Leadership + People: Episode 33 - Jeff Rust - Part 1 of 2

In this episode Jeff Rust explains the value of investing in relationships and how handwritten thank you cards can play a role in building and strengthening relationships in business and personal life as we strive for greater authenticity.

Show Notes

  • Moving from selling a product through a transaction to building enduring relationships [03:00]
  • Through vulnerability relationships are forged [03:00]
  • Celebrate others victories, and share struggles. The struggles are relatable and provide a place to serve one another [06:35]
  • Seek to learn others needs and wants so you can work to better serve them [09:33]
  • Practice authenticity by writing simple sincere thank you notes [09:33]
  • The tale of 5 boys seeking shortcuts that leads to more work [12:10]
  • The excuses for not writing thank you cards and how those show our true priorities [14:13]
  • Ideas to schedule relationship building time and ideas on how to use that time [18:48]
  • Relationship building isn’t new, but doing it in the current technology culture of today is [21:49]
  • Advice to self: it’s worth getting up, and will pay off [26:37]

Show Audio


  • None of note
Jeff Rust episode 33-11

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: May 8th, 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.

JL: Today on the show, we’ve got Jeff Rust.

Jeff Rust: If you’re wanting to build relationships with someone, or you’re wanting to be better, you have to learn to discover to individuals needs and wants. And as you discover those needs and wants, the reason that you’re doing it is to gain an understanding so that you can find a way that you can serve those people’s wants.

00:44 JL: Jeff thanks for making time.

JEFF RUST: You bet. Great to be here.

00:47 JL: So I’m kind of excited because this whole mini series got started, you know, a conversation between you and I… I don’t know, 8 months ago, 9 months ago something like that, right.

JEFF RUST: That’s right.

00:59 JL: And we’ve had so many people on from your community, from Corporate Alliance, all these different CEOs. So it’s fun to actually have the cofounder right here on the show today. So for people who are listening how may not be from Utah, not as familiar with Corporate Alliance. Can you give us a few stats; how long you’ve been around, you know all these big name companies that have joined your community and just a few stats?

Corporate Alliance

JEFF RUST: Yeah you bet. We started 18 years ago. And honestly we thought a couple years we’re going to blow this thing out across the country. It took a few more years than we thought. And we have 5 locations in different parts of the country. And it’s been a real whirlwind, with a couple thousand different clients. I’m going to have to say the best part of that is not so much in the numbers but in the personal stories of each of these successful leaders.

01:58 JL: Yeah. So, I always get in trouble with Logan when I call it a CEO club because you know that’s who I’m hanging out with from your community. But help me understand. Because you guys actually have all the different types of executives involved. How do you actually describe what you’re doing. Because it’s not like one of these like ‘hey come to a networking event and put your business card into a lot of people’s hands’ kind of thing.

JEFF RUST: Yeah. You know I would have to say that all of us who have been in leadership positions feel that it is lonely at the top. And so that resonates when you talk about a CEO club, CEOs definitely feel that. Especially with the onset of technology every single role and position inside an organization feels some sense of loneliness. And so you know we have different groups and different settings, different events where we can help humanize the experience and give people a peer to peer kind of conversation where they can deepen some relationships to improve not only their business life and their business but also their personal life with some relationships, friendships that can come as a result.

Vulnerablity in Building Relationships

03:00 JL: And I think we should talk about that a bunch in this show. You know, you guys have… I’m kind of a conference junky. I like going to conferences. I like going to events. I like any kind of like, where you can get the right people in the room going to those kind of things. And so, in the last, you know, however long I’ve been hanging out with you guys, you do something really different. And no wonder you have these clients that stay with you guys for years. And I think for listeners today, especially anyone in business to business, you know being able to win the undying love from corporate america senior executives is obviously a highly profitable thing in business today.You know, I know we were talking a little bit before the show, I’d love to have today be a bit of what if we thought about the CEO, todays corporate exectuve is like this exoctic animal. And the animal handling skills. How do you… I’d love to hear like the mistakes you made and what you wish you knew 15 years ago about really how not treating them like a walking atm machine ends up being such a good business strategy because obviously you guys have taken the exact opposite tactic.

JEFF RUST: Yeah. you know that’s a great question. And interesting thing is as I was talking to Jim Ferrell one of the managing partners of the Arbinger Group, and he said something to me. He said “Jeff, you have a real interesting situation in the fact that you have to sell corporate executives on the fact that that it’s all about the return on the investment. They’re going to spend time and money, and they’re going to come and meet the right people. So you almost describe it like a transaction and then immediately as soon as they are involved you have a culture and a way of actually changing that. And the component that comes into play is that, yeah we have to convince people that there is a return on investment. But the strategy, the way that its executed is what I’d say is real relationships don’t happen in a transaction. They happen through a humanized effect. There was an example. Ernst and Young hired us to do an event. And we were coaching up there managing partner because they didn’t want to actually hand us the microphone through the facilitation of the connecting element that we were going to do for them, over to us, they said ‘Oh no. Our managing partner will actually run that, just couch us’. Great. We coached them. And the key component that we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get people to share something personal in a way that isn’t awkward. And so you do that through, you know, starting them off with an example. And so I coached them up and I said ‘Just so you know, I’m going to be here in case you have any questions or anything. And if you get to that point where you just don’t feel comfortable, you can hand the mic over to me and I’ll take it from there’. ‘Oh no no no. We’ve got it. We’ve got it’. And we get probably, you know, a few minutes out from the start. And they go ‘I think we’re going to have you guys do it’. And they hand the mic over. And the beauty is that as you start and set the tone with a personal story that causes people to feel something, they lean in, you know. And it’s almost like Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as a strength and how so many men and corporate executives, you know, we don’t want to be vulnerable because that’s a weakness. But when we actually demonstrate it, people actually lean in and relationships are forged in that vulnerability area. And that’s really all we are trying to do is create an environment where that can happen that’s not awkward.

06:35 JL: You know what though. I think there’s a lot of other people that can talk the talk about what you’re saying. And you know… I think… For me when I actually believed you guys could do that… so Ted broman is the one who actually talked me into joining, right. He’s like; ‘listen’. Here’s this guy doing, you know, businesses that have many many many zeros behind them. And I’m like, ok whatever this guys says I’m going to do. And he’s like; ‘You’ve got to hang out with these people. Here’s the secret though Jess, the lunches are great and all, but go on the trips. Go spend three days in like a, you know, go spend three days and build real friendships with these people. The lunches are nice. That’s great. Go. On. The trips’. And I was like, ‘ok’. It’s funny because the lunches are great. You make some friends. And sometimes you have like a good connection. I think last year I went to San Diego with you guys. We went to coeur d’alene. I went to the squamish… Whatever that cool lodge was behind the waterfall. Anyways. And it’s like when you sit there and hang out there long enough with these people. And someone like you has started off with a real example instead of a ‘look at how cool I am’ example, it does make it safer for someone else to do that. And once two people have done that it makes it really easy for the third. By the time you have gone around the circle you are like … you’re past the like… ‘oh I need to…’ ‘I’m trying to attract…’ Like ‘I know we’re not supposed to be trying to get business but I really am hoping to get business, so I need to put on a show’. All of a sudden the show goes away and all of a sudden it becomes real. Do you see it different? Do you see it that way?

True Authenticity as a Sign of Confidence

JEFF RUST: You know I absolutely do and the component that comes into play is we have to instill confidence and there’s nothing more confident than someone who’s authentic. The challenge is that we don’t want to come out and have everyone air their dirty laundry. You don’t have to do that. But there are strengths and weaknesses that individuals have just so often if we can approach in a way that that can talk about the 5% that’s really working for them and the 5% that they are really struggling on. Everyone can resonate with the 5% that people are struggling with because we’ve all struggled with something. And that’s where the relationships are forged. And the 5% that is going well, we want to celebrate that with them. But you can’t help someone and in the helping of someone is where the relationship is forged. And so that’s why you have to have some sense of vulnerability that’s bought out. You know because Superman, I heard someone share this example with me. Superman didn’t build relationships. It was Clark Kent. Because the individual that has no flaws, it is hard to relate to that person.

09:33 JL: It’s interesting though, because think about that balance beam, right. You fall off the balance beam one way, and you’re airing dirty laundry. You fall off the other way and you’re this wooden, you know non-relatable version. Any advice for people who are saying ‘yeah, hey I realize I approach things a bit transactionally. And I do want to build a relationship but I am also concerned that the client sees me as credible’. Any advice for the rest of us who want to do a better job at walking the balance beam in the middle?

JEFF RUST: Well, I think that we all need to…You know I look at this and I think, you know, Corporate Alliance for me was an opportunity where I could get better at this. So I am in no means, you know, somebody who has it all figured it out. It’s just that I’m willing to practice everyday. And I have a system and a structure that allows me to practice with our clients everyday. And so the component that I would say, is it really boils down to a couple of things. You know we teach a principle called ‘Learn Serve Grow’. If you’re wanting to build relationships with someone, or you’re wanting to be better, you have to learn to discover an individuals needs and wants. And as you discover those needs and wants, the reason that you’re doing it is to gain an understanding so that you can find a way that you can serve those needs and wants. And not hoping, you know, tit for tat for some kind of return because that’s a trade. Directionaly serving them to just be generous and to build on that relationship. And then the law of reciprocity kicks in and the relationship has an opportunity to grow. And it’s not a linear, it’s more circular. You do this over and over again. The easiest thing I would say to somebody if they are wanting to start, the easiest place to start is with thank you cards. You know, pull out a thank you card and think of a name. And if you aren’t a great writer just write their name down and put; ‘these are three things that I like about you’. And three bullet points that are authentic and true to the individual. And then you sign your name and you send it. And something will happen in you. You will feel something towards that individual. And obviously they will feel something too when they read the card. And the key component is how do you get people to do be able to do that in a face to face interaction. And we do it with business because business isn’t so touchy feely. You know, it’s more around the transaction. But there are very many needs and wants that individuals have in their business. You know, it’s just seeking out, what are the needs and wants that I can help serve in those capacities. But the feeling is the same. It just will, it will strengthen a business relationship.

Do Not Confuse Efficiency and Shortcuts for Authentic Work

12:10 JL: Why do you think?… You know I’m thinking about some of the friends that we’ve got in common. You know, many of the people you’ve introduced me to. Why do you think…You look at somebody like Ted Broman or Jim Bennett or these people who it is such a non transactional thing when they are giving me advice, right? It’s like, it’s such the long game, it’s such the long term thinking. And it obviously, you know has built them the businesses they’ve got. Why do you think so many of the rest of us can’t overcome the temptation to figure out what to do so I can help so I can get business right now.

JEFF RUST: Well, I’ve got 5 boys. And they’re ages 7 to 15, and there’s the saying that I’ve heard; “One boy, one brain. Two boys, half a brain. Three boys, no brain at all”.  

13:06 JL: [laughs]

JEFF RUST: So there’s lots of crazy things that happen in our house with these boys. The one thing that’s always consistent is that when there is a job to be done, they always are looking for the shortest way for it to be done. You know, what’s the shortcut. And I think that we are all wired that way. And so…

13:23 JL: Efficiency.

JEFF RUST: The piece that I see in the examples that you’ve given with Jim Bennett and Ted Broman is that they have been disciplined enough to understand that unlike my sons, at times, I’m hoping that they’re better now. Mows the lawn and doesn’t do it very well. And we go out and we look at it. And I say, “You know what You got to do the job right”. Then they have to mow the lawn again and it actually takes longer. And it’s more work and its more tiring than having done it the first time right. And I think that’s where successful leaders, you know, that understand that if you build relationships and if you care about relationships, there’s a right way to go about doing it. And that authentic way will actually produce greater results and be more efficient than trying to take the shortcut.

Lost Art of Handwritten Thank You Cards

14:13 JL: You know, I want to go back to something you said about, you can just get started with thank you cards. You know, it is kind of like a lost art these days, right?. When was the last time most of us received a handwritten thank you card. You know, not digital. I had this college professor 20 years ago. My english professor at the university. He did this. He talked to us about this and then he actually did it. Throughout the semester I got like three different notes from him.  Like, they were specific. I don’t think I have had a personal handwritten note from any other professor in my entire or school teacher in my career, you know personal like that. And I ended up, at the last company I used to work for, I hired this woman who, she had been apart of the naval special warfare community and had flown the Navy version of blackhawk helicopters and then ended up working for this 3 star admiral. She, like, had gone and bought a book on hand written thank yous, and the best way to do it. And she really made me a convert on how that extra bit of thoughtfulness and specificness. And in a way that not everybody expects. What an advantage it was for the admiral for her to help get those written for him and help him decide what should be on them. Why do you think… do you think it’s just back to efficiency again that not many of us do something like that?

JEFF RUST: Well it’s- there’s a couple of excuses that we all give ourselves. ‘Ah I don’t have good handwriting’, ‘I don’t have any time’. You know, ‘I don’t have any stationary handy’. But I think that’s part of the reason that the card means so much. I have plenty of friends and I’ve got friend who’s a congressman now, John Curtis. And John Curtis’s handwriting self admittedly is not great. And John and I worked closely together for a number of years. And I can tell you when he sends a card to people, people feel like it really meant a ton. And it may only be two or three lines and really messy handwriting. But it’s the time that it represents. And I think that is probably where so many of us fall short. Because we don’t feel like we have the time to do be able to do that. Well, you make the time for the things that matter the most to you. And it just sends the message that I care. I don’t know. I’m a believer. I was raised that way. My mother, you know, is a diehard thank you card writer. You know sometimes I get so many thank you cards from her. I say “you know mom, you don’t have to thank us for everything all the time”. [laughs]. But truly it does. You feel something when you write one. And you feel even more when you get one. And I think, I do agree with you it’s a lost art.

17:06 JL: I’m just actually taking some notes down about what you just said. Because I…isn’t it so true. Isn’t it like a greater expression of what’s underneath, you know. I went on a trip to New York with John Curtis and, it was funny. He gave us all these crazy socks. And he’s like ‘I got really into crazy socks, wearing them in business at work. So I bought a pair for each of you’. And it’s funny because it’s like, it was pretty authentic.You know like I’m not surprised to hear that that guy writes thank you cards. It’s almost like an expression, of like a deeper discipline internally. Would you, how would you say that differently, or do you disagree?

JEFF RUST:  You know, I can’t remember. I would say that the component that comes into play is a deeper sense of authenticity. Because you are giving of that most valuable resource, your time.

18:11 JL: Well, let’s talk about that. You know, it’s almost like a badge of honor these days in business to let people know you are important because you are so tired and you are so busy. Right?

How to Set Aside Time to Build Relationships

JEFF RUST: Mmmm that’s true.

18:24 JL: When in reality we all only have 24 hours in day. It’s not like the people with the higher paying jobs somehow have less hours in the day. It’s all about decisions of allocating that time. And you know having the guts to saying no, instead of like, the likable, or trying to win the likable boy scout badge of saying yes to everything, right?


18:48 JL: I mean you obviously are cofounder of an organization that has individual relationships with hundreds of high profile senior executives. Talk to me about time management in your mind. And knowing that it takes time to build these relationships, the business won’t grow if you don’t build the relationships and that tug of war for you.

JEFF RUST: You know, I would say that early on when we were, you know, I was 23 when we started the business and Jared was 28, and, you know, the one thing that we felt like we had a lot of at that point was time and energy. And as we were working with these senior executives that was the biggest challenge. And we just said to them, you know, we all aren’t as young as we used to be and how do you stay fit. And they talked about how they had an exercise routine that was anywhere from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, you know, a day or every other day that they did. And we talked about, you know, this relationship currency and we talked about how relationships were one of the most important things in their business and in their lives. And we asked if they had a dedicated time for it. And most of them said no. Or do you have a dedicated system? And so the component that comes into place is that first thing is you’ve got to set aside some time. Whether it is 10 minutes, block it off on the calendar. Whether it is 30 minutes. And then in that time you can determine how you are going to invest in it, in others. You know, whether it is going to be researching some articles relative to a friend that you want to send something to who you haven’t talked to in a long time. You know, ‘I saw this and it reminded me of you. I really appreciate the memories we shared 20 years ago’. Or what have you. It’s that time investment in those relationships that comes back in space. And if you don’t block it out it won’t ever happen. And so…  

20:45 JL: And so…

JEFF RUST: It doesn’t have to be your whole day. It can be 30 minutes a day.

20:48 JL: What does blocking it out look like for you? Because it’s one thing to talk about it and there are so few of us who actually do it.

JEFF RUST: Yeah. So for me it’s two things. And there are different times of the day that it makes sense for me. The best time for me is the morning. I have a morning routine that I try to follow. And coming out of, I have some time that I spend some time meditating in the steam room. And my head is fresh. And there are some thoughts that come out and right after that is my absolute best time for relationship management.

21:22 JL: Interesting, the idea of putting the important things first before the vortex of your day can suck your good intentions away.


21:31 JL: Okay. Well, it’s funny how what you’re saying doesn’t sound revolutionary. It doesn’t sound like oh this shocking thing, I never would have thought about building relationships.

JEFF RUST: Jess, in that spirit can I interrupt you and share something?

21:49 JL: Yeah.

Relationships in a World of Increasing Technology

JEFF RUST: You know, I grew up in a small town, a small farming community. And my grandfather was a cattle rancher. And when I went back and he was like, “Now Jeff what do you do for a living?” And I tried to describe it to him and my grandmother, and they’re like… “Um so you mean people pay money to come and meet other people so that they can become friends”. Now this is coming from a small town community where there are 200- 300 people in the community. So everyone knows everyone. And there are adjoining towns, and even the eight adjoining towns make up a total 2000 people who everybody knows. “This is insanity that people would pay to get to know other people”. City, you know, as a country folk city slickers are a bad thing. ‘City folk are even dumber than we thought!’ And I look at that. And it isn’t revolutionary. It has been around. Obviously relationships are pivotal. The busier we become and the more isolated we become because of technology, the farther we come from our roots and the more revolutionary it actually seems to those that are far from it.  

22:57JL: Well I think what’s easy about yours is, because it’s is scheduled and because it gets on the calendar and because there’s such a business imperative for it, it’s more likely to happen. but I think there are way more of us that can benefit from the ‘hey get this done first thing in the day before checking email’ kind of the personal aspect of that. Right?


23:20 JL: So, but I want to go back, you know, and I know we need to, this half of the episode is almost up. But I want to go back to this thing of build relationships, take the time, you know we make time for those things that mean the most to us. People have read that in books. People have had some corporate trainer spout that off in the front of a room after his powerpoint. But you have… I was just looking at Linkedin. We’ve got like 92 mutual connections.You and I. And I just think about the way people interact with you. And you have obviously taken it to a level that; you’ve obviously walked the walk to a level that many of us in the business community haven’t. Do you have any tips like, I mean it probably just some great standard answer like practice and repetitions. Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on in your head of like paying a deeper price of investing in people than maybe is common? What do you attribute like, the radical devotion, like your friends the people inthe Corporate Alliance community, just other people, you brought up Jim Farrell, who I used to work for, right. You have this uncommon magnetism and like people willing to do stuff for you. Do you have any tips for the rest of us who want to generate more of that? Or any, you know, internal philosophy that you think has created that at this unaverage level for you?.

JEFF RUST: Well, that’s kind of you to say those things. You know I feel really really fortunate to have a lot of friends. And the one component that probably goes back, when I was in school I was never the brightest guy. I was always good at becoming friends with those who could be successful. Or being a part of their group and trying to help create, you know, this synergy inside of the team. You know as we worked together as teammates on different things. And I would have to say that’s probably been… I don’t know if it’s the secret but for me it’s been a real blessing. And that is the fact that if I can connect up just one individual, or even just good people in general, I’m going to be guilty by association. And the opportunities are going to flow back to me in some way, shape or form. And they’ve flowed back to me in space. And you know, I look at it, and you don’t really know how strong your network is, or your friends or whatever until you’re tested. And it’s tested at a time of trial. And that time of trial in the business world may come when your business fails or when you lose your job. Or in your personal life it may be when your spouse or one of your children are sick. But that’s the part when it is really tested. And you… It’s too late at that point to go and build those relationships. But at that time you at least get to see how strong or weak they are and you can resolve to be better at it for the next day or the next time of trial.

26:37 JL: That’s great. Well listen. I think this is a good place to end part one of the interview. Why don’t we go for a closer here. Why don’t we go for either the best advice you ever received or something you wish you could have told yourself 20 years ago.

Words to His Younger Self

JEFF RUST: You know something I wish I could have told myself 20 years ago is that it’s worth getting up early in the morning and it will pay off. Because when you’re just grinding early on you wonder if you’ll ever see the light of day. And it always does pay off. Every drop of water that you’re investing in other people will come back to you in space. That would be the piece of advice I would give myself.

27:27 JL: Love it. Okay. Everybody tune back in. We’re going to ask Jeff for some more ideas on the second half of the interview about how can the rest of us build more loyalty from our customers and how running 3300 meetings and events can teach you some things you can’t learn any other way.

JEFF RUST: Thanks.

[END] 27:47