A Good Story: Smiling Stakeholders, Humorous Heroes & A Leader Worth Emulating

We all like a good story. I have a good one to tell. It features an inspiring figure: a genuine adult, undaunted by challenges to our very existence (e.g., the Gospel of Greed; the Swamp of Adolescence Reasoning).  This leader has a team of heroes who work and laugh their way to success, with a humble charm that encourages us to see ourselves in heroic roles, as we share similar values. 

At the core of the story are themes of maturity, courage, and the confidence to do the right thing. The heroes are armed with mystical weapons: professionalism, teamwork, openness, respect, humility, expertise, and urgency.

Night falls; the foe quiets. Then, each day dawns with greater Consciousness, conveying hope and showing the true way forward. Hope is restored. Soul-inspired, we seek to engage our subsequent struggles with renewed purpose. The story entertains and informs. It is right for these times.

This is a true story. Stow your doubts; set your imagination free:

The leader’s name is David Jones. He came from humble beginnings in an American agricultural community of earthy ideals.  “You carry the ball and carry the community’s hopes forward.” His emphasis is to take care of the community, of the troops, of the team. By so doing, the leader creates a respect, and the troops protected his back – because it was clear he was protecting their backs. This reciprocity was unambiguous to him, first in the Vietnam War. Then 10 years later, it framed a prominent lesson when in a business job with the same title as another person, and that person was promoted, Dave chose to be quiet, rather than complain about the lack of fairness. Soon, because Dave had not complained – and he continued to demonstrate his responsibility rather than his entitlement – the CEO promoted Dave beyond the other fellow.  The boss advanced Dave into a VP role, convinced by Dave’s maturity and strong character.

He had an exceptional mentor in one Gene Gabbard, and he excelled and suffered in the large corporate environment of MCI. When he repeatedly encountered the hierarchical “walls” of the company’s culture, he learned that cultural walls were obstacles to business performance, and pledged to not do walls. Consciously, he crafted his mental model for leadership, teamwork and human performance.

In 2000, David Jones and a small group of heroes started Peak 10, in Charlotte, North Carolina. They survived the “dot com bubble,” and 9/11, and succeeded in growing the company exponentially throughout the decade of The Great Recession. With Dave’s exceptional leadership as President & CEO, entrepreneur and visionary, they foresaw the possibility of cloud computing and they made that dream a solid reality. Peak 10 evolved into a company with the strongest balance sheet and income statement in the industry, yielding a 12.5 EBITDA multiple and a $410M deal when they sold to private equity firm, Welsh Carson, in 2010. Today, Peak 10 is the leading independent data center and managed services provider in the U.S. Quoting the Peak 10 website: “Peak 10 has evolved into a national information technology (IT) infrastructure solutions provider with facilities in key U.S. markets and serving customers around the world. We have a well-diversified, stable customer base and among the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry; since 2008 more than half of new sales have been from existing customers. Peak 10 has also enjoyed double-digit year-over-year growth in revenue since our company’s inception.”

I discovered David Jones is humble and rock solid. Watching Dave make a presentation about his fast growing and profitable company, you see a man who is alert, lean and fit as he was in his Army days – a runner and cyclist – confident but not arrogant, grounded and comfortable in his own bones. He is way beyond trying to impress anyone. He is concerned about mission, partnership and effectiveness. For Jones, communication clarity is essential for effectiveness. The Peak 10 tagline is “Rock Solid People. Rock Solid Solutions. Rock Solid Results.” That appears to sum up Dave and his company very well!

One of Dave’s greatest strengths is that he listens and demonstrates the capacity to care. “We succeed as a team. We take our business seriously, but not ourselves. It’s true, the exec team here is down to earth and funny.”

According to Dave, it pays to plan and to keep the plan practical. “We have a strategic plan that outlines the vision of our company. This is condensed on one page. Employees can see where they fit into the company, and the plan for the future. The plan helps people to be focused on how to contribute. Now, we have 350 people. If we can’t understand our vision, and why we do what we do, our customer will not be able to understand. Communication is absolutely key to all success. We need to communicate why a job or our vision and direction is important – not to us, but to the person with whom we are communicating.”

So part of the plan is clarity encouraged by the Peak 10 Values:

Professionalism: We do our best to hold ourselves accountable to our customers, our partners and our team.
Teamwork: We believe that, if we work together, we achieve higher levels of success.
Openness: We believe our communication must be direct, honest, tactful and timely.
Respect: We treat everyone with integrity, courtesy and dignity.
Humility: We take our work seriously, but not ourselves.
Expertise: We pride ourselves in being the best at what we do and relentlessly strive for improvement.
Urgency: We act with responsiveness and determination.

When I asked Dave about keys to success – Rules For Living – our conversation focused on people. He appears to be quite allergic to people in authority being imperial. When his execs introduce themselves, he wants them to talk about functional responsibility in the company, but he listens particularly for how they describe themselves as ordinary human beings.

Here, adding color to the commentary, is more David Jones’ elder wisdom:

  • Do not allow walls of hierarchy in the company culture. He sincerely wants people to feel comfortable approaching him with questions or comments. He instructs his senior team, accordingly. He set up a suggestion box, so anonymous questions or comments can be sent to him.
  • Show no interest in reprisal…only demonstrate interest in learning the truth.
  • Practice the stakeholder model. He feels he is fully responsible to employees, investors and customers. He partners with vendors. He feels his employees have the right to training and tools. He believes that as one moves up in the company they give up certain rights as their responsibility to other people grows. That is, they must give up their sense of entitlement.
  • The ways of achievement demand trustworthy leadership. Dave wants top execs to be Conscious regarding goals each must accomplish, and how to accomplish them. The goals are often not the problem. The ways and values of achievement are the more critical concerns.
  • The question is: “Aligned with what?” Dave feels it is important to lead the senior team and associates to openly operate and be guided by worthy goals and core human values. This is an adult perspective. The “adolescent” will balk at this, if they feel their personal status needs are unattainable.
  • First, align with the stakeholders. It is not sufficient to be skillful or gifted, if one is not aligned with stakeholders (e.g., employees, investors, customers, vendors). The challenge is to get the individual contributor to be aligned as a trustworthy team player.
  • Coaching and mentoring add value… particularly with the difficult individual contributor. The CEO may need to introduce the relationship of coach and mentor for the brilliant but individually-aligned person.
  • Human Resources should align with the CEO perspective. Dave is aided by an exceptional HR exec who is very strategic and really understands the developmental and aligning aspects of the CEO’s role in an enterprise.
  • Diversity and emotional safety are keys to cultural competence. Taking care of people, and assuring their safety and comfort as achievers, is as important as anything the executive team is responsible to do. We have a mix of Old Folks, Gen Xers, Millinials, etc. People really need to feel they are a part of the company’s culture and can make a difference.
  • Smiles inform. You can always tell by one sign if people are comfortable here, and contributing, and that’s a smile.
  • Effective management succession must be planned. He is working pretty hard on succession planning for the entire executive roster. He is vigilant about identifying and developing leadership-from-within from the top down, instilling the characteristics that blend personality into a culture of servant leadership.
  • Be balanced strategically and tactically. Leaders have to be competent strategically and tactically. The leader who lacks a strategic side will not develop people.
  • Town Halls tell. Multiple benefits flow from periodic “town hall meetings.” Use town halls as a forum for execs to tell who they are. (Each exec needs to become competent at this communication skill.) Imperious leaders lose.

David Jones may be a model for Amy Lyman’s book on the Trustworthy Leader. Consequently, he appears to me to be an emulative role model for Conscious Capitalism.

Why does he approach life and work this way? Why do those who he hires? One secret is his emphasis on teamwork. Building the team is such a big deal to Dave, he has sought people who are willing to get out and build the team – to not try to do everything by him or herself. The people who work for him are capable of collaborative teamwork, and they work hard on relationships, hence on teamwork. He emphasizes, “The issue is so much the right #2 in command, and the willingness of the #1 to team well with #2 and others. Also, how we take care of our customers is the key, and so how we work together with our employees must serve this: Serve our customers.”

Another secret is his focus on mission rather than reward. He has never worried about whether or not he would get “a just reward.” Sometimes the reward has seemed slim; mainly the reward has been gracious. Dave told me he never had an idea of where he was going to end up. He was guided by helping others to advance, whether they worked directly for him or not.

Ultimately, David Jones’ humility shows up. We see it in his persistent focus on finding ways to support others in being more and more successful. That is the legacy that makes sense to him – ultimately, to help men and women to go on and be CEOs elsewhere – because that is what his mentor did for him. He endeavors daily to help further others’ strengths and their willingness to learn, so others can go forward and do a better and better job with Conscious leadership.

Quite a timely story, Dave. Thank you!