An Interview with John Lacy, CEO of Idea Grove

by Jerome Knyszewski
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John Lacy, president & COO of Idea Grove, talks about how to take a company from good to great

John Lacy is the president and chief operating officer at Idea Grove, and he brings to the tasks his vast experience as an executive, having spent more than twenty-three years “in operations and information systems with private & public companies and a multi-national consulting firm.” This experience has also given him the “proven ability to build and lead high performance teams.”

As an executive, John Lacy has acquired knowledge and experience in “team leadership, strategic planning & tactical execution, continuous process improvement, transformational change, international business operations, startup and turnaround businesses” and “crisis management.” He has also worked in “business development and account management, factory management & lean manufacturing, distribution & logistics operations, inventory planning and control” and “information systems and technologies.”

At Idea Grove, John Lacy runs a “public relations and marketing firm focused on B2B technology clients.” The company collaborates with a wide variety of clients, “from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 mainstays.” With Idea Grove, these brands can set themselves apart from the crowd, especially in “today’s noisy information marketplace.”

John Lacy also joins the “top tech PR firm in Texas” in 2017, as ranked by O’Dwyer’s, the leading industry publication. Prior to Idea Grove, John Lacy has also been COO of Imaginuity, and EVP & COO at Tandy Brands Accessories.

Check out more interviews with veteran executives here.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

John Lacy: Well, my father was a 30-year IBMer, therefore I have always had technology in my life way before it was commonplace to do so. After graduating from the University of Texas with a BBA in Management Information Systems, I started my career at Arthur Andersen as a technology and business process consultant. From there I proceeded into several positions as the head of technology for both public and private companies, across both start-ups and well-established organizations. I made the leap to operations after the successful turnaround and sale of a consumer goods company and have continued in a mix of IT and Operations ever since. After a stint running factory operations in both Mexico and the Dominican Republic, I returned to the US and re-entered the world of professional services but remaining in the operations side of the practice. Today I’m the president and chief operating officer of a Dallas-based unified PR and marketing agency for B2B technology companies.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

John Lacy: Actually, the hardest time I faced when I first got started was the interview process before I got started. With a younger brother and two younger sisters, a completely paid for education was not in the cards for me. Therefore, I worked my way through college to help my parents with the total cost of my education. This resulted in my grades not being the very best they could be. When it came time to graduate, I had a 4.0 in my major, but less overall. When I asked for an interview with Arthur Andersen, I was told that I was not their ideal candidate, but that didn’t stop me. The day that they were going to be on campus, I got up very early, put on my suit and tie, and went and sat outside of the interview room that they would be using all day. I was there before the recruiters even arrived. When asked if I had an invitation for an interview, I told them that I did not, but I would like an interview anyway. I sat outside of the interview rooms seeing candidates come and go. Not until the very end of the day, did they make time to see me. I guess I impressed them enough with my drive that they gave me a shot at a position, which has made all of the difference in my career! Since that time, I have used that drive to continue pursuing the things I wanted to do in my career, never letting someone else place a limit on what I knew I could learn and accomplish.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

John Lacy: Oh, I have made a TON of mistakes in my career! Apparently, I am the type of person who learns better from my mistakes than from formal education. One mistake that stands out early was thinking that I must have been really good at what I do to get the position at Arthur Andersen. I mean they only hired the cream of the crop, right? But on day-one I realized that I was most certainly one of the least intelligent persons at the firm. It was probably more lack of experience than lack of intelligence, but it certainly came across as full blown naivete in the ways of business. In either case, it was a very humbling experience. Once I realized that I did not know everything there was to know, I dove in and learned as much as I could, as quickly as I could. I realized that the feedback I received was provided to help me become better and as long as I took it that way, I would improve. This was the moment I made the life-long decision to take my ego out of my business life and continue to learn something new each and every day.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

John Lacy:

  1. How to build a cohesive team.
  2. How to create clarity throughout the organization
  3. How to develop “soft” leadership qualities
  4. How to establish and maintain the right culture
  5. How to educate the employees on the operations of the business

When I started at Idea Grove, I told the leadership team that our number one priority was to create clarity throughout the organization and that my number one priority was to build a cohesive leadership team to do so. I am a huge fan of Patrick Lencioni’s business fables and the organizational management he teaches through those fables. We started an executive book club and have read and discussed nearly every one of his fables. We continue with leadership development through this executive book club. In Q4 of 2020, we are reading a book about unconscious bias called Blind Spot. And, ironically for this interview, on the schedule for Q1 or Q2 of 2021 is Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.

Since I started at Idea Grove, just over a year ago, we have (re)implemented the Traction EOS as a way to operate the company, connect the team to company goals, communicate results, and ensure that we have a culturally-aligned team. We have implemented Open Book Management using the Great Game of Business methodology to educate the employees on how the business works, drive a higher level of engagement from our employees, and allow the employees to participate in the successes they create for the company.

We are starting to see the dividends from these investments as our team has the least amount of drama than ever before and our client work is at its highest output and quality.

Without these investments before and during the COVID-19 public health crisis, especially in the area of employee education around how the business is run, I would have expected that we might have had a lot of employee dissatisfaction when we froze raises and asked everyone to get involved in sales, to help get the company through the crisis. Instead, everyone has pitched in to help get the company through the crisis, and we did it without a reduction in staffing levels.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

John Lacy: If you have a business that caters to, or will cater to, people who have recently or will soon enter the workforce, having a social impact cause that the business supports will be an important item for recruiting and retention. The research has shown that the younger generations want to be part of a larger cause. At Idea Grove, we are that very type of company, hiring a lot of our workforce right out of college. We struggled for a couple of years, trying to find a cause that was both authentic to the company and appealing to the entire team. This year, we settled on Texas Trees Foundation, a group that organizes tree plantings in and around Dallas, Texas. This organization is both authentic to the culture of the company and is doing good in our own city. While COVID has wiped out our participation this year, we do look forward to being able to participate in events as soon as the public health crisis has passed. We expect this to help with internal teambuilding outside of the job, as well as for recruiting purposes going forward.

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

John Lacy: Have a system! Here at Idea Grove, we follow the Sandler approach to sales. Sandler emphasizes the building of relationships early in the process, and then to seek to quantify “the pain,” that driver that is causing the prospect to reach out. Positioned as a trusted business advisor, we then tailor each solution to meet the client’s needs and eliminate that pain, all the while continuing to establish the relationship with the prospect. Our sales process is a bit longer than most for that very reason, but I also believe it gives us a higher chance of winning the business.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

John Lacy: It is interesting that you asked about trust. Our founder, Scott Baradell, is nearing the end of a journey writing a book called “Trust Signals”. We believe building that trust is the foundation of all brand equity. There is a set of 77 (and growing) Trust Signals outlined on his website and in his book that a brand can implement to help reinforce their reputation in the marketplace. One of our key Trust Signals here at Idea Grove is public reviews. We are constantly asking for feedback from our clients and asking them to turn those into public reviews on review websites important to our industry.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

John Lacy: Quite ironically, as a company that provides social media services for our clients, I am not found on many social media channels. I can be found on LinkedIn, and you can also check out Idea Grove’s website and learn more about Trust Signals here.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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