Tracy: I’m happy to welcome my special guest today, Lee Eisenstaedt. Lee has a wealth of business experience and knowledge, and he’s here to share some of it with us today.
Lee: Thank you, Tracy, I’m happy to be here.
Tracy: Let’s start with your background. How did you come to start your own business?
Lee: I was looking for a full-time COO role in a large accounting firm. During that search, I was repeatedly asked if I could conduct a client loyalty assessment, prioritize a company’s client base, and facilitate the development of a strategic plan. I wasn’t looking to be a consultant, but over the 4th of July weekend, I put together a proposal for a CPA firm to do these sorts of projects. It was at that point that I realized I had services I could package and market to professional services firms. That realization led me to create my first business by the end of that summer.
Later, I was interviewing for a COO position in Washington, D.C. I was fairly far along in that process and notified to provide my references. I called one of them to ask him if I could share his contact info with the hiring firm. He told me it was a good company, and I’d be a good fit for the role. He also asked me the following: “You’re 56 years old, you’ll have to relocate, and move your family out east. In 3 years, the new firm will get a new managing partner and be merged into another company. At that time, you’ll be out. Are you prepared to go through this process again?”
I wasn’t. And I dropped out of the race for the job and started my firm. It was a consulting firm that focused on helping leaders of CPA firms with COO-type of projects.
A year after forming L. Harris & Associates, I merged in four partners and changed the name to L. Harris Partners, LLC. I went from a solo entrepreneur to a general business advisory firm with several specialties. I saw it an opportunity for the enterprise to be bigger and grow faster than going it alone.
Five years later, in 2015, I separated from L. Harris Partners and formed my current firm, Value Drivers, LLC. The new firm wouldn’t have been possible without all that I learned in my first go at entrepreneurship. That experience allowed to “hit the ground running” and to repeat what had worked well and avoid what didn’t.
Tracy: Could you give us a couple of examples of what you decided to repeat and what didn’t work?
Lee: for instance, instead of waiting three years to write my first book, Wallet Share: How To Grow Your Practice Without Adding Clients, I started to work immediately on my second, and forthcoming, book, Being A Leader With Courage: How To Be Successful In Your C-level Position. I did this after seeing how the first book created awareness for our firm, built our credibility, got us speaking engagements, and ultimately, got us, clients.
Another thing I did right away that we never did at my previous firm was to create a board of advisors. Those board members had the experience from the outside; objective input is critical to building a business. My eight advisors are also advocates for my services in the community.
Tracy: So what exactly do you offer now?
Lee: We help newly appointed CEOs and COOs of middle market companies who are anxious about the pressure they’re under to make an impact on their businesses. That result is usually accelerating sales and increasing profitability. The pressure is the short amount of time they have to hit it out of the park. We increase the likelihood that the newly appointed leader and his or her team achieve their goals in an allocated time.
Tracy: What are some of the things that set you apart from others in your field?
Lee: 1. The tool we license for assessing and rating the risk and quality of a client’s core strategic operations and processes. You need to be an accomplished general business advisor, with a strong understanding of finance and operations, to license the tool and facilitate the process.
2. Our advisors have been C-level executives in world-class, large organizations. None of them started out wanting to be consultants, and each has demonstrated the ability to adapt what they learned and practiced in those groups to the middle market. Each of them is an excellent diagnostician who knows how to ask great questions.
3. Labeled the “anti- consultant’s consultant.” We will validate what you know and tell you what you don’t know. We’ll bring pragmatic solutions to the table and won’t create a second job for you.
4. Our clients only work with our senior advisors. We don’t employ or contract level staff to do the job. Resulting in a shorter learning curve and customers don’t spend time teaching junior staff about their business. We have years of experience as C-level executives serving C-level executives.
5. We know the complexities of working with family-owned businesses, as well as mid- to large-cap organizations.
6. We assign at least two of our senior advisors to each project. Having the top advisors is critical because we all listen differently and bring unique skills to an engagement.
Tracy: You’ve worked with a lot of different businesses, but I wonder if there are common questions or problems that you see repeatedly?
Lee: It is the newly appointed CEO who says “I can do this myself. That’s why they think they were hired to be the CEO.” Instead of seeing us a lifeline to help ensure they are successful, their ego takes over. While they can do what do, the problem is that when they land in the job, they don’t have the time to formally and systematically understand the organization’s culture and to assess the core operations. They have the full intention of doing what we can do, but it never gets their full attention. We will help them understand the culture and strategic landscape of their new situation in less time and more objectively than they can on their own