With 35+ years of experience in ownership/C-level executive, sales, operations leadership, and business coaching, Tom Irby have a proven track record of pioneering the road to recovery for businesses who are experiencing challenging cash situations and detrimental business trends; his passion is to assist in the creation of goals and establish a clear, concise plan, then make it happen.
Tom has made a meaningful impact in many forms throughout his professional career including leading financial turnarounds, cultural shifts, navigating business sale conversations, and the cultivation of personal and group excellence through business and life coaching.
Notably, Tom served as the President, CEO for AcuScribe Court Reporters from 2007 – 2014 and navigated a substantial global recession in 2009 by restructuring debt, reducing costs, growing marketing initiatives and the geographic base of the business, and increasing the amount of services offered to the client base. After the recovery from the financial crisis Tom sold AcuScribe Court Reporters to Veritext Legal Solutions, the largest court reporting firm in the world, in late 2014 as their first office in the state of Texas.
Out of the 35 years as a business professional, 17 years were spent coaching, mentoring, and leading 50+ business owners across an array of industries – from startups to companies valued over $30m – with tangible success and a passion garnered from his unique personal experience, resilience in overcoming failures, and the lessons learned along the way. Through a combination of several decades of experience along with being a knowledgeable Traction/EOS facilitator, building a culture of accountability and transparency has shown to produce consistent results.
Other notable ventures include the successful sale of Austin Payfones, Inc. in 1999, the responsibility at Silicon Services Consortium of driving sales growth from $1m to $10m in 3 years, and the effort in taking a PC startup, CompuAdd, and growing it to $500+m over a nine year period.
Tom has a wife, two sons and resides in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. He is a family-man, avid outdoorsman, and a sports fanatic – servant leadership comes naturally to Tom, however, his life experience has allowed him to develop an innate ability to analyze a situation, dive into the details, and provide realistic solutions to challenging problems whether with loved ones or the businesses he serves.
Connect with Tom on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Owner focused coaching
- Strategic planning for leadership teams
- Importance of a clear person vision
- Importance of laser focus on accountabilities and Org road map
- Importance of building an A+ leadership team
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Speaker1: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Coach the Coach radio brought to you by the Business RadioX Ambassador Program, the no cost business development strategy for coaches who want to spend more time serving local business clients and less time selling them. Go to brxambassador.com To learn more. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:33] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Coach the Coach Radio, and this is going to be a good one today on the show, we have Tom Irby with tirbo executive coaching. Welcome, Tom.
Tom Irby: [00:00:43] Hey, Lee, how are you today?
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] I am doing great, I’m so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about Turbo. How are you serving, folks?
Tom Irby: [00:00:51] Well, I’m kind of real active kind of in the Central Texas area, specifically Austin. Real involved with a lot of smaller to medium sized businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:03] And how are you defining small to medium size? Everybody seems to have a different definition of that.
Tom Irby: [00:01:09] I know it’s a great question. And and you know, quite honestly, it’s all over the map for me. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say that it’s really kind of in the net one million to 50 million range, and I really do enjoy startups as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:23] So sometimes you work with folks that maybe don’t have any clients at all or they just have a good idea.
Tom Irby: [00:01:30] You know, it’s not at that stage. I typically like to work with people that already have something on the ground, having to have a product or have a service they’ve launched a pre-launch is not really my focus.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:43] So once they’ve launched and got some traction and maybe have hit a roadblock or two, then you come in to help them guide them through that.
Tom Irby: [00:01:51] That’s right. That’s right. That’s where I really kind of feel like I can add the most value.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:56] Now, having done this for a minute, have you kind of found some mistakes that folks kind of make when they hit that first roadblock or two?
Tom Irby: [00:02:05] Yeah, you you typically see a lot of different a lot of similar patterns. And you know, when somebody starts a business they have, they feel like they have to do everything at once and and they quickly get overwhelmed with all the different things to do and don’t really have a sense of priority or a clear vision of where they want to go.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:27] And then how do you kind of help them with the vision because you you would think, you know, somebody who has a business knows kind of what they want, how they want the story to end? Are you saying that sometimes maybe they get started and then it just kind of evolves into something else, or it turns into something else based on the clients they’re getting at the time?
Tom Irby: [00:02:49] Yeah. I mean, I think it’s it takes so many different forms, Leigh. It’s really hard to kind of put them into one one category, but the best way I could describe it is, you know, a lot of business owners, they feel like the harder they work, the sooner they’re going to get the result they want. But the reality is they don’t always know exactly what they want. Now some business, some people that start a business have it very well thought out and have a very solid business plan. But a lot of existing businesses, they tend to be more reactionary and less proactive. And so really getting owners to take a step back and get clear on a vision and a path and where they want to go is what I really try to do more than anything is is really get them by the neck and collar and pull them out of the day to day stuff and really kind of assess where they are now.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:44] When you’re talking about vision for most owners or at least in smaller entities, there’s kind of a that vision might bleed into both their business and their kind of personal life. How do you help them kind of separate the two? Or if that’s appropriate, or combine the two, if that’s appropriate?
Tom Irby: [00:04:05] I love this. I love this discussion. This is a discussion that gets gets me excited every time I venture into it, because really, what most business owners do, it’s like they’re on a hamster wheel. They feel like they’re so they get so focused on the business side of things. They they neglect the personal side. And so the best way to for me to describe it is to use an analogy. And so if you think in terms of a bicycle, you’ve got the front wheel and you’ve got the back wheel, the front wheel goes up to the handlebars or hands on the handlebars and it turns the wheel the direction you want it to go and the back wheel you pedal the chain in the sprockets, drive the back room and it pushes the bike wherever the front wheel is pointed. So if you take that analogy and then lay it over the top of business, the front wheel is your personal vision. And so I really try to work with owners to get clarity about what they want to do, where they want to go, what their passions are, what their special interests are, or what, what their their personal family goals look like, and then go back to the business plan, which is the back wheel and spend time to make sure you reconcile that.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:18] Now, when they become out of alignment, what are some what does that look like for folks?
Tom Irby: [00:05:26] Well, when they when they when they get out of alignment, it’s typically that either they’ve forgotten their personal vision or they never really fully bought into it or developed it. And you know, that can look like so many different things. You know, like one thing that I find pretty consistently is that it kind of feeds back into whatever their organization looks like. And more specifically, leadership, if they’ve really done a good job of building a leadership team or not, that is in. I can’t tell you how many times that really is kind of the core issue.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:02] And then when you’re working with an entrepreneur, do they have to kind of have the self-awareness and humility to no one say, Hey, I need help, but no two to even recognize that this is something that’s permeating not just themselves as an individual, but their entire leadership team.
Tom Irby: [00:06:24] Absolutely. I mean, you really kind of nailed that one. I mean, you know, for for this profession of coaching, if you don’t have somebody that has some level of humility and desire to learn and be coached, it’s just a waste of time. So, you know, it really it really does. The amount of success that I can have in an engagement really depends on how coachable the the owner is.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:55] Now, what’s your back story? How did you get involved in coaching? Is this something you’ve done your whole career or is it something that’s evolved as you’ve grown?
Tom Irby: [00:07:03] It’s completely evolved. You know, I’m really more of an entrepreneur and a business owner. I’ve I’ve been involved in several companies over the years and it was really, you know, I’ve owned a couple of companies, sold a couple companies and really, I became a member of this organization in Austin by the name of Tab, the alternative board where business owners get together with frequency and it’s facilitated. And over time, I ended up being becoming a facilitator and doing that kind of as a part time deal. And after I sold my last business, I decided, You know what? I’m going to dove head first into this coaching thing. I enjoy it so much and I enjoy working with business owners, and there’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a business owner find success, know for all the employees and all the families associated with it. So it really has been kind of an organic path for me now.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:03] What did you like about the structure of Tab?
Tom Irby: [00:08:07] So the structure of Tab? You know, if I had to, I’d go back to the personal vision piece. It’s about the individual before the business, and that’s kind of the cornerstone discussion that we have over and over again with members. If we if we do a good job understanding kind of the personal vision side and then craft the business plan, then that’s that’s a great thing. But I’ll tell you the other thing, and I don’t mean for this to be a plug about tab as much as a plug for peer to peer and boards, you know, for the importance of owners to be around other owners. The way a group of owners sits in a room and talks to each other is very different than when they sit in a room and talk with anybody else. Because in most settings owners, when they’re dealing with people, these these conversations, somebody wants something from this owner. It’s either time or money or budget or or contract. There’s always some sort of other motive, but when you go into a peer to peer board like tab and you get a room of six or seven or eight business owners from varying industries, the the honesty and the the the amount of of dialog is something that’s really, really special.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:30] Now when folks kind of do this for the first time, any advice on how to do it in a way that. Gets the most out of the experience, because to me to do this as an entrepreneur and then not only do I have to be vulnerable to a coach as an individual, that seems like a hard thing by itself. But then now I’m in front of a half a dozen to a dozen other people. How do you kind of coach your people up when they aren’t a peer to peer environment like this to lean into it? And just kind of. Let the group help.
Tom Irby: [00:10:09] Yeah, it’s an awesome question, and I’m in my mind, as you were asking the question, I was thinking of several different owners that have come through the tab experience. And I’ll tell you, some have not been successful and some have been vastly successful. And I think the way, the way, the way I try to work with them is, you know, and you know, my role is not to be the nice guy as the coach. My role is to hold them accountable in my role is to be as honest and forthright as I can. And so, you know, for me, it’s all about staying true to my role and leaning into the hard decisions. Excuse me, the hard discussions, because if I don’t lean into the hard discussions, then I’m not really kind of playing my part. And so that’s that would be my answer on how to deal with people as they’re coming into this. You know, they have to kind of be open to the idea of facing these hard discussions.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:17] And on one hand, you would think that that’s obvious because if they have it all together, they wouldn’t necessarily need or want this kind of interaction. That is, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s revealing and it’s kind of helpful. Right. But if they thought they had all the answers, they wouldn’t even, you know, entertain doing something like this.
Tom Irby: [00:11:37] Yeah, in the members that have done the best and gotten the most value are those people that really come to the board with what they don’t know. The members that get the least and have not done that well with this organization are the ones that come to the board with everything they know. So they show up and they they talk about all the stuff they know. And it’s really the ones that come to the board with what they don’t know, because if you’re if you’re sitting in a room with, you know, six, seven, eight other business owners, it’s really it’s really a valuable it’s really there’s so much knowledge and so much to gain. And so bringing an issue or a challenge or a topic or a discussion or frustration or an idea to that group of of of owners is really kind of where the value exists.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:30] Now you mentioned that it’s easy for an owner to get overwhelmed with all that is kind of required of them to lead. Is there any kind of low hanging fruit that you would recommend an owner kind of do. Maybe there’s some self-care you can recommend an owner be doing. You know, on a regular basis to help them manage that overwhelm.
Tom Irby: [00:12:56] You know, I think a lot of what I do, Leigh maybe leans into life coaching too, because it’s hard to to really remove one from the other. So. So for example, if there’s an owner that’s struggling kind of on the business side of things, in whatever respect, you know, whether it’s whether they’re just not profitable or they’re struggling with with with leadership or whatever it may be. A lot of times, you know, it’s it’s work life balance or it’s it’s, you know, they’re not as physical or fit as they need to be or they’re not taking time off or they’re not they’re not paying attention to their personal vision. You know, I keep coming back to that, but there’s there’s reason for it. You know, so if if they kind of get refreshed around, OK, this is who I am, what I’m about, and you know what? I need to work on these areas of my life outside of business as they work on those, it gives them kind of renewed excitement about what their business is. And the other thing is is to really reset and get structure around what their business plan looks like. I’m I’m really huge on on having some sort of planning system and in and visiting that system with frequency and cadence with your leadership team, and that allows you to kind of make sure that, you know, we’re working on the most important things right now that lead to this place on the horizon that we’ve identified that we want to get to.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:27] Now, are there any kind of symptoms that that suggest that you might have a problem in your organization, like from a leadership standpoint or a strategic system standpoint? Are there things that are happening that maybe you’re not seeing as a big deal, but to you as a coach? Go, Hey, that’s a big that’s a flashing yellow, if not a red, and then the owner might be just not seeing it as that.
Tom Irby: [00:14:52] Yeah, definitely. So I’m I’m a big analogy, guy, so I apologize. I keep I keep jumping into analogies. But one of the things I like to think about is all businesses. Basically, if you think in terms of a wide road that has guardrails on either side of the road, all businesses kind of try to navigate as close to the middle of that road as possible, but they all have a tendency to kind of swerve and they’ll hit one guardrail and hit another and they’ll be one or two tires off the road with frequency. And so when I notice businesses and business owners really kind of hitting the rails and having wheels off the road per say, that tells me that they don’t really have a good system in place, a planning system or they they don’t have clear accountabilities in the organization. So that’s where I’ll go back and say, let’s really kind of reassess, what are your goals? What do they look like? What’s the plan to get there? Who’s accountable for what and try to narrow that road a little bit and narrow those guardrails a little bit, so they’re not swerving quite so broadly back and forth. So that’s kind of how I notice if somebody’s in trouble.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:03] Now, in my experience, I would prefer systems over goals because the system to me is like a machine that’s going to give me an outcome that I desire. Whereas a goal, there might be lots of ways to hit that goal, some of which might be productive in the long term, and some are not. How do you help your coaches kind of build the systems they need in order to be successful?
Tom Irby: [00:16:32] I really encourage. I’m a big attraction guy, I don’t know if you’re familiar with traction in iOS. Sure. And I’m a big traction guy and I really advocate it and and I work with with a bunch of the organizations I’m involved with in their yearly and quarterly and leadership teams. But to me, that’s really kind of the best system I’ve seen. And if they don’t have, if they don’t have traction, they have something similar. It’s really just it’s really just trying to encourage them to stay true to the system and, you know, and really try to get everybody operating off the same playbook. And if you’re familiar with traction, which sounds like you are, you know, the the thing that that I love most about it. One of the things I love most about it, it really tries to break your world and break everything into 90 day worlds. You know, don’t think in terms of these long goals that are so often the distance. You can’t see how to get there. You really got to break it into smaller pieces and manage those along the way to get to that point.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:39] Now, can you share a story of maybe one of the clients you work with? Obviously don’t name their name of the company, but explain like the challenge that they had when they came to you and what you did to help them overcome and maybe get to a new level.
Tom Irby: [00:17:53] You know, this is this is this is fun for me. If you could see me right now, you’d see the big smile on my face. So I literally just got off the phone with this client and I’m going to make reference to it. So maybe a decade ago, I started working with this fellow and he’s a he’s a CPA and he was just kind of starting off and he was maybe a year or so into the business and he’d taken on a partner and this partner. I forget if it was a 30 or 40 percent partner, but the partner was, you know, didn’t really participate, didn’t do the heavy lifting, didn’t put in the hours and my client was putting in all the hours doing all the work and and and then we started working together. And so I really started leaning into this issue of a partner having all the good and not really doing any of the heavy lifting. And over time, my client started getting irritated with me, and so he started referring to me as freaking Tom. And so at first it was it was. He was a little upset how hard I was leaning into this discussion, and over time, it’s kind of become a funny thing. And now he calls me freakin Tom all the time. But but so but the net net is, you know, he he had a partner that really didn’t deserve that amount of equity and didn’t earn that amount of equity. He’s since navigated through that. He now owns the company fully. We worked all the way through that. It’s led to explosive growth, explosive profit and explosive wealth for him. And to this day, he still calls me Freak and Tom.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:30] Good stuff now, is there any industry that you typically work in, or is this pretty much industry agnostic, your work?
Tom Irby: [00:19:38] I’m very industry agnostic. I I’ve I’ve worked and owned businesses in different industries. To me, 70, 80 percent of businesses, the same. You know, it’s that 20 or 30 percent is kind of domain. And, you know, I can typically navigate around that. So really, it’s more around kind of the size of the business and really the, you know, the the desire for the owner to to learn and be coached.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:10] Now do you find your work touches like more operations or sales or leadership or all of the above
Tom Irby: [00:20:19] All the above? I kind of like it all, you know, and it’s almost it’s kind of a blessing and a curse, all at the same time. But I I would say that I’ve spent the early part of my career really in the sales and revenue driving revenue side of the world, and that’s really where my deepest passion is. But I’ve also spent a lot of time operationally, and it really it really is important for me to kind of see the whole picture in in order to see the whole picture, I need to understand a little bit in each each area.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:51] And in today’s world where talent is, it seems like there’s a talent shortage in terms of a scarcity of leaders that want to do the hard things that you mentioned earlier. Is there any recommendation on how to build that kind of. Super leader team. And like you mentioned, how to maybe free up somebody’s future if they’re not, you know, they might have the title, but they’re not doing the work of the leader that you need.
Tom Irby: [00:21:24] Yeah, I mean, that’s a great problem, I mean, it’s a great question. I mean, it’s obviously it’s a big problem out there, but you know, I think the the one thing that that I see over and over again in this, this is not just leaders, it’s really kind of all employees, but leaders certainly fall into, you know, I like to think of of the development of a of an employee kind of in a three legged stool. The first is kind of the recruiting process. You know, if you really do a good job recruiting the right person, then that’s kind of one of the legs. The second leg is the on boarding where you really are very clear about, OK, this is what you’re going to do and how it’s going to look and what we’re going to talk about and when we’re going to talk about it in the third leg is really the ongoing management of that person. And so if you really do all three of those things, it leads to longer retention and better, better employees. And I think that fits into the leadership piece as well. You know, so you’ve got to invest in them. You’ve got to find the right people. You’ve got to spend time with them. You’ve got to invest. And the other thing is, if they’re not a good fit, then you’re not doing anybody any favors keeping them around. Don’t don’t really allow things to linger too long way.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:37] And then that top of that funnel of choosing the right person is critical. I mean, it’s it’s a lot easier to coach up the right person than it is to coach up the wrong person.
Tom Irby: [00:22:48] No doubt.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:50] Now, if somebody wants to learn more about you and your practice and get on your calendar or maybe work with somebody on your team, what is the best way to do that? What’s the website?
Tom Irby: [00:23:01] Well, the best thing to do is to reach out to me, either via email or phone. You can also go through the The Tab Austin website, but my email is Urbi at gmail.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:17] And if they want to connect with you on LinkedIn. Tom Irby, is that the best way?
Tom Irby: [00:23:22] That’s right.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:23] Good stuff, Tom Wolfe. Congratulations on all the success you’re doing. Important work and we appreciate you.
Tom Irby: [00:23:28] Thank you, Lee, for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:30] All right, this is Lee Kantor. We’ll sail next time on Coach the Coach radio.