ExpenseMatters talks to Former Quarterback, Coach and President about his business, challenges and what he would have done differently during this tough economy.
A 1971 graduate of Georgia Tech with a degree in behavioral management, Jack’s focus on leadership began as a college student when he served as quarterback and team captain of the Georgia Tech football team, and led them to a bowl victory and Top 15 ranking. He continued his dedication to the sport by serving as a Division I college football coach for seven years.
Off the field, Jack’s career continued in a leadership capacity holding the positions of Vice President and COO of a regional service firm followed by becoming a SVP in a Fortune 500 company. In 1998, Jack founded Competitive Resources Group, Inc. (CRG). CRG, a niche recruiting firm, specialized in placing individuals with collegiate athletic backgrounds with companies seeking competitive, disciplined, team-oriented and results driven profiles. CRG eventually merged with The SURVIS Group, a professional services and IT recruiting firm, where Jack served as president for seven years.
Passionate about leadership and developing people, Jack Williams formed the IDEALS Foundation in 1991. A non-profit organization, IDEALS works with selected high school student athletes to help them develop their leadership and personal skills. More than 500 outstanding students have graduated from this program preparing them to be influential leaders.
Jack, I want to thank you for taking a couple of minutes to talk with me today. You’ve had a nice run with several successful companies. Can you tell me a little more about your role with The SURVIS Group and CRG?
In 1998 I formed Competitive Resources Group (CRG) to connect companies looking for individuals who possessed the following traits; competitive, team oriented, strong work ethic, perform well under pressure, ability to overcome adversity and results driven with athletes who possess those traits. Many of today’s college athletes (not the ones planning on playing professionally possess these traits and have gained valuable experience through their participation in athletics that will transfer nicely into the business world. CRG’s mission was to become the bridge by using our athletic contacts to interview the athletes and create a database of athletes that could be shared with companies who engaged us as a recruiting partner. The SURVIS Group was a privately owned staffing firm that was formed by a husband and wife team. I began as Vice President of the SURVIS Group in 2000 after merging CRG into the SURVIS Group and later served as president from 2002 – 2008.
As President of The SURVIS Group, you were responsible for thousands of contract employees in addition to your entire full-time staff. What were your biggest challenges with managing this many employees?
There were several challenges. In the book “Good to Great” Collins makes the statement that people aren’t a company’s strongest asset, it’s the right people. This was true of our internal staff as well as the people we placed on a contract basis. As far as the client knew, each of these was a regular employee of the SURVIS Group and thus was representing us every day they were on an assignment. If we made a mistake in matching the wrong person to a job, it quickly became a negative reflection on our company. Internally, our client base, the telecommunications industry, was going through a major transformation and their needs and how they worked with vendors quickly reflected that. Their relationship with their vendors moved from a relationship value to a commodity mindset and suppliers like the SURVIS Group had to change the way we did business to survive. That meant all of us in leadership positions had to develop a new mindset and new business model. Some people were able to adapt to that quicker than others. Getting our people to realize the “game was dramatically changing” and we have to as well can be a difficult sell, particularly so when a company had been very successful like the SURVIS Group had been in prior years.
In addition, you had to “tighten the reigns” a bit in preparation for the economy over the last 2-3 years. How did this impact your business and the controls you had to put in place? What was the toughest part about this process?
The toughest part clearly was the fact that the employee base could not remain at the same level when the revenues were falling. Anytime you affect people’s employment status, the financial and emotional well being of a family, it is a gut wrenching experience. Without a doubt, that was the most difficult aspect of any type of downsizing, rightsizing or whatever the new buzz word is today. I would do some things differently today than I did then. The first thing I would do is I would do a better job of truly defining “reality”. What was the real status of our business and be less optimistic about the future in the private planning sessions with my leadership team. Most leaders don’t like to face the realities of their business because more times than not it’s not what they either hoped for or thought it would be. They can either “question the data”, hope it will get better or ignore it all together. I’ve found that facts don’t cease to be facts simply because we choose to ignore them and that hope is not a good business strategy! Leaders want to be optimistic and think positively and that’s important. That being said, when it comes to managing expenses in a down economy its far more prudent to prepare for the worse scenario and adjust if it doesn’t occur than misjudge the severity of the downturn and have to react to the error. You have to closely monitor the results of the changes you made to make sure you are getting the desired results and once again define reality. Are your changes working or do you need to tighten more? That’s why I think it’s best to tighten more than you think and then loosen up if it looks like you were too aggressive. I should have tightened more. The other key part of working through a down cycle and the actions that go with it is to constantly be communicating with your people what’s going on and why. When people are left in the dark they don’t normally think positive thoughts. The information you’re sharing may not be uplifting but at least they know what the status is.
In these uncertain times, what would you say are some of the most important areas for executives to be conscience and proactive about with respect to their businesses.
I go back to the comments above. Constantly be defining the reality of your business and keep communicating that reality to your employees. Stay abreast of the facts and try to be in an anticipation mode. They asked Wayne Gretzky, the professional hockey player what was the secret to his success. He said most players skate to the puck. I skate to where I think the puck is going to be. That mindset holds true for us in business. It’s hard but we have to try to figure out where we need to be in the future and not dwell on where we are currently and think our current status is going to remain the same for very long.
Ok, so you recently stepped away from corporate life to pursue a passion you have. Here is your chance for a shameless plug! Can you give our readers some brief insight into what you are doing now?
In 1991 I formed the IDEALS Foundation to address the issue as athletes as role models. Our society has placed athletes in positions of role models. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, just that it is a fact and it’s not going to change. What needs to change is the type of role model they portray for our young people. Young people have, and always will, try to emulate the behavior of their heroes or role models. We have to be careful about who those people are. In 1993 IDEALS started our first IDEALS Leadership School in Atlanta focusing on high school junior student athletes who met certain academic requirements, had already demonstrated they were going to be a person of influence at their schools and on their team and these young people also had to express in writing why we need positive role models in their application to our program. We bring in approximately 45 high school student athletes into the program for an eight week training program meeting each Sunday night. Some of the classes are the Responsibility and Accountability of Leaders, Public Speaking, Goal Setting, Building Trust, Decision Making… and even a class in Etiquette. We get back with the students their senior year to see how they are doing with their goals, their I Believe List, any leadership challenges they’re facing and ask how they are doing with their mentoring. Each student is asked to mentor a ninth grade student during their senior year. In 2009 we completed the 14th year of our Leadership Schools and now I am dedicating my efforts full-time to creating 50 IDEALS Leadership Schools across the country in the next 10 years so we can impact more of these outstanding young people who want to make a difference. We don’t charge the students to attend so most of my time is spent trying to share our program with individuals, companies, organizations and foundations encouraging them to get involved financially to support our efforts to expand our program, our influence and our impact.
Current Company: Ideals Foundation Inc.