Leadership + People: Episode 30 - Troy Gregory - Part 2 of 2
Troy Gregory, President at Hunt Electric, talks about how his path from trade electrician to president was paved thanks to mentorship and a genuine dedication to the company’s mission statement. Gregory shares his advice for others looking to grow a $100 million / year company with the best people and the best customers.
- Putting plans in place for company success years in advance [01:29]
- Company Founder, Richard Hunt’s roadmap for the future, how his transition still allowed the company to grow [05:07]
- Proper mentorship [09:16]
- Lessons learned through the ranks: Customer First [12:52]
- “Knowing what the needs are for these clients and understanding the value of removing the headaches from ’em, and giving solutions to their issues, and being able to manage their budgets and their schedules and how important those different things are to them — it puts you in a position to be able to support those sales teams and making sure that they’re guided in the right direction.” [13:58]
- Long-term Customer Relationships [16:53]
- Creating a Customer-Centric Culture [18:26]
- Why Hunt Electric is committed to performance [21:59]
- Getting and retaining the best people is about growth and opportunity [24:42]
This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: April 17, 2018
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 device they wish they knew if they could do it all again.
HOST – JESS LARSEN: Today on the show, we’ve got part two of our episode with Troy Gregory — president at Hunt Electric.
GUEST – TROY GREGORY: You know, knowing what the needs are for these clients, and understanding the value of removing the headaches from them, and giving solutions to their issues, and being able to manage their budgets and their schedules and how important those different things are to them — it puts you in a position to be able to support those sales teams and making sure that they’re guided in the right direction.
Preparing Now to Meet the $100 Million Mark
00:51 JL: If you missed part one where we talked about growing the business to over $100 million per year in revenue, and 600 staff in these big, giant projects that they do, please go back and listen to that.
But, Troy, I think what I want to start off with on this episode is thinking about leading your people to grow the business to $100 million/year. Can you talk to the rest of us who might want to get our business over the $100 million number?
TROY GREGORY: Yeah. First off, thanks for having me on and you know, for us, it was really thinking long-term and starting to put pieces in place that would ultimately lead us to be successful in that growth. And so, a lot of the things that have led to our success and where we’re at right now, are things that we put in place several years ago. Really, a lot of it are cultural things that have been in place from day one with Hunt Electric.
Structurally, I think you know, you kinda as you’re growing a business, you go through different paradigm shifts. You go through different stages of that business that — they’re disruptive; you have to change the way that you’re doing things now. You have to add in different level of management, where you’ve gotta have them look at things differently.
For us, a lot of those things we were planning for several years and putting the right things in place, getting the right people in the right spots and the right place, getting them prepared to ultimately take on bigger roles and bigger responsibilities. I think those are the critical things that have led to our success. We’ve been an organically-grown company that over time, has had consistent growth. And recently, we’ve taken some big leaps and what allows you to take those big leaps is making sure things are in place first. I think a lot of people – they head down that path and they think ultimately that those things will work themselves out along the way and that makes it really difficult. No matter how as you grow through these different levels as an organization, there’s a lot of challenges there. There’s a lot of stress that’s involved in it. There’s a lot of – it causes people to be stretched at different levels. So, ultimately, if you’re trying to do that with the stress of just the additional workload because of the volume growth that you’ve had, and you’re stacking those things up, in my opinion, you’re kinda setting yourself up for a disaster.
But, if you go back and you put those things in place first, and you realize that you’ve got things positioned the best you can, you’re always gonna be able to move quickly and adjust to things. But, the best you can, put that roadmap in place. Get those things. Get the people in the right spot. Get them tuned up to those different levels and challenging them to be prepared for that, and then ultimately, when the growth comes, you still have the challenges that any business is going to have with growth, but they’re not as challenging. People are more prepared for them. So I think that’s a crucial things, Jess, that has helped us kinda continually grow, but then be able to manage some of these big-growth bumps that we’ve had through these different levels is really putting the time in place ahead of time and making sure that you’re positioned well for it.
Thinking Down The Road: Founder, Richard Hunt
05:07 JL: So, it’s funny when you say that I think [laughs] your version of long-term thinking versus a lot of other peoples’ is different, right? So, thinking about leadership, I know one of the leaders that you look up to is Richard Hunt – founder at Hunt Electric. Can you give us a story or an example of a lot longer-term thinking than maybe the average folks do that you guys have done there?
TROY GREGORY: Yeah, I mean the immediate thing that comes to mind is just his transition. I think a lot of business leaders – they work, they grow a company, then they get to a point where they stop and they look and go, ‘Man, what are my options now at this point? I’m getting tired. I’ve done all this and do I, you know, at this point, do I just sell? Or, do I try to spin another group up to manage and take this thing over?’ And I don’t think they have the vision that Richard Hunt has had. That’s been a great example to me and a lot of our other people to be thinking down the road further. So, you know, his transition plan was a 12 year plan and we’re ten years in on 12 years. He has followed those steps to a T that he laid out clear back then. And that’s really difficult for people to do.
But ultimately, that has led to my success, and properly having me positioned to take the company over. A lot of our other management team — it’s allowed them to have that kind of vision long-term of where we’re going, what we’re doing. So that’s one immediate one that pops into my mind with Richard is the guy is thinking way down the road.
06:58 JL: Can we talk about this for a second?
TROY GREGORY: Yeah.
07:01 JL: So, you know, I used to do mergers and acquisitions on an M&A team for Citigroup before I ran a private equity fund, right? And, you see a lot of buyout terms. You know, you talk about transition and it’s like, you know, they want the executive team to stick around for 12 months. Or, you know, maybe up to 36 months, right? And here you guys are talking about one that’s 12 years of a plan for that transition. Obviously, that sends a message to everybody on your team. But, can you talk about any specific examples of how you think that’s been to your advantage to have a 12-year plan instead of a 12-month plan?
TROY GREGORY: Well, yeah, I mean it comes back to proper mentorship. So, I would say ultimately, what we’re building this company for and what we’re trying to achieve long-term down the road — I think if you go back to that of having — when you have a culture, you have something that Richard’s really passionate about and has been. He has organically-grown this company. It started in his garage 32 years ago. So, when you’re passionate about something and you want something to carry on long-term, I think that’s the more critical piece of making sure it’s done right and over time.
I think ultimately, he’s leaving this business to the employees and so, another thing is his caring for the people that have been surrounded around him and wanting them to succeed and grow. I think that’s a crucial part of it. I think if it’s all about you know, sell a company, get somebody else in,” I think, Jess, you probably would understand the more challenges there of having a short-term transition of a year or two years between somebody. But, if your thought process is really focused on the overall success of the business and to continue to grow, I think that takes a longer time to transition.
Proper Mentorship & Long-term Vision
You know, when it goes back to mentorship, you know in my case, a little on my background is I came through the trade. So, you know, the first third of my career was working through the field and understanding the construction side — the industry from the inside. Then, the last two-thirds have been… I would say the second third has been really learning the management side, learning some of the – more the management piece of this business and the world, and the customer relationships, and all the important functions and parts. And the last third has really been the stronger growth period. When somebody is there to help be a mentor that you can go and bounce different ideas off of and stuff. It’s really led to my growth and my success to where ultimately, it’s allowed me to be able to put other management in place.
If you look at our entire executive team and management team, we have a young group of people that are really energized and ready to go. That doesn’t happen overnight. That doesn’t happen. If you try to do that in one or two years, it just won’t happen. It takes a longer time to put those different pieces in place. But, yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. But I look at some of these other businesses, and even some really close friends that have businesses, and they’re kinda in a point now where they’re just now starting to look at it and they realize that they’ve kinda — they’re behind it now and that they’ve gotta figure out how to do it quicker and come up with a way to do it. So, not a lot of people I’ve seen and being surrounded by some great people, but I haven’t seen that out of many that have had that kind of vision — long-term vision to do it that way.
11:26 JL: Yeah. Well, it’s obviously infiltrated the rest of your company. I remember when we were going through that stuff on the whiteboard with your team – hearing about how you guys are trying to take high school kids who, you know, not everybody is realizing that being an electrician is a six-figure a year job if you do it right. And you guys have this whole map of how to take somebody from high school to $100,000 a year job. You know, that’s obviously over twice the national average for a salary in this country and you know, I think it’s a testament to getting the water to the end of the road, dig your well before you’re thirsty kind of cliches, right, for you guys?
TROY GREGORY: Yeah, absolutely.
12:04 JL: My next, and obviously anybody who knows somebody who’s interested in that, Troy’s looking. Send them to HuntElectric.com. Right? [laughs]
TROY GREGORY: Always looking for good people. [laughs]
12:13 JL: Always looking for good people. [laughs] So, I guess my next question though is — you came up through the trades, you know. There’s a lot of folks taking over $100 million/year companies that they went to Harvard and they did their… they were such and such at McKenzie (sp?) and they have these pedigrees, right?
You come up through the ranks as an electrician and pay the price to learn all those skills in the real world instead of the classroom and get where you’re at. But, what about leading the sales teams? The business development teams? What lessons do you feel like you’ve learned when it comes to leading those people, you know, business development’s a different animal than maybe some of the more operational-type roles?
Focusing on the Client, Customer First… And meaning it
TROY GREGORY: Sure. Yeah, I would say that when you understand your business and where you’re going, and you’re understanding the most important part of that and what’s going to lead to the success. So, to be specific to business development, and you know marketing or sales, in general, I would say ultimately, it’s the customer. That’s ultimately what their focus is on. And, as a business, when the model is really centered around the client or the customer — in trying to add value and trying to have an extremely satisfied customer — I think it puts you in a position to easily support those individuals.
Now, you know, where that’s not my background or not my history, but my knowledge is really around the client and ultimately what – knowing what the needs are for these clients and understanding the value of removing the headaches from ’em, and giving solutions to their issues, and being able to manage their budgets and their schedules and how important those different things are to them — it puts you in a position to be able to support those sales teams and making sure that they’re guided in the right direction.
I think the other thing too is focusing on the right client, the right people. With my past, my history and stuff is knowing who we’re gonna align with, that we’re gonna ultimately — our Hunt Electric-type people are like who we are and who we want to do business with and who we want to be a partner with, and who we truly want to build those relationships with. I think that’s where I can add value too, is the vision on what type of clients we align well with, and that ultimately, I feel that we’re gonna be able to succeed and accomplish what we need to do to build those long relationships.
15:05 JL: Yeah, let’s talk about that because, you know, everybody running an organization — we get offered money to do something that isn’t straight up the fair way for us, you know? And it is so tempting to just take the money and grin and bear it, you know? Talk to me about the discipline to stare money in the face and go, “This is not a good alignment thing,” and actually say no. All sorts of sales people claim, “And we wouldn’t take your business if we didn’t think it was right.” But really, the qualification for “right” is were you gonna pay in American dollars? Ok, we’ll take your business. Right? [laughs] So, tell me about this. Being honest with yourself and having the discipline to turn money down.
TROY GREGORY: For me, it all comes down to am I gonna do work with that client tomorrow and the next day, and the next day? I think somebody might be more motivated that if it’s just a one-time job or a one-time service or a one-time product to an end-user or to a client, to get distracted and be just focused on the money and how it best benefits them for that short-term thing. And I think I mean, that’s a real issue. I think a lot of people do look at that that way, but I think ultimately, when you come back and you realize that the customer base that we’re building, we want to do work for them now and we want to work for them ten years from now.
We have multiple partners right now that we’ve done work for for several years. One of them is a developer. I don’t know that I should use names, but there’s multiple great developers out there. Stack is one I’m thinking of, PEG, a bunch of others. But, Stack, we’ve been doing work with those guys for over ten years now. And, ultimately, you know, we want to make sure that we’re giving them the best service at the best price and that we’re focused on that because ultimately, we want them to come back tomorrow, and we want to have that kind of relationship where we can do work for them for ten years. If you’re just focused on the bottomline — as much money as you can make, I think you’re undermining that. I think ultimately, that’ll be erode that relationship.
17:29 JL: So, I’m noticing a theme here about long-term thinking over short-term thinking. [laughs] Hey, I want to go back to something you said though, because you talked about customer first and everybody says that. Everybody claims, you know, find me an organization that doesn’t claim to put customer first. But when you say it, I can tell it means something different by your tone of voice. Can you talk to me about the, I don’t know, what you see as the difference for you guys? Or, how you get sales reps. You know, I feel like I’ve been a sales rep since I was 15 years old, even when I was CEO of a private equity fund, just top sales rep, right?
There’s a lot of short-term thinking in sales, right? [laughs] So, can you talk about this? Everybody claims to be customer first, customer-centric, think about the customer. Can you get more specific into what you mean that maybe you know, a standard that maybe not everybody else holds themselves to?
Creating a Customer-Centric Culture Through Company Mission
TROY GREGORY: Well, I think a couple examples are is if your team, you know, when leadership hears you and sees you make a call that’s aligned with that–with the client, that they can physically see you support what you’re saying and backing it up. I think that starts to build it into your culture, right? I think you know, you can say the customer’s first, but then when your team and the people surrounding here working for us, when they see us physically do that and back it up and put our money where our mouth is, with you know, hey ultimately, this is what’s best for the client, we’re willing to do that. Or, we’re focused on this. If we’ve gotta hit that price point, we’re gonna hit that price point for these guys. When they see you back it up and do it, that starts to push it down into your culture.
Then I think pushing up at the bottom is you know, one thing I do is when we have new hire orientation, I go spend 10-15 minutes with all our new employees — shake their hand, introduce ’em, and I spend that time talking about our mission statement. I always start that off with every company has a mission statement, but a lot of them it’s just a plaque on the wall. It’s something that they feel like they have to have. But, ours means something to us, and I take them through it. Our mission statement is provide superior customer value through a culture of quality, integrity, performance, and versatility. Well, I ramble that off and I guarantee somebody listening to this goes, “Yeah, that sounds like ours.”
20:11 JL: [laughs]
TROY GREGORY: You know what I mean? [laughs]
20:12 JL: Yeah.
TROY GREGORY: They’re probably like, “Yeah, that’s a good one.” It’s just like what we’ve got.
20:16 JL: Big deal.
TROY GREGORY: So, what I do is I take those employees in there and I break it down, and I say, “Okay, quality. What does quality mean to Hunt Electric?” And I give them specifics. I give them – I talk about, look a lot of the work we do is gonna be buried behind a wall or buried in the ground, and no one else is ever gonna see it. It’s making sure that that product is going to last. It’s making sure things are done right for our customers. And I go through little specifics.
Integrity. You could ask 100 people to define “integrity” and it’s probably going to be 100 different definitions. So, what I pointed out is what integrity means for Hunt Electric. Integrity for Hunt Electric is that we do the right thing for our customers and we do the right thing for our employees, and when we say we’re going to do something, we back it up. Then I go through those trust things and break it down from there. But letting them know — you know, these are brand new employees, sometimes they’re young men and women coming right out of high school — 21:25 and letting them know that integrity for us is putting the customer first and doing the right thing for the customer.
Performance. Going into performance — that’s what we’re known for in this industry. And let them know that, “Hey, look, our reputation is around performance and it’s on all of us as a team to keep that reputation.”
Defining Industry & Company Performance
21:47 JL: And when you say “performance,” you mean, unlike most of the construction world, we actually finish our stuff on time. Or, we actually… Tell me what performance means in your industry.
TROY GREGORY: Performance for us is committing to these time schedules that are being thrown out there and doing our part. When we say that we’re going to hit a schedule, we hit it, and we do whatever it takes to back that up. We want to be the ones that we’re challenging other subcontractor groups or other ones around us to raise the bar themselves and be a part of that team.
Ultimately, construction is a flow business. Everybody plays a part in that and they can’t go before the other person a lot of times. But, by performing — when you raise your game and you’re putting pressure on the people in front of you, then ultimately that’s gonna lead to the success of the job.
Also, we talk about that you know, performance is the big, complicated, really tough schedules. But then performance is also the day-to-day, some of the smaller jobs that they’re just as important to us to perform. And, I even go break it down from that and say, “Look, I would love to sit here and say that we perform at our highest ability on every single job and we’ve never not performed.” That’s not the case. It’s recognizing when we didn’t perform that we recognize it, that we learn from it, we find out why we didn’t perform – what was related to it – and we fix it. And so, I tie that into kinda the continuous improvement stuff. But, that’s performance for us is, we’re gonna push everybody else around us to raise their game, and when we commit to doing something, we’re gonna follow through and we’re gonna get it done.
23:39 JL: It’s interesting how easy that is to say and especially if you have cultural norms for your industry that doesn’t do that. You know, how unlikely it is for the average firm to really hold themselves to that level.
Well, listen, kinda closing off our second part here – second part of the interview – you know, some of the things I’ve heard you say and correct me if I’m getting these wrong about how to grow $100 million company. $100 million plus: long-term thinking; heavy focus on the human side–both your customer and your internal leadership development and actually recognizing your people and actually saying it, not just thinking it; sounds like a real emphasis on the values repeatedly, it’s not just some plaque on the wall; what else would you close with? Advice to other people who are trying – they want to go for that $100 million a year revenue number — what would you end with? What would you close off with, in addition to any of that?
TROY GREGORY: You know, that does circle it up pretty good. I would close it with that ultimately, when you have the best people and you can retain the best people and you can attract the best people to the industry, it’s gonna make it a lot easier to achieve those goals and to be able to do it. You’ve gotta be able to make tough decisions and ultimately, get those right people in the right places–that they’re gonna be successful and help them.
But, you know, we talk about growth–you’re tying that to the growth. And we point out to everybody in this company on a regular basis that the reason we’re growing is ultimately because we know long-term – for us to be successful, we need the best people and the only way that we’re gonna get the best people on board by hiring them on, or internally retaining them and growing them and keeping them a part of our team because we do have the best people in the industry.
The only way that we’re gonna do that is through growth. And it’s because of opportunity. When we create opportunity — when you have the best people, they’re looking for opportunity. They’re looking for growth and how do they get challenged? And how do they do that? And, the only way I know to do that is through growth. And so, ultimately, it all ties together. That’s why we’re growing – is so that we have the best people and the best people are what ultimately will lead to your success and growth.
26:18 JL: Yeah, who wants to stick around somewhere where they don’t think there’s future opportunity, where they’re hitting the glass ceiling, right?
TROY GREGORY: It’s not gonna happen.
26:25 JL: Not the best people, at least.
TROY GREGORY: Yep.
26:28 JL: Love it. K, thanks for making time for this.
TROY GREGORY: Awesome. Thank you, Jess.