Aaron Ackerman: Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of How That Happened. My guest today is David Woods. David is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and has served in executive leadership positions several times, including CEO on multiple occasions. David currently serves as the CEO of Magellan Executive Partners which has a mission to help CEOs and business owners grow their organizations, their leaders, and their teams. Prior to beginning his work at Magellan, David spent over 20 years at Ditch Witch, which had over 1600 employees and 140 dealers in 20 countries and is the world’s largest manufacturer of underground construction equipment. In his career at Ditch Witch, David served in many roles spanning from part-time factory rep to COO and eventually CEO.
In addition to his work with Magellan, David also sits on several corporate and non-corporate boards and is a co-founder of Cortado Ventures, an Oklahoma city-based venture capital firm. Welcome, David, thanks for joining today.
David Woods: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Aaron Ackerman: So, I’ve got a lot I want to talk to you about. First, maybe let’s just start with kind of what you’re currently doing at Magellan Executive Partners. Tell our listeners a little bit about what you do there and kind of how you got started in that and we’ll backtrack a little bit and talk about Ditch Witch and some other things as well.
David Woods: Sure. Well, I started 15 years ago doing this. The previous three years to that, I had already left Ditch Witch and wanted to do international strategy work. And so I started a company with another guy. After about three years, I realized I wasn’t as thrilled with international travel as I thought I would. But I loved it my whole life, I still love international travel, but to spend at that point about half my time, for example, in China, just sort of worn me out. So basically, I sold the business to my existing partner. That company is actually still going, but decided to kind of focus in on, A, tweak the business model a little bit, B, really got focused here in the US not anything international. So that’s how it started.
Strategy was the number one piece. From my later days as CEO at Ditch Witch, I fell in love with the idea of doing strategy. When I got to Ditch Witch as CEO, we were doing about, on average, about 120 million a year. My last name didn’t match the same last name as the owner of the company, and so I thought… me and the team around us, we were like, “We have to get this thing.” Pass the lead, if you will, the lead of 120 million, which had been there my entire career. So then, myself and our team became real students of strategy and had some breakthroughs in how we think about strategy, which quite honestly is still part of how I do strategy today. But anyway, that model allowed us to go from 120 to 350 million in about five years.
Aaron Ackerman: Wow!
David Woods: So it was a fun time to be there. Right? Anyway, so eventually, I wanted just to be greedy. I wanted to always own my own company at some point. Right? And so decided to leave Ditch Witch, took the mental assets that I had, and I thought, “I think I can go do something.” Right? So started with Magellan and we were doing strategy. The first two or three strategic clients that we had, at least two out of the three, after about six months, I realized weren’t implementing the strategy, which told me, “Oh my gosh! Now I’m stealing from these people.” If I know in my heart that we’re going to work on something and then you never implement it, it doesn’t work. So we worked on strategy for a while and then we implemented two things.
One was a really strong component around implementation. That’s a program we developed which makes it stick and makes it actually transform an organization. The second piece was the… I’m not picking on anybody, but sometimes the leaders at the top didn’t really know how to drive strategy. Right? And so that… I’d say forced us, but made me realize we’ve got to work with executive teams as well. So that sort of created really the two pieces for Magellan. One is helping an organization grow and thrive and the other one is growing that team around them. So we started working with executives one-on-one and built programs and stuff like that. Then kind of another piece… I’m just telling you the trajectory here.
Aaron Ackerman: Sure.
David Woods: I realized, wow, these executives, their job would be a lot better if they had remarkable employees, great right-hand employees. So that led us into employee development. I actually have a passion for that one in particular, because if I look back at my career getting to become CEO of Ditch Witch, it was luck and timing a lot of it. But also as I look back, I was just a really good right-hand person and it sort of allowed me to get pulled up through an organization. I never asked for a pay raise, I never asked for a promotion, I just sort of got pulled up. And in hindsight, it was just basically a set of skills centered around being a great right-hand person. So that’s what our employee deal is, is teaching them not… it’s not raw, raw stuff like, “Oh, you can do better.” It’s literally what are the skills involved to be a great right-hand employee.
Fast forward a little further, another way people can grow is buy companies. So we got into business transitions, buying then selling, and then also we got into here recently government contracting. That’s another way to grow a company for some company. So those are kind of all the pieces and it’s still morphing and changing and as exciting as ever. We grew about 40% during 2020, which… Don’t ask me why, because I think it was more luck and timing, but it’s been a fun ride.
Aaron Ackerman: So, a couple of things you said in there I want to kind of follow up on. One was the concept that you kind of stumbled on early on where you had these great strategy, plans with the business owners, executives you were working with, but the implementation wasn’t happening and you kind of had that like, “Oh man, I’m taking their money and it’s not helping them.” Even though you had great plans and best intentions, they kind of weren’t pulling their part of the bargain, so to speak. So I think that’s probably somewhat common in consulting and advisory. You kind of have that pushing a string sensation that the client bought into it, is paying you, but then it’s just not working. Sometimes you have to be reflective and think, “Am I doing something wrong?”
But sometimes you might have to have that talk with the client, like, “You’re going to have to go with me on this journey.” But I think that was just an interesting thing to hear you talk about, that you realized that quickly and then kind of devised an implementation strategy to help your clients be successful.
David Woods: Well, that’s exactly what happens, right? So there was actually some research done, and I can’t remember the organization that did it, but they looked at 30,000 different organizations, all of whom had a strategy. Then they figured out what percentage of those companies after building the strategy actually implemented the strategy, and it was only 10%. So 90% of 30,000 organizations that had a plan never implemented.
Aaron Ackerman: Wow!
David Woods: So it’s not just my experience, I think it’s the experience of most people, whether they use a consultant or not. They build a strategy, they pat themselves on the back and they’re all excited, and then six months later, the day job gets in the way and there’s nobody there to really hold them accountable.
Aaron Ackerman: So, over the years, have you developed an ability to quickly or early in a relationship notice red flags where you think this probably isn’t going to work out and I need to pull the plug or have a talk and try to pivot with this client? Because I think sometimes you realize that and you’re pretty far into a relationship, but if you can see those red flags early on, you can either fix it or just say, “We probably shouldn’t work together.”
David Woods: Right. Well, there are red flags, I don’t have to wait very long to spot those. I can easily spot those in the early conversations when we’re even chatting about it before, if you will, we’re engaged with somebody, right? Because one of the things we’re looking for, I mean, it’s got to be an authentic relationship if it’s somebody… And this doesn’t happen very often, so I’m not trying to discount conversations with CEOs. But if it’s more of, “I don’t want to mess with it here. Take this and do strategy for me so I can check a box,” that’s not going to work out. Right? We’re not very salesy, so we never push our way to anybody. We have to kind of get pulled in, and when I can feel that we’re getting pulled in, then that’s probably going to be a pretty good client.
We actually don’t have contracts really for the very reason you’re mentioning, which is, if it’s not working, we don’t need to be working together. Right? And that can be them, that could be us, either way, the goal is really authentic relationships. And we’re able to achieve that most of the time. In fact, when a client does go away, which they should, I use the saying, you should never marry your tour guide. Right? Because once you know, you don’t need a third party in there helping you, right? The goal is we’ve got to teach you how to create and implement strategy, we got to teach you how to be great executives, things like that. There should be a graduation, so we actually applaud graduations, we don’t go, “Oh, darn! The client went away.” If we had that attitude, then I think we’re sort of missing the point of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. I think it also says something about you and your team at Magellan, that you don’t just take someone’s money and cash those checks even though you recognize you’re really not making an impact whether that’s because they’re not buying it or something on your side, but to say, “You’re not getting the benefit for this, you’re not getting the value, so we need to figure out how to deliver that value or you need to stop paying us.” I mean, I think that’s kind of a character thing and I know enough about Magellan to know that you guys are high character and it just shows a level of care about your clients and their organizations and you’re not just chasing paychecks.
David Woods: Well, that’s sort of life, isn’t it? I mean, that’s sort of about life, which is every decision you make in life is about creating who you are and what your brand is. Right? We don’t do that out of ego, we do that because we think that’s the right thing to do. And I think most people are that way. Sometimes I get asked, “You work with CEOs, I bet they are a rickety old bunch. I mean, hard to work with.” I’m like, “No, not really. They’re all really great people, vast majority have amazing hearts. It’s the other reason we just don’t do contracts.” I’m like, “This is meant to be. All right? And if it’s not, we’ll go away. I don’t want you to going, ‘Oh no, we signed a six month contract or a yearlong contract.'” If my business is based on that, I think we sort of missed the boat. Right?
Aaron Ackerman: The other thing you mentioned I wanted to follow up on was that you were always kind of a right-hand man at Ditch Witch. So that’s an interesting concept. I’m curious, was that something you intentionally kind of positioned yourself as a really good number two, was it just something inherent in your personality and how did you kind of develop that mentality? One thing I always think about kind of in my career, regardless of what position I’m at or what company I’m at, I always see my job description more or less as my mission in life is to make my boss look better and smarter than he or she is. And if I do that, then boss will be successful, I’ll be successful. It takes away some self-promotion which some people like to do. But anyway, talk a little bit about… you mentioned you were a great right-hand person, how did that pan out?
David Woods: Yeah. I’ve never thought about how I became that or why I became that before. But as you were asking the question, I’m reminded of both my mom and my dad. Right? My mom was a teacher and ultimately a librarian, and I just watched her many, many times do stuff for the kids that I’m pretty sure it was not in her job description. She just loved doing what she did. Right? And so I learned watching her do that. My father retired as a two-star general and I can remember there were times he’d be up at 10, 11 o’clock at night working on something. And I remember one time asked him, “Do they pay you extra for working these extra hours?” And I’ll never forget, his comment was, “When you work for a man, you work for a man.”
He goes, “It doesn’t matter what they pay you, and if you ever decide you don’t want to work for that man, go away and do something else. But when you’re there, do what you’re supposed to do.” And he’s a general, right? So, I mean, it was sort of-
Aaron Ackerman: Straight forward.
David Woods: Very straight forward and very firm, but that’s sort of the way I felt. Right? And I think that probably did help me in my career as I moved along. I don’t really count hours, so I count, what are we trying to achieve and can I help?
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. That’s awesome. Want to talk a little bit about just sort of entrepreneurship. You’ve started things or been part of starting things several times, I know you work with entrepreneurs and you even mentioned when you kind of finished at Ditch Witch, you had this desire to kind of go build something. Did you have that your whole life? Where did that come from? And then maybe the follow-up would be, having started some things now, what have you found to be super rewarding and maybe what’s the most challenging part of that?
David Woods: Yeah, I think I did get noted at Ditch Witch of having an entrepreneurial spirit. I wouldn’t say that was intentional, I think it’s just sort of in me a little bit. Right?
Aaron Ackerman: Sorry to interrupt, but just in case listeners don’t know, Ditch Witch was, I don’t know how many years, but was a family owned business that at some point was a startup and then grew to be the hundreds of millions of dollars that it was. But it I’m sure that entrepreneurialship was celebrated there because that’s kind of the legacy.
David Woods: Yep. Very much so. If I go back to my early days at Ditch Witch, which was… Well, I’m an old Boy Scout, right? So the old Boy Scout, they’d always leave the campground better than you found it. Right? So I sort of always had that style about me, which is, I get into something, I’m always asking, how can I make this better? Right? I guess in some people’s way of looking at that, that looks like entrepreneurship. I’m always trying to grow something, make it better, something like that. Even when I started at Ditch Witch, I was making 19,300 per year. Right? So my wife and I were always looking for other ways to make just a little bit of extra. She was pretty good then arts and crafts stuff, she would go these weekend arts and crafts things.
And I can remember sitting there, people would come in and then they’d leave and I’d run in and I’d rearrange stuff to try to make it more sellable. Right? And so even at that age, it was sort of exercising those muscles of looking at something and how do you make it better? And then every job that I had, there were some that I had peers in the group going, “David, what are you doing? That’s a dead-end job.” If I use the Okie term, I’d go, “Hold my beer.” I’d be like, “I can make this better than it was.” Right? And I’d take what was perceived as dead-end jobs and really go in there and try and make it into something and had a decent track record at doing that. I always did that Huck Finn thing where I try to make it fun, “If you come to work in this department, we’re going to have fun doing this, and secondly, we are going to get some results.”
I’m not very activity-based, I’m much more results-based, which I think is another part of being a great right-hand person. But even when I became CEO, I remember Ed Malzahn, which was… just most wonderful mentor you could ever have. In fact, when I became CEO, he wanted to room together whenever we traveled. I remember thinking to myself, “We got here on a multi-million dollar jet, I think we can [crosstalk] for two rooms.” But really he was getting a little older and I think he was concerned about that, but he just became a great mentor. But I remember prior to me becoming a CEO, around about that time, I had this mental goal in mind. I just want to make his last number of years, which was many, many years, but his last number of years really enjoyable for him.
So I’m just going to take the crap and work on that and I’ll make sure he gets the stuff he loves, which I kind of knew what that was and kept him on a pedestal and I was the guy running around the pedestal. [crosstalk]
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. Well, so even as CEO, you still sort of had that right-hand man mentality?
David Woods: 100%, to him and the board. Right? I just viewed that was my role.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. It’s good stuff. I think I mentioned in your bio a little bit briefly Cortado Ventures. So that’s kind of a… I say a new thing. I think the wheels have been turning on this for probably years, but it’s really kind of in the middle of a… or the midst of a very successful launch right now. Tell just a little bit about Cortado and why this is kind of the right time and the right place for a venture capital fund in Oklahoma City.
David Woods: Well, for me personally, it started about three years ago. I read somewhere, I can’t remember where I read it, that most people make, if you will, their real money between ages 50 and 75. And I remember going, “Oh, crap, I’m halfway through that and I haven’t made what I would call the real money that I wanted to make.” Right? And so I did that deal where you sort of step back from your life and look at, well, what assets do I have that I can leverage to maybe create something that will create a different type of wealth, if you will. For me, it was two things. One, at Magellan, we see a fair amount of what would be referred to as deal flow, people coming with an idea. That isn’t what we do or how we do it, but nonetheless people hear about us so they would come to with deals.
Secondly, by then, if I just take 47 years of experience, I just have a lot of friends that have always said, “Hey, if you ever run across a deal, I’d love to invest in something.” So I had both ends of that spectrum. And so it started me down this path of, I didn’t even know what venture capital was, really. So that was three years ago. Somewhere along the path, I had met Mike Moratti. 10 years ago, we were speaking kind of back to back, had a little conference, and we’d always been in touch and through a gentleman named Joshua Farron Brooke who sort of reintroduced us. And so we started talking, I realized very quickly Mike was probably one of Oklahoma’s top venture capitalist guys we have. He’s sort of under the radar for a lot of people. The dude is just really smart. And so we started talking. That was three years ago.
About a year ago is where we met Nathaniel Hardy. Now, Nathaniel had really done the same thing as me. Several years prior to that, he’d started down the path of, “Gee, I’d like to go do this.” And so the three of us all have kind of started and run stuff and all three of us had a desire to do venture capital. The three of us got together and it was… I mean, man, if you’re not spiritual level, make it spiritual, because the fact that the three of us all got together and it’s been a three-year jour to get an overnight success, because when we launched in summer, it took off like crazy. It just proves to me there was a lot of pent up demand. Entrepreneurs needing financial help, so many of them go through all these great programs here in Oklahoma, Thunder Launchpad and 36 Degrees North over in Tulsa and Star Space here in Oklahoma City.
Great platform, but they get out and they go, “Okay, now I need some money to really grow,” and there was no organized money. And so that’s why I think within… we set a goal for 10 million and within, I think, the first two months we’d already surpassed it 10 million in investments. So we’re well past 15 now and it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t hit 20 by the end of the year and we’ve already invested in multiple companies, some of which are already taking off to be amazing.
Aaron Ackerman: That’s really cool. So, yeah. You mentioned some people there and this kind of actually leads into what I really want to talk about for a few minutes. You’ve got an expertise and a passion… this is my perspective, you can tell me if I’m wrong, but around networking, which probably isn’t really the right word, I think relationship building is probably more accurate. I didn’t mention this upfront, but really you and I met… Actually, I don’t remember where we first met, but we really got to know each other on the fishing trip that you organize which… How many years have you done that?
David Woods: A long time.
Aaron Ackerman: A long time. So this annual fishing trip with leaders and executives kind of where we really got to know each other. You mentioned Mike Moratti and the Nathaniel Hardy and really Joshua. Joshua is a connector. I mean, just awesome at helping people meet other people and just finding ways to get people connected and collaborate on things. So you’ve got a book you wrote, I don’t know, maybe five, six years ago at this point about networking. The title is The Art of Networking: Beyond the Handshake, is that correct?
David Woods: That’s right.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. So, I think I read somewhere that… or maybe you told me, I can’t remember it, correct me if I’m wrong, but at some point in your childhood, you were voted the shyest kid in school or shyest kid in the class.
David Woods: Yeah. So that was Enid High School.
Aaron Ackerman: Enid High School.
David Woods: 1974. They have this thing called Sadie Hawkins Week. So during Sadie Hawkins Week, all the girls asked the guys out, that was the stick with that. In fact, the girl I have been married to now 42 years is the only girl that asked me out that week. Okay? So needless to say, I latched on to that. Right? Well, someone at least likes me. Right? And the other thing that happened during that week was they had to elect the thing called Li’l Abner. The requirement for a Li’l Abner was you had to be shyest boy in school. So Enid High was about 1500 kids and only the girls could vote. And so all the girls of Enid High School voted me in as shyest boy in school, which my wife will say that’s not true, but needless to say, I do hold that title. Right?
So when I got into college, I thought, “Okay, that was cute, but that’s probably not going to serve me well.” So I took some speech courses, some communication courses. I wouldn’t say that really turned me around much either. It wasn’t until I got into Ditch Witch and you spend about a year in training there, pretty extensive training to get to the point where you’re a factory rep. Right? And once you become that, they just kind of throw you in somewhere. My first territory was New England. I lived in Oklahoma, I’d travel up there two weeks, home two weeks, out two weeks, home two weeks. And I’d be going to dealerships, but a lot of conferences. And I was the proverbial wallflower at every conference that I went to and I thought, “This is not going to serve me well. I have to learn a skill.”
I didn’t view it as, I need to change my personality. I think if I had thought I need to change my personality, it probably wouldn’t have worked. But I viewed it as a skill and I thought, “Heck, when I was in Boy Scouts, I earned a lot of merit badges around things I didn’t know, but then looked at it as a skill and learned it and got a merit badge. Okay, think of it as a skill.” So I just started quite honestly just practicing on my own, just weird things. Right? Like I’d be in a room and I’d see people talking, I’m like, “I know they don’t know each other. How did they get to know each other?” And I thought, “Well, maybe I just look mean and miserable standing over here.” So I tried to figure out how to look pleasant in a room, which you got to be careful with that because you can look really weird if you’re just smiling at people. Right?
But it was stuff like that. And so over probably the next 10 or 15 years, I just kept honing that as a skill. Right? And you’re right, it was not networking. In fact, one of the keys to networking is… I talk about it being… it’s farming, not hunting. So if you view it, as I got to go get a deal, people can spot that so quick, I don’t care what it is. But if you view it as, I just want to be your friend and build a relationship over a long time and I’ll let that run as long as it needs to run. Eventually, A, I’m either going to have a great friend, or B, somewhere down the road, we can leverage this relationship or something. And that’s worked for me really well. You mentioned the fishing trip. When I became CEO, it was odd I will tell you. I just didn’t ever see myself as a CEO of a firm that large. Right?
But again, I looked at, “Okay, quit thinking of it as David is doing this. Think of it as, you have a role called CEO, how can you leverage the role of CEO in a way to grow the company?” Part of my life there I’d spent in sales and marketing, so I thought, “Okay, well, what if I use that role to go out and thank some of our biggest customers worldwide. So I can use that role and make really deepen a relationship with really big clients.” I had access to a corporate jet, I thought, “Oh, I can turn this into something kind of cool.” All right. So I’d figure out whether it was golfing or fishing or gambling, it didn’t matter what it was, we would set up trips and I’d fly out, I’d pick them up whatever town they were in and then we’d go wherever they wanted to go.
And if I had any inclination at all, I would hint fishing would be fun because I liked fishing. So that’s actually where that started. I realized how deep those relationships would be. There’s guys that literally I could pick up the phone right now and talk to them that are 30-year-old relationships because we just had so much fun doing whatever it was. So fast forward, I start Magellan, still wanted to kind of do that, because then I realized, A, I like fishing, and B, I kind of like doing it with a group. But now everybody pays their own way. I thought, I wonder if people would pay their own way to go do that? And the answer was, yeah, they will. All right. So every year we take on average about 15 people and we have just had an absolute ball doing it.
I will honestly tell you, if I use the hunting versus farming, there’s no business necessarily that comes out of that in the moment. Somewhere down the road, maybe something. What’s more fascinating is watch how many of them get along and start working together to do some really unique things together. To me, that’s as exciting as anything. It’s like, “Had I not gone on the fishing trip, I’d have never met so and so and we wouldn’t be doing this deal or that deal,” whatever it is. So even that’s fairly rewarding to me.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah. Kind of coming full circle like you mentioned, Mike Moratti, for example, you first met him-
David Woods: 10 years ago.
Aaron Ackerman: … [crosstalk] circumstance a decade ago. Probably never thought at that time, like, “Hey, we’re going to be partners some day in this successful venture fund,” but that’s how that works. Right?
David Woods: Exactly. 100%. Just a quick aside on that networking piece. Very few people even knew about this, but one of my coolest honors when I was at Ditch Witch was I was selected to represent the US at a conference in Japan and representing basically the Association of Equipment Manufacturers in Japan. But man, I was so excited. Again, it wasn’t a PR move or anything like that, it was just cool. So I get over there, there’s only like 20 of us from 20 different countries, and what I didn’t know is there was one other person from the US that was there and we were… I remember I was going to our very first dinner, the first night, we’re on this 18 passenger van and I look over and there is my staunchest competitor sitting over there and he was the other guy that was selected.
I had to make a choice in a moment. I can either, A, ignore this guy for the next three days, or B, I can just become friends with him. And thankfully, I chose B, we became great friends. 10 years later, we were buying a company in Atlanta. I called him, he became an investor and became chairman of the board for that organization. Right? So when I talk about farming, that’s the farming I’m talking about. I could never have predicted that, but because I’ve built a relationship, years later, that relationship was just as strong and it made sense to do something at that point.
Aaron Ackerman: Right. Yeah. I love those stories and it’s kind of the… I can’t remember who is credited with it, but the saying of, “If you need shade, the best time to plan an oak tree is 30 years ago,” or something like that. I mean, you just never know when that farming will pay off and you don’t do it hoping for it to pay off, you do it just because you like to be valuable to people, you like to interact, and I believe humans were made for connection and it’s just fulfilling. But stories like that are great because you see, years later, something you couldn’t have anticipated, there’s such a big reward for that, putting value into a relationship or whatever.
David Woods: Yeah. I heard Jack Welch speak one time and he asked, what was the most common trait that he sees in great leaders? And he goes, he said, “You have to have the people gene.” Now, I don’t think that’s the difference between extrovert and introvert. Those are two different things. You have to have an internal part of you that enjoys seeing people do great things. Right? And whether I learned it or I have it, I’m not sure which, but I feel like I have that. I love seeing people succeed.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. That’s great. So the book, you can get it, I guess, on Amazon. I mean, it’s probably 15 or 20 bucks. It’s got a paperback version I think. So, I mean, I’ll recommend everybody check that book out. But if you had to kind of summarize a couple of real key takeaways for a young professional just getting started as far as building a network, building relationships, professionally, what would you tell a young person, maybe a few years out of college, kind of in the early part of their career.
David Woods: Yep. Probably two pieces. These aren’t prioritized. But one is, when you meet somebody, be crazy curious, crazy curious about them. Too many people that get in a networking situation, they just can’t wait to tell them about themselves. And it’s almost humorous to me, sometimes I’ll meet somebody in a setting and they’ll start asking me questions, I’m like, “Oh, we’ll talk about that at some point. Tell me more about you.” And I may spend 20 minutes doing nothing but asking them questions. And we really never ever talk about me and then we move on or whatever happens, we never really talk about me. And three days later, I’ll hear somebody go, “Oh, so-and-so told me they met you. They really like you.” And I’m thinking to myself, “They don’t really know me,” but it was because I cared for them.
So, I think that would be one of the first ones. The other one is, it really dovetails into that, which is, you got to figure out how to serve somebody, you gain a reputation of serving people. Now, for me in this point in my career, my serving is probably… there’s a lot of it centered around just helping people, meaning I have enough people I know. Like I’ll meet somebody and they may or may not ever become a client, that really doesn’t matter to me. 80% of my conversation, like, “You know what? I think you need to meet so-and-so,” and I’ll make that connection for them. So that’s the way I serve them. And I’ve just learned having a path behind me of serving people in some way, sometimes I’ll just try to give them a hand.
Like when I meet people going now, “Don’t tell them everything because you want to sell them.” I’m like, “No, if I can tell them a few things in a conversation and that gets them off rolling, they don’t need a third party, that’s even better.” So I kind of give them the fire hose of, “Try this, try that. If you need a little help, we’re here, but go try these things.” Right? And I think that authenticity and really trying to help people has served me personally really well.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. Well, I think that’s exactly right and people can spot if someone is… if they have a real reciprocity mindset, like I’m going to do you a favor, but I’m going to call in a favor, that’s kind of unbecoming. But if you are, like you said, authentic and just interested in helping people and I’ve got the philosophy that if I help people and serve, I don’t worry about generating fees or getting a client. I just believe the universe will pay me back. And it might be that person, it might be you, it might be somebody I haven’t met yet, but I just believe that that always comes back to you if you are genuine and just have that serving heart.
David Woods: Well, that’s probably the reason I get along really well. I mean, HoganTaylor is that. Right? I mean, it’s a great organization that not once in any communication I’ve ever had did I feel like this is going to be a high pressure conversation, right? It’s sort of people trying to do good things for each other. At some point, there’s maybe an opportunity to do business if you will, but I really feel that with HoganTaylor that you guys are just that very same style if you will.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. Thanks for saying that. That’s certainly what we strive to do and I think you’re right. That’s why you and I were fast friends, we share a lot of the same values and our organizations do as well. So we’re sitting here with about 30 days or so, 30, 31 days left in 2020, which I think all you have to say now is 2020 and that conjures up feelings for people. And I think it will be that way the rest of our lives. I had a daughter that graduated from high school last year, started college this year, and that group in particular had just a lot of… aside from illness and deaths which is obviously the big tragedy globally with the pandemic, people have had a lot of stuff taken away, just experiential stuff. And that group of seniors, 2020 seniors, is lost a lot.
And I’ve talked to her about… that they’re special because of that, that class is special and they’re going to… When she’s 50, she’ll be in a conversation with someone and say, “What year did you graduate high school? Well, I graduated in 2020.” And there’ll be like, “Oh, man.” It will be something kind of like 9/11, you don’t have to explain it. So 2020, I mean, there’s a lot of different things, but from a business standpoint, it’s been different because almost everybody particularly in information and service sectors have been working remotely. What kind of back to networking relationship building, what have you done and what advice would you have for people to not back-burner the networking and adding value and trying to be helpful?
Even though we’re not together physically, or it’s more challenging at least, that a lot of times people would go to conferences, go on a fishing trip, meet for coffee, meet for lunch, those things aren’t happening as much, but yet that continuing to build relationships, build that network, pump value to people that are in your network should still be happening. It looks a little different. How have you kind of managed that this last nine, 10 months and maybe what are some bits of advice you would have for young people?
David Woods: Well, first of all, it’ll be fascinating, 20, 30 years from now to see the long-term impact of 2020, because most people maybe your age, my age for sure knew people that went through the depression. And those people were never same ever again, the way they managed their finances, all of those things. Right? I think 2020 will have some long range I think positive impact on people’s passion for relationships, right? I mean, it’ll be hard to tell, but there will be some long-term stuff. So when we entered this at the beginning of the year, we recognized we had to take Zoom and turn that into a core skill. So we got really good at it-
Aaron Ackerman: Overnight.
David Woods: … overnight, and we worked at it really hard. So I can actually have really good meetings with people on Zoom and most call I have to trick my brain that I’m sitting in the room with you. All right? And when you feel that you’re sitting in a room with somebody, I think it changes your style just a little bit. So that was a piece. Because you can still meet in person, you just can’t do it with 100 people or 20 people or whatever. Right? But I can still do one-on-ones carefully. Right? So we’ve got this name Magellan and we kind of play off of that of the explorer and all of that stuff. So we have a… almost kind of embarrassed to say, because usually we call it the secret place, but we have a bar at Magellan. This bar cart only comes out on special occasions. It’s not out in the open where anybody can see it.
I feel awkward even almost telling you about it. So about six months ago, we said, “Okay, let’s just have a little fun with this.” It was in a closet. I go, “We got a name the closet.” Right? And so we had everybody as an internal thing just playing and then we ended up with the name the Crow’s Nest, kind of goes along with Magellan, right? So we got a cool sign built, the Crow’s Nest. We just kind of amped it up a few times of how to make this cool. We’ve got a book, the Crow’s Nest book that everybody that comes there signs, we named a couple of drinks, and so now when somebody comes in, they’re almost all one-on-one, we’re all socially distant, usually like 10 feet apart, and then we just have an everliving blast just chatting with people.
I’d say 80% of those are just relationships. They’re not even, “I think you’re going to be a client,” it’s just old relationships I’m trying to keep alive during this time. So it’s made it pretty fun. Then the other part is email and Zoom. I mean, I just do a lot of that. I’ll reach out to people, “Hey, I haven’t chatted with you a while, hope you’re doing okay.” If I can spot anything that I can serve somebody in that deal, “Hey, I heard something the other day, thought you’d be interested,” shoot it out to them whatever it is. And so, almost embarrassed to say, our business is up 40% during 2020.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah, it’s good stuff that you say there. One thing I’ve kind of found is, it’s been a really kind of easy way to reach out to kind of weak or dormant ties because it just gives a great entree to say, “Hey, man, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you doing? You surviving the pandemic?” It just gives an easy opener to a conversation. But I think what I hear you saying is just maybe a little extra intentionality. You’re not going to bump into people at the bar or the restaurant as much, you have to just be a little more targeted and intentional about thinking, who do I need to reach out to? Who do I need to pay attention to? Is that-
David Woods: Yeah. I think you’re spot on. In fact, I would say that from a networking standpoint, I’m far more efficient without spending all day in a conference, going to a reception, going where you have 200 people or something and you’re trying to network with the two or three you want to network with. All right? It actually, for me, made networking even more efficient. Now, it didn’t hurt that I have a long history, so I know a lot of people, so that’s not as easy to do if I’m 23.
Aaron Ackerman: Well, thank you for sharing that. So as you know, David, we ask all of our guests the same five questions to kind of wrap up. So I think we’re kind of at the end of our time here, so if you’re ready, I’m going to hit you with these five. So the first one is, what is the first way you ever made money?
David Woods: I was a staff member at Williams Scout Reservation near Cleo Springs, made $18 a week plus tenth onboard. So that was the first job I had, coolest job you could ever have I’m just going to tell you. It was a lot of fun.
Aaron Ackerman: Very cool. So what was your duty? What did you do there?
David Woods: Well, I had the backend because I got turned down. I’m almost embarrassed to say that my dad noticed I was frustrated. At the time, he was the commander advance and he made a phone call and the head of the Boy Scouts did this, “Oh, crap! We didn’t know it was your son.” So I’ll be the first admit I got in pure luck, backing in, utilizing my dad. Right? So they put me on the rifle range and I had an old army Sergeant that holds… and basically I was a grunt, but he taught me how to shoot really well. He was a sharp shooter for the army. So I became a really good sharp shooter by the end of the summer. Well, from then on, once I got in and I think I was pretty good as being a staffer, I was also really good on swimming. So right after that next summer, I came back and basically ran the pool every summer for the next four or five years.
Aaron Ackerman: Very cool. That’s unique, I don’t think we’ve ever had an answer like that one.
David Woods: An $18 a week guy.
Aaron Ackerman: What would you be doing if you had to choose a different career?
David Woods: It probably would have been the Air Force. My dad, as I mentioned, retired there. I actually went through all the trouble, if you’ve ever done this, you know how much trouble it is. Had an appointment to the Air Force Academy. My wife, future wife, was a year younger than me, and I’m like, “Wow! Colorado Springs is a long way for me in Oklahoma.” Yeah. So I went and I thought, “Well, what’s close?” And that’s how I ended up at Oklahoma State. And my dad told me, he goes, “Choosing the college for geographic reasons is a piss-poor reason to pick a college.” And I was like, “Dad, that’s all I got right now.” So I went there and the rest is history. But still I loved being an Air Force brat and I’m good friends with a three star general, General Burpee, who ran Tinker and the Pacific Rim and all kinds of things, worked for Reagan, that kind of stuff.
He’s sort of almost like a pseudo dad to me. We meet once a quarter, another networking, actually just friends, and he takes me to the country club and we have a scotch together. And he’ll always tell me, he goes, “You know your dad would be proud.” I go, “I know it he would.” He goes, “And you’d have been a really good general too.” Right? So that’s probably why that would have been for sure one of my passions, doing that.
Aaron Ackerman: Very good. So what would you like to go back and tell your 20-year-old self?
David Woods: I’ve heard that question asked to a lot of people. Right? I think I would just tell myself, “You’ve got this.” Right? I mean, I don’t know that I would change anything. I think I would’ve just said, “Just keep being you, be authentic all the time.” I probably would’ve said, “Brace yourself, you’re going to go through hard times.” Like when we lost our son, that was hard.
Aaron Ackerman: Sure. Yeah. Nothing harder I’m sure. I liked that answer, David, like just a little shot of encouragement, nothing to do different. Just like, “Keep it up,” just be encouraging. I mean, yeah, I’ve been very fortunate, so I’m not sure I could have told myself anything to make it any better. I’ve had a great ride. So what would you title your autobiography?
David Woods: I think for me it’d just be something centered around, authenticity works, or something. I learned a long time ago I can’t be something I’m not and just always be me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard and learn new skills and stuff like that, but I think through that, I never tried to be… I remember when I first… At each role, I thought, “Well, I wonder what I should be like in that,” and I’d always come to the conclusion, “Just be yourself.” Right? And that served me well.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. I was kind of hoping you would say Li’l Abner, but maybe that’d be-
David Woods: I won that authentically, I’ll put it that way.
Aaron Ackerman: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
David Woods: Actually, that’s going to go clear back to Boy Scouts. Right? You always leave a campsite better than you found it. And I think about that and just about everything I’ve ever done, whether it’s working with a person, working with a company, having a job, I always looked at it as, how do I make this better than it was before I found it? Right? And that has served me really well.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. That’s awesome. I love that. For a lot of us, we probably could hear our mom or dad telling us something along those lines as kids. Part of our mission statement here at HoganTaylor, which is kind of the word or the phrase that I really love the most is that we seek to elevate our communities, our clients, and our people. And I think that’s kind of a similar concept, but-
David Woods: 100%.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah. Just love that.
David Woods: That’s a great way to look at it too. All right? And people can feel that. All right? That’s not a marketing claim, that probably encapsulates the spirit of HoganTaylor about as good as anything.
Aaron Ackerman: Well, David, thank you so much for just sharing so much with us, for your transparency, and just for taking some time and it’s good to see you in person. This is the first face-to-face podcast I’ve done since I think probably March. It’s been a heck of a year for sure and thank goodness the vaccines are coming. I hope everybody makes it until then.
David Woods: Yeah, absolutely.
Aaron Ackerman: Well, hey, I look forward to when we can do another fishing trip,-
David Woods: We’ll go fishing again.
Aaron Ackerman: … and get a group together. That was really fun and just appreciate you looping me in on that. It was awesome and I can’t wait to do it again. Thanks a lot for your time and-
David Woods: Thank you.
Aaron Ackerman: Yeah, have a good one.
David Woods: Thank you, Aaron. Bye-bye.
Aaron Ackerman: That’s all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2020, HoganTaylor, LLP. All rights reserved. To view the HoganTaylor general terms and conditions, visit www.hogantaylor.com.
David Woods is the CEO of Magellan Executive Partners, a management consulting firm based in Edmond, Oklahoma. Previously, David served as CEO of Ditch Witch, Founder and CEO of EXIM Group, and Co-Founder and Partner at Cortado Ventures. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management at Oklahoma State University.
In this episode, David reflects on how his entrepreneurial spirit led him to found his own company, why you should look at expanding your network as farming as opposed to hunting, and why, if all else fails, you can always count on being your authentic self.
This episode is now on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also listen via the podcast player embedded above.
Make sure to subscribe to “How That Happened” to receive our latest episodes, learn more about our guests, and collect resources on how to better run your business.