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Kevin Guest of USANA Health Sciences: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

I wish someone would have better educated me on government relations and affairs, and how those interrelate, not just in the United States but internationally. I deal with government officials and regulatory bodies around the world, e.g., China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, etc., and I would’ve gained greatly from knowing how to best deal with international governments from the onset.

As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Guest.

Kevin is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of USANA Health Sciences, a global health and nutritional supplements company. He is a Direct Selling Association board member and a member of the CEO Council for the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations. As a small-town boy with rock star aspirations, Kevin has learned success doesn’t come overnight.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Since my junior high school years on through college, I loved music and played gigs all over the Intermountain West. After one show in Jackson, Wyoming, a man from Nashville offered to connect my Midnight Rodeo band with big names in the industry. We were on the cusp of making it big, and life was busy. During the day, I was running my video production company, which landed national clients, including USANA Health Sciences when they were emerging as a national supplement leader. As USANA took off, so did my production business. Touring with the band kept me on the road far too much and conflicted with my core values of God, family and then occupation. After deep soul-searching, I decided to quit the band, and focus on my business and my family. Soon after, USANA bought my video company, and my career path joined with USANA, where I grew into more leadership roles that have led me to become USANA’s chairman and CEO today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I visited Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., walked through the halls of the nation’s capitol, met with members of Congress and saw firsthand the process of working with lawmakers on key issues we deal with in our industry. As a kid from Montana, I was incredibly impressed to be where many historical decisions were made and to help U.S. lawmakers understand the effect their decisions will make on millions of people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started, I was over the film and video production area and in charge of recording the event for training videos for our sales force. The mistake we made wasn’t funny at the time, but at one convention early on, there was one little switch on one machine that was not turned on. That meant none of the live portions of the convention recording was captured, which we didn’t know until after the convention when we returned to our edit studios and realized all we had was a blank tape with audio only. No video images. We instantly had to get very creative, use the audio recording and layer it with still shots of the live event.

The lesson learned was to measure twice and cut once, or to check, check and triple check. I also learned that with every live event, something will likely go wrong, but when you creatively apply solutions, you can get through it. You can’t let those things get you down. You have to focus your energy on finding solutions to the challenges.

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 about that?

Dr. Denis Waitley is the bestselling author of the audio series, The Psychology of Winning, and books such as Seeds of Greatness and The Winner’s Edge, and a very close friend and a strong mentor of mine. I was in Australia enjoying a quiet dinner with Denis after a long day when I got a call from my wife, who was crying because she had just learned one of our children was being difficult and disrespectful at school. She wanted my advice on how harsh we should discipline him because his behavior was not what we were teaching him at home.

I explained about my son to Denis and asked if he had any advice for a distraught father half a world away from his family. Denis listened intently and smiled as if he’d heard the same story many times before. After quietly considering his reply, Denis said, “Kevin, I’m not quite sure what you should do, as each child is so different, but there is one thing you must not do. When disciplining your children, do not punish them by taking away something that is tied to their self-esteem or personal worth.”

Denis explained that in parents’ zeal to quickly fix a problem, they often do the very thing that makes the problem worse. They punish the child by taking something away that makes the child feel good about himself. For example, if their daughter loves softball, it is wrong to not allow her to play softball — even if they think it is a fit punishment for bad behavior. This advice completely changed the way we have disciplined our children. I am grateful he is a wise mentor to me; I still trust and rely on Denis’s judgment and expertise with many issues we face at USANA.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Diversity brings a collective difference in thought and decision making. When we hear from different voices and people who come from a different perspective, we will possibly make different decisions as we’re governing and running the company. Leading a global organization, USANA executives know it is important for us to hear various perspectives from groups from around the world. That helps us make better-informed decisions as we consider different opinions.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

In the current environment, it is not enough to just sit by. Even though you may feel diversity is important, you have to take action. Action speaks much louder than words.

At USANA, we have increased our emphasis on environmental, social and governance matters. We are mindful of the impact we make globally and are making necessary changes to how our company operates — from the materials we source to the way our products are packaged to the tailored ways we give back to our communities.

With our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, we have also increased our emphasis on corporate social responsibility to ensure every member of the USANA Family feels cared for, included and valued. The council consists of employees from all different backgrounds and seniority, and I think they will make USANA an even better company and leader in the community and in our industry.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

A good leader surrounds himself or herself with good people and lets the people go to work. I’ve found it’s most effective to teach your employees correct principles and let them govern themselves. A good leader is a more high-level, strategic visionary vs. a boots-on-the-ground type of person. But the leader is there to support, engage, recognize and give direction more than to do what the team itself is employed to do.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

When people come into my office and are visibly nervous, I want them to know that I am just like them. I got ready to work that morning just like they did. I also have issues, problems and challenges I face on various levels like they do. I want them to know that they individually and everyone collectively have an important role to fill. That’s why they are there. The CEO is not more important than any other role. Instead, everybody needs to work together to succeed. The CEO does not know everything but should ask questions to uncover and discover key information to successfully run the company. A big myth is that we CEOs know more than we know when the fact is we really don’t.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I wasn’t prepared for the weight of responsibility that I feel for the lives of literally millions of people around the world based on decisions I have make. The weight I take home with me every day can be overwhelming at times, and I didn’t think it would be that big of an issue, but it is.

Presumably not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

The key to being an effective executive is to have emotional intelligence. Ask yourself these questions: Can you empathize with others? Can you listen? Can you truly look at yourself and identify your blind spots and really be introspective?

Emotional intelligence is key to being an effective executive. Those who don’t have a desire or the ability to be emotionally intelligent should not be executives. Probably one of the most important parts of being a successful executive is understanding that nothing is more important than relationships. If you’re not a person that likes cultivating relationships, I do not think you should be an executive.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

We define culture as what we’re willing to tolerate, and therefore, not tolerate. Behaviors that you are willing to tolerate become your culture.

For example, we had a person who was posting inappropriate posts on social media and associated our company name with their posts. We would not tolerate that because we didn’t want that associated with who we were, so we said they had to remove those posts and stop using the company name or they would no longer be associated with the company.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I just published a book, All the Right Reasons: 12 Timeless Principles for Living a Life in Harmony, which is easily found at www.kevinguest.com. All proceeds are going toward feeding hungry children around the world. Because we have a global presence and the influence I am fortunate to have, that effort has generated close to two million meals to date.

As a result of our culture of giving back at USANA, we have also started a very active program to help children on government-assisted meals in Utah, where we are headquartered. With this program, we provide backpacks filled with food for them to take home from school on weekends because they and their families do not have food in the cupboards at home.

Being involved in giving back, reaching out and helping those around us is a primary focus. That has become a rallying cry for our own employees to volunteer and give back. When you think about the ripple effect of one good deed, the influence is endless as we try to make a difference for the better.

Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I wish someone would have better educated me on government relations and affairs, and how those interrelate, not just in the United States but internationally. I deal with government officials and regulatory bodies around the world, e.g., China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, etc., and I would’ve gained greatly from knowing how to best deal with international governments from the onset.
  2. I wish someone would have told me that every single member of the senior executive team has value. I’ve since learned through hard experiences that every person contributes to the culture, the productivity and success of the senior management team. They have to be a fit — not that they have to be alike, but they have to accept and work well together at the same work-ethic level, and respect differences and contributions. To be effective leaders, you cannot have anyone on that senior executive team who is not in that mindset or leadership style. Even just one person can be a disruptor, which works against our purposes.
  3. Because we are a publicly traded company, I wish someone would’ve better educated me from a financial perspective. Along the way, I’ve learned the high-level pivotal points of profit and loss statements of a public company, stock valuation, company valuation, how the market interacts, and also how the FTC and regulatory issues work for a public company.
  4. With USANA as a family-founded company, I wish someone had better explained the delicate nature of family dynamics as it relates to a family-legacy business operating as a publicly traded company.
  5. Running a global company, I wish someone had told me more about international commerce relating to import-export laws, supply chain compliance, regulatory issues, effectively moving the majority of our products around the world, and so forth.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would urge others to approach people with a heart to first understand rather than a mind to judge. When we disagree or are puzzled with another person, I’ve found the next best comment is, ‘Help me understand…’ which opens up the conversation and shows the other person that you want to understand their situation. I would love to see that in the world. I feel the world would be a better place if people would first work to understand others more and judge others less.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Winston Churchill said, “You make a living out of what you get. You make a life out of what you give.” So much of our lives are focused on what’s in it for me and what I want to get out of this vs. focusing on what I can give. For me as a CEO and as a company, if we can approach each day with what we can give to the world vs. what we can get from the world, it will take us from a selfish mentality to an open, compassionate and selfless mindset.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Robert Iger, former CEO of Walt Disney company. He was part of Disney during the decades-old legacy period similar to USANA. From that position, he could affect very positive change not only within the company but within the world. His accomplishments are something I deeply respect.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers

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