Quick and Dirty Leadership, with special guest: Mignon Fogarty

Today, I’m going to take extra care with my writing as in this post, because I had the honor of sitting down with Mignon Fogarty, or more popularly known as Grammar Girl. To this point in her young career she’s already created so much great content I don’t mind saying I was a little excited, and a little bit nervous about our scheduled interview.

We met downtown at the Reno Collective, a collaborative workspace for designers, creatives, technologists, entrepreneurs, freelancers, rocket scientists and startups. It’s a great space and an even better project. It was my first time there, so I really appreciated Mignon inviting me down to check the place out and more importantly, to talk with her.

Typically when I’ve been lining up these interviews to discuss leadership and project management across industry platforms, I’ve had an idea, at least an inkling of what I wanted to discuss with the interviewee and how it would tie into the subject matter. Not so with Mignon. I knew that she offered a very unique perspective, one which I hadn’t considered until the opportunity of talking with her had presented itself. I attempted to formulate a loosely structured direction the conversation could’ve gone, but it was pretty much chucked as soon as we started talking.

Rather than try and force her perspective and accomplishments into a leadership box, we ended up talking about her passion(s), what excited her and how she arrived at this point in her life. That’s where the real magic appeared to come from, so I’m very happy to share some of that conversation now.

Let me interject quickly here, she started out in English then matriculated into science. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I’ve heard of failed scientists turning towards an English degree but not vice versa. Chuckle. It really speaks to her broad interest and her thirst for knowledge, not to mention her intellectual capacity. Let’s see where it takes her.

Accepted into the biology PhD program at Stanford and then dropping out to work on a startup during the late ’90s .com boom! Man, this woman has lived! Haha! But, she took advantage of opportunities and it sounds like she took calculated risks. Very daring and yet necessary sometimes to see what sticks. As managers and leaders we’re required to do this quite often when searching for a solution, when searching for results. We need to be daring, we need to take calculated risks and play it away from the vest a little. It reminds me of my interview Mark Estee of Reno Provisions and Campo. He definitely plays it away from the vest and so should we in certain instances, with our own level of extreme applied accordingly.

Quality content is difficult to produce as attested to by Mignon, twenty hours for forty minutes of content. But for her it was worth it, it wasn’t sustainable, but worth to effort. Through the process she was able to experience some great enjoyment it sounds like but more than that, she was able to determine what wasn’t feasible. We’ll talk a little bit more about this in a few moments but I’ll preface with this: just because we love it, doesn’t make it the right fit. Also, let’s not lose sight of something here, before Mignon was Grammar Girl, she did a weekly forty minute science podcast, man that’s great!

“Snackable” content, or “Bite Sized Quanta”, that’s the nerd in me that’s appreciating the science gal in Mignon, such great stuff. I think the point here is we as leaders and managers don’t need to say a lot to be effective. Sometimes it’s necessary to package our message in lengthy statements or speeches, but you’ll probably find the shorter to-the-point messages stick better and can have legs of their own, longer lasting. Again, just because we love something, that’s not the whole story as Mignon said. We have to be sustainable too and when those two can merge, when our passions cross paths with a good business model, well then that’s where the magic can and will happen as seen by Quick and Dirty Tips for Mignon. Wrapping up, I talked with Mignon about her TEDx talk: Who Votes for New Words? You Do! she did earlier this year for the University of Nevada Reno.

Beyond this clip I talked to Mignon a little bit more about the rules, about abiding by those rules, and about those who have staunch opinions regarding language rules. I believe it’s very safe to say she has a real respect for those rules and those individuals. But, as with all things we need to maintain perspective because as she said, in two-hundred years from now we’re the ones who are going to look ridiculous, and our rules will be picked apart. So, in all things, maintain perspective because staunch opinions and absolutes breakdown and don’t hold water in the face of perspective.

From being first in her family with a college degree, to budding scientist, to author and creator of Grammar Girl, the point is you never know. The path we travel is long, and as leaders and managers we need to maintain perspective that just because we’re not seeing immediate results, or if we get frustrated and bogged down, that doesn’t mean we’re on the wrong course. In fact, the hard the road traveled usually has the more rewarding the end result.

I said at the beginning of this post that I was going to take extra of my writing in this post. Well, after sitting down with Mignon, I found her to be very much accepting of people’s writing styles, unique quirks and honest mistakes here and there. After all, that’s how it sounds like Grammar Girl was started. A girl who wanted to write and didn’t know quite all the rules or how to better her writing. And in her research she decided to share what she was discovering with the rest of us. I don’t think I could feel more at ease when it came to my writing than after sitting and talking with this extraordinarily accomplished woman, with an extraordinarily approachable and humble spirit.

Image Credits: Video by Author


Law Enforcement Integrity, with special guest: Jim Colbert

We’re back with Jim Colbert, former police officer in the Reno P.D. for thirty years. Yesterday were talking about …

There was a lot more along with that, such as struggling against a public that doesn’t trust you, or having a captain that’s not in tune with the problems of the day, but if you haven’t read it yet I’ll leave it to you. It’s a good read with some great video but not necessary to continue with today’s piece. I would say at this point that Jim gives some excellent examples and perspective of these leadership/management topics I’ve been discussing in this blog. Granted, they are extreme versions of those topics but non-the-less, very applicable to the discussion. Let’s continue with some more great perspective.

This is a great example of how over time, our standards need to evolve. On a vaguely related level, it’s similar to what restaurant owner Mark Estee was talking about: “Never being satisfied,” we need to be pushing for change constantly because it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. The world is banging at the door and the face of that word is ever evolving so it’s up to us to open the door, welcome in that change and assist in its development. If we’re not changing along with it, it’s going to move on down the street to the next door and we’ll be left behind. I’m not sure this is the best metaphor but I believe it makes the point that in five, ten, twenty years’ time, you won’t recognize your business, industry, or those working in it so we can be a part of it, or we can be left behind.

I’m not sure what I mumbled 28 seconds in but it sounded like gibberish. (Haha). My apologies. What Jim it talking about ties directly into what we were talking about yesterday in having the right personnel for the job and how harmful it can be when the wrong person is brought in and the fit isn’t quite right. The difference between today’s and the conversation yesterday along this same line is that the same person hired for the job today is not necessarily going to be the right person for the job tomorrow. As I said previously, the world is changing and we have to change alone with it and that includes how we fill out our teams. We need to be constantly asking: “Has the job changed? Is the job still necessary? Have the people for the job changed?” Let’s keep going with that same discussion.

Maintaining that balance between: “This is what I’m allowed to do and what I can do,” and being cognizant of those boundaries can be so beneficial. Know yourself, know your strengths and especially know your weaknesses. That “knowing” is a strength in itself and it can be such a tremendous asset in dynamic situations similar to what Jim is talking about. It will give you the perspective you need to gather the right kind of help when you need it. Let’s start to wrap up this great two-day conversation with Jim and see what he has to say about his own perspective on a thirty year career.

“The most important part of it is that honesty and integrity that you have to maintain if you want to be able to get the job done. If you want to be able to work with supervisors, fellow officers, and to have the communities support that’s so critical in getting the job done. And if you are lacking in those areas, you’ll never get the job done.”

Well said and nothing more is needed or should be added to that great synopsis, Jim nailed it! And you heard what the result was, how the Chief of Police valued Jim as an officer and what he provided to the force? It sounds like the Chief valued Jim as more than an officer and that kind of credibility can only be gained through your actions, your values, and what you stand for.

So, that’s what honesty and integrity accomplishes, that’s what it gets you on the street as a police office. Without it, there is no way Jim could do his job effectively day-to-day. Armed with that honesty and integrity  not only did he effectively do his job, but he did so much more in the form of projects and in the process garnered the respect and admiration of his fellow officers. Can you imagine what it can do for you in your day-to-day interactions with team members, in your business?

I want to thank Jim for taking the time out of his day to sit down and talk with me about leadership concepts that he faced and dealt with in the extreme. I hope this has added to your perspective of law enforcement and perhaps gives you an idea of what they are dealing with on a daily basis. I know for me, even after forty years as his son, I’m still learning from Jim. About quality leadership, about perspective, and about the life skills necessary to live an effective life. I’m also about the double standard he had when it came to forcing his own kids to eat their vegetables. Haha!

If you didn’t catch that last reference, read and watch yesterday’s post: Police Blue Leadership, with special guest: Jim Colbert

Image Credits: Video by Authro

Police Blue Leadership, with special guest: Jim Colbert

Retired but definitely not out of the game, this is the second video interview and in it I was able to garner some very unique perspective from Jim Colbert, a retired Reno Police Officer who spent thirty years on the force. Let’s just get it out there now, Jim is my father but he’s not the first family member of mine to be interviewed for this blog. Earlier this year I talked to my brother Joel about being a father of four and how leadership plays a role in his household. He and his wife Mandy are very effective project managers, effective managers of tomorrow’s leaders I would dare say. The point is, managers and leaders are all around us and we interact with them daily. We are said managers and leaders and the qualities necessary to effectively get us through life, to successfully launch and build careers, and to manage our hectic lifestyles are very similar, as you’ll see, to those of a retired peace officer.

When I sat down with Jim, we stared talking about how the mantle of leader is thrust upon a police officer, it’s not something they grow into or are promoted to. As soon as that uniform goes on, they are instantly a figure of authority, a leader in the community. Let’s not waste any time and listen in on some of that conversation.

What a very difficult situation to be in. Imagine being a part of a situation where you were brought in to replace an outgoing employee and it was known for a fact that this employee did business unethically. And regardless of the fact that you were the new guy brought in to replace this tarnished individual, everyone you were accountable to considered you unethical also? At least until you could prove to them otherwise? I don’t know how you could even function in a situation like that let alone make a difference. Also, I want to be clear on something, when that uniform went on, that’s exactly who Jim was accountable to, every member of the public. Let’s continue with the thread and the dichotomous relationship that Jim had to deal with in a general public that he was sworn to protect.

Double standards and the fundamental attribution error. Again, what an uphill battle to fight every day if your career. A public that wanted to blame the officer for catching them when they were wrong. Ironic, that’s exactly why we have them in place to begin with. To uphold the law and discipline those who break the law. So, as difficult as that sounds, let’s hear how can this can get even more so.

Wow! So, that’s  it can get worse. Dealing with a public that doesn’t trust you and compounding matters by having a captain that can’t navigate successfully through some very tough waters. What I see though is a chance where a leader to step up and be accountable and be transparent, and how effective those qualities can be in very trying times. As Jim said, a leader that is “in-tune” with the situation and upfront, being accountable. But more than that, communicating what’s going to be done about the current problems and how those problems are going to be prevented in the future. This is such a hot topic item right now with police brutality center stage in so many precincts. But, that’s not what this conversation is about so let’s continue.

Leadership, it’s constantly an uphill battle. As a police officer, and as Jim said: “It’s was a weird role,” one that required him to wear many hats including Vegetable Patrol. As leaders we need to be aware of the many expectations that could at any turn be thrust upon us. As authority figures we may need to respond to one or many awkward and challenging “weird” moments that you can’t prepare for but with practice and perspective, you can have the right tools in place, ready to respond to them

Having the right people for the job matters. Just as Jim was talking about in his line of work, we shouldn’t just plug-and-play people into different roles as we see fit. There needs to be an alignment between their skills and the job in question. There needs to be an alignment between the individual and the tasks that are going to require their attention. Yes, we could just plug anyone in and we might not notice how ineffective it is. But we will defiantly notice when it’s absolutely the wrong person for the job, and so will that individual. There are many that suffer in these instances, the person doing the work, the job itself, and ultimately it reflects back on you the manager or team leader since it was your responsibility to insert appropriately. Again, in Jim’s case the examples are extreme, for the wrong person in those situations can lead to the loss of human life. Regardless, the same principles apply.

Perspective. We in the general public as so quick to make those judgment calls in regards to the police and their actions. But after listening to Jim talk a little bit about it, it really brings into focus a much different perspective. We have to keep that flip-side of the coin readily at our disposal, we have to be able to analyze and consider what our team members and our employees are having to deal with. Because more often than not the results of a situation gone awry is exactly that: results. Results of something that could have been prevented at the beginning of a chain of events. Looking at the whole chain will give you that valuable perspective.

Jim wraps up this portion of the conversation with something that again in his case is extreme when compared to what we’re required to deal with. He’s held accountable in a job that he was hired and trained to do, and that it’s very likely his results could be called into question down the road. I believe he said it earlier: “People remember the bad stuff you do, they hardly ever remember the good stuff.” So, in that light, being accountable is very difficult but if you can stand up take ownership of your actions, especially when it goes bad, it will set you apart as an individual of strong character.

After this we took a short break and so let’s pick up the remainder of conversation in tomorrow’s post. But, what a great conversation so far! For me, what I find intriguing is this man who has been my father for over forty years still has something new to show me about himself, about is experiences, about his views and even about his double standard when it came to eating vegetables. I can’t believe he told some kid he didn’t have to eat his vegetables. Who is this man and where is my father? Haha! Beyond that, he’s given some really extreme examples of when leadership goes wrong and what it takes to keep it right.

Image Credits: Video by Author

Being a One Percenter in Leadership, with special guest Dusty Wunderlich

This is a rather special interview. It will be the first one that incorporates the dialog from the interview with video. For this groundbreaking occasion, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dusty Wunderlich – founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings amongst other things. I could sit here and tell you about the great things that Bristlecone is achieving, or about some of his previous endeavors, but I’ll leave that for you to research after readings and listening to what we talked about in our sixteen minutes of face time.

First of all I want to apologize, I didn’t have the camera set up optimally so part of my head is cut off. But, that’s really okay because there’s a great money shot of Dusty, and a mug.

To start off, to preface, it was a little fortuitous that the night before I was to sit with Dusty, I was listening to NPR and heard a blurb about the richest 1%, and how much control they have over the worlds wealth. Statistic: 85 of the world’s top wealthiest people control the same amount of wealth in the world and the bottom 50%. The fortuitous nature of it was that I had also watched the 80’s classic movie Wall Street the night before also. You know the one with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen? Classic! In that movie they hit on some very poignant topics that are still very relevant today. This all tied into a TED Video I was recently shown about a plutocrat whose talk was directed to the top 1%, and how they need to wake up because the torches are coming. He actually equated it to the French Revolution.

Tying Wall Street to the TED Video to the NPR piece I walked into Dusty’s office knowing I had some thoughts on all of it. What do I think about it, and what if anything could I do personally? Now I’m sitting in this room with this guy who’s has already experienced very serious business growth and is personally and financially successful. He’s on his way up running an incredible startup and I’m sure his fingers are already in other things where he could see additional rapid growth. So some of these concepts I was marinading on, maybe he’s already thought about them. This was kind of a perfect storm for this topic since Dusty had recently returned from a trip to South Africa where he experienced some of this stuff first hand. He apologizes for the phone but the conversation and the message is clear. Let’s listen to some of what he has to say now.

So, we’re poised for an answer but I want pause here to remove some of my own opinions about the matter. I want this to focus primarily Dusty’s thoughts and what the topic might provoke in you. What he follows up with is great also because he ties it into Reno and gives it a local perspective. He defiantly answers from a place experience and links it to what they are trying to do at Bristlecone which is more than you would expect.

“Creating a hundred millionaires,” sounds good to me. How do I get in? Seriously, what Dustys talking about there is as leaders, we’re not only in it for our own gain, if we can bring others up along with us, we can then send them out as ambassadors.

Wow! This is some great stuff that Reno is in dire need of. I feel comfortable inserting my own little opinion here on Reno. And that is this wonderful place has had an identity crisis for so long. At least ever since we tried to compete with Vegas and after losing that battle we’ve been scrambling and grasping at straws to really get our legs underneath us. So now that we understand where Dusty is going, and what we as individuals can do about the wealth inequality gap that exists today, how does the guy out on the street combat that? How does the individual who doesn’t have the means get his voice to be heard?

So what are we up against? A system that was setup two-hundred plus years ago to work effectively in those times, for those men? And now, it’s a radically different time and we’re struggling in that same system that itself is struggling to respond to current times. From a business perspective, we’re trying to fit our environment into that same outdated box. We end up with a lot of old school mentality that is striving to implement change in a way that is antiquated at best while declaring: “This is how we’ve always done it in the past.” This is Institutionalist mentality and just because we have always done things a certain way doesn’t make it right, nor does it fit in today’s environment. So we need people from within and without to come in and push for change. Let’s look at this from a different perspective, let’s switch our way of thinking and get the word out.

“You never arrive.” I seem to recall another gentleman talking about the same thing. A Mr. Mark Estee and his passion for never being satisfied. So, it’s not that we haven’t asked this question before or are grappling with the something different than our parents wrestled with. It’s a new generation and we’re asking the right questions it’s just that ….

So this time we’re in now, it’s kind of exciting as everything is becoming so branded. People are aligning themselves with companies and products that fit their taste and their lifestyle. There are all these niche groups that are created and according to Dusty: “It’s phenomenal! It’s never been easier to be an entrepreneur with things like Kickstarter, social media, and the internet. This is what we should be embracing, products and services created out of nowhere that traditionally would have been impossible. A time that can increase the greatness of America and address the problem of those 1%ers.”

What a great interview! I want to thank Dusty for his time and to Kristin Stith also at Bristlecone for aiding in setting up this interview.

Image Credits: Video by Author

Sweet Spot Leadership, with special guest: Mark Estee

Okay, we’re back and I’m still with special guest Mark Estee of the Reno Local Food Group. This is the second part of the interview and if you haven’t read the first part, check it out: Roller Coaster Leadership. We’ve been having a great conversation about his projects and some of the things he faces as a leader/manager and how those things are handled or addressed. Let’s not waste any more time as this doesn’t need any more setup. The last thing we were talking about was his managers need to have ownership, that
 they need to run with their own projects and the result is valuable experience regardless of success or failure.

Mark: “Those are the things we use to create that organizational leadership we were talking about earlier. Now I’ve been in other places where it’s been a dictatorship, I came up in that. You know I worked in hotels and it was the way the general manager wanted it and that was the way it was going to be, no matter what. And I was fuck’n pissed cause the general manager never worked a god-damn day next to me. He didn’t know the hell I went through. So, I think there’s something to be said about coming from the bottom up, I think there’s something to be said about willing to do and be a part of every job that’s out there, but also knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. So, if I know I’m not good at something, I’ll find someone who is good at it and bring them on.”

Elton: “Play to your strengths and play to their strengths?”

Mark: “Yep. I kind of call that ‘Putt’n the ego aside.’ A lot of times I think ego gets in our way of leaders in situations like that. And we need to make sure we’re checking our ego at the door, and that everybody else checks their ego at the door, that we’re all making good solid decisions.”

Elton: “Which leads to success?”

Mark: “It can lead to success. I always challenge my managers and I talk about this a lot and that’s if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. You know what I mean? If you play it all close to the vest and all safe. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that but I’m going to go out on a line and say that 90% of businesses do that. I’ll say 90% of businesses get to a place and then they play it close to their chest, I’m not knocking them, that’s just not who I am. You know I had a manager say to me one time, it was a couple years ago and he doesn’t work with us anymore, and I was talking about something and he’s like: ‘You’re never satisfied man! You’re never fuck’n satisfied!’ And I literally threw the table over and said: ‘Get the fuck out of here, I’m never going to be satisfied, who’s satisfied?’ Satisfied, what does that even mean? Now, we don’t sit here and harp on people every day like crazy, but we’re never satisfied. Again, what does that even mean? Is it an exit plan? In which case, no! Not right now.”

Elton: “Where you sit back and coast?”

Mark: “No way! I’ve been in businesses like that, I don’t like that. And that’s not how I want to run my company. Now, do people have days off? Yeah, everyone gets two days off, everyone has family time, everyone has all that kind of stuff they need. It’s not like we’re salve driving everybody.”

Elton: “Quality of life, you have to have that quality of life outside and inside.”

Mark: “The thing is, the thing that I’m working on, in full disclosure, I’m working on figuring out my end. You know, I’m the guy, still to this day that gives everybody their days off and I don’t have days off. But, I’m in the growth period and for me it’s like, it builds up a loyalty or a trust factor with the managers knowing that I’m not asking them to do anything that I haven’t done or I’m not willing to do myself.”

Elton: “Sure, leading by example. And there’s a lot to be said about leading by example.”

Elton: “I want to backtrack again to something you said about that transparency and how you’re open to the community. Are there any ways that you’re engaging with the community to say, and not just when they come knocking are you transparent, but are you banging on people’s door, knocking on people digitally, knocking on people’s conscience saying: ‘Hey, we’re a transparent company, come check us out. Hey, we’re reaching out to the community, come check us out. Hey how can we help you? Come check us out.’”

Mark: “Well I think, to answer that question let me say this. We’re more about attraction rather than promotion. So I would rather, and I think people have, seek us out versus me seeking them out. I think that gets to be a little bit pompous, I think it’s a little bit of a bad thing. You know what I mean? We just do what we do and if that attracts people to come talk to us that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s great too. I’m not the food police, I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. Like I had somebody call me and say: ‘Look, I really want to get involved in this whole local food movement, I want to get in on all the related media, how do I do it?’ And I said, ‘Buy local food.’ Real fuck’n simple answer. You know? Buy local products, there’s no secret.”

Elton: “Yeah, sounds pretty straight forward.”

Mark: “Exactly. We’re sitting here talking about how do I do this and how do I do that? And the answer is, just go out and buy it. There’s no secret. The secret is there is no secret. So I think for us we’re more about just doing what we do. We do talk about it a lot, again we’re not playing it close to the vest you know? When asked to speak, I speak, but I don’t go around volunteering to talk to anybody. If someone asks me I’ll say: ‘Yes.’ And I do say ‘Yes’ a lot. Actually there’s a point that I need to pull back a little and we’re talking about the possibility of putting it together. There are a lot of projects that have come to fruition that I consulted on for free, or given my advice on or given my opinion which is totally cool but there’s a point there and well shit, a lot of people get paid to do that. You know? So I feel I get paid back in other ways, you know like every time I give I get ten times back.”

Elton: “Right! And there’s a lot to be said about that too. I checked out your website and it tells you about this or that but you’re … how do I say this? You’re providing an atmosphere where you’re giving and then like you said, you’re getting back tenfold from that giving. But you’re not giving to get back. You’re giving to actively engage with the community and I think that active engagement fosters communication, trust, loyalty, and I think you’re seeing that now take place in a lot of your different projects.”

Mark: “We’ll tend to say: ‘Do the work, but don’t be attached to the results.’ So, we’re willing to do the work always, and not just me, everybody is. We want the results and for instance we’ll say: ‘We really want to promote lunch,’ so we try and then lunch usually then gets promoted. Or, we have some bad reviews about service so we all want to really improve service. But then we get another bad review but we’re still trying. So to me, it’s like we did the work and we ask: ‘Did we do it?’ Then we again ask everybody: ‘Are we doing everything we can right now?’ And maybe someone is like: “You know, I think I could have, I think I only touched ten tables that night but I missed the eleventh table and that’s the table …’ And we’ll respond: ‘Okay, well than hit them all.’ Then well boom, all of the sudden all those problems go away. Or they say: ‘You know what? I touched eleven tables that night and still that happened.’ Okay, well let’s keep doing it and even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, I bet if we keep doing it we’ll eventually get the results we want. Right? So it’s just kind of that small mentality.”

Elton: “Sounds like it’s the little things? All fine tuning?”

Mark: “It’s all about the small stuff.”

Elton: “That can reach so far into what you’re trying to achieve.”

Mark: “Yeah. Again, going back to it the culture is the setting, that vision, that mission is the setting and everything else is little compared to that. And all of the things that we do that are little, but put them together and that adds up to that setting. And so it kind of feeds itself that way, that’s kind of how we manage our whole entire operation. And we ask our employees to buy off on that. One of the things and I’m not sure if other people do it is our employees are our biggest proponents. You know, that mass is our biggest group of people talking about what we do, talking about our culture, talking about who we are and all that stuff. Those are the things that really make us successful. So I know that it comes from me and goes down to our managers, it goes from our managers to our employees. You know I think that’s how it works the best. And the way we do it is for me, I’m the hardest on the managers and the sweetest on the employees because the managers have to manage that in their own way. So for employees when they say: ‘Mark, can I get some vacation?’ And I’m like: ‘You know, you’re going to have to go talk to your manager, I can’t answer that for you.’ It’s not my job you know? I’m not going to step on the managers toes.”

Elton: “Sure! And you’re not here to micromanage?”

Mark: “Right. So, and I learned that the hard way, to really make sure that it stays that way. Like if one of the employees says: ‘I want a raise.’ I’m like, okay, let’s all get together to make that decision. I may like that person a ton and think they do a great job but I’m not next to them fifty hours a week.”

Elton: “But you hire the people to make that call. That’s why you put them in place. Again, play to your strengths, allow them to play to their strengths, and then with everybody that you have, you have this strong environment.”

Mark: “And even if it’s easy for me sometimes, I have to let them kind of earn their bones, they have to earn their bones.”

Elton: “Like you did?”

Mark: “Right. I might be like: ‘I could do that in five minutes,’ but also I’m like: ‘Okay no, it might take you five hours to do the schedule, so be it.’ So, instead I say: ‘Hey, I’m really good at making the schedules so if anyone needs my help I’m here, if not, you guys got it.’ They can show it to me and I’ll look at it, go through it and show them the scenarios. So, it’s kind of a fun thing to kind of help manage other managers still. That’s how we do it.”

Elton: “Right! So that ground floor improvement, that ground floor excelling, it sounds like it’s kind of permeated throughout all of the businesses.”

Mark: “Yes, that’s what we work on. Now is it always perfect? No, we’re constantly tweaking it.”

Elton: “Well, that goes back to that guy who said: ‘You’re never happy.’ And your reply: ‘No, no I’m not.’ And on one level if you stall out …”

Mark: “’Satisfied!’ I’m always ‘happy’, but I’m never ‘satisfied.’”

Elton: “Okay, let’s make that delineation.”

Mark: “There’s a big difference. Because if you’re not happy in your business who the hell wants to be around you? So, I work hard to be happy, that’s important.”

Elton: “And I get that vibe from you.”

Mark: “It’s important that everybody is happy.”

Elton: “Okay, well even when I walked in here, I walked through the place, I came back and I was engaged by everybody that I encountered in a very positive way so it definitely exists. So, it’s not something that you’re just talking about, it’s happening. But, if you’re never satisfied, and you’re trying to avoid that ‘stall-out’ point, there’s gonna be the guy right? There’s gonna be that guy right behind you that is pushing, that’s pushing harder. And you’re pushing to keep ahead but you’re also pushing because you love what you do. And I believe that’s what people do who excel in project management, in leadership, and in the businesses. They love what they do and they’re good at it. So, they’ve found that ‘sweet-spot.’ And you may find people, business managers that love what they do but ehhhhhh, they’re not the greatest at it. Or they’re really good at it but their hearts not in it. But when you find those leaders and business managers that are not only effective in the business side of things, but they’re effective with their employees and they’re effective in engaging with the community, that to me is just … it resonates with me and with the people I interact with in the right way to getting those quality results.”

Mark: “Yeah, yeah to all of that.”

Elton: “So, I think you hit on ten or twelve things more than I anticipated so I’m going to conclude our interview here.”


So, again, a roller coaster of an interview. We were literally all over the place and I probably could have pieced it out into combined single thought threads. But, I believe the spirit of the interview would have been lost. Literally, we met for the first time, sat down and shot-the-shit for twenty minutes. Yes, all that took place in a twenty minute time period. We were spitt’n it out as fast as the thoughts and words rose to the surface. For me, it was fantastic!

I want to thank Mark Estee and his assistant Amanda Bratzler for putting together this interview and making the time to sit and talk about leadership and project management in a fast paced industry that is, like Mark said, is not for the faint-of-heart. So, to the readers, it’s about finding that ‘sweet-spot.’ Aligning a passion with something you’re good at. It’s not easy to do, but if you get the opportunity to combine those two things, you too could find yourself working seven days a week and loving every bit of it.

Image Credit: Photo by Author

Roller Coaster Leadership, with special guest: Mark Estee

A few months ago, I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Mark Estee of Campo, chez louie, Heritage Restaurant & Bar, Burger Me!, and most recently Reno Provisions. Listening to the interview again after that span of time I felt like I was someone in the audience, not actively involved. I got wrapped up in the conversation so much I kept forgetting I was supposed to be typing.

First of all, Mark is a force, a powerhouse. After we met I immediately knew I was on the clock and make it count. The result was I was energized, I fed off his passion and drive for what that day held in store. He was very much in the moment while at the same time staring off in the distance at some unseen event or project. Our conversation was kind of all over the place, we would jump forward and then run backwards. We were here one second and then way over their the next. It was a roller coaster and sometimes I felt like I was driving, but most of the time I was just holding on.  I don’t believe the man uses punctuation when he speaks, it’s fantastic! We had a very candid, at times blunt, open and honest conversation about management, leadership and well, see for yourself.

We started off talking about all of his different projects and how they are aligned with a common goal and how everything branches out from that common goal. How that common goal is static but everything around it is dynamic. How the challenge comes in responding to that dynamic and the ability to reference the static when necessary, to realign when necessary. How that realignment may be with his project managers or with other projects going on. Continuing on in this thread of the conversation is where we’ll pick up.

Mark: “The one thing that is constant in my industry is change itself. So, we live by that principle and instead of fighting it, we try to embrace it. I know a lot of restaurants or a lot of owners who don’t like change, they like to stay a certain way and that’s not us. We have a clearly defined mission statement, vision statement, and concept statement for all of our properties. They are all very similar as we want to do the same thing across the boards at all of our properties. And while we may get there differently for each, like chez louie is more French, Campo is more Italian, Provisions is cafeteria, and Heritage is Northern Nevada cuisine, they are all different in a way but ultimately they all have the same goal. It’s about the customer, it’s about the employee, and it’s about our local food scene. So, we want to create a culture, a food culture if you will.”

Elton: “So is that consistent in every one? It’s about the customer, employee, and the community?”

Mark: “Yep, yep. We always talk about out investors too, our partners …”

Elton: “Sure, it’s still a business.”Mark Estee

Mark: “Yes, we can’t forget that, we want to do good by them as well. The first rule of a sustainable restaurant or a sustainable business is to remain open.”

Elton: “Seems reasonable.”

Mark: He chuckles.

Elton: “But after that?”

Mark: “A lot of people lose focus of that, you’d be surprised. You should be sustainable.”

Elton: “But how you accomplish that, how do you stay open?”

Mark: “It’s a bitch. It’s a bitch man, this isn’t easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Elton: “Sounds honest.”

Mark: “Very. And the thing is, that’s what you’ll find in our business, we are a very open book management. So, everyone sees where we’re at, we don’t hide anything. As the owner of all these businesses, I consider all the managers Project Managers. Obviously I don’t do all this myself, we have a lot of layers.”

Elton: “Right! I was looking at some of your team members on your website.”

Mark: “Yes, we have an awesome team. And for them to continue to stay with us, to continue to grow, I need to continue to give them challenges. We’re not just the ‘same-ole same-ole’, we don’t say that in our business. We’re consistent, but it’s never said: ‘How’s it going today?’ ‘Ole, same old shit, different day.’ That’s grounds for termination, no one says that, everyone knows that.”

Elton: “Do you allow, in that dynamic environment, them the opportunity to explore within their own sphere of influence? There’s no ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to expand today.’ But more ‘Tell me how we’re going to expand today.’”

Mark: “Absolutely. And the best way for me to show you that is in the fact that my managers stay with us for a long time. If they leave, they typically leave to open their own place. So, those are some of the good things that we try to do. If I was an overbearing ogre, or I didn’t give them room to grow, I don’t think we’d be as successful as we are. You know, we’re only as good as the people around us. So, I manage down to them and they manage down to the employees.”

Elton: “And if they do move on, then they become ambassadors of where they came from, and everything that they were doing with you.”

Mark: “If you go back to my first business in 2002, or before that when I moved up to Tahoe in 1996, I think at last count the different chefs that have worked for me, with me, under me, beside me, I think it was something like over 50 different guys and gals running their own kitchens or starting their own businesses since then which is pretty cool.”

Elton: “Very cool!”

Mark: “So to me it says that we’re doing something right. We all kind of have that open book type management and we all come back to that visions statement, mission statement, and concept statement. And looking at our culture, our business culture, it’s kind of how we decide what we’re going to do. Like I was saying earlier, sometimes it’s a really easy road to get there, sometimes it’s very difficult, sometimes it’s a combination of both. Sometimes it starts with a single idea, but we end up adapting, changing, and seeing better ways along the way and we’ll always take those roads and explore them. But it’s still the end goal that we ultimately keep in mind. I believe that’s how we use organizational management, and that’s how we implement our business strategy if you will.”

Elton: “What is that end goal, when you say ‘end goal,’ what is that?”

Mark: “There is none. The thing is there is no end goal because it’s always growing. Let’s go back, we want to create a culture of learning, caring and respect. Where we respect our community, our coworkers, our investors, and our customers. And that’s the most important thing we can do. So that very simple statement, that’s how we build our business. We’re obviously in a ginormous growth period right now, seven restaurants in three years …”

Elton: “And all very fast.”

Mark: “Fast! Vertical integration is new to us so we’re working really hard on that. And organizationally, literally I just left a meeting where we were talking about making some changes already such as I had this one idea of a director of operations and then it veered into business operations. And we’re making some changes in how we do PR right now, we’re working through some of the ways we can make our company stronger, better, leaner, faster, and we see where we can apply the necessary efforts to address these things.”

Note: I want to pause real quick here. Have you noticed how much he’s said “I” or “Me?” I looked back at this point because it was something I noticed in the recording and I’ll just tell you, it’s hardly at all. To me this is telling of the nature of thing for the Reno Local Food Group, it’s very much that, a “group.” A man that has experienced as much success as he has in this amazingly short period of time has probably earned the right to say “I did this …” or “My business over here is doing that …” but that’s absolutely not the case. Mark embraces the group dynamic and when he wins, they win. Great leadership quality. Let’s get back to making changes on the fly.

Elton: “But you don’t know some of those things till you get in there. You can put in place the things you think will work, and then you have to reevaluate.”

Mark: “Anything you’ve read about me, or what you might already know about me, is that I’m the first person to talk about all the mistakes we’ve made. Such as we’re in the middle of redoing the Provisions store, we started with one idea …”

Elton: “After you opening in December correct?”

Mark: “… yeah well we started and my idea was to have this small little thing and now we’re putting a full market in because that’s what the community wants.”

Elton: “You’re getting the demand for that? That’s fantastic!”

Mark: “And we need to have those things you know? You come in here and if you can buy everything you need you’re going to come here more. If you’re coming here just for specialty stuff you’re only going to be coming here every once in a while.”

Elton: “I like that its community driven, that it’s: ‘We had ideas and we implemented them. We got feedback and we thought about it. We heard and we listened, and now let’s put it together.’”

Mark: “Yep.”

Elton: “Then, they come and the response is: ‘This is great! But, what about this? Or what about that?’ At that point you’re getting feedback and then you can respond in kind?”

Mark: “Sometimes you have to be wary because if you solicit people’s opinion they get butt hurt if we don’t follow through exactly with what they say. So, we’re always very careful about how we take that feedback. Most of time we’re able to kind of decipher through that. That’s one of the things that I can do pretty well because believe it or not, I’m a pretty good listener. I believe leaders are great listeners first, and sometimes they still have to make the tough decision even with what you’re hearing what’s being said. You have to measure that gut with actual numbers and finding that sweet-spot is the goal.”

“So for us, as we move forward and are in this huge growth spurt, and we’re reorganizing that all the time. It would be really easy to hang back and you know, Campo is doing great right now and everything else is kind of doing well too, but I think what we want to do is really dial this Reno Provisions in and then kind of maybe take a breath and enjoy some of the things we’ve created. Hopefully enjoy some of the spoils of that and continue to kind of grow. There’s some opportunities in maybe consulting and creative content from other people and some of the other things we talk about.”

“Campo seems to be doing really well right now, it’s a strong product and a strong brand. Its been going now coming up on its fourth year in November. We have one in Mammoth and we’re talking maybe one in Vegas or maybe one in Cabo. You know, maybe wherever that brand works really well. Our Burger Me brand works really really well and those are cash cows, maybe putting one of those in Sparks or Sacramento. So maybe we’re not creating something new all the time but maybe honing in on what we already have and take the great ones and try and reproduce it to an extent.”

Another note: Okay, that was classic Mark. Everything that was said above took about thirty seconds and I inserted punctuation where it felt appropriate. The man is fiercely focused in a random way if that makes sense. It was a pleasure to sit down with him, now, back to it!

Elton: “Wait! I want to backtrack real quick.” Elton’s turn to chuckle. You have to be quick with this guy as I’ve said. It’s like Double Dutch, if you see an opening you have to jump in there! “You said you take all this stuff in and as a leader you’re able to balance and find that sweet-spot and make a decision. What I find in leadership and in project management is that you may not make everyone happy, but you have the ability to give understanding to everyone. And I believe that really where that communication is key because when it comes to it, this is what you’re saying: ‘I know you’re not really happy with my decision but let me explain how we got here and why we went in a different direction than maybe you or someone else believed we should have gone.’ And with that in mind then you’re not creating areas of contempt or breeding grounds for some ill feelings. And it sounds like that’s what you’re trying to accomplish in reaching out to the public in this sense. That while it may not meet everyone’s needs, perhaps they understand where you’re going with it?”

Mark: “That reminds me of a great quote that Rick Reviglio (of Western Nevada Supply). When I was telling him about Provisions and I was thinking about where I was going to go and he said ‘Hey Mark, sometimes you’ve got to have bigger balls than brains. But at the same time, you have to have bigger brains than balls.’ So, finding that place in between is the goal. And when we operate like that, not everyone is going to like what you’re doing especially as you get bigger. But, I believe if we put the effort in as a group to kind of quiet it out, or if we talk about it enough.”

“You see, I don’t make many unilateral decisions, I’ll usually solicit the input of everybody. But there’s a secret to Management 101 and that is sometimes I have an idea and I get them to believe it was their idea that’s where some greatness can occur.”

Elton: “You don’t have to take the credit for it, but you can help implement it. And then by giving them accountability, they can take ownership?”

Mark: “And that’s what you want. So, the greatest thing that I can do is in a sense is to lead them in the right direction, let them come to the answer on their own, and then support them through that. Even when an alternative is presented to them, let them know it’s their choice and be willing to back them up either way.”

Elton: “Succeed or fail, that have that ownership, they ran with it and the result is experience.”

Mark: Those are the things we use to create that organizational leadership we were talking about earlier. Now I’ve been in other places where it’s been a dictatorship, I came up in that. ….”

Ohhhhhhhh, what’s he gonna say next? Like I said, he’s a fierce force and this interview is definitely meant for two parts. There is so much good stuff and in a very off the cuff manner that you can’t help but want more, to engage with this guy and let your game rise to his level which is what I felt happening to my excitement. So, for the time being, managers and leaders out there, between now and the next post try to go the day without saying “I” or “Me” when it comes to your projects or your team. It’s not easy but if you can catch yourself, you can glean some valuable insight about yourself and your leadership style.

Image Credit: Sketch by Author