Leadership + People: Episode 14 - Jane Ann Craig - Part 2 of 2

In this episode Jane Ann Craig reveals how partnering with competition increased their success, her 3 keys of success and how she found investors after she stopped asking and instead began to share her vision with everyone she ran into.  

Show Notes

  • Jane Ann’s 3 keys to success.  [01:00]
  • Failure wasn’t an option, so she kept showing up until the work was done. [04:08]
  • How to partner with competition in a way that will benefit both parties. [07:00]
  • Stop asking for people to invest, instead share the vision and let them see what they have to gain. [11:25]
  • How to build and strengthen shareholder relationships despite missed deadlines. [13:46]
  • The life changing decision to hire David Crenshaw that gave her more time and slowed down her imagination. [16:05]
  • The church marquee that gave Jane Ann the confidence she needed. [22:30]

Show Audio

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This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: November 29, 2017

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

ENTREPRENEUR, JANE ANN CRAIG: Within days when I switched from asking people to telling them what we were doing, people started to call me. And so our first shareholder, I ran into at the VA hospital visiting a friend’s dad. Another shareholder I met at a funeral. Another shareholder at Kinkos. And so some were friends. Some were colleagues. Some were people that had watched me over the years in the community. But every single one of them. Every single one of them, came as a result of a phone call, or running into me and saying what have you been doing. And I cast the vision and they saw what was in it for them.

HOST – JESS LARSEN: This is part two of our episode with Jane Ann Craig. Jane Ann when we were talking between episodes you were kind of telling me what you feel like really kind of the root things behind your success. Can I get you to repeat those?

GUEST – JANE ANN CRAIG: Yeah. Yeah. So I would say if I had to break down the, maybe the three or four keys to my success. You know first of all was purpose. Because I was a single mom that wanted to be there for my son. That was really what drove me to quit my job and start my own company. So I had purpose. The other was that I had purpose for myself because I wanted to make a difference with my life. And so I needed to come up with a way that I could do that. And I didn’t even know exactly what that meant. I just knew that I wanted to be generous. It takes money to be generous. It takes flexibility with your time to be generous with your time. But the third thing that I think is a real key to my success is I kept it simple. I didn’t have a business degree. I think that worked to my advantage. Years earlier I saw a video. And I think it was Tom Peters. I think. But they did a documentary. And they studied all these business that succeed and they shouldn’t have. And at the end the conclusion was the entrepreneurs didn’t know they couldn’t. They hadn’t been taught they couldn’t. They just didn’t know. And I don’t believe there’s anything we really can’t accomplish and can’t do. And maybe we can’t do it all ourselves but we can surround ourselves with people that can. And so I think simple gets us started. And simple keeps us going. And I think that when we surround ourselves, even as we start to surround ourselves with advisors, like the attorneys and the IT guys, the CPAs, if they can’t simplify to where I can understand, it’s me. There was a season of my life I beat myself up for not being smart enough, for not being qualified. But if we have the vision, if we have the dream, we are plenty capable of seeing it through. We have to surround ourselves with people that can communicate what we need in a way that we can understand it. And so keeping it simple is huge. It’s huge. In fact if you google simplicity quotes you’ll find that there are hundreds if not thousands of quotes and one that was one of my favorite was Leonardo da Vinci “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. And so that’s that’s kind of my key to success is keep it simple. It will get you started. It will keep you going.

03:42 JL: And so you know, you built these four insurance companies. You made millions and millions of dollars selling them to Blue Cross Blue Shield National right. Highly regulated industry. Tell me about, like methodologies of trying to simplify within an inherently complicated system.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Okay.

04:08 JL: Because it sounds like you are trying to be as simple as possible, right?

JANE ANN CRAIG: Right. Well so I quit my job without a plan B. I had to succeed. And I had a brother who was a CPA thank goodness. And so he, I flew him in for the weekend. And he goes “Okay, we start with the business plan”. And I sat and I looked at a blank piece of paper for I don’t know how long before finally I went to a bookstore and I bought How to Write a Business Plan for Dummies. And then I copied it. But I let him do the projections. And he called me every week for the next 9 years to say “Jane Ann, if something doesn’t happen you’re going out of business”. And I would always just say “no that’s not an option”. And so I would call people. And really at the end of the day all of our success I believe came down to: if I didn’t have the answer somebody had the answer. I didn’t have to be an expert at accounting because there were people out there that would do accounting.  I didn’t have to be an expert with IT because there were people that did IT. For example, I don’t know if I should give this… one of our first big accounts was a large bank that’s here in Utah and all of the surrounding states. And I remember the day they said, when I was proposing to them to use our company. They said well do you have a website? And I said “it’s under construction”. Well I’m not going to lie. So before the day was over it was under construction. But we went and bought a book on how to create a website for dummies. Now it’s easy. But in 1997, 1998 it wasn’t easy. Right. It was a lot of money. I didn’t have the money. And so I guess my point is: even our first audit, which was a real life changer for me. You know we are highly regulated industry so you have auditors that are coming into, literally they get paid to find your deficiencies. I went in ahead of time and I did a pre audit. And I would look for everything they wanted. I’d look for it and if we were missing it, we would scramble and get it. You know, so even today I work with very very successful CEOs and their management teams. Even the most complicated issues, they’re almost always resolved when you take a step back and look at it simply. I was in a very complicated industry, but at the end of the day it was about showing up every morning. Working until it was done. And working with the right people. Surrounding ourselves with the right people.

07:00 JL: You know it sounds so simple, right? And it sounds like it doesn’t necessarily sound like revolutionary information. But when I hear your tone of voice as you say it, there’s a conviction behind that I believe it.

JANE ANN CRAIG: [laughs] Well, so I’m a really big believer in strategic partnerships. So let me give you an example. To be an insurance company, because you are paying claims. You’ve got to have what we call, surplus reserves. You’ve got to have money set aside. So it takes a lot of money just to get start as an insurance company. I didn’t have any money.  I didn’t have ANY money. And so I found a local insurance company that- they agreed to be my license. They agreed to pay our claims. And then we agreed to give them a small percentage, until we could build our block of business, until we could afford the reserves and the surpluses. And so there was always a solution for every challenge that we faced. It was usually found in a relationship. And if I couldn’t do it, there was always somebody else that could do it. We just had to figure out, how do we make it work for both of us. And so I think another key to the success in my company is that we worked with almost everyone of our competitors. And my logic was; we’re not going to be the cheapest. We’re not always going to have the biggest reach. But there is something we can do. And so to this day my companies they provide services for all the big carriers. You know, competitive carriers. Maybe we provide claim services. Maybe we provide dental networks. Maybe we provide some level of consulting. There’s just…If there’s a relationship there’s an opportunity. And that’s how we approached it.

08:53 JL: Can you talk more about this because just the word competition is just not often said in the same sentence as partnered with. Can you talk more about you know why more people don’t see through the obvious, the threat of them getting our business, and find ways to partner with the perceived competition?

JANE ANN CRAIG: So I think something that again helps is that if you start with the end in mind and then we’re really clear on what our objective is. And so then we’re looking for solutions to get to our objective and we don’t get hung up on some of the drama that other companies would. And so there may have been one or two competitors that I was very protective of. That we would not release certain information. But it’s a pretty transparent world now. I mean it just is. It’s a transparent world. There was very little that we created, certainly in the early years, there was nothing that we created on our own. We took our competitors stuff that was out in the market. And we didn’t believe in reinventing the wheel. If something was working; didn’t even have to be a competitor in our industry.  We would take something that was very good and we would make it ours. We would spin it. We would make it ours. And so we weren’t plagiarizing but we weren’t reinventing. With relationships I think there’s almost always a way that we can do business together. If it makes sense. If you are clear on your destination and objective, then you can decide, does it make sense. How can this carrier and this carrier work together? And we’re both achieving our objectives. Cause we are going to be competing against each other too. And there are logistical issues that you have to deal with. There just are. But you can work through them. And do you get burned sometimes? We got burned. We had a hostile takeover attempt. And it cost us quite a bit of money. We learned from that experience and we wouldn’t approach that strategy the way we did [laughs] a second time. But I would say that our competitors became some of our most strategic distributors and most profitable businesses.  

11:13 JL: Isn’t there an Abraham Lincoln quote about: if I turn an enemy into a friend haven’t I conquered him?

JANE ANN CRAIG: I believe that is Abraham Lincoln [chuckles]

11:20 JL: I’m probably misquoting it but something along those lines.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Something like that. Yeah.

11:25 JL: Let’s talk about another one where relationships can be pretty keen. You talked about raising money from investors.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Mmhm.

11:33 JL: What’s your approach? Or what’s your philosophy when it comes to raising money?

JANE ANN CRAIG: Okay, so I knew nothing about raising money. I knew nothing about raising money. So this was my strategy. I bought a legal pad and I wrote pages and pages and pages of every name in Utah or outside the state, of people that I knew who had money that might take my phone call. And then I spent a couple weeks calling them. And not one person , not one person called me back. Or invested. I talked to most of them, but nobody invested. Then I had a change of strategy. And I quit asking for money and I began to share my vision. And this is what I told them. Anybody that I ran into. If i ran into you, you’d say ‘Jane Ann how are you doing?’ And I’d say ‘I’m great. I’ve started an insurance company. WE’re going to build it into a multimillion dollar company and we’re going to sell it. And we’re going to hire hundreds of employees. We’re going to support causes. And the investors that invest; it’s going to be a great return. And it’s going to support everybody’s goals dreams and visions. And so I literally just began to share the vision. Within days of changing that strategy. Within days when I switched from asking people, to telling them what we were doing, people started to call me. And so our first shareholder, I ran into at the VA hospital visiting a friend’s dad. Another shareholder I met at a funeral. Another shareholder at Kinkos. And so some were friends. Some were colleagues. Some were people that had watched me over the years in the community. But every single one of them. Every single one of them, came as a result of a phone call, or running into me and saying “what have you been doing”. And I cast the vision and they saw what was in it for them. They wanted to be apart of it. When they could catch the vision then they wanted to be apart of it. Before that when I asked people to invest and gave them a pitch why it would be a good investment, not one person invested. So I’m very big about getting clear on the vision and learning how to communicate it well. Cause at the end of the day that’s what really really worked well for me.

13:46 JL: And what about maintaining good relationships. You know It’s one thing to get them in as the investor and it’s another thing to keep good relationships

JANE ANN CRAIG: Yeah and that takes finesse and that takes attention. Especially when you tell them it’s a 3-5 year plan and you’re into your 10th year.  And so I would take…I didn’t have a lot. I had 12 or 13. But I would – I got them annual shareholder letters. Sometimes quarterly. I would take them out frequently. And when shareholders would call and they’d ask about money, I almost always said the same thing. You know here’s the good news. We’re not quite ready but you didn’t lose it in the dotcom. You didn’t lose it in the market crash. Your money’s safe. [laugh] And usually people smiled because I was smiling as I told them that. So, I think now I might be a little wiser if, if I were to go the shareholder route I’d let them know it may take longer. It will likely take longer. I was very optimistic when I started the company. But yeah. That was how I approached that one And there had been like 3 or 4 crashes [laugh] so it actually worked out pretty well.

15:04 JL: [laughs] It’s like a glorified savings program that turns into an investment.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Yeah and it did turn out to be a good investment. Everybody was happy. So that was… I was really committed to the shareholders. The shareholders played a huge role in- between the shareholders, the employees and my son, I always felt very accountable to being successful. I understand, you know, people jumping out of buildings. I understand what that’s like to have that financial pressure that you don’t see a way out. But I believe that there is always a way to succeed. You just got to keep going. You got to get up in the morning. And that’s when you get to see the miracles. You know. That’s where, that’s where you build your entrepreneurial muscles you know. Because if you see it through you’re going to get what you need. I believe that with every bit of my being.

16:05 JL: Yeah. You know another question I’d love to get your thoughts on. We obviously both hav CEO clients that we are consulting with advice. I have a lot of clients who talk about “Man Jess I’m just so busy. The to do’s list is just so much longer than the hours I’ve got in a day. And then the emergency happens, right? What kind of thoughts do you have for the busyness of today’s executives?

JANE ANN CRAIG: So I think we are too busy. I really do. One of the relationships that I met at a Corporate Alliance event early on was a e-myth coach by the name of David Crenshaw. And he caught me at a moment that I was fragile. I mean I was like getting very very little sleep and just couldn’t see- It was like my desk could be clean in the morning and by afternoon it was just piled high. And I couldn’t even figure out how to get on top of everything . And he told me if I would hire him that he would free up 25% of my time. He promised he would. And so I did. I hired him. And it was a harrowing experience because I had to have a huge trash can and 12 bins and he literally took every pile on my desk on my credenza everywhere and piled them into these bins, and then I had to learn how to process one sheet at a time. It was horrible. It took me about a year to really get through all those bins. But he helped me learn some principals. That the way I was wired, the way…

17:43 JL: Like what’s an example?

JANE ANN CRAIG: So he said one of my problems was that I had too big of an imagination. And it was true. Something very simple, instead of making a decision, I would go through the ‘what ifs’. And I would start out with this simple ‘what if’ and before I was done it was a legal- I’m going to lose everything. And so one was learning to reign in my imagination. And when he said it, it really rubbed me wrong. Another was…

18:12 JL: What would you do? When you noticed you were going down that track did you have something you would say to yourself? What did that actually look like?

JANE ANN CRAIG: Well so somethings are so simple as there are things that I’m not very good at. I don’t like to do them. I just get them off my desk and give them to somebody who is good at them. Even if I have to outsource it, you know. Like I’m terrible with I don’t like to fill out applications. I don’t like… I just don’t like that stuff. But my accountant, my controller, my attorney, they like that kind of stuff. So I just give to them, you know.  And then I skim it. But basically what he taught me was: if you can resolve it in a couple of minutes, do it. If you can’t, budget time and put it on your calendar then get it off your shoulders. Kind of in a nutshell this is what he told me is we counted up- as human beings we get all these collecting points. And I had like 133 of them and that sounds ridiculous. But we’re talking voicemails, mailboxes. I had three offices you know. I had three different receptionists. I had like 6 voicemails. You know you started adding these things up and I had all these calendars. And so We’re not meant to carry that. And so one of the principals that he taught was, you know, reduce your collecting points to 7. I will let you have 7 voicemails, mailboxes, receptacles, that’s it! And then if you can’t get it done in a minute or 2 then put it on your calendar. And then don’t carry it around anymore. Cause we try to carry around all this stuff. And we weren’t meant to and we don’t have to. And so that was huge advice. Something else that he taught me was that the way I had my office setup was silly. You know I had it for books. So I had my computer over here. I know you can’t see that. But my computer was to my right. My phone was on the credenza behind me. And  there were little things that were time thieves. They were just stealing my time because I’d have to slide to the right, slide to the left. So they were little things. But we figured it saved me about 30% of my time. So working a little bit smarter. Probably the best thing I ever did was hire an executive assistant. Amazing. To do the stuff, not the spillover work, but just to support me, to manage my calls, to manage my telephone, to manage the calls, to manage appointments, to manage emails. It was remarkable. A lot of executives will hire an executive assistant and then they just become another employee. But this person is designed to protect you and to free you up so you can do what you’re really good at. And that was a really good aha moment.

21:09 JL: Why do you think so many  of us ambitious, you know, overachiever types, why do you think our default answer is do more rather than systems that can do it for us?

JANE ANN CRAIG: Well for me I’m not – I don’t know that I was all that good at creating systems. I like to think big picture. I like to think big strategy. I like to keep it simple. But if I surround myself with young people that are really into systems and technology. And when I say young people I use that word really super loosely. Really super loosely. Just people that are young at heart and understand the tools that are available for us today. I think that if I were to do anything differently it would be to do less and celebrate more. And to play just a little bit more. Because we forget again why we’re even doing what we’re doing. And we may love it and it may become a big part of our world. But it shouldn’t be our world.

22:19 JL: Live to work or work to live.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Yeah. Now maybe some people do. But if we have families, if we have kids, if we want to be contributing to the community, that’s not what our careers are all about.

22:30 JL: As we finish up here on part 2, what’s the best piece of advice you ever got? Or what’s one of the better pieces of advice you ever got?

JANE ANN CRAIG: Okay, so this… Something that comes to mind right now, and I don’t mean to sound churchy but it is kind of churchy. And it is… I really struggled with my lack of credentials. I mean I really did. And I think most entrepreneurs do probably. But I really struggled. I thought everybody was smarter than me. And one day I was driving by a church that was on a corner that I just drove by it every day. But they had a marquee and on the marquee they put positive sayings and they had a saying that said, ”God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”.  And that sentence, I can’t tell you how much that just infused me with encouragement. Because see now I realized that the mistakes that we make, the, you know, the embarrassing things we do. Even the very publicly embarrassing things we do. All of the struggles that we have along the way, that’s where we’re building our skills. That’s where we’re building our reputation. That’s where we’re building our influence. That’s where we’re building our relationships. All of that is really really valuable. And so if we have the vision, we’re equipped to see it through. We just have to walk it out. And so that saying “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called” I think you can spin it however you want. But if we will walk it out, there’s very little we can’t do.  

24:33 JL: Ok, you heard it here first folks. That’s great advice. Thanks for spending so much time with us.

JANE ANN CRAIG: Ah this has been so much fun.

24:40 JL: Thanks everybody for listening.

[END] 24:43

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