Gus was born & raised in the suburbs of Chicago. He was always the smallest kid in his class, which not only enabled his sense of competitiveness, but also taught him how to negotiate for his "survival."
He always had a fascination with nature so went on to get his B.S. in Environmental Science after high school at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. After spending time in Washington, living in the suburbs of Seattle became Gus’s dream. After college, Gus had a hard time finding a job. His father encouraged him to apply for sales jobs, so he landed a job in sales for an elevator company in Chicago. After realizing that how much he loved the outdoors (hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, etc.), he decided he needed to move to Seattle, regardless of what job he landed.
Gus ended up at MacDonald-Miller as a sales person, and the rest is history. He would work his way up the ladder, eventually becoming the President & CEO, take the company through the 2008 recession, and make his life dreams a reality.
Today, MacDonald-Miller is the top-choice mechanical contractor in the Pacific Northwest, employs about 1,000 people, and brings in revenues exceeding $350 million per year.
00:00:03 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of ExecuTalks. It’s the place to connect with today’s top executives. I’m your host Ash. In this episode, you will get to hear from the MacDonald-Miller CEO, Gus Simonds. Now, Mac-Miller makes buildings work better, regarded as the mechanical contractor of choice in the Pacific Northwest as they currently boast the largest service base. They currently employ around a 1,000 people and bring in over 315 million dollars in annual revenue.
00:00:40 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, real quick, so Season 3 is coming up soon. Before we get into the show, I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to listeners from Mountain View, California. We’ve recently acquired thousands of listeners from the Bay Area. If you are from the Bay Area, and you are listening right now, please shoot me an email at Ash@ExecuTalks.com. I would love to connect with you and learn more about how I can help you fulfill your career goals.
00:01:06 Ash Faraj: Gus was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. He was always the smallest kid in his class, which not only enabled his sense of competitiveness as a kid, but he admits also helped develop his negotiation skills. To talk himself out of being bullied early on, which he would come to appreciate later in his career after realizing how important those skills are in business. He always had a fascination with nature so he studied Environmental Science, after high school, at Washington State in Pullman. He fell in love with 00:26:10 Washington because of all the unique nature relative to the flatlands of Chicago, where he grew up. Now, living in the suburbs of Seattle became Gus’ dream. After college, Gus had a hard time finding a job. After getting some encouragement from his father, he worked in sales for an elevator company in Chicago. After some time, Gus realized that he needed to make his dream come true. He needed to find a job in Seattle. Gus ended up at MacDonald-Miller as a salesperson at 28 years old and the rest is history. He would work his way up the ladder, take the company through the 2008 recession, and make his dreams a reality.
00:02:16 Gus Simonds: Have you been working out?
00:02:17 Ash Faraj: Oh, does it look like it? No, I’ve just been eating a lot man. [laughter]
00:02:21 Gus Simonds: You look good.
00:02:23 Ash Faraj: I think I know the answer to this question, but what’s your favorite book?
00:02:26 Gus Simonds: You don’t the know the answer to this question. I didn’t even know. What did you think it was?
00:02:30 Ash Faraj: It’s a title that has Lake Chelan in it, I think.
00:02:32 Gus Simonds: Oh, yeah. That’s one of them. If I can have two favorite books, yes, Lake Chelan: The Greatest Lake in the World.
00:02:40 Ash Faraj: Yep, and your second favorite book?
00:02:43 Gus Simonds: A Higher Calling.
00:02:45 Ash Faraj: Who’s that by?
00:02:46 Gus Simonds: I’m sorry, it’s called A Higher Call, not calling. Higher Call.
00:02:50 Ash Faraj: What is your favorite movie?
00:02:51 Gus Simonds: Men in Black 2. Also, recently, and you’ve probably seen it, BlacKkKlansman. Have you seen that movie?
00:03:02 Ash Faraj: No, I haven’t.
00:03:03 Gus Simonds: BlacKkKlansman came out last year. Really cool movie. True story.
00:03:10 Ash Faraj: I must watch that one. Who’s that public figure you look up to?
00:03:14 Gus Simonds: You know, this is a tough one for me, Ash, because I don’t really have one. I know I’m supposed to have an answer for this one, and I didn’t come up with it. I look up to Branson. I look up to Elon Musk. I know that Musk is controversial, but that guy got balls. If he’s to go, “Hey, I’m going to build electric cars,” which are a great idea, he’s just going to go against the establishment. “I’m going to put rockets into space.” You can’t do that, that’s done by NASA. “No, really. I’m going to put rockets into space.” And just this last month, he took US astronauts to the space station. First time we’ve been able to fly our own guys for 15 years. We’ve had to use the Russians for crying out loud. So anyway, Elon Musk, wow.
00:04:07 Ash Faraj: Gus, what’s your favorite thing to do by yourself?
00:04:11 Gus Simonds: Take pictures. Okay, photographs. I like to pretend I’m a little bit of a budding photographer. One of the things you’re going to ask me, Ash, is that “What’s the one thing” power questions. “What’s the one thing.” I don’t have a one thing. I like lots of different things. What’s the happiest day of my life? I don’t have one happy. It’s yet to come. That’s the happiest day of my life, it’s yet to come.
00:04:42 Ash Faraj: I like that. What’s your favorite dessert?
00:04:48 Gus Simonds: Food doesn’t move me. I don’t care about food.
00:04:51 Ash Faraj: At all?
00:04:52 Gus Simonds: No. Not really. I mean, I eat it when I’m hungry, but I noticed you really like food Ash. I see it on your Instagram that you like [laughter] to take pictures of food.
00:05:01 Ash Faraj: What’s your favorite childhood memory?
00:05:04 Gus Simonds: When I was ten, I went on my first horseback trip deep into the mountains of the North Cascades, and saw alpine country, and snow in the summer, and up close to the mountains, and fishing in alpine lakes, and catching frogs up there. I loved the adventure. Just the whole thing was a totally different environment than the flatland of Chicago.
00:05:35 Ash Faraj: On the topic of your childhood, I know that you grew up in Chicago which is one of my favorite cities. It is one of my favorite cities by the way.
00:05:44 Gus Simonds: Yes, I saw that you were there by The Bean, and I thought to myself cool, Ash is exploring Chicago.
00:05:50 Ash Faraj: Yeah, I might go back this summer. I have a friend over there, so I might visit over there like this summer.
00:05:56 Gus Simonds: Good food there, too.
00:05:57 Ash Faraj: So, what was Gus’ childhood like? If I was in a middle school classroom with you, 6th-8th grade classroom, who was Gus as a child?
00:06:09 Gus Simonds: Gus was trying to fit in. He wasn’t a jock. He wasn’t a socialite. He wasn’t a nerd, wasn’t a stoner, wasn’t any of those things. He was just a regular kid. He’s trying to find his way. He was a bit of a science nerd. He knew a lot about nature. I was just reading voraciously about nature and stuff. So, when people would say things on a playground, like, someone would say, “Oh, that’s a Blue Jay over there,” and I would say, “Well, actually that’s an Eastern Blue Jay and that’s a female.” And then they would look at me, like, oh sure Gus, whatever. So that may not have been the coolest thing to do, but that’s a little bit what I was like. I was also the smallest kid. So, I was an anomaly that way, you know, the unique one. I wanted to compete and play sports. I was competitive, and sometimes, I’d get picked last. You would line up for the teams. I always hated that because I was like, “I can play this game.” “You guys think I can’t because I’m small, but I can play this game,” and then I would do pretty well and then I wouldn’t get picked last the next time. But I was like I cannot believe I’m getting picked last. A likeable kid. I wasn’t getting beat up and stuff, so I was able to negotiate my survival by being at least reasonably cool.
00:07:47 Ash Faraj: Do you have siblings, though?
00:07:49 Gus Simonds: Yeah, I have one younger brother. My younger brother -- and if you ever interview him, he will tell you this. Not only is he taller than me, significantly, he’s 6’2”, he’s smarter than me, better-looking than me, and he will emphasize all of those things. When we were young kids --
00:08:13 Ash Faraj: You don’t give yourself enough credit, man. [laughter]
00:08:15 Gus Simonds: -- Well, I’m not saying I believe all that. This is what he would tell you. -- When we were young kids, he was always ‘ruttin’. He was four grades behind me. Let’s say, I’m 16 and he’s 12, but we’re the same height, and he wants to rut. He’s like, you know, he wants to be the alpha, and he’s going to lose every single time. Because at that age we’re the same size, but he’s younger. He’s not as strong. He’s many years younger. He would lose all those battles. So, he’s got a little chip on his shoulder, to these days, but he still knows not to mess with me.
00:09:02 Ash Faraj: Just curious, you know this too, but, us humans, we tend to remember things based on emotion. When you look back on your childhood now what emotion did you feel most frequently?
00:09:15 Gus Simonds: Curiosity. I think emotionally I felt -- I certainly felt frustrated that I was small, but I wasn’t going to let that be a limitation. I was curious about how the world worked. Why people thought the way they did. I also really believed that I had value, you know, that I’m trying to fit in, and I guess be relevant in some way. Even as a kid, you want to be relevant. So that’s where people go and they can get associated with the wrong crowd or they pick something that makes them relevant; maybe being really good in music, or being really good at sports, or whatever. I didn’t pick any one thing, because I was always interested in lots of different things. But I still wanted to be relevant.
00:10:18 Ash Faraj: Who’s that one person, or those two people, that had the biggest impact in shaping your life principles that you carry with you today.
00:10:27 Gus Simonds: Oh, those heroes who were they? I would say my mom and dad. They were good people. My dad really showed up. Went to work every day. Supported the family. Mom was an artist as well as a homemaker and created that foundation and gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do. In a lot of ways, it was a fantastic childhood.
00:10:59 Ash Faraj: What do you feel those life principles are that they gave you that you hold with you today?
00:11:05 Gus Simonds: Doing what you say you’re going to do, committing to it, but I preface that I wasn’t a good student. I was a crappy student, but I was an excellent employee. So, why is that? What’s going on there? Well, I didn’t have an agreement with my teacher. A teacher gave me an assignment, there was never a buy-in or an agreement that I had. I felt like I didn’t really owe that teacher that assignment. It was more of an imposition. It was like an oppression for me at school. I did fine in it, but there wasn’t this emotional buy-in. I wish I had actually, because kids who have an emotional buy-in do want to get good grades and perform; excel in school and can excel in lots of places in life. The fact that I was successful in life always left my parents kind of stunned. My mom, to this day, was just saying the other day, “Yeah, we still don’t really understand how Gus became so successful.” Because the other day, I told them that the tail cloth was messy, so we just turned it over instead of getting a new table cloth. “What’s in that kid’s mind?” said my mom just the other day. [laughing] But anyway, yeah, it’s about committing to your promises. So, as an employee -- If you asked, Ash, and said, “Okay, little Gus, you’re going to mow that lawn for me. I’m going to give you 10 bucks if you’re going to mow that lawn.” I’m going to mow that lawn. I’m going to mow that lawn really well because you and I have an agreement. I’m not getting anything from the teacher for doing my assignment. There wasn’t a lot of emotional buy-in for it.
00:13:06 Ash Faraj: That makes a lot of sense. Gus, after high school, you went on to get a degree in Environmental Science. You said you were a little bit of a science nerd, but I’m just curious, initially, why did you choose that path? Why did you choose Environmental Science?
00:13:21 Gus Simonds: Well, I knew that I wanted to graduate from college because I felt that would give me a better chance of survival. In this stage of my life, I was really operating a little bit more on fear. I was astounded by so many people like yourself. You’re not encumbered by fear. But I was looking at my father, and he had bought a house. It wasn’t opulent, but it was middle-class to upper middle-class. I’m like, wow. For me, I was scared that I was going to lose all that. It’s like, man, I don’t want to lose that. I like the way I live. I’m scared because how am I going to get to be successful? Oh, I’m going to go to college. That’ll be the first step. At least if I go to college, I’ll have a chance, however small, a chance to be successful. So, I decided that the easiest route to a degree would be to study something I was interested in, science and nature. It’s kind of come full circle now because MacDonald-Miller is about being green, right? Totally by chance. That’s why I did that, it was the easiest route to a degree because at least I was interested in it. There was a little bit of that “Why?” You were talking about the “Why?” I think it was cool stuff. So, what did I do after that? I had a degree in Environmental Science and living in Pullman, Washington. I have no job prospects. And back then, there wasn’t a lot of help. The university didn’t have the job counseling and all that stuff that we have now for grads. I hopped in my Cutlass, and I drove back to Chicago. I sat down in a Lazy -- I remember, specifically, this moment. My dad wasn’t one that gave out a lot of compliments. He liked to, in a fun way, point out all of your foils. And we weren’t hugging family, so there was no hugging going on. I know you’re a hugging family, but there’s no hugging in my house. That’s okay. I’m still okay with no hugging. I was kind of sitting in my chair, on a Saturday afternoon, and my dad -- I’ve been applying for these jobs. I just don’t know why anyone is going to hire me. I mean, I don’t know anything. Here I am. What am I… Why would someone hire me? And he said something nice to me, out of the blue. He goes, “Gus, you got grit. When you go and decide to do something, you don’t let go. You changed the engine in your car. I told you, you couldn’t even work on a car, what are you doing? And you said, ‘Yeah, I can work on a car, I got a manual here.’ You pulled the engine out of the car, rebuilt it on the back porch, and put it back in your car. And that wasn’t easy, was it?” And I go, “No, it wasn’t, but I knew I could do it.” “Well, you can do this too and any company would be very fortunate to have you.” That’s all I needed to hear. I was off and running.
00:16:43 Ash Faraj: Wow, so you feel like that -- just him giving you that compliment was just…
00:16:48 Gus Simonds: Yeah, that was huge.
00:16:50 Ash Faraj: Didn’t you say -- I think last time we spoke, you told me that he told you something like, I think you can sell, or who was it that told you that you can do sales?
00:16:57 Gus Simonds: Yeah. Then he added on, maybe the next day -- You know, I was trying to get these environmental science jobs. They were laboratory jobs or going out into garbage dumps and testing the dump for whatever chemicals might be in it wearing hazmat suits. Not really sexy stuff. And he says, “I think you’re wasting your talent being in a laboratory,” because that’s kind of where I was headed. I just wanted to get a job. “You ought to be in sales, and that’s what drives the world, is business.” He kept telling me that when I was growing up. He’s like a daily dad. I don’t want to be a daily dad, right? Getting to understand what he was doing, so I called him a daily dad. “I want to be a Rockstar. I want to be something cool. I don’t want to be daily dad.” He’s like, business is everything. Nothing happens without business. The clothes you’re wearing are business. The house you live in is business. The car you drive in, the vacation you go on, the street, the stripes that are painted on the street involves contracting and paint. It’s all business and equipment. Everything is business. Nothing happens until you sell something. What do you mean nothing happens? Well, nothing happens. You can talk all day long. You can have equipment that paints lines on the streets, or you can have insurance policies, but until someone actually buys what you’re selling, nothing happens. That’s why sales are so important, and you’d be good that. You’d be good at that because you’re good with people. That goes back to my negotiating to survive as a young kid, I think. Being the smallest kid, I had to negotiate to survive while maintaining my personal dignity. So as a sales guy you’re negotiating. If I was -- you’re going to buy something from me, you would say, “Well, Gus, I’m not going to pay full price for them. I’m going to pay 25%,” and you cross your arms like this. And so, I want to survive, I want to make this sale, but I also want to retain my dignity. And I would say, “Ash, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you a 5% discount, but nothing more. And I’ve never given anyone a 5% discount before, but I’ll do it this one time because I got to preserve my dignity and I need to survive.”
00:19:31 Ash Faraj: How did you find that Honeywell job? You just started applying for sales jobs all of a sudden?
00:19:37 Gus Simonds: A friend of mine was working for an elevator company, that goes up and down in buildings, and they hired me to be a sales guy for that. I was cold calling on buildings, “Hey, can I help you with your elevator service. We do a really good job. Maybe it would save you some money.” Whatever the competitive advantage was. I didn’t realize cold calling wasn’t fun. I told you this story before. I thought they’re going to pay me just to go and knock on doors, and introduce myself, drop a business card. Just keep doing that and if someone is interested then I’ll make a sale. This sounds easy and fun and it was for me. I didn’t realize as soon as I left the office, the guys in the office were like, “God, glad I’m not doing that. That’s the worst job in the world. Going after your cold-calling and everyone telling you ‘no’ and all that other stuff.” Cold-calling is -- now, I recognize it. It is a tough job. It is kind of crappy. There’s a lot of rejection, but that’s also your mind-set, right? There was a big ‘why?’ as you were saying. The ‘why’ behind it was way bigger for me than the ‘why’ behind doing that stupid book report. So, I enjoyed it. I thought it was fun. I was getting paid for it. I did well enough at it that they wanted to transfer me to another city from Chicago. I was just back home from college. I was running with my pack of buddies, and I didn’t want to leave. So, one of my buddies said, “I bet I can get you a job at Honeywell,” and that buddy was Mark DeWeirdt. You’ve met him. He was working at Honeywell. I said, okay. I was playing softball with these guys already. They knew me. I kind of was able to negotiate my way in the back door at Honeywell.
00:21:30 Ash Faraj: I did not know that. I did not know that Mark was the one to, that was -- that’s crazy. Interesting. Do you remember, let’s say the first year at Honeywell, or the first year cold-calling in general, or just selling in general. What do you remember, like some of the rough patches that you went through, or like the learning lessons that you took just from -- because, you know, usually growing pains happen the first year.
00:21:54 Gus Simonds: Oh, yeah, the growing pains were happening the first four or five years in that elevator cold-calling and Honeywell. Those were good. Those were a little bit like being the smallest kid in the class. The elevator company they had no reputation in town. So, I was calling on high-rises downtown Chicago. You’ve seen the buildings there. They’re big buildings, right. I was really climbing and fighting against big dogs. I ended up being most successful, they called me “Ghetto Gus”, because then I was just cold-calling, not on the big buildings, but the mid-rises, the 10-story buildings, that were out in the industrial areas, and I was getting service contracts. I’d be bringing these things back in and the guys were like, “Wow, you’re really doing a good job. We haven’t been in this part of town before. Are you sure it is okay?” and I was like, “I went there. If I can go there, you can go there. Come ‘on, man.” It was always this pressure, as make your sales quota pressure. And they’d have national meetings where these regional vice presidents would be in a giant screen. You’d be in this hotel lobby, and they would be up there really close to the screen. “This is a message from Les Paulson in Minneapolis, the headquarters, and Les Paulson would be close to the camera like this, he was huge. He’d be like, “Quote. Quote. Quote. No-one can buy if they don’t have a quote. Thank you.” There was a lot of pressure, Ash, and I still had a fear of failure that drove me hard. To this day, I am always impressed with the guys who walk around knowing they’re going to be successful and 28 years old, “Oh, I’m going to be successful. I know I’m going to be successful. It’s just a question of how successful. Really super successful or amazingly successful.” I never felt that way. I always felt like I got to appreciate the success I have and never take it for granted.
00:24:14 Ash Faraj: Interesting. Just curious, this is kind of a side-question, but how do you personally define success?
00:24:21 Gus Simonds: Well, I think it changes over the course of life. For me, initially, success was having a future that still had good possibilities and prospects. You’re making progress in your job. And as I said before trying to look five years ahead, but not ten, or twenty, or thirty years ahead. Five years ahead because you can actually modify and run your daily, weekly life in a 5-year goal set. If you’re meeting, and you’re on that path, you can see yourself making progress in that 5-year goal that’s what I would call success. Now that could be money, it could be positional situations within a company in an org chart, it could be a breadth of responsibility; it’s probably a cocktail of all of that wrapped up. For me to say success is absolutely defined in one way or another, in one word, I would say no, it’s a cocktail of all those things.
00:25:42 Ash Faraj: And it changes over time.
00:25:43 Gus Simonds: It changes over time, yes.
00:25:46 Ash Faraj: Okay. So, after several years at Honeywell, you decide Mac-Miller. Obviously, in hindsight that was like the best career move.
00:25:55 Gus Simonds: Yeah, it was a good one.
00:25:55 Ash Faraj: Yeah, a good career move. But initially, why did you make that decision? I know you said you wanted to move to Western Washington because you loved the environment. Was that the sole reason?
00:26:08 Gus Simonds: Yep, that was it man. So, at that point I was defining success. I was hedging my bet, Ash. I said, “Okay, this sales thing I’m pretty good at it, but I still haven’t really killed it.” In retrospect, you’re not really going to kill it unless you have a good product and a good system to deliver that product, and you’re good at what you do, and you try hard; and have those three legs of the stool. Honeywell had a good product. They didn’t have a good delivery of the service. You could argue I was an okay sales guy. I was able to survive, but I wasn’t killing it, you know. I wasn’t driving fancy cars, buying houses, or any of that. I was getting by. So, I was hedging my bet. I said, how do I define success? At that point, I said, here’s my vision, and I could feel it, I could taste it, it’s coursing through my veins, an emotional, full body experience. This was, ‘I’m driving a four-wheel drive, I’m towing a boat, and I’m watching it in the Lake Chelan.’ That is my success. That’s what I want. That’s what I want to look at out my windshield. I want to see mountains. I want to see Lake Chelan. I don’t want to see the inner city and the burning 55-gallon drums, quota calling these run-down industrial buildings for HVAC services. I want to be at Lake Chelan on my boat, and I said this is my dream. I see the dream, visually. I feel it in my body, and now I’m going to make that dream come true. And so, I said, “I will get a job in Seattle. I don’t care what kind of job it is. If I’m successful in Seattle, great! If I’m unsuccessful in Seattle, at least I’ll have a boat on Lake Chelan. I hope I can at least do that. I told my friends and family, and said: “I don’t know if I’m going to be successful out there or not; but if I’m not successful, I’d rather be out in Washington, hiking in the mountains, fly fishing, snowboarding.”
00:28:36 Ash Faraj: How did you find MacDonald-Miller? Was it because of the Mark DeWeirdt connection, or what?
00:28:43 Gush: So, I’d taken Mark DeWeirdt hiking out here, and I told him, “Hey man, I’m going to move out here.” And he goes, “This place is awesome! I’m going to move out here too,” and he ended up getting a job at MacDonald-Miller before I did. Before I came out. He was out for about a year, and I got a job with a competitor in Seattle, the former company of Long Industries, Control Contractors. He worked there.
00:29:13 Ash Faraj: CCI?
00:29:15 Gus Simonds: CCI, yep. I flew myself out here, finally, because Mark had been out here, hanging out with my college buddies, doing all the cool stuff. And finally, I got frustrated, and I said, screw it. I jumped on a plane, came out here, set my own interviews and stuff, and got a job right away at CCI.
00:29:35 Ash Faraj: It’s almost like you traveled the same path. [laughter]
00:29:37 Gush: Yeah. At the last minute, Mark had talked someone into meeting with me at MacDonald-Miller. I already had a job in my back pocket. I played a little hard-to-get. I walked in there and I had a really good interview. And they said, oh damn, we got to get this guy. We don’t want him going to the competition over there at CCI so they gave me a job.
00:30:03 Ash Faraj: That’s awesome. What was your initial role at Mac-Miller?
00:30:08 Gus Simonds: Oh, Ash, you’re going to make me tell this story. So, I was hired as a new construction sales guy, and I knew nothing about new construction. But then there was a recession, 1990, wasn’t much going in Seattle. I was a brand-new sales guy trying to sell construction work where there wasn’t any construction work. So, they let me go after like five months. I was like, damn, I was 28 years old and they let me go. Went down to Pioneer Square that night and had some beers with my friends. This homeless guy comes up to me and says, “Hey man, can you help me out?” And I said, “Listen buddy. I’m like two weeks away from where you are. Forget it! I got to take care of myself.” My friends don’t tell that story.
00:31:06 Ash Faraj: Wow, so you were at a really low point back then.
00:31:10 Gus Simonds: Yeah, that was kind of a bummer. I’d never been let go of a job before. So, on Monday morning I put on my -- similar to the Ash way of going through life -- I got dressed up. I put on my shirt, and I put on my tie. I would always wear ties back then. Put on my suit jacket. Just to get in the mode. I pick up the phone; this is like 8:15, Monday. I got laid off on Friday. Pick up the phone, 8:15 Monday. Ring, ring, ring, ring. Called Control’s Contractors, said: “Hey, Mike? Gus Simonds. Hey, listen remember that job that I said I would take, and then I changed my mind and went to MacDonald-Miller. Well, I’m interested in that job again.” He said, come on down. I went right back down there. Said, “Hey, I was in new construction. The construction market is falling apart. They let me go. I was the newest guy. I really didn’t have any customers yet.” He said, no problem, I totally get it. I mean, the recession was very public, and it was the truth. Bam! Hired me back on. Okay, so now it’s Monday afternoon. The phone rings. My buddy Mark is like, “Hey man. I’m really sorry about how things went down, but the service guys, the service business, they want to talk to you.” I’m like, “I don’t know if I want to work for MacDonald.” I wanted to work for MacDonald because they were still way cooler, you know.
00:32:49 Ash Faraj: Had you already accepted the CCI job, though?
00:32:52 Gus Simonds: For the second time! And I said, all right, I’ll go talk with them. On Tuesday, I’m having lunch with the guys who run the service business, and they’re like, “Gus, we’re so sorry. We were supposed to talk to you before they let you go. Remember, silos? Remember silo busting and all the things we tried to do at MacDonald-Miller to try and prevent this kind of thing.” They weren’t talking. So, they’re like, “Hey, we wanted to hire you. We said that if they were going to lay you off let us know so we could hire you. We want you back. We really want you bad.” I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m feeling a little abused here.” So by the end of our meeting I agreed to come back with a raise. And so, the following Monday I was back at MacDonald-Miller with a raise, and I had to call CCI for the second time to tell them that I’ve accepted their job twice, but I’m staying at MacDonald-Miller.
00:33:53 Ash Faraj: Was that tough? Be honest.
00:33:55 Gus Simonds: No, it wasn’t.
00:33:57 Ash Faraj: Interesting.
00:33:58 Gus Simonds: Interesting. You might say, well, where’s your honor, Gus? What the hell? CCI hadn’t expended any real effort in finding me, hiring me. I hadn’t gone through any orientation. I hadn’t accepted any signing bonuses. They hadn’t even flown me out there. I’d just dropped in their office out of the sky. I’m Gus, and they’re like, wow, we like you. And then I dropped out of the sky again, and they said, “Wow, we like you.” So, they really didn’t have any expended effort or cost that I needed to feel guilty about. I mean, I needed to take care of my career. There was a lot more on the line for me then there was for them.
00:34:46 Ash Faraj: You stay at MacDonald-Miller because they were a great company. You were able to work your way up. What do you think that -- the culmination of you going from just being a service sales guy to working your way up. What do you think maybe are two or three things that you feel really enabled you to do that?
00:35:06 Gus Simonds: Well, the biggest thing of all, one thing all goes back to trust. People trust me, and they trust me that I’m putting the company first, not myself first. Humans are pretty adept. We’re pack animals. We’re pretty adept at being able to identify when someone is self-promoting themselves, or has an agenda, or any of that stuff. I’m just built in a way that I want the organism, the company organism -- no part of the company can survive without all parts of the company surviving. So, I have -- my job is no more important than anybody else’s job. I just have a different job description. And everyone’s job is critical for the company to survive, from hand-offs through the chain of getting your product out there in the street, no one person can do it. If any person is missing in that chain the whole thing falls apart. People trusted me to -- with their problems. People trusted me with collaborating on how do we make this sale, or how do we navigate through this problem. Even when I wasn’t a boss or in charge of anybody, it seemed like, I was an opinion that people valued. And so, over time, that opinion that people valued continued to carry some value. And as you move up in the business; I became a sales manager for service, you know, people still valued my opinion. And then the guys higher up in the company valued my opinion about service, and how to be successful enough that they said we’re going to put you in charge of service. Then service was successful and then they said, well, we’re going to put you in charge of sales for the whole company, MacDonald-Miller. And then when it was time for someone to choose the next president of MacDonald-Miller, they again -- compared to the other guys who might have been in many ways just like my brother, taller, better-looking, smarter, faster, whatever. At the end of the day, trust was what people really wanted out of that position more than anything else. If you’re trusted you can have a team of smart advisers around you, but at the end of the day, you’re trusted that you take all the information in, you won’t make hasty decisions or you won’t be afraid to make a decision. At the end of the day, you won’t make a decision that just benefits the person that is making the decision or who’s in charge, but benefits everybody else. Because at the end of the day, I was given all through those promotions, if you will, those were given by the village. Those weren’t given by any one person. It was the people behind me that said, yes, Gus is a good guy. Sure, I know a little bit about HVAC, and I know a little bit about business and numbers and stuff. I’m okay at it, but that’s not why I’m the CEO on this. I’m the CEO because people trust me; trust me to be thoughtful about the hard questions.
00:38:53 Ash Faraj: Interesting, and just curious, do you feel like that’s only on a professional level, or do you feel like they trust you on a personal level as well? Is there a divider or is it all one?
00:39:04 Gus Simonds: I’m all one, you know. You’ve seen my Instagram. I’m the same guy at home as I am at work. You can’t be authentic and be two different people. At the end of the day it isn’t about, oh, he’s my friend and this is going to be hard to talk to him about his performance. As long as the performance is clear. Are we winning at this? And if we’re not winning at it, even though you’re my friend, I’m like, dude, we’re not winning at this. Maybe we need to try a different tack. Maybe we need to do a different sort of play, or maybe you’re being happier doing something else? And if one of your friends is being successful and he deserves to be promoted then he’s promoted. I mean, just because he’s your friend shouldn’t cloud the business activities, the job description, and the expectations of that job.
00:40:02 Ash Faraj: I really appreciate that. If there was a time where you felt like really overwhelmed at your position as a CEO of the company, if there was a time that you ever felt overwhelmed. Can you just take us through that time, that time that comes to mind when we talked about it last time, it was 2008 recession?
00:40:19 Gus Simonds: Yeah, I became president in 2006. I felt a huge -- not quite overwhelmed, but, wow, this is big. You know, this is a big job. I didn’t expect to have this job. The first day, you have the job it’s ‘Oh shit, I got the job.’ So, a little bit of pause there. And then we had a really good 2006, a really good 2007, and I was like, “Okay, all right, doing a great job. This is awesome,” and then the recession hit and had been through one of those. There was this sense of hope, “Oh, I think we’re going to get this next order. Things are going to get better. This recession isn’t going to be that bad,” but the CFO at the time was very outspoken and risk-averse. I was asking my team, we need to tighten our belts, we need to make some layoffs, we need to make some cuts, and the team was slow to react. So here I am. I got a leadership moment here. I need to figure out a way to have my business partners actually do what we say needs to have done. Like for instance, I’d say, “Ash you got to cut 20% out of your overhead.” And you’d nod your head to me, and you go, “Yeah, I know. Okay, I’ll get to work on that.” Then two weeks later nothing’s happened. And you’re like, “Well, yeah, I’m still trying to figure that out. I got these really good guys. I don’t know who to layoff, or how to cut the overhead out.” I would say, “Well, I need you to… You’re going to have to cut at least part of your sales out, and you’re going to have to pull back on your T&E. And I want you to come back next week with what you’ve done.” So next week you would come back to me and go, “Well, I did this one little thing, but I don’t know how to do this.” My team was frozen as to how to really pull together and pull the money out of this business. I had clearly asked them to do it, and they clearly don’t know. Then my CFO walks in my office after meeting me, and he starts yelling at me, like at the top of his lungs. “You need to get in the middle of this. You need to do something, and you need to do it now because you’re not doing your job.” Wow, that moment I’m like, ‘holy crap.’ That guy’s gone crazy. “It’s not that bad. I am doing my job and these guys are trying. We’re just trying to figure it out. Why are you losing your temper?” “Because this is bullshit, and I’m working with a…” and he starts calling us all names, and stuff like that. And I’m like, oh man, I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. That’s the overwhelmed moment.
00:43:14 Ash Faraj: Yeah. [laughter] It stops there? [laughter] I want to hear --
00:43:18 Gus Simonds: Yeah, you just want to be overwhelmed!
00:43:21 Ash Faraj: -- yeah, I want to be overwhelmed a little bit. I just need to…
00:43:24 Gus Simonds: What I did is I got next to all my guys, and I said, instead of asking them, I worked with them shoulder to shoulder. You know, it doesn’t take that long. It’s not rocket science. 90 minutes shoulder to shoulder. These guys are running business units. They feel loyalty to their team. Tearing that team apart wasn’t easy. So, my job was to pull people together, and not just sit on the throne and go: “Cut overhead. You guys, go cut!” You know what, that’s the hardest thing ever. So, you just sit down, right. I just went around and started sitting down with people and making it happen. That relationship with the team was cemented and furthered through that effort. The company was always profitable, not by much through the recession, but we were successful.
00:44:20 Ash Faraj: All right. If you were to meet the 25-year Gus, what advice would you give him?
00:44:23 Gus Simonds: I would tell him you have what it takes to be successful. Believe in yourself, because at 25 I still didn’t believe in myself.
00:44:35 Ash Faraj: What in your life has given you the greatest fulfillment?
00:44:38 Gus Simonds: Seeing my kids grow up. Climbing all the big mountains in Washington State, including Bonanza Peak and Mount Stuart. Learning to play the guitar. There’s just a lot of them. I can’t pick one. See that’s the one, I can’t pick one.
00:44:54 Ash Faraj: It’s okay. I like it. What have been some of the happiest days in your life? Go for it.
00:45:00 Gus Simonds: [laughter] Good, I like it.
00:45:03 Ash Faraj: You got to adapt, right?
00:45:04 Gus Simonds: Yeah, remember that dream I told you about? I was working in the industry of Chicago. I’m going to have a boat on Lake Chelan. Bought this really sweet 1988 Bayliner. I took that thing by myself. Now, I normally like to surround myself with people, but I was by myself. And I got myself two-thirds of the way up Lake Chelan. Roadless. Nobody, and I shut the boat off. It was total silence, and I was floating amongst these huge mountain peaks. Holy crap. I made the dream come true.
00:45:37 Ash Faraj: Obviously, you’ve yet to see your happiest day and you got a lot life in you, but just kind of looking ahead. If you could be remembered for one thing what would you want that to be?
00:45:48 Gus Simonds: Yeah, I want people to remember Gus as someone that you would like to have around. If I can’t be there that day they wished I could be.
00:46:01 Ash Faraj: In your opinion, what is the most important life skill?
00:46:04 Gus Simonds: Being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
00:46:07 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice that someone has ever given you?
00:46:10 Gus Simonds: You’ve got to show up, man. You got to show up with full mind and body.
00:46:15 Ash Faraj: If you were stranded on an island, but you had access to only one meal. You’re starving, what would that meal be?
00:46:24 Gus Teriyaki chicken.
00:46:26 Ash Faraj: Thank you so, so much for listening. Now before you go, I wanted to invite you to get on a Zoom call. We can talk about guests we have on the show. We can talk about career advice you might be looking for. You can meet the ExecuTalks Team. We can just talk about life. Whatever it is, I want to get to know you. So please, shoot me an email at Ash@ExecuTalks.com, and until next week, take care, and be safe.