In this interview with Bob, Tim Jarvinen dives into Bob's life leading up to this point -- his family life, his professional life including his time as President of Crown Financial Ministries, his academic background where they discuss Bob's involvement in the Young President's Organization (YPO) and the Harvard Business School Executive Program, and why Bob chose to leave a fantastic career with Crown to come to a networking company and more specifically, Bonvera.
Listen Up! This interview is filled with nuggets. You will not be disappointed!
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TIM JARVINEN: All right, well today we have a special treat to be able to announce to the world, our CEO, brand new, Bob Dickie III, welcome! Today, it's my pleasure and honor to be able to introduce you to the world, as well as to have the opportunity to interview you today.
BOB DICKIE: It's great to be here, I appreciate you taking the time to do this, and it's been somewhat of a long time coming. I've been working as a consultant for the organization for awhile, and we've kind of been working towards this end for many months, and it's great to finally be here in this official role and capacity, and I'm super excited.
TIM JARVINEN: Yeah, we're excited to have you, unbelievably excited. You're an awful impressive individual. As I was preparing for this interview today, there was one theme that resonated through everything, and it was if today's forecast was to be predicted, it's 100% chance of winning. Because when I look at your story, kind of where you came from, from high school literally up to where we sit today, there's a thread of winning in everything you do.
I guess that's really where I'd like to start the interview today with you, is wrapped around some of your athletic journey, because as I dig into some of your past, it looks like the seeds of that fruit is kind of sprung into every piece of your future, to leading us to where we are today. You know, I heard you say one time that your sport is other people's sport's punishment. I kind of giggled when I heard that, because I read somewhere that you had mentioned you actually picked up becoming a runner because you had failed at things like soccer and baseball and basketball in high school, and it was kind of default, because there was really no tryouts for running.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah.
TIM JARVINEN: But as a result of that, your running endeavor and career led to you receiving an athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee. You were named the Air Force Athlete of the Year, you were the third American finisher in the Boston Marathon in 2003. It just begs the question, how do you take failure after failure after failure in your initial sports endeavors, to lead to meteoric success as a byproduct of an initial failure? And ultimately, what has running taught you?
BOB DICKIE: Boy, yeah, there's a lot to answer there. First of all, thank you for the kind words on the athletic achievements. You're an athlete yourself, so you know this, right? It's very easy to condense a lifetime of athletics down to a handful of bullet points, and then for it to look like, it's like, "Oh man, so it's a victory here, victory there, victory there," but if you spread that out, if you pull that all out, what you'll notice is in between all of it, is that there's all sorts of failures. All sorts of areas where I didn't achieve the result that I wanted, but I just kept pushing through. Then you'd have another victory, then I'd set another higher goal and I'd go after it and have a failure. When you condense it all down, it looks like it's just a nonstop track record of victory, victory, victory, but there's plenty of failure interwoven within all those things.
To wind back to the very beginning, my dad would always, really wanted all of us kids to be involved in athletics. He felt like us being involved in athletics was going to teach us hard work and discipline, the ability to goal set, the ability to go after those particular goals, and then to PDCA, to plan, do, check, and adjust, when you don't get the result that you want in the realm of athletics. That's one of the things that I fell in love with, I just absolutely fell in love with that, the ability in athletics to actually see the end result of your hard work.
As you mentioned, when I was in junior high school, I loved soccer, wasn't very good at it. I remember one of our soccer teams, we went through an entire season and we lost every single game, and I think we scored one goal the entire year, I mean we were pretty awful, but we had fun. Another thing I learned in the realm of athletics is just the importance of teamwork and building teams and camaraderie. And even when you're going through those tough times, of how important a team is, and the culture and dynamic of building teams.
I was fortunate enough to be able to, as you said, serve in the military, and so learned a little bit about that, you know team environments in the military as well, but soccer wasn't my thing, I absolutely loved basketball. I was actually, I felt pretty good at basketball, but I was a real skinny guy, I did not have a lot of size on me in terms of weight, and so get me down there in the post and it was pretty easy to kind of push me around. I didn't get my growth spurt and my weight until I was in high school and college. I remember at Grand Blanc High School, I was a sophomore, I had just transferred from Genesee Christian High School, and I had been playing basketball over there, but I wanted to see what it'd be like to play on a bigger stage. I made the team just barely, and I rode the bench the entire year. I saw the writing on the wall, I was like, "You know what? I'm not going to get a college scholarship or do very well in basketball," there's just too many guys ahead of me that were better. My dad had been a track athlete and cross-country athlete in high school and done very well, I thought, "Well maybe this is something that, you know I've got a little bit of this in the DNA," and I went out and I tried cross-country, and then subsequently tried track, and I just took to it like a duck in water.
From there, just within the course of the next couple years, had some success there in high school, which led me to the University of Tennessee. That's kind of my journey into track and field and athletics, and kind of how I got away from soccer and basketball.
TIM JARVINEN: So, you went from taking a beating in the post, to being one of the fastest to run to the post.
BOB DICKIE: That's right, there you go. That's it.
TIM JARVINEN: I got it, all right, awesome. Well, that's a great segue actually, when you talk about teams, because the world wants to get to know Bob Dickie, a little bit more of who he is. When you talk about teams, you have quite a team at home, you know? Five children, a beautiful, lovely wife, and your journey through athletics actually led you to Tennessee, where you met Brandy. I guess, tell us just a little bit about family life with Bob Dickie, and a little bit about your family.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah, it's definitely a God-ordained event, I believe, that I met my wife. I mean, it was just a complete accident, if you're looking at it from the outside. My dad actually met her mom at freshman orientation. This would have been the summer of '93, and I was on my track doing things during orientation. I briefly was introduced to Brandy, and I was just immediately smitten, I was like, "Wow." I had always heard that the south had some beautiful women, and as soon as I met her, I was like, "Okay, I think I've made the right choice coming down south to Tennessee and to go to school." Immediately kind of fell in love with her. And interestingly enough, her mom, this was kind of the funny story, her mom, at the end of freshman orientation, this is before cell phones were ubiquitous and everyone had text messaging and so forth, and her mom came up to me and said, "Hey Bob," or "Bobby", she called me Bobby, "You know, my daughter doesn't know anybody here." I mean, Brandy was from West Virginia, and we had just made a brief connection. She gave me Brandy's name and phone number on a slip of paper, and she said, "My daughter doesn't have any friends here, will you stay in touch with her?" I was like, "Yes ma'am, absolutely, I'd be more than happy to stay in touch with your daughter." Over the course of the summer, I would call Brandy periodically, and she made it clear that she did not want to date her freshman year, she was going to be really focused on studies, but I tried to be a really good study partner.
TIM JARVINEN: You became really interested in academics, didn't you?
BOB DICKIE: I became really interested in academics for the first time in my life, absolutely. That's how I met Brandy, and we've been married 23 years. We got married in college. We've been married for 23 years, I have six children, a son that's 22 years old now, and we've got another son, my youngest is one, and then four girls in the middle. We've got a full family, and absolutely love it, but we've been really blessed.
TIM JARVINEN: It's so hard to keep up with a winner that I think I actually said five when I asked you the question, because you're having another.
BOB DICKIE: Well, we're done, you can officially put an exclamation point on the end of it.
TIM JARVINEN: You win in all areas of your life, that's awesome.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah, we're done.
TIM JARVINEN: Well, before entering the business world, I know you served six years as a captain of the US Air Force, so first of all, thank you for your service.
BOB DICKIE: It was an honor.
TIM JARVINEN: I read that actually you nearly didn't even enter the Air Force, that it was a last-second dinner with a mentor that ultimately led to your encouragement to enroll, of which you acted upon. I guess a couple questions from there, first off is, what opportunities would you say that that decision that almost wasn't made ultimately led to what you have self-described as one of the best decisions in your life?
BOB DICKIE: Hands down, joining the military and having that six and a half year experience on active duty, serving before, during, and after 9/11, and being able to serve my country around the globe was probably the most pivotal point in my early career, to help me kind of get started. I learned so much. I had an immense amount of responsibility placed on my shoulders as a very young person. So, in terms of my development, you can't put a price tag on it.
Going back, you know I wouldn't give that experience up for anything, and anytime I get asked by young people, "Hey, should I go join the military? I'm thinking about it, should I do it? I'm kind of on the fence," I am always an enthusiastic, "Yes! Absolutely! Do it! Even if it's only for four years, because of the things you're going to learn, the leadership ability that you're going to develop in the context of the military, you can't get it anywhere else." I literally have gone all over the world, gone so many different places. I can't find a place in a system where you get that much experience so quickly, and I guess the weight on your shoulders at a very young age.
Interestingly enough, you know, so here I am. I don't know all these things, I'm a college student, I'm kind of thinking through what do I want to do as I'm getting out of college. I realize that for the next four years, the US government is going to own me, wherever they say I've got to go, I've got to go. I've got no way of choosing career field or where I'm going to be stationed or anything. I'm actually kind of a guy that likes independence. Anytime I start getting into an environment where I'm roped in, or walls, or I'm confined, I'm a little bit of a cowboy, I've got that DNA in me, and I buck that. At the very end, I was like, "Eh, I don't know, this is an awful lot of commitment, I don't have a whole lot of control here," and I started questioning it.
One of the officers at the University of Tennessee, it was Major Woolen, and he said, "Bob, I need to have you over to my house. Come over to my house, have dinner with me and my wife, and I just want to explain what you're about ready to miss out on if you don't do this." So, he had Brandy and I over, and we talked, he said, "Look, this is what the military can offer you. This is what the Air Force can offer you." I realized at that moment that this was going to be a great decision for me, and I had already been in, I was just about ready to sign my paperwork, and so I went in the next day and signed it, and the rest is history.
That particular moment in time resonates with me, because it signifies a time in my life when a mentor, someone took time out of their busy schedule to say, "Hey, I want to speak some truth to you. I want to share with you some things that you might not know that could impact your life."
That dinner at his house truly changed the trajectory of my life, and so I remember that, and any chance I get to do that for somebody else, I do it. I just want to try to pay it forward, but yeah, Major Woolen will go down in my career as a great mentor and a person who kind of helped me stay on the right track.
TIM JARVINEN: Now, you also served as aide-de-camp to a four-star general as well, is that correct?
BOB DICKIE: I did, yeah.
TIM JARVINEN: What was that experience like?
BOB DICKIE: It was a really interesting experience, and I would chalk this one up as, you know sometimes in your career, so we were just talking about Major Woolen helping me get started in the Air Force. Once I was in the Air Force, I think sometimes you've got to take risks. Calculated risks, but you've got to take risks in your career if you want to achieve something worthwhile.
Here's kind of what happened. I had been named the Air Force athlete of the year, and I had attended with my wife, Brandy, an awards ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. At the time, I met the C-Vice of the Air Force, or the three-star general. It was General Begert. Again, we're up there at this ceremony, and I get awarded this and get to have dinner with this three-star general, and he has Brandy and I over to his house with all the other athletes and the award winners. I asked him for his business card. Brandy and I sat down, kind of struck up a conversation with him, I was like, "I don't know how often ...", you know I'm a second lieutenant, "I don't know how often I'm going to get an opportunity to just sit down with a three-star general," and so everybody else was kind of eating food and drinking and having a good time, and I'm like, "I'm going to ask this guy every single question I can, I'm going to get as much of his time as I possibly can."
As I was leaving, I said, "Sir, do you mind if I have one of your business cards?", and he said, "Oh, absolutely," he gives me his business card, says, "Stay in touch." I take this with me back to Little Rock Air Force base, and my functional manager down in San Antonio. So, it's time for me to leave, I had graduated from the University of Arkansas in my master's program, I had been at Little Rock for a couple years, and the "only", apparently, the "only" logistics assignment opened in the Air Force was a billet in South Korea right on the DMZ. It would have been a remote assignment, it would have been a two to three-year remote assignment, away from my wife. My manager down in San Antonio said, "Hey Bob, this is the only billet for a second lieutenant," and I'm like, "You've got to be kidding me. I just did a tour at Little Rock Air Force Base, 9/11 just hit, they're going to send me to Korea? I don't want to go to Korea, I want to be in the fight, I want to be involved in what's happening."
TIM JARVINEN: Sure.
BOB DICKIE: I took a complete leap, and I pulled out that business card from General Begert, and he had just pinned on his fourth star. He was the Air Force commander for the Pacific forces. PACAF commander is what his title was. I sent him an email, I'm talking about highly, highly unusual, a lieutenant sending a four-star general an email. I said, "Sir, I don't know if you remember me or not, but I was at your house, you know and you gave me your business card and said stay in touch. I just wanted to say congratulations on your new assignment. Super happy for you. Oh by the way, I'm due for an assignment, and they're saying that the only spot available is in Korea. I would certainly love to serve in your command if there's a position available," send it off.
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: Don't hear a word, don't hear a word from the guy, and I'm thinking to myself, "If my boss finds out," I've got a lieutenant colonel for a boss, "If my boss finds out that I just sent a four-star general basically an email ...", I mean I'm going way up the chain of command, right?
TIM JARVINEN: Sure.
BOB DICKIE: I don't hear anything from the guy. All of the sudden, I get a phone call one day from the base down in San Antonio, and it was the guy that was in charge of my deployment, and he was a major. He calls up and he says, "Lieutenant Dickie, by chance is anybody working an assignment for you, besides me?" I said, "No sir, not that I'm aware of," you know I just had sent an email, I don't know if he has anybody working an assignment. He said, "Well, I just received a phone call from General Begert's office at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, they've requested you to be on their staff, there's an assignment available at the PACAF airlift management office, and you're to report there on such and such." Literally it was a dream job.
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: I'm talking absolute dream job.
TIM JARVINEN: It didn't take you long to decide between Korea and Hawaii?
BOB DICKIE: Well, at this point, remember there's no deciding, I'm told to go there, right? So it's like-
TIM JARVINEN: "Yes, sir."
BOB DICKIE: I was like, "Yes, sir, absolutely, happy to report." My wife and I, we get transferred to Hickam, and for about two years, a year and a half, I'm working in an airlift office. A lot of the stuff that was at CONUS, here in the continental United States that was getting moved into Afghanistan, and then later on as the Iraq war opened up, our office was in charge of all that airlift. We're moving men, material, you know personnel, all sorts of equipment, and it was an amazing time. Then about a year and a half later, I got a phone call once I pinned on captain, so I was a lieutenant at the time, once I pinned on captain, General Begert called me up and asked me, I guess, to interview for the aide-de-camps position.
There was a whole bunch of people all throughout the Pacific who were interviewing for that spot, and I was the youngest guy. There was lieutenant colonels, there's majors, seasoned captains, I was a brand new captain and I was interviewing for the position, which was I think very unusual, but I got selected for that. I think there were some people that were a little bit surprised, they're like, "You just pinned on captain, you're going to be an aide-de-camp for a four-star general?"
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: Again, it was an absolute blessing, I learned a lot. I traveled with him all over the world, you know embassies all over the far east, back to the Pentagon, and I watched him brief members of congress and senate.
Being able to have that firsthand experience of traveling with a global leader who was working with ambassadors and heads of state and people in Washington, DC, to see how this individual managed their time, the way they led, the way they built teams, they way they interacted with members of government, to see how all these pieces of government interacted with each other, you know state department, US military, again, it was just a very formative part of my career.
I would have never had that opportunity had I not taken the risk of sending that email. I could have just sat back and said, "I'm too scared, I don't want to do it."
TIM JARVINEN: Take a chance.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah, you've got to take a chance. Every now and then, when the opportunity presents itself, you've got to take a leap, right?
TIM JARVINEN: That's great. You know, I was awful proud of my opportunity to have dinner at a colonel's house, but my experience with having dinner at KFC doesn't compare at all to your description of your military history there.
BOB DICKIE: Well played, well played. I was wondering where you were going with this, I was like, "Okay."
TIM JARVINEN: That is awesome. You know, it's interesting as I've gotten to know you and also learned some of your story, there seems to be threads and what I would call "life pivots" where mentorship has meant a lot. This is as good a time as any I guess to ask, because you just described a last-minute dinner and how that's impacted the course of your life. When you think of the value of mentorship in your life and as you look back at your levels of high achievement, where do you hold mentorship in the whole realm of high achievement?
BOB DICKIE: Well, at the very beginning of this interview, you kind of listed out a number of, I think you termed them "victories." You know I view them as, I think you could call them victories. I call them blessings, great opportunities. I feel I've been very fortunate to be placed in positions like that, but those things, those victories, those blessings, those opportunities, none of it would have been possible for me had it not been for mentors. I mean, and another way of looking at the term "mentor", I mean if you were to go back into my athletic career, is "coach".
There's times coaches, mentors, these are people who are standing on the sidelines, you're in the playing field, whether it's in the realm of business or the realm of athletics, or within your marriage, or wherever it might be, and you've got a coach or a mentor or somebody that's on the sidelines who sees what's going on and wants to speak truth into you. They're taking the time and saying, "Look, I see what's going on, I see the playing field here. Bob, if you will just make this course correction, if you will just make this adjustment, if you'll come over here and tweak this, you're going to be able to perform better."
All of these things that have been going on within my career, I would have never had any of these opportunities had it not been for those people on the sidelines. As much as possible, I realize that I can't take credit for any of the things that I've been able to accomplish. I definitely want to give credit to the mentors and the coaches in my life, and I hope that I'm able to be able to do that for other people as well.
TIM JARVINEN: Yeah, awesome. Well, let's pivot here now onto some of your corporate experiences and victories and some of that path. When I think of Bob Dickie, I think of somebody that might be described as a hired gun executive, or somebody that has already twice, historically, been hired by companies as a CEO and president to tackle a challenge that they had, both times making meteoric impact. As CEO for an international retail and training company that serviced the direct sales and network marketing industry for a five-year window, how did you help a company who was struggling at the time triple in size in such a small time-frame of five years?
BOB DICKIE: That's a great question. Again, this was an opportunity that was presented to me that I'm completely blessed to have had that opportunity, to work with some great people. It was my first step out of the military into the private sector, I had great mentors along the way, and in that process, learned just almost like a real world MBA during that process. Again, so I wouldn't want to take credit for the success that the organization had, I would say I played a role, and I think everybody on the team played a very important role.
One of the things that I tried to do when I came onboard, immediately, is you want to figure out what's not working, what's broken, where are there areas of drastic improvement that needs to be made. One of the things that I found at the home office, at the time was that there just wasn't a culture, there wasn't a team environment. It was kind of best efforts by a whole slew of different people, but they really hadn't come together as a team. One of the very first things that I worked on with the ownership and the board was to kind of build a true team culture.
We hired some new folks. We built out the team. We really tried to get some core competencies and disciplines in place, but really focusing, I mean culture is everything for a company. A company will win or fail based on the culture, and that starts everything from the board, all the way down to the executive team, all the way down to your frontline managers, to your customer service and support, the guys in the warehouse. Everybody plays a very important role. One of the things I also learned, and I learned this from General Begert, he would travel overseas and during Thanksgiving and serve Thanksgiving meals to the troops, and he was always on the front lines, and he was always asking me, this is a four-star general, and he was always asking the frontline troops, "Hey, what can I do to serve you, what can I do to help you, how can I help you accomplish your mission?"
I mean, this was not a guy that lived in the ivory towers and didn't get out there and get dirt on his boots. I tried to lead that way, that's kind of been my leadership style. "Yeah, I've got the title of CEO", but I try to treat everybody in the organization as, "Hey, we're all teammates, we're all peers, we all have a very important job, my job is not more important than yours, we all have an equally important job," and just trying to treat people with respect. Then also, you know craft, one of the things that I loved about the military is that it was easy to galvanize a team post-9/11, to literally move mountains, to work 18, 20-hour shifts, to go to some of the most austere places on the globe, and to be loading up C130s or C17s and shipping stuff into Afghanistan or later on into Iraq.
I mean, people with Herculean efforts because you're like, "We're going to win this. We've got a battle to fight. We're going to do this." When you come into corporate America, sometimes you're like, "Where's the mission? Where's the sense of urgency?"
One of the things that I felt fortunate in is that I wanted to build a culture and an environment where people realize that like, "Here's our mission, here's what were trying to accomplish. We're not selling energy drinks, this isn't selling toothpaste," or whatever it is, "Here's the overall mission. Here's how we're impacting culture. Here's how we're impacting lives. Here's how we're having a difference."
Even later on when I went to Crown, it was like, "Okay, let's find out what the mission is, the big impact," you've got to get everybody bought into it and excited about it, and let them experience those victories and those wins. I think that that's kind of what happened early on with Signature management team and the Team. People bought in, and from our frontline guys all the way up to the executive team, they bought in on where we were going, what we were doing, and the impact we were having in serving our customers and providing world-class customer service and support. Everybody was fired up about it.
TIM JARVINEN: So, you cleared the fog and provided a lot of that vision.
BOB DICKIE: You have to. If people don't know what they're working towards, it's like, "Well, why am I coming here eight hours a day and punching the clock?", right?
TIM JARVINEN: Sure, yeah.
BOB DICKIE: It's got to be mission-central, mission-focused, and get people bought in.
TIM JARVINEN: Bob, it was during this time period, if I have the timeline correct here, where you were approved, I was going to say you "joined", but that's probably not the official proper term, you were approved to the Young Presidentsâ€™ Organization, the YPO, as a YPO member. Our listeners here probably, if they have my experience, may not completely understand the magnitude of what the YPO really is all about. I just want to hit this real quick. This is a global network of young chief executives, it's by invitation only. You have to be president or chairman and CEO before the age of 45, which is an amazing feat. You need to be recommended by at least two members and approved by a membership committee.
In a world where we sometimes have a struggle with encouraging people to invest in themselves from the neck up for a quarter, a third of what a cell phone bill is, the initiation fee to become a YPO member is between $3 to $10k, and an annual membership is $2,500 to $10k, and so this is no small decision, it's no small commitment. What ultimately took you down the path of wanting to become a part of the Young Presidentsâ€™ Organization, where there are notables such as Charles Schwab. I know Ronnie Lott is an old NFL player that I used to follow as a kid growing up, everything from the COO of Facebook, Cheryl Sandburg, I believe is the proper pronunciation of her name.
I mean, there's just notable after notable after notable, and obviously we're sitting here with one of the rising stars in the world of economics, Bob Dickie. During that window, when you started down that path, what was the driver there?
BOB DICKIE: Well, it was highly recommended to me by a number of people, and one of the things that I'm embarrassed about is that it took me a couple of years to actually put my application in. I was just so busy, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to get to it, sounds like a great thing," but I finally did put my application in. A couple of other numbers about the organization, there's 21,000 members worldwide now, it's a global network, as you mentioned. It's a who's-who list of CEOs and presidents of various organizations, and you have access to that database.
One of the things is if you reach out to another YPO member with a need, you know the common courtesy is you're supposed to respond within 24 hours, and I've done that globally, I've been traveling and I've had a need when I've been in Malta or in Europe, and I've reached out to some YPO member I don't even know, and they'll pick up the phone and say, "Yeah, how can I help you?" It's a network of these global CEOs. I didn't quite understand the power of it until I joined or submitted my application. There's certain size requirements of the company, your company has to be a certain size, you have to have so many employees and things of that nature to be qualified. It's similar to how I said early on in my career, joining the military helped kind of fast track me faster than my peers, because of the things that I was doing. YPO has done that for me professionally.
It has been an incredible network. One of the things that I appreciate about it is that the core of YPO is the forum experience, and that's where you join a forum somewhere between eight and 10 other CEOs in a small group environment, you meet together once a month, and you lay everything on the table. A lot of times, it starts with business, so you come in, and I've been in forums since 2008. I'll be able to walk in on a monthly basis and say, "Here's the issue I'm having with my company, here's the issue I'm having with a board, here's one of the big decisions that we're about ready to make."
You have these thought leaders who many times are years ahead of me in their experience, years ahead of me in their knowledge, who have attended some of the best schools on the planet, and now I've got seven or eight of them sitting there saying, "Oh yeah, let me help you with that problem, let's talk about it. Oh, I've got this contact, I've got this attorney, I've got this individual who can help." It's just like the ability to have those types of individuals speak into my life and the issues that I've been facing since 2008 has been invaluable.
It's also an organization that is really, really focused on education, and I highly value education. Every chance I get to go to one of the educational events that YPO is holding, where one of these CEOs is going to be talking about things that are going on in economics, I'm taking notes. I've got notebooks at my house just scribbled with notes that I've taken at these events from around the world since 2008. These are things that I'm able to take back. I've written books on it. I've done interviews and podcasts on these things. It's been extremely valuable for my career, but I'm always a person who, one of the questions you asked was, "Well, why would you invest the amount of time, why would you invest the amount of money to be a part of this for as long as you've been a part of it?" Because in my work, in my business, a 1% or 2% advantage over my competition, or a 1% or 2% improvement in my company, it reaps huge rewards. I have to be looking for every single angle in life where I can get a one or 2% advantage, and this is one of them. I have to, I mean if I'm not looking at that, no company is going to want to hire me as a CEO. No board would want me to be on their board.
When someone's hiring me or bringing me onboard, you're saying, "We're asking Bob to step into this role because he is looking to develop the organization for helping us improve." There might be some people out there that are like, "Eh, I'm happy to just kind of, you know the status quo, I don't want to change." For that individual, the time investment and the financial investment in YPO or other educational-type things would be just completely pointless, don't do it, but if you're trying to improve, you're trying to grow, you're trying to get better, these types of investments ... This is an investment I'm making, but there's other investments that people should be making or can be making in self development, self improvement, self education. I've heard people, this is a little bit off-topic, but let me tell you how important education is to me.
I hired an executive for a company, I'm not going to mention the company, hired an executive for a company, and had an incredible resume, went to an incredible school. I don't know, maybe 60 days, 90 days in, I'm starting to see some signs, I'm like, "Uh oh, you know what? The resume and the work are not matching up." I go to this guy, I had become a friend with him, and I want to help him out, I say, "Look, you need to read this book." I pulled three or four books, I said, "You really need to read these books right here. I see a gap, and you're having some issues. You need to read these books, I really think it will help you with your team," because he was having some issues with his team.
He came back to me the next day. Imagine this, he walks into my office, I'm his boss, he puts the books on my desk, he says, "Bob, I don't have time for this." He goes, "You've got a bunch of kids, I've got a child, I don't have time for this. I just appreciate it, but I'm good to go." He basically said, "I'm not going to read these books." I was like, "Oh, okay, thank you." He walks out, picked up the phone, HR department, "Start processing paperwork on so-and-so," instantly done. If a person in a senior leadership position on my team is not going to be bought in to education, in trying to get better, I'm sorry, that person had no seat on the bus.
TIM JARVINEN: Yeah, I know.
BOB DICKIE: This day and age, it's so competitive and the world is changing so rapidly, I can't even comprehend how a person could not be bought into an education system on trying to get better and improve. I've done talks on this right here with Bonvera earlier, I said, "People who have that mindset are going to literally get steamrolled by this economy." My clarion call, whether you're an executive at a company, whether you're starting a startup, whether you're a high school student, or wherever you're at, please be plugged in, be trying to get better, be learning new skills, be involved in education, it's absolutely critical. I'm completely sold on it.
TIM JARVINEN: It's interesting as I listen to you, because I had the pleasure of hearing you speak a handful of years ago, and then really hadn't had that opportunity until more recently, over the last six, 12 months. The gap, not that you weren't always impressive, you were, you always carried yourself presidential, as you do today. You walk into a room and people know this is somebody that's doing something, and they don't even know what it is, but there's just the essence you carry with yourself, but your unconscious competence today is evident. You speak on topics that, you're forgetting things that most people don't even know.
As I'm listening to you talk about your experience with YPO and why you've taken the time over the amount of time you've taken to plug into that global network of business leaders, it's very evident as I sit here listening to you today, and it actually leads to a little bit of a follow up. Because one thing some people listening to this may not know is that you're also part of the Harvard Business School Executive Program. Anything with the word "Harvard" in it is a big deal, and you're a big deal, so talk to us a little bit about your experience with the Harvard Business School Executive Program, maybe a little bit of how and why?
BOB DICKIE: Well, it goes back to just my passion for education. The program that I'm in with HBS, it's partnered with YPO. It's the longest running executive program at the Harvard Business School, it's been over 65 years now running. It's the most competitive. Remember, we talked about how competitive YPO is, so 21,000 CEOs from around the globe, it's very hard to get in, but once you're in, the number one most oversubscribed program in YPO is the HBS program, the Harvard Business School Executive Program for YPO CEOs. There's 180 slots basically each year for week one and week two, and so it's a very small amount of slots for those 21,000 CEOs who are trying to get in. The wait list is years long. When I applied, and I was on the waitlist for a number of years, and finally got accepted, and the program, it's a nine-year program. If you go all nine years, you graduate at the end of it and you're an HBS alum, you have all the rights and privileges of an HBS graduate, and you get the certification for having gone through this president's program. You have the exact same professors at the Harvard Business School that the MBA students have right there on campus.
Year after year, you know probably I've got a few hundred case studies now under my belt, I've built relationships with the professors there on campus, my daughter was up there for a female entrepreneurship program this last year, and one of my professors said, "Hey, your daughter, she needs to come do this. Have her come stay at my house, I'll take her around campus."
I've just been able to build these relationships, and so even now, even this last week as I'm coming on with full time in official capacity with Bonvera, I sent one of my professors who I've been working with over the last couple of years, I sent him a note and said, "Hey, career transition for me, remember the projects you've been helping me with, with Crown and some of the questions? I've got a couple questions for you." This is an industry expert on team building, organizational development. I said, "I need your feedback on this, this, and this." I mean, I'm dialoguing with, I mean this guy, for him to come in and talk at a company, the market rate, $75,000 a day.
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: I'm sending him emails and saying, "Hey, can you help me with X, Y, and Z for Bonvera?", and you know he's corresponding with me. Those are the types of relationships that I've been able to build, and it's really that whole experience, it truly is kind of an MBA for executives. You sit in a classroom. The executives that you've been highlighting earlier, you sit in a classroom with them and you hear how they think. You hear how they process. You hear how they would go about these particular problems in these case studies, and so you learn as much from the participants as you do the professor who's kind of guiding the class. It's been an honor to be a part of the program. I've kind of worked my way up to where I'm now section leader in week two, so I kind of help design and run the program now for week two, and that's been just an immense amount of fun and a challenge, but something I wouldn't trade for the world.
TIM JARVINEN: After your time with SMT, you launched out on your own with a consulting practice and a technology company.
BOB DICKIE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TIM JARVINEN: I have to imagine that the world of startup is a little bit different than the world of turnaround.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah.
TIM JARVINEN: If there was one thing that you could pull from your experience during that period of your career that you learned from being a part of the startup, what would it be that you gleaned from that window of time?
BOB DICKIE: One of the big things for me that I learned during that phase, was that not all jobs or not all opportunities are well-suited for every person. For me in that context, I'm an individual that thrives in an environment where I can work with people. Where there's an organization and there's a team that I can be bought in with. There's this big mission and things that we're doing.
One of the things that I didn't like about that particular role in the startup was I ended up being more of a silent partner, and a little bit of an investor. It was an opportunity where there would be, since I'm not a technologist. I know enough to be dangerous, I can speak the language, but I'm not a programmer. What would happen is, there would be a contract that would come in or an opportunity would come in, and I might help tee up a deal. But at the end of the day, I'd be sitting around while programmers are programming, and I'm not a part of that. I didn't like there wasn't a team for me to run. There wasn't an organization for me to optimize. There wasn't this big goal. So, even though I think it was a successful enterprise, and there was all sorts of opportunity in front of us, it wasn't scratching my itch, it wasn't the right seat for me.
During this time, I'm also doing a lot of consulting, and that's when I started doing some consulting work for Crown. When the opportunity came when the board had asked me to create a business plan for them, and I did, I presented it at a retreat, and the chairman of the board slid the three-ring binder across the table and said, "Hey, this is great, we want to do it. The only issue is we want you to come onboard full time and implement it. Will you come onboard full time as president and implement it?"
TIM JARVINEN: That was 2011, correct?
BOB DICKIE: That was 2011, and so I didn't want to commit there, I said, "This is obviously a really big decision," and so I told them I wanted to pray about it. I went home, talked to Brandy, and it was the right opportunity at the right time, because it puts me back into my sweet spot, back into an organization, back with people, back trying to optimize and scale. It was a little bit of a turnaround environment for Crown as well.
So I came back and said I would do it. They asked if I would be with them for at least three years, and to run this project, and I was there for seven and a half years. The only thing I said is like, "I'm not willing to move to Atlanta." I do not like Atlanta traffic, and so for about a year and a half, I was in Knoxville at the time, and for about a year and a half, I commuted down to the Atlanta office and worked with just a great team there, and so many wonderful relationships, and had a wonderful time. Over time, we opened up a small satellite office in Knoxville, Tennessee, and that started to grow and grow. One of the board members had visited both locations, and he said, "Bob, there is just a complete difference in culture from what's going on in Knoxville versus what's going on down in Atlanta. You ought to figure out a way to merge both these things together."
Over time, we literally closed down facilities in Atlanta, moved everything up to Knoxville, and we still had remote staff that lived in Atlanta, who had been with the organization for 20 years, and were still doing great work, but they worked out of their home and periodically would come up to the home office. It was quite the process. It was an organization transformation, and helping the organization transition from kind of like the past into a new future. I absolutely loved it, it was a wonderful experience.
TIM JARVINEN: Because Crown has been around for, what, 40 years?
BOB DICKIE: 40 years. It was a 40-year-old organization. I came in, I maybe want to say about 34 years old, and it was at this point where it had this meteoric rise. Larry Burkett, the founder, was the only person, I mean he was the trailblazer in Christian finance radio. So he was the Dave Ramsey of the day. Actually, he was Dave Ramsey's mentor, if you can believe that.
TIM JARVINEN: No kidding.
BOB DICKIE: Dave gives him credit for helping him get out of debt and get on the right track. The organization, Larry unfortunately had a battle with cancer and passed away, and the organization went through a state of transition, through a couple CEOs, and Chuck Bentley, the current CEO there. It found itself at a moment in time where the world was rapidly changing, and Crown, like all organizations, you've got to either change and adapt, or the world is going to pass you by. I came in at that moment, and Chuck and I partnered together, and just absolutely loved working with Chuck. Yeah, so that's kind of the story.
TIM JARVINEN: It was during this period too that maybe some of our listeners don't realize that you had some speaking opportunities opened up. Global impact initiatives were being launched by you. You also became an author, an author of Love Your Work and The Leap.
BOB DICKIE: Yeah, just great opportunities. I remember, you know Chuck is such a great encourager and supporter of the staff. I have a blog, I've been doing a lot of writing on the blog and I've been doing some public speaking around the world. I got an email from a publisher out of Chicago that said, "Hey Bob, you know I've been reading your blog, would you be interested in writing a book for us?"
TIM JARVINEN: No kidding.
BOB DICKIE: Now, I've been around long enough to know that that doesn't happen.
TIM JARVINEN: Sure, absolutely.
BOB DICKIE: I know people who have literally written a book, have a full manuscript, and they go out and they shop it to publishing houses, and they get turned down and turned down. I think Tim Ferriss is a guy that I follow, and his New York Times bestseller he shopped to I think like over 20 different publishers before he finally found someone that said, "Yeah, absolutely, we'll publish it for you."
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: Here I am, I'm sitting at home, I get an email from a publisher, I've never written a manuscript, I don't even have a book, the person's like, "Would you like to write a book." I thought, "Okay, somebody put this guy up to it." I immediately, the very next day, go into work, I say, "Hey Chuck, did you ...", because I knew Chuck had a relationship with the publisher in Chicago, I said, "Hey Chuck, did you call in a favor, did you call these guys and tell them to ..." He's like, "No, I'm telling you, I swear Bob, I didn't."
TIM JARVINEN: Wow.
BOB DICKIE: God opened up doors, and I'd always wanted to be an author. I'd always wanted to write a book. My dad's written books, and I wanted to kind of follow in his footsteps. I had the opportunity while I was at Crown to write two books, both with Moody out of Chicago, and absolutely loved that process. It allowed me to do some public speaking and radio and podcasts, and so it's just interesting how, you know I firmly believe that God opens up doors of opportunity to allow you to grow and develop, and he's preparing you. I joke with people, I had this non-linear career, like it doesn't make sense, some people have been with General Electric for 20 years, and it's just like they slowly progress up the chain of command, and at the end of it they're going to get their gold watch after 30 years or so.
People take a look at my career and it's very eclectic, you know I've been in the military, then I was in private sector, and then I was in a startup, and then I was doing consulting, and then I was working for a global not-NGO, and now here with Bonvera. But if you take a look in the rear-view mirror, at first it doesn't make sense, but you take a look in the rear-view mirror, you see how, I believe, God was guiding my steps, opening doors of opportunity, preparing me, molding me, successes and failures and learning along the way to prepare me for the roles that he wants me to be in.
TIM JARVINEN: Absolutely. Well, if our listeners don't realize that this wasn't just a directionally correct move by hiring a CEO by the name of Bob Dickie, they might not be listening well enough. It ultimately leads us to, I ask all those questions really to get to this question, because to me, you've just teased us with a little bit of the answer here, but why networking, first of all, why Bonvera, and why now?
BOB DICKIE: You know, that's a loaded question, I'll take it piece by piece. Let me first start with why networking. Number one, I love networking, network marketing, this particular space, free enterprise, entrepreneurship. I've been blessed to be able to work with very accomplished CEOs and entrepreneurs through YPO. Many of the people within YPO are in YPO running family-owned businesses, so these might be multi-generational family businesses. I've had friends, I mean these are like household names that you would know, they're fourth-generation, great-great-great-grandfather, and just gone down the lineage, and now Joe IV is running the family business. Now, that individual was blessed with the opportunity to steward that family company, but he was kind of born into it. I can tell you, two-thirds of the members of YPO are family-owned business.
TIM JARVINEN: No kidding.
BOB DICKIE: About a third are hired guns like me. Interestingly enough, of the third that are hired guns, a lot of them will go out and you'll buy a business or they'll start their own business, they'll have some small startup and they'll grow it to scale and qualify. It takes, unless you are born into wealth or you have some opportunity along the way, it can be very difficult for someone who says, "Hey, I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to go own a McDonald's franchise, let's drop down $3 million for that," or own some of these different franchises. It's a large amount of capital that is required to be invested to be able to do those types of things, and there's lots of wonderful opportunity, all sorts of franchises, all sorts of businesses that you can buy. I've got buddies right now that they buy businesses, but you'd better have a capital stack of a couple million dollars bare minimum to be able to do it.
What happens to the average American family who's been working at GE, who's been working at General Motors or Ford or some other company, and they see the writing on the wall, they see how middle class America is getting crunched, squeezed, how jobs are being outsourced all over the world? They're realizing that the squeeze it's coming, and it's coming. What are the options for them? Do they have the ability to walk into a bank and get a $3 million loan and go buy a franchise? They don't have maybe a multi-millionaire dad who's going to will them the family business. Where do they start?
They realize they've got to do something different, maybe they've got education, maybe they don't. Most are in financial hardship, that's one of the things that I really discovered in my seven and a half years at Crown, we specifically here in North America are really well-known for helping people with their personal finances and budgets and people in financial crisis. We talk about stewardship, there's a whole slew of things that we do, but we get a disproportionate amount of the phone calls into our call center, people who are in financial crisis.
The financial crisis here in the United States, it's hidden. A modern day slavery is happening right in front of us every single day, and we don't know it. People who are enslaved by auto loans, their home mortgages, credit card debt, student loan debt, complete slaves to the banking system, and there's no way out. So, what's the opportunity for an individual like that, who wants to do something different, who wants to be able to say, "You know what? I can work hard, but where do I go?" Network marketing is the easiest way to get your foot in the door, to dip your toe in the water, and to start learning all the skills that you're going to need. A real world MBA. You know if you partner with the right company with the right opportunity with the right training system with the right product with the right systems, you can get in business, be in business for yourself for a very very low cost.
I have countless stories of people who have started out in network marketing, they learned all the things that they needed to do, and guess what? They've transitioned on to other very profitable careers, and they point back and say, "I would never be here if it wasn't for my time in network marketing and the education that I received when I was there."
I also have countless stories of people who got into network marketing and said, "You know what? I love this lifestyle. I love being independent. I love owning my own schedule, owning my own time, being able to do what I want to do, being my own boss. You can't do this anywhere else, I'm going to make a career out of it."
Then I've got stories of people who are like, "You know what? I don't want to be an entrepreneur, but I like these products. I love this. This is a unique product. It's a distinctive product. It's a product that has global/social impact. It's a product that I can bring into my house that I know it's going to be safe. It's going to help my family, whether it's with my health or wellness or whatever else." That's the trifecta of three things that I believe network marketing can be very very good at, that's why I like it.
Why Bonvera? That was point two. Before I go to why Bonvera, let me put a capstone on that particular question. One of the things that I was extremely frustrated with during my time at Crown, is we would get phone calls, and I would be able to hand out literature, I would be able to hand out Bible studies, you know we have all sorts of support, but at the end of the day, and this is life-changing support, I am not minimizing that whatsoever. But many times at the end of the day, I'd sit down with somebody who had gone through Career Direct or who had gone through one of our programs say, "Bob, absolutely this is a game-changer, I see myself differently, I understand the world differently, but really what my family needs is an opportunity. I need to increase my income. Yes, I'm going to reduce my expenses, I'm going to get out of credit card debt, I'm going to do all these things, but can you give me some opportunity? Can you give me some areas where I can either get a different job or increase my income? I need to work on both sides of the ledger, not just decreasing expenses, but increasing income." Many times, I didn't have great alternatives to offer.
One of the things that I love about the network marketing space is if you have, like I said, the right company with the right leadership, the right product, the right systems, it's one of the easiest ways to say, "You know what? Here's a side business, here's a side entrepreneurial business that you can pursue on the side and bring in extra income for your family." Just to stay on this point for a second longer, in 2004, it was almost unheard of, not unheard of, but it was much more rare for people to have a side business, or in the freelancer market, a gig economy. Nowadays, if you talk to a millennial and they don't have what they would call like a "side hustle", or a freelancer, something on the side, it's like you look at them like, "Well, what's wrong with you?" They all do, right?
TIM JARVINEN: That's right.
BOB DICKIE: I mean, we've got Uber drivers, AirBnB, I mean we've had this explosion of people who are working on the side earning side income for their families. I think a lot of it is because of technology and technological advances, but I also believe those opportunities are being created because the economy needs it, because American families need it. Network marketing is smack dab right in the middle of it. It's a growing sector. It's going to grow in prominence. For me, it was an exciting time to get back involved with new context, new education, some new experience to bring to the table, to be involved with Bonvera.
You asked the question, "Why Bonvera?" Since 2009, when I left SMT, my brother-in-law, Kevin Thompson, one of the top legal advisors for the network marketing industry here in the United States, arguably has displaced a couple of his competitors. I mean when you talk about the network marketing legal counsels, I mean his firm is at the top of the list. He's starting up on average 10 to 12 new companies a month that he's helping get started and so forth. I have had countless phone calls from him, "Hey Bob, I know this company is looking for a CEO. Hey Bob, I know this company is looking for an executive." "Nope, not interested. Nope, not interested. Not interested," because I know the culture of the company that ... I knew the right opportunity. I knew the people that I wanted to be involved with, the type of company I wanted to be involved with, the culture, the product. All of it had to fit. All of it had to work.
The reason why none of it worked was because I got sold on a dream back in 2004, which is what led me to leave the military back in 2004.
TIM JARVINEN: Yeah, and Hawaii.
BOB DICKIE: And Hawaii. I walked away from a great military career, a great opportunity. My wife and I had orders, we were going to go to Germany, my wife was already picking out places where we were going to do Christmas in Switzerland, and we were going to do summers down in Italy. She's got the whole thing planned out, and I said, "You know what? There's an opportunity for us to leave, for me to be a CEO of this small company back in Flint, Michigan, and I am completely fired up about the vision, and the dream, and where we want to go, and what we want to do, and the cultural impact, and the people we're going to serve. Let's do it."
I remember when we drove into Flint, Michigan with our license plates of Honolulu, Hawaii, people are like, "Are you out of your flipping mind? You moved from Honolulu to Flint, Michigan, what's wrong with you?" Nobody understood, but I had the dream. We got really close, I won't go into all the details. We got really really close, and so many blessings along the way. So many great mentors along the way. But for a slew of different reasons, we weren't able to seize on the original dream.
What's happened, fast forward to, I don't know, about a year ago, Tim [Marks] calls me out of the clear blue. I'm in Harden Valley in Tennessee. I'm taking my wife out to a steak dinner. I'm in my car, and I told Tim, I said, "I'm glad I was parked in a parking spot, because had you called me and I was driving down the highway, I would have wrecked the car."
I thought it was a joke. He's like, "Hey Bob, this is what's going on," you know and, "Hey, I just want to tell you about it, are you interested? This is the dream from back in 2004," I'm like, "Are you kidding me?" At first I'm going back and forth, I'm like, "Okay, this is a joke, right? I know it's not April Fool's, but you're kind of pulling my leg, right?"
He said, "No, I'm telling you, we're doing it." I was like "All right," and so through the series of all of that, and you know, I've come in. I was very cautious, I was like, "Okay," I wanted to see the culture. I wanted to see the people. I wanted to be here. I've been working with the team and working with Tim, and I brought my wife into one of the events, and we looked around, I was like, "Okay, this is it. This isn't hyperbole, but this truly is it. It's the culture. It's the environment. It's what we always wanted." We're there, we're close to the finish line in terms of saying, "We're going to seize in on this dream, the original dream, and make it come to happen."
That's why Bonvera, that's why I'm excited, that's why I'm passionate about it. I'm passionate about being able to bring an opportunity, to play a role on a team with a bench of incredible leaders. We have built a board of incredible leaders. We've got a field leadership team of incredible leaders. We've got advisors, friends of mine in YPO, professors of mine at HBS, I mean we have stacked the deck in our favor.
One of the guys that was looking at the business plan, a key advisor and investor with us was looking, and he's a venture capitalist, this is what he does, I mean he looks at deals and buys companies every single day of the week, and he's going through this business plan with me, and he's looking at it, and at the end of it, I mean he's just peppering me with questions, peppering me with questions, and he said, "Look, Bob, I fully anticipate that within a few years, this is going to be $300 to $500 million, like I'm looking at it, I fully anticipate that's where you're going to be. I want to ask you, what about this, this, and this? When the company is at that size, what is your vision for this, this, and this?"
It was just like, aha, because I'm believing that, I'm sitting here all along thinking, "$300 to $500 million is kind of like a stepping stone of where I want to be," but I just wanted to check my thinking to make sure that this wasn't just me having a big dream. When a guy like that sits at the table and looks at all the data, looks at all the advisors, looks at all the people that we have onboard, looks at our game plan and is really doing his due diligence and saying, "Okay, I see it, this is where you're going to be, what about this?", he's asking those questions like, "Okay, I'm not out of my mind. I'm not just getting super excited and drinking the Kool-Aid. I know this thing absolutely is going to, you know we're going to do this thing."
TIM JARVINEN: Amen. Well, with that, I just want to first personally thank you for taking the time to be able to draw out some of the thoughts, some of the thinking of Bob Dickie. It's clear to me, and hopefully it's clear to our listeners as they've listened to this interview that there is a blank canvas called Bonvera, and there is without a doubt your signature that will be written all over it, not just our company, but the example we set as a forerunner in the profession, and therefore in the entire field of what we do, Bob Dickie will play a major part in it. We're just blessed to have you onboard, welcome as new CEO.
BOB DICKIE: Thank you, buddy. Well, let me just say, thank you for the kind words. I view the role that I play, as I've shared earlier, as a role, all the roles that everyone is going to play on this, as extremely important. As you said, it is a blank canvas, it's Bonvera 2.0, and it's incredible what the leadership team, every single person who was involved from Bonvera from the start to this point, everyone played a critical role, every investor, every person at the home office, everyone did a great job. It's amazing the accomplishments and the things that have happened to this point, and now we're going to take what's been built, what's been stewarded to this point, and we're going to try to get even better.
We're going to scale it, we've brought other things to the table. I'm just excited to play my part, play a role, and to lock arms with the rest of the leaders and the rest of the board. It's going to be some exciting times, I think the next few years are going to be arguably the most exciting times for those people in the inner circle, for those people who are bought in and are really locking arms around this vision. I think will look back, Lord willing, when we're old and gray and we're sitting around the fireplace with our grandkids, we'll look back at this time in our life and we'll say, "That was one of the most exciting periods of my life. We did something amazing. We had incredible impact. We served a lot of people. We helped people. We had global CSR initiatives that impacted people in Africa and communities all over the world," that's what I'm fired up about.
TIM JARVINEN: Amen.
BOB DICKIE: All right.
TIM JARVINEN: Well, it's great having you here today, bud, and it's going to be great looking forward in our future.
BOB DICKIE: Thanks buddy, appreciate it.