Bradford Blevins - Managing Partner at gothamCulture

I write everything down in my little black Moleskine notebook. Anyone I meet with, any meeting I lead, or any conversation I have is written in the book. I take a few minutes to make notes about key points and questions as we go along. With the 12 hours of discussions covered each day, this little habit keeps me honest, informed, and consistent.

Bradford Blevins is a managing partner at gothamCulture, recently recognized in the 2015 Inc. 5000. He is a United States Army infantry veteran and a results-oriented organizational strategy adviser. He is focused on ensuring organizations can effectively navigate change in order to operate at their highest performance tempos.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Back in 2009, I started my own firm, The Bradford Management Group, in order to accomplish a few personal and professional goals.

First, I wanted to control the pricing models (cost to government/clients) of my skills, expertise, and services. Mega-consulting firms sometimes leave taxpayers and government agencies paying marked-up rates to cover their overheads. By owning my own firm, both my destiny and my rates were in my hands. I knew as a young, aggressive leader that I needed to chart my own course. Waiting 10 to 15 years to reach a decision-making position was not something I was willing to do.

I also wanted to influence the destiny of my team to build an environment of inclusion, thought leadership, and esprit de corps. I felt there was something missing from the teams I worked with in larger firms (and something I missed from my days in the U.S. Army), and I wanted myself — and my colleagues — to define our culture together.

Lastly, I wanted to pursue excellence. I never wanted to cut corners; I believed I should always be striving to provide clients with unprecedented services.

Around the spring of 2014, I decided to merge The Bradford Management Group with gothamCulture, as gC believed in the same values that I did. Further, both companies wanted to provide a more diverse portfolio of clientele beyond our original markets. With this change, we could expand and build an innovative, inclusive set of management practices to better help executives navigate change in their organizations and reach higher performances.

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

A typical day is 12 hours, and I spend about half to three-fourths of that time in meetings with clients and teammates. The remaining hours are usually spent on research, speeches, and preparation for meetings with executive clients or business partners (or making basic operational decisions). I usually speak — via phone, webinar, or in person — with about 20 to 30 people on any given day.

I’ve found a unique equilibrium where I still work in the areas of my passion and original skills — strategy, process, and project management. By keeping my toes in the implementation world and working with clients in these areas, I’m able to better connect with the “real world application needs” of clients, colleagues, and employees. This hands-on approach ensures I understand how my clients’ organizations truly work instead of just reading and talking about them from a third-party perspective.

Personal work-life balance is critical to productivity (and sanity). I rise at 5:30 a.m. most mornings to hit the gym, and I’m at work by 7 a.m. to start the 12-hour journey. Without a focus on balance, I would not be able to provide agile insights across many topics, clients, and situations each day. This work-life balance is a constant struggle that I continually reassess to ensure accountability of this “balance promise” to my colleagues, my family, my clients, and myself.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I use four strategies to bring ideas to life. First, I use visual storytelling; I’m a visual person. I like to put my thoughts on paper, using color to highlight critical decision points and other items. Then, I sketch out overarching themes or integration points that can be applied to those processes.

I also utilize collaborative thinking — both internally and externally. Internally, I take that initial, visual depiction of my thoughts and bring it to our team of experts on subject matter. Leveraging various perspectives usually brings about a more mature concept. Externally, I take the latest draft to the client. We treat it as a pilot program or an opportunity to further mature the concept with the client’s people. The client usually has yet another perspective on how the concept would work within the organization.

Lastly, I test, analyze, and mature. Once a concept or idea is close to finalization, we test it in appropriate environments before starting a larger-scale rollout. I actually use our own firm’s model of business in how I personally bring an idea to life. We call it the ADDIS model: Assess, Dialogue, Design, Implement, Sustain.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Scenario planning is a true application of the test/analyze/mature step in any full-cycle solution process. Whether it’s a decision on financial matters, new employee policies, or new concepts for client delivery, testing the idea before finalization is critical. I’m very interested in both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of scenario planning using the fundamentals of risk management, fragility theories, etc. It’s all about testing and ensuring adaptability and relevance. To develop something is one thing; to ensure it’s applicable, useful to the organization, and mature in thought and/or design, well, that’s where the magic happens.

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

I write everything down in my little black Moleskine notebook. Anyone I meet with, any meeting I lead, or any conversation I have is written in the book. I take a few minutes to make notes about key points and questions as we go along. With the 12 hours of discussions covered each day, this little habit keeps me honest, informed, and consistent.

But, most importantly, I constantly remind myself to empathically listen and consider the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor that is usually on the minds of my staff, my colleagues, and my clients during any conversation, brainstorming session, or meeting. In understanding the behavioral drivers and motivators of those around us, I can better choose more productive communication channels and decision paths with said parties.

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

I once took a job as an operations director for a midsize consulting company. I had enough experience to be given the title and to hold the position, but I wasn’t part of the “old boys club.” I didn’t have a seat at the table to make decisions and influence the firm in a way that I had hoped, and I couldn’t make changes that I believed could help both the firm and its clients.

I learned from that position that what you think you’ve earned or deserve isn’t important. If you can’t effectively work with the culture of that organization to get the job done, your voice remains nothing more than a buzzing on the wall.

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

I wouldn’t have tried to start out alone. Having a partner to discover, grow, and fail with is the preferred route. I have a business partner now, and I’ve never looked back. Starting my first company as a solo president was very lonely and difficult.

As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

There are actually three things I do — or remind myself to do — over and over again.

First, I remind myself that a good leader is always surrounded by those smarter than he is. I enjoy integrating ideas from various experts to solve complex organizational initiatives. I don’t know what I don’t know, and sometimes I do know what I don’t know — so hire those who know! Then learn and grow together. No matter what level you reach in your career, you will always have something more to know and someone you need to learn from. Embrace it, encourage it, and thrive as a leader and entrepreneur with it.

Secondly, I accept the things that I can’t change, and I stay true to who I am and what I know. Always try to understand and identify what you can control, or influence, vs. what are only in position to be aware of for managerial purposes.

Finally, as 200-plus emails and activities pass in front of me every day, I give myself a little sanity check. I make sure that I’m following the “do, delegate, or dump” philosophy. For difficult decisions, I make sure I ethically and empathically assess both sides of every decision I make.

What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The one main strategy that has helped grow my business involves always reminding myself that my people (my team and my colleagues) are the reason this firm exists. Focus in on — and take care of — your people, and all else falls in to place. If your people are trained, allowed to voice their ideas/concerns, and taken care of in every way, they will take care of your customers and be motivated while doing it. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.

Merging my firm with gothamCulture was also a strategy that tipped the scale. Finding a company of equal size, ethics, values, and complementary offerings was the key driver for our recent growth. It made our new firm more attractive to existing and new clientele alike.

I decided on a more holistic service offering in order to diversify our market and portfolio. This decision changed our potential and allowed us to grow to where we are now. We just made the Inc. 5000 list, and we’re the first-ever member of the Inc. Military Entrepreneurs program to make it.

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

My one failure was not accepting failures. I have always been willing to take risks, but I never really took the full definition of risk to heart. I struggled with the willingness to fail. As the first in my family to go to college, I couldn’t fathom failure as an acceptable option. I wasn’t mature enough to reassess poor decisions or use failures as growth opportunities, which resulted in poor outcomes in the early years. Any successful entrepreneur will likely fail time and again — that’s how you learn and grow.

What’s the best $100 you recently spent, and why?

I just bought executive leadership coaching. The 360-degree assessment with my executive coach was a game changer for me. No matter how far we go up the chain or how important we think we are, we need to be humble in our actions and our views of ourselves.

Getting feedback from my partner, subordinates, teammates, and clients allowed me to better understand the difference between how I perceive myself and how others perceive me — for better or worse. It also highlighted strengths and opportunities that I wasn’t aware of but that others saw in me. Self-awareness through self-analysis should be continual for all leaders.

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

Harvest is a project time-tracking system that tracks both our employees’ time and the projects they work on for us. We use it to understand, analyze, and make decisions about what our employees are working on, how much they’re working on revenue-generating work versus overhead/administrative tasks, and how that billability is trending between clients, employees, and teams over time.

I also love Teamwork, a project management tool. It provides major project scope, staffing, and schedule capture in real time for everyone to communicate tasks and activities.

Harvest and Teamwork speak to one another. We set things up so the financial side captured in Harvest links to the scope and delivery in Teamwork.

What’s one book you recommend our community read, and why?

The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful book. A tipping point is what one strives for in business, hoping to raise the organization to new performance heights. I’m constantly looking for our next amazing tipping point! This book is one I reference — for myself, for my team, and for our clients — over and over again.

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

Much like my humble beginnings in the Blue Ridge Mountains (with food stamps and federal assistance), Colin Powell rose from his own humble upbringing in the Bronx to that of a world- renowned soldier and statesmen. He was also controversial, not playing by the political rules in order to do what, in his mind, was right.

A biography by Karen DeYoung titled “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell” is a great read, showing how life can take you wherever you desire, regardless of where you started. It also shows that making sound judgements, even if they’re against the status quo, can change the course of your life — and perhaps the course of the world.

gothamCulture on LinkedIn:
gothamCulture on Twitter: @gothamCulture
Bradford Blevins on LinkedIn:
Bradford Blevins on Twitter: @TheBradfordMG