Mark Lewis is an award-winning leadership expert, founder of Communique and Evolve Media AI, author of the CEO Facilitator Playbook and the Amazon bestselling book, Give a Damn—The Ticket to Cultural Change. He offers busy leadership coaches a turnkey and straightforward solution in the form of a CEO Roundtable course without turning their lifestyle upside-down. The CEO Roundtable course connects many CEOs with their peers, addresses their problems, and creates a community that helps them succeed at all levels.
Mark, When did you realize the #1 thing CEOs miss in their leadership?
From IBM to being a successful entrepreneur and then a nonprofit executive, it took me over 25 years to learn the many lessons that CEOs need to be successful. They all work together to determine your ultimate level of success, such as goal setting, implementing effective strategies, creating a culture that people want to be part of, and many more. Yet I learned a simple lesson over time: what most CEOs fail to realize, and it is the secret to their success. Frankly, I did not know that until I started implementing CEO round tables for small and medium-sized businesses several years ago. It opened my eyes and made me realize it was the driver that leads to a thriving business.
How did you go from working in IBM to being an entrepreneur?
When I was a kid growing up, I was an entrepreneur but didn’t even know it. In high school, I was a newspaper boy for four years in Rochester, NY (and it was cold), I sold Christmas cards during the holidays, and during the summer months, I had a lawn cutting business. My dad set these up for me, and I was a willing participant. As a kid, you do not know how to run a business; you go for it, and I desired to make people happy and fulfill their needs. After graduating from college, I went to work for IBM, thinking that I would leave and be an entrepreneur after 2 – 3 years of training. Instead, I stayed for 13 years because I had outstanding success. The money was good, but IBM was transitioning, so I left to join an entrepreneurial company. I was excited, but it wound up being a disaster, yet there was a silver lining. It was a great learning experience. Two months into this initiative (in 1994), I was without a job, but a friend told me about the Internet two weeks prior. Since I had nothing to do, I developed a straightforward business plan. I helped fund our start-up and became the CEO of a new company. I thought to myself, what am I doing? I had a family to take care of. It was a significant risk, but I was confident in my abilities.
What did you learn as an entrepreneur?
I have to say that IBM taught me a lot. I learned that quality and going beyond what a customer expects are essential. Being an entrepreneur is not a 9 to 5 job. My dad also instilled in me that I should always be the best in all endeavors. I learned that having a culture that everyone can embrace and feel part of a family is critical. And I just did everything I could to satisfy a business need or customer requirement and provide the best customer service possible. I did not care about revenue, and some people thought that was crazy. My thought was this: if you give quality service or product and the best customer service possible, the revenue will come. After selling the company three years later, I ventured out again and created a sales and marketing consulting company. I kept coming back to exceeding customer expectations and providing the best customer service possible. I always wanted to give our customers something extra that they wouldn’t forget. I also realized that if you take care of your employees well, they will care of your customers the same way.
How is the nonprofit world different than the for-profit world?
The nonprofit world does not differ from the for-profit world when managing and growing a business. I took the nonprofit executive position because the organization was in horrible shape and almost bankrupt. I had never been involved with a turnaround before, and I wanted to see how I could meet this challenge. Plus, with my technology background, I wanted to make a difference in the technology development of Louisiana because we were virtually last compared to all other states. We set a goal of creating “Louisiana—Tech Capital of the South,” which became our trademark, and everybody thought I was crazy (again). I wanted to create a theme in the marketplace that everybody could rally around. It took a long time for people to accept, but it worked because we showed a lot of success. Ten years later, we were ranked 32nd out of 50 states in technology employment. Again, you strive to be creative and go beyond what people expect.
How did you become a moderator for CEO Round tables?
After ten years of being in the nonprofit world, I wanted to return to the for-profit or entrepreneurial world and went to work for a consultant company. I also became a Board member of Louisiana’s Entrepreneurial Organization (EO). EO wanted to help small businesses grow, so I helped put together a proposal to an economic development organization that would provide the systems and structure for CEOs to succeed. A pilot program started, and I became the facilitator since I had been successful in previous entrepreneurial ventures. I had done limited one-on-one consulting previously, but never with a group of 15 to 18 CEOs in one room. I was scared stiff because I had no formalized or certified training in doing such an initiative. But I remained focused on the project rather than the fear, and again, I had confidence in my abilities to help CEOs accelerate the growth of their business. It has been such a massive success that I developed a CEO Playbook. That is how the CEO roundtable originated came to be in 2014.