Marc Hebner: How One of the Top Technology Executives was raised by a Super-Hero Single Mother
On this episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast, Dave Naylor and Sean Johnson interview a very special guest: Marc Hebner. As VP of Sales for NEC’s US, Latin America and Canadian channel operations, Marc is responsible for the Enterprise Technology Unit sales. This includes more than 600 Solutions Integrators covering all UC, Contact Center, IT Platform, XaaS, and Smart Enterprise solutions sold through the channel as well as, having responsibility for the success of ETU’s Direct sales organization. Marc is a 14 year veteran of NEC and has held various positions during his tenure including; NEC Financial Services Regional Sales Manager, ETU Business Development, Vertical Practice Specialist, Enterprise East Sales Director and now, VP of Sales. Marc is a highly energetic and motivated leader focused on executing with excellence on ETU’s transformation to help build the “NEC of the future” leveraging the “NEC as a Service and Smart Workspace” framework. Marc discusses everything from his childhood, hard working mother, and how he got to where he is today. His story is truly remarkable. Marc is a strong leader in both his professional and personal life. “I think that I’ve always gone about my professional career in particular, very much from a place of positivity and motivation and not just for myself, but for the other team members that were around me,” says Marc. Interested in hearing more? Check out Episode 36: Marc Hebner: How One of the Top Technology Executives was raised by a Super-Hero Single Mother. Be sure to leave us a review and follow us on social media!
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Marc Hebner: How One of the Top Technology Executives was raised by a Super-Hero Single Mother
Dave Naylor: Well, hello everybody, and welcome to The Motivational Intelligence Podcast. We have a very, very cool guest with us today. His name is Marc Hebner. Now, Marc is a gentleman who I have followed his career now for probably 15 years or so and watched him succeed in various roles throughout the career and grow progressively.
[00:00:39] Today, Marc is the Channel Vice President for NEC Americas. NEC is an interesting organization and Marc is a wonderful fit for the organization. Their company is about 120 years old. It’s rare nowadays that you see companies that lasts that long, about a $28 billion organization. They’re also one of the great innovators. In fact, they’ve been ranked as one of the Top 50 Greatest Innovators in the world today. They’re also one of the number one patent holders. So, they’re an organization who has really built itself on being able to morph and grow and change and innovate, for better than a hundred years. Marc is a wonderful example of the types of leaders that they have who has helped them to be able to do that. So, Marc, welcome to the podcast.
Marc Hebner: Well, thanks. That was quite the intro. I wasn’t expecting such a great intro. Thank you for that, Dave.
Dave Naylor:] You’re very welcome, my friend.
Sean Johnson: [00:01:33] So, Marc, I wanted to kick things off, one thing that we’ve noticed in studying people that have been very successful in their career, is they’ve developed over time, this ability to motivate themselves and to motivate others once they move into a leadership role. So, I kind of wanted to talk about, you’ve clearly had a great and successful career and I kind of wanted to talk about how you developed that ability over time. So, maybe we could kick off and you could tell us a little bit about your childhood and maybe how that shaped you?
Marc Hebner: Yeah. Absolutely. So, motivation mindset has always been something that has been top of mind to me. But, I never really understood where it came from or was really able to put a focused, concerted effort on ensuring that I’m always in the proper mindset really until I met 2logical. But before I get there, I’ll kind of tell you a little bit of the backstory on what kind of made it top of mind from the beginning. So, I grew up with a single mom. She had my first sister when she was 15. She had my middle sister when she was 17 and then she had me when she was 22.
So, by the time that she’s 22, she’s got three kids that she’s taking care of. She basically came across the border and grew up in the Valley in South Texas. She grew up with a very immigrant family. She spent a lot of years picking cotton as a kid and reclaiming scrap metal.
She’s tell a story about driving around in a truck and going from dumpster to dumpster, trying to look for scrap metal that they could resell to make ends meet. But, like I said, she had my sisters and I at a very young age, she did not graduate high school, very limited education.
She spent her teenage and early twenties, working at a Dunkin Donuts. I’ve told this story before because it was so inspiring to me that she just recently retired here within the past year or two. She retired as a VP of Accounting for a large oil and gas company, which just tells you how you can just go from nothing, very humble beginnings, in order to creating this great future for not just yourself, but obviously for your family. Just watching her and how she was able to develop that success over the years has always been such an inspiration to me.
So, I think that’s where the genesis of this whole, the mindset aspect of that being so important to developing success and keeping that part of it top of mind. That’s really where it came from. Then, like I said, again, when I was introduced to 2logical during my first role, in sales with Konica Minolta, that’s really where I put the focus on, “Oh wow. That’s where that came from.” It actually came from my mom. She’s the one that built that as part of my DNA, if you will. It’s really something that I’ve really, it’s been my mantra throughout my career with my sales teams, just making sure that they’re focused on that aspect of their success and really driving that part of their personal and professional development.
Sean Johnson: [00:05:20] Yeah. That’s amazing that with the journey that your mom went through that you were able to kind of see and look to as a role model. Can you talk a little bit about how she went from working at a Dunkin Donuts in her teen years and early twenties to retiring as the VP of Accounting at a major company? That’s an incredible journey.
Marc Hebner: Yeah. I’ll tell the story. I might be a little fearful that my mom hears this podcast one day, gets upset with me for telling this story, but hey, it’s in the past and it led ultimately to success and great things for her in the companies that she worked for, but she actually applied to a CPA firm. She was looking for opportunities, again, no education. She found this opportunity for this accounting firm that was looking for a junior accountant at a CPA firm and she applied to it and they called her for an interview. So, she goes in there for an interview. The interview ends up going well and she leaves the interview and says, “Oh, no, I don’t know anything about accounting.”
So, I remember being a young kid and her spending tons of hours in the public library and it would be myself, my two sisters in the library. She basically taught herself how to be an accountant, how to be a CPA out of library books. So, just understanding and being able to observe that level of dedication and that level of what my mom always refers to as ganas or desire, right?
That level of desire to be successful, I think was foundational to ultimately where I am today and what I became throughout my adolescents and adult life, so it was a game changer for sure, to watch her do that.
Sean Johnson: Yeah. Well and just to watch her, I guess the sort of fearlessness that she would go, she went into that with of, “Hey, I don’t know anything about this right now.” But, whereas a lot of people would say, “I don’t know anything about accounting, so I’m not going to go for the accounting job.” She just said, “Alright, time to hit the library and hit the books.” I imagine that just you watching that through osmosis was kind of like, “Whatever I need to learn, I can learn.”
Marc Hebner: Yeah. I mean, there was always a culture within our household of being willing to take risks and being willing to try things new. I remember, whether it was soccer or whether it was, in my high school years, getting chosen to try out for our academic decathlon team, which was some of the smartest kids within a very large high school who got to try out for this. Little things like that. I would come to her and express my lack of confidence in my ability to execute and she would always bring me back to center on the fact that it’s okay if you fell and it’s good if you fell and if you fell, you can learn from it. She was always bringing it back. At the time I didn’t really understand what she was doing and again, it wasn’t until I got into my professional career where people who do this for a living started explaining to me, “Hey, this is what your mom was doing for you.” So, that was really where it all started for me.
Dave Naylor: What a phenomenal story, Marc. I know you and I’ve talked a bit about your upbringing and things in the past, but I didn’t realize the journey that your mom had been on and what an incredible example she set of not only talking the talk, but literally following through on that in her actions and what she was doing. So, you think about the power of that example and the fearlessness with which she moved, is that something that it came from her parents? Is it something that you think came from just being a first generation immigrant and pure necessity? Where do you think that stemmed from in her?
Marc Hebner: That’s a good question, one I should probably ask her. I haven’t thought about it that way, Dave, but I’ll definitely ask her that. But, just from based on the stories that she’s told me about her childhood, I would say that it came from her grandfather. So, she was raised by her grandmother and grandfather.
She tells stories about, again, the story about her grandfather driving around in the truck and then picking up scrap metal and working late into the night and picking cotton in fields in South Texas in the middle of the heat by hand. I think she got that sense of what hard work meant there. I think that kind of created that in her and you’re right. To your point, me having the ability to watch her lead by example and I don’t even know that she knew that she was doing it, right? I think it was just instinctive. It’s just who she was. She got up before everybody.
She worked longer hours than anybody else. She was just an unbelievably hard worker and still is to this day. But, again, I don’t know that she was doing that as something that she was trying to directly and knowingly set an example for us. It was just part of her DNA and how she grew up.
Dave Naylor: Yeah, well, you see so many of the best leaders and you know this, Marc, they lead by example. So, it’s so clear in everything that they do that they’re the measure of everything that they talk about. Then there’s just a congruency that comes from that that really makes them bulletproof from a leadership perspective. So, your mom is a very special lady.
Sean Johnson: [00:11:47] So, Marc, obviously your mom had a huge impact on who you are, how you thought about yourself, how you thought about the world. Were there any other people in your childhood that had an influence on you or were mentors or role models?
Marc Hebner: Of course. Numerous mentors and role models. I mentioned the academic decathlon in high school, I had a wonderful coach and instructor that helped build out that team. I went into that thinking, “I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough to join a team like this.” This instructor put me in the right frame of mind to get to where I needed to go there. But, I think kind of looking at it in the reverse for me, which, until I’ve gotten older here, I really haven’t put the focus on it, but I think you can learn a lot by what people you observe do wrong, right?
So, I learned a ton from my biological father on the things not to do. So, he and my mom were never in a relationship as long as I was a kid, but he was always around in a certain capacity in my life and just observing him and the challenges that he went through in his life really taught me, “This is not how I want to be. I want to look different, act different, walk different, talk different, just be a better human being than that to both my children, as well as just leading my own personal and professional life.” So, of course, I can point to ample people that have influenced my life, but I would say that was actually one of the biggest lessons is watching someone who maybe didn’t quite do it right and learning from that experience.
Dave Naylor: [00:13:51] I think you’re absolutely right, Marc, that we can learn things from almost everybody and sometimes the most valuable things we learn is what we don’t want to be and the behaviors we don’t want to exhibit. I’m curious because so often, and I know I’ve fallen into this myself, where I’ll hear my father’s words coming out of my mouth and those types of things. Were there ever times in your life where you kind of caught yourself and you’re like, “Oh my God, that was my father there,” and you had to kind of walk yourself back from the things that you saw him doing?
Marc Hebner: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I would say one of the key things that I’m mindful of is just being able to open up, both in your personal life as well as your professional life. Open up about your feelings, open up about the challenges that you’re faced with, of course, in the right context. But, not being so guarded. I think my dad was very guarded, was very harsh and I learned lessons from that on how you can inspire people to be better as opposed to it always just being for discipline. So, I learned some really great lessons there and my stepfather, who I’d be remised if I didn’t mention him, he came into my life when I was probably about 13, 14 years old and just a huge influence on my life. At the time, when I first met him, he was actually going through law school and just that aspect alone of things of seeing a male figure in my life that had at that time when I would visualize that as just unbelievable success, being able to go to law school, that set more of the foundation, I think, for what I’ve been able to accomplish today and who I am today. He was, again, similar to my mom, very, very hard work ethic. He worked unbelievably hard, built up his own law firm during the time that he’s been my stepfather and still to this day, he has a huge influence on my life, really showing me what it means to take on a responsibility like that. Again, you have to think about where my mom was at that time and with these three kids, the responsibility that he was taking on. That has kind of mirrored into my life now where I married a woman who had two kids that were eight and nine years old when we met. Since that time, I’ve adopted both of those girls. I’ve tried to do everything that I can to make sure that they’re living the right life and they’ve now both graduated college and moved onto great jobs and they’re just unbelievable human beings.
Something I’m very proud of, but, again, I would have never have been able to do that if I hadn’t seen all those positive things with my mom. All the negative things with my biological father. Then again, all the great things with my stepfather. So, I was really put in the perfect environment, ultimately, even though there was lots of challenges from point a to point z, it was really the ultimate environment I think to flourish because of all the lessons that could be learned. I’m very grateful for all three of them and the lessons they gave me, both good and bad.
Dave Naylor: [00:17:49] So, Marc, I’m reflecting. I remember one of our clients here, years back, he was the CEO of a major energy company and he came into address a class that we were working with. As he was talking to the group, he talked about something that he called “new manager’s disease.” He said, “There are two symptoms of new manager’s disease. It’s something that I battled early on in my career and I’ve watched countless other managers battle that.” The two symptoms were the belief that you had to have all of the answers and that you had to be tough in order to get anything done. He said, “Both of those things are patently false and ultimately hold people back.” So, you talked a little bit earlier about being vulnerable and not having to be rigid as you’re leading people. Is that something that your stepfather helped you with or how did you learn that lesson that it was okay to not have all the answers and it was okay to be vulnerable in front of your team?
Marc Hebner: Well, yeah, I’m sure some of it came from their day, but frankly, I really think it came from my early engagements with you guys and your team during my professional career because my upbringing was always about being accountable and being held accountable, but it wasn’t called that. My mother was very much a disciplinarian, very much thought that school was very important, that you needed to do your homework and you needed to get good grades and you didn’t get in trouble and you came home on curfew and things like that and be accountable to that. But it was never framed up in that context really until I started in my professional career, with more mindset and belief structure training and sales leadership training where I started really understanding the concept of accountability and what that means, both for my own personal accountability, but also holding others accountable. I think that’s really where that all started becoming top of mind for me.
Sean Johnson: [00:20:34] I want to go back to that. But, before we dive more into the leadership aspect, I wanted to talk a little bit about the beginning of your career, maybe even starting in college. How you kind of got your start, where did you go to college and what did you study?
Marc Hebner: Okay, yeah, great story. So, I was actually planning to go to University of Texas in Austin and at the time my parents had just that purchased a new house and I’ll never forget them sitting me down and saying, “Hey, we just got this new house. We were curious if you might be willing to go to a different school for the first semester?” Looking back on it, I think I must’ve been crazy because I think about if I ever approached that conversation with my daughters, they would have laughed at me if I had that conversation with them, ask them go to a different college than they were originally intending to go, but, I agreed. I started at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. I would call it a regional college, although I wouldn’t call it a small regional college.
There’s about 35,000 students there. It’s one of the largest colleges in the state. But, I started there and I quickly formed friends and ended up just not leaving. I just was comfortable there and said, “Hey, I don’t need to go to The University of Texas. I can just stay here at university of North Texas.” From the beginning, I was seeking a degree in what they call their premed track, which is basically a BS in Biology, a minor in Chemistry and pursued that throughout my undergrad and I was actually going to attend medical school, following undergrad. There was about a six month gap between undergrad and going off to this graduate program for medical school. I had actually, he was a fraternity brother of mine from undergrad, he went to work at this company selling copiers and printers, at the time called Minolta Business Solutions. He said, “Hey, why don’t you come over here and make some money for these six months? They’re looking for salespeople.” I said, “Well, I don’t have any experience in sales.” He said, “Well, they’re hiring people with no experience right off the street. So, why don’t you come give it a shot?” That’s what I did. What started as kind of a six month temporary job to make a little bit of money, ended up turning into the start of my career in sales management, sales leadership in the technology space that within Konica Minolta, lasted the first five years of my career. So, needless to say, my mom wanted me to be an attorney because my stepfather’s an attorney.
So, she was a little disappointed when I told her I was going to try medical school. Then when I had to call her three or four months into this temporary job, I was going to tell her that, “Oh, nevermind, I’m not going to medical school either. I’m going to go sell copiers.” Needless to say, she was not very thrilled, but it turned out being one of the best decisions I’ve met made in my life because it’s ultimately led to what has just been an unbelievable career for me and unbelievable opportunities to work with great people in an industry that I love and a role that I feel like I’m good at. So, yeah, it’s just interesting sometimes how you can start in one direction and the path twists and turns to ultimately lead you to where you are today.
Sean Johnson: Man, your mom is tough. I can’t imagine my mom being upset with me about trying medical school.
Marc Hebner: Yeah. Her vison, I think was for my stepfather and I to work together, in the same firm and to take over his firm one day and I threw her a curve ball when I went down that the medical path.
Dave Naylor: [00:24:44] So, Marc, so many people, when they start out in sales, they struggle simply because there’s a lot of rejection. People are constantly facing the unknowns of everything from picking up the telephone and booking an appointment with somebody, asking to close a sale and so many people struggle in those early phases, and that’s ultimately what drives the typical high turnover rates. Obviously the work ethic and the example that you that you saw in your mother and your stepfather helped you there. I’m curious, what were those early days of sales like for you?
Marc Hebner: Oh, Dave, I was so afraid to fail. I really was, because this whole situation with the medical school and not wanting to let down my mom, understanding my mom and stepfather and how hard they’d worked and the success that they built. I was always so afraid I was going to fail. So, from day one coming into that role, even though it was supposed to be a temporary role for me, I think anybody that worked in that environment with me would tell you that I worked unbelievably hard. So, I was one of the first to arrive every morning and one of the last to leave at night and to your point, Dave, it was a lot of what I would consider more ground up sales, right? You’re creating your own opportunities. You’re cold calling, you’re telemarketing, it’s really a net new sell and it’s a challenge. But, I think on my second month there, I closed my first opportunity and I remember it was a small little $2,000 copier that I closed. I’ll never forget the name of the company. It was Interstate Wire Company. They had this little copier on their front desk at the reception area and I ended up selling them a new one, and just that adrenaline rush from working so hard those first 30 to 60 days, and then ultimately that leading to, albeit a small success, it was my first taste of success and the fact that “You can do this, this is possible.” That quickly for me, personally and professionally just skyrocketed my motivation, and skyrocketed the view of what I thought could be possible, because now every customer or prospect that I walked into, I looked at as an opportunity to sell something to and it really just trained my frame of mind on what was actually achievable. Then from there, the sky was the limit.
Sean Johnson: So, starting out, was it really that first sale, the adrenaline rush that you felt that made you decide, alright, this is something I want to stick with instead of the original plan being, do it for six months and then go to medical school? What was it about the opportunity or the job that made you stick that out and kind of push off medical school?
Marc Hebner: [00:28:07] Yeah. I mean, clearly, a $2,000 desk copier printer sale is not going to make you stick to something. It was the accumulated success because from there, my next stop was to a small clinic that I sold a couple systems to, and then I started selling the large law firms, and then I got promoted to a new territory and this is all within the first six months. I got promoted to a new territory with taller buildings that you could call on and larger companies and started selling in that kind of environment, too. Again, I think it was just that the early success that led to accumulated success, kind of small wins building to ultimately where it led to, that was so important for me. Still to this day, I feel myself looking at things in those terms, right? Taking things in small increments, looking for small wins, focusing on those small wins to turn into bigger wins. I don’t know whether it’s the right or wrong approach, but it’s worked for me and, and something that I’ve kept top of mind.
Sean Johnson: Well, it seems like with each small win, it seems like that stretched you in terms of what you were thinking of what was possible. That first $2,000 copier stretched you to, “Alright, the next company I can walk into, I can make a sale to,” and progressively the idea of what was possible seemed like it kept getting bigger and bigger.
Marc Hebner: Absolutely. Yeah. Building confidence throughout the whole process. Absolutely.
Dave Naylor: [00:29:50] So, Marc, you mentioned one of the strategies that you look at is, how do I create these little wins that lead to bigger ones? So, is that something that you’ve continued to leverage throughout your career, where you kind of break a broader thing down and look at more of, what are the smaller component pieces of this that I can focus on if I can just get this piece down? Then you look at it as a win and that fuels you to go to the next piece. Is that something that you’ve done throughout your career since then?
Marc Hebner: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I really have a focused effort on dwindling things down to their smallest components and focusing on that element until it gets to where you want it to be and having success there. I’ve done that, Dave, throughout my career and even to this day, I can point to different initiatives that we have going on today, that it really is the basic fundamental pieces that we’re looking for success and on this specific thing. Then once we have success there, making a big deal of it because that’s contagious. It’s not just contagious within me, but it’s contagious within the organization. It’s contagious to my team members. I think that some people may look at that from a leadership standpoint and say, “Well, it’s too positive. You’re being too positive. You’re glossing over the negatives.” I don’t mean it to sound like that because, again, we go back to the conversation around accountability, I do focus on those negatives too, and try to tweak and readapt our strategy to figure out how we can get from point a to point Z. But I really try to make a focused effort on focusing on those small incremental growth, positive areas and really draw attention to that.
Dave Naylor: I think so many leaders miss that point. They gloss over those little wins and they miss those opportunities to recognize the successes and make a big deal out of them. I remember, oh god, years ago, I think it was Jack Welch that had written something about if we as leaders don’t make a big deal out of those wins, nobody will. If I remember the quote right, he said “Imagine a team winning the World Series without champagne spraying everywhere.” So, if you create that positive environment, you make a big deal out of those wins, to your point, it just builds everybody’s confidence on if we can win on this, maybe we can win on that next piece that’s just a little bit bigger or a little bit more of a stretch.
Sean Johnson: [00:32:49] So, Marc, you were at Konica Minolta as an individual contributor sales person for a while, that’s where you had your first leadership role, is that correct?
Marc Hebner: Yeah absolutely. So, again, I’d been promoted a handful of times to better territory’s, as what they called a “down the street rep” a DTS rep and I had built some success in those. Then, a branch sales manager position came open and frankly, I didn’t even think to apply for it because I didn’t feel like I had the experience level or the knowledge or the skins on the wall, if you will, to take a spotlight. Our branch general manager at the time came to me and said, “Hey, I want you to consider yourself for this role.” Again, that’s another opportunity that just opened up my mind to what could be possible, and I ended up interviewing for that role and ended up beating out another gentleman who was competing for the same role, who was probably 15 years my senior within Konica Minolta. So, he knew that business very well. He knew the products very well. He knew how to sell, probably much better than I do just based on the years of experience. But ultimately, I think I got selected to lead that team because the general manager at the time very much viewed it as more of a leadership role and somebody who needed to lead by example and not somebody who necessarily was a really good sales guy. They needed to be a better leader than a strong sales guy. So, that was really my first break into sales leadership. It was a small team. It was about eight reps that I was leading and they had been historically, over the past couple of years, underperforming. In that first year, very much taking this focus effort on their mindset, making sure that they’re in the right space and making sure that they’ve got the right tools to be successful and really driving them to accomplish something that maybe they would have probably otherwise thought was impossible, we took the entire team to President’s Club in my first year. Again, it kind of goes back to that whole little successes, building to big successes. That was a big success for me, obviously. That really was the first time that I saw, wait a second, there’s actually more to what I’m capable of. I can lead others to be successful, which wasn’t something that had necessarily occurred to me prior to that. That was really the start of my sales leadership career and I ended up staying in that role for about three years. I took team members to several President’s Club trips. We had great success as a team. So, yeah, that was a great growth opportunity for me.
Dave Naylor: [00:36:01] So, Marc, a lot of times people will point to the fact that the hardest transition that somebody makes in their career is when they go from that individual contributor role where they’re responsible for themselves to now leading a team of people and being responsible, as you said, for eight other individuals. It oftentimes seems that the people who will struggle the most are people like yourself who were strong performers in their own right and then they take over a team that’s then traditionally underperforming and now all of a sudden you’ve got eight people who, they don’t think like you think, they’re not motivated, like you’re motivated. They don’t necessarily have the work ethic that you have, they’re not as adept at getting outside of their comfort zones as you are. You are trying to be able to figure out, how do you breed those characteristics into those folks? So, taking that underperforming team to everybody going to the President’s Club, that’s a huge swing. How did you shift the mindsets of those individuals? What did you do, or how did you figure out the combination to unlock them?
Marc Hebner: Well, it was probably a lot of different variables, Dave, that that led to where we ended up ultimately. But for the purposes of time here, I’ll just narrow it down to a couple and that was, again, learning from other leaders that I had seen within that organization previously and how they engaged with their teams. It was very much a leadership organization that told their sales people what to do, but never really showed them how to do it. I knew that going into this new role because I had experienced that as an individual contributor.
So, I remember when I was interviewing for the role, that was one of the areas that I focused on during the interview was the fact that I wanted to take a different approach. I had a different vision for the role. I wanted to inspire the team members to be better. I wanted to show them how to be successful instead of telling them how to be successful. I wanted to, instead of holding those team members accountable to some number, I wanted to hold my own self accountable ultimately for their success and that’s exactly what I did, I created that culture within the team. Then, the other piece of that would be to make it open to where I allowed them to fail and allowed them to struggle and always encouraged them with the understanding that I was here to support them in that failure and that we would get through it together. So, again, a lot of different elements, but if I had to break it down to the core elements, I would say that those were the ones that created the right environment, if you will, in order to have an excelling team.
Dave Naylor: Yeah. I think that’s a huge piece right there, Marc, so many people don’t try things because they’re so fearful of, “What if I make a mistake or what if it doesn’t work out well?” That’s one of those common themes that we hear so often when people talk about the great leaders is that they create a safe environment where if you try something and it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the job. It’s not the end of somebody’s career. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to get better. So, if you create that safety, then so many of the doubts that hold people in that sea of mediocrity really begin to dissipate.
Marc Hebner: Yeah. I would say, Dave, in this day and age it can get kind of clichéd because you do hear that kind of comment, especially, I guess what I would consider more of the modern leadership styles. But there’s a big difference between saying it and actually doing it. I still see a lot of organizations and leaders really miss the mark on that piece, that you can talk about being in an environment that is not afraid of failure and wants people to try new things and get up and dust themselves off and all of that. But, to really put it in practice is a completely different animal.
Dave Naylor: Yeah. It’s interesting that you say that and I think you’re 100% right. So many people I think come into the job with an inherent fear of failure just from their upbringing, their past, all of the baggage that they carry with them that has nothing to do with the organization. So if leaders say “It’s okay to fail, it’s okay to try things. I want you to come up with suggestions and ideas.” So, to your point, they use that language, but then as soon as somebody makes a mistake, they have that knee jerk emotional reaction, “Aw, I can’t believe you did that.” Right there, it pulls people right back into that bad spot about their emotions that they tie to that fear of failure. I think you’re absolutely right.
Marc Hebner: There’s a very fine line between judgment and accountability. Between somebody feeling like they’re being judged and somebody feeling like they’re just being held accountable. Those lines can get very blurry sometimes. So, I think that those are the lines that everybody’s kind of operating in between.
Sean Johnson: Well, it seems like, based on your upbringing and your mom as a role model who really did lead by example, that’s really seems to be what set you up and what kind of built your mentality to be that person that doesn’t just tell people what to do, but really shows them how to do it and embodies these principles that we’re talking about.
Marc Hebner: [00:42:15] Absolutely.
Sean Johnson: [00:42:19] So, you mentioned before that you hadn’t really thought about this promotion and the general manager approached you and probably with this other gentleman or woman that had 15 more years’ experience than you was going out for the job, what do you think that general manager saw in you? Why did he kind of pick you out and put you in a position to be in a leadership role?
Marc Hebner: I think that I’ve always gone about my professional career in particular, very much from a place of positivity and motivation and not just for myself, but for the other team members that were around me.
So, even going back to when I was an individual contributor, if somebody new came into the organization, I would go sit down with them and I would explain to them, “these are the things that have worked for me,” and “this is some of the fear that you’re going to have to overcome,” and “these are the challenges that you’re going to have to be faced with and here’s how you overcome those,” and really kind of coaching and mentoring someone that would be considered a peer in that role at the time. I think the general manager, I think he saw that in me and the ability to do that and the ability to lead by example at that level. The fact that I was a very positive and motivating individual, and I think he felt like those were some of the key pieces that would be important for whoever took this new role. I’ve never asked him that question, but I think that’s probably what he saw.
Dave Naylor: [00:44:10] So, Marc, to that point, you mentioned some of the things that you’ve done to keep yourself motivated, breaking things down into component pieces and looking for those little wins. Are there other things that you’ve learned or strategies that you use, either for yourself or across the team to keep things positive and kind of stoke that fire of motivation?
Marc Hebner: Oh, wow. I call it a cadence, Dave. I think with your direct reports, as well as the entirety of your team, you need to have a good cadence on all of this. I guess what I mean by that is, I’ve even caught myself doing it throughout my career where I’ll do some big whizzbang motivating thing that I think is going to get the engine started for these guys and get them moving in the right direction. What I’ve learned is that all of those are great things to do but that’s not really what leads ultimately to access. It’s smaller approaches on a day by day basis, both with your direct reports as well as with your team. Obviously, depending on how big your team is, it’s going to determine how often you can get that cadence in. But, I think just more a consistent presence of motivation, positivity, having conversations with them about what are they struggling with and how they can possibly overcome that. I think that’s an important piece that can get missed a lot of times and something that I’m very cognitive of and have learned here over the past few years.
Sean Johnson: I’m curious, Marc, we kind of talked about your first leadership role with Konica Minolta. How did you end up at NEC?
Marc Hebner: [00:46:17] So, yeah, I ended up leaving Konica Minolta for an opportunity that was available. NEC has a subsidiary called NEC Financial, and NEC Financial is a leasing arm within NEC. The copier industry is very much done on a lease finance sales process with the end customer. I had a lifelong friend that was working for NEC, and he saw this opening with it at NEC Financial and reached out to me and said, “Hey, I think you’d be a great fit for this role.”
I said “Well, I’m not really looking, but if it’s a better opportunity, I’m open to considering it,” and ended up interviewing for that role and ultimately coming to NEC Financial and built a very successful business within NEC Financial, too. Very similar story, I came into that role as the Central Region Account Manager managing the central part of the U.S. and again, the reason I was there is because my two predecessors had been underperforming.
So, they brought me in, tried to take a new approach at this, someone who had actually sold products, leveraging financing. I started engaging with the NEC’s channel partners, to teach them how to lead with financing and how it impacts their sales cycle and their sales process and quickly took that territory from what was producing single digit millions into the tens of millions within the first three or four years. That then ultimately led to that success being seen by actually my predecessor, the gentleman that had the job that I have now, and him tapping me and saying, “Hey, do you want to come into my organization? I’m building out a new team and I’d like you to come into that organization.” So, that’s what led to me moving over to this business unit, which is Enterprise Technology Unit, which is now the unit that I lead.
Sean Johnson: [00:48:25] So, you mentioned, one of the first things you did coming into NEC Financial was talking to and working with and kind of teaching a lot of NEC’s channel partners better ways to do things. What are some of the things that you were coaching them on?
Marc Hebner: So, obviously, the basics of how to leverage financing to improve your likelihood of a win, but I think the differentiator for me was in the approach that I took, because I had actually done this before, I’d actually sold products and services, leveraging a monthly payment sell and this business that I’m in today, that’s a very different conversation then they were used to traditionally. They were traditionally used to what we would consider more of a project based sell cycle, right? Multimillion dollar projects that are being deployed for customers. Where I would go in and talk to them, “Hey, here’s how you can dwindle that multimillion dollar conversation down to a least common denominator,” which is maybe $20,000 a month and how that message is easier to push within a customer’s environment and more compelling and a lot easier for them to justify, which will ultimately lead to more success and quicker sell cycles. So, I think that approach ultimately is what led to it being so successful as I’d actually done it before and I could show them how to do it. Again, not just tell them what to do, but show them how to do it.
Dave Naylor: That ties back to something we talked about earlier in our conversation: innovation. So many organizations, they want to innovate. But they’re ultimately chained to their legacy way of doing things. It’s not for a lack of a better strategy or better ideas or any of those things. Oftentimes they get chained to the legacy way of doing things because they can’t get people to open their minds and give themselves permission to look at it from a different perspective or to let go of the way that they’ve always done it. So, I’m curious, Marc, so you stepped into that kind of traditional sales pathway where they’re looking at things from a project basis and you’re going down a totally different route. How did you get those people to open their minds to doing something different or approaching the sales cycle from a different perspective?
Marc Hebner: Again, you really have to show them. I guess what that means by show them is, I think a lot of people are good, my predecessors had been good at, “Hey, here’s how I can tell you how to get to this monthly payment. Here’s how you can answer the questions that a CFO might ask around the difference between cap ex and op ex transactions and what that means to them on their balance sheet and amortization, depreciation and different section 179 depreciation codes and what that means to their business.” We were very good at telling them all of that, but we didn’t really show them. So, I would actually go sit down with the partner, with an end customer from start to finish in the sell cycle and walk them through that cell cycle. You wouldn’t have to do that too many times before the rep caught on very quickly that “this is much easier than how I’ve been doing it traditionally,” and really they saw it as an opportunity that they could then improve themselves and improve their business. But, they had to be shown how to do it. That answers your question, Dave.
Dave Naylor: [00:52:16] Yeah, absolutely.
Sean Johnson: [00:52:19]So, Marc, as an executive in the technology space, that’s an industry that obviously is changing very rapidly and that’s kind of the nature of it. It seems to be speeding up, this pace of innovation seems to be speeding up faster and faster every year. How does that affect your role as a leader and maybe what you’re talking about to your employees or your teams, the messages that you’re relaying to them?
Marc Hebner: Very interesting question. So, I have a mantra within my organization that we need to be in startup mentality. What I mean by that is, Dave alluded to it in the beginning of this session here, that NEC is 120 year old company, $30 billion global giant with amazing technologies, over 100,000 employees, but what can happen in an organization of that size, scope, and scale in that many years of history, of experiences and processes and how they go to market and how they approach their business, is it can very much get into the mud, if you will, on “This is our process and this is how we go to market and this is how we’ve always done it and this is how we need to keep doing it going forward because it’s how it’s always been done.” Coming into this role, and actually my prior role as sales director, I started having these conversations with my team members about looking at their world differently and not view yourself as working for a $30 billion, 120 year old company, but looking at yourself more as working for a startup. When you put yourself in that frame of mind, what it encourages you to do is to try new things. That’s what startups do. That’s what they’re so good at. They work in small teams and they’re able to reiterate processes very quickly. They’re willing to fail and learn from it and move on and adapt and change and try new things. That’s really the culture that I was trying to build because we needed new ideas within our business. We needed new innovative approaches to the marketplace, new innovative technologies. So, very much pushing on that message within my team, I think has been a very important thing for us to focus on.
Sean Johnson: When you see there’s so many companies, as you mentioned, that are of that size and have been around for that long that they fall into the bureaucratic trap of kind of resting on their laurels and kind of being in preserve mode as opposed to trying to reinvent themselves.
You see that with companies like Kodak and Xerox, just here in here in Rochester are shells of what they used to be as a result.
Marc Hebner: Yeah, absolutely. Again, going back to the dwindling it down to the lowest common denominator, I’ll do that with the sales team members, dwindled down to their number, instead of looking at the $30 billion number and dwindle it down to, “Okay, if that’s your number, what does that mean to you? How does that break out over 12 months? Now we’re dwindling down to just a monthly number, here’s how possible that number is to achieve. If we just look at things differently and try things differently, here’s what it would mean to you from a professional growth standpoint and a compensation standpoint,” and really get down to the smallest component that we possibly can to keep everybody just focused on what we can control is what I’m trying to do.
Dave Naylor: Obviously, every team will be more successful if they’re more innovative. If they’re willing to iterate. If they step back and they move in a more entrepreneurial or startup type fashion. I think inherently that it will appeal to a lot of leaders as they’re listening to this, I’m curious because not every organization is necessarily as receptive to that. How do you create, I’m curious if you have any advice for folks, how do you create a startup mentality in a large corporation that maybe doesn’t necessarily encourage that or maybe in some ways even discourages it, not necessarily directly, but indirectly. So, what advice would you give to other leaders who are saying, “Yeah, I want my team to have more of a startup mentality, but I just don’t know how to do it, inside of this big corporate shell”?
Marc Hebner: Well, the first thing I would say is every organization’s different. So, your process and approach I think is going to be different. I can only speak to what I’ve had success with here. It’s a very complex situation and road to navigate, Dave, as I’m sure you’ve seen in other organizations and I would bring it back to me personally as the leader of this organization, I have to hold myself accountable to being willing to fail. It means I have to take chances, but they have to be calculated chances and I have to be willing to deal with the consequences of it being a bad decision and being able to live with that and being able to learn from it and adapt and change and move on. That’s a piece that I think gets missed quite a bit. If you are going to build a new organization, if you are going to try new things, that starts with you. You can talk about it with your team members, but you have to approach your business different as an individual and as a leader within the organization. But then you get to the component, Dave, that you mentioned, us being such an old organization, such a large organization, having that conversation up within the organization to make it make sense. Fortunately, we have a global leader that has been brought into our organization from GE that was trained, coached, mentored by Jack Welch, a very inspiring leader within our organization. That’s really helped with some of this different view of how we approach our business. But, I don’t directly report to that individual, but it has created the right culture to have the right conversation within our organization and really when I look up to my boss and to my boss’s boss to have some of these discussions. The only thing that I can say that makes it possible is, you better be prepared. You better have the answers on contingency scenarios. If this doesn’t work, what is your next step and how are you going to adapt? You better have your information together and a really strong plan in place. I think most leaders are willing to take risks as long as it’s framed from the context of, “This can’t be your only plan. There has to be an option B and an option C even possibly, if this doesn’t work out.” So, that’s kind of the approach that I take is to make sure that all of that is now down prior to approaching this conversation with my leadership.
Sean Johnson: Yeah. I think that’s kind of a, a strategy that you see a lot of entrepreneurs, Richard Branson is one that comes to mind, have a similar approach where they’re willing to take the risk, but they spend a lot of time and energy on the contingencies and on mitigating the downside. So, they can put themselves in a position where they won’t lose their shirt if everything does go wrong, it puts them in a much stronger position to try new things.
Marc Hebner: Absolutely. So, it’s risk versus reward for sure. What’s the best that could happen and what’s the worst that could happen? Kind of weighing those options.
Sean Johnson: Absolutely. So, Marc, you’ve had success in kind of instilling this startup mentality and this motivated culture within your team. What kind of results have you seen from that?
Marc Hebner: [01:01:22] So, we’re a very different organization today than we were when I came into this role. So, to me that’s an example of building the right kind of culture. What I mean by different is, I make the comment all the time that we’ve changed more in the past year than we have in the previous 50 and I don’t just say that as a tagline.
It’s true. We’ve developed new processes. We’re using different solutions and different go to market strategies than we’ve ever used before. We’re leveraging different platforms that make us more effective, more efficient, that help us engage with our end customer more closely and not always rely on the channel to communicate our message to the end customer. We’re engaging with our channel partners more closely than we have ever before. We’ve instituted new training that we’ve never done before. New sales training, new leadership training. So, just very new approaches to the business, while at the same time, keeping a lot of those elements that are core to who we are and who we’re very good at. I think that’s important, too. Every organization has a culture and not all of that culture is bad and not all of it’s good and you need to take those parts that are good and then kind of adapt and change those elements that maybe need to be changed a little bit. When you ask, what have you changed in order to develop that culture and that startup mentality? It’s a long list of a lot of little things that are starting to create the right environment to approach our business differently.
Sean Johnson: Yeah and it seems like you’re seeing the positive benefits of that in terms of growth.
Marc Hebner: Yes. So, we’re very much moving from what you would constitute as an appliance based proprietary system that we’ve been selling to our customers for many years, and we’ve been rock solid in that business and number one, global leader in market share in that business.
But as you know, business is adapting to the cloud and customers more want to consume those applications that have them maybe on their premises. That is a massive shift and not just from a sales standpoint, but also from a solution standpoint and how you approach the market.
But we’ve taken just within this past year, what had really been a business that was at the ground level and just getting started, to a business today that we’re doing several million dollars’ worth of business in and we’re growing at 47% year over year. So, our growth rate and what we call our universe blue platform, which is our cloud platform, has just been exponential. I think it’s been looking at the market and looking at our opportunity much different and how we engage in the market and how we work internally that’s got us to that point. But, we are forecasting explosive growth here in our 2020 and beyond, and could not be more thrilled about where we are and where we’re headed.
Dave Naylor: Marc, one of the questions that I know I get asked a lot when I’m working with different organizations, and I’m curious your perspective, as you stepped into the role where you’re running the enterprise channel, you mentioned that in the course of the last year, you’ve changed more than you did in the previous 50 years. You’ve shaped the culture in a way that obviously has done phenomenal things to the growth of the organization. Invariably as you’re driving change though, you’re going to have, it’s kind of “marketing 101,” you’ve got your early adopter employees who to them, when you came into the role, it was a breath of fresh air.
This is what they’ve always wanted. They see a bright light at the end of the tunnel and they’re excited about the opportunity. Then you’ve got people who are kind of sitting on the fence who are sitting there saying, “Well, let’s see if this is really true, if they’re going to revert back to the traditional way we’ve always done things.” Then you end up with the folks on the other side of the fence who dig in their heels and they just want to keep doing things the same way that they’ve always done them. They fight and they put up the resistance. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s a little more passive aggressive. I’m curious if there’s anything that you’ve discovered that seems to have brought the people on the fence onto your side and any strategies or how did you look at those folks who were on the other side of the fence and, and just say, “These people, I don’t know if I can convert them.” How do you make those determinations?
Marc Hebner: [01:06:45] Yeah, that’s a tough one, Dave. It’s another question that I don’t think that there’s any one answer to. I think everybody’s going to have a bit of a different approach on that. I think though, foundationally it starts with vision. Where are we headed? Why are we headed there? Why is it important? Why is now the right time? Why are we the right organization to chart this path with? I think an important element of a leader is to provide that vision on where we’re headed, and why. As far as the individual team members, I kind of view it as like a spectrum, right? Your entire team will fall somewhere on that spectrum. You’ve got your team members that are gung ho. They understand where your headed, what you’re doing, highly motivated to get there, understand what their places within the organization, in driving towards an end goal. It goes from a spectrum then backwards to those individuals who maybe don’t see any of that and don’t see their place within the organization and don’t know how they can ultimately get to where they need to go. I think this kind of goes back to the accountability thing too.
It’s my job to continue growing those at the top end of the spectrum that are moving in the right direction and then change and adapt those who maybe don’t see that vision and aren’t aligned with it to help them ultimately get there. Unfortunately, there is going to be a time where that doesn’t work for some individuals. They’re not going to be able to get to where you need them to be for various reasons. Maybe they don’t want to take the journey with you, or maybe they don’t see your vision and therefore they can’t get themselves to where they need to be. But again, I bring that back to accountability too and wanting everybody to be successful. Unfortunately, being a leader in any role, you have to separate sometimes from some team members. Maybe there’s just not a spot within your organization for them based on how the organization has changed and moved in a different direction. But, if you look at it from the standpoint of, you’re ultimately accountable to that person’s success, well, maybe their success is not within your organization.
I think, especially when you have an organization that has been around as long as ours has, sometimes I think that there can be an opportunity for somebody elsewhere, if maybe they’re not aligned to the direction, the new direction that the organization and the path that you’re taking it on. For those individuals, it probably doesn’t feel like you’re making decisions that are in their best interest. But trust me, I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights looking at some individuals and having to make very difficult decisions. Ultimately, I feel confident in knowing that those decisions always came from the standpoint of trying to put them in a better position for the skill set and based on the direction that they’re wanting to go with.
Dave Naylor: I remember, you had mentioned that one of the executives in the organization came from GE and mentored under Jack Welch. I remember back in, I’m trying to remember the exact specifics of it, but as I recall, they had a four box grid that they basically looked at people through this lens of, and it related back to their performance evaluations and how they determined if somebody was onboard or not onboard. I remember, I think it was in the first box, it was people who were strong performers and they bought in to the vision and the culture of the organization. Welsh said that, “I’ll do anything in my power to perpetuate those people’s success. In my second box, I’ve got people who they don’t buy in and they don’t perform and those were pretty easy determinations to make. They had to go and they could go find success someplace else. In my third box, I’ve got people who buy into the culture and they buy into the vision. But they’re inconsistent performers and that’s where I will coach and mentor and train, and I’ll do everything in my power to perpetuate those people’s success because they buy into the vision and they buy into the culture. Then in the fourth box, that’s the toughest box because it’s the people who, they’re strong performers, but they don’t necessarily buy in to the culture or the vision of where we’re looking to go. The hardest decision I had to make was what to do with those people in that fourth category. I tried to sway them and get them on board, some of them I could. But others, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get them on board. Ultimately, I had to let them go because for everything that I was trying to do to move the team in a positive direction, those people were fighting against.”
Marc Hebner: [01:12:14] Yeah, absolutely. Well, of course, Jack Welch and you described it much better than I did. That’s very similar methodology. Frankly, I didn’t get that one from Jack Welch, so I’m actually patting myself on the back a little bit. I feel a little bit better about myself about, that’s interesting. But no, you’re right, Dave. Anytime you have change within an organization, culturally, how you’re approaching your market, change causes disruption and that can be very challenging sometimes. So, I couldn’t agree more with Jack on that group that you just outlined. Like I said in admitting to spending sleepless nights evaluating those team members and having to make difficult decisions and you’re exactly right. That is the box, if you will, that Jack identified that is the absolute hardest decisions to make, but it has to be made.
Sean Johnson: Well, Marc, you’ve had an incredible journey. So, I want to thank you for taking the time to share your story with us from going to A single mom who’s a first generation immigrant to, you’re now at a major executive at one of the biggest companies in the world that has explosive growth coming out of your part of the organization. So, the final kind of question I wanted to ask you is, if there was a one piece of advice or even a few pieces of advice that if you could travel back in time and give to your, say 18 year old self, what would they be?
Marc Hebner: [01:14:13] Ooh, that’s an interesting one. I would say be kind to yourself. If there was going to be one piece of advice, it would be that. I think we spend a lot of time as individuals talking to ourselves in the negative and that is very destructive.
I try hard to talk to myself very positively, and I think it makes a huge difference that I try hard to be mindful of it from the standpoint of hearing myself when I’m talking negative, either about others or about myself. I try to be cognitive of that and quickly try to snap back.
But most importantly, be kind to yourself. I mean, if you’re looking for an opportunity for somebody to tell you you’re not good enough, you’re never going to amount to anything, you’re never going to become anything. You can’t do something, you can’t be successful. There’s 8 billion people in this world that will be happy to tell you that. So, you might as well just be kind to yourself because there’s plenty of people out there that that will not be kind. So, be kind to yourself, I think would be my advice.
Sean Johnson: [01:15:33] Love that. Love that. All right, Marc. Well, thanks for taking the time to hang out with us today and maybe we’ll do this again sometime.
Marc Hebner: Awesome. Thank you guys. Bye. Bye.
*Episode transcription edited for clarity
00:01:33- Marc’s Childhood and Upbringing
00:05:20- Marc’s Mother’s Amazing Journey
00:11:47- Marc’s Role Models and Mentors
00:13:51- Learning What Not To Do
00:17:49- Being Vulnerable For Your Team
00:20:34- The College Years
00:24:44- The Early Days Of Sales
00:28:07- Changing Career Paths
00:29:50- Small Wins
00:32:49- First Leadership Role
00:36:01- Shifting Mindsets
00:42:19- The Perfect Fit
00:44:10- Keeping Things Positive
00:48:25- Coaching & Opening Up Minds
00:52:19- Innovation and The Startup Mentality
01:01:22- Seeing Results
01:06:45- Making Difficult But Right Decisions
01:12:14- The Four Boxes
01:14:13- Marc’s Advice to His Younger Self