ABOUT TODAY’S EPISODE | STEPHEN TORRES
Stephen Torres has had an incredible path of success, achievement, and impact in his life. He spent 12+ years in the Cutco/Vector organization, where he became the first District Manager in company history to achieve $10 million in sales and be inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame. After his years with Cutco, he advanced his formal education with a degree from UC-Berkeley and an MBA from Cornell. Along the way, he pursued several opportunities in the Technology industry in the Silicon Valley area. He was a part of SuccessFactors path to going public and being acquired by SAP, started 2 of his own companies which were also acquired, and served as the CEO for another company. Eventually, he was invited to serve as a part of the faculty at UC-Berkeley, where he has taught one of the most in-demand courses on Leadership and another course in one of the most exclusive academic programs in the world. Today, he also coaches and mentors start-up founders and entrepreneurs, offering key insights which date back to his learnings and direct experience as a leader with Cutco/Vector.
Q&A WITH STEPHEN TORRES
Q: Lets take it back to 1992 and tell us a little about when you got started with Cutco.
- Started in Fresno CA. Quite a ride! My mom threatened to kick me out if I didn’t get a job and she was cool with me working there!
Q: What was some of the early experiences?
- Learning how to sell. The ability to create business. The realization that I can make things happen You actually HAVE to make it happen. No one is calling you. The phone is not ringing on your end. And you can actually DO it, there’s a system that is provided and it WORKS.
- THATS what someone somewhere has to do. It’s an ability to create, and a responsibility to have to create. Someone somewhere has to make something happen vs being the followers.
- When you think about innovation. Everything we see is created by someone who is imagining it first.
- And it was created by people who didn’t know how. You start to understand that its your creation that makes things happens. The Wright brothers didn’t have a plane license.
Q: So you struggled initially as a manager, and then turned it around with a single transformational experience, tell us about that…
- I opened up at 18 as a manager, and it wasn’t going well. The Division Manager at the time even asked me to close down. A new manager took over and changed things for me. The new DVM called trying to get me back on the ball and fire me up. He said, “Our train is going somewhere, and you can be the caboose.” It was meant to make me feel included, but instead it crushed me to think that I was last.
- There are 2 things that drive you: inspiration or desperation.
I called you (Dan) and asked What do I do:
You told me that “I” have to get better.
Shifting from “fixed mindset” to a growth mindset.
You recommended Zig Zigler and Jim Rohn.
That lit the fire that I CAN get better and everything around me will change.
Q: Can you share a little bit around how the concept of the fixed mindset took hold of you?
- You’re either good or not good. I think it came from my background. I didn’t have great grades. So, I started with the belief that our mind is like plastic, not elastic. The brain is electric pulses. Learning creates more pathways in the brain- more ability. As I got better, all of my circumstances got better
Q: Tell us about moving to the Bay Area and your keys to success.
- Bruce (then Western Region Manager) calls me inquiring if I wanted to go. I asked him how long it was that I had to make a decision. And he says: “I’ll hold.” And so that’s when I decided to go.
- It was first about letting go of who I was to become the person I can become. How do you take this stuff you learned and apply somewhere else, in a different environment?
Q: You attracted some amazing people, what do you feel went into doing that?
- Rich Plaskon, a top manager said “you’ll never recruit anyone who’s sharper than you.”
- Work on your development with the focus on how can you help others develop/
You have to care a lot!
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It’s off of self and on to PURPOSE.
- Zig Zigler said: “You can get anything in life you want as long as you help enough others get everything they want.”
Q: Tell us about Life after Vector:
- I got into a tech company. I interviewed. And blew it. The recruiter called and asked what did I do? They are not going to hire you. I reached out to the person I interviewed. And got coffee and was able to get a second chance when a new opportunity came out.
- Later got into Clean Tech, then went to Cornell for my MBA.
Started my business there. Pitched a business and it was rejected. I was so mad that I decided to start the business anyways. And it worked out!
- I was asked then to give a talk to engineers in a bootcamp at Cal about sales and it went well. I was asked to do it multiple times. It led me to come back and start teaching at UC Berkley.
- I started and ran 2 companies in Clean Tech. We got acquired.
The investor offered me a role as CEO of one of his portfolio companies, and I served in that role.
Q: What were some of the things you feel like you learned in the business management days that you think helped you succeed in the business world?
- The ability to sell and communicate. It’s the most undervalued and under-appreciated skill. To tell your story and your narrative. Most can build but they cannot communicate. To understand what they need (the customers). To solve real problems.
- Most people fall in love with their solutions. But not with the problem. And good communication skills allows you to develop more solutions.
- Sales is what’s important. If you communicate well, sales will happen. There are a lot of people that don’t understand that.
- Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of Andreessen-Horowitz, one of the most important Venture Capital companies in the world. When evaluating a pitch. They look at the founders’ story telling ability. The ability to ask others to give up their job to follow your vision, and create a product and sell it with your story. Establish a vision and articulate that vision.
Q: Lets talk about what are you teaching students today: what do you think are other concepts you share?
- Growth Mindset — Understanding where success comes from. Success comes from our mind. We have to see it, what goes into that.
- Desire — Weak desire gives weak results
- I teach something called the Stick man. From Dr. Thurmond Fleet…
If you take a big circle and cut it in half. Top is the conscious mind, logical. Bottom is the subconscious, the feeling, the emotional side. The combo drives your behavior. Good thoughts impress upon your unconscious mind, and that leads to action that leads to results. What comes into my mind changes how I feel and that drives. If you go out and RUN, that can change your thoughts. What we think about is what we become. Some people have a poverty consciousness or failure consciousness. I tell people to look for the things that we can put in our minds that drive us to to ACT.
- Andrew Boworth, Cutco/Vector alum — Had a great insight, the 1-1 correlation between attitude and outcomes. Attitude drives outcomes not the other way around. People need to develop that awareness.
- It goes back to Think and Grow Rich. The key chapter is on desire. You have to have a burning desire to achieve. It’s not a want. It’s not enough. Wants don’t get answers. Its people that have a burning desire. It’s those that transmute that burning desire that get to achievement. Your conscious thoughts influence your unconscious thoughts. You can’t emotionally get out of a FUNK. You have to act yourself out.
- Everyone says they want stuff. Then you meet adversity. That’s where the people who are real plow through adversity. It’s those that cultivate a burning desire. It’s the difference between being interested and being committed.
Q: Most students graduate with a great education in engineering. But they need the human side of leadership. Unpack that:
- You have people that understand the tech side, but the thing they miss is that the tech piece is for the benefit of the human piece. That’s what connects us. They bring the human side. How we understand that people are more important than the tech. If you lead people well, they will build better tech things. In most tech curriculums, they lack that. So it’s about bringing in the communication skill to the sometimes awkward tech person.
- How do you have a system where feedback can be created from both sides, where the leader is open to feedback. Open and honest communication, humility. No judgement that gets forecast. No matter what happens, you always react the same. Non-judgmentally. This allows people to bring you anything. It brings you authenticity and openness.
- The idea of what’s right is more important than who’s right.
Q: Are there some interesting success stories from among your students that stand out?
- I was at an Angel Investing event. The “pitchers” didn’t do well, But I saw in these kids that they had “it”. I started coaching them. I just focus on asking good questions. Because, what I know is not important. It’s about what they know. Now they have 9 locations and have raised 1.2M and now we are looking at raising 10M. I’m looking for coach-ability.
- Team is the first thing we look for vs. product. Why is the team good?
- People often ask, “How do I get a high paying job?”
Law of rewards/compensation:
You’re going to be compensated based on:
The demand for what you do.
The ability to do that job well.
How easy it is to replace you.
Q: Now you are teaching at Cal, coaching and speaking internationally … What’s your aspiration to change lives?
- I want to bring the awareness that you can do it and It’s up to you.
Everything comes down to BS. Belief Systems … which are based on:
- Our genes
- When things come at you you can chose to either….
- You cannot be healthy by studying disease.
You have to study successful people.
- Bring into their awareness that your role-models are bringing thoughts into your consciousness. That is what’s going into your minds, creating the operating system of our lives.
- Success begins in the mind.
- Its about the ability to create. We have that ability to create something where there was nothing. Thats what entrepreneurs do.
- Importance of the growth mindset. Grow yourself to become more attractive.
- The importance to sell and communicate. Painting a vision matters.
- The concept that successes comes from within. Mindset drives behavior. What mindset elements are serving you?
- The Tech side is for the benefit of the human side. People are more important than the tech.
- Leadership is for the benefit of the company. The most important part of Human Resources is the HUMAN. People build success in an organization.
- BS- Belief system.
Our genes + our environment + our role-models
- The value of studying success.
Show Notes provided by Demian Scopp.
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