Chris Cancialosi – Founder of gothamCulture

[quote style=”boxed”]If I were to start again, I would diversify our revenue streams earlier. Being dependent on a single stream of revenue is really risky and will keep you up at night. Diversification allows you to hedge your bets.[/quote]

Chris Cancialosi is founder and managing partner at gothamCulture. Prior to launching gothamCulture, Chris held many roles, including U.S. Army officer, university adjunct professor of leadership psychology, and internal consultant at JetBlue Airways. His experiences led him to develop a unique perspective and focus on organizational culture and leadership.

The team at gothamCulture focuses on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders in developing and executing breakthrough strategies to elevate performance. The team provides critical, thought-provoking insights to leaders who desire to use organizational culture and leadership as key drivers of performance.

Chris currently lives in the Seattle area with his lovely wife and son.

What are you working on right now?

We just launched an innovative new leadership development experience for women leaders in a large tech company as part of its efforts to develop a deeper bench of female leaders. We’re also supporting a client acquisition of another organization by assessing organizational culture and smoothing the integration process. In addition to those projects, we’re working with a large mass transit organization to help transform the organization into one that customers love.

Personally, I’m focused on growing our company by diversifying revenue streams and building strategic alliances. We’re currently expanding into the government sector.

Where did the idea for gothamCulture come from?

Returning from active duty service in Iraq, I realized I had a passion for the great work I’d done with other organizations. My partner, Brian Glaser, and I started gothamCulture to help organizations achieve exceptional performance through the lens of culture and leadership.

The name itself came from our desire not to be just another consulting firm. Our roots are in New York City; it’s where we cut our teeth. The name’s different — people don’t forget it. It speaks to our style: We do the consulting thing very differently than our competitors.

How do you make money?

We generate revenue by assisting our clients with the assessment and transformation of their organizational culture and leadership capacity to better execute their strategies. We provide subject matter experts experienced in providing meaningful and sustainable support in a wide variety of service areas including, but not limited to, large-scale change efforts, strategic planning, project management, communications planning and support, organizational assessment, leadership development, executive coaching, and professional development training.

What does your typical day look like?

About 25 percent of my day is dedicated to directly supporting clients. I serve as an engagement supervisor responsible for planning and leading teams to conduct client interventions.

The other 75 percent of my day is focused on leading my team and growing our company. This includes managing everything from the back office, to marketing and PR, to developing and supervising our growth strategy.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We bring ideas to life by assembling a “just-in-time” team of subject matter experts to meet our clients’ needs. Whereas other consulting firms try to be all things to all people and resource their projects with whomever happens to be on staff, we leverage a large network of associates who specialize in a variety of areas to support our work. This allows us to pull together just the right skill sets, personalities, and experience for each client need.

At the end of the day, our team brings these great ideas to life in partnership with our clients. Without them, we’d be sunk.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One trend that really excites me is the growing acceptance and acknowledgement by C-level executives that culture is a critical component in driving performance within organizations. Many executives used to shy away from culture, labeling it “soft stuff,” but people are realizing they can’t sustain high performance without aligning their culture and strategy.

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

My worst job was right out of college. I worked for a third-party inspector of petroleum tankers in New York Harbor. I took fuel samples and calculated the volume and potency to ensure the buyers and sellers weren’t ripping each other off.

I learned a lot. First, you can’t do much with a BA in psychology! Second, a lot of people work in back-breaking conditions for little pay, but their jobs are no less important. I have tremendous respect for people who are willing to step up and take on tough jobs.

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

If I were to start again, I would diversify our revenue streams earlier. Being dependent on a single stream of revenue is really risky and will keep you up at night. Diversification allows you to hedge your bets.

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

I wargame. I’m constantly assessing ideas and wargaming possibilities. You have to be able to identify possibilities and quickly assess their potential value-add. Nothing irks me more than missing a good opportunity because I wasn’t paying attention.

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

I tell people I have the most expensive MBA in the world. I’ve paid heavily for some mistakes, but I’ve learned from every one. We often learn more from our failures than our successes.

One particular failure that cut deep was waiting too long to let a key player in our organization go. It almost sunk us, yet I held out hope that this person would change.

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

If you’re not hiring military veterans, you’re missing out on a huge potential asset. These men and women had huge responsibility at a young age; they’ve truly been in the trenches and won’t let you down when the going gets rough.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I’d love to change the consumer mentality in our country. What we need are citizens: people who are informed and engaged in contributing, rather than focused on taking. I’d mandate three years of service for all high school graduates prior to going to college or getting a job. Everyone needs to understand what it means to serve others to keep things in perspective.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I’m a guilty vegetarian. Although I don’t eat meat, I occasionally dream about having a big, juicy filet at Keen’s Chophouse or a double ShackBurger from Shake Shack.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

I’m a huge fan of Google Apps; we use it as our primary platform. It’s an all-in-one tool that my consultants can access, regardless of what platform they’re using, anywhere in the world. Since we don’t often see each other in an office, it helps us stay connected.

I like Harvest, our online application for tracking time and expenses. With consultants all over, we work hard to minimize their administrative work so they can maximize their time helping clients and focusing on what they love doing. Harvest helps us do just that, while providing me with near-real-time data with which to make decisions.

I also have to recommend Who doesn’t love a website dedicated to playing the ukulele?

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

I’d recommend “Organizational Culture and Leadership” by Edgar Schein. If you’re an entrepreneur serious about setting a solid foundation from which to grow, understanding your role in shaping your organization’s culture is imperative. Taking the time to understand what you truly value and how that will generate certain behaviors from your people can be a double-edged sword if you’re not intentional about it.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

First on my list would be @ABillionPlus. A Billion + Change’s program is a herculean effort to get corporations to donate skills-based, pro bono services to organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford them.

My second recommendation would be @Inc. While somewhat obvious, Inc. provides fantastic resources and good reading.

Third, I’d pick @HarvardBiz. If you’re in business and aren’t keeping tabs on the thought leaders at Harvard Business Review, you’re doing something wrong.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laughed out loud a couple of weeks ago at my brother’s bachelor party at a golf resort. While the winner of the tournament receives the coveted orange jacket, the person with the worst score is forced to wear the small denim vest of shame. It was me. You have to be able to laugh at yourself.

Who is your hero, and why?

I admire a lot of people, but I don’t have a hero per se.

Can you name a specific moment or event that inspired you to do what you do today?

My military service inspired me to start my business. I realized life is short; I needed to make the biggest splash I could with the talents I’d been given. Working for someone else would never allow me to make my splash the way I wanted to.

What’s on your music playlist?

I am an enormous fan of music, and I have very diverse tastes. As a wannabe guitar-shredding superstar, I listen to a lot of Jack Johnson. What he can do with a guitar is amazing, and his lyrics are pretty deep without shoving themselves in your face.


Chris Cancialosi on LinkedIn:
gothamCulture on Twitter: @GOTHAMculture