Building a Remarkable Culture with David Salyers from Chick-fil-A
David Salyers was one of the original two marketing executives at Chick-fil-A. He went on to spend 37 years in the Chick-fil-A Marketing Department, most recently as a Vice President, before his retirement. During his time at Chick-fil-A, David was instrumental in the growth and development of the iconic ‘cow campaign’ and helped champion a marketing department that rose to international prominence and prestige. David is known for his marketing mind, his servant’s heart, and his entrepreneurial spirit.
Intro: Elvin Community Bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits. This is The Community Bank Podcast.
Caleb Stevens: Well, hey everybody, and welcome to episode 20 of The Community Bank Podcast, where our goal is to help you grow yourself, your team, and your profits, I’m your host for today Caleb Stevens. I work in our business development group, serving banks in Georgia, as well as Kentucky, and also produce this show. And man, am I so excited for this interview that we’re going to play for you guys today. This is a guest that we’ve been wanting to have on for quite a while ever since we started the show, really. And we’re so honored. He graciously agreed to take part. I’ll be speaking with David Salyers the former vice president of marketing for Chick-fil-A. If you’re the kind of banker that cares about investing in your team, creating a culture that others want to be part of, and ultimately using business as a platform for good, you are not going to want to miss this conversation.
David is an absolute gold mine of wisdom, inspiration. He played a huge role in turning Chick-fil-A into the iconic national brand that they are today. He’s one of our board members here at South State and he’s an entrepreneur at heart. He’s got so many different ventures he’s involved with. He’s a speaker, he’s an author. And he just recently released an online course called Spark. That’s helping leaders take their marketing branding and culture to the next level. And we’ll get into that more in this conversation. So, I am so excited for you to hear my conversation with David Salyers right now. Thanks for joining us. Well, David, thanks for joining us today. How are you?
David Salyers: Doing fantastic in spite of all that this year, has been, it’s been an interesting year for sure.
Caleb Stevens: It’s good to see you in person. I think it’s been a while since you and I have actually been face-to-face in the same room, so. Great to see you. Well, the first time I ever heard you speak, I was in high school. I think I was a junior in high school. And you were speaking at the Boosterthon Enterprises summer leadership conference. And you told a story, I think this was probably back in 2010, but I remember I was a young kid thinking about college and career, what I wanted to do with my life. And you told a story that honestly forever changed the way that I viewed business in my career. Would you mind sharing that?
David Salyers: Oh, I’m happy to, it seems like just yesterday, Caleb, although it’s been a long time ago now that I was a senior at the University of Georgia 21-year-old kid. And if you had asked me at that point, the most remarkable future, I could imagine, this is what I would have told you. And I think most 21-year-olds probably think the same way. I thought the whole reason I’m going to college is I want to get out of school, make as much money as I can, as fast as I can to retire as early as I can. That’s what success looked, like to me: making as much money as I can, as fast I can retire as early as I can. In fact, I had set a goal of retiring at age 35, and I thought if I could just retire by age 35, what could be better than that? How could life be any better than that?
Caleb Stevens: And most people might hear that and say, what’s wrong with that, David? That sounds pretty good to me.
David Salyers: Well, that’s exactly what I would’ve thought because that’s almost literally what we’re all taught to think about work. But fortunately for me, I ended up going to work for a little company called Chick-fil-A and it wasn’t a startup at the time, but it was close. We were in a converted airfreight warehouse, with about 20 or 25 people on staff. They had run out of room in the warehouse, so they cut a hole through the wall, pulled up a mobile home. And my first office was in a mobile home attached to that warehouse. There were two people in the marketing department. They had hired a guy in January to start the marketing department at Chick-fil-A. I got hired in June. So, I was the second employee of the marketing department. And so anyway, I entered into that thinking this does not look like the place that I can retire from early. It didn’t exactly look like a dream job. I’m sitting in a mobile home attached to a warehouse.
Caleb Stevens: And that’s hard for folks today to imagine that Chick-fil-A this huge billion-dollar organization would start off with a mobile home air freight warehouse as their corporate office.
David Salyers: For sure. But what’s interesting, Caleb is what I discovered at Chick-fil-A was something a thousand times better than retiring at age 35, something that is a 21-year-old kid, I could not have even imagined existed. Something that as a 21-year-old kid, I probably would have said not even possible. And yet I have got to see it play out before my very eyes. I have got to live it out in my own life. And so now instead of finding the job, I could retire early, I found the job. I wouldn’t want to retire. See, that thought had never crossed my mind that there could be a job you wouldn’t want to retire from.
In fact, it was very counterintuitive, it was very counter-cultural it’s like I thought work was supposed to be something you retired from. Work was something to be, something we dread, something we endorse, why we say thank God it’s a Friday, a necessary evil in life. What I never considered and never contemplated was that work could actually be a source of joy work, could be a source of satisfaction, work could be a source of reward, work could be something I look forward to, work can be something; thank God it’s Monday, instead of, thank God it’s Friday.
See that thought had never crossed my mind, but having worked under Truett Cathy for almost 34 years, this is a man who not only modeled that out. He lived out and he thoroughly believed it. He used to say things like, if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life. And I remember going up to Truett’s office when he was like in his eighties and saying, Truett, what are you still doing here, man? You’re 401k funded. You’re the sole owner of a multi-billion-dollar business. Why are you still here?
Caleb Stevens: He could go live at the beach the rest of his life and should be just fine.
David Salyers: And you know what he told me, Caleb, he said, why would I stop doing something I love this much? And so that’s one of the big lessons that I learned at Chick-fil-A is work can be a source of contentment, joy, reward, excitement. It’s just the way most people do it. It doesn’t turn out that way.
Caleb Stevens: And if your goal is to retire at 35, I mean, what are you really saying about what you’re doing? If you want to get out of it that soon, you might not really enjoy it. It might be something you dread and why would you want to do something you hate?
David Salyers: Exactly. I mean, that’s really, it’s the next level of thinking. If you think about your goal of being retired at age 35, then the logical conclusion is what you just said. It’s you must not like it that therefore your whole goal is to stop doing what you’re doing. And what kind of a goal is that? And what about if your goal was to never stop doing wouldn’t that be a much better life? Because here’s the reality. Most people are never going to retire at 35, For the average person that will never happen. And if they spend their entire adult life doing something they dread doing and the big reward is going to be when they retire. And if when they retire is not until 65 or 70, what kind of life is that? This was the aha moment for me. But if instead as a 21-year-old or you can start doing something you would never want to stop doing how much better life is that.
Caleb Stevens: You’ve got so many great one-liners. But one of the ones that remind me of is your phrase, how you view things is going to drive how you do things. And if your whole view of work, is it something I got to escape, is it something I dread, I just have got to make my money and get out of here. Then that’s going to be radically different than if you look at it through the lens of, Hey, maybe this is part of my calling in life, maybe this is part of my purpose, maybe this is part of the way that I can make an impact on the world and serve others. So, I love that story.
David Salyers: That reminds me of another little piece of this story, how we view things, drives how we do things. When I was looking at jobs, coming out of college, I’d done really well in college. I’d made really good grades and it had a lot of leadership opportunities, et cetera, so, I had a lot of offers coming out of college and the worst offer financially I had, I mean, not even close to all the rest it was Chick-fil-A, it was like 50%, less than any of the other offers I was getting. And if my goal was to retire early and make as much money as I could as fast as I could it’s like, why would I even entertain the Chick-fil-A offer? It made no sense. And yet somewhere in my heart of hearts is like, there was something about that offer that seemed appealing, but I couldn’t figure it out.
So, I had a mentor in my life at the time, a guy named Dave Kaplan. He is a guy I had worked for; I’d been an intern in the marketing department at Six Flags over Georgia. And he was very wise and always spoke wisdom into my life. And so, I remember him coming to visit me at the University of Georgia. And I was struggling with this whole decision of what to do out of college. And I explained to him, my goal was to retire by 35. I got all these great offers, but this one seems like a good one. And it didn’t take him a nanosecond to figure it out. He said, Salyers.
He said the last thing you need to worry about coming out of college is how much money you make. There was a sign. He said, what you need to think about is this. He said, find a leader that you want to become more like to use Truett’s words. We become like those we surround ourselves with for better or worse. So, he said, put yourself under the leadership of someone that you want in your life, like, that’s a picture of the future you. Do you like that picture? And the team you’re surrounded by is a picture of the future you.
Caleb Stevens: Like our mutual friend, Jeff Henderson says the people you listen to are a preview of the future you. And kind of, people don’t. There’s that saying people don’t leave companies, people leave other people, typically it’s their boss, that they’re running away from. I love that perspective.
David Salyers: So, his starting point was to find a leader that is kind of the example of what you want your life to be like. And that is a picture of the future you, he said, secondly, find a company that you’d be proud to work for. He said the first question we all get when we go to a dinner party, who do you work for? What do you do? And we want to be proud of the answer to that question. And again, to use Truett’s, a lot of this I learned along the way, but Truett used to say, a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. So, what Dave Kaplan was telling me is to find a company with a good name because that’s more important than great riches. For me, I was thinking all about the riches.
I wasn’t thinking about the good name and Truett always made his personal good name and Chick-fil-A’s good name, a priority. So, find a company with a good name, one you would be proud to work for. Third said, find something that you would be uniquely gifted to do. All of us have strengths. All of us have weaknesses. How do we make sure that the job that we’re entertaining, maximizes our strengths and kind of works around our weaknesses? And so, find a job you’d be uniquely gifted to do. And then he said, finally, find a job, you’d be passionate about doing a job that would energize you by doing it.
Caleb Stevens: Something you don’t want to run away from, but something that gets you out of bed in the morning.
David Salyers: Exactly. You can’t wait to get there to do it. So, when he just, when he summed all that up, it was like, okay, this is why I’m struggling with this decision because Chick-fil-A met all four of those criteria. Truett was a leader I wanted to be more like, Chick-fil-A had a good name, Chick-Fil-A was offering me a much more unique opportunity of what I’d be doing right out of college, and I would be energized by doing that. So, all of a sudden it became clear to me. So, I literally, didn’t technically take a pay cut but emotionally I did because I took a job for half what I could’ve.
Caleb Stevens: Because you’re saying, wow, here’s an opportunity cost, at least in the short-term.
David Salyers: Opportunity costs in the short-term.
Caleb Stevens: And you talk about the payoff matrix of the short-term. Sometimes we take a short-term consequence for a long-term benefit. Maybe that was an example.
David Salyers: Exactly. So, it immediately became clear to me. I should take the job with Chick-fil-A. I took the job with Chick-fil-A. I made half what I could have made. I had to live at home for two years, a lot of sacrifice up front, but I would never change that decision. That one decision made all the difference for the whole rest of my life, in terms of all the other important decisions I’ve ever made, kind of go back to that and what I learned at Chick-fil-A has become so invaluable in my life.
Caleb Stevens: When you walked into that mobile home the first day, did you look around and have some second thoughts or was it knowing Truett and who he was and the mission you were on? Were you kind of onboard from the start or when you walked in and you looked around and it was like, man, there’s me? And one other guy in the marketing department. I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if this is going to work. Was there ever some doubt early on or how did that kind of develop?
David Salyers: Well, that’s a good question. I think anybody’s first day you are kind of excited. And my first day was actually the same day I graduated from college. It was four hours after college graduation. I G\graduated Saturday morning, started Chick-fil-A four hours later. So, I jumped into a training program and didn’t have a lot of time to think about that question because they actually sent me on the road for about 10 weeks. But there were times that I said, Oh, I’m not sure if I made the right decision, but now looking back, it’s like, wow, it’s the most remarkable decision that could have ever been made.
Caleb Stevens: Well, let’s shift gears and talk a little bit about culture for many bankers, we’re numbers-driven, we think quantitatively. Culture isn’t something we can always put a hard ROI on I’d say. That’s my return on these things that I did to invest in my culture. Talk about the value of culture, despite the fact that you can’t always put an ROI or a hard kind of return-on-investment number on it.
David Salyers: It’s a great question. I think all of us are tempted to want to boil business down to numbers on a spreadsheet, numbers in a P & L because that’s the easiest way to keep score. And there’s a lot to be said for that. And there’s some truth to that, but I took inspiration from one of the greatest mathematicians in the history of the world. If you asked me who was the single greatest mathematician in the history of the world, I’d say, Albert Einstein, you know what his favorite quote was, Caleb? You can see some pictures sometimes with this poster on his wall. It was not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts.
So, what he realized is we can’t reduce life to numbers on a spreadsheet. There’s certainly a role for that. He was a mathematician. That’s how he made it. He made his living with numbers and equations and spreadsheets and all that kind of thing. But he realized there were things beyond that, that counted. And he didn’t assume just because they can be counted, that they count. And so, as I think about that, and I think about culture, culture is one of those things. So, here’s the simplest way I process it nowadays, if business and banking could be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, every bank could do that equally, and with computers, every bank could do that equally well. So, numbers on a spreadsheet will make you competitive. They’ll make you competitive. But I felt like my job was to create competitive advantage numbers on a spreadsheet, generally speaking, will never give you a competitive advantage. The competitive advantages come from things beyond the numbers on the spreadsheet.
And one of the things that Truett was so good at, is he was really good with numbers. We had a lot of people in Chick-fil-A staff, really good with numbers, but we never limited our thinking to the numbers on the spreadsheet. We felt like that’s 80% of what we do, is if we got to get the numbers on the spreadsheet right, from every perspective, but 20% of what we did had nothing to do with that. And that 20% made up almost a hundred percent of the differentiated results that we got. It’s the 80-20 rule, 20% of what you do, 80% of the difference. And if I think about the 20% of what Chick-fil-A did, that was different from our competitors, it was almost all culture related. I consider a culture to be the ultimate competitive advantage. It’s, how you do things. You’ve got the what and the how and culture is a lot about the, how.
Caleb Stevens: And the why from the heart.
David Salyers: Yes.
Caleb Stevens: Why am I?
David Salyers: Yes.
Caleb Stevens: The inspiration to even go in that direction and lean into, culture.
David Salyers: Absolutely. And you can really differentiate yourself in the realm of that.
David Salyers: So.
Caleb Stevens: One way, I’ve heard it put too. I think it’s Jim Collins, who said you have to have blood and oxygen to survive as a human being. If you got to have a good heart rate, you have got to exercise, you have got to eat healthily, or else you’re going to be sick. But the point of life is not blood and oxygen and the point of life is not to, I’m going to work on my heart rate every day, or I’m going to exercise every day. There’s so much more to life. There’s your family, there is your faith perhaps.
And so, your oxygen and your blood help you live out your purpose, but it’s not your purpose. It’s not the end. This may be a means to the end, but it’s not the end and it kind of sounds like what you’re saying is the P and L, the balance sheet things you got to have to survive. Things that you certainly shouldn’t ignore any more than you should ignore your diet or your exercise or your sleep, but it’s not the primary purpose of why you exist.
David Salyers: And it won’t differentiate you from other people. We never go to a funeral and say, yep, that guy breathed a lot of air and pumped a lot of blood during their life. It’s the things beyond those that make an individual unique.
Caleb Stevens: And you’d probably don’t talk about. His earnings per share numbers were so great from quarter to quarter. You probably don’t hear about that either.
David Salyers: It’s interesting, as you were saying that I was thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy of needs, if the foundation you have a need for like food, water, air but if that’s all you ever do in life, you won’t have lived a very rich life. But you have got to have those to enable you to get higher on the pyramid. And I think the higher on the pyramid are the more important things in life are the differentiating things in life. And those are the things we all aspire to in life to make our life richer than just existence.
Caleb Stevens: Well, I think one of the things that made Chick-fil-A unique was your emphasis on creating what you guys would call raving fans. What do you mean by that? What’s a raving fan?
David Salyers: Well, I think most businesses particularly spend a lot of time thinking about, how are we going to create more sales for our organization. How are we going to create more revenue for our organization? And certainly, every organization needs to create more sales and revenue, but how we view things, drives how we do things at Chick-fil-A. We never really talked about creating sales revenue. We talked about creating raving fans because we felt like if we could create enough raving fans, sales and revenue would never be a problem. So, the way we thought about raving fans was three things.
Raving fans could be defined this way. They are happy to pay full price, they come more often, and they tell other people about us. Those are the three behaviors that a raving fan exhibit. So, let me unpack that just for a minute. The point of them being happy to pay full price was we’ve got to be good enough as an organization to where our customers are happy to pay full price. And if I asked you to pull out a sheet of paper, write down a list of the companies where you’re happy to pay full price, my guess is, it would be a very short list, but there would be some companies because they’re creating so much value that you are happy to contribute to their success.
Caleb Stevens: Instead of where’s my 99 cent kids meal or where’s my buy one get one free.
David Salyers: Yeah, the minute you start focusing on price means you’re not creating much value in any other way. Price becomes, kind of the handicap, it becomes the crutch for your inability to create value any other way. And that’s all you got left.
Caleb Stevens: And what are you saying about your product? If you’re always cutting the price in half.
David Salyers: Bingo, that then undermines trust and the fact that you’re charging them a fair price every day.
David Salyers: Then the second thing for our business, the frequency with which they came was important. And we wanted to be good enough to where they would want to come more frequently. We wanted to be an experience that they craved, not just food they craved, but an experience they craved. So, they wanted to come more often because that was important to our business model. And it would be a scorecard, so to speak that we’re doing a great job of creating value in the lives of our customers because they want to come more often. And then finally tell other people about us. We all know that word of mouth advertising is the best advertising. In fact, it’s never been more true than it is today in the world of social media, every customer has a megaphone, and every customer can broadcast.
Caleb Stevens: And they’re happy to tell you if their experience was negative and they had a bad experience. They’re happy to say, don’t go here, stay away, it’s easy to talk about the bad experiences you have, harder with the good ones.
David Salyers: But we wanted to make ourselves a company that people were so excited about doing this with they would recruit other people. In effect, they become an unpaid sales force for us. And so raving fans, our motivation was to be so good that they would be happy to pay full price. So good, they’d want to come more often. And so good, they’d want other people that they love, respect, admire to come to do business with us as well. That’s how good we wanted to be. So, for us, it was a rallying point about how good we wanted to be. But the flip side is if you flip it around and you look at it purely from a business standpoint.
I can’t think of a more profitable customer than the one who is happy to pay full price comes more often and effectively becomes a free member of your marketing department going out and recruiting other people to do business. I can’t think of three more profitable behaviors than those. Now our desire, our what would I call it? Our motivation for craving fans was not self-serving. It was a higher calling to be that good, but the result was.
Caleb Stevens: Let’s not look how great we are. You guys are fans of us.
David Salyers: And it’s not, we’re only doing this for our own self-interest we actually were doing just the opposite. But the net effect was that it would then make us one of the most profitable businesses out there in fact has.
Caleb Stevens: And it kind of ties into that story, you told me again, years ago were true. It was saying, we need to get better before we get bigger. Talk about that story briefly for us real quick.
David Salyers: Well in the mid-nineties or early nineties there was a new competitor that came on called Boston Chicken. At the time they had like 13 locations in the Northeast, they got a big infusion of capital. They had some venture capitalists get involved, they did an IPO. They went public all of a sudden out of nowhere, this little 13-unit chain was as big as Chick-fil-A almost overnight. And they were talking about becoming a billion-dollar business by the year 2000. So, the executives at Chick-fil-A were getting very nervous.
It was really the first time we’d had a legitimate high-quality chicken, competitor going right after the same audience we were, right up against us. And now they had a lot more capital and were able to grow a lot faster. So, Dan Cathy Truett’s oldest son decided that he was going to go explore options for us to get bigger, faster, just like they were. Because I think that’s, everyone’s natural reaction. Wow. If they’re getting that big, we got to get big too.
Caleb Stevens: We got to go chase them.
David Salyers: And let’s go chase them. So, let’s figure that out. So, Dan went to New York to visit with. We looked at a lot of different ways to get a lot more capital to grow faster. We looked at IPOs, we looked at borrowing money, et cetera. And Dan came back to Atlanta and was sitting with all the senior team, the executive team, and talking about that trip and what the possibilities were. So, it was a big, long room, kind of like the one we’re sitting in now. And at one end of the table was Truett at the other end was Dan. Dan was up there with fire and brimstone talking about how we were going to get bigger, faster, and keep up with Boston Market, et cetera.
And I was sitting down near Truett and I could tell during this, he was not happy with what he was hearing. So, at one point in the meeting, very uncharacteristic for Truett, he kind of beat his fist on the table. And he said, ladies and gentlemen, I am sick and tired of hearing, you talk about getting bigger. He said we need to get better because if we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.
So, as you might imagine the whole conversation changed at that point. And we stopped talking about getting bigger. We started talking about getting better. Now here’s where the real payoff came. This is what really marked my business career, Caleb. If you fast forward from the early nineties to the year 2000, you know what was happening with Boston Market? They were in bankruptcy. Do you know what happened at Chick-fil-A? We hit a billion dollars for the first time we achieved the very goal that they had set out to.
So, here’s, if you unpack it, there are a couple of really, I could spend hours unpacking, but let me just give you a couple of high-level lessons I took from this we live with the illusion that investors fund our business, like stockholders fund our biz, or bankers fund our business. But here’s what I learned. I don’t care how much money investors throw at a business, a bank throws at a business. If customers don’t throw more money at the business, you’ll be out of business. That was lesson number one is ultimately customers really do fund your business and customers are much more interested in you getting better than bigger.
Secondly, I watched what happened, as, this all played out. Sometimes when we’re flushed with resources, flushed with cash, we can kind of get wasteful and cash becomes a substitute for common sense. And long-term thinking just throws money at a problem. So, here’s a typical scenario. Let’s say that Boston Market went to Dallas and they decide we’re going to open 60 locations in the next two years. Well, any of you that know anything about the real estate business know it’s going to be virtually impossible in the course of two years to find 68 plus real estate locations that happen to be available, that you can get all the access to. So, what would happen is they’d start with a few A-plus locations and they quickly go to B, B-minus, C, C minus, D, D-minus locations. So, all of a sudden, they opened their 60 location.
They declare victory in the short run because they got all 60 open, but in the long run a bunch of, those are lousy locations. Now, secondly, now they’ve got to staff all those locations. So, they start maybe with a few, A plus players or whatever, but then they quickly go to B, B-minus, C, C-minus, D, D-minus. So now you’ve got a bunch of B, C, and D locations with B, C, and D people. And you declare victory after two years because you got them all open, but over the long-haul, all that implodes on you. And that’s exactly what happened. They got the early victory but ended up in bankruptcy in the end because they built it on a house of cards.
Caleb Stevens: And along that same line of just throwing money at a problem another one of your one-liners is advertising is the tax we pay for an unremarkable product service experience. Talk about that. Because that seems to kind of tie into what you’re saying.
David Salyers: One thing that really drove me is for most of my career at Chick-fil-A, I spent 37 years at Chick-fil-A, all but two of them were in the marketing department. But as you might imagine, with two people in a mobile home, we weren’t exactly flush with resources. So, for most of my career, we never had as big a budget as those we had to compete against. And at first, I viewed that as a real negative, I used to have little pity parties about, Oh, woe is me. If only I had a big budget like McDonald’s or Burger King or Wendy’s, then we can really do something. But at some point, along the way, it occurred to me that actually, it could be an advantage. And somewhere along the way, I ran into that little quote and its advertising is the tax we pay for a product or service that’s unremarkable. Advertising is the tax we pay for a product or service that’s unremarkable.
Caleb Stevens: By remarkable. You mean something worth remarking about telling your friends about.
David Salyers: Exactly, something that is remark-able but in the world of advertising, we all know, as we just talked about a few minutes ago, that word of mouth advertising is the best form of advertising. And when you don’t have a lot of money to go run TV ads and all the rest, then you start to focus on things like remarkability and like becoming a business that’s remarkable. And so, what I realized is green matter IE money is not the most important thing in business, gray matter your mind and red matter your heart. I found that gray matter, red matter, trumps green matter all day long.
And so, what we lacked in green-matter, we had to make up for in gray-matter and red-matter. And in the end, I feel like that gave us much better solutions to the same problems that all of our competitors were facing because we attacked it from an angle of scarcity. We had a scarcity of cash. So, we had to make up for that by being more creative, more thoughtful, and put more heart into it.
Caleb Stevens: And that’s a good lesson for the big guys is when you get past that level and you do have a lot of cash, don’t lose that sense of entrepreneurial-ism and creativity.
David Salyers: Absolutely.
Caleb Stevens: Because that may be the path off the rails. If you’re not careful when you kind of get back to, well, let’s just throw money at our problems.
David Salyers: It’s interesting, Truett grew up in Atlanta, right around where Georgia tech is in the housing projects there. As a youngster, he was with a very family. His mom had a boarding home and he had to go skin potatoes and all that kind of stuff. So, he grew up, but he used to talk about his life as a child, as the gift of poverty, because of all the lessons that he learned during that time, it was the gift of poverty. Not that poverty in and of itself is so great, but the lessons he learned became invaluable later in life. And I feel like that’s exactly what happened to me. I had the gift of poverty in the marketing department. We didn’t have all the resources and the lessons we learned then we were able to leverage throughout the rest of my career there, hopefully, your point, we don’t lose the lessons learned through poverty.
Caleb Stevens: I think that’s a great takeaway for our Community Bank CEOs, CFOs listening is, it’s easy to say, well, if we were just as big as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, then we’d have the capabilities to have a great mobile app or a great digital strategy. And what you’re saying is it may not be your cash problem. Maybe it’s a gray matter. Maybe it’s a culture of innovation you need to embrace.
David Salyer: I’ll tell you another dimension or another angle on this that really hit me. A number of years ago, there was a billionaire named Ross Perot out of Texas. He ran for president a number of years ago. And during his campaign for president, he said something that really got my attention and captured my imagination. He said, the more money I have, the stupider I get, the more money I have, the stupider I get. And at first, I didn’t get what he was saying.
I didn’t understand it. But later if I map it back to what we were just talking about, the gift of poverty, basically what he’s saying is the more money I have, the more tenets you have to just write big checks and think money will solve everything. And in the end, those probably become the least effective solutions. The less money he had, the more he would have to use his mind and his heart to solve those problems. And those were really the powerful solution.
Caleb Stevens: Well, talk about, in the age of COVID, and where we are now, what are some of the challenges? What are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing for leaders? Clearly, there’s a litany of challenges, but I like how you say again, how you view things or drive, how you do things, what are some of the opportunities that you see? And as a piggyback, we’d love to hear about your Spark course, ignite your brand, and some of the things that you’re doing to help leaders.
David Salyers: What’s interesting, people react to a time like the one we’re going through right now with COVID in two different ways. Some people go on the defense and they think the right thing to do is cut back on all our expenses, lay off, all our furlough employees do everything we can to preserve what we’ve got. And so that’s one strategy, but I found the great brands, never take that strategy. The brands like Nike and Apple, Chick-fil-A, that kind of thing. They take a different strategy. They say you know what? The world is changing. We’re going to go on the offense. So that on the other side of this thing, we come out so much stronger. These times, like we’re going through right now. And I’ve been through a number of them through the years, I went through the banking crisis back in 2007 and eight, and we had a couple of individual crises at Chick-fil-A.
What I found is if they don’t kill you, they make you stronger. And so, the greatest brands, I know, go on the offense during the time like this. And so, they find ways to use this time to basically plant seeds that they’ll reap the harvest on the other side of it. And so, I’ve got a little business called Rome Innovative Workplaces. And we decided, we had to shut down all of our locations during COVID for three months, but we kept all of our employees. And we had them brainstorm on new ways to create values for our members and guests. And we spent three months dividing them up into 12 teams, and they worked on all these projects that we could never get to during a normal season because we didn’t have time.
Caleb Stevens: During the day-to-day. And you’re busy.
David Salyer: One of our managing partners, interestingly looked back on, he said, I feel like we got three years’ worth of work done in three months. And that’s exactly all these projects that might have taken us three years during, normal circumstances. We got done in three months. And now that we’re starting to be on the other side of this, all of a sudden, all those things that we worked on during that are now starting to reap a harvest.
Caleb Stevens: And you looked at it and said, we don’t want to waste this opportunity and just sit by and sit home and say well, we can’t work. We can’t do anything. We just got to wait until this goes back to normal
David Salyer: Let’s make sure when we come out of it, we come out of it so much stronger. And a lot of people we compete against had the opposite, but here’s the other thing, Caleb, Truett used to say that businesses don’t succeed or fail people do. So, if you want to have a successful business, you have got to staff it with successful people and help those people grow. Because if you’ll help the people grow, the business will grow. I like to think about it. Don’t use the people to grow the business, use the business, to grow the people.
So, the other thing we did during the, is we said, we’re going to grow our people. We did lots of training for our people because we knew if we if they could grow during COVID, our business would grow as a result. So, we didn’t want to waste the opportunity because normally we’re six days a week, we’ve got the locations open and when are you going to do training? But now we had the opportunity to do all kinds of training and help our people grow, which will help our business grow on the other side of this. And so, part of what I did during COVID is I created a digital course called Spark, which is all about sharing a lot of the lessons that I learned during my time at Chick-fil-A.
Spark is a digital platform, digital course, there are six courses on marketing, call it kind of marketing branding one-oh-one, there are six courses on culture. And now people have the opportunity to go through that in a digital way before I would always have to just go in and share with them on a board where now there’s a much more convenient way to do it. And I have a talk that they do call Remarkable. Some of the people listening to this may have heard me do that talk. Remarkable, I feel like is the inspiration, but Spark is the application of that message to your business. A very practical roll up your sleeves, you can go apply this tomorrow kind of thing. And the whole course is designed not only to get you to think about, but you literally do some things during the course, you apply what you’re learning as you go through the course.
Caleb Stevens: You’ve been really gracious to offer. I think it’s a free session for listeners. If you text, the word spark S P A R K spark to 55444 they can get this at one free video.
David Salyers: And interestingly, the topic that we were just talking about it’s the upside to the current downside. I go into a lot of depth on how to find the upside to any downside that your business might be going through at the time.
Caleb Stevens: Well David, thank you for your time. Really appreciate you being gracious to give us these insights and we look forward to seeing you soon.
David Salyer: Very good. It’s been pure joy to spend time with you. And as Truett used to remind me to those whom much is given much is expected. So, I’ve been given a lot and now I’m happy to share that with others.
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