Communicate. Open and transparent communication helps build trust, reduces anxiety, and fosters a sense of unity. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many leaders communicated regularly with their employees, providing updates on the company’s response, safety measures, and the potential impact on operations.
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 Lee Kaplan, Executive Chairman, Snap.Build.
Lee Kaplan serves as Executive Chairman of Snap.Build, a fintech company serving the residential housing market. Snap.Build utilizes proprietary technology to bridge the gap between the lender and the builder, helping build faster and growing businesses. Lee’s curiosity and willingness to learn led him into the finance and construction business through his personal experience of building a home from scratch. Lee has had executive roles within the golf industry with Integrated Sports International, Nike and the PGA Tour. For Nike and the PGA Tour, Lee grew player commitments including successfully managing the onboarding of Tiger Woods into the Nike Golf brand. As Executive Chairman of Snap.Build, Lee spearheads global strategy and securing additional partner investments.
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?
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to be an investor in a spec residential building project. It was the first time I was able to really experience the process of residential construction in an in-depth way. It was an eye-opening experience for me as I was able to zero in on several parts of the process that could benefit from an enhanced approach to improve both time and cost efficiency. These observations and ideas stayed with me for a few years. Seemingly serendipitously, I was introduced to Snap.Build, and realized the company and its technology was transforming the residential construction industry in the ways I identified years earlier.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. 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?
For me, taking on this role came with a learning curve as it relates to technology. I would say I “know enough to be dangerous”, but it has never been my forte. It was clear to me that mistakes I might make would definitely be in the area of technology! Fortunately, it’s not an ego thing for me — I don’t need to be the expert on my team in every subject. This is why I’ve got a team of leaders, like Brad David and Steve Stramm to support decision-making as it relates to the product and operations. Relationships have always been important to me, not only creating them but maintaining and nurturing them. Past careers have prepared me for the role of Executive Chairman of Snap.Build and I draw on these people and relationships for counsel and collaboration today. Hire great people and let them do their thing!
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?
There are several colleagues, managers, employees, and clients from over the years that I Iearned so much from. I realized quickly that being able to understand the points of view and motivations of others is key to cultivating meaningful business and personal relationships. For example, in a previous life, salary and payment negotiation was a big part of my job description. I learned that even the most stubborn negotiators have a price and a driving motivation behind their ask. But if you can see someone else’s point of view, it gives you leverage and an opportunity to compromise.
At Snap.Build, we needed a technology platform that could be viewed through a prism — each stakeholder had a purpose and motivation for using it. We want the builder to see how their capital is being allocated, in order to give them more control of the process. Each project has a projected delivery date and data that supports decision-making. This bit of data science was new to me, but it’s vital to the business and industry today.
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?
It’s very rewarding to work with builders for the first time and show them that the old rules of community banking and deal making are evolving. We have created a model that gives builders more autonomy and financial flexibility to enter new markets and juggle multiple projects at once.
Disruption has been a key theme throughout my career and I’m excited to continue shaping the future of construction finance by rolling out a 2.0 version of our online platform in 2023. By harnessing the power of automation, we can minimize risk associated with investing in building projects and keep every stakeholder accountable with a digital tool that logs and tracks transactions in real-time. Transparency is always your friend whether you are the builder, funder, sub or vendor. We help facilitate that.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The Covid-19 crisis is an obvious one! During this time, property values increased, as more people invested in home repairs and upgrades. More time spent at home led to more renovations and projects. It also exposed some weaknesses in the supply chain and how we procure raw materials, including wood, for construction projects.
Today, I think we’re much better equipped to handle a slowdown in demand. Technology is the great equalizer, because it makes capital available to builders based on pre-qualifications and a standard set of rules, avoiding the nuance and delay of brick-and-mortar transactions. We’re no longer at the mercy of the Federal Reserve and institutional banking rates. With platforms like Snap.Build, there’s a new expectation and a validated process for ensuring there is no fraud in the system. That’s something we could have used during the housing crisis of 2008–2009.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Sure, everyone has bad days, but I believe in perseverance even in tough times. In my business, it’s very rewarding to work with a builder for the first time and show them that the old rules of community banking and deal making are evolving.
We have created a model that gives builders more autonomy and financial flexibility to enter new markets and juggle multiple projects at once. Disruption has been a key theme throughout my career and I’m excited to continue shaping the future of construction finance by rolling out a 2.0 version of our online platform in 2023. Seeing the problems I identified many years ago when I was an investor in a spec home build being resolved one by one and the benefits this brings to all stakeholders keeps me motivated to continuously improve.
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?
“Good to Great” by James C. Collins. The book reminded me that true, sustainable change takes time. It requires discipline, persistence, and consistency. It involves developing the right people, adhering to core values, setting performance standards, and maintaining focused effort over an extended period. There’s not one specific personal story that I could tell to illustrate how I apply this key learning. It is more about how I have integrated it into my overall approach to running and growing a company and cultivating positive employee and client relationships. It is a philosophy as well as action-oriented approach I keep top of mind all of the time.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Inspiring and motivating others. Leaders should inspire their team by being a source of motivation and optimism. They can do this by communicating the importance of their work, acknowledging individual and collective contributions, and fostering a positive work environment. By remaining resilient and displaying a determined attitude, leaders can instill confidence and rally their team during challenging periods.
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?
Provide a sense of purpose by reminding your team of the meaningfulness of their work and how it contributes to the organization’s goals. Connect their individual tasks to the broader purpose and impact. Help them understand the significance of their role, even in uncertain times, which can boost morale by reinforcing their sense of value.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I know it sounds simple but bad news doesn’t get better with time. I build all my relationships both personal and business on open and transparent communication. It’s just faster, easier and gets to the answers we need better. Open communication is talking with your team about the current situation, challenges, and plans, but in a way that brings them into the conversation, into the problem and ultimately into the solution.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Everything in business is unpredictable, so leaders need to understand we are working with information we have at the time to make the most informed business decisions we can. It’s extremely difficult, of course. Ultimately, we don’t know and can’t predict the future but, we want to try as best we can to position the company in a place for success.
Flexibility and agility are key as a business leader and as a company navigating the marketplace. Being open to change, encouraging innovation, and empowering employees to adapt their strategies and work quickly. If we can build a culture of flexibility and agility then you have the best chance of being in a good position when things change — — and they always change.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Be nimble. We need to have adaptability and flexibility to respond and adjust effectively to change. That needs to be across the organization too, not just in leadership roles. It involves being open to new ideas, being willing to change course when necessary, and proactively seeking opportunities in the face of all the barriers that are against you everyday.
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?
- Under capitalized. It is crucial for businesses to maintain adequate capitalization to support their operations and continue to seize growth opportunities even during difficult times. Proper financial planning and management are essential for creating and maintaining a business that can withstand tough economic times.
- Lack of adaptability. The inability for a business to adapt to rapidly and unexpected market conditions can hinder a business’s growth, competitiveness, and sustainability. It is crucial for organizations to remain agile, embrace change, and proactively adjust their strategies and operations to successfully weather the storm.
- Being a poor listener. Leaders must recognize the importance of effective listening and should be continuously working on improving their listening skills. By becoming better listeners, leaders can foster a more engaged team, enhance communication and collaboration, capitalize on opportunities, and create a positive work environment, even during difficult times.
- Unwillingness to embrace uncertainty. In my experience, when an organization is unwilling to embrace uncertainty in trying times, they will ultimately be unable to adapt to the changes needed to survive and thrive. The feeling of volatility can make it difficult for teams to feel confident about identifying opportunities and making agile decisions. Being able to still get the best from teams during uncertain times can allow organizations to maintain their competitive advantage and position the organization for long-term success.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. 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.
They seem simple but they are truly important at all times but, certainly during tough times.
- Trust your team
- Foster a positive work environment
1. Communicate. Open and transparent communication helps build trust, reduces anxiety, and fosters a sense of unity. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many leaders communicated regularly with their employees, providing updates on the company’s response, safety measures, and the potential impact on operations.
2. Trust your team. Trusting your team cultivates collaboration, productivity, innovation, employee engagement, effective communication, and ultimately contributes to the growth and success of the business. Building and nurturing trust should be a priority for leaders. Leaders must set the tone through transparent sharing of information, ensuring that everyone has access to the necessary knowledge and resources to perform their roles effectively.
3. Innovate. Foster a culture of adaptability and innovation: In uncertain times, leaders should encourage their teams to embrace adaptability and innovation. This involves promoting a mindset that welcomes change, experimentation, and continuous learning. By empowering employees to propose new ideas, test alternative approaches, and take calculated risks, leaders can harness the collective intelligence of the organization. An example could be creating a dedicated platform or forum where employees can share their innovative ideas and encourage collaboration.
4. Foster a positive work environment. Cultivate a positive and inclusive workplace culture that promotes open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect. Encourage teamwork, celebrate diversity, and recognize individual contributions. A positive work environment fosters a sense of belonging and psychological safety, which can significantly impact employee confidence. An example would be promoting work-life balance by supporting flexible work arrangements and allowing time off for personal commitments.
5. Planning. Plan for the future while addressing immediate needs. Effective leaders balance the immediate needs of the organization with strategic planning for the future. While addressing urgent challenges, they also allocate time and resources to identify opportunities, assess market trends, and develop strategies to position the company for long-term success. This ensures the organization remains resilient and adaptable. An example could be a leader in the retail industry focusing on managing immediate disruptions caused by changing consumer behavior while also exploring new digital channels and partnerships to strengthen the business’s long-term viability.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Keep Moving Forward. It is critical to remain solutions-oriented when you run into roadblocks. Challenges will always be presented, but it is important to not give up and continue to focus on your original goals. Making mistakes is OK… just not the same mistake twice. Be nimble, be a great listener and challenge the status quo!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!