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How Rich Balot Went From Near Bankruptcy to Leader of a Retail Empire

How Rich Balot Went From Near Bankruptcy to Leader of a Retail Empire

Learn about Rich Balot’s hard-won journey from starting a successful family cell phone business in his twenties, to nearly filing for bankruptcy, to creating two exits, and now running a company worth over $3B in sales, as found in our WSJ and Amazon bestselling book, Making BIG Happen.

When our longtime client Rich Balot was in his twenties, things were not going well on the home front. His father had been unemployed for a few years, and his mom was about to divorce him. Rich looked around and saw that cell phones were taking off, so he thought it would be a great idea to start a cell phone business. To get started, he partnered with his brother, hired their dad, opened the first store, and started riding the cell phone wave.

The company grew rapidly until at one point it was over-expanded, and the finances had clearly become a mess. Rich hired a CFO to try to straighten things out. Rich described the less-than-rigorous qualifications he used when hiring: “He’s been a CFO. I like him. He knows the accounting side, so I hired him.” Not surprisingly, things went south quickly.

The CFO came from a manufacturing background but did not know small-box retail accounting and the importance of having individual store P&Ls. As a result, he was not able to give Rich the information he needed to make the tough decisions to turn the business around. Compounding his problem, Rich said, “I decided that he was the wrong person probably three to four months before I finally got rid of him. I’ll bet you I aged more in those three to four months than any other time in my life.”

And the management turnover did not stop there.

At this point, Rich hired Mark Moses as his coach, and we realized his head of sales had to go too. The only problem was that this guy was a close, personal friend of Rich’s. So, we moved him to another role where he would be a better fit and replaced him with one of the best sales leaders in the business.

We continued to upgrade Rich’s staff year after year to ensure we had the absolute best people in each role. And it paid off. In 2015, Rich merged his company with a much bigger one, retained a 20 percent interest in it, and became the chairman and co-CEO of a $750 million juggernaut.

But that is not the end of the story.

About a year after the merger, we hired a senior executive from a publicly traded company to become the new CEO. This new guy was not a big believer in coaching—was too busy for that—so our gig was up. Over the next two years, the company grew fast, but the culture got messed up. What used to be a sales organization became a cost-cutting organization, and it was super unhealthy.

Turnover within the stores—salespeople, the store managers—had gone to historically high levels, and it was having an extremely negative impact on the culture. Sales was blaming ops. Ops did not like sales. It was becoming toxic.

By early 2019, the CEO had resigned, and Rich stepped back in as the head guy. The company now had $1.7 billion in annual revenue, more than one thousand stores, and nearly six thousand employees. Rich brought Mark back in to coach him and the team.

We restarted the annual, quarterly, and weekly planning rhythm—the Make BIG Happen System. We hired a rock star sales leader from a competitor to lead the sales team and replaced three out of four regional vice presidents who’d reported to the old guy. Then we went down a level and replaced sixteen out of twenty-four of the district managers with new all-stars. We kept digging down to each level and replacing the bad actors with people who can take the company to its next leg of BIG growth.

In short order, just by changing a few key players and putting the Make BIG Happen System back in place, company sales and profitability rose meaningfully, and the culture has improved dramatically. With Rich’s commitment to the Make BIG Happen System, he went from near bankruptcy to the creation of a one-thousand-plus-location retail empire, producing a nine-figure cash event for himself and setting his company up for sustained year-over-year growth.

When the new organization went off track, Rich’s decision to recommit the company to the Make BIG Happen System turned it around and produced an even bigger outcome, growing to nearly $3 billion in sales and continuing its record of strong growth to this day. In fact, Victra announced its acquisition of Go Wireless in April 2022.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.

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