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.


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.

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The Leadership Lattice presents: Richard Lewis, CEO of RTL Networks – How Would Gen’l Patton Lead?

  1. What is your approach to leadership?

General George S. Patton was once quoted as  saying, ‘Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they’ll  surprise you with their ingenuity.’ That sums up my approach to  leadership.  It’s my job to create our  vision, direction and goals.  I allow my  employees to take ownership and drive toward those goals.  I’m only going to be as successful as my  people will allow me to be. I focus on making sure my people have the right  tools and remove any roadblocks to ensure their success. When they’re successful,  the organization is successful; when the organization is successful, I’m successful as the leader.  My focus is on the business, not in the business.  This is the important distinction.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you?

I remember as a young Lieutenant in the Air  Force, I went home one break period and was venting with a good friend from high  school; talking about all of the things I was dissatisfied with and how I  wanted things to be different. He asked me, “Aren’t you in charge?” He told me  that I had been groomed to be a leader and so I needed to lead.  I realized that I had control and options and  had to take responsibility.  This conversation started to push me in the right direction.  I don’t think he realized the impact he had, even to this day.

Also, I remember my early days in both the military and in corporate America, when unexpected things happened, things we didn’t plan for, it was hard not get frustrated or flustered.  Now, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.  We still continue to plan.  We are shooting for greatness, trying to accomplish big things, and we know that there are always going to be obstacles.  But, I teach my people not to lose their cool and to keep moving forward.

  1. Did  you have a mentor early in your career?  If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the  biggest way in your career?

There is another expression – when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  I’ve had many mentors-  whether they have known it or not.  Some
have taught me how to be and some, how not to be.  Everyone is a mentor to some degree.  It’s very apparent when someone wants to be the ‘Boss’ because their ego demands it or whether someone wants to get something done and is focused on accomplishment. I work very hard to be the person who wants to get things accomplished.

  1. How do you hire? What questions do you ask?

There are so many qualities that we look for like  timeliness and attention to detail. These are no different than any business, large or small. But, as a small business, I had to learn that everyone has to  wear lots of hats.  When I started RTL, I  developed an organizational chart that had all of the typical boxes.  The difference was that my name was in every box.  My employees have to be flexible and pick up the ball with little or no support sometimes.  You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit to  be successful working in a small company.

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

Interviews are very important. They give you the chance to get to know someone who you will be living with professionally, hopefully for a long time.  Everyone has prepared for the canned questions and they have their canned answer.  I even expect a certain answer before the candidate begins to speak.  To counter this, I like to create scenarios and see how people respond, both through their body language and what they say, what questions they ask.  These scenarios tell me if they will be a fit in our company, in our culture and in that role.

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

Body Language and Interviewing

I recently read a series of comments on a blog that mentioned how important a handshake is in terms of making a good first impression. What was really shocking to me was how a few readers were total denial about the importance of body language. One reader was very defensive and felt that his handshake should have nothing to do with getting hired. It should all have been about his skills. I wanted to reach through cyberspace and shake him; tell him to wake up.

There are some things that, whether you like it or not, are quite simply, reality.

Here are 8 FACTS-

1. First impressions have a big impact on the entire interview and outcome of that interview.

2. A warm, firm handshake makes a great first impression.

3. A warm, genuine smile makes a great lasting impression.

4. Good eye contact is imperative.

5. Sit forward in your chair. The impression is that you are interested in what the person interviewing you has to say.

6. Don’t fidget or use your hands too much when talking. It’s distracting.

7. Keep both feet on the ground. Don’t cross your legs.

8. A warm, firm handshake when you are done and leaving closes the interview with a good impression.

To Apply or not to Apply, that is the Question

People ask me about applying to job postings. Should they? Shouldn’t they?

If you are waiting on a call back from an online application, you are almost always wasting your time.  The probability is extremely low that the company will find you in the deluge of applicants.  You may feel like you can say to yourself that you were productive today because you applied for 10 jobs, but don’t fool yourself.  But, should you apply?  Of course!  Why you ask?  Well, most companies have a process and you have to follow the process or you can’t get hired.  Ahh, but the key is timing.  You should apply, but not yet!!!

If you see a posting that is interesting, start your research and investigation.  Talk to your friends, colleagues, recruiters, vendors, etc.  See if anyone has a connection that can help you.  Use the back door, side door and front door.  Be creative.  Use referrals, recommendations, introductions.  If a recruiter has a strong relationship, they can be a tremendous resource and advocate.

If you are unable to find that alternate door, then make an educated guess regarding who the hiring mgr might be.  Pick up the phone and make the call.  There will be gate keepers.  You can’t avoid it.  But be polite, friendly and engaging.  Ask them for their assistance in getting to this person.  You may have to try several times and several gate keepers. But be patiently and politely persistent.  Don’t take it personally when they try and dissuade you.  It’s their job.

 You better have a clear, crisp elevator pitch ready to go because you might just get someone on the phone and you have one shot. 

So, when to apply?  1. When you are asked to apply.  Once you are asked in for the interview, you will be asked by someone in HR or Staffing to apply online.  2. You have exhausted your creative juices and have not been able to find that person who will help to get you in front of the Hiring Manager.  Go ahead and apply.  Be sure to call Staffing.  Ask for the recruiter who is responsible for the role.  Let that person know you have applied and are very interested in the opportunity.  Be prepared for that elevator pitch.  Keep in mind that they are getting lots of calls and emails.  Why are you unique and different?  What makes you stand out?

Two more things of importance.  First, Open jobs are like bananas.  They are very perishable.  If you take your time, analyze the situation, you will lose.   Second, even if you don’t get this one, be sure to leave a positive impression, there will be other opportunities…

Happy Hunting!


My Top Ten Interview Tips

  1. Research and Preparation – really, don’t wing it.  Just because a friend works there and you think you know enough about the company, doesn’t count as research.  Read the website.  Read all of the latest news.  Understand what they do.  It’s not hard!  Not doing the research is a total turn-off and shows an utter lack of respect for the person who is meeting you.
  2. Know exactly where you are going because – If you are early, you’re on-time.  If you are on-time, you’re late, AND If you are late, You are NOT hired!!!   Traffic doesn’t cut it.  Got lost- lame!  If you are flying in and they booked your travel giving you just enough time but your flight was delayed, ok, call and let them know. But really, there are very few valid excuses.
  3. Dress.  Now I get this question all the time.  And, the answer is not as simple as it used to be.  The pendulum goes back and forth.  In the dot com days, a casual company expected an interviewee to dress casually or they just didn’t fit in.  And, vice versa.  Now, it helps to know something about the dress style of the company and dress a bit nicer.  A suit is almost always acceptable.  A suit for a guy without the tie is good for a business casual atmosphere.  Casual is never ok in today’s atmosphere.  Just because you are coming from work and you currently work in a casual company, there is no excuse for not throwing a jacket in your car and putting it on before you walk in.  Use some common sense.  If you don’t have any common sense, ask a professional for some advice.  Here’s a tip for guys- wear socks- always.  I never in a million years expected to have to say this.  Lesson learned. 
  4. Bring extra copies of your resume.  You are making the job of the interviewer easier.
  5. The first 30 seconds are critical. Smile, look your interviewer in the eye, have a warm, friendly, firm handshake.  The limp handshake is a total turn off.  If you are not sure about your handshake, practice with a friend who will be honest with you.
  6. Based on your research, you need to have some good questions prepared.  Demonstrate your curiosity and prove you did your homework. 
  7. If you are doing several interviews in one trip and you feel your energy waning, ask for a 5 minute break and for a cup of coffee or a Coke.  No one will take this as a negative.  And, if they do, that’s a big red flag for you. 
  8. Some interviewers might not be as experienced at interviewing.  Don’t be put off.  Don’t get critical and start feeling offended.  Just gently take some control.  Start asking more questions.  Have that person tell you about themselves, get them engaged.  Maybe they are as nervous as you are.  Have some empathy.  It’s a major turn off when I talk to a candidate who feels that they are somehow superior to the interviewer. 
  9. Thank you notes.  YES.  It’s a simple way to stand out.  An email is perfectly sufficient.  Handwritten is a nice touch but often, there isn’t time. 
  10. Follow-up.  YES.  Don’t be a stalker and call every day.  If you haven’t heard back after your prompt (same day) thank you note within 48 hours, call the hiring manager or recruiter to follow-up.  If there isn’t a decision, ask that person when you should follow-up again just in case you haven’t heard. You have just gotten permission.  Then, put it on your calendar.  No news is not necessarily bad news despite what you are thinking.  Patient persistence can win the day.
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