My guest today is Jason Anderson, CEO of Arizona College of Nursing and former CEO of VRI. Jason brings an extensive range of experience as CEO to this episode and we dive into critical skills he’s developed to be effective at each step. One of my favorite parts of our discussion was how he is constantly on the lookout for talent in everyday life, always in “recruiting mode” for his company. We also talk about hiring executive talent and using recruiters, tough situations like losing a large customer, leadership transitions, and connecting with your team. Please enjoy my conversation with Jason Anderson.
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Ravix Group — Ravix Group is the leading outsourced accounting, fractional CFO, advisory & orderly wind down, and HR consulting firm in Silicon Valley. Whether you are a startup, a mid-sized business, are ready to go public, or are a nonprofit, when it comes to finance, accounting and HR, Ravix will prepare you for the journey ahead. To learn more, please visit their website at https://ravixgroup.com/
Hood & Strong, LLP — Hood & Strong is a CPA firm with a long history of working with search funds and private equity firms on diligence, assurance, tax services, and more. Hood & Strong is highly skilled in working with search funds, providing quality of earnings and due diligence services during the search, along with assurance and tax services post-acquisition. They offer a unique way to approach acquisition diligence and manage costs effectively. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can help your search, acquisition, and beyond, please email one of their partners Jerry Zhou at [email protected].
Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.
(00:00:00) – Intro
(00:03:45) – Jason’s previous career in Sales and it’s impact on his role as a CEO
(00:07:02) – What skill have you improved upon since operating as a CEO?
(00:11:16) – Involving families of team members in business events
(00:13:18) – Talent recruitment
(00:16:24) – Using recruiters and hiring executives
(00:20:49) – Evaluating executives and leaders within the company
(00:23:33) – Refining communication styles
(00:29:09) – Improving your performance at work, outside of work
(00:31:30) – Setting boundaries
(00:32:45) – Challenging experiences as a CEO
(00:39:59) – The unique experience of running a PE-backed company
(00:45:00) – Building effective Sales teams
(00:48:00) – Inorganic growth
(00:51:34) – Being more aggressive in your career path
Alex Bridgeman: You come from a sales background, which is fascinating to me as I’m getting some more experience on sales myself and actually enjoying it quite a bit. So, I’d kind of love to hear about that experience and then maybe some others that you think are foundational to how you work as a CEO today.
Jason Anderson: So, I did start out in sales at Pacific Pulmonary Services. And what was really foundational about that is there’s a cadence and tempo to sales that really sort of translates everything I do today regarding looking at metrics, looking at activity, understanding have people been provided the training, the visibility, have you set expectations around the roles. And that was sort of I was going to say cookie cutter in a way that you’re doing the same sort of activities weekly, daily, monthly. And once you understand what drives that outcome, what’s really important to success, it’s really easy then to teach and mentor individuals. And so, a lot of that translates very well to today with any team that I’m working with – are you clear on what the goals are? Have you set expectations around how to get there? Have you provided training and mentorship towards it? And then how are you holding them accountable and yourself accountable to achieving them? So, I’m grateful for kind of that time. And I feel that it’s something I use quite a bit, those skills, today.
Alex Bridgeman: What skills do you feel like have come naturally to you versus ones you’ve had to work on?
Jason Anderson: I think everything I have to work on. Naturally, understanding what motivates individuals, having the conversation to realize what’s important to them. And so for every team member, it’s different. For some, they want to achieve some sort of career progression, and maybe they want to develop a skill set, and maybe they want the flexibility to move somewhere closer to family. It may be that they want to transition careers at some point. And so, I think naturally having the dialogue be curious about individuals and curious around who’s important in their lives so that you can understand who they’re going home to and having conversations around like, oh, my gosh, Jason was a real pain today or saying like, hey, Jason was really supportive today, it’s important to understand those individuals because they also then need to understand the mission of the company, and they need to understand sort of who you are and who the team members are they’re working with. And so there’s that- that naturally sort of comes to me. One of the things that has been harder for me and I’ve learned it over time is sort of patience and slowing down. I have just a motor, like let’s do it, let’s keep at it. And there are individuals that it takes longer for them to process things. It’s not always in every situation the best thing to do, to run out and just tackle the problem. Taking a moment to pause, assess can be better. And so that is something from even having conversations with team members and pausing, listening, understanding, those have sometimes taken a little bit longer to come to me, I would say.
Alex Bridgeman: So thinking about your first CEO experience at VRI, what key lessons and takeaways did you have from that experience that you’ve applied at Arizona College of Nursing?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I think there’s two things that immediately come to mind when you ask that question. The first one is always add talent or be thinking about adding talent to your team. So always be looking for and being open to, even if there’s not a, quote unquote, vacancy, that if you find someone that’s intriguing, has an intriguing skill set, how do you find an opportunity for them to join the team. And two of the biggest areas that I always seem to find unexpected talent is reference checks on existing team members. And so, whether those are on lists or off lists references, I do them. I love doing them. I spend a good portion of the time talking around the candidate that we’re considering bringing on board. But I also spend time getting to know that individual and understanding what their skill set is and what motivates them. And those have been tremendous sources of even referrals for talented people because they sort of become acolytes around like, wow, the company seems amazing, they seem like a fun team to work on. And so that’s been a big source. And I’ve hired individuals that have been references of people that have come on to the team. And that’s happened not once, not twice, not three times, it’s multiple times. So over and over again. So I look for that. The other one, interestingly enough, is I’m not a YPO Forum member, or YPO member, I don’t participate in it, but everyone I sort of interact with does. And YPO has this amazing network where they’re constantly getting resumes of people that are searching for new opportunities and I encourage those to be sent to me, and I’m always talking to those people. And so I’ve found some really great talent coming out of that network too. So sort of examples of always looking and thinking about it. And I have created roles that don’t exist, literally don’t exist. But I know the person is talented, we’re a growing company, and they’re willing to roll their sleeves up and get involved. So that’s one. The other one sort of goes back to what I was saying about team a little bit before, which is I’ve realized the people that are important in my team members lives, they’re important to the company and to me. And so how do I create these times and spaces to know who they are and allow them to understand the mission of the company. And so at VRI, we had all kinds of really cool things that we put in place that allowed the people that were important to team members to be connected to the company. And so, some quick examples would be during COVID, we did drive in movie night. So literally, I got blowup screens, we stuck them out in the parking lot, we invited all the family members, they would come with their pickup trucks, they’d back them in, they’d throw the tailgates down, they put their blankets or lounge chairs in the back. And then us as leaders would go around with pizza and popcorn and candy and sodas, talking to the children and the wives, the boyfriends and the girlfriends, whoever was important to them. And it allowed them to understand the culture of VRI and what’s important and just the people that they’re working with, that they’re talking about all the time, who they’re traveling with. Realizing the importance in that same theme, knowing- I had this idea when you’re like, gosh, everyone loves sending out these holiday cards every year about their families. And one of the things for people with children is they really want that photo with Santa. So I’m like, how do I give them that experience before they go to the mall or wherever else they get that done. So we brought in Santa and the elves. We did it on a Saturday, got reindeer. And so literally got reindeer to come in. Because I realized like, oh my gosh, reindeer, they probably are going to come and want to see the reindeer, which reindeer are not that nice, by the way. That’s a side note. But we create these moments, and we did it for years, and they’d come in on a Saturday and sit with Santa and get their photos taken. We’d do face painting. We’d be there. We’d provide donuts and breakfast and things of that nature. But it was a way to interact with family members over and over again and know their names. And so I’d say those are two things that really kind of got driven home and theorize being successful and are the same things replicating at Arizona College, finding those moments that connect.
Alex Bridgeman: You talked earlier about integrating business and personal lives together and bringing your spouse along to things like this. On your own personal note or focus, where does that come into play? Where are there opportunities to bring your spouse into different business events like this?
Jason Anderson: So, there’s a few things. So, for those, for example, when I give the holiday example with Santa Claus, my spouse, Adrienne, my wife comes along to that, she dresses up, she takes photos with me with Santa as well. And so, we’re allowing those to be posted on the internet within the company or used in our sort of media or communications with the team as well. I do dinners usually about three times a year with direct reports, maybe expanding beyond that a little bit, but always direct reports and whoever’s important in their lives. And so, bringing spouses along to that or boyfriends or girlfriends, whoever’s important, and allowing them to interact. Ballgames. So that would be another great one. So kind of like we do the ballgames, like bring along family members, let’s go hang out together. It would be ways to interact more immediately within sort of where the location of the business is. At conferences, what I found really important is there were opportunities to bring Adrienne along. And I would actually include her in the happy hours, or if I had meeting sometimes with different investment bankers or investors or competitors, I would allow her to come along and I’d say bring along your spouse if they’re here, and that allowed her to understand the community of just the industry I was in and what we were doing and the importance behind it. It also allowed her to speak pretty good about the business. And there’s no one that’s a bigger kind of acolyte and believer in what you do than that person at home that’s supporting you. And so there were moments Adrienne could talk better about the business than I could have, which allowed her to be a great recruiter for me and the team.
Alex Bridgeman: That’s awesome. Before recording, we were talking about Notre Dame football a little bit, and it strikes me that your job as CEO isn’t entirely that different from a college coach recruiting all the time and spending that time looking for talent. Do you feel like in many ways you’re constantly looking for this talent and finding ways for them to join your company? And how do you do that? What does that look like on a week to week basis? You mentioned finding different sources like YPO or perhaps conferences, reference checks, but what are some other ways that you keep looking for talent each day?
Jason Anderson: When you asked that question, I immediately flashed back to years and years ago at Pacific Pulmonary Services, and I’m constantly looking for customer service representatives for different locations all over the country. I’m looking for technicians that go into the homes and deliver equipment and salespeople. Every single place I went, if I went to Baja Fresh and I interacted with someone at the counter, I went to Starbucks, and they were awesome, I talked to them like, hey, what are you doing? Like, are you going to school? Like, what’s your motivation? What’s going on? And we would hire these people, like come in and talk to us. Like, we’d love to talk to you. You’ve just got this is great approach. And I think that we’re a growing company, we have opportunities for you. And so that’s like from way back in the day when literally there were people that are like, oh, yeah, I met them because they were great at the dry-cleaning place or whatever that was, or I understood their motivation was, I’m like, I think we have something that could help you achieve what you want to do. So I think everyday interactions, and still today, where was I just recently? I don’t remember exactly where it was. I was with someone recently, and I said, oh, my gosh, they’d be amazing to work at Arizona College. I would love to have a conversation with them. Let’s figure it out. And let’s have a conversation. And so, I don’t carry business cards anymore. I don’t think anyone really does. So it’s a little bit different these days. So, you’re kind of like, hey, here’s my email address at work. Can you give me yours? Let’s have a conversation. When that email comes in, it’s about immediacy. Like, I remember that interaction. So, I kind of feel like you’re doing it constantly. And you’re always thinking about how does this person sort of support the outcomes of the business?
Alex Bridgeman: It sounds like a mindset more than a list of tasks or something that you’re thinking about on a to-do list.
Jason Anderson: I would say I think that’s a really good description, Alex. I mean, I can think about my wife, I can think about her friends, I can think about my friends. I just had someone in LA yesterday text me and said I was talking to this person. I think that they may- they’re looking for something. I think you’d really like them. I think that they roll their sleeves up, they’re an athlete, they get things done, they’re intellectually curious. Do you mind if I have them reach out to you? I’m like, absolutely, let’s talk. And so it’s sort of like creating this network of people that know me really well and sort of know an idea around the type of people and the team that I’m working with and recognizing these moments, saying like Jason’s always wanting to talk to them, his team’s always wanting to talk to people, they’re always going to find something that helps that individual achieve what they want to personally, whether that’s professionally, personally, or both. And so that’s sort of always the mentality when I’m having a conversation. It’s like, hey, I want what’s best for you and your family, and can we be part of that? Does it make sense?
Alex Bridgeman: So what about for more executive level hires and recruiters start to become a part of the equation, how do you like to work with recruiters and hire executives?
Jason Anderson: Yeah. So, with the recruiters, particularly if we’re using sort of an outplacement company or an executive recruiter, it’s defining upfront exactly sort of the skill set, which would be typical. My hard part is, Alex, I recognize that every opportunity I have to interact with a potential candidate gives me a sliver of information at a minimum about them. How quickly do they return the call? What wording do they use? Are they sending emails? Are they sending texts? Are they being transparent? How are they treating others? What good questions are they asking? Oh, where are they at? Are they traveling a lot? Are they not traveling? Every interaction gives me a little information. And so I’m cautious at times with the recruiter around how much do I let them do, because they really do allow you to accelerate finding great talent, at the same time, still preserving the ability for me to get those slivers of information around someone I’m going to be working closely with. And so I still have more of a hands on approach than the typical, I would say, CEO. There are scenarios where individuals really expect them to sort of be served up on a platter in some ways, and then they don’t have as much interaction. In the search community, that’s not so true. We have more sort of a hands on approach trying to get to know those people I’ve noticed. But I am sort of using opportunities for identifying where the recruiter says, hey, I’ll have a conversation with them about comp. I’d say, you know what, I’d love to do that. Are there any suggestions you’d give me around how to frame that? Is there anything that you know that you’ve learned about them that I should know? But let me have that conversation. Because I know how that conversation goes. I’ll be able to understand like, is it base salary? Is it bonus? Is it equity? Is it that’s not really that important to me, I’m looking for flexibility to travel or to live in another place? You’re looking for those types of things. So, I would say it’s being really clear around how do you preserve the opportunities that give you good information around that candidate and not let those opportunities go to your recruiter and using the recruiter to kind of do the things that aren’t going to produce so much information for you or give you an opportunity for really good interactions with those candidates.
Alex Bridgeman: It’s interesting you would take certain conversations yourself versus letting the recruiter handle them. What other conversations do you like to have with a candidate or maybe points along the recruitment process where you like to hand the process off from the recruiter to yourself?
Jason Anderson: I’m going to have one, I’ll have one here today with a potential candidate. And one of them is regarding information that came back on personality tests, like their strengths and then opportunities. And just being really clear, I’ll have the conversation saying, hey, I’m really looking forward to talk to your references because I really want to understand what you do really well, which is this area that has been identified, but I also want understand pieces around process and how you’re focused on that as well. But it’s like I’m just being direct around it. And if the individual’s willing and comfortable with giving references around that piece of it, you also know that they’re really confident in them being really well rounded in a bunch of areas. But that’d be an example where I’ll take that conversation, versus I could have a recruiter do that. As well, pieces around- I use it to supplement at times. So an example would be if they’re looking to move somewhere, I’m just trying to understand a little bit more how they spend their time between travel, being present in an office, being remote, I may have a recruiter sort of ask some of those questions or kind of zero in on it, and then I’m going to take that information and validate it still, just sort of that double check, or that checks and balances are what I’ll say. And I will say, today, I’m working with an amazing recruiting firm, so I’m super happy with them. True. So that’s someone- it’s a company that a number of search fund companies kind of in the search fund space use, but they’ve been great. So some of my experiences have been much better. And it’s just been a pleasure working with them.
Alex Bridgeman: So maybe taking a step back, at your current team, how do you evaluate the leaders and executives you already have in the business and especially as the company grows and your need for talent changes?
Jason Anderson: We’ve talked a lot about team; I’ll continue to talk about team. So, I do look at the individuals reporting into them and sort of we nine box. And so, understanding how individuals are performing and what their potential is. And then what are our specific game plans around how do we coach individuals up? How do we support them? How do we make sure that we’re keeping them because they’re just awesome. And then if we have talent risks, identifying, hey, what’s the plan? And then I’m looking at leaders and understanding how are they executing on those? I understand that you could give me a timeframe but something’s not going to happen. It doesn’t work out that way. Completely understand, but how are you sort of thinking around upgrading the team, around providing the support and skills, so the current team does better? Or how are you adding talent to the team? So how well you’re hiring. And if you don’t hire well, just how are you being really transparent and forthright about that with that candidate and looking them in the eyes and saying there’s a better opportunity for you somewhere else, and let’s help you land on your feet so you go find that, but this is not the place for you. So, team is always really like that top box for me. I’m assuming already, Alex, in our conversation, that these individuals have checked the box around values, aligned with mission, etc. because those are nonstarters. The other piece for me is sort of the intellectual curiosity or being an athlete. In a growing business, you do need individuals that step up and say, hey, I’ll go figure that out, I’ll go tackle that. Or we’ll be talking about something and we have no idea what’s driving it, and someone’s willing to raise their hand and sort of track it down and come up with some theses behind it. And maybe some ways that we could try things and measure the outcomes related to it. And so I’m looking for the moments that individuals are pushing themselves beyond sort of their normal scopes, and they’re really stepping up to understand the business and grow within the business. Because that’s what you need when the business is growing. You need individuals that can grow with you. So those are two areas that really stand out to me that I’m talking constantly to team members about. And I hold myself to those same two things, by the way. So when I’m talking to them about it, it’s the exact same sort of way that I’m measuring sort of how I’m doing as a leader and coach.
Alex Bridgeman: You mentioned having a more direct communication style a couple of times. How have you refined that style over time?
Jason Anderson: I’m laughing a little bit here thinking about how a number of people on the team would answer that. I don’t know how much I’ve refined it, Alex, versus owning it in a lot of ways. So I know I’m direct. I know at times that that can not be the style that works best depending upon the personality of the individual on the team. How I try to compensate for it is two ways, is one, when I do it, I’ll be like I did it, and I’ll recognize it, and I’ll say it out loud to that individual or to the team, like, hey, I know I reacted- I reacted strongly regarding that suggestion. I’ll explain, the reason for that is I was really thinking about it through the lens of the students, and is that the right thing to do by the students? And I wanted to make sure that that’s what it was. And I probably could have said that in a different manner. Or I could have not said something and just continued to ask you, hey, what are your thoughts about it? So I do own, own the style around it. But the other thing that I’ll say is you also have to encourage the team members to be comfortable telling you how it made them feel at certain times or if they’re uncertain what it meant. And if you can embrace when someone comes to you every single time and no matter what it’s about, no matter what they’re saying and step back from- I say this to myself, I’m like, I’m so happy they’re talking to me. Now, it may be a tough thing they’re talking to me about, I may not understand it, I may not get it, but the fact they’re talking to me means well, we can go somewhere with this. I have an opportunity to explain my side of it, or I may have an opportunity to be like, oh, my gosh, I was wrong. Or I could totally understand how this made them feel or how it can be misinterpreted. My apologies. So, I think making sure that you have that two way dialogue, and it’s authentic, and it’s real goes a long way to compensate for my direct style.
Alex Bridgeman: So how do you encourage folks to have that conversation with you and talk with you even when something isn’t very easy to share with you?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I am one that will say to an individual, hey, I noticed, one on one, I’ll say I noticed your body reaction on the call, or I noticed in the room the way you reacted when we were talking about quality of team and how we could get better. I’m trying to understand if that’s something we should talk further about or if I misread the situation. And I do that a lot. Like I’m asking, I’m probing around what I observed. What did that mean more? And I’m really open to understand. I don’t- I mean, that’s the first part of it. The other piece of it is, I’m asking for feedback too. And if you’re giving the recognition throughout processes of working with the team of saying, hey, you’re doing a great job, I really appreciate what you’re doing. Or I just had a conversation with my assistant the other day, I’m like, man, I just feel like things are going great. How are you feeling? Are we in the same camp? And she’s like, no, I really do. And I pointed out a couple things that have just really been awesome or that we talked about in the past that she’s really kind of come along. Now, let’s be clear, she’s really good at what she does. So, when I’m talking about opportunities, these are opportunities that help support the growth that she wants to do. But it’s like, so you build that through recognition, acknowledging what they’re doing well, and just being transparent.
Alex Bridgeman: You also seem to frame these as more observations versus statements, like I noticed you did this, or I saw you reacted this way versus you reacted this way or you clearly feel this way.
Jason Anderson: I do. I mean, look, I’m wrong, I’m wrong at times, I’m willing to be wrong. But I also love to understand. And I love to really understand what motivates individuals that are on the team. And like I said earlier in our conversation, it’s different for everyone. It’s just really different. I had a direct report when I was at VRI, and her husband’s a pilot, and they lived in Ohio. And I realized really early on in our working relationship that he could end up anywhere once he kind of gets on with an airline. He could end up anywhere in the country. And they were already having scenarios where he was based out of LA for a period of time or based out of Dallas for a period of time or Phoenix for a period of time. But at some point, they’re going to go somewhere and recognize and be like, yeah, it’s probably really tough. Typically, a team member’s response is, it is what it is, I’m here for the team, etc. Like, what are your ultimate objectives? Well, their ultimate objectives were to move to North Carolina and live on Lake Norman. And so you understand that, you support that, you build the way in their role that they have great relationships with their team members and within the company, and now you have someone that’s like they’re happy, and they’ve achieved what they want to do personally, and they’re also kicking butt at work. And so, it’s just really understanding about the individuals.
Alex Bridgeman: It seems like also, given your focus on the most important people in their lives and how the rest of their lives outside of work are going, obviously, those things have a lot of impact on their time at work as well and how they perform at work. For your own self, are there any things that you do as CEO to improve your own performance at work outside of work?
Jason Anderson: Oh, Alex, you’re bringing up a sore spot for me right now. It’s a constant struggle for me. I mean, if I’m being really transparent around we know intellectually balance or whatever sort of motivates you outside of work, whether that’s going for the run in the morning, going to the gym, reading, spending time with your dog, spending time on things, those things are really important to allow you to think better at work and be more engaged at work. I would say I do way better than I did 20 years ago. But I always think that there’s opportunity for improvement regarding that. What I do know is this: I love to read. I make space to read every single morning no matter what happens. And so, I’m a very early riser. I put in about an hour of reading. And by the way, reading could be related to the economy, it could be fun reading, it could be sports, but I do spend the time. But I always find with reading, like it creates- it kind of gets my creative juices going. I reference things a lot like, hey, I read about Costco today and their approach to their values and their team. And maybe there’s something in there that we could use as we think about continuing to build our culture and our team, as an example. So I do that. Before, I would traditionally spend the time with the team at work versus taking the time and spending it with my wife or spending it with family. I don’t do that anymore. I really understand what’s important to my wife, let’s say, and like I’ll be there. I’ll figure it out, I’ll be there. And there are moments where it’s hard, something comes up at work. It’s really something that’s top of mind to that team member that’s talking to you, but I’m comfortable saying like I made this commitment, I’m going to go do this, but I’m available afterwards, or we’ll tackle it in the morning. So I think it’s sort of the boundary setting around that. But as I mentioned earlier, I sort of integrate the work with kind of personal, and so it also makes it a little bit of an easier balance for me because Adrienne, friends, they understand sort of the mission of the business.
Alex Bridgeman: Do you find that constraints and boundaries force you to work on tasks that give you more leverage and forces like a higher level of productivity during the workday for you?
Jason Anderson: I don’t- I would honestly say no. I mean, this is- I would say, if I had children, probably the answer would be yes. I feel like I have a lot of time in my days, and I have time on the weekends. And I relish the fact that this Friday is a holiday because I know I’ll be able to do some fun stuff and also just have quiet time to catch up on things. So, I don’t know if it drives me to use my time most efficiently unfortunately. Probably not the best answer, but the truthful one.
Alex Bridgeman: I definitely understand that constraint with CEOs who have kids. And my wife and I, we don’t have kids yet, but maybe in the next couple of years. And everyone says like you have no idea how much free time you have right now.
Jason Anderson: I hear that a lot too. And I do. I mean, I watch families, and I’m just thinking like, yeah, there’s just a lot. I have a lot more time.
Alex Bridgeman: There’s a lot more you can work on. What were some more challenging experiences in your CEO role that kind of tested your ability to manage or run the business?
Jason Anderson: We all have those, that’s for sure. So I’ve had- like two moments sort of jumped to mind as you asked that question. Certainly, we all faced COVID. I mean, that was tough. That’s unique. We all faced that unique challenge. We have moments I’d say that are sort of short-term issues which could be relative to team and whatnot. One thing that came to mind is, unfortunately, we lost at one point a customer that was essentially 25% of our revenue when we were at VRI. That was a really unexpected, tough situation. I could talk a little bit about that as well. And then the other one that came to mind as you asked that was being robbed in banking, like a bank robbery and sort of the situation that that produced. And so, this is sort of the framework that I know from having gone through tough moments is it’s never as bad as your first reaction. It just never is. Your mind instantly goes to like, it’s gone be the worst-case scenario that exists. And I’ll use these examples that I mentioned sort of around that. It’s important to kind of gather the data and understand, and you got to quickly sort of cover the framework around it. And your energy as the leader is literally going to set the tone for the team related to it. So, if you don’t get out there and lead relative to it, it is not going to end up in a good spot relative to kind of where you want it to be. And I know if I go to the bank robbery situation, this was back in the day where your lobby was closed between four and six. Your drive through was open, but oftentimes, you set appointments with customers during this time for loans, investments, etc. And there was an MO that was going around where these individuals set an appointment with the bank manager, I was a bank manager at the time, and they would come in and sit down. And they would split up in the lobby, and they’d say they have a briefcase, I’m going to rob you, I have a bomb, I want everything. Well, they send out in corporate security this MO. And one of my bank tellers read it, recognized it. I’d been on vacation. One individual came in and set this appointment with me. And I can remember, I got there first thing in the morning. She comes up and she says, I think we’re being robbed today. And your immediate reaction is, well, how do you know we’re getting robbed, number one. Normally they come barging through the doors, but how would you know this? And she explains and she walks through it. Now at this point, everyone’s sort of hearing this and like, oh, my gosh, what are we going to do? And it’s sort of that that piece around, okay, let’s get the facts, what the individual looked like, what’s the name? And you start to think about the resources around you. I have corporate security, so let’s contact them. Let’s figure this out. Long story short is yes, FBI showed up. Yes, corporate security showed up. Yes, the robbery went down exactly as was put out in that bulletin. Yes, I was still the bank manager. I was the one that interacted with them. And yes, they were taken down as they left the bank, as we executed the team around what we were supposed to do. And those individuals did go to prison. But it’s like your immediate reaction to something like that is, oh, my gosh, this is going to be the worst thing. But the team came together. Like we tackled it as a group. Thank you to that teller, thank you to corporate security, thank you to everyone else that was involved with it. I can think about losing that customer and getting the news, like just that gut punch of we’re ending our contract with you, and it’s 25% of your revenue. And we’re PE backed at this point. And you’re thinking, oh, my gosh, all kinds of things, like I have employees whose livelihood is associated with the company, I have investors who thought that there was this path to continued value creation, and you’re seeing it just explode in front of your eyes as your immediate reaction. And you’ve worked so hard to get to where you’re at. And so when you do the math really quick in your mind, you’re like, oh, my gosh, I’m going to- at that time, our team was like 350 people, the math was about 80 of them would need to be exited for us to keep kind of EBITDA the same or the margin the same. And so, you gather the facts. Well, when’s it being terminated? Why? Is there an opportunity to save it? You realize that this is happening. And so I can remember the turning point in this situation of putting the leaders around the table and sitting there and essentially saying, hey, look, this isn’t great news. But we’ve all been through worse things. Let me lead off and tell you some of the tough things I’ve been through. And I literally shared them with them. I said, anyone else got anything else? And eventually, everyone shared something that was just, I mean, some of them were like gut punches. Like, I thought losing the customer was a gut punch, what they were sharing, like that’s two gut punches. And we literally went around and said like this isn’t that bad, is it? And we all sort of laughed, and we just got to work, like we’re going to figure this out. We ended up only having to separate from 5% of employees versus what was essentially going to be roughly 25% of the employees. And we did that through instantly ramping up another customer, realizing there’s an opportunity. It sort of just accelerated the sales team, accelerated how we thought about things, accelerated our processes. It was horrible in the moment; it ended up being the best thing for the company in the long run. And it really led to a nice exit based upon how we diversified our customer base, how we actually didn’t let the large customer wag the dog. And so, those would be two moments around tough situations. But it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, use the team around you to help define how you kind of get out of that piece, and you’ve got to lead. If you don’t lead, then individuals fill in the gaps with sort of their own narrative, and those usually aren’t great.
Alex Bridgeman: As you tell the story, I think about like small examples I’ve had where something goes wrong, even something as simple as a flight getting canceled. And in my head, there’s like a split couple moments of panic where your brain freezes and doesn’t really think or do anything, it’s just kind of processing the news and the change. And it sounds like at an organization, that can happen too, but your energy level and the way you approach the situation, you kind of neutralized some of that and skipped through a lot of that moment of panic and just get into problem solving. It’s pretty unique being able to do that.
Jason Anderson: It’s really a tribute to the team also being able to rally to the moments. I have been in situations where I have seen leaders not lead from out front in tough situations. And I think I’ve learned from that, watching it happen and saying, this is not- this could have gone better. We could have got out in front of us a little bit better. We could have used the team around us. And so I think that that’s helped, identifying some of those opportunities. But I certainly would say action versus sort of woe is us or woe is me is certainly the tact that’s typically taken by myself and the team.
Alex Bridgeman: You mentioned being, of course, the CEO of a private equity backed company. What’s different about that experience versus peers of yours who are running different styles of companies?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I would say that there’s so many. There’s so many things that I think are different and similar. So relative to search investors versus PE, pace and patience are different. So, a PE firm, when they’re making that investment, they have a base case, and they’re really- their max sort of timeline, I’m going to be generous, is 10 years, but they’re really thinking, depending on the life of that fund, but they’re like, ideally, sort of like that five year sweet spot would be great. And so, that is a consideration depending on where you started the company where you’re in the lifecycle of their hold. And so when I say patience, it’s more around how are we getting to that outcome that’s sort of been defined or over achieving it. So that’s definitely different. I think, in the search fund community, the relationships are deeper. And so those relationships sort of drive some patience. We know the individuals that are around it. If you’ve got a good business, you’re going to continue to stay in that investment. Oftentimes, you’re going to see the benefits of staying in that investment related to it. And there is a deep Rolodex at PE firms, which can be really helpful, by the way. So they’ve owned a lot of companies, they’ve seen a lot of things. So if you need a pricing consultant, you need something of that nature, they’re typically going to have worked with not one or two, but numerous ones, have had different experiences related to that. They typically have an analyst that can be really helpful and help supplement your team and they can do some really great work, actually, for you if you’re using that or leveraging them the right way. So the resources can be a plus. I do think board management actually can be a little easier with a PE firm. You sort of one- they’ll have multiple board seats, and they’ll have some operators they’ll bring on, but really you have one sort of primary board member that you’re sort of trying to work with, which is that PE firm. In search, you have multiple board members, and they’re different. And so managing the board relationships can take a little bit more time, is what I would say. So those are some of the things that immediately stand out. The relationships typically that you form in the search community are lifelong, you know those individuals forever. And it’s not always the same PE. It’s more of a transactional from that sense. I will say I was really lucky, Pamlico based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, was the PE investor in VRI. I consider those individuals on my board lifelong friends. But I think that that’s unusual, frankly.
Alex Bridgeman: What else about PE ownership is something you’ve given a lot of thought to or something we could touch on?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, one of the things that I reflect on, and I’ll use VRI as an example, we were becoming held long in the tooth for Pamlico. So, we were one of the companies in their portfolio for a longer period of time. And in order to kind of realize the returns for them, I really focused, the team focus on how to drive EBITDA margins. And so, we did a phenomenal job driving from kind of like the low 20s to the high 30s margin and really driving adjusted EBITDA, and we did awesome, really proud of what we achieved there, and it did help with the valuation when we exited that business, for sure. What I would say, though, is that we had a really good business model. We had a great platform. We were valuable in what we were doing. And if we had taken instead of focusing on the EBITDA, and we’d invested it back in the business in the sales team, as an example, or marketing dollars, from a long term perspective, we actually could have even had a better outcome, potentially, related to sort of that hold cycle. So it’s like it was balancing those two things. But I recognize that in the situation we’re in, we did the right thing. There moments in time when I reflect back, man, it would have been great just to keep investing back in that business and keep driving because there’s consolidation in the industry, we were shining with the health plans, and it’s still a great business today. But that’s something I really think about that probably highlights some of the differences depending upon where you’re at in the lifecycle of the hold.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, we just had Mahesh Rajasejharan from Cleo on the podcast, and he’s one of the, I think, CEOs who’s built the most impressive sales and product orgs as far as I know. What have you learned about building effective sales teams? And when you talk about investing more in sales at VRI as an opportunity that was less pursued, what do you mean by that? What would that have looked like?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I would have thought of it from the perspective of actually there’s a lot more targets that you could have been interacting with on a more regular basis if the team, the account reps had been- there been more of them. And if you had invested in that part of those account reps, when you’re selling into or building relationships with large health plans, they’re an investment in themselves. And it’s a long term investment because it’s a relationship sale. So these aren’t transactional. And so yielding the results of that investment sometimes can take two years, as an example. And so, I would have invested in more individuals that had the opportunity to go out and build relationships with those health plans. I would have thought about from a product development, like we did a nice job adding and improving sort of the platform and the product and adding a product. But there’re even different ways that we could have invested in the fact that our key sales point was we knew the patient, we knew that health plan member, and we knew them well and we had a lot of information about them. And that allowed us to have a trusted relationship with them that encouraged them to take action to do things that improved their health. And so I would’ve invested in ways that we could have captured more of that information and shared it back with the health plans.
Alex Bridgeman: Do you think most companies over or under invest in sales teams?
Jason Anderson: I think most under invest. And I’m going to kind of tackle this from a really interesting angle, though. And what I mean by under invest is most would say, I invest a lot in my sales team. I spent a lot of money on them. I give them great bonuses, and I have a lot of them. The reason I think they under invest is I actually don’t think they efficiently always use that, the sales team. So as far as truly understanding the activities that drive the outcomes and then being really comfortable with setting the expectations and holding the individuals accountable to them and saying, actually, you can be more efficient with your time, you can actually do more calls, you can actually get in front of more people, that’s where I think the underinvestment is. It’s under investing in how you’re utilizing the team. And it’s a certain- it’s a cadence, it’s a pace, it’s an energy. I mean, as you always hear and it’s true, it’s like you’re only as good as your last month or your last quarter. And for individuals in those roles, they understand that. That’s why they’re in sales. Like it’s thrilling to crush your sales goal and to overachieve and to do really well. And so, capitalize on that, capitalize on the individuals in those roles that are thrilled by crushing those goals. So give them the tools and drive them and help them do that.
Alex Bridgeman: How did inorganic growth come into play at any of your CEO roles?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I was not in a CEO role at Pacific Pulmonary Services back in the day, but most of our growth there was inorganic, so we understood the model around where to open a location. There were doctors in all markets that referred oxygen and nebulizer patients and C-PAPs, and so going in and building those relationships and understanding, educating them how we can help their patients. It was something that you could replicate over and over again. And so that was the quickest way to build value for that business because it was a very small breakeven point, a number of patients you had to serve at a location in order to pay for itself, and then you could continue to grow. So, understanding the power behind, hey, what’s that breakeven point and then defining kind of what the winning strategy was, was something that really stood out to me at Pacific Pulmonary Services. From an organic perspective, in medical monitoring, for instance, at VRI, we did do some smaller acquisitions, but it probably was maybe 10 to 15% of our growth overall. The vast majority of it was going out and educating health plans, health systems around our success working with others and being able to just invest in the team, their education, their training, the expectation setting, as I’ve talked about numerous times, and then doing it ourselves, go out and sort of cut the hay. And so, that was a really successful way that we built that, and it was cheaper. It’s way cheaper to do it that way, particularly if you do that well. And then I would say the most unique scenario is certainly at Arizona College where I’m at today, we have 17 nursing colleges in 11 states. We have opened all of those ourselves. So we have not purchased any of those colleges. And so, the team well before I got here understood what sort of the model was, what was needed to do to open those, and then created a pipeline because it takes two to three years to get approvals and to find a location and be able to open those locations. And then recognizing that, hey, there’s a breakeven point, let’s call it two years, two and a half years as a breakeven point. And look at the opportunity for us to help students today, like change the trajectory of their lives. Let’s go out and do this over and over again. So this has been unique, but it’s effective. And there’s nothing like when we do the- We do graduations three times a year at our graduate campuses, when you go to graduation, and you watch those individuals cross the stage, and you look at the audience and how proud they are, you realize like, wow, we are changing lives. Like these individuals have opportunities in front of them that they didn’t know early in their lives or had identified early in their lives. And so it’s really fulfilling to see that happen. But that organic growth is something that when you figure out kind of what the winning recipe is, it’s a controlled way to grow the business. And in our case, help students, in the investors’ case, build value.
Alex Bridgeman: Do you want to talk about this other point we discussed earlier around you could have been more aggressive in your own career path, or is that- we can move on to something else?
Jason Anderson: I did make that comment to you. And it’s interesting, my career path is really different. I have not been a searcher before. I had a really eclectic career before business school. I’m the first generation college graduate. So, when I graduated from undergrad, I went and worked pool construction. That’s how I put myself through college. I ran teams and crews out in Florida for a couple years. And then I went to commercial- the consumer side of banking. It was just coming and opening banking accounts and doing loans, not the sexy side of banking. And then ended up in city politics in the city of LA. And so, I had this really eclectic background. I go to business school. And since business school, I have only worked at companies that have had search investors in it. That’s all I’ve done, but I haven’t been a searcher. And when I think about that, quickly, that career path of what happened, in between my first and second year business school, when you have to go out and do your internship, I wasn’t very thoughtful about what is it I want and what skills do I want to use and what’s important to me. But I did have on my resume or sort of my profile professor’s assistant for statistics at Notre Dame, and teaching assistant for the modeling course at Stanford. And so I had a lot of companies reaching out to me that were like, oh, hey, let’s use- he’s good with numbers, good with modeling. And so I took an opportunity with a large home improvement company out of Atlanta, and I worked all summer in an office building a model. That’s essentially what I did. And when I got done with that opportunity and came back to school, I thought, man, that was not fun. I did not enjoy that at all. I mean, I was good at it, but I did not enjoy it. I’m not doing that at all. And I just had this realization of reflecting on what I enjoyed in that eclectic part of my career. And I enjoyed the team. I enjoy working with the team. I enjoyed building a team. I enjoyed achieving a goal, whether it was how deep you dug the ditch, how quickly you installed the piping for the pools, how perfect the tile was you laid down to achieving sort of the sales goals or opening a new banking center and sort of how you built that client base. And I said, look, I’m with a lot of smart people, they have tons of interest in investing in companies, and they’re going to need teams or managers and to go build teams. And so, I just decided at that point that I was going to focus on kind of helping build platforms that do good. And the quick story is Peter Kelly came in and spoke in a class that I wasn’t in. I had expressed this to my classmates, like that’s what I was going to do. And they walked out and they said, hey, you should go talk to this guy, Peter. And I reached out to Peter, and long story short, Peter was gracious enough to give me a job. And I remember him saying you can be the area manager in West LA. And I’m like, great, where is it? He’s like, there is no place there, go down there and open it and figure it out. And so, that’s how I organically started. So, when I say the career path taking longer, if your goal is to become CEO, my path’s not the quick path. It just isn’t. But I will tell you, I’m grateful for the path I took in a lot of ways because I have a really deep, ingrained understanding of the operations within companies, the sales process, the marketing process, just executing great customer service, building dashboards, building systems that allow information to be present, that help you serve the end customer, how you think about strategy, how do you think about the organic growth, how you do acquisitions, like all of that I just have a really deep, long experience in it. So I think that if you were to ask me this eight years, ten years after graduating from earning my MBA, I’d probably be like, I don’t know if I took the right path. It just took a lot- I don’t know where this is going. I don’t know what it’s going to yield for me. Today, I can confidently say it has been awesome. In a sense, I have just so much more confidence in working with a team, building a company, doing the right thing. And the path’s been fun. It’s been challenging at times. But I think that’s how I think about it now. I’m really grateful for it, though it was slower, but it really built my skills and supplemented them in ways I think make me pretty effective at what I do.
Alex Bridgeman: When you talk about not knowing exactly what you wanted, I assume you have a much better idea today of what you want out of a career, but what are some guiding questions that you found helpful for figuring out what do I want in my career, what do I want to achieve, what do I want a day in my life to look like? Are there any questions that you’ve found most helpful?
Jason Anderson: Yeah, I asked myself, when did you find yourself the happiest? And I asked those around me that knew me well. So I asked my best friends. I asked my mom. I asked my brothers. I asked my wife. I asked individuals like when was I the easiest to deal with? When did you come home and you found me to be pleasant and most excited to go to work? And so when you ask those questions of those individuals, they instantly can answer them. They can tell everyone listening to this podcast today whether you’re really happy at what you do, or you aren’t, or you’re more difficult than you typically are. And they can usually associate that back to what it is. And they’ll identify if it’s kind of the work environment, or what you’re doing, or what you’re tackling. And so what came out in those kind of conversations, and what I was also able to self identify when I thought about that was, one, the team is really important. And so I always say it’s the bourbon test, people have heard me say this, that I’m going to spend a lot of time with that team. If I don’t see myself enjoying having a bourbon with those individuals outside of the office, probably not a great place for me to be because I’m going to spend a lot of time with them. And by the way, for the HR leaders out there, it could be coffee, if you could see having coffee with them. The other one was the growth environment afforded me an opportunity to really test my skills and grow them because I had to take on new challenges, new situations, be faced with strategic decisions I wouldn’t normally have been if it wasn’t growing. It also allowed me to attract and keep and grow great talent. It is so much easier in a growth company to get really talented people that want to tackle great things. And then the last one that really stood out to me is like I love doing good. I felt good. I felt great when our end kind of goal was really making a difference in people’s lives. And Pacific Pulmonary Services, unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals have progressive diseases. At some point, they were going to pass away. We all are, but these individuals are going to be a little bit accelerated. But kind of the way that we delivered the equipment into the home and how we provided the service was exceptional. And so, when I first started out and I was doing those deliveries and picking up the equipment, and the family members would be around after someone passed away and say thank you, it took me a while to understand what was going on. And I realized, wow, they have a lot of providers that are doing things for these sick family members, that are coming into the home, that they need to rely on. And the providers that are responsive, have empathy, care, are taking time to go the extra mile stand out to them, and make those challenging times in the patient’s lives and in the family’s lives better, much better. And so that stood out. Same thing at VRI, being able to respond, monitor these patients, like we make a huge difference in their lives. And there’s story after story that are like heartwarming moments of how we connected with individuals from singing Silent Night to them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day for individuals that are by themselves and listening to these recordings of your care reps having these conversations and you realize it gives you chills when you think like oh, my gosh, like we are sometimes the only people they’re talking to during these times in their lives on a regular basis. It makes you feel good. And then obviously, I talk about people graduating at Arizona College, like there’s nothing greater, no greater feeling, being like I said, the first time, first generation college graduate and having experienced that myself, I changed my trajectory, just stands out. So that’s the third piece of the leg that is super important as I think about opportunities.
Alex Bridgeman: That’s a great place to close. Jason, thank you for coming on the podcast. I always enjoy chatting with you. So, I’m glad I got to have a little bit more time with you.
Jason Anderson: Alex, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.