Have you ever wondered, “why is culture important?” Culture for some companies is an afterthought. I talk to many fast-growth companies, and they know the importance of culture. Today we talk about why is culture important with Johnny Owens, founder of Owens Recovery Science. His company is #136 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Johnny shares with us how he looks at culture. His company has grown very fast, and the team is relatively small. Tune in to the interview to hear “why culture is important” if you want to grow quickly.
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Johnny Owens: The Transcript
Target Audience: Johnny Owens is the Director of Clinical Education Owens Recovery Science. The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine is a global nonprofit organization created by Congress in 1983 to assist in accelerating the progress of military medicine. Our unmatched experience in military medical research makes us uniquely qualified to assist investigators and clinicians in managing scientific research.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
It’s much easier to replace a customer than it is to replace one of my team who’s part of my family and so you know there’s there’s always going to be another customer. And and usually if your culture is right and your mission is right that if there’s some sort of break point or something that’s going wrong between an employee and a customer that’s usually the customer that’s being the pain in the ass and they’re the problem. And so those are the people we don’t even want you know we want to choose our customers and get the right ones. I’d rather have 100 customers I love the help than 10000 customers that are pain in the ass.
[00:00:38].190] – Intro
Welcome to Grow Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
[00:00:55].410] – Gene Hammett
Culture is very important to your business. You’ve heard this before you’ve probably even know that it’s important. But why is culture important. Why must we pay attention to the employee experience. Why must we as leaders be proactive about creating a place where people can perform at their highest level. Well it’s very simply our people are our most expensive resources. I haven’t met a business yet where people weren’t the most expensive resource unless they were selling some product and marking it up. But our people are very valuable to not only to the business as far as we know what we spend but also how the business grows.
[00:01:36].110] – Gene Hammett
And so if you really value people then that’s the reason why culture is important I’m Gene Hammett. I’m excited to talk to you today about culture. I’m talking about leadership and about how do you create this culture. I went out into my network and I found a company that I feel like is really doing something special. They’re number 136 on the INC list. And that’s out of 5000 companies it’s pretty amazing. They only have about six people but that six people was so important for this owner to create the kind of culture that really drove value and drove growth that they did over five million and sales in that first three years.
[00:02:16].950] – Gene Hammett
Now I share this with you without telling you who it is. It’s Johnny Owens founder of Owens Recovery Science. They create some really amazing products that are getting a lot of buzz in the marketplace. And I let him tell you a little bit more about what they’re doing. But just know that Johnny is talking today about culture about why it’s important about why as leaders even with as few as six employees we should be paying attention to culture and we should be really creating that kind of place where people love to come to work they give their all and they feel that sense of ownership. And now here’s the interview with Johnny.
[00:02:54].560] – Gene Hammett
Hey Johnny how are you?
[00:02:55].920] – Johnny Owens
I’m good Gene. How are you man.
[00:02:57].630] – Gene Hammett
I’m fantastic. Glad to have you here at growth think tank. I want our audience to know a little bit about the company. So give us an idea of of your company and what what you do.
[00:03:08].630] – Johnny Owens
So we are a medical device for medical research and medical education company. So basically my my profession is I’m a physical therapist by trade. I was with a DOD for 11 years during the wars. And so this is kind of a spin off of some of my research that I did with Combat Casualty Care and now we’ve moved in to the civilian medical space primarily orthopedics and rehab and work a lot not only with the DOD but professional teams college teams large health care systems U.S. Olympic team et cetera.
[00:03:46].540] – Gene Hammett
Is this a SAS product?
[00:03:49].280] – Johnny Owens
No. I should say it’s an actual medical device. So it’s it’s a perfect system with a Doppler built in.
[00:03:56].470] – Gene Hammett
That’s right. So when you talked earlier you were you know 136 on the ink less with you know fast growth over a short period of time you thought culture was an important piece to that. Why is culture so important to your company?
[00:04:14].420] – Johnny Owens
Well I think I learned a lot from the culture that we had in the DOD or in the war. And I think if you think of the big bureaucracy that is the DOD and any government agency there’s there’s a lot of downside to those cultures. But there’s a lot of real positive that comes from that. When you’re in these wars and so this whole kind of mission you know maybe use another word besides culture that we’re all in this for this specific goal made it where there was all the attitudes were checked at the door. All the titles were checked at the door. Everyone knew what our mission was.
[00:04:50].880] – Johnny Owens
Our mission medical was to to help the combat casualty get back to his highest level of function the highest level function was it was always can we get them back to redeploy or stay on active duty or if unfortunately they’re too injured. Can we at least let them have a highly successful functional life so that culture for us then here is we all understand our mission and we look at that is OK we know why we’re doing this. And everyday we kind of have this it’s cliche but this team approach.
[00:05:24].270] – Gene Hammett
So when you are bringing in people to match the culture what are the things that you do to make sure that someone is aligned to a culture that’s going to fit for you.
[00:05:37].650] – Johnny Owens
That’s one of our hardest things that’s why we’re so small. Size wise with full time employees right now is you know basically my wife’s an employee. One of her good friends who worked with her for years at a prior firm that she was at is an employee. Her cousin’s an employee. My old intern is a physical therapist as employee and my old research consultant and my my assistant at the Center for the Intrepid which is where I was with the Deep is an employee. So we’re very insular and really like you know we’re talking about bring on new people and the first thing he said does you know who does anyone know or has a family member that first.
[00:06:17].910] – Johnny Owens
That we think would be a good fit. So for us it’s like we want to bring people in. We have a rule no assholes. You know so even if you aren’t highly trained in what we do as long as you your personality jives with our personality and you’re in this for the reasons we’re in this we feel like we can we can train you up and having a good fit and that damage our whole team together and kind of sits with you and decides you know is this a good fit with our contractors now that we’ve brought on. Same thing. Most of them have been working with us for for several years now and we finally get to the point like OK this person is going to take.
[00:06:54].580] – Gene Hammett
And bigger role and you’ve got a lot of contractors. Give me an idea of just roughly how easy that is.
[00:07:01].210] – Johnny Owens
I think in the US we have probably five one in Canada. We have several in Asia and adding more in in Europe now. I think we’re at around five to six which starts that’s more in Australia. And those are kind of exponentially growing.
[00:07:18].110] – Gene Hammett
You get you get a quite a bit of production out of. I have a handful of people. So how does how does that work. How do you make sure that you’re getting close to almost a million dollars in revenue per employee.
[00:07:31].790] – Johnny Owens
Well we all cross trained. So we all know each other’s jobs and what it takes to do it. Maybe it’s a past military thing but we’re pretty lean and understanding what it takes to get the job done with what we have and an understanding that sometimes we can get a solution and systematized. Well you know we’re small we’ve only been around for four years now but we have these in place very systematized processes and you know these kind of after action reports. So when we do things even if they’re successful you know we meet weekly and will break down what was good about it and what was a fail point and a motto is always spell better. And so the fail points are usually what we learned the most from and see if we can fix it. So we’re always trying to make what we do is kind of straightforward and as easy as possible.
[00:08:26].990] – Gene Hammett
Well we talked about culture being number one so how does it really drive the business to operate at the current level of growth and continue beyond where you are today.
[00:08:40].190] – Johnny Owens
Well I think it starts from the top. So my job is to make sure that my staff contractors all know that I’m there for them. So I come in and I and I basically know that I work for them and whatever I need to do to support them I think lets them know I have their back and also that I can help them get to solutions if they’re being in their head against the wall. And then if they feel supported then it really seems like it carries over to their trying to help and support our customers.
[00:09:13].340] – Johnny Owens
So we really really pride ourselves on being the best only at our products in our in our research and our training. But in taking care of our people we have no marketing dollars we have no sales people. We just take care of our customer. That’s it. And it won’t bend over backwards and do whatever it takes. And they all have our cell numbers and our emails. And it just grows you know so they talk to each other and we’d rather get a customer from a referral than we would from some clicks.
[00:09:46].490] – Gene Hammett
So I want to dive into that a little bit because I want to make sure I understand it correctly. And I hear you talked to a lot of leaders just like you. You talked about. I worked for them so that’s kind like a servant leadership model for. Is that correct in your leadership.
[00:10:02].860] – Johnny Owens
[00:10:04].690] – Gene Hammett
And that comes from the Army?
[00:10:06].120] – Johnny Owens
Yeah I mean that stuff should be. I was a government services I wasn’t active duty but but that really is the you CLIA. I’m going to salute the officer above me. But at the end of the day that person above the obvious needs to serve the lowest level infantry person because they’re the ones who are having to get the job done. So I think understanding. Like who. Who are the ones that are actually in the trenches getting the job done. You have to support them or you’re going to lose the war. And that’s where I come from this is my folks in the trenches if they’re not being supported and in whatever capacity we’re going to lose this war.
[00:10:42].280] – Gene Hammett
And you’ve got a company kind of motto of customer centric right. Really adding value creating products that the customers want and that’s really your sense of referrals. So those those things are great but as a leader and I don’t even know what you would say on this but as a leader what’s more important your employees as team members are your customers. So when you say that you say it pretty quickly I want to make sure I understand this because I actually I had a debate the other day with a very high level respected CEO of a Fortune 50 company. I won’t mention who it is but you know it really kind of caught me off guard because he said I was wrong when I reported that many companies that are growing fast like yours Johnny that they put their employees first. So what is it and why is that matter for you.
[00:11:38].990] – Johnny Owens
It’s much easier to replace a customer than it is to replace one of my team who’s part of my family and so you know there’s there’s always going to be another customer. And and usually if your culture is right and your mission is right that if there’s some sort of break point or something that’s going wrong between an employee and a customer it’s usually the customer that’s being the pain in the ass and they’re the problem. And so those are the people we don’t even want you know we want to choose our customers and get the right ones.
[00:12:11].420] – Johnny Owens
I’d rather have a hundred customers I’d love to help than 10000 customers that are a pain in my ass. And so my folks I trust them if they’re like this guy is just being a total jerk and I’m happy to jump on a call. Hey what’s problem and what can I do to help resolve this. And if we can’t then we’re done.
[00:12:29].480] – Gene Hammett
You know I had the debate and I didn’t really take a strong stance on it because I was I was actually kind of told how many different ways I was wrong and getting apples of why its customer first. And I think bigger companies and older leadership still believe that that everything that the company’s doing is customer first and I don’t mean the company shouldn’t put the customer first. I’m just talking about leaders. What is leaders there to do and I’ve always thought leaders were there to grow and develop the people so that they can put the customer first.
[00:13:05].480] – Johnny Owens
[00:13:05].790] – Gene Hammett
When did it when you think about that. What does that mean about the way you lead day in and day out?
[00:13:15].090] – Johnny Owens
Well, again I think it’s that I’m leading to to lead my team by serving my team and in knowing that I’m going to have their back and they understand you know our mission is we we want to be the best at what we do and they know exactly kind of what our business is and what our model is. If I’ve trained them up well enough in that I don’t need to worry about this. This whole customer issue it’s a non-issue. And we I mean I can really tell you we almost never have a problem.
[00:13:45].480] – Johnny Owens
I never really deal with the biggest customer problem I get as a Why are you 60 days past due. Type of thing. You know other than that I think if you set that groundwork up right at the start and you know if you have employees that aren’t happy and it’s probably your leadership that’s not doing it then you’re trying to have customer issues and they’re leaving. And that’s that’s a problem. That’s not a customer’s right problem. And if you watch movies that’s the big running joke. You know you see these kind of shows where the employee you know the customer is being a jerk off and then the boss comes over and berates the employee and fires on you know just like Man what a jerk. I don’t ever want to be that guy.
[00:14:23].450] – Gene Hammett
Yeah it’s it’s hard because I think a lot of people grown up you know my dad worked for the same company for 31 years it was Delta Airlines in the sense of loyalty that he had growing up was completely different like polar opposite two because he didn’t even think about working anywhere else. He had a sense of ownership and pride about his company because that was his identity. But I think now where employees don’t typically get that. Leaders have a harder job. That if we do don’t really pay attention to that small details of putting employees first we miss out on those opportunities to build that connection and loyalty.
[00:15:04].640] – Johnny Owens
Yeah well I think business is more than profit and that’s where these big companies is now. It’s always been profit driven and I’m sure your guy in the in the in the top 50 would call me an idiot for that but if if it’s all about profit then you’re always going to take the customer side your your employees are probably not going to be in it for the real reason that you got into this thing. And so you know I think that’s the disconnect if this goes away tomorrow I’m cool. I met my mission. It was the get this thing out. That was something I thought was incredible and I feel like we’ve done that. So if it’s all about profit that I’m frickin miserable I don’t want to come to work anymore.
[00:15:49].400] – Gene Hammett
Well for those that are in the growing a fast growth company and trying to put attention to culture what advice would you have for those leaders.
[00:16:02].210] – Gene Hammett
So I think understand what culture is. You know it’s it’s such a common word now and such a buzz word now that I think people are confusing. I’ve got a ping pong table or I allow dogs to come to work as a culture. Those are just aesthetics and those are things that I think sometimes make these companies feel good about themselves. So first understand what does culture mean to you like the military culture is very rigid and strict and it’s it’s it’s harsh. You know it is during most times especially in peacetime.
[00:16:33].160] – Johnny Owens
You’re like this is a pain in the ass. But if if the shit hits that I’m sorry our custom times if you know if if everything goes to hell in a handbasket all of that culture that you were tied to follow these rules don’t step out of line. Understand that you stay in this quadrant you’re going to save your life. So that culture’s way different than maybe some Silicon Valley culture that’s like we got to recruit people that want to play video games at the same time they’re coding. So I think understand like what’s your culture and mission is ours is to not only kind of serve each other but to to serve this this whole business that we’ve built which is around this buffalo restriction rehab technique and we understanding Mike that takes research that takes training people that take selling it and that takes supporting our customers and then we get these testimonials back from patients and providers that are like this is the best thing since sliced bread. You guys are amazing and it makes us feel good. So I think for someone starting out figure out what your culture needs to be.
[00:17:33].180] – Gene Hammett
And when you think about that what’s the next step after that you would tell someone.
[00:17:40].110] – Johnny Owens
If you ever see a crack in what you feel that culture is and I think most of us know it we’re just too slow to react. Cut it out like cancer and that could be people. It could be a customer. It could be your processes suck and your people are drowning because they just can’t get answers to things. And so you know we sniff these things out sometimes and we ignore them. And so we we had a couple hours it just didn’t fit. And it really started to sink our culture down this tailspin. And so we acting quickly. We’re like OK we’re just gonna make a change here real quick. So don’t ignore it. It doesn’t go away. Swallow the frog.
[00:18:22].990] – Gene Hammett
You know I talk to a lot of leaders that maybe they avoid confrontations and they feel like maybe someone else is supposed to take care of that they want to empower their people. But what you’re talking about is different than avoiding confrontation you’re really like hitting confrontation head on. Am I reading that right.
[00:18:42].360] – Johnny Owens
Yeah. And it’s usually out there you know if you put it out it’s you know we had a meeting and it was I wasn’t able to get some solutions to these questions I had and this problem kept going and going and go and I didn’t know the solutions. So I had to figure out you know where are we going to get an answer real quick so we can make our people not miserable. So that was confrontation to a problem but it could also be hey this employees showing up 30 minutes late every day. It keeps getting worse and worse. Let’s nip this in the bud because it’s making the other folks around here kind of upset. So yeah it’s it’s just going out and it’s not like hey I’m dropping the hammer on here because I’m a Mac guy. It’s like this is a problem. Here’s why it’s a problem. Let’s cut this cancer out.
[00:19:27].990] – Gene Hammett
Now as hard as you seem and you have this this military static. I bet there’s a caring side behind you because you don’t put in place first without that sense of caring. How far do you take it as a leader to truly care about your place?
[00:19:42].280] – Johnny Owens
I try and take it as far as I as I possibly can. I’m on medical. So you know and I think if you’re going to be on medical and you’re going to be successful in it you have to want to help others and care for others. And so I’ve been a clinician for over 20 years now. And I love helping people and treating patients. And so that that’s in me and the same thing with my folks. You know I I want to see the people that work here. I would love to see them grow and go start their own thing or or feel confident enough if they wanted to leave they could tell me because they’ve got some great new thing that some other company wants them to do.
[00:20:23].440] – Johnny Owens
But I’m going to be that guy. They remember that I supported them and I and I tried to help them grow and not only what we do here as a business but you know how to how to work as a team how to have fun as a team how to do training together for stuff outside of this like you know understanding our or one ks and savings and things like that.
[00:20:43].210] – Gene Hammett
So fantastic. Well Johnny I really appreciate you being here at growth think tank. One last thought for you. Share with us one defining moment you’ve had as a leader that you felt like you learned the most from.
[00:20:57].570] – Johnny Owens
Yeah. So I you said this question at a time when I thought long and hard I you know I’ve got a lot of failures that I learned for sure and I hate to keep going back to military. But I think just working there during the wars I learned so much and so you know I really. One moment I remember I came in and you know when you working the DVD you have meetings about meetings and you have all these trainings and just so much crap to deal with and I was just really all worked up and kind of pissed off on my arm or what it was and one of our guys center for the Intrepid the duties kind of leading site for amputee care the limb salvage. So the blast trauma is the worst of the worst.
[00:21:38].820] – Johnny Owens
The young kid was a bilateral above knee amputees. I was in a wheelchair and his arm was in one of these frames. He was trying to save his arm and he asked me what my problem was. And I said enough the man you just pissed off at that stuff. And he told me you know it took me almost two hours to get ready to come in here today and catch a bus so I can see you. So he said you really need to check your priorities here and why you’re here today.
[00:22:04].540] – Johnny Owens
And so that was like a kick in the you know what for me. And I kind of step back and said you know everything in life you’re there for a moment. And it could be when I’m with my kids or whatever but when I walk in here at work that’s what I’m here for is to lead this business and to serve and put a smile on my face as soon as I walk in the door no matter what’s happened and and get this day off as good as I can. Now that was trying to be as fruitful and fluffy as I can. But by that that’s just a redirect. When you come in this is your mission and treat it like a like a mission. Not that this is just a job.
Hold on for a second. Johnny just talked about failure. Let me ask you a question. What is your relationship with failure. How do you react when something goes wrong. You don’t get the expected results you don’t get the deal. Do people worry that their job is at risk. Well your relationship with failure can really set the tone for how everyone else thinks about failure. Many people think failure is the end. Others think that failure is a learning opportunity. I really ask you to accept the second one here this failure is a learning opportunity. It’s a step forward. It may not be the step in the right direction but it does. It’s better to take a step forward and get feedback than to be worried about not taking those steps forward. If you create the kind of culture that it’s OK to fail and it even celebrates failure you can create a place where people are willing to keep pushing forward and grow as fast as you all can handle. Now back to interview with Johnny.
[00:23:40].900] – Gene Hammett
Well I appreciate you sharing that with us Johnny. Thanks for being here Chris. Think Tank. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
[00:23:46].250] – Johnny Owens
Yeah thanks to you Gene. Appreciate it man.
[00:23:48].490] – Gene Hammett
Wow I love that interview. Really appreciate you tuning in here if you’re hearing my voice. Now you’ve listened to the all the way to the end when my favorite pieces about what Johnny talked about was the failure inside the organization and how they failed forward each iterative step to this process. A lot of companies aren’t growing as fast really avoid failure.
[00:24:08].500] – Gene Hammett
They’re really trying to mitigate those risk and I get that we need to put boundaries around it. But we also need to be OK with a little bit of failure and really helping that go along is what Johnny has created inside the culture. So thank you for tuning in here to grow think tank. Thank you for sharing this episode with one person that you know wants to create a culture that they’re proud of and they want to be a leader that is evolving every step of the way. As always lead with courage.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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