Thrive or Wither with Gary Frey

Gary Frey has served as president of a number successful companies, including, a business news portal which he helped transform from a three-person organization to a $100 million company which he sold to Microsoft. In this show you can learn about:

  • The most important attributes of successful leaders today
  • The role gratitude plays in leading others
  • The philosophy of just connecting with good people
  • How to use the Thrive-wither self-assessment.

Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore how to balance employee happiness and building business expectations. Toxic workplaces are nothing new. We’ve likely heard of horror stories of offices run on terror. What is new is, few workers are willing to put up with such conditions, a recent study for the Human Resources Management, SHRM. Completed the study that indicated one in five have left their job in the last five years because of company culture. So that culture is not only bad for the health of employees, but it’s also bad for business with an estimated cost to businesses of being over 200 million pounds. Clearly, then keeping employees happy is critical to run a successful enterprise but needs a balance, and that balance needs to be achieved so that you get productivity too. And we can’t become subservient to the needs of every employee, or we lose sight of the business needs.

In 2017, Google’s apparent overcompensation of some staff politically was incorrect at the time called the F.U. Money, but colloquially led to a departure of many, and they took their hefty paychecks and used them to pursue other roles. And if you’re underpaying employees so much that they can triple their salary elsewhere, well, then they should leave. However, if we allow every person who is headhunted to jump ship, we won’t be left much talent at all. Those do stick around most likely to be under performers and unable to get a job elsewhere. And therefore, the companies left scrambling again. So, we have to create the right environment that fosters loyalty and motivation, so that talent feel the need to stay and want to continue on that journey. And of course, some businesses may not have the budget or flexibility to pay more, but it’s still vital to show employees that ownership or leadership of a firm are doing all they can to cultivate happy and healthy work culture.

Paying more doesn’t necessarily mean you get results. And this is where the key to balancing employee happiness lies. It’s critical that we first communicate clearly and transparently any responsibilities that are tied to a position. If performance doesn’t match that position, then there needs to be some open dialogue about standards, expectations, and the consequences of positively achieving and negatively achieving those outcomes.

And honest, candid conversations can motivate individuals to work hard, to improve their skills while simultaneously given them a reason to stay finding their purpose. There’ll also be times when it’s in the best interest of the employee to leave too whether we’d like them to stay or not. Someone may get an offer that comes along, gives them new opportunities. In that case, I know that moving on is likely to be best for the individual in the long term, albeit it’s going to be painful for you.

The goal for each staff member is to thrive in tandem with the business and as leaders to clearly communicate honestly and identify the circumstances that will allow them to thrive and clear communication and openness fosters trust. So, show people your engage with careers so that that helps them want to succeed. And the hack here, with clarity, trust, and mutual understanding on both sides, you are more likely to achieve your expectations and outcomes and therefore standards are adhered. Expectations are met and positive consequences achieved by all. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Dive into our social media and let us know what you’d like to talk about.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Gary Frey. He served as president as a number of successful companies, including, a business news portal, where he helped transform the business from a three-person organization to a hundred million dollar plus company, which ended up selling on to Microsoft. He’s now done two turnarounds and held executive positions in two Fortune 100 Companies, and now runs an incredibly successful coaching business and community. Gary, welcome to the show.

Gary Frey: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be with you.

Steve Rush: Looking forward to diving into learning a little bit about the journey you’ve been on so far. And we’d like to kick things off by our guests, just giving our listeners a little bit of a perspective on how they’ve arrived to do what they do. So, what’s the backstory for you?

Gary Frey: Oh man, we don’t have enough time. I started out as a graphic designer early in my career and did my first turnaround when I was 28 years old. I had no credentials whatsoever to be able to do that. But we did in nine months, which was really cool. I thought it was going to be my forever home. It became the Morris Frey Agency. So, my name was on the door, and we grew it into a really cool creative small but powerful little juggernaut. It was only a dozen people or so when we turned it around and then caught my partner, you know, his hand in the cookie jar one too many times financially. And I had to leave my own company. And so, I always thought I’m just going to, you know, I define myself as a creative director, you know, a designer and creative director and a guy in the ad agency world.

And you know, again, kind of, I planned God laughed and my career journey has been anything but to typical. And it’s been an amazing journey, actually terrifying in many times and exhilarating in other times and taking me into places that I would’ve never imagined. So, as you had mentioned, I’ve run four companies and done a couple turnarounds and I’ve been inside the belly of the beast of two Fortune 500 Companies and that’s where the MacGyver in my title comes from actually was one of those Fortune 500 Companies, which was really cool. But you know, being able to look back in the rear-view mirror and, you know, it’s easy to see patterns when you’re looking backwards. It’s hard to see it when you’re in the fog of war.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Gary Frey: Anyway, I’m extremely grateful. It’s taken me into industries that I had no business doing, including bizjournals, you know, I was not a publishing guy and I was not, you know, a tech guy and yet, you know, I was running a .com in the middle of crazy .com stories. And I got some amazing, funny and wild stories from that time too. But, you know, on insulating glass manufacturing company, like what do I know about that? Nothing. When I look through all of these things, all of my jobs, except for two were because of somebody that knew me or had worked alongside me and saw something, typically they saw something in me that I didn’t see myself.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: So anyway, and I’ve had great leaders and I’ve had really terrible leaders and I’ve learned from both. So, you know, you’re talking about, you know, leadership hacks, you know, that’s awesome to be able to have worked under some really powerful and wonderful leaders that demonstrated servant leadership. And then under ogres that demonstrated just because you’re sitting in a power perch, doesn’t make you a leader.

Steve Rush: Exactly, right. So, when you head did off on your entrepreneurial journey and you started bumping into these opportunities, was there something that was common amongst them that was alluring for you? What was that one thing that drew you towards the opportunities you had?

Gary Frey: You know, it’s funny. Relationships actually, quite frankly, a lot of it. And I would say early in my career, you know, there were some star gazing moments of, you know, I’m going to, you know, put my name in lights or whatever, and that was pretty short lived, you know, one thing about it, you get kicked in the teeth a few times and then you lose that luster. But one of the things early on, when I was 31, I caught my partner doing some financial impropriety things that he shouldn’t have been doing and caught him twice, you know, which, you know, when you got to leave your own company and I chose to leave, because I wasn’t going to destroy him, you know, he had made some bad choices, were all one stupid choice away from disaster, I think.

Steve Rush: Yeah, you’re right.

Gary Frey: And I didn’t want to destroy him, and I didn’t want to destroy my own name. And I would’ve had to do that if I would’ve taken the company across the street, everybody in town and Wichita, Kansas knew who my partner was. He had been the head of corporate communications for Cessna Aircraft, and he was 20 years older than me. And you know, that’s a big, small town, you know, a few hundred thousand people. And so, my choice was, I’m not going to destroy him and I’m not going to destroy my name. So, I got to start all over again. And one of the things that I did was at the ripe old age of 31, did this really simple T-Chart that I call thrive, wither. And you split the piece of paper in two. On the left side, you right thrive. And on the right side, you write wither. And I didn’t have a ton of experience, but I had enough to know what environments and the kind of tasks and the kind of responsibilities and kind of environments that made me come alive. And on the right side, the wither side, I also had enough experience at that point. I’ve got a whole lot more now, but enough to be able to say, what are the things that I might even be good in these things, but they just drain my tank.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Gary Frey: And you know, one of the things that I learned really quickly when we did that, turnaround, everybody quit except for me and my partner, we had to take 20% pay a cut. Everybody hit the doors except for me and my partner. And so, I had to do everything except for the PR, he was a PR guy. So writing, designing, selling, billing, that all fell on me.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: Then when you scale, you got to divide and conquer, and you got to find other people that will never do it just like you did. And I had to find three people in particular pretty quickly to take some of the things off of me and, you know, we didn’t have a lot of money. So, I had to hire younger folks, you know, with less experience, but had kind of batteries installed already. And so, I learned really quickly, you know, more about how to communicate better. I wasn’t perfect at it, but, you know, set the sites on what the target is, let them find their own way to hit it as long as it doesn’t violate core values and who you are as a company and what you’re trying to instill, they’re going to find a different path than you would’ve taken.

And that’s okay. So, I would say, you know, keeping, you know, true to my, you know, what makes me come alive. I started looking at all these additional opportunities that eventually came and some of them, they came on the heels of destruction, you know, quite frankly, where you’re just forlorn, wondering, you know, if the world has fallen, you know, do you have what it takes to continue to move on, et cetera. I started really trying to evaluate, well, does this fit me and my unique giftings and that sort of thing or is it asking too much of things that I might even be able to do or that I really suck at that would drain my tank because that’s not going to be a good move if that’s the case. So hopefully that answers some of the question.

Steve Rush: Sure does. And one thing, I guess I’ve just noticed in all of the things that you’ve just shared is that in entering those entrepreneurial journeys, you were pretty confident you had most of the attributes that were going to get you there, but not all. And therefore, there was definitely this energy that comes with that around confidence and conviction, as well as having a majority of the attributes, but not all of them, right?

Gary Frey: Yeah, and quite frankly, in some cases, I didn’t think I had any of them.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: You know, it’s really funny. That turnaround, that was kind of the first of many times where I’ve felt completely outgunned, completely unworthy, you know, completely like they’ve tapped the wrong guy on the shoulder. In some of those cases, in some of the biggest moves I’ve actually been brought into, which had me terrified. And I thought, oh my gosh, no, I’m not the right guy, because you know, then once I take that job, then they’re going to see the emperor has no clothes. I don’t know what I’m doing. In all of those cases, people identified stuff in me. So that first one, this guru that was brought in from Richmond, Virginia. He was a really a business development guru. And it was a Hail Mary because my partner was basically bankrupt. I mean, it was a last-ditch effort to try to keep from going bankrupt. And this guy was extremely expensive. I mean he was 10,000 bucks a day plus expenses in 1991.

Steve Rush: That’s a lot of cash.

Gary Frey: It was a lot of money, but it was, like I said, a Hail Mary. And when they called me at home, we didn’t have cell phones at the time. I didn’t know him from Adam, and he said, Gary, you know, I know you don’t know me, but here’s the opportunity that I’m looking for. I’ve talked with a number of people and your peers around town, your name keeps coming up. And I said, I don’t know anything about, you know, doing a turnaround or anything. Like, he goes, yeah, but these are the things that we need, and you know, the kind of position in the marketplace they were wanting to own. And I had worked for the top firm in town that had that position that they wanted to have. And that firm ended up selling to a larger company.

And so, kind of destroyed a lot of the stuff that made it unique and special. And in all of those cases,, same thing. When their top publisher said, Gary, you’re the guy, we’ve got national search looking for somebody to be president over this entity. And I said, Ed, I don’t know anything about, you know, publishing, I don’t know, I’m not an early adopter technology guy, that’s not me. And he goes, no, no, no, but here’s what we need. You have started, run, and turned around companies and we need somebody to take this three-person entity and grown into real Bonafede business. Two, you’re a bridge builder, you know, you connect really well with people, even in warring factions, in big companies. And I’d done that in a couple big companies. And he said, we got 41 publishers that basically run their own businesses. And they are terrified of the chairman announcing that we’ve got this .com entity and it’s a separate entity. And they think they’re going, by the way, the dodo bird, they’re very defensive and we need your bridge building skills. And then the final thing is, it’s called am for American City. The holding company was American City Business Journals. And he said, it doesn’t make sense, that name makes no sense for papers that are called business journals. And some of them are business chronicles. His was the Atlanta Business Chronicle and he was the top publisher. And he said, so we’re going to have to rebrand this thing and you’re the right guy to do that. So, he outlined very succinctly three things that I would was really good at, but I was terrified of going into a situation where I was going to fail because I didn’t have those credentials. Oh, and by the way, I’m a college dropout. So, you know, I have two years of college and was offered a job at the height of the great recession actually before 2008-2009. But in 1982 is the highest unemployment in U.S. history since the great depression. And so, I had this job offer and my advisor said, ditch the paid scholarship and take it because grads aren’t finding jobs. So, I had this additional achilles heel or, you know, albatross around my neck that was following me around everywhere saying I’m not good enough.

Steve Rush: In hindsight, Gary, do you think that the fear of the unknown has actually been a driver in many respects?

Gary Frey: I don’t know if it was a driver, but it was definitely there. And the responsibility of providing for my family, you know, I got married at 21 and my wife was 19 and we’re still married 39 years later. And we had kids, you know, a couple years later her after we got married and she stayed home with the kids. So, I had no option, you know, I had to provide for my family. I wanted to provide for my family.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: And in many cases it threw me into situations where if I would’ve had an option, I wouldn’t have taken the option. I would’ve taken a safer option. So, you know, the best boss I ever had was still one of the top execs at Bank of America, a woman. And she would often say, Gary, we have more confidence in you than you do, which was very true. But she did the same thing where she would just push me and encourage me, you know, you’ve got more under the hood than you think that you do. And sometimes a little bit of that kind of encouragement and cajoling combined with the necessity of, I just got to do this. has pushed me into it, but she would often say, Gary, you’re just so entrepreneurial. And this place was a pretty entrepreneurial place. We went from 80,000 associates or employees to 160,000 in two years with the three largest bank acquisitions in history at that time. And so, it was a whirlwind all the time and she would say, you know, you’re an entrepreneur. And I’d say, you know what, actually I’m not. I’m more of a turnaround guy. Entrepreneurs, like they see the non-existent and they call it into existence. I’ve worked for some I’m amazing entrepreneurs. And sometimes you would go, well, you’re lying but they would go, no, I’m not lying. I can see it, even though it’s not there yet. And that really isn’t me, but I am a problem solver, and I can see things. And so typically I love to come in alongside, in bizjournals, the same thing, three people, we turned it into a real business, but you know, somebody had gotten that thing off the ground, they got it moving and then they needed some additional oomph to take it to the next level.

Steve Rush: That must have been some moment though, when you know, Microsoft come along. Hundred-million-dollar company at this time, and you sell out. That must have been a really proud moment for you, right?

Gary Frey: It was very interesting. So, they bought 20% of the company for $20 million. And before that, that was the second all offer that we actually had. And that was a year after the .com bubble blew up. And so, we had .com wasteland everywhere. The one before that though, and this was only a few months into my time there as the president, I was meeting with a competitor in San Francisco, we put a million dollars in this competitor, and it was before I got there. So as soon as I got there, the chairman said, I need you to go out to San Francisco, meet with these guys. I put a million bucks into them. I go, why’d you do that with a competitor? And he goes, and he just kind of winked at me. And he’s like, I like to keep my enemies close, like smart, right.

And so, I go meet with these guys. And then shortly after, within a few months I developed a pretty good rapport with them, but one of the first meetings was really hilarious. They were losing 40 million a year, burning it. They were just spending money like drunken sailors. They had a million-dollar top line, not quite. And I asked the guy, he was an Oxford educated, really brilliant Egyptian guy. And I said, Timor, you know, I was just blown away. They had big screen TVs everywhere when they were about $15,000 a piece, you know? And like, it was just crazy. Hundreds of people running around, bringing you lattes, doing neck massages between meetings. I’m like, what the heck is this? I said, what is your business model? And he says to me, look, Gary, it’s a very nimble business model driven by eyeballs. That’s what he said, word for word. And I said, so Timor, what you’re telling me. I said, I’m not a real smart guy. And I didn’t go to Oxford, but what you’re telling me is you don’t have one. And what you do have is advertising.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Gary Frey: And he goes precisely. Well, they sold about a month later. He calls me and he says, Gary, you got to come out here and you got to meet with all these investment bankers. We’re having this big celebration party. We sold to NBCI for $225 million. We’re rich, and I thought, you have freaking got to be kidding. After they sold, they wanted to buy 20% of our company. And they had that same valuation. But we were going to have to take all of our traffic and run it through. It was called And so, I take this to my chairman. He has to think about it for a few weeks and he comes back and he says, you know what, that’s mind blowing. But he said, I don’t think these guys are going to be in business in 18 months. He goes, Gary, this whole .com thing is going to blow. And he called it to the month. He called to the month, and we ran extremely conservatively. I had gone from running tens of millions of dollars in marketing budgets at Bank of America. I had to arm wrestle this guy for, I think, 7,500 bucks for the whole year of marketing. But he called it. And so, when the next year when Microsoft came through and I mean, that really validated what we had, you know, a .com that sells to NBCI for stupid money in the stupid world of the .com crazy at the time.

That was novel, but it, you know, had a much bigger valuation and they were losing money, hand over fist versus their brick and mortar, so that was kind of not real. Microsoft made it legitimate. But what that also meant was I was not going to be having the reins that I did and, you know, things were going to change. And so that’s when I left actually to go, I had merged two companies together when I was at Bank of America. I was consulting with two friends who owned separate firms. And I actually merged those things together. I made the introductions, they asked me to be the third partner. And I said, no, you know, I’d been through the partner fiasco that I’d bitten once, I’m not doing that again.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: Well, they came back after they heard about the Microsoft thing and they said, you know, why don’t you come and be our third partner? We’ll still give you a third of the company. You be president, so it’s truly a merger because I don’t really actually believe there are mergers. Somebody acquired somebody. And then the person that got acquired, they’re made to feel better by yeah, we merged in with them. Well, you actually, he got acquired. In this case they really did merge. They both had very complimentary groups of people, their places in the marketplace. And by having me come in as president, it wasn’t, well, one acquired the other is like, I’m completely a neutral party. And I actually brought those guys together. So that was kind of a cool thing. So yeah, it was cool with Microsoft, but it also meant that okay, things are going to change and I’m probably not going to enjoy a lot of it, you know, beholden to somebody out in Seattle

Steve Rush: When one door closes another open though, right?

Gary Frey: Well, yeah. And it did, yeah.

Steve Rush: It led you to do what you do now, didn’t it?

Gary Frey: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Quite frankly I loved what I was doing there, but I’m glad I’m not in publish, you know. I mean, I loved it and I loved the people, but I’ve been in private equity since then. I’ve been in some really interesting places that I would’ve never been brought into had I just, and I actually took a pay cut to leave that gig and, you know, joined these two partners.

Steve Rush: And one of the things that I remember from the first time that you and I met Gary, is you have this philosophy that cuts across all of the work you’ve done and that’s just connecting good people with other good people. And that’s been a real tenet of yours, isn’t it?

Gary Frey: Oh yeah. I love it. If I was a billionaire and when I was in private equity, we actually had a couple billionaires in the group, and I learned so much from these extremely high net worth people. But what I learned from them is even if they were in their eighties and some of them had run the largest oil companies in the world, you know, I mean just some amazing human beings. They were still engaged in what they loved to do. And, you know, rarely were they out playing golf.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: You know, they were engaged in business. They were engaged actually in helping other people. And that was one of the things that I did within that private equity group, where we had 300 ultra-high net worth families in the group. I had actually invested in it a year before they bought my company. And I was small potatoes compared to all these other guys, quite frankly. But what I learned from them was, and what I learned about myself I guess was, I became the connecting rod in between these people, because they’re all high value targets. They can’t trust anybody for a good reason, you know, everybody is coming at them with an angle, and they want in their pockets quite frankly.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Gary Frey: And so, it was an honor and a privilege to be able to connect these really amazing people with other people that they could trust. Because it’s very lonely. It’s very lonely, actually running a company and at the top of a company, but I can’t even imagine being a billionaire or worth $350 million. And when you’ve gone from not much to that, and then all of a sudden, you know, everybody’s coming at you for something rather than for who you are.

Steve Rush: It’s an interesting perspective, yeah. Because people then see people that high net worth as a commodity, don’t they? Rather than a person,

Gary Frey: Oh, big time.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: Big time.

Steve Rush: So, you’re now focused on coaching some super big hitters, as well as some startups and a really nice diverse portfolio of coaching. What’s next for you on your journey then Gary?

Gary Frey: Well, so here’s, what’s interesting. Coaching is really lonely and every time I’ve done it, somebody’s tried to hire me. So, the biggest one that I got to work with was the CEO of Yokohama Tires in California. And it was because the top American introduced me to them because after he had gotten to know me for about a year or so, I was helping them on some challenges that they had. He’s like, you need to meet Mr. Karashima and so I did, and from what I can tell, I was the first kind of American outsider that was allowed to come into the inner circle, which was really cool. That was wonderful. And then they tried to hire me, you know; we did this huge project. And it was re really successful even to the point where a number of years later, when I talked with Jim, who was the top American, I said, you know, and this is right in the middle of the rubble of 2009, when the decimation of the great recession was everywhere.

And our company, our private equity firm blew up 30 million bucks, most of us got wiped out, including me. And I just felt extremely low at that time. And I said, Jim, did we make a difference? And he said, do you know how many people we had to let go during the recession? And I said, no, I was just going to be even more depressed. And he said, zero. I said, are you kidding me? He goes, no, we didn’t have to let go one person. And he goes, you know what? Karashima still says to this day that, that exercise and, it was kind of a repositioning and getting them really clear on their core values and their purpose. They had been chasing, you know, each CEO would come in after, you know, they’d do a three- or four-year stint and they would chase and put their own mark in the American market of whatever they were chasing.

And they’d kind of lost their way, quite frankly. And so, all I did was help them using some research, but then also guiding them as to no, you guys need to own this market, hold fast, don’t waiver. And, you know, they saw great success. Well, he said that was the single most impactful thing. He said, Gary, and I think we charged him a quarter million bucks for this. He said, you could have charged us 10 times the amount and it would’ve been worth it. And I thought, wow, this is amazing. But I’ve kind of taken that bait one too many times. But as soon as you take the bait and you go on the inside of the company, you lose your voice as the coach. And so, I’ve got kind of the best of both worlds right now. I rolled my coaching practice into a regional CPA firm.

I’m not a CPA, don’t want to be, but it’s very unusual because 11 of the 80 of us have started run or turned around companies using our money. That’s extreme unusual in the CPA world. And we work with privately held companies. We love helping them grow. So, for me, one of the things I learned early on part of my thrive, wither was, I got to be part of a team to really have fun. I could make more money just being a solo guy, coaching. And all you got is, you know, your brand and your time. And if you can, you know, one to many it by doing programs and stuff like that. But I love being part of a team. I swam my fastest splits when I was a swimmer in high school and college on my relays because I wanted to win more for the team than I wanted to a win for me.

And so, I think, you know, I’m probably going to be the first non CPA to become a partner and buy into this company, because even if they changed all the tax laws and you could mail it all in, what we do is help business owners who know their industry and they know their company, run their companies better, more financially prudent and smarter to where they understand those things. But also, on the culture side to where they can get above the three line and not have to just be working in the business but working on the business. So that’s kind of my happy spot.

Steve Rush: Excellent stuff. So, this is the part of the show where we turn the tables a little bit.

Gary Frey: Yeah.

Steve Rush: And I get to have the great honor of diving in and hacking your great leadership brain. And if I could, I’d ask you this to get those leadership hacks down to your top three belters, what would they?

Gary Frey: Yeah. So, the first one, and there’s no substitution for this, in my opinion. And it comes down to, are you going to adopt the position of I’m going to serve or I’m going to be served. And only each CEO can really ask that, or each leader. Is my objective to be served or am I going to serve? That’s the number one, the best leaders I’ve ever had and worked around. They had the disposition of humility, and I am going to serve. I’m going to choose to serve, and they walk among the troop. They’re the ones that stay in the fight versus issue edicts from a position of safety. That’s hands down, the number one thing. Number two would be, understand kind of your own thrive and wither. Like what makes you come alive and what makes wither? Because if you do that and then you do it among your team, then all of a sudden, what I do with my high growth coaching clients on a yearly basis, we’ll go through kind of their thrive, wither.

And then we’ll look at how their functions are working you know, do we have bottlenecks where too many people are going into this, you know, are waiting for this person where they’ve got too much on their shoulders. And I do, I call it horse trading of responsibilities. The CEO is still the CEO, the CFO is still the CFO but sometimes stuff that they’ve willingly shouldered because there was nobody else do. It’s dragging them down, kind of like barnacles on a boat, slowing the boat down, you got a dry docket. And then you see, oh gosh, we got barnacles, scrape them off, so that’s really an important number two. And it is in that order because you could do thrive, wither and all that, but if you still have the disposition of y’all are serving me, well that’s, you know, it’s going to show, and you aren’t going to go real far.

Steve Rush: Yep.

Gary Frey: And then the final thing is, really how do you, and you got to keep asking this question because you never really arrive, but getting the team, your team one, your core team around you. Aligned, focused and executing on the important versus the tyranny of the urgent. Those are my three.

Steve Rush: Awesome. I love this whole notion of thrive, wither. Because it not only is it visual, but you can actually almost anchor energy to what makes you thrive and what makes you be aware of dragging that energy away from you as well. Love it.

Gary Frey: Yeah. It’s so simple, man. I’m again a T-Chart. you split the piece of paper vertically into two and you write and do a horizontal line at the top and you write thrive on the left and you wither on the right. And I have everybody do this. I say, give yourself 30 minutes, quiet, turn off all the distractions. And seriously just give yourself 30 minutes. Stream of consciousness, all the stuff that makes you come alive, the environments, the variety, or the routine, whatever those things are, focus on, what the positive first then move into the wither and think about even the stuff that you’ve accepted, because you may be good at it. You may be the expert in pivot tables, but you just hate doing pivot tables. Well, put it down.

Steve Rush: Yeah, super. Next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is to where something hasn’t worked out well, but as a result, you’ve got some good learning out of it. And it now serves you positively. What would be your Hack to Attack?

Gary Frey: You know when I was at Bank of America. Early on, I was given a team because I had to go figure out why did this acquisition, why is it not working? And why is our attrition high and blah, blah, blah. They thought it was a communication message. And you know, having run Ad Agencies or whatever, that’s why they thought. And I was from that part of the country, this 11-state region in the Midwest versus the East Coast. And so that was another reason why I was in there. But what was interesting is, one of my lieutenants, she was really good at helping me kind of navigate the organization because you start in and you know, everything’s new. But I had a very young associate vice president that was on her team. And what I was doing was I was actually micromanaging some stuff like; I wanting status reports probably too frequently on some stuff. I mean, we were moving at the speed of light, it seem like anyway, just trying to, you know, assimilate these acquisitions and then getting stuff done and dealing with problems and all this. And they were long days and short nights for sure. But this Lieutenant came to me and said, Gary, you know, Lisa, you are just killing her, you know?

 And I said, well, first of all, I’m really glad that she raised this to you. I wasn’t aware that I was doing it.

Steve Rush: Right.

Gary Frey: So, she has complete access, and I was a senior VP, and she was, you know, three rungs down. She can come to me anytime if she sees me kind of grab up in the wheel again, she has a permission to spank my hand. Like, no, no more of that, and I will adhere to it. So that was one thing but another one that was kind of hand in hand with this is, she said when’s the last time you ran? Because I was a big runner and I said, oh, it’s been a few days. And I said why? And she kind of looked at me, she’s go, Aah. I go, what do you mean? And she goes, well, your kind of edgy. I go, really? She goes, yeah. And so, she said, I’m going to take over your calendar and I’m going to make sure that at least three days of the business week, because on the weekends, I would run anyway. But at least three days, we’re going to put meet with Jim and that’s code to get your butt to the gym, strap on those running shoes and go run. And that was a huge thing for me, and my wife acknowledged that. She’s like, yeah. And so, I know that I’ll get more edgy. I want to get more controlling. If I’m not physically exerting myself and getting exercise to clear my head routinely. So not six days a week, period. I don’t miss it.

Steve Rush: Awesome.

Gary Frey: So that’s another one.

Steve Rush: Yeah. And the last part our listeners have become really accustomed to and love diving into is you get a chance to give Gary some advice when you were 21 and do that time travel. What would your advice to Gary 21 be?

Gary Frey: Well, I would’ve said ditch the Tom Selleck mustache that I was trying to hide behind first of all, it was ridiculous. But seriously I’m actually writing a book right now with this is the working title and it’s ignored the imposter, give me anything but typical. And the imposter syndrome was really heavy with me. College dropout, every job I was up for was masters preferred, bachelors required. And yet somehow, I landed these jobs, but I always felt less than, and I was always comparing myself to somebody else. And it’s been working with so many CEOs and entrepreneurs that I’ve realized that they have had some. There’s this woman, she had 10,000 employees at one point, privately held business. And she’s become a very good friend and she had two years of secretarial school. She never even had a CFO, even a fractional CFO when she had an organization that big, and she said, Gary, I don’t know what I’m doing.

I said, Tana, I know people that don’t even have a hundred employees that they still can’t survive without a fractional CFO or a CFO. You are far better than you thought. And some of those conversations just reinforced to me. Oh dang, you know, we’re all created uniquely. We all have unique fingerprints by design. And so, I’m very, very passionate about helping people understand, like, you know, that imposter syndrome none of us are immune to it necessarily, but there’s a way you can silence it and that’s, you know, and some of that kind of goes back to thrive, wither and being true to yourself is, you know Shakespeare said, right?

Steve Rush: Yeah, very much. So, Gary, I’ve loved chatting with you. You got loads of great stories, and I’m confident that our listeners would be thriving versus withing as a result of the conversation.

Gary Frey: I hope so.

Steve Rush: But how can we make sure that we can get them in touch with you?

Gary Frey: Yeah, probably the easiest thing is just connected with me on LinkedIn, you know, it’s just Gary Frey at LinkedIn and that’s probably the easiest way to do it. I’m also on Instagram and again there, I’m just Gary Frey.

Steve Rush: Brilliant.

Gary Frey: But I love writing about leadership and things. Some of the crazy things that I’ve experienced to hopefully help and bless somebody else and give them encouragement. I’d be remiss if I mentioned we started a podcast like you.

Steve Rush: Absolutely

Gary Frey: A couple years ago and it’s called the Anything But Typical Podcast. And we just feature privately held business owners and entrepreneurs. And primarily in my City, Charlotte, I’ve had people from around the globe say, hey, can we be on that? And typical, I say, no, because I want to continue to elevate what’s happening in my own backyard first.

Steve Rush: Well, Gary this goes without saying thanks ever so much coming and sharing your stories with us and thanks being part of our Leadership Hacker Community.

Gary Frey: No thank you. It has been a blessing and just a ton of fun. So, thank you.

Steve Rush: Thanks Gary.


Steve Rush: I want to sign off by saying thank you to you for joining us on the show too. We recognize without you, there is no show. So please continue to share, subscribe, and like, and continue to get in touch with us with the great new stories that we share every week. And so that we can continue to bring you great stories. Please make sure you give us a five-star review where you can and share this podcast with your friends, your teams, and communities. You want to find us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @leadershiphacker, Leadership Hacker on YouTube and on Instagram, the_leadership_hacker and if that wasn’t enough, you can also find us on our website Tune into next episode to find out what great hacks and stories are coming your way. That’s me signing off. I’m Steve Rush, and I’ve been your Leadership Hacker.

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