Russ: This is the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. It's guest time on the show and I'm very pleased to have with me today Flip Flippen, founder and chairman of the board of the Flippen Group. Flip, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.
Flip: Thanks, Russ. It's good to be here.
Russ: All right, well let's start at the top. Tell us about the Flippen Group.
Flip: We're primarily an organizational development company and we work in four areas. The first obviously is our education work. We're the largest educator training company in the country and we have a real high commitment to public schools, teachers, those systems; and we work heavy in organizational development in companies, executive development, talent benchmarking, gap analysis, private equity. - Just helping guys put the right people in the right spot, doing the right things.
Flip: We do that in the government space.
Flip: We do all the executive development for the Army Corps of Engineers, do a bunch of stuff with DoD; and this is a little different but I've got a bunch of guys deployed in Afghanistan right now in advanced special weapons testing in primarily Black Ops or secret operations. And then we do player development for the Yankees, the Mets, Diamond Backs, Padres, Cowboys as of a few months ago. I got Word Series ring a couple of years ago, that was nice.
Russ: Wow, player development for the Cowboys. You mean you get out there and block and tackle with them?
Flip: Oh, yeah, that's what I do.
Russ: Well my goodness, what a diverse business. I think there were four sectors there. Which one is the biggest for you?
Russ: Okay, education. Education in public schools?
Flip: Yeah, primarily public schools, yeah. We work a lot with administrators and then teachers and, you know, the whole thing is driving performance in the classroom. We see great gains in those schools all across the country.
Russ: Right. How in the world, I mean when you hear the debate these days on education, how can you possibly come up with a way that you can just show up at a school and say, "Guys, you need to do it this way. You need to focus on this?"
Flip: I think, Russ, first you've got to realize that all of our faculty in education, they're all educators, and they've been there and they've done it and they've used our processes, and I'm not one to bash school today. We've got phenomenal teachers and administrators out there, and sure we've got people that don't perform too but every organization's got that. But I think they need a process that is in line with the times and also with the demographics that we're serving today. Kids are different. I mean, this is a different country than it was 30 years ago.
Russ: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. And so do you go in and contract with school districts, with specific schools, with principals?
Flip: Yeah, yeah, all of that. We do campuses, districts. In some cases we'll do region-wide things, in very large and very small systems.
Russ: I can see where you might come into a very poor performing school and help them, but do you come into medium and maybe even high-performing schools too?
Flip: Oh yeah, yeah.
Russ: You help them all? Wow.
Flip: Yeah, last week, I mean just up the road here at Cy Fair, I gave a keynote here just last week but Cy Fair's a phenomenal district but those guys, they're obsessed with being great. I mean they always are raising the bar. I'm excited for them.
Russ: Okay, well, that's really neat. Now, you mentioned this special thing in Afghanistan. Tell me a little more about that because I did some homework but that one surprised me.
Flip: Well, in this case I really would have to shoot you. No.
Russ: Well, forget it.
Flip: No, it's an interesting thing, Russ, because there are certain let's say weapons or products or life-preserving products that the war fighter needs, but they need to be tested before they're deployed. So the government or companies will come to the Pravious Group, which is one of our companies, and ask if we can do testing, and that group are extremely sophisticated at what they do. A lot of them are former special forces and that sort of thing.
Russ: Wow. So do you wear cavalier and take a few bullets just to make sure it works?
Flip: No, no, but I will tell you that we did a project here about a year ago when we had to shoot close to some engineers. When I say "we" it wasn't me. It was those guys, they're unbelievable. So we put these engineers in a hole and from a long ways away, shot to them, and they'd never had that experience before., but it worked.
Russ: What a fascinating business. Now, how did you get that job to study this thing that's going on? It's going on actually in Afghanistan or it's preparing for Afghanistan?
Flip: Well actually this is - and I really can't talk a whole lot about it - but the things that we can tell is that there are things that need to be deployed to support the war fighter. Our job in that side, inside the Pravious Group, is bringing that war fighter home safe. That's all we care about. That's the main thing.
Russ: Now you're calling it the Pravos Group?
Russ: Pravious, and so they specialize in defense?
Flip: Yeah. Yeah. We also do, one of the other things we do, we do the ethics training at West Point through that group, and so it's a diverse group. We have a lot of fun.
Russ: Boy, I'll tell you. I'll tell you. Now how many employees do you have today?
Flip: We've got about 260 in our company.
Russ: Okay. And how many of them are at headquarters, which I understand is in College Station, Texas.
Flip: Oh, probably 30 or 40 of them. I don't remember ever counting them. They're spread out.
Russ: Wow, and so from there you kind of?
Flip: No, we just opened an office in India and we've got some stuff we do in France. The Indian operation is doing very nice. I'm really happy about that.
Russ: My goodness, so helping these professional athletes, I mean, you don't have people that cross boundaries, and one day they're trying out some new armor and the next day they're working with the pitcher of the Yankees?
Russ: It's all specialized.
Flip: Yeah, they're very specialized. You know, we've got a guy, like Brad McCoy, and Brad and Deborah obviously, fathered Colt and Chance and Case, but Brad heads our Sports Group so he's very good at that. Scott Centala is out in Seattle. He's a former pro-ball player, runs our pitching group.
Russ: Okay. So how did you get started in that direction?
Flip: It's just things we're interested in. You know, I'll tell you honestly, Russ, it's a fascinating thing, but you know because we work in education and kids are really my passion. I mean, I love seeing young people do well, but kids look up at all these celebrities and these athletes and so I went and started gathering behavioral data on them and identifying high-character, high-principled, high-performing, elite athletes, and so then you come along and your son says, "Well gosh, I want to be like so-and-so." I want to be sure that so-and-so is a high-quality person that your son's trying to emulate, and it goes a long way when you say to kids that, "You know, that's what we do is grow those guys, therefore we also know how to grow you," and it captures them, and then we also have different opportunities for them to interact, maybe online or through Twitter or different things like that.
Russ: Okay. Okay, now I can't leave the sports thing behind. Tell me what you exactly do for these people. I mean, I think you used the word "development."
Russ: Well, what kind of development?
Flip: Well, let me give you an example. Let's say that there's a team that just went through the Combine NFL, they did all their scouting and that sort of thing. Well in some cases, we would sit in with the scouting reports, the data that we run. It's all behavioral-based data that we run on executive and everybody. And then form that data we can tell you where the risk factors are, for example were they rule-respecting? Is their self-confidence too high? Are they going to come on that team and be arrogant or cocky or the prima donna?
Russ: And how do you know that? Through testing?
Flip: Yeah, we run behavioral metrics on them. We've run behavior metrics on tens of tens of thousands of people. We've literally, Russ, literally studied the top performers in all kinds of industries all over the world, and so we've got very heavy data. - Like entrepreneurs, we were talking about before the show.
Russ: You have behavioral data on entrepreneurs.
Flip: That's right. So you look at an athlete and you say, "Is this kid going to fit into this team? Is he a match for this team?" because he could be a phenomenal athlete but not a fit for that team, and y'all have seen that in cases. I can't talk about names but we see that happen.
Russ: Sure. Wow. You make actual recommendations if a team is considering somebody, whether to even take them or not?
Flip: Sure. Sure. Sure.
Russ: Do they listen to you?
Flip: I think that's what we get paid for.
Russ: All right. That is so cool.
Flip: If it wasn't working, we probably wouldn't be getting paid.
Russ: Okay, well let me move off the athletes then. Tell me what you've discovered about entrepreneurs?
Flip: Oh, my gosh. Well, I am one first.
Russ: That's right.
Flip: And let me tell you, you know, I'm what's called a serial social entrepreneur. One is that I don't like just creating businesses. I want to create businesses that have a social purpose, that serve some greater good. I mean, that's extremely important to us and so there are a lot of businesses we probably wouldn't do. They're great businesses but they wouldn't be a fit for us. So when you look at entrepreneurs, what are kind of the five or six behavioral things that define them? High self-confidence.
Russ: Oh, yeah. It's important.
Flip: Every one of them has high self-confidence. The problem is if it's too high, then they think they're bullet-proof and they swear they're absolutely right, rightest guy that ever hit the planet and this is a brilliant idea - it won't work, you know. So self-confidence; and then we talk about aggressiveness, competitiveness, this ability to take a risk to step out and do something, and if your self-control scales, which are different, if they're too high, you may have great self-confidence and you may be very competitive, but you won't ever take the step. Your self-control is too high. But on the other side, if it falls below 20, you're going to take a step every 30 seconds, literally. You'll be creating and spinning off some idea, and when I was younger as an entrepreneur, I certainly was guilty of that.
Russ: Okay. So wait, when you said when you use this exact number, if you're below 20, that means that you have entrepreneurial behavior studies and data on entrepreneurs.
Flip: That's right.
Russ: How many about?
Flip: Oh, lots. Lots. I mean, I can't even begin to tell you because we've run data on so many startup organizations, new organizations, young growing companies, and even here just if we look at just at Houston, which is where we are today, you know there are a lot of very successful entrepreneurs here but there are also a lot of them that have made it and blown up, and the reason they make it and blow up, if it's not some catastrophic economic event, is usually tied to their own personal constraints. They're either not good listeners, they absolutely think they're right all the time, they take unassessed risk, and you know the idea of somebody jumping out the window, that's a risk but it's also suicide, you know. It's not the making of a good entrepreneur.
Russ: That's right. That's right. But so, I mean, could you assess somebody and predict with a high degree - it's always seemed to me, Flip, like there's so many variables in starting a company and building a team and choosing a market and having an economy, and there's luck involved too. And I think I've interviewed more than a thousand, and the more I interview the more I say, "Well, there's no way to predict," but you say there is, right?
Flip: Well, Rush, you know you're right about so much of that. The thing that we look at is behavioral capacity so for example if you said, "I'm going to go do x," all right, and I can't tell you whether or not x is going to work but I can tell you whether or not you have the behavioral capacity, the behavioral ability to execute x, and that's the issue. Like we'll see people all the time that they'll say, "He's an underachiever. He just hasn't found his passion yet," but that's not what the data says. What the data says is that if you're a low achievement-drive person and you find your passion, you're going to be a passionate under-achiever. You're going to be an artist that doesn't paint, a writer that doesn't write.
Russ: Okay. I think I've seen some of that too, actually.
Flip: Yeah, we all have.
Russ: Okay. Okay, so when you're talking about behavior with entrepreneurs, explain that to me.
Flip: Well, let me tell you what we did, Russ. We started realizing that so many people, they rise to the level of their gifts and talents. So like you right now, you're at this level. My contention is --
Russ: I think I'd down here.
Flip: Ah, I don't know. I think that our strengths and talents only take us so far. I think it's our constraints that determine the ultimate level of success because they're what hold us back and that's what intrigues me. I mean, you stop and think about it. Look at the guys Enron, that wasn't their strengths and talents that got them, that was their constraints. Look at Tiger Woods. It wasn't his strengths and talents that got him. It was his constraints, and we can go down a long, long list of that. So we built behavioral models to assess personal constraints, and that's where we came up with the concept and the idea.
Russ: Okay, so let's say that you were working with somebody and you, through this process, found their constraints. What do you do then? Do you tell him or her, "Okay, here are your constraints?"
Russ: What's an example? I mean, I know the examples you just used but how do they overcome them?
Flip: Well, let's just talk about low self-control. That's an easy one. Okay, raise your self-control. Now the question is how do you do that? Now, I'll tell you one that's harder, it's if you have real high self-control.
Russ: Okay, if that's your constraint.
Flip: That's right. It's harder to deal with that than it is low self-control. Now, here's why, because high self-control, if you let go of that, it implies failure. It implies risk-taking. It implies embarrassment. Something could go wrong. You could not be in control of things and so what we do is set in place very specific behavioral things that you execute because I think your behave your way into a new way of thinking. I don't think you think your way into a new way of behaving. And so if you want to change something - if you have low self-confidence, this is easy - teach you poise, presence, hand-shake, eye contact, posture, how to present yourself. So there are all kinds of things that you can move from a behavior point of view; and personality theory, it doesn't touch any of those kind of things, and neither does strength theory.
Russ: Okay. Well I imagine, and sort of knowing you the way I know particularly after this, that you see people with these constraints and have these programs and coaching them through them and see success.
Flip: Yep, we do. We have a lot of fun. We really do.
Russ: Cool. All right, so let's to back to the very beginning. What was it that triggered the idea for the Flippen Group? Did you have a vision in the very beginning that's playing out perfectly, or have there been a lot of twists and turns?
Flip: Yeah. Yeah. Let me tell you about combat. It's the same thing as business. Your strategy lasts about the first 30 days and you're constantly adapting and changing to all kinds of factors - opportunities, doors that open, economic conditions. But for me, the driver - and you know, I'm a psychotherapist by training, and now I've overcome most of that, just to be safe.
Russ: Good. Congratulations.
Flip: Yeah, well it makes it safe for you, for sure.
Russ: Right. Right.
Flip: But the thing, I just want people to be better. I want them to fulfill this capacity, the ability that they have, and that's really been the driver for me. It doesn't matter who it is, we think we can help them be better, and that's our tagline is "Bringing out the Best in People."
Russ: And is that where it all started?
Flip: Yeah, that's it. I want to see kids do well. I worked with gang kids for 16 years. In fact, Russ, I was in New York last week on the floor of the Stock Exchange and all of that, and some guys asked me, "How'd you come from working with gang kids to working with Wall Street?" And I got tickled. I said, "Guys, not a lot of difference. You all just dress better."
Russ: I thought you were going to say some of your former kids were there on the floor.
Flip: Oh, they could be, because - and that's what we saw. I saw so many kids that were going the wrong way but they were such high-potential kids, phenomenal kids, you know, and so it's been fun over the years to watch them do well and graduate and start companies and businesses and things.
Russ: Really cool, and you've been doing this now for how many years?
Flip: Oh, a long time. This company's been in existence 22 years.
Russ: 22 years, all right.
Flip: Yeah, and then we've bought companies and added to it, and started some others and sold them and things.
Russ: Okay, well after 22 years, I don't know, you might think, "Man, I'm successful. I've succeeded. That's it." But I don't think that's the case.
Russ: What would you like the company, the Flippen Group, to be like 10 years from now?
Flip: Better. That's what I want. Every day - I think about that every day, how can I be better? I mean, I gave a keynote yesterday and two last week, but every day I think, "How can I be better? How can my team be better? How can we serve more people in a better way?"
Russ: Okay, that's really cool. All right, now before I let you go, my last question here, let's imagine that there's a young, aspiring entrepreneur tuned in right now, really fascinated by what you've said - what kind of general advice would you give him or her?
Flip: Hmm. Now get some good mentors.
Russ: Good mentors.
Flip: That is the best thing.
Flip: Finding somebody that has been there and done it, and I know that you're young and I know you're just full of yourself and totally think you can do it, but you have to understand - and I just said this to some young entrepreneurs the other day - the truth is you still are just dumber than dirt, and like it or not, you've got all these ideas but you've got to walk through this. Get somebody to walk with you in that process because ignorance is easy to overcome. Arrogance is really tough.
Russ: Okay. Well, Flip, I really appreciate you coming in and sharing your story with us.
Flip: Ah, thanks, Russ. Yeah, it's a treat.
Russ: All right, that's Flip Flippen, the founder and chairman of the board of the Flippen Group. This the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com.