Eric was born & raised in Vancouver, WA, a blue-collar town on the border of Washington & Oregon. He grew up in a typical middle-class family, was an avid basketball player, and always had an affinity for business & personal finance. There is a story he shares in the podcast where he "leases" a chunk of his sidewalk as a kid, to his friend selling lemonade.
After graduating high school, he was accepted into West Point, The United States Military Academy. About three weeks after being in the program, Eric felt like he had hit a low point in his life emotionally. He made a bold decision to quit and move back home to decide what he was going to do next.
He saved up some money from working a minimum wage job and paid for his first year of college at Portland State University to get his career in Finance kick-started. Through working hard to be a great student, and building great relationships with professors at the school, Eric was able to land an internship at Sequent Computer Systems (acquired by IBM). From there, Eric's career would move quickly as he not only worked hard, but he was able to build genuine relationships that paid off.
Today, Eric is the CEO of Nintex, a company that helps people digitize their business processes, with over 600 employees and has raised a total of about $150 million.
Make sure to listen to the entire episode to really get into Eric's mind and extract valuable wisdom from one of today's top executives!
00:00:0000 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of ExecuTalks. It’s the show that trains your brain to think like a top executive. I’m your host Ash and in this episode, you will get to hear from Nintex CEO, Eric Johnson. Nintex helps companies digitize and automate their processes, so they can run more efficiently. They have about 600 employees worldwide and have raised about 150 million dollars.
00:00:36 Before we get into the show, I just wanted to remind you that we are here to help. The reason we started ExecuTalks, the reason we exist, is because we want to help you wherever you are at in your career. Whether you’re looking for a career switch or you feel stuck, not sure how to get your career kick-started. We want to engage with you and we want you to engage with us, either on social media or you can email me personally at Ash@ExecuTalks.com. Again, that is A-S-H, Ash@ExecuTalks.com. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy this powerful interview with Eric Johnson.
00:01:15 Ash Faraj: Eric was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington, a blue-collar town on the border of Washington and Oregon. After graduating high school, Eric was accepted into West Point, the prestigious United States Military Academy. About three weeks after being in the program, Eric felt like he had hit a low point in his life emotionally. He had made a bold decision to quit and move back home to decide what he’s going to do next. After coming back, he had worked a minimum wage job, saved up some money, and paid for his first year of college at Portland State University to get his career in finance kick-started.
00:01:55 Ash Faraj: You want to be sure to stick around for the whole episode. Eric shares all the tactics he uses to keep himself on track when feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and shares how to come back from hitting a low point in your life.
00:02:12 Ash Faraj: Eric, how are you!
00:02:14 Eric Johnson: I’m good. How are you Ash.
00:02:15 Ash Faraj: Good, good. The last time we talked on the phone it was before the whole country had changed, the whole world had changed. Hopefully, everyone in your family is okay?
00:02:28 Eric Johnson: Yeah, I mean my -- the way I like to say it, I think compared to lots of people in the world, we’re quite blessed to be healthy, be in an industry that people still need. I don’t own a restaurant, so you know, there’s just -- boy, 2020 has been a tough year.
00:02:53 Ash Faraj: On a more positive note, let’s get to a few ice-breaker questions and then we’ll get into your story. What’s your favorite book?
00:03:02 Eric Johnson: My favorite book is How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie, I think has written it in the mid-30s. I love that book. I have read it three times. Every once in a while, I go back and look at parts of it, or I think back through certain things. I really like it, because it’s just common sense, practical advice on how human relationships work.
00:03:23 Ash Faraj: Favorite movie?
00:03:25 Eric Johnson: I have to say, you know what -- so I’m not a huge movie person, but if I look over the years and the different things I have watched, I’d say the thing I re-watched again the other day with our kids that I just really enjoyed. I enjoyed Tommy Boy, Chris Farley, especially with the world right now being really serious and heavy, it’s nice to have some comedy. I’d say my second one is probably Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with John Candy. I love that movie. I watch it at least once a year.
00:03:51 Ash Faraj: Public figure you look up to?
00:03:53 Eric Johnson: Oh man, that’s a tougher one these days. I have a lot of respect for how Phil Jackson coached in basketball. I recently watched the Last Dance and so it’s quite fresh in my mind. I think you got to give that guy a lot of credit. He did a really good job of building teams. He threw challenges and I definitely like some of the approaches he’s had.
00:04:19 Ash Faraj: Favorite thing to do by yourself?
00:04:21 Eric Johnson: I’d probably say, practice golf. You know I go practice when I have time. I enjoy -- I go the range or I go to the short game area and I work on chipping, or putting, or whatever. I enjoy the process of trying to learn and get better and then I love seeing the results, right? When you practice for a while and then you do it for a few weeks or whatever, and you see it show up. That’s really satisfying.
00:04:47 Ash Faraj: Favorite vacation spot?
00:04:49 Eric Johnson: Right now, I have to say that’d be Punta Mita in Mexico. I went there, my wife made me go, three years ago. We’ve been back; it’s been three times now. I have to say that was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The people are so friendly and nice. The service is amazing.
00:05:07 Ash Faraj: Favorite dessert?
00:05:08 Eric Johnson: I have to go with bread pudding. I love bread pudding.
00:05:14 Ash Faraj: Oh, that’s really nice. Favorite childhood memory?
00:05:16 Eric Johnson: Probably family vacations to Florida. My family just, for one reason or another, we ended up going to Florida most years. Those family vacations, those are good memories, for sure.
00:05:32 Ash Faraj: On the topic of your childhood, I knew you grew up in Vancouver, Washington?
00:05:38 Eric Johnson: Yep.
00:05:39 Ash Faraj: Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood? Maybe, for example, if I was in the classroom with you in middle school, who was Eric?
00:05:45 Eric Johnson: I would say, middle school, I definitely was a person who liked to raise their hand. If there was a question, who knows this or whatever, I was the person who would raise their hand. At that age, I was also starting to get more interested in playing basketball. I really liked basketball. I was pretty inquisitive, and I was super skinny. I was so skinny. Up until, really it was the end of high school, and I worked really hard and gained a bunch of muscle, but, yeah, I was super thin. I liked to answer the questions and I liked basketball.
00:06:23 Ash Faraj: I love it. I remember, this might have been earlier than middle school. I remember when we talked on the phone, you had mentioned that there was a point in your childhood where you leased a chunk of your sidewalk to a kid selling lemonade? Can you share that story?
00:06:38 Eric Johnson: Yeah, so I was on the East Coast, and our neighbor was trying to run a little lemonade stand. My corner was better; I had better traffic, [indiscernible] was better. I kind of [indiscernible] a one-page contract. I got him to agree to a little revenue share agreement, and so I leased my corner to the neighbor kid. I don’t think it lasted super long, but it was pretty fun.
00:07:07 Ash Faraj: As you started to grow older, like in your teenage years, maybe into high school, were there any topics -- what do you remember being naturally curious about?
00:07:17 Eric Johnson: I started to get a little interested in personal finance. I always liked history. I liked math. I think I was much better in those subjects. At that time, I was pretty interested in basketball, but I probably was trying to learn a little bit, kind of my next phase of learning about the business world. I would read something about business leaders. I would read things like Fortune and Forbes. So, I think I was starting to further cultivate kind of an interest in being in business.
00:07:50 Ash Faraj: What was the relationship like with your parents?
00:07:52 Eric Johnson: My parents were the type that, they went to like every game when we were younger; my dad coached, he volunteered. We were -- they were always running around helping us out somewhere, shape, or form. Looking back on it now, being a parent myself with my wife and realizing how hard it is, it gives you a greater appreciation, because you realize how much of your parents’ self they gave up to give you more opportunities. Yes, they were definitely very involved.
00:08:28 Ash Faraj: When you reflect now on your childhood, if there was one person who had like a significant impact on you, who would that person be?
00:08:37 Eric Johnson: Well, um, it probably be my dad, was the biggest. I think it’s probably because we had a common interest. He liked sports and would help me out with my sports, and he was in business. I saw his work ethic. He worked in IT for a large trucking company or transportation company for generally, basically, most of his entire career. Just a super hard worker. He was also pretty humble about the whole thing. Even though later on, he ended up being an executive and having a great career as it went on, he did not associate his identity with what he did. He was pretty -- a little bit more introverted type. If we were out about and somebody asked him what he did, this would be like maybe when I was in high school or college, he’d be like, “Oh, I work in IT.” He would never tell anybody, “Oh, I’m the Chief Information Officer.” He was just like, “Oh, I work in IT.” Humble, you know, super hard worker. Not real concerned about what other people thought. For where I grew up, which is a fairly, on average, blue-collar town, is the way I would kind of describe Vancouver. I really like Vancouver and I’m very positive on. Towards the end, when I was a little bit older, my parents were a little bit more well off. But, I don’t -- I mean he just didn’t -- he was just very humble about it.
00:10:08 Ash Faraj: That’s great. Was it after high school that you went to West Point?
00:10:12 Eric Johnson: Yes, so I went from Portland, Vancouver, I went immediately to West Point. I went there for about three weeks. I did not enjoy that at all. First day there was probably the worst day of my life. I got separated from my group. Walked around all day with people yelling and screaming at you. It was terrible. And then didn’t get sleep, got super bummed out. Just got a little wound up about the whole deal, and just realized it probably wasn’t the right situation for me. I think if I’d gone if I was a little older, or a little bit more mature, I probably could have done a little bit better with the situation. But it definitely gave me a good perspective. You got to have some things in life that don’t go well. That was definitely one of them; it did not go well. But, you know, you learned a lot out of it. It meant -- over a long period it doesn’t bother you, but it was definitely a painful experience at the time.
00:11:04 Ash Faraj: Just curious, do you remember why you ended up going? What went into the decision there, or was it your father?
00:11:11 Eric Johnson: You know what, I liked leadership and I knew I wanted to eventually be a leader in business. When I went to an information session on it, they talked about the leadership development and why so many great business leaders have a military background. I was like, wow, that’s pretty amazing. At the time, more Fortune 500 CEOs had graduated from West Point than any other college in America. I was like, that’s pretty cool. It was because of the leadership skills; how do you operate under immense pressure. Because, it wasn’t just that I think what the military provides is very positive and very different, and it’s hard to acquire other ways, and so that was my interest. This might sound crazy; I just didn’t think enough about the military part of it. I probably just was not quite prepared for that. I think had I gone and done ROTC for a couple of years or something and then went, was a little bit more mature, I think I would have been fine, but I was not ready for that. No doubt about it.
00:12:07 Ash Faraj: Interesting. When you came back was it -- how were you feeling at the time you came back. Were you just like ready to get started something else, or did you take some time unwind, or were you kind of sad? How were you -- what were you going through at that time?
00:12:21 Eric Johnson: It was an emotionally bad time, because there’s a big high that comes with getting into a place like West Point. It’s really quite an honor and for the high school I went to there wasn’t a lot of folks going to really high-end colleges. You’re getting a lot of positive attention from getting in and having the opportunity to go. Then when it didn’t work out, so quickly, that’s hard. My dad, in particular, was not very happy with me. So, that caused a little strain between the two of us. It just, yeah, I was feeling a little low. I mean it was just hard, but I got my head together. It was in the summer, and in the fall I had a job working actually at the transportation company where my parents both worked. It was not very fun. I worked in like a freight bill processing team. I knew, really quickly, I didn’t want to be there very long, saved up some money, paid for my first semester of college on my own. I went to the University of Portland and graduated in three and a half years from there. I met my wife there. Got my career off to a great start because I could do an internship while I was at school in Portland. I worked at Sequent Computer Systems as an intern.
00:13:36 Ash Faraj: Just curious, how did you come about the internship opportunity that you had, because a lot of people in college they struggle with just getting their first opportunity, getting their foot in the door. What do you feel like -- first of all, how did that opportunity come about?
00:13:52 Eric Johnson: So, it was really kind of two-fold. Number one, there had been another University of Portland student who, by the time I was at that age, was a graduate three years ahead of me. He had went to and gotten into their internship program. He was there, one of the professors knew him, so I kind of got a mutual connection into the graduate and he said: “Hey, we hire like one or two interns every summer.” The finance group there was maybe 70 or 75 people at the time. He’s like, “there’s one or two each year. If you’re interested, I can probably help get your resume together.” So, I got my resume in. I went down to interview and I got an offer. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I got this thing.” Between junior and senior year, I was able to land that internship. And part of the reason I got it was -- I wasn’t a really strong student at the University of Portland and I had worked various things including -- I spent some time working in the controller’s office for the accounting office at the University of Portland. I definitely did some terrible jobs. I had one holiday in college, I think it was my sophomore year, I worked at the postal service. I was in this program where they had -- they end up getting so much mail at Christmas time. For eighteen straight days, I worked twelve hours a day. I worked seven o’clock at night ‘till 7:30 in the morning for eighteen straight days. I didn’t take one day off; I worked every single day. I worked 84 hours a week and so I made 44 hours a week of overtime. In, like an eighteen-day stretch as a sophomore in college. I think I took home like 3,000 bucks. Which back then, that was hard to get.
00:15:32 Ash Faraj: Yes, that’s pretty good.
00:15:39 Ash Faraj: After Eric graduated, he worked at Sequent Computer Systems, the company he interned at for almost three years, before moving to a company called InFocus, where he would be there for just one year before moving again to Serena Software, a company that provides IT solutions to large businesses. Eric would stay at Serena for almost ten years. While he was there, he was able to work his way all the way up to the corporate ladder. He shares with us the key factors that enabled him to do so.
00:16:13 Ash Faraj: After you graduated, you continued on at SCC, the company you interned at. And then after a few years, you decided to leave to join InFocus. Can you take us through -- how that opportunity came about and what made you leave to join InFocus?
00:16:27 Eric Johnson: Yeah, so at Sequent in the Finance Accounting Group, I – you get to meet various people that you work with. One of the guys, he was probably 10 or 15 years ahead of me, he was more in a management role. He left Sequent to go to InFocus. He called me up and was like: “Hey, we’re hiring some more financial analysts, would you be interested?” The company at the time was doing well, it was growing, and it was getting into in acquisitions; it was highly valued. It was a very interesting company for Portland, and it had a great culture; it was knowing it’d be a really great place to work. Sequent was becoming more and more part of IBM and everything got bought out. I was working kind of remote manager, a giant company, it just wasn’t feeling the same.
00:17:16 Ash Faraj: That person that left Sequent to go to InFocus; can you talk about how that relationship developed? Were you reporting to him directly?
00:17:25 Eric Johnson: No, he was never my manager, but he knew who I was. We collaborated on a few things at Sequent. He knew that I had good work product. I was pretty young at the time, but I was a high-potential younger person and earlier career. He needed an entry- or mid-level financial analyst. I went there as a mid-level financial analyst. I think six months later, I got promoted one level and was a senior financial analyst. I was getting to do a lot of interesting stuff. And then what happened there was, after a year, the CFO there and the VP Corporate Control had both left and went to do a turn-around at a company called Merant. Merant ended up ultimately, after two and half years we turned it around, we tripled the value, we got it back on track and it sold to Serena. I got to Serena via Merant. I ended up with all those guys at Merant, and then Merant became Serena for two and a half years, and then I stayed another seven years.
00:18:24 Ash Faraj: On the topic of Serena by the way, you were there for a long time, and you were able to work your way up. First question I have is, what do you think were key factors in you advancing; every couple of years you would just advance. What do you think were the key factors and how can you do that?
00:18:42 Eric Johnson: I think there is two sides of it. One there is the part I control in what I did and then the other part is the circumstances and the opportunities that came up, because of what was going on with the company. In any of these things, you got to be humble enough to realize that part of it is you, and then there’s part of it is circumstance. The part of it was me, and then there is the relationships; there’s probably three things coming together. I had definitely grinded really hard there, and always was trying to go above and beyond. How can we do this different. How can we do this better. I was pretty inquisitive. I made good relationships with a variety of the people, including both the folks who were my boss along the way or bosses, and then the other key senior leaders in the business, and my peers. What ended up happening was, did fairly good work with the first role or two I had there. Then we got bought out. When we got bought out, the three more senior people they all left, and so opportunity struck. All of a sudden, all the senior people left. The acquirer was like, wow, this is pretty complex; it was a merger of two companies of a similar size. We need this integration to go well. We think you can run a much bigger group and so I got an opportunity. The people who were leaving did me a solid because, they were like: “Hey Eric, great. Good job, but you can do more.” So, help from them, and then I got the opportunity to execute really well; did that for all for like maybe two or three years. I was “Employee of the Year”, the first year I did it. Then, a new leader came into the business in the sales organization running all the field operations and asked me to be the VP of Sales Operations. It was another, one of those, persons that asked around. People had said, hey, you know for what you’re looking for, we think Eric could be a really good person. I think it’s partly really grinding in our work, partly building good relationships, partly good circumstances, and partly some of the really good people that I worked with, and for, who helped me out.
00:20:50 Ash Faraj: I want to just kind of rewind for a second. Serena was that your first experience in management?
00:20:57 Eric Johnson: Yeah.
00:20:58 Ash Faraj: So, I assume as a first-time manager there were some rough patches, or some things that were unexpected, or some learning lessons that came up. Could you just share those rough patches and what you learned from them?
00:21:08 Eric Johnson: Well, first important first patch is hiring. The first hire I made, as a new manager, was someone who just didn’t really fit the role. I had an analyst role, hired a person into it that had already been interviewed by some previous people. Didn’t really probably think it through as well as I should have and hired a person who just didn’t fit the role really well. A really nice person, not right for the role. Didn’t end up working out. The worst thing, in my experience as a leader, is when you don’t make the right hire, it doesn’t work out. Then you got to performance manage somebody or ask somebody to leave your business. So that’s where that one went.
That really put an indelible imprint on my mind, because letting people go is just terrible. That’s the part of all this that -- I don’t think anybody ever, no matter how good or how far you go in your career -- I don’t think you probably ever enjoy that. If you’re human, you really shouldn’t. A lot hiring, there’s partly the experience, but I think that what matters even more, that person is a kind of a set of attributes on how they think and process and deal with challenges, and do they fit in your environment. There’s all these other things that -- on paper a lot of people skill-wise have the experience, they look similar, but then people are different, right? Every person is a little different in how they think, they’re a little different in terms of how they deal with challenges, they’re a little different in terms of what sort of culture or work style is going to best fit them. Every organization, every role is a little different in what it needs. I think it’s important to really understand, for that given role at that point in time and that organization what do you need, and make sure that we were hiring what fits. Just like the company is making a commitment to the person, the person is making a commitment to the company. These are people, they have families, they have spouses, they have kids, they have other -- they have parents that might depend on them; they’re the things right, that need to happen. You don’t want to not think it through, not do it right, and then you’ve got a bad outcome. That’s real hard for everybody.
00:23:21 Ash Faraj: Was there ever a time at Serena, during your career there, that you felt like overwhelmed? I guess what I’m trying to extract is, I’m sure there are times when you just felt like you had major setbacks, or that you felt you were -- you felt like it was the end of the world, right? If there was a time like that, can you take us through that experience, and how you overcame those challenges. I’m talking about emotionally, if there was one.
00:23:50 Eric Johnson: Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly been some times where I think the work had not gone well, right? You know, the numbers aren’t -- we didn’t produce the numbers we wanted, or some project we’d all been involved with has gone sideways. I guess what I always tried to do is put it in perspective. And that’s where some of the other challenges in life are really important. Like, I went to West Point. It was super hard, and it didn’t go very well. But you know what, my life still went on. So, part of what I try to always think through is like the stuff we work on in business generally, at least for the types of companies I’ve been in, it is not life or death. While it might feel really important, and I don’t want it to go not well. At the end of the day, it’s not like what people have to do in the military, or police and fire; in those jobs sometimes the consequences are somebody doesn’t get to come home, they don’t make it. So, I try to keep perspective that we’re trying to help a business, we’re trying to help customers. Sometimes it is not going to work, or it goes bad. But you just got to go forward. I wanted -- the little things I do with own mind to help me through really challenging things. I try to think through the realistic worst case. I’ve yet to find a realistic worst case that I couldn’t deal with. Once you know that the worst thing that could happen, you can deal with then what do you have to fear? You work through it. The worst thing that’s going to happen is “x, y, z” and you work it through in your mind. Okay, like a lot of times over the years at these various jobs and the things I did, the worst thing that could happen is I’d lose my job and I’d lose some of my money. Well, that’s not good. I would never want that to happen, but at the end of the day I’m going to be okay, you know.
00:25:57 Ash Faraj: In a way, whenever you do experience those setbacks, you literally just play a simulation in your mind of like worst-case scenario?
00:26:05 Eric Johnson: I’d play a worst-case scenario and then I move forward. I try to think of the first thing I am going to do to get things going in a better direction. I think you got to admit to yourself you’re in a bad spot. I worked through “what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen” so I can get rid of the fear. I’d go, “You know what, okay, that’s not good”, but I can manage with that worst outcome. So, now I have nothing to fear. Now, myself and team, most things are always a group challenge, what are we going to do? Just start focusing on what are we going to do to get to a better place. Just work super hard on taking actual steps immediately to make the situation better.
00:26:44 Ash Faraj: So, talk to us about how you got from there to Nintex?
00:26:50 Eric Johnson: When I was at Serena, there was a gentleman along the way who was one of our sales leaders, one of our sales VP’s. He was an executive at the company, he was running the Americas. We had the same boss. We were peers. I was running Sales Operations at the time. He was great. He was a really good leader. I loved working with him. We became friends and we worked together for two years. Eventually, he decided to leave, took a little time off, and then eventually became an executive search guy. He decided to -- kind of go late part of his career, do something a little different. He became an executive recruiter. He called me up in mid-2013, summer of 2013. He’s like, “Eric, I’ve got this just awesome opportunity for you.” He described Nintex at the time. It was super interesting. It was a company that was going to try to make the transition into being a transcription SaaS company and get to the cloud. It was going to try go platform. It was really trying to do a bunch of really interesting things, some of which I had some experience with. It would be an opportunity to move from being, sort of a number two finance leader, like a VP of Finance and Accounting or VP of finance level -- I was a Finance and Sales Operations VP -- try to move from that level to be the CFO, and so move a level up. The gentleman who would be joining me to become a CEO sounded really good. The first couple of times I talked to Kevin, I told him no, because I love living in the Portland area and I’m not moving to Seattle. I just straight up said no. He finally called me back and he’s like, “You and I have been friends for a long time. We know each other really well. You’re being an idiot. You need to take this seat.” I went there and had breakfast with the guy that was going to be the CEO and the private equity partner from the big private equity fund that was the majority owner. What I heard sounded really interesting. We had a good opportunity and I ended up joining.
00:28:46 Ash Faraj: Yeah, it seems like throughout your career, you’ve done really well with building deep relationships. You’re just like me making friends if you will. I guess there isn’t much advice to give to people; just work hard, you just got to work hard. But what advice would you give to people who are early in their career. What tips can you give them on building meaningful relationships.
00:29:12 Eric Johnson: First off, I’d tell everyone I will read that book we talked about earlier, How to Win and Influence People. I think you just learn a lot about how human relationships work. Number one, I would do that. Number two, I would focus on first start delivering, because if people can count on you then it opens the door to a lot of opportunity. Everybody -- you want to be able to count on it. If someone says they’re going to do something, you want to know they’re going to do it, and they’re going to do it well. The delivering, really focusing on delivering. I would say, the third thing, is be enjoyable to work with. That comes down to being -- trying to be a bit thoughtful and considerate. Showing some concern about other people. Trying to learn a little bit about them. But I think if you -- ask more questions. Just do your best to be a great team member. Then what you’ll end up with is -- if you are investing in yourself, which I consider reading books like the one I suggested, you’re investing your knowledge. If you’re focused on doing high-quality work and delivering on your agreements and if you’re doing it in a great way where -- we have this core tenet here at Nintex, we say operate with respect and consideration. It’s just a good way of saying, be great to work with. If you do those three things, what tends to happen is, you end up building good relationships. What’s hard is, if you’re good to work with, and you’re very respectful, but you don’t deliver, then you still got a problem, right? If you really want your career to go fast and far then you got to do all three, and you got to invest in yourself. And that’s one of the things -- when I get sometimes team members that’ll ask me like -- the younger folks will say, “Hey, I want to be you”, or “I want to be the head of marketing”, “I want to be the head of sales”. One of the questions I’ll ask people, “What are you doing to get there? How are you investing yourself? Tell me about the last book you read. Tell me about the last podcast you read. Tell me about how you structure your day and how much time you invest in your career.” I’m not advocating for people to go work every single day, and you work 12 hours every day. That’s not sustainable and it probably won’t work out great in the long term. But, if you’re the person who does the minimum, then don’t -- I mean, then you should be real on yourself. You’re not going to be the person who’s going to go super far. The person who shows up at the last possible second and leaves at the first possible second, and doesn’t invest in their own development, and people can’t rely on, that’s not the person who goes far. So, you got to ask yourself that question: “Who do you want to be?”
00:32:02 Ash Faraj: I also remember reading something along the lines -- you mentioned that in order for a company to be successful -- you need to have personal relationships that are meaningful in order for that company to be successful.
00:32:19 Eric Johnson: Yes, I totally agree, because of connections. What happens is I believe is when you work together and you develop a personal connection, and you develop some level of a friendship and a link, you care about each other more. It makes it easier too when things go hard. Let’s say something does go sideways, but you know you got each other’s best interest at heart, it’s easier to work through it. I don’t mean -- you’re not always going to be socially -- there’s different levels of friendships and alignments and all that. But I think some level of a personal connection is super helpful because it just gets that human notion of caring about each other going, which then makes trusting each other easier, which then makes dealing with challenges easier.
00:33:06 Ash Faraj: When you first got promoted from CFO to CEO at Nintex, you admitted, that you felt a lot -- I forget what article it was, but -- you admitted to feeling a certain amount of pressure for obvious reasons. What are some strategies that you implemented to deal with that pressure? How did you deal with that pressure when you first got promoted?
00:33:31 Eric Johnson: Yeah, what I did is a few things. Number one, you need to try to take care of yourself, which comes down to your overall health, that’s emotional, physical, spiritual. You got to take care of you. Because if you’re dealing with a lot of pressure and stress, and then you don’t eat healthy, you don’t invest in these aspects of who you are, then I think life can get real hard real fast. One of the things I tried to do the entire time in doing this, is be really thoughtful like on my workouts. No matter where I am in the world or whatever I’m doing, I very consistently go get three workouts a week. I go running and then do some strength training, three days a week, consistently. I go on some walks, I do that. Try to invest in my spiritual life. Try to invest in my family relationships. Those things when you’re dealing with a lot of pressure, I find that’s a big thing. The second thing is, try to realize you’re not -- no person can do these things alone. It takes a team. There’s a team of people I work with that help around Intex that we partner with. Really building and investing and tackling the challenges as a team. Then I got a team that’s on my Board. I got a good team of operating partners and board members that are affiliated with either one of our two investors. I got other people that I learned from and that were mentors in my career: my most previous boss, other board members from my past, other bosses. Not feeling like you’re doing it alone. Don’t be a superhero. You’re a person.
00:35:24 [indiscernible] realize there’s a time you don’t know, and there’s a lot of other people who know a lot about a lot of other things. Whether it’s a team inside the company or the team outside the company. Just take care of yourself and don’t go it alone. Those are kind of the things that I work on to try to get down the path. Then make your plan and go. Get active, right? You just got to get going. The worst part about any of these things is the funk. You got all the anxieties, but you haven’t done anything yet. Get going. I’ve got my friend to take on the new role. Try to get really aggressive on taking action. Get the team together, work through the strategies, communicate changes, move fast. Anything, that didn’t make sense for the future, do it different. So those were kind of the things I tried to do.
00:36:17 Ash Faraj: How would you explain Nintex to sixth graders?
00:36:21 Eric Johnson: We help organizations on their processes. So, let me give you a quick example. This is how this works. I have a seventh grader. Think about how to get something approved in signing and working on a manual piece of paper. You have to manually write all of this stuff into pieces of paper. You have to send it somebody, somebody got to review it, somebody got to approve it, maybe somebody got to sign something. That is what a lot of processes in American business have historically looked like, they’re in paper. We basically allow all that to be electronic. So, you draw on an iPad a form. The form gets routed to someone to make a decision. Someone signs something. Somebody gets it and that whole process, instead of taking weeks because it’s in paper, it might take minutes.
00:37:05 Ash Faraj: These eight questions are kind of reflective, so feel free to take a couple of seconds if you need to think about them. If you were to meet the 25-year-old Eric, what advice would you give him?
00:37:15 Eric Johnson: Listen more. Talk less. Ask more questions. Wish I would have done that earlier.
00:37:23 Ash Faraj: What in your life you feel has given you the greatest fulfillment?
00:37:26 Eric Johnson: I would say, I mean clearly marriage is good. Family. You know, figuring that out. I’d pick that. That has been, yeah, that’s just an amazing part of life. Because you’re helping someone else. They’re each a little different, but together a family, which would include marriage and kids, that’s like, it all starts there. I think it’s hard to have the other stuff go well, if that’s not working. If that’s working, then it’s easier to have the other stuff go well; the other volunteer activities, and the work stuff, and everything else. If your nucleus is right, then it’s easier to have the other stuff go well.
00:38:08 Ash Faraj: Interesting. So, family and marriage and how happy you are, that aspect of your life, really radiates outward.
00:38:16 Eric Johnson: It radiates outward and it also -- when you talk about the strength of what is going on -- it definitely plays a role. The fact that I can come home every day, and throughout the day if I wanted to. The fact that I can have great discussions with my wife and that she’s super supportive, that’s just, I mean, it’s a team effort. I’ve heard a lot of some really great leaders over the years say this, but I think that when you have a really great partnership like that, the reason where I am professionally, is the relationship I have with my wife. There’s no doubt about that, huge partnership.
00:38:55 Ash Faraj: That’s powerful. What has been the happiest day in your life so far?
00:39:00 Eric Johnson: The day I got married, that was a pretty amazing day. So yeah, that’s what I’m going to put down.
00:39:08 Ash Faraj: I was going to guess that. If you could be remembered for one thing, what would you want that to be?
00:39:13 Eric Johnson: Hopefully, as I get older it would be that I was thoughtful, kind, and really helped other people be successful. That’s the -- I think, the more you can help other people, the more success you’re going to have. Hopefully, as I get later in my life, there’ll be a bunch of people that were like, “Man, that guy was really competent, but one main thing, he was super helpful.” Just really -- yes, that’s what I would say.
00:39:49 Ash Faraj: I love it. In your opinion, what is the most important life skill?
00:39:55 Eric Johnson: Relating with people. [chuckles] Relationships. How you interact with others I think is just critical, because you just cannot go it alone, right? Short of being -- living out in a forest someplace solo and never seeing another person, you got to work with other people from all sorts of angles, so it’s related with people.
00:40:25 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice that someone has ever given you?
00:40:28 Eric Johnson: I think it still comes back to the “listen more, talk less.” Now, I had a -- somebody was actually on one of my teams, who was sort of younger and getting promoted really fast. He was like: “The rabbit and the alligator. Have you ever noticed that the rabbit has really big ears and a tiny mouth, an alligator has a huge mouth and little, tiny ears?” He was like, “You know, you want to be the rabbit, not the alligator.” Basically, he was probably saying I wasn’t a leader at that point. So, listening, especially you find the more you get into this stuff you realize how little you know on certain things and how much other people know. If you ask more questions and you listen more, the whole thing just tends to go better and the other people may enjoy it more too, so it works for everyone.
00:41:21 Ash Faraj: If you were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, what would that meal be?
00:41:26 Eric Johnson: I’d have to have a steak dinner. I love my steak dinners. If I could have one meal, it would be -- I’d probably have a steak au poivre, which is a peppered steak with a cognac cream reduction --
00:41:44 Ash Faraj: -- [laughter] You’re making me hungry, stop it!
00:41:46 Eric Johnson: -- and some hash browns. To start out, one of those awesome chopped salads they make in a lot of great steak houses. Maybe some asparagus for my side and then I’d have a bread pudding and some great red wine. It can not get better than that now.
00:42:06 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, thank you so much for listening. Now, before you go, I just like to share some awesome news. We are including subscribers in our interviews with today’s top executives. So, if you’d like to be a part of our interviews, if you’d like to connect with our guests, you need to make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter on our website at www.ExecuTalks.com. We will notify you when opportunities come about, or you can email me directly at Ash@ExecuTalks.com for specific requests. We hope you join us for next week’s episode. Until then, take care, stay safe and don’t hesitate to reach out.