Bob Ellithorpe, President and CEO of Tribus Aerospace Corporation. We had a very fun and fascinating discussion about leadership, management, professional development, and a lot of DFW-focused items related to skilled trades. Incredibly impactful and powerful discussion you’re sure to enjoy. If you want to know how to take ownership of your future, this is a must watch/listen.
#107: How to take ownership of your future with Bob Ellithorpe
April 7, 2021 • 01:01:01
Aaron Spatz, Host, America’s Entrepreneur
Bob Ellithorpe, CEO & President, Tribus Aerospace Corporation
You’re listening to America’s Entrepreneur, the podcast designed to educate, entertain, and inspire you in your personal and professional journey. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And on the podcast, I interview entrepreneurs, industry experts and other high-achievers that detailed their personal and professional journeys in business. My goal is to glean their experiences into actionable insights that you can apply to your own journey. If you’re new to the show, we’ve spoken with successful entrepreneurs, Grammy Award-winning artists, bestselling authors, chief executives, and other fascinating minds with unique experiences. We’ve covered topics such as how to achieve breakthrough in business, growing startups, effective leadership techniques, and much more. If you strive for continual self-improvement and enjoy fascinating and insightful conversation, hit the subscribe button. You’ll love it here at America’s Entrepreneur.
Another exciting episode for this week. We’re going to dive right into today’s show. So I have with us today, Bob Ellithorpe. Bob comes to us as a Chief Executive Officer and President of Tribus Aerospace Corporation. He’s had a very interesting and just very fascinating career in aviation and in the aerospace industry in general. And so we’ve seen a lot of really, really neat things, and I just cannot wait to unpack all that with him. So without further ado, let’s just get right started. Bob, thank you, sir. Thanks so much for making time to be with me this morning.
Hey, good morning, Aaron. It’s a pleasure. I’m glad you called. And unpack. That’s a great way to start a conversation. Let’s unpack all this aviation.
Absolutely. So for those of you that are watching, listening, I also recorded Bob on The Veteran’s Business Podcast. That episode is set to drop in the next week or so. So you’ll be able to catch more details about Bob and his journey and a little bit more emphasis on his military background. But today being a little bit more DFW focused, one, Bob, I always like to lead off with this question for the DFW show is, are you a DFW native? And if not, where the heck are you from?
So, no, I’m not a DFW native. I was actually born in Houston, Texas. So a little further south. So I am a Texan. Went to Texas A&M but my dad was in the Air Force. And as you mentioned, I was in the Marine Corps. So most of my life until about 1999, we moved all over the country and different parts of the world. ’99, left the Marine Corps, settled in DFW. We’ve been here ever since with a few business trips in the middle.
Sure. Well, and speaking of business trips, you mentioned before we went on air, you’re on the road again.
I’m on the road. In fact, I’m in my lovely hotel room Marriott Grand Rapids. I’ll put a plug in for them because they take care of me on the road.
I’m in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
So let’s just dive straight into it. So one of the biggest things that I’ve seen, and I think everyone has seen, with the way that COVID has impacted businesses has been business travel. And so really, only until recently, I mean, has it opened up all the way or is it starting to just kind of just gradually build?
We’re seeing different numbers. Aaron, in my case, being located at DFW, I can travel from that airport with American Airlines anywhere. And we operate three factories: Michigan, Ohio, California. All of my offices in Fort Worth. And I can get out on the road. I used to travel 60 to 75 times a year. So quite a bit. And then during the COVID, just shut down completely. I’ve got my mask, of course. Since I’m on the road up here, I’ve got my vaccinations. So that helps. When I went through the airport this week leaving DFW, I walked into the terminal and went straight through TSA and I was the only passenger being screened.
Oh my gosh.
At the time I went through there. When I went from terminal D to terminal B, there were two flights loading in terminal D, which is the international terminal and very, very light loads. Terminal B had a few more flights. So we had a big spike during the spring break period, but it seemed to – again, anecdotally, it seemed to drop off again.
Yeah. Wow. No, I mean, you’re bringing back memories in terms of, you know, for so many people that traveled, I mean, I went through the TSA pre-check. I did the – what is the global, I can’t remember the name of it. Global Entry program. And so it’s like you’re finding ways to try to take advantage of these little perks, of these little programs. And now it’s like, man, there’s hardly anybody there right now, which is crazy.
Yeah. Those little things add up, especially when you travel that much. And there are people who travel more than me. But those little things add up. But whether it’s TSA pre-check or Global Entry, the lounge. If you’re traveling a lot, the Admirals Club, that becomes a place to work while between flights. So it’s really, really important for the business traveler to have this kind of they seem like perks, but they really become part of your business toolkit.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So well, I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned in terms of how much business travel starts to ramp back up and how businesses embrace that. So let’s go ahead and roll back the clock here. Let’s talk about your entry into the aerospace industry. So you separated from the Marine Corps and you dive right into a really fascinating place to be. And I know you’ve got a ton of different stops along the way, but kind of give us a sense of what the start of your airspace industry career look like.
Yeah. I moved into Bell Helicopter directly from the Marine Corps. So talk about an exciting company. And that was in 1999. The V-22 program was coming online the UH-1 program, the new version of the UH-1 program, the four-bladed Huey and Cobra was coming online throughout the period where I was there. Some new commercial aircraft. It was really an exciting time. I can’t imagine that – in fact, Bell Helicopter today with all the new aircraft they’re bringing online, they’re in another exciting chapter. So moving from the Marine Corps to Bell at that time was interesting because of the aircraft that were being developed and put into production and the capabilities they represented. And again, Bell being a long time DFW business anchor, if you will, just a great organization, I can’t say enough about that organization.
Yeah. And so this is one thing I’ve wanted kind of your input on, but there’s a ton of aerospace-focused companies in the DFW metroplex. And so where did that come from? One of the things I like to joke with people about, and this probably has no relation whatsoever, but one of the things that I’ve noticed and I’ll joke with people about is, hey, if you live in DFW, you’re halfway to anywhere at least inside of the US. But what do you think has driven so many companies, especially in this industry, to set up shop here?
Yeah. Good, good, good question. I think there’s a couple of factors. If you think early on in aviation, obviously, the weather. Bell Helicopter actually started in up in New York before it transitioned down to the DFW area. And as you can imagine, winters in New York versus winters in North Texas and you think about the number of days flying and so forth. So I think that has a lot to do with it. A second characteristic or variable would be the creation of our military plants during World War II. So the Lockheed Martin plant on the west side of Fort Worth. It was an old a military weapons plant for World War II, and it’s just stayed and evolved over time from different ownership and different aircraft. But that’s an example of the history starting with military development in World War II.
So I think if you put those together, that’s some of the history, a number of flying days, weather, where the defense plants were located. And then you add to that in the modern day. So our generations, Aaron, when you think about the number of people here, this talent pool, when you think about the schools and you think about the supply chains to develop around those larger companies like a Lockheed Martin, like a Bell, so that aviation cohort, if you will, just keeps expanding inside the DFW area.
Yeah. I mean, that’s really interesting perspective when it comes to – I mean, there are a ton of schools here in just the greater DFW area. And so, to your point, there’s a massive talent pool there. And so companies have kind of a front row seat to being able to pick people up and to kind of groom them and move them through their organization.
Yeah. You were talking about my entry into aviation. I think that was obviously good for me moving out of the Marine Corps into the civilian world was having a job as we discussed on the last podcast. All veterans go through that. Bell what was a great employer to work for. One of the programs they offered was a tuition assistance. So if you wanted to go to school or go back to school. In my case, I went to get an MBA and Bell helped pay for that. And I know a lot of employers have programs like that and that allows an employee to take advantage of the opportunity to get additional education, training, certifications and take advantage of what’s in the DFW area.
So I think that’s really a neat aspect of living here is how the business community and the education community come together. And that’s on the professional side. Then think about our children and all the school opportunities we have here, whether it’s a K-12, public or private, when you think about state schools for college or private schools. We have such a variety of options for education for our children. It’s a great place professionally for education, but also to raise kids. And both our kids were raised in the DFW area and graduated from local schools.
Wow. That’s amazing. So going from your experience there at Bell, I mean, you were at Bell for ten years.
Yeah. But then you’ve been able to move through a couple other really fascinating companies. So share with me a little bit about that progression journey for you.
Yeah. And I’m glad you asked that question because this really talks to about, again, the DFW area and how it can help someone with their career. Over a 20-year span, living in Dallas–Fort Worth, I was able to work for Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky Aircraft, which is actually headquartered in Connecticut but has the operations here. L-3 Communications at the time, now I’d say L3Harris. They’ve got plants around the country and around the world in fact and I was able to work for them. And then GKN Aerospace, of course. So I worked with them as well. So if you think about a 20-year career, I just rattled off four pretty reputable companies and well-known names in the industries that have opportunities for you to work in the same area.
So if you can move your career from organization to organization or take advantage of opportunities that come your way, but still reside in this area, what a selling feature for DFW is that you can chart a career path and not have to uproot your family and their careers. Think about your spouse. If your spouse works, your kids at school, that’s one of the attractions that we like about the DFW from a professional standpoint. You’ve got career opportunities for advancement and you’ve got the stability that comes with keeping your family in one area.
100%. I mean, there’s so much here. Only if you really wanted to or was really in a situation where you had to leave the metroplex, you really could find opportunities just right here because there’s so much going on here. And so that’s a great observation. So I want to dive a little bit more into the industry itself. So I’ve got to be careful how I ask the questions. I don’t know, I know next to nothing about aerospace industry. So for me, as an outsider to it, what have you seen just with the ebbs and flows of our world markets, locally, in US, but what have you seen in terms of impacts to the aerospace industry in general, whether it’s good or bad, in terms of just technology advancements, policy, whatever things that have been worked on, what have you seen really affect this industry?
Oh, good question. Wow. That’s a big topic. So let’s see if we can – I’ll use your phrase from earlier – unpack it, but let’s see if we can break it down. First, let’s define the industry. So when I say aerospace, I really think about five different types of subindustries. So there’s commercial aviation. American Delta, et cetera. There’s general aviation. So business jets and so forth. There is defense. So that could be defense aviation, but it can also be other defense platforms – ships, ground vehicles, and so forth. You’ve got space. So that’s satellites and so forth. And then missiles. Those are generally the five elements of the aerospace and defense industry that we talk about. So I think that helps scope the conversation.
Now, what’s influenced it? Wow. I think probably obviously the number one has got to be technology. The advancement of technology, whether it’s in propulsion systems, whether it’s in navigation systems, the use of digital, the movement from manual controls, analog, stick and rudder, to a fly-by-wire digital controls, the amount of computer power that’s available really helps the platforms advanced in terms of capability. So I think the first thing I would say would influence would be technology.
The second thing is probably the explosion of business travel and not just in the US but around the world. And also let’s call it personal travel for vacations or going to see family. That has exploded the amount of commercial aircraft that we need around the world. And then one, pre-pandemic, we were looking at a doubling of the number of active commercial airline aircraft flying in the world over a 20-year period. That’s explosive growth. So you think about the advancement of travel and what spins off from that.
And DFW, again, a great example. So American Airlines is headquartered here. We’ve got this enormous airport and the thousands of people who work there. You’ve got the maintenance hubs and a lot of the spare parts to support the airlines that spins off of that as well. So you have this enormous infrastructure and supply chain around the airports. And that’s not just here. Obviously, that’s other places as well. So I think the simple answer to your question, if there is one, because it’s a really broad question. Technology, I think, is a key driver. And then secondly is the advancement of expansion of travel. Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Yeah, no, no, no, no. Kind of on the flip side of that, though, I was going to ask what have you seen then has been some of the biggest challenges? Because from a consumer standpoint, my first take on that is, well, fuel prices are going to make a huge impact on travel and the costs of a ticket. I mean, that’s my biggest way to gauge that. But what have you seen in terms of – and whether it’s the consumer or whether it’s just internal to the industry itself, but what have been some big challenges? And shoot, if you have any specific examples of things that you’ve personally seen inside of the industry in terms of some of the greatest challenges that you’ve faced.
Sure. So let’s talk two things, Aaron. One is the cost to operate an aircraft or a vehicle. And if you’re talking about an airline or a jet fighter, fuel is probably the largest single operational expense. Not the acquisition price but the operational expense. So how do you get the best dollar value for the fuel that you’re going to expend? Well, one, we’ll use less of it, and I know I stated the obvious to a lot of people, but yeah, use less of it. So how this translates into the industry is significant advancement in the capabilities of the engine systems and the propulsion systems to be more powerful and yet fuel efficient. And that’s a big driver, not just for the airlines, for commercial purposes, profit and loss and the ticket prices that passengers are willing to pay. That clearly makes a big difference there.
But on the military side as well, the ability to operate with budgets that are sensitive to fuel prices. So the fuel efficiency of the engine has been a very significant advancement, both on the commercial and the military side in terms of meeting this challenge of fuel cost and fuel price. And then there’s an additional item on the military side, obviously logistics. When you’re deployed and you got to move fuel around, the more you have to consume, the more you’ve got to move. So there’s a logistics challenge as well that you face on the defense side. That’s something to overcome.
Now you asked the second question or second part of your question, Aaron, and that’s the challenges that that we face within the industry. One is I think it has to come to the top of the list. And I think anybody you ask this question of in a leadership role in the industry will say the same thing, and it’s the talent. Where’s the talent coming from? Where is the next of aerospace and defense workers coming from? Are we going to educate them in our public and private schools or are we going to educate them and train them internally in our organizations? Is it going to be a combination? We’re seeing a gap in terms of technical talent available to work in the industry. And by technical, it can be an aviation mechanic, an A&P licensed mechanic. It can be an assembler in a factory. It can be an engineer who designs the aircraft or test it. It varies across the industry. But it comes down to talent. Where’s that talent coming from? Do we have enough of it to meet our demands? And if not, how are we adapting?
That second part of my answer, how are we adapting, it becomes very important. It’s also a challenge. The challenge of training people who may not have the skills and they’ve got the aptitude, they’ve got the attitude, they want to do a great job. They just need some training. So how do we adapt? We build our own training programs internally which is an additional expense to the business but it’s necessary. The other thing we do is we adapt – again, back to technology. What tools can we use to allow an employee to be more efficient? You and I are talking today. You’re in Texas, I’m in Michigan. We’re using the video technology that allows us to connect. That’s one example, a simple one. But how do we use digital technology, computer powers, digital tools to allow employees to be more efficient, whether it’s automation or communication and so forth.
Wow. Well, that can be sizeable investment back into the business. And so kind of to your point just a minute ago, I mean, you’re talking about the cost of that. And so, yeah, it’s a fascinating point that you made too was focus on talent, but then dealing with the shortage, but then also, how do we adapt with that? And I think it’s a proactive view instead of reactive, which is, hey, where’s everybody coming from? I don’t know what we’re going to do versus, okay, well, we’ve got to adapt some way. And so you’re seeing them – and I think you can go as macro or micro focus as you want. So when it comes to talent, then what roles are you seeing in terms of like roles that you already have too many candidates applying to versus those roles that you don’t have, hardly anybody applying to. Is there a big imbalance in terms of the types of applicants coming through? Is it like management versus technical?
Yeah. Good, good question, Aaron. I think if there’s an imbalance, and I don’t want to be repetitive, but I think your question has an edge to it that’s important and I want to make sure we address it directly. I think that where we have an imbalance is anywhere there’s a technical skill, we generally have fewer applicants. And again, whether it’s a machinist, an assembler, an engineer, those skills are lacking across our society. So I think that’s one issue. Do I have a place where I have too many applicants? Generally not. Generally not. So I don’t think we’re seeing a great swath of people going into one part of the industry and they’re overloading it. I don’t see that. What I really see is a lack of a lack of the technical skills where we need them.
Wow. Yeah. And I’d say that seems to echo a lot of the sentiment across just different places, which is we need qualified welders or we need qualified mechanics, and it’s just you’re always on the hunt for great talent. So it’s a noteworthy point. And I think it’s also interesting too because DFW has a ton of different places that you could go in terms of more technical training. So helping support those institutions and getting people really more aware, pushing people into STEM if they’re going to college or going into very technical, advanced mechanic certifications.
Well, and Aaron, that’s a great point. And let’s dive into that because there’s this –
I’ll call it an urban legend that you have to have a college degree to be successful. And I cry foul. Absolutely not. That’s just a – we’re on a public show so I won’t use the word I was going to use, but I’ll say that’s not true. The idea that you have to go to college to be successful, I don’t buy into it. You mentioned welders. I mentioned machinists and assemblers. Someone who gets a high school education and has great mental capability to understand how to put something together with their hands, their eye-hand coordination, the understanding of drawing, understanding operating instructions, that’s a great skill set, and you can build an entire career and be very, very proud of what you accomplish in that career and not go to school in terms of college.
Think about your career as a welder, your career as a machinist. Those are great careers. And in today’s day and age, you can make a very, very positive livelihood being in the trades. One of the things I like to see more of is public-private partnerships, where state and local governments bring together graduates from the local high schools into vocational training programs that oftentimes sponsored by businesses and say, hey, this is a skill set we need. Think about that partnership, the state or the community, the actual individual citizen who’s getting the training and then the employer who gets to employ them afterwards. What a great partnership. So I’d love to see more of that. How do we help people transition from finishing their high school into the trades so that they have a livelihood, again, that they can be proud of, they can accomplish something, they can contribute to a team, they can provide for their family and it brings with it the benefits, the health benefits you get from being employed. I mean, there’s so many things wrapped up into this. I’d love to see more of that.
Yeah. Now there certainly is a lot more work that can be done there. Because, I mean, it gets drilled into your head from an early age. Like, okay, you’re going to high school, going to college. I mean, it’s a foregone conclusion that that’s part of the path and that is very much encouraged from school staff, school administration and just the school districts in general. In fact, it’s often a point of pride of, hey, how many of our students end up going to college? Or they end up graduating and moving on to these other things. And I think it’s really important that we really need to look at the trades as well. And it’s not like there’s anything wrong with working in the trades.
It’s a fantastic career.
It’s a phenomenal opportunity.
Yeah. I mean, you think about what built this nation, it’s a combination of doctors and lawyers, yes. Politicians, yes, hopefully fewer. But it’s also the people who’ve made the bridges and made the airplanes and repair your cars and so forth. I mean, the trades, I’m a fan of the trades, and I don’t think we give them enough accolades. It’s a wonderful career for people, a livelihood to provide for their families. And we ought to be more encouraging more of it. If you think about it as well, if you’re 18 years old and you go off to college for four or five years, and you graduate with this large debt load, that when we see these horror stories, how long does it take you to pay it off? Versus somebody graduates from high school at 18, goes through a six-week vocational trades program, starts their career immediately. They don’t have that debt. Now they’re working. And guess what? When you’re in the trades, you’re going to advance your skills and you’re going to take on additional skills and your employer will want to invest in you. And so you’re going to have additional training opportunities to just accelerate your career. So you can get into the position of employment faster and with a lot less debt and still have a very exciting career path in front of you.
Yeah. You got tons of options, right? I mean, there’s tons of options. And the employers themselves are going to be very, very incentivized to treat you well and to continue to train and offer a lot of different opportunities. Because if they don’t, the next guy in town will. And it kind of reminds me, it’s very similar in terms of like software engineers, right? There’s a phenomenal opportunity there for folks, but I mean, there’s a finite amount of talent out there and it becomes a massive challenge.
But yeah, I would love to kind of shift gears with you a little bit in terms of – let’s talk more of business leadership, business management, in terms of your progression through these companies, the different things that you’ve seen. And so you’re in a really, really interesting spot now in terms of – you’re leading Tribus Aerospace Corporation. So take us on a little bit of a journey of what has it been like for you to start. You started back in aerospace several years ago and you’ve worked your way through these different companies. But what have you seen in terms of people positioning themselves or getting the training or getting the requisite knowledge to be able to be in a position like you are?
Wow. That’s actually a good question. I don’t know if I have a good answer.
It’s all good.
I can tell you my story and then you and your audience can see if that answer or not.
Yeah, let’s do that.
I think it starts with, in my case, foundational, where I grew up, and that was in a family that believed in the integrity and character. And so I was very fortunate that I was taught early on about treating people with respect and dignity. So I think that’s a foundational element. Transitioning to the Marine Corps, as you know, Aaron, from your experience, the focus on leadership and leading people and taking care of your Marines is imbued in the character of every Marine. So I think that’s a second foundational element.
So let’s use those as points to start from. Now, when I leave the Marine Corps, joined civilian community, started working for Bell Helicopter, a lot of what I saw growing up and learned in the Marine Corps about leadership, guess what? I saw the same thing in the civilian community. It may be different words, different language, but the ethos of leadership was the same. Take care of your people. Act with integrity. Be a person of character. Be willing to take on a risk and make a decision. Be willing to celebrate success with your employees. Those are the things that I think serve managers and leaders in any organization, whether it’s military, civilian. The precepts and the tenets of leadership.
Now, you asked the second part of your question. Where do people get these skills? It was basically your question. Where do they come from? I think it’s a combination of self-learning. Are you observing your environment around you? Are you connecting with mentors and coaches in your career? Someone you can learn from. Are you reading, are you pursuing additional education?
I think that a lot of it has to be you yourself driving your own journey, if you will, let’s call it a leadership journey. If you’re going to be a successful leader, you can’t rely upon one success or one element of your personality. You’ve got to continue to develop, continue to learn. I think you’ll recognize this phrase, but education is a lifelong journey. And that was a mantra for many Marines that I carry it with me to this day and I believe it thoroughly. Your education is not finished because you have a high school degree or you have a welder certification, or you have a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college. Your education is just beginning. What else can you learn? Learn from the people around you, learn from your experiences, do that reflection and lessons learned, but also take on the additional formal education opportunities and continue to develop your skills.
Yeah. No, there’s a point that you made and I want to go back to that and spend a minute there because you talked about – really, I’m kind of boiling this down, but you’re talking about owning your own future, right? There’s not somebody sitting in an office somewhere thinking, you know what, Bob, what do we got to do to get you from point A to point Z, right? There’s nobody charting your career for you. And I don’t know where this comes from, or maybe I’m just the only one who has seen this, but I think that in some case, there’s a lot of folks that just expect it to just kind of happen, right? So, hey, if I do a really good job, then I’ll get promoted, right? Somebody will recognize that effort. And then I’ll get that promotion that I’ve always that. Or I’ll get that other opportunity or headhunter will come finding me and present opportunity to me.
That all could happen. And it certainly can happen. Certainly, right? But you’ve got to own your own journey as it comes to like – I mean, you mentioned mentors. It’s something I don’t even think that gets talked about quite enough. Because those mentors can help kind of roadmap or at least give you some guidance as to, okay, where do you want to end up? What’s your goal? Okay. Here’s some ideas or here’s some input to that, but then you’ve got to go manage that yourself. What’s your thoughts on that?
Yeah. And I had to react when you said it could happen. That’s a great underscore. It could happen. And if you’re relying upon that magic fairy to show up, okay, good luck with that. I think the thing that I always focus on, Aaron, is the relationship between the mentee and the mentor or the young employee and the veteran employee. If you’re on the younger side of the beginning part of your career, the middle part of your career and you’re still advancing and looking for opportunities. To your point, Aaron, someone’s not going to chart that course for you. You have to be the person who charts that course and not everybody will do that. And there’ll be some people who are very happy, content with what they’re doing and they’ll stay in that path. And that’s fine. There are others who do want to advance. And so the question is how.
If you continue your education, as we’ve talked about, that’s going to give you more skills and more knowledge. If you step forward to take responsibility for a project and you demonstrate results, you’re going to get noticed. Now you’re taking on a risk. If the project doesn’t succeed, then you’re part of that not lack of success. But you’re also somebody who stepped forward to be counted. And so I think it can come down to something as simple as, hey, I’ll lead that project team. Well, that project team is done. I’ll lead the next one. Now it’s a bigger project team and so forth. Or I’m an individual contributor. There’s a supervisor position open. I’d like to compete for it. Even if I don’t get selected going through the process of being interviewed is accelerating my learning, my understanding. Next time I interview for the next supervisor position, I’m better prepared. So step forward, be counted. When you step forward and be counted, people were recognized that you want to advance. Secondly, if you do get selected to lead the project team and you’re successful, they’re going to see the results and guess what, in business, results matter. So if you can produce results, you’re going to get noticed.
You mentioned about mentors. Again, this has two parts to it. If you’re the person who’s being mentored, you need to drive that relationship. It’s not the mentor who drives the relationship. What are you trying to learn? What do you want to grow? What do you want to challenge yourself? So it’s really important for the person being mentored to drive the relationship forward. Ask the questions, bring up the topics, talk about something you’re uncomfortable with, and then the mentor can coach you.
Now let’s go to the other part of the conversation or the other relationship. And you can see I’ve got a few gray hairs up here. So I’m on the backside of my career. What can I do to help those who are coming behind me in terms of age, in terms of organization? I think it’s important for us who are a little more experienced and are senior in our positions to look into the organization and help those people who work for us advance their careers. Whether it’s through one-on-one coaching, whether it’s feedback in the moment, whether it’s professional performance management counseling on an annual basis or process we use, encouraging people to go to school, creating training opportunities for employees, sharing books you know. Last time you and I spoke, we actually shared some book titles back and forth. One of the things that mentor can do or an older employee who wants to give back to the organization, encourage your employees, your junior employees to read and help them stimulate that curiosity for learning.
So I think it’s two parts of this. So to go back to the heart of your question. The individual employee, who’s trying to grow their career, they have to take responsibility and initiative to make that happen. And then those of us who are the more senior, we need to encourage that activity and be a source for those employees to come forward and ask questions and help them develop their concept of their career.
Oh, no, that’s solid. And again, it goes back to you’ve got to own your own journey. Period. So whether it’s seeking out mentors, whether it’s seeking out promotions or just opportunities in general, you’ve got to be the one to go to go do that. And so explaining that or communicating that to this group of people can often be difficult because it’s almost like you don’t know what you don’t know, right? But it’s important. It’s important to just reinforce it.
And there’s one thing that you mentioned too. Again, I’m notorious for this. You’ll say something and I want to go dive in on this. You talked about someone stepping up to the plate and taking a project team and trying to max out an opportunity. And so, okay, and then it being kind of counted towards you in your favor in two ways. One, assuming the project is successful and having a reputation or being recognized as somebody who’s willing to step up to a challenge. So let me throw one at you because I know people have had this experience like, well, hey, I stepped up to the plate and I led this project, but the project didn’t quite work out the way that we wanted it to. I’m asking like very theoretical, rhetorical-ish question here. But does that person now, you know, do they have those black mark on them that they can’t do well with a project? How do they bounce back from that? And how do they continue to drive forward even though maybe they stumbled on that first attempt?
Yeah. A great, great question. And again, I think there’s two parts to it. So I’m the individual who stepped forward to lead a project team and the project was not successful. How do I handle that lack of success? If I try to blame other people, that’s not going to go well. If I take responsibility for the results and I’m accountable for the outcome, that’s going to be a very positive mark in your column. The other part is if you recognize it wasn’t successful but you dissected. Why did it not work? What can we learn from this? If we do this again, what can we do different? That shows a willingness to face facts, a willingness to take responsibility and a willingness to engage in an intellectual assessment of what didn’t work and what can we learn. And I guarantee if I have an employee or a manager or supervisor working for me and the project fails, but they come forward and say, hey, I didn’t do this right. Or next time we do this, I’d like to try this tool or this approach or modify the process. I’m all in because that person is willing to learn, take responsibility, be accountable, and guess what? They’re reflecting on how to do better. And you want people like that in your organization. You want people like that who are thinking about continuous improvement.
So that’s one part of the answer. I think the second part it’s incumbent upon us as senior managers, leaders in the organization. When we see our project team failing, what can we do to help them? Is it a resource issue? Is it a decision or a policy I haven’t placed that’s actually preventing them from going forward? So I think it’s important incumbent upon us to look at the team, did we set them up for success? Is there something in the environment that contributed to the lack of success? Did I ask them to do something they weren’t equipped to do? Which is often a failure of leaders, not the team. If I ask you to go build a bridge and you’re not a construction engineer, your chances of success were pretty slim. So did I employ my people properly? So I think that’s part of it.
And then there’s just the entire cultural norm that’s inside the organization, which is probably a third part of the answer. Does the organization recognize and reward risk-taking? Does the organization have a culture of saying thank you for stepping up. We appreciate the fact that you made a difference. Whether we’re successful or not, you made a difference. Does the organization encourage people to step forward. Or do you slap someone down because their project wasn’t successful? Guess what? That sends a signal to everybody else in that team to not step forward. So I think there’s an individual element, there’s the leadership element and then there’s the cultural element.
Wow. Man, I mean, crystal clear on that. I love the way that you spelled that out. Because there’s going to be opportunities in people’s careers to step up to the plate and do something. And they’re going to assume a risk because maybe they don’t have quite enough training or maybe they didn’t have quite the resources or just for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work. And I think the key – going back to that individual understanding, if they have the emotional intelligence, the maturity to look at it as objective as possible, recognizing, well, hey, I didn’t have the training. And so I need to get the training. Or we didn’t establish a budget properly for this or any number of things, right? So being able to take a look at that but then also from the leadership standpoint, but then the cultural standpoint, I think it was huge there and something that’s very easy to gloss over. But what is that corporation? What does that organization culture and how do they treat people who want to assume some incredible risk? I love the way that you laid all that out. It was just spectacular.
And so on that note then, I would love to kind of advance our timeline here. So talk with me a little bit more – because I was going to ask you some other leadership management questions, but I want to make sure we’ve left ourselves enough time. I’d like to talk just a little bit about what you’re up to now. So walk us through how you’ve gotten to where you are now, and then if we’ve got time, I’d like to go back and revisit a couple of the things.
Sure, sure. Well, yeah. And if you give me a start on leadership and culture, we’ll need some more time.
For sure, for sure.
In terms of how I got here now, I think you made a comment earlier in the call about your career path A to Z, and I’m paraphrasing your comment. My career path wasn’t straight. I didn’t go from step one to step ten on ten-step process to get to where I am. I think it’s a combination of – as we’ve talked about – leadership skills, being willing to take on projects, a greater and greater responsibility, being willing to move from one organization to another to advance your career, and in this case, my career. So I think those are part of it. If I think about this specific role, it really was just a combination of factors that came together where a new organization needed a leader and I happened to have the skill sets, the experiences in the right industries and the right companies that match what they were looking for. So I don’t think there’s anything magic about it. I think it’s years of hard work. I think it’s where preparation and the opportunity came together. And that’s what led me to where I am now. Again, I can’t tell you what the path is because I don’t think there’s one path.
It’s not just these nice straight lines. It’s not just a straight line. It’s full of zigzags, right?
Zig-zags. There’s going to be fits and starts. There’s going to be successes and failures. Again, how do you handle that? How do you prepare yourself? Are you seeking advancement in your career? Are you learning along the way? Are you able to share openly, honestly? Think about interviewing. If someone asks you what’s your biggest failure and you don’t answer honestly, they’re going to know. So just own it. Hey, I didn’t do this right. This is what happened. This is what I learned. Being able to really own your failures and learn from them is so important. Just like owning successes. And I guarantee you, if you own a success, you better share it with the rest of the team who was on that project with you. Because it wasn’t you, it was the team. I think those are key components of taking advantage of when you’re interviewing for a new opportunity.
Yeah, for sure. Well, just getting to know you just for a little bit, I’ve gotten got to know you. You’re an incredibly humble and gracious guy. And so I know that has only blessed you as you’ve progressed through your career. And so you’re constantly looking on how to help develop other people and better the organization. And so you’re always looking outward and I think that is one item, and I’m just going to brag on you for you because you’re not going to do it.
There’s no bragging.
Yeah. No, we’ll make it short. But I think that is another trait of a lot of just really high caliber leaders. And so you could go back to your upbringing, to your Marine Corps background there, but then also just your general progression. But for those that are watching, listening, if you go back and you just look at kind of this conversation as it’s progressed, I mean, what have we talked about? We’ve talked a lot about owning your own journey. We’ve talked a lot about you’ve got to go seek the education. Whether it’s reading books, whether it’s a formal education, whether it’s getting mentors, whether it’s owning where you want to end up. And so giving credit to your team, taking some level of risk. So there is a little bit of a roadmap here. It’s just it’s going to look different for everybody. And I think that’s your point that you’re making. Hey, it’s going to change. It’s going to look differently. You might even have to go backwards at times in order to get to where you need to go. And so it’s just continuing to do the right things, be faithful with the things that you have right in front of you, do it and then just do the very best that you can. I mean, it sounds so simple, right?
Well, let’s not overcomplicate it. Life is hard. The simpler we make it, I think probably the better chance for success we have. So don’t overcomplicate things. Aaron, you mentioned humility. And I think I reflect back on leaders that I’ve worked for and seen in organizations and the ones that I would put in the column that I don’t want to repeat or replicate or follow their example, they’re the ones who have the big egos and the ones that think they’re the smartest in the room. The ones that I like to replicate and try to follow their example is those that are humble and those that appreciate the team members around them and those who try to go out and find people who quite frankly are smarter than them. You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. You want to be surrounded by people who are talented.
So part of that is following the example of successful leaders that I’ve seen and the leaders that I want to emulate are those that recognize their team, those that take responsibility when things don’t go right and they don’t blame that on the team, they take it on their shoulders. And those that try to build a team around them that quite frankly can teach them. Let’s say you’re a 40-year old manager and you’ve got a team of ten employees and the next senior person is 30 and the rest of the team is in their 20s. Is the 40-year old the smartest in the room? Probably not. Is he the most experienced? Well, in the years, yes. But does that mean the 25-year old can’t teach the 40-year old something? Absolutely not.
So are you willing to learn from your team regardless of position, role, title, age, experience? Just get that team around you and solve the problem and listen to the ideas that the team comes up with. I guarantee you a lot of the guests that you got ideas will come from somebody who’s more junior on the team. And you know why? Because they’re not blinded by their own experiences and they’re willing to try something new because they don’t know they can’t fail. So we can learn a lot. And maybe I’m not doing justice to this thought but I’ll try to just kind of summarize it. If you were in a leadership role, take responsibility for the team when it doesn’t go well, you own it. When it does go well, share that success and recognize that the team was the one behind the success. And then when you’re in the moment with the team, be willing to listen. Again, set aside title, set aside role, set aside age, set aside differences. Listen to the team and you’re going to get a better result by having that diverse set of views.
Man, I love the way that you laid that out. Again, and this is a random thought I had. I think this may be a myth. I don’t know. But there’s a perception – I’ll just say there’s a prevailing perception, I don’t know where it comes from, but the leader is often the guy or gal who is more of the type D, very dominating, very aggressive. There’s an image, right? And it’s just a stereotyped image of that. But what you’re saying, and I don’t even know the point I’m trying to make here. You’ve got people that can be incredibly successful as leaders because they are the ones that are helping – I mean, to your point a minute ago, about the people that you’d go back and serve with, serve under, follow their leadership versus people you would not, I mean, I could not agree with that point anymore. I thought that was so strong.
And so then let’s maybe try to debunk a myth here, which is, does a humble person in terms of just their demeanor, the way they carry themselves, how is that person able to advance their career and be a leader? And I think we’ve already said the answer, which is just the nature of their results and the nature of their impact on people and others, it just leaves everybody feeling better and the organization better than it was previously. And so naturally, you’re going to put that person into a leadership role. Is that right?
Well, I think what you’re trying to get at, Aaron, is, is there a typical mold – let’s call it a mold – that will generate a leader? And anybody who comes out of that mold will be successful in leadership role. And I think you’re right. That is a myth. I don’t think that’s accurate. I think there are leaders of all types. You can have the screamers and yellers and the tantrum throwers and the fist pounders, and you can have the quiet, reflective, thoughtful. And both those personalities can be successful in leadership roles. And guess what? Both of them will attract to them different types of people on their teams and that’ll start creating a culture of behaviors and norms that are in the organization.
I don’t think it’s true that there’s only one type of leader. I think leaders come from all walks of life. What is a leader? Let’s define that. A leader is somebody who gets an organization to do something it wouldn’t do on its own. Now is that by putting it in front of the team a big goal that they don’t think they can accomplish, but the leader has confidence they can? Is it stretching an individual to do more through learning and training than they thought they could do on their own? Leaders don’t have to yell and scream. Leaders don’t have to be the dominant voice in the room. A leader is the one who sets up the environment where the team is successful and the team moves in a direction that it wouldn’t move without that leader being the catalyst. And you don’t have to be a screamer and a shouter to do that.
Let’s pick NFL football coaches because they’re in the spotlight a lot. If you were to look at their personality traits, there are some that are very common, but if you look at their behaviors on the sidelines, some of them are very, very different. I remember watching a game not too long ago, and the quarterback came off the field and the head coach didn’t stay on the sideline, watching the defense. He went with the quarterback to the bench and the two of them sat down and had a one-on-one conversation. No screaming, no shouting, one-on-one conversation. What were they doing? The coach was literally coaching, but he was helping the quarterback prepare for the next offensive set. And then the coach went back to the sideline next to the defensive coordinator to continue on. I thought that was a really important leadership example in the moment, in a contest. The clock’s ticking, there is an active opponent out there and you have confidence in your defensive coordinator to run the team and you take the moment to coach the quarterback and get him ready for the next series. That’s leadership in action.
And so I think this is one simple example of how a human touch. I love sports. So there’s a great picture of Vince Lombardi standing on the sideline, Bart Starr’s next to him. And it’s Green Bay Packers, of course black and white photo. Vince has his hat on, his long coat. It’s winter time. And he’s got his hand on Bart Starr’s back, and they’re talking. You can see their mouth moving. In this photograph, you can tell they’re talking. His hand on his back. It’s just that small, slight human touch. Bart, I’m with you. We can do this. While they’re talking about whatever they were talking about. But it was a good example of a great leader, Vince Lombardi, who in the moment had that human touch, and he literally leaned towards Bart and put his hand on his shoulder. I’m with you. I got your back. What a great example. So leaders are ones who support people as well. They don’t just demand. They don’t yell and shout. They can also make that emotional connection.
Yeah, yeah. It’s such a powerful, powerful visualization there. I really appreciate you sharing that because some of the most impactful leaders that I’ve had the privilege of serving under have been people that are just – they take an emphasis and a focus on the welfare of their team and they’re able to give just very little like small corrections and really, it’s like in a way where you don’t feel beat up, right? It’s like, hey, I’m here with you. This is the direction we’re heading. And they’re able to coach you in that direction, but you still feel like they’re with you, that you’re on the same team. You don’t feel like you’re getting beat with a stick, right?
And there’s a difference there. And what you’re doing is you’re empowering your team, but you’re also building that relationship with them because then they know that you’re in this with them, you care for them just as much as like – it’s almost like that they recognize that, hey, me, as a leader, I know that you care about where we’re going, you’re just simply having a hard time getting to where we want to go, let me help you figure out how to actually make that happen. But that realization, okay, we are all in this together. You do see my struggles or the experiences that I’m having right now, whether it’s on the sideline or whatever it may be. But there’s a sense that that person has been known and they’re heard and they’re seen. And as a leader, when you’re able to provide that to somebody, man, I think it just helps make some people want to just work even harder towards that goal, towards that dream.
Yeah, Aaron, if I could share one story that touches on what you just talked about and I’ll try not to cry because it’s a story about my dad, but I’ll try not to get too emotional. And so I’m 11 years old. We’re living in Northern Maine, Loring Air Force Base. It’s winter time. And it’s like, I don’t know, Saturday, 3:00 AM. I hear noise. And I’m 11 years old. I wake up. What’s that noise? And I looked down the stairs of our house. We lived on the Air Force Base. And I looked down the stairs and there’s light coming out of the kitchen. So I’m 11, I’m in my pajamas. I walked down the stairs, I’m rubbing my eyes. And I see my dad in the kitchen and he’s got pots of water on the stove, but he’s making the coffee. And while the water’s boiling, he’s making sandwiches. And I look on the door and he’s got his winter parka and he’s got his winter boots on, his Air Force uniform, winter boots.
And I said, “Dad, what are you doing?” And he said, “Well, son, there’s a blizzard and the B-52s are armed and ready to go. And in case there’s a war, we have to be ready to go and my squadron is the one on duty this weekend, guarding those B-52s.” I said, “Well, okay, but why are you making coffee and sandwiches?” He says, “Son, I’m going to go take the coffee and sandwiches to the airman who were standing in the blizzard, guarding the airplanes.” And I said, “Why are you doing that?” And he says, “Because they need to know someone cares.” It’s that simple. So the moral of the story, Aaron, is make more sandwiches. Show your team you care, show the team that they matter and that you’re in it with them. My dad left to go out to the flight line. We didn’t see him for two days because it’s winter storm. So he wasn’t just going out to drop offs some sandwiches and come back. He went out there and stayed with the squadron on duty, guarding the planes. That’s a leadership story. Make more sandwiches.
100%. I love that. That’s such a powerful, powerful example. And I really do, I really appreciate sharing. And I’m looking at the clock, I can’t believe it. Time flies by, Bob. It’s been wild, but I mean, what’s the best way that people can get in touch with you if they want to connect with you? What’s the best way for people to do that?
Yeah. I think LinkedIn is probably the best way because I’m out there and in terms of professional connections and all that, shoot me a note and see if we can connect.
Awesome, awesome. All right. Well, for those that are listening, I just threw it up on the screen: linkedin.com/in/bob-ellithorpe-leader and you can connect with Bob. Obviously being in DFW metroplex, I don’t imagine there’s too many other duplicate people with the same first and last name. So yeah, it should be a pretty quick find. But Bob, one, I want to thank you for making time to be with me, but two, I know that you’re traveling, so all the challenges associate with that. So thank you for carving some time out of your busy schedule to speak with me this morning. I really, really appreciate it. It’s been a true blast. So thank you.
I’ve really enjoyed it, Aaron. I thank you for hosting all the podcast for the community and you’re giving back as well. So it’s us, we need to thank you for creating this forum and helping people share.
Sounds good, sir. Thank you.
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