Jeff Evenson, Professional Angel Investor, shares how the book, The Opposite of Spoiled, influenced him in his business journey, and his belief that with the right leadership and vulnerability, you can make the great game of business work anywhere.
Episode with guests: Jeff Evenson
Professional Angel Investor
(This episode was recorded in July of 2021.)
Key Episode Take-Aways:
1. Great Game practices can be implemented in a wide range of businesses. (click to jump to this topic below) So, I have a, I've probably started or acquired six or seven businesses in the last 15 years or so. And, you know, they range that kind of crazy part of it is that they range from, you know, hair salons and smoothie shops to, you know, precision machine shop, businesses doing, you know, working with NASA and Boeing. So, you know, it's not terribly related. And so that part, I guess, speaks to the variety that I enjoy in my life, I don't know. So, in those companies, I would say that there isn't one that I can think of that I either started or acquired in the last 15 years that I haven't done some form of implementing, you know, a Great Game of Business slash open book,
2. Implementing the Great Game of Business may not look the same in every company or industry, but it is possible for the Game to be played. (click to jump to this topic below) So, you have people who are very concrete in their thinking much more, you know, in an in very focused and very detail oriented, so they wanted to know. They want to know the details. But they also, you know, looked at me sideways, like, you know, no one's ever told us this stuff before. Why are you Why are you telling me now? And what game are you playing? What trick Are you playing on me, that's going to, you know, that's going to make me work harder, and you're going to benefit from it. So, there was a lot of there was a trust building game that took place and I think that was that's kind of a difference.
3. Playing the Game is going to be different in every company, but the best plan is to just start and then course correct. You cannot expect perfection from the start. (click to jump to this topic below) perfect is certainly the enemy of the good and in planning, in my view, the times that that came, that that revealed itself the most was when you're going through, especially trying to launch a Great Game into a business. I learn so many people who just want to sit on it and sit on until they get it exactly right. And what I always tell people is like, you're never going to get it exactly right.
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The "Change the Game" Podcast is sponsored by Prairie Capital Advisors, helping businesses think forward. For more information, visit prairiecap.com/ggob. That's prairiecap.com/ggob.
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 Jeff Evenson. In this episode, Rich and Steve talk with Jeff about how the book, The Opposite of Spoils, influenced him in his business journey, and his belief that with the right leadership and vulnerability, you can make the Great Game of Business work anywhere. Here's your hosts, Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker.
Steve Baker 0:57
Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we're changing the game by doing business differently and highlighting stories of capitalism at its best. . I'm Steve Baker, and I'm here with Rich Armstrong, president of the Great Game of Business. Hello, Richard, how are you?
Rich Armstrong 1:13
Hi, Steve. I'm good. I'm good. How are you today?
Steve Baker 1:16
Very good. And I'm really good because Rich and I co-authored our new book Get in the Game, how to create rapid financial results and long-lasting cultural change. And now compound that excitement with our special guest today, Mr. Jeff Evenson. Jeff, we've known for many years, he graduated from West Point in 1990, with an engineering degree and spent three years on active duty as an engineer officer. And in the 25 years since he left the army, Jeff has supported or owned companies that range from a half a million dollars to over 10 billion if you can believe that. And he's owned multiple businesses and successfully launched purchased or scaled several multi-million-dollar companies as well. He's also a coach for the lion's pride, which helps mostly veteran businesses, accelerate their business and optimize the live their lives at the same time. Jeff, how are you today?
Jeff Evenson 2:14
Steve, I always say I'm better than I deserve. Thanks for having me.
Steve Baker 2:19
That might be true. But it makes me reflect. It's great to have you You've been a good friend of the game for so many years. And, and a good friend personally as well. You're just one of the most solid characters that we know. I thought I'd start out by kind of confessing and also thanking you for this, we talk about you all the time, because almost any time we're introducing the game to a new group, we talk about the events and cash method. And rather than me explaining it, I wonder, you know, you've been very nice to let us use that story in our workshops and speeches. Can you tell us about what that is? And how it came about? Tell us the story?
Jeff Evenson 2:59
Yeah, that's funny. I appreciate you. Talking about it, I think it's something that's that was fun in a moment. And it made so much sense to me, because of my background with the Great Game. But in fact, the fact is that I that I actually read about this kind of tactic with your children in a book called the opposite of spoiled by a guy named Ron Lieber. And it was, it was an explanation of how to help engage your kids and you know, just what it costs to run your house. And of course, when I read that, having the Great Game of Business kind of background, it just totally resonated. So, the whole concept was, take out a month salary out of the bank and walk your kids through what happens with that money. And, and for shock effect. Do it in single dollar bills. So, the story behind the story is that I actually I texted my banker and I told him, I asked him how difficult would it be to get, you know, $13,000 in singles? And Funny enough, he didn't respond to me via text. He called me immediately. No, are you in jail? You know, like, what, like, what's the problem?
Steve Baker 4:24
So, he also texted were you in East St. Louis is that correct?
Jeff Evenson 4:29
It was a little bit of that. I was going to try to keep it clean. Steve, come on, man. So as a matter of fact, that's exactly what he texted. But so, it took a couple days, but I stopped by the bank and, and they gave me a printer. Paper box full of cash.
Steve Baker 4:53
Jeff Evenson 4:54
It was it was about 13 or $14,000 in singles. That came in bricks I had never seen anything like it before in my life, and it was actually quite fun. And so, I took that to the house. And I, while the kids were at school, I poured it out on the living room floor. And I had made a whiteboard that had kind of each place where we spend money was written on the whiteboard, and then it was covered up with a post-it that explain what that money was. So maybe it was dance lessons or, you know, soccer team fees, or it was electricity or water, whatever the whatever the category was, and then with the pile of money in the middle of the room, while my kids sat with their mouths open, I had, I had each of them go and grab a post it and then they would have to pull that money out of the pile instead of the side. So, the pictures that you've shown in your presentations that kind of show these nice, neat stacks of dollars and little post its associated with them. And that's kind of the rest of the story. You know, the other part was that there were some fortuitous photo opportunities afterwards with you know, my son with, you know, a stack of bills in his mouth, and just acting like a fool and stuff like that. So, a lot of fun stuff.
Steve Baker 6:19
It is fun. And you know, folks, for those of you listening, these photos are in probably just about every overview presentation that we do in Great Game, you can probably see it on our YouTube channel or definitely on our community site. And Jeff, when you it's kind of funny, because we had a conversation here last few days, how your daughter who was in the photos, if I'm not mistaken, just got married. And so, it didn't seem like that long ago to me. But she was quite young then that she talked about that experience.
Jeff Evenson 6:54
You know, I think expose them in a way that most kids that age don't get exposed to what the expenses are around the house and what it costs to run at home. My older daughter who you're talking about is who just got married, it's actually incredibly frugal. And I don't know if that's because, or in spite of this, of that event. I mean it's she's very, very conscious of the money that's spent in her house. And I think my other kids are aware. I would say, you know, they may not care as much as she does at this point. But you know, they're also younger. So yeah, I think it was it was an interesting exercise. I think the kid's kind of, you know, it was funny, my, the words that I heard from my kids afterwards, is that my oldest daughter, her response, well, my youngest daughter was just sort of not sure exactly what was going on. And she was pretty young at the time. So, she was a little overwhelmed by my son was it kind of hit home for him. And then my older daughter always says that she was just shaking your head and like why in the world? Would you go and do this? Like what? So
Steve Baker 8:11
Probably your banker was saying that to as they were receiving $14,000 in singles, having to fill out deposit reports and money laundering forms. And all that.
Jeff Evenson 8:22
That's exactly what they had to do. Exactly. So, it's It was a fun, but probably a little over the top, but
Steve Baker 8:30
I love it. Well, I have a quick follow up to that question before Rich starts with the real serious business questions in it. You know, Jeff, you know, you mentioned about it, you know, where you learned about the using money and that sort of thing. But where did you first learn about the Great Game?
Jeff Evenson 8:47
Yeah, that's a great question, Steve, the so funny enough, it was back in the mid-2000s, mid aughts, or whatever you want to call those. And I, we, I was in the salon business. We were in the salon industry. My wife and I and we had a colleague in that industry named Neil Dukoff. And Neil was a presenter at the gathering of games. And he said he was coming in town. I wanted to meet up with him. I had heard of him, but I had never met him. And so, he said, well, I'm coming to St. Louis, I'm going to the gathering of games and I'm like, oh, you're a gamer. That's cool, whatever. I mean, I'm not into that stuff, but fine. And so, I went down to meet him and then I realized after the fact that you know, as he explained what the what the concept was that there was a book behind it, which I dove into. I connected with Rhonda actually back in the day. And she helped me understand more and then as we bought then that was actually before we bought the business. And so, it really led me to you know the time I was working for a bit big multinational multibillion ridiculous company. And I was just kind of, you know, the story resonated with me so much it made me think that's exactly how you need to run a company.
Rich Armstrong 10:15
Hey, Jeff, really glad that you could join us today. And I did. Let's talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey.
Jeff Evenson 10:23
Rich Armstrong 10:24
How many businesses have you started and acquired? In since you learned about Great Game. How many of them? Did you try to implement Great Game in?
Jeff Evenson 10:34
Yeah, so my, so I've been on a bit of a random walk for the last 25 or 30 years. And it's, it's, it's brought a number of things to light, one of those things is that I'm a, I'm a great sprinter. Okay, so I really do like an 18-month sprint, man, I'm your guy, right? Don't give me the baton in a middle distance or a marathon, but you know, sprinting, I'm your guy.
1. Great Game practices can be implemented in a wide range of businesses.
So, I have a, I've probably started or acquired six or seven businesses in the last 15 years or so. And, you know, they range that kind of crazy part of it is that they range from, you know, hair salons and smoothie shops to, you know, precision machine shop, businesses doing, you know, working with NASA and Boeing. So, you know, it's not terribly related. And so that part, I guess, speaks to the variety that I enjoy in my life, I don't know. So, in those companies, I would say that there isn't one that I can think of that I either started or acquired in the last 15 years that I haven't done some form of implementing, you know, a Great Game of Business slash open book, mindset into that business, some have been more formal than others. Because they just kind of allowed me to do that. And some have been a little more of just trying to kind of take early steps to get ourselves there to some transparency.
Rich Armstrong 12:16
Just a quick little follow up, you would, did you ever have any concerns about the transparency required? With small entrepreneurial companies? And,
Jeff Evenson 12:25
You know, never really Rich? I mean, it was, it's never been something that crossed my mind. I feel like the once I got over, it got over the hump of believing that you don't have to reveal individual salaries. I think that was the part that kind of scared me going into it. Right? was once I got past that, I feel like, there was no real, they're like, no rules. Okay, show it all. There's no sense in not showing it. And I think the education piece is so important. And you can I mean, the word, you know, you guys talked about this before, it's, the worst thing you can do is just kind of show off a P&L and then walk away from it. You know, there's so much groundwork that has to be laid and conversations that have to be, you know, initiated and, you know, nurtured to help people understand what these things mean. And a lot of times my, the words I use are things like, we're No, we're no different than your home. You just had a couple zeros on the end, you know, so, you know, don't get overwhelmed by the fact that we have a $4,000 phone bill, you may have a $40 phone bill in your house, we've got a $4,000 phone bill, how it works. So, I think it's just a matter of, you know, being intentional about educating from the beginning. And that makes that keeps any fear of transparency? You know, I would think.
Steve Baker 13:58
So, let's talk about one of those early businesses, you were in the spawn salon business. And I remember at the time, I was helping a massage therapy school with the Game and the director of that school said, these people have been running from numbers their whole life. I thought she was talking to me. I'm just curious, what was it like to teach business and numbers and finance to stylists and colorists and massage therapists? You know?
Jeff Evenson 14:29
Oh, boy. Yeah, that's a great question, Steve. The funny thing is that they claimed to be running from numbers but they're not you know, these people, you know, the technicians in our business, right knew their numbers better than anybody else in the in the land. I mean, they, they knew how many dollars they generated each week. They knew how many products they sold, they knew everything that they needed to know the idea that they weren't good with numbers was such a fallacy, I found that almost laughable after the fact I didn't, you know, going into it, I was very concerned about it, a lot of feelings, a lot of artists and you know, that kind of thing. But, but in the end, it was like, you know, these people know their numbers, they just haven't thought about it in the terms that we're putting it out there. So, one of the things we did that I thought was really powerful was, well, you know the, the planning process was really powerful with that group. Because you could, you could talk to them about what they made last year, you know, how much you earned last year, and there's a direct correlation between what they earned and what they produced, right. So, these are, these are commissioned stylist commissioned massage therapists. So, they could draw a direct line between the dollars that they put in their pocket and the dollars they produce for the company. And so, when we went through the planning process, instead of doing a top-down kind of, hey, we need to grow by 5% kind of mantra, it was the exact opposite. We sat down individually with every person on the team, and said, look, last year you did x, and you earn this much money. Would you like to earn more? If you would, what would you like to earn, and then let's talk about how you can get there. And so that was the conversation. And then it bubbled up into a plan for the overall company. And every single time, I spent, shockingly, I spent time as the kind of finance guy and our business, trying to cut places where I didn't, I thought we were way too aggressive. So, we had estheticians, saying they're going to grow their business by 35%. And you're probably not going to do 35%. You know, let's, let's back it down to 15. Even though they're like, rah, rah, rah, here we go. Plan that they, they plan they created was so aggressive, I was like, probably, I'll dial that in a little bit, because it's not going to be your, I don't want to set us up for failure. So, it was an interesting dynamic in that. Once they drew the connection between what they made and what they produced, they were able to really, you know, they were very excited about growing the business and really doing all of that, you know, it's, I always tell people, it's like, you know, people act in their own self-interest, as soon as you can, as soon as you can show them how acting in their self-interest acts in the company's interest. It's magic.
Steve Baker 17:39
Oh, that's awesome. Actually, I'm glad you know, we've talked about this before, I don't know that I remember the part about you having to be the governor and kind of go, hey, let's sit here for. right. Now contrast that. I think so our listeners are probably kind of going wow, I really didn't think about that. But maybe my people can really get this give me a contrast or comparison with the people that you've worked with more recently, like in the you know, creating defense components? Or, you know, high tech kind of stuff.
Jeff Evenson 18:11
Yeah, I mean, it, you know, I think that, um, I think that the artist type, there's a lot of feelings and kind of confidence building that had to take place. And with machinists, it was a lot more about, you know, I don't believe you. I think you're BSing me. So, you know, let me you know, so I think that there was a lot more trust building that had to take place in the machinist world. Because they're just, you know, wired a different way. Right.
2. Implementing the Great Game of Business may not look the same in every company or industry, but it is possible for the Game to be played.
So, you have people who are very concrete in their thinking much more, you know, in an in very focused and very detail oriented, so they wanted to know. They want to know the details. But they also, you know, looked at me sideways, like, you know, no one's ever told us this stuff before. Why are you Why are you telling me now? And what game are you playing? What trick Are you playing on me, that's going to, you know, that's going to make me work harder, and you're going to benefit from it. So, there was a lot of there was a trust building game that took place and I think that was that's kind of a difference. Not that you didn't have to, you know, build trust in the salon world, but it was just a different in that world. There was more confidence building in them that they really did understand the numbers. Were in the in the machine shop world, it was more you know, I'm not just BSing you to try and get you to do something for me. I'm, you know, being authentic. So.
Rich Armstrong 19:49
Well, that's interesting, Jeff, but you have a really strong military background. And that you know, is obviously a more demanding control type of leadership in the military in the military world? So, I'm curious about what about Great Game resonated with you? Because it is a very different way of leading organizations, I would think.
Jeff Evenson 20:14
Yeah, you know, it's, that's a terrific question I, the command control thing in the army. You know, I understood it, I was around it, I adhere to it to the degree I had to me experienced that same kind of command-and-control mantra or mindset, at the big consumer packaged goods company that I worked for in St. Louis here. Same kind of deal with 1000s of employees, you know, big, you know, top-down kind of environment. But what I found in, in all those environments was that the team was really the piece that was the most powerful and the most interesting to me, small unit leadership in the military, small team management in the big corporate world, or small team participation, and then therefore, going into business ownership is all about small team leadership, right? I mean it's really, how do you motivate a bunch of people who otherwise probably wouldn't be hanging around with each other, to accomplish a goal. And so, as I read the Great Game of Business, as I got more educated on things like Get in the Game, sorry, fortuitous book plug. As I got exposed to more of the, you know, open book concept, I felt like that was my way to help lead people to achieve a goal together. And, for me, the excitement of business ownership, the thing that really compels me to do that, you know, over and over and over again, is the idea that you're going to build a team. And that team is going to work to walk together work together to accomplish a goal, and everyone's going to enjoy the spoils of it. And the idea that everybody enjoys the spoils. I mean, that's the home run, I mean, if you can build that program, you draw the line between what you're doing, or connect the dots between what you're doing and what you're, what the what the company needs to do. And then give a stake in the outcome. I mean, come on. That's, that's the way to play. And I tend to be, to be honest, I also have always been a sports enthusiast. And so, part of that attraction of the Great Game was my sports background and enjoying the ability to see the scoreboard and to celebrate wins, and to do that together as a team, and all those kinds of things. So, I think it's, I think that's powerful.
Rich Armstrong 23:09
Can you ever Can you think of, or maybe you're ever seen a situation where a Great Game may not work.
Jeff Evenson 23:17
Man, I don't know that that's a thing. I, you know, I would guess it probably if you had a less evolved business owner, you know, like a person who just was very, very scared to share numbers with people. Because they felt like that was going to be that was going to, I think, more often than not, the reason that people are afraid to share numbers is because they're embarrassed by it. And I think that when you show them, it makes you It shows vulnerability. And there are a lot of people who don't like to show vulnerability. And so, to me, unless you have an open minded, you know, reasonably vulnerable business owner, or leader, you're going to have a hard time playing The Game to any level that's meaningful at all. I mean, you can do it line by line, and you can do a little bit on the edges. But to do it with the full kind of open-heart open book, open mindset, I think would require somebody who has a bit more evolved.
Steve Baker 24:30
Yeah, I would agree that. So, Jeff, you've, you know, you've done a lot of things. You're doing a lot of things. What's next? What's the next big thing for Jeff Evenson?
Jeff Evenson 24:43
You know, well, right now I'm kind of leading the charge one of my, as I told you, I'm a sprinter. So, I'm working on a sprint right now. called onward initiative where we're in kind of in a tom shoes model. We're giving a membership to our -my book just fell over, giving a membership to our coaching program with every new membership that we have, where people join, so to a Veteran Business Owner, we will donate a year's worth of coursework to them. And then kind of on the horizon right now I'm working on a business plan for helping other people acquire businesses. I've, found, again, this speaks to my sprint mindset. Because I love the deal, you know, if it takes you, you know, three 612 months to acquire a company, I'm there for you to sprint to close that deal. And then I'm there to help the transition and bring in culture, things like the Great Game of Business and things like one page business plans and things that can allow you to operate a business. And then I'm happy to just allow that person who I've coached to run with it. And so, I'm developing that plan right now. I don't know what exactly what it looks like. But it's exciting to me at something that I feel like, feeds my sprinter mindset. And it also feeds my desire to help, you know, bring dreams or make dreams come true for people who are looking to buy and operate businesses.
Steve Baker 26:23
Yeah, for sure. And what a great way to do it too. For our veterans. I think that's awesome. Well, so I have to ask, you know, you're the guy who brought us the, the mantra that we use so often in our workshops, Voltaire's quote that, you know, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Got the more juicy ones that you live by.
Jeff Evenson 26:46
But it's funny, I mean,
3. Playing the Game is going to be different in every company, but the best plan is to just start and then course correct. You cannot expect perfection from the start.
perfect is certainly the enemy of the good and in planning, in my view, the times that that came, that that revealed itself the most was when you're going through, especially trying to launch a Great Game into a business. I learn so many people who just want to sit on it and sit on until they get it exactly right. And what I always tell people is like, you're never going to get it exactly right. Just go you know, go and then course correct. So that's so you know, I'd love to take credit for that quote, but of course, it was uttered some hundreds of years ago. You know, my I, I'd say the other I have, I basically have to, oh sorry a total of three quotes or whatnot that I live by. One is full tears. Another one is Teddy Roosevelt's man in the arena speech. If you haven't read that, or haven't gotten that clip, I would challenge you to Renee brown uses it in her and the title of her book Daring Greatly. And then the third one is West Point one for me, which is the Douglas MacArthur gave a speech in 1962 to the Corps of Cadets called Duty Honor Country. And it is there are versions of it on YouTube, that are super powerful. It's just this guttural, you know, old, crusty delivery of General MacArthur speaking to the Corps of Cadets and giving them passing on words of wisdom, and then explaining that he was going to cross over the river soon. And that he would always remember the core and the core and the core, which was a super powerful speech that and of course, part of that was that it got drilled into my head during my plebe year at West Point. So, can't help myself.
Rich Armstrong 28:37
Well, Jeff, hey, we like to wrap up these podcasts by asking what questions should we be asking you right now? What do we miss?
Jeff Evenson 28:53
Well, you know, I would, say, there's maybe two. The first one would be how did a, you know, tell the whole story about how a business relationship with a friend for 35 years, most recently, my most recent business partnership kind of came crashing down. And that story would require probably another 35 minutes of your time and probably a couple beers each. So that one's a story for the ages. And then the second question, I'm actually kind of surprised that Steve has an ask because he usually asked this question. Is whether I'm wearing pants and of course, the answer The answer is of course not. I usually don't so.
Rich Armstrong 29:45
I don't think Steve saw it.
Jeff Evenson 29:47
Oh, I see, come on, look.
Steve Baker 29:52
Well, that is unexpected.
Rich Armstrong 29:56
Still presidential. Still president
Steve Baker 30:00
Jeff Evenson 30:03
Steve Baker 30:05
No, that's, that's fantastic. Well, Jeff, it's always a pleasure to talk. And I kind of like to recap things a little bit. But some of my takeaways are like the I was really kind of surprised, even after all these years to hear you talk about the different populations that we work with, right. And then the creatives were a little bit more willing to try something new, even though I was kind of assuming that they were more resistant to the numbers. And then they were more optimistic than maybe they could have should have been or could have been, but that you grounded in with data. And then the guys that live by data, they had to get a little bit more on the emotional side with the trust and that sort of thing. I think that's really important. And that you're in your experience. You've seen it work in very small companies and very large companies to different degrees and even shared with us that you didn't know if you had the right leadership, which is step number one, begin with the right leadership, if, if there's a place you couldn't play the game, and it came down to the vulnerability to say, I don't have all the answers. But hey, we can do this together. So that's pretty cool. And then I of course, love the things that you shared with us about the origins of you know, sharing the dollar count out with your kids, that was the opposite of spoiled. The Teddy Roosevelt speech Man in the Arena, and the West Point speech that Douglas MacArthur did called Duty Honor Country. So don't take all those away, and we'll get those in the notes for our guests. So gosh, thank you very much for being with us. It's a pleasure and an honor. And we look forward to talk with you again, Jeff.
Jeff Evenson 31:49
Always, always a pleasure to be with you guys. And I really appreciate you flattered by being invited. So, thank you.
Rich Armstrong 31:58
Thank you. Have a great day.
Steve Baker 32:01
So, let's keep the conversation going. Send us your questions, your stories, your best practices, ideas, challenges, and especially your victories because that is capitalism at its best. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.
The "Change the Game" Podcast is produced by the Great Game of Business. To learn more, visit greatgame.com
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