Ep. 155 – Bunn-O-Matic Executive Vice President, Mark Watson

Our guest today is Mark Watson, the Executive Vice President for Bunn-O-Matic. 

Mark loves challenges, both personal and professional.  He would prefer to fail at a huge challenge than succeed at an easy challenge.  In his career, he has always chosen to do the hard assignments and big challenges. In his opinion, the hard road is where personal and professional growth are realized.  Personal challenges began early with the death of his father during his junior year in high school.  Next came children and one with special needs.  Most recently, a terminal disease diagnosis (also dubbed his superpower) with less than a year to live.  With some luck, love, faith, soul searching, study, and persistence, those challenges have only served to make the journey deeper and more meaningful.

Some of Mark’s professional challenges include volunteering for multiple operational and financial rescues, both foreign and domestic, while working for a Fortune 100 company to now leading a medium sized mid-western manufacturer through growing pains and COVID-19.  

Mark’s first book, Joyous Leadership, is scheduled to be released later this year.  The book focuses on how anyone can take their story, refocus, tilt the prism to the light, and have a beautiful joyous journey. 

Mark believes in giving back and paying it forward. He is always on the lookout for opportunities to do both. Mark finds making a difference in the lives of others, whether big or small, he finds them both very rewarding.  


In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • The keys to the growth of Bunn-O-Matic 
  • The difference between working at a big corporate environment versus a more entrepreneurial environment 
  • What was done within Bunn-O-Matic to stay “nimble” and entrepreneurial
  • How to connect the team with the vision of the organization 
  • Areas that COVID exposed in which Bunn-O-Matic is improving 
  • Conflict management within the leadership and staff 
  • How Bunn-O-Matic maintains its focus on being a solution provider
  • Company culture in their branch in Asia and how it compares and differs with their homebase  



Connect with Mark Watson: LinkedIn 

Bunn-O-Matic – https://www.bunn.com


Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn

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Our guest is Mark Watson, the Executive Vice President for BUNN. Mark loves challenges, both personal and professional. He would prefer to fail at a huge challenge than succeed at an easy challenge. In his career, he’s always chosen to do hard assignments and big challenges. In his opinion, the hard road is where personal and professional growth is realized. Personal challenges began early with the death of his father during his junior year in high school. Next came children, one with special needs.

Most recently, a terminal disease diagnosis also dubbed his superpower with less than a year to live. With some luck, love, faith, soul searching, study, and persistence, those challenges have only served to make the journey deeper and more meaningful. Some of Mark’s professional challenges include volunteering for multiple operational and finance rescues, both foreign and domestic while working with a Fortune 100 company to now leading a medium-sized Midwestern manufacturer through growing pains and COVID-19.

Mark’s first book, Joyous Leadership, is scheduled to be released. The book focuses on how anyone can take their story, refocus, tilt the prism to the light, and have a beautiful, joyous journey. Mark believes in giving back and paying it forward. He’s always on the lookout for opportunities to do both. He finds making a difference in the lives of others very rewarding, whether big or small. Mark, welcome to the show.

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment

Joyous Leadership: Stories of Learnings Along the Way

Thanks for having me, Cameron. I’m looking forward to this. Thank you.

I’m looking forward to this as well. First off, I have to say I’m sorry about losing your dad at such a young age. That must have been a pretty brutal challenge.

It was a challenge but it defined me. My father was also an entrepreneur. I had already gotten the bug from some of the challenges he faced. It was a challenge but I later saw that as a blessing. It lost me out of the nest. It was a great experience after it was all over.

I had spent a day in a maximum-security prison about two and a half years ago. I was there as a visitor, which was a level-four maximum security. It was the highest maximum-security prison in the United States. I was with guys who had been in there for between 18 and 34 years. These are very hardened criminals but they were all being released. They were in a training program to become entrepreneurs because they realized that no one would hire these people. They needed to unless they wanted to go back to crime. If they have to make money, they got to have to do it themselves.

They built this entrepreneur and residence program inside of this prison. I was talking to these guys, and one of them said, “No matter how hard you have been on your children, and no matter how rough life has been on your children, the world is going to be a much tougher place. Anything you’ve gone through gets them ready for the future.” You are right. The passing of your father at a young age in high school has defined you and made you what you are. I’m sure he would be pretty proud of your career. First off, tell me what Bunn is, and then let’s go back into your journey of how you arrived at being the COO there as well.

It’s an interesting journey. The Bunn family is very intriguing. There’s actually a book out about the Bunn family. They are a line of entrepreneurs. An interesting tidbit about them is that their first attorney was Abraham Lincoln. We are in the land of Lincoln here in Springfield. They had several businesses. Now, the business that the family is in is BUNN-O-Matic. The short name is Bunn. We are a beverage dispenser company primarily known for our coffee-making abilities and dispensing of coffee. We do other things. We do juice dispensers, water dispensers, and any kind of juice delivery or drinks we deliver.

We are all in the major places that you go. In Canada, as you would know, every 5 miles of the road there in Canada, you go to that place. We do all their coffee equipment. It became this little entrepreneurial company that supports a global network of suppliers of beverage dispenser companies. How I got here is that I started at a Fortune 100 company years ago. Cameron, everybody knows you as Cameron. I got known as Mr. Fix It by crazy chance.

I was at the airport. The lady at the desk said, “Your flight has been changed to Frankfurt, Germany.” I said, “I don’t know anyone in Frankfurt, Germany.” She said, “Here’s the number you are supposed to call, and this is where you’re headed. Your flight leaves in an hour.” I called the number, and it’s our group president. He goes, “We bought a facility over there, and it is down. It is not running. I have been told you are the guy.” I did not even know this was the group president. My first assignment was in Frankfurt, Germany. It was to get a manufacturing place going again.

First, I was bitter about these assignments. I’m thinking, “Why am I always the guy getting called to go to these places?” I now realize that was my gift. Now I thought, “This is awesome.” I went to two more foreign countries after that and did some similar work with financial planning and some regrowth of the business. One day my phone rang, and it was Bunn-O-Matic.

They wouldn’t tell me who they were. They said, “We’re Midwestern guys. We would like somebody to lead our global operations.” I said, “That sounds great. What have you got?” They said, “We don’t have much. We would like to start that.” That intrigued me because, number one, it was an entrepreneurial company. It was something that excites me. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even in my problem-solving, working for the Fortune 100s.

It was exciting for the fact that I had some freedom to take a big vision and put some wheels on it. Anyway, through about six months of negotiating, talking back and forth about what their vision was, and then meeting with the owner, I was like, “I would like to do this. I would like to switch gears here, change my career, and work for an entrepreneur.” It has been like drinking from a fire hose since then. It has been a blast. I loved it.

What’s the size of the company? You mentioned it was an entrepreneurial company but at the same time, you mentioned it has a global operation. You’ve got to be bigger than a real entrepreneurial company. How big or small are you?

Being a private company, we don’t share a lot of that information. The way we handle it is through distribution. We have a lot of contract employees around the world. We are in that neighborhood of a couple of thousand.

A couple of thousand employees is not an entrepreneurial company.

It was.

How many employees were there when you got there 7 or 8 years ago?

It’s probably about half of that. The owner is the second generation of this business. His father began the Bunn-O-Matic side of it. They were in a grocery distribution business prior to that. He took the company or I want to say started from his dad in the mid-’80s, and blew this thing up. He was everything. He would go on the road. He would sell and meet with these big international coffee companies. It’s not only the coffee roasters but the Starbucks of the world, the Dunkin’ Donuts, the big guys, and finding out what their needs were.

Here we were, this little small company. How do you support that? We chased the car, and now we caught it. What do you do? He had a passion for his customers and employees here. He’s a passionate guy in everything he does. He has such an allegiance to his customer, which has been the strength of the company. It has also driven growth. These global customers made us global whether we wanted to or not.

You skipped over something. You said that one of the keys to your growth had been the allegiance to your customers. It sounds like one of the other things that have been key to your growth is asking your customers what their needs are, and then you sell into that need.

That’s what he does. He goes and finds out. What we do is tell people, “We help you make money.” Our customers are at convenience stores, restaurants or their retail places of residence. They are taking our product and making money. We find out their pain points. We want to be invisible in their store. We want to be the reason they are making money.

I’ve seen your brand. When you said what it was, I was like, “I’ve seen them.” You are everywhere.

We are everywhere. You can’t go very far without seeing some of our equipment.

You said entrepreneurial a couple of times. For you, having worked for Fortune 100s and then coming down to a company as small as 1,000, it’s like when I left 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I took them from 14 people to 3,000. When I left, it was a big company for me. They brought in the former president of Starbucks US to replace me. She said, “What a cute little business this is.” That’s like you thinking 1,000 is entrepreneurial. What’s the difference in your mind now that you are the COO of this 2,000-person entrepreneurial company? What’s the difference for you working in a big corporate environment versus a more entrepreneurial one? What are the differences that you see?

I love big corporate. I’ve enjoyed my time at big corporate because there’s fun doing big deals, multimillion-dollar deals, and being able to change the world, being able to change the stock price possibly, and stuff like that. What is neat about an entrepreneurial company is that we are all in the room. We can make decisions fast. We can be so nimble. We can make changes that impact our business literally in minutes. You can’t do that in big corporate.

An entrepreneurial company means bringing everyone into a single room. This allows a team to make decisions fast and make impactful changes in minutes.

What have you done to keep that entrepreneurial? At Starbucks, they used to say, “Grow big. Act small.” What have you done inside of Bunn and Bunn-O-Matic to be a 2,000-person company but stay nimble and entrepreneurial? Some companies haven’t been able to do that.

It’s a challenge. Every day, we do a gut check almost to how we do this. One thing we do in our particular business is we take all of our key customers. They have a key account manager, if you will. We embed them when possible. We embed them in their business. We will be in their building. We share a cubicle, an office or whatever, and stay close. If we are not in their business, we stay close to their city. We will be there close by. We become a part of their enterprise. We don’t wait for them to call us. We don’t want to wait for them to have a problem.

We were somewhat wired for COVID. We didn’t know it. We had already put digital things in our process where we could communicate digitally. A lot of our equipment will send them signals or populated platforms. It will send messages to us, “I’m in trouble. I’m not getting cleaned. I’m not getting maintenance.” We want to be their solution provider. We don’t want to sell nuts and bolts.

As my boss or the owner says many times, “Anybody can sell a bucket of bolts.” Anybody can do that. We have competitors. What we sell is a solution. When you buy from us, we want to be known for making you money. We want to know your problems. If you didn’t make money from us, then we did something wrong.

It sounds like you stayed true to the core purpose. Sadly, it has become such a trendy thing. If I think back to your CEO in the ’80s and being out there on the road talking to customers and going for it, he was passionate about that cause. It sounds like that stayed as a thread throughout the business until now.

Even now, he will see customers. He will do customer meetings and work relentlessly. You won’t outwork this guy. That has been key because his passion is the customer. I’ve seen it many times. As all companies do, we have a code of ethics that we follow. If you want to see a guy that’s passionate about it, they are on his desk anytime you go in there. He will lose money on a project that the customer is not happy about. He will go the second mile to make sure he made something right if we mess something up. We don’t do that very often. That’s because of his passion for that. It’s fun to work for a winning team.

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment

Entrepreneurial Environment: Someone passionate about following your business code of ethics will go the second mile to make sure they can correct their mistakes.


Those aren’t just core values or passion statements that are up on the wall, either. You truly do live them. That’s the key difference, isn’t it?

That’s very key.

You talked about the vision. How do you connect your leadership team, the managers, the frontline staff, and even your customers with the vision for the organization?

We adapt to that throughout the year but at the beginning of every fiscal year for us or this calendar year, we do strategic planning. We do it in depth, all the way to the department level. Even our associates that are building our product, those core values are out there. We also communicate our vision, what we are doing this year, how we are trying to connect with our customers, what projects we are working on, and what we are trying to bring to fruition. We try to make all that visible. We don’t make it stagnant.

January 1 rolls out. COVID hits on March 15th. Guess what? Being a small innovative company, on March 16th, we changed. We changed fast. That excites people. I love sports sayings. Bobby Knight, supposedly one of his ex-wives, told him, “Bobby, the horse is dead. Get off of it.” You’ve heard people riding a dead horse or beating a dead horse. We don’t do that here. We move. If something doesn’t work, we move and change.

I wish I could remember who said this saying I heard. It’s like, “If you see a snake, don’t create an SOP on how to kill the snake. Just kill the snake.” Do you communicate? Is that a mantra or a mindset? Are you always communicating those to the employees or it becomes so part of the culture that you operate that way in almost unconscious confidence now?

It’s a little bit almost unconscious, I supposed. We still use a format. We use a strategy deployment format. Some people will call it the X grid. We start that at the executive level. That’s more of a visual and a gut check. “We’ve got these initiatives now but have we backed them up with resources? Who is in charge of that? What’s the metric we are going to use for that initiative?”

It’s easy to put something on the wall and say, “We are going to make our customers the happiest in the world.” What does that mean? How do you measure that? We are passionate about it. If you can’t measure it, it’s going to be hard to do. We drive that all the way to the metric so that we know whether we are making a difference or we don’t do good. We get immediate feedback. We try to make those as much as we can timely, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and so forth.

It’s easy to put core values on the wall. But if you cannot measure them, they will be hard to achieve.

When you are a large company or a 2,000-person entrepreneurial company, you’ve got a lot of data. You’ve got a lot of metrics. There’s a lot of stuff that’s being measured. How do you know what to measure and what to look for at the leadership team level? Secondly, how do you know or how does a business area know what they should be measuring?

That’s a good question. It’s funny you ask that because about 3 or 4 years ago, we went through that. I’m glad we did this. If we had a crystal ball, we would look like a genius, maybe. A few years ago, we were asking those same questions. “What do people know? What information do they have? How fast are they getting feedback?” We’ve invested millions of dollars into an IT system to allow us to give those feedback and run our data and our analytics.

We have a huge analytics team here. They analyze everything from our customer data to make sure we are pleasing our customers, all the way to our financial data and our internal. We developed a dashboard for our executive team. Our executive team during COVID has done this every day. We meet either through Zoom or have a big huge conference room where we can all meet and take our masks off. We are far enough apart but we meet every day. The first thing that’s on the wall is our live dashboard.

We’ve invested millions of dollars in this thing. Our analytics team populates that, and then the dashboard evolves. It’s everything from our sales revenue to our customer satisfaction, how well our receivables are going, the health of the business and our customer, and even the service of our team. We have a service company that’s part of our company. They have live dashboards for every customer.

We know how well we are servicing them and any potential flashpoints. Sometimes we’ve even called them and say, “We know we’ve got an outage in New York. Here’s what we are doing.” They go, “Do we have an outage in New York?” They don’t even know they have an outage. “Yes, we do. We got a service team going in.” It’s pretty fun.

You’ve got the dashboards. You are looking at them on a daily basis. You’ve got your analytics team populating it all. How many metrics are rolling up to your leadership team? Is it everything? It can’t be everything.

It’s not everything. It’s about tier. Our CEO is at the top level. We are doing a cut at the top level, and then we will have what we call a popcorn level. Something that might be a flashpoint that we say, “This is up and coming with one of the tier customers that we want to focus on.” They’ve changed management or their statements. We got to go around that. We do our popcorn thing in each of our areas.

That makes sure we don’t blindly look at a dashboard because sometimes the dashboard is after the problems already happen. You don’t want to do that. We pride ourselves in knowing something is coming before it populates the dashboard. We do that through our popcorn session, if you will. Those things are popping.

Is that your popcorn because you used to sell a popcorn machine to somebody or is it that things pop up?

It’s more things pop up. At one time, when we were in the grocery business, we sold popcorn. That’s why I say we are an entrepreneurial company. I didn’t tell you everything we do. We have a side business that you can get it online. It’s called Pease’s at BUNN Gourmet. We sell premium chocolate candy, premium meats, and premium popcorn. You have to google it. It’s the best in the world.

What’s it called?

Pease’s BUNN Gourmet. You can go to our website, Bunn.com, and you will see a link to our home products division.

I will check it out for sure.

If you ever come, Cameron, I will treat you to a filet from BUNN Gourmet. You won’t eat anything else.

I would love to. I was on a bus at a CEO event in Barcelona ten years ago. I was sitting beside this guy. I said, “What do you do?” He said, “I sell steaks online. I’m like, “Where are you from?” He’s like, “Omaha.” I’m like, “There’s a company in Omaha. You are Omaha Steaks?” He’s like, “Yeah.” That’s ridiculous. Are you doing more now as an organization online? Certainly, during COVID, we’ve migrated. What are you doing as a company your size to leverage online in terms of sales, marketing, connecting with customers, and that kind of stuff?

We’ve done a whole lot. We have been doing this. We were wired from COVID, and I don’t even think we realized it. We do a business recovery plan. We update it every year. We said, “What if a world pandemic happens?” We gloss over that. No pandemic is going to happen. We had already set up in our system to redeploy people to work from remote locations if we had a storm and all this stuff. Once March hit, we found out we could redeploy about 400 people quickly from our corporate office. We weren’t even sure the infrastructure would handle it but it did.

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment

Entrepreneurial Environment: Always keep an updated business recovery plan. This will prove helpful during a world pandemic.


What we’ve done with our customers because all of our customers are doing the same thing. They are masked up and can’t travel. We’ve done everything from virtual demonstrations of our equipment. We have a heavy training side. We do video training. We do it in person but we also do a classroom that’s online. We have what we call coffee gatherings in the Hangouts where these baristas can gather. We show them new ways of using our equipment. It’s all online. While COVID distances, in a way, we became better. We became closer in certain ways. Now we don’t have to take that six-hour plane flight to the West Coast or the eight-hour plane to Europe. We can literally set something up tonight if you want to.

It can be perfected now instead of relying on Bob to do it perfectly in Switzerland, Fred to do it great in Omaha, and Kelly to do it great in Toronto. You’ve got it now systemized and dialed.

It was interesting. I was going by our CFO’s office and heard a voice that I recognized. I didn’t realize I walked in on a video conference and there was my operations person in China. I haven’t seen her in person in fifteen months. I said, “How’s it going?” She said, “Mark, it’s so good to see you in person.” She called it in person because we were looking at each other on a video monitor.

We were able to do so much. It has brought us together in many ways, and we appreciate many things. We did a major rollout with one of our major suppliers, a coffee company. We did a happy hour after hours and cocktail hour if you will. We were all Zoomed in. We had all the tiles of their executives and our executives. We are having a little cocktail hour.

Even though we couldn’t be together, we would normally be celebrating that rollout being complete. They are happy that they are making money. They were excited. We did that right before Christmas, and we are all toasting each other for Christmas. Some of those people I would not have seen otherwise. It was intimate, yet it was on Zoom.

I almost get the sense that nothing is going wrong at BUNN. What do you guys struggle with as an organization? What are you working on now that maybe is a weakness or something that you are working on?

One of the things that we are working on that COVID did expose, and I talked about digital. We are already working on digital and playing with it. We have customers that have their own apps. We toyed in that area, and there was a little demand for it. We’ve supported it with very little. There wasn’t a lot of demand. We had an initiative internally but now that COVID hit, everybody wants digital. They want to be able to monitor their equipment remotely. They want us to monitor it.

They want us to give them data that we were doing on a micro level now that we are being asked to do on a macro level across the huge platforms. Not only that. They said, “While you are at it, could you monitor my ice machine?” We are like, “We don’t build ice machines.” We don’t say that. We are going, “Sure, we will monitor that too.” We are struggling in that area. We are struggling with massive resources and the amount of investment it takes to do that. We are still the leader in our industry in that area but we would like to be ten times bigger in that area than we are. We are going to need to be.

You get a lot of intel from your customers from being on-site with them. Is that where you are losing a little bit of that?

Exactly. Now, most are not meeting. Many of our customers’ major retail chain offices are still remote. We are obviously remote with them. We are losing that instantly. We are not in their labs like we used to be. They are not in our labs. We have a huge lab here. We call it a playground of our equipment. They can come in and say, “I like that but I would like to have a big screen on the front of it.” They can do that before. “Let’s pop a screen on there and see what you like.” Now we have to learn to do that. We have video equipment. We have a camera crew that comes in and does that. It’s harder. People still like to touch, and they want to feel something work. That’s something we struggle with.

How about at the leadership team level? First off, let’s talk about the family level. Are there multiple family members working inside the company?

No, just the patriarch. This is it. When he retires, he will turn it over to a board, more than likely.

Is it privately held still?

It’s still privately held. Yes.

You don’t have the family dynamics of nepotism and stuff so that that question will be irrelevant. How about at the leadership team level? What are you doing to prevent silos, politics, and turf wars that happen? How do you prevent that stuff from happening? What do you do internally to work on that? It sounds like you have a fairly strong team.

We have a strong team. You said something earlier about nepotism. One thing we don’t have here is that. The owner or the family that represents the ownership here. He is strongly against it. He can be violent about do not play games. We act like a family here. If somebody is hurting, it’s still like a family. Even though I’m not related to anyone here, we run in and help each other. He demands that. It’s because of that, our teams see that. I won’t say we never have a skirmish. We do because we are strong personalities but in the end, our mission wins.

Entrepreneurial companies must act like a family. Everyone must run in and help each other.

Do you work on that together? How do you call out a conflict? Tell me about a time that you had a conflict with someone in the workplace and how you guys addressed that or how you addressed that.

There have been a couple of ways. I will say that our CEO is very good at sniffing it out. He has been doing this for 40 years. He smells it if there’s a conflict but he will let it go and see if it gets resolved among the team. If not, he will call in or if it’s my team, I will call him in and we put the issue on the table, not the person. That takes away the, “You are attacking me.” No, we are attacking the issue. Here’s what’s not getting done. I won’t say it’s always smooth, and there’s not some, maybe a little bit of bitter taste occasionally but we have been together for a long time.

I have a course that I’m launching. By the time this episode is published, it will be launched so I can talk about it. It’s called Invest in Your Leaders. 1 of the 12 modules that I teach in the course is about conflict management. I talk about confronting and addressing the issue, not the person. You can talk about what the person did but it’s what they did. It’s not them as human beings.

That’s one thing we talk about. We do performance reviews, even at the executive level. They are not just the boxes you check. One of the things we talk about is we say, “Address the issue and be direct but be quick and get off of it.” Don’t belabor the review like, “You pick one bad issue Cameron had this year.” Don’t talk about it. Say, “This is the bad issue we had. Here’s what we are doing now. Let’s move on.”

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment

Entrepreneurial Environment: Conduct performance reviews, even at the executive level. This is not just boxes you check but a process that will help address issues.


Move on. Don’t belabor that point. All of those that grandmothers say is so true. “Don’t belabor that.” Talk to me about global expansion a little bit. What have you learned in the global expansion with BUNN?

Global expansion is expensive. The key is getting good leaders in those regions, whatever region you tend to expand in. The last one that we did a major expansion in was Asia. We have a home base in China outside of Shanghai. The big thing that we’ve learned is the volatility of the various countries. We have to guard ourselves against currency or precious metals. The last few years in the United States were very interesting with some of our trade embargoes and tariffs, so we had to be nimble. That’s the big thing. It’s being nimble. Don’t ever get the thing so stodgy that you can’t be nimble, grow, move, respect, and respond to the market.

Which countries in Asia were you starting to work in?

Of course, the big guy is China. We also do Japan. We have a pretty good contingency in Japan. That’s probably our two and in South Korea. That’s the biggest area that we have. We’ve done Thailand. We do some of these smaller countries as well. We dipped down into Australia but it’s another side of the world that has primarily been served by China and some of the Eastern European countries. We have been getting involved in that, doing some local manufacturing over there on a contract basis. It has been an exciting growth period. I would say the conflicts around the world have made some of that challenging as well.

It would make it challenging for sure. I’ve got an organization called the COO Alliance. It’s the only network of its kind in the world for second in commands. I also have coached a lot of CEOs and COOs globally. I was coaching a COO a couple of years ago from Thailand. One of the differences that I saw with him was that he didn’t ever want to address conflict with his CEO. It was like, “I couldn’t do that.” It would almost be like a grandchild saying they were pissed off at your grandparents. You don’t do that. It’s not done. Have you noticed anything that is not done in Asia that we can learn from or that is done very differently?

I have been fortunate to work in most of Europe and Asia in my Fortune 100 job for about five years. I had Mexico. They are all different. Every country is different. We see all the differences politically. We talk about, “We are mad at the Russians,” but when I work with those individuals there, we all value the same thing. We want to be safe. We want to make a living. We want to take care of our families. They all want that too. I try to get down when I’m working with those teams on that same base level.

You are right. There are social differences. There are cultural differences. For example, in our facility in Mexico, they never want to tell you anything is wrong. “Everything is going to be done tomorrow, mañana. We will do that, mañana.” I had to learn that that’s not really tomorrow. That may translate tomorrow but that may be next week or next year.

It means in the future.

In my Fortune 100 company, we had cultural classes that we had to attend before we could serve in those countries. We do a little bit of that here. We are not as big as my Fortune 100 company but we have worked with consultants or whatever that will help us to learn the cultural side of it. How are we dealing with them culturally? How are they seeing us culturally? We look may be good here but we are not so vaguely viewed maybe in another country.

You are right that at the human level, we are all following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, providing for our families and ourselves, value and making a difference, and that ascension up Maslow’s Hierarchy but there are some cultural differences. It’s interesting that you have courses, and you have to go through that stuff before you allow people to work there. It’s smart because otherwise, you are going to bungle that stuff up for sure. How about yourself as a leader, Mark? You’ve certainly grown as a leader and been able to progress up in the corporate world. What have you had to work on over the years as a leader?

I was telling it in my book. Some of it is very humbling. I’ve had some bad mistakes that I’ve made that I’ve learned from. One of them was learning to keep my mouth shut. It was probably one of the first things being an entrepreneurial spirit. Also, I’m competitive. I love to win, not just me but I love for my team to win. Sometimes you have to be careful that there’s not a loser. Sometimes if my team won or I won individually, there was a loser in the room. That’s not good for growth. That’s not good for the team.

I had to learn to couch some of my enthusiasm and interjection to hurry up and say something and be quick wit if that was damaging. I learned that twenty years ago. I wish I had learned it in 40. Anyway, that’s one of the first things. I’ve learned a lot. I had some great mentors. I’ve got a good mentor now. The owner here has taught me so much because he is an entrepreneur.

I was in big corporate for many years, and all of a sudden, now I’m doing entrepreneurial work. I know you don’t think we are entrepreneurial but we still are because we are family-owned. I see it through different eyes. We don’t have the benefit of, “We are playing with this money.” This is not the stock market. We are playing with real money, and so it’s different. I learned so much from those experiences. It made me appreciate the leaders that I’ve worked for and to take nuggets from those leaders. Even from a bad leader, you learn something. I have been fortunate.

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment

Entrepreneurial Environment: Running a family-owned entrepreneurial business is not the same as the stock market. You are playing with real money.


We were talking before we went live that, as an operator, we tend to want to fix stuff. We want to dive in and fix stuff. We often have the competency to do a lot of that too. How do you prevent yourself from diving in and doing stuff when our core role is to grow people so that they can do more stuff?

That was a growth process for me. I told you before we went live. You are known to somebody for Cameron. Everybody needs a Cameron to do it. You were the go-to guy in the COO world. I came to be known as Mr. Fix It if something was broken. At that point, I was the guy in there doing it. I was in there like, “Let’s get this going. Let’s move this piece of equipment. Let’s do this whatever.” As I progressed through the corporate world, then I realized I’ve got to work through other people. In that team leadership role, I learned to love that part of the business even more. I didn’t know that I would.

One of the things that makes me happiest is when my team succeeds, and I get to watch. I’m like a proud papa almost. You are like, “That’s my team. Look at them go.” I think through that growth. For us, I try to always work through at least two tiers. I always look at the first of the tiers that report directly to me but how are we developing that second tier?

One of the things I ask my leaders all the time is, “When you get hit by the bus, who’s going to be Jerry, Bill or Tom? Who’s going to be your replacement? Sally, who’s going to take care of your role now?” Sometimes they look at me just the same as I was in that role. I’m like, “I don’t have anybody.” Think about that. Watching a team grow is self-sustaining for me. I got a note from a team member thanking me for putting them in a growth position. Let’s put it that way. We call it constant gentle pressure.

I have a feeling you get a lot of notes of thank yous. I have a feeling you are one of those good leaders.

I got a few, but maybe not at the time because I’m putting them in a growth position. I tell them, “This is going to define you. Let’s get out there. I won’t let you fail. I won’t let it be terminal but I want to put you near the flame unless you feel that. That’s what hardens you. That’s what makes you tough.”

Leaders must put their people in a position of growth. Put them near the flame where they can be hardened.

It’s funny that you’ve said a couple of times the, “I need a Cameron.” I got to tell this story briefly before I wrap up my final question with you. I was at a speaking event that I was doing several years ago, and I walked off a stage. This guy, Kevin Lawrence, walked up to me and he said, “You are Cameron.” I went, “Yeah, just the little kid from Northern Canada.” He goes, “No, but I thought you were a saying.”

I’m like, “What do you mean you thought I was a saying?” He said, “Everyone in EO, the Entrepreneurs Organization, has been walking around for years saying, ‘I need a Cameron.'” What they meant was that I had helped Brian grow 1-800-GOT-JUNK? They wanted someone like me in their company. He said, “I thought it was like a BEHAG or a saying. I thought Cameron was a thing. I didn’t realize it was you.” I’m like, “That’s ridiculous.”

I love that story. I read that story and chuckled out loud.

Maybe I wrote it in my book, Double Double. I forgot that I might have even said that. He and I have become good friends. We go for dinner every couple of years. That was something I always laughed about, the “I need a Cameron.” Let me go back, Mark. Roll the camera. We are going to go back to you as a 22-year-old. What advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true now but you wish you’d known when you were just starting in your career?

That’s easy. I actually talk about that in my book. Hopefully, it makes the cut. The editors have it but take the hardest assignment. Sometimes we are wired. We go to college, and they say, “You want this good cushy job.” We think that’s what we are going for. I want a nice office with a corner office with a view and whatever. It’s like a scene from Mad Men or whatever. That’s not where the fun’s at.

The fun is taking that assignment that everybody else turned down. I’m going to take that thing, and I’m going to beat that thing down. I’m going to build me a team, and we are going to take that to a new level. Even if I fail, what have I lost? Nothing. It was already lost, and somebody else already gave it up. At 22 years old, I would start taking tougher assignments sooner.

That’s interesting. It’s only the second time I’ve heard someone say that, probably in my whole life. Someone said it before as well. That’s insightful. You are right. That is what’s going to allow you to jump up in your career and challenge you, and grow. That’s very cool. Mark Watson, the Executive Vice President from BUNN. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Tell us again, what was the name of your book that’s going to be coming out?

Joyous Leadership.

I will be keeping an eye open for it. Thanks for sharing with us. I appreciate your time.

Thanks, Cameron.


About Mark Watson

SIC 155 | Entrepreneurial Environment Proactive, results-oriented Senior Executive, with extensive years of progressive leadership experience for international operations, plant management, lean manufacturing, and quality. Keen understanding of business priorities; genuine team player committed to managing operations and projects while contributing to business-development and revenue-producing activities. Adept at setting and achieving targets, as well as developing enterprise-wide sourcing strategies.


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