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.

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The Leadership Lattice presents: Paul Larkins, CEO SquareTwo Financial, Building Culture through Values


What are the lessons for leadership in the financial services industry  from the meltdown in the capital markets?

The jury is still out in terms of what really happened to cause the meltdown of the capital markets in 2007-2008 but, had there been more transparency, some of the damage could have been mitigated earlier and there would be less suspicion of the leadership of the impacted organizations.

How does your leadership approach change based on the new regulations  enacted in the industry?

It changes the way I think about leadership but shouldn’t change my approach.  I believe that  regulation is inevitable in this (financial services) or any industry and the more transparent one is, the less concerned you need to be about regulation and stepping over a line.  You have to communicate more today than ever before.  Our entire leadership team shares information about decisions, how the company is performing, the good and bad news.  A leader needs to think about empowering the entire organization to  communicate through multiple media- one on one, intranet, quarterly meetings. We find that different employees hear the communication through different mechanisms.  It can’t be one voice or one  format.

What have you had to do differently in this economy?

From a strategic perspective, we have to constantly evaluate what the economy is doing and how to react. The economy hasn’t been stable, it’s been bouncing around.  We have to react when necessary but, not be reactionary.

What is your approach to leadership?

There are three tenets of my approach to leadership: One, put the right people in the right seats, two, empower them and three, facilitate a culture.  As a leader, if you address properly those three things, you have a recipe for success.  As a leader, you have to support your team; making sure they have the resources to do their job.  Culture is the responsibility of a leader.  I believe that in order to make a culture  stick you need a value system.  People who like that value system will stay.  At SquareTwo we have a very open value system that has 5 components: Focus, Alignment, Accountability, Integrity and Trust.   We ask our employees throughout their careers here to ask themselves, are they doing work that is consistent with that value system and if not, tell us. That creates a culture.  They can feel it; they know what is expected of them.

What have been some important leadership lessons for you?

Lessons come in the form of scars.  I have developed some scars with age and experience.  One of those lessons is reacting to something too quickly or directly, which may not always be the best course of action. I try to take in as much information as possible and consult the team we have built.  If I can gather the thoughts of my team, I will make better decisions.

Did you have a mentor that had a big impact?

I have been very fortunate to have 2-3 strong mentors.  Early in my career, I had a mentor who had a  huge impact on me and taught me not to get ahead of myself.  This person had global experience, a very  large staff and he was seemingly unflappable. He taught me to think things through on a balanced basis as well as to be accepting of people with many different backgrounds, who come from different places and cultures and to value all voices.  Another mentor that taught me how to drive performance metrics, the power of a scorecard and the sharing of goals and objectives. We use scorecards here that are very public and are used at every level.  The linkages are key- how my scorecard is linked to the department and the entire organization.  It is an extremely powerful tool that helps to make sure our company is on track.

How do you hire?

The starting place is attraction and that comes from culture.  From an interview and talent perspective,  we have to be clear about our objectives and expectations so there isn’t a mismatch.  I don’t want any hostages.  I want employees who understand why they came, what they bring and are comfortable with that.  I look for professionals that are smart and balanced.  They want everyone to bring their A game every day to the office.  We want people who want to come to work every day.  I personally want to know about someone’s  background but also equally important is that I want to know what they do outside of work.  I believe that balance is very important.  We want people inside the building who are outwardly focused and balanced.

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For the video of this interview, please go to www.executivelattice.com and look for 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!

The Leadership Lattice Presents: Rodger Stewart, CEO on the Importance of Communication


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. The Leadership Lattice presents: Rodger Stewart, former CEO of Ultrashape, Sorin Group and COBE Cardiovascular.  Rodger now leads 2 Nonprofits in the Boulder area. 

  1. What is your approach to leadership?

A great leader establishes a clear and compelling vision and communicates that vision throughout the organization.   They always put the success of the organization on the shoulders of their team, is a great listener and is able to identify and attract top talent. An effective leader is capable of using multiple management styles depending on the situation.  A visionary style is necessary to set and determine long term vision and focus.  In a time of crisis, you need to use a directive style but, this should be used as little as possible because it can be negative.  A participative style is helpful for consensus building and coaching.

  1. How does leadership change in virtual and/or international teams and organizations? 

Leading an international and virtual team creates many unique challenges.  It’s important to spend time, face to face, in their environment, country and culture to develop understanding and relationships. In my last role at Ultrashape, I had half of my management team in the U.S. and half in Israel.  The cultural differences were vast.  We spent lots of time team building and developing a respect for each other’s roles, expertise and culture so that we could better function virtually which we had to do because of the geography and time differences.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?

The first lesson was the first time I assembled an extremely high performance team. I made the assumption that these high performing individuals would function well as a team and this was not the case.  Luckily, through the use an executive coach, we were able to turn this around. The CEO has to take full responsibility for building an effective team.  The second was very simple but extremely hard for me to do.  I had to learn to be quiet and listen.  In my career, I have been very passionate about my opinions about issues and solutions to problems however, as CEO, your subordinates don’t hear opinions, they hear decisions.  I have worked very hard to be quiet and let the other ideas around the table surface.

  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?

My mentor was the person who was the CEO whom I ultimately replaced.  The most impactful thing I learned from him was how to manage, set up and drive sales across the globe, from South America to the Middle East.

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

Every time I make a hire, I am looking for a successor.   I look for the smartest, most talented and most experienced people I can find, more so than myself in their particular areas of expertise.  But aside from skills and experience, it’s critically important to assess team fit.  If someone is a fantastic individual performer but not a good team fit, then that’s a deal killer for me. I assess this by putting candidates into difficult, real life team scenarios and asking them how they would approach the situation.  I will dig deep into their answers. This approach will usually reveal their style and fit. 

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The Leadership Lattice presents: Rob Meilen – Communicate Relentlessly


The Leadership Lattice – a Leadership Interview Series presents: Rob Meilen, Chief Information Officer


This interview was conducted and summarized by Ann Spoor, Founder of Executive Lattice, in Denver Colorado. 

  1. What’s your approach to leadership?

I see the role of a leader in setting the vision for their organization and communicating relentlessly about it – what is it and why is it important.  People come to work for lots of different reasons but a key aspect is that they want to be part of something larger than themselves.  It’s the responsible of the leader to make that tangible.  Why should someone dedicate their efforts to the project, organization and company?  The leader has to make that case and make it regularly.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?

Early in my career, I was working in consulting and got a lesson around dealing with ambiguity.  I had a great boss who at the right time took the time to plan and at other times just rolled up his sleeves, sat down and got working – sometimes you can plan and be thoughtful but at other he would sit down and get rolling, which brought energy and momentum to the team or project.  He could generate momentum and creativity even when there were unknowns.  As leaders, we need to create an atmosphere of momentum.  

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

Yes, at Ann Taylor I worked on an initiative which ran into trouble.  The Board of Directors brought in a consultant.  Steve had both broad and deep experience in leadership, retail and technology. The key thing I learned from him was around succeeding by connecting with others in the organization.  He was able to talk to all levels, across all functions.  He taught us the value of building relationships across boundaries, especially when it came to solving big problems.

  1. What have you been doing differently in this economy as a leader?

In the past, when the economy was strong, we could look at projects that had a single driver (cost saving for example).  In this economy, where capital is more constrained and we are operating with fewer resources, we have to look for opportunities that hit on several drivers: cost saving and revenue, process efficient and driving strategic growth initiatives.   These are harder to find but they do exist.

  1. How do you hire?

A key part of the hiring process is that I personally interview every finalist who will have supervisory responsibilities. I look not only for people who can win today but, can also consistently win in the future.  I look for people who can collaborate and help to grow their own teams.  Candidates have to be strong technically, functionally, interpersonally and managerially.  I look for the complete package.

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

The two other qualities I look for are people who can deliver superior customer service and thought leadership.  IT is a service to the business; it’s not the primary business.  We need to bring solutions, ways to use IT that can advance the business.  Technology skills are easy to train but thought leadership and the attention to the customer is not.

  1. What was your first job and how old were you?

My first job was a Paper route – at about age 11. What I learned was about customer service and building relationships although, I didn’t necessary know it at the time.  My tips depended on it.  You have to get up early on Sunday morning regardless of the weather or how tired you are.

  1. How long have you been in Colorado?

I came to Colorado about 7 years ago for my job at Sport Authority.  We feel very fortunate to be here.

  1. What book are you reading right now?

I’m reading “Cyber War” – by Richard A. Clarke. Clarke is a national security and counter-terrorism expert; worked in White House under Pres. Reagan, both Pres Bush and Pres Clinton. Sadly, the threat to information in private and public sector is growing.  As IT leaders we own the responsibility to capitalize and to safeguard that information.  I picked up the book because I was interested but it’s directly connected to what we do as IT leaders.

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.

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