Leadership + People: Episode 20 - Dave Rutter - Part 2 of 2

In this episode Dave Rutter, CEO and president of Costa Vida discusses the importance of individual and business mission statements. And how continued business growth comes from continual learning.

Show Notes

  • How Corporate Alliance put them in touch with the right person for the right job [00:52]
  • “Your mission and your vision is what is talked about in the halls. Not necessary what is written on the walls” [04:35]
  • Staying on course with individual mission statement and self correction [09:03]
  • How to stay focused on our ultimate goals with continued learning and reading [12:22]
  • Being open to change, as to not hinder growth [14:57]
  • Abandoning ego to work together as a team: ten heads are better than even two [20:04]

Show Audio

Show References


This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: February 6, 2018

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.

HOST – JESS LARSEN: Today is part 2 of our interview with Dave Rutter.

GUEST – DAVE RUTTER: “As we’re building our team, that we try to do that as much through that vision and as much through that mission, which honestly, a lot of them helped create. I mean, this is a collaborative effort with our executive team. We spent- We went off site for about a week as we were developing and strategizing around who do we really want to be when we grow up and where do we really want to go and what is most important to us.”

00:52 JL: Dave when we were ending of part one there, we were talking about the value of meeting with the right people and kind of getting out of our own silo, and getting new ideas to innovate our businesses. Who’s one of your heros? Or who’s someone that you’ve got inspiration for as you’ve grown your organization so large?

Networking to Find Inspiring Individuals

DAVE RUTTER: Well, I think, I think one of those people, from Corporate Alliance specifically… What we have- What one of the areas that we have found great value with Corporate Alliance is their ability to connect us with some key people. And we had to change, we knew we had to change in a marketing leader, coming up for us several months ago. And so first person that  I reached out to was Jeff Rust with Corporate Alliance. “Hey we’re looking to make change here. We’re going to move this from a director position to a CMO position, Chief Marketing Officer. Do you have any thoughts?” And so he gave me a couple thoughts and we interviewed them and ultimately hired one of those that he sent us to. A guy by the name of Jeff Wasden. Jeff, has- When you talk about inspirational, something very exciting for me. What I love about what we have the opportunity to do, is to surround ourselves with people that we feel like are smarter than us [laughs] and I’m surrounded by a whole lot them in my office right now. Im looking out across my office as I’m talking to you and I see a whole lot of people that I feel like are smarter than me. And I think it’s an important thing as a leader, number one, not to be challenged by somebody who is smarter than you. And to embrace that and to understand that is how we are able to grow and develop. But Jeff, when we interviewed him and, I so appreciate Jeff Rust for connecting us with him. But he made a statement to me. He used to run Coke in Central America. And he was involved down in Costa Rica. And he said, “What we developed over a period of time with Coca Cola, was about 5 or 6 points that we knew if we put those 5 or 6 pieces into the puzzle, before we rolled into a new market, we knew we would have a successful launch. And we knew that we would scale well in that market”. And when we made the decision to hire and bring him on, I said, “Now I want you to go develop that exact same thing for Costa Vida. That when we open in a new market, we know if we hit these 5 or 6 things, we will open well and we will scale well”. And we’re not completely there yet. Jeff’s been with us just a few months now. But there are several elements of that, that are in place. That is very inspiring and fun for me. When you can look and say that we develop through the information that we have, and through data that we gain, a practice that we know when we institute, or that we execute against that practice, that we will be successful. That becomes really exciting. That’s an inspiring part of the business world for me.

04:12 JL: Yeah. You know, I’m thinking about something we were talking about in part one. About how a lot of your staff you know, they are high school or college aged kids. This is not necessarily a long term career choice.

DAVE RUTTER: Yeah, yeah.  

04:25 JL: But obviously for you folks at the top, with the level of success that you’ve had, you’re probably not, you know, I’m guessing you’re going to stick with what’s going [laughs]. 

DAVE RUTTER: [laughs] Yeah.

04:35 JL: You know I think about leadership and how many times, for us, who are maybe running an organization, it’s easy to project our values or our… what we think should be important to people, on others. And I’m interested in on how you navigate that or what you train for your more senior people of… How do you get dialed into these people who we need to work with them but we can also recognize that this may not be the rest of their life of, you know? You add on top of all that of what we were talking about in episode one of sometimes, you know, customers aren’t their best selves when they’re buying things in our stores. Do you have any tips about how you guys do it or just principals that apply on how to make the hard right decision instead of the easy wrong decision.

Practicing Your Mission and Your Vision

DAVE RUTTER: Yeah. I think that that’s great. I heard a saying one time that I think is really valuable. Which is: ‘Your mission and your vision is what is talked about in the halls. Not necessary what is written on the walls’. I think a lot of organizations and a lot of companies will have a mission statement or they will have a vision statement up on the wall, but there is a disconnect between what they do in the day to day whirlwind of business, and what is written on the wall. And I think, when we talk about getting buy-in, and we talk about real engagement with the team, you know, at our entry level at our restaurants, you know, we know that 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year old young men, young women, this may not be a career for them. Most of the people that we work with in our office, this hopefully will be a career. We want to have these people with us for a long long time. And again, I mean, a lot of the people I’m looking at right now, have been with us 10 years, 12 years, you know 13 years. You know, a long time. I think what helps to build that, and this has been a progressive learning experience for us. But really when we make decisions, and when we look to- As we’re building our team, that we try to do that as much through that vision and as much through that mission. And that mission, which honestly a lot of them helped create. This is a collaborative effort with our executive team. We spent… We went off site for about a week, as we were developing and strategizing around who do we really want to be when we grow up. And where do we really want to go. And what is most important to us. Well sometimes, some of those things that are kind of lofty and grand when you talk about them, become a little bit distant when we think about, “hey I got to make payroll coming up on friday”. And does that cause us to make a different decision that is no longer in sync with who we say that we are. Or a value that we have listed up on a wall. And that is where, in my mind that real leadership comes through, is to be able to say; No. We will put those values first. We will put who we ultimately want to become first. And we’re going to have to figure out payroll on Friday. And we’re going to have to figure out some of these other tough things. But we’re going to stay true to who we are. I think that is where you begin to get tremendous buy-in and tremendous loyalty from teams when they see that, wow these things really are ultimately most important. You know. I mean we’re all still in the same situation. We’re all, you know, we’re all fighting through more regulation and more challenging business landscape and environment than earlier in our careers. For sure. But we continue to mold. And we continue to adapt. And we continue to become better and better at what we do. And none of us can get there without the brilliant creative minds of the people that we work with who really have the opportunity just to focus in some real distinct areas that honestly we ourselves are just not able to drill down to such a, you know, to that kind of level. Because we have so many different things that we are working on.

09:03 JL: So what about those tough times when the temptation really is there to not be your best self. Do you have any, just things you tell yourself? Or is there any, you know… What’s the Dave Rutter tips and tricks for when the temptation is really strong to not be your best self?

Need for Individual Mission Statements

DAVE RUTTER: [laugh] Well, and there have been plenty of times were I haven’t been my best self. And I think that, that is one of the those things that you look at, and as you reassess your day. One of the things that, I have done this. I, like a lot of people have probably gotten some of these things through Stephen Covey. But, one of the things that I have developed for myself that I do each morning, that I read, is my own personal mission statement. So in addition to what we do on the company level. I have my mission statement that I read. And I think that you develop tremendous strength. Because when you are in a leadership role, there are ultimately things that you really don’t have anybody else that you can turn to. I mean you can definitely get coaching. And you can definitely get counsel. And we have really built this business, it’s really been built with a whole lot of great team members. But it’s really been my business partner and I. And this last July, he left for three years on a mission for the LDS church. And so we kind of consolidated his role and my role. And now I have both of those roles. And so, we still will talk some, and- But that kind of day to day ability to bounce ideas off, is changed for me from what it was. And so it’s… I love the partnership model. I’ve been in partnerships in my life that have not been great. And I’ve had this partnership, that has been tremendous for me. My partner Sean Collins and I have been business partners for, gosh, coming up on I guess 20 years. And so it is a little bit different to be in a situation where I don’t have that same ability to bounce things off. But it’s been a fun learning experience as well. And so I think that when you do have that temptation, we all do have those temptations from time to time. And there’s going to be times like I said before, when we are not necessarily our best selves. And all we can do when we have that, is to regroup at the end of the day. And say, I could have handled that better and next time I’m presented with that, I will handle that better. And I will do better. And I hope and feel that I’m a better leader today than I was a year ago. And better then than I was 2 years before that. And we continue to grow and develop. And, you know we work with great people who are patient with us as we work our way through some of those learning curves, you know. But I think it’s important just as we have mission and vision and values in the office environment, we really need to define those individually for ourselves. And so we can kind of reset ourselves and make sure that we do stay focused on not what matters at the moment but really, ultimately what matters most.

12:22 JL: You know, I feel like you said a number of interesting things. But one that I want to go back to, is this idea of reading your individual mission statement daily. You know in our work we are super interested in kind of self programming, and the value of meaningful repetitions and these kind of things and help people helping shape our own futures by the habits we build it ourselves. Can you talk about any more the value of, you know, going through something like that on a daily basis which obviously you know it by now, but it sounds like you keep reading it anyways.

Continued Learning

DAVE RUTTER: Yeah. I think that there are… you know, your point of self programming. I think it’s such an interesting point because for a lot of people, you know, we graduate and leave high school and we stop reading books, you know. We stop developing our minds. We stop doing those things that help us grow. And we want the world and those around us to conform to our way of thinking rather than learning that- No. What I’ve done to this point has gotten me to where I am. And if I want to get better than where I am, I need to change. I need to be humble and willing enough to change. And so I think for me, you know, my own personal way is, you know, my first hour or so in the morning right after I get up, is my study time. And that’s where I just sit and nobody else is up in my house at that time. I’m an early riser and so I just have a quiet environment where I really have the opportunity to learn and let my mind go a little bit and not be so busy. Sometimes in our day to day we’re running from one meeting to the next. And it’s important that we have those times in our day where we can disconnect just for a minute, and think. And make sure that we’re on track with our goals. Cause it’s so easy to get twisted off course, just a little because of things that are thrown at us. So if we never have that time to kind of regroup and reset ourselves and say, ‘no. This is is what’s ultimately most important to me’. If we don’t take those times, I think it’s easy to get off course. I think it’s tremendously important, on a daily basis, to continue to develop and expand our minds. Mission statement, as we’ve discussed, but also in reading and listening and learning and, you know, continuing to develop our mind and grow our abilities.

14:57 JL: I think that’s great advice. You know shifting gears here again. I know were closing in on episode 2 being done pretty quick here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on growing a bigger business. You know, I think there’s a lot of people who, they have some idea, you know, for the guy who actually started the business themselves right. They get into the single digit millions, and they’re doing ok. But obviously where you’ve got the kind of expansion that’s, you know, in the 10’s of millions of dollars here and bigger. In your mind what makes the difference? What’s the difference between those folks that, you know, they can have a business that makes a good living versus, you know, building in the kind of system that you guys have obviously grown into?

Allowing Change to Allow Growth

DAVE RUTTER: You know i think jess It’s honestly back to what we were talking about just a second ago. It’s… I heard it explained one way, one time were it’s like putting a ring or a band onto a tree limb. And it fits on to the tree limb and can slide on there just fine. But as that tree continues to grow and that limb becomes bigger, the tree sometimes will grow around. Sometimes if it’s left on there it will always grow around that ring that’s on there, I think. And sometimes as leaders, we’re like that ring on the tree limb. And if we don’t- if we don’t continue to grow, we can actually become the hindrance to that business growing bigger. Because it has to be our way. Or you know, this is the way that we’ve always done it. So this is the way that we continue to do it. Rather than to rely on maybe younger and in some cases brighter minds, at least brighter in some areas, that allow things to grow to the next level. I mean, we see stuff like this happen all the time. And, you know, as we maybe make a change in a position in our business, somebody that- fantastic person, very very integral part of us as we grow. But kind of hit the point where they’re kind of not willing, you know, to learn any more. And they’re not willing to continue to develop and grow. And so you kind of hit his stopping point. You know, that worked great when we had 20 stores. It doesn’t work any more as we’re closing in on 100 stores. I mean, we can’t do things the same way. And so we need to learn to think bigger. And we need to think more broadly. And so I think that’s a big part of the difference between somebody who their business hits a plateau versus somebody else who breaks through that plateau. Because we’re always going to have those false ceilings. But as we break through those and we kind of hit to new levels that we’re growing towards, it’s really just the battles that we find and the 6 inches between our ears, you know, that as we continue to learn and grow and develop better ways to do things. And honestly a lot of times, to me those things come in our really challenging, trying times. Let me give you just one quick example. You know, when we experienced the downturn, that we experienced in 2007 and 2008, when the economy was struggling. We went from a time where we were having, where we had had several positive growth quarters, you know, with our business. And all of a sudden that flattened. And all of a sudden we had negative growth. And you know, I remember I was on a hike one saturday morning. And I was talking to my business partner Sean. And we were talking as I was coming down the mountain. And we were exploring ideas. And I made the statement to him, “You know you never love times like this when you’re in them. But looking back I really really value those times because it’s those times when we’re really stretched and pressed that truthfully we become so much better”.  We went into that downturn needing to be at a certain level to be able to be profitable at our restaurants. We came out of that downturn and had dropped that level by $20,000 or $25,000 that we needed to become profitable. Because We learned how to be much more efficient during that period of time out of necessity. We had to become much more efficient. And so it’s this idea of saying, ok. Sometimes those targets move on us and it’s nothing that we did, but the economy moves a target on us. Wow we better for darn sure be able to adapt and evolve. Or we kind of get run over. It’s a principle that’s taught in the book “Who moved the cheese” you know. It’s a great, quick little, easy read. But it teaches a fantastic principle. Sometimes the cheese gets moved and we need to learn how to adapt and change to be able to get to where that cheese has gone.

20:04 JL: I love it. Kind of leads me to this. I think this will be our final question here. And we’ll end it with this. But, you know, you’re talking about that battle, the 6 inches between your ears And specifically like, you know, I feel like you were saying the humility sometimes to listen to younger minds or brighter minds on some certain subject. Any advice of ways that you get yourself to do that? I think it’s pretty easy for those of us who’ve maybe had some bigger success in life to feel like we know how to do things. So any tips about how to conquer yourself? How to reign in your own ego? How to recognize when it’s time to lead versus it’s time to shut up and listen?  

Working as a Team to Buy Hearts

DAVE RUTTER: [laughs] Well I think that, I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things really. I do consider, you know, study and learning to be a key part of that as well. Because for me the more that I study and learn, the more I realize there’s so much that I don’t know. When you’re young and you think you know everything. And I think the older you get the more you realize; wow there’s so much that I don’t learn. And you use the word ego. I think that ego can be in a business environment so damaging. It’s a- We’ve all been in environments before where you have one leader and you have, you know, a thousand followers, following after. Just kind of doing what that leader says. And I think what I’ve learned, because there’s probably been times that maybe I was a little bit that way, or my partner was a little bit that way and we lead our organization somewhat that way. And you realize that, you know, you can buy somebody’s back, but it’s a whole different thing to buy their heart. And buying their back will get you a certain extent. And if ultimately the goal for all of us is we want to build something that is really cool and really special. It’s going to take a whole lot more than just what is happening in my mind or what’s happening in my partners and my minds together. We’ve always kind of operated on this philosophy that two heads are better than one and 10 are forsure better than 2. And, you know I think there are sometimes you can take it to an extreme because a leader does have to lead. And so you sit around a table and you through about some of these key issues. And then you come out of there with a plan and this is what we’re going to do. And that’s the leader’s decision to ultimately make. And then it’s everybody else that sits around that tables responsibility to say ‘ok. This is what we do’. And as we come out of this room, we might have fought tooth and nail about it behind closed doors. But as we come out of this room, people know that that executive team or that team that we’re working with, we stay together. We work together. This isn’t somebody’s idea as we walk out of there. No. This is the decision of the team. And so I just think that that is something that has… that we have continually learned and become stronger with is this idea and the knowledge that we are much stronger as a team than we ever are individually. There’s just- People are blessed with different gifts and different abilities. And as leaders we have some of those, but we definitely don’t have the full complement. And there’s other people in our organization that given the chance to actually be creative and think on their own, can amaze you with what they are able to accomplish and do.

23:46 JL: That’s great. Well listen. We appreciate you spending so much time with here with us on the show.

DAVE RUTTER: Thank you so much. It’s been fun talking with you Jess.

23:54 JL: Great. Thanks everybody for listening. And we’ll end it there.

[END] 23:58