Todd Wolfenbarger – President and Partner of The Summit Group

[quote style=”boxed”] I learned that it’s important to never waste a good crisis because what you learn when things get difficult can be the most valuable, and the most telling, about people professionally.[/quote]

Todd Wolfenbarger has more than 25 years of senior management experience, having served at a Fortune 100 company (AT&T), one of the fastest-growing businesses in U.S. history (McCaw Cellular), and one of the more dramatic technology services companies to emerge from the high-flying ‘90s (XO Communications). A decade ago, he became a partner and owner in The Summit Group Communications, an award-winning marketing communications firm serving more than 60 clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently serves as President and Partner of TSG, which has a strong focus in the healthcare and franchise marketing sectors.

Where did the idea for The Summit Group come from?

The Summit Group was founded in 1982 by my partner, Bill Paulos. I was a client and appreciated his approach that “all communications need to sell.” I was impressed enough that I bought part of the agency in 2002.

What is your business model?

We are a strategic marketing and communications firm that focuses on building measurable programs that increase sales. We do this by helping clients tell their stories to create buying experiences for audiences through many forms of media and engagement. Most of the folks at TSG have worked in big markets or for big brands, but have chosen to live within the shadows of the Wasatch Mountain Range. For clients, it means that TSG delivers “New York City talent at Salt Lake City rates.”

What does your typical day look like?

There is no such thing as a typical day in a marketing agency. Every day is different. For a curious person, that can feel like discovering a toy box. For someone who likes a routine, it can feel like a root canal.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a verbal processor. I think aloud, sometimes to my own detriment, and working through my ideas happens with a “Let me try this one on you” approach.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Marketing is completely being reinvented right now. It is no longer only about working within the restrictions of ad specifications or by trying to convince an editor or news director that your story is worth telling. Today, you have all that — and you have the ability to create your own brand content publishing experience through the Web, social media, and mobile app experiences. This means that communications isn’t about talking at your audience, but actually engaging them in a buying conversation. In my 25 years of doing this, the past three have been the most dynamic. I find that to be exceptionally exciting.

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

The worst position I’ve been in was serving as the VP of corporate communications in a company that had spectacular expectations and ended up going through a bankruptcy/restructuring. I learned that, during an extremely difficult process, the most important thing is — to borrow a military phrase — to do your nearest duty. I learned that it’s important to never waste a good crisis because what you learn when things get difficult can be the most valuable, and the most telling, about people professionally.

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

I would embrace my curiosity much earlier. I’d ask a million questions, especially the dumb ones. I’d do it relentlessly, and I would do it without fear.

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

I’m not sure I’m an entrepreneur in the truest sense. However, I’ve been around a lot of them throughout my career, and my favorite quote is from my business partner (a “real” entrepreneur): “Entrepreneurs aren’t more visionary; in fact, entrepreneurs have a vision problem. Their problem is they can’t see the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity.” My advice? Have that kind of vision, and you’ll succeed as an entrepreneur.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Give more than you take. It seems counterintuitive, but over my career, I’ve found that it has proven to be the best method for building business and customer relationships, and to also discover new business opportunities.

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

Early on as a business owner, I could become paralyzed by the fear that things might not work out. I’ve learned over the years that when the fear sets in — and it still does, regularly — the best way out is often through. I try my best to spend as much energy as possible going to work on the problem, instead of letting it go to work on me.

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

I think someone would make a lot of money if he or she could facilitate the capturing of audio/video and add a text recognition feature to help people record pivotal moments in their lives. Can you imagine how valuable it would be to hear you mother’s voice telling you how she felt about you on the day you were born?

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I want to learn to do a couple of magic tricks and be brilliant at them — you know, the kind where people smile and say, “How the heck did he do that?”

What is your favorite online tool, software or resources and what do you love about them?

I’m a giant fan of LinkedIn. I use it every day to grow and nurture my friends in business. It’s a great way to not only organize my network, but it also gives me easy access to what my network thinks.

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

I’d recommend “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. It’s a fabulous book about how personal networks are built and why they matter.

List two experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?

I love to read anything Richard Edelman writes because I think he’s brilliant at shaping the future of the public relations profession.

I’m super interested in Malcolm Gladwell and how he extrapolates human behavior from history and psychology. I think if I could just go write all the time (something I’d love to be able to do), I’d like to be that kind of writer.

What did you have for breakfast today?

Sadly, I didn’t eat anything. I’ve never been much of a breakfast eater.


Todd Wolfenbarger – President and Partner of The Summit Group
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