Best way to evolve is to keep it simple

by Profiles Global 20. May 2010 01:50

What kind of title is chief love officer? That's the burning question many have pondered after their first encounter with Chris Nadeau, CLO and co-founder of New Brunswick-based web development and social media company Evolving Solutions.

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Kâté Braydon/Telegraph-Journal
‘One of our core values is to lead without titles,’ says Chris Nadeau, Chief Love Officer and co-founder of Evolving Solutions. ‘I wanted no titles for people in our company because I felt everyone was just as important and titles got in the way. But I talked about it with others and they thought I needed some sort of title, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll be the Chief Love Officer then.’ ”

Chris and his brother Adrian have grown the company from a professional service firm offering web development services to a successful web product company. As an entrepreneur I've been watching and learning from this nine-year-old firm and my sense is that Evolving Solutions has really come into its own.

Q My first question was about Evolving Solution's tagline "Keeping it simple-" how did it come about?

A What we realized is that we were making things too complicated. When we started our business we were like, "Oh, we don't want to be the website guys." But then we realized everyone needs a website. So we said lets build a really killer product that focuses on a really solid website for businesses or organizations and really keep it simple.

We structured the products so that we get people on board that use the product. They get trained, but then there's the recurring revenue model behind it, so we don't have to stress out as business owners trying to find that next project, that next client.

Q How did you get to this place where you said: We have to shift this, we've got to change this? What was the process of making the decision around that?

A We were banging our heads against the wall and then a light went on. Everybody needs a website, but a lot of people are very fearful of the sticker price at the start. They see this big website, and they want it, but then they realize how much it costs and they back off.

So we thought, "Why don't we go with a product so that we can actually put multiple people on top of the same product and have their own little area."

We can lower the cost because our cost of development is a lot less now, and the initial investment for our customers is a lot less than what it was.

So that probably took us about six years in the business to really figure that out.

Q As a business owner, what are some of the hardest decisions you've had to make?

A For me, it was dealing with employees.

We've had some great people help us along the way to get to where we are now. They have since moved on to either other jobs with other companies, or we've had to make changes in our environment.

Those are the toughest decisions, I think as an employer.

Q You guys seem to like having fun and you enjoy what you do. You came out of a corporate culture and you are, in my mind, a pure entrepreneur. You guys just went for it! On your website, you call yourself the Chief Love Officer, which is about having fun. Tell me a little more about that.

A When we decided to start the business, we didn't want to be 50 looking back saying - What if we had of started our business? What would have happened?"

So we had this passion to go out and do it on our own and our motto at the time was "If you risk nothing, you risk everything."

So we said let's jump in, see what happens. The worst that can happen is you could lose your house or whatever. It's really not that big a thing. As we evolved we had fun with it, (and I became) the Chief Love Officer.

One of our core values is to lead without titles, which comes from (author and consultant) Robin Sharma. I wanted no titles for people in our company because I felt everyone was just as important and titles got in the way. But I talked about it with others and they thought I needed some sort of title, so I said, "Well, I'll be the Chief Love Officer then."

Another company value is to be nice, because a lot of business is cut throat or at least we saw it that way. So we thought, you know, we're just nice guys, we're going to operate as nice guys. We think there should be a lot more love in business, so I'm the Chief Love Officer, and I try to spread the love.

Q A lot of people want to jump in and be entrepreneurs. What advice would you give to someone who's about to take the leap?

A We're all different. If you're in a job and you actually love it and you like the employer, then I really don't see why you would want to leave.

But if there is that inkling of feeling that you're not enjoying every day and there is something that you know you can do, that you're very passionate about, I think you've got to go for it.

I think you've got to look at it and say, "What is the worst thing that can happen to me if I go for this? Alright, if it doesn't work, I've got to go get another job."

Q So it's about making a decision, being okay with the worst possible outcome, and then going for it?

A Follow your passion.

Q You have a sports background, a business background, you've been in the corporate sector, you've done a lot of things, and you've met a lot of people. Is there one person who you can think of that has really inspired you and had a real impact on who you are as a person and as a leader?

A I would have to say as far as the business side, it would have to be my brother, Adrian.

Q In the interviews that I'm doing, I'm expecting people to talk about Warren Buffett or whomever, and most people are pointing to family members, which is really interesting.

A I wouldn't have been able to do what I've done with the business and I don't think he would have been able to do what he's done with our business.

I think having our two skill sets, our two personalities, being able to lean on each other, have really made us who we are, and it's worked really well, and seeing what he does inspires me to be a better leader, a better person for our company.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at dave@visioncoachinginc.com. His column appears every other Thursday.

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HR | human resources

Everything can be accomplished with trust

by Profiles Global 6. May 2010 01:49

'Leadership is not a quality. It's a state of mind.' This sentence jumped out at me when I looked at Royal LePage Atlantic's website.

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Paul Darrow/for the Telegraph Journal
‘Because of my strong core value of stewardship, the very thing that inspires me to move forward every day is not only for myself to do well, but also for those around me to do well,’ says Ralph Stephen, Royal LePage Atlantic president. In an interview with Dave Veale, Stephen discusses making tough decisions to overcome challenges in the real estate market.

The real estate firm is a market leader with 230 agents and 10 offices in Atlantic Canada. Spend a short time with Ralph Stephen, president of the company, and you quickly learn he strives to role model this "state of mind" on a daily basis.

In our interview, Stephen candidly describes the recent challenges in the real estate market and, as a leader, making tough decisions to overcome these challenges.

Q: Ralph kicked off our interview by describing the importance of being a "servant leader."

A: A lot of the leaders that I would have known when I started 20 years ago would have approached the world from a very different perspective. They would have been more, let's say top down, militaristic. "Here's what we need to do and here's how you're going to do it."

There is a disconnect between that leadership style and what people are looking for today.

I think people are looking for those folks that are interested in helping them get to where they need to go and that is how I would define my leadership style. I would be more of a "servant leader."

I get up every morning wondering what is it that I can do to add value to my organization. "How can I serve my organization?" rather than "How can the organization serve me?"

I think that servant leadership might mean different things to different people. What that means to me is that there is a little more reciprocity in my relationships so they are a lot more whole. That is the way I would describe it.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: My leadership team effectively runs my business on a daily basis. They don't check in with me on an hour-by-hour basis wondering what they should or shouldn't be doing.

If you have the right people in those positions, you have trust and that becomes the foundation of your relationship. So my role then becomes more of an adviser: What is it that I can do to add value to that manager in that particular branch, or the president of that particular company?

Q: You're kind of bumping up on what I would describe as a holistic view of the person. Is it all business or do you find there is a nice blend of business and personal? If someone has an issue, are you open as a leader to understanding what might be slowing them down and might relate to something in their personal life?

A: From what I have discovered over the years, every individual either wants a personal investment or a professional investment. It is incumbent upon leaders to understand what people are looking for.

I might be talking with a particular individual who wants to further themselves professionally and they want to know how I can help them do that.

Alternatively, I might be talking to somebody that has everything they need professionally, but they might need a sounding board for somebody to talk with about some things they might be going through.

As leaders it isn't really about us; it's about what that person requires at that particular time.

Q: And that's where trust comes in, in a big way. So what are the challenges with that? What are you finding really challenging about this approach to leadership?

A: The biggest challenge would be the time and effort that it all takes "¦ I can tell you one thing for sure, once you have a relationship that's based on trust, you can accomplish absolutely everything.

Q: The last year has been difficult across the board. There have been challenges for your industry, the real estate industry. What is the toughest decision or decisions you have had to make in the last year?

A: We went through some tremendous years of growth over the last ten years and the reality is, like any other business, we hadn't expected that growth to stop.

We had set a proper foundation in place. We were moving forward and the trajectory is going (up). All of a sudden, the revenue tap shuts for three or four months. Then you realize, we better take a look at our business.

It has been a gift - because had we not been given the opportunity under the circumstances that we faced - it would be a couple of years before we reorganized our business model.

When you talked about the toughest thing, it always goes back to the people side of the business.

Because of my strong core value of stewardship, the very thing that inspires me to move forward every day is not only for myself to do well, but also for those around me to do well.

I never really thought I would be in the position where I would be asking people to either retire early or having to lay folks off.

My grandfather on my mom's side and my grandfather on my dad's side both ran businesses that employed generations of people and never laid anybody off. That was how I viewed myself as a corporate citizen, as somebody that would continue to provide employment to people as long as they wanted to be employed.

The reality of that is quite different and I was faced with having to make some decisions, which I found to be very tough.

I had to make some tough decisions for a few folks for the good of the many, and that allowed me to continue to move forward without really violating one of my very strong core values.

Q: Who for you has been a big inspiration, in terms of defining who you are and how you lead?

A: My uncle Mike. He rose quite quickly through the insurance industry and went on to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company - Aetna, Inc. (NYSE: AET). I guess that's really who shaped my leadership or helped shape my philosophy on leadership - the need to look after people as you are looking after yourself.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at dave@visioncoachinginc.com. His column appears every other Thursday.

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HR | human resources

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