Leaders come out stronger after overcoming difficult challenges. Steve Farber’s guest today is Dan Javan, the CEO and President of Suntuity. Dan discusses the leadership lessons he learned during the COVID pandemic, the foremost of which was nailing down virtualization. A good leader ensures their people are all set up, and effective leaders put the right people in the right position. If you want more leadership lessons, then this episode is a must-listen. Tune in and learn how you can become a better leader!
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Growth In The Days Of COVID: Leadership Lessons From Suntuity’s CEO, Dan Javan
It is my pleasure to welcome you back to the show, Dan Javan. When I say welcome back to the show, that means he was on once before. He was on in 2020, fairly early on in the pandemic. It has been an interesting time for all of us and also for Dan and his company, which is called Suntuity. I thought it would be fun to have him back on and see what lessons he’s learned as the CEO of his company throughout the pandemic. You will also learn about an announcement in this conversation where we are making it official that Dan and his company are going to be working with me and my team at the Extreme Leadership Institute to continue to grow and foster an incredible culture that he has already begun at this great company.
Dan is a serial entrepreneur. He is a visionary, natural leader, founder of multiple startups, served on the board of various organizations and a recognized leader in clean energy, which is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US. He is the CEO and President of the Suntuity Group of Companies, which is 7 or 8 companies with 15 or 16 sub-companies under that. He’s quite the entrepreneur. They are all focused on building a people-driven, customer-focused group of companies in the finance industry, energy industry, telecom industry, logistics and all kinds of stuff. Dan is a fascinating character, a deeply authentic leader and I know you will enjoy this conversation with Dan Javan.
Dan, welcome back to the show. It is great to see you again.When you set the right leadership and the right expectation, you'll keep good talent. Click To Tweet
It’s great to be back, Steve.
I will give a little bit of a reminder for people who haven’t read the first show that we did. First of all, I highly recommend that you go back and read it. You don’t have to read it first. You can read it after this conversation. I highly recommend you do that. There are a couple of things that I want to tag into. We talked about your story last time. You came to the US with a backpack on your back as a young entrepreneur and had built this incredible venture.
What we have all experienced collectively in greater depth is the situation with the pandemic. When we spoke last time, we were pretty early on. Now that we have had this turbulent water under the bridge, I’m curious to know how you have done and what you have learned as a result of doing business in COVID and what lessons you have pulled from that as a leader that you would offer to the rest of us. I will start with a broad question. How has it been going?
It has been great. If you want to put in one word, a lot of businesses have shrunk. During the pandemic, we have grown to a point where, frankly, most of the real estate we have, accommodated most of the people we have. Before the pandemic, we are about 350 to 400 employees. We are close to 650. That’s almost a 60% increase in headcount.
Since the last time, we talked in 2020?
That’s right. To a point where a lot of the virtualization helped us grow our call centers and headcount. We had people in 11 to 12 states before the pandemic. Now we have people in 27 states across the US. Across multiple time zones playing different functions. Initially, when everybody got hit with the pandemic, you had this shock and awe moment where you were trying to figure out where things were going and you were trying to get your bearings. The people, the companies and the leadership that prospered were the ones that were able to take immediate action.
We did a lot of things internally and externally that helped us. On the internal side, we virtualized almost everything within a couple of weeks. That was not an easy task. We had a lot of virtualizations because we are across state lines and country lines, to begin with. To take that to the next level is what we had to do. Also, the externalization of being able to still touch and feel our customers, to do it virtually was a bit of a challenge for us and also with the employees. What we were able to do is take leadership and let them rise to the challenge. To enable and mentor them to drive that challenge is what sets us apart from a lot of our peers.
We have eight companies. Solar is one of them. Solar is our residential arm. We’ve got a commercial and utilities skill services arm, drone division and finance arm. Most of our personnel are in the electrical services division, our networks division, and the solar division. That combined is about 90% of the personnel we have. It’s those people.Be selfless and do something for someone other than yourself. Click To Tweet
You virtualized a lot of the work, isn’t a good amount of that physical customer contact?
It is. I would say about 25% of our personnel are part of the installation crews. That was still in person. To even mobilize the install crews with booties, gloves, face masks and PPE was a bit of a challenge because you couldn’t even get a mask and gloves if you wanted to. When we saw the pandemic increasing, we started lining up inventory to make sure we were able to do this. I talked about internal-external visualization. Also, we took the opportunity during the pandemic to give back.
One of the first things that we did when everything shut down, as an organization, we’ve got fleets of vehicles across state lines. We volunteered our vehicles to be used for delivering food for children that depend on the schools for the only meal that they get in a day. That externalization was another means of giving back. It’s a show of leadership in the pandemic. Of course, different magazines wrote about us not because we advertise it but because they saw the soft side of it. Eventually, that came back to us in spades because people came back and said they wanted to work for companies like us because we were selfless in adversity and emergency. To me, those are signs of leadership that we have tried to mentor within our organization.
You stepped up to help in the community because it was the right thing to do. I have heard some great stories of companies doing similar things. The part that some people overlook is to grow, you have to attract the best talent and people whose values are congruent with the company’s values. By reaching out in the way that you did by using your trucks to bring food to kids and people seeing that and saying, “I want to work at a company like that,” you are automatically setting up a filter to attract the right people who were motivated by the same thing. As opposed to the person that says, “Why the hell are they doing that? They are not getting paid for it.” You don’t want that person working for you.
Attracting talent and then retaining. I always tell people, “People leave people. They don’t leave companies.” When you set the right leadership and expectation, you are going to retain good talent. For us, our biggest challenge is not financing and not the need on the consumer side. It is the ability to deliver that with the right people at the helm. We need good people and we are always looking for good people. Human capital is what drives us as an enterprise. Everything else is a commodity.
You have grown from 350 people to 650 people, how are you managing that on the people’s side of things? There are so many new people coming on all at once in a time that’s characterized by a virtual working experience. Tell us how you have been managing that.
It’s a real challenge to make sure you meet and exceed expectations for people that come on board. The first week of somebody coming on board is what sets the relationship. The experiences that they go through within that first week are critical because they had to buy into the culture. You’ve got to drive this based on culture. You’ve got to deliver on promises or the checkout and then they are looking to leave and join someone else. One of the things that we have been trying to do is make sure we have processes in place so that when we onboard people, they feel like they are now part of the culture of the organization.
We are looking at bringing on Chief Cultural Officer, Jenna Lynch. She used to be the Director of HR for Tony Robbins. For us, driving culture and driving leadership are synonymous with success. Making sure that they are still made in culture, there are touchpoints and we make them feel like they belong, especially during a pandemic where everyone is remote and disconnected at some level. It was a challenge. There has been a lot of active management and leadership that’s required that we were able to leverage to get us to where we are. We are not perfect but we made the best effort we could.
That culture that you are referring to, how would you characterize it? What I’m hearing you say is right when they are coming on board, you want to give them a taste of this Suntuity culture and help them to feel that they are part of it. What is that experience for them? What does that culture look feel and sound like?
At the basic level, it is a sense of belonging to a purpose that’s bigger than yourself that’s driven by selfless morals that are externalized. You are in this for people, planet, and profit. If you are not in this for that order, frankly, it’s not an assimilation of the right culture that you are looking for. If you are driven, passionate and looking at doing something for someone else other than yourself, of course, a side effect of that success is your compensation plan, your package and things like that. We have people that are extremely successful doing that, financially and otherwise.
We are one of the few organizations or few industries where you can have tremendous financial gains by doing good for others, the planet and the process. We try and promote that as much as possible. We want people that are coming in for the right reasons. If someone is coming in for the financial gains, there are probably twenty other opportunities on Wall Street and other places where there might be better financial gains. For us, it’s got to be a happy medium and mix of that externalization of selflessness and the internalization of financial gain, which is a happy medium that we are trying to push.
If somebody is attracted to Suntuity, for example, because they have learned what you are doing in the community to help out. They look at the company and they say, “That’s the place that I would like to work because their values are also important to me.” They then come to work for you. Right away, that has to be reinforced as soon as they walk in the door, either literally or virtually. If I see, “Here’s a company that acts generously and cares about people,” I come in, look around, and see a different dynamic and people talking crap about each other. Nobody has reached out to me to even asked me my name then there’s a disconnect. Is it a natural thing that you do? Have you thought about all those different touchpoints with employees, both new and those who have been around? Is it something that happens?
We have to make a conscientious effort to make that happen. We are bringing on more people on the onboarding side and the recruiting side. Every time you bring someone new into that initial funnel team, you’ve got to assimilate them into the culture so it becomes second nature to them. You have to keep reinforcing that to a point where it becomes second nature for most people. I look at it as a combination of process-driven with checks and balances in place for the verification to a point where it becomes almost like a checklist, second nature, where it is part of your formula and part of your mantra. That’s something that you portray the moment you talk to someone saying, “Are you interested in joining us?” To the time, “How was your first week with us?” It’s seamless. We are not there yet but we work every day extremely hard to build that and continue driving that to a point where we are close to perfection or as close to perfection as possible.
The way you are describing it so far is the pandemic hit, you grew, you have given back to the community and you’ve got great people coming in. There had to be bumps along the way. What challenges have you faced?
Our biggest challenge initially was when we virtualized almost 80% to 85% of our organization. The IT challenges, getting laptops out to people and making sure they are all set up. We virtualized phone systems and dialer systems. That was our biggest hurdle, initially, making sure people are in a position with the right tools to be able to do the job we want them to do. Communication was part of it, too. Communication still is because there are different people, time zones, work ethics and distractions. That is something where our management steps up to the plate to make sure they effectively communicate, not only save things but communicate with their reps. It’s different because you’ve got to teach people about the difference. It’s not the same as talking to someone.
At the same time, making sure that you have the tools necessary to be successful in a virtual environment, which was one of the major hurdles that we had to overcome. A lot of that was restricted due to external factors. You couldn’t even get a laptop if you wanted to. Everything was sold out. When you did, half of the people didn’t have the necessary internet access. Even if you’ve got a laptop, how do you get online? You didn’t have access to several software solutions that we can accommodate more than 20 or 30 people in a meeting. It’s small stuff like that that adds up. All of a sudden, it’s like, “How do I address 350 to 400 people in a town hall meeting?” It’s those challenges. We are better geared up for the next situation that arises. Hopefully, it doesn’t ever do that. We have come out a lot stronger with what happened.To be in a position to either make or break someone’s thought process comes with a sense of responsibility. Click To Tweet
We are not out of it yet. At least here in the US, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s getting pretty bright, which is nice. That’s called an understatement. It’s a good time to look back to do two things for all of us, particularly leaders of companies and ask, “What did I learn from this? What do we learn from this that I can apply under all circumstances?” Along with that is having to look back at the experience that we had. Now, as I look forward to a new reality, a new future, a new normal, what do I want to do differently as a result of what we have been through? They are closely related questions. Another way of saying it is what future do I want to create? How do I want it to be going forward? That’s a whole volume’s worth of potential answers. I’m curious about what comes to mind for you.
When we’ve got into the pandemic, the one question I asked my leadership team is, “When you look back 1, 2, 3 years, however long this pandemic takes?” When you come back and think, “What is it that you did in this historic event that differentiates you from other people? What did you do to rise to the occasion, not just for the people that depend on you and your family but people that depend on you and your work, family, consumers, and customers? What would you do?” That set the tone of how we reacted to the pandemic. We looked at it as a historic event and as an opportunity to rise to the occasion, which is why we launched multiple initiatives, including the Rise with Suntuity. If you go to RiseWithSuntuity.com, it talks about how we onboarded and worked with Jordan Belfort and his team to set up different series of training for sales. These are not people in our sales team.
If you are trying to find a job, we will train you on how to look for a job, what to do and how to work on a career path. We’ve got Jay Jay French in there to talk. We’ve got Loren Lahav to compare some of the stuff you are on some of these sessions. We started putting things into place to start differentiating and also rising to the occasion. That’s why it’s Rise with Suntuity. Also, putting things in place so that we start acting like it’s an ongoing pandemic going forward. Regardless of, whether you are in an actual pandemic or not, if you operate yourself with the same standards that you did while you were in the middle of a pandemic or after the pandemic, you are going to come out of it on top. Communication, leadership, thought-process and externalization are front and center. That becomes a powerful one going forward.
It was a life-changing event for a lot of people. You can take that and learn from that and help drive what you are doing forward, which is something that we do part and parcel within our day-to-day actions and activities. It changed the way we started thinking and the way we started doing business. That’s what we saw in virtualization. You stop taking people for granted. You mentor, leverage and enable them, whether it’s virtualization or in-person because now you had a pandemic, tomorrow it might be something else.
When you start doing that, people start thriving in that culture. You then become a force to be reckoned with, which is what we are beginning to look like. As an example, we are the eighth largest residential solar company in the United States. It happened during the pandemic. A lot of that is because of the talent we have been able to attract. When I say largest, I’m talking about the customer base, not headcount. To me, that is extremely important. We have gone from where we were to where we are now because of the adversity that we had to face. We can rise to the occasion and deal with it accordingly. Those are some of the changes that we have made.
Hopefully, this will never be the case. If you had to do it all over again and deal with this worldwide challenge, is there anything you would do differently knowing what you know now?
I’m fairly happy with the actions we were able to take when we’ve got hit with this. Would I change certain things? Maybe we would have got started a little sooner. On some of our communications, it took us a little bit of time to realize and get over the shock and awe for a couple of weeks. Other than that, we did well. One of the things that we should have done was more training with some of our managers on active management techniques. We had them lined up but they were lined up for in-person. We should have virtualized that. The problem is we couldn’t virtualize it fast enough. That would have maybe changed things a little bit. Also, communicating a little better with our customers. Those are some of the challenges we ran into, not because we didn’t want to communicate, we couldn’t. We didn’t have the tools available to us to make these things happen, especially with the volume of customers that we have. Other than that, we faired enough.
We are all trying to figuring that out. What’s the new customer relationship? How do we continue to reach out when we can’t reach out hand-in-hand? Unless you are in a company like Zoom where the entire world fell right in their lap. They had to do a lot of figuring out, too. They had to scale quickly. They had to make upgrades and all that. They did a pretty good job, I would say. We are at this juncture where we are starting to ask the question, “What is the future going to look like?”
I have had this conversation with people in a lot of different contexts. There is a temptation to say, “Everything is going to go back to normal,” which implies that there ever was such a thing as normal. It depends on how you define that. Also, it’s a little bit naive to say that there’s going to come a time where this will all be a distant memory. There is a price that we have paid. There’s a psychological price, mental health price, physical price, life and death price. These things are not something you erase from a balance sheet and move on.
We are at a juncture where having come through this adversity or almost through it, depending on where in the world you are, what do we want that future to be like? It’s up to us to create it. The leadership question has always been around vision. What’s the vision of the future that you want to create? That has always been true. It’s a significant fertile opportunity for that. As you look ahead for your companies, what are you thinking about? What do you want to create for the future for you and your customers? A small question.
For us, even before the pandemic, our values were driven by People, Planet, Profit. We are a three Ps company. How you do that as a different discussion? We want to continue driving our values with a culture that we build that aligns itself with that. The pandemic has been almost a reset button for us. You can rise to the occasion and learn from it and leverage what you learned or you can forget about it and go back to the normal type of business that we talked about.
I don’t think there’s any going back. From a growth perspective, the way we virtualized, I don’t see us going back to the old way of doing business with office space. That’s the physical side of things. The non-physical side of it is don’t take your customers and employees for granted. Make them feel like they belong to an organization that values contributions that have been made. Make sure you mentor, you drive and you enable that. Make sure you give them the tools needed to be able to participate and uplift them as they go along.
If you keep growing in culture and you use that going forward, you are going to outcompete your peers. You are going to beat your competition. You are going to drive an organization that is a force to be reckoned with. When people are passionate about what they do, when they feel like they belong to something greater than themselves, they answer to a higher calling than themselves. We can leverage the situation that we have, build and grow from there to a point where you are building so much momentum that it is difficult slowing you down. That’s what we are looking at.
We are looking at leveraging and enhancing that regardless of, whether you have another pandemic or not. This is not going away anytime soon. This is going to be an on-and-off thing that we are going to deal with. Different countries have different situations that they are dealing with. Being able to rise to the occasion and differentiate yourself is what I see as my vision for the way we do business and as we continue to grow in addition to all the other good stuff that comes with it.
The conversation around what you want to create is part of that leadership practice that we call the vision thing. Part of our job as leaders is to establish a clear and compelling picture of the future that people can get excited about so we can all work together to achieve that. That’s part of it. That’s the vision thing. The question is, “What do we have to do now to make that future vision a reality?” With a company that’s growing like yours, there’s no one simple answer to that. It’s a lot of different things.
I want people to understand that your approach to this is both fascinating to me and gratifying. You have shared with me that you want to focus on as you grow, making sure that you are doing the right things from a cultural perspective. One of the things we have talked a lot about on this show oftentimes, entrepreneurs like yourself will build a company and give no thought to the culture. That doesn’t mean they don’t have one because every place has a culture. One day they look around and go, “What the hell happened with this place? We have grown fast. How come it doesn’t feel like it used to?” You are anticipating that ahead of time and you don’t want that to happen.
People must understand that you are bringing our team in, specifically to spearhead it, me and Jenna Lynch are going to be your Interim Chief Culture Officer from the Extreme Leadership Institute. The objective is going to be getting in the weeds and helping you figure out what all this looks like in every single touchpoint in the company. There aren’t many companies that do that. There aren’t many leaders that are willing to do it to that degree because they figured, “That stuff, you take care of itself,” but it doesn’t. It’s an official announcement that we are doing that and I wanted to throw down the gauntlet, raise the bar and turn up the heat. You are going to be a great example. You already are. Over time, as you focus more intently on the things that are important to you and making that live and breathe for every employee and customer, it’s going to be a great story to tell. I’m all about telling good stories.
From a personal level, I’m excited about this. I’m looking forward to getting in there and learning about your team. Let me ask a question. It’s not an entirely fair question because I’m curious how you would answer on behalf of other people. You are the CEO and Founder of the company. You have a way of describing what’s going on there. If I went around the company and talk to people that work in leadership, management or your employees, would I hear a different story? If so, what would be different? That’s the unfair part because I’m asking you to answer on behalf of what somebody else might say.
The answer is you will hear different iterations of the culture or what people perceive as the culture. When you ask people what the mission of the company is, they will be unanimous, People, Planet and Profit. That’s something that we talked about daily. Being selfless, being able to do something for someone other than yourself, being part of something bigger than yourself. That is synonymous. How you go about that is going to be different based on who you talk to.
Some people might come back and say, “To do that, I’ve got a manager.” There are ones that come back and say, “I will lead us.” There is no correct answer. It’s based on people’s life experiences and what they perceive is needed from life experiences, which is why folks like yourself and Jen are going to be integral to try and align them. I always tell people, “You learn more from failure than you do from success.” Some people haven’t failed. For some people, this is their first successful job. They don’t have a variety of experiences under the belt to be able to determine the best way to do this.
Our goal is to make sure that they can learn what they need to learn without having to fail because if they are failing, that means a team is failing. If the team is failing, that means we fail. It’s extremely important to make sure as we continue to drive the organization and success of the organization, we do it unanimously. People understand the formula. They understand the right way of doing it based on real-world life experiences that folks like yourself and Jenna and other people have under their belt. It’s decades of experience of what works, what doesn’t work and things like that so that we don’t fall into the same pitfalls that growing companies do.
The biggest companies grow rapidly and they grow into this monstrosity. All of a sudden, they collapse and fizzle out. It’s like somebody that you need to have in the sales because they forgot that the basics of building an organization are based on building a strong foundation. Culture and leadership are some of the strongest pillars of your foundation as you build an organization because then, that organization has value. Otherwise, you can go overnight from hero to zero because you didn’t set it up the right way. All the hard work that you put in, all the success you have put in, they are going to come tumbling down. It’s a house of cards. We are trying to make sure we don’t end up in that situation.
You’ve got a certain percentage of your employees, it sounds like that it might be their first job or a new career. They are ambitious and they want to do great things. They’ve got the right value set. You don’t want them to fail. How do you deal with the paradox that to not fail, to succeed such as not fail as a team or as a business, you have to get good at failing? That doesn’t mean that there are no failures along the way. If you are not failing at something, that means you are not innovating. Innovating, by definition, means you are trying something new, which means you don’t know if it’s going to work or not because it hasn’t been done before. How do you balance that between the drive to succeed and the need to fail along the way?
Failure is inevitable. Things happen. There’s no right way of doing certain things. Occasionally, you do certain things that cause some failure. What you do when you fail is what differentiates you from other people. What leaders do when they see failure is what differentiates a style of leadership. If someone fails, depending on who you talk to in a leadership position, you can either reprimand the person for failing or mentor the person.
If you reprimand the person and you are going to turn that person off, they are going to see that as a failure of their life. They are going to probably get dejected and leave the company. They might be a tremendous resource to the organization. You can tell or mentor them because you are setting an example. What you do with them now is what they will do with folks that they lead tomorrow. Our goal is to try and get a message across that there’s nothing wrong with failing. When you fail, taking ownership of that failure, rising to the occasion and being humble about it is the first step you take in overcoming that failure. That’s part and parcel of what we do as individuals as we grow.
As an organization, our demographics are in their mid-twenties, which means you’ve got a lot of young minds extremely passionate about what they do. Sometimes, they’ve got the passionate excuse. That’s what you’ve got to manage. The only way you can help and mentor them is by leading by example, which means you need them to see what you do when failure happens for them to replicate what they do when failure happens. That’s where you rise to the occasion, you mentor, you build a culture with an open-door policy, and anyone can walk into your office and tell you what they feel without any thoughts or repercussions.
If there’s an issue, you work on it as a team to resolve it. That’s what leaders do. That’s the culture that we drive in the organization. I can tell you, most of the people you will talk to in our organization will tell you we have an open-door culture where this is top-down humility, leadership and taking ownership is something that we drive, especially when it comes to failure. That’s what is causing success within our organization.
That’s a great perspective. I want to go back to people, planet and profit. You are suggesting that all three of those things are important but there’s also an order of importance. You have chosen to put people first, followed by planet and profit. First of all, I like you to say a little bit more about that and how all that ties together for you.
To me, it’s always been about people. If you are chasing money, money usually eludes you. That’s my personal experience in life. People work to put food on the table for their families, to pay their mortgage and their bills, things like that. If you lose focus of why we are working, which is about the people in our household, within our organization and benefiting from what we do, we already lost focus on what we are doing because that’s what it’s all about.The only way you can mentor people is to lead by example. Click To Tweet
You then align that with something that benefits your environment. That is a shell that you live in. There’s only much of it to go around before you do certain things. What you do to leave that shelf and the next generation and the generations to come is a sense of responsibility that most people have to have. A lot of people have misused that over the last several centuries and we are paying a price for it in several places. If you focus on what’s important, which is the people in the shell that exists and the ecosystem that exists, which is the planet if you do it well, you will be profitable because you have an alignment of your focus. There’s no other way around it.
I always tell people don’t chase money and profits. Chase success and excellence in what you do. The financial impact of that is a side effect of what you do. If you are focusing purely on the financial impact, you are going to do that typically at the expense of things that are far more important than the financials. Money comes and money goes. You lose people and relationships. You are not going to get that back. If you lose focus of that, frankly, then you have been doing the wrong business or you are with the wrong company. To me, that’s important. That’s how we tried this. This is what I talk about in my town hall meetings and with my leadership team. That is what drives us on a day-by-day basis. That’s paid off pretty well.
Have you ever had an experience where you recruited somebody talented, had a good track record, maybe a great salesperson, and then after they’ve got through the door, you began to realize that this was not a fit? Their priorities were different. It was maybe profit followed by profit with a dose of profit at the end and the others were like, “It’s the crap that I’ve got to put up with the work here.”
It happens from time to time. I don’t know if turning them is the right word. I have been able to sit across the table with some folks that are extremely young and absorb information like a sponge. They have never had anyone in their life mentor them. They have been in survival mode from day one to try and survive. In the process, I have been in that mode before. I know what it feels like to try and survive. I can relate to people that are in that mode but then to be able to take them and mold them into prioritizing what is important. A lot of those people, when they turn and flip that around, are the strongest supporters when it comes to the alignment of your focus.
You will still have some people who are in it for them. They want the money. They will go to the highest bidder. At that point, you let them do what they have to. What’s amazing is we have had a huge number of people or a percentage of people that have left us and come back to us a year later saying, “We went there. We tried that. We realized that’s not what we signed up for. We realized we could have made that money out here. We could have done that with a clear conscience.”
We have people that come back to us sometimes 1, 2 or 3 years later saying, “I want to come back into the fold. I want to do this. I want to assimilate into the culture. I went there trying and I failed. I made a lot of money but I’ve never got any satisfaction out of it. I blew all that money up. I spent the money. I lost money in the stock market. My conscience kept coming back to me and saying, ‘I didn’t do what I could have done right the first time,’ which is how do we work together again?” They then become your performers with that experience. To me, that is true success. The day someone comes back to me after 2 or 3 years of leaving me and saying, “This is what I left. This is what I missed the most. This is what I want more of,” to me, it’s a sign of us doing it right. That has happened quite a bit.
That’s a great testimonial to the lesson that you are helping them learn. There are a couple of things that strike me as beautiful in that. One is true from generation to generation, the tendency for the older generation to look at the younger generation. At any point in history, you see this. They say, “These kids now feel entitled. They want everything handed to them.” There has been some version of that. It has been going on for a long time.
I remember, in the ‘90s, when I was at the Tom Peters company and we had clients telling us, “These kids now, these Millennials come in.” The executive told me, “I had a kid come in and sat down in my office for an interview. He said to me, ‘What do you’ve got for me?’” What I heard you say is that sometimes, when somebody is motivated by profit, it could be because they have been in survival mode, which is different from somebody being entitled or greedy.
It’s the knee-jerk reaction that a lot of people my age might have to a kid who says, “How much money can I make?” If It’s about the money thing, you’ve got your priorities all screwed up but it’s coming from a place of, “This is what I have learned to do to survive.” Your awareness of that, maybe it’s because that was your experience when you were younger. It is an important thing for all of us to learn.
Instead of making assumptions about people’s motivations and where they are coming from, it’s about getting to know them a little better and understanding where they are coming from and why. You then have an opportunity to teach and help them to never have to worry about that again on any level. That’s a great lesson. You are fortunate to have many Gen Z. My other question about it as it relates to people, planet and profit, are you finding that this generation is more congruent with that set of values than previous generations? Are they more inclined to that to begin with?
My personal experience has been a conflict because depending on who you talk to. It might be a different answer. A lot of younger folks I have spoken to want to do something for the planet. It’s not the money that they are looking at. Of course, you want to make the money in the process. Being able to align yourself and mold them into doing it right is the challenge because they want to do the right things but they want to do it now. They want immediate gratification. They want to see the money now while they are doing it. Of course, while they are doing good things for the planet. That’s the challenge that we run into.
We can set a foundation for them where it’s not just instant gratification that they are looking for that you are trying to fulfill. It’s all gratification long-term by setting a piece of the puzzle in place now and let them benefit from that in their late 20s, 30s and so forth is where the challenge is. When you sit down across the table with someone young, I’m usually not asking how much they are looking for. I’m trying to understand what they are trying to achieve in life. Where do they want to go 3 years or 5 years from now? To me, that’s more important than what they are looking for from a cost structure.
9 out of 10, we find ways to align what we offer with what they want to do 4 or 5 years from now. The path to getting to that from their perspective to our perspective might be different. When you show them that path, you can do that with credibility and conviction, and you can deliver on that to a point where you don’t erode any level of trust that they have established in you and the respect, you have a proponent that will go to battle for you. That is what I spend more time dealing with or mentoring people for in the younger generation when I talk to them.
One of the things we talked about in our past conversation is that when you bring people into Suntuity, you want to help them with their lives in general. Not just the skills that they will need to succeed in selling solar, for example. It seems like that has continued. You are building on that still. It wasn’t a flash in the pan, “Wouldn’t this be a nice idea?” It’s the way you are built around there.
That’s how you get to retain talent. A lot of the folks that work for us, this is their first job. The way you mold and mentor them in their first career move is something they are going to carry for the rest of their lives. That is not something to take lightly. You are in a position to either make or break the thought process for someone and that comes with a sense of responsibility. You want to make sure you are doing it the right way, which is what we are trying to do. It’s why people come back to us. They go out there and they try it out. They come back two years later and they say, “I liked your way better. I could sleep at night. I felt good about what I did. I felt like I belong to something greater than myself. I make the money anyways.”
This is great stuff, Dan. I’m honored that we are going to be a part of the continuing story of Suntuity. Thank you for sharing some great lessons and insight that all of us can take as we look forward to the future that we want to create in our communities and enterprises. Once again, for people who want to learn more about Suntuity, where’s the best place for them to go?
If you go to SuntuityGroup.com, it gives you a good understanding of the length and breadth of our organization. I would even suggest people go to RiseWithSuntuity.com. There are a lot of good life lessons that you learn from some of the leaders in the industry that we have about leadership. That’s important, too. It gives you a balanced view of us as an organization.
If somebody wanted to reach out to you directly, they may have a question for you or would like your take on something, can they reach you through the website or is there another way to do that?
They can send me an email directly, send it to AskDan@Suntuity.com. Everyone in my organization uses it. It’s open and I will respond.
I’m curious how many emails do you get every day?
Up to about 100 to 120. I read every one of them. We spread that out with our customers, out to the sales reps and different folks in the industry.
I love that idea. Dan, thank you for joining us. We will see you next time. Until then, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. See you next time.
Thank you so much, Steve.
- Extreme Leadership Institute
- Dan Javan – Past Episode
About Dan Javan
Dan Javan is a serial entrepreneur, visionary and a natural leader. He is the founder of multiple startups, has served on the board of various organizations and is a recognized leader in clean energy, recognized as one of the fastest-growing industries in the US.
Dan currently spends his time as CEO and President of the Suntuity Group of companies leading a team of professionals that are focused on building a people-driven, customer-focused conglomerate of premiere Finance, Energy, Telecom, Logistics and UAV Service companies.
Dan holds a Masters in Information Systems from NJIT and is an avid aviator.
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