On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas spoke with guest Dirk Beveridge, founder of UnleashWD.
YS: When you were a kid in school, did you ever envision running the operation that you now run? When was the “aha moment” that kind of catapulted you to where you are today?
Dirk Beveridge: I had kind of a rocky road on the road to where I ended up today. I wasn’t the best student in college. I went to school at Western Illinois University, and one day, the Dean of the Business School called me up and said, “Dirk, you’re the end of the baby boomers. Our enrollment is going down. In fact, we’re losing money every day we’re open. I don’t know if we’d ever be able to survive if you decided to leave Western Illinois.” But then he looked at my grades and said, “But Dirk, starting next semester, we’re going to try and make it without you.” So, I had a little bumpy road. My father owned a small industrial laundry down in Belleville, Illinois, and he packed me in a car and sent me down there. I worked for a summer in a hot, grimy, greasy, dirty industrial laundry with these butcher rags. Man, you’re making me sweat now just thinking about it. It was that moment that I said, “Dirk, you better get serious. You’ve got more than this.”
YS: I’ve spoken with so many great leaders over the years, and they all seem to have such a story. John Sculley, CEO of Pepsi and Apple, he talked about driving the Pepsi truck around and what he learned through that. Can you imagine?
Dirk Beveridge: Yeah, it’s a journey. When you talk about John Sculley driving a truck and “can you imagine,” you know what my response is? I absolutely can imagine that. Because driving a truck or working in a hot, dirty laundry, there’s dignity in those jobs. And I have, like you, the utmost respect for individuals doing those jobs. As you know, I spent all last summer (and we’re about to do it again) out on the road, crossing this country to 34 different businesses. I’ve had a chance to meet the pickers in the warehouses, the people on the receiving dock and everywhere. I have got to tell you something. For every job, there’s dignity in it and there’s respect to it. I will tip my hat to every driver and everybody in those jobs.
YS: Let’s talk about UnleashWD. What service do you provide out in the marketplace?
Dirk Beveridge: “WD” stands for wholesale distribution. We’re a design innovation strategy firm that helps primarily independent distributors remain relevant and profitable in this age of disruption. In this age of Amazon and digital transformation, how do these businesses truly complete? That’s the business that we are in? We help these organizations rethink their strategy, vision, culture, value proposition, and business model, and how they develop leaders in their organization. We do that through our speaking, through our workshops, through our online courses. We have the only innovation summit for distributors in the country called “Unleash Innovation Summit.” And then, more recently, we had the We Supply America tour which we’ll talk about soon.
YS: Coming out of the pandemic, with the challenges of attracting and retaining great talent, talk about the role of leadership in 2022.
Dirk Beveridge: Last summer, I spent 97 days in an RV on the We Supply America tour, driving over 16,599 miles to 35 different states, visiting 34 different businesses. And as I did that, I didn’t know what I was going to learn because I had never done anything like it before. But that’s what innovators do-you go, and you figure it out. And so, I’ll tell you two fundamental lessons that came out of that tour that I think relates to your question.
Number one, the very nature of leadership is changing more rapidly than any of us really realize.
Number two, I believe that business at its core, is not just about the product and the service that we sell. At its core, every business is about people. It’s about the human beings that we touch and interact with every single day.
So, to your question about leadership, what I found is that leadership is evolving from a third stage to a fourth stage. In the past, our fathers and mothers were taught to lead through fear, through controlling nature, legislating, and all that, and there are still some businesses that do that. In the second stage, it evolved from controlling to managing. We have processes in place, we’re getting products out the door, we’re profitable. We managed it so that the status quo was maintained. That evolved over the years to leadership, where we truly lead through vision and strategy. And we still need to do all that. But what I learned is that this fourth stage, what I call “noble leadership,” is all about purpose and impact. It’s about helping the individuals on your team, not just to be productive for the sake of the job and the sake of the business. But I believe going forward in this post-pandemic world, as leaders, we have to rethink it. It’s about helping unleash the human spirit, so that every individual on our team fulfills their potential.
YS: How does a leader go about communicating and executing their vision?
Dirk Beveridge: Number one, it comes down to realizing how they want to lead. We truly have to think about how we want to lead. One of the things that came out of our pandemic is we’ve developed what we call this “Noble Calling of Leadership Assessment.” We’ve identified seven ethos of leadership: people, family, ownership mindset, customer centricity, expertise, and profit. You can take each of those seven ethos and put them on the scale of controlling, managing, leading, and noble calling. I think, in order to communicate, the first thing I have to do as a leader is understand “how am I leading today?” and “what’s my ambition to become a leader?” That’s number one.
Number two is that it comes down to vision. It comes down to: do you, as a leader, truly having a vision for your organization, because most leaders I have had a chance to interact with haven’t been able to articulate where they’re taking their organization.
YS: Let’s talk for a minute about executive vision.
Dirk Beveridge:Executive vision is absolutely critical. Without vision, there is no change or innovation. If we cannot articulate where we are today as an organization, we’re going to be pulled back to status quo. Visioning, in my mind, is a four-phase process. The first phase is what I call leadership mindset. If you’re a public company, and you’re driven by quarterly earnings, forget about a vision, because your decision making is going to be driven by those quarterly results. So, you’ve got to start with your mindset and ask, “Do I believe in long-term thinking?” And we also must ask ourselves, “Do we truly believe we can impact and shape our future?” Because in these disruptive times, some people are going to conclude that “it’s all out of my control and I can’t really shape the future.” Well, I’m here to say that you can shape the future.
The second phase is we must get our arms around the pace and the confluence of change. As leaders, we truly have to acknowledge and feel the reality of change and its impact on how business is going to be done. I’d be willing to bet nobody truly believes that the future is going to be less digital tomorrow than it is today. We use a model called “STEEP,” and it says, let’s look at social, technological, economic, environmental, and political issues. Cheryl Conley, the chief futurist for Ford Motor Company, said, “We can never really know what’s going to happen.” But if you spend your time looking at the forces along that STEEP model, then you can start to get your hands around the potential of what might happen.
Phase three is, we have to start looking to the future. We need to start connecting the dots and ask ourselves, “Which of these forces are going to make their way into our marketplace, our customers’ businesses, our suppliers’ businesses? How will they potentially change the rules of how work is going to be done?” This is a lot of thinking, dialogue, and research, but in the end, a leader needs to place a bet on the future that they envision and then create scenarios around what’s going to be required to seize opportunities around that envisioned future.
The fourth phase is now we must actually craft that vision. What are we going to become tomorrow in terms of our culture, value proposition, business model, etc.? We need to put pen to paper and be able to articulate that future reality that we really believe is possible with committed effort.
YS: Let’s talk about corporate culture. How critical is it, in today’s day and age especially, to remind a team of the mission, vision, and purpose?
Dirk Beveridge: Would it be wrong to say that it’s everything? I did a presentation a couple of weeks ago and the presenter before me was a demographer. He made the statement that HR is going to be bigger than finance going forward. Just think about that. We talked about these disruptive forces and the like, but I think there’s a new pillar that we need to be thinking about, what I call the “people forces.” Coming out of this pandemic, our employees have been impacted greatly. It’s been generations since people have beenimpacted in this way. And you think about everything from the hybrid work environment, to polarizing social and political views, to the shifting meaning of work-life balance, and we can go on, but the fact is, individuals are coming out of this pandemic different. I think that is going to impact our culture in a huge way going forward.
As individual leaders, we need to think about our culture deeper than we ever have. Every business has a culture, the question is, has it been intentional or not? In many businesses, the culture hasn’t been intentional, it’s just evolved. And if we continue to just allow it to evolve because of this swirl that’s around us, we’re gonna have a hard time attracting and retaining the people we need to sustain and grow our businesses profitably going forward.
YS: As a public speaker, what is a good tip that you could share with everyone for when they get on the stage?
Dirk Beveridge: My philosophy is it’s my job, it’s my responsibility to craft the perfect presentation.
It’s my job to understand up front the objectives of that meeting, the audience, their mindsets, their challenges, their obstacles, what they’re thinking about their business. And I need to understand my specific assignment that I’m being hired for and then it’s my job to go into all the research, critical thinking tools, and the stories that we have. And then it’s my job to craft that perfect presentation that drives inspiration to a newway of thinking. That gives individuals that spark to say, “You know what? I can be better tomorrow than I was today.”
My goal at the end of a presentation is that, as I walk off stage, one executive looks across the room to the other and mouths, “That was perfect.” That’s what we strive for every time and that’s what I think every speaker should strive for.
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