Episode 29: The Evolution of the Small Giants Community

Posted by Paul Spiegelman on Mar 2, 2021 12:09:19 PM

Paul Spiegelman, co-founder of Small Giants Community, talks with Rich and Steve about the evolution of the Small Giants Community and bringing together entrepreneurs who lead with purpose and value.

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Episode with guest: Paul Spiegelman

Co-founder of the Small Giants Community

(This episode was recorded in January of 2021.)


Key Episode Take-Aways:

1. The Small Giants Community started with trying to bring together people that are liked minded and believe that business is about leading with purpose and values. (click to jump to this topic below)  We should bring together people that are like minded or like I like to say like hearted around this idea that business is about leading with purpose and values.

2. Right now is a great time to increase the level of transparency and teach people within the business. (click to jump to this topic below)  But I believe your contribution is much more than that because transparency touches everything, and what better time to increase the level of transparency to teach people in our business to bring them along to encourage those ideas than what has happened during the pandemic.

3. People find out that sharing information and being transparent is not as big of a risk as they thought. (click to jump to this topic below)  But when you're forced into survival mode, and you might have to share some information, they were put in those uncomfortable positions. And I believe that there were a lot of aha moments, and that are still happening about wow, they're really, this wasn't as risky as we thought  


Continue scrolling to read the full episode transcription.

Announcer 0:04

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Announcer 0:52

Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast, where we share stories of open-book management and highlight capitalism at its best. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the “Change the Game” Podcast with special guest, Paul Spiegelman. In this episode, Rich and Steve talk to Paul about the evolution of the Small Giants Community and bringing together entrepreneurs who lead with purpose and value. Here's your hosts, Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker.

Steve Baker 1:19

Welcome back to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we are changing the game by doing business differently and collecting and sharing those stories of capitalism at its best. I'm Steve Baker and as always, my co-host, Rich Armstrong, President of the Great Game of Business and co-author of our new book, Get in the Game. Rich, how are you?

Rich Baker 1:39

Very good. Thanks, Steve. How are you?

Steve Baker 1:41

I'm doing great, probably because our special guest today is Mr. Paul Spiegelman. Now, I know that our community knows Paul from being around our community, the Great Game community, for years and years a good friend. But for those of you who are just joining us for the first time, Paul Spiegelman is the former chief culture officer at Stericycle. He co-founded and ran Barrel Health. And he also co-founded the Small Giants Community, the community of purpose-driven business leaders based on Bo Burlingham’s book Small Giants. Paul, thank you for doing this and how are you?

Paul Spiegelman 2:19

Doing great, great to be with you guys.

Steve Baker 2:22

It's a pleasure. We really wanted to kind of explore, you know, the why behind things with this conversation. And I think it's a great place to start by saying, you know, you just by, you know, listing your resume there. So, you've we've made significant transitions in your life and in business, talk about some of the lessons that you learned as a student of business, because now essentially, you're a teacher. So, what did you learn as a student?

Paul Spiegelman 2:51

In other words, you're telling me I'm old. I've been around for a while. You know, I think as I answer that question, Steve, it's really about lessons learned. Many times, without intention, right, we kind of fall into business. I was one of those that had a different path after school and became a lawyer did that for about a year and a half. And then I just fell into business with my two brothers. So, we had no business experience. And that company Barrel Health, I ended up growing for almost, almost 30 years. And so just learn by doing and learn by listening. And I think building good relationships, just finding people that could be mentors that had more experience than me and building those relationships overtime trying to listen to those words of wisdom, and then and getting better. So those of us that have been around for a while, we have really just our own experience, and so I might be an inn of one. But at this point in my career, I feel like most of those business situations that come up, particularly for smaller businesses, I've seen, and so I can at least share that knowledge. And this whole idea of purpose and values, transparency, like you guys talked about in great game, have resonated with me for years, so I just love talking about it.

Steve Baker 4:14

Love it. That's a great place to start. And so that brings us to this idea of, you know, creating a community of people that are that are purpose driven. So, the Small Giants Community helps connect like-minded, purpose-driven leaders. And this story is so interesting, and we'd love having, you know, seen it evolve over time. For those who don't know your history, why don't you give us a little bit of background on why this is so important to you?

Paul Spiegelman 4:42

Well, it goes back to your previous question a little bit because I found in business that it was pretty lonely being an entrepreneur and I started with my brothers, it was kind of like a mom-and-pop business and going out and developing those relationships. I found that I was attracted to the kind of people that felt like me about business that, yes, we wanted to grow. We wanted to grow, though a certain way. We weren't just looking for growth for growth's sake. And I come upon this book, Small Giants, written by Bo Burlingham, in about 2007. Turns out, I just written my first book on culture, and I write a blind email to Bo, telling him how inspired I was by his work, which chronicled these 14 companies and what made them special, and how I identified with that work. And he ended up writing a foreword for my book, and over the next couple of years, it just occurred to me that there were many people like me that read that book that would resonate with that message, and those are the kind of people I wanted to meet. So, it was a very selfish reason to first look at developing a community where I approached Bo, and I said look, 

1. The Small Giants Community started with trying to bring together people that are like minded and believe that business is about leading with purpose and values.

we should bring together people that are like minded or like I like to say like hearted around this idea that business is about leading with purpose and values. And it certainly means that we're not doing that just because it's the right thing to do. But it happens to be good for business. And we're going to create more profitable business that way. And so. So, it was really around that idea that one night over dinner and a little wine, we decided to launch the community. Bo admitted to me that his expertise was around writing, and obviously a longtime writer for Ink Magazine, and Forbes, and other publications and wonderful books, including several with Jack, that he said, Paul, you know if you want to do it, I'll help you any way I can. And that's how we launched the community back in 2010. So, it's been 10-11 years now that we've had the community. And really that, like you said, that the idea is to bring together and to identify these people, because if you think about just the millions of people in business, not everyone, honestly, is going to resonate with this message necessarily. So, we're looking for that subset of people that feel this way about business. We want to identify them. We want to educate them and help them grow and build those relationships. And ultimately, see these practices that we talked about around culture, and leadership, and transparency survive in these companies long term. And so, the community initially was very focused on leaders, who were owners or CEOs of these companies, and bringing those people together, we've had our annual conference. Now for many years, we had a number of different offerings. And over the years, it's kind of transitioned, where now our focus is, I would say, more around what we call next-gen leaders, those that are maybe next in line, not necessarily the founder or owner. They're still involved, of course, primarily as teachers and mentors. But we love training that next level of leaders so that we have a better chance we feel of these kinds of practices, getting deep into organization and surviving, like I said, and sustaining over time.

Steve Baker 8:01

Love it.

Rich Armstrong 8:02

Paul, the, you know, this is quite a departure from being an entrepreneur to now playing this role of community builder. I'm curious, curious is what has been kind of the biggest impact personally, or professionally from this community, working with this community? For you?

Paul Spiegelman 8:19

Yeah, that's a great question Rich. It's, it's just really a labor of love. I mean, I think like many business leaders, particularly those that maybe are further down in their career, or in my case, I sold my primary company now, eight years ago. I did think about for years, even prior to that, you know, what was next. I wasn't always looking to sell my company necessarily. But that's ended up what happened, what happened. I did feel like that my initial impact that I could have would be on the 400 or so employees that we had in my company Barrel Health over these many years. And I feel confident that we've had a positive impact that way. And then it's sort of switched from that to say, Alright, well, are these practices, things that would resonate with other business leaders, and maybe my role or my, my contribution, could be helping to teach other entrepreneurs and business leaders how to do this kind of thing? Because there's many than I think the biggest question that we get from people is, I get it, this all sounds good. I just don't know how to do it. So, it's very practical, just as it is with Great Game, I know. They are looking for the various tools and tips to be able to lead their businesses and their lives this way. So, it's been incredibly gratifying for me, I did go on, after selling my company to be Chief Culture Officer of Stericycle for five years. So, I got to do this culture work on a bigger stage in a public company. But now, in my role as co-founder of the community, I'm not as involved in the day-to-day operation of the community. I certainly participate in our leadership academy and try to share some knowledge. I love the mentoring side of it. But as you get later in life, you start to think about what's my purpose, right. It's all about purpose and vision and defining that or redefining that for ourselves. I'm not sure that ever goes away. I still think I'm working on it. And so, the Small Giants Community is definitely a big part of that for me.

Steve Baker 10:17

Awesome. Well, it's a big impact for sure. What I love about all the different communities that kind of intermingle, and crossover in this weird Venn diagram is that there's, I love that like, minded and like hearted concept, because you start at a level of trust, you know, right there, and it's great to build from that point. Let's go to story time. I want to hear some stories. So, the past year has been really challenging for so many companies. But there's a lot that successfully weathered this pandemic, are there any inspiring Stories from Small Giants Community that come to mind.

Paul Spiegelman 10:55

You know, there are so many I'll tell you. I've been very surprised. And I'm sure you guys have to with the resilience of people in our world, in our network. And I think that goes to this kind of approach to leadership, which is around values and purpose and transparency. You, Great Game focuses, obviously, on transparency, primarily in the financial side of the business.

2. Right now is a great time to increase the level of transparency and teach people within the business.

But I believe your contribution is much more than that because transparency touches everything, and what better time to increase the level of transparency to teach people in our business to bring them along to encourage those ideas than what has happened during the pandemic. And as we've seen, we've seen some companies that have really suffered because of the industry they might be in. We have seen other companies completely thrive. But I think we've seen most, if not all, companies in our world that have survived. And one of the things that they have done is that they have uncovered stars in their organization that maybe they didn't even know about before. And there's a lot of aha moments like, wow, we didn't realize that these people, these certain people that are stepping up, and giving us these great ideas, I think about one example, you guys know, Rob Dube, from Image One. And Image One is a perfect example of a company that had tremendous threat to its business as a managed print services company. Right gets paid by the copy. Well, if nobody's in the office, nobody's making copies. And so, they went way down in, you know, their projections for revenue for the year. And, you know, the first thing they did is they brought the whole team together. And they're very much bought into the idea of transparency through things they've learned from Great Game from Small Giants from Rob and Joel's style of doing business. And, and they, they really let the path up to the organization and the ideas up to the organization, and just listened. And they came up with great ideas, great innovation, they actually created a completely unrelated product line that they could start selling to start to fill the gap. Everybody in the company took a pay cut. Which by now has already been paid back, there was tremendous sacrifice together. But I remember the presentations that they put together the complete transparency of the financial position, showing that if we go down 30%, if we go down 50%, if we go down 80%. Here are the honest, tough choices we're going to have to make. And I think that openness and the ability to just say, okay, we're in this together, how are you guys going to help us has just been a great success story. And I think I've heard that in many other companies across the spectrum as, as you have. So that the idea is not that the leader has to know all the answers, this is uncharted territory for everybody. And we don't know how this is going to work out. We're still in the middle of it. But the ability to get ideas from people, to have a sense of compassion, and humility that I think many companies haven't had before, has been a huge learning and going to be a big positive, to be able to help people deal with what it's like to be a parent and have to educate your kids while I go to work and, you know, single mom, or, or whatever that was going on how to deal with the social justice issues, the mental health issues, I mean, just uncharted territory in so many ways that is enabled conversations to happen. So, I think across the board, you've seen this, this happen in not only traditional service, business entrepreneur, entrepreneurial companies, but we have members of the community that, for example, are law firms or accounting firms and, and even they have gone beyond the bricks and mortar types of things to try to improve their companies to say, you know, we have to open up more, we have to open up, be vulnerable, and do this together. And I think we've seen some great examples of that, particularly this year.

Rich Armstrong 15:03

That's, that's great. Yeah. You know, you know, the pandemic and a lot of ways is created some other mindset shifts. I mean, I know you've probably talked to people that are inside and outside your community. And this idea of transparency specifically financial transparency has always been an area that there's some owners and CEOs that there's some fear about doing it or some concerns about doing it. And we've seen through outside communities like this teach CEOs that the pandemic almost forced them to kind of think about that a little bit more to be more transparent. And I'm curious, have you seen that through entrepreneurs maybe within even Small Giants Community, where they were more transparent and more financially transparent and maybe more financially disciplined, and they've ever been in is that is that shifted their mindset about that whole idea?

Paul Spiegelman 15:58

I think so. I think I would assume you guys are getting more attention for the tenants of Great Game than you ever have. Sometimes we're forced into getting uncomfortable. And I think that's what's happened here is that the sheer nature, the shock of what happened, the impact it had on these businesses has forced some CEOs, that prior to now, didn't feel like it was necessary, didn't feel like it was important. Of course, I'm preaching to the choir here. We, like you guys, have always believed that that stuff was not only important but necessary and non-threatening to the leadership of an organization. You know, why not share.

3. People find out that sharing information and being transparent is not as big of a risk as they thought.

But when you're forced into survival mode, and you might have to share some information, they were put in those uncomfortable positions. And I believe that there were a lot of aha moments, and that are still happening about wow, they're really, this wasn't as risky as we thought, and actually, educating them about it. I mean, it's one thing to be transparent. It's another to educate. And whether you do it through the Great Game method, or you simply take on this new idea of transparency in your business, I think that's one of the very positive outcomes that we're having from the pandemic. And I think that, that financial transparency and education is more important than ever. And if it took this tough, hard lesson and challenge to get us there, then you know, I'd say let's take it and run with it.

Steve Baker 17:32

Why do I have the feeling that we probably would have said the same thing in 2008 2009? Just

Paul Spiegelman 17:37


Steve Baker 17:38

I'm like going, have we learned anything? I mean, not us on the podcast or the people listening. But man, let's not repeat our mistakes, guys. Right.

Rich Armstrong 17:47

Sometimes education doesn't stick, Steve.

Steve Baker 17:50

Tell me about it! Oh, my gosh. Well, so Paul, you have been running a very wonderful podcast Leading With Purpose. And I'm curious, what's your favorite story in the past year of people you've interviewed?

Paul Spiegelman 18:06

Oh, boy, there's, there's just great, great stories, it's hard to even land on one particular story. I think what's been interesting to me is that we all have a story and quite often in business, we get right into business. And we sometimes even celebrate the accomplishments someone has or the progress that they've made. What I love doing in the podcast is going back to understand what made these people who they are and why they are the way they are. And we all have that story. And honestly, one of my favorites was Jack. So, I've known Jack Stack for many years. He was obviously one of the original supporters of the Small Giants Community has been ever since we just love his story. But I got to take go back a little bit to his family and to listen to those early stories, those early struggles, that led him to become the kind of leader that he remains today. And that's really what it's about. For me, it's just uncovering the real story behind this and encouraging other people to, no matter where they are and what station that they are in life, to realize that they have the opportunity to do this work as well. We're all a function of our childhoods of how we were raised of our work and school experiences. It's very personal. And so, I just love to try to uncover some of those stories and go beyond the things we kind of already know. And honestly, I got the idea from a time, or I was asked to these kinds of questions in, in an interview that that had nothing to do with my expertise on culture or anything like that. It was like, Okay, what made you who you were. And I was more interested answering those questions for the first time. And so, I kind of stole that idea. And I think that's the idea of the podcast. So, Jack was really amazing this year, is and I look forward to having him. We're going to do a little fireside chat in March because I think that his expertise and really his worldview is going to contribute in a great way to how entrepreneurs move forward. After everything we've been through this last year, or what will be you, know, 18 months.

Rich Armstrong 20:35

I think a lot of that you talked about certainly came through in the podcast you had with Bo Burlingham. I've known Bo for a long time that there was a lot that I learned in that podcast,

Paul Spiegelman 20:48

Yeah, isn't that crazy?

Steve Baker 20:51

Marxist, FBI, I mean, just there's a laundry list.

Paul Spiegelman 20:54

Yeah, Dude was a radical. So, but you know, look at that, look at that led to and the relationships, and you know, we have so much to thank Bo for because he's really a master at telling people like Jack's stories. And that's what has created this movement and whether it's Small Giants or Great Game or the other organizers, lots of other organizations that are sprouting up that have the same idea tugboat, you know, purpose-driven leadership is not going away. And I think it's still got a ways to go. But I think we're making really good progress. And we'll continue to see more and more of this.

Rich Armstrong 21:36

But with that said, Paul, can you talk a little bit more about the Small Giants Community how it's grown over the past ten years? And what do you see in the future board?

Paul Spiegelman 21:47

Yeah, you know, I think Rich, the focus for us is, is sustainability of practices. And I think that while one we can we certify Small Giants, leaders that they can go through our one-year Leadership Academy and become certified leaders our real hope is that that these practices sustain in companies over time leadership changes, right, there's turnover, same thing with what you guys teaching in Great Game. But to me, the real success is how this develops and how we can go from leader to leader how these things just become standard part of the training and learning of organizations. And so, I think we've got a good template as you do of how we can teach this over time. One of the other things that that has been really interesting to us that has come out of the pandemic is that I think this level of transparency can extend to other topics that maybe we don't always tackle, for example, social justice, you know, I was very touched by the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and this sadness that I personally felt that we're just not as far along in this country as I thought we were. And so, we're launching in an effort to bring our leadership academy to underserved business communities to provide a scholarship program for minority business leaders to be able to get access to this training at little or no cost across the country as our way of contributing. But if you think about this idea of social justice, starting in the summer, we ended up having conversations that we never had with our employees. Right. We never talked about this kind of thing. And I think it's okay to talk about it. We never had discussions about mental health in the workplace. I think it's okay to talk about that. And I think the future is to take not just the nuts and bolts of leadership and culture and community and transparency, but apply those to discussions of current events, and say, is there really a topic that's taboo? if work in home are not really separated? And it's just life? Why aren't we talking about these things at work? Why do they have to be uncomfortable? Why do they have to be the elephant in the room? And so that's really what I'm looking forward to certainly in the next couple of years is expanding the dialogue, expanding the conversation. So, there's really nothing that's off-limits. And if we can, again, change over time the way leaders lead, then I think we're going to change the world for the better and the way companies contribute to not only the economy but to a better society overall.

Steve Baker 24:34

I really liked that idea that Gestalt leader, I just trademarked that, by the way, the whole you know, I mean, why can't we lead people in life as well, they're looking for to someone, so why can't it be us instead of the internet or TV or movies or something like that? I love that, Paul, that's a that's a pretty hairy, audacious goal, right there.

Paul Spiegelman 24:53

Yeah. But you think about I think what's a little less risky is to get back to that same common denominator that we have, Steve is that we, if we're values-driven, if we're purpose-driven, then it's a little safer space to have these conversations. And not to say they'll all go well, or they won't be lively debate, but I think I think we could do it. And I'm really interested in giving that a try, particularly going into this next year.

Steve Baker 25:22

And it's worth it.

Paul Spiegelman 25:23

It is.

Steve Baker 25:24

It's worth it right, the things that are worth it are hard, as has been said so many times before.

Paul Spiegelman 25:29

That's right.

Steve Baker 25:30

You know, we always like to kind of tie a nice bow on our interviews by asking, you know, what's the one question that we should be asking you that we haven't?

Paul Spiegelman 25:43

Let's see. What should you be asking me How I'm spending my time during the pandemic? I don't know. I don't know. I think I think we covered it.

Steve Baker 25:58

Are you wearing pants?

Paul Spiegelman 26:00

I am wearing pants, but they're very comfortable sweats. Right now, under this, I'm wearing a T-shirt. So, the other day, we went out to dinner because my daughter was going back to college. And she had been with us for a month. And I had to put on jeans. And I was so uncomfortable for a couple hours, right. So, as you could tell, probably we haven't gotten out much. We're pretty much hanging out at home, we have a daughter in college at UT Austin, and our son is in middle school. And he's just sits up his computer all day long. So, we just been hanging in and laying low like everybody else. But I think we have light at the end of the tunnel here. And hopefully, in the next few months, we'll all get to get out a little bit more. But it's certainly given us a greater appreciation for what we have and for family. And it's been some, some good time. But I feel very grateful, obviously during this time, and there's so many people that are suffering, and so we feel very fortunate. And I think we'll, you know, I think we'll all come out of this better for what we've all collectively been through.

Steve Baker 27:11

That sounds like the right attitude right there. Well, Paul, I got to tell you, we sure appreciate you and the community, all your efforts and contributions. They don't go unnoticed, and just wanted to thank you for that. Folks, if you want to learn more about Paul Spiegelman, you ought to check out his website at PaulSpiegelman.com. All of his books are there, but also SmallGiants.org. You can learn about the community and about the Leadership Academy that Paul is referred to SmallGiants.org, and we got a special treat for you because Coming up, we'll have an episode with Hamsa from Small Giants, who will join us for a deeper dive into the four pillars of Small Giants and teach us more about the movement. Paul, thank you very much.

Paul Spiegelman 27:58

Thanks, guys. Pleasure to see you all.

Steve Baker 28:00

And Rich, as usual. Great to have you on, and we'll just keep bringing these stories together. Let's keep that conversation going. So, folks, send us your questions, your stories, your best practices, ideas and challenges, and your victories. This is the year we need to celebrate those victories. You're not alone. We are all here getting through it together. That is capitalism at its best. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.

Announcer 28:22

The "Change the Game Podcast" is produced by the Great Game of Business. To learn more, visit GreatGame.com.

Topics: Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Transparency, engagement, capitalism

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Hosted by Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker the Change the Game podcast highlights true life stories of organizations influencing positive change by doing business differently. They’re teaching people how business works and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. It’s capitalism at its best. Inside each episode, you’ll discover stories of entrepreneurs who are Changing the Game.

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