Understanding The Role Of The Chief Behind The Chief
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Cameron Herold. Cameron is the founder of the COO Alliance, the World’s Leading Network for Seconds in Command. He’s the host of the Second in Command: The Chief Behind the Chief podcast, where he interviews COOs and other seconds to share their insights with his listeners. He’s also the author of 5 books, a top-rated international speaker, and has spoken on all 7 continents.
The Chief Operating Officer is the second in command to the CEO – they’re the go-to person that should be running the business. In this episode, the founder of COO Alliance, Cameron Herald, talks about what exactly the role of a COO looks like, how that role shifts and changes from organization to organization, and how having a COO can accelerate the growth of your organization.
Questions I ask Cameron Herold:
- [2:27] Are there some things in those early days of figuring operations out that really stuck with you?
- [3:38] How would you define the job title COO?
- [5:02] How does the COO or second in command orient themselves in larger organizations?
- [6:55] How would you describe the second in command in a smaller, more nimble organization that doesn’t have that giant C-suite?
- [8:20] What does an organization that decides that they need a COO need to be thinking about?
- [10:56] Have you been faced with a scenario where people have come to you with the idea that they have outgrown their CEO?
- [12:07] Is it possible to level up a COO they feel that they’ve outgrown?
- [13:34] Is it simply a matter of finding somebody else who has been there in that role before or is it a different skillset or personality entirely?
- [14:38] How much of the job is directing, forming, creating, or nurturing culture?
- [15:35] For someone who is looking for a COO role or looking to replace someone, what do you see are some common mistakes that crop up?
- [17:01] Are you saying that a COO should be looking for somebody that’s going to shore up where the CEO has weaknesses?
- [18:06] Tell me a little bit about COO Alliance and what somebody would expect if they came to look at that.
- [19:12] Do you feel like you’re giving some modern shape to the COO role in general?
- [20:11] Tell us a little bit about the ways that people can engage with your organization.
- [21:18] Where can people learn more?
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John Jantsch (00:48): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Cameron Herald. He is the founder of the COO Alliance, the world's leading network for Second in Command, and he is also the host of the second in command, the chief behind the chief podcast, where he interviews COOs and other seconds to share their insights with his listeners. He's also the author of five books and a top rated international speaker having spoken on all seven continents. Probably not too many people can say that. So Cameron, welcome to the, the show.
Cameron Herold (01:22): Hey John, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
John Jantsch (01:25): So you are a little beyond the 800 got junk story. You've done a lot of stuff since then, but that was, that's been a pretty good calling card. Hasn't it?
Cameron Herold (01:34): It's been a great calling card. It's funny. I was speaking with guy Kawasaki a few years ago and I said, you know, do you ever get tired of, of speaking with, uh, about apple? And he, he said, do you ever get tired of speaking about 100, got junk? I'm like, no, it was just such a, a passionate thing. But yeah, it was 15 years ago. I think it was 15 years ago next week that I left.
John Jantsch (01:52): Oh, wow. Well, I moved four years ago or bought a house in Colorado about four years ago and slowly moved. And I can say we, we had to use the services of one 800 got, uh, junk because we'd been in this for about 30 years.
Cameron Herold (02:08): Well, my, yeah, my youngest son got to work in the trucks last summer for the first time. So he is kinda excited about that.
John Jantsch (02:14): So, so that was early in your career in a lot of ways. And in reading your story, you know, that was a, you were when you showed up as a youngster, so to speak and in that role, that was kind of a stretch or a new role for you. So are there some things in those early days of kind of figuring operations out, I guess, that, that really stuck with you?
Cameron Herold (02:35): Uh, something changed. So one under God junk was actually the third company that I'd helped scale. So I helped build void auto body and Gerber auto collision and then a private currency company prior to that. And then I'd been involved in another group called college pro painters, which was the world's largest residential house painting company. So I actually joined wing hundred Gott junk as their COO when I was 35. So for me, for the first four years, it was actually a little bit like, you know, I already had the expertise. I knew what to do. Let's just crank through this. What really started to hit me was two things. One when scale started to kick in, when we hit the, you know, 200 employees at the head office, 2000 employees system wide, it started to get complex and a little bit outside of my sandbox. And then secondly was the text. I started to appear where we started to leverage or talk about technology and automations and optimization. And that was, you know, 2004, 2005 was, I was realizing that it was no longer about working harder. It was about working smarter. And then it was also about optimizing and automation that we could, you know, really scale.
John Jantsch (03:38): So the role or the title, job title, COO, how would you define that now? Because it's certainly changed dramatically, hasn't
Cameron Herold (03:45): It it's changed in a few ways. So 20 years ago to be the COO, you had to be a major player at a major company. And I think we've had title inflation now where, you know, you can have a 12 person company. Sure. And they've given everyone a C level title. So I think there's been a little bit of title in inflation. The CEO is really the second in command to the CEO. They're the person that should be running the business. If the CEO was sick for six months and couldn't come in, they tend to be the one that has kind of a bit more multidisciplinary, um, subject matter expertise. They could probably run marketing, they could probably run ops. They could probably run chart. You know, they could probably run some areas of the business, but they don't necessarily have the pure domain expertise to be a chief marketing officer or a chief technology officer in a similar size company. So they tend to have, you know, good operational chops, um, and very strong people skills. But yeah, I think there's been title inflation. What used to be a director of ops or a VP of ops has often become as COO. And then you still have the Cheryl Sandberg who's, you know, been COO of Facebook for 15 years with the same title. So just a little bit of confusion.
John Jantsch (04:49): Well, and I would say the other way around too, I think some larger organizations there's been maybe title fragmentation
Cameron Herold (05:24): Yeah. If you look at, in any size organization, the COO and CEO are almost in the same box, it's almost the yin and yang where those two coupled together are overseeing the entire arc of the operations. And then you'll have titles, whether it be VPs or co C level that are running the independent, you know, business areas, whether you've got people or finance or it, and then there has been some of that, you know, movement, like, you know, the head of sales used to be a VP of sales, but they didn't get a C level. So now it's the chief revenue officer, right. Instead of the chief sales officer
John Jantsch (06:27): Well, and maybe to, to where I was really headed with this, maybe the second in command, um, is more descriptive of the job title than CEO. So I mean, how we know that. Yeah.
Cameron Herold (06:36): I didn't, I said now for the last year or so, I started the COO Alliance six years ago and I said, if I was to retitle it, right, it would be more around the second in command than the COO cuz we have members from 17 countries that we've got president titles, VP ops titles, CTO, titles, but they're truly the second in command to the CEO.
John Jantsch (06:55): Yeah. So, so in a
Cameron Herold (07:19): It's funny. I was at a Verne har event about 14 years ago and I came off stage speaking and someone came up to me said, oh my gosh, you're Cameron. And I said, yeah, he said, everyone's been running around the conference saying, I need a Cameron. He said, I thought you were a saying, I thought you were like a BHAG or a vivid vision.
John Jantsch (08:14): It, at that point, it's, it's really strategy more than pure execution. Isn't it? Yeah. So, and, and maybe you can expand the range. I'm gonna give you a couple scenarios that, that I'm guessing that you run into because you work with people in all sizes, you know, coming and going
Cameron Herold (08:46): Well, and there's a few different reasons why you may end up needing a COO or that second in command. One is that the roles and responsibilities that are on the entrepreneur or the CEO's plate, or just too many, and they need to kind of divide and conquer. So they need that partner, right. Or maybe it's that you've got a really key player in the organization that if you don't handcuff them to the company, they're gonna leave. So it's a title. It's like an MVP, it's that title where you know that you're gonna lock them up because of that, it may be a change in agent, right? It may be somebody who you just know intuitively like I'm a 60 year old CEO of a company. And now we've got technology coming in. I need a change agent to come in and take us from the way we always did it to an optimization and automation and remote workforce.
Cameron Herold (09:30): And we don't have that skill internally. We need that expert to come in from the outside. They're the change age. So there's often a number of different types of roles that the COO can play. It may be somewhere where the CEO has built the company and now they want to step away a little bit and let someone run their business. So they have, you know, the reason we start companies in the first place is to give us cash, to give us free time or to say that we did it right. So once we've done it, once we got a enough cash coming in, how do we get more free time? It's to let someone run our business for us? Yeah. So there's often different reasons for that COO role. It's confusing.
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John Jantsch (10:57): I'm guessing I'm gonna throw out the other scenario that you also have people that come to you and say, I have a CEO. Oh, but we've outgrown them. You know, or how do we level up
Cameron Herold (11:08): That was me. So, you know, 15 years ago, next week, my best friend, Brian, who was the CEO and founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. We were actually supposed to go for dinner tomorrow night, 15 years ago. He me aside on Thursday morning at the Vancouver club. And he said, I think we're done. I, I think you've hit the end of your six and a half years. You're not the guy to take us to a billion. I took him from 2 million to 106 million, but he was right. I was not the guy to go to the billion. And I was the sixth member of our sixth member leadership team to get replaced. You know, we replaced every other leader of the leadership team. I was the last one and they needed the next group of true seasoned leaders. So Brian replaced me 12 months later with the former president of Starbucks, us and Lonnie walked in and said, what a cute little company. And meanwhile, I'm pulling my hair up going, oh my God, it's so big. And she's like, this is cute. What a cute little business
John Jantsch (12:07): Well, that's interesting then is the simple answer. You replaced them with somebody or can you actually level that person up? Can they gain this? The, the skills You have to be there?
Cameron Herold (12:17): I've talked to a few people about this. So Ben HTZ and I have spoken about this, who wrote the book called the hard thing about hard things. And then clay mask, who is the founder of, of infusion saw he and I have spoken clay, and I have said that it really a, a senior leader can go through two doubles in the size of the company before it gets very hard for them to do the third double. Right? So let's say that you go from 5 million to 10 from 10 to 20. It's very hard for that leader to be running a 40 million company let alone 80. Well, we did six consecutive years of a hundred percent revenue growth. So I was clearly by that year six, I should have been replaced. And then the, in Horowitz said, it's one triple that if you go from 10 million to 30, it's hard to take it to 90.
Cameron Herold (12:58): Right? And I think you can level up, you can work with them on their situational leadership and their coaching and time management and project and EQ and all the skills. But the business is different. You know, when I was leaving, we had 13 operational businesses operating in four countries, 3,100 employees, systemwide 330 cities. It was just big. And I didn't have the depth anymore to slow down, to consider cross-functional matrix decision making. Like I was hearing terms, I'm like, I don't even know what these mean, let alone how to operate within them. And then, you know, that's all
John Jantsch (13:34): I was gonna say. So is it simply a matter of somebody else has been there?
Cameron Herold (13:43): It's a combination of both. I think it's not only the person has been there it's that the person has taken a company there. Mm. Cause really what Brian didn't want was someone who had run a billion dollar company. He needed someone who had grown a hundred million company and made it bigger. And then he needed a new cultural fit that fit the size of the organization. So strangely that, that woman, he brought in didn't work, he ended up getting rid of her, but he's then replaced her with a friend of mine who I've known for 35 years. We co-founded a fraternity together in Ottawa in 1987. I was president the first year he was president the second year of that fraternity. Now he's the COO. He, Eric, would've been a horrible COO in the first six years as I would've been horrible in his tenure, but he's just done 10 years as COO and has taken the company to 450 million. He's the perfect DNA for the size organization. It is now and a cultural culturally really strong of it with Brian. The trust is really strong.
John Jantsch (14:39): So I had culture written down. I mean, how much of, how much of the job
Cameron Herold (14:50): Oh, a lot of it, you know, I, I believe that the culture kind of permeates from within, so it starts with the C-suite, it starts with an obsession for core values and mm-hmm,
John Jantsch (15:34): So you've talked about what it takes when we're really growing that company, but for somebody that is out looking for COO role, or maybe looking to replace somebody, what, what, what do you see are some common mistakes, uh, that, that are that crop up
Cameron Herold (15:50): The most common one is that they assume, and I'm actually working on a book about the co relationship that'll come out in about six months, but it's the, the most common one is that they assume that if the person has had the role before they can come into my company and do the same role and they can't because the company is very different, you know, not unlike having a spouse or a partner in a relationship if I've been married, just because that woman was my wife doesn't mean she'd be a good wife for someone else, nor would I be a good husband for it, right. There needs to be a sync with core values and culture. And you know, if I love cooking, I probably want somebody who likes to clean. If I like somebody who, you know, you need to find the similarities and the commonality. And then also the fact that we don't wanna get into each other's lanes. So, you know, Brian did not need someone to run finance in it cuz he liked finance in it. Whereas I have members of the COO Alliance that two of their core areas that they run are finance in it. Right. So because their CEO doesn't of those areas. So it's very, it's a misfit when they just assume, oh, they've been a COO, there'll be a great one for me. Not necessarily.
John Jantsch (17:01): Well. So in some ways, are you saying a CEO should be looking for somebody that like for, in my case, I'm really, I'm not a system process finish line,
Cameron Herold (17:22): Yeah. You're looking for someone who's your yin and yang, right? Who's the match to like you're Sarah is your second in command and, and correct. She is amazing at systems, amazing at process she's very kind of inward facing and the organization. She didn't even love being on my second command podcast because she doesn't talk to the media much, whereas you're always on stage and you're the marketing person. And so she's the yin to your yang, right? The trust is very high. The relationship is very strong. Those are all what you're looking for.
John Jantsch (17:50): Yeah. Um, there seem to be a lot of organizations built around this idea of scale and helping people, you know, coaching people on that kind of growth. There's not a whole lot of people that are doing, I think what you're doing exactly. And that's working with the second in command. So tell me a little bit about COO Alliance and, and you know, what somebody would expect if they, uh, came to look at that.
Cameron Herold (18:14): Yeah. You know, you, you mentioned I've been paid to speak on all seven continents. I've done a lot of work with entrepreneurial organizations around the world. So I've worked with Y P O in 10 countries. I've worked with the entrepreneurs organization in 26 countries. I've done large scale speaking events for Vista and 17 cities. And then there's all these other groups for entrepreneurs like genius network and Maverick and baby bathwater and GoBundance and war room, amazing events. But those are all for the CEO and then there's organizations for marketers and for lawyers and for dentists and doc, but there was never an organization for the second command. And I really wanted a place where the CEOs could go and spend two full days talking about interviewing and hiring and onboarding of people. Whereas if you put, you know, a hundred entrepreneurs in a room, they can only talk about recruiting for 10 minutes before they need to switch subjects. So we need, we needed a place for them to geek out on the stuff that's more COO like, and as the whole impetus, we're starting it. Do
John Jantsch (19:12): You feel like you are actually shaping the role as it exists today by doing obviously you, you have a fairly large reach. I know you're, there are lots, the world is a big place, but do you feel like you're giving some modern shape to the role in general?
Cameron Herold (19:27): I'd never thought about that. I guess I would like to now that you, you, I, I think that Gina WMAN and Mark Winters have done a really good job with getting the integr or the integrator brand for traction, and they've done a good job with shaping it at the smaller level. I think Nathan Benton, Steven Miles have done a really good job in their book. Um, writing shotgun and an article they wrote for Harvard years ago about the role the COO. But yeah, I think there's been a gap in having a community for second in commands. And I don't want to be their thought leader. You know, if, if we had a spokesperson for COOs, it should be Cheryl Sandberg, not Cameron herd. I just want to create an organization where they can learn from each other and be with each other. And so I, I guess, yeah, it would be cool if we could.
John Jantsch (20:11): So, so tell us a little bit of just about all the ways that people can engage, you know, your organization, cuz I mean it's everything down to a self-study uh, program all the way through some high level coaching, right?
Cameron Herold (20:22): Yeah. So the invest in your leaders course is the self-study program. It's the 12 core leadership skills that all managers and leaders need to get better at. So it's called invest in your leaders. The C O Alliance is the clear one we've been talking about. We've got members from 17 countries. You need to do at least 5 million in revenue just to qualify. And then you have to be the second in command of the CEO. And that's 12 events, uh, every year online and we do two in-person events a year as well. And then we have the second in command podcast and that's just one that everybody should listen to where we never interview the entrepreneur. We only interview the second in command. Right? So I, I love you. I think your work's amazing, but we could never have you as a guest, but Sarah, your second in command was a great guest.
John Jantsch (21:01): Awesome. Well, she enjoyed being on the show and I've great have, have gotten great feedback because you do have a, a large audience of pretty focused folks that listen to it. Well, Cameron, it was great having you on this show. I can't believe it took this long, but I appreciate you stopping by and I do you wanna send anybody? I know we've been talking in generalities, but do you wanna send anybody to a website or anything that uh, they can learn more?
Cameron Herold (21:24): Yeah. If they go to COO alliance.com, they'll find it everything. And then all five of my books are available on Amazon, audible and iTunes. Thank you. I just wanted to be there for your audience.
John Jantsch (21:32): Oh, well I appreciate it. And uh, hopefully we'll run into you one of these days out there on the road.
Cameron Herold (21:37): Thanks John. Appreciate it.
John Jantsch (21:38): Hey, and one final thing before you go, you know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you in, in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the marketing strategy assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment.co not.com.co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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