Mike Keesee, President/CEO at Total Solutions Group, discuss with Steve and Rich how playing The Great Game of Business has helped his team make it through the last year, what is his win often theory and what he sees for the future of Total Solutions Group.
Episode with guest: Mike Keesee
President/CEO at Total Solutions Group
(This episode was recorded in August of 2021.)
Key Episode Take-Aways:
1. Having enough humility to understand that being a successful company happens because of a good team and not just one individual. (click to jump to this topic below) If you don't have a good team sitting behind you, you know, you're not successful, you may have money, but you're not successful if you don't have the right team behind us. So, I think that's, I think that a lot of our good success has come from having enough humility to understand that if we didn't have a good team, we wouldn't have a good business. And, you know, GGOB has definitely helped us do that.
2. Finding creative ways to improve employee culture by giving employees work they can actually relate to and humanize. (click to jump to this topic below) I mean, we're printing paper, printing blueprints all day long. And it just came to us that we, you know, we need to humanize this. Right? Okay. Everybody's dream is to own a home. Right? Okay. So, what better says is that we're making those dreams come true. Okay, so every job that rolls off that printer is someone else's dream. And so, when we report on, in our huddle time, well, how many dreams do we make true come this week? You know, it, people, people can relate to that.
3. ESOP as an exit strategy and to leave a good legacy that is a good, strong company intact. (click to jump to this topic below) What's my exit plan you know, and that's the ESOP you know is definitely you know, my exit plan but it's going to be a slow exit because you know, Carl and I both want to make sure that our legacy is you know, left intact by having a good, strong company left behind and not something that you know, will falter when we leave.
Continue scrolling to read the full episode transcription.
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, Mike Keesee. In this episode Rich and Steve discuss with Mike how playing The Great Game of Business has helped his team make it through the last year, what is his win often theory and what he sees for the future of Total Solutions Group. Here's your hosts, Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker.
Steve Baker 0:32
Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we are Changing the Game by doing business differently and highlighting stories of capitalism at its best. I'm Steve Baker, and with me is Rich Armstrong, president of the Great Game of Business and co-author of our new book, Get in the Game. Hello, Rich.
Rich Armstrong 0:51
Steve Baker 0:53
I'm very excited about our special guest today. Mike Keesee, founder and CEO of Keesee Associates and sister company FDS Engineering, now operating under Total Solutions Group. Mike has more than 30 years in the industry as a Certified Professional building designer, a Florida certified building contractor, home Property Inspector who is this guy, a renaissance man, he holds designations of certified green professional. And I've seen him he's not actually green, it's an environmental status. And certified aging in place specialist Mike has served on many boards, with such organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Seminole State School of Construction, the greater Orlando Builders Association, and the American Institute of building design. Whew, Mike, how are you? Welcome to the podcast.
Mike Keesee 1:47
Thank you for having me on today, always pleasure to speak to you guys.
Steve Baker 1:51
Well, we're really excited about the conversation today, you know, you're one of those special people that has an organization that is employee-owned. And I wondered if you could share for our listeners a little bit about like, how long you've been employee-owned? What route you took to get there? And what changes you've seen in your employees since you became employee own?
Mike Keesee 2:13
Also, you know, our ESOP's only a year old. Okay, and you know, everybody was still wrapping their heads around what it means to be an ESOP company. But yeah, I think it really hit home to them when they first received their stock certificate on August the first of this year, you know, and that was like, oh, you know, this thing may actually be for real now. You know, and so they're excited about it. And now they're looking for the next steps, you know, in the ESOP culture committee creations, and how to move forward with all of those things. So yeah, they're excited.
Steve Baker 2:51
So, very new to the equity side of ownership.
Mike Keesee 2:55
Steve Baker 2:56
But you've been playing the game for a while now. And I'm wondering, you know, there's a mental aspect of ownership. Could you talk about the changes that you've seen in your employees? since you started playing the game?
Mike Keesee 3:09
Yeah. Okay. We can do that. So, we have similar start playing the game, you really started playing the game, around 2016. Okay. And that was when we came on board with you guys. In 2014. We went actually went out to the SRC experience in January of 2014. And I think that was the coldest days at Springfield have never had, it was below seven degrees. You know, and there were two Florida boys coming out there, and myself and my partner, Carl Brown. So went to the experience, you know, and then it took us about a year to wrap our head around it again, you know, and then we finally decided to your hire coach with you guys. So, we hired to coach and kind of had a big kickoff meeting with all the employees and of course, you know their heads kind of exploded a little bit because, you know, we've got mini games going on, you know, what's going on with that and, and these goals and Neil, how do we run this playbook and in everything going that way? And so, you know, it took them a while, but one of the things that we took away from the coach and from Jack is that your team's got to win. Right? Okay. And they have to win often. And so, we kind of looked at that and said, well, how do we make them win, and that is setting goals that are achievable. So, if your owner you set these goals up way too high, your team knows that they're just not going to hit them, right? I mean, it's, you know, I can't do that we can't do that. That's a BHAG, big, hairy, audacious goal that's just too far down the road. And one of the things that I always thought was kind of funny, because I think we heard this one was out in SRC is that someone had mentioned excess profits. I've never seen an excess profit, my life is profit, right? And so, when we wrapped our head around that aspect of bonus systems, it kind of made sense, you know. And so, we first thing that we had to get into with our coach was that financial training, okay, and letting our employees know that, you know, the two f 150s, we have sitting out here didn't back up to the door in the afternoon and fill up with cash, you know, and that's shown what profit meant, and that profit was not a dirty word. He had to have, you know, and we'd share that with them. And so, we worked with a coach, we got we got a good bonus plan worked out, we made it, so it was equitable to both parties, and that it was easily not easily attained. Well, that stretch a little bit. Okay. But not so far that they couldn't reach him. And I think since we started the bonus system in 16, even though COVID, okay, we've only missed one, maybe two quarters of not receiving a bonus. And I think, and only one year of not hitting the max bonus for the year. And so that's been really good. And yeah, just as an owner, you know, you got it, you got to take care of your teams, you know, and Carl and I both feel that we couldn't be in our financial situations, if it wasn't for the team behind you. it on. And, you know, I travel a lot and talk to owners, especially in our organization, that sort of stuff where they feel it's because of them. You know, that's why the business is where it's at? Well, it's not, it's behind your team.
1. Having enough humility to understand that being a successful company happens because of a good team and not just one individual.
If you don't have a good team sitting behind you, you know, you're not successful, you may have money, but you're not successful if you don't have the right team behind us. So, I think that's, I think that a lot of our good success has come from having enough humility to understand that if we didn't have a good team, we wouldn't have a good business. And, you know, GGOB has definitely helped us do that. Go through the through the financial training, through the minigames, you know, and through the scoreboards, where each and every day, you know, we kind of preach to our guys that your owners, let's think like that, you know, so yeah,
Rich Armstrong 7:41
Yeah. That's really good. Well, hi, Mike, and thanks for joining us.
Mike Keesee 7:45
Rich Armstrong 7:46
It seems like you're talking a lot about culture. Right? You're talking about he behind you. And what I hear recently that you and your management team wanted to kind of reboot your company culture. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And the idea of winning often theory that you mentioned earlier?
Mike Keesee 8:05
Well, the I mean, but one of the ways that we rebuild our culture, but so you know, we had to, we had two companies, right? We had the Keesee Associate side, and we had the FDS. side, one was design, and one was engineering. And that's what Carl and I said, we got to get our teams together, you know, we're working together. So, what Carl and I did was we created a holding company, SRC holding not just but you know, created a hold of their Total Solutions Group. And that's what we, that's what we're building. You know, the ESOP under is through the Total Solutions Group, okay. But now, instead of us and them, you know, is now we're together as a whole company, everybody's got a common goal to go towards, you know, in the past we both had you had your MiniGames, we had our MiniGames, you know, you have your outside audience, we had our outside items, but bringing the whole team together, okay, like we have, it's helped us develop that culture a little better, and more cohesive, that we're all going to one, one goal matter of fact. When we did the rollout of TSG, we had shirts printed for everybody and posters went up, you know, one goal, one vision, one team, you know, and that just it helps solidify moving forward for that. So now the only thing that's just killed us here, not killed us, but you know, is that with the COVID outbreak, you know, our social settings have changed. You know, we used to do lunches together, we do outings together and spend more time on that that's it's kind of held our culture back socially a little bit. But workwise I think it's, you know, the whole one vision one goal, one team and says really brought us together as a as a better cultural team. Yeah. No.
Steve Baker 10:03
That's great. I like that cohesiveness that you described, because I think that's one thing people want to belong and they want to know that. Well, like Jack's, what is it? higher law business number two, it's pretty easy to stop one guy hardest up 100. Right? And the feeling that there's other people that are helping us pull this wagon in the same direction. That's the that's a good feeling. Maybe you could you know, for the benefit of our listeners talk about Total Solutions Group, that kind of the history a little bit and along with it, the Great Game journey, you've touched on it some if you go back to like, 2016. Just take us from there to now and how that looks.
Mike Keesee 10:42
Well. It actually went a little before that. Okay, so in 2012, I had an employee come up to me, boss, what's going to happen when you're going with the business? Oh, time out? Yeah. Yeah, I'm 54 years old. What, what do you know? Is something getting ready to happen to me kind of a deal, you know? So, I kind of hit home, you know, because I hadn't really given that a whole lot of thought what would happen when I was gone, right. And so, roughly three months later, I'm in an association meeting with AIBE. And one of my peers comes up to me and go, hey, have you ever read this book? The Great Game of Business? Yeah. And so, we're not competitors. He's in Ohio, we're in Florida, we talk a lot, and do some peer conferences and stuff. And I said, no, he goes, well, you need you need to buy it, and read the book. Okay. And so, I bought two copies, one for Carl and I, and, you know, those that thick one that Jack had, right. And so, you know, it took it took, so about a year to get through it. And then we had to ponder on the thing. And then that's when, you know, we signed up actually called up to Springfield, and got on the SRC experience in that January of 2014. Okay, and it took us a little while to wrap all that around our heads, okay. And then. like I said, around 2016, is when we made the full dive jump into practicing The Great Game of Business and hiring a coach and moving forward, which for anybody that is thinking about open-book management, I can't tell you the importance of having that coach. I mean, you guys, you just got to have one. You can try, think you can self-implement it, but it just drags it out. And I think that's what we tried to do that first 2015 and we just knew it just didn't and wouldn't work from there. And then from there, it's just a matter of just, you know, every Tuesday we have a huddle. Okay, yeah, I know, we make our projections each month, and we keep rolling and rolling and rolling. And, we just haven't stopped ever since 2016.
Steve Baker 12:55
So, like do the two different companies have their own huddles.
Mike Keesee 12:57
Steve Baker 12:58
Not now. Everybody Now, under the Atlantic Ocean?
Mike Keesee 13:00
Yeah, we used to in our offices used to be about eight miles apart. So, you know, I would be in one huddle at 11 o'clock on Tuesday, finish that huddle, drive across town, go get another huddle. You know, then come back. But today, we have one huddle, you know that everybody participates in. So, everybody gets to have that, again, that one team one vision mentality out of it. So
Steve Baker 13:27
I do love that one, one team. Let's see. I wrote it down as one goal, one vision one team. That's very, very cool.
Mike Keesee 13:34
Yeah. Thank you,
Rich Armstrong 13:36
Mike. A bit of a follow up question to that because you are one of those companies that you implement something like the great game focused on the culture before you made a transition to ownership and actually provide equity ownership. And we have some people that may be listening to his podcasts that are kind of in that transition that maybe haven't implemented The Game yet but are thinking about The Game or it but also are thinking about ESOP. Is there Did you see some benefits of having a focus on that first before you go to employee ownership? Or do you think somebody can go to employee ownership and then do something like this and still make it work very well? What are your thoughts about all of that?
Mike Keesee 14:19
I think what's going to be our biggest success is with open-book management, GGOB. They have to have a little faith in you know, what's coming down the line. Those having the faith, meaning the employees, okay. They have to start developing that ownership thinking okay, and that's where the huddle comes in at, is that you know, people have to project their numbers Okay, well how do they know their numbers? Well, they have to be talking to their clients. You know, they have to be acting like the owner of their each little business. So, what we have is we have different teams, you know, throughout our office, and most every company does have a team Whether it's your accounting team or your production team or your engineering team, and they have to be kind of working independently, but working together, and you know, they have to be able to come to the table with a number that works. And that's the starting them on that ownership and then starting to mourn that financial literacy track. We were in Atlanta at a NCEO meeting, several years back, and we're sitting at a table with a couple of guys from Florida. And, you know, they had just been thrown into, hey, by you, our owners sold the company to us as an ESOP. They had no idea. They had no idea that was going to date. So, they had no idea on how to build a culture of how to do stuff. And Carl and I looked each other went, Wow. You know, at least our team, you know, has a general idea, where are we going? You know, an ESOP is tough. I mean, you guys have seen it's, it's a, it's a long road to hoe, you know, to, to get everything in place, and to get everything going. And, and that's what I said last year, you know, Carl, and I really just donated some stock to get the ESOP started, just so we could go ahead and get people vesting in it and starting to think about it, you know, and so our next step there, of course, is to, you know, go from a partially shop like we are to get to that 100% he saw, but now we're starting to get more and more of that buy in. So, I would always tell anybody, you know, start with open book management. Okay. Get your team on board, get them engaged, empower them to make decisions, you know. Yeah. And then, you know, work on that ESOP.
Rich Armstrong 16:46
Thank you for that. I think you're describing very well, you know, one of the ownership rules that Jack talks about is ownership needs to be taught. And, for people to really appreciate what's being provided in an ESOP, and they can make that connection can be pretty powerful. And so, thank you for that I kind of switching gears just a little bit, Mike, you're in the design business. And when you complete a set of blueprints for a home, you guys call them dreams come true. Can you elaborate on that?
Mike Keesee 17:16
So going back to your employee culture, okay, that's because I cannot start on that, right. So, you either come to work, and you have a job, and you produce something right. Okay. So, what we did, we looked at that said, well, what are we really producing?
2. Finding creative ways to improve employee culture by giving employees work they can actually relate to and humanize.
I mean, we're printing paper, printing blueprints all day long. And it just came to us that we, you know, we need to humanize this. Right? Okay. Everybody's dream is to own a home. Right? Okay. So, what better says is that we're making those dreams come true. Okay, so every job that rolls off that printer is someone else's dream. And so, when we report on, in our huddle time, well, how many dreams do we make true come this week? You know, it, people, people can relate to that. So no longer is their job, just a job of, you know, printing out a set of plans or making revisions to our home, they're helping someone else have a dream to move forward with you. So, I think that's kind of like where that came from. It's just you it just changes the way the team looks at their work. you know,
Steve Baker 18:33
I sure love that because when you humanize it, I mean that you've given me purpose now. I mean, I don't even work for you. And I'm like, God, I get it, dude, I'm like, I want the people designing my place to love it as much as I do. Right? That's a big deal. So, and you're not the only one I know Liz Wilder up in DC, you know, they talk a lot about, about this is something that's way deeper than just a transaction. This is where we're going to live and raise a family and great dreams. That's very powerful. And that's a powerful true north to if someone has a question, and they don't have someone around to answer it, they can think to themselves, is this the right thing to do? For a dream to come true. I think that's right, powerful. Well, done, Mike. Well, you know, let's, let's shift gears a little bit, let's, let's talk about the elephant in the room for everybody. In fact, Rich, and I've been talking to a lot of people this way, you know, too little business or too much business can both are a problem. And for most folks, it's been supply chain and people. I know it's been a tough year. Could you talk a little bit about how Great Game has helped your organization get through this past year?
Mike Keesee 19:45
And you're right, it is feast or famine. Okay. And being in the construction industry. you know one of the things to help us we were classified as an essential business because the contractors can't have plans, they can't build right So that kind of helped us back. But I think the biggest thing that kind of helped us is that, even though when it hit, we had to change direction, right? COVID and so now we're going from an office full of people and cubicle set that everybody booth had to go home, you know, had to work from home, but what we didn't miss was a huddle. Okay, so we kept together using, you know, our Tuesday huddle, so everybody could still get together and still understand what's going on with the business still understand, we had, you know, dreams to get out the door, you know, and so mini games kept going, you know, our business was even good enough through that time, like I said earlier to keep the bonus program running, you know, so people continue to be able to hit the bonus and stuff, but we touched on earlier, but it was the culture that hurt us. I mean, just not being able to get together was the toughest part, you know, throughout the whole COVID is still today, still COVID stuff, we, you know, we still mask up in the office around here. We still don't do lunches, we don't do, you know, social gatherings and that sort of stuff with our employees. But the that was the biggest thing, you know, but, but I think having practice open book management, and knowing where the team was, and knowing that we had hurdles and communications on how well the business is doing or not doing, you know, helps that team stay together. So,
Steve Baker 21:33
Rich Armstrong 21:35
So, tell me, Mike, what is next for Total Solutions Group?
Mike Keesee 21:41
Well, 100%, ESOP, I mean, that's, that's our big goal. Okay. We may be looking at making a couple of manual acquisitions to maybe help solidify us in the marketplace and being able to stay diversified. Because, you know, we listen to what Jack says, Okay. You know, we do like little hybrid, you know, high involvement planning on that, you know, and looking at that forecasting stuff, right. Okay. And we listen to the economist I mean, we love the blue brothers over an ITR Yeah, they're just awesome. I know is which one's going to be at the Alice might be at Alice there and the second thing is that you're just trying to stay up on top of the competition you know, and all that is where our next steps are is making sure that we keep all that stuff in place so that we don't lose sight of our true north as Steve mentioned earlier so yeah,
Steve Baker 22:43
It's amazing well it what's great about talking to practitioners like you Mike is that you know, you've taken the people part of it and you're taking it to a higher level right you're not only encouraging and empowering them to be business people and business owners but you're expecting them to be I think that's an important part of the culture is that accountability we do like to wrap up our podcast by asking the Oprah question you know, what's the one question we should be asking you, Mike what did we miss?
Mike Keesee 23:17
Well maybe you should the Total Solutions Group be designing you know a dream home for Steve and Rich [Laughter]. Start with that, you know. I don't know, that's a hard question you know, maybe you know,
3. ESOP as an exit strategy and to leave a good legacy that is a good, strong company intact.
what's my exit plan you know, and that's the ESOP you know is definitely you know, my exit plan but it's going to be a slow exit because you know, Carl and I both want to make sure that our legacy is you know, left intact by having a good, strong company left behind and not something that you know, will falter when we leave. And we believe that you open but management and empowering your team behind you and teaching them financial literacy and how to run the business and not being scared to have your employees make decisions will continue that that legacy and both give us both a good exit strategy in the future. yeah,
Steve Baker 24:25
That's such a great thing. Man, that is an aspirational goal, right to leave something really special behind. Well, Mike, I like to kind of wrap up with kind of what I took away and you tell me if I missed anything or got it wrong, but for our listeners, sometimes you know that taking those poignant items is useful. So, the I really like this part, set goals that are achievable, goals that stretch people, but goals that the team can believe in. So that was it. big one. For me financial training was crucial in helping the team understand what profit is. And that is not a dirty word. You talked about your winning often theory, you've got to create wins early. And often I remember I'm paraphrasing, because that's how I learned, bringing the whole, bringing the whole team together has helped build a culture of one goal, one vision, one team, even between more than one company. And the ESOP then binds you all together for that ultimate, you know, higher goal. Every Tuesday, you have a companywide huddle. People have to think like owners of their own businesses in order to forecast their numbers. They're working independently and together to forecast numbers that work. You also forewarn people in an ESOP can be tough, and you should make your people into businesspeople if you're going to make them owners, and Rich, then added ownership needs to be taught. I thought that was an awkward point. On employee culture, when you come to work, you're producing something. And you wanted to humanize that every design that rolls off the printer is someone's dream. Hence the dreams come true attitude and culture, love, love, love that. And then you mentioned that the pandemic shifted you all from an in-office environment to a virtual environment. But the huddles have kept you connected to the mission of getting dreams out the door. And you also have been using mini games to keep the team together. And then finally, leaving a legacy of a strong sustainable company is the ultimate goal for you.
Mike Keesee 26:32
And that's awesome. You did a great job, Steve.
Steve Baker 26:34
Well, I'm trying I'm learning everyday man. My youngest son the other day said, because he obviously knows that I have an art degree and he said, how did you ever get to do what you do? But that's another podcast.
Mike Keesee 26:49
That's another podcast. That's right.
Steve Baker 26:51
Well, Mike Keesee, what a pleasure. It is great to have you on the podcast and we look forward to seeing you soon. Thank you.
Rich Armstrong 26:57
Well, thank you so much, Mike.
Mike Keesee 27:00
Alright guys. Thanks again.
Steve Baker 27:02
Let's keep the conversation going. Send us your questions, your stories and best practices, those great ideas, your challenges, and 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