“How to Avoid Being Distracted by Squirrels As a Business Owner” With Jeffrey Hayzlett of C-Suite Network

“…if you’re a business leader trying to do big things, you must learn to filter out the noise and focus quickly and efficiently on what needs to be addressed.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Hayzlett, chairman and CEO of C-Suite Network, and host of “All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett” on C-Suite Radio.
“My biggest accomplishment in life are my kids. By far. In business, I think it’s pretty cool to be inducted in 5 Halls of Fame: National Speakers Association Hall of Fame, Business Marketing Hall of Fame, Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame and the Printing Hall of Fame. However, I don’t consider these my ‘biggest accomplishments.’ I haven’t reached my biggest accomplishment yet.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

I started my career in the printing industry. I’ve been a lobbyist in my home state of South Dakota, I’ve been the former Chief Marketing Officer at Kodak and have bought and sold over 250 businesses. I’ve worked with franchises, publicly-traded companies and served in a number of corporate boards.

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

Let me tell you about the “Katelyn Rule.” This didn’t start as a “funny” story per se, but it has become one. A few years back, I hired Katelyn Rice to help me with my PR. The lesson here is: “If I have to answer something or do something that you should be able to answer or do yourself, then why do I need you? Here’s the story: Katelyn was our newest employee at the time and she walked into my office 15 minutes before we had to leave for a meeting. In her hand was a single color copy of our “Big Dog Plan” presentation. She asked me, “should I bring color copies of our presentation to the meeting?” I said to her “Let’s imagine that you get to ask me 21 questions a month. They can be anything. You can ask me about the meaning of life. You can ask me the difference between a steer and a bull, are you still going to ask me right now if we should bring color copies to a meeting that we’ve been preparing for since you started? She took a breath and answered, “probably not.”

I already knew she was going places when I first met her. Chalk it up to a rookie mistake, but I made the “Katelyn rule” in her honor. I’m a firm believer in empowering the people who work for me to create and own what they do when they’re working to support me, our clients, our teams and customers. From that moment on, Katelyn never looked back and became the rock star she was meant to me.

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

As the Chairman and CEO of the C-Suite Network, I believe what makes this company stand out is that we are the most trusted network of powerful executives in the world. Only executives with a VP title or higher are accepted into the Network; therefore, we vet everyone into the organization. We provide these executive with a trusted network of peers with the purpose of providing growth, development and networking opportunities.

We have a number of conferences and summits a year all over the country. Our C-Suite Conferences feature guest speakers in a number of industries — sales, marketing, financial, personal branding and others. At one of those events last year, a group of women got together to network and they discovered they each wanted to fulfill specific goals — personal and professional. They encouraged each other, pushed each other and held each other accountable with deadlines, goals and metrics. Fast forward to December of last year and these 3 women (the Publishing Divas) came together to present their new books and announced their personal achievements, too. That is the power of the network.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive?

For anyone to thrive in any business, CEOs and founders need to be clear with their conditions of satisfaction. In every relationship, there’s a customer and a performer. If you’re not the customer, you’re the performer or vice versa. I think failing to recognize this is one of the biggest mistakes companies make. Clearly define who you are and what your conditions of satisfaction are. Once that is set, everything else will fall into place.

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

First and foremost, I’m grateful for everyone I work with now. Each and every person is part of the engine that makes this business run as seamlessly as possible. I’ve enjoyed a long and diverse career and I certainly have had some mentors along the way. The most impactful one was Michael O’Connor, the owner of a print shop that I ended up purchasing. He taught me the proper way to run a business; including what benchmarks to use to determine how much I needed to sell, how to set up the right metrics and KPIs and how to understand the targets I needed to hit. To this day, I still use those same lessons, just on a much bigger scale.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There are several ways for me to address this. I am involved with a number of charities, like phaware, to raise awareness for pulmonary hypertension, We Are Family Foundation, a youth empowering organization and have also been involved with Simon Says Give’s main chapter out of Minneapolis, MN and also our local chapter in South Dakota.

Business wise, I work with heroes everyday — hero CEOs and companies. I work with people who sponsor local communities, pay for Little League teams, take care of the environment, support the arts and give their employees the opportunity the pursue their dreams. I feel the best thing I can do is build a strong business community, a strong business and support the free enterprise system that makes all of the above possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became CEO,” and why?

Here are the 5 things I wish I knew then that I know now:

  1. Kill the squirrels. For me, ‘squirrels’ are distractions that make us stray from the goal at hand. Whether they distract us from our daily tasks, or our overall goals, we need to learn how to stay focused. My favorite scene from the movie “Up” is when Carl and Russell meet “Dug the Talking Dog.” When the dog surprises the humans by talking, he suddenly stops and shouts: “SQUIRREL!” Even in the most important situations, “squirrels” distract Dug, but if you’re a business leader trying to do big things, you must learn to filter out the noise and focus quickly and efficiently on what needs to be addressed.
  2. Do it faster. Ever heard of “fail fast?” I’d rather succeed fast. Failing has become too much of a badge of honor and we’ve accepted failure as a part of life. While I do believe failure does happen, I don’t go into a situation thinking that it will fail, no matter how risky the situation or how impossible it seems. I spoke to a friend of mine, the former CMO of Grand Prix, and he was telling me how it makes him mad how his daughters’ sports teams give out trophies for fifth and sixth place teams. My success now came as a result of ‘failures.’ When my show was pulled off of Bloomberg after one season, I took it in-house to C-Suite TV. My shows now air in a number of outlets that include Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and hotels and airports across the country.
  3. Add zeros. The lifeblood of every business relies on the amount of money they bring in. You may have the best idea on the planet, but how long will it last if you’re not making any money? I continuously instruct my team to close out the deals they are working on. I use the mantra from one of my favorite movies, “Glengarry Glen Ross” — always be closing. The amount of zeros is what will keep the doors open, so that’s what I focus on and that’s what I want my team to focus on.
  4. There’s not much of a difference between Wall Street and Main Street. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. People tend to think that Wall Street is this big, unreachable place where small business can’t go. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The main difference between Wall Street and Main Street is the number of zeros. Other than that, businesses have to be run in the same fashion — meet conditions of satisfaction, exceed expectations for your customers, value your employees and increase your bottom line in order to turn a profit.
  5. Do it your way. I’ve always been a little pig headed and liked doing things my way, but what I didn’t know then was how well this would serve me down the line. Successful leaders must constantly hold conflicting ideas, choices, possibilities, and opportunities while moving the business forward. If anything, my only regret is not being pig headed enough. I’m OK with being called pig headed, especially because the opposite of that is “acquiescent, compliant, pliable and relenting.” In business there will be people who will say anything to discourage you and prevent you from reaching your goal. Tune those out. If you feel in your bones, you’re doing the right thing, tune them out and do it your way.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?

Here’s one of my favorites: “You can’t manufacture time, so make more of it by filtering out what doesn’t matter do your energy is focused on what does.”

Time is valuable. Let’s not waste it by focusing on the roadblocks and obstacles we face. Instead, focus on the overall goal, in spite of those obstacles.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Yep, I most definitely would — my grandkids! I’m one of the most connected individuals in the world. I have every gadget known to man, use tons of apps to help me streamline my work and my life. There are plenty of executives who are highly connected as well. If I wanted to have lunch with anyone in the world, I can easily pick up the phone and call them and take them out to lunch or have a drink with them. One of the things I value the most is time and if I have to make a choice between having lunch with c-suite executives or my grandkids, I choose them. Even if I have to use a Fischer Price phone to schedule that appointment.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.