Brad Thies - Principal at Barr Assurance & Advisory

Run to your problems; don’t try to avoid them.

Brad Thies is principal at Barr Assurance & Advisory Inc. (BARR), a full-service risk consulting and compliance firm that provides business performance, information technology, and assurance services to clients across a variety of industries. He specializes in helping clients assess, design, and implement processes and controls to meet customer, regulatory, and compliance requirements. Brad is a certified public accountant and a certified information system auditor with more than 10 years of experience in the industry.

Where did the idea for BARR come from?

Web-scale IT, the Internet of everything, and increasingly scalable cloud-computing platforms created cheap building blocks for startups and an explosion of outsourced systems, business processes, and data to service providers. Organizations recognize they can outsource everything but responsibility (, which has driven security and compliance questions and concerns — from the request for proposal process to ongoing vendor management practices.

And with increased focus on data security, integrity, and regulatory and compliance requirements, many organizations are struggling to understand and prepare for the implications of various standards (e.g., HIPAA, government regulation, credit card industry rules, etc.).

While working at a Big Four consulting firm with Fortune 500 clients that did business with smaller vendors, I noticed that the startups in the cloud space weren’t equipped to meet the demands of doing business in highly regulated industries. A lot of advice they were given was near-sighted and a “Band-Aid” approach to addressing their customer and industry compliance questions rather than truly understanding the risks and challenges of their particular market.

BARR was formed to serve these small to medium-sized businesses more effectively. We strive to help them navigate the complexities of security and compliance while maintaining their nimble entrepreneurial spirits as they scale and grow into thriving businesses.

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

I’m passionate about my work and helping clients, which can easily keep me busy all day, every day. However, the law of diminishing returns reminds me that all hours are not created equal. As a result, my most productive days are when I set deadlines for myself in short bursts of time to get things done and keep the ball moving.

That being said, my “typical day” can vary greatly depending on how I allocate my time. For example, I might spend Monday with clients, Tuesday doing web meetings with my teams, and Wednesday in and out of coffee shops collaborating and learning with others. But no matter what, every day starts and ends with reviewing my list of priorities grouped around strategic, tactical, and operational activities of the business. This helps me stay focused as much as possible in a world full of distractions.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I use the “multiplier effect” to bring ideas to life. No other book puts it more elegantly than Liz Wiseman’s “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.

“Leaders can use their intelligence to multiply the intelligence of the people around them and, in doing so, effectively double output…for free,” writes Wiseman. Multipliers embody five specific characteristics:

• They effectively bring talent together.
• They require people’s critical thinking skills.
• They broaden every challenge’s scope.
• They discuss decisions thoughtfully and thoroughly.
• They impart responsibility and reliability.

The ideas that I bring to life happen through collaboration using the above disciplines.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

When it comes to value creation, externalities are exciting and interesting. I think corporations and businesses are more aware that externalities are more likely than ever to have an increasing impact on corporate value creation, as well as societal value creation.

Perhaps a more popular trend that excites me is the sharing economy. Uber is great, and I use Airbnb. During my extended traveling days in college, I had a blast couch surfing, but those days are over for me. I like to think of Airbnb as couch surfing for grownups!

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

It takes a lot of practice, but being engaged with the present moment is the most productive habit I’ve tried to instill in myself. I’ve learned that no matter what you have going on in your work or life, the most important element is to be in the present.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I’ve been fortunate to have really good jobs throughout my life. However, the worst job was a summer from hell after my junior year in college. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to start a painting business with no painting experience.

With a little tenacity, I made it through, and by the end of the summer, the painting business was a well-oiled machine. However, it came with a ton of growing pains and tough decisions to have to let people go when the work slowed down — not to mention taking on a lawsuit from an angry judge after my crew essentially power-washed the wood out of his gazebo deck.

Overall, I learned three key lessons:

• Little to no experience and minimal preparation is a terrible combination.
• A tangible business plan really is absolutely crucial to your success.
• Never power-wash a gazebo.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have started sooner! There’s never a perfect time to take on a risky endeavor. It took me quite a while to build up the courage to leave a firm that treated me well, but the rewards and excitement of starting on my own has been very fulfilling.

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

Run to your problems; don’t try to avoid them.

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

Foster, grow, and nurture solid relationships. Each seed that’s (genuinely) planted could be the one that grows the tallest.

Also, you need to establish an effective system. It works much better than trying to reinvent the wheel every time a new activity crops up. Recognize what works well and what doesn’t, and figure out a system to automate as much as you can. This doesn’t mean just technology; it also includes aligning people — including yourself — and processes in a system that works. Ensure your system runs efficiently, and always strive for continuous improvement.

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

My wife and I are entering the world of parenthood in the next few months. It’d be awesome if someone could figure out a more effective, flexible daycare solution. I couldn’t believe that the waiting list at some daycares for two days a week is more than 18 months! Are people planning daycare before pregnancy?

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, Evernote, Salesforce, Asana, and Trello. They’re cheap building blocks that, when connected in the right way, make life so much easier.

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

I would highly recommend “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton Christensen. The book has great introspective on self-awareness from a business perspective and in terms of understanding yourself through business concepts. It’s not the traditional touchy-feely self-help book of quick fixes. Rather, it dives deep into the core of problems with theories for ensuring that you’ll be successful and happy in your career and relationships while upholding your integrity.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

John Blumberg’s blog is a huge influence of mine. I had the chance to take one of his classes about building value in business through core values. One of the key values I like is his perspective on integrity: “Integrity is not a core value,” he said. “It is the fabric of every value.”

I also like to read Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. His posts are full of simple pieces of advice (sometimes to the point of being a little obvious), but they’re all great reminders of how to develop good habits.

However, the most influential people of all have been my parents and the rest of my family. If they had a blog of their words of wisdom, I’m sure it would be of interest to others.

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