The Leadership Lattice presents: Art Zeile, CEO Hosting.com – Being a Successful CEO Entrepreneur


1.  How would you differentiate between what it takes to be a great leader in a start-up vs. an established, large company?  

I’ve been involved in both large companies and now 3 start-ups.  The entrepreneur CEO has to be passionate about sales and their product. You are the chief sales person. You also have to have risk tolerance.  A 50K decision in a start-up can have very significant implications where in a large company, it can be just a drop in the bucket.  The entrepreneur has to be comfortable in their ability to make those risk filled decisions
and ultimately has to make good decisions each and every time.  There isn’t much margin for error.

2.  How has building Hosting.com been different from building Inflow? 

We built Inflow in my basement, organically; it was a pure start up.  At Hosting.com we are acquiring companies to build a national platform quickly.  It has taken us 2.5 years to reach the point that took 7 years at Inflow. With that has come a different set of issues.  First and foremost, culture. At inflow, we hired everyone, so building culture was easier.  We could hire people for culture and  value fit.  At Hosting, we spend a  great deal of time merging and combining the DNA of all of the companies.

3.  What’s your approach to leadership?

I view myself as the Chief Talent Officer of the company.  I spend my time making sure I have surrounded myself with people who are more talented than I am in each functional area.  Joel Daly, my COO, and I have a goal of building 50 C level executives over the course of our careers.  We constantly look to give our people more responsibility and through that are constantly forcing them up a learning curve.   Joel and I believe that this company exists as a team. Joel and I share and office and always have.  We visibly show people that all functions have to work together seamlessly.

4.  What were some important leadership lessons for you?

Through the downturns we have learned that we need to build in a safe harbor where we are self reliant and can continue to run the company through those times. The second lesson has been that people want to work for you because they believe in your values. They want to work for a team that they can trust. Values transcend the business model.

5.  How did the Air Force help you prepare for your career today?

The Air Force taught me about honesty and that has become a key differentiator.  In the Air Force Academy, the honor code was ingrained in us as Cadets. When I left the Academy, and entered active duty in the Air Force, that honor code remained intact. .  But once I made it to the commercial sector it was not necessarily intact. We have been able to maintain that same value system of honesty and integrity in our companies. Our clients trust us to be honest and be responsible and forthright with both our success and failures and this has served us well.

6.  Tell me about an important mentor?

My boss in the Air Force, a Brigadier General, could tell me that I hadn’t done my best work but could also build and maintain a bond of friendship.  Positive accountability is a unique skill.

7.  How do you motivate your team?

We seek out people who are looking for more responsibility and want to grow in their careers.  We offer the environment where people can make mistakes and learn without fear. We also focus on them as people and their families.  We want to make this a place where people want to come to work.

8.  How do you hire?

We subscribe to a philosophy of top grading.  Top Grading is a book written by Colorado author Brad Smart.  We ask people to get detailed about their career path, the decisions they made, how they would grade their own performance and how they think their supervisor would grade them.  We want a holistic view of the entire person.  Beyond that, I focus on people’s strengths. I want to be sure to put people into a role that takes advantage of those strengths.  

9.  What other qualities are you trying to get at in the  interview?

We look for passion, intellect and if a candidate was a point person on an accomplishment rather than an innocent bystander and lastly how they work within a team.

The Leadership Lattice– an interview series conducted by Ann Spoor, CEO of Executive Lattice. These interviews are designed to cultivate
conversation about building strong leadership in the public and private sector.

You can view the video of this interview by going to www.executivelattice.com and going to The Leadership Lattice.

The Leadership Lattice presents: Ken Ross, President and CEO of Pinnacol Assurance in Denver Colorado.


The Leadership Lattice– an interview series conducted by Ann Spoor, CEO of Executive Lattice. These interviews are designed to cultivate conversation about building strong leadership in the public and private sector.  You can view the video of this interview by going to YouTube and searching “Leadership Lattice”   Please subscribe.

What is your approach to leadership and does your approach vary because Pinnacol is a quasi- governmental organization?

There is no quick answer to this question. It’s an approach that has evolved over time and through experience.  I have an open style and welcome ideas from all of our employees.  I may not always agree but I will always listen and receive you.  I believe in staying close to my employees and am honest with them regardless of whether it’s good or bad news. Employees want to know where they stand.   CEO’s have to be open to learning and evolving.  I have always been open to learning.  As a quasi-governmental company, my style doesn’t change, the same skills apply. The biggest difference is that we have additional stakeholders in terms of the Governor and the Legislature.

How do you create culture?

It’s common to hear a company say that they have a ‘strong culture.’  What does that really mean?  Culture evolves over time.  Our culture encompasses a number of things- we have a strong business culture of providing the best service in the industry.  We also believe that our employees are our strongest assets. We are a service oriented business; serving policyholders and our staff embraces this service orientation.  We hold everyone to the same standards at all levels.   Our culture and values are the subject of constant conversation. You can’t be complacent as a company.  I set the tone but it’s not just me that determines our culture, it’s all 600 employees that create the culture together.

How has Pinnacol weathered the storm of the recent recession?

We are very directly affected by the state of the economy.  Our revenue is directly tied to payroll.  Our bread and butter customer is the small to middle market company.  We weathered the recession well because of the financial strength we have built up over the past several years and so were able to reduce our rates and return dividends to our policyholders to help to ease their burden.  Colorado in particular was slow to go into the recession and is still slow to come out.  We don’t have the big companies that can be the big hiring machines as is the case in some other states. The signs are positive though but we are not there yet.

What have been some important leadership lessons?

Early in my legal career in New York, I was working in the prison system.  I received a call from a very angry Sergeant- he yelled and screamed at me, very colorfully.  I never forgot this.  The lesson I learned was if you treat people with respect, you get a better result.  If you just sit down with people and have a calm discussion, even if you disagree, you are more likely to get something done.  The CEO is in the spotlight, you set the tone, and your employees take their cues from you on how they should act.  You always have to keep your cool even in the most difficult situations to get to the proper solution.

Did you have a mentor that had a big impact?

My Dad was my most important mentor.  He was a self made man.  He put himself through college and law school and ultimately became a judge and leader in New York.  I don’t profess to be my Dad, he was a ‘take no prisoners’ type of guy but he was well respected. From an early age, I learned many valuable lessons on how to deal with people, how to support your people but also to motivate them.  He had a very strong work ethic.  He was the most influential person in my early career as a lawyer and also now as a business leader.

How do you hire?

We hire first for culture.  You have to fit into the team.  You may have the best skills but if you don’t fit the culture, it won’t work.  I am only involved in hiring my direct report team so I don’t interview candidates very often.  When I do, I focus on behavioral interviewing. I want to know how this candidate will react in a certain situation.  Past behavior is a great barometer for future behavior.  In addition, we hire very strategically.  Everyone has to make a business case to fill an open position. Just because we have an open position, doesn’t mean we’ll fill it.  We have a very high retention rate.  Getting the right people on board is the most important decision we make.  We like to see people move up the ranks and we promote from within. Our HR team does a great job.  We are working on an overhaul of our leadership development program now.  We try to identify our future leaders and what skills they need to develop their career. We also continue to work on succession planning at all levels.  We are always fine tuning and improving in these areas.

For more information on the Leadership Lattice, contact us through email at info@executivelattice.com

Thanks for following along!

My Prediction for 2010


My Prediction for 2010

I believe that as the economy turns and the job market heats up (I have already seen signs of this happening), there will be a significant uptick in turnover in companies, much higher than what we have seen in recent years.  Companies that will suffer most are those that have cut into the bone and therefore their employees have been doing the work of 2, 3 and more of their former colleagues.  These employees are tired, burned out and over-worked.  They feel under-appreciated and under-valued. The exec teams didn’t walk the walk.  Even if employees were satisfied before, they want a change and a new, fresh start.  Average leadership of the past didn’t impact retention, but this will become a very different story. 

A friend of mine recently met with an HR leader who was working with a nationally recognized out-placement firm.  My friend was coming in to talk to the recently displaced workers about social media and how it can help them in their job search.  She was doing this partly as a business development opportunity (she’s a career coach) and partly at the request of a friend of hers in this same company.  The HR leader told my friend that she didn’t actually care if and when the displaced workers found a job and that is wasn’t her problem.  The only reason she was using outplacement was to mitigate liability for the company.  Now, I didn’t just fall off of the turnip truck.  I know that this is one of the primary reasons that companies use outplacement firms.  But, for this HR leader to say this out loud, publically and in front of both her team and an external person, is shocking and unprofessional to say the least.  It goes to the heart of the fact that this company is not employee oriented, isn’t on the top companies to work for list, and isn’t likely to win any awards in this area anytime soon.  They can expect significant turnover in an up market.  The cost to the business will be significant. 

I read an article recently (written by Shaun Rein- What Sets Great Leaders Apart) that compared the NY Times to the Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston and how the leadership handled the downturn.  Bottom line is that the NY Times laid people off and asked for and received major concessions from their employees, while the top execs, gave themselves significant pay raises.  The exec team at Beth Israel all took pay cuts in order to save jobs and in doing so, will have created loyalty and good will.  I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out who will keep their best people, attract the best talent, and keep the turnover numbers low in the coming months and years.  Here’s to Beth Israel!  Kudos to the exec team!!

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