Episode 66- Henry Lopez - Building an Entrepreneurial Company Culture Through Technology

Building an Entrepreneurial Company Culture Through Technology

(Released on April 23)
In this episode, Chris Matthews, President and Principal for GCI Consultants, talks with Henry Lopez, managing partner at Levante Business Group, about how GCI has built a company culture through the values of entrepreneurship. Listen

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Chris: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, President and Principal for GCI Consultants, and I’m your host today. I’m really excited today to have as our guest, Henry Lopez, who is the managing partner of Levante Business Group. And we work a lot with Henry. He assists us in our business as a third-party consultant in lots of different areas and we’ve worked with him for several years with coaching and other input from Henry on the day-to-day operation of GCI. So, I’m interested to talk to Henry today. Welcome, Henry. And you wanna tell our audience a little bit about your background and how you and GCI came together?

Henry: Yeah, absolutely, Chris. Thanks so much for having me on this show. I’m a listener of the podcast. But yeah, I actually came to know GCI through your partner and one of the founders of GCI, which is Paul Beers. Paul was actually the second guest I ever had on my podcast, whew, about three or four years ago now. So as to what I do, I’m a serial business owner. I’m also a business coach and a consultant, which is, as you said, how I’ve been working with GCI as a third-party consultant on various projects over the years. So I’ve owned about 11 or 12 different businesses, have bought, sold, and built, had successes, had some failures in the business world. I started my career, though, back in the ’80s as a computer programmer, went into software sales and marketing for most of the ’90s, and then was able to segue into full-time business ownership in the early 2000s.

Chris: And I know you call yourself a serial entrepreneur, and I think that’s one of the things that really attracts us and makes our working relationship well because many of us at GCI, you know, we kind of look at ourselves as good or bad, rugged individualist and kind of having that entrepreneurial spirit. So I think we kind of mesh really well, as you said. Owning all the businesses you have, that’s a big part of your makeup, I’m sure.

Henry: Yeah, yeah. That’s definitely one of the reasons I enjoy working with GCI is you guys are very entrepreneurial, very lean organization, very productive, very entrepreneurial. That’s what I like working with. Those are the types of organizations I like working with. And so, yeah, that definitely is a match in the way that you guys think about things, the way that you’re always looking for new opportunities, never afraid to try something new, never even afraid to pivot different product lines or service offerings. And so that is definitely a fit between the way I’ve gone about business and the way that you guys operate.

Chris: And that kind of leads into a good discussion topic of just the culture fit between you and us, some of your experience with culture in other organizations you’ve worked with. What do you see in GCI and some of the companies you’ve worked with, in your business as well as far as culture, and the challenges, and successes there?

Henry: Yeah, yeah, it’s a good question. And, of course, this is a topic that people talk about a lot. I think it gets a lot of lip service, you know, culture, and it sounds good. And I think what you guys have done very well is at the top, at the leadership level, you, and Paul, and Alfonso, I believe it starts at the top. I think you guys really believe in what you put forth as a culture. It’s not just a plaque on the wall. You know, I call it lipstick on a pig, or when you go into that not so good fast food restaurant and they have the employee of the month plaque on the wall, you know, you see through that. It’s transparent. It’s somebody at corporate who decided, “Hey, we’ll do this and that’ll be culture.” You know, culture is what you guys believe in truly, in how you treat people, in how you treat each other, in how you treat your clients. It’s who you are because it’s an extension. The work that you guys do represents you. It represents Paul, it represents Alfonso and the other team members. And so I think that’s where it starts. You know, your challenge, of course, is you are a very distributed organization. You’re very virtual. You’re not all in one office. And so what I have found in a lot of organizations, it’s just hard to build a culture when you’re not all together because if for no other reason, then you can’t have those pep rallies, right? You can’t gather the forces together and give them that big speech for the week. But you guys are doing it because the culture, you guys set it at the top. It’s been consistent for all of these years that you guys have been in business. What is it? Thirty years almost now? Is that right?

Chris: Right. Right.

Henry: Yeah. And then what happens is it gets applied to what you look for in part in the people that you bring on to the team. So, that’s what I think you guys have done very well. And I think that you guys don’t even necessarily do it all that consciously. It’s who you are. And that’s why I think you have such a productive culture at GCI.

Chris: Well, and we’ve probably not done as good a job at some point in the past, mostly because, as you said, we’re a distributed company. We’re doing everything virtually, as most companies now are quite familiar with, the virus situation. But we’ve been doing it like that for over 10 years. So, you know, there’s definitely a learning curve there. And some of the business practices that we have learned about and implemented in GCI have helped us a lot there, regular communication, actually identifying and promulgating our core values, reinforcing those to all of our team on a regular basis, those kinds of things. As you said, some of it’s just intrinsic that you do, hopefully, by the way you present yourself to your clients and your team, but some of the processes we have now have kind of more formalized that for us. And, you know, I think a big thing that we’ve learned is, as you said, you might not have that weekly face to face pep rally, but you need to have a meeting cadence. You need to have a regular commitment to some gatherings, even though they’re remotely, even though they’re Zoom or Teams or something like that, to keep the team engaged.

Henry: Absolutely, yeah. And no, and we’ll get into more of that here as we talk about systems because systems is interrelated to culture, and that you’re exactly right. But most small organizations, Chris, in my experience, they’re challenged, especially, again, as we’ve added this component of being distributed, and as you said, we all have been because of COVID. You know, if you’re a small engineering firm or a small general contractor, which most of these firms are, when I say small, you’re not big corporations that have an HR department or somebody that can own the culture, right, or a small law firm that might be listening, it really then…what will happen is, despite the fact that you may not have or you’ve just started over the last few years to kind of make it a process, that’s why it’s so important that it starts at the top and that it’s really who you guys are because it would quickly fall apart, otherwise. The best program or process or the best, you know, articulation of it throughout the organization falls apart because in a small organization, people see through that very quickly. They see through that very quickly as to how you behave, or Paul behaves, or Alfonso behaves because in a larger organization, the people at the top can, kind of, hide behind layers of people. But in a small organization like yours or a small engineering firm, people see you, they interact with you, they might be on a job site with you, so your values and that culture gets represented to them on a daily basis, regardless of what the poster of the flying eagle on the wall may or may not say.

Chris: Exactly, right. Right. So you were mentioning some, too, as far as technology and how that folds into the whole culture and I guess regularly reinforcing that to people. So, what do you see in that regard?

Henry: Yeah, you know, I think it’s the systems and the technology. Let’s start with the systems first. You know, you guys are ahead of the curve for an organization of your size with implementing systems. We’re talking about all types of systems, most importantly, EOS, right, the entrepreneur operating system. So, you all took on that challenge of implementing that system so that you do have this process that becomes more repeatable, but also, that allows your rugged individualists to be more productive individually and as a team. And that’s the thing that’s hard because you all are a classic example where you as leaders are also delivering, working with clients, interacting with clients, working on projects. And often what I see happen at similar organizations is you just don’t find the time to implement systems. And so it’s this ongoing chaos that results. What you all have done very well is understood the value and the importance of implementing systems. And just to define systems, systems can be something as encompassing as EOS, which is, again, based on Traction from Gino Wickman, the entrepreneur operating system, which is very comprehensive, or it could be something as simple as a checklist that people I think in small organizations get hung up on what is a system. A system is anything that gives us structure, in particular, in those areas where something gets performed the same way on somewhat of a repeated basis. But it’s also as you spoke too, Chris, it’s how we’re going to communicate. That’s a system as well. How are we gonna come together on a periodic basis, on a regular cadence to communicate and collaborate? That’s a system also. Implementing a CRM tool is a technology that supports a system.

This is how we’re going to interact with prospective new clients. This is how we’re gonna walk them through the process of becoming a client. This is how we’re gonna deliver our service to them. All of those things GCI I think is ahead of the curve compared to other similar sized organizations in implementing those systems, with the end result being that the individuals are more productive, the team collaborates better. And the end result for the client is higher quality. That’s what I’ve observed.

Chris: Yeah, higher quality work, better coordination among our team members. A lot of our projects in the litigation end of things that we work on, there’s more than one of our team members involved. And one of the benefits of the systems, as you described, some of them can be pretty detailed and some of them can be more of an outline or a checklist, but we’ve worked hard to have a lot better consistency, regardless of who our technical team members are. And in an assignment for a client, everybody’s educated about the right way to go about it. Whatever the technical task we’re doing is done in a repeatable way. Our reports, we’ve worked on making them more user friendly, more informative, better looking visually, all those things, and then making all that consistent. And all those, as you said, are different examples of systems that ultimately, hopefully, make us do a better job for our clients.

Henry: Yeah, they absolutely do. I mean, I think that’s why GCI is the leader in that respect. When you compare the work product that GCI delivers, I think that’s one of the reasons it’s superior. Certainly, it’s to a big extent that you have extreme talent at GCI, right, very talented people doing the work, but the system allows them to produce that work on a consistent basis at that high level of quality. And that’s a key component, Chris, is that consistency. Systems allow us to deliver on a consistent basis so that every one of GCI’s clients receives the same level of service, the same level of quality, whether it’s a report, or an inspection, or appearing as an expert witness, whatever it is, those underlying systems ensure that you show up with the best that GCI has to offer for every client.

Chris: And that goes into the technology end of it as well, you know, and how we…everything from collecting data to presenting that report and everything in between.

Henry: Yeah. And so what I have seen is that, you know, Paul, in particular, and you as well, you guys are not afraid to try technology. And that doesn’t always work out, right? Sometimes it fails. And that’s okay because if you’re not failing, sometimes that means you’re not trying hard enough. So you guys are never afraid… I have never heard from the leadership of GCI, oh, that’s just the way we’ve always done it. That’s never something I have heard at GCI. Instead, it’s always, how can we do it better? How can we do it more effectively? How can we deliver more for the client? Can we apply this tool or that tool? And sometimes that ends up with a bunch of different tools, which is a challenge. But what it shows is that you’re not afraid to apply technology to facilitate productivity and to improve the quality of what you’re delivering to the client.

Chris: Yeah, and I think we have actually been ahead of the curve in a lot of areas. You know, an example that I think of is, I don’t know, 10, 12 years ago, everybody was talking about, you know, kind of, a paperless office type thing, paperless…

Henry: Right. Right.

Chris: Everything was gonna go digital. And again, we were ahead on that. And our biggest challenge was that, you know, we could do a lot of that digitally internally, but externally, everybody was still in a paper mode. And it’s not been that long ago that in a big litigation case, we would get boxes and boxes full of documents.

Henry: I can imagine.

Chris: And, you know, back in the day, we would then, you know, store those in a file cabinet. And as experts, when we’re involved in a case, we’re just thumbing through all that paperwork. And then when we got to the point where internally we saw all the efficiency and advantages to digitizing all that, we would get all those documents in and then we’d send them off to all be scanned into a system. And then the next thing was, we would encourage our clients, don’t send us the paper products. Send them to us where you’ve already scanned them in. And so then it would be we’d get CDs and thumb drives. And now, we’ve got gotten to the point where most everyone now is comfortable with the digitized format and it’s just sharing links. And even in our system and in our emails, now, we have a link where our clients can click right on that in our signature and upload directly to our system all the documents that they need to send. So, you know, it’s just one little example. But as you said, we’re not afraid to try new things. And some don’t work, some you revise and go another direction, but all of them I think, eventually lead to a big improvement in efficiency, quality, everything else that we were talking about before.

Henry: Yeah. And I think it comes also…this point comes back to culture from this perspective, Chris, as a small organization, it’s not like you have a large IT department. In fact, that’s virtual for you as well, where you’ve got people coming up with or testing these technologies. And what about this? Why don’t we do a test project like this? That you just don’t have those resources? Right? You’re a very lean organization. So what you’ve created culture-wise, is that you empower, and encourage, and almost require people at all levels to come up with ideas. Right? Whether it’s somebody like Eric, who’s out in the field, constantly leading teams of people doing inspections, coming up with how do we use a tablet better, to how do we photograph more effectively, you guys, you and Paul, and Alfonso, are very open to those ideas coming from all levels of the organization. What I have found can happen, and especially in smaller organizations, is you’ve got these people at the top whose egos would be bruised if the idea wasn’t theirs. And that’s, I think, also a subtle but very important part of culture, is that the way that GCI works is if somebody comes up with an idea, it doesn’t matter whose idea it is, if it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea.

Chris: Yep. And that EOS operating system that you talked about encourages that in that you’ve got, they don’t call it an organizational chart, you’ve got this accountability chart, you’ve got regular communication going on at the different levels of accountability. Everyone understands what they’re accountable for. And those ideas then can move right up to wherever they need to get implemented. And then as you know, we’re big believers, followers of the whole extreme ownership, Navy SEALs concept, and they’re 100%…that’s their whole structure is the decentralized command, have the commander’s intent, but then have the individuals in their different areas empowered to make decisions to get things done. And then when a mission is complete, debrief about that and get that information shared throughout the organization. So, we’re always learning. We’re always improving. Every time we do something, hopefully, we come back with a better way that can be shared throughout and, again, do a better job for our clients the next time.

Henry: Yeah, and then, in my observation, that’s one of the reasons you’ve been around in the position of leadership for 30 years is you’ve been able to evolve, pivot when you need to, and continuously improve. You’ve had to do that and you’ve done that. And I think that’s why you’ve been in the position of leadership that you have for so long.

Chris: What do you think about other tools and resources for the team, maybe still involving technology or in some other areas, that you see with GCI or some of your other clients that you work with?

Henry: Well, I mean, most recently, the CRM implementation, I think is a good example of another application of a tool. And I think one of the key…happen in an organization to be positioning to adopt new technology is you have to have a culture that doesn’t say, “That’s different. That makes it more difficult.” Let’s just talk about CRM for a second. The classic pushback I always hear from organizations that implement a CRM is that everybody says, “No,” or, “Now it takes me longer to do my job,” or, “It slows me down.” It’s a typical, classic excuse. And so, the culture has to be strong enough to say, “Well, we’re gonna try this to make us more efficient, even though there is a learning curve,” right? So, that approach to implementing technology, I think is what you have to see, whether it…if we look at it from an inspector in the field, trying different technologies, even though initially it might slow them down, I think has been part of how you guys have done a good job of implementing tools and new tools. Am I answering the question you were asking?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. You know, we’ve talked a lot about people, and one of the areas that you’ve helped us in, and you’re continuing to work with us in, is recruiting and identifying new people. You know, we continue to grow and we need more team members so…and helping us look for the right fit, the people that hopefully will fit our culture, be productive members of our team. And we’ve always found that to be a big challenge in that we’re in kind of a niche industry, even within the engineering or architecture field, that we specialize in the building envelope. So it’s not even a general engineering firm. So that’s always been a challenge as to finding the right people to add to the team. And now that you’ve been working with us in that regard, I wondered if you had any insights on that, that we might share?

Henry: Yeah, yeah, you know, as you were saying that, the top word that comes to my mind is “resourcefulness.” I think that to be successful in an environment like GCI and other…you know, a small engineering firm, like I said, a small contractor or subcontractor, a typical law firm, I think that resourcefulness is key. In other words, in small environments like this, entrepreneurial environments, you’re not gonna have a lot of support staff. You’re not gonna have…I can’t pop down three cubicles and ask a question. The support is there but you have to be resourceful to do well in this environment. You have to be the kind of person that’s gonna try to figure it out first with the resources that you do have, and then raise your hand when you get stuck. It’s funny because I was just putting together a list…I had put together a list when my daughter graduated from high school, getting ready…actually, from college, rather, getting ready to start her first job, I sat her and her boyfriend down and said, “Here’s my list of things that you need to know.” And one of them was this concept of resourcefulness. In other words, to be able to go and try to figure things out before you say, “Well, I don’t know.” Right? “I don’t know where to find that.” I think that that’s what I…one of the key things that I’ve been looking for in people that are gonna be a good fit at GCI is do they have that resourcefulness? Do they have that about them that they can go try to get the answer as best they can? But then there’s this tricky thing of when do you stop spinning your wheels and raise your hand? Right? But that’s a key component, I think, Chris, is being resourceful.

Chris: Yeah. And I think that fits, you know… You could also, I guess, define that, as I was talking about earlier, as the whole extreme ownership concept is that whatever position you’re in, your field of responsibility is everything. And so, you have to be resourceful. You have to force yourself to be resourceful. If you’re taking the attitude that the answer is not gonna come from above, magically, or somebody down the chain of command, I’m not gonna slough this off on them and assume they’re gonna take care of it, I’m gonna take responsibility for everything in my field, in my area. And I think that’s exactly…it’s just another way of saying what you’re saying and defining as resourcefulness.

Henry: Yeah, I agree. I see this as a challenge, for example, when I coach people that are transitioning from the corporate world to starting their first business, or you’re from the corporate world to working for a smaller organization, the thing you have to think about is how dependent are you and how much do you need those resources that a large corporation gives you? And we don’t even think about it sometimes. So, to make that transition, either to an entrepreneurial organization like GCI or to become your own boss, you have to be ready to not have those resources at your disposal. And it’s a different way of thinking, right? It’s a different way of thinking. And so, you have to be much more creative and have to really try to get the answers yourself and be accountable and resourceful on your own within this smaller, more virtual organization.

Chris: Yeah, for me, it all goes to personality and your makeup. But for me, it’s so much more interesting. It’s so much more exciting. But when you were saying that, it made me think of sometimes when trying to fill a relatively high-level position in the expert or senior consultant end of things, and had some very good candidates, and really felt we were establishing a good relationship with somebody who could really come in and be a productive member of our team. But there have been some times when they were coming from that much bigger corporate world. And even as you said, it’s not like they’re stepping off the edge and starting their own business. But even making the jump for them to a more lean organization like ours, it was too much of a change for them to contemplate.

Henry: Yeah, exactly. But listen, I think maybe at the end of the day, that was for both sides’ benefits that it didn’t work out. And then you touched on it, it was so key, is the flip side of this is the flexibility and the opportunity that presents for the right person. If you look at it from the perspective, okay, yeah, I’m not gonna have all of these resources at my disposal but boy, am I gonna have an opportunity to learn, to explore, to make decisions, to make an impact. I mean, for any of us who want this, one of the things that…having been in the corporate world that was most frustrating to me, is that on the flip side, in this large organization, I was this little cog in the wheel at best, right? But in an entrepreneurial organization like GCI, each individual can have a huge impact. And I don’t know how much more rewarding that can be, right? I mean, that’s what the right type of fit for GCI is looking for, is the opportunity to make a larger impact than they might have been able to make in a large organization, as far as this particular topic that we’re talking about here. [crosstalk 00:27:10]

Chris: Exactly. Yep. yep. And I think that does, then, that resourcefulness does transfer over to our relationship with our clients. When you have that culture, when you have that resourcefulness that’s just such a big part of the way we operate, that’s needed and valuable when we’re working with our clients, especially on these high-end expert assignments, litigation assignments, forensic investigations that may be very difficult, complex situations to determine all the problems and solutions there. That requires resourcefulness as well. So when that’s part of your everyday world, in everything you do, I think it makes it better for our clients in that we’re not corporate drones, we just know how to connect A to B, and spit out something for them.

Henry: Yeah, well said. I think that’s such a huge point, Chris, is that resourcefulness and that creativity. You’re never gonna hear from a GCI person, certainly who’s facing the customer and expert, “Oh, I don’t know. We don’t do that,” or, “We’ve never done it that way.” Right? You’re never gonna hear that. That’s just not the way it operates. That’s not the way we operate. And so you’re absolutely right, that that’s the opportunity then for people who do, going back to the question you asked about, what do we look for when we’re looking for somebody to join the team, that’s the magic part of it and that’s the opportunity. And that is, again, why GCI has done so well in how it delivers for its clients because the approach, your approach, Paul’s approach, Alfonso, it was never, “Well, this is what we have to offer you and we’re not varying from that,” it’s, “How can we help you solve your problem?”

Chris: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. If anything, I think, you know, we try to figure out a way to solve any problem to do anything. And sometimes that can be a little overwhelming. But…

Henry: That can be a challenge. Yeah, and that comes back to the systems and the structure. And a lot of what EOS has done for you is probably… There has to be some guidance. Exactly. Because you can’t be everything to everybody as a smaller organization, certainly not effectively. So I think that’s, going back to what the systems have done for you, is giving you that structure, those quarterly cadence of having these discussions about where we go next, what type of business makes sense for us now, how do we deliver better for our clients? As a small organization, that’s what they need to do is that methodology to adjust on a regular basis is what that’s done for you.

Chris: Yeah, very well said. Well, as I was saying to you and Janice, before we started, I could talk to you about this for hours because, you know, it’s all very interesting stuff. But we should probably close on that note. And I really appreciate your time today, Henry, and all the work you do for us regularly for GCI. Do you wanna tell any of our listeners how they could reach you at Levante and the information about your very successful podcast?

Henry: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Appreciate the opportunity. thehowofbusiness.com is where you’ll find everything about me, as well as the podcast, which is called “The How of Business.”

Chris: Great. And it’s a really interesting and informative podcast with lots of interesting guests that Henry has. So, if any of our listeners are interested in entrepreneurial operations, and growing businesses, and running businesses, I highly recommend it. Also I wanted to mention to our listeners that we’re always looking for interesting guests on our podcast, and if you are interested or know someone who may be an interesting guest, please reach out to Janice Hoffman at GCI. You can reach her through our website or her email addresses at jhoffman@gciconsultants.com, and we’d like to talk to you about being a future guest. So, I want to thank Henry Lopez, again, for joining us today. We also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at www.gciconsultants.com or you can reach us at phone number, 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you to our listeners once again, and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.



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