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Former Home Depot Canada CEO on Keys to Scaling to $1 Billion or More in Sales

Guest: CEO Coaching International’s Stephen Bebis. Stephen held a variety of senior merchandising roles at Home Depot before being named the VP General Merchandise Manager for the Mid-South Division. He also founded Aikenhead’s Improvement Warehouse and built it to $1 billion in sales before selling it to Home Depot. After the acquisition, Stephen served as President and CEO of Home Depot Canada and chairman of the Aikenhead/Home Depot Partnership Board. Stephen also founded Golf Town, built it to 65 stores, and took the company public.

Episode in a Tweet: There’s always a crisis somewhere. The best leaders have a continuous planning process and the right people to execute it.

Quick Background: When Stephen Bebis joined Home Depot in 1984 the company had just 14 stores. When he left in 1990, he was running a $20 billion division as a head merchant and was the VP of the southern part of the country. And while some might look back on the ’80s and early ‘90s as a booming time for business, think about everything that happened during the 6 years that Stephen helped Home Depot grow. Two presidential elections. Black Monday, 1987. Tumult in the Middle East, including Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Not to mention annual hurricane seasons and other unpredictable disasters.

No, running a business isn’t easy during Covid-19. But as Stephen discusses on today’s show, CEOs always have to be prepared to adjust to unforeseen circumstances and refocus their efforts on how to satisfy and grow their customer base.

Key Insights on Scaling Fast from Stephen Bebis

1.Achieve your five-year plan in three-or less.

The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 is going to freeze a lot of mediocre businesses in their tracks. They’re going to lose sight of long-term goals and lose faith in a sound planning process. And their struggles for the rest of the year will have more to do with self-fulfilling prophesy than with a pandemic, an election, or a disrupted supply chain.

“In every business cycle there’s going to be a crisis,” Stephen Bebis says. “Good leaders really adapt their business plan regularly. When you put a five-year plan together, it’s a point in time. But as you see things change, you update the plan. You go back and say, ‘Okay, this was our original five-year plan, we’re going to make some adjustments. Why are we behind? If we’re ahead, how do we accelerate this success? If we could achieve our five-year plan in three years, that’s very exciting. What are the resources we need?’ A business plan is a living document and should be updated quarterly to ensure that you’re on track.”

Stephen Bebis: Company culture really means that everyone within the organization can answer most questions the same way.

2.”It’s all about the customer.”

For the last few years, many companies have let their ideas about culture get too wrapped up in amenities and buzzwords they hoped would attract millennial workers and customers. If you thought a ping-pong table, a nice cafeteria, and laundry servicewere all you needed to bond your employees to your vision, the realities of a post-Covid workforce could be a rude awakening. For the foreseeable future, your employees might be more mobile, more widely dispersed, and less tied to their desks.

The kind of culture that Stephen Bebis built throughout his career was focused on just one thing: customers. “It’s all about customer service,” Stephen says. “Company culture really means that everyone within the organization can answer most questions the same way. That means that you’ve trained and developed your employees and everybody knows the priorities. When that happens, that’s great company culture. And if we take care of the customer, we will grow our business.”

Customer service is one area where Covid-19 can provide opportunities to improve your business if you’re willing to think outside your old box and make some important adjustments. A decentralized, online workforce could be positioned to serve customers more quickly. Thoughtful tech investments could create better “sticky channels” where your customers can get help themselves. And flexible working arrangements could appeal to the next wave of top talent for whom the idea of working in an office every day might seem as antiquated as a fax machine.

3.Hire and promote the right people for the right stage.

A classic stumbling block that Stephen has seen at companies struggling to grow is the CEO who just can’t let go. If you know, deep down, that micromanaging is one of your blind spots, you have to learn to trust your team leaders to execute even if you can’t knock on their office doors every day. At each stage of a company’s growth, CEOs have to delegate a little more so that they can start working towards the next step. CEOs who learn how to do that end up building great teams along the way.

In the early years of your company’s growth, Stephen says, “I looked for people who could execute, make things happen, and get things done.” He wanted doers, not managers. Then as the company grew to $100 million, $500 million, a billion, he looked to promote from within to fill management roles.

Keep in mind that who you start with may not be who you finish with. “What I discovered early on is that the people that got you to your core business starting out, typically is not the same team that gets you to scale to much higher numbers. And so I was very careful about that as I built my entrepreneurial teams, knowing that a lot of them will not be with me when we scale up to a much bigger company.”

Ultimately, it’s all about people. “It’s critical that CEOs get the right people on the bus and give them all the tools necessary to be successful,” Stephen says. “I think that’s the number one role of a CEO. What I see as a coach today is there’s lots of opportunities for CEOs to improve performance in their businesses by really analyzing and looking at members of their management team, and ensuring that they have the best people in that position. You have a better chance of winning when you know you have a high-performance team in place.”

Top Takeaways

  1. Quarterly review meetings are essential. Analyze what went right, what went wrong, and how to do better.
  2. Customer service culture creates a consistent experience that grows business.
  3. The right people for each stage of your company’s growthensures you fill your ranks with people who are performing at their peak in their core competency.

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 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.

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