Driven: How Did I Get Here Ep.9 – From the Safe Route to Bold Innovation

Jeff Pruitt, CEO of Ethology and Tallwave, and general partner within Tallwave Capital, joins Justin Gray on this episode of “Driven: How Did I Get Here?” podcast.

When you were growing up, did you know what you wanted to be?

My dad was in the construction business so he would take me to groundbreakings of buildings. I remember one of the new CEOs of Circle K talking about a turnaround they were doing. I was driving home with my dad, I was probably only 14, and I said to him, “That sounds interesting to me.” It was about being part of a company that might not be doing well and figuring out a way to turn it around. I turned that into being on the innovation side of things.

What did you focus on when you were going to school?
I got sidetracked a bit. My dad said if you’re going to go in and try to run companies, get an accounting degree. That was the right advice, but I took that and turned it into go getting a job at Arthur Andersen. They probably were one of the more innovative accounting companies at the time, yet it wasn’t really who I was. So I was talking to a mentor partner at the time, and he introduced me to the founder of Microfin, who was really charismatic. He had a lot of big ideas on what he wanted to do in the marketplace, and it felt like the right time to jump out. I became the CFO, and ultimately the president.

Have you had mentors throughout your career? How important have those relationships

My dad imparted upon me some business things that sounded easy coming from someone who’s been through the trenches. Then you go and do it on your own and it’s never as easy. My mom was very attuned and connected with staying in the present. Those two things started to become the DNA that I was raised with. Now I’m part of a young presidents organization where you just get really good people around you. It helps to listen, to learn from their experiences and the obstacles they went through.

How do you find that balance when you’re trying to run an organization and are responsible
for both the bottom line and the culture?

I’ve seen people who do it very, very well because they take the emotion out of it. You look at the team, you look at the accountability, and those who aren’t doing their job aren’t there any longer. I think that builds a culture of accountability. Whether it be your gen Xers or your millennials, people like to be held accountable.

I operate probably a little bit more on the emotional side of caring about what people think. Not specifically about me in general, but how they think about the company, and how they are growing as individuals in it. It’s the people that you bring around you that help foster and set that culture. It’s probably easier said than done and I’m learning this as I go.

What was the key to trying to be involved in multiple ventures at once?

I am a believer that advice going into these companies needs to be not just financial advice, but a network of being able to make action happen when you’re engaged with them.

What has been the biggest challenge along your journey?
I think the challenges of any CEO center around the people management side. Not from a negative perspective, but you’ve got to have fun doing it. It’s fun to meet people and try to discover what makes them great. Then figure out the ways you can make them great while making the company great.

You’ve got to think of all stakeholders or shareholders, and that’s your employees and your investors and clients. Those things have to be aligned to make it as seamless as possible because it’s a lot of work it those things are not aligned.

How you identify talent through an interview question?
I try to get down to what inspires them. What gets them to tick? What makes them feel successful as individuals? The hobby question tends to bring out the passion. You can get a lot about somebody and what kind of role they would be great in by finding out what they like to do personally.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share?

I would say do one thing at a time. Nail it, and then sustain it operational-wise, and then build it from there.

Connect with Jeff Pruit on Twitter at @jeffreypruitt, or visit Tallwave.com and Ethology.com.

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