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Visionaries and Integrators

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Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now, put the foundations under them.”

As a self-professed visionary, I relate to the first half of that quote so well. I have blueprints to many a castle tucked away in my mind. I have carried dreams for my shops for many years. I can see what the future of our shops looks like. I can even feel what it is going to feel like when we “arrive” at that ever-elusive, but highly desirable, future. I know our “why." I know that I want to give away $1 million to abused, abandoned, and orphaned children in the next 10 years. I know I want to have well-equipped shops, staffed by energetic people who love coming to work in this industry. I know how many team members I ultimately want and how many shops. I have a strong idea of where our shops will be on a map. The “what,” the “why,” and the “who” are very clear to me.

It’s the “how”—the foundation in real life—that trips me up. I’m certain of the future; it’s the present that often leaves me perplexed—until now.

Turns out, I wasn’t supposed to have the answer! I’m not even wired for it. What a freeing thought that is! I don’t have to have all the answers. Why? Because that is someone else’s job, someone else’s gift, someone else’s wiring. And I found him this year. His name is Keith Foster and he’s my new chief operating officer. Although that’s his title, his role is better described by what the authors of the book "Rocket Fuel" call an “integrator."

"Rocket Fuel" teaches that there are two types of leaders needed for any entrepreneurial enterprise that wants to rapidly scale: visionaries and integrators. And their job descriptions are very different. Visionaries tend to live in the future; have big ideas (most of which should never see the light of day!); handle key partner relationships; design and build out the culture and values; pursue fresh opportunities, like acquisitions; and are the face of the brand. Or, as Keith likes to summarize it in a way that keeps me humble and connected to reality: “shake hands and kiss babies.”

Integrators, on the other hand, keep all the trains running on time. They love to create processes and build systems that empower teams to achieve results. They are great at installing structure, discipline, repetition, and accountability. In my context, we have agreed Keith will work on creating a common operating template for all our locations to run with as little variation as possible so we can move cars and people seamlessly between them.

Keith is also developing and coordinating our existing talent in amazing ways in his first two months. Turns out, I’ve had many of the right pieces and people in place all along, we just haven’t had the orchestration that an integrator naturally brings. We’ve been stuck in that “gangly teenager” stage for a while, full of potential but lacking coordination. Keith has also been like a talent magnet for us, rounding out the team. In his first month, we hired two people he knew that had left the industry but were just waiting for the right opportunity to invite them back.

To be clear, Keith was not easy to find. When I described to a couple of well-known industry consultants what I was looking for one of them said, “Oh, I get it now! You’re looking for a unicorn.” My original criteria did seem very unrealistic. I wanted someone with decades of industry experience, who lived within an hour of me, and who had already scaled an operation from a handful of shops to over 10 locations. But Keith checked all the boxes and here we are, two months in.

What does this mean for me? In a word: Freedom. I’m free again to be full time in the visionary seat, to dream about the future and put the rough draft in place. I’m free to pursue partnerships and new opportunities. Even though we’re still coming out of the COVID mess, I’m already talking to a handful of aging shop owners who may be interested in selling. I have my dream job again! All the stuff that was so confounding to me, Keith seems to do with ease. He seems to never get stuck on the things that tripped me up for so long. He just knows what to do and does it. He gets the team marching to the same beat. This new reality has me excited about this industry and my enterprise in ways I have never experienced. I literally can’t wait to get up and get going every day to see what new muscle my enterprise will develop under Keith’s leadership and what new opportunity or relationship is coming down the pike for me to discover and nurture. With the right pairing of visionary and integrator, it seems anything is possible.

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