Why Servant Leadership Drives Growth with Chase Mullin at Mullin

What happens when you shift the leadership model to serving your employees instead of believing they are here to help you. What I am talking about is why servant leadership drives growth. My guest today is Chase Mullin, CEO of Mullin Landscape. His company was ranked #3740 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. We look at why servant leadership is essential in today’s world. Chase and I dive into the aspects of being a servant to your team. We also look at why servant leadership has allowed him to be an effective leader.

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Chase Mullin: The Transcript

Target Audience: Chase Mullin is President at Mullin Landscape Associates. Mullin provides commercial and residential design+build, maintenance, installation and landscape architecture services, and more. It has been recognized by a number of nationally renowned organizations.

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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.

Chase Mullin
Obviously, as the founder of the company, I had to be like a salesperson, right? I’m probably a pretty decent salesperson. And I’ve learned the importance of delivering the customer what they expect and closing the deal getting the signature on the bottom line. If a customer tries to leave, trying to like, keep that customer in our portfolio of all also learned how important it is as hard as it is to get that new customer keep that customer it’s really hard to get good people, it’s hard to get good people and it can be very difficult to keep good people. That’s a message that if you worked here you hear me communicate on a really sometimes maybe too frequent basis. We’re just how important it is to make sure that our people are happy and that we keep them around and that they don’t want to go elsewhere because that’s really to be like that’s a huge ingredient the recipe for success, to keep them here.

Intro [0:48]
Welcome to Growth 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?

Gene Hammett [1:05]
Serving your people? Your job as a leader is to serve the people in the organization to develop them to grow them so that they can serve your clients, your customers. This is servant leadership, you probably know it. But why does servant leadership drive growth? Well, interesting question. Because when you think about your job as a leader, it’s not just to do the work. It’s to align people together to get them committed to it to get them to take ownership. And all of that is servant leadership. Today we have a special guest with us. We have Chase Mullin, he’s the founder of melons landscape. Over the last 10 plus years, they’ve grown to over a $10 million company. They were number 3470 on the Inc list in 2019. And they have over 120 employees right now. How do you get there? Because he believes in core values, the importance of those core values, and specifically Typically around being a servant leader, how do you engage your team leaders to also be servant leaders. We talk about all that in today’s episode, I really love having conversations where people are in the trenches, not afraid to get their hands dirty. Sean tells a story about exactly that getting his hands dirty. You can imagine in the industry he’s in that sometimes you got to actually put on the gloves, and plant the tree, or so to speak. All that being said, thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Here’s the interview with Chase.

Commercial [2:30]
Before we dive into the interview, I wanted to remind you that you can actually get a tool that I’ve been working with clients with for the last couple of years, I’ve refined this tool, it’s gone through several iterations. Now we have it completely automated, you can actually go online and fill out the leadership quiz. To get the leadership quiz. Just go to theleadershipquiz.com that’s pretty easy, right? theleadershipquiz.com what you will get when you do that you will answer a few questions. You will see where you rate based on the core principle. Have fast-growth companies. If you’re ready to grow your company or you want to see where you are, then make sure you go to theleadershipquiz.com inside it, you will get insight to where you are, understand where you want to improve. And you will get them mapped into the 10 areas that are most specific to fast-growth companies. Again, go to theleadershipquiz.com and you can get that right now.

Gene Hammett [3:23]
Hey, Chase, how are you?

Chase Mullin [3:25]
I’m doing great Gene. How are you doing?

Gene Hammett [3:27]
I am fantastic. excited to have you on the podcast here to talk about leadership and culture and fast-growth companies. Your company has really risen the ranks over the years you’ve been around for more than a decade, but in the last three years, you’ve had a pretty good growth rate. Tell us about Mullin. What you do.

Chase Mullin [3:46]
So I hate to describe it this way but we’re really kind of a bread and butter landscape company. So we do we’re about 65% commercial at this point other the balance being residential, we do landscape design, construction. And maintenance work in the Greater New Orleans area through coastal Mississippi and all the west, south Louisiana.

Gene Hammett [4:09]
How many employees do you have Chase?

Chase Mullin [4:10]
Currently, we have 120 full-time employees.

Gene Hammett [4:14]
So pretty sizable business with that many employees doing a variety of different skills and whatnot. I am kind of curious, would you say that you have a flat organization? Or do you have how many layers of people from you at the founder level all the way to the frontlines?

Chase Mullin [4:33]
So, it’s not a flat organization. So we have, essentially I myself, I’m part of the senior management team underneath us. We have a layer of middle management. And then that goes down to what we call like either the admin or the crew layer. And each crew that we run has you know, crew lead on it, but you asked a question about a flat organization and you started a business like myself, very limited resources. So, so kind of from the flat perspective, like, you know, the people who bought the organization, they mean as much to us as the people at the top.

Chase Mullin [5:11]
So in that respect, we do kind of run a flat organization with, you know, their, their input really matters. You know, I have an impossible question. I asked this a lot. I don’t ask it every time. I have no idea what you’ll say. And I know it’s impossible because it’s very difficult. And I haven’t asked you this before. So I may get blindsided here. But when you think about your role as a leader, what’s more, important your customers or employees, employees under percent? So it’s a good question that you asked because I did not know that for a long time. And I’ve learned as the company’s grown that obviously is, is I have less interaction with the customers particularly, you know, the people who have the interaction with the customers or the employees, right, whether it’s the account manager or The salesperson, or, you know, the crew member who’s on their site, you know, on a daily or weekly basis, like, they are really the ones who are representing the company. And I’m gonna elaborate a bit just because you hit something that strikes really close to home.

Chase Mullin [6:14]
But, you know, obviously, as the founder of the company, I had to be like a salesperson, right, I’m probably a pretty decent salesperson. And I learned the importance of, you know, delivering the customer what they expect and closing the deal and getting the signature on the bottom line. If a customer tries to leave, trying to like, keep that customer in our portfolio, I’ve also learned how important it is as hard as it is to get that new customer keep that customer it’s really hard to get good people, it’s hard to get good people and it can be very difficult to keep good people. That’s a message that if you work here, you hear me communicate on a really sometimes maybe too frequent basis with just how important it is to make sure that our people are happy and that we’re keeping them around and that they don’t want to go elsewhere because that’s really to me like that’s a cue ingredient in the recipe of success, keep them here.

Commercial [7:03]
Hold on for a second, Chase just said something. I didn’t know it for a long time. what he’s referring to is he didn’t know that he’s supposed to put employees first. Now in an industry like landscaping, he has a very tough problem with retention, especially those people that are in the field. So he wanted to make sure that he built a business where people would stay, the retention was as high as he can make it. So he put a lot of focus on growing as a leader, and really being a servant leader to those people, and creating the layers within the management staff to really serve the people so that they didn’t want to leave. He didn’t know for a long time when I talked to him kind of off the record. He really saw the value of this and how it really great creates growth inside the company, but also provides a place where people love to come to work. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [7:51]
You may not know this because I get a chance to talk with a lot of founders just like you and fast growth and I’ve talked to over 500 chases I usually asked him this question. So I’ll ask you to, you know, beyond your growth, what are you really proud of?

Chase Mullin [8:07]
Really, I’m proud of what we do. Like, I think that we truly create, you will talk more about this, I’m sure our core values but you know, one of our core values is to create lasting impact in the lasting impact we create, I’m proud of, in a lot of ways, probably the easiest way is to like walk through a park that we built or something of that nature, just for really like enhancing the community. I’m also proud of the impact we create in our people. We recently promoted somebody who started in the field. He’s a member of our management team, our middle management team at this point, and watching some of these people kind of come in entry-level and grow and develop and, you know, turn into a real business. I call them like business people, a business landscape, right. Like it’s pretty neat.

Gene Hammett [8:55]
Well, I talked to a lot of leaders like you and they will say they’re proud of their people. The teams that They’re building. I heard you say you call the crew. Maybe because you think of like, you know, crews that go out to different locations. I’ve had other people actually refer to their team members as crew members were Where did that come from? kind of curious.

Chase Mullin [9:16]
I think really, it’s just kind of a term in the landscape industry and we use the term team around here a lot. And not to like dissuade or take anything away from you know, like, let’s say like a Southwest who I know they’re really big on a team. Sometimes we’ll use I guess, like more industry-specific terms, like crew as I said it just for whatever reason it resonates and landscape industry. Just easier and more widely known, I guess, amongst people.

Gene Hammett [9:50]
Chase, I want to dive into something you had talked to my team about, what is it really moved the needle as far as the company and you mentioned servant leadership. We’ve heard servant leadership many times probably people read books about it. How have you interpreted servant leadership as it relates to the growth of the company?

Chase Mullin [10:11]
So we’ve interpreted as it relates to the growth. Sorry, I’m trying to think like how to respond to that question how we interpreted it, as it relates to the growth? I think really, you know, sometimes like leading with the chin almost, you know, which, which, again, not to accuse any other leaders of this, but I think that it’s really easy for me, how about that by nature to try to lead with the chin and like Push, push the team to do what I think the best thing is what they’re supposed to do. And I’ve, I’ve learned that if I can really kind of support them from the bottom right, in all of our leaders to that right. Every leader in the company support. Yeah, that lowest level crew member from the bottom. We tend to empower them to help propel our growth, that mystery Forward, we’re, you know, we have 120 empower people, we’re a hell of a lot stronger than we have won, or let’s say, our management team if all six of us were empowered, that hundred 20 person teams and be a lot stronger than that six-person team.

Gene Hammett [11:12]
I want to come back to empowerment because I think it is a big part of fast-growth companies. And it’s part of my next book. But I want to ask you this question, Chase. When you think about being a servant leader and really serving them, can you think of a story that that really represents that they’re really that you feel comfortable sharing with us today?

Chase Mullin [11:36]
Yeah, there’s certainly there’s a handful of stories. But, you know, I’ll give you a couple of different examples. But one thing we do that we’ve always done is we provide loans to our people. You know, really, it’s almost, oftentimes you don’t really need any reason why they’re asking for the loan. But again, like I just look at the position that I was in when I started and obviously worked. For other people, and, you know, I always wanted them to help me any way that they could, because sometimes I needed help to make ends meet or to buy a new car or whatever it was. And so we do the same thing, you know, essentially, like if we have it, we’ll give it of course, with some, some reasonable limitations associated behind it. And then, you know, a specific story. You know, we tend to work kind of normal landscape hours, right? our crews are in at 615 in the morning, and they’re often 4 pm in the afternoon. Occasionally, we’ll have to do something that’s, you know, above and beyond or outside of the call of normal duty. A few years ago, we’re doing an apartment complex and contractor working for us a really big client, and their client was a big developer client of theirs. And they asked for something that was seemingly impossible.

Chase Mullin [12:53]
They want us to turn around a big piece of the job and Africa, five day period and it was accelerated scale. Well exponentially from where it was supposed to be. And so what we did is we ended up having two shifts, essentially to 12-hour shifts, and we were pushing these crews to do way more probably than we should up. In any way, I spent a lot of time on that job site, you know, definitely, we’re probably 60 or 75 people strong as a company. And I think really, every night I was there, you know, I wasn’t just there pointing and directing or even cheerleading. You know, I was there dragging trees and picking up plants and hustling with the, with the guys are with the crews, and I think that they’ve been there helped them to realize, you know, okay, he’s in this too. He’s not just asking us to do this like he’s here. And our superintendent was, he was right alongside me in our project managers there for some of the time. Again, for everybody to just be together doing that, I think show that we’re really one unit.

Gene Hammett [13:57]
That’s a concept I call in the trenches. And I remember I interviewed Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, great interview, and I asked him about how does he tune in to 470,000 employees? Can you even imagine that chase? And he goes, one of the things, one of the things he loved to do is to put on an orange apron and get out there and just be on the floor. He joked and said that someone had said, Oh, it’s really great that you guys have an ARRP program. You’ve got this old guy in the lot pushing buggies. And it was turned out to be the CEO of the company.

Chase Mullin [14:38]
Pretty good.

Gene Hammett [14:39]
There’s something to be said about you being able to get in the trenches, you know, and it goes hand in hand with that servant leadership. And I’m sure there are many other stories where you’ve thought about that. And you’ve seen your other team members do this. How do you inspire others within your team to be a servant leader? Because it’s one thing for you to accept it but how do you take that executive leadership team, or even the middle management team and inspire them to be that servant leader.

Chase Mullin [15:08]
I think a big part of it is by celebrating wins, right? Like, win, when we win based on that servant leadership or just frankly, you know, when when we can celebrate people who are embracing our core values. And to give you a, I mentioned core values a little while ago, we’re talking about creating a lasting impact. But one of our core values is to stay humble, be hungry. So when we’re celebrating team members who are staying humble or being hungry or a combination of the two, I think that that helps resonate in the senior leaders has that weight a need to be humble, you know, and I also need to be hungry because we need to keep driving this business forward and continuing to grow and you know, it’s crazy. I have a consultant that I’ve dealt with early on in business and he referred to himself in he was in business As well as Celtic practice, he referred himself often as CRO, the chief reminding officer. And I remember at the time, I probably had eight or 10 employees are thinking like, what exactly is that mean? And you know, I’m intelligent enough to comprehend it. But as the company’s grown like, it’s become much easier to comprehend because some of it is just that communication. It’s repeatedly communicating, like the importance of things and it’s incredible. I think, sometimes even without seeing it, it’s just hearing it like, Hey, this is important. This is important. This is important. And then as we celebrate a five year anniversary for someone, I think it’s it’s a reality in your face reminder on like, hey, the reason that he or she’s been here for five years is that you know, we’ve supported them the entire time and that’s right. They started as an admin and now they’re, you know, whatever. I’m thinking of somebody who’s down the hall, senior accountant, right. Big deal, a big change in the law. last five years, because we’ve supported from the bottom and help them grow to where they are.

Commercial [17:05]
Now, one more second here, Chase talked about the importance of core values. He said it a few times inside this interview. Your core values are a foundational element to your business, it’s to your culture. One of the things that are missing is operationalizing those values, which means make them a part of the day today, I suggest that you think about the rituals inside the company. How are you truly making your core values a part of the day to day, not the words on the wall, but part of the day to day, every meeting that you have every interaction with employees, maybe it’s some of the conversations that they have with each other around core values. If you’re missing that, you’re probably missing the attention to detail that a lot of fast-growth companies already know about. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [17:49]
I would imagine that you have a build from within versus go out there and hire someone with a lot of experience is that fair to say that you build from within and develop?

Chase Mullin [18:00]
Yes, yes. I mean, we not that we won’t hire people with experience, but I think we’ve had better success building from within.

Gene Hammett [18:08]
And I want to go back to that, that empowerment that you talked about before Chase, I find that’s one of the more critical elements. When people feel a sense of ownership, they feel like they’re empowered, to have opinions, to be included in decisions to be to make their own decisions, you know, with 120 people, you can’t be on the frontlines at every job site. So you’ve had to empower them. What are some of the things that you’ve done to really empower your people and they have really worked?

Chase Mullin [18:39]
You know, there are a few things we’ve done to help us I guess, listen better. One of its one of them is that we just we encourage all of our management to ask questions. How’s it going? What you know, not just how is it going in a work-related manner, but how’s your family? How’s everything going? in your life? In and we also we do regular surveys. So we survey we actually use the survey results, we measure employee retention, so that we can again, like celebrate and see where we’re doing things the right way. But you know, oftentimes those suggestions that we’re putting into place and then we’re showing, we’re saying, Hey, this is courtesy of, you know, Joe Smith, you know, he gave us this idea and now we’re implementing this new system, and maybe we roll it out to the entire team and make sure that we acknowledge Joe and bring them up to the front. You know, Joe doesn’t want to talk he doesn’t have to, but if he does, maybe he says words and again then Sally Smith, she can see as she’s standing in a circle and think I want to voice my opinion to like it matters here. So again, celebrating the fact that like we do listen, because without that, I think people forget that. They’re just human nature. Forget to Like their voices really matter but were see this big company? Not big compared to Home Depot, of course.

Gene Hammett [20:05]
Well, I want to spend the last couple of minutes of our time chase really kind of diving into one thing that’s on my mind. retention rate is probably very important to your business. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I would figure the landscaping and that whole market traditionally doesn’t have the best retention rate. So do you know where you stand like compared to your peers? And what do you figure is, is kind of the driving force behind a great retention rate.

Chase Mullin [20:35]
So they don’t that I’m aware of? I don’t think that nationally, any of the landscape organizations really have measured median retention rates, but so we’re members of a peer group, when we do benchmark against other companies, our peer group, were at the top of the pack, not necessarily but in out of six companies. There are three of us that tend to be at the forefront. Yeah. It is it’s really difficult due to the seasonality of the work and kind of the entry-level nature of a lot of the positions we do measure office management separately from field to just knowing that obviously field turnover is going to be higher.

Gene Hammett [21:19]
Well, I know that we came here to talk about servant leadership and humility. Was there anything else that I didn’t ask you about, he felt like really has had an impact to the growth of Mullin.

Chase Mullin [21:30]
You know, I know one, one of the things that Sarah and I talked about was, you know, was there any change in my leadership, that or the way that I thought about leadership, it really is contributed to the growth of the company and we touched on it a little bit early on, but again, you know, I mean, I don’t say this is Don’t get me wrong here. But, you know, I have to be at least probably reasonably intelligent to be in the position that I’m in I think that that can be a dangerous thing, right? Like recognizing your intelligence.

Chase Mullin [22:04]
And I mentioned like, hey, I’ve done plenty of sales and whatever, you manage to hire some of the right people. And, you know, I’ve certainly made some good decisions, you know, since founding the company, but I think that one of the biggest limiting factors that I had was where I wanted, I thought my decision making was always the best for a period of time, right, that I didn’t really empower people fully. And I don’t know if there was necessarily like an aha moment where I changed it. But you know, it was probably three or four years ago, I realized that if I didn’t get out of the way I was going to be the limiting factor of the company, you know, as smart as I thought that I was, right. If I didn’t empower some of these people that were kind of, you know, working underneath me to really get out on the front and lead and, you know, grow the company that we’re always going to be pigeonholed by Chase Mullin. And so it was about three and a half years ago, we elected a senior management team really put these leaders in charge of their divisions and, you know, they’re really empowered we call it business units are really empowered to like run their own business unit and, and truly, you know, have weekly one on ones with each one of them and truly, like, my role in that one on one and in the way I manage them is to help.

Chase Mullin [23:23]
How can I one of the questions I always ask, like, how can I help and sometimes they say, leave us alone? Right? And that I do I get back and you know, for other like owners or leaders out there, you know, the thing that’s made me comfortable and doing it is, you know, we measure we have KPIs and you know, if the numbers are there, and the numbers are good, then I just need to stay the hell out of the way. And, you know, the numbers speak for themselves. And, you know, sometimes it’s just a feeling you can get in the business as you see the projects coming into the backlog remaining strong or the margins are good or whatever, and it’s just let them keep doing what they’re doing. You know, and recognizing that then I didn’t need to have my finger on the pulse, every little piece of the business is really that to me, like, from all and that’s the difference between, you know, probably $8 million business and we call like the adolescent stage to the, you know, almost $15 million business where we are today as we’re kind of continuing to move into that like maturity phase.

Gene Hammett [24:26]
I want to wrap this up with one question. This could be a short answer. But do you remember how many employees you had when you started to have this revelation of I’ve got to empower these big business units, and I got to really get out of the day to day so that I can truly serve them and be the leader I need to be?

Chase Mullin [24:44]
It was around 70, 60 to 70.

Gene Hammett [24:47]
Perfect. Well, Chase, thanks for being here on the podcast, really appreciate your wisdom insights. And, you know, talking about servant leadership is something it’s fun.

Chase Mullin [24:57]
Yeah, I enjoy it. It served us well. Thank you, Gene. Thanks for having me here.

Gene Hammett [25:02]
Well, thanks for tuning in to another great episode here at Growth Think Tank, we really do appreciate you being a part of our tribe, learning about servant leadership or why servant leadership drives growth. That’s just one of the elements that we bring to this conversation of fast growth. One of the things that makes us really different is that we focus on conversations with those founders, those CEOs that are on the front lines of their own leadership. All that being said, Thank you for leaning in a little bit. Hopefully, you took notes. Hopefully, you’re actually wanting to apply some of the messages that were in here today. Maybe you have a question. Why are core values so important to leadership? What is servant leadership as it relates to developing my next class of leaders, if you have those questions running through your head, make sure you reach out to me, [email protected], I’ve got some resources just for you? If you are on a journey to be a great leader, to work through the defining moments of your own leadership. Also, make sure you reach out to me and we love to get to know you and see how we could actually connect and engage each other. As always lead with courage. We’ll see next time.

 

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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