The Leadership Lattice presents: Art Zeile, CEO – 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 been different from building Inflow? 

We built Inflow in my basement, organically; it was a pure start up.  At 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 and going to The Leadership Lattice.


Finding the Right Mentor can Mean the Difference Between Success and Failure

The Leadership Lattice presents: Joe Assell, Co-Founder & CEO of GolfTEC, The GolfTEC Story, Part 1 in a 3 Part Series

Stages of a Leadership Team or as I like to say- Know when to fire yourself!

There are several stages and evolutions of leadership teams.  Problems often come when an existing leadership team doesn’t recognize that it’s time for them to move on. Not because they have not been successful in the past, but because their skills as a leader don’t match the needs of the organization today.  Now, by moving on, I am not saying they should leave the company.  That may well be the right answer but the other possibility is to take advantage of their strengths and take a different role within the organization.  I am sure that volumes have been written about this.  I wanted to add my view because of what I have seen and experienced firsthand.

Start-Up and Early Stage Company– this requires a risk taking entrepreneur and a willingness to take on any task, no matter how menial.  There is little or no profit and no financial reward at this point.  These leaders have a vision and are willing to leap off into the abyss of starting a new company.  They are passionate about their idea and can inspire others to follow.

Growth company– This requires a new discipline.  A willingness to put in place structure, process and real operational infrastructure and yet maintain the entrepreneurial culture.  There is revenue and possibly profit, more employees, more financial reward.  The leader can no longer be as hands-on.  It’s easy to get distracted, stay too tactical.  As a leader/founder, you have to be willing to give up some control and hire some people that are smarter than you are to run areas of the company where you are not as strong.  You also have to be very self aware of your strengths and weaknesses so that you hire people who balance your skills.  You have to be willing to listen.

Stable and growing– This is a time I believe for a very different leadership team.  One that has ‘been there, done that’, leading and growing larger companies with a high degree of financial scrutiny. It is highly unusual for the Founder/CEO to continue to be effective.  There are of course, many examples where I am dead wrong.  Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc, but the vast majority of the Start-Up founders are not effective at this stage.  It requires both courage and humility for a Founder/CEO to recognize that they just don’t have the skills, expertise, and/or knowledge to continue on at the helm.  Remember that Jobs got fired.  He is more successful this time because he has surrounded himself with a great team that compliments his strengths and weaknesses.

 Turn-around.   This company has gone into the ditch and this leadership team is a very different team.  They are all about figuring out where this company has value, getting rid of the assets or businesses that are not core, cutting cost and gaining the trust and confidence of the employees. 

As I start down my path of entrepreneurship, I am looking ahead to a time when I will be hiring those that bring skills I don’t today possess to help me grow.  I also am looking forward to a time when I have the opportunity to bring in a ‘been there, done that’ CEO to help my company continue to succeed.  This is my baby.  Having children, you recognize when it’s time to bring in someone who knows how to teach them something you don’t know.  You also recognize when it’s time to launch them into the world.

%d bloggers like this: