Make an Impact and Build a Scalable Life – Brett Hickey
Today we speak with accomplished Founder and CEO of Star Mountain Capital, Brett Hickey. Brett shares his personal and professional journey from a small town in Northern Canada to founding one of the leading lower middle-market investment firms in New York City. Brett discusses how his unique background led him to where he is today and why he believes that it is so important to focus on making an impact in building a scalable life. We touch on the benefits of taking a step back rather than charging forward, why it might be more efficient to manage your energy over managing your time, and the key roles that exercise, nutrition, and sleep have played in Brett’s success.
Key Points From This Episode:
- From speed skater to CEO, how Brett’s unique background led him to where he is today.
- The role that fun and engagement have played in his entrepreneurial journey.
- What sparked his passion for finance and his focus on making an impact.
- How to make an impact in a scalable way by starting with a proper game plan.
- Why the Owner/President Management Program at Harvard Business School was transformational for Brett.
- The benefits of taking a purposeful step back sometimes rather than charging forward.
- Why managing your energy is arguably more important than managing your time.
- Why Brett believes that proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep are critical to his success.
- The challenges that come with bringing differentiated products and services to the market and what they taught Brett about aligning with investors.
- What entrepreneurs can learn about relatability and transfer of trust from the film industry.
- Brett’s advice for young entrepreneurs: remember the value of relationships!
- Why he suggests looking 10 years ahead before making strategic decisions.
Brett Hickey on LinkedIn
Star Mountain Capital
Star Mountain Capital on LinkedIn
Star Mountain Capital on YouTube
Barbarians at the Gate
Harvard Business School Owner/President Management Program
Eat That Frog!
What it Takes
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we welcome Brett Hickey, Founder and CEO of Star Mountain Capital, a specialized asset management firm focused exclusively on the US lower middle market. Brett shares how his unique background led him to where he is today, and why he believes it’s important to focus on making an impact in building a scalable life. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:47] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:00:54] AD: Brett, welcome to the Branch Out podcast, excited to have you here today.
[00:00:57] BH: Thanks, Alex. Good to be with you.
[00:00:59] AD: So, Brett, for our listeners, why don’t you start by just sharing a little bit about what Star Mountain is and a little bit about yourself?
[00:01:06] BH: Sure. Start Mountain is a specialized investment firm, Alex. We’re focused on investing exclusively in what people call the lower middle market. For those of you less familiar with the finance industry jargon, which is always horrible for, this means an established small and medium sized business, generally companies that have between around 15 million and 250 million in annual revenues. Within that marketplace, Alex, what we have built as a solutions-based investment firm, where we can sit down with business owners, understand their needs and their objectives, and come up with different both capital solutions and strategic capabilities to help them grow their business by providing them with loans, private equity capital, and strategic advice to assist them with their objectives.
[00:01:56] AD: Now you’re the founder and CEO. How did you get there? What led you down this path and give us a little bit of the backstory there?
[00:02:02] BH: Yeah, first of all, not as a crow flies, I started my journey in life living in a very small town in northwestern Canada. My parents moved there to increase their education careers with the ideas of then having bigger jobs and moving back to a bigger city. Unfortunately, my mother passed of cancer and I was very young, and therefore we stayed. So, I grew up in a really small town of about 10,000 people. I speed skated on the national team and spent a lot of time outdoors, which is something you do in northern Canada, and I worked on the oil drilling rigs for a year after high school to pay for college with the goals of both going to the Olympics, and also finding some type of career that wasn’t the oil rigs and wasn’t becoming a coach and speed skating, and school was some path to something.
In the late ‘90s, I was fortunate enough through a summer internship to stumble across an opportunity to start up a business was somebody where I founded, built, and sold a work placement agency in the healthcare industry, which was a lot of fun. Nothing financially relevant, but making business cards, logos, learning to code back then and build websites, it was just a lot of fun.
At the same time, I unfortunately flipped my bike training on the Velodrome, which is an Olympic Summer event, and that kind of killed my dreams of going to the Salt Lake City Olympics. I said, “You know, I gave it a long run, I set a national record in Canada.” Was a Canadian gold medalist and sort of unfortunate because it would have been awesome to go to the Olympics. But I didn’t want to have all my eggs in one basket as you think about in the finance world. I started to get really excited about business. This is back in the day, you’re reading all these things about the pioneers of finance and people in their pinstripe suits, and you read these books.
I remember, actually, one of my partners, Brian Finn, in fact, was in Barbarians at the Gate, back then as an eager little beaver. I’m like, “Wow, this is awesome. These guys are dominating the world and ton of fun and making deals around the world.” So, I got very inspired by that and I shifted that drive and passion that I had in athletics over to business. I transferred to McGill University in Montreal, Canada to do a joint finance and accounting degree with a goal of hopefully landing in New York City. I was fortunate enough to get into New York City to work in investment banking at the time for the biggest financial institution in North America, which was Citi Group, doing investment banking. And then, in 2004, I loved that experience, but I wanted to marry that kind of startup passionate, fun experience with the creativity of the private investment industry.
I started my first lower middle market investment firm, finding other small business owners, and coming up with capital solutions and strategic advice and resources to help them build their companies. I found that to be a really nice marriage of entrepreneurial, fun, and engagement within a much more stable and sophisticated financial environment. So, a little bit miscellaneous, but the dots sort of make sense when you look at them in history.
[00:05:18] AD: Well, a speed skater to private equity. It seems like a pretty logical line.
[00:05:23] BH: Yeah, and the oil rigs as well. Oil rigs was a really clear path to living in Greenwich, Connecticut, working on Wall Street.
[00:05:31] AD: So, let me ask you this then, when did you decide finance? Because it sounds like that wasn’t really in your mind earlier in life? What kind of tripped that thought process?
[00:05:39] BH: In fact, as good guests, when I was speed skating initially going to college, my thought was sports medicine. I said, “What’s a career that could be interesting?” And I thought maybe becoming a surgeon and working with athletes would be really cool. As I got – I’m a pretty driven person, and as I thought about 8, 10 years of school and whatnot, that became less compelling. And it was really the summer internship where I stumbled across a business plan with somebody that was interested in how I got into his office. So, I was selling these insurance products. It’s like, “How did you get into my office?” I said, “Well, I kind of walked in and I saw the receptionist’s name that was,” I can’t remember what it, was Janet or something. I’m like, “Hey, Jan, how you doing?” Kind of pretended I was there, and, you know, let’s say this guy’s name was Robert. I say, “I’m just dropping in to see Rob.” I kind of acted and if I had a meeting was supposed to be there. I never said I didn’t.
But the sort of natural flow assumption was that, “Okay, well, it seems like he knows what he’s doing and has a meeting with Robert.” And he was running this chiropractic business and he’s like, “I need a guy like you that’s hard charging, that’s going to break through walls, and I have this business idea.” I said, “Well, if you kind of give me half of it, I’ll go build it, and I’ll do it.” That was just really fun and it was creative. You were kind of limited, in a sense, by your imagination alone, of course, we had no budget either. So, that was the limit.
But you’re able to really try and work hard and that was fun, that was exciting, and really drove the passion and sleepless nights. I’ve always viewed that, you want to guarantee a really fun journey in life. You want the end objective to be exciting, but your only guarantee in life is the journey. I’ve often had people that said, “When I get to here, then I’ll be.” I’ve always kind of taken the view that you want that end goal, but let’s have fun along the path.
I really liked investment banking, and I liked large Wall Street. It was a fun learning experience. There’s a lot of really formidable experiences, met a lot of great people. But you’re more stuck in your lane in what you’re doing, and I’ve really liked the passion of being able to have big dreams and run at them and try to create things that are differentiated, which I believe Star Mountain Capital is in what we bring investors, giving them access to this end of the market, and how we bring large market expertise to these smaller businesses that generally can’t access that type of expertise or capital.
So, that’s really fun to have a purpose and see how you can make an impact in people’s lives and helping them build their companies. You really get to feel what you’re doing. You’re not just doing deals and numbers on spreadsheets. You get to know the people and that’s a lot of fun.
[00:08:26] AD: If I hear you, two things that really jump out, are you’re an entrepreneurial person, you like to solve challenges, you like to have a lot of variety in what you’re tackling. But you’re also driven by impact. You have a passion to make an impact more than just trying to, as you said, reach a goal, reach a certain place. But you want to enjoy what you’re doing along the way and in your specific example, the impact you make to business owners, right? The impact you make to those around you. Is that a fair way of kind of how you look at the world?
[00:08:55] BH: Yeah, and I often, in fact, I just had my third child about a week ago, as a daughter, and when you have kids in particular, I think you really think about who do you want to be? And what examples are you setting for them? My mother died of cancer when she was 39 years old, and I was six. That was very formative for me where you realize that life can be fragile.
In her honor, I started a charitable foundation. I started when I had very little, and I’ve always just taken a few, even when I was in college, I used to drive people to and from chemotherapy and different cancer treatments. It was very little. It was very little impact. It was one person I was driving, not scalable. But I’ve always taken the view that we can all always do something. I’ve tried to take that passion with the different charitable organizations I’ve been involved in, including launching our own, to say, “How do we do this in a more scalable, more impactful way where we help women develop their careers?” For example, we help veterans develop their careers post service, and people that really, I think, are great people and how do we help them.
Our charitable foundation, which is the Star Mountain Charitable Foundation is very aligned with our company, because they’re we’re really focused on how do you create great jobs, create great livelihoods, create healthy environments? I think, to me, that’s what I’m most proud of and that’s what excites me the most. And that’s really, as my children grow up, hopefully what they will be more anchored towards, not just what’s my net worth? But who am I, what do I stand for, and that kind of character and integrity.
I think that’s the most important thing in life. Frankly, I just happen to also love business and investing, and it happens to be a good financial impact career as well.
[00:10:49] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast.
[00:10:58] AD: I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s not what you do, it’s what you become from it. It sounds like I’m hearing that with you as well. It’s really just trying to recognize that if you’re making a good impact, and you’re making change, that’s the best that each of us can do, and we should each strive to do.
Now, I want to ask you a question, because you pointed out scalability is important, right? You talked about, you want to figure out. I like to make an impact. This is important to me. I want to do it in a scalable way. Now, I believe that the mindset of scalability can apply whether you’re running a business or in this, you’re talking about from a charitable aspect, but it’s an underlying mindset of how do you create scalability. I’d love to get some of your thoughts around what does scalability mean? And how do you create it in your life? Not necessarily in one specific area. But in general, how do you create scalability?
[00:11:42] BH: It’s a great question. In fact, how you said, Alex, in your life, I think that actually is important. You need to think about really starting everything you do with a business plan and a mindset, and when I run, I do triathlons, as you know. When I like to run, it’s the time to listen to podcasts. Ray Dalio is somebody that I think has a lot of really inspirational things and great wisdom that he shares with people. I encourage people to listen to his podcasts and whatnot and his content. He started Bridgewater.
But when I came into this world of finance, we talked about, I came knowing nothing. It’s not like being on the oil drilling rigs trained me to be doing deals. In fact, I remember doing this one deal, I was confused, because it didn’t clearly label the dollars in thousands or millions, and I’m asking like, “Well, you don’t know?” I said, “Listen, this is all infinity to me. I have no context, whatsoever around all of this.” I was a total fish out of water. But they saw me as a very driven, hard working person and took a bet on me that way, which I’m very thankful to Citi Group and Smith Barney at the time for.
When I think about scalability, you really have to start with an end game plan, research it, study it, stress test it, have an open mind, focus on real data, not just your own biases and generic assumptions. I think a lot of people shortcut that part of it and just start running at things. They don’t take the time upfront to really develop the right game plan and business plan for their personal life or professionally. So, I think if you spend the time, which sort of seems counterintuitive, right? You’re eager, you’re energetic. I just want to get after it. Sometimes you need to actually take a step back and don’t get after it yet. Focus on the right plan, then full throttle, head down, and you just got to break through walls and take a lot of no’s.
But that’s been a big part of how I’ve always approached things. I think it’s partially because I came into this finance world so naive that way, that I really just wanted data to inform what I should or shouldn’t do, because I had no preconceived notions about what seems like the right idea. I had no idea. It was all about creating it, analyzing it. Then, in personal life as well, the same thing. How do you create an operationally efficient infrastructure into how you live? And if you listen to a lot of technology CEOs, entrepreneurs, they often think very much like this, in just how you live and how you organize your life.
I’ve tried to keep my life very consolidated and very efficient and that’s enjoyable, because then I get to exercise well, sleep well, eat well. I used to be one of these guys that, “Ah, sleeping is for wimps.” I no longer think that way. I think sleeping is critical, especially as you start to run a bigger business as we have at Star Mountain Capital and you’re fiduciary, for people’s capital. I need to have high quality thought.
We just had another baby and I’d say to my wife, I need to be able to sleep. Obviously, I want to be a supportive father and husband, but we need support to help us because, if I can’t sleep, I can’t do my job right. That’s my goal and my fiduciary responsibility, and I take that very seriously. I think that operational and organizational support and all the different ways you can accomplish that in your own life to set yourself up for success is critical.
I’ll share, Alex, one learning I had. This is back in 2009, I was looking for a program to try to increase my managerial skills. I felt that I had great finance skills, underwriting skills, but not really managerial skills. So, to build Star Mountain Capital, I felt that that’s something I needed to get more experience at. I found a program at Harvard Business School called the Owner/President Management Program, where you live on campus for three weeks per year, broken into three different year segments, and you work on your business, you live on campus, with about 150 other CEOs from around the world. And you’re not there to write tests on how do you do accounting or something in a more traditional MBA type of a program. You’re there to work on your business, focus on your business, strategy, talent, development, leadership, just phenomenal program.
Not only was it transformative from a learning perspective, and lots of great friendships, but you live in the dorms of Harvard Business School, and you exercise there, you eat there, you go to class there, your whole world was so efficient. I always said, “Boy, this is awesome.” And I’ve kind of replicated that for myself in life, and even when I was a junior investment banker in New York City, I always lived where I could walk to the office. Sometimes, that’s the only exercise I got in day, but boy, the difference between a 20-minute walk twice a day and zero is exponential on a cumulative basis.
But anyways, that operational efficiency and surrounding yourself and making an environment that helps foster your success, who you spend time with, thinking about friction, how do you reduce friction, I think about that stuff all the time and I think it’s critical. It gets fun, because then you start to offload the things you don’t like to do and spend more time on the things you do like to do, which is more energizing, gets the creative juices flowing.
[00:17:06] AD: One thing you said that really jumped out to me, set yourself up for success. Understanding that, and I’d like your reaction to this, talking from my own experience and many people that I know is a young professional, young, hungry professional, especially if you are in the financial services world or in the transaction, whether investment banking, private equity, or anywhere around a deal team. You work in an environment that is perpetually driven to go faster and to move forward.
I think the natural reaction is often to just get things done, be productive, maximize productivity, maximize what you’re doing. Well, that’s part of the goal. It’s I think, for myself, at least I have learned that it’s about stepping back and trying to maximize the impact of what you’re doing, and part of that, and you said it some, it’s not just doing tasks, it’s doing the right tasks. To figure out the right tasks often requires us to slow down and stop working for a minute and assess what’s sitting in front of us. How do we actually do it in a smarter way? Which is, it’s very counterintuitive, right? I feel overwhelmed. I feel busy. What do I do? We’ll just work harder. Well, working harder isn’t necessarily what gets you out of that place of overwhelm. Is that a fair way of looking at it?
[00:18:23] BH: Yeah, I was sort of laughing to myself, because one of the things that we do at Star Mountain Capital for our talent development, we have what we call our Star Mountain University. Today, we had a guest lecturer speak to people via Zoom, just to come in while people are having lunch. We call them our lunch and learns and just bring different content. And this is one of the things that we talked about.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the natural default is to just go hard or charge harder, scramble almost. What I said is you actually want to take a step back and just do what you’re doing really well and be focused. Remove distractions, so you’re not having all these different inputs of phones and stuff coming in, be focused on what you’re doing, do a great job of ii, and go one thing to another. You may feel like you’re going slower, but you’ll get a better job done of everything. I actually think that you accomplish more, and you accomplish it better.
But yeah, you do have to take that step back and be very purposeful. We can’t scale time, right? That’s constantly a thing and they’re talking to some of the junior team asking questions and somebody who’s empathizing saying, “Look, junior people, they always have so much on your plate, way more than you can ever do.” I said, “Look, even myself as a CEO, a lot of it is self-inflicted, but my to-do list I will never get done. It’s all about prioritizing what’s the highest impact.” There are books out there, like I think Eat the Frog or Swallow the Frog that says, “What are your highest impact things?” Make sure you get those done. Put the things that you really want to get that in your calendar, if you need some white space for thinking.
I remember when I was studying, when I came from speed skating to the oil drilling rigs, that wasn’t necessarily preparing my mind to be the best student. So, when I was a student, and I was like, “Okay, if I want to get into Wall Street, I need A’s.” If you want to work in investment banking, especially if you’re a Canadian, where you’re an immigrant, and they have to spend the time going there, they have to spend the time paying for and getting a working visa for you. You have to be extra special for them to be willing to hire you. Your probability is so low, you really have to do an amazing job. I was like, “Okay, how do I learn to study the best and put in as many hours as possible?” Well, you can’t just bang through 20 hours a day just because you’re reading all day. You won’t retain information.
So, thinking about when you do what? When should you eat lunch? When should you exercise? When should you study? What type of materials? And really frame your day so that you’re optimizing it. For me, if I’m having more of a casual catch up content with the senior leadership team, we’ll frame it and say, “Let’s do it at 6 PM. We don’t need to be as high intellectual capability, just have a more casual conversation.” That can actually be relaxing a little bit even to that.
[00:21:15] AD: Your point, I think it’s a really valid one. I’m a believer. Time is what we all want to say that we manage and we understand that we only get 24 hours in the day. And you always need to find ways to maximize your time. But I’m also a believer in managing your energy is arguably more important than your time.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself at points where I probably have plenty of time to get something done. But I don’t have the mental capacity, the cognitive function, the clarity of thought that I need to actually get that done, and then it takes longer to get it done, or I output a worse quality of work, versus just stepping back and saying, if I focus on my energy, I focus on making sure that I’m doing the right things. If I have a high value thing, I’m doing it for me, it’s usually first thing in the morning, and I get it done, I get it off my plate, and I feel better about it. But knowing that when’s your energy level going to be at the right place to focus on the right type of task? Is that a little bit of what you’re alluding to there?
[00:22:10] BH: Yeah, and Alex, I’ll even add to that, which I feel very strongly about an agreement with you is how your nutrition, your fitness, your sleep, all these things feed into it. For example, Mondays, I used to find myself at a bunch of staff meetings where I would get a little bit agitated because I’m so passionate and so driven, that if things aren’t moving very intensely, I can get frustrated by it. Just a reality, right? I can say I don’t. I can be untruthful. I can not be self-aware. But that’s the reality.
What I did is I said, okay, Monday mornings, to your point of managing energy, I do yoga once a week, I like to do it more, just because time wise. But Monday mornings, I do yoga. Because it gets me peaceful, relaxed. I have somebody come and work through the program with me. So, when I hit the staff meeting, I’m calibrated with the right energy, to your point on that. I really do think a lot about that type of sleep. In fact, Alex, the pandemic has, I think, really shown us a lot of things and how we operate. Star Mountain, for example, allows people to do hybrid work from home office and continues to.
We also opened another office in Tampa Bay, Florida, where you can live very close to the office and reduce the friction time, reduce the work. If you want to have a young family, zip home or zip over at three o’clock to see your kid’s game, and maybe do a dinner meeting that night or something. If you need to, you can do that. Whereas in New York City, for example, over the Greenwich where I am, it might be anywhere between an hour, hour and a half commute, that’s not an easy zip.
It’s being mindful of, again, creating an environment for success and really just constantly thinking about that including what you eat, including caffeine, I think. For me I have green tea. I like caffeine. My wife doesn’t, but I don’t drink coffee generally because I find, for me, and I think everybody’s different. I have nothing against coffee, but I find I have more highs and lows. So, some of it is trial and error. You research, you try things, and work on it, but I find that stuff really fun. To me, it’s why I really like to be in it and I find that, if I’m really into health and wellness as my focus, I’m always thinking about it.
I bought you know Garmin triathlon watches for our whole team for Christmas one year and just said, it’s great during COVID because it has an oximeter and stuff in it as well to see how your blood oxygen levels are doing. But it was more about, let’s always be reminded that we want to think health and wellness, fitness and stuff like that. I think that’s a big part of your energy as well, is managing yourself. I would say the people, “You are all CEOs of yourself.” Then, we manage whatever else we’re doing. But if you, as a tool, aren’t built to optimize, A, it’s no fun, right? But B, you’re just not that productive.
[00:25:00] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.
[00:25:08] AD: So, let’s shift gears here for a minute. I would love to ask you about the challenges you’ve had. You’ve been successful in building your business today. But I assume throughout the way, there’s been some challenges and some lessons learned along the way. I’d love to get your thoughts on that.
[00:25:21] BH: Yeah, actually, another fun thing from today is I just finished Stephen Schwarzman, from Blackstone listening to his audiobook and right now listening to one of Ray Dalio’s. As other pioneers in the investment world and founders of businesses, I always just love learning and listening to it as I’m going for my runs and whatnot. It reinforces and helps remind me and others that if you are going to do something innovative and differentiated, as Ray Dalio calls it, sort of a shape maker, that you’re really going to evolve certain things, you’re going to have a lot of headwinds. Because human nature is to be followers, generally. They get comfort in what they already know, what they’ve seen. By definition, that’s not innovative.
So, if you’re going to do something differentiated, I think you have to generally accept that it’s going to take a while for people to embrace it. That’s what’s tough in some businesses is that what you’re wanting people to embrace, you might be ahead of when they’re willing to embrace it. For us, at Star Mountain Capital, really bringing the large institutional approach to this lower middle market and bringing that to investors is something differentiated. One of the challenges that I probably took for granted, like I say, now, it’s quite obvious. If you listen to any other leaders, they’ve all gone through it, whether it’s Bill Gates in different businesses, Steve Jobs, you name it.
There was real headwinds and curves in bringing differentiated products and services to the market in finance and non-finance industries. I didn’t really appreciate that as much at the beginning. I just thought that this makes logical sense. It’s back tested, it is stress tested, I have the data, of course, people are going to get it and understand it. It’s so clear. But comfort is in following other things. So, one of the challenges early on, was really being able to showcase and convince that to investors.
What we did, and where we had our greater success or our greatest successes at Star Mountain Capital was with very sophisticated investors that really have independent thought, and that’s where they’ve made a lot of their wealth, because they have the ability to analyze and evaluate investment opportunities, and are willing to look for conviction. We found, by focusing on that very sophisticated investor base that had that deep underwriting capability, we had a lot more success there. As we further proven out and built out a long-term track record and delivered the results that we said we were going to deliver, that’s now made that, of course, a lot easier.
But in the earlier days, it was tough. You really had to think about and work with it. It’s hard to build a business that way, because you need to be able to raise money and have a team, and afford the team, and all these things are very interconnected. I’m very thankful and blessed to have a lot of aligned, passionate, dedicated partners to work with me in what’s helped build Star Mountain Capital. To that end, I’ve also aligned interest in sharing the profits and economics with 100 percent of our team, so that we’re all working together, rowing in the same boat, here to both protect and create value in an aligned manner with each other, and therefore with and for our investors. But that was a heavy lift in the earlier years, for sure.
[00:28:49] AD: I can imagine. So, let me ask a question, that entrepreneurial type question. I think what you’re describing is that if you, as an entrepreneur, regardless of your industry or product, if you are bringing something to market that is truly differentiated in the marketplace, and is truly solving an unmet need in some way, it can be challenging to communicate that because, oftentimes, your “customers”, they don’t necessarily see the same problem that you see, nor understand how your differentiated solution actually solves anything. Because if they did, it probably would have already existed, right? That, by definition, removes differentiated, right?
So, how do you balance, as an entrepreneur, ensuring that you are not delusional in nature and stuck in like an echo chamber where your idea actually just doesn’t make sense versus you haven’t gotten people to fully see it yet? Because there’s a balance there as an entrepreneur.
[00:29:50] BH: Yeah, it’s interesting, Alex. I don’t have a silver bullet answer but a couple things that come to mind. One, the film industry is pretty good at communicating and engaging people and getting them to go spend a lot of money for great films and content. If you think of, especially back in the pre-Netflix and more when you’re going to the movie theaters era, if you’re going to go to a movie and spend whatever the cost was for it, which especially for a lot of us, younger and college kids and stuff is, always a real pricey ticket, at least in the economic environment I grew up in with a father as a school teacher.
How do they persuade you of that, right? They say, “Hey, it’s a movie. Come watch this movie versus these other thousand movies.” And they say that this movie is like A meets B, right? And whatever it is, Batman meets whatever, and you’re like, “Oh, well, I like this. And I like this. I understand this. Therefore, I should like this.” So, I think that’s one of the things that innovative entrepreneurs and business owners need to think about is relatability.
How do you have people understand it and grasp it? Yes, there’s to say, “Hey, here’s this, is going to solve this problem for you.” But then human nature is to say, “But I want to see that it has, in fact, solved that problem for a lot of other people in a sustainable way.” Therein lies the challenge, right? It’s saying, “Here’s the challenge, here’s how we can address it.” But then it’s giving the confidence to that, and that’s where I think people need to spend a lot of time thinking about how do you bridge the transfer of trust and make that transfer of trust occur as quickly as possible? How do you give people comfort and security that what you say you can deliver, and when you say you can do, that you can in fact do? For each product and service, that’s a different calculus. But I think that’s a critical consideration.
[00:31:46] AD: I think that’s a great framework and a great place to be looking at and really focused on, is that transfer of trust. So Brett, last question for you here. If you could go back and talk to yourself of 15 or 20 years ago, or any young professional, what’s the advice you would give?
[00:32:02] BH: It’s a great question. I would say, and thankfully, I had some early mentors in my life that really did focus on this. But remember the value of relationships. We’ve all heard that before. Everybody knows that. But here’s what I think people need to really remember with the value of relationships is that trust, integrity, and character are so critical. It’s just really making sure that you continue to do that.
I feel very fortunate in the business, we have what we have today, that we have that. But some of that was by design, and some of that was probably a little bit more by luck. So, really making sure people understand that. I think, in today’s day and age in particular, you have to really think about that, because information is so publicly available on everything, you just have to really be mindful of that.
Lots of kids did silly things in college or something like that, whatever it is. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, and as we think about raising our children, and how do you have younger children whose brains really are not yet fully developed? How do you have them understand risks and consequences a lot faster? Because they will be judged for the rest of their lives around things. In reality that way, I think that’s one that really just relates to all of us.
When we go back in time, the one thing that I have always had strong conviction in is the quality of the people that you spend your time with. That has always helped me up my game. Investing in relationships, investing in people, building friendships, and really trying to learn from other people always pays dividends. It may take a long time to, but that learning and the value, I think is a really high quality.
When we’re recruiting people from a career perspective, and providing counsel to others that ask us, and I sit on a few different alumni boards and whatnot. I always say, focus on the people you’re going to work with, what is their business plan, and then what’s the quality of the people and the cultural fit? Because that’s just so critical. Then, if you really get – if it’s a really, at least good business plan, with great people and a great cultural fit, I think that’s a recipe for success in any career, in any industry, from a probability weighted average perspective.
[00:34:29] AD: In the theme of both of what you said, both the building trust and respect, but also who you surround yourself with, I think, is the long-term mindset. Is recognizing that both of those things have compounding positive impacts over time, that don’t necessarily show and yield results in a short-term nature. I think if I could say one thing to anyone that’s early in their careers, recognize that.
It’s so easy to focus on the short term, but life is a long game. And as you point, the journey, right? This isn’t about the destination or where you’re going, it’s that journey. And that journey is if you stay focused on building trust and respect, and you surround yourself with good people, the outcome is positive. It may take years for you to see where all that outcome is, but the outcome will ultimately be positive.
[00:35:14] BH: And what I’d leave with Alex, to just add one last layer on to what you’re saying, is put a graph together. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very data-driven and I also love graphs. So, think about the slope of a career. You may think of a decision that today either costs you a little bit of money, or you don’t make quite as much money. But if you’re not so shortsighted, and you say, “Well, what could that build me?” Like we built Star Mountain in investing aggressively, I never drew a salary for 11 years. That allowed me to invest aggressively into the business to build something differentiated. I always just tell people, when you’re looking at careers, fast forward 10 years out. If one career has this growth, that might start a bit higher with growths like that, and one career starts a bit lower, grow like that. At the end of your 10 years, that’s a big difference.
When you think about the mindset of trying to think 5, 10, 15, 20 years out, and really then work backwards. I think it then becomes a lot easier to make the right strategic decisions. I find that people often make sort of pennywise pound foolish, to use a British term, decisions around things. I say, “Well, what do you want to accomplish in the next 20 years?” Focus on having the probability of that as high as possible, and the probability of what you don’t want to occur as low as possible. But who cares about the quarters in between? Really do what’s going to drive that end result. Sometimes it takes courage to do that. But it seems it pretty systematically plays out well.
[00:36:50] AD: I think what the key of that is that the benefits, the things that you do that are delayed gratification, that take time, tend to cause that compounding growth in the future. Back to your career curve, right? You want that compounding growth to get that long-term upward trajectory. And oftentimes, the sacrifices we make today are what allow us to actually hit that compounding growth in the future. So, I think that’s great advice, Brett.
Thank you so much for coming on here today. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[00:37:18] BH: Yeah, first of all, the pleasure to be with you here, Alex, and with your group, Branch Out. The best way to learn more about Star Mountain Capital is three places. One is our website, starmountaincapital.com. Two is our LinkedIn page, Star Mountain Capital, where we show different events that we’re doing both on the for profit, charitable, and different ways if we can be of value to any of you, please let us know. And then third, and last is our YouTube channel, where we have a bunch of different digital media content to help business owners and others, thinking about how to build businesses and we really try to share experiences and resources and knowledge for no cost, for people to learn and collaborate with one another in an entrepreneurial manner.
[00:37:59] AD: Awesome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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