Chuck Funke Of ASEA On The Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Sara Connell
Don’t treat people like commodities or objects; everyone has unconditional, inherent value. Always look to cut expenses before cutting people.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Funke, CEO.
The most approachable CEO you’ll ever meet, Chuck Funke, leads the ASEA corporate team with quiet confidence and a focus on investing in individuals. Chuck earned an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and a Master of Business Administration from Bellevue University. Before joining ASEA in 2011, Chuck spent 17 years in the financial services industry where he worked for some of the largest financial institutions in the world. He was appointed CEO of ASEA in 2014. He is a member of the Board of Managers and oversees the Executive Committee of ASEA. Chuck’s past professional experiences, which include being chairman, president, and CEO of an SEC registered broker-dealer, have given him insight into building long-term, sustainable organizations. Much of his professional focus has been on building and implementing sales-driven distribution models both domestically and internationally. His experience and expertise have been essential in growing ASEA into a thriving business that leads with a commitment to principled and effective core professional practices.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
A lot of who I am really started with how I was raised. My dad worked most of his life in blue collar jobs, and my mom owned a bakery until she went back to school at 50 years old to become a nurse. I started working during the summers on Pepsi delivery routes when I was 12 years old. I grew up in rural Southeast Missouri and as a child raised and sold basset hounds, livestock and produce. My parents’ goal was to teach me to work, and I did! That’s where I started to have an appreciation for the correlation between effort and results.
I spent 17 years in the financial services sector and had the opportunity to work for some of the largest and most respected companies in the industry. I’ve always been interested in financial markets. It was a highly rewarding career where I gained important insights that have been invaluable as I transitioned to my work at ASEA. What I learned during that time helped me grow professionally and I look back on those years with a great deal of fondness.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Keeping your sense of humor is critical to leading and to overall well-being. It’s important to take what we do seriously but not take ourselves too seriously. Humor can be a useful tool in diffusing tense situations. It’s hard to think of one moment, but as I reflect, humor, especially when mistakes have been made, has always been an invaluable tool when confronted with challenges that arise in the workplace. As they say, laughter is the best medicine!
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?
I’m reminded of a quote that I’ve always appreciated by Ulysses S. Grant, “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped me relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” It’s virtually impossible to point to just one person who has been instrumental in shaping my professional career and helping me along the way. There are dozens! First and foremost, during my formative years, my parents were incredible examples who instilled in me the principle of work. At 82 years young, my dad can still be found helping others in need and volunteering in the community. I also think of my uncle, who was a pilot for American Airlines. Being a small town boy, learning vicariously from my uncle’s professional experiences opened up a window for me to explore a much larger world than I had previously known. My curiosity and exposure to this larger human connection ultimately paved the way for me to choose to work around the globe that led to many invaluable connections with wonderful people who have shared their culture, diversity, and uniqueness with me.
Professionally, my relationship with our ASEA Founder Tyler Norton over the past 19 years has been one of the most enjoyable collaborations and friendships of my career and I have learned much from him as we have worked, traveled, and connected in our respective professional paths.
On personal reflection, having one individual in life that walks alongside you, sharing, trusting, and providing support during all the many difficulties and successes that come over one’s professional life has been profoundly invaluable– for me, that person has been my wonderful wife of 31 years, Analia. I personally believe the single most important decision we make in life, is who we marry, because it impacts every other aspect of our lives.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Being a cause-oriented business is at the essence of everything we do as a company, this ethos naturally led us to the founding of The Advancing Life Foundation in 2015. We established our mission statement — to better people’s lives and be a force for good in the world. We have accomplished that by sharing our life-changing products which focus on cellular health and redox-based technologies. We truly power potential for one’s cells, one’s health, and one’s life.
It is our great privilege to match dollar-for-dollar every donation to the Foundation. This important work allows us to break cycles of poverty, abuse and suffering around the world. I’ve found that when there’s a worthy cause, and one is willing to make a significant investment, powerful results are yielded. That has been true with ASEA as we walk hand in hand with communities and individuals around the word who, with some investment and support, are provided with the tools they need to become the very best version of themselves.
In many respects, nothing is as important as one’s individual health. This truth becomes self-evident when difficult challenges arise. Having had the privilege, for many years now, of learning of the personal experiences of so many people in the ASEA family who have been positively impacted by our products and our message keeps me going every day.
Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I was the president and CEO of an insurance-owned broker/dealer during the 2008 financial crisis. We saw some of the most storied financial institutions disappear overnight. 100-year-old institutions collapsed. The housing market crashed. The subprime mortgage market experienced a meltdown.
A few of the principles that helped me lead our team during this crisis included:
- Staying positive amidst uncertainty. This seems to be a core tenant of people who ultimately persevere.
- Being realistic and honest about one’s situation.
- Stay in close contact and communication with our teams.
- Convey a sense that we’re not the first nor the last to experience a crisis at unprecedented levels.
- Keep a sense of humor.
- Work on all the things that are within one’s control.
- Be consistent. Good leaders need to be highly predictable under all circumstances.
While those years were a time of tremendous uncertainty, I took comfort from my earlier study of history to know that challenges are inevitable but never unsurmountable.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
No. I’m highly motivated by duty. I’m accountable to the people who are dependent on the decisions that I make for the company, and for those who depend on the company for their livelihood. This is a constant in my mind– and a duty that is taken seriously.
I try to be mindful that challenges are an inherent part of growth. Anything of value in life requires a tremendous amount of effort. That applies to every aspect of life, not just business. Many are often enamored with the concept of success but rarely factor in the price that must be paid to achieve it.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
Reading is arguably one of my most favored hobbies and one of the few I indulge in. I’ve read 12 books in just the past three months! It’s virtually impossible to narrow down just one book that has impacted me more than any other, but rather an amalgamation of years of reading.
I find it’s important to read things that challenge our inherent views of the world. I have learned that reading is an essential part of lifelong learning. For those who might be looking for a new read, two books I would recommend are Good to Great by Jim Collins and Grant by Ron Chernow.
Good to Great: After learning about the concept of a level 5 leader, I’ve tried to emulate it. All the companies
Jim Collins studied developed level 5 leadership — a powerful mix of humility and indomitable will. These leaders are ambitious for the cause, not for themselves. This really resonates with me because I don’t put a lot of stock into being the CEO; it’s more about the people and the cause. Another hallmark of a level 5 leader is that they give credit when things are going well and look in the mirror when they aren’t.
Grant: History is one of the greatest teachers we have. One can learn a lot by studying historical figures. Our predecessors didn’t know the end from the beginning. They didn’t know they would prevail. The biography on President Ulysses S. Grant is so fascinating to me because every decision he made was made courageously–not knowing the ultimate outcome. Though widely considered a failure most of his life, General Grant defeated Robert E Lee–arguably one of the greatest generals of all time–to preserve the union. Key takeaways for me include that where one comes from doesn’t determine what one can accomplish, and it’s important to treat everyone equally. If anyone ever stops by my office and says “Hey, it’s just me,” I always take that as a teaching moment that no one is “just me.” Everyone is equally important and those who courageously face difficult challenges can find powerful outcomes.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
An uncommon but sage piece of advice I would give is to look at the good happening in your organization. It’s easy to buy in to the never-ending parade of negativity. By the time something reaches your desk, it’s because it wasn’t solved somewhere else. As a result, you deal with problems all day long. You have to step back and look at the good happening in the organization or it can crush you. It’s important to focus on what’s going well, but it is also imperative to be realistic about the challenges in front of you. Things are never as bad as they look from the inside and they’re also never as good as they look from the outside. As a leader, it’s important to be a stabilizing influence in the organization. One must keep focused, especially when moments of uncertainty or chaos occur. As discussed earlier, during the most difficult of times, a sense of humor can calm nerves and help everyone look beyond a momentary crisis and gain confidence in a possible positive outcome.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Belief and conviction are two of the most critical components of leading through change and uncertainty. If you’re not confident as an organization, people will smell it and know it and grow it. A leader’s role is to be present, be visible, and to engage directly with whatever challenge presents itself. The past two years of the COVID pandemic have been a prime example of a time of great uncertainty. As an organization we purposefully chose to never take our foot off the pedal. Although uncertainty abounded, clear focus and purposeful momentum allowed us to continue to grow and move forward during a time when many companies did not.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honestly. Sincerely. Directly. If one tries to top-spin difficult news, it will inevitably come off as disingenuous and patronizing. People are most often forgiving if one makes a mistake but, they will seldom forgive you for subterfuge or covering up. I believe in the power of owning one’s mistakes rather than playing the blame game. As a leader I am ultimately responsible for every outcome — good, bad, or indifferent. Acknowledging my contribution in a difficult situation and then re-directing everyone’s focus on collaborative solutions is my responsibility.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The future is always unpredictable. Any student of history learns that truth quickly. I believe that first and foremost, it is a leader’s responsibility to acknowledge unpredictability, plan for the things that one can control, and then leverage what one can control to purposefully mitigate uncertainty.
We lived through an extraordinary case study of this with the global pandemic over the past two years. No-one knew how long it would last, or the impact to the supply chain that would result. Regardless we were determined to proceed with the same practices we follow every year, starting with our business planning and strategy. We also developed contingency plans that could be implemented as needed. That consistency and resolve was key to our continued success as a company.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I don’t personally believe anything is that binary, but there are certainly some universal patterns and principles that can be adhered to. It is essential to have trust in your team, an unrelenting belief that things will get better, and an accumulation of all the principles previously mentioned, such as hard work, doggedness, and consistency. I have learned that one can be tough on issues but must choose to be soft with people.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Don’t become so overly obsessed with the difficulties that you forget you have to move the organization forward. Keep things in perspective.
Don’t treat people like commodities or objects; everyone has unconditional, inherent value. Always look to cut expenses before cutting people.
Never put profits before principles. Focus on resetting stakeholder expectations as soon as possible.
Don’t take counsel from your fears. Instead, take a deep breath, look around and get as much input as you can from trusted sources before moving forward with a decision.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
You can pretend to care but you can’t pretend to show up. I worked from home only one day during the pandemic — partly because I’m more effective when working in the office — but also because I felt it was my duty to be present and available. When others were required to come in, they should count on seeing me there as well.
Whether you like it or not, people will take cues from your behavior. Acknowledging the reality of the challenge illustrates that you are in touch with what people are going through.
Let people know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Keep people informed of expectations and give them the space to do what’s best for their personal situation. Let them know that you don’t have all the answers, but you’ll share information as it becomes available. Be transparent.
Seek input and feedback across the organization.
No one has all the answers. It’s important to constantly be taking the temperature of the organization and the people in it. A simple check-in with people can create connection and good will.
Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Realize that often employees are dealing with uncertainty and difficulties in all aspects of their lives, not just at work. Everyone deserves respect and benefits from empathy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every person who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that (they) formed the habit of doing things that (others) don’t like to do.”
— Albert E.N. Gray
I read this in a life insurance agent pamphlet early in my career and it was highly impactful to me then, and it still is now. Success, however one defines it, is unnatural. It’s often achieved only by a minority of people. We, in our humanness, are guided by natural preferences and it’s often easier for us to adjust ourselves to the hardships of earning a poor living than to adjust ourselves to the hardships of earning a better one. Ultimately, everything we achieve is determined by purposeful, practiced habits. If we are not consciously forming good habits, then we are unconsciously forming bad ones.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!