The Essential Roles of A Leader

With Marc BodnerEP 21

How do you inspire and empower your people to help you challenge the status quo and get your business to the next level?

If you want to peek into the mind of a CEO whose company has skyrocketed to the top of its industry, you’re going to want to listen in on this episode with Marc Bodner, CEO of L&R Distributors.

In this interview, Marc shared insights into the key attributes of a leader, and how your vision of the company guides your most critical decisions and provides your leadership team with the tools to help you lead. We discussed how to create a culture to provide the ultimate shopping experience for customers, the roles of operational planning and strategic planning, key performance indicators that you need to know in order to grow your business, and the importance of guarding your personal time as CEO.

Marc shared so many great ideas, and I cannot wait to share this incredible interview with you. Listen and enjoy!


The Roles Of A Leader With Marc Bodner

My guest is Marc Bodner. Marc has many years of experience in the distribution industry and holds the position as CEO of L&R Distributors. Marc and I had a great conversation and I have to warn you that this is probably the longest interview I have ever done because I couldn’t stop getting no-nonsense advice. In our interview, pay attention to how Marc explains the important role of a leader. How Marc breaks down the steps to do strategic planning and how he differentiates between strategic planning and operational planning, how those two work together. Finally, pay close attention to practical tips. Marc shared how he guards his schedule in order to be able to accomplish what a CEO needs to accomplish. Last, but not least, pay attention to how Marc differentiates between essential work and important work. This is full of golden nuggets. I encourage you to read to the finish.

Marc, thank you for joining me.

Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure to be here.

We have known each other for quite some time now. We had you join one of the past Let’s Talk Business events, but for our readers, as a starting point, tell us a little bit about L&R Distributors.

L&R Distributors is an expanding consumer products distributor. Our specialty is large SKU categories in non-foods type products that are necessary at retail and online. These categories tend to be difficult to manage at retail and online because of the SKU depth and breadth and the generally slower turning categories. Examples for that would be cosmetics and beauty, haircare, stationery and office supplies, and toys. You would find these categories in non-food sections in supermarkets, drug and online. What we’ve done is, we’ve created a niche that’s all about removing complexity in these categories. They’re extraordinarily complex from a product mix standpoint, from a product management standpoint, managing in-store services, managing listings online, etc. What we’re all about is removing complexity. A famous term that we see in today’s world is all about a VUCA world. We have volatility, uncertainty and all that stuff going on. How do we solve this? Retailers, online retailers and many people are trying to figure out how to do this. Our niche is to remove complexity and I like to address what we do as a company that removes complexity and people like to buy that.

To dive in a little deeper, as far as a case study, who would be your typical client? Would it be the brand owner?

We look at both our retailers and eTailers as clients. We also look at our suppliers, vendors and manufacturers as clients. We’re removing complexity for both of them. A typical customer, if you go big, we have the largest grocery chain in the country, which would be Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway to mom and pop supermarkets, drugstores and everything in between. They all face the same challenges. Many of them, the challenges are greater. If you have the scale, you could do things better in-house. But what we have found and what tends to resonate with even our larger customers is this concept of removing complexity, number one. And the ability we give our customers to try new things on a small scale. If you look at a particular section of product in a store and they want to test a new brand, even if you’re Kroger and you have 2,500 locations, how do you test a brand in 50 locations to see what happens? Well, if we’re carrying that brand in our distribution centers across the country and have that brand testing in another 50 stores, doing that for Kroger is simple for us.

Roles Of A Leader: A good leader has the ability to develop other leaders through elevation.

It removes this tremendous amount of complexity in terms of inventory, merchandising and allows us to do it for them. Our customer base is all over that spectrum of small independent to large chains and it resonates in the same sphere around eCommerce. Large SKU intense, long-tail or slow turning categories is, how do you inventory items specifically for eCommerce? You want to have the depth and breadth but you don’t want to have the inventory. We’ve developed the capability of sharing our catalog, and we do that in a cautious way across platforms. Whether that be a 3P-type of platform, Amazon, Walmart, etc. or 1P-type of platforms where we have retailers that generally don’t carry our product but want to be able to sell it without having the capital cost invested in developing content and maintaining inventory. We can then provide those capabilities to all those types of customers as well. Even though it’s eTail versus retail, the same challenges exist in these categories. We found that niche of removing that complexity.

I’ve read about your bio and a little bit about your history. You’ve been in this industry for years even before L&R got started and acquired. You currently are the president and CEO of L&R. Walk us through as far as your career path, meaning to say, there’s a learning moment for our readers. People always have the question, they start somewhere in the rank and they’re stuck. I would love to know your story and your journey and see what we can learn from that.

I was involved in a meeting with my leadership team around strategic planning going into 2020 and, strategically planning all the way out a 3 to a 4-year plan, which is something that is difficult to do. It’s not simple and it requires a lot of work. In preparing the presentations, one of the things I was challenged with was, there were eight people in the room and how many people in the room knew my story? That’s what you’re asking for. What’s my story? You don’t want to sound in any way egotistical or pumping yourself up, but it was important to share your stories. An important lead-in to answer your question is leadership.

Some of us have it innately within us. Some of us learn it. When I look at leadership, there are three things that come to my mind. Number one is the ability to provide a vision to yourself and to your team and it has to be an alignable vision. Number two is the ability to develop other leaders through elevation and constantly challenging the status quo. In my opinion, these are the responsibilities of a leader. I’d say, early on in my career, what I was good at was challenging the status quo. How can we do it better? How can we do it faster? How can we do cheaper while still servicing the customer?

I started out about 30 years ago in IT. I was a computer programmer, which always gets everyone at the edge of their seats. How does a computer programmer become a CEO of a national company employing well over 1,000 people and customers such as Kroger and on a large scale? It’s a good lesson that it doesn’t matter where you started, it matters where you end and how do you get there? I started out in IT as a computer programmer. I got involved in the distribution business through IT. I was working for a company that develops systems for wholesale distributors. I became intrigued with the business as my responsibilities were visiting other wholesale distributors and after they bought a system to customize the system around their needs.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn all about the wholesale distribution business and it was intriguing to me. It was at that time, pre-internet. That could be something wild to a lot of your readers, pre-internet. Who remembers the time when we didn’t have Google to look something up? It seems it’s always been around but that was when I started my career in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. Going into these distributors and learning about the business, I fell in love with a business that you can touch and feel things. You can touch and feel a product. You walk out into a warehouse, you touch a shelf and a product and you get intrigued by it and I like that. That was an attractor for me to that industry.

I was fortunate to get an opportunity to be hired by one of my clients at that time to help them further their IT capabilities. IT capabilities back then was about getting orders out the door. It was much more simplistic than it is now. I was hired by one of those companies to do that. I had this innate need to challenge the status quo constantly and I was allowed to do it in that company. In my first lesson, I would say if you’re running a business and it sounds easy, but encouraging people to challenge the status quo first starts with giving people permission to do so. Many people won’t do it unless you verbally give them permission, almost anoint them as you are a challenger. You can challenge, don’t be afraid to do it. People will respond to that because lots of people have good ideas about challenging the status quo.

[bctt tweet=”It really doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where you end and how you get there. ” username=””]

In that role that I had, it developed into much more of a leadership role as I was developing new processes and challenging things in that business. It was a small business at that time, it had around 18 or 15 employees. We started looking at ways to grow the business and that resonated with a lot of people in the company at that time. We went from there and I made the opportunity for myself to invest in the business, which was not easy at the time. It was risky. It wasn’t like I had money lying around to do so, but someway, when there’s a will there’s a way, I came up with some money and I became a partner in the business.

Is that still pre-L&R?

Yeah, this is a 1993 way pre-L&R. Early on in my career, I had an opportunity that I ceased. I saw an older gentleman who was looking for an exit strategy and I took it. It was a risk but I took the risk.

To gain some context, is the reason why you took it is that you developed that passion for the industry with being part of that and learning about the trade?

Yeah. It’s an important lesson. I don’t allow people to use four-letter words like hate. I got into the IT side of the business not because I loved it, but because I had, at that time, a small family to feed. Back in those days, you could take a six-month course. I was in college, but I took a break and took a six-month course to learn about it. I didn’t like it. I could tell you that it was not something I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do when I grow up. I wanted to be a computer programmer that wasn’t more of entrepreneurial thinking but I needed a way to make a living.

It was a means to an end for me and I was constantly looking out for opportunity. I did fall in love with the wholesale distribution business. When I was part of a small company, I saw the opportunity to become part of it and that was the real driver. I would say the passion that I had for the business and I had probably visited 30 different wholesale distribution businesses in my prior role. I had a good feel for it, for the business and for myself that I could be successful in it. That was a driver for me to jump into it.

At which point did L&R become part of this?

Roles Of A Leader: If you are a leader that challenges the status quo, you need a team around you that has the confidence to push you back.

Fast forward about ten years. The company that I was part of, what was called at that time Allied Supply Company, prior to the L&R transaction. I had three partners in the business who are older than me by 15 to 25 years. Now, I’m years older, so I’ve got to be careful that I’m not talking about myself. As you’re in a business and you’ve taken a risk in your younger years, many people tend to become what I call lifestyle entrepreneurs. Where they took the risk, things seem settled, we’re making a decent living, and everything is nice, let’s not rock the boat. That didn’t sit well with me because I was a young guy and I wanted to rock the boat. I had a management team that was also younger and want to rock the boat. Long story short, I did a leveraged buyout of my existing partners. I was taking a risk and taking a risk on myself once again. It was putting all the chips in the middle of the table. I did a deal with my existing partners to have them exit the business and me take over the business.

At that time, we had grown the business probably ten times. It was a significantly larger company, not large, but a small business. It was a growing business and I wanted to grow even more. That was pre-L&R. A couple of years later, L&R was our largest competitor. From a revenue standpoint, we were about equal but it was a fierce competition. It was not a friendly competition. We were constantly banging into each other in the marketplace. Through all the different events that happen, we came to our senses, myself and the owner of L&R and said, “Why don’t we figure out a way to work together instead of competing?” That led to, “How do we do that?” That led to a merger opportunity. Through much effort, about eight months later, we decided to merge our businesses together. Statistically, when two companies from two different cultures of equal size merge success rate is less than 20%. It’s difficult to merge cultures etc. We managed to do it. You rollback, it’s been always challenging but way past those challenges and dealing with completely different challenges.

This is a fascinating story and I’m happy I asked you the open-ended question because this is a podcast of no-nonsense advice. When we speak to leaders and CEOs within the trenches, as we call it, doing it every single day, stories like this give us so much to analyze in ourselves and look at ourselves in the mirror to see what those different things that we have to overcome are? The lessons that I took out of this story is how you started about leadership and about challenging the status quo. It reminds me of sometimes when we speak about the employees, somebody would say, “I’ve got a great hire.” I’d ask them, “Why is he such a great hire?” The business owner would say, “This person thinks like me, does like me, so on and so forth.” Sometimes we forget to embrace diversity. If you’re not a person who is challenging the status quo, maybe you have to surround yourself with people that challenge the status quo.

Vice-versa, I’ll add on to that. If you are a leader that challenges the status quo, you need a team around you that has the confidence to push you back. Just because you’re challenging the status quo doesn’t mean it’s a good challenge.

To add on that is so many higher leaders like assistants or different leadership teams, which they are always saying, “Yes.” Which for that reason, you don’t need a leadership team. It’s basically you and surrounding yourself with people that are constantly agreeing with what you’re saying.

It’s something that I’ve prided myself on. I’ve been fortunate to be able to surround myself with people that challenge me. I’m an entrepreneur and when ideas cross my desk is not a bad idea. It crosses my mind that everyone seems better than the next. For an organization, it can be extraordinarily disrupting. It goes back to vision. When a company has it, it’s hard to do. Take it from someone who has spent the last few months working on our 3 to 5-year vision. Which is speculative and what I call horizon looking, you’re never going to accomplish it. It’s going into it. You’re never going to accomplish it but you must have it.

I’ll take you on a little bit of a variety of decisions. What are the key attributes of a leader? I put it down as a responsibility, but an attribute of a leader is the ability to make a decision. The root word of the word decides, “cide,” which is a Latin word and it means to kill. To kill off, suicide, pesticide, homicide, so decide is a word that has to do with killing, we’re killing off all other alternatives. If we have leaders that we want them to make great decisions, as CEOs and leaders of companies, what tools are we required to give them? We’re required to give several tools. The most important one, in my opinion, is a vision of the future. We don’t make decisions in the past because the past already happened. We don’t make decisions in the future because the future hasn’t happened yet. I make decisions now. The now is a microsecond.

[bctt tweet=”Encouraging people to challenge the status quo starts with giving people the permission to do so. ” username=””]

People don’t like to make decisions which is why it has the root word, “cide.” We have to kill off all other alternatives. Once we make a decision, not only are we deciding what to do, we’re deciding what not to do. We give people a vision, we’ve given them two things. They have the past and the experiences of the past. If they’re good at what they do, they’ve extracted the learnings of those experiences and they’ve put them in their vault. They have those learnings and they can always go back to that. That’s what life is about, what the result of decisions that happened in the past. The past informs decisions, the future informs decisions as well. When you have a good strong vision of the future, you can say, “We have this company. We have this vision of the future and it’s A, B and C. We have to make a decision. Let’s use our past to inform us, but let’s use our future and our vision to inspire us.” As a CEO, yourself running a business, it means running people, process, and making decisions on what to do and what not to do. How do you determine what’s essential versus what’s important?

Everything is important. When you have a clear vision, you could separate the essential from the important. Because you bounce a decision up against what that vision is, “That’s important what you’re talking about, but here’s our vision for the future and it’s not going to help us get there faster. Therefore, let’s focus on identifying the essential.” It gives your decision-makers, which are not only the leaders in your company, the tools that they need. The past and the future to get inspired by it, number one. Even though you’re never going to accomplish it, like how the horizon always moves as you get closer to it, the vision constantly moves. However, if you help them identify essential over important which then also informs the present. All decisions are made in the now. If you have a vision, you give them an extra tool that most companies don’t spend the time doing.

I appreciate this and I want to elaborate a little bit and ask you a follow-up question. We have a Leaders Forum where we go through a lot of those key strategic planning with business owners. What we hear a lot afterward is, some of those leaders are going back to their offices and they’re starting to work with their leaders. We need to cast it to the team and you have to have a buy-in of the team. Elaborate your answer on this, how much does the leader take information from their leadership team on how that vision should look like? What is essential in order to achieve that vision? How much could we move away from the vision? How much does the leader have to control it and say, “It’s my company, I’m the CEO, I’m responsible and I own the vision. You are my leadership team, you could ask me questions and challenge me, but you have to be able to adapt to the vision that I cast?”

I am a believer that the 3 to 5-year vision has the entrepreneur or owner of the business responsible for creating the vision. The leadership team is responsible for executing the vision. That’s simple. The hard part is creating the vision. I started my 2020, it’s the first three years out. I went out to 2022, it’s the first three years out a vision that I have ever done in my history and I’ve been doing this for many years. It’s not easy, let’s say that first. Second is once you come up with your vision, you have leadership in your company and you have leadership. For example, in my business, my direct reports are my CFO and my president. Once I had my vision sketched out in a raw draft, I bounced it up against them. Not that it was negotiable, but I presented it as what I always call, Raw Clay. This is where, as the business owner, where I’d like to see the business go out to 2020. The various reasons they have is, “Here’s a wet clay vision. Let’s help me mold this and get it into something that is presentable.” That’s what they helped me do, that’s number one.

Number two is once you sit down and put your presentation together to be able to bring your team and align them around the vision. You have to be extraordinarily willing to be transparent and share information with them that is certainly in a privately held business would not necessarily be information that you would think you would share with people. Even if they’re a part of your leadership team. I’m talking about financial data. If your vision is around finances and growing enterprise value, for example, you need to explain to them things like multiples and how businesses are valued. A lot of them don’t understand that. One of the key sidebars that I learned in putting this together was how important it is to develop a course called Financial Learning for Nonfinancial Managers.

I did research on that plus, what does EBITDA mean? What does apex mean? They’re all over financial statements, but many of your leadership team, your person who’s running category management, product development or marketing, have never seen the word EBITDA before. Maybe they’ve seen it in a college course or accounting course somewhere, but what does it mean? That to me was important and then the ability to be transparent. The two most important things after that are getting immediately to what does this mean for them? Number one, what does it mean for them? There are two components, what does it mean to them as a professional? Do you want to be a winner?

That was an important piece for me. You’re going to be on my leadership team. Are you a winner? Do you have a winning attitude? Winning makes you feel good. If you are a winner, that’s accomplishing stuff and contributing, making a difference, having fun and what I like to call referable. Are you proud when you’re sitting around having a beer with your friends and telling them about your accomplishments as a leader? How to tell your story? That’s what I call satisfaction of being the leader around attitude. That’s what a leader should feel that they’re getting out of being a part of it.

Roles Of A Leader: When you have a clear vision of the future, you could separate the essential work from the important work.

Number two is financial rewards. With this vision, this is where we expect the company to go and what does that mean to me as a leader financially. Let’s not make-believe that’s not important. It’s extremely important. How would compensation look like, how we’re going to do raises, having to do bonuses and what are the calculations? Transparency and leading into what’s in it for them is extremely important with having a big corporate vision, especially one that’s aspirational. It’s an aspirational vision because it’s looking out 3 to 5 years. It’s all aspirational and likely not going to happen exactly how you envision it, but if you don’t plan, it’s definitely not going to happen.

After doing the strategic planning for 3 to 5 years, you breakdown and one of your goals and visions, it’s not even a vision, that’s more of a mission and a goal on how you are able to measure against.

That leads to the next pieces where people get confused is about strategic planning versus operational planning. Operational planning is there to support your strategic plan. Operational planning is around things that we have in your do wells. Let’s call them our do wells. If I’m in the distribution business, I would be talking to my operations team. Their do wells are getting orders out on time, accurately, shipping all the entire auto-complete on the same day, lost sales and making sure that we’re filling the orders if we have them and things of that nature and tying that to the KPIs. Any KPI has to be able to be measured.

Through its strategic vision into operational visions into KPIs to support those operational visions, you don’t have to share your next strategic vision and be transparent as you go down through the levels of your business. You certainly can share with them the operational vision of your department and the KPIs and at that level, how are they going to benefit both professionally and financially from succeeding in their goals? It’s a stack if you would and that’s how it works well, but I can’t strive enough to have good solid KPIs. When I look at KPIs, I have to look at leading indicators versus lagging. For example, profitability, is that a leading indicator or is it a lagging indicator? It’s one that was so focused on but it’s a lagging indicator. It happened in the past, but what tools can I create? What KPIs can I put in place that are leading indicators that if I accomplish those, I’ll have a good lagging indicator?

This was a little bit of a new one for me as well, the way you broke down strategic planning and operational planning. You could see a lot of business owners get strategic planning. They’ll plan it out and because they don’t have operational planning in place, what happens is it stays a vision, which is basically a dream. It’s so far out and you don’t have the tangible infrastructure to support it. Let’s say somebody has a sales goal and in strategic planning, they’re gaining market share. If you don’t have operational people in place for your sales team, your operation to get the orders out and so on and so forth, there’s no way that you could achieve your vision.

What I do is once a strategic plan is out there, it’s not my responsibility to come up with the operational plan. I’ll give you a concept that I’ve learned is in-charge versus in-control. As CEO, as the entrepreneur and the business owner, I am in charge of every single thing that goes on in this business. I am in control of little. What that means is, I’m in charge. At the end of the day, the buck stops here but I don’t necessarily control. I have order selectors, packers, warehouse managers and supervisors. I’m in charge of them all. I don’t control any of them.

There’s a saying that I use a lot which is, “You have to inspect what you expect.” To elaborate on what you said, in charge and not in control. What’s the practical way for you to lead as far as making sure that maybe you’re not in control, but you still funnel up the information you need to make sure that things are as expected.

[bctt tweet=”Just like the horizon always moves as you get closer to it, the vision constantly moves. ” username=””]

I am reporting KPIs. Without a tool to measure them is a waste of time. I said that as a fact. I’m not even dancing around on that one.

Would you mind sharing a KPI that’s not related to a number in sales?

The way I break KPIs is into four sections. There’s a concept out there which anyone can look upon it and it’s not easy to do, but it’s called Balanced Scorecarding. My KPI for my sales department, for example, I’ve broken it into four pieces, organizational learning, internal process improvement, customer satisfaction and financial improvement. Those four pieces exist for every department in the business. Whether it’s what I call front stage, sales and backstage, purchasing operations, etc. For example, an organizational learning goal for 2020 as a KPI for my sales department, I’m happy to share with you is Financial Learning for Nonfinancial Managers. The measurement of that are the leaders in sales, from the VP level down to two levels below that is getting a passing grade on that course. Not surprisingly one of the key strategic objectives and KPIs to my HR department is to develop the content and syllabus for that course. That’s developed by HR.

That’s a non-numbers related. They will get a bonus on that. A percentage of their bonus will be understanding the learnings of that course. Nonspecific sales for a sales guy from a customer satisfaction standpoint would be, it’s not a number but it’s a great leading indicator in our business. It’s budgeting how many visits we make to our stores. That is a driver and that becomes a leading indicator or whether that customer will be profitable enough.

Do those indicators come from operational planning?

Those indicators and KPIs come directly from the operational plan.

They’re creating their plan to be able to achieve strategic planning.

Roles Of A Leader: The entrepreneur or the owner of the business is responsible for creating the vision; the leadership team is responsible for executing it.

Now that they have the strategic plans, “How am I going to accomplish that inside of what I’m responsible for? How do I get KPIs that I can report against?

I want to try to get a couple of questions in on different things that I prepared that you could add a lot of value for our readers. I want to speak about it, you’re much about the culture, and I encourage people to check out the L&R website and check out the About Us section. You have a separate website, which is the L&R Way which is for internal and potential employees. One of the things that you focus a lot, which is you have your mission statement, the what, the why and the how.

I want to dive into your mission statement which is, “To create the ultimate shopping experience to our customer’s customer.” I want to ask you not only a specific question is you also started this interview and we discussed your ability to find ways to remove complexity. You mentioned the complexity part, innovation, and the different things you have done to remove the complexity. When you chose your mission statement, you chose the words to create the ultimate shopping experience for our customer’s customers. What is the reasoning behind it? How does it play out on a daily basis?

If it says anywhere on my website mission statement, remind me I’ve got to call my web developer and change it immediately. I call that our vision statement, I’m turned off by mission statements because of mission statements and we’re all having mission statements too and they’re all in jail. Having a vision statement, “The ultimate shopping experience for our customer’s customers.” We have a tag line that goes along with that kind of little logo, it’s called USEFUL. That stands for the Ultimate Shopping Experience to Foster Ultimate Loyalty. What that means is fostering ultimate loyalty can work in a lot of ways. Ultimate loyalty that customer’s customers should be loyal to them so that the shopping experience in their stores is great. Ultimate loyalty, by removing complexity, my customers are loyal to me. Ultimate loyalty so the manufacturers that we represent are loyal to me because we represent them in a good way.

It’s an over encompassing deal. When we came through with this vision statement is, if everything we do is about removing complexity so that we can be useful and we can be designers of the ultimate shopping experience for our customer’s customer to foster ultimate loyalty. The result of that will be profitability, better financials and it’s something that you can rally around. One of the questions you asked me earlier is when we think about metrics and KPIs we think sales, budget, margin and things of that. We don’t think of things that are not financial.

I’m a big believer in nonfinancial milestones leading to financial milestones. If we do all that and if we’re able to accomplish it, we can truly remove complexity and do what we stated in our vision is we will be financially rewarded. What you could do is you can rally a team around it. You would say, someone who’s answering the phone at your reception desk, how are they designers of the ultimate shopping experience? How do they foster ultimate loyalty? They don’t technically generate revenue. They are out there on the street trying to get orders. How are they part of being useful? That’s my acronym to take that long sentence down and the answer to my question is someone once asked me that. Someone came into my office for a meeting and it’s an epiphany that hit me and said to me, “Your receptionist is the best receptionist. I go to companies all the time and she’s always interested. She always offers me a bottle of water and a cup of coffee and sees how my trip was. If it’s raining outside, she’s making sure to have a place for my umbrella. It’s awesome.” I go, “She’s a designer of the ultimate shopping experience for our customer’s customer.” He turned to me and looked at me and said, “What does that mean?”

I said, “She’s our designer for first impressions.” When you have the ability to have a vision that’s a big one, a big vision, you could align your team around it, the people in the stores and the people out there looking for sales, driving sales and driving market share. It’s easy to talk about. But how is the guy in the warehouse packing the box? “Look at how beautiful that box is packed.” If it’s the box, he’s a designer of the ultimate shopping experience. He’s the designer of packaging. It becomes an almost self-fulfilling prophecy if you can create a vision that is alignable from a culture standpoint. I put up a slide when I was talking about decision-making and vision, it’s a quote by Phil Cooke, “Culture is more important than vision. Some leaders have a great vision but have created a toxic culture where that vision will never happen.” If you have a bad culture and you can have the best vision in the world, you can offer the most money. If it’s a backstabbing type of environment, it’s horrible which leads to a difference between collaboration and cooperation. I’ll plug the collaboratively and you can do your research on that. It’s something that’s important in terms of building a culture.

[bctt tweet=”One of the key attributes of a leader is the ability to make a decision. ” username=””]

The reason I wanted to ask you about the vision statement and how you chose, coming from a marketer ourselves, and we are sometimes tasked to work with companies in their teams to figure it out. Some people are focused on what they’re doing versus the results they’re achieving. When you have a vision statement, which is, “The ultimate shopping experience for your customer’s customer.” You’re telling your receptionist, to get in the mind, what does the end result look like? Which is our customer’s customer touching the product on the shelf and it came through our company’s good work.

What’s interesting about that too is you can take that vision and move it to eCommerce and it still works.

How does a day in the life of a CEO look like? You have hundreds of employees. You have strategic planning, the in-charge, and the essentials. Walk us through the preliminary ideal day to make sure that you have the finger on the pulse. Are these meetings with the internal team? Is it partnerships? What is it?

I have phenomenal assistants. That’s a shout out to Gabby and Leslie. They don’t work in my office, they are remote. I don’t have an assistant in my office. I work with a company that I outsource that too and they are in charge of my calendar, for example. I am not in charge of my calendar. We have weekly meetings discussing and we develop the process. For example, I can spend all day every day in meetings and that’s great. When do I get things done? I have developed into my calendar what I call Marc time. It’s two-hour blocks where I have an inbox pause on my email. I am an email junkie and I realized I tried to get away from it, but I’m addicted. How do we have a tool to protect me from that? I put my inbox on pause. I send an email that says, “I’m in a meeting right now and I will not be looking at email for the next three hours.” At least the responder gets a response. I’m not seeing this for at least three hours and that’s good.

That quiets the noise and I have blocked out calendar time. I’ll get a call for my assistant five minutes before saying, “Block out time is coming.” She will protect me from myself and from everyone else and literally not let anything through. She has access to my email, my phone calls and if something comes up, we have a 911 system through Slack. If she Slacks me, I know I’ve got to interrupt what I’m doing. Other than that, that’s my private time. A day in my life, number one, you talked to any successful entrepreneur and these are all the books, waking up early, getting an early start is extraordinarily important. It’s being a form of an orthodox Jew. We have things that are more important than business and certainly if you don’t get an early start, you’re behind the eight ball before we even get started.

My day starts at about 5:00 AM. We have to do what we have to do from a religious standpoint in the morning including are studying and praying and all those important things. I also have a midday time out competing with Cal Ripken on his consecutive games played. We’re up to with my study partner my chavrusa over 1,100 straight days of not missing our Seder which is important. It becomes a character. You do something for 21 days and it becomes a habit. You do something for a long time and it becomes a character trait. If I’m out there and if I’m getting preachy, I don’t mean to be but if I can do it, believe me, everyone can. It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to do that. I belong to Strategic Coach, which is a good program for me, Dan Sullivan’s program. I have my buffer days, my focus days and we have our built-in free days every Shabbat. We’re extraordinarily lucky that our culture is built into it. I try to live with that system.

Whenever I ask this question from active CEOs and leaders of companies, there’s a certain trend. A couple of things to waking up early is across the board, getting that start and almost guarding your calendar or your time will be the second on the list. The third is, making sure that you’re strong enough to keep it. If you have a habit and you need to break through a habit. I myself started some of those habits using my calendar for stuff that I want to do even with myself, deep work as I call it. It’s blocked into the calendar. Even looking at reports, so many CEOs and leaders of companies get reports and it’s sitting on their desk for weeks. Here you have people waiting for a decision or created those reports and nobody’s looking at it. They don’t have the slots in their calendar that, “This is the time that I’m reviewing reports and making my notes on it.”

I love asking that question because there’s a common denominator and for our readers, if they are looking to get more out of the time, be able to work on that stuff strategically. You have to get more intentional about guarding your calendar and prioritizing your day. We’re up to closing season two and the first that we went on this long. This is fascinating because there are so many gold nuggets. Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Number one, a book that changed your life?

Roles Of A Leader: If everything you do is about removing complexity from the customer’s shopping experience, the result will be profitability and better financials.

I’m in the middle of reading it. It’s called Never Split the Difference: Negotiate as if Your Life Depended On It by Tahl Raz and Chris Voss.

Number two, a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget.

In-charge versus in control.

Number three, anything you wish you could go back and do differently?

Can I rephrase your question? Knowing what I know now if I had to do it over again, what would I do differently? To me, that’s an important way to answer the question because it takes blame and shame out of the game. I would have done 3 to 5 strategic client year planning probably years ago.

Last question, number four, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?

I’m not a big bucket list guy, but I’m training for a Half Ironman. If I can figure out the training schedule into my schedule, that would be pretty cool. I’m trying to get that.

Thank you, Marc, for joining us. I know your time is valuable and that is why in the name of our readers, we will forever be grateful to have you share some of your time with us.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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Guest Bio
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Marc Bodner

Marc has over 25 years’ experience in the Distribution industry. He previously held the position of President/CEO at Allied Supply Co.

He currently holds the position of CEO and is a member of the Board of Directors. Marc graduated with honors from Touro College with degrees in Corporate Finance and Computer Science. He serves on the Board of Directors of several non-profit organizations.

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