The Third Growth Option with Benno Duenkelsbuehler and Guests-logo

The Third Growth Option with Benno Duenkelsbuehler and Guests

Business & Economics Podcasts

Welcome to The Third Growth Option, a podcast for and by business owners and leaders. We share ideas and insights that help you in your growth journey. In our podcast guests, we look for heart, curiosity, and the desire to share growth lessons. No platitudes and cliches, but stories about growth or tools that helped grow a business or improve the industry or become a better leader, and how they came to embrace an insight. During three decades as a merchant and entrepreneur your host Benno Duenkelsbuehler has built and scaled many growth opportunities from zero (or something) to 8-figure (or bigger) thriving businesses. Our guests are battle-proven leaders in product design, in manufacturing or product sourcing, in marketing and brand building, in operational, technology and executive leadership positions.


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Welcome to The Third Growth Option, a podcast for and by business owners and leaders. We share ideas and insights that help you in your growth journey. In our podcast guests, we look for heart, curiosity, and the desire to share growth lessons. No platitudes and cliches, but stories about growth or tools that helped grow a business or improve the industry or become a better leader, and how they came to embrace an insight. During three decades as a merchant and entrepreneur your host Benno Duenkelsbuehler has built and scaled many growth opportunities from zero (or something) to 8-figure (or bigger) thriving businesses. Our guests are battle-proven leaders in product design, in manufacturing or product sourcing, in marketing and brand building, in operational, technology and executive leadership positions.






Grow Your Own Business – or Career?

Welcome back, podcast aficionados! In this episode with Cheri Lantz, we're diving deep into the world of recruitment and talent acquisition, with a dash of entrepreneurial growth mindset. We understand that many of our listeners are eager to bridge the talent gap and become true magnets for exceptional individuals. In this riveting episode, before we talk about Cheri’s growth mindset in her entrepreneurial journey, we explore the evolving dynamics of the labor market and how they've transformed the hiring process. Gone are the days of a buyer's market. Today, it's low unemployment and an abundance of opportunities. We'll discuss the powerful impact of technology on the recruitment landscape. With platforms to post job openings and effortlessly connect with interested candidates, technology has truly revolutionized the hiring game. But skills alone are no longer the sole focus. The game-changer lies in the concept of cultural fit and cultural contribution. The dynamics between companies and candidates have shifted, with both sides seeking that perfect match in terms of culture, values, and work environment. Culture is the secret sauce that doesn't surface on resumes or LinkedIn profiles, and we'll reveal how to unveil it through meaningful conversations. Join us as we navigate the labyrinth of the labor market, debunk common misconceptions, and unlock the secrets to successful recruitment. We'll unveil how cultural fit and flexibility enhance productivity, boost employee satisfaction, and lead to long-term success for businesses. So, buckle up and get ready for an insightful journey through the ever-changing world of recruitment. Tune in to our latest episode, where we'll uncover the strategies and stories that will revolutionize your approach to hiring, making you a true talent magnet in today's competitive landscape. Let's dive in and unlock the secrets of finding the perfect match between companies and candidates. 4:52 – “It (culture) has even become a greater importance after COVID, and flexibility is a simple word, but it can mean a lot to different people.” 5:23 – “A couple of things that have changed since COVID. One is childcare… and a lot of people are taking care of their parents…they need to know that they can do that and not have the guilt that can go with that… That is kind of the glue that makes any relationship work… that it kind of goes both ways, right?” 8:07 – Talking about the gig economy “we see more contractor-, 1099 roles on the creative side of the business… and on the sales side.” 17:45 – “You said I need other people to help me grow… you're talking about… a network of people who can help you not only with advice, but also help you by pushing back and challenging and helping you grow in lots of different ways.” 19:39 – “Even the most beautiful garden that you see, has to have the weeds pulled out of it daily… you have to take time to pluck out those doubting thoughts, those negative thoughts and maybe even that could be people in your life that maybe you're not cutting them out, but you're not giving them as much airtime.” 23:20 – “Sometimes it's just flying five seconds east to get out the window. Instead of crashing our head against banging our head against the wall.” 26:28 – “You have to first identify what you want, be aware of where you started, and then really be intentional about the steps that you need to take to get there.” You can find Cheri Lantz on LinkedIn, or just email her at


The Creative Process – Starts and Re-Starts

Curious about the creative process? How does it apply to innovation and teamwork in general? Enter Nick DeSario, a deeply experienced and talented furniture designer, whose work has been featured in Architectural Digest and Elle Decor. Nick and I talk about the creative process, collaboration, how to blend and pair ideas and influences to bring fresh solutions to sometimes tricky and complex problems. 1:57 - “The creative process… is filled with constant starts and restarts and refresh and retake… you use the expression of ‘shedding your skin’ to start again.” 2:46 - “You’ve got to have a dissociative sort of presence when creating collectively… and then sometimes it’s that perspective that you just didn’t consider that wins the day.” 3:43 - “In an ideal collaborative environment, everybody walks into the room with an opinion, with a vision of how it ought to be done… and most everybody walks out of the room with a different opinion.” 6:27 - “There are certain routines, parts of the process that repeat themselves. But the trick is to not get stale, to mix it up and… start, restart and shed your skin.” 9:12 - “I (as a designer) have opinions about what I think should happen next, through lots of visual data points or what I’m seeing in the world. They (retailers and wholesalers) have Excel. They have proof that this unit sold x units in x months.” 12:21 - “At Pottery Barn Gary Friedman would always talk about when he was at The Gap, the designers would try to make a Polo shirt that’s a little bit different, but it’s still a Polo shirt. You don’t want it to be so avant garde that this is not a Polo shirt.” 16:37 - “Part of your creative process is being an alchemist and borrowing and stealing from everybody… the true path is selectively pairing and blending different genres, periods of history, crafted in just that way, this alchemy, this melting pot of historical things.” Feel free to reach out to Nick DeSario via email -


Reigniting a Classic Brand with a Start-up Mindset

Reigniting the spark of a 48-year-old legacy company, whose founder had passed away some years ago, is a difficult balancing act. Chuck Fraelich, president of tag - a legendary tabletop and seasonal decor brand founded by David Glassberg - in this episode is walking me through both the brand relaunch, and the 4 stages in his career that prepared him for the task at hand: 3:33 - in the engineering phase “It required a lot of adaptive thinking. We had to keep improving. It was curiosity, I was very inquisitive, I was always asking questions.” 16:54 - “There was a transition period, and you come in and you’re trying to reinvent and reinvigorate and refresh enough… but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. That’s a real balancing act.” 18:56 - “ older company that’s got this new startup kind of mindset, and what this meant is we didn’t want to lose the past.” 20:24 - “We had a third party facilitator come in and we did Mission, Vision, and Brand statements. That was an enlightening and fun project for our employees and it gave us all again direction, the North Star.” 22:05 - “Nothing drives creative people more crazy than if you give them so much freedom that there is no direction, and no sandbox within which to be super creative.” You can find Chuck on LI, or feel free to email him at


Growth & Grit, from Co-Founding to (Partial) Exit

Todd and Jannetta Litzman built, evolved, merged or sold and have been running a software business for the last 25+ years. In this episode, Todd shares their growth journey from cashier to CEO, from technology before laptops and handheld devices to giant handheld calculator-looking things and Palm Pilots to iPads, and most interestingly (to me at least) how grit and asking questions paved their way to success. 15:40 - on why Todd joined Vistage: “A big advocate of Vistage…getting your leadership peers around a table that didn’t have a vested interest in your company and they would give you really good solid feedback and objective advice…you want to be a leader who works on the business and not in the business…and I could never do that.” 20:15 - on the early Covid lockdown days: “We were fortunate…from the pandemic and lockdowns and the slowdown… the momentum that (a competitor) would have had…came to an abrupt halt, which was good for us. In that period, we communicated better with our customers than we’ve ever done in the entire 20-plus years.” 25:15 - “The red thread…is that you have constantly been asking customers, asking peers, learning from customers and learning from peers by doing webinars,... providing information and asking for information…your growth trajectory would have been impossible without the dedication to asking, asking, asking.” 26:59 - “Our team was very balanced in their approach on customer outreach, and listening through customer service to what people were talking about, and visiting in person.” 28:08 - “What it boils down to is, it’s not always money that makes a business successful. It’s the people within that business that make that business successful.” 28:27 - “That is a form of grit: the dedication to asking, asking, asking, but also balancing between the confidence of ‘hey, I’ve got the best thing’ and balancing that with the ‘I wonder if we should ask somebody.’” 30:39 - “Our executive meetings were feisty. If you don’t listen to what our internal team says, as much as our customers, we’ll do it the wrong way. It was good and healthy conflict.” 31:55 - “You’ve got to have an open mind. Whenever there is more than one person in the room, there’s gonna be tension. And that’s good as long as it’s healthy and mutually respectful.”


Mature Company Growth – through Constant Reinvention.

It’s one thing to develop a hugely successful product and build a company around it - Willow Tree is that product and industry leader DEMDACO is that company - it’s another to constantly reinvent yourself, going on three decades now. Demi Lloyd, CEO of (and the DEM in) DEMDACO, talks about the less than glorious early days, how a small group of people came together - and how they’re keeping it going and growing all these years later. 9:00 - “If we’d known…six months earlier how much money we were losing, we probably would have closed down before Willow Tree even launched.” 12:40 - “You always need to reinvent yourself…go back to those ideas that made you and Willow Tree and DEMDACO…that put you on the map.” 14:50 - “We are emotion-based, we try to be with people in moments where they need encouragement, or supply some joy or delight… and lift the spirit.” 22:08 - “A wonderful product idea, really coming to fruition…can only happen when you have people working on products and merchandising and marketing that really get it, and believe it, and feel what you call this emotion-based idea of bringing joy…you somehow have been able to bring that for your team.” 23:24 - “People don’t always stay for 24 years…new people coming in and out… you need to embed this desire to lift the spirit in intangible ways into your culture…into the essence of your company.” 27:58 - “We’re no nirvana… there’s all kinds of problems and we mess up. But we think that by inculcating this very deliberately into the culture…if we’re really messing up at least it catches us and slaps us in the face.”


Aha! Moments Building a Subscription Model

Post-acquisition integration is where most M&A acquisitions succeed or fail. Steve Nunn is CEO of Intista, a company that helps to integrate acquired small-to-midsize companies (“air traffic control for integrations”). As a follow up to Ep #18 with Steve, in this episode we’re having a chat about his journey of bottling his secret sauce - by building a subscription online training model that “turns employees into integration managers” and a Mastermind Group for graduates. 2:53 - “We develop a five-step process…it’s just simplifying a way to integrate businesses… these five steps are equal in importance but differ greatly in length and work effort.” 3:56 - “Small-to-midsize businesses fly at a different altitude (compared to) billion dollar companies, where the integration process will be much more detailed, more arduous.” 4:34 - “I use this image of ships going through the water and the size of the business is the size of the ship… the smaller you get in business, the more reactive and more affected they are by the turbulence of the change that goes on…but they’re more agile.” 6:40 - “With teaching what I’m doing I’m actually getting employees to learn my business… I’m actually putting myself out of work.” 7:54 - “We turn your employees into integration managers.” 11:25 - “It was very hard, creating a simple process… if it was simple to write a simple process, somebody would have done it before.” 15:40 - “I took anyone’s advice. Sometimes that wasn’t all that useful. In hindsight, I would have tried to validate the advice… be careful who you listen to.” 16:27 - “I made so many mistakes…but did make it in the end… this ‘keep going’, ‘I made so many mistakes’ has really stuck with me on this journey.” 17:22 - “You cannot grow unless you’re willing to make mistakes, able to make mistakes and keep going, fix them… and don’t make the same mistake twice.” 22:22 - “In consulting you become worried about giving away the secret sauce…but I see it as an opportunity to build trust… the more you give away, the more you can do together.” If you’d like to speak with Steve one on one, you can email him at


Nurturing Growth – Idea to Reality

Preet Brar, global brand leader in consumer goods and guest on this episode, understands markets and teams. I asked her about changes in the external markets, and how to lead teams internally to bring ideas to reality. External - new ideas in the market: 3:52 - “There was a lot of cross-category buying… people that were in one category historically, started to experiment with other categories.” 4:50 - “People who were just using brick and mortar retail (now are) trying online…. Wholesalers are trying to go direct to consumers.” 5:46 - “Sustainability, eco-friendly product… nobody took it seriously. But now… it’s not a nice-to-have, but it’s a need-to-have thing for brands now… the consumer is ready to make the change.” 10:50 - about the share economy and re-use, re-furbish, and renting: “Home Decor has an opportunity to do something similar. The consumer is ready… it’s about somebody coming up with a platform…with ease for them to start using it.” 15:12 - “Shopping online is going to get easier and easier, the technology continues to improve. And I think it’s going to be (online vs. brick and mortar shipping) close to 40/60 or 50/50 by the end of this decade.” Internal - leading teams to bring ideas to reality: 18:05 - “Everybody on your team needs to know what success looks like, and where they’re contributing… it’s taking that vision, creating it bite size, sharing it with your team: This is who we are…what we want to do…that creates an environment of belonging and understanding. And then it builds trust.” 21:05 - “Sometimes you overestimate what you can do in a day, but underestimate what you can do in a year.” 21:48 - “If you’re indispensable, you’re not a leader - how do you make yourself dispensable?” - “Being dispensable is freedom.” 23:30 - “Mentorship goes both ways. We have to coach and be coachable.” 25:03 - “It’s much more important today to have energy flowing between departments, within departments, between the more senior folks and the more junior folks… creating an environment where energy is flowing, whether you’re sitting next to each other or 5,000 miles apart, just talking on a Zoom call.” 26:12 - “As a leader, you want to help people identify their strengths, and kind of see it for themselves, what they’re good at, and build on that.” 26:50 - “I wish I had known decades earlier that I have to embrace my superpowers, and I have to help others embrace their superpowers.”


Trees & Forests: Balancing Growth Initiatives in Midsized Companies

My guest is John Lanman, a consumer products CEO/General Manager who cut his teeth in Marketing roles with well-known names like Thermos, Blyth Candle/Fragrances, and progressed to GM or CEO of Oriental Trading Co and Precious Moments. John and I both served as Board Members, and here John shares his thoughts on the importance of balancing growth initiatives within the context of resource constraints. 3:03 – The “forest versus the trees. As a CEO of a midsized business, you have to manage the forest. You cannot just get excited about your two or three favorite big, beautiful trees because that doesn't make the forest.” 5:03 – “To fuel a midsized business, to get it to the next level or the next inflection point – it's really never just one thing. It's a lot of little things you got to sort of line up… it is a multitude of non-sexy, smaller things…that in aggregate add up to significant overall growth for a company” 11:18 – “I've been amazed just listening a lot as a new leader. Most of the ideas for success within a company are within the walls of the company. It's just a matter of creating an environment amongst people that allows those ideas and thoughts to rise to the surface and sometimes you have to tease them out.” 12:27 – that’s “how you captured the hearts and minds of the people that you are listening to, because now you’re using their ideas.” 17:37 – “the reality is that execution is what carries the day… “ 18:32 – Thomas Edison quote “Vision without Execution is Hallucination.” 20:18 – “The most difficult thing (in) smaller P&L businesses… (is the) resource constraint. For example, they were behind in digital commerce, e commerce and they were way too legacy in traditional wholesale bricks and mortar selling, and they were very good at that. But as that world shrinks… we've had to move and evolve an organization and that involves people and skill sets and moving people around retraining, finding new people for very specific roles that didn't exist in the company before and I'd say that's probably the most difficult is getting the people and skill sets aligned with the challenges facing a business.” 24:27 – “Half the battle is getting your employees to trust you that you're a credible leader, and that only comes through talking to them, constantly listening to them.” 29:34 – “The rate at which change is occurring, the speed of change is increasing every year, every month… I think the next five or 10 years are going to be more exciting and more in need of seasoned leadership than the last five or 10 years.”


Chasing Leaders to Grow

This episode evolved from a conversation I had with Tara Dikos, EVP at Transpac, in which she used the phrase “chasing leaders” - here, we talk about what that means, how to spot talent, learn from talent, and also to recruit and develop talent, especially in the world of consumer businesses that develop and sell products from factories to retailers. 6:48 - “I find retail fascinating…it’s so complex… because you have to understand product, you have to understand people, you have to understand employees and customers, and there is so much psychology that is part of merchandising and retailing.” 8:27 - “I’m curious if you remember how or when you decided or came across this concept of ‘chasing leaders’? - Yeah, well, I still chase leaders. I have a list of people that I want to continue to have intentional conversations with.” 9:20 - “We were raised that we were no better than - or less than for that matter - than anybody else. We can lead, we can follow, or we can (in Tara’s dad’s words) get the hell out of the way…and all three choices are good choices at certain times. You have to know when to choose which.” 10:24 - “My goals had to shift from short-term financial goals to long-term career goals. And in order to do that I had to chase leaders and not just a paycheck. I wanted to connect with the brightest minds in our industry.” 11:19 - “I’m incredibly proud of walking into the room alongside the smartest people.” 12:10 - “A theme you carried throughout a lot of your podcasts is genuine curiosity and passion.” 13:51 - “We hire people and are looking at it based on their attitude and willingness to learn…(not) necessarily the mantras or phrases, it’s their behavior.” 16:05 - “Because that’s how he (Gary Friedman) carried himself, he made more of his life than he would have without that attitude.” 20:01 - “Have regular meetings with your current staff…shake things up…if you got good people and they’re not in the right role, change the role. - We call them ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ meetings.” 21:27 - “Get involved in industry associations. You and Michael (Nieves) talk about the Gift and Home Trade Association. I can’t recommend GHTA enough…both for leaders and aspiring leaders… it’s an incredible environment, to network and to engage, be present and mindful, meeting people that are expressing a desire to learn and grow.” 24:53 - “A lot of people that we hire are underdogs. I say that I myself was probably an underdog when I started here.” 25:22 - “If you move people around…don’t only look at the results they create and the skills they have, but look inside the people, at their dreams and desires.” 27:03 - “I would tell my younger self that it is okay to have boundaries…it’s okay to slow down sometimes.”


Building Community – by Nurturing Your Customers

Growth does not happen in a vacuum, we grow with others and do so in a thousand different ways. In this episode, Patrick Keiser, Executive Director of Heart on Main Street - a non-profit organization and community of retailers, for retailers to learn and grow their business - shares how he spearheaded building this particular community. The ‘why’ behind this community is something he feels particularly passionate about, and in the spirit of Ben Franklin there is even a bit of “doing well by doing good”, as Heart on Main Street helps his employer’s customers. 2:08 - “Main Street businesses are an incredibly important part of our communities, of our local economies…they employ local people…they buy from local artisans…they are the back bones of our communities.” 3:06 - “There are so many challenges that Main Street businesses face and…the internet era has not been kind to Mom and Pop (stores).” 4:24 - “There was this really big support of the Shop Local movement…if there is evidence of a movement, there’s existence of a need.” (Some 100,000 of now only 300,000 local stores closed their doors in the last 20 years) 7:15 - “I wanted to see… what do retailers need if we could bring a community of people (together)... invested in the success of Main Street. What can we do?” 8:19 - “So you went to ask the everyday experts, the people that actually know, right?” 11:51 - “That was the impetus of Heart on Main Street. How do we…help them make a more meaningful impact…and help those retailers really grow their business?” 12:15 – 17:15 Patrick explains the four pillars of Heart on Main Street: 17:16 - “Came up with four pillars that would help them: Grants, Education, Mentorship Programs, and Friends of Main Street.” 22:32 - “A little bit of anxiety is a sign of intelligence.” Learn more by reaching out to Patrick directly:


Intentional Community Building

My guest on this episode is Tom Ungrodt, a Gift & Home Industry Community Builder and sometime (re)ALIGN Sherpa. If you’re interested in growing by joining or intentionally building industry groups, this episode is for you. Tom shares his experience as a former Vistage Chair and current Community Builder of the Mission Possible group, what it takes, why industry executives want to get together 3-5 times a year to share best practices and to move the industry forward. 2:23 - “The purpose of this was…(to) address serious situations, good or bad in our industry.” 4:21 - “The mission is to unite gift and home leaders, (it) makes for better decisions, creates a much wider perspective and builds a strong, trusted network.” 5:23 - “I introduce the subject, a lot of them come from the group, I moderate and facilitate the conversation and steer it in a direction that again, would be useful for the people in the room.” 6:34 - “We talk about ways that you could retain your employees… talk about some of their programs and…how they go about keeping these employees.” 8:17 - “You have people knocking on your door wanting to join, you have CEO’s, owners, executives…that don’t want to leave and they keep showing up.” 9:07 - “Every business large or small, certainly needs to have some sort of value statement, mission statement… it was fun to sit down and discuss this, bouncing ideas’s just a matter of putting it on paper and I never did that before.” 10:05 - “You can’t read the label on the wine bottle if you’re sitting inside the bottle.” 10:53 - “You have one good meeting, the next meeting has to be better than that one.” 13:05 - “It takes probably 2, 3, 4 meetings, for someone to really become comfortable with sharing… and if they don’t share, I pick on them, I pull them out of the crowd… no one’s there to collect dust…you’re all going to participate.” 14:29 - “How have you built trust? Being very honest… trust isn’t something that you just turn on a light bulb and it’s there. It’s taken many years to get that together.”


Are you Intentional about your Superpowers?

Two entrepreneurs - Gary Levine, founder/CEO of Roaring Brook Art Licensing Company, and Benno, Chief Sherpa/CEO of (re)ALIGN Expansion Sherpas - are talking about how “superpowers” (both personal and a team’s or business’) are guiding their businesses, about the power of quiet confidence, about not selling but just showing up. 2:23 - “When I think of a person’s superpowers…what makes us fire on all eight cylinders?” 3:22 - “For me, that was (when) I showed up prepared, and I remained curious…(not when) I came prepared and I just wanted to preach about what I prepared. That doesn’t usually go so well.” 4:14 - “What are the intentions and the reasons for why I’m so prepared?” 6:50 - “No question it takes a village…we’re all as a team playing off each other’s superpowers.” 7:34 - “There comes a quiet confidence from you, when you put it out there, you’re not really selling your stuff… I don’t think selling works today anymore…it’s just a matter of putting out there, what you believe in, to the right people. And then the magic happens.” 8:43 - “A tangible is a product, but the intangible is that confidence, that’s the superpower… putting it into the right context, at the right time, with the right customer.” 13:33 - talking about inhibitors “as much as those are distractions…there are also positive influences from our past experience and even going back to our childhood, so it’s a matter of sorting them out…what are the things that are holding us back?” 15:15 - “I grew up in a large family…and that created maybe an obsession to avoid being dismissed…that’s probably part of the reason I over-prepare.” 16:06 - “Before I was really conscious that that’s what I’m doing… I would show up prepared and preach…preparing is good, but don’t preach… show up prepared and stay curious, because then you can really engage.” 17:10 - “The business word for superpowers is Value Proposition.” 21:10 - “There’s give and take in making any relationship work, whether it’s a marriage, or parent/child, or client-, colleague relationships.” 22:40 - “A big influence in the recent pandemic, there was a shift… about selling…today it’s not about Willy Loman, Traveling Salesman going from town to town… because people have made up 50% or 80% of their buying decision before they ever meet Gary Levine or Benno Duenkelsbuehler…they check (us) out online.” 23:37 - “It’s not about selling, it’s about showing up and…to be prepared and being who we are and having that quiet confidence…because everybody else is taken - be who you are.” You can reach Gary Levine one-on-one by email


Building 8-figure Growth from Across the Pond

Michael Nieves shares an international expansion story: taking a UK company from a tiny six-figure USA footprint to the $25M to $30M range of US revenues within eight years, from a one-man-band to a 12-person team, required a certain mindset, a willingness to take the long view, and also the humility to accept failures along the way. 4:40 - “What can happen, especially overseas is there can be a perception we should be in Walmart, Target…get a meeting and we just start shipping to them next week…year one, year two you’re not anywhere set up logistically to be going in that direction.” 6:52 - “What were some surprises in that journey? Were you surprised…about what it took to translate a UK product and marketing to US retailers and consumers?” 13:41 - “before joining Paladone… I think a little of everything that I started to learn and I think you’re right I wanted to kind of expand on that, I enjoyed all the different facets it took to get there.” 14:19 - “One of the first things you said is ‘I showed up with a plan to the UK owners’...great salespeople are great at overcoming objections and be more Jiu Jitsu fighters than planners, but you (knew) you had to manage expectations.” - “We thought six months out, we thought two or three years out, where could we be five years from now?” 24:30 - “It does take a lot of patience and commitment, because even they saw it was successful… but there’s still a lot of tweaks and improvements we can make to elevate and that’s what we did together.” 24:58 - we started to talk about retail shelf analysis vs. consumer insights research… 28:37 - “you have to take that retail analysis to see what is in there, because I like something, but that department is sticking with a certain trend, a certain category and that’s what’s going to be successful there. That’s the context the product is going to live or die on.”


Growing with the Millennial Samurai

This episode is a tour de force with George Chanos, author of Millennial Samurai, a current futurist and former Attorney General of Nevada. George talks about his “secular bible for the 21st century”, values and talents needed to thrive in the current and coming decade, about AI, singularity, and what the potential of 10x-ing of global GDP means for you and me. 4:11 - “Now you have a high price lawyer, a professional researcher going on a reconnaissance mission into the future, and looking at things that he’s never looked at. And what I found was extraordinary things that really concerned me and excited me and bewildered me.” 6:49 - about his book The Millennial Samurai: “It’s this collection of 182 chapters that are one to three pages each…that have to inspire you, and educate you and motivate you and make you want to read more.” 9:43 - “McKinsey tells us that 47.5% of all jobs that currently exist are susceptible to automation, based on existing technology…so that’s half the jobs.” 12:10 - “...every business in the world will eventually evolve into a place where if something can be automated, it will be automated.” 16:44 - “So counseling, leadership, collaboration, building teams of human beings, leading human beings, working with them, motivating them, inspiring them, these are the occupations of the 21st century that humans will be required for.” 17:45 - “Today we are in the midst of a technological revolution that will dwarf the Industrial Revolution.” 19:42 - according to “Ray Kurzweil, who’s the head of artificial intelligence for Google, who says that by the Singularity, that moment in time that Stephen Hawking called the greatest event in human history, that moment in time when machine intelligence will eclipse human intelligence…that day is coming in 2029…by the end of this decade , we are going to reach a quantum leap in intelligence.” 20:43 - “It’s like a freight train, there’s this incredibly fast freight train that is moving towards us.” 23:16 - “Knowledge is going to be abundant…we will double within the next ten years, humanity will double everything that we’ve learned since the beginning of time.” 25:11 - “A book called The Spatial Web…basically talks about a world filled with trillions of sensors…that will radically increase global efficiencies in terms of resource consumption, resource allocation, resource optimization and that together, this spatial web will essentially 10x the global GDP.” 28:02 - “...there appears to be a loss of freedom…so you won’t own anything, and you’ll be happy. The first part is coming. You won’t own anything, and the second part ‘you’ll be happy’ is the part that I’m not quite convinced of yet.” 28:53 - “I’ve done a great deal of reading and one of the things that I’ve learned and been most impressed by is how stupid I am. It’s how ignorant I am. And I genuinely believe, I’ve come to believe that that acknowledgement is probably the smartest thing that I’ve ever stumbled upon…the more you embrace your own ignorance, the more you want to learn more, right? If I thought I knew everything, then why keep learning?” 32:03 - “It’s a tipping point between a second enlightenment, where we can have this glorious future, where we harness technology to our mutual advantage to its highest and best use, while allowing the human spirit and freedom to flourish…I also believe that dystopian, a very different technology, a very different scenario is also possible, where a small group of people are controlling that technology.” 32:51 - “How do we ensure that we fall on the right side of that tipping point, that we move into a second enlightenment as opposed to a dark, dystopian future?”


Synthesize to Grow

Vic Clesceri is a uniquely well-rounded business leader, and we talk about helping people and companies to grow, by aligning corporate strategy and workforce strategy, by synthesizing both while translating confusing terminology into simple concepts people can rally around. 3:15 - “Strategy is a set of choices about winning.” - quoting A.G. Laffley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble 5:03 - “Do we need to upskill…reskill… or hire for skill?” 5:15 - quoting a 2020 McKinsey study “87% of (executives) state they’re going to have skill gap deficiencies…about a third of them have identified this talent risk… as a top three priority…but less than half of them actually have a clear sense of vision how they’re going to close that gap.” 10:18 - “Know who your audience is, and what type of language is going to resonate with those stakeholders.” 12:31 - “Those are the five steps, and when you simplify it in that type of language, everybody gets it.” - 13:30 - “Boiling it down to the essential: Who are we? Where do we want to win? How do we want to win? Current state? Future state?” 20:13 - “Leadership is all about turning a vision into reality and producing results. But it is only through people.” 22:00 - “It’s this accomplice saboteur that works with the judge to create paralysis in us… the saboteurs are playing on all of our fears…and then on the sage side, there’s really five superpowers of the sage.” - 24:23 - “It’s a mental fitness model.” 24:25 - “You use the word superpowers… it has come up in several podcast episodes… I really love the idea of each of us becoming very intentional about what are my superpowers?” - 26:10 - “I found by asking, what is my superpower? For me, it’s the combination of being prepared and staying curious. For you, it’s something else.” 28:15 - “I know people that have superpowers… I can bring those Sherpas in with me. And then we can represent a team that’s going to use superpowers like The Avengers… the goal is to find the right Avengers and accomplices to join you.” 29:05 - “You nailed it man, we are The Avengers… of corporate growth.”


Nurturing Growth thru Nests

In this episode two brand owners/founders and their sales agency partner share notes how they help each other to grow - by taking an informal yet intentional approach to grow, listen, and learn from each other to become better and stronger. Lindsay DeMyer is president of Darrah & Co, a large manufacturers’ rep agency across the Southeast USA who takes an informal approach to building a “nest” - not a formalized incubator but an intentional nest that nurtures up and coming brands. Molly Holm (founder and CEO of Glory Haus) and Chrissie Lam (founder/CEO of Love Is Project) share their perspective on “growing inside a nest”. 2:00 - “The lifeblood of the gift and home industry is new artists and new brands and new ideas coming in.” 7:10 - “Growth is always mutual… you cannot grow alone, you can grow with other people… and give and take questions and being open to the answers, even if we don’t always like them.” 11:22 - “Our very best ideas come from our rep groups and our customers.” 11:59 - “We brainstorm lots of different ideas…I think collaboration is super helpful…to help each other figure out what’s the next best way to navigate this ever changing retail scene?” 12:52 - “... there is this sort of fresh air running through the building, the industry, of collaborating, of sharing… having a conversation.” 13:23 - “formalizing a nest into an incubator or accelerator, sort of a formal process and that didn’t really work… 13:56 - it actually happens organically when you create an environment where this can happen.” 14:41 - “We want to create relationship and community…that’s where so much can happen when you become a little bit vulnerable.” 16:25 - “They spent so much time forming and shaping it and sort of defining it. And then for the brands to also be open to changing it. That’s where the magic happens.” 17:49 - “It has to be organic, not forced. You have to create a time and a space for this collaboration to just kind of happen, to put people together in a room…” 20:31 - “So because she talks to so many other people, she can synthesize a lot of information and she can see trends on what’s helpful and not helpful.” 23:23 - “I do make a really strong effort to be in community with other people that are doing similar things.”


Growing and Innovating to Become Digital First

Curious how a mid-sized B2B wholesale business - established decades before the internet - embraced digitalization and added a B2C channel? Sushil Arora, CEO of Danica and Now Designs, shares Danica’s growth story of going Digital First, in both customer-facing and operations-facing ways, with curiosity, step-by-sometimes-uncertain-step, but always going forward. 2:59 - “Some of the most difficult decisions I had to make professionally… was at that time (March 2020, start of COVID)... 4:03 the positives that came out of that period, it opened our eyes to the things that perhaps were fundamentally broken in our business…to recognize that we weren’t recognizing the transformation that was taking place from a digital point of view.” 4:53 - “But as time went on, I recognized the efficiency of using technology to move information internally and externally.” 5:30 - “You realized that you had not kept up with the times by not being digital first… the Brian Beck book “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce” (see Third Growth Option Podcast Ep #88)... pushed you forward, out of your comfort zone.” 6:46 - “The book was talking to us as a company… my company strategy was as dramatic as some of those statements, to kick off as a company that if we don’t pivot… we’re gonna get left behind.” 10:23 - talking about PIM (Product Information Management system) “content has become such an imperative piece to being able to sell digitally… your sales tool becomes the content itself… the bell went off, it wasn’t so much about… we want to sell direct-to-consumer, it was more about our customers are selling to their consumers this way. And so how do we help and support that?” 12:30 - “The investment in learning…ties back to that curiosity… whether it’s direct-to-consumer, whether it’s a PIM or other software is to try and learn and be able to use that journey as development…you learn by doing.” 13:52 - “Opening yourself up with curiosity and experimentation to attack a Digital First mindset, that’s about… design thinking and asking the customer, what do they want? And then reverse engineer it.” 15:41 - “Every person in our company has two jobs, they have an operational job, and they have a strategic job… the strategic job is to understand why did the customer have to call, what is happening that is causing (this friction)?” 19:12 - “How have you helped people move from being… not curious… to becoming a little bit more curious?” 22:570 - adding B2C as a B2B company “has been incredibly painful…24:20 - the guiding light here, the beacon of hope is that what it’s done is show us where there’s gaps in our core business... 25:24 - two years in and you step back and say ‘are we doing the right thing here in terms of how much we’re committing?’ In the long term, it’s going to be imperative to who we are as a brand… the astute retailer is now expecting brands to sort of drive traffic.” 27:50 - “As you’re trying to be more effective and efficient on the direct-to-consumer side, you’re seeing opportunities to be more seamless, to be easier to do business with on the wholesale B2B side.” 30:15 - “As you were getting your arms around this Digital First mindset, you knocked a bunch of things out of the ballpark. Your company is larger today on the revenue side, the team is bigger, your revenue base is bigger.” 30:50 - “This engine has lots of moving parts, at the top of it is Customer Experience.”


DEI, Change Management – Growing Despite Buzzwords

Priya Klocek moved to Cincinnati from India as a 20-year-old, so she is no stranger to managing change. Now she works with leaders of businesses and organizations to help with change management and DEI issues – diversity, equity, and inclusion. She brings a refreshingly “real world” perspective to how we view and are viewed differently, and how to navigate the challenges that come with that on both a personal and organizational level. 2:21 – on DEI and what businesses are struggling with “People want quick fixes, let’s just bring in people that look different from us… they don’t realize they have to change their practices.” 5:16 – “People struggle with DEI, understanding it thru a lens other than their own… I personally struggled with it as well…my wife is from Mexico City, I’m from Germany, we both immigrated to the US, and our experiences immigrating were very different, largely based on different skin tones.” 10:42 – “Leaders want to talk about change, they want change, what they often don’t want is to invest the time to change themselves.”


Start with End in Mind – a Start-up Story

How do you compete with commodity product in Big Box retail and direct to consumer? Sure, the glib answer is about vision and marketing and connecting the dots. But really, how do you get to 8- and 9-figure revenues, within years, not decades? Dean van Zyl moved to Virginia, USA from Swaziland, Africa and founded National Adhesive, selling caulk and sealants to retailers across North America. 3:37 – “I had been to Home Depot, and walking down the caulk and sealant aisle , it was incredibly confusing… I said I know I can do this better, I can communicate this product better.” 6:40 – “We’re not only going to bring me-too products to market, but we’re going to teach people how to use them. And we can’t stop there… we make the whole (customer) journey easier.” 8:53 – Talking about using Vivid Vision (Cameron Herold’s concept of describing your business like a movie script of how it will look in the future: “We have a path… before an employee joins us, we share that with them… does it resonate or not…these are my people or these are not my people.” 12:12 – “The old adage is shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll hit the stars… vs. setting low goals and hitting those.” 13:16 – “You certainly can’t be accused of low ambitions, which are the highest form of crime.” 15:36 – on in-store merchandising and marketing “as you put your phone on there (the packaging, in the store), we’ve got AR (augmented reality) …, showcasing what the product does… and one click thru, it takes you to the Digital Human.” 19:09 – talking about the retail revolution from department stores 100 years ago, to big box, to now “there is this digital support system and platforms and videos… that you are harnessing to help sell-thru of the product.” 21:18 – “The commodity itself is no longer the primary focus… it’s the journey to get to using the product.” 21:35 – “It’s about how the product looks on the iPhone to the consumer… they’re going to check it out (on their phone) while standing in aisle 17.” You are welcome to reach out to Dean van Zyl on LinkedIn.


Preparing 4th Generation Growth

Sumeet Nath has grown his 3rd generation business into a leading group of factories with 6,000 employees. Each generation worked to keep the business relevant by updating product mix, customer mix, organization and indeed ownership. 3:52 – after Sumeet walked me through a short historic overview how the Indian region of Panipat became a trade center for textiles, and the company’s change after WW2 when in 1945 “the company had to morph, had to have a reality check, that’s how we started spinning wool and yarn.” 4:52 – “I wanted to start a different aspect of the company… that how we started making carpets, in 1991.” 5:44 – “You should never be satisfied with the situation, because you never know what happens the next day.” 7:25 – “Everything is going so great… you think you’re a genius… then the wheels come off and you commit to never being caught with customer concentration.” 9:20 – “Fashion having become a part of the rug business (unlike decades ago), now sustainability and eco-friendly thought process is on the consumers’ minds, how does that effect your business, how your product evolves?” 10:33 – “Five of our factories are converted to 100% solar.” 14:15 – “We saw that opportunity… that raised my curiosity… a good businessman always follows their instincts.” 16:19 – “If there is something new, unless it is tried, you will never know if it’s helpful or not.” 17:56 – Sumeet shares how he is preparing the organization for the 4th generation (including possibly an ESOP – employee stock ownership plan) and at 20:26 – “we have to prepare that Raj lives much beyond the family. We are responsible for 6000 people.” 23:23 – “I believe in baby steps, and we started to take baby steps decades ago.” 24:04 – “Stay nimble, stay humble, and take every day to learn something.” You can find Sumeet Nath on LinkedIn, or you can reach him at