“Business Acumen Is Not The Only Pillar For Success” Words of Wisdom with Greg Gagnon
“I’m still a little “green” at this CEO thing. Being an entrepreneur with no formal business education or training gave me a challenging opportunity to sharpen my business acumen in sometimes abstract, but often profound, ways. And I quickly learned along the way that spreadsheets, P&Ls, contribution margins and SMART goals only go so far. Because, you’re dealing with a group of people. There is a certain energy around business: customers, employees, vendors are all people. And people matter. Emotional intelligence has been one thing I’ve chosen to deepen in myself as a CEO and it feels aligned and highly impactful, because I believe good business is the crossroads between metrics and people.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Gagnon, multi center owner of the #4 top 500 franchise, The UPS Store — and host of The ASK, a video series for The UPS Store franchisees. Greg went from college dropout to co-building one of the West Coast’s largest multi center operations to downsizing in a quest of more authenticity as a CEO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was always an entrepreneurial kinda kid, buying bulk candy with lunch money and selling to kids after school. I knew I loved the idea of owning my own business when I saw my uncle was always home spending time with our family when we would visit during summers. I asked my mom at age 13 why he was always home. She said, “He and his family own pet stores and have flexible hours to work and visit with us.”
Fast forward a few years. When my opportunity came to become a business owner, I jumped.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This one still makes people laugh. When I first became a CEO, I was required to attend an executive meeting with The UPS Store area office. Like you would imagine, five people interviewing me in a glass room at a big oval wood table. So I drove to LA early that morning, was right on time. Looking like a new CEO, I was dressed well. I jumped out of my truck and reached for my shoes…. where were they…?!
… back home on the couch. Having no time at all to run to a store, I walked up to the office door, met a team member who promptly looked down and said, “Where are your shoes? After some apologies, they permitted me to do the executive interview barefoot. And that moment showed me the power of just owning your authenticity — even when it shows up unexpectedly.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our brand stands out on its own. The #1 non food franchise two years in a row, for us specifically, I’m deeply driven to support others’ success and strive for win-win synergies. One major theme of how we do business is to create quality bonds with our delivery drivers. Once a month or so we host driver appreciation lunches to allow the UPS, FedEx and USPS drivers to come enjoy lunch with us. Another theme is to support employees’ goals. We have a personal goals board and they write what they’re striving for on it: new car, trip to see family, learn to surf — and we all work to support their dreams through accountability and encouragement.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My father was always in leadership roles and as a kid I remember him teaching about how important he felt it was to honor your employees by making certain they grow under your stewardship. They should be way better off when they leave your circle of influence. I love to be a “Force of Nurture,” doing all I can to support and nurture my teammates. Their interests, passion pursuits and personal growth outside of work are always empowered and supported. I believe this adds to a more holistic employee and team member.
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?
When I dropped out of college I started working part time at a Mail Boxes Etc., showing up late, barefoot and shirtless after surfing most days. One of the owners, a man named Burke Jones saw right through me and into the depth of my possibilities. He believed in me and my potential in a way no stranger ever did. Through years of gentle nudges, and forceful shoves he showed me a much different way… To this day we have lunch on a monthly basis, only now we’re both multiple businessmen and equals sharing one another’s successes with energetic glee.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
UPS has what’s called Carbon Neutral Shipping. It’s a highly calculated way of offsetting each shipment’s carbon footprint. And it’s done for pennies. One mission of mine was to focus on making my centers 90–100% carbon neutral. The goal would be to set an example and then encourage this among all 5,000 centers statewide. At that critical mass, we can really make impacts to be proud of. I’m elated to say our Santee store is in the top 3% in the nation for carbon neutral shipping; adoption rate among our customers is 90–95%!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. To-Do Lists are your friends!
I use to loathe the idea of being tied to specific tasks. A structure that holds me down? No, thanks. But when it became clear that I’m the one leading this ship into new waters each day, nobody is feeding me directions or tasks anymore — and only I know what’s best, certain key things need to be done in timely ways. Enter the powerful to-do list. I’m old school; I have a small pad and pen. Each night I set the focus and intention of the next day’s top 10 tasks. Then in the morning I pick the top to-do first. It’s so simple, and so effective.
2. Business Acumen is not the only pillar for success.
I’m still a little “green” at this CEO thing. Being an entrepreneur with no formal business education or training gave me a challenging opportunity to sharpen my business acumen in sometimes abstract, but often profound, ways. And I quickly learned along the way that spreadsheets, P&Ls, contribution margins and SMART goals only go so far. Because, you’re dealing with a group of people. There is a certain energy around business: customers, employees, vendors are all people. And people matter. Emotional intelligence has been one thing I’ve chosen to deepen in myself as a CEO and it feels aligned and highly impactful, because I believe good business is the crossroads between metrics and people.
3. Business is not a Zero Sum Game
In my CEO infancy I use to think business was about getting what you need from others, crush competition, be the best, etc. The mindset was, for us to have we need to take from others. Now, I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is enough for everyone to thrive if you do it right. Looking for win-win scenarios is my deepest joy in business. We can all prosper, when our lens is not scarcity-focused.
4. Work on you and your business.
In high school I would run away from books like they were covered in toxic waste. Now, I love to read! On average I read 1–3 books a month, everything from business and personal growth to health and nutrition. It’s a powerful tool in a CEO quiver. When we grow and expand as individuals in the world, we translate that energy to our business and our people.
Another thing I learned is to work ON your business, not IN your business.
Working ON it has a 10x effect on its growth and potential; working in it has a limit real quick. The growth you do personally outside is part of that working ON it.
5. Get ready to be invited to a lot of lunches
It’s just part of the social dynamic of being a CEO, and it can be wonderful. Time spent with other CEOs and high achievers in relaxed social atmospheres has taught me so much. It’s allowed me to fully embrace my role as a leader and given me connections that support those times when I feel like nobody gets what it’s like to be me. Get around others like you, and let the new nerdy lift you up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“It’s not what you get that matters most; it’s who you become in the process.” This one’s mine, but inspired by Tony Robbins and Jim Rohn.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
This is fun! I would say without question it would be Peter Diamandis.
Having founded more than 15 companies, and being the CEO of XPRISE with a quest for massive positive impact in the world, I find myself resonating with his style, positive mindset and drive. All the while, being humble and grounded within himself.
To be able to have a conversation about business and altruism on that level — that would be an amazing lunch.