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Authors Three and Jackie Carpenter of People First: How To Take Your Company From Good To Great

An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Three and Jackie Carpenter.

With more than twenty-five years of experience as a general manager of some of the most exclusive private country clubs, Three Carpenter is on a mission to help organizations develop work cultures that enrich employees and inspire results. His dedication to “People First” has revolutionized the organizations he’s led by creating team-oriented, highly collaborative workplace environments. By emphasizing mentoring and coaching and placing great value on the contribution of every staff member Three has cultivated happy and engaged team members. Together he and his teams have transformed out-dated and financially struggling private clubs into hubs of activity that are growing and profitable.

As a respected thought-leader, Three is an in-demand speaker who loves to share his enthusiasm and passion with others. Three has been the GM/COO of Crow Valley Golf Club in Davenport, Iowa, for five years, continues to be an avid Hawkeye fan, and lives with his wife, Jackie, daughter and son in Bettendorf, IA.

Jackie Carpenter has nearly twenty years of experience in the private-club industry. With an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Hospitality Management, she has taken her passion for learning and education to a new level. Along with Three, she has been instrumental in creating caring work cultures and positive employee experiences at numerous organizations across the country. She developed a hiring and training method that focused on “People First,” which proved successful in consistently selecting and onboarding energetic and loyal employees. In every organization she has been a part of, Jackie acts as the director of experiences, chief culture czar and head cheerleader for the entire staff.

Having served as the Director of Extraordinary for the Coaching Department for over six years, she mentored and trained leaders of all levels of service organizations. She regularly speaks and trains on the subjects of hiring, onboarding and culture development.

Jackie is currently the editor of the Private Club Advisor, one of the major publications for the private club industry which is distributed monthly to private clubs all over the world. Jackie oozes energy and loves working with people. She’s had unique titles over the years but her favorite is Mom.

Three and Jackie’s book — People First: The 5 Steps to Pure Human Connection and a Thriving Organization — is a comprehensive roadmap to creating positive work experiences and upbeat company cultures where employees want to work.

Thank you so muh for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

We both discovered our love for working with people at young ages. Three started out working in the golf business when he was 14 and worked his way up and became a general manager of the private country club in his hometown when he was 23. Jackie started working in her small hometown bar/restaurant at 16 and became a banquet manager at a private club in Des Moines, IA right out of college. We’ve both stayed in the private club industry ever since!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

This industry is tough. You work long hours and most of them are nights, weekends and holidays. Over the years, it’s been hard to make time for personal things like seeing family and taking vacations. Sometimes that can be frustrating and hard. The people we work with and the team that we are part of always seem to get us through the tough or frustrating times.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

(Jackie) Oh my! Well…this is mortifying. In my first management job, I was the banquet/event manager and our club was known as the best food in the city. We were serving our signature dessert — warm molten chocolate cake with whipped cream and raspberry sauce — to the guests and there was one left. When the service team brought it back to the kitchen, I snatched it and hid in the back of the kitchen to savor this delicious treat. I had just taken a bite when one of the servers came to the back yelling, “We need one more molten chocolate cake!” I wanted to die because it takes 15 minutes to make these cakes and I had to go tell the gentleman waiting for his dessert that it was going to be a while before he got his! Let’s just say that Never. Happened. Again.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

In every job we’ve ever had people have told us how much they love/loved working with us…even years after the fact. It seems that the energy, passion, support and the bond that we create with our teammates makes it less about work and more about working together. We believe in building a cohesive, collaborative team but really it is a community, a family even. And the unfortunate truth is, that’s rare in the business world.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

We know that a lot of people in the hospitality industry especially are struggling right now because the pandemic has been delivering blow after blow. We urge colleagues to stay focused on your people (your employees). They are the ones who need your attention more than your customers/members because if employees are knowledgeable, supported, valued and doing the right things, your customers will be well taken care of. That can be tough when it seems like everyone needs something from you but if you keep your people as the focus of everything, energy comes from that and it keeps burning out at bay.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Tommy Spaulding, two-time New York Times best selling author and nationally known speaker, has had a tremendous impact on us through his support, encouragement and authenticity. About six years ago, Tommy was speaking in Florida and had an open day between trips and events. He invited us to come down (from Nashville) to talk about our goals and the idea of writing a book. We drove 24 hours to spend 24 hours with him! It was well worth the long drive as we spent a day on the beach dreaming and planning and talking.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company is one that is meeting customer expectations, is fairly profitable, providing a product or service that people need and is overall functioning well consistently.

A great company is creating the WOW factor for both customers and employees. It has an incredible company culture, its team is having fun, employees are taking ownership of their roles and they are operating with excellence. A great company is outperforming the competition consistently because it keeps evolving and raising their game.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be Credible. Your reputation as an employer is crucial for attracting and retaining your employees. It’s what others say about you but it starts within your four walls. Be credible as an employer and be truthful, trustworthy and consistent. When you are credible, you put your employees first and you are the kind of employer people can be proud to work for because they can trust you to do the right thing.
  2. Interview with Candor. You have to be candid through every phase of the employee lifecycle but especially during hiring. Be transparent and authentic and show people what it is really like to work at your company. This means setting the expectation for what you expect of employees and also what they can expect of you as the employer. View interviews as conversations, not interrogations and be honest. We’ve heard horror stories about people who interviewed for a job and then when they showed up for their first day, they were being onboarded for a completely different job! That’s the opposite of candor and we believe that is a good way to run off great people.
  3. Cultivate New Employees. An employee’s first 90 days are often thought of as a sink or swim period where you’ve got to weed out the weak ones. Yikes! In a “People First” culture, onboarding is a nurturing, supportive time where everyone on the team is helping to ease the transition and answer new employees’ questions. Be sure to cultivate your new employees and take time to connect with and get to know new employees. Also work hard to make them feel part of the team from the beginning.
  4. Show Your Commitment. Show your commitment to your employees by encouraging, empowering, supporting and coaching them. The goal is to get them to take ownership of their roles, but in order to do that you’ve got to build up their confidence. That happens by continuing to develop relationships and creating connections between coworkers.
  5. Care. When you care it is evident in everything that you do. When you care about your people they see their value, they are loyal and they produce value in return. Caring is about recognizing, rewarding and being grateful for employees’ efforts and contribution to the team and the organization as a whole. Caring is FREE and it’s the one thing every person in an organization can do, yet so few actually do it.

What’s crucial about each of these 5 things is that they are all important on their own but they are also all connected. For example, if you don’t care about your people your credibility will be damaged. If you aren’t truthful or trustworthy, you hurt your credibility and damage your commitment. If you don’t show candor, you certainly show that you don’t care. Each of these five things stand alone, yet are dependent on each other.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Not only do customers often want to do business with companies that have a clear purpose, employees want to be part of something bigger (a.k.a. social impact). They want to have the freedom to make decisions, think and be empowered to do what they do because they know where the company is going and what the goal is. When work is about a clear purpose, then it’s not about the job you are doing or the tasks you are completing, it’s about the people you are working with and what you are achieving together.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

We all experience “ruts” but anyone can reinvent themselves any time. There are no rules! We urge those who need to “restart their engines” to get out from behind their desks and connect one-on-one with co-workers. Go ask powerful questions face-to-face and be open to learn from everyone in the organization, no matter their age or title. It’s amazing the energy that can be received and the passion that can be sparked when you have the intention to connect, listen and learn. Also, you never know what ideas that can come from line level employees who have direct interactions with customers.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Stay focused on your people (employees!). Answer their questions, share your knowledge and ooze encouragement and support. Keep your people empowered and energized. When you do, your team can navigate and overcome any obstacle or challenge thrown at them.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

The people! There’s often too much focus on finances, sales, processes, tasks and details and not enough focus on hiring the right people, keeping employees engaged, training, onboarding, recognizing and developing people. To be honest, we believe most business leaders are too focused on tasks when they should be more focused on people.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Everything really comes down to building relationships. When you build relationships with customers, you know what they like/dislike, what they need/don’t want, how to handle their questions and best exceed their expectations. If you want to increase conversion rates, take the time to talk to and connect with your customers to develop your relationships with them and get to know them on a deeper level. That’s when you build trust and earn their business. Then teach your employees to do the same.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

In this post-Covid world (well, sort of?), people want to do business with companies that take care of their employees. Companies that prioritize their people and have happy, fulfilled employees have better, more trusted and more beloved brands. When you take care of your employees, customers can trust your company to do the right thing.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

This is our jam! We are in the private club business where customer expectations are the highest so we’ve got to deliver WOW experiences consistently. We could go on for days on this one.

The biggest things are to anticipate customer needs, customize everything, evolve continuously, plan, plan, and plan, and eliminate pain points. Today, everyone is busy so anything that takes up too much of the customers’ time has got to be abolished. Anticipate what customers want/need and then customize every interaction specifically to them. Reevaluate constantly and evolve continuously to keep things fresh and new. Plan, plan and plan means you have to think through every aspect of the customer experience and plan what you can do to better anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations. Lastly, we urge executives to go through customer processes themselves so they can see where the pain points are and tackle areas that need to be improved. Sorry, crammed a lot in there but like we said — this is what we do!

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

They underestimate the importance of finding and hiring the right people, and then keeping them happy. All too often, founders get too wrapped up in the “stuff” (the processes, the product, the whatever) and they don’t put enough focus and attention on getting the right people “on the bus,” training them well, continuing to develop them and keeping them happy. It leads to turnover and stagnant growth. But when you put all your energy and effort into finding the right people and building a great team that is working together and functioning at a high-level, that’s when new businesses take off.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We are on a mission to start a “People First” movement! We believe every employer needs to prioritize their people over profits and that we need to make workplaces more human. When people are seen as human beings with needs, feelings and dreams versus tools used to build profits, employees are valued, empowered, supported and cared for as people. They are happier, more engaged and more fulfilled professionally, but also personally.

Imagine what would be possible for our world if more people were happy, more passionate and more supported in their lives? It’s why we are so passionate about spreading this message and helping as many companies as possible transform their workplaces to People First!

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our website is; and, you can follow us on social media:

Facebook —

Instagram —

LinkedIn —

People First: The 5 Steps to Pure Human Connection and a Thriving Workplace is available anywhere books are sold.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!



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