Creating a Culture of Humility with Fred Kneip at CyberGRX
Culture is an essential part of company performance. One aspect of that is to create a culture of humility. Leaders that know the power of being humble tend to lead others to be more humble. Today’s guest is Fred Kneip, Founder and CEO at CyberGRX. Inc Magazine ranked his company #97 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. CyberGRX provides the a comprehensive third-party cyber risk management platform to cost-effectively identify, assess, mitigate and monitor an enterprise’s risk exposure across its entire partner ecosystem. Fred gives you his take on a culture of humility. He is a firm believer in how being humble is a powerful trait for growth. Discover the keys to a culture of humility.
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Fred Kneip: The Transcript
About: As Chief Executive Officer, Fred Kneip is responsible for the overall company direction of CyberGRX. Prior to joining the company, Fred served in several senior management roles at Bridgewater Associates including Head of Compliance and Head of Security. Before that, Fred was an Associate Principal at McKinsey & Co., where he led the company’s Corporate Finance practice. Fred has also worked as an investor with two later-stage private equity investment firms. Fred holds a B.S.E from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School.
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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.
Fred Kneip: Leadership is more around kind of setting the vision and inspiration, such that people now attached to that understand the goals that are defining what gets into those subjects. There are components of go into management. And so when I think of that leadership aspect, it’s finding great people, but then pushing them beyond their comfort zone and saying, I want you to go for it. What do you want to do? How can I empower you? How can I let you, you know, get out there and take a couple of risks. And there’s, you know, constant elements of allowing them to fail poets are and truly meaning that.
Intro: 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: Today will be an interesting conversation because it’s about something in leadership that we don’t talk about enough. And it really is about humility, specifically culture of humility. When you have people that are willing to be humble and let their ego go. You have something different. You have something that where people can collaborate together in a different way. Our special guest today is the leader of CyberGRX and his name is Fred Kneip. We talk about some really interesting concepts today that you want to make sure you understand as a leader, you talk about the power of you being a stronger leader. Being able to say that you don’t know the answer. And a lot of people think that they should have all the answers, but guess what? It’s not required just because you’re the CEO. And if you think about that, you want to make sure that you’re leading by example. And that’s a big topic in today’s episode as well. You want to make sure that you actually are being humble and creating humbleness across the organization. A culture of humility will give you more benefit than you can imagine. Listening to the episode to find out the details.
When you think about your own journey of leadership, are you absolutely clear about what’s next? What I find is a lot of leaders know what to do next, but they don’t know how to spend their time. They don’t know how to truly step back from the vision and take a different perspective around leadership and around their people. And I help them do that. My executive leadership coaching is specifically designed to help successful leaders create impossible goals and to really do this by showing up differently, doing something they’ve never done before. It’s not about being a new person, but it was about transforming who you. If you’re curious about what that is, I want to offer you a free coaching session to allow you to truly tune into this. We’ll get clear about what’s getting in your way, will get clear about how to move forward. I’m not going to hold anything back. I ask that you not hold anything back either. If you want to have that kind of experience of coaching with me, make sure you go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. I’d love to serve you to be the leader that your team deserves, help you figure out what’s the blind spot, holding you back. Be a sounding board of some sort of help you move forward as a leader, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call. Now here’s the interview with Fred.
Hey Fred, how are you?
Fred Kneip: I’m good.
Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast.
Fred Kneip: I’m excited to be here.
Gene Hammett: We’re going to have a great conversation about leadership and culture and the things around that. But tell us a little bit about your company, CyberGRX.
Fred Kneip: Sure. So CyberGRX is a third-party, cyber risk management platform. So a bit of a mouthful, but basically what we do is we allow people to evaluate and manage the risk that exists of the vendors, suppliers, whomever they rely upon to deliver their core offering. A simple example is, you know, Apple doesn’t actually build anything. They design beautifully. I-phones I watched whatever it might be. And they send all that data to Foxconn to go build it for them or someone else. And we help them evaluate the security of a company like that to ensure a hacker doesn’t go and get those designs there. Think about payroll or legal firms, whatever it might be. Built on a one to many exchange concepts, kind of like a, an S and P or Moody’s credit rating. We do a single rating of a company we’re closely with them to make sure it’s accurate and then it can be used or shared multiple times, really just helping people scale up as they’ve grown massively and their dependence on vendors and suppliers now, and today.
Gene Hammett: So that gives us an idea of what you guys do, but where you got there was through strong leadership through the right kind of culture. And that has allowed you to create these products for fast growth. I was looking back at the data. How does a company grow? 3900% in three years. What’s your reaction to that?
Fred Kneip: Yeah. Sorry. It does come down to, and in one of those, you ask any manager or leader out there and it’s about the people that you bring on. Really you’ve got to rally around a, objective or inspiration to where you want to go. , I think a couple of key things for me that when I started the company, I had three primary objectives and they may sound simplistic, but the first and foremost is I want to do something that I felt really had a positive impact. And it was, you know, I could go into someone’s office and say, I’m going to make you better at your job I’m going to do. And it wasn’t kind of selling snake oil. So that’s where it really had that core value to it. The second was I wanted it to be a complicated problem that, you know, didn’t get boring and people were kind of punching the clock and there was constant intellectual stimulation, really diving in. And then the third and probably most important is I wanted to look forward to going to work every day.
And that comes down to the people and create a culture where people want to be there and really stepping back. And maybe that. You spend an extra dollar on benefits packages or whatever it might be such that people feel part of a community versus you’re just there to, you know, you know, I guess maximize profit around.
Gene Hammett: You know, you are one of many Inc 5,000 liters we’ve had on the show and it’s amazing how many of them really focus on the importance of people, the converse of that is smaller companies that are not growing as good. Think about things like how do we get more profit margin or how do we get more market share? How do we get something else? Bear companies think about the same thing, cause they’re on this quarterly basis. , do you realize that those fast-growth companies tend to think about their people a lot more than other companies? ,
Fred Kneip: I don’t have the same research you do, but, it doesn’t surprise me. I think a lot of it comes down to leverage. It’s a matter of, if you’re a single practitioner, you know, you can get X amount done in a given day, but as you start to build a team around you, I, you know, it’s interesting. I, I, I heard an expression from a former boss that the best manager has no responsibility. And at first, I thought he was full of it. And then I started to realize it’s actually if you can hire the right people to go and do each of the key things, you’re just there to deal with problems or kind of escalations or whatever it might be. It allows you to effectively accomplish so much more and grow faster. And so if you’re kind of sitting there trying to optimize or maximize each piece of it, it’s, you’re, you’re going to be focused on the money minutiae versus how do I scale this thing up to grow as fast as possible.
Gene Hammett: So we’ve made a turn here into you know, leadership, you, you said this best manager has no responsibility. And I, and I agree with you. I think that too many leaders are tied down to the minutia and the day-to-day, even though they, we need to let go of that and they know they need to let go of it, but they can’t. When you have made some transitions as. Maybe it’s this company or other companies. What if, what could you really share back with us around leadership that we can get our hands around?
Fred Kneip: Well, I think it’s, , I mean, it kind of goes back to the first part of the conversation is, is finding and empowering the best people. And empowering is a key piece of this. It’s a, and I think that the, there, the, there, I guess all sorts of. So you can sell great leadership and management. You know, management is an element of, I need to hit this number in this timeframe. Here are the 16 things I’m going to deliver against there’s a spreadsheet to track against it, et cetera. And you’re now managing that process, project management, whatever it might be, leadership is more around the kind of setting the vision and inspiration. It’s actually people now attached to that, understand the goals that are defining what gets into those subjects are components that go into management. And so when I think of that leadership aspect, it’s finding great people, but then pushing them beyond their comfort zone and saying, I want you to go for it. What do you want to do? How can I empower you? How can I let you, you know, get out there and take a couple of risks? And there are constant elements of allowing them to fail, et cetera, and truly meaning that though. It’s, it’s going to say, okay, I’m going to push you to that point. And it’s amazing what you can get.
You know, we have people at CyberGRX companies only about six years old now who have moved from entry-level interns to managing security divisions or leading a sales division because we just kept pushing them and giving them opportunities. And by the way, everyone messed up along the way, but it’s okay. What, how do we learn from that? And how do we grow? So to your question, it’s really around. I go back to it’s finding the people, inspiring them, and then pushing them into what you either.
Gene Hammett: So I’ve heard this many times before, whoever our audience is really listening into what this is going with, this really means, but there’s a word I have in my notes here about your style of leadership. And it’s the word humility. What role does humility play in your company?
Fred Kneip: It’s a big piece. , and we have kind of, our core values are around. , being open-minded, and focusing in on the fact that, you know, you might not know the best answer, and I know that’s a weird thing to say, and it actually was one of the most empowering kinds of steps in my career was when I finally was comfortable saying the words, I don’t know. You know, I worked for one of the world’s leading consulting firms where people were paying us absurd amounts of money to come in and consult and help them guide their strategy. And if they mentioned something, I was like, I can’t see, I don’t even know what this guy’s talking about. That’s unacceptable. And I kind of faked it through some of those things in some ways. But a recognition that when you stop and say, I don’t know, I’m not sure what you’re talking or where this is going, or the other balance I would have for that. A, you know, another phrase and I apologize, I stole this a bit from, from Bridgewater was being assertive and open-minded at the same time. And I love that concept because it means you can’t sit on the side. You have to assert yourself, put your views out there, take a risk while at the same time, recognizing that you could be wrong being open-minded the fact that you could be wrong in listening to the feedback from your peers. Not to say, let me convince them of my view, but let me understand why they had a different view.
Why did they make that decision or where and learn, and either one you’ll figure out a flaw in their logic and help them be better prepared to deliver against what you want to do or to they see something you don’t see. And you’re now going to either avoid a pitfall or make your resolution happen.
Commentary: Hold on. Fred has talked about being assertive and being open-minded. What that really means inside of leadership. Well, radical transparency is something that you want to make sure you understand because transparency is a two-way street. You want your employees to be transparent with you. If they see a problem, you want them to raise their hand. If they see a quality defect or a place where we can improve or innovate, you want them to share those ideas. It’d be horrible. If they did. You also want to make sure you’re open to the feedback that is necessary for you to evolve. You want to be open at two-way street really is important. Being open as a leader means that you’re willing to evolve and change. And that is a great thing. Back to Fred.
Gene Hammett: You, , said something that I want to make sure we don’t. Bridgewater, give us some context around who that is in your life.
Fred Kneip: Sure. So Bridgewater is an investment firm that I worked for prior to founding CyberGRX. Actually, it was my introduction to the cyber security world. , and it is the world’s largest hedge fund, but I think more famous for its founder, Ray Dalio, and his publication, the principles around a really kind of, as he called it a radical truth, radical transparency, very open, direct culture, fostered on getting to the core ideas and key address there and relaxing any pretense of, you know, authority or ever in a room it’s going to best idea wins an idea meritocracy is right. We call it and I’ve tried to pull a lot of that culturally into CyberGRX. There’s always kind of different things that I’ve seen. For the culture we have. But, the core of it is a recognition that when you’re positioning or trying to look good and not afraid or not aware or able to say, you know, I, I don’t know if this, you know, this better than I do whatever you’re going to get to suboptimal answers. And so really just enabling and empowering people and modeling it. Yeah. And that’s what I push my executive team constantly is we have to model that to our teams or else they’re not going to model it to their teams and so on.
Gene Hammett: You know, I think a lot of leaders don’t realize the modeling part of that. , I want to go into that question, but I want to kind of make a comment here. One of the top articles that I wrote for Inc magazine is around radical transparency. Looking at Ray Dalio’s approach. But you got to live it, you worked directly with Ray and, and whatnot there.
Fred Kneip: Yes, it is.
Gene Hammett: And so how specifically has this, this idea of transparency played a role in your current company’s growth?
Fred Kneip: I think it’s massive, in that sense, because, you know, I, I think I have some great ideas and guess what a lot of them were pretty bad at the end. And it’s a recognition that if I don’t have a team around me, that’s going to help me see that earlier, rather than later, we’re going to make more missteps than we already have. And so it really has played in, but. It’s a weird concept in that being able to recognize your own fallibility is actually empowering and builds more confidence. I know that may sound somewhat circular, but you you’re actually comfortable to say I know this stuff and I’m good at it. I don’t know this stuff as well. And I have a team who can really get there and I’m going to be more reliant on them. And they’re going to feel more confident in bringing that forward in the conversation because that’s, that’s how we all complement one another and get to the right path. And we don’t need to go deep into Bridgewater Bridgewater, really focused on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of every participant in the, in the room and say, okay, this person is really good at conceptual thinking. This person is really good at tactical delivery. And so as we wait to different components of the conversation, that person takes the leadership role in a piece, similarly, I will say right now. My COO blows me out of the water and organization and ability to kind of build and design a plan. And when it comes down to how are we going to execute against, okay. Ours, et cetera, like she knows she owns it and I’m yes, please help me. In fact, she kind of makes fun of me in some ways about it, which is appropriate.
Gene Hammett: I really appreciate you going to the depths there to look at how this transparency plays a role in leadership. We’re a fast-growth company. I told you. I’d come back to this question. I jotted down. Make sure I wouldn’t forget it. And it’s really about being a role model. I think a lot of leaders forget that they’re modeling to their executive team and their executive team is picking up those little pieces of what leadership is inside this company. If you get that wrong, it’s cascading down across the organization. For example, a transparency has not, something that’s put front and center and talked about then other, other people are not going to feel the same way. , when you think about being a role model to your executive team and that’s cascading across the organization, what, what really kind of runs through your mind and, and how do you really kind of manage that?
Fred Kneip: Well, how do you want the rest of the organization to behave? And it’s, it’s interesting because, you know, everyone has a value statement, right? They’ll put it up on the wall or they’ll go through. Oh, presentation on that. But if there’s a discrepancy between the way the leadership acts and the values, basically that the rest of the employee base, the company will throw it away. And so one of those key things is spending. We spent an inordinate amount of time writing down what are our true values? And it’s not often people say, oh, these are our aspirational. We’re going to do this, but, okay, that’s fine. But how do we truly operate? Let’s really be honest about it and, and what, what works for us. And, and obviously, you have some level of aspiration in there, right. But it’s a, and you build those out and say, are you living that day-to-day? And our values integrity, which is, you know, we, we don’t over-promise to a customer, even though man, that could get the deal done, but that actually is antithetical to our values. And we’ve walked away from deals that would have been a great logo to have up on our website, but you know what, that was not something we could do, et cetera, and modeling that is, in many cases, celebrating that one of the craziest thing I, I thought it was fantastic. What is, we, our platform crashed last week for 15 minutes or whatever it may be.
And the engineer who had pushed the wrong thing. Quickly, put his hand up, say, Hey, it was my bad, my fault here. And it just built right in. We were able to fix it, identify it, and stuff. And so instead of people trying to hide that, or kind of step away from that, that concept of, Hey, I’m all part of this, I’m going to have the integrity to say I had an issue here and that was celebrated. We actually gave him an award. , and so that kind of, you know, really modeling that out is key. I will tell you that probably my, my weakest point in this company is where I, I think I’ve separated a little bit from that. And we had a. An employee, a strong leader who didn’t fully align with our values and was behaving somewhat consistently. And my, I was apprehensive to let him go. And thus that actually had a really bad cascade through the organization because people basically said, okay, Fred’s not with upholding our values. He’s keeping this employee who is obviously inconsistent there, therefore I don’t need to as well. And so there was a repair cycle, if you will coming out of that, that I had to rebuild trust month’s organization. And now these are the kinds of learnings. From here, it goes through a man. It hurts. Or I was so nervous about letting that person go. But the broader cultural impact was so much greater in retrospect that I should never have waited.
Commentary: Now Fred, just talked about being a role model. You know, that you are the role model. They pick up on everything that you say and everything you do. And the most important thing is what you do. You want to make sure you’re living the values of the company. It’s the highest level of integrity possible. You want to make sure that your word is something that you aren’t willing to compromise on, and you want to make sure that you are being kind and being the leader that you expect them to be because they’re looking up to you. They’re looking for clues behind us. You also realize that every leader that you have and you’re working with directly is taking the way you treat them and treating their employees the same way. And so a little bit of things that might be out of alignment, get amplified as it goes across the company. And you want to make sure that you are leading by example, being the role model that your team deserves. Back to Fred.
Gene Hammett: I had a lot of leaders. Like you kind of open up to me in this moment, and this is one reason why I do the podcast because I’ve heard this enough, but there’s an, A player, you know, someone that’s a rock star, superstar, many times it’s in sales and they’ll do anything to get the deal. And, and I’ve asked questions, like, what does, what do you mean anything? They’re like, well, they’ll lie, they’ll cheat, they’ll steal. And I’m like, and you let that persist. And like I told you that the rockstar. Yeah. And every time they come back and let go of that, that strong person for the company. It lifts the entire organization up and they’re like, why’d you wait so long because you feel the same way.
Fred Kneip: Of course. And by the way, I also think, you know, despite the podcast, the books, everything out there, you know, a lot of people are experiential. You, you have to feel that pain yourself before you can release. The risk or the fear is so great. It’s, I’m going to lose these sales. I’m going to lose this department. I’m going to, I can’t do that. I’m only 15 people. I can’t do whatever it is. It’s, it’s, it’s terrifying. And you’re like, I can make this work. And by the way, anyone who is an entrepreneur or starting up their own company, they are very much focused on potential versus reality. Like, oh, how I can make this better. And therefore, when they see a person who is not performing, they say they could get better. They’re they’re biased towards the potential vs the reality of that guy’s pissing people off or that guy’s making you look bad and you need to actually do something about it. It’s one of those things. I think, unfortunately, people will continue to step on that landline and grow from it, and then hopefully for the rest of their careers, that really shaped them. But it’s hard to not go through that yourself and really understand the magnitude.
Gene Hammett: Fred, there’s so much more I want to go into, but we’ve got to come to an end here. You’ve mentioned core values. A number of times, I’m just kind of curious. Would we see anything unique in your organization about how you guys operationalize or internalize these core values that keep them front and center day-to-day?
Fred Kneip: So a couple of things, I mean, there’s an element of building the community around the value. So every employee in CyberGRX as a show, you know, that those types of things, I want everyone to be a part of it. We have a ridiculously robust benefits package, other components to make sure we’re taking care of one another. And I think it is really a key, helpful piece of that. What’s neat for me, actually, one of my things I like most is people have embraced our values and we have a channel in slack we call recognition. Where people will at any given time, any day, it was like, I’d like to celebrate John for exhibiting this value in this, and then write a little brief blurb about what they did. And, you know, you can put all these little emojis and slack and they’ll get 65, 70, 80 responses, you know, thumbs up or whatever it might be. And, you know, there’s at least a few of those every day. And so I think it’s an element of a recognition that these values are important. We’re going to celebrate you that. And then at our all-hands meetings, we’ll call out even more specific components around values know, people are really demonstrating to that effect. This person took their time and train this whole new group on something completely out of. That’s part of our continuously learned value or those kinds of things.
So I think it’s really embedding it in their conversation and, and then finding people who embrace that our interview process, we talk about the values. What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve? What motivates you and look for that values alignment, before anything else.
Gene Hammett: Well, again, a lot of the stuff is, is a repeat from, what’s been on the show before, but what’s really unique about it is your perspective, your company, what you bring to this conversation. So hopefully those listening in are taking it for what it really is. This is how great companies are growing fast. It’s not just focused on the bottom line and focus on the next milestone. They’ve got to hit, it’s developing the people with a sense of humility. And being able to really be the leader that you need to be. So thanks for being here. Fred.
Fred Kneip: It’s been my pleasure. I really appreciate you.
Gene Hammett: I know I kind of give you a little bit of recap there, but I just wanted to bring this home. If you are a leader who took today’s message and said, you know what, there’s a chance for growth. For me, there’s a chance where I could say, I don’t know more, or I could be more humble or I could create more of a focus of values. I’d love to help you. I do, some coaching calls for clients that are, if you’re listening to this, you’re deep into this interview. I love to help you be an extraordinary leader for find out what your next step is. Do you want to reach out to me, just go to GeneHammett.com, you can schedule a call, absolutely free.
I’m going to serve you to the best degree to help you figure out what the blind spot is. What’s getting in the way. Cause this is what I love to do, and I’d love to help you too. So if you are interested in that just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call as always, when you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank lead with courage. Will see you 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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