17: Eric Stine, Elemica CEO – Leading Change at Global Giants & Within Oneself

Eric Stine is the CEO of Elemica. Eric shares his transformative journey from aspiring politician to tech industry leader. We talk about a pivotal career moment at SAP reshaped his approach to sales and customer engagement, leading to a groundbreaking deal that redefined industry standards. Eric also reveals his philosophy of "aggressive humility", the power of admitting "I don't know" as a pathway to success, and the routines and tactics that have been key to his growth.

Episode Summary

Eric Stine is the CEO of Elemica. Eric shares his transformative journey from aspiring politician to tech industry leader. We talk about a pivotal career moment at SAP reshaped his approach to sales and customer engagement, leading to a groundbreaking deal that redefined industry standards. Eric also reveals his philosophy of "aggressive humility", the power of admitting "I don't know" as a pathway to success, and the routines and tactics that have been key to his growth.


Eric Stine: So I'm gonna go back to 2016. which was a huge inflection point in my life. I'm about to become a dad for the first time at 40 years old, and, I'm feeling a little uncertain of myself. I don't know what the demands on my life are going to be.

Michael Katz: Welcome to the The Winwire. My guest today is Eric Stine, the CEO of Elemica. I remember hearing lore in 2018 about Eric's reputation as a legendary closer at SAP, being the leader they brought in to seal deals and relationships with our biggest clients. After his last stint at SAP, Eric took over as Chief Revenue Officer at Skillsoft. Eventually becoming Chief Commercial Officer overseeing all sales, marketing, and product efforts.

In the episode, we explore Eric's journey from his early days on Capitol hill to leading major corporate organizations today, including the deal that changed his career and how he developed his renowned approach to preparing for customer meetings.

We also delve into Eric's personal side, chatting about why his morning run is non negotiable, the foundational beliefs that guide his approach to feedback, and a recent encounter with the college classmate that reshaped his perspectives on friendship and personal struggle. The conversation is filled with vulnerability and deep insight, and I'm excited to share it. Without further ado, eric Stine.

Welcome to The Winwire, Eric.

Eric Stine: Hey Michael. It's great to be with you today. Thank you for having me.

Michael Katz: Of course. It's, uh, it's been a long time coming here. you, you came into Qualtrics back when I was over there to lead the revenue organization when we were acquired by SAP and you know, since then you've gone on to do some really great and exciting things, which I'm, you know, looking forward to talking about, right. Chief Commercial Officer at Skillsoft, and now you're CEO of Elemica. And it's been a real journey. But, you know, I think I, I, where I wanted to start off was by asking you if you could share a little bit about how your journey started from the top, how did you find yourself in business, uh, selling products at all?

Eric Stine: my journey actually started in law school. I was trained to be an attorney. I went to law school thinking that I was going to run for the United States Senate, and my first job out of law school was in Washington, dc. I spent a couple of years in Washington, DC working in government and, uh, very, very rapidly. learned that that probably wasn't my true calling. I didn't have the same passion for it as people who spend their career in public service. And I think people who do spend their career in public service are admirable. I got to see up close the things that they have that drive them towards that calling that I just didn't.

I found it made me very cynical very quickly at a very young age, and I couldn't imagine the idea of living another 30 or 40 years of working and feeling that way. Um, but I love policy and I love technology policy, and I worked around technology policy and that led me to a, I was working for firm, doing legislative work. For the real estate industry. And I had to very, very rapidly put together a meeting for our membership. Uh, we were a fairly expensive organization, but we provided a great deal of value to our members in return for what was a fairly significant investment on their part. And beyond being an industry lobbyist, we provided a variety of what I would call value-based services in areas like, uh, human resource management and information technology. I. And, uh, I had a boss, super guy still in the industry today, very, very passionate about the industry and he had gotten an opportunity to return home to California and, uh, lobby at the state level. And with him gone, I learned one of my first Corporate America lessons, which was I got all of his responsibilities and none of the salary or title that went with it, but it was an opportunity and I saw it as an opportunity and it created for me the opportunity to run this, uh, technology initiative for our membership. And we had a conference coming up. I was responsible for putting together the agenda and sourcing speakers and content. And here I am not that many weeks out of it, and hundreds of people coming and. I didn't really know what the conference was gonna be about. And so I leaned on an instinct that would go on to serve me well in sales and account management, which is I called some of our biggest members and I asked them, what do you wanna talk about?

What do you want to hear from other people? And what do you feel like you could contribute to the conversation? And after a couple of conversations, some red threads started to emerge and I started to have the makings of an agenda. Um, we leaned very, very heavily on bringing in some third party experts.

That's still a tool I use today. I am running a senior leadership team meeting down in Atlanta in two weeks and bringing in an outside speaker to give us a market. Perspective on the industry. I've followed that format for now nearly 25 years because it served me well. And the other thing that has served me well is I enjoy speaking, but when I'm running a meeting, I don't want to be a speaker, but I love to be a moderator or a facilitator.

And so I like to do either fireside chats with really interesting people from the industry, uh, customers, business partners, uh, or I like to do a moderated panel where I can get a couple of folks up there. And we ask questions and we riff on the answers. And, and that was basically the first agenda I put together.

Like, I'd love to tell you, I've, I've learned a couple of new tricks in the past quarter century, but I really haven't, I still run a meeting today. Like I ran that, that very, very first meeting and, uh, my customers were very, very generous with their time. One of the topics that they wanted to talk about was ERP, and I didn't know what ERP was, and we're going so far back that this was the same year that Google was born.

So it wasn't really easy to go out and. Google ERP. 'cause that really wasn't a thing at this point in my life. And uh, so I did what you did in the mid nineties when you didn't know something about tech. You went to kind of the sneering, disgruntled IT guy in the windowless office down the hall, and you asked him a question and you let him sort of answer the question for you. And a super, super guy, he was neither sneering nor disgruntled. Um, and I knocked on his door and I said, Hey Bruce, my customers want to talk about ERP and I don't know what that is. And he said, it's enterprise resource planning. I said, you're gonna have to gimme more than that. And he said, ERP is, and he gave me the bumper sticker definition that I still use to this day.

It was that good. He said, ERP is a software platform that helps companies get a zero latency picture. Of their finance, their inventory, their sales, and their purchasing, all in a single view. I'm like, I got it. I get it. I now understand what it is. I said, who's in that space? He's like, well, it's companies like Oracle and SAP.

And SAP clicked with me 'cause I had been out a couple of weeks before and I was at a dinner party and I had met somebody who was an executive at SAP. He had recently returned from being COO of SAP Japan and was asked to run the US public sector and was living in Washington, DC back in the US for the first time after probably a decade of living in Germany and Japan.

And I called him up, I said, I'm running this conference. I really don't know what I'm doing. Would you come and speak? And he agreed and was one of the panelists on this panel about ERP. Another was, uh, a consultant from KPMG who had implemented ERPs. And the third was one of our customers who had implemented JD Edwards.

And, uh, the conference was a big success and Tom was really impressed with what he saw. And so he offered me a job. He's like, look, you've worked in government. You know how the federal government works. I haven't been in the US in a decade. Do you want to come work for me? And my first job was basically as his chief of staff, which was a role that SAP didn't even really have at the time.

But I learned the business from the bottom up, right? I was sort of his assistant for non-administrative purposes. And I spent a year learning the business and then ended up in sales when the market had flattened a little bit. And if you were not quota caring, then your job was kind of at risk. And, uh. He asked me if I would go sell, and that's how I ended up in sales and a, a lot of those same instincts.

Ask your customers, let them guide you. Be confident in what you do know, and go get the answers to the stuff that you don't. All of that has served me really well over the last 25 years. That's how I came into the industry.

Michael Katz: An incredibly roundabout way, certainly, but, uh, but, but worthwhile following your nose. You, you did mention something in there and, you know, before we get to kind of the career changing deal for you, um, I talked to some people before we chatted and, and one of the things they mentioned definitely to ask about was this element of customer prep and how your customer preparation methodology is almost became legendary across SAP as a template.

And so I, I just wanted to quickly drill in on that. You already kind of mentioned it. What, what, what's so special about it? If there's anything really special and what could others kind of learn from it?

Eric Stine: Um, wow. Uh, you really have done your homework. Um, let me start with this. Something that I've been saying for 15 years at this point is I like to run organizations that are founded on three values, substance, empathy, and trust. I believe that when you work in a customer service field, and I believe just about every company in the world is in some way, shape or form customer service, that none of us has a job until a customer says yes.

quote from Bill McDermott, by the way, which I, I really take personally and believe in. I, I believe that you have to root yourself in three, the three values of substance, empathy, and trust. Uh, to me, substance is coming to the table with a perspective informed by your work that adds something to the customer's knowledge base, right?

What is it that I know or I can share as an individual, as a team, as an organization, as a company, how do I help the ex? How do I make the experience of us working together better? Empathy is, I understand your problem as well as I understand my own, and I am committed to solving it as much as I'm committed to solving my own.

And trust is always delivering on the things that you say you're going to deliver. Uh, and to me, customer prep is really about empathy. It's do I understand where the customer is, what they are solving for? Have I done all the work I can to walk into the room and lighten the lift for them? Um, my customer prep sessions when I used to run them were intense.

And even now as a CEO, when a team comes to prepare me for a customer meeting, I still ask a lot of the same questions, which are things like, what is the company's stock price? What sits 52 week high end, low? Why, um, if they're privately held, who owns them? How long have they held them? What's their motivation?

Do we understand how quickly revenue is growing? Do we understand if they're profitable? Do we understand their high performing categories? Do we understand their underperforming categories? The great thing about working with public companies is public companies shed a lot of really valuable information, and my experience has been that 90% of salespeople don't take advantage of the information that's available to them.

Have you read their filings? Have you read the K and the Q? Have you listened to their earnings reports? What are the analysts asking them about? There's a community of very, very smart people who live in the crevices and the shadows and the details of what companies aren't saying. And every 90 days they get on the phone with them and they ask them the uncomfortable questions.

What are those questions? What does the CEO set as a priority? Where's the CFO focused on the balance sheet or the income statement? There's so much information out there that allows you to dissect a business, and private equity has become so pervasive that when a company is privately held, if they are held by bankers, there's generally an operating model or a culture associated with.

What each firm buys, how long they hold the asset, what they like to sell it for, what they emphasize operationally, uh, what their value creation strategy is. I think you have to start there because ultimately companies exist to make money, and if you don't understand how they make money, how much they're making and what is either driving that growth or holding it back, you can't really start a conversation because ultimately everything is going to come down to that.

Right. I. Don't tell me they've struggled getting a new product to market. Tell me what that means. Because their current product set is either unprofitable to produce or isn't growing quickly enough. Uh, tell me, don't tell me that they've gone through a rif. Tell me that they've gone through a rif either because they have a very, very clear strategy that's driving resource allocation or they don't, they're bleeding cash or they're no longer profitable and so they're reacting first and figuring out the rest later.

Um, everything you do inside a company, whether it is modernizing their supply chain, driving a digital commerce platform, uh, undertaking a finance transformation, looking at planning or liquidity risk or human capital, all of those things come down to something that either isn't going right or could be going better for.

The company and until you understand that, you can't really get started. And yet very, very few people ever really start there. And to me, that's the beginning.

Michael Katz: Yeah, and I, I think there are time constraints. Some people feel around doing it, knowledge gaps, right? To your point, it is, uh, some low hanging fruit that I think a lot of people could probably be better at, and at least in your experience, right, you could at least ensure that everyone could do that.

Whereas when you're not around, that's a lot harder. Um, and so I think that's where probably the trust gap truly falls. Uh, and I mean, you know, I guess to, to sort of transition a little bit, obviously the lessons you learned were probably. Built from experience, from

Eric Stine: They were.

Michael Katz: from having done those not having done those, your time in government, honestly.

And you know, I, I did wanna talk about, one of those really key ones along the way is I'm sure you transitioned from that initial seller and became a different person. and I wanted to talk a little bit about that career defining deal for you. And I think to start, it would be great to understand, know, why you chose it and then, where, where you are in your career at that time.

From the person that we, that we just learned about, who, who just started to dip their toes in.

Eric Stine: so I'm gonna go back to 2016, which was a huge inflection point in my life on multiple fronts 'cause it's the year that my twins were born. Um, and I was recruited back to SAP early in that year and I started, two weeks before my twins were born. And. For five years leading up to that moment, uh, I had been on a career trajectory that had started in 2011 where I had, for all practical purposes chosen leadership as my career. I stepped into my first general management role. I began running the first of what would ultimately be now five. Medium sized businesses, right?

Businesses above a hundred million, but with the potential to get to a billion. But in that comfortable nine figure range, where you've got more people and more customers and more products and more complexity, then you can get your arms around as a slow growth business, but you're not yet necessarily a large enterprise.

And so you're making difficult choices about resource allocation and prioritization. What are we going to do now? What are we going to do next? What is, what are we gonna wait and see about? I love those businesses. I love those businesses for the same reason that when I. Had higher education as a territory in North America as a seller, I always loved the University of Nebraska.

Still my favorite team and my Northwestern alumni are not happy that we went to the Nebraska game and I was the only one of the 30 of us wearing a Nebraska sweatshirt. Um, but I always loved the state schools because they didn't have the luxury of making a bad decision. And I love mid-caps for the same reason.

You have to be very, very disciplined and focused in the decisions that you make because you have few resources and you need to allocate them carefully. And you have to focus your priorities and get the fewest things done great. Rather than try and do a lot of things just okay. I've been really fortunate over the course of my career to have either inherited or built and it's usually a combination of both great leadership teams who keep me focused. Um, 'cause even the most disciplined amongst us, it's easy to get distracted by the fire of the day or the loudest voice in the room. And one of the great functions of leadership teams is they hold each other accountable to staying on the right stack of mail. And so I'm grateful for the last five that I have had, 'cause they all have done a really good job setting priorities and staying focused on those priorities. After we went through a collaborative process of identifying them. So at this point, I'm five years into being a, a general manager and running different sized businesses and, uh, I get recruited back to SAP. I'm about to become a dad for the first time at 40 years old, and, and I'm feeling a little uncertain of myself.

I don't know what the demands on my life are going to be, and I know I don't wanna take my career off of its current trajectory, but I also want to make sure that it takes a lot to lead a team, and you wanna make sure that you can always show up as your best self in that role. I got recruited back to SAP because I was being asked to help transform the customer engagement model in the go to market

motion and. It would have been a massive undertaking. And ultimately when I accepted it in full 18 months later, it was, um, it was nearly a thousand people. It was half a dozen teams of various functions that really orchestrated the supply chain of selling the customer lifecycle. and I felt that to take it on after having been away from the company for several years and not knowing what they were currently doing today wouldn't have been right for me.

And I don't know that I would've been able to give it what it needed, with my twins about to be born. And so the proposal I made back to, uh, the woman who would ultimately become our CEO was. I'd like to take a very methodical approach to this. Give me the customer or customers where you would spend 10, 20, 20 5% of your time if you could spend that kind of time with a customer. Let me use the existing team in the existing model and let's modify. Let's build our future state process around what actually happens in the field. And what that morphed into was in virtually every industry, we would find the number one or number two company in that space. We would partner with them around what digital transformation meant for them. And then we would distill out from that which of these are, are influenced by mega trends that are impacting the industry they're in, or the type of business model that they run. And which of these affect us about any company regardless of industry. And the upshot of that was at the end of 18 months, I knew exactly how to transform the customer engagement model.

And I had an army of advocates around the organization, some of the same people who sat through those painful customer prep sessions or turned 57 versions of a customer document. Because it got results. It resulted in eight or nine figure transactions with some of the most iconic companies in the world. But it helped us understand how what was going on with consumer packaged goods companies looked a lot like what was happening in aerospace and defense in terms of the importance of digital B2B, e-commerce, and the rise of the digital B2B buyer, or it helped us understand how energies and energy industries were being influenced by the rise in renewables, And so we learned a ton about why companies needed to transform, where the cost was, where the opportunity was, and we could bake that into the design. And it all started with one customer. I was assigned a customer on the very first day back. I didn't even have my equipment. Like my machines aren't up and running.

I'm not fully connected to the network. I. I started at 8:30 AM there's a call at two, I've just found out at 8:45 AM I need you to be on this call. This is the first customer I want you to engage with. There are like 31 people on this call. I'm on my personal cell phone. I asked somebody I knew from my prior stint at SAP, Hey, send me the doc to my personal email address. I, I hope our CISO is not listening to this because like easily a hundred security violations in here. and I, I review the document and I get on the call and, uh, it's scheduled for an hour and for about 27 and a half minutes, I'm just listening. Um, and I can now tell you that my personal threshold for pain is precisely 27 minutes and 32 seconds because that's when I spoke. and what I said was. I could tell that this document was created from a template. If I were looking at it from the planet Jupiter, it looked like it spoke in the language of our company. It talked about our products and our, so it was all us. I couldn't find the customer anywhere in there. And when I, I jumped in, they had gotten to the one slide that looked a little bit like an animated comic strip, and I finally saw. The customer's language in there. And that's when I stopped the call and asked if it, if this had come from the customer. It was their construct. And that was the basis for completely rearchitecting the sales cycle. Because in reality, what had really happened was this, here is an iconic company that was doing 35 billion a year in revenue.

And everything about their business model had changed. Their business largely came from wholesale distribution. The prior year, roughly 83% of their revenue came from wholesale distribution. But their forecast showed that by the year 2020, more than 50% of their revenue was going to come direct to consumer.

Um, which they not only hit, they exceeded, and then it got vastly accelerated by Covid, um, the retail channel in their space, the. Was absolutely knee capped by bankruptcies. Two of the major retail players in their space had recently gone bankrupt, and that was a huge risk to them because some of the remaining large players in the space did 50, 60, 70% of their retail revenue on this provider's products.

They had a massive advantage in distribution and incredible brand recognition, but nothing about their operating processes and nothing about their supply chain had been configured for a world where they were selling 20 billion a year direct to consumer. And when you're in a physical asset or physical inventory business, and you've got production lead times that go out.

You know, 12, 18, 24 months because you're producing a fashion product. So you need to know your colorways and your silhouettes, or you're producing a consumer packaged food product. And you need to understand things like, how am I gonna move away from sourcing red dye? Or how do I avoid certain allergens?

Or how are tastes changing in older, uh, more mature markets like North America and Western Europe, and I need a different supply chain to reach emerging markets like Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa. All of these things have huge lead times associated with them, so you really need to know the future a long time in advance.

Um. The company we were working with had missed peak season in 2015. They had to take a 10 figure write down as a result, and they needed to completely rethink their business model and the operational processes that supported that business model. They didn't have a lot of time because it's an industry with a large number of competitors, um, and we're shifting to a world.

Once you shift from wholesale distribution to direct to consumer, you are truly at the whim of the consumer market. There's no intermediary offsetting your risk. Like if you're selling cookies through Safeway or sneakers through Footlocker, those customers are gonna give you a huge leg up. On understanding demand.

'cause they're gonna buy a large number of units for a specific number of stores in very precise locations. But once you're serving the consumer directly, if tastes are going to change tomorrow, you need to know that. Um, and so we set up a process where we, from the outside in, looked at everything about their performance over the past 12 months.

Everything about how they were looking forward at the market and everything they told us about how they were thinking of changing their strategy. And we completely rebuilt the story we were going to tell them. And the sales process that we had, um, articulated in, we had 30 days to do it. They were meeting us, their COO and executive team.

Were gonna meet us at our business conference the second week of May, and here it is April 11th. And we needed to basically scrap 90% of the work and start over. Um, the following week we flew out to the Bay Area. Uh, we spent several days in workshops, re-architecting the basic storyboard. Um, and we recut our deck for that meeting.

It's not a joke. We presented version 57. Um, we iterated and iterated on the story until we felt like we had it. Perfectly right, but it was the, it was the little decisions and the hard choices that mattered, like using their comic strip construct and speaking their language meant that from slide one, we had their attention, um, not overreaching in terms of our reference architecture and acknowledging that they had spent five years and a billion dollars putting in a new warehousing solution and making it clear that we weren't going to replace that, or that they had seen an early release of our planning solution and that we weren't pitching it, but we did want them to see how far it had come for certain elements of what they wanted to do and focused instead of on this, on the very narrow thing that.

It was going to enable them to, to have more success. All of that earned credibility. It started what would end up being a seven month process where we didn't do product demos, we didn't pitch them. We worked in collaborative workshops to understand how they felt like their business model was changing.

We were flexible with our solution architecture and our delivery strategy. And, uh, ultimately they trusted us enough like they went live in China. I. Not that far off from single stay. Like nobody goes live in China first, not when you're based on the West Coast. Like you, like it's a flip, your 15 hours time difference.

You've got language and cultural issues, you have to put a whole team on the ground. Um, but they did it for all the right reasons. Like everybody does Canada, they just couldn't do Canada again. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Same time zone. Basically the same language. And Mexico wasn't a big enough market for them. Um, they, they were able to stress test everything by doing that.

Um, and with each meeting, with each conversation, they never spoke at us. 'cause we never spoke at them. We worked with each other. Everything was an iteration. Um, it is. Not just the most successful process I had ever been part of, but it changed everything. I knew that the strategy to transform the go to market needed to be more collaborative and needed to look at market leaders and have a mix of what's important to everyone and what's important by industry or business model or some sort of cohort analysis.

But the collaborative way that we did it and the fact that we could scale it, that was such a key learning in the process. It was hard. There were some customers we would've loved to have piloted it with in their industry. Um, they didn't want to. They basically wanted to tell us what they wanted to do, or, you know, I just wanna buy this product and this is the way I'm going to do it.

But the ones that were most successful, there was one in fashion. There was one in, uh, oil and gas. There was one in, uh, consumer telecom. There was one in consumer packaged goods. There was one in utilities, there was one in higher education. There was one in consumer electronics, there was one in aerospace and defense.

Like, it was amazing. It, it became relatively easy to find the customers who really wanted a partner to help them solve a really, really large problem and everything about the strategy. And when I would go on, um, you know, a, uh, year and a half later to lead the market. Everything about my hiring profile, my org design, what I looked for in leaders, everything had changed as a result of that engagement.

Michael Katz: Yeah. I, I, I guess I'm curious, like, how, how, so, how, how did that change things, you know, in terms of the way you looked at people and then, you know, are there any kind of meetings, key moments throughout, or, you know, specific memories from that deal that you think really influenced how that switch flipped for you?

Eric Stine: Um, it helped me add a fourth element to my substance, empathy and trust pillar. Um. That fourth pillar's humility. I call it aggressive humility 'cause I'm a fairly opinionated person. And one of the things that I struggle with as a leader is I have conviction about my point of view and energy around it.

Not because I believe it's right, but because I want you to react to it. I want you to tell me what's wrong with it. And I find continuously with leadership teams, I tell them it's not only okay to argue with me, it's expected to argue with me. Find your comfort zone. You can do it in the room, you can do it afterwards.

You can put it in writing. I need, I, I want to know what you think. Um, I call it humility because a collaborative process is an openness to being wrong. It's an openness to being corrected in real time. It's a willingness to riff and iterate. Um, I, um. I am not always the person you want in the room to come up with 10 ideas for what we could do. I'm the person you wanna bring in when you have 10 ideas and need to whittle them down to three, and then take those three and make them better. It's what I really love to do and what it, what that experience opened the door for me to do as a leader was I looked for people who could be fearless about what they didn't know, who were comfortable enough that, okay, here's what I know.

I know what our products do. I know how they're used in these circumstances. I know how they can adapt, but I don't know what happened in last month's sales. I don't know. Why you've chosen to have an e-commerce warehouse, and then regional warehouses. Help me understand these things. Why do they work for you?

Why don't they work for you? How should I think about them? Are you willing to rethink them? Should I rethink my process? Um, all of those questions are important. I'm, I, you know, I'm a big believer we all answer to somebody, right? Executives answer to the ceo O CEOs, answer to the board, the board answers to the, to their investors.

Like we all answer to somebody. Help me understand what's going on beneath the surface or behind the curtain so I can help you or ask me to respect the fact that there are considerations that you can't share with me. I just have to respect that this is your boundary or this is your limitation. Having that conversation is really freeing because it opens the door up to everything else. Again, we're all in the business of solving a problem. None of us has a job until a customer says yes. Um, and for me, what I've learned over 25 years, um, if I had to boil it down to a single sentence, it would be getting to yes. Starts with, I don't know, admit what you don't know. And that to me is the fastest path to getting ts.

Michael Katz: It's fascinating you say that. 'cause I, I think two of the things that, um, two of the things that, that other folks reflected on, you know, were one, this element of your skillset and personality, which is, you know, centered around creative problem solving and being willing to address challenges in a very interesting way that isn't necessarily the clear path that everyone else would expect.

Um, and the second thing which is related to what you said is the way that you take and consider feedback. And I feedback's a really popular topic of, oh, feedback is a gift and everyone can say it all they want, but it really, the devil's in the details of how it, um, happens and how they actually react to it.

And one thing I heard about you was, you are incredibly responsive to feedback, but that doesn't mean that you acknowledge it as correct. And there's an interesting tension there of, being able to say, I'll take that into consideration. Or even in some cases, disagreeing where necessary. And you just mentioned something about, you know, maybe not knowing the real context behind it.

And I find that, um, really interesting of, I wanted to kinda ask you a little bit about how you thought about that feedback you've gotten over your career and how do you decide what to act on, you know, um, what perspectives you're considering.

Eric Stine: it's a great question. Uh, I'll answer it in two ways. Um, I think you always have to start with understanding that feedback is true and correct from the perspective of the person giving it. Right. Everybody's opinion is right to them. And so if nothing else that deserves respect, I always tell people that I need to balance that with making a choice. At some point, a decision has to be made, and maybe sooner, it may be later, but there will come a point where we need to decide.

And I say, when I am in the role of the decider, it's ultimately up to me to determine is this good feedback And we are going to take it? Is this worthwhile feedback? And we won't wholesale make a change, but we may make some tweaks or adapt to it, uh, or at least start thinking about a plan B and a second approach.

And in some cases, the answer to the feedback may be. We've heard the feedback, we're not going to take it, but it's made our argument stronger, right? Sometimes the most valuable thing about feedback is not that you take it, but that you strengthen your argument as a result of it. 'cause it gives you more conviction in where, in where you started.

I think any of those responses is valid. All of them respect the fact that an opinion is true from the point of view that the per of the person that that gives it. You can talk to people who've known me briefly. I've been inside my company less than 40 days right now, and you can talk to people who've known me for 40 years and I think they will tell you fairly consistently. I will listen to and respect and consider the value of every piece of feedback I get. when I am wrong, I. I always say, make me wrong now, not later. Like if we're headed in the wrong direction, tell me scream, stand in front of the truck. Right? that way, at least if I'm gonna run you over, I'm gonna tell you in advance, this is why I'm running you over.

But it all amounts to the same thing, which is listen to the feedback, give it due consideration, and then make a choice. Say no, but explain why. Say yes, but only in the margins, or say, you're right, we're going in the other direction.

Michael Katz: I, I love that you said that too. It's something I think about a lot. but I think just generally ideologically, there's a lot of disagreements on what truth is and what is true and what is objectively true versus not. And one thing I like to think about sometimes is, well, the only real truth is someone's emotions. 'cause those are real, right? They, they, they are coming from them whether they are right or not in some sense. And

What I love is, I love the moment when you realize that people really get it and then they come to play, right? Because they don't just show up with feedback, but they're willing to explain why they've done the work. Here's the data, here's the proof point. the more people can substantiate a piece of feedback or an opinion or a point of view with, we did this here and this and it worked and this is why, or, Hey, if you look at this data, it'll show you this.

Eric Stine: I love it when somebody redirects me to something I haven't seen, and can back up a statement because it's in those moments where you really think, okay. Hey, this actually confirms the direction we're headed and here's why. Or, hey, this means we really should reconsider this and adapt it, or we should change course here.

I also think that leaders have a lot of credibility when they honestly reflect and admit that they were wrong about something. In my opinion, leaders who always need to be right are compromising their ability to lead, and those who are comfortable admitting they're wrong end up going further in their careers. It's a personal point of view.

Michael Katz: Are there any failures or disappointments or mistakes that you've looked back at? Um, as learning experiences or critical to to, to your own personal growth,

Eric Stine: It is hard for me to answer that question because everything to me is a learning experience. So there's very little I would define as a failure.

um, there are hundreds of them. Um, one that sticks out was competing for a deal at my parents' alma mater, having run, won the last four competitive deals in the industry in a row. Um, like we came out of nowhere and we're suddenly winning every competitive opportunity in with customers in this industry. Um, and we're starting to build up a real reputation as the next emerging player in the space.

And then we ended up. Uh, in Burlington, Vermont, where my parents went to school, where they met, uh, 60 years ago. And it was really important to me on a personal level to win. We were one of the two finalists. The opportunity was being run by somebody who had worked with our company before and had sponsored us at a prior opportunity that we won, and we lost. And we lost for really, for a reason that should have been blindingly obvious to me at the time, and I missed it. The competition openly asked the question, Hey, these guys just won four opportunities in a row at some of the biggest and most prestigious institutions in the world. How are they gonna deliver your project?

And what kind of priority are you gonna have with them? And we never anticipated that question or positioning. Um. I learn all the time, um, 'cause I fail every day. I think that the opportunity to, I think the opportunity to learn is really a willingness to spend time thinking about not just the failures that cost you something, but the missed opportunities or course corrections that didn't necessarily change the trajectory of your life or your career, but that if you had to do it. Over Again, you would've done it slightly differently. Um, I had a leadership team call this morning. I shared a piece of information that one member of my leadership team was aware of, but not necessarily aware that I had made a final decision about. Um, and I shared my thinking with the entire team and immediately in that moment realized, Hey, I should have closed the loop with this leader first before it was discussed and immediately called him afterwards.

He was fine and it didn't change anything, but it was an opportunity for me to say, Hey, you know, in the se in the second take of my life, I would've done this a different way.

Michael Katz: Well, I, I think that approach to evolution and reflection is very unique. It's not unique that, you know, we all do it a little bit, but in terms of the frequency of it and, and, and the reflection on it and, you know, you just talked about you change being this constant. One thing I know about you, um, publicly as well is, you know, whether it's around fitness or your family or otherwise, um, is the routine and how your routine has evolved over time.

Um, you know, I'd love if you could talk a little bit about the importance of your routine, how that has evolved with each decade. Um, and then, you know, beyond that, one of your routines, of course is, uh, publishing es weekly, which, um, everyone loves. And, and I, I'd also be curious if you've learned anything for, from doing that and from that consistency.

So both those questions are really interesting to me.

Eric Stine: Uh, so it's interesting, some routines are intentional and some become a little bit more habit forming. Um. I, uh, I run four days a week. Uh, I started running, uh, when I was in my thirties and I was traveling for work and I found myself gaining weight and it was a really fast way to control my weight, and you could do it anywhere.

All you need is a pair of shoes. Um, and I started running and realized that I couldn't run more than two miles. Not because I didn't have the stamina, I didn't have the wind. I was a smoker. And so I quit smoking. So I quit smoking at 29 because I couldn't run more than two miles. And, uh, running ended up having so much, be so many benefits.

From a health perspective that when I was 35 on New Year's Eve, I decided that I would run every other day for a year. Could I run every other day for a year and could, could I be that consistent? Um, I have now run at least 180 days a year for, I'm in my 17th year of doing that. Um, because the other benefits I found were it is the 45 minutes to an hour I get nearly every day completely by myself. Um, there are a lot of unresolved decisions and sometimes they're big. And often the answer comes to me when I am running decisions about my marriage, decisions about my kids, about my parents, about work, um, about my friends. Doesn't matter what it is, they're. Finding that peace and actively stepping out of either task orientation or structured strategic thinking and just being freeform and in my head is really important to me. Um, the older I get and the more my career advances, the more I become selfish about the amount of time I have to think things through. Um, I force myself to try and make decisions over longer arcs of time and not feel the pressure to decide something. Um, but that's the way my routine has changed over time.

Michael Katz: It is fascinating and I, I think more and more people kind of catch on. We recently had an episode with Michelle Zatlyn, the founder of Cloudflare, and she talked about, um, having a bad back after, you know, not, not prioritizing that component of her life for a long time there. And I think you see it as a trend of people learning to take care of themselves at some point.

Um. Now, I know at the end there I talked a little bit about you publishing your thoughts very publicly on a regular basis. One of those things is, you know that you talk a lot about your personal life and your family and realizations you're having. And you know, one thing that came up in a, in a call with, you know, someone who knows you well beforehand was, um, how, you know, a recent interaction you had around your 50th birthday.

Um, you know, you reconnected with some fraternity brothers after 25 years and um, they thought it'd be really interesting to kind of talk to you a little bit about what that reunion taught you and how it has influenced you recently.

Eric Stine: Um, I'll, I'll answer that and I'll circle it back to ES weekly and then we'll have to close. 'cause like I said, we all answer to somebody and I have a board call at the top of the hour. Um. Uh, I came out during my first year of law school, so after I left college, um, I was in a fraternity all four years.

Um, uh, when I first came out I told one of my fraternity brothers who I was very close with, a good friend of, of mine, um, and very quickly my whole fraternity knew. Um, and coming out is a gradual process and I wasn't ready for people that I had spent four years with to know. And so I kind of shut down a little bit because I was more focused on adapting to having just come out to my parents and to my sister, and to kind of being out in my everyday life.

Um, and what ended up happening is I. Other than one or two folks that, um, I stayed in touch with sporadically over what became 28 years. Um, the guys I pledged with, the guys who were my year, who knew me better than anyone or, or so I thought. Um, we had gone 28 years without any meaningful contact. And um, then the Highland Park shooting happened on, uh, July 4th, 2022. And a fraternity brother and close friend of mine, who I pledged with, grew up in Highland Park. I knew he had moved back there several years before to start running his family business. And, uh, I just wanted to reach out to him and know that he was okay. And so I sent a message through LinkedIn and uh, he responded.

And that led to, I was in Chicago the following week. We had breakfast. Uh, we spent three hours catching up, and that was when I learned that for, uh, about a dozen years, they had been getting together for a Northwestern away game, uh, sometime in the fall. And so, uh, I went because I wanted to see them. Um, but he said something to me at that breakfast that is in the vein of the conversation that we've been having today, Michael.

Um, he said, what did you think would happen? Like, we were all friends, like we had all gone through this life experience together, and you just disappeared, like, without any explanation. How do you think we felt about that? And I, I'm ashamed to admit Michael, but other than like my parents and my immediate family. I had never really thought about how my coming out impacted anybody else. I just didn't. Um, and so here, people that I've been close with during a very formative period in my life, I had completely shut out and with no explanation whatsoever. Um, and I had never once until that moment given a thought to what taking your friendship away from somebody might mean to them. It was an incredible moment of humility and an incredible embarrassment of my own selfishness that not only did I not see it at the time, but I had never really reflected on it. And so I feel like it's such an incredible gift to have these men back in my life at this point in time. Um, life doesn't always give you the opportunity to rebuild those bridges. Um, uh, I'll close with this. In the spirit of building bridges, ES weekly started out as an opportunity to just engage the community I was working with in a conversation about things that were going on in our industry and recognizing the teams that I worked with and the customers that I spent time with. Um, the structure wasn't set off the bat. Now. If you look at it, what you will see is the first item is usually something thought provoking that I read or learned, uh, that week. The second item is usually recognizing somebody that I work with or work for, for something that they've done. And the third is always about my family. Um, I have an eight year digital diary of my kids growing up. I have had people tell me, Hey, you shouldn't post pictures of your kids. Or, Hey, you know, now that you're a CEO, maybe you wanna rethink this. And they're entitled to that point of view. I will be able to sit down with my kids one day and I will be able to show them a week by week account of their growing up, um, from the time that they were toddlers through the pandemic, um, through my son's ADHD diagnosis and my daughter's scoliosis diagnosis, and all the major and minor tribulations of childhood. Um, it was a gift I gave myself. I didn't even realize that at the time, so that's why I do it every week.

Michael Katz: I am amazed. I'm amazed by that. Well, you know, just to close off here, I guess. Thank you so much Eric. Um, this has been a pleasure.

Eric Stine: Same. Thank you, Michael. I really.

Michael Katz: Thanks as always for joining us on another episode of The Winwire. We'd appreciate it if you could share it on LinkedIn or Twitter, and rate us, or leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

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