Ep. 105 – Sullivan & Stanley COO, Kevin Corne

Ep. 105 – Sullivan & Stanley COO, Kevin Corne

The COO’s main role is to complement the CEO in order to make sure that the company’s mission and goals are being achieved. Sullivan & Stanley COO, Kevin Corne considers himself as the other half beside the organization’s visionary, Pat Lynes. The two go a long way, having built a relationship with each other even before starting the company. Their synergy has allowed S&S to thrive amidst the pressures of the current crisis. Joining Cameron Herold for this episode, Kevin shares how S&S’s forward-thinking approach has helped it keep business moving forward in a remote working environment, the systems the company has in place to grow their remote members, the company’s approach towards meetings and accountabilities, and the qualities the company is looking for it the people it hires. He also gives us some insights on effectively communicating with the CEO in the case of disagreements.

Kevin Corne’s role as the Chief Operating Officer is to complement Pat Lynes in his Chief Executive position, driving S&S vision while building, implementing, and operating a scalable and sustainable business to support the needs of customers today and in the future. Outside of work, when Kevin is not spending time with his wife, Helen, and their three kids, you’ll find him playing a round of golf or fishing on a quiet lake. Kevin also enjoys mountain biking, motorsports such as F1, baseball, rugby, and he’s a big fan of sci-fi. He’s also a member of the COO Alliance and Kevin is based in the UK. He and his wife are both raising their kids and working from home because we’re in the midst of this COVID-19 virus outbreak that’s happening globally. Kevin, welcome to the show.

It’s good to speak to you.

Let’s not dive right into the whole COVID-19. I wanted to cover that a little bit but tell us a little bit what Sullivan & Stanley is and what you guys do as a company and we can start from there.

The background to Sullivan & Stanley was primarily around Pat’s previous career. Pat was a successful Senior Interim Recruiter in the executive space, so he built an amazing network of CXOs over many years. He got to a point where he realized that that market needed to change. He saw an opportunity around where those skills and those talents were being used aligned to management consultancy. Sullivan & Stanley was born out of that pivoting moment in Pat’s career. We built a model around business transformation and it was designed to challenge the management consultancy model they exist today but leveraging the power of the crowd.

One of the unique aspects of our model is building a community of what would be considered contractors, as a global term, we call them associates to help us deliver business transformation and change across any element within the business, but primarily at the moment focused around technology. That’s how the company started. That’s the journey we’re on. I joined in early 2019 to help Pat and primarily to build scalability and structure. The model was successful. I needed the structure in place to help it grow not just in the UK, but around the world.

If I was to put some of that in layman’s terms or to reframe for myself, could I say that you have a team of freelancers globally who operate as teams and go in and do the work that the big major consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey might do?

In an essence, that’s it. There are services wrapped around that so it’s not just about providing capability and skills within that community to ensure that we deliver it. What we focus in is building an engagement with a client that is thrown around deliverables and outcomes, which is quite critical right now in today’s market, especially with what’s going on with COVID-19. That’s basically the model. It is designed, not purposely argued, but it does challenge the traditional management consultancy model where there’s a potential to be a playbook approach in that respect. That’s one of the reasons I joined Sullivan & Stanley. I’d been on the receiving end of that many times in both organizations I worked with in Lexmark and Xerox where there are a significant time and money spent on a management consultancy model that didn’t bear any fruit to the business. If anything, they provided a massive disruption.

When Pat approached me and we talked about the model that he was looking at, and I’d been involved right before the company started, he used me as a bit of a sounding board to test the model out in my prior role and I loved it. I thought it was a smart play to bring a community of individuals together that are proven experts that lived it. They’ve got the scars, as we say. To be able to bring together that high performing team to, in essence, solve some of the world’s most complex business problems was an amazing model.

Tell us about what clients do you look for. Walk us through the typical kinds of engagements that you’d like to have as a company?

That’s an interesting one for us right now because there’s this high demand in what we’re doing. We challenge ourselves on that. We look at it as a front to back model. In some cases, we’ll be looking at leadership advisory, change management, in that respect as well, all the way down to delivery in engineering. We can all arguably cover front to back everything in the organization. What we’re looking for though are clients that resonate with our approach. It will be to chase every opportunity and every deal, even though there’s plenty of them out there right now. We are looking for clients that are resonating with our approach and that are willing to look at change.

One of the ways we’ve approached that is we’ve got our own scorecard called change ready six. We can go into business and identify the leadership team right at the board level. Do they want to change? Are they ready for change and transformation? We’re quite diligent in the engagement process upfront to make sure that we qualify the right client because the intention is not to drive for every opportunity. We are looking for clients that are definitely aligned to our business model right now.

Sure. How many markets do operate in?

As in countries?

Yeah.

We’re now operating in four countries. The UK is still the base. We’ve got an international business now that takes us into mainland Europe, so we have engineering teams in Hungary. We’ve been growing our network out in the Netherlands, which has been challenging but we put a lot of investment into that to be a Northwest hub, looking for business around Europe. One of the opportunities and challenges we got is definitely making sure there’s a cultural alignment in the model that we have using those associates.

In some countries, that is more challenging because of employment. We’re being quite purposeful in the countries we operate in, even though some of our clients are already global by nature. The great aspects of the model are, and it’s relevant right now, that technically, we can work from any country for any country. We’re doing work right now arguably in the UK for a global retailer that has a footprint in multiple countries. We don’t have to be present in that country to still help them with their business transformation.

Let’s talk a little bit about this whole COVID-19 thing. How is this impacting your business and how are you working around that? Does a lot of your work happen on-site with clients or do you do much of that remotely?

There are two angles to it. One, the S&S team itself so people that are in the London HQ, we’ve operated a much cloud-centric model anyway. We’ve had a flexible way of working. We’ve been generally trying to create a model organization for ourselves. We definitely got to practice what we preach to our client so we’ve been running that model in the background anyway. When we made the decision before the government forced the situation to work remotely, it was relatively straightforward for us. As a team, we already had the tech in place to be able to resume with handouts to be able to communicate with each other by video. All the information that we use, whether it’s our CRM, all the systems are in the cloud already. I could walk everyone out of the office, flick the switch, and we can operate remotely and we have been successful ever since, which is great. Our associates in the field requires similar model, but we’ve had to align to the way the customers have been set up.

In this climate, we’ve taken a lead but 100% of our associate base working for customers are working remotely and having no issue. Most of our clients have done that with all their teams anyway but we operate a Slack model as well so we use Slack with our team. We’ve had continuous communication with our associates and we have individual teams and channels within that client level. We’ve been an enabler for them but also, we’ve aligned closely to what the customers wanted to do as well and respect that. Up until this moment, we’ve had no issue operating like that. If anything, the customers are encouraging it. The way we contract with clients is primarily around deliverables and outcomes. Under UK legislation, although that did get delayed by a year because of COVID-19, there was no requirement for a contract or somebody in that model to be on-site in the clients’ environment. They encouraged the work to be done off-site and it is measured on deliverables.

This is going to seem a bit of a silly question. I was looking at my prep page in your bio. Where did the name of Sullivan & Stanley come from? Was it picked to make you guys look like a typical consulting agency?

SIC 105 | Sullivan & Stanley COO
Sullivan & Stanley COO: The CEO and COO should take the time to grow closer with each other and build trust.

 

There are two answers to this one. One’s a funny, but I have hired two individuals into my team with surnames Sullivan and Stanley. I could say they were the founders but that clearly is not the right answer. It’s Pat’s children. Pat has two lovely boys, one called Sullivan and one called Stanley. When Pat was thinking about what he was trying to do, and the vision was clear, it’s to inspire future work for the next generation. He was looking at his kids and thinking, “We know the environment we need to create for the future of business.” It’s clear to him and clear to me now. What better way to start that than to call the company by your kids’ names? It’s a touching moment and Pat’s got a great video online for anyone that wants to look at that through the website. It’s perfect and it means that every day we get up and work for Sullivan & Stanley. There’s this purpose behind it. It’s around our children, around the future business, and for an environment for the next generation.

That’s a touching story. It ties so closely into the core purpose of the organization that it makes such logical sense. It’s interesting. Have you guys ever had any press around the name, how the name was selected, and how it ties into your core purpose and how a company chooses its name?

Not really. The essence of the business when it started was primarily around media. One of Pat’s first hires was a media expert. Right at the beginning we did our own press around that. I wasn’t there at the time, but we didn’t engage in any story around the name itself other than the video that Pat originally did, which he shared within the community and the network. It’s an interesting one. We should probably look back on that because it is important. We’ve got a piece of work that we did with CBS News, which hopefully will get launched in the US. It is mentioned in there as well, so that articulates the message.

It has to become one of the core five messages that your company always mentions in every sales pitch to potential customer and media journalist that you can talk to on social media. It has to become part and parcel of how you explain your services, your products, and your people. The reason we chose our name is to be this company that passes on and works through the generations and it was such a cognizant reason for starting. It’s not saying that goes up on the wall.

Agreed. It’s an important point. Even beyond past children, as you pointed out in my intro, I’ve got three kids similar age to that, and especially right now in a humble way, it resonates every day. I’ve got my kids at home. I’m looking at what the world is going to look like in the future and I’m beyond passionate now on making this reality for the future generation. I’ve got an ability in my career now that has got laser focus around creating an environment of future work and future business for the next generation. For me, in my career, that will be amazing if I will achieve it with that and the team. The purpose there is beyond belief, especially with the environment we’re living in.

How did Pat find you? How did you guys end up connecting in the beginning?

There’s another one that links to the power of the crowd and our model around the community. I’ve done some work early in my career around 2005 and 2006 with a gentleman called Adrian Stalham. He was working in a retailer in the UK called Dixon’s at the time in retailer, and they were going through a transformation. He was running the program of work there. Arguably, he was my customer. We built a great relationship. We did a big technical transformation for that organization over many months. We got to know each other well. We shared some common interests around things like photography as well. I kept that relationship. I’ve been passionate around building my network over many years as Pat has in different ways and I’ve kept in contact with Adrian.

It was in 2019 that I decided to have a normal catch up, grab a beer, as you do in the UK in a pub and we were talking about the journey Adrian had been on. He had been working for S&S at that time, probably coming into three years. He was asking for my advice on potential experts to come in to take the position of COO. At that time, I was in a sales leadership role so it wasn’t an obvious choice at that moment in time, but we started talking about this and I was already looking at some of the people in my network that could potentially provide that service to the business. We were driving home and we phoned each other back and I went, “That’s me.” I’m looking back over my career and going, “That’s me.”

I’ve had a great career and great opportunity with both organizations to take many roles and I thought, “This is the moment. I can bring this all together now with one role and one clear vision around supporting a CEO to fulfill the vision of the business.” The rest was history. Adrian set up the meeting with Pat and we had a relatively extensive process because it’s important. Second in command, as you say, you can’t make a mistake with that hire. We both did quite a diligent process with each other. It’s a thing you never look back on and I joined in 2019. Definitely the power of the crowd, the community, and managing the community is important because that arguably got the opportunity to get to know Pat and get the opportunity to join Sullivan & Stanley.

How do you guys stay on the same page? Pat clearly has a good vision for what he’s building and what you guys are doing as an organization. How do you stay on the same page as he is with vision and how do you get him to stay on the same page with you in terms of the plan, execution, where you’re going, or how you’re going to make it happen?

I’ll start on trust with that one. Pat realized that the relationship we needed to have and I wanted needed to be extremely tight, probably tighter than any other relationship in my career I’ve had and Pat wanted that. We spent some personal time even before I started to get to know each other so we could build that level of trust so we knew each other’s ticks and that was important. Pat is an amazing entrepreneur. His thought process and drivers are different from mine, which is great. We do complement each other well. We had to start out on the right foot and it worked. You could argue the degree of faith in where we got to because I don’t think I ever want to work with another man of his caliber now. I’ve done that in my career.

We started out in that place. The cadence and approach on making sure that we are challenging each other, being open and honest with each other and that did get better over time. We try to find each other’s barriers to how we approach difficult conversations, both with each other and with members of staff. It has taken time to grow closer with each other and build that trust and bond. Especially in this environment, we’re in constant communication even though we’re remote. We’re relentlessly transparent with each other on everything. We talk about chatter as a concept so we’re constantly feeding into each other what we’re hearing. We’re challenging each other on the concept of the vision, the direction, how we’re building the operating model, the organizational structure behind it and we expand that to the leadership team as well.

It’s that constant communication and challenge in a positive way, and the fact we know each other’s strengths. Cameron, the first COO Alliance session was great because it gave me a foundation as well to challenge the leadership team looking at their strengths and capabilities, to make sure that we’re totally aligned so that was a great take away from that session, but I already had it with Pat. This environment is definitely testing when we’re remote. We are over-communicating, which is great but it’s important. We’re seeing an opportunity, in a good way to be able to help our clients, both existing and new in this challenging environment and we care about it. Everything’s got to be purposeful. We’re making sure that we’re not getting busy and that we’re focusing on what’s important, maybe lesser than what’s urgent right now.

You and he have got a great working relationship and stay on the same page. One of the core roles of the COO is always to be able to say no to the entrepreneur, to be the person who calls them out and lets them know that they’re standing naked like the Emperor’s New Suit. How do you tell Pat that either A, that’s a great idea but now is not the time or B, yes, thanks for the idea, but we’re never doing it? How do you balance that out with him and how do you do it?

Pat, by nature, has got an amazing brain so he’s constantly coming up with great ideas, which all eventually will need to be put into production. I do have to, I wouldn’t say reign it in isn’t probably the right way of phrasing it but definitely challenge it. If we boil the ocean, we’re going to get nowhere. When you start out with that trust in the beginning, I can be professionally be brutal to Pat in that respect to say, “No, it’s not the right time,” and definitely give him counseling and advice looking at all the different options. I definitely would do my research. I won’t go in with a no. It’ll be, “I’ve evaluated the situation, especially where we are right now looking forward.”

I’ve had to do a lot of groundwork to evaluate the situation and the options and the direction we could take and give that clearly to Pat and have a positive challenge around it. It’s like, “No, that’s definitely not the right thing to do now, and here are the reasons why.” This is what we could look at in the future and that will be the right time to introduce that change or adaption to the business. Because there’s a good foundation for a relationship, I can be genuine with Pat and say no but I do my homework. I don’t say no, I definitely always have an answer to suggest the reasons why. I give some options and alternatives.

Do you ever do that with the other members of the team around or do you only say no to him privately? I’m curious how you may do it publicly or if you ever do?

No. That’s to respect the position of the CEO. We never want to undermine each other in the broader team context, maybe a little bit more so in the leadership team and when we’re doing board meetings. Generally, I respect his position and we normally will do that outside of the rest of the team. They respect that as well. The last thing that anyone would want to see is that healthy debate and it normally is. It’s never an argument. It’s a healthy debate. I do maintain the privacy around that and that’s the right approach.

I used to try to do that at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? with Brian. I used to try to have any of the big issues that I disagreed with I would deal with him one-on-one directly. We built a strong culture in our leadership team level that it was okay for anyone to debate the issue with anyone else sitting at the table if we were debating the issue for the good of the company. It was almost like, “I don’t want to have to tell you this privately. I disagree with what you’re saying and here’s why.” The rest of the team would get it, but it was always a balancing act between how often am I disagreeing with them versus how often am I figuring out what he’s saying. Sometimes it’s about getting more information and data before we react to their ideas.

I’ve always been a good listener. It’s my natural trait. I definitely want to absorb information, process, and come back with a response. That is something I’m learning as I grow, because sometimes you don’t have the time to do that. You’ve got to capture the moment, but I definitely try and take everyone’s point of view and come back with a structured response that puts the line of sight to the client and to the customer. We’ve always got to remember why we’re here. We’re here to serve our customers, but also for the health of the business as well so we don’t get too distracted from the core purpose that we set out on the call right now.

SIC 105 | Sullivan & Stanley COO
Sullivan & Stanley COO: It’s a priority in the business to make sure it hires the right individual who is curious and wants to learn and grow.

 

Let’s talk and talk about coordinating the team. How many numbers are on your leadership team now?

We’ve got four in the leadership team.

You’re all remote, correct?

We are now, yeah.

How do you organize and keep all those members of the leadership team on the same page? What meeting rhythms do you have to operate or the leadership team would operate the company by?

The leadership team plays a cadence of one session every other day. We do a longer session on Monday to set out how the week is going to play out. We get complete alignment on how we’re driving the rest of the team. We check in on a Wednesday and we do another one on a Friday. That’s our leadership team level. In this climate as a broader team, we’re doing one in the morning, and one at the end of the day. We’re trying to keep regular communication, face-to-face over video conferencing with the entire team to get check-in and make sure that they’re in a good place. Because of the potential impact mentally in this current environment, being stuck at home doesn’t work for everybody but to make sure that we’ve got the complete alignment.

The three key goals that we focused on right now, which is to protect our basic customers and associates, promote the business from within as well to make sure that we’re looking after business health, and grow it to help new customers. In this climate, we are winning business which is great for us but primarily, it’s because of what services we offer. The roll around transformation is going to be so important where you’ve got a lot of organizations that were not ready for this to operate in a digital environment with their business model. It’s a bit of a mix. Three times in the week from a leadership team level, and every day with the broader team to make sure we’re all aligned.

In terms of growing your people, do you guys have any mentality or methodology internally? I know that you came to the COO Alliance event that we had in Arizona. In fact, you flew from the UK over to the event to grow your own skills? What systems do you have in place to grow your team or your employees?

This has been a great part of joining S&S. We take a broad approach around personal growth and that could be anything from how to help somebody be a better version of themselves from a physical point of view, from a health point of view, from a dietary point of view. Pat’s introduced into our network, both with employees, associates, and experts in that field. We did a call on that with a life coach expert around nutrition and how to manage yourself working from home and we extended that to the network so there’s that side to it. We definitely promote that by giving access to the gym and all that stuff because we definitely want to help the team.

There’s individual coaching being provided to the team as well based on particular needs so that exists. One of the hires that we made was Adrian Stalham, the gentleman that got me into S&S. We put him in as a permanent player and he’s our Chief Strategic Coach. He has a coaching background. Not only does he help clients and, and our associates, but he’s also helping the team internally as well. Outside of that, we’ve got a rigorous structure which we built around the 4×4 model, which is looking at the best performance, best results, being a hero, and what makes us crazy. It’s a structured approach we’ve got for every member of the team It’s a 90-day cadence.

A lot of what we do in the businesses is around 90 days, but we do a check-in every month on that and now that will become opportunities to help develop the team. Give them extra training and extra learning especially now. It’s a great opportunity to provide a platform for that so I’m already looking at other eLearning opportunities for the team. It might be one of your suggestions, Cameron. We’re doing a book a week now with the team as well. We’ve got a bit of a book club going on. We’re going to do a wrap up on a Friday to get feedback and learnings from what everyone took from that as well. Because the network is full of experts, we were trying to leverage that.

We work with another expert around some proposal building, to run multiple sessions with the team to take them to the next level. I’ve done a session around negotiation training as well because I’ve been on a couple of quite advanced training myself and I wanted to share that experience with the team. In every level of the business, whether it’s about the individual themselves or about skills or capability, we’re trying to provide an ongoing learning platform to improve the capability. Generally, we want everyone to be the best version of themselves. It’s a two-way street, though. They need to lean in and take that opportunity and that’s where the coaching comes in to try and encourage and give people the understanding of what benefits that will bring to themselves to the business in the longer-term.

We had a COO Alliance event in 2019 and we were talking about growing our people and how we had to be obsessed about growing our people. Somebody put their hand up and they said, “Why don’t we be obsessed about hiring people that like to grow themselves.” I was like, “That’s good.” When you hire these self-driven learners, they’re always going to be working on growing themselves and it doesn’t become pushing rope. It was an interesting concept to make that part of what you’re looking for as a person. Look for someone who’s always into self-growth and you line them up with business books and off they go.

We definitely go in the hiring approach now. It was there anyway but we put up a little bit more structure around it with the team so we’re looking for that individual who’s curious. I’ve had that throughout my entire career. It’s helped me in good stead. I’ve always wanted to know how something works before I tell somebody else to do it and I’ve wanted to learn consistently. I’ve not been the greatest reader, but that’s something I’m growing into. Looking for that curious behavior is critical right now. Hardly anyone wants passengers in their business. We can’t afford to carry anyone and it’s letting our customers down if we do. We do have that as a priority in the business to make sure we hire the right individual who is curious and wants to learn and grow.

Tell me about any insights that you picked up at the COO Alliance event that you came to. At our last event that you were at, the theme was budgeting, reporting, planning, and goal setting. Walk me through any of the big insights that you walked away with there.

There were many. Some of the approaches that I picked up from what you presented around running the business with some of the forms, some of the ways we can look at it, making difficult decisions, etc. The session around budgeting was great. Front of mind, I’d literally hired a financial controller to take our accounting and finance practice in-house. Everything I’ve been working on came into a great position for that session to get into it. Some of the key takeaways were around the thing about budgeting was around meetings. Thank you for sharing Meetings Suck. I’m definitely implementing that. They’ll probably be one of the next books in the reading club going forward.

As you are probably aware, we also already started the Vivid Vision approach. That’s in its final element of production. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share that with you, if you haven’t seen a draft for that. That’s two big takeaways. The one that did resonate not just where I am now, but my entire career is allowing mediocre individuals to exist in the business. I forget the exact term you were looking at but if I look in my career, having the wrong staff in the organization, you don’t realize the impact that has not only to them but also to the rest of the business in the leadership team.

Your logic around 15X cost to the business did resonate primarily around the previous career thinking that in my corporate world, you don’t turn a blind eye to it. Sometimes you don’t have the ability to address it. I look back now and think that that was a major impact of slowing down opportunities for success and growth. In most cases, it’s good people in the wrong role. The way that our operating model worked in prior organizations, we let them down and we let the business down. We should have a speedier decision on it.

We end up spending so much of our time taking care of our C-players instead of getting rid of our C-players and spending our time with our A and B players and giving them the real time that they need.

I’ve touched on it a couple of times in my career with other experts that looked outside in and given some advice. It ties back to a lot of what we’re doing on the front line with our client wise. One of the key aspects of our advice we would give to a client. I do wonder whether the traditional management consultancy model doesn’t get into that level of detail in the right way to flush that out. It comes back to us being relentless on the qualification right upfront. If you can’t make some tough decisions, and you’re going to allow that to continue to exist in the business, you’re going to struggle to change and transform.

SIC 105 | Sullivan & Stanley COO
Sullivan & Stanley COO: The COO plans for the worst and hopes for the best, but getting to it early is key.

 

You guys have probably got the right insight, balance, and all that. How about yourself? Are there any core lessons that you’ve adopted or had to change for yourself?

As my career has changed over time, I’ve naturally grown in a stable way into having different responsibilities in my different leadership roles. What I arguably wasn’t prepared for was the sheer extent of a true COO position, the breadth of that, and the importance of it. Admittedly, over many years, I picked up the skills and capability to be able to position myself in that role. To now be in it, right in the beginning was like, “There’s a lot to do.” I joke with Pat. We’ve built quite a structured transition plan, which was visible to the entire business. It wasn’t between me and him. It was a twelve-month plan that ended up being twelve weeks. I’m a hard worker anyway. I was happy in my career.

Me and the Chief Transformation Officer that started at the same time, Darren Linden, were talking to each other and sharing with the team that we were doing in a week when a corporate could take 1 or 3 months. That was huge learning, but it was a great one because you felt every day was a good day. We don’t come to work anymore. It’s a different work and that’s great. It’s a great environment to be in but it had a purpose. Every day you walk away going, “I made a difference.” I’ve got a great opportunity with what Pat’s given me to have full-spectrum and management over the entire organization to be able to help everyone on that journey as well. It’s the complexity and speed. The interesting one with an entrepreneur-led organization is we can make a decision there and then. That was interesting. That was one byproduct of not working in a corporate. I’m like, “We can design it and implement it right now.” It’s good and bad.

My girlfriend worked for a large organization and she was always frustrated at the amount of time that would be wasted without anything getting done and the amount of time where people would work on getting something done. By the time it went out the door, they wanted to change it again and in the entrepreneurial environment, that doesn’t happen. It seems like it’s about creating momentum.

That was a positive outcome and Pat’s definitely risen to that challenge and to the team.

Tell me about what you mean that was bad though, because there’s a lesson in there. Are we too entrepreneurial at times? What do you see as the detriment of that?

We touched on it earlier, because it is so easy to change and pivot. You could do it literally every day. There’s definitely a part of my career living in a corporate environment where that stability is needed. We arguably did set out, probably without knowing it, to boil the ocean. We needed to rein that back and get grounded around that. We’ve gone with five strategic pillars that everyone aligns to the organization and make sure that we get something into production before we start reinventing it. We’re conscious of what we want to build like assets in the organization that we can share with our community and our clients which is great. We can continue to do that, but we don’t want to keep reinventing the business. We’ve definitely grounded that. What we talked about is moving from S&S 1.0 to 2.0. We agree that the line in the sand was the 1st of April 2020. That has grounded everyone. It has given everyone clear direction either the vision of the business and what we’re doing.

I’d be remiss to not ask about any of the lessons that you’ve learned from dealing in this COVID-19 environment. You’re right in the thick of it. I don’t even think you’ve hit the panic stage yet. New York is at the height of its panic anyway. What have you learned as a company? How have you had to adapt as a company in this environment that we’re in? Are there any big lessons?

There are loads on that. The key one is always the strength of leadership. As much as it is a frightening time and there are lots of unknowns. There’s some hope when you look at where China is now. Our team is relatively young. They’ve not experienced a recession in most cases. I remember when I was planning for the Millennium Bug a few years back. Strengthen leadership has been key, especially my role. If it seems that I’m worried and they can see I’m worried, that will seriously worry them. I’ve had to genuinely provide that strength of leadership but not only to the team but also to Pat, the CEO. I’ve got control over the numbers, the projections, and the investments we’re making. We’ve had to quickly gain a risk analysis on different scenarios that could play out. I quickly went into that mode.

I’d already sat down with Jess who leads our PR function to get into it. I said, “We’ve got to start planning before we start panicking.” I didn’t have the foresight and I generally hoped I got it wrong, but I could see something like this happening. While we could, when we’re in a stable and sensible environment, start planning, writing the cons, and building the plans. I’d already started building some of the analysis of what could happen around revenue streams and what we would need to do around cost management as well. That advanced planning prep is definitely a key takeaway.

Different countries have approached it in different ways to try and manage and promote a positive view but in a COO role, I had to plan for the worst and hope for the best but getting into the early was key. It was strength leadership for the team, planning and prep, and constant evaluation of that. We’ve had to dial up the intensity of around our visibility in the business around the numbers. I don’t think it’s overkill but we’ve got into a daily cadence on that. It was great timing for me to hire a financial controller to be able to delegate a big part of that. That’s critical right now to get a sense of what’s happening within our client base so we can foresee any changes there both good and bad and making sure that the planning and budgeting are flawless so we can make the right decisions.

There’s something that’s coming right now in terms of leadership where we have to be able to continually provide perspective to the rest of our team. That leadership has to be that state of calm, reason, and focus. Someone sent me a note and he said, “There are 500,000 people on the planet right now that have the disease.” I quickly did the math and I and I emailed them back right away, and I said, “There are 500,000 people that have it and there are 7,000,499,500 people who don’t.” When you look at the numbers and put perspective, you’re like, “It’s not even a rounding error.” Yes, 500,000 people have got it but if you even think about the UK, I don’t know how many million people are in the UK. We have to be able to provide that state of common perspective and yes, take things seriously but also get back to work and keep focused. Otherwise, we have companies that are at risk and people’s jobs as well. It’s a delicate time.

It is one of our core values around community first level commerce and we’re definitely dialing that up. We are running virtual webinars now to help provide advisory boards to clients. Some of the workshops around that are how to manage to work from home. We’re definitely trying to help our community, whether it’s clients, associates, or contractors. It’s critical right now that we pay it forward and we’ve seen especially in the UK some amazing changes around big corporates paying it forward and doing the right thing. It’s quite humbling to see what’s happening. The world is uniting and we’re looking after each other as humans.

There is great stuff coming out of that for sure. Kevin, if you were to go back and talk to your 21 or 22-year-old self, you’re graduating from university or college and you’re getting ready to embark on your career, what word of advice would you go back and give yourself then that now you know to be true, but you wouldn’t have known at 21 or 22?

Genuinely, I’d say don’t be afraid. Don’t overthink it. One of my qualities around being curious and wanting to know how everything works. That also helped me back in the early part of my career, because I overthought it. I was too worried about what others might think and the impact of it. I definitely would advise myself. Don’t overthink it. Be brave. Take one step at a time but don’t hold back. Don’t let anyone knock you back. Keep moving forward. Be positive.

I had a great career in those early days. I wouldn’t change anything but if I look back now, I could have made a massive difference earlier on in my 20s and 30s compared to what I did. I’m looking at my kids and I’m trying to make sure that I create an environment so they’ve got the confidence to do it exactly the right way. Because it’s going to be the world they’re going to grow up in, it’s going to look different so I want to give them the confidence and capability to be able to approach their career and their time in a different way.

Kevin Corne, the Chief Operating Officer for Sullivan & Stanley, thank you so much for being here with us on the show. I appreciate your time.

Thank you, Cameron. I loved it.

Say hi to Pat, as well. Take care.

I will. Bye

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About Kevin Corne

SIC 105 | Sullivan & Stanley COOSullivan & Stanley is a full-service consulting disruptor, working closely with companies to get to the root of their problems. Collaborating with their clients, they develop unique solutions and convert them into 90-day outcomes.

Kevin’s role as Chief Operating Officer is to complement Pat in his Chief Executive position driving the S&S vision, whilst building, implementing and operating a scalable and sustainable business, that supports the needs of our customers today and in the future.

Outside of work, when Kev is not spending time with his wife Helen and their three kids, you’ll find him playing a round of golf or fishing on a quiet lake. Kevin also enjoys mountain biking, motorsports such as F1, baseball, rugby and is a big fan of Sci-Fi.

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