In this episode, host John Laurito talks with the CEO, President, and Chairperson of Merchants Fleet, Brendan Keegan. They talk about how Brendan got into leadership at a young age and how he developed the skill through the years and became the outstanding leader he is today. He also shares how he used the same skill and helped push the companies he worked for forward on gigantic scales.
Brendan P. Keegan is the President, CEO & Chairperson of Merchants Fleet, the fastest-growing FleetTech company in North America. He previously served Merchants as a board member, compensation committee chair, strategic advisor, and client. Keegan is an award-winning 6-time president and chief executive officer, having raised nearly $5.0B in capital and returned over $10.0B to investors. Keegan has experience in business transformation, capital raises, strategy development, revenue growth, operational scale, technology enablement, and enterprise value creation with successful liquidity exits.
With a background in the financial services, technology, and professional service industries, Keegan has led companies ranging from 500 to 10,000 employees. He started his career at EDS as a systems engineer; there, Keegan progressed through the ranks rapidly, becoming the youngest Chief Sales Officer at a Fortune 100 company.
During his time with Merchants, he has been named the world’s Most Innovative CEO by CEO World Awards®; Executive of the Year by Best in Biz Awards; Visionary of the Year by Globee Awards; Executive of the Year by Business Intelligence Group; NH Business Leader of the Year by Business NH Magazine; Maverick of the Year by Stevie Awards® and Inspiring Leader of the Year by TITAN Awards. He has led Merchants to be a two-time Inc 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Company, Deloitte Best Managed Company, Fast Company Top 10 Most Innovative Company, and more.
Keegan is a member of the Forbes Technology Council and is an editorial contributor to Entrepreneur Media, Fox News Digital, Inc. Magazine, the Newsweek Expert Forum, and sits on the Executive Board for Fast Company, He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA from George Washington University, and Executive Certificates from Harvard, Columbia, UPenn, MIT, Yale and the University of Chicago.
Connect with Keegan at:
[2:39] Was there a leadership moment in Brendan’s life that pushed him to get into leadership?
[7:14] Is there more that can be done to develop leadership?
[9:29] Looking back, was there a point in his career where he thought he made a good move?
[16:49] How did he bring people together and make them one?
[20:50] Organizing people and bringing them around a common goal
[24:36] How can leaders create a culture that lets people feel that their opinion is valued?
[30:11] What keeps Brendan awake at night?
[33:08] Maintaining the ideal culture for long term
[35:47] What’s Brendan’s vision for Merchants Fleet?
[37:03] Seizing the moments and having faith in yourself
[40:26] How can people push themselves a little more?
[42:45] How can people learn more about Brendan and Merchants Fleet?
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership. What makes the best leaders so good? After running companies small and large over the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to tomorrow’s leader.
John Hey, they’re tomorrow’s leaders. So today’s guest, super interesting guy, Brendan Keegan. He is the chairman, CEO and president of Merchants Fleet. They are the fourth largest fleet company in the United States. He is as good as they come. He has taken that company from 500 million in revenue to 2.5 billion in five years. I mean, that’s amazing. In in 30 years. In five years, he has he has grown it five times. That is unbelievable. He is an award winning CEO. Not surprisingly, he was named the world’s most innovative CEO by CEO World Awards Executive of the Year by Best in Business Awards. And is Stevie Awards winner by American Business Awards. We talked about everything, I mean, wide ranging conversation from the moment that he felt like he was drawn into leadership as a kid. We talked about his career, his trajectory and what steps he took that he felt really kind of launched him into the next level and even all the way to, hey, what keeps him awake at night? And what is he thinking about right now, running this massive company, trying to get to the next level. So really, really cool conversation. I enjoyed this immensely. I know you will, too. Here is Brendan Keegan.
John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader related related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito of course your host I get a great guest for you today. I’ve got Brendan Keegan who is the chairman and CEO of Merchants Fleet. Brendan, thanks for joining. Welcome to the show.
Brendan John, excited to talk to you today and talk about leadership. Get a chance to meet your audience.
John Yeah, me too. I’m I’m not only impressed, but I’m very interested to learn about your story. I know the I’ve heard a little bit, but I know we want to dove into a lot about you, but also about leadership and how you’ve led your organization. You’ve got a lot of listeners that are going to be interested in this, but you now lead a very successful, large organization. We’ll talk about Merchant’s fleet in a little bit, but I’m always interested, like, was there a point in your life where you felt like, okay, leadership is a path I want to take? Was there a moment or an incident that kind of pushed you in that direction?
Brendan You know, it’s I talk a lot of times about leadership moments. And it’s interesting. I actually do have a leadership moment that that sticks in my mind. And it’s kind of crazy. But it was it was in third grade. It was my first football practice with Coach Buchanan, and he got us all in a circle. You got a helmet on for the first time, pads, anyone? And he says, okay, hey, I need someone to get in the middle and lead calisthenics. And for some reason I have no idea why I jumped in the middle of the circle and wide calisthenics and then we had to take a lap. And I really just liked the juice of it. I liked the, you know, counting. And and I still remember, you know, we did the lap. We came back. And when you came back, I remember then going back out and helping the kids that were struggling, just doing the opening lap at practice. And I really liked, you know, after practice collecting the footballs and, you know, bringing them to the coach’s trunk and putting him in the back of his pickup. And and then the next day, just talking to guys going, hey, we’re going to have a great practice. And I know that sounds really weird to think all the way back, but like from that moment on, I just really I really liked waiting. I liked serving others. I like the motivational part of it. And so that just kind of kicked off what has been my leadership journey, you know, for the next 40 plus years.
John I love that. I mean, and that’s really what it comes down to. Some of the leaders I talked to have something that was a moment where it’s like, all right, this is really cool. And was it did you get good feedback from people? Were you feeling like you kind of got a good response from the other kids? And or was it just more the feeling of being in that role?
Brendan You know what, I really what I really liked was just the ability to do more, you know, whether it was helping the kid that was struggling to do the lap, whether it was helping the coach, you know, put the cones out to do drills. I kind of like the additional responsibility. And it’s something that, you know, just that little act in third grade, I remember in junior high when you had your first student government, and it just gave me that little bit of confidence to maybe believe in myself a little bit more. And I think believing in yourself is such a part of of being a good leader. It’s also believing in others. And having them believe in you is such a big part of leadership. So so I think I’ve always enjoyed the serving others aspect of it. Now what I’ll tell you is if if you do it, to have the other people kind of say, Hey, great job, you’re probably going to be just a. Point it in life. Because if you go do something nice and there’s 100 people, you know, it might be three or four people that say something to you now. Odds are most of the people, if not all of them, really appreciate you doing it. But you’ve really got to do it because it’s intrinsic. It’s something that you feel good about, not necessarily that you’re doing it to have others make you feel good, but you’ll get the three or four people that say, Hey, great, thanks for keeping us motivated, but more than likely you’re not going to get as many people to give you that feedback. And then we also know from time to time you get the people out there that say, why do you have to take the lap? Why did you have us do that? You know, you ask us to get to practice early and stuff, but I’ve enjoyed the giving back part.
John Yeah, well, I think that’s a great message for new leaders and people that are interested in it. And wanting to take a step in that direction is you’ve really got to you’ve got to be doing it for the right reasons. I agree. You can’t be looking for the feedback because there’s a ton of people that are very appreciative and impacted by what you do. They just are not the type that are going to say that. They’re not going to be the type to give that type of feedback. You’ve got to have a more powerful Y.
Brendan Absolutely. You know, you talk about that. I recently got a note from somebody really positive thanking me. And truthfully, I didn’t think they liked me. I didn’t think that I had a good relationship with them at all. It’s just they’re just not one to provide that feedback. And it was just that it was just that reminder, you know, even at 53, now that you’re making an impact, even when you don’t think you are even to people, that you don’t think that it’s resonating with their everyone has their own way of showing it. But if you if you make the impact, if you do the right thing, you know, there’s you’re bringing good to the world.
John Yeah. Do you think there’s there’s more that can be done to develop other leaders? I think about like all these potential leaders that are out there that might not have done that step or, you know, in third grade or whatever it might be that got them on that journey. What can leaders do or people do in general to kind of develop more get more people involved in it?
Brendan You know, I think the first is to just break down the misnomer that leadership is is a formal position. You know, it’s not you know, waiters can be can be anybody doing anything. It’s, you know, my definition that I’ve used of of of of leadership is the willingness to accept responsibility, to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal. And at first or start with, are you willing because, you know, I know people that are in formal roles that aren’t the most willing and aren’t the best in organization, but they’re a leader. I know other people that don’t have an organization, but they’re organizing people at their kid’s school and they’re making sure that whether the dance or this past Friday night, I went to Senior Night for a bunch of kids I coach in youth football. I can tell you those moms and dads that puts senior right on that was a group of great leaders. They made their kids feel so special, which might be for a lot of them, one of their last athletic events. And so it’s it’s really, you know, anybody can be a leader. So how do we develop them is we got to get that message out that leadership isn’t a formal role. It’s as much an informal as a formal role. Now in careers, we tend to formalize it more with Are you a supervisor or are you a team leader? Are you a manager? But and then the younger we can get to people, the younger earlier in life, we can get to people and say, you know, you are a leader, you can be a leader. You know, being a leader could be you if someone’s getting picked on in school at a young age and just going over and saying, hey, guys, don’t do that. You know, that’s leadership right there. And that has nothing to do with business, that has nothing to do with an org chart. That’s just somebody displaying kindness and having a little bit of courage to step in and be a leader in that situation.
John Yeah, courage. And that’s that’s the key word for sure, because it’s stepping outside your comfort zone sometimes for people to do things like that. I want to talk a little bit about your career and your trajectory. So and Steve Jobs used to say it’s very hard to connect the dots looking forward, but it’s easy when you look back when you look back on your career. Was there a time or a point where you can look back and say, boy, that was a risk that I took, or I wasn’t quite certain if I was going in the right direction. But boy, I look back now and that was such a good move.
Brendan You know what? When I look at my career, probably the most successful part of my career was that I had five mentors, probably from 20 to about 40, and I still have mentors today. But those five people really made my career. They pushed me to do things. In some instances, they stopped me from doing things when I was just young and probably more assertive. And sometimes when you didn’t see things strategically, they stopped me from doing things. So the first thing I’d say is, is having those mentors made an unbelievable difference in my career. You know, you find out later in your career not only the mentors when you’re sitting in their office and they’re giving you advice, but you find out behind the scenes they were advocates for you in the companies you worked in. They were telling people, hey, give this person a shot. I think they’re really capable. But there was there was one time when, you know, I probably mustered more courage than I had at the moment. And and I was working at a very large technology company with about 120,000 folks. And and I was leading what we called megadeals. So these were the biggest deals. And and I kind of saw that even though we were really big company, we acted like 50 little companies. And one of the reasons we weren’t winning as many big deals is we weren’t approaching the market as a giant. We were approaching the market as 50 small companies. Now, by the way, there’s something to be said for that, because the companies were nimble, you know, the 50 divisions and they were flexible and they were fast growing. But when it came to saying, hey, you know, we’re going to we want to win a really big deal, it actually worked against us. And after I had a chance to do that for about a year and a half, I actually sat down with our vice chairman at the time, and I gave him a little presentation as to why I thought sales in the company was broken and why we weren’t growing as fast as our competitors, as our main competitors. And it was we really needed to centralize and become one big, strong team as opposed to 50 teams of 20 and throw out there that we’re kind of not working cohesively. And I still remember this was, you know, many years ago getting a call to say, hey, you know, come in to the office. Could I come in early and could I could I meet with him? And I did. I remember getting dressed, putting on my tie that day. And I said to my wife, I’m either going to be home really late tonight. I’m going to be home in a half hour. And don’t know because, you know, at the time I look back and I said, you know, that was a risky move, kind of telling the number two in the company that you thought one of the major functions wasn’t working. Right. So I went in and, you know, he said, hey, you know, took a look at what you sent us. We had our CEO sitting with him. And I, by the way, I noticed no one from H.R. was there. So that was that probably meant that it was going to be a long day, not a short day. And he said, hey, we really took a look at what you said. We agree, and we want you to lead sales. Now, I’ll also tell you that I told them I didn’t have enough experience to do that. I said I haven’t ever managed that many people. And they said, Right, but you know, you have a longer term vision. You’ve got the motivation to do it. We’ll put some people on to you that know how to more manage than lead. But it was real interesting because I look at that moment and that that could have gone any way had that person not liked a younger person. I probably 20 years younger telling them that, you know, hey, I think the company’s missing a big opportunity. It could have been offended by it. Instead, I think he was inspired by it and said, you know, I think you’ve got some some things here. So it wound up probably being my biggest career maker, but it also the next couple of years were really challenging because I had to I had to fulfill the promise of centralizing sales and growing the company.
John But and how did that go? How did that work out over the next couple of years?
Brendan You know, it went it went great. And there were a couple reasons why it went great, because when you brought in this case 1200 people together, you had the power of 1200 people working together versus 50 groups of 20 and 30 all by themselves. So, you know, I don’t think that was as much my leadership as it was just the power of aligning people, you know, whether it’s your PTA, your kids, soccer team or business, if you align people, you will move faster. You know, it’s just it’s just kind of it’s almost like physics. If you’re all aligned in the same direction, you’re going to get there quicker. That was that was one. The other is I actually formed this group. I called it the Millennium Group because this was pre 2000 and I brought 20 people in from around the company and they were almost like an internal board of how were we going to run sales at the company? I still remember it was. A year later, I had invited some of the senior leaders from the company to our offsite, and when we were getting a drink, they said, Brendan, you would figure this out. I said, You figured what out? Your Millennium Group. I said, Yeah, these are the best minds in the company. They go, No, it’s like you’ve got a sales union here. And I’m like, Oh, what do you mean? They’re like, you 20 or so aligned on the direction of the organization in you’re so powerful that whatever you guys need for resources, we’re going to get you. You know, it’s just really interesting. But that was me actually at an early age. I don’t know why. Recognizing I can’t do this is not I can’t do this job by myself at all. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have some of the skills. But what I can do is I can organize people. So going back to that definition or willingness to accept responsibility, organize a group of people to achieve a common goal, our common goal was we wanted to double sales and we wanted to take on at the time IBM, who was our chief rival. We wanted to do that. And I look back and, you know, the intelligence that I had, I don’t know why I did it. Bringing that morning group of 20 people together was was really the crucible for the success, because they then went back to their 20 different teams and we all move forward as a group. So I think people recognizing the power of alignment and the power of teams and getting, you know, so if you’re a leader of a small company or you’re a startup and you’ve got five people or you’re managing a big 10,000 person company, have you brought everybody inside the tent? Do more people know where you’re going and more importantly, why you’re going there? And are they part of the decision process? And if you can make them part of that, you’re going to go further and you’re going to go faster.
John Okay, great. Great stuff. Now, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of directions I want to go, a lot of things I want to ask you. But you said something that I think so many leaders struggle with. And I know there’s listeners that are saying, boy, my company or my organization is very fractured, or it’s that situation that Brendan’s talking about where it’s 50 little companies altogether, the importance of bringing people together in and doing what you did. Would talk a little bit more about that if you can, because it sounds like I mean, that’s that’s that’s the result of how do we get there from all these little pieces into one big and get everybody out line? Was there another part of that? How did you actually do that?
Brendan Well, you know, when you look at like get me on the scene and say, you know, why are you doing it? Well, we were a very large organization. You know, we were 86th on the Fortune 100. But yet when we went to market, we were, you know, the five sat 5000 because we were going as small teams. So I think it’s recognizing what’s your strategy as a company? And then is our organization structure aligned for that? So I’ll give you another example. So Merchant Point where I’m at now, in 2009, I was actually Merchant’s largest client, so and I wasn’t in the fleet industry. I had a fleet, but I wasn’t in the fleet industry. And after a few years being a large client, I, I joined the company’s board when I was getting on board the way they tell me all the great things the company does, and I said, this is going to be easy. I’m a client. I know everything you do. Well, it turns out the company had seven divisions, and actually some of them were named different companies. And as they all presented, I started saying to them, Hey, when I was a client, how come I didn’t know about your services? I want to use yours. And their answer was, Oh, but you were a client of the other division. You’re a client of the other company. Now, I actually joked with them and said, You’re right. As a client, it was my job to understand your organization structure. Now, by the way, I don’t mean to pick on them, but banks are infamous for this, you know, in that they’ve got, you know, well, you’re a small business client. Here’s our mid-cap company. Here’s our capital raising company, here’s our securitization desk. And a lot of times they just don’t work as well across. And I say that because our banks that that helped fund our company. Whenever I give this talk, they always say, boy, I feel like you’re talking about the financial services industry. So one of the first things I did when I joined is I collapsed all seven companies into two, one that focused on consumers and one focused on on corporate. And we’re growing what are we ten times faster than our closest competitor? And I always get asked, how were you able to do that? How are you able to do that? We bring all our services together in one person, represents that to the client, and it’s so much more powerful in our clients. Now say, Wow, you’ve got a broader set of offerings than your competitors. We do. But also, if they’re going at the market fractional meaning they got multiple people, their clients don’t get a chance to see the entire power of the organization. So it is tough. Matter of fact, I get asked, where do you spend your time, culture, people? You know, I don’t spend my time, you know, digging into the panel and folks. Just on the funding. You know, those are part of my job, but it’s about culture, it’s about people, it’s about vision. It’s our it’s about our values. It’s about alignment. Because I know if I if we have the best people, if we attract and retain them, if we have a great culture and everyone’s aligned on our strategic direction, the PNL is going to take care of itself. Yeah. If I focus on the panel or I focus on the funding and I focus on the strategy, but not the culture and people, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to we’re going to get there.
John Yeah, makes sense. Well, it’s interesting. I was talking to a company about that very same issue that they were having in a totally different industry where their clients had no idea about the other services that they offered. And they’re doing business elsewhere, not because they want to, but because they just didn’t even think it was an option to do them. So I think a lot of companies are plagued with that. And another thing that listeners are tuning into saying, Boy, I got a I’ve got to take that to heart and really take some action on it. When you talk about it, when you talk about organizing, organizing teams and bringing people together around a common goal, I mean, that’s something I’ve seen leaders do very, very well. I’ve seen a lot of leaders really struggle with that. They don’t have a great ability to leverage the talent that’s on their team. Can you and you seem to really have cracked the code on that. I know you might say, hey, everybody can do it better, but you’ve seen the done that extremely well. Talk a little bit about that, how to really leverage the talent that you have on your team and organize people the right way.
Brendan Well, the key is you’ve got to have a higher level goal, but you’ve got to have something you’re shooting for. Now, let’s say you’re a leader and you’re very good at vision and you’re very good at establishing the goal. That’s great. That’s probably easier for you now. Now you have to focus on organizing the people there. Let’s say you’re a leader and you go, You know what? I’m a tactician. I’m not good at vision. I’m not good at setting goals. No problem. So bring people together and say, what should be our common goal you need when instead of pursuing a common goal for a team, there’s no recipe for it has to come from the top leader. It could come from the team also. Odds are there’s somebody in your company, one of your peers that is very good at vision, is very good at goal setting. Have some coaching sessions with a peer that says, Can you help me with my team? You know, going into this next year, you know, I really want to establish better alignment. I want to establish a more of a common goal that we can really strive for. I tell you, if your teammates are really good, they’re going to absolutely be willing to help you get there. So if you can do it yourself, that’s great. If you if you can’t leverage your team, somebody on your team might have some good ideas. Leverage a peer, also reach out. There’s leadership coaches out there. There’s executive coaches out there that can come in. And by the way, they are going to be able to give you the goals. They’re going to be able to facilitate the goal from your head on to piece a piece of paper. And then then the next thing that’s, I think, even more important than the goal is do you create a narrative, a story by which people can understand it and follow it? So if I stand in front of a group and say, we’re going to be fourth in the industry. Okay. Well, you know, somebody that’s in their third year, their career goes, okay, I that I that means nothing to me. Matter of fact, they might be like, hey, what position in the industry are we now? You know, so you’ve got to be able to tell a narrative, tell a story that has them understand what is your strategy? What is your goal? Where are you going? And storytelling is incredibly powerful because people remember stories. They really remember stories. And and I know storytelling is something that that I’ve more naturally had. I think I get that from my mom. Both my parents were Irish. My mom could tell a story on anything. I’m generally 80 to 85% of it was true. 15% of it would change every time she told the story. So now what I would say is in your company, try to keep the story the same. Don’t don’t follow my mom there. But but if you can tell a story that people can follow, you’re more likely to have it have impact with people.
John Yeah. And that makes so much sense because you’re tapping into the emotions of your people and really getting them understanding the why behind it, and not just about hitting revenue targets or anything like that, but it’s really about what difference is it going to make in other people’s life, in their life, you know, hey, we reach this vision in this goal. What does that actually mean to me as a contributor toward this? And that’s really key. One of the questions that I had going back to kind of the other side of what you explained that story of when you went to the second in command and shared your observation that turned out to be sounds like a pretty big game changer for the company. I’m thinking wow. That that individual and. A company is certainly grateful that you had the initiative and willingness to step outside your comfort zone to have that conversation, because, you know, the whole company and the client base benefited from that. But what about that leader that is saying, boy, I love I want to build that type of environment and the culture that allows people and that lets them feel like we value their opinion or their feedback enough. Is that something that you’re conscious of or focused on, or what advice would you give to leaders to make to to try to create that type of environment where that’s okay to do?
Brendan Yeah. So what I tell you is creating that environment is tougher today than it’s ever been in the history of the world because of remote and hybrid. So what I’ve always done is, is every day I walk every corner of our office when I’ve had a big office or a little office, when I’ve had remote offices, I would every quarter visit every every office. So the first thing you have to do as a leader is you got to make yourself accessible to people. If they don’t feel accessible to you, they’re just not going to come to you. Now, keep mind I just said it’s tougher now than it’s ever been with remote and hybrid work, because like my team when I walk around today, will have 50% of the seats occupied and 50% of the people are on a remote day or a hybrid day. So it’s tougher than it’s been. So it all starts with accessibility. The next is you have to be approachable. So it’s one thing to walk around the office. And I’m going to give you example. Two, I had an executive coach at one point in time and they told me one of my biggest problems was I was so focused on achieving the common goal that people didn’t think I was approachable. And I remember sitting on. I’m a funny guy. I’m great. I wouldn’t be I’m not approachable. Well, I was motor around the office at 100 miles an hour and people were getting the message of, get out of my way, don’t approach me. Why? Because I was heads down. And, you know, I was younger in my career trying to hit the goal, right? Mm hmm. When you when you when you walk around, when you make yourself accessible, do it when you have time, do it such that people genuinely say, Brendan, have you got a couple minutes? Absolutely. I don’t have it right now, but three PowerPoint by, you know. So that’s, you know, what you can do for people in your office now as you’ve got remote workers, as you’ve got a national office, you know, try to communicate with them. So I recommend on a cadence every Monday, every other Monday, once a month, write, write a letter to your employees. Not a newsletter, not a formal letter, just on a topic. It doesn’t have to be always be business related. You know, like during COVID just wrote a lot about the experience we were all going through so that people feel like, Hey, this person on the other end is a human being. You know, they’re not they’re not the chief marketing officer. They’re not the VP of finance, they’re a human being. And their name is Bob. Their name is so such that they want to reply to you and ask people to reply to you. Throw in questions there, hey, let me know what do people think about this? And I think you’ll be surprised how many people will check in. But if you’re not accessible and you’re not approachable, people aren’t going to come to you. So and I will tell you, you’ve got to work hard at this. I’d say, you know, early in my career, I thought I was very accessible. I thought I was very approachable. I wasn’t I was so focused on my team’s success that I almost blocked everything else out totally unconsciously. And if I still had that executive coaches name, I’d send them the biggest thank you. And I’d give them a plug right now. But they really taught me. Brennan, you’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to slow down. Yeah. You know, engage with people, you know, right now you’re so you run it in. Well, it was you walk around the office so damn fast, literally, that no one’s stopping to talk to you.
John Well, it’s a great it’s a great thing. And it’s also a great point and a great lesson about self-awareness, because a lot of times, you know, and you as you’re saying it, I’m thinking, okay, you’re walking the halls every day. That’s that in of itself is a great step. And as a leader, I’m thinking, wow, okay, that does make me approachable, but it’s the little things that make all the difference. So you’re right. You’re right. And I’m a fast walker, too. So as you’re saying this, I’m thinking back, wow, when I was, you know, running organizations of like I guess that that probably was the same with me too. I didn’t even realize it. So I think a lot of leaders can, can, you know, understand that and empathize with that.
Brendan Yeah. Another tip is if you’re going to do that, leave your phone at your office, because what’s going to happen is your phone’s going to go off, you’re going to be walking around, you’re going to get distracted. And then you might be accessible, but you’re not approachable because you’re on your phone. Yeah. So just literally, you know, just leave your phone in your office and guess what, when you’re back in 30 minutes, you’re going to be fine. Nothing happened in those 30 minutes, but. Going to be so important that you missed.
John Exactly. Or the iWatch is the Apple Watch is where the you know, people are looking at their watch during a conversation or meeting or whatnot. And it makes them the person think that you’re bored, you know, and you’re not paying attention, rather be somewhere else. Great. Great advice. So I’m going to ask you to be a little vulnerable, I guess, right now when you think of your as a leader now and you’re thinking about, you know, what you’re trying to do. What keeps you awake at night? You know, what’s what’s what’s the biggest thing that you’re trying to figure out or solve as a leader yet?
Brendan It’s it’s so the company matter right now in the last five years. So we’re 60 years old. This is our 60th anniversary. And in the 55th year, we reached 500 million. It was a really big milestone. Now in our 60th year, we had two and a half billion. So we’ve grown from 500 million to 2 and a half billion in the last five years. So the number one thing that keeps you up, the number one thing I’m focused on is are we the same company we were five years ago culturally? So we talk about we’ve grown because we’re very high touch service with our clients. We’re extremely flexible, we’re very innovative. Well, there’s no company that was innovative that all of a sudden says, you know, let’s slow down our innovation. But what happens is ten years later, when they aren’t as innovative, somebody says, Hey, remember when we were really innovative ten years ago? So for instance, we did some innovation training, brought a professor in from Columbia University, and 2018, we’re bringing them back next year because we’ve realized, you know, a third of the organization wasn’t exposed to that innovation training. We got to bring them back. So I’m constantly focused on how do we make sure that we stay culturally aligned and we make sure that nimble, flexible, service oriented culture stays. So, yes, I had my leadership team offsite and we’re working on our 2023 plan and somebody kind of brought up something about culture somehow and I said, Hey, guys, just to let you know, over the next five years, I’m going to be more of a culture hawk than a budget hawk. The numbers are going to take care of themselves. We have figured out and cracked the code on on how to drive top and bottom line growth. If we don’t maintain the same culture, then the top and bottom line are going to slow down because our best innovation days are going to be behind us. And so what are we? Yesterday said, I’ll be more of a culture hawk over the next five years and I will a budget hawk. And now I did say, hey, when I got here, though, as a budget hawk trying to get the company growing. But so that’s the number one challenge and I think that’s the number one challenge as companies become successful, you know, there’s lots of one hit wonders in the world. There’s lots of companies that had two or three great years and then maybe morphed back into mediocrity or just being average. You know, Jim Collins is famous for good to great and in good to great. One of his major concepts is to be great. You’ve got to do it over a longer period of time, you know, and if you’re trying to build something great, it’s not about having two good years back to back or five good years. It’s about how do you have a good decade then? How do you have a good century depending on the age of age of your company?
John Yeah. When you think about culture and the ideal culture that you’re trying to maintain and build and ensure that you have long term, what does that look like to you? How do you describe it?
Brendan Yeah, so we have three terms we use internally elevate, innovate and accelerate, elevate. And when I came in, we call it Elevate because we were eighth in the industry and we said for us to become seventh in the industry, for us to become a better company, every single person has to elevate who you are and what you do. So you have to gain skills, you have to elevate your team. And we also had people do this exercise where what were you going to do to elevate? But we had two sides of the of the bell index card. Everybody filled out. One was personal and one was professional. So it was going outside of I’m going to learn Microsoft Excel. I’m going to become better at data. It was what what do you do to elevate yourself personally? You know, and by the way, number one thing was, you know, I’m going to be more active. I’m going to focus more on my wellness. But just like, hey, if someone’s happier outside, that’s going to translate inside. So the first thing is every year, every one of us has to get better. And because if I’m not getting better as the leader of the company, then I’m getting worse, you know, because the world’s getting better. So it’s going to pass me by the next was innovate and and we call big eyes and small eyes big eyes are we went into the last mile business which is the the home delivery that we all came to really enjoy during, during, during, in COVID. You know, 14% of goods in the U.S. are delivered last mile home delivery that’s a big guy but company is success aren’t really continuous. On the big eyes. It’s all the window eyes, the little innovations that hundreds of employees say. You know, I do I do this transactions and it’s got five steps. I don’t really need to do the fifth step. It doesn’t make any sense anymore because we automated it or whatever. It’s so let’s do it in four steps. So it’s the we focus on how many little eyes can we have. And then the third is accelerate. So if everyone’s getting better, if everyone’s doing things differently, our definition of differently is to think and act differently in a useful way. The third one is accelerate. You have to be doing it faster than your industry. So if you’re getting better and you’re innovating, but you’re doing it slower than your peers, then you’re not going to you’re not going to grow faster. So we call Elevate, Innovate and accelerate.
John I love it. That’s fantastic. I love it. So when you think down the road, you’ve I mean, grown unbelievably well in the last. Tremendously in the last five years. What’s your vision for for merchants fleet? Where is this going? And ideally, what’s the point of arrival?
Brendan Yeah. So, you know, our vision is real simple. It’s today to enable the movement of people, goods and services freely and responsibly. So the biggest thing you’re going to see from us is the movement into electrification. So we placed a two and a half billion dollar bet on EVs a year and a half ago, two years ago, and we’ve actually gone out and got reservation for 40,000. So we really want to, you know, be good by doing good is something, you know, I think how a lot of employees talk about it in the company and really bring electrification to North America. You know, if you go back a couple of Super Bowls ago. Well, Pharrell with that kind of comedy commercial for General Motors on hey, let’s go beat Norway. You know, Europe and China and Japan, they’re much further ahead than North America, especially in the U.S.. So we really want to put some some electric fuel into the United States, moving further into electrification to kind of support the planet and doing goodness in the world.
John I love it. I love it. You talk about I’ve heard you talk about seizing the moments and the importance of having faith in yourself. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Brendan Yeah. You know, when I look at, you know, different people, sometimes I’ll sit down there in person, they’re like, Grant, you know, I’m not as far along as they want to be or I could go further. We’re all presented with moments in life. And do we seize those now? What are those moments? That moment could be I’ll actually I’ll use an example with our company, we moving into a new facility and a few employees had volunteered to help lead it. Great. Well, one of them went from being and this was his words, an unknown employee. I like to think he was known, but he considered himself unknown, too known by everybody in the company. And he credits one of his promotions with people knowing him. He seized the moment. We put a call for volunteers, he said, I’ll do it. So he put himself in the chance to get seen by a lot of people that might not ordinarily see him and is, let’s call it, day to day job. So a lot of times when talking with high school and college kids and I say, hey, at some point when somebody asks for volunteers, raise your hand before you even know what they’re asking for. You know, if they say, Hey, we have a special project, is anybody I said, raise your hand, don’t. Because what’s going to happen is you’re going to get seen. You’re going to get known by more people. And I remember my very first day of my career at the company, at the company that I talked about earlier, we were 60,000 people that day. And our president came in and spoke to us. And it clearly made an impact. And I remember it. And he said, you know, the best person doesn’t get the job. Now, I sat up straight up in my chair and I’m like, Whoa, did I just join the wrong company? He said, The best known person gets the job. Make sure we know who you are. That’s your responsibility. And what great words of wisdom to get on my very first day, because in a company of 60,000 people couldn’t quite stop by my cube and say, Burning would like to get to know you. What are your desires in your career? It was my job, if you will, to get myself out. Whether that was going to a networking event, whether that was getting to know people in the gym, whether that was sitting with different people in the cafeteria, whatever it was, it was my job to have more people know who I was. And I can tell you, I signed up for a lot of special projects in my very first mentor. True story. He’s he was putting a concrete basketball court in his backyard. I just remember this. And I just moved to D.C., didn’t have a lot of friends. And I said to him, need any help with somebody this weekend? He goes, Yes, just putting in concrete. I spent an entire Saturday putting a concrete basketball court in his backyard for his kids and whatnot that I know that wound up. Turning into a mentorship. And it all just started with just raising my hand and saying, I’ll do that. And by the way, when I talked to him later, I said, What made you help? He goes, You were just a good guy. He goes, Just when you offered to help me put my kids basketball court in, I said, This kid’s a different kind of guy. And what I didn’t tell him is, Hey, I didn’t have any friends in D.C. and I was born on a Saturday. But just the you got to put yourself out there. If you don’t put yourself out there, then then it’s really tough for people to come grab you.
John I love it. I love it’s such great advice. Last question or one of the last questions. So much of what you talk about involves really and just like that, it’s stepping outside your comfort zone. There’s a lot of people out there that are saying, you know, I’d love to raise my hand, but they think too long. And I love that advice about don’t even wait for the end of the answer the question, because fear overtakes people and the only way to grow is you’ve got to step outside your comfort zone. What advice would you give to people on how to do that, how to push themselves a little bit more for the people that might not have that as an instinct?
Brendan Yeah. So, you know, I guess I would go back to, you know, a really simple saying it’s my life motto of have the courage to fail in the face to succeed. So just have the courage. Say, I’m going to go try it. And I might completely fail. I don’t know how to pour concrete. I don’t know how to use Excel. I don’t know how to manage that project. I don’t know how to coach youth sports team just wherever it is, but then go into it saying, Hey, I’m going to be successful, have the faith that you’re going to be successful. And I think what you’ll be surprised at is how many people have faith in you. You know, I think sometimes we think, well, who has faith in us? Well, our family, a couple of my friends now, a lot of people have faith in you, especially when you’re stepping outside your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised how many people kind of rally to your side because they don’t want to see you fail. But if you don’t have that courage, if you don’t overcome it, you’re never going to maximize your opportunities in life. You’re never going to see your potential. And, you know, life isn’t a dress rehearsal. You don’t get to come back and do it again. And those moments, they happen all the time. And you’ve got to say, I’m going to jump off. I’m going to go give this give this a shot. And by the way, when you do fail, I guarantee you going to learn more from those failures and some of your successes, like why? Why did I do that? Why wasn’t I successful? But if you work with good people and you have good people in your life, they’re going to look at that as what a great opportunity they put themselves out there. And they’re going to see that as a net positive, even if that particular project or whatever it was, wasn’t successful.
John I love it. Well, Brendan, this has been absolutely phenomenal. I know we’re short on time, but there’s so much valuable insights that you shared. I appreciate it. And congrats on all the success you’ve had and and merchants fleet going into all kinds of great directions. So congrats. I know there’s a lot of people that are going to want to engage with you. Learn more, learn more about Merchant’s fleet. What’s the best way for them to do that?
Brendan Well, you know, if somehow someone’s interested in fleet, so that’s probably a really small segment of your population out there. You know, Merchant Fleet, XCOM, you can contact anybody that’s on the site. You know, I’m on the site. I’m in Kagan at Merchant Slate.com. If you if you want to get to know more about me or follow me on my Instagram or social handles, are BP okay? Fearless. And also I’ve started a podcast, Fearless Leadership. It’s on Apple and Spotify, and it’s sponsored by Forbes book. So but most importantly, just continue putting time into yourself, investing in yourself, listening to podcasts like John. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about investing in yourself so you can maximize your potential.
John Excellent. Well, thank you, my friend. I hope you have continued success. I know you will. I hope you come back and give us an update. At some point in the future, we’ll do a part two.
Brendan All right. Happy to. John, thanks so much for doing what you’re doing as well.
John Thank you. And thanks all for tuning in. Today on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, we been here with Brendan Keegan, chairman and CEO of Merchants Fleet. All the info will be in the show notes, including links. Be sure to check them out and thanks for joining again. Like share subscribe. Go down below. Give a five star review and we’ll see you next time. Thanks. Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!