How to Use a Crisis as a Catalyst for Reinvention

Chief Executive Officer

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Guest: Geoff Goldwater, a founding member of Odell Studner, which is a fast-growing risk management and consulting company. Geoff is also an entrepreneur coaching client of CEO Coaching International.

Episode in a Tweet: Will a crisis break your business or open up a new path towards BIG?

Quick Background: The scale of Covid-19’s disruption to global life and business is unprecedented. But if you think back ten years, the experts were saying the same thing about the Great Recession. Go back another ten and we were coping with the fallout from 9/11 and the tech bubble bursting. A previous generation of leaders had to struggle through Black Monday, just as their predecessors had to deal with stagflation in the 1970s.

The pandemic environment may well be more daunting than these previous challenges. But good business is good business, no matter what the particulars are. Companies that are still struggling to regain their footing during Covid-19 can adapt strategies that helped CEOs win during previous crises to this difficult moment.

On today’s show, Geoff Goldwater shares the three-step process he used to reinvent his company after the Great Recession and lead it back to a fast growth path.

Transcript: Download the full transcript here.

Steps to Reinventing Your Company from Geoff Goldwater

1. Achieve alignment on the company’s vision.

We’ve talked quite a bit this year about how crises can expose underlying problems with outwardly successful businesses. That was Geoff’s experience from 2008-2009 as he coped with a 45% drop in revenues. He and his three partners stopped taking salaries for three years and mortgaged their homes so that their company could survive the storm. Once business began to stabilize, Geoff and his partners decided that to transition from surviving to thriving, they had to reassess both their value proposition and their operational structure.

“At that moment, the biggest thing we figured out was that the status quo of having the business structured around four individual rainmakers was not a way to create scalability,” Geoff says. “What we needed to do was shift towards something more institutional, where the intrinsic value of the business was in the people that we employed versus four distinct individuals that were maintaining and growing the firm.”

In other words, that crisis moment made Geoff and his partners realize that they didn’t own a business. They WERE the business. Many entrepreneurs don’t understand what an unsustainable business model this is until there’s a major external disruption or an internal personal crisis, such as one of the partners falling ill. Moreover, if partners or a lone CEO have to commit their time to being the rainmaker, then who’s taking care of goal-setting? Relationship-building? Recruiting top talent?

“Ultimately, did we want an organization that was scalable,” Geoff asks, “or did we want something that was going to be boutique and truly set up just for us four individuals? In the end, once we aligned on the idea that creating something that had growth potential was really at the core of what we wanted to accomplish, then we had to think about what kind of services did we actually want to deliver.”

2. Commit to the new company.

Geoff and his partners realized that their expertise and the team they would build out could be more valuable than the products they were selling. So they began to transition their company from a transactional insurance broker into a consulting firm that sold insurance policies as part of their services. Geoff’s entrepreneur coach, Sheldon Harris of CEO Coaching International, helped him and his partners fine-tune and commit to this new model.

geoff goldwater

Geoff Goldwater: The status quo of having the business be structured around four individual rainmakers was not a way to create scalability.

“We realized we needed to segment out the structural changes that were most important to the business,” Geoff says. “So we really focused on three different areas: growth, having a clear vision of who we would become, and how we were going to perpetuate from a leadership standpoint. We needed to both take into account operational changes in structure and perpetuation of the sales of the business if it was going to expand beyond the four of us. Then we had to create a regularly scheduled cadence of communication so that employees could buy-in to how the business was being run and where it was headed. Sheldon helped me create a vision of what structure could allow us to scale the business, become more institutional, but still not lose that family feel of what made us unique and different.”

Accomplishing this step required Geoff and his partners to take on an outside investment so that the business could start scaling up to match the vision — in the shadow of a major recession, after not taking salaries for three years. There’s a BIG lesson there for CEOs who are still acting skittish about investing in their futures during Covid-19.

“That was the moment of commitment,” Geoff says. “You can talk a lot as a group of individuals and entrepreneurs about what you want to have, but to actually do the hard work, this is the grind. This is the concept associated with servant leadership that changes the focus from an I to a We, recognizing that if the business is going to be successful, then it has to be a sum of all the parts.”

3. Get real on winning.

Fast forward to 2020, and Geoff says that the lessons he learned from the Great Recession have helped him not only survive the pandemic, but actually exceed the goals he’d set at the beginning of the year during his annual planning session.

“We were able to execute on some structural changes,” Geoff says. “We focused on specific niches with practice groups dedicated to client bases within those different verticals. We were able to stay focused not just on how we were compensated by our clients but also on the difference we were making for our clients. We could identify the value proposition, the way in which we were helping their businesses, and be compensated according to that versus the sale of a product. So we have shifted to a holistic service model that has pointed us in a place where we effectively are helping our clients make better business decisions.”

Interestingly, Geoff says that some of the decisions he’s helping clients make ultimately lead them away from buying the insurance products that used to drive his entire business. Like so many of our clients who are excelling during the pandemic, Geoff realizes that customers can buy stuff from anyone. What they’re really buying from Geoff is a high-touch service delivered by a first-class team.

“I would categorize this as getting real on winning,” Geoff says. “Making sure everybody is clear on what a successful step towards a future destination would look like. I think there was so much we were doing instinctually previously that allowed us wiggle room. With smart, dedicated people, we always had some element of success. But we really didn’t have the metrics necessary to judge, ‘Was this really as successful as it could have been? What would have been the opportunity lost if we hadn’t gotten here?’ To me this last step is about getting real on what winning would look like for the whole group.”

Top Takeaways

1. Crises don’t cause business problems, they reveal problems with the business.

2. Companies need a vision that people and processes can align to — and realign to when necessary.

3. Don’t sell stuff, sell a customer experience that only your company can deliver.

Transcript: Download the full transcript here.


Will a crisis break your business or open up a new path towards BIG?
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About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com

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