Brian Scudamore
Success Is Really About Being Happy – And Hiring Happy People Brian Scudamore

Last month we honored Brian Scudamore as one of our Top 10 Social Capital CEOs for his authentic connections to his customers and his employees.

Scudamore went from a high school dropout looking for a summer job to a “blue-collar millionaire” by turning trash into a positive customer experience. But that success was almost sidelined only a few years after he started his company.

So what almost ended his dream of success when it had just barely begun?

He wasn’t happy. So he boldly started over from scratch with a whole new view of success, which he shares in this very candid Q and A.

This is just the beginning of our series of ongoing articles and interactions with Scudamore, where he will be sharing many more of his amazing insights on how to do business right in today’s complicated and challenging environment where Social Capital is becoming more and more important.

Brian: Thanks for including us in that awesome article. It was a nice honor.

Chris: You're very welcome. You deserve it for a lot of different reasons and it was real nice to see your excitement about it as well.

Brian: My pleasure. I was featured with some great brands, so I felt like I was in honorable company and yeah, that was a nice piece. Thank you.

Chris : You're very welcome. And it's interesting because we've had several people that are kind of intrigued by why they're in that group with some others that maybe have been around longer or may seem a lot more “heavyweight,” but the idea of Social Capital is really not about the size of your organization or about how powerful you may be in the world, but how powerful you are in how you treat people well. You're so authentic in your social media, and you're so incredibly honest in what you talk about and how you talk about it and how you talk about your past. That’s one of the things I saw that really captured my attention with you was how you restarted your company. The reason you restarted your company, the way you did. That's probably a good place to start. I would love to know about how that happened and what your thoughts were and what you were going through at the time when that happened?

Brian : Yeah, sure. So just before we start I wanted to mention I know you have Robert Glazer writing some articles for you about these topics and he's a great friend of mine and someone I admire the way he's doing it. He and I are similar, and we're doing it because it's so much fun. And we care about watching people grow. It's not about the bottom line. And you got to have a healthy bottom line, but that's not really what it's about.

So I think that’s a great place to start. The answer to that question of what was going on in 1994 when I had 11 employees in my business and I stopped having fun. I was at a half a million in revenue with five trucks and a small business. I dropped out of college because I loved learning about business more on the streets rather than at school. And there I was building a company, but I stopped having fun. I found myself hiding in my private office, and that's not the type of leader I wanted to be. And I was hiding because I wasn't enjoying the people I had employed.

They just weren't positive. They weren't happy. And they weren't optimistic. And I think nine of the 11 just really weren't a good fit, but I wasn't even so sure I could trust keeping a couple around because of how bad the situation had become. So I brought them in the morning meeting and I started with two words that I've learned are incredibly powerful as a leader – I'm sorry.

I said to them, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I let you down, that I haven't been the leader to give you the love and support and direction you needed. I haven't built a culture here that I had planned on building. Unfortunately, I don't know any other way to move forward but to start again.”

So I had to get rid of every employee. I had to take it on the chin and just say we're going to part ways here and give you your severance and off you go. But what I came to learn that was triggered that day was that business really is all about people. Finding the right people and treating them right. And it was beyond an “aha” moment. It was a huge epiphany because I learned from a massive failure on my leadership account. It helped me build the company that we now have today.

Chris: So you talked about not having that right culture with that first one, with that first group of people. Can you remember a couple of things that you did in particular when you started with the new group?

Brian: Yeah. It was easy. I changed my mind set. I decided I'm going to hire people I want to spend time with. I'm going to hire people I can see becoming friends with. And so over the years we ended up branding that to make it a sort of tangible story that people can use within our company and recruiting. And we called it the beer and barbecue test.

What that means is when I'm interviewing somebody, could I see myself having a beer with them? A beer or a coffee, whatever it is, do I enjoy them? Do they bring something to the world in terms of passion? Are they interesting? Are they interested? They have a spark and I go, you know what, there's a connection there. And I enjoy being around them. We get all our people when they're interviewing to really ask themselves the beer and barbecue questions. The barbecue test is if somebody would fit at a company barbecue? Would they fit at a company picnic?

We are a very extroverted company, but we've also got a ton of introverts. We're not looking for people to be just like us. We are looking for a fit. It's like a great house party where you just see magic to it. You can have great diversity, different opinions, different energy, but somehow it fits. So it's asking our employees or myself if I'm interviewing, do I envision this person fitting both the beer and the barbecue test?

And it simplified our recruiting because I think a lot of times people ask questions like, “If you were in a burning building and you had three wishes of what you take with you,” and you start asking all these crazy theoretical questions, but this is more of a, do you just see a cultural fit, because smart people who are passionate will figure things out.

Now let's be clear if we're hiring for a CFO, as we were recently, we are going to do the beer and barbecue test, but we're going to trust that there's an important level of skill there that I could never understand or sort of identify. So we have KPMG auditors spend time with them. It's something where we really want to make sure we're checking the skill in a role that really needs a high level of skill. But first and foremost, it's about finding the right people and treating them right.

Chris: So even at that high level, you're putting them through that test first.

Brian: Yeah, 100 percent. In fact, here's how incredibly important culture is for us. In this current Zoom world of interviewing people online, we hired a bunch of people, like many companies that we have not met them in person yet. But at an incredibly important level of hiring like a CFO, I said to our president, “I like him, he fits the beer and barbecue test, but I only saw him on the screen a bunch of times.” So we came up with this idea to go have a social distance walk. Let's go be a good 12 feet apart and go for a walk. And we did that – three of us.

Chris: I love that.

Brian: Yeah. And it was like, you know what? We're in the same city. Yes, there's a pandemic, but they're saying it's safe if you're wearing masks and you're outside and you’re distant. So it happened to have been pouring rain in Vancouver the day we went to interview our CFO for his final interview, but we went for a walk, we got soaking wet. And at the end of the day, we were like, this is good. We're glad that we took that extra step to make it 3d versus just a 2d type recruiting process.

Chris: That's organic and so real. It's obvious that you are staying grounded and connected to how you formed the company the next time around and that culture of bringing in people you want in the company. Again, that's something that a lot of people are afraid to talk about nowadays, especially. Actually hiring people you like and that you enjoy being around. I mean, that's real I mean, we can talk about a lot of things when it comes to performance. But if you don't like who you are hanging out with, it's going to be kind of hard to work with them on an ongoing basis.

Brian: We hired one of the best CFOs over a decade ago, one of the most reputable, best reputation CFOs around. And yeah, she was talented as could be. I mean, she really was great at her job, but she was just really hard to talk to and really hard to get along with. Everything had a negative viewpoint. That was tough. It just really was tough. You have to have people that you can laugh with. Especially today during this pandemic, everybody's got a little bit of low grade depression from time to time and everyone's struggling in whatever way. But this is a chance for us to go at least have some laughs with people. I believe we have to find likable people that fit our values, that fit our sense of humor, and who can just have a good chuckle and not take everything too seriously. We want to take our business seriously, but not always ourselves.

Chris: That's such a big part of that humility I think, that goes to being a good leader nowadays. It's hard to sometimes keep that when you rise up and become very successful and people do start to take themselves, I think a little too seriously. That whole liking people idea and not taking yourself too seriously – one of the things that probably helps you to keep doing that is I read you're taking Fridays off. I don't know if that's something you consistently do, or if it's something you try to do, but for somebody running a major company, that is a pretty big deal. But more than that, you have this policy where you allow your employees to sort of make their own schedule a little bit as well right?

Brian: Yeah. I think that the Corona Virus has brought a level of flexibility that we've been forced into with people working from home, and of course, giving people the flexibility to work around their family and other commitments. And hey, it's tough when we're at home and I've got young kids and sometimes it's chaotic. Now thankfully in Vancouver, they are back to school, but it's a challenge. I think that our belief has always been that everybody's unique and to figure out what people need to make themselves their best self. So for me, the taking Fridays off, I need a day to recharge. I need a day to spend time outdoors, to go skiing, to go mountain biking, to hang with my kids, whatever it might be. Sometimes I do have to work on Fridays, but I still try and take the day off, or at least most of the day.

And then I still practice what I call going dark, which is taking eight weeks vacation in the year at some point where I shut off from technology. I actually get my assistant to change my pass code in my emails, in my social media so I can't get in under any circumstance. I don't trust myself that I can stay out of it, but that makes it foolproof for me. So even during a pandemic in August, I was up in Whistler. I almost wanted a distraction with the world and the pandemic and some of the scary news. I wanted to kind of be in my business. But I realized I needed to be a leader and set the example for my people and our teams to say, you know what, I'm recharging. I took the month off. I was offline on August.

I didn't know what was going on because I had a great team in place that I trusted. And so we ask our people to practice that same tactic of going dark. Everyone gets five weeks paid vacation because we don't want this to be a, “Oh hey, it's great to be King, it's great to be the CEO kind of thing and be able to take all this time and go dark.” Our people get to actually take the time to be offline. Not everybody does it, not everybody wants to do it. A lot of people need a push to doing it, but we work very, very hard at encouraging it.

Chris: Yeah, that was fascinating. You were talking about Robert Glazer. He just wrote an article for us about that whole concept. And how they try to really help their employees to shut down at times from technology and teach them about virtual commutes and how to help your employees actually develop a plan for creating a space of time between when they're working at home and when they're not working at home. So it's actually like them having a commute. And I really love the idea of you taking that time, but also extending that to your people and wanting them to do the same. That says a lot about how much you prioritize people. And it really hits home on the whole people over profits idea that some CEOs have trouble grasping.

Brian: It became clearer for me for sure as the years went on, but I'd never been a very money motivated person. I'd love to rent a fancy car or drive a Ferrari for fun, but I would never buy one. I'm not driven by big material things. I'm driven by people and relationships and experiencing doing cool things together.

So profit has a different meaning for me. I was never one of those guys going, we got to make money. I knew we had to be profitable to have a healthy company that would grow, but I was much more motivated by the growth of people and the growth of our business. So I think the purpose over profit, the less I started focusing on profit, the more it came.

Chris: What a perfect ending note, Brian. Thanks for taking the time. We look forward to sharing many more of your thoughts to come.