Our guest today is Carpedia Group International’s Vice President, Andrew Rush.
Carpedia Group International is a management consulting firm based out of Oakville, Ontario. It is unique in the consulting world, committed to improving KPIs for their clients by a specific amount, and on average, generate greater than a 3 to 1 ROI as a result of their engagements. They are true to their slogan of “Results, not Reports”.
Andrew has a history of improving financial results through optimizing the collaboration of teams and developing more effective senior leaders; focusing on the culture and behaviors required to be successful.
Andrew started his career with Carpedia in 1997 as a Consultant and stayed until 2001. From there he went on to lead various companies in the building materials, aluminum, and construction industries as Vice-President of Operations, Vice-President of Sales, General Manager, and President.
Andrew held leadership positions in companies with 25 to 1,200 employees, in unionized and non-unionized environments for both publicly traded and privately held firms. He returned to Carpedia in 2017.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- How Andrew transitioned to a speaker and what lessons were learned from his speaking coach
- How members can get the most value from a mastermind group
- How vulnerability creates a deeper connection with members of your group
- The spectrum of benefits and challenges of working in a unionized business
- How unionized businesses differ from public companies
Carpedia Group International – https://carpedia.com
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Here is Carpedia Group International Vice President, Andrew Rush. Carpedia Group International is a management consulting firm based out of Oakville, Ontario. It is unique in the consulting world committed to improving KPIs for their clients by a specific amount and, on average, generating greater than 3 to 1 ROI as a result of their engagements. They’re true to their slogan of results, not reports. Andrew has a history of improving financial results by optimizing the collaboration of teams and developing more effective senior leaders focusing on the culture and behaviors required to be successful.
Andrew started his career with Carpedia in 1997 as a consultant and stayed until 2001. From there, he went on to lead various companies in the building materials, aluminum, and construction industries as Vice President of Operations, Vice President of Sales, General Manager, and President. Andrew held leadership positions in companies with 25 to 1,200 employees in unionized and non-unionized environments for both publicly traded firms and privately held firms. He then returned to Carpedia in 2017. Andrew, thanks very much for joining us on the show.
Thanks for having me.
I’m looking forward to diving into this. You’ve got some unique areas that we can glean some insights and some expertise from. Normally I don’t jump right into what the company does, but I think it makes sense to start with the core of what Carpedia is and then we’ll work outwards and around from there.
Carpedia is a management consulting firm. In the management consulting space are niches as implementers. What I mean by that is that almost all of our engagements have a predetermined outcome that we commit to achieving as a result of our influence. The client doesn’t get a report or a set of recommendations. We’ve got to help the existing team make improvements to hit a specific number without spending any additional money on equipment or technology.
You’re going to help optimize. Is that what it is? Is that on optimization automation? Is that what your focus would be, then?
Optimization without automation. Taking the human capital that exists and making them more effective at whatever it is that they’re doing.
Why not the automation side of things? I don’t mean automation in terms of robotics but automation in terms of apps and that technical automation.
It’s not the basis on which the company was formed back in 1994. As it evolved, we became experts in people, processes, and tools to manage and other people were doing automation and doing it much better. We banter around the idea of whether we should bring it into the company or not but at this point, we think we’re better to leave it to the experts and focus on what really we’re good at.
What does Carpedia mean? Every time I hear it, for some reason, my name goes over to the automotive space all the time. Did you start in the automotive industry?
We started when it was Good Will Hunting, carpe diem season. They became widely known. The two founders were going to name the business Carpe Diem. Within days of incorporating, I stumbled across the literal translation, which is seize the day with no regard to the future. They liked the idea of the concept of carpe diem, so they took a derivative of it, which was Carpedia, before Expedia was even around. We often get confused or asked about the relationship to the car industry, for which there is none.
It is the focus on the future, which is where optimization starts to make sense. I like the whole regard to the future. That’s amazing. Now I finally understand.
It was a good catch.
Tell me about the predetermined outcomes of your engagements. What does that mean and how do you establish those?
We go into the client’s business for 2 to 3 weeks and we do an assessment. Basically, we get a chance to look at some part or parts of their business to figure out if there are opportunities around processes, tools, and behaviors. At the end of the assessment, we’re able to deduce from the studies that we do that this is the amount of recoverable financial and operational opportunity that we could unlock if we move forward with what is a typically 4 to 6-month engagement.
How do you establish that? How do you establish what those savings are going to be or what the gains are going to be? How do you do pricing around that?
The pricing and the costing are mutually exclusive. The pricing is given the opportunity we think we’re able to unlock what’s the baseline from the last year until now, and then if we get there, what is that financial impact to the business? The cost is an estimation of how many consultants we are going to need over how much time.
How do you pitch this? Who are your typical clients?
How do you get in their door? Mid-market companies, meaning 200 to 2,000 employee size. Is that roughly where it would be?
That would be a fair bandwidth.
How do you get in their door? They’re not quite at the politics level, but they’re getting there. They’re not quite at the level where they know everything, but they’re getting there. How do you get in their door? Do they find you?
Mostly through outreach and we still do cold calling with a group of people to mid-market CEOs and say, “This is a unique service offering in the management consulting space, and it’s still a worthwhile channel in terms of getting new business.” That’s one. The other is through speaking engagement. It’s not a commercial, but I talk about the framework that we apply and other companies could apply in order to achieve those same financial savings. That’s another channel for new business. We do have a marketing group that is doing value-added reach outs, which is relatively new but is garnering some success early on.
How many people in your business do the speaking on behalf of the company? Is it just you or do you have others?
I talked to somebody about this, and I think there’s a massive opportunity for companies to find a 26-year-old professional female who can speak. They train them to do these good solid speaking events and have them on the road traveling, doing them over Zoom, but pay them a base of $60,000 a year with some upside, a percentage of. They also have to do some follow-ups with all the members to introduce them to the marketing departments.
Imagine if you could have 4 or 5 of these people around the US and Canada speaking to every Vistage group, every EO chapter, and every YPO chapter and the stuff that would destroy your life as an individual. The reason I thought of it was Simon Sinek no longer does 90% of his speaking events. He has other people. Tony Robbins has these Tony Robbins speakers delivering content. I’m like, “I wonder if that can be replicated.”
It’s a good concept, and there’s no shortage of appetite for speakers. I wasn’t a speaker when I came to Carpedia. I got trained by one of North America’s best speaking coaches. I’ve learned that if you’re going to go down that route, invest in help because what good speakers make look easy is not without a lot of hard work. I don’t disagree with you. It’s more of an investment, but it can be done.
You’d have to find a good speaker and then train them on your industry IP. What did you learn from the speaking coach? Who did you work with? Give them a shout-out and what you learned from them.
Mikki Williams out of Chicago. She is a Vistage chair.
She is a force.
That is an understatement. Can I tell you a story? I got put onto Mikki. I was a member of a tech group. My tech chair put me onto Mikki. I sent her a video and then I had a call with her. She said, “Andrew, I was only able to watch ten minutes of your video. You haven’t paid me any money yet, but if you want to turn around and part ways, I have no problem with that, but this is going to be a lot of work on your part.” I said, “I switched jobs to do speaking as a new channel for generating business for our company. There’s no going back for me.” She took me apart and put me back together again. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my professional life but one of the most beneficial.
Mikki and I first met on Clubhouse. We were in this random Clubhouse room and she started talking. I’m like, “Who is that?” She’s this force. We chatted offline. We did a Zoom call together and connected. She’s super strong. It is interesting that you had turned to that as well. I think a lot of people don’t value continuing growth. Where else have you focused on your skills as a leader?
Mikki was a big one on the speaking side. I’m constantly reading. I’m a member of a peer group in Toronto. I would say between those two things, I’ve got the theoretical, “Here are different ideas, and here are different approaches.” I’ve got a group of people who are facing business problems month in and month out. I’ve used them as a sounding board at different times in my career. I’ve heard challenges from other people’s perspectives on it. I find that peer group is a good source of learning and growing as an individual.
We started accountability groups or peer groups for our COO Alliance members. We’ve now got members from seventeen countries and we’re putting them into groups of 5 or 6. They’re meeting every month in between our normal meetings. What do you think members can do both in the tech or Vistage groups or any other mastermind groups are in? How do you get the most value from a group and how do you bring the most value to a group?
It’s a give-and-take relationship. You’re not going to get value if you don’t bring forth challenges that you’re having either personally or professionally. For some people, that’s not a comfort level that they necessarily walk right into and are able to do. If you are able to let your guard down and be a little bit vulnerable, then the feedback you can get and drawing on ten other people’s life experiences is huge. The giving is no different.
You’re giving people your perspective, and you’ve got your own unique set of experiences. Sometimes that different point of view from the way that they were thinking takes them going from one path to another. I’ve had situations where I’ve done a complete 180 in terms of the path. I was going down and then my group told me that I should rethink what I was doing.
What was the 180?
I had one with an actual career change I was thinking of making. In these groups, a number of people have an opportunity to bring opportunities forth over the course of an hour and a half to three hours. I went to our chair and said, “I think I need the whole meeting. If you and the group are willing to do this, I can’t think of many larger decisions in my life than choosing two different career paths. I want to explain it fully and get the group’s feedback on it.” We spent three hours. I don’t know how you’d ever put a number on it, but it was invaluable.
I heard someone say the old adage of, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” We want to join these mastermind groups so that we can learn from others, but they’re also joining so they can learn from us. There’s a time when we have to be the smartest person in a way, but it’s not being the smartest. It’s more about sharing experiences. Have you noticed that the more vulnerable you get or the more vulnerable that others get, the deeper the communication, the deeper the experience is, and the richer the learning becomes? How do you get more vulnerable?
To answer your first question, yes. The more vulnerable you’re willing to be, the better the connection is with the people. Certainly, in the group that I’m a part of, there’s a number of us that have been there together for long periods of time, and those bonds are deep and strong as they’ve gone through things professionally and personally that they may not be sharing with anybody else. I don’t know that there’s a trick on the how. You have to be willing to take a risk by opening up right from the beginning.
It’s an interesting dichotomy where if there were 10 people who knew each other well and you’re the 11th joining a group and you’re sitting on the periphery as a wallflower waiting, you will wait. You have to be willing to dive in with both feet and know that these environments are set up with the utmost trust, respect, and understanding that it’s safe to be able to convey these kinds of things and get people’s honest, constructive feedback.
I heard a comment years ago when I was joining the Entrepreneur’s Organization. They said that if you want the group to get vulnerable and go deep, go first. What’s interesting to me is that the more vulnerable I get, the more vulnerable the rest of the groups get too.
Our chair is very good at that too. We will do some things over the course of a year that strengthen that bond, and our chair is the one that will step up and say, “Here’s how it applies to me,” and sets the stage for everybody else in the room.
It’s weird. All those exercises seem hokey until you do them as a group, and then they’re like, “We went deeper.” That was cool. Let’s shift gears a little bit. One of my sons is looking at getting involved in the movie industry and is obsessed with all things movie being behind the camera, like on the director’s side and production side of the film.
He’s going to have to get involved in a union here in Vancouver to get in and have PA jobs and all the jobs behind the scenes to learn. He asked me what a union was. I gave him a very PC version of what I believe a union is and how it can provide some value, even though I’m very pro-business and, in many ways, very anti-union.
I also think that probably in the movie industry, a union probably does make some sense because they are going to take advantage of people. They might not pay their people well or might overwork them. People are so desperate to work in that industry, and they work on a gig-by-gig basis. Maybe a union is a good thing. Can you tell us a little bit about your perspective having worked inside of union businesses? Can you give us the good, bad, and the ugly?
I don’t think you can paint it with one broad brush. Most unions stem from the fact that at some point in a company’s history, there was fear or unfairness. Think about that many years ago in the number of hands that have taken over a business. In some of the places I’ve worked where there’s a union, it’s not because the current owner or situation was doing something that forced this conflict between ownership and employees. If you have it in your mind because a place is unionized, it’s therefore antagonistic.
There’s a lot of infighting that’s the wrong way to perceive it. Like you said, in some cases, they serve a very positive function, which is to protect the employees. There’s the formal collective bargaining agreement which tells you what you can and can’t do, what’s negotiated or not, and all the formulaic pieces, but there’s also the real application of it.
Sometimes people understand that in order to operate a business, individuals are going to go into the gray. If everybody’s doing things for the greater good of the company, then let’s do it. Let’s forget the collective bargaining agreement. These are mid-market companies. I’m not talking about the large auto manufacturers and those kinds of businesses, but mid-market companies that are unionized tend to have a higher degree of reasonableness with which there is a give and take in a gray area where we’re all in this together and we’re all trying to do the best thing for the firm.
I know you’re not out there looking for a new role, but if you were looking for a new role, would you avoid union shops or would you take a look at it as any other company and not worry about it either way?
It wouldn’t influence my decision.
Talk about the difference now between public companies as well. What’s it like working inside of a public company sphere? What did you pull from that that has strengthened your business skills now?
I was only in the public sector for a short time, but the false sense of urgency towards every financial reporting quarter was counterintuitive to how businesses should run. You work overtime the week after Christmas so that the revenue is higher and your Q4 numbers are reported. All you’re doing is pushing the problem into the next quarter. It’s this constant, “How much can we do and what are the numbers going to look like versus budget?” This is my singular experience in one company.
It’s almost dysfunctional.
It wasn’t a good way, from my perspective, to be running a business. I understood the why behind it, but taking a step back now and thinking about if you were honest about where things were in every given quarter and you were getting better the next quarter because you didn’t go and produce a bunch of things that are going to sit in your yard so that a financial number makes it look like things are better than they are is always going to catch up to you in the end.
It feels like it’s almost like a dysfunctional machine. It forces people to make decisions that we normally wouldn’t make. One of the things that drive me crazy about these publicly traded companies is every quarter or annually, they have this one-time expense that’s appeared. I’m like, “It’s not a one-time thing. Every year you have a one-time expense.”
How do you normalize a business when you’ve got all of these things happening? Only because there’s this fictitious line drawn in the sand as to when the financial statements have to be produced. I get a kick out of it that I’ll go and look into different pieces of software. I know that if I wait until the last week of the fiscal year for the company that’s selling me that piece of software, they’re going to discount it by whatever because it is revenue pulled into a certain year. You’re locked into that price forever or maybe there are minor increases. That whole model to me doesn’t make any sense, yet these companies are successful. That’s the crazy thing.
Go back to some of the core of what Carpedia does in terms of the optimization of companies. Can you give us some baseline areas that you see that most companies could benefit from or could do better? I know that’s very broad. Can you give us some of the favorite ones that you notice normally?
There are probably two. One is that most frontline and mid-level leaders have been promoted as good-doers. They get put into leadership positions. They get shown how to fill in a schedule, complete a time card, or do an employee evaluation, but they’re never trained on how to be better leaders. That truth, I think, exists to varying degrees in every organization.
We spend a lot of time in most of the engagements getting them to be less reactive and more proactive. With that proactive time, being more effective at making what they’re responsible for, whatever the department is better. We teach them to analyze a process. We teach them how to put in place KPIs to give them a better picture of what’s going on in their department and then, as I said, free up more of their time to be able to continuously make that process better.
How do you focus them on which processes to focus on and which ones to spend their time and their energy on? There are so many different areas to go after. Do you look for the ones that are easier to put in place or do you look for the ones that are going to give the highest return on time? Where do you go there?
It’s basically a four-box with exactly those two things on the axis. What’s the payoff? High or low? What’s the time investment, high or low? Basically, assess every opportunity that you could possibly spend time on those two variables. Low investment and high payoff are the ones that you want to go after. That’s easily said. Not all frontline leaders take a step back.
Someone says, “There’s a problem over here.” Now they go and spend three hours trying to figure that out, and tomorrow, they’re completely playing whack-a-mole trying to chase the problem of the day, rather than taking that step back and truly assessing, “In what priority should I be doing things to get the most benefit out of the department?”
I’ve talked about this with a bunch that people who talk about strategic planning. I said, “There’s no such thing.” There’s something called strategic thinking and then there’s business planning. For me, strategy and strategic thinking are taking time to think about the business this way. Once you’ve thought about it this way and you’ve made some decisions, then the planning component comes in.
It doesn’t seem like companies take time to step back and pause. How do you advise companies to take time? As they get more seasoned, probably as they get truly more medium enterprise, and they have a leadership team that’s built companies before and they are more strategic, how do you advise companies that are maybe not so early stage but smaller, becoming medium size, to take time to be strategic and take time to think?
My answer is going to maybe sound too simple, but it is a precursor. In my mind, when you sit down to create a budget, and I’ll say most small firms do in some way, shape, or form but there are some that don’t. When you do that, if you haven’t thought strategically first, then you’re probably taking last year plus 10%. That’s not a plan. With clients, if they’re at that stage and they haven’t done that first strategy thinking piece, that’s not built into the cadence when they say, “Our fiscal year starts on January 1st. We should be doing our budget in October.” It’s like, “No, you should be strategically thinking about what direction you want to go at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance of that.” It’s building another piece into that whole financial planning system that, as you say, often is missing in those smaller firms.
What I try to get people to do is to think strategically about their business in September, where they have their strategic thinking meeting or planning meeting in September and October and then they’re going to the budgeting and the real final planning parts in October and November. December 1st hits, and they have their budget for the following year.
They have their operational plan, they’ve got their goals, and they can figure out the meeting cadence to support all that. It’s maybe more the entrepreneurial companies that are still winging it, shooting from the hip, and throwing crap at the ideas as they scale. As a company gets into the more medium enterprise, they are operating more with a plan and that cadence already.
What gets in the way most often of that thinking?
Also, success. Companies that are successful without those mechanisms are the ones that are least likely to think they need any structure or process optimization. It’s completely counterintuitive. They’re not thinking about it in terms of what the possibilities are, “We could be so much better if we had these things.” Sometimes it takes an event to trigger that openness to a different or better way of doing it, which is unfortunate because sometimes that event can be avoided.
In many ways, I guess they are also like, “We’ve always done it this way. It’s worked so well. Why should we change?” It’s because the business has changed. Talk to me a little bit about the team of people that work with you or that report to you. How do you grow them? How do you develop them? What are you focusing on? You mentioned leadership skills. Are there any specific ones? I built a suite of twelve of them into my Invest in Your Leaders course, but I’m curious as to what you focus on for growing your people.
I’m in charge of the sales and marketing group at Carpedia. Sales get a bad name. Even me saying I’m part of a sales team, a lot of people’s minds go to the car salesman. What we’re talking a lot about is how you connect and have human conversations with people. How can you add value through the exposure that we get to business leaders from all over North America, whether that’s connecting people or things, things we’re hearing, or things we’re seeing? That’s a change for people who have been brought up in a sales environment, “How can I get that meeting booked? When can I get them to sign up for an assessment?” Those things will happen if they think there’s value in what we do.
It’s a real change in the thinking about what our role is as business development people. Is it to try to sell people something or is it to try to add value? More of the conversations that I’m having internally is about adding value. Forget the sales. They’ll come or they won’t come. They’ll be in need or they won’t be. You’re much more likely to have someone see how the services you offer can provide them value if you’re more focused on creating a relationship and finding ways of helping them.
How do you sell against the other consulting firms that you compete against? Do you compete against the bigger brand or the bigger names in consulting, or are you more in a niche?
We run into them 1 out of every 10 potential engagements that we do. That outcome is a differentiator. If people want someone to come in and give them a set of recommendations, then that’s what the big firms do. If they want someone to see it through to the end and to be putting their necks on the line to a certain degree for an outcome, then that’s what we do. Most of the time, it’s not a competitive environment. It’s either the current leadership team thinks they can do it on their own or they’re willing to invest in a third party to help them.
How do you say no to the wrong engagements? How do you identify where somebody wants to give you a great consulting fee check and you’re like, “Wrong deal,” or do you say no?
We do it two ways. That initial assessment we do is as much about a two-way fit as it is about establishing what that outcome and the ROI are going to be. It doesn’t happen very often, but there are times in the past when we’ve walked away after having done that assessment because we don’t think there is a fit. We don’t think the client’s ready to make the amount of change that we think is available.
There was another instance there where we walked away. We give our clients a five-day out so that either we or they can nullify the contract. Ultimately, the metric that’s most important to our business is our referral rate. Ninety-four percent of our past clients are willing to talk to other clients about the positive experience that they had. That trumps whatever thousands of dollars in fees we might collect because one negative and the ramifications of that are years of impact.
You said that they’re willing to talk to someone else. Are you actively working with them for referrals or are you making sure that you have a strong base of clients? Do you put the prospect in touch with them to increase your closing rate?
We will if we have a potential client that wants to understand from a past client’s perspective what the experience was like. Like I said, 94% of them are willing to do that. We do use referrals with our current clients as a means of growing the business as well.
We used to do that in the 1-800-GOT-JUNK days. We would have our potential franchisees talk to our current franchisees. We realized our current franchisees were busy and we were growing so fast that our current franchisees didn’t have time anymore. We did a group call and we had 8 potential franchisees talk to 2 guys over the course of half an hour. It was amazing. Our current franchisees leveraged their time and our new ones didn’t feel like the only idiot buying from us. Now it was like eight prospects all hearing similar questions, and they didn’t feel like it was such a bad thing for them to join. It was a cool model. I like that you’re doing a similar way.
It’s interesting you say that because we don’t have past clients going out every week talking to potential ones because of that protectiveness. Their time is valuable. We’re not using them as a channel for marketing, but if someone’s close to buying and that’s the difference, then there are people that are willing to take time out of their schedule.
I won’t say which franchise it is, but it’s very close to where you live. It was the biggest franchisee or partner at 1-800-GOT-JUNK. He got a call one time from a franchise prospect and the prospect said, “What can you tell me?” Our franchise partner said, “I can tell you I’m busy. Call me back when you have real questions.” I’m like, “You can’t say that.” He goes, “I’m busy. The guy was unprepared.” You’re right.
What I learned from that was we turned to our franchise prospects and said, “Here are the basic ten questions you should be asking yourself and could be asking others but add to this list. If you’re going to get on this group call with our 2 or 3 franchise partners, at least ask them these questions.” We brief them, but we also seeded it a little bit and we also gave them the most important questions that A) They should know, and B) That we wanted them to hear the answers of. Andrew, what advice would you give the 22-year-old you? If you were going back to yourself at 21 or 22 years old, and you were getting started in your career, what advice would you give yourself back then that is true now?
I would say to myself, “As long as you are willing to continually learn and have a high degree of grit, things will work out.” That’s easy to say as someone who’s much past 22 now, but there was a lot of angst about, “Is this the right thing I should be doing? How are things going to work out?” The world has a funny way of working. Treat people nicely. You give as much as you take. In the end, things end up nicely.
It’s weird, isn’t it? It’s pretty amazing. The world does have this weird way of lining up and making it all happen. Andrew Rush from Carpedia, I appreciate the time that you spent with us, sharing your insights and expertise. I’m looking forward to having you on our COO Alliance call. I’ll send you off details. We’ll find a time slot that works well for you. Thanks for sharing.