Marc Emmer is the President of Optimize Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning. His impressive client list includes Starbucks, CBRE, Rio Tinto, and over 150 other companies. To add to his resume, his 2nd book titled “Momentum” has been covered online by Yahoo Finance, Market Insider, NBC, and CBS.
Marc is a frequent contributor to the Vistage Research Center, Forbes.com, and Inc.com. He has delivered over 350 keynote speeches on strategy and has served on numerous for-profit and non-profit boards.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Marc Emmer: I began my career in the food industry. After many years of exhaustive travel and long hours, I wanted to build a business based on a simple principal-freedom. All of our employees have been remote for 18 years. During the pandemic, many business owners figured out that their employees could manage themselves. This was our premise from the beginning. We wanted to hire great people, provide structure, and give them the freedom to succeed within that structure. We have been able to attract great people, and enjoy a great quality of life.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Marc Emmer: Every day! I had been very successful in business development at the highest level, selling multi-million dollar programs into Fortune 500 companies. So, in the beginning, I thought we would be sales consultants and trainers. I soon learned that the market did not value that. My calling was corporate strategy, so we had to pivot. I think the most important thing when starting out is getting the product right. For us that has been an 18-year journey. We are always looking to make a greater impact, and you have to be willing to reinvent yourself every day.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Marc Emmer: I would answer within the context of the work we do. Obviously, there is a lot of movement towards an agile way of thinking. I can support companies developing minimally viable products, and getting them to market so that they can learn and iterate. But I think our business culture has become very short-term focused-even lazy. You have to do the work in terms of market research, ethnographic research, and targeting to gain insight on where you can win. And then, you have to organize in terms of building the people, processes, and technology necessary to support growth. Once a business starts to scale, the back of the napkin mentality is no longer sufficient to build a sustainable business.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Marc Emmer: It is the ability to adapt. During the pandemic, Wynton Marsalis appeared on 60 Minutes, where he talked about the principles of improvisation. He said, “during times of chaos we need to be more deliberate, and more process-oriented.” In other words, we earn the right to adapt based on our preparation. I believe if we are going to succeed at the speed of change, we need to create systems within organizations so that decisions can be decentralized. The companies who already implemented MS Teams for Slack or Zoom were able to weather the storm, better than those who had not been moving towards “distributed work.”
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Marc Emmer: The companies that hire us are typically trying to scale. There are a lot of strategy books, systems, and websites that are offering simple one-page business plans. While novel, these are shortcuts. Business owners are often romanced by things that are quick and dirty, instead of thorough and complete. Strategic planning is an ongoing exercise, it never ends. It takes hours of work and dedication. Only the best companies have this discipline. Say your company had 50 employees and each work 2000 hours a year. That is 100,000 labor hours. Should your leadership spend 100 hours (total) a year thinking about how you will invest 100,000 labor hours?
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Marc Emmer: First is humility. You have to have the humility to understand that you don’t have things figured out. The people with this trait seek out advisors, consultants, peer groups, and managers who are better than themselves. You also need to have focus. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have pointed out that focus has been the key to their success. And you have to have the ability to learn based on the changes happening around you. The need to learn and adapt is clearly accelerating. It is the number one skill I look for in employees.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Marc Emmer: It had better. We are willing to take a stand on things that are meaningful to us. I recently had a client, confused about a course of events, suggest that we had done something unethical. I put our relationship and significant fees at risk in calling him out because reputation is much more important than money. I helped him see things differently and he reversed course. We regularly overdeliver against our promises because trust is the basis of any relationship. Values are critical because when your employees understand them, they can manage themselves.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Marc Emmer: As I mentioned, I believe in hiring great people and giving them the freedom to succeed. This requires that you be a good delegator and you trust your people to get work done. Managers who have to do everything themselves can not succeed at scale. If you are going to build an enterprise, that means hiring mid-managers who reduce the burden of the senior managers. This requires time and patience. The employees closest to the customer are often the ones that can make the best decisions about serving them.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Marc Emmer: We are overly enamored by stories of start-ups that start out of someone’s garage. These are the exceptions to the rule.
There are many variables when building a business. When businesses fail, it is usually not because they have a bad idea. They run out of money, can’t find the right people, etc. You are better off learning these leadership lessons working for a larger company. I recommend that entrepreneurs spend time within a corporate environment first, and build up the capital and resources they will need when they go out on their own.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Marc Emmer: “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
In regards to the political discourse, of our business principles, we need to think for ourselves. If you do everything exactly like everyone else, that just isn’t very interesting.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Marc Emmer for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Marc Emmer or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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