Leader you admire most:
Chicago local Tim Heitmann, President and CEO of Popcorn Palace
Number of employees:
Years in current role:
Deli Guy, Green Grocer
- Board Member, Chicago Foundation for Women - Board Member, Entrepreneurs’ Organization - Chicago - Board Member, Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement - Master of Fine Arts (MFA), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago - Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bowdoin College
Questions & Answers
You grew up in California and on the East Coast, and now you live in the Midwest. How has that shaped you?:
I grew up in Hayward, California, and at age 13 I decided to attend St. George’s, a boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island. This decision completely changed my life. Being forced to be essentially on my own at 13 is something that stayed with me. It helped me become more independent and to carve out my own path. My grandfather and great-grandfather from my father’s side were both entrepreneurs. My grandfather was a photographer, and my great-grandfather was in the food industry. Both have shaped who I am today.
How has earning a Masters in Fine Arts influenced you as an entrepreneur and leader?:
Being able to think creatively and having a creative mindset is critical to being a successful business person. You have to be able to think outside the box. Many people think too linearly about problems and solutions. They have to start thinking abstractly.
Through the art classes I took, I learned these simple exercises that teach you how to draw, or better yet, how to see.
One exercise was doing a self-portrait. You look at yourself in the mirror, and then you take the mirror and turn it around to look at the reflection of your drawing. This allows you to look at the way people see you, not the reflection [that you see of yourself]. What is interesting is that this view allows you to see and correct all the errors. To me, that is a great example of becoming aware of your preconceived notions, to force yourself to have an objective look at what you actually look like. I relate this to business because often people get caught up in what they do. Having an objective perspective enables you to innovate. It is also important to see the company as the market sees you.
Another art exercise that still influences my work today is copying a master’s painting stroke by stroke. Through this process you learn how to paint. To me that resonates with how to grow and run a business. Most ideas are not new—they’ve all been done before. I can learn from the people that have created businesses, scaled up, and grown an innovative product.
Critique has also been very helpful. Being vulnerable to feedback, questions, and challenges is critical for development [as an artist or business leader]. Openly giving and accepting constructive feedback is key. It’s one of the most important core-value behaviors at Guerrero Howe.
The publishing industry has changed enormously over the last ten years. How did your leadership style change to adapt?:
When I started my business, Facebook was just getting started and now Facebook is a platform for publishers. Many things have changed: we’ve seen big publishing houses go bankrupt, shut down, change, or go totally digital. Numerous businesses went from being massive to just being big. That is a huge drop. My organization has the benefit of being super small. We are entrepreneurial, scrappy, and very focused on niche markets. This allows us to make progress and scale our business.
Part of the evolution of the business has also been my development as a leader and as an executive. Eighteen months ago I bought out my last partner, and I was able to focus on employee development, assembling a leadership team, and getting everyone on the same page. Prior to that, there was little focus on innovation or big-picture thinking. We went from being very tactical to very strategic in our approach. We went from looking at the trees in front of us to looking at the entire forest. This change of mindset has affected my leadership and how we adapt to the trends in the publishing industry.
How did your office culture change during that shift, and how has it affected the company’s success?:
Our office culture has changed 180 degrees. About two years ago the culture was not a priority. Immediately after the buyout of my partner, the leadership team came together and made culture a top priority. We developed a plan that helps foster a healthy culture in the organization and we created various events and programming to engage people in what we are doing. Today, the office culture reflects our slogan, “One Guerrero Howe.”
What qualities have helped you engage others?:
Emotional intelligence is a buzzword these days, but it is incredibly important. Empathy is key. Without empathy you can go out there and give the most captivating and motivational speech, and people will roll their eyes, turn around, and go back to what they were doing.
Did you have a mentor, and are you mentoring anyone right now?:
Yes, one of the first places that helped me see beyond my own limitations was the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). The interchange of ideas with other entrepreneurs has been incredibly helpful for me. My mentor is a member of the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO), which is an extension of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). Peers and consultants have also provided valuable advice. I also started to regularly mentor a young publisher who reached out to me. It is gratifying to know that I have advice to give.
What has been, or is, the most rewarding aspect of being a CEO?:
One of the most rewarding aspects was watching the leadership team step up and take control as they laid out the goals for 2016. I essentially stepped back and watched it happen. I love seeing people understand the vision of the business, embrace it, run with it, and see gratification from the results of their hard work.
What resources influence your leadership?:
There have been different books for different stages of my career as an entrepreneur. One book that has been very helpful is The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It gives simple advice on decision-making. The first thing you should think about before making a decision is to ask yourself whether or not this is a generic situation or a unique situation. Another great book has been Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a simple playbook on how to organize your business and lays out what the author calls “the entrepreneurial operating system.”
How do you want to be remembered?:
I want to be remembered as a loving father, but I also want to leave my children a legacy that is as rewarding as the one my parents and grandparents left with me. I hope that some of the things I have done in life inspires my children to go after their own dreams. As a CEO, I want to be remembered as a leader that empowered employees and allowed them to grow and develop in a place where they spent the majority of their time.
Is there any advice from your family you go by?:
There is a Spanish saying I think about often, “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres.” In English this basically means: “If you spend a lot of time with a certain type of people, you’ll start to become more like them.” That’s something that I think about often as inspiration and as aspiration.