Bill Glenn

Executive Chairman of Crenshaw Associates

Bill Glenn is the Executive Chairman of Crenshaw Associates. Bill is engaged with CEOs, CHROs, and Directors on matters that involve the intersection of talent, corporate strategy, and execution. He guides the firm’s long-term vision for growth and serves as a mentor to the firm’s most senior clients, sharing knowledge gained as a CEO, President, and public Director. Prior to Crenshaw, Bill was the CEO of American Express Global Business Travel, an independent private company. Bill led the development of the investment thesis and the $2B spin-off as a stand-alone, independent company. GBT is the world’s largest corporate travel management company operating in 140 countries around the globe with 14k employees. Bill was President of Amex’s $5B Commercial Services business. He identified operating synergies between the Global Corporate Payments and Global Business Travel divisions, and created a disruptive new business model that capitalized on rapidly evolving technology trends in business travel.

Where did the idea for Crenshaw Associates come from?

The company was founded by Barbara Crenshaw 40 years ago in 1982. Barb Bridendolph and Nat Stoddard acquired the company in 2001 after Barb Crenshaw passed away. In 2019, I acquired Crenshaw Associates from Barb and Nat. I knew the brand and the CEO, Barb Bridendolph, was my executive coach when I joined American Express as President of Merchant Services from PepsiCo in 2003. I hired Crenshaw and Barb over the years as an Executive at American Express.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t believe that there is a typical day. As a rigorous planner, I had to get used to that. That said, I try to spend my time each day talking to customers and prospects, speaking with my partner, Barb Bridendolph, about current and prospective engagements and working on critical initiatives. I ensure my calendar focuses on strategic initiatives vs. urgent activities and that we are moving forward on business priorities and OKRs.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We have a deep history of delivering value to executives, corporations, and industry leaders in HR and also understand the talent challenges employers face concerning The Great Resignation.

Every time I have a new idea, I do the following three things:

a) Ensure it is marketplace and customer driven. Is there a real need for this idea?

b) Discuss the idea thoroughly with my network, including internal team members at Crenshaw and people I have worked with and respected over the years with vertical expertise.

c) Have a plan to bring it to the market successfully. It is essential to have a go-to-market execution plan.

We never present new ideas without thorough market research, feedback and analysis.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Our company is focused on culture and DEI. I am also pleased to see more companies taking an active role in integrating neurodiversity in the workplace to increase opportunities for executives on the spectrum. Our executive coaches have worked with brilliant talent on the spectrum, so we fully support increasing awareness around creating a neurodiverse-friendly workplace to increase accommodations for talent. This area is rapidly gaining traction as the future of work turns remote and hybrid.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Habit is learned over time and passed on through generations. My habits are learned from my parents and grandmothers, who taught me to have passion and a strong work ethic.

Most CEOs do not start their career selling toothpaste as a street guy. My leadership journey from toothpaste and teamsters to global business travel and entrepreneurship has been an interesting one. I started my career selling toothpaste and working and negotiating with teamsters at Pepsi. This taught me critical negotiation and selling skills. I learned how to deal with people, eventually leading me to a thriving and rewarding career at American Express.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Recognize the personal and professional value of strategic networking. I’m a bit of an introvert but evolved to be a working extrovert as it was required to provide strong leadership to my organization and the business’s health. I became good at being externally focused and enjoyed working and pleading with people. That said, I networked as a business necessity but never fully recognized the personal value of networking and forming relationships.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

#1. Everybody could use a coach.
#2. Nobody tells a CEO the truth. We do.

CEOs all want a trusted advisor. Transparency is critical.

A CEO is the most recognized person in the company and is also the loneliest one. They can’t talk to the board, direct reports, or spouses about some of their most challenging corporate issues. Every CEO needs a trusted advisor to talk through critical issues. If you do not understand what motivates you and how you are wired, you are at a disadvantage in Corporate America. Motivation impacts performance. Everybody needs a trusted advisor and a coach. You must learn how to fight some of your natural tendencies, which can alienate your team and cause you to lose business. If the CEO comes up with an idea, most people will say him/her to death. Use collaborative conflict instead of telling the CEO you like it and then walking out of the room and saying this will never work.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be externally focused. Focus on the marketplace, your customers, and your future competitors. Know what is taking place, study the changing buying habits and ensure your products meet those needs.

“Where is the Amazon?” Where is the non-legacy competitor out there that will eat your lunch?

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Today, retaining top talent is more critical to corporations than ever before. One way to retain top talent is to increase competitive offerings, including expanded capabilities in software and tech. We have aggressively invested in expanding our digital products and services with Business Intelligence and AI research to meet the evolving needs of corporations, CHRO’s, and executives.

Commercial Excellence is the investment thesis that accelerated the growth of the business the most. This requires a compelling value proposition, a reason to buy, a focus on deepening business relationships, a rigorous lead generation plan, and a go-to-market strategy for execution.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Senior executive coaching and development is a highly fragmented industry. Many sole proprietors and small shops often lack the capital, commercial acumen, and appetite to scale. We support solopreneurs and work with many of them. That being said, a larger executive coaching firm can provide several benefits that are harder to get from a smaller shop. Knowing who your customer is and who you are marketing to is essential. When we tried running Google ads, we cast a wide net that resulted in leads that were not qualified. We have since refined our targeting. If something fails to convert qualified traffic or leads, go back to the drawing board to try out a new strategy or tactic. It doesn’t mean that you failed, it just means you missed the mark. Don’t be afraid to try again when it comes to messaging and audience segmentation in digital marketing.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The Human Resources software market is heating up. My idea would be to create software specifically targeted for the C-Suite that speaks directly to the needs of CHROs. Expansion of technology-enabled capabilities and service offerings tailored to the HR industry will be critical for product-led growth in the future of work and digital transformation.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The morning after my daughter got engaged, my wife, daughter, and future son-in-law went to a diner for breakfast. I spent $120, including tip.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We launched myCAreer, a proprietary platform designed to keep our hundreds of alumni and current clients engaged with Crenshaw. It holds all of the proprietary work we have done together and shares insights and information critical to their careers and professional growth. It alerts them on events and new services we are launching.

We also recently started using Notion for our content database to collect the articles we have written.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Strength to Strength, by Albert Brooks, is about finding happiness and success in your second curve. It teaches you how to use your skills, knowledge, and experience for productivity and happiness.

What is your favorite quote?

“An educated consumer is our best customer.” -Sy Syms

Key Learnings:

  • Focus on the customer. Understand their needs, what they want, and how to get it to them. I had to figure out how to get more display and shelf space early in my career selling toothpaste. How could we sell more? What could I do to sell more toothpaste? The best way to get the answer was by talking to bodega owners and customers. You will never get the answer you want from a spreadsheet only. Get the answer you need by talking to customers.
  • You learn to sell by selling, not by sitting. You have to be in front of your customer to understand your customer. You can’t just sit in an office and never interact with customers. Many people haven’t been rejected and rejection is a critical component of sales. They don’t know what it’s like to fail or have significant objections.
  • People are not just numbers; they are people. Strategy sessions without going to a region or figuring out the client’s needs create a disconnect. Experience is everything. You can’t coach what you don’t know. You can’t come back from some place you’ve never been to.
  • Don’t be afraid to invest in marketing. Partnerships and incremental investments will enable you to expand your products and services to meet the evolving needs of your current customers.
  • Expanding brand recognition is critical. With a differentiated value proposition, there is no reason that new business should go to an RFP or that you shouldn’t win an RFP.