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How Jason found strength through challenge

Leadership

15 min read

EMyth Client Jason Keen didn’t always feel like a leader. But when his father and owner of their family business, Village Beach Market, passed away from a rare form of cancer, Jason had to step into the role of leader quickly and start planning for the business' future. Making the transition from Technician to Entrepreneur wasn’t easy. It never is. But it’s moving to witness how Jason has been able to step into his new role and inspire his team to do the same in theirs.

When COVID-19 forced business owners to reassess what it means to do business, Jason was ready to pivot, no stranger to weathering difficulty. He found that all of the work he’d put in with his EMyth Coach Susan Wilhelmsen and his commitment to becoming the leader his business needed was bearing fruit. His team was ready for the challenge, to stand by his side on the frontlines, because they believed in him and the power and strength of his vision.

At the beginning of May, we spoke to Jason and his Coach Susan to discuss how Jason and his team have continued their tradition of community and close customer connection during a pandemic that has many feeling more distant than ever. Jason shared his challenges, his successes and his vision for the future ahead.

Listen to the full conversation:

EMyth: How are you doing in this crazy time? How are you managing? 

Jason: Well unfortunately, my craziness began a couple years ago. I had some personal trials I had to deal with while working on the business alongside my dad. Then about 16 months ago, my dad was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of cancer and he passed away last year on April 29. He was an active part of our business. 

For me, it wasn’t just the loss of my dad, it was the loss of a partner. It was the loss of an icon in this area and in the industry. He'd been in the industry since 1951, and his family had been in the industry before that. He had served for 48 consecutive years on the board of directors for a large association and wholesaler here in Florida.

It’s been very difficult to walk that journey. The last few years have been an ongoing cycle of crisis and change, so when the COVID outbreak started, we rolled right into it. In our way, our staff was prepared because of all the changes. Sure, it’s been very difficult. Everyone's tired, stressed and feeling the pressure from the pandemic on their own personal family lives—and then you add work to it. While some people are able to stay at home, we're on the front lines.

It’s been a lot of pressure, but I feel like the journey that God has led me down over the last two years has been preparing me for this moment and whatever the future might hold. It's been a training ground for my leadership.

EMyth: When did EMyth and your Coach, Susan, come into the picture?

Jason: I’ve been with Susan for two and a half years now. I’d come across EMyth earlier through a podcast. I started listening to The E-Myth Revisited on Audible, and it just came alive. Before this, I worked for years on the day-to-day operations of our family business with my dad and brother. My dad grew up in that Technician mode, always working in the business and doing a lot of the technical aspects, that Technician behavior that EMyth points out

Everything that Michael [E. Gerber] shared in The E-Myth Revisited was exactly where I was at. The Technician was exactly how I saw my dad. I could see the whole situation in our business. I got to a point where I was tired of things not changing. You just keep repeating and nothing changes. And that's exactly where it seemed like I was. As hard as I was trying to make changes, I was being pulled constantly into the day-to-day routines of the business. That gave me insight to make the correlations—to say, “That's me, that's where I'm at. And I need help because I can read another book and try to implement it myself, but I need accountability. I need somebody that can walk this journey with me.” 

So my dad was starting to wind down, looking toward retirement. I knew that in order to continue with this business, we needed to make some serious changes. That’s when I started really diving deeper into my own personal development. I thought, “Obviously, there's something that as a leader I need to do differently.” That’s when I finally reached out to EMyth and to ask Susan to consider becoming my coach. And it's been phenomenal. It really has.

So having a coach, someone who can encourage you, speak with you and help you means a lot to the person who hears everyone's problems, but who doesn't have an ally that they can go to and feel encouraged or feel like, 'Hey, I did this right.'

Jason Keen, Owner, Village Beach Market

EMyth: Did you come in with expectations? What was the impact of that beginning stage of the journey? 

Jason: Well, my brother was always the more studious one [laughs] while I struggled with homework. So in a way, the fear of working with Susan came from having to acknowledge that it was kind of like going back to school—I knew I’d have somebody assigning different tasks that would require a lot of reading and writing to get my thoughts out of my head. I always felt like I had writer's block so there was a lot of apprehension there. But I realized, "In order to do this, I've got to face that fear." 

Susan was great. I enjoyed the material I was reading and that wasn't the hard part—it was struggling with perfection. I thought, “Okay, what I put down in this vision has got to be perfect.” Susan and I really worked through that, and it really helped me focus on where I was going to go in the company with that vision: Where did I see the business in the future and how do we get there? So that work became more than just an assignment. It became a relationship with somebody who was helping me with this process—not grading me on the process, but helping me on the process—and that was huge.

When you're at the top of any organization, no matter what size, they say it’s one of the loneliest places to be. So having a coach, someone who can encourage you, speak with you and help you means a lot to the person who hears everyone's problems, but who doesn't have an ally that they can go to and feel encouraged or feel like, "Hey, I did this right”—someone who says, "Look at it from this perspective instead. Don't listen to everybody else right now. Trust your gut. You have the instincts it takes to be a leader." That's been invaluable.

EMyth: What have been your biggest challenges along the way?

Jason: I think the biggest challenge has been understanding my role as a leader and a developer—developing my staff and my employees. You're looking at yourself and asking, "How do I motivate people to change and to look to themselves to lead?" As far as direct managers … some are very set in their ways. They’ve done things one way most of their life, in their industry and their career. So it’s challenging for them to say, "Yes, I need to embrace change, not just for myself but for everybody else in this organization that I'm leading and I'm part of." As an owner, you just want to publish it, email it, state it and have it be done the next day or week. But that's not the way it works. So developing people is a constant challenge. 

Just like how Susan is important to me—teaching and encouraging me—I lead and develop my employees. I motivate them and care for them in a way that will promote their growth. And it’s not just for the business—the ultimate goal is for them to be happy and successful, and feel like they’re making a difference in other people's lives. Because honestly, that's the ultimate gratification, when people trust you enough and come to you to say, "Thank you." And it's not, "Thank you for a raise,” or “Thank you for this thing.” It’s, "Thank you for being you and for helping me become something more." For me, the ultimate compliment is that I'm doing what's right.

No one asks for a crisis to come, but when it does, that's when some of the truest learning and the truest sense of teamwork can really come out.

Jason Keen, Owner, Village Beach Market

EMyth: Susan, what do you see as Jason’s biggest challenges and the biggest successes?

Susan: I agree that, with Jason, it’s been the development of his people. One of the things we went through together was the transition from his dad to him at the head of the company. That was the biggest challenge of the organization because when we came in together, the whole idea was succession planning, and to get Jason ready to take over. And then that came much quicker than any of us even imagined—we hadn’t known that his dad was sick when we first started. Everybody was used to dad leading in one way, coming from the world of “we work hard every day and we work in it.” But Jason had a different philosophy that aligned with ours—the philosophy of strategic work, of working on the business, not in it. So now we’re trying to change a whole organization to ensure that Jason will be in a strategic role, which was much different than what his father had done.

And so kudos to Jason because he quickly started saying, "Susan, I think I need to bring the team or managers into our call." So we started meeting with the whole team every couple of weeks. We talked about what was going on and took them through management development processes. And it made a huge difference because by being together in that way, they could see, "Oh, yes. We're headed in a new direction. We have a new leader, we have a vision."

Before long, everybody was following Jason and we were no longer hearing, "This is the way we did it." Everybody started coming together. It was a big move on Jason’s part to have recognized the right time to bring in his team. Jason’s growth has been phenomenal. 

EMyth: That’s a powerful beginning, Jason. When you said how everything you've been doing for the last few years has prepared you for this moment, I thought of the many people who are really struggling to lead and wondering what to do next. 

Jason: No one asks for a crisis to come, but when it does, that's when some of the truest learning and the truest sense of teamwork can really come out. I've seen it firsthand. It's been amazing to watch. It hasn't been fun, but in a way there's comfort in it now. At first when crisis hits, doubts or fears creep into everyone's mind. But those haven’t been as loud today as they were two years ago when, from our company standpoint, our whole world changed overnight with my dad [getting sick]. That was tough, and this has been challenging, but in some ways it’s gone a lot smoother than I thought.

EMyth: What has been the biggest challenge in this moment of crisis? 

Jason: With the pandemic, we're doing business that’s 2-2.5 times what’s normal for us. My staff wants to know that I have their back, so I do have to be in Technician mode. I'm in the trenches with them. I'm making sure we're working together and finishing the jobs and going home. For the first three weeks, I was working every day, pretty much 14-16 hours a day. My wife and I did that, both of us. Some of my staff had days off in between, but it was important for me that I was with the team so they knew I was there. You battle that Technician mode. But it provided me with a strategic vantage point because now that I'm in the trenches, I'm able to see firsthand what’s going on.

I'm not saying that you have to live in that mode, but it’s giving me the ability to say, "How do we pivot from this? Where’s the opportunity that lies ahead?" We were already working on our e-commerce, and our curbside and home delivery. We were in a pilot program, so we went ahead and moved forward with it because we foresee it happening for the duration [of the pandemic].

It became very clear right off the bat that we needed to pivot and ask, “How do we take advantage of an opportunity that's in line with our vision and propels us forward for the future?” 

EMyth: What processes or systems did you work on with Susan? 

Jason: Mainly the Management Module, managing the team. Susan and I have spent a lot of time focusing on management because it was one of the key areas. I mean, all of [the systems] just lean into one another. Right now, we're spending a lot of time in the Finance Module. Susan and I refer to “Old Co.” and “New Co.” In the old company—my dad's company—my dad had the systems and processes in place that worked for him. But going forward, I had to find what's going to work for me.

We've been working on the new company and the new financials to prepare us for how things are going to look, and what it’s going to look like for location two, location three and so on. 

Susan: I remember working with a marketing person that Jason had and we realized we wanted to bring your whole team in. We brought them in [to take part in developing some Marketing systems]— Customers' Perceptions and Behaviors, The Product Market Grid—so they could really understand their own areas and profitability. Through that, I felt like the Management Team came to understand your customer better, realizing how well they knew the customer and their needs, and where they could improve the customer experience.

One of the biggest qualities of leaders is their ability to let go and trust the people who work for them.

Susan-Wilhelmsen-EMyth-Certified-Business-CoachSusan Wilhelmsen, EMyth Coach

EMyth: Did you make any new critical hires that you hadn’t realized you needed before?

Jason: We did have a new hire. He started as a frontline for about three weeks, and I've never really advanced someone as quickly as I did with him. He showed so much self-motivation to adopt our processes. He was hungry, he was willing and he just really just excelled at the job. So we moved him right along into management. He had some minimal experience but he also really embraced [the new position]. It added so much to the team and pushed everybody.  We have an older staff, some who’ve been with us for 15 years. So he helped propel everyone else. It was a momentum builder for the rest of the team to really get behind our process and start looking at the bigger picture.

Susan: One of the things we've worked on quite a bit is the Organization Chart. We've had several revisions to best set up the store in alignment with the vision. When the transition happened between Jason and his dad, some older staff members just weren't in alignment. And they left or were let go because they were no longer a fit with the new leadership and the new direction of the company. 

EMyth: So what I'm hearing is it's not just new hires, but that the Organization Chart that shifted to match the vision. Have you actually put people in different seats in the Org Chart?

Jason: Oh, yes. There are always going to be modifications with changes to duties and job position agreements and things like that, but the overall Org Chart has been the focus. It lets us look at our vision for how we’re going to grow from one store to four or five stores in three years. 

Susan: Jason, do you remember when we were working on [the EMyth System] Managing Your Time? And all the times you’d leave your office to run over to the warehouse to take something to the store? I said, "We have to stop that now." And you did, right away. Next week, he came back and he said, "Susan, guess what? I'm no longer going to the warehouse."

Jason: It's very true.

Susan: That was the start, right there. He made that one change, and after that it just kept growing and growing to where he was doing fewer and fewer tactical things in the business. Like he said, because of the pandemic, he had to jump back in some. But for the most part, he’s really stayed strategic.

EMyth: I’ve heard from Susan that the fundamental thing you had to do when your dad passed away was become a leader. Are there moments that still stand out where you think, “I've still got to work on this as a leader"? 

Jason: I’d say the biggest moment came when I had to assume my dad's responsibilities. It forced me to look at the strategic side of the business. 

It became a much higher-level position that required my focus to be off of the technical side of things. I had to start absorbing a lot of those higher-level responsibilities. For years, I’d been involved in decisions with my dad, but the relationships—the actual routines and the fundamentals—he did a lot of that work himself. When you start off as a business owner, you make those relationships, you do all that stuff and you take care of those things.  

But I was more focused on the day-to-day operations, so when I got pulled into the other responsibilities—making sure the business license was taken care of, the insurance was taken care of—it was baptism by fire. I didn’t have time to focus on the technical stuff. I had to think about how I’m going to position for the future. Strategically, where do we go from here? That was pretty much an overnight flip of the switch. 

Susan: I appreciate what Jason’s saying here. He's saying that as the leader right now—that CEO-Entrepreneur—he has had to think strategically even though he was pouring over things in a tactical way. He had to think, “What do I have to do now?” and, “I have an opportunity to determine where I want to be strategically. Should I move on and go to a different insurance company? What's best for the company right now?” 

One of the biggest qualities of leaders is their ability to let go and trust the people who work for them. He had no choice at that moment. He had to let go. And when you let go, your people rise up. 

I remember some beautiful conversations that I had both with Jason and one-on-one with his General Manager, about how desperately the General Manager wanted to step up and be that leader that Jason needed. He would come forward when he felt like he was falling short and say, "Wow. I'm really falling short here." Or when he read a [guide in EMyth’s Management Module], he’d say, "Man. I have to do better." It was really interesting to watch that surface.

Jason: And Susan, you said something that I think really is important. When we started the process with EMyth, I'd try to encourage [my team] that this is what they should do. At a point they realized, "He doesn't just want me to do this, he needs me to step up. He needs me to assume these responsibilities and I've asked for these responsibilities. So I'm going to work as a team member to help everybody out because I now feel more validated." It was impressive to see my team step up the way they did.

For me, the ultimate compliment is that I'm doing what's right.

Jason Keen, Owner, Village Beach Market

EMyth: It's like as you stepped into leadership, they saw they had to step into leadership in their own domain.

Jason: That's right.

EMyth: You've talked about growth and about opening a few other locations. What's your future vision for the business today? What are your goals?

Jason: Well, we have a vision for 2021 that Susan and I crafted together. She just pulled the vision out of me. We're a family-owned-and-operated business. We're third generation, but I don't want it to be just about my family. The employees are family. We've been together a long time. I want it to be more of a purpose-driven company, not just a family-driven company. So with that, we focused on the Vision and the Purpose Statement.

I want our company to honor God in all we say and do. I want us to pursue excellence as a company. I want us to serve others and I want us to grow profitably. I envision that our company will be a place where everyone can grow and have opportunities for advancement and betterment. 

I already had in mind about three or four great locations that would fit our niche market. We're in a very isolated area on a barrier island, right on the beach.  It’s a community that doesn’t like to see large stores or big chains. They really want to keep that small-town feel. And so with that I asked, “How can we take our niche market and really grow in those areas?”

So this year, we're not only remodeling our store, but also building that second location. Hopefully we’ll roll out a brand new e-commerce website for both. There's a foundational infrastructure that's going into place right now, but it's setting us up for the growth.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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