ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | AMAR DAVE
Amar Dave has been one of the most impactful leaders in the 70+ year history of Cutco. Early in his career, he was the company’s #1 District Manager while still in college at the University of Michigan. At age 26, he became the youngest Regional Executive in company history. Over the years, he directly influenced and developed 4 future Region Executives on his way to becoming Cutco’s Senior Vice-President in 2014. He continues to serve in this role, where his spirit of innovation enables him to work on projects to develop new avenues to grow the company.
Q&A WITH AMAR DAVE
Q: How did you get started with Cutco?
- It was the summer of 1986, and I was looking for a summer job that could put an edge on my resume.
- I was about to join business school at the University of Michigan. My grades were pretty solid, but I was struggling with accounting. I wanted to get some experience so I could have something to offset my lousy accounting grades.
- I was searching around for something different. I stumbled across this job ad, I went to the interview and Cutco became part of my life.
Q: When did you get to meet Marty Domitrovich?
- This was probably the biggest turning point in my early career.
- I did well enough to place in the trophy standings in the local division meeting in Lansing, Michigan. Marty spoke at the meeting, shook hands with a couple of people, and then pulled me aside. He asked me about business, if I like sports, what I thought of selling.
- Just some basic stuff, but it made an impression on me.
- I remember feeling if that guy is interested in me, I’m going to try to ensure he remains interested in me.
Q: What did you feel like made you so successful as a young leader?
- Relationships matter. To me, part of building strong relationships always came down to being real.
- I’m not too good at holding back. Not intentionally trying to hurt people’s feelings. There are times when I was blunt, but at the end of the day, my people knew where I stood and where they stood with me.
- Over time, when you have your people’s best interests in mind, you develop strong relationships.
- There was also trust. I’d like to believe I put my people’s success first, and if I had enough people succeeding, I was going to succeed too.
- I learned a long time ago in the business, I should speak of my success in terms of other people in my organization succeeding. That was better than me talking about myself.
- So, trying to get my people promoted was always on my mind. If not promoted, get them to the place where they have a chance to be promoted. That was a big driver.
Q: I know you had a personal adversity that you experienced right after you became the #1 DM. can you tell us about that?
- In the summer of 1990, I was driving back home, and I was involved in a pretty serious car crash and woke up in the I.C.U.
- Fortunately, after a couple of days I was out of danger. But I had broken a lot of bones.
- So, I went from a lively, strong 22 year old to walking with a cane, and with all kinds of plates in my arm.It was a very humbling experience.
- I was absent for several months, I depleted my savings and my organization crumbled. It was really one of those “come to Jesus” moments.
- I remember there was one Branch Manager who stuck out with me, Tim McCreadie. I remember him coming to the hospital and saying, “hey, it’s just money, we’ll make more, we’ll rebuild this better.”
- He was right. It was probably the best thing that happened to me. Having my ego completely drained. It forced me to think deeper about how I was approaching things.
- I came out in 1991 and felt like maybe I can rebuild, maybe I can do this. I ended up been the #1 office in the region at the time.
Q: So, you became the Division Manager in Michigan. Then you quickly relocated to Texas, where you had a chance to take over a really significant swath and ultimately became the Zone and Regional manager of that area. I’ve heard you express that you stood on a lot of shoulders. Who were some of the people who impacted your career?
- We moved to Texas and I was lucky.
- The team I was going to work with had a guy named John Carpenter, who had been promoted to Division Manager. I also had a guy named Loyd Reagan who was a brand new DM. I had P.J. Potter who was my pilot sales manager.
- A couple of years later a guy named Scott Dennis finished his branch summer and joined our organization.
- Our DVM table when I was the Zone and Regional manager, we kicked ass. It was really hard, but we had a lot of fun doing it.
Q: You went on to develop a lot of amazing people over the years. You have this track record of being a powerful and impactful leader. I would really love to get into what are your most important leadership philosophies?
- One of the things I felt went strongly is building relationships. A lot of this was time with the right people. People who’d exhibited quality, had the capacity, had the character.
- When I found people with high character, capacity and drive, I wanted to make sure I spent time with them.
- To me, the time was always unscheduled, the conversations weren’t set up. Back in the days, it was like, “hey! Let’s walk around the block.” I was looking for those chances where we spent 20 -30 minutes to connect.
- It didn’t matter if we talked business or sports. We simply spent time where any topic could be spoken about and build a bond.
- Once I developed that trust, I would talk in terms of what they wanted. I would then point them to the direction or path to get closer to where they wanted.
- I also talked to them when they took actions that got them off the path they wanted.
- A lot of those conversations never ended with me saying, you have to do this or that. It was more like, you keep doing this, you’re going to end up over there. My people called this perspective conversation.
- I wasn’t trying to judge them or demand them to change. It was simply me saying, “hey buddy, you’re going the wrong way.”
Q: What else stands out as an important leadership philosophy or strategy?
- I didn’t want to leave out the fun.
- I always said we’re going to get results, but we’re going to have fun, and I meant it.
- It just had to be part of it. We allowed ourselves to have fun and be real, all while working real hard. I think that attracts people.
Q: One of the quotes that stand out for me, and I remember hearing it initially from you was “pleasing results must come before pleasing methods.” Could you unpack that concept?
- The fun is there, but it is always in the context of results.
- So, if the results weren’t there, fun takes a back seat for a while.
- The pressure was hey let’s perform so we could do that real cool thing we talked about doing. There’s an order of things. It’s results first, fun second.
Q: Tell us a little bit of how this led to what you’re doing now.
- In late 2013, this opportunity presented itself.
- Jim Stitt explained to me we’d reached a certain size and we weren’t going to have the exponential growth we’d had in the last 20 years without inventing new programs.
- He was interested in diversifying our sales channels, interested in finding other profit centers we could then use to reinvest in programs. He said do what you want to do, go find something for us.
- In 2014, we were pursuing consumables. We spent a lot of time with different companies trying to co-brand, trying to partner. The challenges were really basic.
- One was quality. The Cutco brand is premium. It was hard to find a product that had a similar kind of ethos.
- Secondarily, there was the commission structure. When you’re dealing with 3rd parties, and they are saying we don’t have those margins that becomes very uninteresting. We looked at spices and other food products and we couldn’t find a way to go.
- Concurrently, we got approved for Costco. We do 100+ road shows a month in a normal year. That allowed us to sell some products, make some profits which we reinvested in the business.
- We also have something called Next Gen program that recruits non-college students. There is an opportunity for gig workers. The goal was adding from $25,000 to $30,000 per year in sales per office.
- So far, so good. We’re going to have 150 offices on Next Gen, starting this fall. We’re also exploring the international market.
Q: How about the personal side of Amar Dave? What are you excited about?
- I’m excited about everything.
- 2 of my kids are in college. I’m excited about whatever that experience is for them.
- My eldest daughter graduated about a year ago, and she’s now working for a consulting firm. She sold Cutco, by the way. Life is good!
- Performance opens doors.
- It’s clear Amar Dave was willing to work, to perform, balancing both school and work.
- Performing at a very high level to be able to obtain immense success he’s had.
- He also said, your team is a reflection of who you are. He also talked about perspective conversations, and the importance of been real. Balancing reality and giving important feedback. Those are all avenues for success as a leader.
Show Notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.
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