At Accelerate Okanagan, our entrepreneurial programs are designed to build strong companies and resilient entrepreneurs. We help business owners validate their market, accelerate their growth, and scale sustainably with the support of our Executives-in-Residence team. We do this through one-on-one business coaching, peer-to-peer engagements, access to resources, and entrepreneurial training with industry experts.
Larry Smith has been a key part of the Executive-in-Residence team at Accelerate Okanagan since 2016. In the past, he has served as a senior executive leading multiple businesses, developing healthier management practices in leadership teams, and growing them towards and through acquisitions. Larry is also an Executive for the Institute of Corporate Directors in the Okanagan.
We recently caught up with Larry to find out more about the unique skills he brings as an EiR and what lessons he’s learned along his journey.
Early in my career, I figured out where I had an opportunity to make my mark. The first couple of companies I was involved in had strengths and weaknesses that could have taken them in different directions. That uncertainty can be risky for leaders and employees. But you can lead in the right direction, manage that risk, build resilient companies and, if you do it well, you can change people’s lives and give them the opportunity to enjoy their work. That’s where I decided to make my mark.
Always be Learning
People assume that being the CEO means they’re supposed to know a lot, and that can lead to insecurity around discussing plans that have holes in them. That’s ego getting in the way of being coachable. You need to understand the value of having a growth mindset to break through that. I was halfway through my career before I had my first coach. I had run three companies by that time and it was an absolutely enlightening experience. Imagine how it would have accelerated my career if I had those learnings earlier.
Being coachable and having a growth mindset are underrated skills that can determine the destiny of a company. But receiving and applying feedback is not a natural mindset for a lot of people. Often, professionals enter into a mentoring situation without ever experiencing it before and they’re trying to figure out if they actually want people to examine their thinking, or their actions, and give feedback. Coachability doesn’t cancel out what you need to learn about product-market fit, but it heavily contributes to your ability to succeed. It helps you make the right decisions.
“Larry was instrumental in shifting our thinking to a longer term view and setting the company up for future success.”
Pushing Leadership Practices
As I was building my first tech company, every quarter I would say the same thing: “boy, I was a naive rookie last quarter but I’ve really learned a lot.” I was learning so much about the tech sector, how to scale properly, and how to manage a doubling of our team size or doubling of our revenue. Every quarter, I was trying to push my skills to the next level. That’s a better mindset for a leader than pretending to be an expert and preventing yourself from growing or teaching others.
A lot of the incentives I see for people developing their leadership skills are higher performance and a more harmonious company that allows them to have a healthy life outside of the business. You can have scrappy, half-baked management skills that you’ll be cleaning up and backtracking on later, or you can have well-evolved leadership practices where you consider your decisions, communicate well, follow through and spend less time correcting your efforts. Working with mentors is a big part of developing those practices.
Level Up the Business
As the companies I worked in grew, so did the expectations of my performance. There were more professionals, more accomplished executives, and stronger Boards motivating me to level up my skills. That was a big driver in deciding that I wanted to help create well-run companies. I could see where the executives and companies could perform better and wanted them to reach that level. Why would you want to be a third-tier business in your sector when you could be a market leader?
Preparing for Acquisition
Putting two messy companies together is not success. As an acquirer, you want your management practices to be pretty strong. If you’re currently managing 100 employees and 200 clients with only okay practices, and you acquire a company of equal size and similar managing practices, chances are that the combination will be worse. With all the distractions of the acquisition process, reorganizing the company, re-engaging the employee base and creating confidence, you’ll risk losing a lot of quality in your management practices.
“The feedback Larry shared helped to develop our entrepreneurial skills tremendously.”
If someone wants to be acquired, they need to have some rigour about how they build their company and establish solid capabilities around their management practices otherwise they’ll flounder. It’s important to know when to build those practices, how to think about those acquisition opportunities, and when to involve your mentors, coaches or advisory board members for support.