7 Thought Leaders Who Helped Me Rise To CEO


“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

In the middle of a life that had him inventing calculus and laying the foundation for classical mechanics, Isaac Newton had this to say in 1675 about his accomplishments.

The concept of achieving greatness by building upon the success of others still stands true to this day. No industry leader is truly solely responsible for their success.

My success in business and in building Growth Institute as co-founder and CEO is not attributed to any superhuman merits of my own.

It is because I too have stood on the shoulders of giants – the top business thought leaders of our generation who guided, mentored, and propelled me further than I ever could have achieved on my own.

Here are seven people who influenced me the most and helped me on my journey in building successful businesses and Growth Institute.

#1 Verne Harnish, Author of Scaling Up

If you’ve been a follower of Growth Institute, then this man needs no introduction. For those who may not know him yet, here’s a little bit more about Verne.

verne harnish thought leader
Verne has been named one of the "Top 10 Minds in Small Business" by Fortune Small Business. He is the founder of the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization (YEO) — now known as Entrepreneurs' Organization and the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs, Co-Founder and Principal of Growth Institute, and Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Gazelles, Inc.. He is also the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and Scaling Up.

The concept behind his trainings and books is based on the leadership and management practices used by John D. Rockefeller where Verne has distilled the three "pillars" habits to help small business rapidly grow and scale up: "Priorities", "Data", and "Rhythm". 

"Verne really helped me understand what it takes to be a CEO."

I first met Verne when I was building one of the first financial websites for Mexico. We had just gotten USD$53 million of investments from JP Morgan and other investors. We were growing really fast, from four founders to 85 employees in about seven months.

I was invited to join YEO, now known as Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) to learn how to manage this rapid growth. I was keen to know who was the best teacher and was directed to Verne’s program, “Birthing of Giants”. I applied, was accepted, and that’s where I met Verne.

Verne really helped me understand what it takes to be a CEO — what I needed to do, the positions I needed to have, what employees to have, how to use metrics, how to run meetings, and more. In summary, everything I needed to take control of my company and execute.

I still run all my businesses with Verne’s scaling up framework 18 years later, including at Growth Institute.


#2 Brad Smart, Author of Topgrading

brad smart thought leaderBrad is the founder of Topgrading, the hiring methodology that has enabled hundreds of companies, including leading companies such as General Electric and Barclays, to more than triple their hiring success, promoting and retaining high performers. His book, Topgrading, outlines his 12-step topgrading process to attract and hire A-Players, effectively weeding out “chronic B- or C-players”.

I met Brad at the “Birthing of Giants”, a year after I met Verne. Brad was one of the thought leaders invited in the second year. Now, one of the things Verne teaches in his Scaling Up methodology was hiring the right people. Brad showed me exactly how to do that.

Brad taught me you don't need to be a good hiring executive, you just need to know and follow a process. Think about it like McDonald’s. Any 15-year-old kid can build a hamburger like McDonald's because the process is so well-detailed that every burger tastes exactly the same — no matter which franchise you’re at.

"Brad taught me you don't need to be a good hiring executive, you just need to know and follow a process."

Brad gives us the key formula to hire and retain the best, every time. Learning from Brad has helped me hire high performing people who are a great cultural fit with my businesses and who have the right attitude.


#3 Victoria Medvec, Creator of High Stakes Negotiations program

Victoria is a renowned expert in the areas of negotiations, executive decision-making, influence, and corporate governance. She teaches these topics to senior-level executives and Boards of Directors from companies around the world.

I met Vicky in 2012 when Verne sent me to take a class with her in Dallas. At this point in time, Verne and I were talking about Growth Institute and he said to me, "Hey, every executive needs to do two things; hire great people and know how to negotiate."
Victoria Medvec thought leader
I had already learned from Brad, so now off I was to Dallas to learn from Victoria. I learned from Victoria that the key to successful negotiations is in the preparation. The fact is that many of the negotiation books and courses talk about how to negotiate things like buying a car or new house. In these instances, you don’t have to deal or work with the people on the other end.

"The relationship is key to carrying out what is being negotiated."

But for us as leaders in business, it is different. The people we negotiate with are partners, suppliers, clients etc. The relationship is key to carrying out what is being negotiated. So Victoria really gave me the process to make sure I leave the table excited about working with the other party, not feeling like I could have done more. That is key for both sides of the negotiation.


#4 Salim Ismail, Author of Exponential Organizations

Salim Ismail is a sought-after technology strategist and the best-selling author of Exponential Organizations. As a renowned entrepreneur with ties to Yahoo! and Google, Salim consults with governments and the world’s top Fortune 500 companies on innovation and growth.

Salim was also the Founding Executive Director of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think-tank offering educational programs and a business incubator. I attended Singularity University on a recommendation I’d gotten from Peter Diamandis.
salim ismail thought leader
The Singularity program was eye-opening for me. He gave me a new understanding on technological trends and where the future was heading — but what I really liked was Salim’s human touch and connection. On the one hand is the role of technology, and on the other hand is how we deal with technology as human beings.

When Salim later published his book, I invited him to speak at the summit where he taught our best clients his models on how to change your organizational structure in a way that allows you to use technology to grow exponentially. Salim had distilled these models by decoding all the top companies in the world that are growing exponentially and found the 11 things they do differently.

For me, I’d rank Salim’s book as the top five books I’ve read in the last five years. It has significantly changed the way I think, the way I see organizations, and how I need to adapt my own company, Growth Institute, to grow exponentially.


#5 Jack Daly, Author of Hyper Sales Growth

Jack Daly is a professional sales trainer turned accomplished sales coaching authority. He draws upon first-hand knowledge of the sales industry, having been CEO of fast-growing companies for over 20 years, to develop street-tested sales trainer methodologies.
jack daly thought leader
That’s what’s unique about Jack. Everyone else is teaching how to sell more, but no one is really teaching you how to be a sales manager. As an entrepreneur, you’re not just doing sales. You also need to be really good at managing your sales team for the system to be successful.

I first met Jack at a Gathering of Titans event in 2005 where he was a speaker. I was running a mortgage company back then, and he had a mortgage company, so I identified with him a lot. I became addicted to his free-spirited passion for life which comes out just through his speech.

At the time I met him, I had a bad preconception about sales and Jack changed that. Jack saw sales with so much passion and with so much life that I too fell in love with sales because of his philosophy. For me, that's what makes him unique.

"I too fell in love with sales because of his philosophy."

I’m still using a lot of his stuff in the way we sell, from the philosophy of sales to how to be an effective sales manager and finally, how to build a great company culture that fosters the best sales agents. Combining his methodologies around these three areas has helped us at Growth Institute achieve hyper sales growth.

Jack isn’t all about sales though. To date, he’s completed marathons in over 33 U.S. states and competed at twelve Ironman competitions. If you don’t find this top business guru’s passion for sales inspiring, maybe his passion for personal fitness will do

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#6 John Mullins, Author of The Customer-Funded Business

John Mullins is a professor of entrepreneurship at London Business School, and author of numerous business books. I first came across his work per recommendation from Verne. I read Customer Funded Business and it totally changed my mind about raising money.

Up to that point, I’d been a huge fan of venture capital for perhaps 15 or 20 years. I had always said I wanted to start a venture capital fund, and indeed I had tried once before but was not successful.
john mullins thought leader
I finally got to meet John when he came to speak at one of the ScaleUp Summits in 2015. I was already impressed by his book, and was excited to meet with him in person.

John helped me understand the good, the bad and the ugly of venture capital. This was a very big shift for me because as an entrepreneur, it’s very sexy to be able to say, "Yes, I got the valuation and they invested $3-5 million in my company.”

John taught me that this was not always the right thing to do, and this nugget has to be the best thing I learned from John. He made me realize it’s much easier to convince one VC to give you money than it is to convince 1,000 clients to buy from you.

"John’s model focuses on building a product at a price a client's willing to pay for, and that's what I like about it."

I learned from John the right way of winning a client is simply offering them a value they're willing to pay you for. The danger of having a lot of venture capital is you throw money away cutting corners to grow faster. But you don’t focus on building a product people actually want to buy. John’s model focuses on building a product at a price a client's willing to pay for, and that's what I like about it.

Because of John, we at Growth Institute decided that we weren’t going to grow our company by raising venture money. We're instead raising money from our own clients that have been successful with us instead of going with venture capital that is not our client.


#7 David Meerman Scott, Author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR

David Meerman Scott is an online marketing strategist and author of several books on marketing, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR.

In the past, it was common for most traditional agencies to spend a lot of money on TV placements without any real way to measure impact. The landscape has changed now and new rules have come into play. David teaches how to leverage social media and current trends by using guerrilla marketing tactics adjusted to today’s social media environment.
david meerman scott thought leader
In 2015, my team decided we needed to step up our online presence and improve our marketing strategy. I asked my network who I could learn from and they pointed me to David. I read his book and it totally resonated with me.

It’s now possible to generate attention for your product, service or idea in minutes, not months. We knew we had to adapt. We had to get web-driven, and real-time. Now, our brand is always on. David is a great mentor for me because he's always on top of emerging trends. Every time I talk to him, I’ll discover what's working now and what’s really creating impact.

"It’s now possible to generate attention for your product, service or idea in minutes, not months."

David has helped a lot of entrepreneurs really understand today's trends and marketing channels, and how to use them correctly. What I learned from him is that marketing today is a completely different mindshift to what marketing was before. Learning all about this new real-time marketing has helped us at Growth Institute really scale our company.

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