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Q&A | Robert Hal Turner, Turner Telecom Holdings Group, LLC
Robert Hal Turner, a native of Lexington, is the founder of Turner Telecom Holdings Group, LLC, an executive management and board consultancy that cultivates and grows “all stage” global technology, software, and communications companies. Launching his career at AT&T, Hal rose to senior roles in sales and marketing and served at the highest ranks of a broad spectrum of international startup and corporate firms. Relocating back to South Carolina following a 30 year entrepreneurial international career, Hal mentors promising startup companies, while serving as a senior advisor to later stage companies.
Q: Tell us about the services provided by your company, Turner Telecom Holdings Group, LLC.
A: TTHG and its Principals, are prepared, on short notice and for limited periods of time, to assume day-to-day company management, serve in Board and Advisory roles, or simply assess the state of the company from any of our knowledge areas for its owners, independent of management. Our executives are seasoned professionals with demonstrable records of achievement at the Chairman, CEO, and Board Member levels. Our expertise spans the range of financial transactions including raising equity and debt, as well as M&A exits, marketing, sales, technology and engineering, operations, HR, business/corporate development, and administration. By developing and implementing new plans and ideas we have partnered with technical founders in startups, accelerated growth in challenging market situations and turned around and/or renewed companies near bankruptcy resulting in significant financial returns to shareholders.
Q: What prompted you to start this company?
A: In 1987, observing the absence of highly qualified, experienced, and domain relevant knowledge in the all stage companies (especially startup and early stage company environments), I saw a significant opportunity to “parachute into” multiple companies (all stages), for intense and highly concentrated periods of time, to recast business plans and lead the initial execution of those new plans, while grooming successors and creating excellent value.
Q: What is the single most critical talent you possess in your role as a business owner?
A: Creative vision, coupled with a high tolerance for risk and perseverance.
Q: Describe the most critical problem or opportunity you have faced?
A: Re-starting a national communications company, emerging from bankruptcy with private equity backing, our team faced unacceptable customer turnover (churn), poor customer service (outages), decreasing sales and negative EBITDA, and employee morale was exceptionally low. Three clear organizational issues were prevalent:
- Lack of a clear understanding of what it means to sell and the absence of a true sales culture.
- Employees did not understand how their jobs and positions contributed to the company’s sales success.
- Destructive “territorial and information silos” thrived within the organizations.
Q: How did you deal with it? What was the positive result?
A: My teams and I created plans to fix these broken attitudes and counterproductive practices.
We began by meeting with every employee individually at first and later in functional groups. In these meetings we literally, on a white board, mapped out their job function. We could then see clearly the work flow through each position to every function and department in the business: sales, service delivery, customer service, and bill payments, etc. Once we made it explicitly clear how everyone from the loading dock, reception, accounting, regulatory, to admin and operations impacted the sales process and the financial results of the company, there was a collective “AH-HA” moment.
The changes began to emerge rapidly as we conducted training sessions (sales, customer advocacy, operations, etc.). We used time wisely by training in “sunrise/sunset” sessions (early morning, late day), as well a “matinee/brownbag” lunch sessions … we often had bowling parties to not only involve whole teams, but to also recognize that you should have fun in your work while continuing to speak about issues and challenges. Our next focus was the cultural overhaul.
The companies I have led operate on two basic principles: we are all in sales, and everything is transparent. It’s my experience that the behavior of an employee is a function of clearly communicated expectations coupled with a recognition system that rewards positive behavior and compensation system that pays for outstanding performance. In implementing these fixes our team developed, in conjunction with the employees, defined achievable expectations for each employee. Then we explained that compensation and recognition would be based on the company’s overall success, in addition to individual success. We instituted an award program called Bravo Zulu, which recognizes and honors employees monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually at the year-end company party, and whenever a manager decided an employee deserved recognition for outstanding work. We moved from lots of internal discussions to focusing on the bigger picture. Who is buying from us? Who isn’t buying from us? Why? To answer these questions we set forth a perpetual “Executive Briefing” CEO Roadshow. This included customer facing meetings with all the key customers and hearing what they had to say-- and then being willing and able to responsively move the company and its sales/service/technology systems when needed to meet the demands of the customer.
Results were noteworthy: sales run rates tripled in the first 24 months; operations returned to positive EBITDA, month-over-month cash flow improvements were achieved, and the company regained its market leader role in its operating territory; two companies were acquired to add new product and territory.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
A: As an entrepreneur, Founder, CEO, or business owner, you are in charge of the customers’ journey with your company. It is always about understanding the customer and why they buy. Teach each employee how their job impacts sales, set ambitious goals, provide the resources needed to succeed, and pay people very well for their performance. Reward them extraordinarily for “stretch” performance that over attains targets and milestones for the business. If the business does well, so do all the employees.
Q: If you were to design the perfect team of 4 people to help you run your company, what characteristics would those four people have?
A: Character counts in a big way:
- Integrity, transparency, accountability, gracious attitude, action vs words
- Ability to lead and follow, and, awareness to know when each should apply
- Perseverance: driven to succeed, and pivoting when needed
- Creative analytical mindset with awareness that people and the relationships formed are key to success
Q: What is the most valuable advice you would give to a new generation of entrepreneurs?
A: Go BIG in your thinking (AIM really high)… understand why you do things… see the big picture while executing pragmatically and understand the business, and, all its details, from the customers perspective; continuous analysis of performance with immediate course corrections as warranted.
Q: How do you measure success?
A: Through the experience of customers, employees, and stakeholders… are they better off, have they had fun and created value that meets expectations… all measured against milestones.
Q: Whom do you admire most as a business leader?
A: The greenfield startup entrepreneur that moves their vision forward, creates the business, enables jobs and grows to self-sustaining performance… exit or continue to grow… either may work (it depends)… it is in my opinion far more challenging to start and grow a business to the profitable $50-$100 million revenue level than it is to take a $500 million company to $1 billion. I admire small business leaders.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Assisting all stage businesses, and, their entrepreneurs, to succeed and grow.