Who you surround yourself matters. Especially in business, being in a circle of successful CEOs and entrepreneurs can offer a lot to how you position yourself to succeed as well. In this episode, Bob Roark interviews Jaime Zawmon about the importance of being in a CEO peer group. Jaime is the President of TITAN CEO, which works with Colorado-based companies to help CEOs work through business-related challenges. Here, Jaime shares with us their TITAN CEO peer group that is building a community for CEOs and entrepreneurs to build strong connections and help each other out. She takes us deeper into what being in the Titan 100 feels like and what benefits they can expect. Learning from these great people, Jaime then tells us some of the important traits successful people have that took them to where they are now.
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TITAN CEO: Why Surrounding Yourself With Successful People Matters With Jaime Zawmon
We are fortunate we have Jaime Zawmon. She is the President of TITAN CEO. She’s graciously agreed to be a guest to talk about what she’s doing with the TITAN CEO Group. Jaime, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
Thanks for having me, Bob. First and foremost, TITAN CEO is a company that I started that is essentially a CEO Peer Group, or a series of different CEO Peer Groups. We work with Colorado area-based companies, CEOs ranging traditionally between $1 million and about $50 million in annual company revenues. We work to do experience sharing, to help CEOs work through business-related challenges. We also work on building business valuation inside some of the work that we do with the CEOs because every CEO is looking to grow their business either, to build it as a lifestyle business or to grow it in order to sell it. That’s a big blend of what we do within our groups.
You’re somewhat of a resident of the Rocky Mountain area. Tell us a little bit about your background because you have a long history of working with CEOs.
I’m from the East Coast, originally born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. I went to school at Towson University in Baltimore County. I was recruited to a magazine publishing company back in 2003. I fell in love with the concept because the magazine was a magazine that was focused on CEOs, and every month we would feature one of the region’s most enterprising CEOs. We would tell their story on the cover of the magazine. We would write about the success and/or the failure, obstacles, trials, and tribulations of running a company and growing it. We did that on a monthly basis. After about a year, I went to the owner and said, “I love this concept. We should expand it to Washington DC.” He made me a partner and I moved down to DC. In 2005, we launched with Ted Leonsis, the former Chairman and CEO of AOL on the cover of our first magazine and we took stride ever since.
We grew the magazine to seven cities up and down the East Coast, reaching over 100,000 CEOs on a consistent basis. We pioneered award programs that recognized the best of the best. We recognized CEOs that created incredible cultures, those that were technology-based CEOs, or growth companies CEOs, and the 50 fastest growing companies in each region. I’ve always surrounded myself with some of the region’s most enterprising CEOs and it was an incredible ride. During that time I met my husband on a ski trip, ironically in Colorado, which is what brought him back to the East Coast for me for a short period of time and then I made the promise that I would eventually move back to Colorado for him because it’s such a beautiful state.
I can see where you compare Denver and Baltimore.
It was like, “Your love for the water or your love for the mountains?” Unfortunately, I’m more of a water baby than I’m a mountain lover, but I’m an avid skier and so as my husband.
I grew up in the deep South on the Lake, so I’m a water skier and you go, “It’s a lot colder when you do the skiing up here.” I’m the business owner going I don’t know that I’m familiar with the TITAN 100. How do I find information? What it takes to qualify?
To explain a little bit more about how that evolved, I have always believed that it’s important that who you surround yourself with matters, which is one of the reasons why being in a CEO peer group is extremely valuable. I have been in CEO peer groups in my time in running the magazine back on the East Coast. I have run dozens and dozens of CEO-related roundtable discussions, moderated discussions and there’s always incredible information that comes from it. Beyond that, it’s also important to build community, and I am a big proponent that the individuals that you can connect with, learn from, surround yourself with, and the community that you can build is one of the most powerful and important things that a CEO can do. The TITAN CEO peer groups are one style, but it’s directed for intimate smaller group settings.
The TITAN 100 is a community platform that I launched and that platform is forward, outward and public-facing and the design of it is to build community and to connect CEOs and entrepreneurs together to build strong connections and to recognize what they’re doing and what they’ve done in their careers. I launched the TITAN 100, and it’s purpose is to recognize Colorado’s Top 100 CEOs and C-level executives, 100 TITANs of industry.
I’m thinking back to when I was a kid and titans and so on. How did you come up with the name TITAN?
If you Google a titan, the definition is a person of exceptional importance and reputation. Arguably Albert Einstein is a titan in the world of science. Shakespeare is a titan of literature and Wayne Gretzky is a titan of hockey. The noun titan comes from Greek mythology in which the Titans were a race of god. Now, a TITAN is someone who is unique and preeminent in their certain field. Titans are distinguished, they’re reputable and that’s what the name came from and it’s stuck.
I think about all those qualifications like, “I’m going to have to get a checklist and score myself.” You think about trying to transmit the culture that you developed in the TITAN world from the East Coast, transplant it to Denver, and bring that forward. When you first started out with the TITAN 100, what was the reaction of reception in the Rocky Mountain region to what you’re doing?
We started with an open call for nominations and we asked these entrepreneurs, these CEOs to apply and to tell us about their entrepreneurial journeys. We asked them to tell us why they thought they were a titan in their industry and a TITAN isn’t necessarily the biggest or the largest. It’s not about, “I’m the biggest in this industry or my company is the largest.” It’s about doing what you do better than how anyone else does it. It’s about finding your niche and exploiting that. That’s some of the criteria that we looked at for the application process. We had upwards of 200 applicants gunning for the top honor of being selected as one of Colorado’s Titans of Industry here in our first year. It was an independent committee that reviewed Colorado’s regional experts and scored all of the applications to select this year’s list ultimately. Collectively, the 2020 TITAN 100 is responsible for companies that employ more than 83,000 individuals and generate over $56 billion in annual company revenues. It’s an impressive set of statistics.
What I’ve observed, I ran across TITANs 100 on LinkedIn to start with and I go, “That’s one of the guests.” I was going like, “What’s this?” When you’re a business owner and CEO that gets accepted into the TITAN 100, what should they expect after that?
When we made the announcement that nominations had closed and we’d gone through the scoring cycle, we then sent out the congratulatory letters to all of the TITANs that made the list. One of the big benefits that the TITANs will receive is that they’re being invited into this gated community to be recognized as Colorado’s Top 100 CEOs. They represent all different industry verticals and the idea for them is that it’s an annual program. It will start with the announcement, the press release initially announcing the TITAN 100. They’ll have individual landing pages built out on our website that highlight and feature them. We are producing and have produced a TITAN 100 book, which is a collection of their stories.
Please share with us for the people that are reading.
Here’s the TITAN 100 book. It is a collection of the region’s Top 100 CEOs and C-level Executives 100 Titans of Industry inside. You’ll find individual profiles on all of our TITANs and their stories. We ask these entrepreneurs about their greatest leadership lessons learned and to tell us information about the trials and tribulations of starting their companies. What did their entrepreneurial path look like? It’s an incredible book. I’m humbled and proud to publish it and we will be debuting it live on September 10th. It will also come in the form of a digital edition, which can be read by anyone anywhere.
My observation after working with the business owners on the show is one, the notion is they know everything when they don’t, but they go like, “No, I don’t know that.” What’s interesting is they’re willing to share that, which they do know. For you, as you go through and effectively, you’re getting introduced by doing this to the community up and down the front range, what struck you about the diversity of skillsets in the CEO’s that are in the 100?
The path to success for every entrepreneur is never a straight line. It’s always got its twists and turns. We asked all of the TITANs to tell us about their journey to success, and it’s not always easy, but the one constant that remained the same was their desire and passion to never give up. We asked them about their greatest leadership lessons learned, and many of them spoke for a constant thirst to learn, surround themselves with the brightest and best talent, lead from the front in times of challenge, sit in the shadows in times of success to let their employees bask in the limelight. They believe that authentic leadership begins with humility and that listening is one of the most important traits that a leader can possess. It’s these incredible important tidbits that remind us and help us as entrepreneurs and CEOs as we navigate the waters that we can be motivated. We can learn from the tenacity and be influenced by their leadership.
What struck me is there’s always this cry of there’s a lack of leadership. I look at the business community and you look at the true leaders in the community they have many of the traits that you talked about, humble people. I don’t know it all. I was supported by the key people in my organization. I was here to help them along. They’re self-effacing, rarely do you find one that it’s all about me thing. Rarely does that happen. I was thinking about the ongoing benefit of putting a bunch of people like that together, where they can have community and to be able to cross-pollinate. What are your thoughts on the wisdom of the crowd of CEOs? What happens to the CEO when they get exposed to all these other CEOs?Who you surround yourself matters. Click To Tweet
The design of the program on an ongoing basis was to connect them at one big inaugural award celebration where we would unveil the book live, and then subsequent events would take place over the course of the 2020, 2021 calendar year. Those are things like networking events with round table breakouts, or doing a charity community day at the local nonprofit that we’re supporting down here in Colorado at Project CURE down in Centennial, Colorado. A couple of other additional events that were scheduled, including a Colorado TITAN Ski Day, all of these things are being either postponed or modified due to COVID, unfortunately. We are going to be rolling out some virtual events series and we will look to do some smaller intimate based events for smaller groups that can provide for social distancing.
We were talking before we went live about the challenge. You’re a startup for doing this. You got issued COVID. You have a group event that said no group. Distancing going like, “Are you kidding?” For you, for the 100 of 2020 and potentially for 2021, given the COVID challenge, how do you see all of that working?
We’re still trying to figure it out. As you know, it’s a moving target and because COVID restrictions and details are coming out daily, we have assembled a TITAN 100 board made up of ten of the TITAN 100 themselves. We are working together to identify the path forward. Whether the program will evolve itself into a new cohort in 2021, or we blend the two together to continue to build this gated community of vetted TITANs is still to be determined.
That sounds like almost every other business owner that I’ve talked to since, in the absence of clarity, we’re going to be flexible. I think about the wisdom within the group. These people are facing many of the same challenges that you’re facing. I think about that perspective and sharing that perspective with their peers in that setting. It’s not just you. You’re not by yourself. We all have bad days and you go, “I thought I had all the surprises behind me.” The answer is no, not much. You go, “I want to have a finite date when this is over.” You and most of the rest of the planet, we want to be done. We want to get back to life. Like that old movie, I want to have lunch. I think that was Goldie Hawn a long time ago. You’ve been exposed to much talent and influence through the years. If you were going to take and talk to the CEOs that are going to qualify or are looking to qualify, what piece of advice might you offer to those folks given this timeframe?
If you’re interested in applying to be a TITAN 100, like anything, when you write an application, the more experience sharing and impact that you can quantify the better. When you tell us that your organization, your company is great. What makes it great? Provide us with those quantifiable metrics? How are you making an impact on what you do? What do you think defines how you own your own space? We’re also looking for inspiration. We’re looking for people who can be vulnerable in their storytelling.
When we ask about your path to entrepreneurship, to CEO, to whatever your title is, being vulnerable with what you share is imperative because there’s always something that someone can identify or relate to. We appreciate that. There are some great wordsmiths out there that can paint this picture, but I’ve always had CEOs, even when I was running a magazine, say, “How do I get on the cover of the magazine, Jaime?” I said, “Success is not always the story. It’s what’s behind the success.” Where were the lessons learned? What mistakes did you make along the way that you can share with people? That’s what we want to know. That’s what we want to read and write about. That’s where the greatest inspiration comes.
The thing that’s interesting for the lifelong learner, you go, “Let me see a role model.” I’ve been in a fire a bit and what seems odd is the stuff I need to know seems to show up in a book, podcast, or publication or so on. I think about the CEOs that are out there in that cohort that maybe, you’re going, “I’m struggling a bit in here.” They go through and look at the stories of the people that are in there. It takes one little thing. The CEO that offered the one little thing is trying to get back and they may or may not know that pebble in the pond may ripple through this other guy’s company or other ladies company and help. That’s the unsung story that comes out of all that sharing through all the people all the time. At least I think so.
I believe what you said wholeheartedly. The universe, what we attract to it, we bring to us. If you’re seeking inspiration, advice, and knowledge and you open yourself up to receiving it. It will come to you.
You think about, if you could look back over your career prior to Denver, how many mentors can you point a finger to that offered to help you for no reason, other than to say, “Somebody helped me on passing it on.”
A ton. There are too many even to name or count. It’s been incredible. That’s the humble nature of an entrepreneur of a CEO. They bring people along with them. They’re never afraid to offer you support advice or counsel. That’s why I believe strongly in the community, which is why we created the TITAN 100.
As an example, I’m thinking, let’s say I’m in the cohort and I have a specific question, I don’t know about this or is there somebody in the cohort that has expertise in this particular neighborhood? I suspect you would know who that might be or who they would be, what would that process look like if I needed to reach out to another member?
One of the things that we did in our intake form is ask our TITANs, once they were selected to tell us, what would be meaningful connections for them? Who would be individuals that they would like to learn from, or seek knowledge? Who could be valuable introductions for them to meet? We did gather that information and I’ve already made dozens of connections for people looking for specific information or maybe a product or service even, which has been nice to use in a networking way.
As I think about that, “I know someone.” It has nothing to do with you and you go, “You have a problem. They can help.” You think as you go through the years of community and particularly where you were doing all the work on the East Coast and if you’re doing it all those cities, soon you go, “I need to do something in Richmond.” You go, “I know somebody down in Richmond, that’s an expert in that area where they might’ve had this.” The value add for membership, there are a lot of groups and you look at it and go, “How do you stand out in a group?” Much of that’s predicated by the person that puts the group together. You’ve had experience in that, what would you say is the key 1 or 2 hallmarks of a successful group like the TITAN 100, as far as keeping it together, creating value for the members?
You get out of something, what you put into it. You do want to have entrepreneurs or CEOs that are open to being servant leaders first, who have that great mindset because if they give, they will get much more. That’s true of the TITAN 100 based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in their mottos, their inspiration for what they do. They have that servant leadership mindset, which is important.
For purely self-serving reasons, the book’s out on the 10th of September. At the unveiling, I’m going to want a copy. How do I do that?
I have a website TITAN100.biz and all of the TITAN 100 profiles are there. A digital edition of the book will be available for download for free. That’s the best way that you can access it and get it.
I think about like Tim Ferriss did a good job on the tribe of mentors and gathering wisdom and stuff and trying to distill from the various people that we had on this show. It’s interesting, you’ll go through it and you go, “Here’s a person who knows nutrition. There’s something I wanted to know or here’s somebody that knew something on a workout regimen.” I didn’t find anybody said how to convert water skiing to snow skiing other than don’t lean back as much as you think is appropriate but those things. That’s for me in looking at the book. What I’m interested in is that resource and wisdom that is shared. In thinking about all of this wisdom and knowledge that you’ve picked up. What advice might you offer to that entrepreneur or the person that’s new to being a CEO that took that job?
The number one piece of advice that I would offer is to join a peer group. There’s an article that came out by CEOWORLD Magazine. If you Google it, you can find it. It’s entitled A CEO’s Secret Weapon. The answer is other CEO’s peer groups are profound and that the groups can help in many different ways to provide experience sharing. You can learn through their own experiences versus having to learn the hard way, which is going through trials and tribulations yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who have been in your seat, who can offer you judgment free guidance, not advice, but experience sharing, and they can hold you accountable to things and they can help you navigate the tricky waters. It’s a direct correlation between entrepreneurs who always want to be learning. This is the best way that you can learn. The answer is to join a peer group.The path to success for every entrepreneur is never a straight line. It's always got its twists and turns. Click To Tweet
It reminds me of advice to your children. I’m going to offer you this piece of advice you can choose to take it or not, and said, “Hopefully, you don’t make this mistake that I made. You can go make a brand new one.” For many of the CEOs go, “I’m faced with this situation.” Let’s say, they’re trying to transition like you more to a digital format with Zoom and conferencing because of the COVID issue and you go, “It may or may not be that you spent a lot of time as a business owner on Zoom.” You go, “I can’t sell off of my body language and personality anymore and I’ve got a distributed workforce. I didn’t have one before now, I have one.” I think about the ability to come into a group and go, “What are you seeing? What are you using? What are you struggling with?” I got to believe that’s been a hot topic.
It’s hot. Speaking from experience in several of the peer groups that I operate through TITAN CEO, it has been. It’s been, how do you navigate during COVID? All of the remote workforce engagement tools and when is it safe to come back? How do we pivot? How do we navigate? How do we create a 2021 growth plan? What information is important to shareholders? There are 101 things that are brand new for CEOs and entrepreneurs to face that no one has a playbook for. They’re also working together to say, “I tried this and this worked. You can take what I did and improve on it in your communication or how you want to evolve.” That’s been helpful. It’s that group thing, which is proven because we learn best in groups. We are birds of a feather that flock together. It’s part of our DNA.
For me, as you were talking, I’m going like, “I’ve got the TITAN 100 and I’ve got the TITAN CEO peer group.” What’s the distinguishing differential between those?
My TITAN CEO Groups are for CEOs that are put into groups based on revenue size. I’ve got several groups, as I had mentioned, the largest CEO’s roughly about $50 million and the smallest is about $1 million. We break them up into groups based on similar revenue ranges. Those groups meet monthly in person. They have been virtual as of late. That group is designed for CEOs who are looking to learn their companies on a deeper level. The TITAN 100 platform is for CEOs that are looking to build a community outside of their existing cohort or peer groups. The two are separate unto themselves. There are no revenue requirements to apply for the TITAN 100. We have some publicly-traded company CEOs that have made the list. We also have some under $1 million companies that have made the list. They’ve developed some incredible cutting edge technology or they have done such an amazing job with what they’re doing. They are TITANs of industry. It does go back to the notion of being preeminent and distinguished in your field.
I think about honing the edge thing and some of the business owners that I know, where they had adversity and tenacity kicked in and said, “We’re going to get to this one way or another. We’re going to come out with integrity and take care of our stakeholders and customers. We’re going to do the right thing.” You think about those lessons like I always said, “I’d always like to own my own business.” I said, “Do you know what you’re asking for?” People that haven’t owned a business. It’s hard for them to understand what it means to own a business and be responsible for other families.
It’s a great responsibility and one that many take seriously and humbly as well.
I used to say a military thing, “You’d take care of the troops, the troops take care of you.” If you don’t take care of your employees, then there’s probably a challenge in there somewhere in your thought process. It would be my guess. Influences for you, most influential book that you’ve read that’s been useful or influential for you?
There’s not a book, but it is a staple of what I make sure all of my TITAN CEOs in our peer groups subscribe to, and that is John Maxwell’s The 5 Levels of Leadership. I’m a big lover of John Maxwell and all of his books, but for me, he is the one that talks about stepping further into Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great. He talks about what Level 5 Leadership is. That level five leaders can transform a good organization to a great organization. John Maxwell defines five levels and what each level means. Any entrepreneur and CEO, if they haven’t read this book, add this as a book to read. This is the book to incorporate into your company culture for your aspiring leaders because you don’t have to have people report to you to be a leader. It’s the servant leadership mindset that John Maxwell talks about and what that means and how important it is and how you can continue to serve and lead other people and what that means. As one of the reasons why I love that book, all of my TITAN CEOs subscribe to it, they’ve worked on implementing that into their culture that servant leadership mindset. That’s why it’s the most influential book that I have on my list.
A lot of the books, it says, “This is what you should do.” They’re like, “Bob, you should have good financials.” “Thanks for that. I should be taller.” In the book, when you look at it, does it go from what you should do to how to do it? Is it on John Maxwell?
It does. It’s got some great Q&A’s, which will help you identify what type of level leader that you are, your areas of weakness, and how to work on them. It will help you quantify the importance of what does it mean to aspire to a level five leader position. It’s a lifelong journey. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is an ever ongoing, ever learning process.” It’s true. We go through different phases of leadership. We’re on different levels of leadership with different people. I love his principles and I love how easily he details it for you.
I had the general officer at a quote about leadership. He said, “Do you ever remember seeing the juggler that would juggle plates on the end of various sticks?” He said, “The art of leadership is knowing which plate needs to be spun more frequently than others.” He said, “Some you have to spin once, and some, you got to manage a lot.” That’s ongoing leadership evolution as your staff and people’s needs in life changes. You go through and you have that impact and the ability to reflect and go, “How do I help?” You’ve mentioned servant leadership a number of times. In your mind, when you identify servant leadership, what does that look like to you?
For me, it’s about being a good listener when you need to be. You need to ask the questions that help someone, it has no agenda and judgment, being vulnerable to understand what a person needs and looking for and how you can help direct, guide or support them. It’s about putting your needs above others.
How do you serve? How can I help? How do I serve? My broad sense is that stuff comes back anyways you have to have faith that it works. By and large, that’s been my experience that it works. A couple of things I’ve been harassing you for a little while. You’ve been tolerant of my harassment. As you’ve gone through all these experiences and friendships with the leadership, what’s a quote that you like to use or meaningful for you?
I found this quote and it’s been my motto. It’s anonymous. I don’t know who wrote it, but the quote is, “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” It’s profound because too often, there are people who will say you can’t do something or that’s too difficult but if you’re passionate about it, be fearless about going and getting it.
You got to love what you do. If you don’t, it’s apparent and if you love what you do, then you always hear, “You’ll always love coming to work.” Most of the time, you’ll love coming to work. There are a few days that you’ve got to go, “Not as much now is another.” That’s a useful reminder for people. A lot of that has to do with the destination. A lot of people end up somewhere and you go, “How’d you get here?” You go, “I don’t know.” You go, “There you go. That’s part of the challenge.” You go through, “How do you take and make an educated guess about getting from A to B?” For all of this stuff that’s going on in the CEOWORLD, you have 2020’s TITAN 100 already selected. With the next cohort of TITANs, when do you expect to start accepting applications for the next group?
They will open in December of 2020. They’ll close out sometime in February, I believe, of 2021.Authentic leadership begins with humility. Listening is one of the most important traits that a leader can possess. Click To Tweet
Note to self, if you want to be on the list, start working. If you have a story, start crafting your story. Are there any last words you would like to say to the readers before we call it a day?
I appreciate your time and we value you reading now. Thank you. If you’re interested in learning more about TITAN CEO, you can visit us on TITANCEO.com. We also have a LinkedIn page where we are posting daily our TITAN 100 stories. You can go there to get great inspiration, quotes, and thoughts. Follow us on LinkedIn. It’s LinkedIn TITAN CEO is the designation.
I follow it. It ran across in my feed and then I said, “I got to follow this to see what’s going on.” It pops up in my feed every day from following. That’s nice. Jaime, thank you for taking the time to be with us and share your observations and wisdom. Look forward to great things from the TITANs.
Thanks, Bob. It’s been a real pleasure. I appreciate everything you’re doing here and value your time. Thank you.
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