In his time as an executive, Mike Searles has weathered storms of change, gales of growth, and the ever-shifting culture of the American workplace.
In his time as an executive, Mike Searles has weathered storms of change, gales of growth, and the ever-shifting culture of the American workplace. On this episode of Take Command: A Dale Carnegie Podcast, we’ll cover a wealth of his experiences including his time at Toys R Us, as CEO of Benjamin Moore Paint (a Berkshire Hathaway Company), what it was like working for Warren Buffett directly, and how one of his biggest mistakes also became one of the most valuable lessons of his life.
This conversation was recorded in Austin, Texas during the recent Dale Carnegie North American Regional Conference.
Joe Hart: 00:04 Welcome to take command a Dale Carnegie podcast, the show where we seek to uncover what leadership means in today's world. I'm Joe Hart, CEO of Dale Carnegie, and we'll be talking to diverse leaders with stories to tell across various industries to help unlock your potential for success. We'll be sharing real life insights into leadership, which in turn can help spark the next level of your growth as a leader. In his time as an executive, today's guest has weathered storms of change, gales of growth, and the ever shifting culture of the American workplace. We'll cover off on a wealth of his experiences, including his time at Toys R Us, Benjamin Moore paint, and how one of his biggest mistakes and failures also became one of the most valuable lessons of his life. He reports directly to Warren Buffet and as a consultant for Berkshire Hathaway, I'm happy to welcome to the show, Mike Searles.
Mike Searles: 01:02 Pleasure to be here Joe
Joe Hart: 01:03 Mike, I, uh, I know that everyone is really excited to hear from you. You've had a phenomenal career most recently, which you were the CEO of Benjamin Moore Paint, billion dollar paint company reporting to Warren Buffett directly. So I definitely want to ask you in a moment what is what it's like to work with Warren Buffet. What is he like? But before I do, I know that you are today, an in-house consultant for Berkshire Hathaway. You still report to Warren Buffet. Tell us what that means.
Mike Searles: 01:27 Well, when I told Warren and Greg Abel, who's his number two vice chairman that I was going back to California, he asked me if I would consider being an in-house consultant. And I found out that Berkshire Hathaway is unique in so many wonderful ways. One of them is they really don't like outside consultants. And so what they have done is some of the CEOs who have reached maturity, uh, as we would say, are on a short list to be called upon by Berkshire Hathaway. In the event that accompany one of 64, probably now 70 companies that Warren owns and need some help in some way. And if our skill set fits, then we'll get a call and we'll go help.
Joe Hart: 02:05 So you are on call to help other companies, other CEOs and the Berkshire Hathaway universe .
Mike Searles: 02:11 24, seven.
Joe Hart: 02:12 Wow. All right. And you're just getting started with that. I mean, how's that going so far?
Mike Searles: 02:15 The wonderful part about leaving Benjamin Moore is I left it in the hands of a wonderful CEO, had actually been with the company for 32 years. So having left that in good hands and he's a young man that's got a long, bright future and I was worried about what am I gonna do. And so this is a wonderful transition. I get to spend time in California and then, um, as assigned I can travel around the country and maybe do some good for some others and still be part of the Berkshire family.
Joe Hart: 02:40 It's a great Testament to you because I think your original intention was to retire as you said, and it sounds like Warren Buffet said, we can't let you do that.
Mike Searles: 02:48 And Greg Abel is number two was, was very kind and asked me if I would be interested. And I said, absolutely yes.
Joe Hart: 02:53 Awesome. Tell us, what is it like to work with report to Warren Buffett?
Mike Searles: 02:57 It's a question I get asked a lot and I'd to answer it. He's revered for somebody wonderful reasons and certainly his financial success is well documented, but the person that we get to see having worked for Berkshire Hathaway is really the, the unique part, the integrity, the transparency and the humility that somebody who has achieved that success is able to demonstrate in both business and human terms every day is an inspiration. Just an inspiration to observe and it makes you proud to be part of a company with a leader that has those kinds of qualities and instills them in the managers of the companies that he runs.
Joe Hart: 03:38 And how does, how does he do that? What are, what are some of the ways you saw him be a model and instill those values?
Mike Searles: 03:43 Well, there's, there's public ways that if you've ever seen on Yahoo finance, one of the annual Berkshire Hathaway meetings, Warren never talks about his successes. What he talks about is his failures. I should have bought Amazon and I didn't and I was a fool. I missed it. I mean, here's a guy who's arguably the most successful investor of the 20th century and he's talking about the things that he didn't do right. And that's an example for all of us. It's not about all the things we did right. What could I have done better? What could I have seen that I didn't see? So that's on the public side and on the, on the private side, the degree to which Warren works to enforce intellectual honesty, transparency and integrity. And you've heard me quote a letter in a speech before about he sends each CEO each year a letter without going into all of the contents. The key point is the most important thing. We have a Berkshire Hathaway has a reputation. We can afford to lose money, we can afford to lose a lot of money, but what we can't afford to do is lose one shred of our reputation. And if you see any activity that rises to that level, you call me. But you should understand that if you have any question as to whether something might be a little questionable, you're better off walking away. There's plenty of money to be made by hitting the ball in the center of the court and if it's close to the line, just assume it's out. So I've memorized this letter, I give a copy of it to every associate that ever joined the company and it just talks to the importance of integrity and ethics and honesty and transparency in business. And if more companies operated like that, I think the world would be a better place.
Joe Hart: 05:12 It's phenomenal. And it started with Warren and really having a zero tolerance policy or any kind of unethical behavior, which especially these days where there are leadership crises politically and in business and so forth. It really starts with usually a breakdown in trust.
New Speaker: 05:28 And he enforces it. He owns close to 70 companies. To my knowledge, I think the the only one he ever sold was in 1970 so he buys companies and it keeps them, he will turn CEOs and I was the third CEO in 18 months. And the reason for the CEO's departures were not lack of performance in business. It was questionable performance on areas of transparency and integrity and if he sees hint of that then, then he acts on it.
Joe Hart: 05:59 Like one of the things I want to ask you a little bit about, which I think you're touching on is culture and how to really build great cultures and the kind of advice you'd have for other people. But before I get into that, and let's just back up about you, tell us a little bit about your, your background, how you got started in business. You've had really an illustrious career.
Mike Searles: 06:15 Well, now that I'm approaching 71 I'm going to cut this really short. Okay. Went to school in Vermont and got an affinity for retail because I paid my way through school by working in a ski shop. Knew I had an affinity for merchandising and selling and took a job in a department store, a small regional department store on the East coast out of school and spent 12 years there and went from the trainee up to the president of the company in the course of 12 years and it was at that point that I thought the world was perfect and nothing needed to change. And then I got a call from one of the mentors that were at the beginning of my life named Charles Lazarus, who was the founder of Toys R Us. And there's a story there that we probably don't have time for about an interview that should have never occurred,
Joe Hart: 06:58 but you learn something from it.
Mike Searles: 06:59 I did. I do.
Joe Hart: 07:00 You want to share what you learned because that's really valuable for, for really anyone in any stage of their career. You, you really had a defining moment .
Mike Searles: 07:07 Full, full disclosure. One of the lessons I learned early in my career as a result of this was being prepared and you never know what opportunity is going to come your way on what day of the week. And you should always be prepared for what doors might open. And so I get called for an interview to meet the founder of Toys R Us during the glory days when they were the biggest gorilla in the jungle in the, in the category killer process. Wasn't really interested in going to a toy store because I was a department store guy and that that was where the world began and ended and, but I want to see what I was worth. So I went to the interview for entirely the wrong reason and sat down on the 23rd floor of Korn Ferry and in the course of five minutes realized I was sitting with a genius. This is a guy who in his era was to retail what Jeff Bezos and Amazon are in our world today. He had taken a category killer approach and taken toys out of the department store and into into his world. We'll make a long story short, he had opened one prototype store of a new concept called Kids R Us, which he was interviewing me for, to be president. And he said to me, what did you think of the store? Now the store was four miles from where I live. And he knew that he knew that it was right where you.
Joe Hart: 08:15 yep.
New Speaker: 08:15 And so I thought I could either try to fake this or I can be honest.
Mike Searles: 08:19 And so I said, Mr.Lazarus, So I haven't seen the store. And his face turned red. He pushed himself back from the table, got up, left the room and said, young man, this interview's over.
Joe Hart: 08:28 Wow.
Mike Searles: 08:29 And so I went home and told my wife that I had just lost the opportunity of a lifetime to learn from genius and I wasn't prepared. And it was a humiliating experience.
Joe Hart: 08:38 And for most people, that'd be the end of the story.
Mike Searles: 08:40 That most people at the end of the story, I have a, I have a wife who I credit for my success who said, why don't you write them a letter? I said, Oh, what good is a letter going to do? And so she said, just write them a letter. So I wrote a letter that basically said, I wasted your time. I realized too late that I was in the presence of greatness and should we ever meet again. I'll know more about that prototype store than you do and put it in the mail and got a call two weeks later from the same recruiter who was thoroughly embarrassed by having put me in front of him the first time. Who said to me, I don't know why he wants to see you because clearly Charles never told him about the letter, but he wants to meet you again. And then I was prepared and I spent 10 wonderful years learning, uh, from a, from an icon about retail.
Joe Hart: 09:22 It's interesting though, being prepared as part of the lesson, but it also seems like for you, I mean you, you made a mistake and you, you know, one of the things we tackle out in Dale Carnegie's, if you make a mistake and admit it quickly and emphatically, and, and that was really the turning point.
Mike Searles: 09:34 It was, it was talking about learning from failure. It was a great lesson in not only being prepared but reversing what seemed like something that couldn't be reversed in making lemonade out of lemons.
Joe Hart: 09:46 So what an incredible turnaround. So, so you, you got the job.
Mike Searles: 09:49 I got the job.
Joe Hart: 09:50 Tell us more what happened after that.
Mike Searles: 09:51 It was our mission and this was Toys R Us, was envied in many ways as Amazon is today at the time. And my job was to build and do two children's apparel. What Toys R Us had done to the toy business. And basically the toy business was taken out of the department stores. And if you wanted a toy, you went to Toys R Us. So we were gonna do in children's apparel, what he did in toys. Now the good news is that we had the benefit of seeing the model, but the challenge of growing from zero to 250 stores across the country. And these were not small shops.
Joe Hart: 10:25 Is that's what you did. Zero to 250.
Mike Searles: 10:27 And they were 25,000 to 35,000 square foot stores. So these were, these were large, broad and we did it from zero. I mean we, we had three people when I, when I started the company and uh, we had our own floor in the Toys R Us building and we had the support. Obviously we had the bank of Toys R Us behind us, but both in execution and personnel and rollout. It was a challenge.
Joe Hart: 10:48 So let me just a little digression, but, but as you were growing from 0 to 250 stores, absolutely incredible story. What's one thing that if you were to point to, how did you do that? What's one thing that we could take away from that process?
Mike Searles: 11:01 It's a great question. I don't have an easy answer. The only answer I can give you is that we put a team together. We had a vision because they had done it. So it wasn't like we were trying to invent a new concept that didn't work, but we didn't know we couldn't do it. Is really, I think the thing that drove us, we said this is something that makes sense. We've seen it work in other areas. We can do it. The hardest part was really scaling up as quickly as we had to scale up and we had to hire field people, we had to hire merchants, we had to hire a finance and backroom people and, but it was absolutely, if you'd go back and you'd say, what's the, what's the most fun you've ever had in retail? It was that time. It was the hardest I've ever worked. I didn't see my children grow up. I mean that's about that as a, as a bit of a regret, but it couldn't have been any other way.
Joe Hart: 11:48 At the time. What would you have done differently?
Mike Searles: 11:49 I don't think I could have done anything differently. I had a wonderful wife who understood what we were embarking on and knew it would be great for us longterm, both professionally and financially. And she covered the bases that I couldn't and I was on the road a lot. Looking at real estate and building a company and as we both look back on it, it was a joyous time to bring something out of the ground and to life in that in that kind of scale was something that very few people get a chance to do.
Joe Hart: 12:16 Talk, talk about the people a little bit. I mean to go from three employees to, I don't know how many you had when you have 250 stores, right? I mean, how did you motivate, inspire, build a culture in that company that supported that kind of growth and made it a thriving enterprise?
Mike Searles: 12:30 Well, the first key part was surrounding myself with an executive team that had the same energy and the same philosophy and the same style of behavior with people. Obviously different skill sets. We had to have HR, we have operations, we had stores, fields, but we all shared one common goal, which was we're going to do something that hasn't been done. And that's a motivator. That's rare. I mean, very few people get to do something that's never been done before and it brought us together as a team and when we started to enjoy success, we didn't have to recruit people. People were recruiting us to come and join the fun.
Joe Hart: 13:08 Success breeds more success. Right. You kind of set that up and supported it. So fast forward a little bit, you made a decision to leave Toys R Us.
Mike Searles: 13:15Yes,essentially.
Joe Hart: 13:15 What did you do next?
Mike Searles: 13:16 You talk about professionally some of the most, the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life was walking into Charles' office and telling him that, and this is after we had built it and we had 10 years of success, but I was a small division even with that, to a $20 billion toy company and I wasn't the CEO, I was the president of my division and I had been approached by a large corporation who had an apparel division. And the analogy that I gave Charles, which didn't make him enjoy the conversation anymore, was that Charles, I'm riding in the passenger seat of a Cadillac. This is a great company. I love it. It's, it will always be part of my life, but I get a chance to drive a Ford. It's, it's not a Cadillac, but I'll be the driver of the car as opposed to an important passenger. And, and he, he understood and we stayed in touch. I went to his 91st birthday, a party long after he retired from Toys R Us. And we stayed close for, for all those years. But that was the most difficult professional decision I've ever made.
Joe Hart: 14:21 So. So you, you made it though. What helped you get over the hoppy? Must've been afraid in some sense.
Mike Searles: 14:27 I was. Yeah. I mean, I was, I looked around and Toys R Us was such a wonderful company that they had, they had people that stayed there for, for life. And I, I asked myself, money is not an issue. Comfort is not an issue ,I enjoy the job. Is this the only experience I want for the rest of my life. And I said, no, I think I need to grow. So something that, that uh, you and I have talked about before, certainly part of the Dale Carnegie culture, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. And I knew if I was going to grow that I had to get uncomfortable and, and I achieved that.
Joe Hart: 15:02 Well, but that's true though, right? I mean, there's a great quote that everything we want is on the other side of fear, right? I mean, we really have to confront our fears if we ever want to grow. And growth and comfort don't coexist so, so fast forward to us if you will. See, you took that job. Everything went beautifully. I mean, how did that all work out and what happened next?
Mike Searles: 15:21 Well, I knew I was stepping into a difficult situation and they had told me we were part of a US shoe company and they owned obviously shoe operation. They own LensCrafters and they own,
Joe Hart: 15:32 Was this a turnaround by chance?
New Speaker: 15:33 This was a turnaround. My division was a turnaround. LensCrafters was running wonderfully well, but the apparel division, which was a collection of 1500 mall stores under different names that your mother would know, Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticates, Papagallo and, and a number of brands. And the apparel group was struggling. And my job when I was recruited was to come in and, and turn that, that group around. Unfortunately in the end of my first year, we got approached by a hostile takeover from an, an Italian company who really wanted to buy the whole corporation just to get at LensCrafters because they were an optical company. And so in the midst of my, my dreams to turn around this, uh, wonderful, uh, apparel, uh, collection of brands and we were purchased finally in a hostile-turn-friendly takeover. And the owner of the Italian firm Signore Leonardo Becca, I'll never forget the day he flew into to my offices were located in Enfield, Connecticut and he didn't speak English. And so my goal was to take my part of the business and try to go to Bain and leverage it into a management buyout because I knew that the acquiring company wanted to just get LensCrafters. And as it turned out, uh, after our brief introductions Signore Leonardo Del Vecchio said through his interpreter, he said, I bought companies like yours in 19 different countries and nodded to the interpreter. And I nodded to Signore Leonardo Del Vecchio and then his second phrase, as I'm listening to him talk, smiling, and then the interpreter says, and each time I buy a company, I replace it. The CEO was somebody who speaks Italian. And so, uh, my, my four years of Spanish really didn't work out well there. And so, uh, that was a, the end. They were very honorable in, in how the transition,
Joe Hart: 17:24 but you were basically out of a position at that time.
Mike Searles: 17:27 Yeah,yep, his, his, the, he brought his son in, uh, from Italy to run the company.
Joe Hart: 17:30 So, so you must've, I mean, how'd you feel at this point? I mean, you, you'd left the Cadillac, you get into the Ford. Yeah. The Ford is, you're here, you're standing on the side of the road.
Mike Searles: 17:39 Uh, financially, financially. Uh, it was a windfall because the hostile takeover was more than generous to its shareholders, but personally and professionally I felt regret and loss. It was a struggle.
Joe Hart: 17:52 Do you have any advice about how to cope with that? I mean, that's something, I mean people face all the time and we struggle as people with disappointment, things that don't work out the way that we hope. I mean, how did you find yourself able to kind of work through a tough spot?
Mike Searles: 18:04 I have a positive philosophy in life and I've always believed as it has happened and turned out, uh, the old saying when one door closes, another door opens. And while I was lamenting the fact that I didn't do something quick enough or I wished they hadn't come along about the company, I got a call from a venture group who had gotten my name somehow and they asked me if I was interested in running a company that they owned in California and I met them. And they're a wonderful group of people. They bought this company, a off-price company in San Diego, California. The negative was that we were very ensconced and my kids were in seventh grade and ninth grade, and so the good news was I found an opportunity that was really exciting. It was in a place that I wanted to be, but my children had to leave their school in their friends and that was, that was never easy.
Joe Hart: 18:53 That's a tough, tough situation. I'm sure. One of the things that you talk about, I heard you speak to different groups as you talk about learning from failure. Talk about that a little bit.
Mike Searles: 19:03 I take failure of any kind, whether it's an, an annual performance or in the case of, of the company that I wish I'd turned around more quickly. I take it personally and I manage personally. I motivate personally and I take failure personally and what I've, what I've had to learn and now see as I'm older and wiser that without failure you don't get the opportunity to learn or grow. And if everybody's had a perfect life, I don't know who that is, but without that failure, I would not have been able to pursue some of the opportunities that have led to me having what I think is, is absolutely a blessed career.
Joe Hart: 19:45 Well, you have had a blessed career, an incredible career. So fast forward this over to the role that you had at Benjamin Moore because it sounds like that was out of the blue. Yeah, I mean you're in some very interesting circumstances in which you received a call.
Mike Searles: 19:59 I think I was at my son's wedding in uh, September 21st, 2013 and I got a call, it was a friend that worked for Berkshire Hathaway and I answered the phone and I said, hi Ted. And the voice on the other end said, this is Warren buffet. I naturally didn't believe the story. So I said, Ted, I don't have time for this. My son is getting married. And then the voice goes, congratulations. And I'm like, Oh my God, this is really Warren. And so he wanted to know if I was available to come to Omaha. He had been given my name by someone and he had a company that he was interested in, in, uh, having me run. So I told my wife and we were supposed to host a celebration for 250 people the next day, parents of the groom. And so my wife said, who was that on the phone? I said, it was Warren Buffet. And she said, what does she want? I said, he wants me to come to Omaha tomorrow. And she said, what did you say? I said, absolutely, I'll be there. So I did not please my wife that day, but they couldn't have gone over.
Joe Hart: 20:52 Well, so, so you attended the wedding and then you.
Mike Searles: 20:54 Got on a plane to Omaha.
Joe Hart: 20:56 Wow. And, and what was that first meeting like?
Mike Searles: 20:58 I'm comfortable public speaking. I'm comfortable one-on-one. I was close to catatonic. Is, is the only way I can phrase it when I was in his office, because now I've admired this man my entire professional life. I'm sitting in his office being interviewed for a job. I mean, that just doesn't happen. And so he said some pleasantries and, and um, it was my turn to carry the conversation. And the only thing that came to my mind was I said, Mr.Buffet, I have a quote of yours on the wall of every company that I've run. So I felt good. I was speaking. And so he said, well, what quote is that? And I said, you are asked at an investor conference, how do you select the companies in which you invest Berkshire Hathaway's money? And he nodded and he said, what was my answer? And I said, your answer, which I have framed, is that I buy companies that are so wonderful that even an idiot can run them because sooner or later, one will. So we laughed, we talked and the interview, got more technical about the opportunity of Benjamin Moore. But I was walking into a situation where there were two presidents in the course of a year that came in land. So the biggest challenge I had when I, when I walked in the door was I wasn't a paint guy. And there were two people that preceded me that had created some level of chaos inside the company. And, and so my job was to quiet that down.
Joe Hart: 22:12 And how did you do that?
Mike Searles: 22:14 Well, I, I had one strike going against me because I was not a paint guy. And in the paint industry, if you didn't grow up in paint, you really shouldn't be talking about paint much less being running a paint company. So first of all, my, my style of how I deal with people was the bar had been set rather low before me. So my natural style was a win in how I deal and communicate with people. And then I listened and I didn't tell people what I knew. I didn't tell people what they should be doing. I spent six months doing nothing. And that actually Warren, Warren's encouragement in that regard. I just listened, and, learned, asked a lot of questions and when people, people are afraid of titles and it doesn't matter how comfortable you are or how nice you are with people, people are afraid of titles. But I got them to a level of comfort over the course of time where I could get at the core issues and the core problems. And they were all fixable. I mean there was, there was no magic wand that I had to wave, but you just had to listen to the people and get them to a level where they would tell you what the problems were and how to fix them.
Joe Hart: 23:14 So, so the people issues can be tricky. You, you found that once you demonstrated that listening, that that was, I mean, what, what kind of challenges did you have as you, as you did that and were you concerned at all about the urgency of the situation? I mean, you spent the time to listen.
Mike Searles: 23:28 Well, it was a profitable company. It's owned by Berkshire Hathaway. So there was no fears that, you know, I had the.
Joe Hart: 23:35 You had the luxury of time.
Mike Searles: 23:36 I had a luxury of time. Absolutely. What I did see rather quickly is that there was some people in the executive team that I can see that they had a authoritarian, almost dictatorial style and not, not through cooperation, but through intimidation. And my first job after I assessed both the operating issues of our franchisees and dealers was I realized if I'm going to remake this company into an image that I think is the right one, I'm going to have to make some changes. So I had the hard conversations with people and unfortunately the talents and skills they had were fine, but the manner in which they directed and dealt with people cross functionally and down were totally out of line with the values.
Joe Hart: 24:31 Were you able to talk to them about that. In other words, to give them an opportunity, I mean did, did they acknowledge or recognize that in themselves or was it a blind spot? I mean what.
Mike Searles: 24:39 Blind spot is the best way to say it. I say it as, they had no emotional IQ to be, in my opinion, to, to be a good executive. You have to be able to see how people see you and regardless of your skillset, if you can't understand how you are being interpreted through how you are managing, if you don't see it. And that's, that's the really hard problem with turning people over that, that really have no emotional IQ. They don't understand, they don't see the problem. And you can talk to them about it. You can say, look, this is how you're viewed. You know, look at, look at the surveys, look at the results of your group. Well, you know, I work them really hard. That's, that's, that's why the ratings aren't.
Joe Hart: 25:21 That's a challenge, isn't it? I mean, and you've got some very, very talented people, but they can't necessarily see it and they're not necessarily willing to change. And that seems like that's a career limiter, derailer.
Mike Searles: 25:31 And it's, it's frustrating for them because to their mind and under different leadership, quite frankly, that that type of behavior was not just, okay, it was emulated. So suddenly I come in and, and you know, they think, well he just wants to be warm and fuzzy. And I said, no, it's not about being warm and fuzzy. It's being able to manage better when your people both trust and respect you as opposed to fear you and some people can change and some people can't.
Joe Hart: 25:59 So ,let me ask you a little bit about your, your philosophy on people because clearly there are different leadership styles, right? And in fact you encountered one where someone's just driving people hard, bringing out their best. That was that person's philosophy. You know, you've got people who will talk about a tough leader or a Steve Jobs or whatnot versus someone who might be more empathetic. They seem, you know, soft and so forth. But talk a little bit about your philosophy about how to bring the best out in people. What have you done? What do you recommend?
Mike Searles: 26:27 First of all, the, the, the right team and the right people. You've got to have a basic set of skills that, that you come to the job with. For the teams that I've created, I have to believe that we are all in it together, that everybody believes in the talents and the trust and the skills of their partners. And if you've put the right team together and they've got the right commitment to each other, wonderful things happen.
Joe Hart: 26:52 How do you as a leader set the standard for what, what that should be?
Mike Searles: 26:56 By the people you hire. If you hire people that are not only good at what their um, job skill is, but they're good with people, I've found that trust is, is built when people believe that you're honest with them and that you are direct with them and that you trust them and that you're open. There's nobody in any company I've ever run that can't knock on my door or walk in the door and have a conversation with me. There's nobody's name that I don't know from the janitorial staff up to to the the senior leadership team. And when you have that kind of accessibility is the key. If people know that they can come to their boss or to their boss' boss or, or share a problem or an opportunity, all good things happen. So to me that, that's critical to my success.
Joe Hart: 27:41 I mean, I'm hearing you talk about being accessible. Yeah. I'm, I'm hearing you talk about really creating a culture where people feel respected. I mean even to the point where you know their name, you know something about them, you recognize them.
Mike Searles: 27:54 And, and in addition, transparency and, and informed, I share the results of our company all the way down to the lowest levels. They should know how we're doing. They should understand the challenges and the opportunities. And it's, if you're transparent and you're accessible and you inform your population about what the opportunities and a strategy and the challenges are, good things happen.
Joe Hart: 28:15 So let me ask you, I just want to go a little further in this. It's probably easier to do that when things are going well, when things aren't going well, when the company is, maybe there's an economic issue or things are struggling where, I mean, how do you balance transparency? How do you handle it?
Mike Searles: 28:30 Well, here's the wonderful benefit. If you have an organization that you've got that kind of trust already set and people are cooperating in part of a team and they believe in their leaders and they want you to succeed when the hard times come and they always come, it's like I look at it like an insurance policy. I've invested myself, our people have invested themselves in everybody in this company and when the chips are down, those people will do whatever it takes to right the ship or get through the challenge. So you, you can't just walk in and do that. You've got to build that credibility. You've got to build that insurance. So the day when that, that storm comes and you say, I need you, they're going to be there.
Joe Hart: 29:09 Yeah, I mean, so, so your advice right now to managers, CEOs, I mean things are pretty good right now, thank goodness. Right? But you part of your advices. I mean both from an integrity standpoint, but also from practical standpoint. I mean this is a time to make sure that we're being open with people, building that foundation, building trust and letting them know where the stand being accessible.
Mike Searles: 29:27 Absolutely. And then the storm will come and, and they will rise to the challenge.
Joe Hart: 29:31 That's awesome. So it's really even about being, developing a competitive advantage and really through people. And then you've, you've talked about culture is everything. Uh, speak a little bit more about that.
Mike Searles: 29:40 Going back to lessons from Warren, we all know that examples are set at the top, but if you ensure that the ethics and the values of the company are the right ones, and certainly at Berkshire, they are, if you ensure that that message goes down, not just to the CEO and not just to the leadership team. But as I said, I give what I consider a one-page statement that's a credo to live by from Warren Buffet to every new employee. And I say, if you stay with us a year, I hope you stay with us for your whole career. But if you say it was for a year, take this with you to your next job because living by these values of honorableness, transparency, and the highest of ethics, you'll have a great career and a great life.
Joe Hart: 30:22 Phenomenon advice. Do you meet with every single new employee?
Mike Searles: 30:25 Absolutely. Day one.
Joe Hart: 30:27 And how many employees did you have at Benjamin Moore?
Mike Searles: 30:29 Well, we had two different facilities, 201 and then 400 in our main office.
Joe Hart: 30:35 So, so part of the, for lack of a better term, onboarding experience was a meeting with you.
Mike Searles: 30:39 Absolutely. One on one in the office. And to see as many of these are young kids that are beginning their career, many of them are senior executives. But what's most fun is, is when the young ones come in and it's their first real job and they get to be in the office of the president and you see that, you know that they're gonna go home and they're gonna sit down at the dinner table and they're going to say, you know what? I just had a half hour conversation with the president of the company today and that will stay with them for a very long time and it sets a tone the day they walk in the door of the company.
Joe Hart: 31:10 Well, it sets a tone for them. It also sets a tone about who you are because as the president, the CEO of that company, for you to make the time for every new employee, irrespective of all the are the things that you've got going on ,really says something about how you feel about people.
Mike Searles: 31:24 I'd love to tell you it was, it was a task, but it was a joy.
Joe Hart: 31:28 Great. Well, Mike, thank you so much for being with me today. It's been phenomenal.
Mike Searles: 31:31 My pleasure talking with you and wishing you the best. As always.
Joe Hart: 31:34 Thanks very much.
Joe Hart: 31:36 I hope you enjoyed this edition of Take Command, a Dale Carnegie podcast. This episode was reported by Robin Birdhouse and edited and mixed by Justin D Wright of Seaplane Armada. Please consider rating this episode and subscribing to us on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.