Rod McDermott is the CEO + Co-Founder of McDermott + Bull, one of the fastest-growing firms in North America with offices domestically and internationally; the President + CEO of M+B Interim Leaders, which he founded along with Angela Anderson in 2011 to address an increased client need for time-sensitive solutions to important leadership challenges; the Founder of the M+B Executive Network, a community of in-transition senior-level executives seeking guidance to land their next role, serving over 10,000 members since inception; and the CEO + Co-Founder of Activate 180, which provides expert insights and best practices to achieve ultimate job satisfaction and career success.
Rod has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, growing companies from the ground up and challenging industry norms. His ultimate goal is to meaningfully contribute to the greater good, which is showcased through his passion for hard work, fostering relationships, and conceptualizing solutions for professional development.
He currently serves on the Board of Partners Bank of California and is a former Board Member of The Mission Hospital Foundation and THINK Together, as well as a regular contributor to Angel Flight.
Rod resides in Laguna Niguel, California, with his wife Laura, their four children, and three dogs. He is a multi-thousand-hour turbine aircraft pilot and flies his CJ2 Jet for business and for his other passions, which include philanthropy, skiing, and traveling. Rod received a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Where did the idea for Activate 180 come from?
The idea for Activate 180 goes back to the Great Recession when a lot of people were out of work and were desperate to find any job. After speaking with many people, I realized that before the recession, many of them were doing the wrong job at the wrong company and were about to embark on the same failed journey. From these conversations, my philosophy evolved into supporting others to pursue career opportunities that would allow them to live their best life.
Activate 180 embodies this philosophy: Utilize our coaches to help those employed find more engagement in their jobs and achieve their goals across multiple pillars in their lives.
I believe that the best employers out there care about the full human experience — not just their employees’ identities at work — and that they truly want to help their employees live their best lives. This is our purpose and mission at Activate 180 — to be the catalyst in making that possible for both the employer and their employees.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I don’t really have a typical day, which is amazing for me. I’m in a place where I get to lead leaders, so success for me is helping to align our leaders with our bigger vision. I’m in meetings with these leaders throughout the day, providing them with the resources necessary to succeed while removing the roadblocks they encounter. This allows them to achieve their individual objectives, which therefore helps the firm achieve its long-term objectives.
Dedicated personal time is important to me, which includes four-morning workouts a week. For my overall well-being and energy throughout the day, I make sure I have three meals and I aim to take at least 20 minutes to read a book every day. If I can take a little more, the better, but if not, 20 minutes makes a significant difference to my mental state. As for the type of book, it’s usually a book built on business practices. The book I am currently reading is The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham, which I highly recommend.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My leadership team is my right hand for bouncing around new ideas to bring to life. I’ll come up with something, bring it to them, and then we’ll determine what impact it might have on the business, both positive and negative. From there, we’ll dive into the resources and execution plan we need to move forward with the idea.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Companies are waking up to the concept that the ways we’ve done business in the past, in relation to employee engagement and development, no longer solve today’s problems. Annual or semiannual ad hoc trainings and annual reviews don’t help employees feel like there’s a true opportunity for advancement or help create a connection to the company’s overall vision.
Leading an executive search firm has granted me access to plenty of interviews. We always ask this question, “Why are you looking to leave your current company?” Oftentimes, the interviewee expresses that there is little-to-no advancement opportunity, regardless of the employer’s significant revenue stature. The truth is though, that it’s not that the advancement opportunity doesn’t exist, the opportunity has just never been communicated effectively.
Success happens when companies put in the necessary work for their employees to understand the organization’s vision, the roles they play in its success, and opportunities for growth throughout their career. This is where Activate 180 comes in — we support organizations in building this foundation, which leads to increased employee engagement, satisfaction, retention, and performance rates.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Like clockwork, I wake up every morning at 5:45 a.m. sharp. This sets the tone for the day, allowing me enough time to get a workout in at 6:30 a.m., catch up on the daily news, enjoy a cup of coffee, and then start my workday. I have a frame on my nightstand that says, “How would you rate your day?” I look at that every morning when I wake up and every night before I go to bed. This gives me the opportunity to reflect on areas I can improve upon so that I can be my best self the next day. The goal is to be at a 10/10 each day, but bringing my awareness to the days where I may be at an 8/10 provides me with the clarity in what I can improve, while also acknowledging and giving myself the permission to celebrate what went right.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Hire better, more qualified people sooner. Align them to your vision, give them the resources to do their job, and then get out of their way. My life changed when I hired amazing people for my company. If you can remove impediments by bringing in talented folks, it can be the best thing you’ve ever done for your organization. An old narrative that held me back was that we weren’t ready to scale due to the belief that we couldn’t afford to. However, I’ve realized that you have to invest in both yourself and your company to win. Invest in the best and you’ll get the best results.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe a lot of people run off a model that supports self-interest when we need to be shifting to a model that supports company interest. It’s the bigger pie theory — if you help others play big, it will end up working out for you in the end. I’ve always leaned on this Zig Ziglar line, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
If you think this way, it removes self-interest. You stop thinking about your fears and desires, and instead you focus on how you can help others live their best lives. Our Activate 180 coaches help companies become role models in this way of thought, allowing their employees to live their best lives, and in turn, rewarding the company back tenfold.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen to your people. Truly hear them and understand them. By creating that environment for your people to be heard, you’ll naturally motivate them to co-create solutions with you. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to move quickly and make assumptions without really understanding the conversation at hand. When we come together and I understand the reality of my people and they understand mine, we’re more likely to be able to co-create than if we were headstrong, stubborn, and set in our ways. There is little-to-no growth in this model of thinking and communication.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Hire the best people in each role and give them the right resources to succeed. Promoting people who may not have the experience, but definitely have the aptitude, gives them an aspirational role in the company. Depending on their experience and background, they might be in over their heads at the beginning, but if you give them the resources and training, and show interest in investing in their development while showcasing your confidence in them succeeding, they can and will do amazing things.
It’s also important to let your people make mistakes. We are designed to learn more from our failures than from our successes. When you allow your people and teams to make mistakes, it gives them the space to better themselves, their skills, and their overall strength to adapt to future changes and adjustments in their role and organization. At the end of the day, most of the mistakes your team will make are not fatal enough to hurt your business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The first business I started was successful and I was able to sell it and make money. When I launched my second business, I went in thinking I had the Midas Touch. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I misread industry trends and made assumptions on customer buying behaviors that were flat-out wrong. This led me to lose a lot of money, fast.
I brushed off the dirt and got a job as a VP of Sales & Marketing for a couple of years to help me pay off my debt and give me some downtime to plan my next adventure.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be an app on your phone that can use thermal scanning to take your body temperature. It’s as simple as that.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was to my mechanic who took my phone call at 6:00 a.m., while he was at home in his pajamas, to walk me and a group of other mechanics through an issue. I went out of my way to drive up to the airport to give him $100 to say thank you, and so he could take his wife to dinner. It was the best money I spent.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I don’t really use apps, however, voice messages and voice texts get a lot done really quickly, and more efficiently than standard messaging back and forth.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One book I would recommend is The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. What I appreciate about this book is it tells you the role a company can play in bettering their people’s lives and therefore creating a stronger bond between their people and the leaders’ vision for the company.
What is your favorite quote?
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar
- The best employers out there care about the full human experience — not just their employees’ identities at work — and that they truly want to help their employees live their best lives.
- Success happens when companies put in the necessary work for their employees to understand the organization’s vision, the roles they play in its success, and opportunities for growth throughout their career.
- Listen to your people. Truly hear them and understand them. By creating that environment for your people to be heard, you’ll naturally motivate them to co-create solutions with you.
- Hire the best people in each role and give them the right resources to succeed.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.