The Power Of Masterminds: From CEO To Vistage Chair With Kurt Graves

by | Oct 31, 2023 | Podcast

FM 4 | Masterminds


Masterminds are the rocket fuel for entrepreneurial success. Welcome to an enlightening exploration of the dynamic world of mastermind groups, where we uncover the extraordinary potential they hold for catapulting your entrepreneurial journey to unparalleled heights. In this episode, we are privileged to be joined by Kurt Graves, an accomplished Vistage Chair who presides over a multitude of mastermind groups. Kurt’s role revolves around facilitating peer-to-peer learning and collectively addressing the formidable challenges that his clients encounter on their quest for success. Drawing upon his extensive experience working closely with countless entrepreneurs and franchise owners, he shares the driving forces behind their triumphs, often defying conventional expectations. Discover how the art of skillfully posing the right questions and ingeniously reframing opportunities or challenges can catalyze breakthroughs that transform your business endeavors. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain priceless insights into the secrets of success from a true expert, Kurt Graves. Tune in now.

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The Power Of Masterminds: From CEO To Vistage Chair With Kurt Graves

I am honored to have this man on. He’s a busy dude. He’s got a lot of wisdom to drop. Kurt Graves, welcome to the show.

I’m glad to be here.

Kurt has one of the most interesting businesses out there and I’ve worked with Kurt personally through his business. He’s a Vistage Chair who works with entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, and key leaders of all different types of businesses in the Charlotte North Carolina market. He has a unique vantage point as it goes into anybody who’s thinking about building their own business and anybody who’s in business now and is trying to get to the next level. Kurt coaches people through all the different stages and phases of business growth. Kurt, welcome.

Thank you. I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for persisting to get me here when I missed appointments and all those other things I did. I’m a fan. I’m happy to be here.

Kurt and I worked together. I was one of his clients in one of his Vistage groups. You and Vistage had an impact on me. The way that you went about it and the whole organization genuinely had an impact on my life. I appreciate you for that. We’re jumping ahead and talking about this Vistage thing and business coaching. Give the folks a quick intro about Vistage and a little bit about your journey and how you got to find yourself in the seat that you’re in.

Vistage is one of several peer-advisory core groups. We’re the oldest. This is decades old. It started when several business owners, decades ago, up in the Upper Midwest got together to start talking on a monthly basis about their businesses. They came together and at a round table would work on issues and opportunities they had. They began to bring in a speaker to some of those meetings and they realized along the way, “This is helping us to grow our business.” They filled up a group and another group, and so on.

Robert Nourse, one of our founders, said, “This is powerful and this is what I want to do,” so he started a company called Tech. That’s our predecessor name and it grew from there. Now we have 44,000 members globally and around the country. 600-plus people in the US do what I do. I’m a chair, which means I’m the group facilitator and coach. The CEO members and business owner members have coaching sessions with me and then they come together in a group. I facilitate a speaker in the morning and we work on their issues and opportunities in the afternoon. That’s a permanent ongoing process month after month.

It’s like a safe place for executives and business owners to come together to compare notes and talk about things that probably very few people can relate to.

They get their answers. Promises have made them come back. There’s this person I like and he says, “Nobody has ever spotted their own self-deception.” Michael Braithwaite said that. Vistage group is a way for CEOs and business owners to come together and get challenged about what they think they see and what they’re believing and see it differently. It’s powerful. It’s great.

FM 4 | Masterminds

Masterminds: A Vistage group is a way for CEOs and business owners to come together and get challenged about what they think they see and what they believe and maybe see it differently.


It is, and there’s a whole methodology that we can get into a little bit. Not too much sharing the secret sauce, but it is a very structured environment and cares like Kurt facilitates it, organizes it, and herd the cats coming together. There’s a lot of intention and thought that goes behind a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about. It’s great. For anybody who’s tuning in in the Charlotte market, number one, reach out to Kurt and talk about it. Wherever you may be in the country, there’s probably a Vistage chapter locally. It’s worth a conversation.

In the United States, there is a spot and, sometimes, many folks close to you don’t know. My journey was I was raised in a family of business owners. I had the great fortune of having a grandfather. This is my grandfather Bonnie’s handsaw. When he moved from Oklahoma to California before the Great Depression, his first job was in a sawmill. After that, he realized he was going to get killed if he stayed in sawmills so he became a painter. He had a painting contracting business. My grandfather on my father’s side of the family was a tombstone mason and my father followed his steps. He worked for him and took the family business. My father was a tile contractor, so I had the real blessing of growing up as a kid.

A real fun memory of mine is ten years old. My mother is trying to get me out of her hair on Saturday afternoon in the summer. She would take me out after her work. I would take my lunch box and my dad’s lunch box and I would sit with him and we’d eat lunch together. I drank tea, and he drank coffee, but it was identical otherwise. I got to be with him and absorb from him the jobs and a lot of the things that are important and the way I’ve found success in some of the ways. I probably found failure, too, and I can talk to my father. I absorbed a lot by growing up in a family work. They were entrepreneurs and that served me well too. Hat’s off to Bonnie, Jeffries, and Bill Graves.

It’s in your blood.

Yes, it is. A lot of times, we find people who want to be entrepreneurs or want to get out from doing whatever they’re doing and are looking at a franchise. They came from family so they came from places where they want to stretch their wings and maybe they feel like they’re not getting an opportunity to do that where they’re at. They can go back to what they learned a long time ago.

Is that how you got into the tile business?

Yes. My father was a tile setter. I worked for him. I worked between high school and college. I was not quite sure what I wanted to do. I would have been happy to go back and work for him, but he didn’t want that. He passed away during my senior college and my first stint after that was in public accounting, which taught me a lot. Also, I learned that I didn’t want to be a public accountant.

I was living in Tulsa at that time and there was a ceramic town manufacturer in Tulsa, of all places. I went to work as one of their first controllers. That’s how I got back into the tile business. We’re providing international companies that had manufacturing distribution in the US. I met all kinds of roles from finance operations and ultimately CEO of an organization in the US. I spent most of my career in the corporate world in tile, which is cool.

It’s a very humble story about a very successful career. How did you find your way into Vistage after running the corporate?

I have to be really clear. I learned a lot from the stakes. My first business jumping off in coming to Charlotte from Tulsa was a huge failure and more or less bankrupted us. It’s pretty painful, but you’ve heard the saying, “Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine yet, it’s not the end.” We persevered and we got through it. I stayed in the tile industry and found my way again and found my way better. I want to be clear that life is not a straight line up and to the left. It’s got some jag and tears to the bottom and below too. That’s where I’ve learned.

Life is not a straight line up and to the left. It's got some jag and tears to the bottom and below too. Click To Tweet

Would it be any fun if it was a straight line, Kurt?

No, it would not. I like some excitement. Even better, it did involve a number less than zero, too, just saying.

That’s fair. That’s where you learned.

My last gig was when I was a Business Union President for Orchid Ceramics. We were marketing the logistics for a company in Bogota Colombia called the Organizacion Corona. They still are. We designed products here and manufactured supplies in our facilities in Colombia, and then we imported and sold them to distributors all over the US. That was a startup. I have several experiences in startups. I have done three. I like to start things and run them once I have gone. It’s a little bit of both.

That was my last gig. After 2008, 2011, or 2012, somewhere there, I decided it was time to take a break from that and try to find something else. That was about heading in my mid-50s. I thought I’d been getting on planes and traveling 50%-plus of the time. It’s been fun. We were importing in Colombia, and there were some difficulties with the currency and being able to secure a clear vision for the future of that company. My services were no longer needed. I said, “I’m going to move on.” I took a year’s sabbatical. I took time off and cleared my head. I traveled around different places I’d wanted to go and got fit.

In the middle of that, I went back and said, “Things that are important to me is I love an adventure. I love to start things. I love to invest in people. I want to do something back. I want to make my living developing leaders and helping people to grow.” I learned about Vistage at that time. I had not been a Vistage member. I wish I had been. That would have been very helpful. I heard about this Vistage and I said, “I can do this.” I convinced them to let me try and so here I am, many years later, still doing it. It’s been a terrific thing. It came back around in a lot of ways for me. Being a coach is a lot about asking good questions, not being too smart, and asking a lot. That’s hard for a CEO and ex-CEO.

I wanted to tell people what to do. I remember, somewhere about the second or third year, I was in a meeting and some member was working on an issue with the group. They were coming to a conclusion and they made a commitment. As a group expected, they made a commitment to what they did for the next 30 days. I thought back in my mind, “That is a terrible idea. You wouldn’t know if it worked.” I was like, “There are more ways to do things in the way I do them.” I certainly started to grow and believe in the power of the group. My real gift was bringing awesome diverse groups of people together, getting the best out of them, and not being a smart guy anymore.

I can imagine it’s a hard transition from running the show, being the top dog or CEO, and then putting yourself into a room of other people who are running businesses of probably a smaller level than you were.

They could take some more. I remember I run companies that have $1 billion in revenue and some that have $1 million. They’re all humans. They’re all the same, but they’re all strong-willed and ambitious. It can be pretty tough to keep up with them, but it’s the best job in the world if you like.

Was there anything that you did to make that transition? I work with a lot of folks to get into something new. Whenever you get into something new, there is a transition and learning. It’s not going to be a linear change, even that little thing of being comfortable. Asking questions is a pretty significant part of what you do well. What was that transition like for you going from being the top dog to facilitating top dogs?

It was super difficult. I think that’ll apply to some of the folks that you work with. One thing that we’re saying is you’re used to getting a salary. Even if you’re a CEO, you’re going to get a salary. You don’t have real-world problems. You have platinum problems and then suddenly, you say, “I’m not going to go back to that. I’m going to start a new business where I’m only going to live off of what I kill on the runway to get back to where I was. it might be never or I don’t know.” It’s turned out great for me.

For a lot of people, you can’t check that at the door. You have to be like, “Do I want this bad enough? Do I have the runway to make it?” Quitting is not an alternative. I’m a big believer in calling. I was asked by one of the trainers, Bob Dabic, who’s an amazing person, “Kurt, we’re at the very end of the train, do you want to do this or not?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “What makes you think you’re going to succeed?” I was like, “I’m called.” He’s like, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure that’s good enough.” I was like, “It’ll be fine.” It was hard not having enough runway. It’s very practical, but it’s different to live for a year and take a sabbatical.

I’ve already been living off what I’ve saved and then say, “I’ll take another year,” and I’ll live off of what I’ve saved again because you have to turn your capital back into your business for some period of time. You then get to start spending the money that you’re making. It’s much easier to live spending money you made than spending money you’ve saved or invested. That was the hardest thing for me.

I walked away from the paycheck to a healthy one with a young family as a sole income provider for my kids when they were three years old. I don’t think you’re right about that one up as a potentially wise decision. It was different. I had a lot of conversations with Ali before we made the jump. I had to have the dry powder in the bank to be able to lean on. You got to find gratification from something other than money because the money comes, but it can’t be just about money. It’s got to be about something else whether you feel called or you’re trying to achieve something.

You can’t get working on what you were doing before. It’s the long game and you got to pull energy from the little wins as you start to mound them brick by brick. Eventually, you look back and you’re like, “I got that.” However, it’s head down and perseverance. It’s not for everybody, and not easy. I do believe that there’s a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.

There are tons of benefits on the back for those who persist and who know where they’re going. Another thing for me was everybody suffers, to some level, from the Imposter phenomenon. I’m not sure I call it a syndrome because I would imply it can be changed. It’s a phenomenon that we all deal with. When I began, people go to the franchise schools, they experienced the same. I walked into training in San Diego for my first set of training and I looked at the list of people on the sheet of paper. I was like, “I made the mistake of looking them all up on LinkedIn and google their companies. I thought these are amazing people. I made a huge mistake to invite them here. What were they thinking?” I walked in and I met them.

I was sure I was the worst person in the room. I met the first person who said that they wanted to work with me. I was sure they made a mistake and I realized they never had a coach and they didn’t know the difference between coaching sessions. Things for me are learning to be content to know that I did the best with what I had and not Imposter phenomena about the gap between where I’m at and where I think I should be. It’s shame-based. That could be external or it could be anything I projected. Maybe I’ve been in training with a guy like Bob Dabic. Now that’s my standard of what a coach should be like. I know I’m no Bob Dabic, but I have to do this in my personality. I have to do it my way. That takes a long time to get comfortable with it.

Everybody suffers on some level with imposter phenomena. Click To Tweet

I’m still not entirely comfortable with that, honestly. That’s a challenge. If you’re a franchisee and you start a business, people expect you to know what you think they expect you to know, and you just don’t know. One thing I love about the idea of franchising is that you’re not creating everything on your own. Part of the choice to be with Vistage was the focus on business, although we definitely work with the whole person because the person is the way they do things. I love the business focus. I love being a part of the big brand because it covers a lot of mistakes. They had a strong back office. There were a lot of things they could do to support me so that I could focus on what I wanted to do, which was have life-changing conversations with people.

FM 4 | Masterminds

Masterminds: An idea to love about franchising is that you’re just not creating everything on your own.


That was part of my choice. I worried less knowing they have a process. At that time, it was a 54-year-old company. I’m never going to figure this out the way they already have. I can dial into this and do it to the tune of my own personality. It’s terrifying because I was starting a number of side businesses, but I’d say I was very good in operations, culture, and marketing. We were selling ceramic tile products. The big distributors in a lot of it were about working capital, margins, and things like that. When you go out and you try if you’re going to go and do a service business, you will be selling essentially yourself.

I’m sure, in your role, you’re like, “I’m an expert.” Now you’re like, “What if they see through that?” I took it very hard when people would say, “I don’t get it. I’m not interested.” How can they not be interested? It’s selling. Still to this day, when I get a result, something outcome, or maybe a member after many years with me decides time to move on, we’ve decided to get a time going. I will take it hard for a day or two. Those are the hardest things for me jumping out on my own and starting my business. Can we talk about the benefits?

Before we get into the benefits, you earn the right to get in the room with the other people you were in the room with, however you saw yourself compared to the other people. Those are the rooms you want to be in, isn’t it? Put yourself in those rooms. It’s the spirit of Vistage in a way too. Get in the room with people that have some semblance of success. Maybe it’s not the exact success you want to have, but they’ve been through something that you have already gone through.

Have the ability to pick up the phone, call somebody, and think, “Have you ever run in this before? Can you help me through this or can we talk through this a little bit?” If they don’t know the answer, they can point you to somebody who has. The power of getting into those rooms can be intimidating to get into. It’s hard to even describe it.

Even people who have big companies will come into the Vistage room. I know they’re terrific leaders because, by that time, I’d spent a couple of hours with them, talking with them, coaching them, and preparing them. We’re working out together. A group might be a fifth form and then they come in the room and you’ll see the intimidation or the wobble. Everyone wants to be in that room. Even when there’s some Imposter phenomenon, you’ll say, “Here’s an idea. Get naked in here and tell us what’s going on because if you don’t, we’re going to tell you what we think is going on.”

You can sniff it if somebody is holding back. That’s part of the power of the process with the question answering and not telling. We’ll probably get into that a little bit but I do find Vistage so unique. You’re a successful CEO of a successful international company. Dave is your boss, CEO of some big ass company.

It’s Husqvarna.

Yes. You may have heard of it.

They took Husqvarna from a small peddler of being terrible. They weren’t small peddler but they were great. They were a direct-to-dealer company of tools and David took them to Lowe’s. It totally changed all the channel management and took them into a multi-billion-dollar business.

Kurt, you’ve had a ton of success in your career. It’s like, “Here’s the training. Go get some clients. Good luck.” What do you mean? How to get clients? You got to pick up the phone and start prospecting. The doors aren’t going to open? I got to think that was a little bit of a transition to earning your way into the doors that maybe previously had been opened a little bit easier at your level of success. It’s a fascinating model.

You’re selling a pure board in coaching which is something that nobody ever knows they need and they don’t know what it is. You’re honest and sometimes they’re morbidly curious at the start. You get doors open because people want to help you. Someone will say, “You need to talk to Drew.” Some will say, “I’m listening because Kurt told me I need to talk to Drew.” They then get in front of you and they show up.

It’s like, “I don’t even have it but if you show up and you’re interested to talk and listen to them about their business, really listen.” They walk and they will be amazed. When you do that, you earn the right to start asking questions that provide them with value. If you start providing value, they might want to hang out with you. They might think there’s something to it. Napoleon Hill’s quote, “The way to succeed fast is to help someone else to succeed.” We want to show up as coaches as providing a lot of value and not keeping score early because that’s what we’ll track people keep on coming back.

It’s when you make the magic happen and help somebody by asking questions. You’re not even giving them the answer. You help facilitate a way for people to find clarity and answers that they’re having a hard time seeing themselves. It’s interesting.

In a Vistage room group setting, which is where the magic is, it can happen anywhere. It is amazing that maybe somebody is bringing up an issue or somebody is listening to different member hosts every month. The members share their stories or journeys of how they started their company and got to where they are. It’s sitting in the room, listening, and hearing your own struggle or opportunities in the words of somebody else that creates the shock that gets you go, “Yes.”

Somebody who couldn’t see something before with a problem that they’re having suddenly sees it differently and now knows what to do. It feels sacred. It feels like something is shifted in the room and then they come back. We get to celebrate success together so you’re with a lot of successful people. For the most part, everybody goes north. It’s going north better together than they do alone.

That’s one of the biggest things that I learned making the transition from corporate to self-employed. It’s lonely. It’s just you. There’s no more water cooler talk. If you’re talking to the water cooler self-employed starting a business, you’re wasting time. It’s definitely a different type of work. With Vistage, it creates that almost therapeutic experience of being with people who live the same life that you do in a way but different business and can relate on a level that maybe you have a hard time talking to folks that aren’t in the same shoes that you’re in.

Also, to be able to talk about something bad that happened with an employee or even family stuff. A lot of times, as entrepreneurs, we keep stuff inside a little bit more than we should and it’s hard to share some of the stuff. The magic of an environment within a Vistage session is very powerful. With the issue processing, the rules were you can only ask questions. You can’t offer suggestions. Can you explain that a little bit?

Ask questions when you’re supposed to be asking questions and give recommendations when you’re supposed to be giving recommendations. This is my opinion. This isn’t a decision thing. I would start by saying that we live in a time where critical thinking is weak to almost non-existent. People don’t learn it in their homes growing up. They’re not learning it in schools, soccer fields, or social media. One of the things that we have to develop is the complexity of the mind to be a critical thinker. To be a good critical thinker, you have to listen a lot and ask good questions. Vistage has a process for critical thinking. We call it the Vistage Issue Process. It’s not very fancy. I wish I ended up over there but you can think of it as an hourglass.

We live in a time where critical thinking is weak to almost non-existent. Click To Tweet

The very top member comes in and says, “How do I what?” Let’s say an issue is going to be something like, “How much I can pay my people? I know that I’m losing people with some regularity to competitors that are in other industries. How do I keep my people?” They might talk for a few minutes about the background. Costing is a specific example. As you were saying, we move and desperately down the funnel and we start to ask questions. We root around and may start with some questions on the top like, “What’s it costing you if this doesn’t change? What’s going to happen?” We then go deep and we start asking the fellow member, “What are your beliefs about this? What are your fears? What are your opinions and assumptions?”

Vistage speaker for years says, “Take inventory of your beliefs opinions, and assumptions because they are seeds of your intent so we can get it.” Ask the person disruptive questions. It was considered to create disruptive limits. That shocks the person into seeing that they may not have seen the situation entirely. Maybe they would find out that along the way, they can’t compete. They’re right, but they could be better at some other things. They could say they have a better culture or take on the attitude in this group of roles in our company. We’re going to be perfectly happy hiring people out of college, training for three years, and lay in and go. The old I did, the people join me and they have to stay with me forever is no longer true.

Whatever it is, they work to it. They’ve been asked a lot of questions for 30 or 20 minutes, it depends, on what I’m facilitating. The group has got enough material. It’s beginning to become the middle of the funnel. We say, “Let’s restate what the how do I is now.” Many times, that would change from, “How do I keep my people?” from being stolen to, “How do I get okay with being the guy or the gal that trains people right out of college and doesn’t get their feelings hurt when people are ready to be more?” I’m going to be like, “How do I change the lives in a place that everyone doesn’t want to leave?” You should change to something exponential and powerful like, “How do I create a workplace that changes lives so when people decide they want to leave, it’s okay because there are more lives that we can change?”

The group will step in and it starts to go back out this way. The group says, “Here’s our suggestions. You should put in place a regular teaching time. People get to sit down with you once a month and hear from you as CEO when you create a culture of learning.” They give specific recommendations then we get to the bottom and the member says, “With all the recommendations they have, what is it that you want to do?” They make several commitments and we write them down. They go away, come back next month, and tell us how it went. If that’s done continually over time, they’ll make a lot of progress. They will want to be accountable because nobody wants to come back to a group of their paired CEOs and tell them that they didn’t do their homework.

Accountability is a gift that we give to people. It’s not something that we make people do. That’s a whole discussion on its own. That process is done over, members take that thinking and all the people that come to your office all day long will say, “Can I get a minute?” Instead of doing that, they start using their time to teach people to think critically so that they can work on growing the business instead of working in the business where they have people to do that. That process, we see it changing. I see it.

People come in and they improve their critical thinking and they show up in a different personal workplace. They’re training people to be critical thinkers and the whole thing gains lift because the thinking is better. If they think better, they’ll make better decisions to get better results. If we could change the people, it would change the leaders. That’s why that process is objective. It can be emotional too, but it’s objective.

In a way, it’s simple but the elegance of executing it in the proper way is helping to facilitate the member to drill down into what the real problem is. It started in the right way, which is a lot harder than it sounds to do. It’s not easy. Even phrasing the real issue is hard to sometimes find the words. Bu having the questions and somebody like Kurt who can give me some ideas can shift how you think about that problem in a different way.

Imagine a room with 12, 14, or 15 other folks. There are no competitors in there. There’s nobody from your industry in there. They’re often different industries, which is very interesting too. You gain the perspectives of people of different genders and ages who grew up in different places around the world. They do not see the world the same way. You get challenged by the diversity that exists in humans, especially, and thinking and that provokes breakthrough solutions that I wouldn’t get to by myself. That’s what happened. It’s good enough.

Can you share any powerful moments within a session without naming names? You could give us a little example of where you felt like you played a large or small role in helping the leader or business owner of a company to eventually go on and have the success that they wanted to have.

I probably cover a couple. When you are an entrepreneur and you’re starting out, a lot of times, people necessarily employ friends and family. Some of those end up working out and some of those don’t. For whatever reason, you realized that an area in their company where there were bad results showing up was in the controller being managed by a family member or someone in the family. I began to realize that in the coaching session. I was like, “Let’s do the calculation. In the calculation, it was a lot of money.” It was causing a lot of fear. The person was frustrated because you can’t fire a family member. That was the story. They weren’t getting the results that were necessary needed. There was a real public bid.

He wants to be the person who can’t let go of their brother or you don’t get invited back to Thanksgiving or your sister-in-law doesn’t talk to you anymore. It’s very emotional. That situation is a no-go. The power of the group that was available was like, “Maybe the question is, ‘How do I deal with what’s right for the business?’ and I honor my family member, too? How do I honor my family? How do I honor my parents?” That’s complex, but with the help of the group, a plan got worked out and the person was able to execute it. I know it was difficult one year around but they crafted a good solution and it worked out better for the person who was lower performing. It is terrible to be stuck in a job if you’re lower performing.

I don’t believe anybody gets up in the morning and says, “I’ll copy a little performing today.” The business then thrives. That would be an example I would think is a very emotional and strategic issue by someone at work. Some of them would be as simple as they can take a couple of members at the same time and say, “How are you seeing the challenges next year?” They both share but they are two very different businesses and then the group plumbed down the size. One of the issues was like, “How do we continue to work with Gen Zers? It’s new generations. How do we embrace that better and stop being whiny Baby Boomers or Gen Xers?”

We are whiny and stop talking about how the kids aren’t all right because our parents thought the same thing about us. We’ll embrace those generational changes to change our mindset. By changing that mindset, there was a lot of diversity and opinions. What I took away from it was at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my results. That’s it. If it’s not working the way I want it to work or if it’s not working yet, then it’s on me to keep working with it, but people are people. Our kids are terrific. Other kids must be perfect, too. Stop pointing, get out there, create a great workplace, and get work done.

You see all kinds of stuff. I’ll ask you this. For the entrepreneurs that you work with, are there common themes of issues that they tend to bring to the group for help or struggle with, or is it across every aspect of an organization, a business, or a company?

I don’t work with companies that are trying to prove concepts or are not yet profitable. If they’re not yet profitable, it’s pretty tough to generate that value for me to charge them for that. That is one of the qualifications but if they’re getting started and they’re trying to figure out a lot of how I build the team. How do I build this team around so I can work on the business line like the business you alluded to earlier? How do I create a workforce that can work so the people always knock on the door and ask, “Can I have a minute?” What is work-life integration? I’m pretty sure there’s no work-life balance. One of the hardest roles in the world is to be a single entrepreneur who has worked a number of those over the years.

For them, it’s like, “How do I do all this and run my business too?” That’s a tough one because they’ve got so many things going on. When they’re smaller, they’re trying to figure out how to implement processes with a plug-in ear for EOS traction. They’re trying to still get a process in a general system for how they run their business. As they get somewhere north of where they finally got a good team, the question becomes how they juice it and get a lot more out of it. Now they’ve got a process. Instead of processes, they got data. They’ve got good people in most of the spots. It’s going to be like, “How do we grow this? How do we scale it?” That’s not possible until that point. Usually, it’s a lot around, “How do I get a great number, too? How do we take it north from there?” Capital is always a challenge.

How do we pay for stuff? I constantly challenged, not all members, but many members on their gross margin. People are not courageous enough on pricing and gross margin. This hard to make money if you don’t have strong pricing courage. That sometimes comes later. As they get further along, it becomes a more strategic form. Where are we going to grow, what are the vectors, who are the competitors, all that? It can be what market can we have and those sorts of things. In the end, we’re always working on the person in front of us. Someone gave me some questions to think about and one of the questions I liked was, “Most people you work with are successful so why do they want to have a coach?”

FM 4 | Masterminds

Masterminds: People are not courageous enough on pricing and gross margin. It’s hard to make money when you don’t have strong pricing courage.


What I hear all the time from successful people when they show up in the office, I’ll say, “What do you want to talk about today?” A lot of my members say, “Kurt, I want to get a little better today.” They are hungry to get a little better and if I say something like, “Where do you want to do a little better?” they’re like, “Everywhere.” They’re ambitious. That never changes. By helping them to know how to develop it, they can get better by making their people better. There are so many ways to go with that. I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for.

It speaks to the mindset of getting there for a lot of people individually with the hustle, bustle, and stress of getting a business from one stage of growth to the next stage. It’s never-ending. At the end of the day, in a way, you can be intentional about it and obviously have some people helping you to maybe recognize where you are in your growth. You mentioned it. There’s this ambition that a lot of entrepreneurs have that you can’t turn off. It doesn’t go away.

It’s the blessing and the curse of whatever but if you figure out how to channel it at different places or areas of the business, it makes sense as the business continues to grow. Having that self-awareness or humility at the end of the day, not thinking you have all the answers, thinking what’s the right next move, and listening to what other people may have to offer, it’s not easy getting to that mindset.

They’re all hungry.

You’re a big proponent of EOS, too. I heard you mention that.

Everybody has to have an operating system. I would recommend that you have the best operating system that makes sense for your business. That’s one of the big benefits of franchises. Get as much coaching and mentoring as you can afford. That could be joining or creating your own mastermind. It could be joining a group like Vistage. It could be hiring an individual coach or certainly joining your industry groups where you can share your financials and see other financial statements. Get good at your financials. Know your numbers and surround yourself with other people who want to grow. You’re never going to be better than the people you’re around. Get in the room.

It’s easier said than done. Vistage is a room for a lot of folks, franchisees, and multi-unit franchisees. I know they’re scaling. The franchise companies sometimes don’t have the playbook to scale from 3 locations to 10 locations. Sometimes they do but sometimes they don’t. That’s when you have to get in the room, call other multi-unit operators, or whatever it may be. For somebody who is looking to scale, Vistage is a very real thing that can benefit. You’ve had franchisees. I know you had a multi-unit operator of a certain brand. I won’t mention the brand but you work with franchisees, right?

Franchisors and franchisees, but absolutely. What we do is different. I don’t show you how to run your marketing or set your store and operate that. What we do is help the leader to continue to be stretched and grow so that as they grow, they’ll grow the business. It’s about growing the person in front of us. We’re helping them to be better people so they’ll make better decisions and get better results. That’s our daily weight for sure.

FM 4 | Masterminds

Masterminds: We help the leader to continue to be stretched and grow. Then, as they grow, they’ll grow the business. It’s really about growing the person in front of us.


There are other people who do all other things and maybe they’re French. I know plenty of people are in franchises. They run in the US because the US has a unique system for bringing together the team, data, processes, people, issues, vision, and creating chart action. You have to decide when you’re starting to keep it simple. As you go along, you have to still keep it simple but figure out what you need as you go. Getting those resources is something you can do.

Kurt, I appreciate it. Thank you for joining and drop all knowledge. If you’re in the Charlotte area, you need to tune into this because Kurt is about to drop his content and how to get in touch with him. Some people are reaching out from this show if they’re in Charlotte, North Carolina. How can folks get in touch with you, Kurt?

If they are between Hickory and Colombia because I’m greedy, they can call me. You can email me. You can call me or text me at (704) 724-0420. You can email me at Kurt.Graves@VistageChair.com or you can google Kurt Graves Vistage. I will pop up and all my data will be there. Thanks for having me.

Kurt, it’s always a pleasure.

Keep doing good.

You too.


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About Kurt Graves

FM 4 | MastermindsMy passion is mentoring CEOs on how to flourish in business, life and beyond. Members say one-to-ones can feel like a chainsaw in a velvet glove sometimes. I believe in providing high care and high confrontation in order to free-up clear thinking and centered emotions that will liberate results.
I am a 10+ year veteran Chair with multiple groups in the Charlotte area. You can take advantage of the 10,000+ hours of private conversations that I have had with CEOs as an advisor and coach. Prior to Vistage, I held the position of CEO for the US ceramic tile operations of Organización Corona, headquartered in Bogota, Colombia. Before that I held positions as a COO, Controller, CPA and Entrepreneur.

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The First Step is a Conversation

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