A Path With “Hart”: Leadership Principles To Design A Thriving Culture With G.J. Hart

12 Feb , 2024 podcasts

A Path With “Hart”: Leadership Principles To Design A Thriving Culture With G.J. Hart

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | G.J. Hart | Leadership Principles


Leadership is not just about steering a ship; it’s about creating a culture by design, not by default. In the world of business, be a ‘911 person’—always ready to serve, lead with heart, and make a difference in the lives of others. In this episode, we hear golden leadership lessons from Red Robin CEO G.J. Hart. He explores the core principles of leadership and shares how to design a thriving culture— one with care, consistency, courage, and heart. But despite having a strong culture, G.J. acknowledges the struggles of leadership in this modern age where technology, uncertainty, and the need for emotional intelligence play pivotal roles. With this, he reveals his proven strategies to go beyond traditional leadership notions and become an effectively adaptive leader. Tune in now!

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A Path With “Hart”: Leadership Principles To Design A Thriving Culture With G.J. Hart

Leadership Lessons From Red Robin CEO G.J. Hart

I am joined by G.J. Hart, President and CEO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and a wonderful partner to the Coca-Cola company. G.J. sat down with me to share the principles behind his leadership and how his life experience has shaped the way he builds a strong culture for the organizations he leads. G.J. is a highly regarded executive with many years in the restaurant industry, including both public and private company experience. He is well known for his organizational leadership skills and ability to drive long-term value.

Prior to Red Robin, GJ served as CEO of Torchy’s Tacos, and when I first met him several years ago, he was Executive Chairman and CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, where he was responsible for its next chapter of growth. He also served as president of Texas Roadhouse Holdings for eleven years and as CEO and member of the board from 2004 to 2011 where they experienced unprecedented growth, expanding the business from 60 locations to over 450 restaurants in 49 states and 2 international markets.

 You’re going to read in our conversation that the seeds of G.J.’s leadership started much earlier with immigrant parents and a path that made him appreciate what he can learn from every situation and all of the people he encounters. He is living the principles that he outlines and is generous in sharing his well-earned wisdom. Without any further delay, please enjoy the conversation with the very dynamic G.J. Hart

G.J, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. I know how busy your schedule is and we were talking before the episode about how much you have going on, it’s meaningful that you would take the time to share. Thank you.

Thanks for having me.

 We’re going to dig right in. Are you ready to rock?

Absolutely. Let’s do it.

Let’s start at the very beginning because I find that in all the conversations I have on this show, our origin story shapes who we are and what we become because these are very formative moments in our lives that map out the direction that we head. Can you share with us a little bit about your origin story? I know telling a life story in a short period of time is impossible, maybe some of the headlines about what shaped who you are.

I’d be happy to. I am a Dutch immigrant. I came to this country with my mom and dad, a dog and my sister in 1963 while I was five years old. My dad ended up getting a teaching job in New Jersey. We immigrated to New Jersey. A little bit of the backstory of why we came to America, my mom is Dutch, and was born in Indonesia, which is controlled by the Dutch back in those days. My mom was a prisoner of war of the Japanese all during our teenage years during World War II. Fortunately, she was liberated and went back to the Netherlands.

My dad was running in the Dutch underground to stay alive back during the war as well. He had his own experiences. When they met and started fell in love and all that stuff, they had a dream to come to America because America was a place for freedom and where there was opportunity. For me, that backstory is important because they gave up everything they had in the Netherlands and came to this country with a couple suitcases, my sister, I and a dog. It gave me an opportunity to grow and be successful. We immigrated to New Jersey.

This is another little tidbit that’s interesting is I spoke Dutch. I didn’t speak English. I had to go to school right away. As I was put in school, my mom got a phone call from the school and they said something like this, “We’ve observed your son. He’s so smart. We’re going to move him up a grade.” My mom hung up the phone and said to herself, “I think my son’s pretty smart, but he is not that smart. Something’s going on.”

She ended up going to the school and talking to my teacher. What was going on is I didn’t understand what she was saying so I would do whatever the hell I wanted. I would run around and do my thing. Essentially she taught them that I didn’t understand what they were saying. They didn’t move me up a grade by the way, but they made an agreement that my mom would go in after school and take the lessons and she would teach me English at night. That’s how I learned.

I had to dual path it to get through my first year in school. It’s an interesting story. We ended up migrating down to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Long story, my dad ended up being a stubborn Dutchman and not wanting to go get accreditation for being a teacher. He was a very good teacher. He spoke seven languages fluently and taught foreign languages. In the school he worked at in New Jersey, he had to move on and ended up teaching in the military school in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.

Accreditation followed him there. Long story short is he ended up getting out of teaching, being stubborn and became a police officer in the Shenandoah Valley. For me, interestingly enough, I moved all those times and I ended up migrating to sports and doing pretty well in sports then when I got out of school or when I got out of high school, I was a pretty good basketball player. I ended up not being able to go to the schools I wanted to, which offered me partial scholarships because I couldn’t afford to pay the rest of the way.

I ended up going to work. From a restaurant perspective, my very first job in the restaurant business was working for Howard Johnson’s as a short-order cook bus boy and dishwasher. I was pretty good at it. That’s my first entree into, “I like this people business and hospitality business.” As luck or fate would have it, I had to work while I was in college.

I ended up having the opportunity through a friend of mine’s. Dad worked in a poultry business. The Shenandoah Valley, Virginia is very well known for poultry and it wasn’t chicken, it was turkeys. I ended up getting interviewed to be a management trainee while I was in college. To be candid, back in the ‘70s, management trainees weren’t a big deal in the poultry business. It was more that I was a set of hands. I remember I was making $3.75s an hour, but I went to work. It gave me an opportunity.

The rest of the story is I ended up being in that business for quite some time, grew within it and ended up doing every job in a poultry plant. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a poultry plant, but you’ve probably been in one. They’re pretty rough and tough. I ended up becoming a foreman, supervisor, and I ended up running the whole facility and then we ended up through lots of change. I ended up becoming a partner with, ironically enough, at a very young age in the poultry business. We sold that business, and I did pretty well. That was my first entry into seeing how you can make some serious money.

That’s my story, from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I’ve now moved to many different places and and done many different things. In my early days, I think the learning for me more than anything else is to seize an opportunity when you can because my parents truly gave up everything for that. Fortunately for me, I was able to give a lot of that back to them by providing them a little better lifestyle as a result of the opportunity they gave me and then my ability to do reasonably well. That’s more than you asked, but there you go.

First  of all, I have to honor your parents for having the courage to do what they did and to give their children the life that they’ve given you and what you’ve done with it. I’m curious when you think back to that time when you were young, were your parents very overt? They went through some very intense experiences, certainly your mom. That’s unbelievable, going through a prison war situation. Were they very overt with you when you were young or are not so much within your household of these life lessons?

Not so much. Maybe my mother a little bit more than my father, but no.

It’s interesting. You put yourself in this situation, which is a tough situation in this poultry business. That is not easy you think of some of the college internships or something. It’s all very cushy and nice. You put yourself in the middle of a lot of challenges. I don’t think there’s a formula for creating a powerful leader, but I do think that walking through difficult situations and learning from them gives you life experience that you could never get any other way. Would you agree?

I totally agree. Those were dark days. Many dark days that can remember like it was yesterday going to work at 4:30 in the morning and to having to go to school as well and my days would finish up many days at 11:00 at night and up at 3:00 and back at it. I wouldn’t want to go back and do that again. It definitely gave me a lot of perspective, perseverance and the ability to adapt and adjust and the tenacity to see things through. As much as I wanted to give up many times, it’s just being ready and saying, “I’m not going to give up,” is an important part of life. It definitely formed some of those things for me to think about in everything that I do.

In the Compassion Lab we talk a lot about resilience and how do we cultivate inner strength no matter what comes at us from the external environment, we’re able to meet that. I do think these difficult times, you learn you have much more capacity and power than maybe we think we do. I get into this conversation. It might be a typical day of grumbling about going to school, which is not unusual for a seventeen-year-old would do that but to understand and have gratitude for the privilege of a regular, normal, everyday opportunity to go learn, it’s only through going through these other situations do you realize fully how lovely a day like that is.

When you’re standing for ten hours, with a knife in your hand in a poultry processing plant. You can’t get off that line because those turkeys are coming by every second. It’s not quite the same as enjoying your day in some way, shape or form.

It’s not like, “I love Lucy,” where you can start eating the chocolates off that belt. I don’t even like to handle raw chicken when I cook. I would be very ill-equipped for that.

One of the things that probably helped me the most is when I think about the people who work in those environments. To this day, they work in those plants. That’s hard work. It’s not glorious or glamorous and tough. It’s tough to do that on stuff on your body. You definitely get an understanding of all walks of life and how to adapt what I always found is I build relationships with people doing that work there’s good in everybody. You can find and learn something from anybody. One of the learnings for me is that have respect for everybody as a result. You don’t know what their walk of life has been and there’s something to be learned from that and give them that respect. That’s carried through me through hopefully in everything that I’ve done in my career.

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | G.J. Hart | Leadership Principles

Leadership Principles: Have respect for everybody. You don’t know what their walk of life has been, and there’s something to be learned from that.


The Evolution Of The Leadership Formula

Those are important words. Living in a time today where there’s a lot of division and finger pointing and there, when we understand that we each offer something of value, we have our own life story and experience. Through that experience, we can teach each other. I so much agree that we need to be respectful and listen to what other people have to teach us. You went on from this formative and incredible background and origin story and to be a leader.

You have been a leader for many, many years across the food service industry with different concepts, rebuilding teams, remaking cultures, and you have a very interesting track record. How do you see, when you think about when you first began leading and today, do you think leadership has changed as the world has changed or do you think the formula is somewhat the same?

The principles of being a good leader are pretty much the same. If you think about adaptation to the current trends and with things that are prioritized, all those things, change. The fundamental thought around leadership and how you lead people I think are pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong, there are different techniques, processes and all that stuff, but the fundamental thinking leader’s mind of how you behave, act and role model has been the same. Many of those things that I learned along the along are still important I still try to live all those the best I can each and every day.

G.J.’s Book Of Leadership

It’s somewhat the same for me as I think about my early leadership approach. The biggest difference for me now is that I used to feel very responsible for their happiness. I realized that I’m only here to create a healthy space to invite them into, but they’re the ones who have to step into that space and then choose that growth. The leader sets the tone. I know something that you’ve said from watching other speeches and talks that you’ve done, you’ve said, “So goes the leader, so goes the rest.” It’s all about getting people to exceed their own expectations. I know you have some other core principles, but you’re writing your book G.J’s Book Of Leadership. What are some of the core principles that you believe in?

“So goes the leader, so goes the rest.” Think about this, at least in the business that I’m in the restaurant space a single unit operator, a GM or a vernacular managing partner of a restaurant, so goes that person. so. goes their restaurant. I’ve seen it over and over and all through multiple concepts. It’s consistent. It’s how you behave, acts, respect people and treat people. That is what leaders do. All of that permeates because people learn from their leaders. That will always be important. It’ll be on my tombstone probably because I truly believe it.

I could give you an example after looking at sports, the football world nowadays. You look at the teams that are winning that shouldn’t be winning. It’s all because of leadership always. getting people to exceed their own expectations is important because particularly in our business, as people develop particularly young first-time managers and leaders of people, and typically if they come from our industry, they’ll know the skill. They’ll know whatever the task is and how to do it. be a great server and cook, but they don’t necessarily know how to lead.

As an industry, we don’t do the greatest job of development of people. We’re all trying to figure that out because it’s such a transient or industry, but we’re getting better at it, but still lots to do. Getting people to exceed their own way. The way I try to describe that is if you can get a person to think bigger than what they think of themselves or what they will do for themselves, then ultimately they expand their horizon when they get out of their comfort zone.

Now it’s a bigger comfort zone, they get better. Your job gets easier as a result. I think that’s important. From a leadership principal’s perspective, things to be the best that you can be each and every day. That’s a John Wooden statement. John Wooden was credited with saying, “It’s not when at all costs. It’s being the very best that you can be.” I agree with that. It’s a constant learning. I think that’s a fundamental principle that is, “Are you being able to deal with yourself on what you like about yourself? What you don’t? How do you work on yourself and the things you need to work on?” How do you get better and be the very best version of yourself each and every day? That goes on whether you’re a young leader or a tenured leader. If you are not learning then I think you’re losing your position.

If you're not learning, then you're losing. Click To Tweet

I certainly agree with that. You got to keep moving forward.

I often describe it as I think leaders for it’s important to dream and dream big. It’s, “What are your aspirations in life to dream big?” I say that because if you don’t have that drive within yourself to have something that you’re shooting for, whatever that is, and it could be I again use examples, same people want to strive to have a fancy lifestyle, a big house, a big with the cars. Other people want something much less than that. Having aspirations that drive you then helps you become a better leader. At least I believe that

We set the tone right. If we are living an inspired life, then other people are going to want to follow the lead going back to, “So goes the leader, so goes the rest.”

It’s important to people lead with their heart. I do think that from a leadership style perspective, I’ve always felt like when you show a little bit of yourself, compassion and your heart, it doesn’t mean you have to be soft on expectations or what the drive to success looks like. It means that you have an open heart and understanding and that you lead from that place first. Growing up, I think that has changed a bit. The old style beat him on over the head. I don’t mean physically. You berate him. I had a boss like that. What is interesting is he was the hardest boss I’ve ever had, but I would tell you he’s a mentor because taught me what not to do. Although, what I learned is that he did care about me and helped me.

It's important for people to lead with their heart. Click To Tweet

That thinking of being able to be that hard on people changed. It’s coming from a place of compassion and understanding. It’s different nowadays than it was many years ago. I think people recognize that. I have to say that I don’t care if you went to kindergarten or Harvard, people have the ability to know whether or not you care about them. I think that’s an important part of leadership. Being consistent around what’s the right thing to do. As a leader, everybody thinks it’s easy. It’s not easy. There’s a reason why. It’s narrow as you go up the ladder. At the end of the day, it’s because it’s hard to have the courage to make the right decisions.

Sometimes those decisions are important that the rules may tell you one thing, but you believe something else about someone you’ve invested in their development, their growth, and, “We’ve all screwed up.” I often tell people say, “We’ve all screwed up and you can think back in your life who was there to pick you back up.” That’s a piece that leaders don’t always have the courage to make the decision. because basically when you do that, when you make that decision to help that person, then you are putting yourself in your career at risk.” That’s the courage that it takes. nevertheless, I think doing the right thing is always a challenge. It’s easy to say. People talk about it all the time, but do they follow through? That makes a great leader to make those decisions, even though the rule says one thing, you want to do something else.

One of the more important things from my perspective is being a servant leader. We hear a lot about servant leadership, but the truth of the matter is that our job is to create a path and an environment where people can thrive and exceed their own expectations. As a leader, the only way you do that is to serve the people that you lead. Your job is to get out in front, clear the path and make sure that they’re not going to run into a brick wall. You’re going to turn left or turn right. That’s what good leaders do. When leaders lose sight of the fact that they serve the very people that they lead, then they lose their way. You see it every day. People know whether or not you’re genuine around that. It’s important that’s a piece that you never forget. I don’t care who you are. Those are just some thoughts.

That is packed full of wisdom. I’m expecting your book out next on sharing all of these leadership principles because you have a lot to say because you have lived through the evolution of your own leadership and watching the teams that you have developed. Part of what you talked about too with how you learned from the leader that you didn’t want to be, this command and control model, which is an older model, probably more prevalent during industrialized things was very pragmatic and tactical and specific in the world of knowledge work and the world of creative work where the human being has to come in Fullbright into a creative space.

Culture By Design, Not Default

It takes a whole different type of leadership the one you’re talking about where you open a space for people to thrive and where people know that they’re cared about, seen, respected, and heard. When you do this, how does that translate into the culture of the organizations that you have led? There’s a lot of overlap, but the culture is the feel of a place. You’ve heard the old sayings, “Culture each strategy for launch.” How positive is the environment? How would you describe the cultures you create or maybe if I were to interview someone in your organization, how do you think they would describe the culture that’s created?

The first thing I would say about culture is culture in an organization should be by design, not by default. Good cultures are, in my opinion, when the people within that organization all feel that what they have to say and what they have to do is important to the organization. In other words, their voice does matter, their job does and how does it ladder up to what it is we’re trying to achieve. What our purpose is, what our mission, vision, and values all align to? It should not be where someone says, “Here’s going to be our mission and purpose.” No, it’s a collaborative effort where their voice is heard to develop what that and what that North Star is, what it is you’re trying to achieve. To me, the only way you do that is by giving them that voice and making sure that they understand.

Culture in an organization should be by design, not by default. Click To Tweet

In an effort to create a culture of inclusion, a culture of giving, generosity and leading with your heart, those things are all a part of that. It’s also “How do you lead?” It goes back to what I said from a leadership perspective, things like showing that you care. That’s how you create a culture if that’s the culture you want to create within an environment. In the case of the hospitality business, which is what we’re in, at the end of the day, if we get to do this, we don’t have to do this. You have to like people. You have to believe that you get to make a difference in each person’s life that you touch that day. The only way you can do that is to give of yourself.

All those things ladder up to create an environment where, “If the boss has got these beliefs and thinks this and that’s good for me then it starts to permeate in our or organization.” I always believe that having a philanthropic purpose and effort, whatever that might be is an important piece in a tenant within an organization because all of a sudden I have this saying that if you give of yourself, if you give of your heart a little bit, you get it back 100 fold. If you think about it for a minute, when you do something nice for someone, the person receiving that something nice appreciates it, but think about how long you have that good feeling for. It’s much longer lasting. When you create that environment in the hospitality business, they get better at their job and they get better at what we do, which is to feed people and give them an experience.

That ultimately ladders up to an environment and a culture where everyone owns it, everyone’s a part of it and feels a part of it. In this day and age where moving from different companies is fairly standard particularly young people think that if you’re at a company five years, you’re over the hill. I remember having conversations with the young people that want to move on and they have to be able to align with the overall mission and the purpose of the organization beyond what they make in salary because if they don’t, they’re not going to stay. All those things about creating a culture like that is ultimately important if you want an organization in this day and age to thrive.

You said something important. This idea of connecting the dots on their meaning and purpose is a big deal because people will move around and they’ll do different things, but I think all of us at the human level want to feel like we’re getting up in the morning and doing something worthwhile. When you’re in a culture where your own individual gifts, talents, meaning and purpose can connect to what that company is doing, that’s magic.

That’s incredible firepower for the amplification of the success of the company. I can definitely testify from working with you within two different organizations that you’ve led that is absolutely the type of culture you create with the people that you cultivate as leaders within and the type of creativity that you see. That’s why maybe you’ve been seen as not a powerful leader, but someone who knows how to turn things around because you bring everything you’re sharing in this conversation into your leadership to make for positive, healthy environments.

Thank you for saying that. At the end of the day, people want to win too, or they want to feel like they’re winning. They want to be able to celebrate each other. When you lose that drive to move forward, you get through the day. That’s not how you get an organization to maximize its performance. It is important. I don’t care how dark things are, you can find little wins within that to celebrate each other. It’s amazing how momentum works both positively and negatively. It’s one of those things I’ve seen over and over again when you create that environment and that opportunity for people to be able to celebrate each other is magical what can happen?

The last thing I would say on it is, I always tell people that when you’ve got an organization going in the right direction and that culturally things are in a positive thing is when myself as the CEO or whatever the top person in the organization is when I can stop being the head cheerleader and that the cheerleaders are all out there. If you think about that for a minute, it’s right. If all of a sudden you don’t have to be the top cheerleader anymore, it becomes a lot more fun.

What I love is I’ll have my own ideas about something or what might come forth and create in a creative way. My team totally came up with something so much better because they feel that level of empowerment and connection. It’s crazy to watch how the organization steps into the space that is opened to be its best version of itself, which is great.

Always remember, as a leader, you’re not always the smartest person in the room. You might be the one that enables the smart people to come to the surface. that’s what great leaders do because you’re not the smartest person in the room, generally speaking.

Staying Connected: Biggest Change From The Past Years

We need all of us together to be the smartest company wherever we go. Tell me this. We’ve gone through a pretty wild ride over the last many years. I mean the food service industry went through craziness with the pandemic. Everything shut down. Now while that may seem like, “We’re well past that,” there was so much change and growth. What do you see from the last several years have been the biggest change or what you’re taking away from that time?

From a business perspective, the ability to have people be together is still challenging. We’re all faced with challenging decisions around, “Do you have the expectation for people to be in office or not in office and all that?” I’ve always been a person that believes that you can get your job done from anywhere, however, it’s important to engage in a personal way together is a big part of it. You need to create those environments where you can make that happen. This challenge coming out of all this stuff with COVID is how do you maximize performance? Collaboration happens at the water cooler or the coffee machine and you lose all that. Things tend to take a little bit longer or generally speaking, zoom’s great or whatever the program you’re using to see each other. It’s not the same as being there in person.

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | G.J. Hart | Leadership Principles

Leadership Principles: You can get your job done from anywhere. However, it’s really important to engage in a personal way together.


A real difficult part from a leadership perspective, is making sure that you keep people connected in a very genuine way to make sure you create those environments where they want to be in the case of the office environment, what I’m trying to do without having to mandate people to come back to the office, I want to create an environment where people feel like they’re missing out if they’re not at the office. To me, that’s a very different approach. If you have a culture of inclusion, then people will start to want to be there. That’s the kind of thing that coming out of COVID that has been super challenging. The other thing coming out of COVID and all that we’ve been through is going through a period of time where pricing, what things cost is over the top and it’s all that uncertainty that’s created.

None of us know what’s next because we’ve got such uncertainty on every level that makes people contract into their ability to take risks or think about doing something quite different. In some ways, I think you lose some of that creativity by being stuck in the way that you operate, coming through this environment because you want to be prepared for what’s next. As leaders, you need to recognize that and say, “We’re going to go this way or go that way and still be willing to take some of those risks,” and go for it versus getting stuck. I don’t know if I said that right, but I think that it’s easy for a leader and an organization to not be prepared because they get stuck.

I agree and understand. You mentioned a moment ago that you think the core principles of leadership have remained somewhat constant. What we’ve talked about what creates a strong leader and what creates a strong culture, and I certainly concur, but one of the things I do see, and you touched on this, is the increased complexity of leadership because you have to solve this new dynamic of technology as a fantastic enabler, but how do we stay connected, which is an important part of our humanity.

What is the next global crisis? I would say that while there have always been challenges in the world, we see them coming faster and more dynamic. As a leader, our ability to meet the uncertainty and guide our people through this uncertainty is the whole next level of turning the volume up of that piece of leadership. Would you agree?

I totally agree with you. The other piece of people are looking for stability, they’re looking to leaders to guide and help and say, “This is the way to go,” and make decisions and be definitive. It is much more complex because you don’t know what’s around the corner. We’ll think about leadership through COVID management, not being able to operate your business the way you used to and having to pivot and getting everybody to join forces to say, “I’m going to rally the troops and we’re going to go conquer the hill, but we’re going to go left today and we’re going to go right tomorrow.”

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | G.J. Hart | Leadership Principles

Leadership Principles: People are looking for stability. They’re looking to leaders to guide, help, and say, “This is the way to go,” and make decisions and be definitive.


Those things are not always easy and in fact they were hard. Being confident and coming across as trustworthy and trust is something that’s interesting because trust in my opinion, is earned over time. You don’t just blindly trust someone. It’s important that within your cultural environment, you do create a level of trust where people know what to expect from you, how you’re going to behave and how you’ll react. To your point that complexity, COVID has made that, and technology candidly to your point, has made that more challenging.

There’s no question. As we talk about the evolution maybe from command and control structures into where we are now, so much of what you have spoken about and believed across your leadership journey, you’ve said words like care, consistency, courage, heart and trust. When we go through something like COVID or wars or things that challenge us at a very personal human level, how do you cross into a place of deeper humanity, which is that trust. We’re all in this together and we’re going to find our way through, which is the best of the human spirit when we can tap into it. That’s a lot of emotional intelligence. It’s not just what you know, but how you mobilize your team.

It’s important that not only you role model and all those things, but it’s how do you communicate and when do you communicate. When you leave people to wonder, they typically go to the worst place. How do you take the wonder out of it for people?

Becoming A 911 Person

Here we are. We’re talking. It’s January of 2024, and you have had this rich career, which is still vibrant and growing as we speak. You already mentioned your origin story, there’s much that you’ve learned. If you could have a conversation with your younger self, the G.J. that was starting out, is there something you would share? Is there wisdom and for some of our readers that are maybe earlier on their path, what would you share with them?

I would say the following. The first one is to never give up on yourself and be a constant learner from every walk of life and have a thirst for knowledge. The second thing is I call it be a 911 person. What does that mean? If you think about it for a minute, when you call 911, typically, you call it because you’ve got a crisis of some sort. You know someone’s going to answer the phone. You don’t know that person. They don’t know you and you don’t know them. You know that hey’re going to provide you help and they’re there 24/7. They’re going to make sure that you get the assistance that you need.

Never give up on yourself and be a constant learner from every walk of life. Click To Tweet

When I think about as a young person is, be ready when you least expect it for whatever’s next, be ready for the challenge and be willing to say yes, raise your hand, be willing to be that person that’s there 247. I say that because many young people use technology when they want to, but they don’t pick up that phone, they don’t answer it or they’re not ready. I’ve seen it over and over. Being that 911 person where if you think about you are a young person and if you have kids, which kid would you know is going to pick up the phone at 2:00 in the morning if you have a crisis? Be ready.

It’s that 911 spirit. I can go on and I all about that, but I think it’s important that that’s a piece that I think young people need to have. They come out having an expectation and a thought process around, “How do you get promoted? How do you make more money? How do you do X?” Whatever it might be. What I say is be ready all costs and also continue to be having this thirst for knowledge so that you get better each and every day and learn from everybody. Those are the top two things that come to mind.

I love that. As you were talking, it feels like A) We versus me, this be ready to serve as we learn and become stronger, we help the whole because as each of us does our work to be better, we all will rise together. It’s an orientation beyond your own world, to be ready to help and serve in other ways. That’s beautifully said. One more question if you have time for me. This is about legacy. We’ve talked about a lot of this since you’ve talked about what you believe about leadership, how you’ve chosen to leave the culture that you create. When you take a look back and you get to a point where you’re like, “I want to review my life and what I’ve done,” what is the legacy that you want to leave and what you’d like to be known for when they talk about you?

Hopefully, I don’t sit around and think around what’s my legacy now, but I’ve got a long way yet to create that legacy. Nevertheless, I would say that this sounds a bit common, but I would want people to say, “He truly made a difference in my life and gave me opportunity, and always had the courage to do the right thing.” Those two things resonate with me, like, “Was he a good leader? Did he do great things within organizations?” That’s nice, but to make a difference in other people’s lives is, “How did this person me positively affect my life?” I’m very appreciative of that. It’s like we have internal foundations within companies, which is team members helping team members. I’ve done that, created those in several organizations and they go on to be super successful of people helping people.

To me, that’s a legacy. It’s where you create that environment and you get those things going that it continues way beyond yourself and it’s bigger than yourself. To me, it’s making that difference. Part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing now is I feel like I have something to contribute. My purpose is being fulfilled of making that difference in people’s lives. I’d like to have people talk about me in that way and that I always led with my heart and I cared. Those are the top thoughts that I have right now.

I think that you are living that legacy, because I have a close view of what you do, and I think everything you’ve talked about from trust and courage, it makes sense that you would bring heart into it, considering your name. It’s certain. It’s destined. There’s so much wisdom in your words, and not only how you teach us in what you have said in this conversation, but what you model as a leader out there in the industry for what we see. I want to say thank you for all of that, for your partnership. I know in working with you, for all that you do for us and all that you do for your team and the industry. We’re grateful.

Thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully, I can continue to do my part.

I have no question that you will. Whenever we interview people, one of the things I always say is, “Past behavior is the best indication of future.” When I look at the life that you have led, all I see ahead is more of what you do, more amplification of the good that you’ve talked about and the example that you set as a leader. Thanks for your time and for the wisdom that you shared.

Thanks. Take care.


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