Set Winning Expectation: Interview with Greg Cohen, CEO of Fortis
I recently went one on one with Greg Cohen, CEO of Fortis.
Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Greg: I started in the payments industry over 25 years ago, right after I got out of business school. I put some money down with a friend and we started a small startup. It was no amazing outcome, but it was my introduction to the industry and it taught me a ton – mostly what not to do as it related to scaling a business. I quickly discovered many organizations in this industry were not created to scale or drive business efficiently. After we divested the business, my career took a more corporate direction where I was able to channel my entrepreneurial spirit and help corporates improve channels and distribution, expand functionality and streamline operations while meeting the needs of a new type of customer and partner.
From my failure as an entrepreneur originally to leveraging my corporate experience, my success has been from getting ideas, people and even organizations from point A to point B. I have since spent the last 12 years of my career in equity-backed businesses focusing on alignment and scale and restructuring strategies and services to better position companies for growth.
In realizing the need to pivot from selling enterprise clients all the way up to the gaps that came from changing the persona of what a business is, I learned reflecting on experiences of failure in my career was critical to where I was going next. By reliving and analyzing those missteps, you allow yourself to see your core competencies and the little “wins.” The key is leveraging both into new areas for growth and development.
Adam: In your experience, what are the key steps to growing and scaling your business?
Greg: Strategy – Develop a vision along with a strategy and make it visible to the entire organization. As part of this strategy, set annual priorities and goals to help the company stay on track. You have to know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and set targets. You can adjust and tweak along the way, but it’s important to keep the entire team rowing in that strategic direction.
Execute – Leverage your core capabilities and execute flawlessly. It is critical to get non-core activities and functions out of the organization and let the team focus on key priorities. Set annual, quarterly and even monthly goals and KPIs to hold leaders accountable, as well as track success and failures. Learn from wins and losses and make necessary changes along the way. Understand what you are really good at and do more of it in a replicable fashion.
People – An equally, if not the most, critical component is finding the right people with a similar passion and buy-in on the vision who are highly capable to execute. This includes having people who know the ropes for growing and scaling a business and are dependable when things go sideways; this might mean over-hiring for certain roles. It is incumbent on any leader to help the people by empowering team members, setting clear goals, creating guiderails and understanding that running a business – let alone scaling a business – takes more than one person. As a mentor once told me – let the horses run!
Once these steps are embraced, growth and scale will follow suit.
Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?
Greg: Be patient and set winning expectations. Don’t be afraid to tweak or change but be patient in letting changes settle and evolve into the right place. You can’t be afraid to make adjustments when things go really bad or systemic issues arise, but patience is a virtue. In my career, impatience has counteracted my best efforts at times.
Along the way, identify what you deem as a “win” for people to strive towards and celebrate those wins, regardless of size, along the way. The teams I’ve led worked best when they were given direction and inspiration – and people like winning. This tells me people want to know what “wins” are to begin with; they also want the chance and patience to achieve those wins, as well as the ability to celebrate their wins when they come to fruition.
To set this advice up for success, team leaders should help their people formulate their goals and track their progress. I’m a firm believer in quarterly check-ins, annual planning and making adjustments on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure everyone is effectively surpassing the challenges that sit between them and their wins.
Adam: What are the most important trends in technology that leaders should be aware of and understand? What should they understand about them?
Greg: From the metaverse, to blockchain and the cloud, there’s a lot of innovation to go around. The key thing to remember is that it isn’t a “winner-takes-all” situation – and that’s where patience and strategy must be kept at bay. A change in any business ecosystem, especially when fragmented, takes time. So being where the innovation exists is important but investing in the existing infrastructure, as well as planning and adapting to the changing technology around us is just as critical.
“If you build it, they will come” is a quote from a great movie. Many in technology believe this Field of Dreams, if you will. Business leaders can have a great widget, but adoption, growth and further innovation are met with a standstill without building the right distribution or sales channels and strategies that drive acquisition and usage.
Adam: What do you believe are the defining qualities of an effective leader?
Greg: An effective leader is able to:
- Identify and pursue a shared vision
- Empower their team and individual members to execute the shared vision
- Hold people accountable, including themselves as a leader
- Advocate and market the direction of the organization
Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Greg: Critical leadership development must include listening more and understanding that the leader isn’t always the smartest person in the room. This is where everyone – leaders, aspiring leaders, and those involved – can learn from another’s perspective and experience, which enables leaders to understand all the facts, tactfully respond, and lead more effectively. From our teams and staff to other leaders and more, we never stop learning from those around us.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
- Have a vision.
- Be open-minded.
- Establish accountability.
Adam: What are your best tips on the topics of sales, marketing and branding?
Greg: Position your organization for tomorrow. Sell the future internally and externally but be realistic in the short term. Build a solid distribution strategy to effectively share your vision. And when holding others accountable, be prepared to adjust.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Greg: Be patient; making quick decisions or jumping too fast often comes with unforeseen consequences.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Greg: Empathy plays a large role in having not only the right people on your team but keeping them. When people are enticed to be on your team, they’re either following a vision or partnering with you – in many cases both. All people want to be included, loved, believed and trusted. Balancing these becomes the moving target leaders have to hit.
Another question we didn’t touch on here is what do leaders do when times are tough?
It can be a lonely area for leaders because it requires making hard decisions. I believe times of growth and times of hardship are when the exceptional leaders stand out; the great leaders pass the praise of wins to their teams and in hard times pick up the pieces to the puzzle definitively and take ownership. They work to solve the real problems and make good (but not perfect), informative decisions, which at times means making the hard call – often alone. You can’t always make everyone happy, but you do need to be realistic and understand that all problems don’t have a simple solution. Ownership and leadership around tough decisions separate the great leaders from those simply doing the motions.
Adam Mendler is the CEO of The Veloz Group, where he co-founded and oversees ventures across a wide variety of industries. Adam is also the creator and host of the business and leadership podcast Thirty Minute Mentors, where he goes one on one with America’s most successful people – Fortune 500 CEOs, founders of household name companies, Hall of Fame and Olympic gold medal winning athletes, political and military leaders – for intimate half-hour conversations each week. Adam has written extensively on leadership, management, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, having authored over 70 articles published in major media outlets including Forbes, Inc. and HuffPost, and has conducted more than 500 one on one interviews with America’s top leaders through his collective media projects. A top leadership speaker, Adam draws upon his insights building and leading businesses and interviewing hundreds of America’s top leaders as a top keynote speaker to businesses, universities and non-profit organizations.
Follow Adam on Instagram and Twitter at @adammendler and listen and subscribe to Thirty Minute Mentors on your favorite podcasting app.
By Adam Mendler | https://www.adammendler.com/blog/greg-cohen