Questions & Answers
How did you leverage Relay as a partner, during both the search and operating stages?
Martin and Sandro served as mentors for us throughout our search, and Martin subsequently participated as a board member of the Company. He was among many key individuals on our team that helped us achieve our objectives. When Martin retired, we had the opportunity to tell him what a meaningful impact he had on our professional and personal lives, which was a rewarding and cathartic conversation.
What challenges did you face in your first 100 days as CEOs?
Our staff had an appropriate amount of skepticism when meeting us. Building trust with colleagues can only be accomplished through consistently doing what you say you will do.
At the time, the first 100 days felt like we were drinking from a fire hose. However, one of our board members made the comment that things were oddly smooth. In retrospect, that was the correct assessment. The founding shareholders continued participating as owners post-close, and, fortunately for us, they were committed to helping us succeed. As a result, we were able to maintain historical knowledge, build relationships with employees, and work to achieve our growth objectives.
What are the most important lessons you've learned as CEOs?
One lesson was to listen to the full range of opinions from colleagues before making tough decisions. Reinforcement of your initial opinion isn’t always helpful. It’s healthy to stress test ideas before implementing them.
A second is that you can’t expect others to perform tasks in the same way that you would on your own. There’s a full range of capabilities and incentive structures that drive staff outcomes. It creates a win/win situation when you identify employee strengths and facilitate an environment that empowers them to be successful.
What's the most exciting part about operating Empower?
For us, it’s the mission: we reduce delinquent behavior and substance abuse, enhance school and community engagement, and more. Reducing the need for out-of-home placement is at the core of what we do. Empower has served 3 million families over 20 years and has a presence in all 50 states plus 32 countries. That’s pretty cool—we didn’t expect to be involved with a group of colleagues that transform the lives of youth and families at that kind of scale.
What advice would you give to those who are considering search and/or those just starting their search?
Most of the prospective searchers that we speak to have unrealistic expectations about what operators do on a day-to-day basis. They use fancy words like “strategic planning.” While searcher-CEOs do engage in strategic planning, much of the day is filled with grunt work like any other job. It’s better to be aware of that on the front end. If you’re still interested, dive in!
Anything else you'd like to share?
Resist the urge in the first several months to attempt big sweeping changes. You likely don’t have the organizational trust to effectively do so, and you may realize later why the ideas you had early on were not implemented in the first place.