not just something that gets thrown up on the wall, they literally hire to it, literally manage to it and act on it on a daily basis.
Gene Hammett: 06:02 Yeah. I mean, just take values, values become a central part of every decision that gets made in the company and no longer are you as a CEO expected to make every decision. I still make most of the decisions in my company because of my team’s so small. But I do give as many decisions I can to my team so that they’re making the decisions without me because I don’t need them to check on, do I need to put out the newsletter tomorrow at seven 15? I just want it done and I want them to think through, you know, the consistency that’s a part of our values is putting, I’ve put up, I don’t think I’ve missed a week and five years of my episode. The podcast. Nice. Consistency is a big, a big part of what our values as a company is. Nice. So what would be your guidance to a new company who’s like listening to this and thinking, you know what, we don’t have a good set of values. Like what would be step one for them in putting these sort of values down on paper that you’re going to live?
Gene Hammett: 07:06 It usually happens between the leadership team. So you maybe have four or five people, whoever, whoever you think of, if the team’s small enough, I think you should involve everyone. And because when everyone’s involved in the creation of something, they end up having more ownership. And that’s a really big part of it. One reason why corporate companies don’t have people that are willing to, you know, run through walls and blood, sweat and tears like we do in entrepreneurial startups and whatnot is because people don’t have ownership of the work. They just do the work and go home.
Frank Bria: 07:39 Right
Gene Hammett: 07:39 And if you’re, if you’re a leader leading this company, you want to sit down and walk them through a process of values. I do this all the time with companies, but if you want to do it yourself, you sit down and really think about what do we stand for, what are we standing against?
Gene Hammett: 07:57 And you also want to answer the questions like what are the, what are the things that we believe in as a company? I just said consistency. So you may say it’s you know, excellence or what ownership is a big, big value inside of fast growing companies. They want people to take ownership of the work. So you’ve got to define what that is. Get everyone involved and then you’ve got to get it down to a core set. Some people will say three or four is the right number. I talked to a company today, they have nine, they feel like nine is the right number for them. I think fewer is better because who could remember nine probably. But they love it. They live by it. And, and you get to pick the numbers, the number of values. And then the key behind all of this is not what are the values, but how do you actually live by them and you operationalize them. Yeah, I remember that term.
Frank Bria: 08:53 Yeah. Operationalizing, I think that becomes then the key for people. So when I’ve seen this executed well, and you can, you can tell me, you know, how you’re seeing this done with the companies that you’re working with. But what, when we talk about operationalizing it’s in, in everything, it’s literally every decision that’s made. It’s in, in conversations around you know, did something go wrong? It’s in post-mortem analysis. It’s in, yeah, it’s in everything. So talk a little bit about how, how do you build that in to a daily infrastructure in a company so that literally you’re operationalizing your values.
Gene Hammett: 09:32 and a lot of people may not think daily, but I’m going to give you an example. I had horse show, let’s say on the podcast of a few months ago. He’s the cofounder of Ritz Carlton and one of their standards is excellence and they have 24 service standards that they operate from. So this is not their values, but their 24 service standards, every shift change, cause they never lock the door at the Ritz Carlton. But every shift change, they will stand and do a stand up meeting and it may be five minutes long or seven minutes long and they take one of those service standards and they discuss it and they share stories and every shift change every day. It’s the same across the entire chain. And then every day it changes. So every 24 days you’re going to have a different one. So you’ve got to figure out what that rhythm is for you. It may not be daily. It may be once a week where we go, you know, I’ve got a value of, of ownership. I saw that Jill took real ownership of a problem and she made a tough call and it didn’t work out, but she figured out that she needed to change and do it differently and she stayed extra.
Gene Hammett: 10:44 I just want to thank Jill for doing that. That that bit of recognition on a week to week basis really goes a long way to operationalize all your values.
Frank Bria: 10:53 That that’s, that’s amazing. I even think I would even say even small companies on a daily basis would need to do this. I’ve been in companies where core values have been a really important part of what we do. And literally every question that came up like, do you do this? Should we run this campaign? Should we use this language? How do we talk to this customer about something? It always was filtered through, you know, what value we embodying here. So yeah, I can see that it’s a powerful tool. Gene, I want to ask you you know, play devil’s advocate here for a second. Cause I know there’s definitely going to be people in the audience who are sitting here thinking, so all of this stuff about missions and values sounds great, but I’m like struggling to make money and I’m struggling to grow.
Frank Bria: 11:41 How is this stuff going to help me? What would you say to folks who are finding themselves in a position where they feel like a lot of this ethereal work is in conflict with or takes away from what they feel is more tactical growth? Wha why is this still important to them to be focusing on even at that stage of their business?
Gene Hammett: 12:02 So if you have not gotten to product market fit, which is the whole concept of is there demand for what we’re doing and are people paying for it? Are we, you know, we’re generating money if you haven’t gotten there yet. Okay. Maybe I could say you need to get that first. But I do believe that understanding values will help you get there faster and keep you on track as you’re growing. Once you already have sales, you have money coming in. The values kind of, you know, strategy inside of a company really does allow you to scale it out.
Gene Hammett: 12:38 You don’t want to dismiss this opportunity as you, especially if you start bringing on people, I don’t want to bring on another person to my team who doesn’t have the courage to make a decision and stand behind it. Nice. And I learned this the hard way. I’ve grown, you know, multiple businesses, but people that don’t make decisions cause more work for me and for everyone else. Yeah. And people who don’t stand by their decision to make it. Right. I had Frank Blake, a CEO of home Depot, and he was telling me about, you know, working under Jack Welch. He goes, you know what, Jack Welch loves for you to do what he wanted you to do. But what he loved more was for you to go against what he said, what he thought was the right direction or right decision and for you to actually work your ass off to be right.
Frank Bria: 13:31 Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 13:32 Because that was the, the, the, the, the guts. And the grit that it took to take a company that is chugging along and whatever it is, and to see a pivot and to move fast. So if you’re struggling to, to make money, I still think values has a critical role, especially if you have employees.
Frank Bria: 13:51 Yeah, for sure. On the, on the team side, it, what’s fascinating to me as you look through the companies that are on the inc 500 how many of them have their product or service aligned with the, with an overall mission like there, there seems to be a very, very mission-based framework. There’s so many of those successful companies and, and I gotta think, and maybe you’ve got the data for this, but I’ve got to think that so much of their commercial success is due to the fact that they’ve aligned with a market that feels connected to their mission as well.
Frank Bria: 14:26 It really does have a, I haven’t analyzed the exact numbers behind it, but I hear it in almost every conversation. They’ve created a logistics company like, okay, why, why do we need to move things more efficiently and save people money? Well, it has a play to the environment, right? Like every mile that you save a truck from moving, then you’re increasing our chances to, you know, create a better place to live for our children and our children’s children. And that may sound like a farfetched thing, but younger generation, you get on board with that. Oh, absolutely. Bored with just, you know, Oh, we’re going to have this little tweak of, of technology that allows us stuff. But you tie it to something that really matters to your people. They will work blood, sweat, and tears for you.
Frank Bria: 15:16 Yeah. That is something I’m seeing a dramatic shift in, in, in the entrepreneurial world is this movement away from, I’ve found a better mouse trap to I’m improving the world and leaving a better impact that that seems to be a significant shift.
Frank Bria: 15:32 And it’s starting to stick, I think throughout a lot of new companies that are, that are that are making the way,
Gene Hammett: 15:39 it’s not touchy feely. It really does help to align and, and, and, and bask growing companies. One of the biggest challenge still is getting access to talent. They want the best talented people and they may not always pay the most, but they want to create a great place to work. And one of the things that factor into that is what I’m doing makes an impact overall to the world.
Frank Bria: 16:03 Yeah. Yeah, that’s, it’s so it’s so critical and I think you know, back to the original question that I had asked around you know, what if you’re struck and not making any money, I do think that oftentimes finding that mission is going to call out your audience that you otherwise wouldn’t.
Frank Bria: 16:23 And oftentimes I think companies that are struggling in that product market fit that you described are ones that just haven’t found an audience yet that is aligned to an overall mission. And that’s going to be, it’s not the only thing. You still have to have a good product, but it does feel like one of the things that in a company these days is an important element. I agree. Yeah. So, so I want to pivot real quickly to how you are engaging right now with companies. Can you, can you talk us through a little bit of the service model those who are doing the kind of leadership work and, and growth development work that you’re doing. Share with us a little bit if you wouldn’t mind, how you work with your clients and what those processes look like. So I’m going to go back to kind of the beginning.
Gene Hammett: 17:07 I started out running a business and I ran it into the ground like any good entrepreneur has got a story like that. I did a, I wrote a book about it called the trap of success. Great book. I had to let go of the old version of me. And so when I came back out of this and reinventing myself, I wanted to advise companies on growth because I, I’m good at it. I loved it. It really does run through the core of my soul. And I started doing that with smaller companies. I started working with web designers and I was just a one-on-one coach. I really enjoyed it, but I felt like I need it to grow and I needed to grow to a new market. So I went through some iterations and I work with some bigger marketing companies and service-based companies and I started working with the inc 5,000 and that’s been fun.
Gene Hammett: 18:06 I tried to do some group work as I got more sophisticated CEOs. No one wanted to be in my group.
Frank Bria: 18:13 Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 18:14 They wanted one on one coaching, so I kind of just abandoned and all of that stuff. And I’ve tried the courses and I’ve tried everything. It just didn’t work for me.
Frank Bria: 18:24 Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 18:25 And now everything I do has been up to now one on one coaching. I’m working with them VIP days. I’m doing ongoing, some close clients I work with once a week. Some of them it’s know a couple of times a month, but it’s just a handful of people, but at a higher level. And so it’s not scalable. It’s not leveraged. It’s not anything other than I’m just going to be there in the trenches with you to work on your business.
Frank Bria: 18:53 Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 18:54 I wanted to make a shift recently and I’ll, I’ll let you ask your question, but I, I’ve decided to create a, an experience. It’s not an event, but create an experience for leaders to get together with their peers in this hypergrowth company. So the inc 500, anyone else’s not invited. So this is just who it is.
Frank Bria: 19:17 Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 19:17 But I felt like there was a little bit of a blue ocean because there’s so many people going after just companies that have a million or have 12 million or whatever. I’m going after companies that have a thousand percent growth or more. Yeah. And so those companies have different challenges. And so this, this unique kind of way is a little bit more leveraged. 10 to 12 people coming to me for a day and a half or so. And, and some, some unique, unique elements around that to make that possible. But that’s, I’m really excited about serving people that way as an entry point. And then where it goes from there, I want to create community and tribe and, and whatnot around this, this fast growth companies.
Frank Bria: 19:57 Yeah. That’s amazing. And we’ve, that’s a great leverage model, especially for this market. I mean, I, I remember for, for a while I served a group of CEOs of the top 100 financial institutions in the world and we would get them together a couple of times a year for an experience essentially. And lots of best practice sharing, lots of peer networking. We did some teaching, but it was primarily teaching back best practices that we had learned from them. And they loved it. It was a, it was an amazing experience. They paid a great deal of money to be in the room that day and found it to be an incredible experience. So I, I, I personally know that that model is a great one. It’s a great leverage model. And I think, you know, an audience that looks, it looks very highly on being in a room with their peers, loves that kind of experience. I think that’s a great idea.
Gene Hammett: 20:53 So I will tell you, I’m wrapping something into it, cause this is kind of who I am, is I don’t want it to just be the peer-to-peer kind of thing. So my goal and going into this new venture is you’re going to have some coaching sessions with me because you’re playing at this high level, whatever it is. I’m real excited about some of the big challenges they have, but my goal is for you to get an ROI before you actually show up at the event.
Frank Bria: 21:21 That’s fun. That’s phenomenal. I love that. So it has almost an implementation feel to it as well. It’s not just a sort of a feel good event or a pure networking thing. You’re in some sense asking them to implement some of these growth strategies in advance. Are you going to have them share those wins essentially with the group then.
Gene Hammett: 21:43 as a part of that, that, that the, the structure is.
Frank Bria: 21:45 nice.
Gene Hammett: 21:46 What did you decide to work on with Gene and you know, what, how’s it going and then for everyone else to weigh into from, from a peer mastermind kind of standpoint. But if, if I can get them to, and this is a challenge for me cause I don’t think most people think about this. If I can get them to actually get results before they show up to an event, they’re much more likely to like really lean into that vent and be vulnerable and trust the process and have more fun and get more out of it. And it makes it easier for me to do this. So that’s my challenge to everybody who’s coming on board.
Frank Bria: 22:18 Yeah, that’s what you’re speaking my language outcome oriented business. That’s a, I love it. I think, you know, there’s so many times where people get events together and it really is just sort of a rah, rah or feel good.
Frank Bria: 22:33 And it’s true that people leave motivated, but we kind of know from a learning theory perspective that one of the ways that people cement in the things they’ve learned is to actually put them into practice. It, you, motivation will only get you so far. And we’ve all seen this and it’s happened to me. I’m sure it’s happened to you too. You know, you, you leave an event feeling great and then Monday morning you show back in the office again. And a lot of that energy level is pretty much dissipated away. You’ve got to think, what did I get out of that? Again, I’m not really sure.
Gene Hammett: 23:03 So I’m trying to break that model with this group and I really has to, because they’re very sophisticated leaders. They, they don’t have that much time for anything like this. And so I wanted to make it really you know, irresistible from a chance of hanging out with their peers, but also getting insight before they show up.
Gene Hammett: 23:24 And I haven’t mentioned this, but it is truly an experience. The first one we’re doing at a Porsche test track, we have one in Atlanta, so we’ll take a break for a couple of hours. We’d be paired with a professional driver and they’ll be racing around the track, pushing past fears and boundaries. And that’ll tie into the message as, because hopefully they’ll come in as better drivers after they go through that experience. So that’s, that’s, and I want to, I want to create different kinds of experiences at different locations throughout every time we do it.
Frank Bria: 24:00 Yeah. Well, I mean, what you’re, you’re talking about is intentional design, which I love. As you’re thinking through each of the different pieces and how it ties in specifically, you know, I always joke, a lot of people come to me with product design and they say, I’ve got a PR, you know, I’ve got a program and we’re going to go to Bali twice a year and I’m going to have a once a month call.
Frank Bria: 24:21 And I think, you know, that’s not a program. You haven’t designed anything at all. There’s no intention or results behind it. It’s just a excuse for vacation. So I’m always thrilled to see people actually think through like how this actually ties in.
Gene Hammett: 24:34 I feel like I’m over index on thinking through because it’s something I’m so excited about. I can spend hours just thinking about how I want to shape this. And I, I’m, I’m really trying to keep myself focused on just getting people to, to the event, getting the business coming in. So well that’s, I, I, I, I’m excited about, I’m excited to hear how it goes and, and what a dynamic group you’ll have from that particular list, the inc 500 list of of CPMs.
Gene Hammett: 25:07 That’s terrific. So what, what one last piece of advice would you have to give to the up and coming CEO who wants to show up on that list?
Frank Bria: 25:18 You know, tomorrow morning when they wake up and go back into what they’re doing what one thing can they change about what they’re doing that will increase their likelihood of growth?
Gene Hammett: 25:27 So this is going to challenge a lot of people that are listening in here because if you’re one, if you want to be a fast growing company, there’s one piece of data that stands out more than anything else in what I’m doing because it’s just so far skewed. There’s a whole conversation around and you know, customer first you’ve got a background in sales and marketing and you, you understand the value of customers. And I’m not saying that these companies wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have customers. Cause, obviously they wouldn’t, but 94.1% of the over 300 CEOs in the inc 5,000 have said that those employees are more important than customers.
Frank Bria: 26:11 Yeah. Yeah.
Gene Hammett: 26:13 The employees are such a critical part. Like not to mention we were really in a, in a war for talent because the job employment rates are at astronomical low levels and the people out there that don’t have jobs probably don’t want jobs. And the ones that are, you’re trying to get to grow your company, you’ve got to create a place that they love to come to work, that they are challenged and they’re growing themselves and they’re, they’re adding value to their skill sets. And if you don’t provide that, if you’re not putting employees first, you can say you won’t, you won’t get there in, a lot of people argue with me on this. They’ll say, well you get, it takes both. It’s a chicken egg and I get it takes both, especially if you’re in product market fit and you’ve got to focus on customer and get that demand going.
Gene Hammett: 27:05 But as you begin to not do all the work, as you begin to let others make decisions, you want them to know that you’re taking care of them. And so that they’re growing. That’s what makes fast growing companies grow is treating employees well.
Frank Bria: 27:20 Yeah. I, I’m not gonna argue with you on that one at all. I think you’re dead on the, and, and I wish I could remember who said this, but I’ve heard the quote, you know, take care of your team and then your team will take care of the customers. And, and that should be the sort of the battle cry of every good CEO is thinking of putting really good talent together.
Gene Hammett: 27:39 That’s a very similar quote to, to what Richard Branson says, okay, that’s maybe where you’re getting it from. And that’s probably what it is. I’ll give Richard Branson credit. That’s, it’s a very smart play because you want those people to think for themselves.
Gene Hammett: 27:56 And, and, and I, I believe this to take it just a step further. I, I’ve seen a huge, a lot of the interviews I’ve done this past week have been companies are growing fast value the entrepreneur spirit inside the company. Yeah. A very people who think resourceful, add value and resilient. The things that we know that come natural because I can’t remember the last time I got a paycheck for something. It was over 20 years ago when I got a paycheck for not doing anything. I believe that I show up every day to create the value that’s always not get paid. You want employees to do the same thing I think.
Frank Bria: 28:31 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I love that. I love that. I think you’re dead on. I think that’s great that you’ve done the interviews and got the data to back it up cause it’s something that I feel pretty strongly about as well.
Frank Bria: 28:42 I think that’s a, that is something that we lose sight of when we start to grow and you have to have the people underneath you or alongside you or in front of you, even as you’re kind of leading the team. So, so that’s terrific. Gene, we’re out of time, unfortunately. But thank you so much for being here with us. For those people who are listening in, want to learn a little bit more about what you do, where, where can they connect with you?
Gene Hammett: 29:06 So my home base is genehammett.com. The podcast is being rebranded, so it has been Leaders in the Trenches. If you’ve heard of that before been around for about five years, but we’re now going to be called Growth Think Tank so you can go to growthinktank.com. It’ll forge you to the right place and it’ll be the interviews with the fastest growing companies out there that are just, you know, heads and shoulders above everyone else.
Gene Hammett: 29:31 And I’ll be sharing with you some of those insights and you can find me on all the social channels at gene Hammett, but right, that’s, that’s my piece today.
Frank Bria: 29:39 Awesome. And that link will be here directly below as well for people to be able to click directly through. Yeah, leaders in the trenches has been an amazing podcast. So as you’re looking as you’re looking for another podcast to the audience growth think tank keep an eye out for it cause you’ll see the same great stuff except with a a more focus on some of the most amazing leaders out there. I think a lot of us look at the inc 500 as a list of a, a lot of leadership must haves. And it really, really looking to embody those kinds of those kinds of growth experiences. So really appreciate that.
Gene Hammett: 30:19 Yep. Thank you for having me. Yeah, you got it.
Frank Bria: 30:21 Thanks so much. And those of you who are listening that so much for being here on the six or seven bigger show, I really appreciate it. And we will see you next time.