Life at DHG Podcast Series

Podcast Episode 19: Ask the CEO

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Matt Snow

From updates on DHG’s growth direction and people strategy to memorable moments as CEO, Matt Snow answers all of your burning questions in this engaging Life at DHG episode.


Episode 19 Transcript:

AGH: Welcome to the Life at DHG Podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I really love this venue because we get to hear from our people about the things that matter the most to them – flexibility, careers and people. Today, I’m in our Charlotte, NC office with Matt Snow, our CEO. About a week or so ago, we solicited questions from our people for Matt, and received some really great ones. We’re going to take a few minutes today to answer some of those questions.

Welcome Matt.

MS: Thank you.

AGH: All right, this is not from our call for questions, but rather, this is a question that came from a recent DHG Leadership Academy meeting. This was such a good question, I had to ask you: If you could measure only one thing throughout the firm, what would it be?

MS: This was actually a really good question and it was also challenging. I don’t get the questions in advance, so once asked the question, I think everybody else in the room thought, “Okay, here it is. I’m going to write it down. This is the one metric that matters. We’ve been wanting to know that one metric.”

And the answer was not that simple in my mind, or I should also say that the answer was not the type of metric that they were likely thinking about. It was not a financial metric, but I answered them pretty simply and the answer was – employee engagement. That is, for us I believe, the one measure that matters the most.

If you think about engagement as a cascading effect, we must have really strong, engaged, talented people in order to serve our clients very well. We have to serve our clients very well in order to perform at a high level. If you roll that back, it all really starts with our people, and if we aren’t engaged, and if we’re not aware of where they’re not engaged and how we can get them more engaged, then the rest of the story really doesn’t work.

So I would say the one thing that I look to as a key measurement in the firm is our employee engagement, and we measure that at least once a year. That data is what I wait for almost as anxiously as our monthly financial results.

AGH: That’s awesome, and good set up, because we do have a survey coming up later in July and I think what you said speaks specifically to our mission – people first.

MS: That’s right.

AGH: Exactly, simple as that. So here’s one that came from one of our employees: Does DHG leadership strive to become one of the next big four? If not, how big of a firm are we going to strive to become?

MS: I get asked this question a lot because we continually grow, we cross over with the Big Four not only in attracting talent but also in clients and the work that we do. We compete against them a lot, and so I get asked a lot, “Do we want to be a Big Four firm?” And the answer is pretty straight forward, “No, we do not.”

That’s really not a model that’s for us, it is not effective for the strategy that we built here at DHG. As everyone knows, we are a firm of people first and then client second. For us to really be successful in doing that, we think we have to be the right size firm, and big in our mind doesn’t really translate into making that happen.

So for us, we think we’re actually the perfect size for where we are in the market place today and for where we see the market going in the future. We do not aspire to be a large sprawling national firm. So you’re not going to see us in the foreseeable future pursuing mergers that would roll us up into being a billion dollar firm.

As I look now to the next three to five years, and I always share this with the partners at our annual partner meeting, I can see us growing from where we are today, which is around $400 million to $550 to $600 million, which is not dramatically different in terms of size and scope than where we are today. That will happen through slow measured growth. It’s not going to be big changes.

Our size is important because it allows our partners to be closely connected to our people. It allows our leaders to be connected to both our partners and our people, and the bigger we get, the harder it is to manage and control that to really drive the strategy the way that we want to. So no, we do not see ourselves as a future Big Four or even large national firm. We think that where we are now is a great size scope to fit in.

AGH: Great, thank you. Right now my whole world is consumed by our culture audit and upcoming engagement survey. You mentioned this in your Town Hall address and we’ve shared with our people in the past few months that we are striving to be ranked among the nation’s best places to work. Why is this so important?

MS: We have shared that we are driving to be on Fortune 100’s Best Places to Work listing, but our real goal is to show to the market that we are a great place to work. We believe we’re already there. Our most recent survey scores would tell you that and the feedback that we get from our people would tell you that our processes are set up to make us a great place to work.

We don’t hold ourselves out as being perfect by any means, but we do hold ourselves out to identify where we can improve, where we can find areas quickly that we can work on and make them better, and that’s what being a great place to work is all about.

This exercise also gives us external validation, which I think is so important for our people to have pride that where they work is a top 100 place to work in the country, and I think it also gives our clients more confidence in our people. They already know us for the great work that we do but it does add another seal of approval, if you will, that’s widely recognized and that really helps us in interacting and engaging with our clients.

AGH: Absolutely.

MS: So we talked about size earlier, this is really where the size metric matters to us. It’s not size in terms of volume of people and revenue and so forth, but being highly ranked in terms of quality is much more important to us. So that’s why we’re really driving toward that goal.

AGH: Wow, that’s really cool. I have been fortunate enough to work on our survey and culture audit, which will probably be well over a 100 pages. It is truly humbling and inspiring to me to read it and to take a step back and reflect. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day actions. That’s one reason why I love the Town Hall meetings. It gives us an opportunity to step back and celebrate some of these great things going on and it is a celebration of the things that make DHG truly special.

Ok, so you’ve served as CEO for two years, right? What has been your most memorable moment as CEO?

MS: You know I’ve thought long and hard about this, and again, Alice Grey, you always ask me for the one and it’s so hard to narrow it down to the one. Actually, the one thing that really stands out in my mind as I look back happened before I became CEO. It occurred when I was asked to present my vision for the future of the firm to all of our partners in the fall of 2013.

I remember when I finished sharing my vision, I had no idea whether what I said was going to resonate with the partners or not. I closed with, “In light of everything that I said, my ultimate goal is for us as a firm to be one firm and for all of us to be united in where we’re going in the future.” I had no idea how our partners would react to this. When I finished, it was almost like that one point brought everyone together, and it wasn’t me saying it, but it was the notion and the idea that everyone joined together; that we all wanted to be one firm. I still look back and I can remember the moment of just seeing the acknowledgement from people, that yes, that is what we want – one firm, united together.

Actually I go back to that a lot when I think about what grounds us and what we want as a partnership going forward. Now there have been other ones too, so don’t just narrow me down to that one, but I’ll just highlight that one particular moment. I wish everyone could have been there to be part of the moment.

AGH: That’s great. Ok, so for our next question, I will not limit you to just one thing. I see a trend in my questions that we have. As CEO, your days are full. I know they’re full. I see you in and out, you travel tremendously, have tons of meetings, but you value your family time and do not sacrifice your family time. What are a few things that you do that give you energy for life?

MS: Yes, so again I’m glad you didn’t say “the one thing,” but when I think about this question, the sources of energy for me are really at two different times of the day, and one is in the morning. That’s when I do my workout. I’m an early morning person and I try to sign up for a 6:15am workout class so I can be done by 7:15am.

That really does give me physical energy to make a great charge in my day, so that’s one thing. Anybody who hasn’t tried early morning workouts, do it for two weeks and see if it does change you. The second source of energy is what I call my wind down time at home. I try to get home no later than 6:30pm if I can but between 6:30pm and I’ll say 9 pm is my second period of focused energy time. That’s another energy time for myself and my wife Patti to really connect on what happened during the day, what’s going on, sharing problems, sharing successes, and it really helps bring us close to whatever happened during the day. It’s a really great wrap to the day. But that’s a source of energy for me that I try to do every day.

So yes, I do travel a lot. So what can you do about that? Well, we sort of have a rule. I try not to be out of town more than two nights a week for that very reason, and the weekends are huge for us, those two sources, the wind down at night that I have, that time at home with Patti as well as my time with my workout in my morning, very early.

AGH: That’s fantastic. I’m so glad you didn’t say you drink six Red Bulls a day.

MS: I try to stay away from the caffeine. That’s what I call artificial energy.

AGH: We’re coming up on Father’s Day and you have two beautiful children who you’re very close wit,  and I’m not going to limit it to one thing, but what’s something that your children have taught you that has truly helped you as CEO?

MS: Yes, so I’ll elude to a couple of things here, but I would say it’s not one lesson that occurred on one day, but I think my children are a reminder — I have two, I have a daughter who’s 25 and a son who’s 21 and so they’re grown up and largely out of the house now. We are empty nesters. But while they were growing up, and even more recently, they taught me about the importance of remembering, “Why am I here and what is my purpose?”

It’s so easy because we spend 8-10 hours a day at the firm and think, “Well this is my purpose, and my purpose is to be CEO of this firm,” and yeah, for DHG it is, but that is a fixed period of time in my life. There’s so much more going on in my life than just that. My children have helped me realize this. I wouldn’t say that they taught me this but they have reminded me through their very presence, as well as my wife, that I’m here to help them build their lives and to have valuable careers of their own and to build their own families and for Patti and I to have an enriched life.

One of the things that I’ve learned is to be thinking about who’s going to be there on your 90th birthday. Who’s going to be celebrating it with you and what things will they say about you? And my children help keep me focused on that because I really hope they’re there when I’m 90 and that they’re saying good things about me. At that point, yes it will be memorable what happened at DHG while I was a CEO here, but the impact that I had in their lives will be much more important.

So that’s really what my children do. They help me keep that outlook in my head and I can’t say I’ve always been good about that. I will also say that more broadly for CEO’s in the country and especially male CEO’s, I’m going to say, there was an article posted I think today in the Wall Street Journal about the examples that male CEO’s should be setting for their families, and not only for their families, but for their whole community at their companies, by showing an adequate career life balance.

That’s really the key to success and a fruitful life for everyone. One of our team members here at DHG forwarded the article to me and said, “This is great, you should read it.” It really reminded me of my need to demonstrate my Life Beyond Numbers to all of our team members and even to the broader community that this is really a healthy, sustainable lifestyle for all of us.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t have tough times either. I don’t want people to think that I am living in some dreamland here. Actually as a matter of record, I worked this past weekend on Saturday. It wasn’t necessarily part of my weekend plan, but those things happen. That’s part of our flexibility. It goes both ways, but in the long run, we do need to make sure that we’re shaping our lives so that we’re having an impact on a broader group of people beyond just the people we work with.

AGH: That’s fantastic. Well, those were all the questions I had for you. I hope that this Sunday, Father’s Day, you get to do whatever it is that you want to do on that day.

MS: I’m looking forward to it.

AGH: And thank you so much for taking time out to share your thoughts with us around these questions. We appreciate it.

MS: Great, thank you Alice Grey. I enjoyed it very much and I love talking to our people and hearing their questions and answering them.

AGH: Good.

MS: It’s been great for me too.

AGH: This is great, then we’ll just make this a quarterly podcast. I would love it.

MS: Sounds like a plan.

AGH: Thank you for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and your colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.