18 Mar March 18, 2020 – Online Degrees Grant Aldrich and Be Different Stan Silverman
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Grant Aldrich – CEO and Founder of OnlineDegree.com
Your business doesn’t have to be your number one passion, but when you genuinely do something you like, and you create a startup around your happiness, I think that’s more important.
Grant Aldrich founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college more accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their college education. Grant has spent his entire career working in startups with nearly 15 years of experience and 2 prior exits to a publicly traded company. He has been a board member and donor to a number of non-profits, an advisor to many publicly traded companies and a guest speaker at seminars and graduate school courses. Online Degree is a for-profit company that allows people to take courses and earn degrees from over a thousand of participating universities, all for free. Forbes magazine has stated that, “OnlineDegree.com makes the first year of college Tuition-FREE.” Besides being a father of three, Grant is a board member and donor to a number of non-profits, an advisor to many publicly traded companies including Wiley Education, and a guest speaker at seminars and graduate school courses across the US.
The experience you get as an entrepreneur, differentiates you from
everyone else. Entrepreneurs learn so much about themselves and others.
Stan Silverman is the former president and chief executive officer of PQ Corporation, a global company operating in North America, South America, Europe and Asia Pacific in two core businesses – chemicals and engineered glass materials. He is vice chairman of the board of trustees of Drexel University. He is the former chairman of the board of the Drexel University College of Medicine, and former chairman of the Soap and Detergent Association. Stan has served on numerous public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards. Stan has served as a guest lecturer on Executive Leadership at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and he has served as a member of the faculty of Board Advisory Services of the National Association of Corporate Directors. In an age of following trends and fads, it’s easy for companies and people to lose sight of their most important asset: themselves. In BE DIFFERENT! The Key To Business And Career Success, Stan draws on decades in global leadership positions to show businesses and individuals how they can achieve success by being different.
Highlights from Stan’s Interview
All of us who lead businesses are really chasing the holy grail, it’s the holy grail of any business, and that’s to become the preferred provider of product or service to your marketplace so that your customers or clients buy from you first, and not your competition. It’s something that every business chases. When it’s achieved, everybody feels great about it, but it’s really a journey. You’re never really there because if you don’t continually improve, your competitors will catch up with you. You’re on a journey to be different and to be the preferred provider. In terms of us individually, as all of us climb our careers, we need to be different than our peers so that we get the next promotion or job; either internally or externally. My book teaches both, how to be different as a business leader, and also how to be different as you’re climbing your career than your peers.
For the corporate world, it depends what the culture is and what the tone of the top is, which of course, is set by the CEO. Every individual has to judge the kind of corporation they’re in, and they have to find a way to be effective and be a contributor to the corporation. Of course, it’s different for every corporation and it’s different for every individual. Intelligence, IQ, skills, and experience are really the entry-level type traits of an individual to an organization, and then your emotional intelligence is what helps you climb the ladder. So, you have to be sensitive to how you come off with people, you have to decide how you’re going to approach problems and how you’re going to introduce new ideas. Every great and effective leader understands how they’re seen by others, and you have to adjust how you behave and how you interact based upon how others see accept you. If you do this, you can be very successful in any organization.
Switching back to the topic of entrepreneurship, the first thing an entrepreneur has to do is they have to realize that they’re going to be working 20 hours a day and they’re going to face many hurdles. They have to decide how they’re going to present their product or service to the marketplace. One of the most important things they can ask themselves is, why will people buy from me? So many entrepreneurs don’t understand that that’s a key question. They have to decide whether or not their product or service is going to be so different than what is being used today by the marketplace, that people will want to invest time and energy and money, and switch over to what they have. So, they have to work on something that’s new and different, that will provide value to the customer, and they have to figure out how to do that. Of course, many entrepreneurs will go through a number of iterations as they decide their strategy; they will change their strategy, they will pivot, they will move to a different way, they may drop an idea and move on to something else, and that has to be internally driven inside of them to be able to do that.
Entrepreneurship is really a mindset. No matter where you work; whether you start something up, you work for a startup, you work for an established company, the experience you get as an entrepreneur differentiates you from everyone else. I would encourage everybody that has a desire to try out entrepreneurship that they should, because they’re going to learn so much about themselves and about others, and it will differentiate them later on as they apply for other jobs.
I learned a lot about entrepreneurship by interviewing many entrepreneurs. At Drexel University, we have the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, and every year they have something called Startup Fest. In that fest, you walk around a large room and you speak with maybe 20 or 30 entrepreneurs about their idea. They’re trying to pitch you on their ideas, they’re telling you why the product or service is something that the market needs. And after spending a day doing that, I’m thinking, I just talked with a bunch of college students that are choosing partners, they’re hiring employees, they’re learning how to deal with customers, they’re learning how to sell themselves, which is one thing that everybody needs, they’re learning how to deal with lawyers and accountants, and they are risking money in real-time. They’re making decisions, they’re making some wrong decisions, they’re learning how to pivot, they’re learning how to de-risk their ideas. Those are the skills of a CEO.
Rising up through my company; I raised up through 11 jobs at PQ Corporation, I found that the applicants for positions at PQ that have had actual experience doing what I’ve just described, even failing at times, always make the best employees. I’ve hired people who didn’t go through that experience; who basically learned entrepreneurship or other techniques off a whiteboard in the classroom, and they were so far behind these young people that learned it in the field in real-time. I’ll tell you, I’d want to hire this scrappy kid that has tried things and failed than somebody that has never tried anything at all, because the scrappy kid is always going to do much better. So, when I interview for a Vice President job, I interview a little differently. I ask basically a handful of questions. I want to know what they think about tone at the top and culture, and what kind of tone and culture they’re going to bring to the organization. I want to know what kind of people they’re going to hire, so that those people hire the very best people below them. I want to know about their leadership skills, and their style. I want to know how they’re going to inspire everybody within the organization to achieve greatness. That’s what I ask for a Vice President. But below that, I ask what I just described earlier. I want to know your experiences where you failed, I want to know what kind of experiences you have. In my experience over four decades, that really leads to the best result and the most successful hires.
Failure is a badge of honor, actually. When you fail, you feel bad that night, you pick yourself up and move forward the next day. At this point in my career, I give a lot of people advice. I always tell them, “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Create your own opportunities because we never know where the future will take us.” It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to feel bad that night, but the next morning you’re up and back at it again. You just never know where the future is going to take you, so get out there and just do it.
Everybody that moves up through their career, they’re going to be successful because a couple of things are going to happen. One is they’re going to be great leaders of other people. They’re going to be able to develop leaders below them. They’re going to be able to listen to folks. They’re not going to shoot those who come forward with bad news. You never want to kill those people because they’re going to help you, so never shoot the messenger. You want to communicate with your people what your your vision and your mission is, and you want to get them involved in helping you determine what that vision and mission is. Most of all, you want to create ownership with the people that you work with and those people that you work for. I learned this from an operator in Toronto, Canada when I was the president of our Canadian subsidiary at the age of 36. We basically learned from him that when you give him some responsibility and you trust him for what he could do with his mind in addition to what he could do with his hands, great things happen. All of a sudden, he’s just so engaged with what he’s doing. So, you want to give people ownership in what they do. Tell them what the goals are, tell them what your expectations are, give them the resources, cut them loose to do their thing, and great things happen. So, you want to be known as that kind of leader, and people will want to come to work for you. They’re not going to leave you. They’re going to be loyal to you and they’re going to help you succeed as you’re going to help them succeed.
I think your how you portray yourself should really be dependent upon how you want to communicate to the audience. You always want to put yourself in the place of the audience, and you want to say to yourself, how would I like to receive this message? I’ll give you the perfect example. So, a couple of weeks ago, and this is not the first time it’s happened, I’m sitting in the first row of a presentation and a professional in his field is presenting on his subject, and I can’t read the PowerPoints that he’s putting out. I can’t read the words on the PowerPoints because they’re too small, and there’s not enough contrast. And I’m pretty close, I’m in the first row so maybe I’m 30 feet away from the screen. So how the people in the back are going to see it and understand it? I’m just so sensitive to that so when I do a PowerPoint, I use at least 30 font and I only put a couple of things on the slide. I never put sentences in; it’s usually one or two or three words plus an image to kind of capture what I’m saying. So, you have to be careful with how you communicate, so that people understand what you’re saying, so that you convey the message. If you’re not conveying the message, you could be the largest and most famous expert in the field, and you’re going to fail for that presentation.
Remember, you can talk about how great the product is, but you never talk about yourself. I’ll give you the perfect example. Many of us have heard CEOs say, “We have a great company, we’re great, we’re great, we’re great.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. When I was CEO of my company, my people were around the world that operate our businesses in 17 countries. Our track record was, our management team took earnings over five years from $14 million to $43 million; including the year of of 2002 with a hard recession that year, right after 9/11. Every quarter, we would have enough quarter. People would say “Boy, this is a great company. You guys are doing great!” My response would be, “No, we’re not great. We’re trying to get there. We’re in a journey to be great. We’re really good here, but we got a lot of work to do in this area, and this area is coming along.” Because if you say that you’re great, your employees will stop trying to become great. They think they’ve arrived. You should never ever have your employees not realize they’re on a journey to be great and it never ends. Because once you realize that, you’re going to be eaten up by your competition because they’re trying to chase you and they’re trying to become great. So, you always want to be humble.
If you’re familiar with the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, he talks about level five leadership; they’re humble. These people are humble CEOs, and they do great for their shareholders and for the companies and for their employees. You always want to be humble; you never want to be imperial. I would suggest you can use the word “excellent” at some point for appreciating, but I would not use the word great. For five years, we did absolutely excellent in terms of increasing shareholder value, but we’re still working on it. We’re on a journey to greatness, and I put greatness up a lot higher than excellence.
Let me tell you how I am different. My book starts my fourth career, and that started on December 1st. My first career was serving as a CEO of a global company, PQ Corporation, operating in 19 countries. We sold the company actually exactly five years ago this month. I started my second career by serving on a bunch of boards; three public private equity, private companies, trade association, member and chairman of some of these, lead director in some. Five and a half years ago, I got bored and I started to write for the Philadelphia Business Journal, without having any experience as a writer or a journalist. I’m now the most often read journalist across the country for the business journals in my category, which is commentary on leadership; I was told that two months ago by my editor in Charlotte. The book actually is the next step in the journey, which was to write about in book form what I write about each week in my columns. So, the way I’m different is that I know that we’re on a journey to achieve a whole bunch of things. My legacy in life today is to help other people be successful. You never know where the future will take you, so get out and take advantage of opportunities. That’s the message I give to a lot of people I coach and counsel, and it’s a message throughout my book. That’s how I’m different.
The best way to find more is if you go to my website, which is “www.silvermanleadership.com”, you can read all my 290 articles that I’ve published over the last five and a half years. You can buy my book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. The name of the book is “Be Different!: The Key to Business and Career Success”. But if you arrive on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble website, just type in Stan Silverman and my book comes up.