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Keith Carlson

M. Holland
February 16, 2017

Keith Carlson

Regional Sales Manager for the M. Holland Company, a distributor of plastics resins. Keith is a talented salesman, experienced manager, a Corvette enthusiast and all around plastics industry legend. In our conversation today, we talk about his upbringing, Tiger Woods' return to golf, Corvettes and the pitfalls of building a custom home.

Transcription

Eric: Welcome to conversations around the corner, where we talk the construction executives about who they are and how they got there, inspiring the next generation of construction leaders. My name is Eric. 

Matt: And I'm Matt Field. Our guest today is Keith Carlson, Regional Sales Manager for the M. Holland Company, a distributor of plastics resins. Keith is a talented salesman, experienced manager, a Corvette enthusiast and all around plastics industry legend. In our conversation today, we talk about his upbringing, Tiger Woods' return to golf, Corvettes and the pitfalls of building a custom home. Hope you enjoy the show.

Keith: When I was really young, my father who work for a series of Illinois Tool Work companies in the accounting department was transferred down to a division in Kentucky. So I lived in little town called Roseville, Kentucky for about five years as kid, listened to nothing but country music for those five years. I didn't know there were any other kinds of music that excited, till we came back up when I was in second grade and then lived in Itasca ever since. My dad transferred the division called Hi-Cone that makes the six-pack carriers. He worked for a company called Shakeproof that makes plastic cups, worked for company called Buildex, all divisions of ITW. So the smell of melting polymer was in the air at a very early age. 

Matt: That's where you got your love for plastic?

Keith: No. I don't think I developed the love for plastic until I reached this stretch goal of making $30,000 a year. And then, I decided that maybe this wasn't so bad. Actually, I went to school and studied marketing and finance. I had the dream of being a stockbroker, investment banker, something like that. But I got out of school and was studying for Series 7, I had no money at all. And after I graduated from college, my dad...I went to Europe and backpacked around for two months, literally spent my last time in the airport in London on the way back. And when I got home, completely broke, my dad welcomed me home and he sad, "Now, that you're home and your rent starts today at $250 a month." It goes up $50 a month and we'll cap it at $500. So this is back in 1989, so $500 was a lot of money.

Matt: Yeah, that's a lot of money.

Keith: That's a lot of money. He's like, "You better find some work, son." I applied for a job as a plastics rep, for a company of plastics in Elk Grove. They did injection molding and extrusion. And told them that to be...which really wasn't but I needed the money. And they hired me on it, $23,000 a year and I started working there in 1989. They were kind enough to invest in technical training and kind of immerse myself on the technical side of the business with learn about tooling, about part design and learning about processing and things like that. Series 7, I interviewed for jobs with Lehman Brothers and sure enough, I got an offer to $16,000 a year and basically sit in a boiler room calling Mr. Field, you'd had a minute to talk about some exciting new investment opportunities which would click. So at that point, I was all the way up to like 26 grants. I'm like, "I can't go backwards." I wanted to get out of my parent's house too, so I stuck with it from there.

Matt: So where did you go to college?

Keith: I went to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Matt: And you said you did marketing there?

Keith: Right, marketing and college selection process. It's anything at this point. Life has turned up pretty very lucky in a lot of ways. My dad went to Elmhurst College, just a local university. And in growing up, they always said, "You're gonna go to college." When I was in high school, I was a baseball scholarship, our varsity which promised myself and two other guys that he was gonna hook us...he was gonna get us hooked up to get scholarships. And then, he got sick and we didn't have a full-ride scholarship sitting at the door, senior year. So my parents handed me one of those catalogues, it's like five inches thick with all the colleges and the university and said, "Go ahead and pick one." So I applied to University of Illinois and Northern Illinois. I went and visited University of Illinois with my mother. We walked like this, it was great. And then a while later, I went to Illinois and stayed overnight with one of the guys I played baseball with in high school and he took me to this party that all this good looking girl, it's fine. I'm like, "This is where I what." So that was the college selection process based on a really good...

Matt: Yeah, that's... 

Eric: There's a scene and he got game about that. I've seen that, the recording, you know, Jesus Shuttles work to school and a big part of it is about the girls. 

Keith: Yeah, there's no doubt. I mean it's a cornucopia that didn't exist. It turned out to be a great choice. It's got a great business program and I had the opportunity to connect with some folks, some guys and we started fraternity. My freshman year, we had 125 guys and this Delta Sigma Phi chapter. We have one homecoming competition three years in a row, which was previously won by another fraternity nine years in a row. We had $300,000 house on Greek row. I served a variety of roles from recruiting to management type of roles. And as much as the classroom and the academics thought me a lot about business, the real world experience of recruiting in sales, operating a budget that the fraternity had going out and purchasing a house and furnishing it, and then living by a budget to pay the rent. Everything from driving parties, to driving activities around homecoming competition. It really went a lot what I think was in education that I came out of Northern Woods. 

Eric: Yeah. You had a business mindset from pretty early age.

Keith: You know, it's interesting. I grew up in a very middle-class environment toward the area in maybe where they're inspired. And a guy next...good grades, so I got straight A's my Junior and Senior year with honors classes and such in and...who was in business. He personally did very well for himself and had a nice house and had a nice life. He was really good at talking to a variety of people and acting with them, and I admired him. I didn't know any attorneys. I didn't' know doctors. And those role seemed... so, I think that what I try to do today for my kids is try to introduce them to a variety of people that have these roles in life, these professions, and let them see that it's something that you can do as well. You know, this person is not all that more privilege than you and they're not much smarter than you, they just work to that end and you can do the same. So, yeah, I had a business mindset because that's what I was surrounded with. My dad was in accounting but he was working for a business. My uncle, as I mentioned, was more on the sale side, and he had some success in business.

Matt: Now, when you look back and you say you encouraged your children about, you know, other professions, do you have really like look back and say, "Oh, maybe I would have done well at some more like professional career like physician or lawyer accountant," or do you like the freewheeling and dealing that the business sales were all that provides?

Keith: I'm really happy. I feel a very lucky and privileged too of gaining experiences that I've had over the last...well, since 1989, how many years is that? Oh my gosh, it's a lot of years. I've had the opportunity to be the dumbest guy in the room a lot of times, meaning surround myself with really smart people. And I've tried to pay attention and learn some things along the way. I've had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. I thought I was gonna be going to Europe, but it turns out the world economy changed in the 90s and 2000 and that the economic center or the economic opportunity gravitated toward Far East, so I've done a lot of traveling in the Far East, done a lot of traveling around Mexico and of course U.S. We've been able to grow a couple of businesses both the extrusion business that was part of my life for 10 years with Fort Plastic and the company I'm with now, M. Holland Company started with this company in '99. We were little over 300 million in sales, and this last physical year we did just under 1.5 billion. So it's been really an amazing ride. So looking back in which and I had tried something else, no way, this has been amazing.

Matt: Going back to your experience at the fraternity and business experiences that you learned, but how much of it just in business do you think it's helped out that you're a likable person or that you know how to connect with people and make them laugh and all that?

Keith: One of the first business books that I read kind of coming out of college, I think it was published in '89 or '90 was the Leadership Is an Art by Max Depree. He was a guy with Herman Miller. And that book talks a lot about the important of relationships and communication, how leadership is not as much as science as it is in art. I think that that fraternal experience early put me in a situation where I had to interact and connect with pretty diverse group of people. And I think the reason that fraternity was so successful is that we did recruit pretty strong diverse community of man into it. I can't say that I've been proficient at it from the start. I think I made a lot mistakes along the way and probably said some wrong things at the wrong time, and that's a part of it, right? So I think it was absolutely a good jumping of point to learn how to connect with a variety of people. I don't think I had a whole lot of self-confidence coming out of high school and anything other than athletics. I wasn't a real extroverted guy. But I think that that experience in the fraternity helped developed a little confidence and helped developed a little finesse in communication. I believe, you know, is emphasized in that book and stumbled along the way with my first jobs. I remember we had a plant manager, really he was a extrusion supervisor who was a very gruff guy, his name is Jimmy. We'll just leave it at that. He was a ball buster. And when he was trying to go into product with the part and particularly a new tool and you're tuning it in, trying to get dimensions at least the critical dimensions within tolerance and then you bring it to the customer to have them sign off on the part. There'd be times when there'd be 10 critical dimensions and you to have six of them. But the part would appear to function, so he'd send the off to go get it approved. And when the customer didn't approve it, you know, I'd come back and tell him, "Oh, the customer didn't like it. We need to change that." He would just lay in to me and, "What good are you? If you can't go and get him to sign off on this, you're a piece of dirt. You got to do a better job." So finally, I realized that the communication aspect of it needed to evolve. So let's tee up the same scenario. I'd go to the customer, there'd be six dimensions that we're in, four that were out, customer would say, "This is terrible. You got to fix this. You got to fix this," and, "I don't want to see you again until it's fixed." I'd go back to Jimmy and say, "Okay Jimmy, customer liked it. But if you could just adjust these couple of things, it'll be perfect," and he'll sell a million of them and he's really grateful for the effort that you and your team are putting through. Much of different reaction from Jimmy with that second set of communications and he...you need a much more positive manner. So yeah, there's no doubt that many times, not what you say, but how you say it that sticks with people and has the real impact. 

Matt: Well, that's like the same thing where they say like if you're giving somebody in review or something you say three positive things and then one negative thing, it totally shifts the whole conversation to being barriers are down. They're more open to hearing a criticism because they're like thinking, "Oh, I'm doing a great job and this person is being reasonable and likes me." And then, they actually hear, you know, the piece of advice.

Keith: I call it the PNP sandwich, right? So you start with a positive and then the negative and then positive, right? Exactly, you know, you're doing a wonderful job in this area, I really appreciate your efforts. This other area here, if we can see some improvement, it's gonna impact the company in this way, it's gonna impact you in this way. And I see great things coming from you once we get past this other issue. So you're right, people can just get defensive and not understand that the critique and in the long run is what's gonna help them be more a successful but it's gonna be delivered in the right way.

Matt: The other wild thing about your example there, about like going back to the production manager and giving them like, "this is what the customer said." We're all on the same team here, we want to sell this product. And if the customer is telling us, "this is no good," what good does it do to turn around and yell at each other internally? I'd never get that mindset. Clearly, we're on the same team here, like I don't get it.

Keith: One of the things that I learned and I try to apply is, before going into a conversation, you should calibrate yourself to that person's perspective because that's gonna be what matters to them. Customer doesn't wanna hear about how hard it is to get those last couple of dimensions and the fact that you've already work on it for eight hours and are probably not gonna make the money that you thought because the startup has been so long. They don't care about that. All they care is, you know, fit form and function and how quickly are they gonna be able to get into production with their assembly based upon your component coming in. And that supervisor, all he cares about is productivity and moving under to the next thing. I shouldn't say that's all he cares about, but in that example. So, yeah, you've got to realign your conversation around the perspective of the audience.

Eric: So tell us about, in that first job at custom. Did you have any people that gave you a good performance review or influence your work life or your trajectory?

Keith: There was an engineering manager there that was really fatherly. His name was Bob Mac. And I knew nothing going into that business. All I knew was business theory coming out of college and add the fraternity experience. But from a plastics and technology standpoint, I knew absolutely nothing. So he really took the time to explain things multiple times to me until they finally stuck, so that eventually, I could represent myself at the customer level as a somewhat expert in our craft in plastics. That's how they're certainly relying in you to be that person. And I wouldn't have got there without Bob. You need guys like that. You need people who enjoy the mentoring process and are patient, you know, when you've said the third really dumb thing in a row, just review it again with you. I spent a lot of time investing in that portion of the career as well. It was probably 10 Saturdays in a row that I drag myself out of bed at 7:00 and be to the office at 8:00 to just spend a few hours over the weekend learning.

Matt: When you were 22 years?

Keith: I was.

Matt: You didn't stay out until 2 in the morning or anything?

Keith: I did.

Matt: But you still got up at 8 a.m.?

Keith: Yes.

Matt: Oh, man.

Keith: Absolutely. That's why I had to go 10 Saturdays in a row. It's probably that...I probably could have done it in three Saturdays have I not been up at 2.

Matt: You're at half speed though.

Keith: Yeah. Bob was great. I would say that at that stage of my career, there wasn't a whole lot of training on the sales side. I did have a boss that took me out on probably 5 to 10 sales calls before he ask me to go it alone. I learned early that probably the most efficient way to get good at sales was to listen what other people say and just copy it. So just take note of phrasing or statements or approaches that sound good and then paired it back when I was on my own. So I like to say now that every good thing I ever say, I've stole from somebody else. I think that's what a lot of people do early in their sales career. They pay attention to what's working for others and just try to emulate it.  
Matt: Do you have any very specific go-to's that when you're starting into a meeting and you can tell the buyer, whoever, engineers a little bit cold? Do you have any very specific phrases or techniques you go back to, to try open doors and get them to, you know, bring their barrier down?

Keith: That's a good question. I think that it starts in the preparation. And I think that the way to overcome nervousness or uncertainty is to prepare. Before the sales call, understanding what it is that the customer maybe interested, understanding customer's business or the industry that they're in, and that having something pertinent to discuss about each of those is good preparation. But the go-to is just asking good questions, and I think that's key really for any successful person in sales is asking the best questions and then shutting up and listening.

Matt: Here's another question and I'll take no offense to it, the answer either way. Do you put the customer-specific personal notes in your system and review them before you go into a call? For example, do you have like, "Oh, Matt likes running golf and his wife is pregnant." Do you then go and review that and then make sure you hit it right away?

Keith: You'd be a fool if you didn't.

Matt: Exactly, right? Because it totally makes a connection.

Keith: Well, a lot of times, it's names. It's trying to recall what their spouse's name is, what their kid's names are. Everybody likes to hear their child's name, putting that down on paper just...and it's not disingenuous, it's just being organized.

Matt: Yeah. Does your system actually literally have a field for spouse's name, children's names or it's just like you put in a note section?

Keith: You just put it in a note section.

Matt: Okay, because that would another level of planning, that's actually build up the database to be like, "Okay, here are their names. Here are their ages."

Keith: Well, not trying to give away all my sale secrets, but I think you guys have been doing it long enough for you to agree. People do business with people who they trust and people who they like. That doesn't mean that you can't ignore the value proposition. Bottom line is you have to help customers grow their business. It's not about selling anything. It's about helping other people succeed and leveraging your toolbox as a plastic extruder or as a plastic resin seller to help them be successful. But along the way, if you don't have that chemistry, and if they don't trust you, you're not gonna get very far.

Matt: There is a section that we're gonna ask you, Keith, a couple of different things and then where it's called the overrated, underrated. You tell us whether you think it's overrated or underrated and then, you know, maybe why.

Keith: That's awesome. Okay.

Matt: All right. The C3 generation of Corvettes, overrated, underrated?

Keith: You know what? That's a really good question because you know I'm into Corvettes, right?

Matt: Exactly.

Keith: And my favorite is the C2 generation. So the C3 generation, which is the Mako Shark generation, I think was extremely innovative on the day. I can look back at it and completely appreciate the design of it. But when you look at the overall performance of those cars mechanically, they under performed. So I'm gonna say overrated on the performance standpoint, but maybe underrated in terms of design.

Matt: Design, okay. Overrated, underrated, button-up Hawaiian shirts and Sansabelt slacks.

Keith: Underrated. Those things come in handy.

Matt: All the time, right?

Keith: Especially, those Sansabelt slacks, man, you know, you need to have that stretch in the waist bandage particularly as you get older.

Matt: And particularly when you're trying to relate to plastics executives or plastics buyers, right?

Keith: You got to know your audience. And those guys are a lot closer to Sansabelt slacks than they are to skinny jeans.

Matt: That's right. So except for Itasca Plastics.

Keith: Right.

Matt: Okay. Overrated, underrated Penny Loafers.

Keith: They say that you can detect somebody's success in life by their shoes. Penny Loafers are the shoes that I wore in the 80s. And I think I've moved beyond the Penny Loafers, so I'm gonna say that they are overrated.

Matt: I will say they give a level of comfort in the sales medium. Somebody is wearing Penny Loafers, like man, this dude is confident. He's comfortable in himself.

Keith: Now, what if he has the penny actually in the Penny Loafers?

Matt: That's a step too far I think. I think you can do without the penny. Penny Loafers without the penny. I mean that's a sweat spot.   

Keith: They use to do that though, right?

Matt: Yeah, I know.

Keith: Oh, yeah. 

Eric: Yeah.

Matt: Okay. Overrated, underrated, building your own custom home of your dreams.

Keith: Oh, my gosh. So it is overrated. So we built a house, it took probably a total effort of about three and half to four years. And when it started with design, specking out a room sizes, measuring your furniture, making sure everything goes in there, understanding not only how you live today but how you plan to live 10 years from now, how many kids you are gonna have, do you need to have space for in-laws, you need to have space if your parents get older. It's a lot of work.

Matt: A lot of tiring conversations there. Like even having that conversation sounds exhausted.

Keith: I tell you and, you know, just like we talked about before in terms of preparation. If you do it right on the front end in terms of working with an architect and an interior designer to specify the space, you can limit your exposure to risk once you start building. But that's the very difficult part is that there is very... in the conversations I've had with people who have built their own home, it's the grey areas that get them into a bind. Meaning, if they didn't specify it on the print or in writing with the builder upfront and you get to the point where you have a decision to make, you're gonna be in trouble. It's like a second full-time job for the period that it's actually being constructed in terms of follow-up and walking the site and all that. And in the end, the home that we built, it's a nice house, you know, it's pretty large scale. It won that Crystal Key Award in 2014 for the best new home of that size. Our kids move in and they have this beautiful bedrooms with their own bathrooms and stuff like that. They're all sleeping in one room and they're telling us, they wish we could go back to the other house.

Matt: That could not have felt good. 

Keith: No. The thing is, is what you realize is the house is just a place to create memories. And bricks and sticks that are around you have very little to do with your overall impression of that space. It's who you're with and what you're doing and how you're feeling, that is the ultimate value of a home. How big it is, how tall it is, how nice it is on the inside is great, but not as good as actually living in that great family experience in it.

Matt: All right. Well said. 

Eric: Yeah, that's good. All right, how about this one. Overrated, underrated Tiger Woods return to golf this year.

Keith: I think it's underrated. I can't say that I'm necessarily a huge fan of Tiger Woods but there's no doubt that he changed his sport and there's no doubt that he inspires a lot of people, a lot of kids. He's connected with a population, particularly when he came on, that increased the popularity of the sport amongst the younger crew by leaps and bounds. I mean when I was a kid, I actually caddied for a couple of years and I caddied over the Medinah Country Club and had the opportunity to play on Tuesdays, but golf wasn't cool back then. So didn't take advantage of what have been a great opportunity to play. But now you see...I mean a see a lot of grammar school kids that go to the school with my kids that play golf, and I think it's great. So a lot of that is attributed to what Tiger did. So guys like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus who not only had long careers but had this amazing persona out there I think are good for the game. So I'd love to see Tiger come back. But quite frankly, I think it's unlikely he's gonna have the same success that he had 10 years ago. The players nowadays are just incredible.

Matt: And just for the listener's perspective, we are recording this on January 27th and Tiger played his first round at the Farmers Insurance Open yesterday. Did you happen to catch any of the highlights from his round yesterday?

Keith: I did not. How did he fair?

Matt: Not well.

Eric: He finished four over.

Matt: Oh my god.

Keith: Four over.

Matt: And off the tee, it was...you go back and watch it. There's a YouTube, they do every single one if their shots. Every single tee shoot, he's in his second shot from this thick, thick rough and he just looked on tilt and uncomfortable and it started out a bit dicey. He kind of pulled it together by the end. I think on the third hole, his second shot on the third hole was a first fairway he hit. And then he totally skied it, pushed it off to the right and then took the iron and slammed it down at the fairway. So that was happening on the third hole yesterday.

Eric: And he was playing with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.

Keith: Oh my gosh, so those guys were just embarrassing him out.

Matt: Well, somebody thought...some marketing got thought, "Okay, this is great," right. Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods together and everyone's gonna love this. And, that is probably the cruelest thing you could have done to Tiger Woods, when he's fragile kind of comeback, and he's playing with those two guys.

Keith: Oh my gosh. I'm gonna watch that tournament now.

Matt: Yeah.

Eric: Yeah, right.

Keith: Well, and he will be paired with them on Friday as well, right? They keep the same pairings on Thursday and Friday.

Matt: Yeah.

Eric: Yeah, to day might be the last day though because he might not make the cut.

Keith: That's gonna be my must-see-tv today.

Eric: Yeah.

Matt: If you had to hire one of the two people to sell plastic for you, who it would it be, Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews? In other words, do you go for the flashy all-star...?

Keith: Right. No, I know them both well. I know them both well. I went to the game on Sunday night and made the mistake of making a critical comments within the group I was with about Jonathan Toews, his contribution so far this season. And he ended up getting one goals and three assist on the night. The guy just does a right thing on a consistent basis and he seems to have a work ethic that is very consistent and he's committed to the work that he needs to do to be successful. I'm not saying Kane or doesn't. Kane's skill set out there, his stick handling, his shooting is remarkable but I think I got to go with captain serious.

Matt: As a manager of plastic salesman, do you look for people who can pull something out that you never saw coming and do something miraculous and land a big account or do you hire somebody who is day in, day out doing the right thing, the right time?

Keith: It's what I look for in people who I hire. Number one I look for a cultural fit. I look for people who believe what I believe. I look for people who wanna help customers be successful. Nobody wants to be sold but everybody wants competent people to help them be successful. I look for a cultural fit, people who believe what I believe. Then, I look for a variety of things. I look for smart people, people who have a technical aptitude. I look for people who have demonstrated hard work and a commitment to a training program. I look for people who are competitive. A lot of this ends up, you know, attracting people who have participated in sports along the way because of some of these characteristics, as it relates the work ethic, competitive. And then I look for people who are humble and can see the other person's perspective, somebody who can demonstrate empathy. In that, there's a lot of things to learn in our business. If I'm taking somebody who's got a lot to learn, who may be hasn't been doing it for 20 years. I look for somebody who will commit to the process that we have as far as training, as far as the fundamentals that have been demonstrated to work and we'll do that consistently day-in, day-out. The days of hiring the person who's got the most extroverted personality, tell the best jokes and may be compromise a little bit on the substance in the work ethic are gone. I want somebody who understands what it takes to be successful and will commit to doing that every single day. You know what? It's tough when I'm looking for somebody and it's not uncommon for it to take six months or so. The best people aren't looking. Usually, the people who are most successful are not feeling the pain of people who are out combing through ads. One of the guys who I hired was top competitor for 20 years and he was well-compensated. He got a great territory. His company felt highly of them. He went all kinds of sales records, so why would he leave? And you can't just backup a dump truck of cash in their driveway. It took six months, it started with just, "Why don't we go have a cup of coffee and get to know each other. You never know how this industry runs, it would just be good to connect." He was aware of my company and myself. And so, we started down the path of, "What do you believe? Does your company believe what you believe?" And I think eventually, that's what convinced him to move over to our company, is that where we were going and how we wanted to take care of our stakeholders, meaning our customers, our suppliers and our employees, was better aligned with his personal business philosophy and morals than his existing company was. I'm not saying...well, we underpaid him, that's for sure, but I think that that fundamentally was like he moved over, but it takes a while.

Eric: There can't be an upset for those core values lining up between the organization and the employees and having a culture fit be right, that's for sure.

Keith: And they can't just be core values you throw up on a poster. Our company has a core values, their honestly, loyalty, trust, work ethic, character, passion, respect and integrity. Starting at the very top, the owner of the company, the CEO Ed Holland, he demonstrates those characteristics every single day. He is unwavering on his commitment to align himself personally with those core values. And I think that's where it has to start. And I think that when you have ownership and executive management that demonstrate that personally, that higher in accordance with that and operate internally and with all three stakeholders in alignment with that, it becomes who you are. And there's nothing more important than reputation. I think that probably the best thing working for M. Holland Company is that the reputation that the owner of the company has. And I think the company itself is very, very strong in the marketplace with costumers and with suppliers. It certainly helps in trying to establish credibility with new potential partners when you got that reputation.

Eric: Yup. Good. How many hours do you sleep every right?

Keith: Probably, right on seven, seven and half.

Eric: Okay, all right. So you've...

Keith: Lab more than my wife, that was...I'm usually in bed by 11:00 and up by 6:00, 6:30.

Eric: Okay, all right. Books? So what's the best book you've read last year?

Keith: I've got three kids and a full-time job, so there's not a whole lot of reading that I'm doing now. A lot of the books that I read are considered business self-help books. There was a guy that came out with a program called, "Action Selling" and had a book around that, that was the last book I read and I really enjoyed it. I think that even if you've been doing a particular perfection for a long time, sometimes when you read a book like that, it emphasizes things that you already know. But if you were to take a real honest look at yourself and your performance, you're like, "Oh, you know, I know should be doing that and I would like to see that I'm doing that," but not really doing that all the time. That was a really good book, "Action Selling" that I read within the last year. Probably the book that has shaped my life maybe as much as anything is a book that I read back in 1990, 1991, it's the Ben Hogan, Five Lessons: Modern Fundamentals of Golf. I had this idea of taking on a new sport golf when I get out of undergrad and I went out and paid a $119 for a set of Wilson golf clubs from Sportmart. Somebody recommended the book and I bought the book, and I spent thousands of hours on the range reading the book and then picking up the clubs and trying to do what Ben Hogan was demonstrating in that book. And it not only worked, I got a lot better than I was, but I totally found love with the game. It's led to a lot of great friendships that I have in the community with other golfers. It's led to some nice business opportunities on the golf course. I've played the CEOs of major petrochemical companies and found a personal connection with them by walking the fairways of courses in Tokyo, walking the fairways of courses Illinois and Wisconsin and a lot of other places.

Matt: How much do you think itMatters to them how well you hit a derive? You think people are legitimately impressed when a they open up, a little bit more people who hit the golf ball far?

Keith: I think people are shaped by people around them that are competent. If you were shanking every shot with... I mean I've gone two rounds like that too, man. I've had some ugly rounds out there. But if you're moving a ball in around the course and you're doing it in a very competent way and as well you're creating an environment that's enjoyable, and maybe sprinkling in a little business along the where they feel like it was not only fun but I got something out of it, it fortifies relationships and it creates new opportunity. If you're not gonna play well, play quickly.

Eric: That is a great piece of advice in general.

Matt: That goes to everybody. That's awesome.

Eric: Okay, how about your favorite movie?

Keith: For the last 12 years and having three kids, I would say that 98% of the movies that I've watched have been animated movies.

Eric: Yeah, like big fan of Frozen?

Keith: It's okay to say Frozen. I did enjoy Frozen particularly at the end when there was the love between siblings that made the difference. And I tried to point that out as example to my own children who were poking each other at the time but, you know, Saving Private Ryan?

Matt: Good one.

Eric: That is a good one.

Keith: I love that movie. First of all, I mean the message of leadership and message of, "We've got mission to accomplish and we're gonna getting it done." There is one line in that movie that I use in business, and that's Tom Hanks said to one of his officer, "You never bitch down, you only bitch up," And so when you have direct reports and things aren't going well, you don't bitch to them. In some ways, tell the company line, you give the perspective of the other person who's not in the room, that they're typically complaining about. And then, you make sure that when you are betting, you're talking up to the right person and present it in a way where it's constructive. I love that movie then.

Eric: Yeah. All right. How about, what's your favorite restaurant?

Keith: Mexican, serve comfort food. So here's a new Mexican restaurant that open here in Oakbrook called En Fuego, that's where we go. Kids love the Mexican food. My wife and I love not just the food with some spice to it but a nice cold Margarita to wash it down, so in En Fuego is the place.

Eric: Is this one these new fancy Mexican places where tacos got like 10 different ingredients that are locally sourced from wherever?

Keith: Kind of, kind of, yeah. Place itself, I wouldn't see as real fancy but I think, you know, what they've done in terms of combining ingredients, delivers much more than a Taco Bell taco. It's kind of a Rick Bayless sort of a Mexican food. I would say that longstanding Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill in Chicago is my favorite.

Eric: Yeah, the place is great.

Keith: Oh, I love it. I love everything about it. I love the environments and the food is great, it's creative. The drinks are really fresh and delicious, so yeah, it's my favorite one in the city.

Eric: All right. Speaking of, what's your favorite drink?

Keith: It's Margarita. You got to have a Rick Bayless Margarita not a, you know, something that's put together with some sweet sour syrup and some cheap tequila. Tequila itself is a lot like wine. There is different varietals, there's a Blanco, Reposados and Añejo. They're rested in... Reposado means rested, so it's rested in the oak barrels just like wine. Añejos are in those barrels for a longer period of time and how they rest them and the oak that they use and such develops a character of flavors that can be very different. So you infuse that with some really fresh lime juice and other ingredients is that, that a place like Frontera Grill knows how to put together is just the best. So yeah, Margarita is my drink.

Eric: Nice. I thought for sure you're gonna say WhistlePig.

Keith: I do enjoy a good WhistlePig too. It's funny how, you know, there are certain things that have been around for a long time and then all of a sudden there is this resurgence of interest, and maybe it's just local for resurgence. You know, like cigars have gone through that from time to time, you know, certain type of liquors have gone through that. Right now, I'm really interested in the brown liquors, you know, and the bourbons and the Whiskeys and learning about them. I was given a bottle of Jefferson's.

Eric: Which one?

Keith: Gosh. It's sitting down in my bar right now. So Jefferson's is own by a guy out of Kentucky. When he is creating the mash then fermented in barrels, he discovered that agitating the barrels improves the bourbon. So he puts his barrels on boats.

Eric: Yep, so that's the Jefferson's Oceans bourbon.

Keith: Yeah, there we go.

Eric: Yep, that sounds great.

Keith: So you know it.

Eric: Oh, I know it.

Keith: So the guy who founded it... So I may have mentioned that I'm changing roles at M. Holland. I am moving from the sales manager to running the polypropylene portfolio. The guy who's back filling me into the sales manager role, his name Ted Banner , he's buddies with the founder. He went to high school with him, yeah. So he's the one who actually gave me the bottle for Christmas. And so, he knows the guy personally and he's got a lot of knowledge on the background and the guy personally. And he grew up in Kentucky, so he is a big fan of the brown liquor down there.

Eric: I feel like we're all gonna need to take a road trip coming up here.

Keith: Oh, you know what? So Ted...so his stepfather... I think I may have mentioned this. His stepfather was a really renowned guy down in Louisville. He's a guy named Larry Jones. So Larry Jones, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles to play baseball. He ended up going to University of Kentucky and playing football for Bear Bryant. He's got a twin brother, Larry and Harry Jones, both played for Bear Bryant. Their numbers were 1A and 1B under uniform. They're the only NCAA players to have a number and a character on their uniform. He was an All-American, University of Kentucky. He came out, and he was a soldier and he got like a silver star or something like that. He got some military award, I wish I could remember exactly what it is. And then he came back to Kentucky. He started a plastics company called Jones Plastics. The company was widely successful, it's over a $50 million, actually probably over $80 million plastics processing company. Then, he was one of the founding members for a country club called the Valhalla Country Club, and he's a scratch golfer. And the guy interested in skiing and become the an experts skier, so Ted has got a ski-in, ski-out condo and snow mask that we're going to week after next to do some skiing. So this guy, an amazing, amazing guy. He built quite a community of friends down in Louisville like Denny Crum. He's a good friends with Ted's mom and Larry. They're big time into obviously the horse culture down there and the horse racing. So he's got access to some amazing barns to go through tours and see the horses and stuff like that. They've got a box down there for the Kentucky Derby, like a really nice box down there. So I've never been before.

Eric: Let's got one more question... Actually, I got two more. What is something that you believe that few others do?

Keith: Something that I believe that few others do, the few others do.

Eric: Yeah, like it's an out of their thought. People would maybe think you're stupid for thinking it but you still think it.

Keith: This is gonna be a poor response but I can't think of anything that I believe that is that far out there. Other than, I truly believe that the approach to the work in terms of sales is not about selling, it's about helping people grow their business and taking the time to try to understand what that looks like, because with 20 different customers, it looks 20 different ways. Maybe that's a noble thing to believe on the sales side, that it's not about closing the deal. The deals will close if you're helping people be successful.

Eric: You mean it's not about a funnel and loading it from the top and then moving it through stages, and then all this prospecting and KPIs and all that stuff?

Keith: You know, there's systems and processes and systems and processes that are important. And it's about, you know, and having good work practices and about good preparation. Like Vince Lombardi said, "The only thing that's more important than winning is preparing to win." There are some really important fundamental things that you do to put yourself in a position to close to win. But really, what it comes down to is not being desperate to sell something. It's being desperate or at least committed to the process of making your customers better and then the numbers take care of themselves, that's what I believe in.

Eric: Thanks for listening to Conversations Around the Corner produced by Wallprotex, the designer and manufacturer of Wall Protection products for healthcare, hospitality or any commercial building. Be sure to subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher and tune in next week when we will have another conversation around the corner.