Seth Morgan, President and CEO of MLA Companies
Seth Morgan is the President and CEO of MLA Companies, which he founded in 2006, As a strategic advisor, he brings insight and accountability to business leaders. He also represents sell and buy sides in M&A transactions. Seth’s experience includes mergers and acquisitions, operations, internal consulting, controller operations and general management, bank negotiations, compliance audits and negotiation, business valuation experience, risk management, budgeting, and forecasting, and dealing with the pressures and dynamics of small business ownership.
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This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Speaker1: [00:00:08] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for workplace wisdom sharing, insight, perspective and best practices for creating the planet’s best workplaces. Now here’s your host.
Speaker2: [00:00:30] Welcome to another exciting and informative edition of Workplace Wisdom Stone Payton here with you. You guys are in for a real treat this afternoon. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast CEO with MLA companies Mr. Seth Morgan. Good afternoon, sir.
Speaker3: [00:00:49] Hey, thanks for having me, stone. Good afternoon to you and all your listeners. Thank you.
Speaker2: [00:00:53] Well, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Man, I know we got a lot of stuff to talk through. Before we go there, though, could you give us a little bit of a primer, overview, mission and purpose of MLA companies? What are you guys out there trying to do for folks?
Speaker3: [00:01:08] Well, that’s a great question. And don’t we spend a lot of time trying to answer? We started in two thousand six, so with really fractional CFO work is the center of our of our business that quickly expanded into. We do some merger and acquisition now, some back office bookkeeping support. We still are very involved in fractional CFO support, which really looks like a mix of consulting and on the ground execution with our clients. Recently, we started to expand in different disciplines outside of finance, so some organizational development and process improvement, et cetera. We believe business is a force for good in the world, and we believe it’s best led by people who view it through a stewardship lens. We spend a lot of time on that and we just really want to help those stewards be the best stewards they possibly can be. I know that sounds a little cliché, but we think because of that, it’s it’s it’s really an effort and creativity and innovation and ingenuity that these stewards are bringing to the table on a daily basis, whether they’re leads of departments or owners of companies. We have real passion for that. And MLA, that’s the that’s the succinct answer.
Speaker2: [00:02:16] Well, I’ll tell you, it seems like an interesting dynamic to me because not only are you courting and striving to serve the end user client, but you also find yourself, I suspect, working to recruit, develop, retain the practitioners themselves, at least with this fractional CFO. Where can you speak to that sort of finding yourself in two different environments and having to serve both?
Speaker3: [00:02:44] Yeah, that’s a great question and one that we spend time on. So as the CEO, you can imagine, you know, early on and in my in my career running MLA, it looked like making sure that diapers got changed and food got put on the table. And as the company has grown, I’ve had to do what everybody does in business and and really look myself in the mirror and say, Am I trying to build an enterprise here or am I just practicing a craft? And I suspect some of your listeners are facing the same question, and I made the decision to try to build an enterprise. So a board has been put in place for working very hard at getting MLR ready to go beyond me, and that means thinking very carefully about our clients who are the best clients, how do we recruit them? And then exactly what you said, Stone, are people who are the best people and how do we recruit them? So. So much of my time today is devoted to working to promote our brand, working obviously in business development. I still serve some clients from time to time, but absolutely then it’s thinking about who are the folks that we have at the leadership level, who are the folks that we have in the trenches? And how do we continue to keep that fresh and exciting, not only for our current team, but for our recruiting activities and then ultimately to serve our why to serve our purpose, right? How do we have the right people that will give the best advice to those stewards leading these organizations for good that we call businesses?
Speaker2: [00:04:05] Now, have you found that this labor pool, if that’s the right word, has changed or been impacted to any great degree with the advent of the pandemic coming on?
Speaker3: [00:04:18] Oh, I think it has grown, and there’s all kinds of theories on why that is. And so mine are no better than anybody else’s. Or maybe the better way to say is they’re just as good as everybody else is. You know, we probably see it more dramatically playing out inside of our client base where, you know, almost every client, regardless of what industry they’re in or complaining about labor shortages. It’s not to say that we don’t see our own challenge, but frankly, in our space, good people, we’re challenged to find pre-pandemic. It’s not new because of the pandemic that there’s a shortage. And I really think so. This is I was doing an interview over the weekend. This is playing also off of the generational shift that we’ve we’ve been talking about for years as business leaders. And that is the move from boomer to X to millennial. And we’re seeing that in many ways. I think stress and uncertainty really just drives to the surface the deep seated issues or changes or or shifts that we sense. And I think the pandemic maybe just sped those up made them more evident to us. So I think as businesses are grappling with this labor shortage, they’re also grappling with what’s really. A cultural shift underneath the surface of how employees and talent are thinking about what they need from their employer and vice versa. So I really think all the pandemic did is put a put a spotlight on it. We could talk about public policy, we could talk about macroeconomic conditions. I think all of those things are playing a part in making this labor shortage feel more acute. But I really think it’s simply it’s isolated and highlighted issues that were already there under the surface. It’s really what the pandemic did to us and maybe even for us.
Speaker2: [00:06:03] So the work itself that these practitioners are engaged in and the environment in which they find themselves, I got to believe that’s changed, too. Yeah.
Speaker3: [00:06:13] Well, absolutely, if you’re referring specifically to our team. Yeah, I mean, the one is not changed and what won’t change is, you know, it’s a pretty noble thing to lead a business, right? And I’m not talking about my role that wasn’t a self gratifying or promoting statement. But I think if you think about the risk takers of America that that that are evident in our history and their evident in the living rooms that we’re talking to right now and in the offices, it’s a pretty noble thing. At least it can be. And those nobles, if you will, that are taking that challenge on and putting capital to risk and putting reputation to risk because it’s so much more than capital putting, putting their their own energy into and trying to build something that’s so often goes well beyond the generation that thinking about that they’re living in today, those stewards are still asking the same questions, which is the same basic questions we’ve seen thousands of books written on and the timeless questions How do I serve my community? What’s my value proposition? If I serve my community, I don’t necessarily mean, what’s the social impact or social good, although that’s obviously part of it. But so much of that social impact and social good is in the products or services we produce. It’s not necessarily the check that we write to the YMCA, although that might be a very wonderful thing. But it’s it’s the fabric that’s being built by these these stewards in business through their communities, through making for great team members and employees who are responsible citizens who are able to provide for their families and and do good in in the in the passion in areas that they have access to.
Speaker3: [00:07:50] This is a the beauty of business is we all know is is it can be a tree that continues to reproduce, not just not just inside that business itself, but then in the families of living rooms that that it’s affecting. So there’s a way long winded answer, probably not what you’re looking for, but those stewards. The questions are the same as the environment change. But of course, uncertainty is high right now. I really don’t care if the economy is doing well. I think if you talk to the average CEO, they are concerned and rightfully so. The macro conditions are just unsettling. And while there might be great short term stories of economic success and even maybe some of our clients are feeling that some are not as much, but some are feeling it. They’re seeing it. Their balance sheets are flush with cash. There’s still a level of uncertainty, certainly that the labor shortage is hurting us. The supply chain concern is out there that there’s a lot that the stewards of businesses today are struggling with. It absolutely has changed how our practitioners have to think about their flexibility, their empathy and even practicality. Like some obviously things like social distancing and distancing and businesses closing that obviously affected us as well. So all of those things, we’ve just looked at those just speed bumps along the road that frankly are not much different, not much more difficult than what our average business owner or client is facing. Anyway, that just required us to be flexible and quick on our feet as we continue to try to serve them as they serve their customers and vendors and importance.
Speaker2: [00:09:22] I got to ask me and I got to ask about the Seth journey, the back story and maybe even some insight into when and how it shaped this wide of yours. And I love the Stewart frame. But yeah, tell us a little bit about your back story. And if you, if you might, how that has come to influence, where you’ve landed on your why?
Speaker3: [00:09:46] Yeah, that’s thanks for asking. And I’m just going to be really direct. You can hit the mute button if you want to do so. You know, it’s not a very sexy story. You know, I joke with people that MLA started because I was about to be fired. I have a background professionally and public accounting and started to feel that entrepreneur itch as I started to work inside mergers and acquisitions for that public accounting firm, realizing that the world was so much bigger than the debits and credits and tax returns. And that really just fed my dissatisfaction, if you will. With that, there is nothing wrong with the public accounting industry. I’m not picking on it. I own a little public accounting firm that kind of serves as a system that is not picking on that. But for me, it wasn’t quite enough. And so I had the opportunity to work for a turnaround from a very experienced, well-capitalized entrepreneur that was taking a company off the Nasdaq, taking them through a three sixty three restructuring bankruptcy. It was looking for new talent. Two years into that, we weren’t turning around and I was probably going to be fired if I didn’t raise my hand and say, this is my turn to go. So at the age of whatever, I was twenty six or twenty seven, I don’t exactly recall, partly because I don’t remember the timeline I can. I can think that through what it was, twenty six MLA launched, I was backed by that CEO, my boss.
Speaker3: [00:11:01] We put a little business plan together. He was a basically a passive investor and we exited him in two thousand nine. It really probably wasn’t until twenty eleven or twelve MLA was a nice company. That had a small team, and we just did our thing. But that I really had that, if you want to call it, come to Jesus moment where I looked in the mirror and said, What am I doing like? I’m giving these clients this advice about building companies, and I was obviously growing in my career and my my confidence. And but I had to make that my own decision, which was, you know, I could probably make more money if I just went and found another job someplace. Or do I want to take take a shot at building a company that can actually scale and live beyond me? And that was the choice I made. There’s been an awful lot of hard knocks along that way professionally, personally and every way along the way. I reconnected with a pastor of a church that I had attended, and we really spent a lot of time building in some theological background. Even to that why question for us, which we now call our business consulting model about trying to get all weird and cliche, but we call it the business redeem process. We don’t think there’s anything really new there. We think it’s an orderly way to observe created order is what we would call it and how people and organizations address challenges.
Speaker3: [00:12:21] And we get a real kick out of getting in the mess with our clients, rolling up our sleeves and not just giving good advice, but actually putting pressure against those questions, doing some calculated risk taking with them. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that writing a check or even just writing a check, what it means more is, is those those calculated risk in business that we’re all facing every day where we put pressure on a team member and we put pressure on a department, we put pressure on the market in some way and we watch the feedback and we help our clients process that iterative learning that we’re all doing. Whether we recognize it or not, we happen to believe finance is the tool that got us here. We’re going to stay. We’re going to stick with that. We’re excited about it. But there’s plenty of tools that use that same iterative learning process to really steward well. And that’s why we eventually just recently started to move into some other disciplines as well opportunistically. But that’s again, I hope I’m getting back to the why, but for me, it’s really a merge of personal challenge, personal opportunity and even and even a pretty strong, not pretty, a very strong faith element in that and kind of how we think about the world that that has led us to the place for that today.
Speaker2: [00:13:36] So so I fall into this trap here in business. I’m the number two guy in our Business RadioX network and I and I run a studio. I fall into this trap at home and that is, I’m a little quick, a little too quick, I think, to start implementing a strategy before I have some of the foundation pieces in place. What counsel, if any, might you have to offer in general and with specific respect to your domain? Some ducks we should get in a row before we start even trying to form a strategy.
Speaker3: [00:14:10] So, so you’re probably, you know, if there’s any great MBA, I have one, by the way, that’s neither here nor there. If there’s any great MBA out there, consultant, they’re probably going to call you up in a little bit and say, don’t ever invite that idiot Steph back on. I think if you’re I think if you’re a three billion dollar business and you can go out and hire Deloitte and McKinsey and spend time doing market research and building up this case for what your, you know, every possible outcome you might be able to perfectly form. And I still don’t actually believe that. But let’s just for the benefit of the doubt to bless my brothers and sisters at Deloitte, McKinsey, you know, you might be able to get to the point where you’re like, You know what? Within a margin of error, we know exactly what the risk is to this, to this question that we’re that we’re struggling with, where we have to decide, when do we start to actually execute? I think the more realistic version for all of us, but I’ll just lop off those that are able to hire the Deloitte’s and McKinsey and say the rest of the peons in the world like us are are more likely going to need to spend some time thinking and planning and being thoughtful, maybe praying about that decision and then seeking counsel from your board of advisors or your management team or just the people that you rely on. And then what we’re going to do, and this is very much what our model is built around, is we’re going to execute on some portion of that and we’re going to watch the response.
Speaker3: [00:15:37] And I know that sounds again, maybe a little counterintuitive. It might sound a little clunky. It doesn’t normally happen. And like their step one, their step two, it normally happens in a very kind of organic way. But the reality is we’re doing that all the time. What it is? Take an example. We have a question with our kids. We are iterative learners. That’s what we do. It’s part of our creativity as people, at our ingenuity, as people, we are constantly processing the data of what just happened and how do we respond to that. And I think that’s a very useful tool in business as well. So I’m. Not going to argue, going back to your question with, no, you’re y know your vision and mission, of course, know your values. Those are all extremely nice and important things to understand. It’s not like we had MLA for ourselves. Don’t spend significant time on those questions, but we believe they are best contextualized with actual data. If you and I started a business tomorrow, we could absolutely theorize that we were blue in the face about awesome grand plans and ideas, missions, values, visions. But the reality is it would be stone and sus starting a business with certain skills, certain weaknesses, certain fears, certain courage, courageous moments. We would be in essence at that moment the sum, if you will, of of our own weaknesses, failures and opportunities that existed. And so we believe very much an MLA of we’ve got to get those things understood.
Speaker3: [00:17:04] And sometimes the really only way to understand that is to actually put it into action and watch it. And I don’t mean for three years, I’m talking about sometimes even the course of a meeting. I can’t even tell you the number of times we have purposely walked into a meeting and kind of a control setting with with the steward of that client that we’re serving, knowing this is about to happen. And we purposely instigate an argument with the intent of drawing to the surface the things that we suspect might be there so that we have better data to then actually go back and solve the problem that’s been presented to us. We find so often that’s where our clients are stuck is. They go off and talk to some consulting and they get told will clarify your vision or someone else has a in the cam process. We very much believe in the fact no, those of you sit around the table that have to make this decision, you’re going to be responsible for it. You’re the stewards of it. We’re not. We’re going to help you see what’s actually underneath that surface to help clarify the question that’s actually in front of you. So you can then get to the solution that probably you already know what it is. You just don’t have the context to get to it. So I don’t know if I’m answering your question, stone, but that that would be that would be how we have learned process those types of questions.
Speaker2: [00:18:14] Well, you absolutely have asked the question. I’m so glad that I asked it. My interpretation of it in stone speak is throw your hat over the fence, get the data in, make adjustments accordingly. That’s that’s what I took away from that.
Speaker3: [00:18:28] That’s pretty accurate. I think I think it can always be made a little more complicated, but but that’s pretty accurate.
Speaker2: [00:18:36] Well, and
Speaker3: [00:18:36] They’re staring at the fence whole the whole time, wondering how you’re going to jump over it. You’re never going to get there. No.
Speaker2: [00:18:41] So, yeah. Amen. Well, my listeners already already know this, and you’ll quickly learn here that one of the great benefits and one of the things I thoroughly enjoy about doing all the shows and particularly this one, is I get so much great counsel, you know, as a product of a 15 20 minute conversation. So thank you for that. I really am glad I asked. You’ve mentioned a couple of times board or board of advisors. Can you speak to that? The value of it and maybe even some insight for, you know, small, medium size outfit like ours to go about creating such a thing?
Speaker3: [00:19:19] Yeah, I think it’s a real opportunity that carefully used can be of great service. I’ve seen clients of ours implement a board of advisors and frankly not use them. And I can tell you that. So I’ll start with the negative. Is a good finance person, right? The downside to a board if you don’t spend the time trying to set it up correctly and I’m going to get to what I mean by that in a moment is it can simply become a nuisance. There’s a level of embarrassment if you’re not ready for that board meeting. If you’re constantly educating those board members on what it looks like to operate inside your industry, you’re not going to get much value out of that. And what you’re going to end up doing is just kind of wasting your time, probably wasting your money if you put some money behind it, frustrating the board members, frustrating yourself. And it’s just going to be another one of those things that kind of sucks life out of you as an entrepreneur. Again, not going to say, we’ve got it right, but if you haven’t already figured out, I’m a little bit of a contrarian, maybe even a rebel. And so when we thought about our board of advisors, we tried to take a different approach. Now part of that stone is because and again, we’re we’re living by our own advice.
Speaker3: [00:20:23] We threw the hat to use your phrase over the fence and got started. We have changes to make, but we did spend a little bit of time saying, what are we trying to accomplish here? And one of the original goals, those goals have changed now a little bit, but one of the original goals that still is true was to was to set in motion almost a a organizational comfort with the idea that we had a board, an organizational comfort with the idea that the CEO was going to be accountable to a group of people. That was very intentional and it was intentional for the purpose of thinking about my future, thinking about MLR future and saying if our goal is to get to the point where we can transfer value and I don’t mean just financial value, but beyond Seth Morgan, the founder, then we have to get to a point where there’s a group of men and women who can. Take that governing responsibility and oversee it, because the intent is not likely for me to magically overnight go from majority owner to zero owner and somebody else is majority owner. No, it’s probably because of the model we’re in. Just start to share that wealth and ownership inside of a bunch of minority owners with a CEO being selected, perhaps among them, perhaps from the outside, and then some board required to oversee and give give oversight and governance to that.
Speaker3: [00:21:41] And not every business model works like that. So some of the things that I would say are probably that might be good counsel and thoughts for your listeners. For those that are the professional service world where you’re thinking about maybe distributing equity over time to your team, but then some of the things that I would say that just have been practically useful to us. We purposely this is another one of those rebel moments for me. We have purposely selected a board that is now has team input. I’ll be honest with you, Stone. We don’t get near as much participation from the team as I’d like for us to probably an opportunity for us to go back and rethink. Pick the hat up off the ground and think about a different way to throw it back over the fence again. But it’s an opportunity for us to allow the team to have some input into the board, so there’s a nominating process for them. That’s very unusual from what I can see in the private market. We have purposely allowed certain internal individuals to be on that board so that they bring to the table that specific experience set now that there’s a lack of perspective in that in some degree, right? Because they’re not outsiders. But we purposely have designed something where we have some outsiders, we have some insiders and then bluntly stone when I, especially when I was setting up the first board and working through that alongside of someone that I trust deeply, that works inside our business regularly.
Speaker3: [00:22:58] I spent some time making sure that there were people on that board that could hold me personally accountable. I’m not just talking about, did you hit your your business marks? I’m talking about people, for instance, someone that knew me intimately, knew my marriage, intimately, knew, knew and frankly, he was my pastor at the time, someone that was already walking alongside of me because I wanted the opportunity in those board meetings for us to go wherever we needed to go. And for me to be able to look at other people in the room and say, Is that true about me and not get some bull crap answer that they thought I wanted to hear or worse, because this is so hard for business leaders who are already kind of lonely, right? Worse, they get some negative answer that isn’t really contextually correct. Or is it correct that can be just as damaging? We often think of it as yes, men and yes, women, but we don’t want those around us. But the reality is you get somebody that’s just a contrarian, it’s just blown up the room because it makes them look good. That’s almost that’s worse, right? So people that I trusted that I could look at and say, Is that really true? Like, help me work through that problem now is our organization grows.
Speaker3: [00:24:01] I’m sure our board will continue to mature. Our intent is to move that advisory board into a governing board. Eventually, that would not probably be wise for many of the listeners that you have. But because of those early steps when we meet as a is a group and I have a board meeting actually this week, I’m just going to say I get one to one value out of the time put in on specific advice that they give me. But I do get a lot of value out of that board. And truthfully, stone, we’ve even started to use it inside. The organization is a little bit of a buffer for me. So it does bring an extra set of power when my number two announces to the team. These are changes we’ve made. We have vetted them with the board. This is what the board has asked us to do and this is what Seth is doing. There’s some value in that as well. So those would be my I don’t know if that was three or 10 pieces of advice, but it takes work. It does take work. It don’t do it just for the sake of, say, I have a board that is a complete waste of time.
Speaker2: [00:24:58] So tell us a little bit about the MLA methodology or process. I guess maybe walk us through the high points of what an engagement might look like, especially maybe the early pieces.
Speaker3: [00:25:09] Yeah. So I guess I’ll give you kind of the nirvana here for us, but I’ll briefly answer reality first. And that is just, you know, I was just editing a proposal from one of our team on an M&A process that’s going to look very much like a typical M&A process. We pride ourselves in stepping in with our client wherever they’re not to sound touchy feely, but there felt need is we’ve got clients that start with us on succession process improvement on the floor, some organizational problem. More often than not, it’s obviously a financial issue. It’s they need fractional CFO or accounting back office support. I think if you were to say Seth, but talk to me about purely applying your model, we have seven steps to what we call the business redeem process. And we believe again, institutionally organizations are doing this, whether they realize they’re doing it or not. We just think there’s value in identifying them and having for our team at least. I mean, in many ways that that model is more about our team understanding where we are in this process than it is telling our client, you need to think about it this way because fundamentally, we want the client to be transforming and changing and. In a good way, regardless of exactly how that they understand how they got there, so so many of our clients, just like most small business people, are so focused on the daily matters of running a business they may or may not want to read another book about it.
Speaker3: [00:26:26] And we don’t think we’re necessarily smarter than any of the other, any of the other books. But and kind of in a vacuum, if you will, if you could like pause time, if none of us can do and say, this is how we think about it, we would say there’s there’s these seven steps. And for us, it would be reality. What is the current situation that it’s kind of that’s kind of a historical look, right? So obviously, it’s finance people that there’s all kinds of history, right? Most accounts are accused of running a car from the rearview mirror, right? Right. So it’s that it’s that historical lesson. What do we have today? It’s perspective around that. So what perspective does MLA bring to that conversation? Sometimes that’s not just MLA, but once you start to get that data perspective starts to flow, right? Sometimes they’re just simple, easy, low hanging fruit things that we can immediately move on, that it’s coming out of a historical look. Once we start to transfer into the future, we think about it in terms of what we call runway. So what can we define? How big of a plane can you get off the runway? You have that runway may be confined. It’s really a constraint question by cash could also be people talent. It could be just plant capacity, et cetera. Yeah. Yeah. And kind of only then are we going to say, OK, what dream got us here? And how does that dream need to be affected and changed? We believe most consultants make the mistake of starting with dream.
Speaker3: [00:27:40] You know, Stone, what do you want to do? I want to solve world hunger, who is not going to get behind that? But the reality is we have a reality question, a prospective question and a runway question for Stone to answer before he can really contextualize that dream. So what is it about that? What do we know about the dream now in the context of reality, perspective and runway? Then we think about what we call the map. That’s really strategic planning. We also think then there’s a point, and this is where we believe the past meets the future because we would say runway dream and strategic planning are obviously all future exercises where the past meets the future is when you stone decide as that business leader to execute. That’s where we come full circle and we come back to, Okay, now we have something to do. So the question is now now you’ve got those done. And again, we’re talking robotic because this is happening in a much more organic, natural, quick way. Sometimes it’s a long process. Sometimes it happens over the course of a two hour meeting. Now we’re hitting the button and we’re pulling the trigger on some decisions in a great world. We then pause, we move back into past tense and we see how that what’s the reflection of that? What’s the reward? What’s the like? What do we learn through that process? And guess what? We start the process entirely all over again.
Speaker3: [00:28:55] What did that do to our reality? What’s our new perspective? What’s our new runway? If there is one week recalculate that inside of the dream, we’re trying to accomplish what’s next decision we’re making? We think it’s not like MLA has said, Look, this is the way we think every organization is doing this in some capacity already. We’re doing it with our families, we’re doing it with our spouses, we’re doing it to our kids, we’re doing it with our businesses. We think there’s just value in saying, frankly, again, more for our team than anything for us to teach our team, this is what your client is going through. Sometimes there’s great value in us giving that to the client and saying, this is how you’re experiencing this pretty much every case. They said, Oh my goodness, that’s relieving. We can see it, but we try very carefully not to, like, lay that on them and say, you must now go through this step because that’s not the speed of business. So again, I hope I answered your question. I feel like I’m going to be taking the longer path with all these. I hope that’s OK, but that that would be our nirvana. Engagement is where we have a client systematically working through that and seeing it, and we try to do that as best we can, whether they’re fighting a huge fire or have the time to work through a more organized process as they go.
Speaker2: [00:30:04] Well, it’s more than OK. I personally, and so many of our listeners love to go back and listen again and of course, review the transcript. So no, I sincerely appreciate the the depth and the breadth of response. How does the whole sales and marketing thing work for a firm like yours? Are you at a point where the phone rings or do you still have to have some sort of structured approach to going out there and developing new client relationships?
Speaker3: [00:30:30] That’s a great question. Stone and I should just stop and let you give me advice. You’ve got a great sales background. You know, we don’t have that solved quite yet. The phone is ringing more and more, and obviously we’re excited about that. That’s good news for us. You know, I think that’s a credit to our team. It’s a credit to the reputation we’ve built in the markets for most active in. But it’s not good enough for me. You know, most of our client buys do opportunities come through referral sources. That’s not going to change. We’re in a very highly personally relational business, meaning stone, if you came to. Me today and said, I want to hire MLA, you would not only question MLA as a brand, but you would probably even more so question who’s the team assigned to me? Right? Because you would want and I want that as the owner of MLA, I would want Stone personally connected with the individuals that we’re working on your account. And so that that’s tough, right? So we struggle with that for years. We’ve gotten to a point where we’re confident enough in our brand and our why and our mission and how we do life, that we’re now more proactively spending money on brand development with the intent of giving our people on the ground more ammunition to talk about in the market. But the reality stone is most most of our team are finance.
Speaker3: [00:31:54] Most finance people don’t like to sell. So generally speaking, their phone is ringing too. And so we’re trying to empower them with confidence that they’ve got something to talk about. We’ve we spent a lot of time on collaboration so that a CFO that’s really good at what we might call a financial planning and analysis doesn’t have to be an expert in M&A. So we spent that time on collaboration so that they’re more and more comfortable to pick up the phone and call the M&A expert in our firm and say, Can we have a joint launch? Whatever. So I realize is again, long answer, but there was no one short answer to this. We we are working, but have not quite cracked it to our ability to say we’re going to roll into a new market. We’re going to turn on a machine and we’re going to expect to see X number of results from that. We’re just not there yet. I’m not entirely certain if we’ll ever get there because we we have again, we have a model that is just so personally involved with our clients that I think we can tell a story that is attractive that’s been proven enough. So again, that we’re spending money on it that the market will respond to. But we can’t accurately predict when that business owner is going to get to a point where they’re kind of at their end of the rope and they need a helping hand and they pick up the phone and call.
Speaker3: [00:33:09] And not every client for us looks like that. They’re not all problem sets, but but sometimes it’s that sometimes it’s they’re ready to make a decision on a CFO. They’ve grown to the size they needed or they don’t like who they have or their bank is telling them they need some extra help, whatever. But in so many ways, that’s a market education question for us. Not because, you know, frankly, we’re not we’re not a CPA firm. I own one on the side, but that’s not what we’re talking about right here. So it’s not like every business has to have our services. So it’s about market education, how the value we bring to the market. There’s not many firms like us out there, so we’re fighting all those battles. But I’m going to say, and I’m not saying this to sound good is on the CEO, the guy. It’s a blast doing it like it’s fun to be a kind of a market that we get to define. But there’s a downside of that too, which is we’re in this constant market education mode and personal development relationship development. So we think we’ve identified the tools to get us to that point, but it’s still not a perfect science for us by any stretch of the imagination.
Speaker2: [00:34:10] Well, it certainly sounds to me like you’ve got a pretty good handle on it and in terms of not completely cracking the code. Welcome to the club. I will tell you, if you want to build relationships and get to know some really smart people, get yourself a radio show. Yeah, exactly.
Speaker3: [00:34:25] Yeah. The funny thing is, I used to do one of these in politics back in the day, you know, having a long time. But I enjoyed sitting there with the headsets and hitting buttons. I don’t I don’t know if that’s still how it works. I’m probably dating myself. But yeah, good for you stuff. Congratulations. I’m sure you’re right about that.
Speaker2: [00:34:44] So this is kind of tactical, but you know, hey, it’s my show. Oh, right. What? What insight might you have, if any, on working with finding and I guess, retaining just managing top talent? You know, maybe contrasted to, you know, the also rans and the and the folks that are, you know, doing good work. But maybe you wouldn’t characterize as as top down anything we ought to be doing differently or make sure we do or don’t do in that regard.
Speaker3: [00:35:17] Oh, you know, we have a model stone that allows us a lot of flexibility, it’s one of our kind of core attributes as a firm that we don’t want to change. Partly that’s because it’s reflects its own right. I pride my flexibility, perhaps more than anything. So one of the keys for us has been to apply that than to our recruiting to that top talent. You know, I don’t know if that’s a perfect application for your listeners, but what seems to always come back. So even if you’d ask the question, so what are what are some of your clients doing? What did you do through the pandemic? You know what? What advice would you have on retention? I think it’s kind of similar to the answer on top talent, and that is really understanding what what do they desire and need? So we spend a lot of time as a company thinking about our value, our core competencies, our value sets, what what are the traits that are going to set us apart or just we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to and we have to recognize that individuals have that same, that same question and answer. Most of the time, individuals have not thought through it well enough to actually answer it. But they do have an answer. And your job is someone who is supposed to be caring, especially about probably about anybody, but certainly about that top talent candidate you’re after is to try to extract from them. What are those core values that they care about as well? And then can you craft something to accomplish that? Partially, probably because we’re a financial firm and we think like this, you know, I tend to think I try to break things down, so, you know, frankly, we’re not big enough to to to hire or to have on full time W-2 staff all the top talent that we have have.
Speaker3: [00:36:59] Yeah. So instead, we find the top talent that is I’m thinking of one gentleman right now who is very active in overseas missions, who is active in his own discipline of sports competition. He’s a triathlete. So those things take up a lot of time. He has aging parents. He’s made a lot of money in his life. I don’t know the specifics of that, but it’s pretty clear. But he wants a place to market his talent through, right? So we’re not going to him and saying, here’s the box fit in it where instead saying, how do we how do we take that, that inventory, if you will, and the things you clearly value because of how you’re using to steward your life and put them side by side with us? And now what value can be created between us? So some of the best talent we have in house is or under our umbrella is where we’ve taken that very direct approach. You know, some of the younger talent that comes to us that we’re trying to develop, it looks very much more traditional. It’s salaried hours being tracked because we’re obviously trying to mold and craft them into something because they don’t have those questions to find or even answer for themselves.
Speaker3: [00:38:09] But some of our very top talent hats, and so I view it as our job to learn to be flexible with them as well. The other thing quickly, I would say, is we’re always recruiting and you’re your listeners should be to like people come to me and say, Well, I don’t know if you’re looking for and I’m like, Well, you know, obviously there’s there’s the clear capacity question for me. Do I have enough capacity to meet the demand I either perceive or know about in the market, whether that’s whether it’s coming or already in house demand. But the reality is, I’m always on the prowl for somebody good. And if I find that person, I’m probably going to do what all good entrepreneurs do, and I’m going to figure out a way if they’re interested to take risk and get them on the team. Now, partly if you think about it, our product and I hate to talk about our team this way, but that is our product. It’s our team, right? So that may not be exactly the same for all your listeners. But if you want to think about top talent, you should never stop recruiting. The most effective thing you can do is bring in that rock star who’s truly a rock star. While we’re all scared of that is how many guys have gotten burned by not being appropriately flexible, not thinking it through carefully enough not skips some cliché checking the references. And I don’t just mean picking up the phone and calling you, I mean, like working through a if that if that top talent is in too big of a hurry, you’re probably not the right talent for you, right? But where that time is taken, relationships are built.
Speaker3: [00:39:29] You understand their why and you match it up with your why. My guess is you’re going to figure out how to get them in and when you get them in, that’s going to be a good match and that relationship is simply going to grow. The gentleman who’s had the most effect internally on us, this former pastor I talked about who helped us flush out with some of the theology behind it. It started over a cup of coffee where he wanted to test some theories on me that he had about macro cultural effects and something triggered in me. And I looked at him and said, I think there’s an opportunity to do this inside businesses. Let’s keep talking about this. Well, what we ended up doing was matching our wives. And he’s been with us now for, I don’t know, five, six years. He chairs a board of advisors. He’s instrumental in our clients. He’s instrumental on my management team. He is a wonderful asset to our organization. And yet there’s still a piece of him that he holds outside of L.A. because it doesn’t directly relate to business that goes back to some of those theological roots. And we are more than happy to give him the freedom to do that because of the effect he’s not only having on our clients, but on Ebola itself.
Speaker2: [00:40:32] That counsel alone is more than worth the time and energy for me invested in this conversation. We’re probably going to cut that clip out and just and share it stand alone. I’m so glad that I asked, like so many entrepreneurs, people who have built something like you have from the ground up, I’m sure that occasionally you might run out of steam and need to recharge. And I suspect because you’ve mentioned it more than a couple of times your faith, I’m sure that’s part of the answer. But where do you go for for inspiration, refreshment, recharging? Is it reading? Is it, you know, where do you go for that?
Speaker3: [00:41:13] Yeah, it’s a great question. And, you know, kind of like the story of the start of the business. I wish I had something like, you know, mountaintop experience and a vision from on high and MLA was birth that I don’t have a good answer on that one, either. It’s like exciting. Like, you know, I’ve tried a bunch of different models, you know, not models, but things. And truthfully, you know, I always fall back to the same spot. People don’t believe me, but I’m an introvert by nature, and I don’t get energy out of constant people interaction. So. It’s time for me is a quiet date with my wife or just some quiet time at the house with the kids, or even just a long nap on a day where I should otherwise be working. So I hate I hate Stone, and it’s not something more dramatic than that. That’s the truth when when I’m really up against the wall, those that know me best would say I’m a pretty determined guy, and I think that’s true. But so the question I might rephrase it a little, although it’s your question in your show and that is what what keeps you going when you don’t want to keep going, right? So some of that is, yes, how do I rest and reflect? But it really does come back to that stewardship question.
Speaker3: [00:42:21] When I hit the wall, most often I have to remind myself that I’m not the only questioner in that frustration story in that moment, right when I’m feeling that urge that there’s a team of roughly thirty five people that that call themselves part of the melee that deserve a CEO to get off his lazy, you know what? And I’m not calling myself lazy and get back in the game that there’s frankly to make it personal. There’s a wife and children that that that need that same thing and I shouldn’t have. It’s not just I don’t have like, woe is me. I shouldn’t have the luxury. I don’t even think it really be a luxury. Don’t have the right to take myself out of the game like that because I’m just so worn down and beat up. So now all that said, sometimes I find the most rewarding thing I can do is take a break, right? And so but for me, that really does simply look like reconnecting with the people I deeply love. I would people sometimes think I’m a reader.
Speaker3: [00:43:21] I’m not. I’m not on a hit song, but I have found, yes, reconnecting with my faith. And I don’t mean, like some again, mountain top experience. I’ll give Gary credit again, sometimes simply reminding myself of what I believe about God reminding myself, and that sometimes I comes as reading the Bible or reflecting or listening to a worship, music or a song, or even a sermon, a speech or but where I’m reconnecting. I learned this from Gary, too, with what are the what are the foundational things that you really believe? What that often does is it reopens energy and creativity for me to reengage in that stewardship mandate I have for my team, for my clients, for my family. And so it energizes that determination that for all of us gets sucked dry sometimes. But if you really say, well, what do you do for fun, for me to be ahead to the mountains for a couple of days with people, I love to be able to shut the phone off and do stupid stuff while I’m able to lay by the fire or the pool, kind of all at the same time, if that makes sense. So that’s the best answer I can give.
Speaker2: [00:44:27] Well, I think it’s well said. All right. If our listeners would like to reach out and have a conversation or learn more with you or someone on your team, let’s leave them with some coordinates whatever you think is appropriate, whether it’s a LinkedIn or a website or an email. But let’s give them a way to connect with you guys.
Speaker3: [00:44:47] Of course. Yeah, so the best and easiest way is just simply to go to our website MLA companies. That’s MLA, just like it sounds, companies is plural. You know, it’s a typical marketing brochure online, of course. But if you’re just looking to get in touch, click on the about the let’s see it’s MLA team. I’m looking at it now. You click on the MLA team tag and my name comes up right at the top. There are other principals and staff members on the team that are listed. It’s not the entirety of our team, but they’re there. I’d be honored to get a note and I’ll either direct it correctly or respond directly myself, so we would be happy to. Our phone number is LinkedIn. Emails are all there, so so that would be the best way and most efficient way for your listeners to connect, and we hope they do.
Speaker2: [00:45:32] Well, Seth, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your perspective, man.
Speaker3: [00:45:41] Yeah, it’s great to be with you, Stone and I got to just tell you, you know, I my folks are from Kentucky, even though I live in Ohio and I love I love the Georgia voice that you have. And being an FCC fan because my cats aren’t going to make it, I’ll just say, go dogs. So you keep it up.
Speaker2: [00:45:58] All right. This is Stone Payton for our guest today, Seth Morgan, CEO of MLA Companies and everyone here at the Business RadioX family, saying We’ll see you next time on workplace wisdom.