The Ed Eppley Experience
The Ed Eppley Experience

Episode · 1 year ago

The CEO Who Loves Failure


"It's almost harder not to help than it is to help." So says Kurt Barney, the CEO of Vandalia Rental. This fast growing, highly profitable company owes much of its success to being able to quickly develop talent that is letting the company scale. And according to Kurt, creating a culture that let's people be able to learn as quickly as possible means being willing to let them make the mistakes that teach them the critical lessons that make them truly valuable performers and leaders. You'll be impressed by this young executive's approach to leading and growing people and his top tip for running a more successful organization.

Welcome to the Ed Epley experience. 20 minutes that simplifies the complex job of managing and leading people and inspires you to take action on what you probably already know to build and sustain a smart and healthy business. Here's your host, Ed F. Lee, to introduce this week's guest and business leader. Welcome to the Epley Experience. The opportunity for you, our listeners to get a least one proven and practical idea that will help you run a more sustainable, profitable and, hopefully, overall great business we have with us today. A gentleman that I've gotten to know over the last 45 years. Wicked smart. He is remarkably quick and bright, very, very disciplined guy. He's also done a good job knowing what he's instinctive at and naturally good at doing and spends a lot of his time in those areas in the business and extremely results driven. One of the most results driven people have. No, he's Kurt Barney. He's the CEO of Vandalia rental, Vandalia, Ohio If you don't know where Vandalia is, it's just north of Dayton, Ohio, on the crossroads of America they referred to at the intersection of I 70 and I 75. Kurt, Welcome to the Ed Epley experience. Thank you. And happy to be here. Yes, sir. Shape that introduction. Not sure that's I'll try and live up to that. You have no problems living up to it. You know it. It occurred to me as I was prepping for today's discussion with you, that maybe not all of our audience understands what an equipment rental house is and does. So could you give the audience, uh, the uninitiated? Ah, quick overview of what the businesses and the markets you serve and and how you make or don't make money. Absolutely. So Vanda urinal is in the commercial space where in the rent to rent model of equipment on the short term solutions, which is typically defined by less than a year duration. Okay. Our primary customer base again in that commercial spaces the construction, the industrial and governmental sectors. And we've expanded our branch network now to go from Lima, Ohio, clear down to northern Kentucky. And as of this month, we should be coming out of the ground and our first location in Columbus, Ohio. You're gonna be in my neck of the woods then, huh? Very close just south of Hillier. I love it. Glad you're coming. You grew up in the business, right? You're kind of in your blood. Absolutely. When did you know you wanted toe make this your career? Was that always in the back of your mind, or was there a point at which you were looking to do something else and realized? Yeah, I think I got to stay where I am. You know, I think I've always had a passion for this industry in some capacities. It's all I've ever known. But I think that's because I fell in love with it early on. And I joked with people and say that I outgrew the sandbox. So I was forced to find bigger toys. Um, but really, I was not allowed back in this business for family reasons after graduating college until I've gone somewhere else. And I think that was brilliant on my father's behalf so that I could experience it, really? Make sure it's what the right commitments of my professional journey needed to be. And there's no doubt it was I lasted 181 days somewhere else in the finance business and took a tremendous amount of value from that experience, but was excited toe to come back to this business and be a part of it. You know it. It's so important to know what you don't want to dio. And that 180 days was pretty important in that regard, wasn't it? It waas I'm way too transparent, honest sometimes. And when I was going through college interviews, I was a little bit more transparent than maybe I should have been where I said, Well, what do you want to do or what do you see yourself? And I said, Well, I believe that I'll probably be in the family business in a few years and what really drew me to that organization was they said, Well,...

...if you learned that you would like this better than that business, would you give it a fair shot? I had to stop and pause for a second. I thought, Yeah, I believe I would, Um, they took that bet. I took that bet, and we both learned that I was best suited for the equipment rental industry. Well, everybody, one everybody one with that one. You know, you're not the first person we've had on the podcast from an organizational standpoint, made the transition from first generation to second. So you've You've certainly done that by all appearances. Very, very well, I know there had to be. It wasn't always perfect, but I get the impression that it went really about a smoothly as these transitions. Congar. Oh, so would you mind telling the audience about when you made the transition from your dad being the CEO to you being the CEO? What was that like and how much planning went into it. And you know what went well and what didn't? Sure, Absolutely. I came into the business, I believe when I was 20 22 officially bought my dad out when I was 29. So we had a relatively early transition relative to what you would typically see in a family succession. I take zero credit for that. I give my father the utmost credit for that. He was the initiator. He was three driver. He was the coach behind that entire process. What went well, I think, is where we're at today. The fact that we've successfully transitions the business. The family had zero impacts. Thanksgiving feels the same, and that was our barometer of success. What a good one. That's a great one. Yes, I credit my mother for that completely. But that was how we define success of a positive transition. And each member of the family had 100% veto power for this to not go through so that it was not a majority rule. It was 100% on board. Was that just your mom and your dad and yourself or with other family members that had that? Vito knows my brothers. I have two brothers and neither of which were involved in the business. And because of my youth at the time, you know there was still a net equitable transaction that needed to be taken place as part of this transition, and those we learned through the journey are different things. Wonderful. Well, that's that's impressive. So in the look back, would you have done anything different? Do you think in terms of the transition in terms of the transition, I think there's any time you do anything? I think you could look back and find things that you could have refined. I think there's a few of those things that we could have done differently. But overall, I would say that we got an A in that process. There was some learning that had to take place on my end. This is the first time that I've gone through it, that my dad had ever gone through it, and it's really kind of meant to be a one and done so. I think if we were to have to go hit the rewind button, go back 10 years. We've probably learned along that journey, and we would have been able to do it a little quicker the next go around. But I'm not disappointed in the in 2 to 3 years that it took. Got it. All right, well, well done. I I appreciate you sharing that. That will be helpful for our audience, you know, because you didn't spend a lot of time somewhere else to see what was good or bad in terms of management and leadership. I'm curious about who have been your biggest influences in the way you manage and lead. Yeah, that's a great question. I don't know that I've ever really had any formalized, longstanding leadership training experience outside of the classroom. College things of that capacity. But I think my mom and dad had a strong North Star towards doing the right thing and owning the results. Seeing the follow through, my grandfather had a lot of... the wall, if you would sayings and I catch myself storytelling some of the same stories with the same guiding principles that he would say and probably the most hidden one. I think that influenced how I naturally elite is my sports coaches. I played competitive sports most all my high school and elected not to play in my college career. But I really look at businesses a teams for and I think that if we respect one another's talents and we align them and put the right person in the right position with right playing time, it's amazing how the points get put on the board. So I've always just lean into that approach to it and tried toe to think of it as a team sport. It's worked so far, so we keep doing it. Are you a big reader mawr of a listener while I drive than reader at my stage of life and so are you listening to a lot of professional management or leadership podcasts. Are you listening? Mawr to trade industry kind of stuff. If I saw your podcast list, what would I be exposed? Thio. I will lean into a lot of the short term versus the longer chapter books, if you will, that I I find myself having to make our drive between branches or to and from home or wherever it may be on being able to just listen to, ah, half hour to a one hour podcast on on leadership. Whether it's a there's a local gentlemen that does the learning Leader, I think he's got some phenomenal guests on his. I think that you can get a lot of the industry podcast that you stay relevant from a 3 60 viewpoint to make sure that what you're believing is understood, accepted and ready for where the industry is also evolving into. And you take all that together and you kind of form your own opinions and strategies, and you go out there and execute the business. When you took it over, if I recall correctly three branches or whether to when you there was one, there was still only one Okay. All right, Forgive me. I was thinking that that that you have had one or two when you started, all right, So when there was one, and then you went to how many? Now that you will actually look physical locations, we'll have eight at the end of this year. Okay, so what's the biggest difference for you as a leader when you have these different locations and what you know where your time goes today versus where it went 5678 years ago If I could go back to sports, I think when I first came into the business, I was the quarterback called. The Plays kind of built the strategy on a on a transactional basis. The evolution is really evolved into instead of becoming the quarterback, moving to the sidelines and being the coach, and even to the point where now I have to take a step into the owner's box and let some of the coaches coach and get out of the way. So I think that evolution through that multi site network and the journey that our organization and team has embarked upon its almost is hard to not help as it is to help, and that's that's an interesting balance point. You got to say that again. Z, what'd you say? Harder. It's almost harder to not help than to help, but that's where the true growth comes into. That's where the rubber meets the road is when you allow that individual the opportunity Thio look and feel to their own ball. Eyeballs make the right decision and learn from whatever the results were positive or negative. There's learning it takes place, and those those fail points are absolute gold. If you look at him is the price of tuition relative to what happened. I wrote recently in a blogged that we put up on the website about, uh, not thinking of you per se, but in general, are you at the point where you're able toe, Let somebody make a decision with which you would disagree, or even where you you would...

...believe it's wrong, But you trust the person well enough to let them do that and knowing that if they did make the wrong decision, they'll figure it out. So that's a that's a really high level of maturity to get to, because I don't know that I ever did that. Well, if at all. It's part of our culture. We've We're probably one of the more backwards organizations where on day one we're going to teach you how to fail and we make an acronym out of it. It's It's fixed. Assess improved and learn and well, actually celebrate the failures once they've come full circle so that we can have that shared learning take place in instead of just individual learn. Do you literally. If I join you day one. Do I get a chance to fail? Or is that mawr theoretically, that you're going to try to put me in that situation at no day one. If things go as planned, we can create the schedules on. They don't let me part of the hiring process anymore. So the trade was I get to sit down with every new team member and introduced the mission, vision, values and culture of this organization, and I will. I will leave them with a few things. But the crossed eyes stares What not what you get when you say I really genuinely hope you fail. It takes a little explanation, but once they lean into it and they learned that that trust is there and that we're investing in you through the journey, not just every two weeks when we scratch your check is where I think you really build that trust and reported, allow everybody a a safe spot to do the right thing and function in a cohesive group. Have you built your job at this point to spend most of your time on the things that give you energy? Or do you still have some things that air part of your role that you know you have to do because only you could do them? But it's not intuitive or, you know it drains you when you have to do it. There's still a couple of the big rocks that need a little lever to be pushed over the side, but the way I look at it is this team is so resilient and so skilled and so passionate about what we bring and do on behalf of our customers that I'm a contributor. But I'm not a necessity at this stage of the game. So you really got a business now. We have a great team that's made a business out of it. Yeah, I mean, you don't have to be there every day. Thio know that it's working. That's a exciting place to get your organization. But I certainly hope they don't listen to you because I'd really like to have me every day. I enjoy going in every day. I know that I know that. But but all of a sudden it's an entirely different entity. When when you're not there to keep the flywheel turning, you don't have to be there for every every rotation. When I think about the culture is it was when I first met you and the culture is it appears to be to date, would you call it evolved, or would you call it different? I would call it a vault. I think that every person that is leading an organization has a style good, bad, indifferent. And we've evolved our organization through necessity, some of what our industry shifted to some of what just different styles between my father and I to really encourage everyone to take that sense of ownership into what they do and bring to the customer every day. Whereas when we were single site, the path of least resistance was to be able to go ask somebody And when you're multi site, you have to understand what the downstream impacts are of what those decisions are, and it it teaches you to weave fit together a little bit differently and and collaborate and lean on. That team does the kind of people you're looking for today and try to bring in the organization? Is it just mawr of the same of what you've historically look for? Or are you looking for different kinds of people that you didn't need when you were one or two branches? Yeah, I would say it's probably a little bit of both. Okay, if we get passionate people that are willing to be coached and willing to serve both the team and the customers in a fair and equitable, mutually beneficial capacity, we could do great things. I think we're always gonna be...

...looking for those individuals when we align, values are it, gets very magnetic, were attracted to each other. So I also believe that there's some things as the business involves and grows, that there's a skill set that takes years and experience toe. Learn that sometimes you have to bring on because it's just not very practical or high probability that that is gonna evolve at the same pace of the business. So if I could use an example, there's a separate level of financial aptitude needed for some of what we're doing today versus what we were doing. That those skills, they're never gonna not be necessary through any business evolution. But the the purposeful, passionate people that we have that go out there day in and day out with the boots and the dirt to get the things done. We're truly and generally as an extension of our customers business. Those folks were always gonna have a roster spot for God. I'm thinking about the journey of, of where you've been and gotten to today, and then what's possible? And I think you've always thought that you wanted to build a a sizable business, and sizable could mean a lot of things to a lot of a lot of others. But big enough toe really know that to some degree you control your own destiny or you have to be considered. If offenders, they're gonna make decisions that could be impactful to you. They have to give you consideration because you're big enough that it would make a difference. So with that in mind, how big do you want to get? What? What have you have you thought about what big looks like now compared to what it looked like 10 years ago compared to what it looked like 10 years ago? It looks bigger today, but I don't know. I get asked this question a lot just because we've gone from one location in 2016 to 8 locations in 2021 I anticipate that will probably tap the gas pedal more than we will in the break. But the reality of it is, it's a multipronged answer as long as it keeps being fun and we can do great things by our customers and great opportunities for our team members, and we can be a value added partner for our vendors. We're gonna keep leaning it, and wherever that journey takes us to, we're going to continue to chase it because it's fun. But when we can't stop being those things or we have some degradation of quality or not being as good of a partner or someone else can, then we're gonna go ahead and head that gap or that brake pedal and make sure that we correct those. And that's when we'll stop growing because we have something that we need to grow internally to make sure we're putting out the best product and service. I know people might not believe me when I say this, but if if I had to work in a company years is one I'd probably wanna work in. I, uh, one I like dealing with contractors. There's been a maverick and most of them a genuine this to what they tell you. Good, bad, indifferent. Yeah, there really is. But honesty is on the forefront of most of the folks we work with. Yeah, I agree with that. And then I know you try to do things the right way, and I just appreciate the simplicity that you bring to the way you operate a business. So that's that's pretty cool. One thing I wanna ask you about, because I see this lacking a lot of business owners and executives. They have high levels of business acumen, but I think so many don't really understand their true costs of doing business. And I feel like somewhere along the line you understood that was pretty crucial. I don't know if you got that from your dad or that just became evident to you. What what's your thoughts about knowing the cost that you have for operating the business and you know what, what you can affect and what you can't. I think it was when we leaned into growth. It was what surfaced out of necessity. Thio be able to grow the team. We had to hire more people to...

...hire more people. We needed to create more cash, and we didn't have any money. Eso if the only way to win the game was to figure out how you could create the cash to be able to hire the people, and then if you could grow the people, they would grow the cash. But it really became a chicken and the egg. So the way to solve that problem was to dig down deep, figure out what the true cost of business waas as granular as what we could get it and then make smart decisions but also educate across the team what those smart decisions were on. Why everybody's a little kid at five years old says why, why, why, why, why and we wanted those folks that were thirsty and willing to be coachable for the knowledge so that they could help us drag that ball to the goal line. How far do you? You know, I get the impression that you that doesn't reside in five people in your organization. You're trying to push that thinking way way down within Vandalia rental. But how do you make sure people understand the the impact that their thinking and their decisions has on the financial results? What what's the mechanism by which you get that transferred? We do our best to teach it up front. But in a forced learning environment, everybody only learns that whatever pace they're willing, Thio tune in and to now. So what we try and do is just coach and educating the moments that they allow us to do so. We celebrate those fail points, right? Here's how we got this wrong. Here's why we got it wrong. Here's what we thought going in, and I'm probably the biggest cheerleader to that. I have failed more than anyone in the organization, but I get to learn and teach at the same time through my own failures, so that hopefully someone else has the confidence to be able to step up and share their story with others, too. The one thing if if your business it all has a, uh, Siris of vendors with whom you have to deal and you need toe be ableto by right from those vendors. Kurtz e one of things I think you've done as well as anybody is making sure you get optimal pricing from your vendors. So again, was that a learned thing? Is that something that you experimented with? Did you get a example of what to do and not to do from your dad? How did you How did you learn to focus and and not only focus on it but gets so skilled it? I think you've punched way above your weight for your size in terms of getting deals from your vendor. So I'm just curious about how that all happened. Well, I hope they don't listen this either. E think everything goes back the same mentality Everybody has needs, wants and desires. And most people enter a negotiation with their needs, wants and desires. We would go into it with what is the optimal result for our supplier, and if we can both find a way to mutually row in the same direction, we tend to get to where we're going. And I think when you establish that level of trust and report and you can start to ask the relevant question versus the type to your chest questions, everybody opens up a little bit. And then it's just a puzzle. And you have to figure out why to get to the how to get to the wind and then ultimately end up with what works for everybody. And it has to be mutual. If I get filet and they get ground Chuck, it doesn't work. It's not sustainable, but weaken both. Have a good T bone and be happy. Okay, are you still is active in the buying of equipment as you've always been, or if you started toe shed some of that responsibility to others. I still in actively involved in a lot of the larger vendor negotiations, but we're starting to cascade that downstream. I think in the next three years I'll probably be removed from that process except for the I really like this person, so I want to stop it. A type stuff. Uh, sometimes that balance and growth is that to truly grow the right ways, you have to give up some of the things that you enjoy doing so that somebody else has an opportunity toe to enjoy those same things. But you have to make sure that what you're doing and how and what you're bringing to the organization remains fun in that process, too. So I'm blessed that I... figuring out problems or obstacles or removing barriers, and that allows me toe stay relevant in my role and value. Add for our team. You get a lot of energy from striking a good deal E o. But I want everybody to win at some stage of the game. I know you don't like it. I don't like it. That's probably where it's fair. No, I e both of us. You got to feel like we gave a little bit. No question about it. Sure. Hey, skirt Barney. He's the CEO of Vandalia rental account. Um, is a friend and a really talented executive. Kurt. We always ask our guests to share the one thing that if they were giving advice to others, this one thing you would say matters mawr disproportionately to success for somebody running a successful and sustainable business. I know it's a tough answered to come up with, but if there could be one thing you'd share with our audience of executives and business owners, what would that be? You know, And if if one thing pops in my mind, it would be to be vulnerable, be willing to fail the the strategic, be focused, be intentional. But take action and allow that failure toe learn how to get it right rather than be paralyzed by thinking you don't have it perfect. I believe if we have something 65% of the way figured out, we can learn the 35% along the journey of how to get it right and a great idea without action will pitch you anywhere. But an idea that you learned along the journey wasn't good will get you closer to where you're looking to go. If somebody wanted to reach out to you curtain, they would have questions. What's the best way for them to make contact with you? You're welcome to reach out to me. If you linked in, I'd happily share my email address. It's rather long. It's Kirk dot Barnea Vandalia rental dot com. And if you'd like you're welcome to call the branch. I'm standing Branch, for that matter. I'm sure that they would probably transfer you once they got just a little bit. But if you tell me, listen to it at police podcast and you gotta follow question. I imagine the patch you through. That'd be great, Kurt. It's always a pleasure to be in your presence and learn from you. And I know I've learned a tremendous amount watching you operate your business, and it's been fun, and I can't wait to see where you take it in the next 10 years. Thanks for being a guest here on the Epley experience, Ed. Thanks for having me and and equally, I've learned a lot along the journey and appreciate it all. We're citing inside. Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Ed Epley Experience form or information on building a more sustainable, smarter and healthier business. Visit WWW theme Epley group dot com For Resource is Tips and Ed's latest blog's. That's the Epley e p p L e y group dot com, plus take a free assessment at the Epley group dot com slash assessment to find out how you measure up as a highly skilled and accomplished manager and where to focus on improving your skills.

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