How to turn a 30+ Leadership Career into a Consulting Business with Dave SaliarisApr 09, 2019
Dave Saliaris was a sales and customer service executive with over 30 years of experience who found himself at a career crossroads when his company was bought out by an equity firm.
He felt blindsided by many of the changes and decided it was time for him to control his own path.
But he didn’t know his sweet spot given the breadth and depth of his career.
Through the work we did together on his brand messaging and positioning we discovered the through line that tied together his strengths and experiences – he was an athlete. He was a competitor. He consistently motivates others to have the grit passion and focus for winning.
Here’s what he had to say: “I had a lot of discoveries about myself and my capabilities. I believe a lot about the word "why" and why you do things and how you do things, and what would be a company why; those things and what drives you. And that period of time allowed me to discover what those were for me, and the passion and grit and understanding that these are things that propel me came out and became a part of what my brand would be in going out there.”
- Watch Dave share his story about navigating that nebulous transition between corporate leadership and business ownership.
- And if his story resonates with you, learn more about my brand messaging and positioning program: https://www.betsyjordyn.com/messaging-positioning
Betsy Jordyn: Well hey there, it's Betsy Jordyn and I am so excited to interview our latest Consultants Institute grad, Dave Saliaris, who has his own consulting group that he is launching officially. So welcome. I'm so glad to have you here and I'm so glad you're willing to take the time to talk to us.
Dave Saliaris: Well hi Betsy. I really appreciate the time you're giving me to talk with you. I'm really excited about doing it.
Betsy Jordyn: Well the first thing I'd love to dive into is just you're one of those unusual people that is able to take the big risk. I know there's a lot of people who are currently in a job that they're not thrilled at and they wanted to take your leap; the leap into this kind of world. So tell me a little bit about your back story. So tell me a little bit about your background and what was it that made you decide; like you know what, I want to take the risk and start my own shop?
Dave Saliaris: Yeah, pretty interesting. I worked in a company for a long period of time, over 30 years, in various roles so it was like I had moved through various different jobs; traveled all over the world at a very high level position of a global vice president role; 250 people globally working for me, those kind of things. So it was a very significant role and we did very unique things and new to the world type products. Well the adventure kind of stopped with that as an equity company came in and decided to do some things differently and cut costs, and I found myself in a transitionary mode and trying to decide what I was going to do next. Would I move to a new company and take on another executive role without any background in the company and do what I was doing before? Or I'm in my latter half of the 50s and decide to control this myself and take on a journey of creating some IP, some capabilities using my past to help other companies do better in the way that I was working with all the groups that I had done for 30 years?
Betsy Jordyn: Wow! So it sounds like there's a couple things going on here. So you had a really great job and then it seems like the rug kind of got pulled out from under you. But instead of looking at it as something negative you said huh; I wonder if there's something more is what I'm gathering about your story. Does that sound right?
Dave Saliaris: Yeah, that's hitting it right on the head. I wanted to be able to do more; be able to carry on. A lot of things that I had done within the time period of managing people; so I was a mentor to people. I was a sounding board to other higher executives about what their strategies may be or how they might sound in a particular presentation at a quarterly review in front of thousands of people. I ended up being that guy that would be the one that they would speak to all the time. And as I'm sitting there thinking about what my next steps were, I tried to say to myself am I – do I have enough skill sets and capabilities to offer this as a consultant out in the world, and would that be digestible things that people would want? And that's where I've landed.
Betsy Jordyn: So what's so interesting as you describe this is that there were things that you were paid for and then there were all these other skills that you were identifying that you weren't officially paid for but you wanted to say like you know what; I wonder if these other things that I do that there's a market for that. So it wasn't even just monetizing your official job responsibilities, but all of these other passions that you weren't necessarily being compensated for.
Dave Saliaris: Yeah. I mean that's really saying it. You know I have always been very comfortable speaking in front of crowds; I've always been a natural motivator. I'm a coach in and out of the business. Like I was a commissioner for a youth Lacrosse program from seven years and brought 450 families into the community of the sport that we were dealing with, and grew it from 2 teams to 24 teams. It was a remarkable time period and it was a motivational thing that helped do that. It was bringing people together in ways that gave them bites and ownership of things to make them transcend what they did in one way to propel them to be fulfilled in other ways. So I thought I could use that skill in and out of a corporate life and perhaps package it together and sell it out as a consultant.
Betsy Jordyn: Wow! So what's so awesome about what you're saying is that you didn't want to replicate your previous role; you wanted to recreate it. And the only way to recreate it was doing your own thing. But let's be honest. For a lot of people, myself included when I was making the leap, that going from a full time job where you have a steady paycheck into the unknown world; that's a big transition. What got you over that hump? Like what gave you the confidence to say you know what? I want to go in this direction and I'm done with working for somebody else?
Dave Saliaris: Well that is probably one of the most significant barriers for people to make a transition into doing something like this. Besides having what I like to call grit and passion about developing things and sticking through it to get through it, that hurdle of the safety net of a continuous paycheck, perhaps health insurance that's right there for you; those things are difficult to step your toe into uncharted waters and say I'm going to navigate this. You've really got to have enough gumption and enough guts to be able to go do all this.
And I can't say it was easy. I mean there have been some times for me personally where I'm sitting there going do I need to take on a part time role somewhere to help fulfill what I need to do? Or can I push through and start to win some things? And it's been a journey.
Betsy Jordyn: But your mentoring experience was perfect and easy, right?
Dave Saliaris: Absolutely!
Betsy Jordyn: I want to ask you about that in a minute. But I really want to dial into what you're saying here though, because what you're saying is so important is that there's a moment that you say I just – I'm going to go in this direction. That's one of the big things I notice between highly successful consultants and the rest is that they've got that commitment. You call it grit/passion; I just say that commitment to say I'm going all in. What was the defining moment that made you feel like you know what? I want to go all in in this direction?
Dave Saliaris: I think that they defining moment was kind of a couple of things wrapped together. And quite frankly one of them was listening to your podcast Betsy.
Betsy Jordyn: Aww!
Dave Saliaris: That you had out there about what to do and how to do this. I was under probably the misconception that I didn't have enough of a narrow focus of skill sets from the role that I was in previously being a very high level manager of managers, right, to be able to narrow down say that I have a skill set that somebody might want. I had a bunch of individuals that I had hired that were very highly capable people; data analytics people, software development, project managers that all had very significant skill sets that I thought those were the guys that could be consultants. But after listening to you and your podcast and understanding that I do have value in different ways than they would; that's the thing that set me on the course. It was that one and then the continuous underlying initial anger about what happened at the company transcending into pure motivation that kept driving me to say I'm not going to let anybody else do this to me again. I'm going to control my own path. I'm going to make it to be what I want. And then frankly I want to be able to give back to a lot of various things in a way that I've never been able to do before, and I think this is going to be a mission to let me do it.
Betsy Jordyn: So I love everything that you're saying. And I think the number one thing that I heard is that when that situation happened to you, you decided instead of being in that survival mode is like hey; let me take a pause to say maybe this is an opportunity. The second thing that you did is you took a look at your skill sets and said hey, maybe there's parts of me that I haven't been able to bring into my work. I wonder if there's a way that it is. You allowed your perception – because one of the biggest challenges for people from executive roles is that you are so used to having everybody else do everything; and then starting a consulting business – like okay, I all of a sudden have to do work again and not direct it. You decided to embrace that opportunity and really dig in.
And then fourth it was just your ongoing value around this grit/passion and continuous improvement, and channeling the anger. I love what you said about it is you channeled it. Like one of the things I think about anger is it gets a bad rap. But the thing is that anger is also an energetic push to move into new directions. And I remember our first conversation you said the word "control". I remember you and I having a conversation like this and you said I want to have control over my time and my earning power; and you must have said career because I think I missed it and I reframed it for you. And you were like no; I want control over my career. And I think that that's what carried you, because now as we've been working together for the past several months; like what have you learned about who your ideal client is and how did you get to the point of really dialing in? Because at first you were wondering what you did, then it took a while. Like how did you – what have been the big lessons about what you're meant to do and what is this new business that you are launching right now all about?
Dave Saliaris: Right. So along the journey of us working together we discovered what the real sweet spot of what I can provide out in the world would be. And there are some unique things I believe that I can give to people because of a broad base of what I had as a global manager. So three different legs of a business type of knowledge from product development to high level sales to post sale services, and at a high level managing all of those things. Most people don't have two of those and I had three of them. So I could repackage that together to deliver to manufacturing companies that are anywhere from $10 to $100 million. A lot of those companies even up to the $100 million mark still tend to have entrepreneurial type capabilities around the business. And they're working to transcend into a new style business where they want to be full-fledged. They've probably hit on a product that's been able to get out there and sell, but they're trying to get that next product going and what they're finding is they're getting stuck. And they're having a hard time connecting the customer needs through the transition of writing real requirements, moving through product development, building sales techniques around these products to then as they get out in the field having a whole product service sector that wraps it together to keep the customer coming back.
And so that transition from entrepreneurial to full business needs processes and capabilities that allow the different silos of those businesses to interwork together in a highly innovative, energetic, fulfilled way. And I can deliver that to show people how to do that.
Betsy Jordyn: Wow. I mean I just – the passion is just oozing out of you. One of the things that was fun for me getting to know you is this passion for taking entrepreneurial product companies and giving them the systems and process to stabilize and scale their growth is not even new right now, and it's not even new to your career. It tabs back to a long time ago when you were a kid. Do you want to share a little bit about your family and how this fuels this bigger passion?
Dave Saliaris: Yeah. You know I grew up in a household that had a family business attached to it. It was the central core of the family. Literally my father started his business in the basement of our house. He had worked for a company that was called Ranco in the 50s and early 60s, and this was right when – you know the movie The Graduate – go into plastics comes out and my dad was that kind of guy. So Ranco had asked my father to start into a business making plastic components. So he decided to take it on his own and build a business around that and build it out of the basement or a garage, transcend it into buying a small house, building a warehouse behind that, to growing a family business. I tell you, there was a lot of lessons learned as a youth about how to deal with being in an entrepreneurial type organization. I know it inherently; I know what it's like. I can help those companies move forward and become bigger business. And it was a strength for me as I moved into the corporate life and able to build organizations within the corporate structure. So I had businesses within businesses and the businesses and the people I had in our organization was a unique kind of structure. We empowered people throughout the chain, did a leader/leader capability within the groups, and it was really fulfilling for a lot of the guys in our departments.
Betsy Jordyn: So what I love about everything that you're talking about is like again the passion is coming so through our little zoom conversation here. But what's interesting too is the entrepreneurial background and you're the sales guy, but I don't want to not emphasize you're also an engineering guy too. So it's a very unusual combination, so how does your unique experience? So you have this coach kind of performance mentality combined with all of this in depth product knowledge combined with this engineering experience, education and mind. How do you see them weaving together that makes you different from others who might do similar work that you do?
Dave Saliaris: I think what the real key is the fact that you can connect all the parts and pieces of the product road map, that product life cycle, underneath one kind of capability that I can deliver. Right? So there is a very specific way that you need to talk to customers and mind what their need states are. And there are very specific ways of capturing what those need states are and writing them in very concise ways. People overlook this. A lot of times an entrepreneurial company, or even companies that are just transitioning out, will take and engineering idea and just develop a product and then try to apply in the marketplace; without any product plan or conception about how to do it. Throw it to the sales group and say go sell this thing because it's such a cool product.
Well even my own father in his business had done this; where there were a couple little really cool things that they came up with. And guess what? They're still very cook things sitting on the shelf of the display case looking very pretty, and didn't get out in the marketplace because the need state didn’t match what the product concept was. That has to happen. And it's an engineering thing that says okay, this customer need is this; how does engineering be able to apply technologies and capabilities today to serve that need? How does sales then take that need and propel it in the marketplace, and keep on going through? And my engineering capability allows a couple of things. It's to be able to understand the design and development that when you're designing a concept of a product and take it into the marketplace that that product doesn’t stop when that sale is made. It continues all the way through the product life to be able to embrace a customer and keep a sticky customer with you for that next cycle of when he wants to buy. And that's all the services that you package around it. So develop a product to meet a need, that has service capability, that resonates with the customer, that makes him want to come back to you.
Betsy Jordyn: So your engineering background gives you an ability to connect the dots between what other don't see as connecting the dots. So you're connecting the dots between the purpose and the heart of the company and what they deliver, or connecting the dots between the customer needs and the promises the company makes to what they actually receive, and really just focusing. And this is where your performance side comes in. I remember all the golf stories you would tell me about how you improved performance and it's just taking that critical path and just optimizing it, optimizing it, optimizing it.
Dave Saliaris: Yeah. You know I'm an athlete in college and played Lacrosse at Ohio State and was always big in the competitive side of things. That also was a propellant for me within things in the business life, because I'm not a big guy. I'm 5'9", 170 pounds in a D1 school. I had to overcome and dig down to be able to battle against these guys that had just a lot more natural gifts than I could ever put on the field. But I was successful because I would never give up. I would think things differently than they would; I would think things through differently; I knew the sport inside and out. Today I do that as you said with my golf game. You know I'm – at 57 people are kind of rolling down on their capabilities. I'm continually thinking that I'm going to get better no matter what I'm doing. And so I battle these guys that are much younger than me on the golf course and do very well with it. Golf is a lady you can never fully embrace. It's a game that comes back to hit you hard in the face once you think you 've had some success, so you have to continually go after it and continually learn. And that's probably the thing that I love most about it is that I'm always working at it.
Betsy Jordyn: So speaking of learning, I'm curious. What would you say are the biggest lessons you've learned about your – about how to grow a business like this? So there's people who are going to be listening and they want to make the leap like you do, like you did; and they want to be exactly where you're at in a few months from now. What have you learned about the process? So what would you say worked, what didn't, and what would you recommend to others who are in the space that you were several months ago?
Dave Saliaris: Yeah. There was one significant phrase that in the very beginning that you gave to me Betsy, that I consumed. Didn't quite believe in it because I was a global vice president with doing things at about lightning speed, right? So the phrase you used was "go slow to go fast". And I kind of went yeah, yeah; I understand. And what did I do? I took all your material and video -
Betsy Jordyn: You watched my whole video all weekend?
Dave Saliaris: If you know anything about Betsy's material there's a lot of it there, and I went through it as fast as I could. Now maybe I didn't digest it all and then kind of went back as we went. And then a couple things kind of happened along the way. Some human things happened in my life that made me slow down and I had to set things aside and work on those things. And it was interesting along that path of working on those things where other discoveries came out of those things; about yourself, about capabilities. I believe a lot about the word "why" and why you do things and how you do things, and what would be a company why; those things and what drives you. And that period of time allowed me to discover what those were for me, and the passion and grit and understanding that these are things that propel me came out and became a part of what my brand would be in going out there.
I think the other thing that really helped was the consortium of people that were involved in this whole process of becoming a consultant. So the group effect of people, and very, very good people, that are helping each other out and the writing process was big. That was also a significant change for me is I don't remember when the last time frame was of somebody that was being as highly critical of my work as some of the people that were my peers.
Betsy Jordyn: Uh-oh!
Dave Saliaris: And it was good because it was -
Betsy Jordyn: Constructive; constructive. Out of nothing but love. Come on.
Dave Saliaris: It's certainly a transition to keep yourself very humble about what you did. But at the end of it things really started to refine itself and things became a lot more crystal clear and it was consumable to the people that were looking at it outside of this. And I can't tell you how invaluable that was. It was just terrific.
Betsy Jordyn: So what I heard you say as it relates to the big lessons learned. Because I think that some of these are related to you, but I think your future clients will probably have the same kind of experiences. So I heard number one is the slow – to accept the mantra of going slow to go fast. Because it's only in going slow that you can connect the dots. So for you rushing to the finish line wasn't going to work out for you. And when you weren't 100% convinced, the universe made sure that you were convinced anyway.
Dave Saliaris: Right.
Betsy Jordyn: So as it relates to yours and how it would relate to somebody new that's starting out is there's a process; and the only way that the process works is to do the process in the order and go slow and go fast. Same thing for your clients.
The second thing is that everything is a learning opportunity, even when life throws a wrench at you; that it gave you that opportunity. And I really like what you said about the why; that the whole idea as Simon Sinek says. People don't buy what you do, the buy why you do it. And I think that you really did dial into your why, and your client's probably in that same boat wondering about products. Because once you get a product idea you don't always think about your why; but at some point if you're a company that's got a scale you've got to figure that out.
The other thing that I thought you said was really interesting too is working with other people. And I think that that's because in a lot of ways, like you know when you have this closed system everybody just kind of thinks and all the group thinks; and sometimes you do need that outside catalyst. Whether it's in the form of me as your mentor or the community, and really wrestling through stuff where it's like okay, I want to do it until I get it right.
And then finally what I heard you say that I think is just brilliant; and if I were going to just summarize the whole thing is the big result of your transformation is clarity equals power. You know that when you got clear, now you can – you have the power. You have the power on a Website that is clear on what you do. Once you know exactly who you want to serve you can attract them, and I imagine your clients are in a similar boat where they're trying to figure out well how do I make a product that's going to sell? It's like well you've got to figure out who you want to sell it to first and what they want, right?
Dave Saliaris: Exactly.
Betsy Jordyn: So it's like you were applying that to your own self. So that brings up another interesting point too is it's so – we could do this for other people but we can't do it for ourselves. So what was it about the need to have somebody outside of you guide you through what you already do with other people to do for yourself? Why is it just not enough just to do it all on your own?
Dave Saliaris: Well there's a couple things there. Being a little older and being a manager like I have been, one of the things that we always did during my time period of running a whole software company within the company is we could always have built things from the ground up ourselves. We could have gone out and done everything on our own; done all the research; find all the lessons learned; get all the pains; get all the hard knocks and get there over a period of time. But I'm wise enough from those things to understand that there are many people that have been there before me that have been shaping the whole definition around consultants; and I thought I could find somebody that would be able to help mentor me along the way and to give me a little – an understand of what it would take. Give me some lessons learned, be able to mentor along the way and be a coach, and Betsy, you've done all those things.
Betsy Jordyn: Aww. Thank you.
Dave Saliaris: So if anybody out there is looking for an entity, that would love to be able to understand do I have the capability, do I have somebody that I could resonate with that has really world experience, a heart of gold; Betsy at the Consultants Institute is the place to go.
Betsy Jordyn: Oh; I wasn't expecting that! But thank you so much. And I think that there are so many lessons and it is that you do want to make sure. For me I want to make sure I have the right fit clients that I can do great work with. And I think the other part too is just looking at it as a collaborative partnership; you know that it's not just one person kind of telling you what you need. It's drawing it out. I imagine when you show up with your clients you're probably that same kind of person. You know that if somebody wants to grow their business you're not going to tell them – you're not going to be like – because one of the things I hate is the kind of advisors who kind of have the cookie cutter and say bam, you need to create this kind of business. It's like you draw it out and that's what you and I did together. I imagine your clients are in the same boat. They don't want any more consultants who do management by magazine. They want somebody do come alongside them.
So based on what you learned about a mentoring relationship and the value, what would you say to anybody who wants to go through a business transformation? Can anybody do a business transformation on their own; or a career transformation? Is it possible or do you really just need to go and find a partner to help you accelerate your results?
Dave Saliaris: I think that the opportunity for anybody to do this is there. But they have to have a couple of key ingredients to do that. One is you can't be halfway in. To me you have to put your – everything on the table; your time, your brain, your family, your economics. You've got to invest and be able to do these things to get it across the line. I know I've been bad about this on certain other things where I kind of halfway did something or didn't quite get myself sold on it, and then the results are what they are. So I think people can transition to this; I think anybody could. But you've got to have a stick-to-it-iveness about it and invest in it and know that you're going to have to put time into it. You know I've set aside time throughout the day to be able to do these things. I'm a podcast person. This is how I found Betsy was off of her podcast and so I listen and do things. I'm always listening to materials to get better.
But this is my personality. I've always strived to continually put another foot in front of the other. If I fail about it I'm going to find out what the root cause was and try to figure out a path around or a path over and not do it again. So that's just the way I do things. So I think most people could do it.
I did have lunch with another individual that was from my past company. He saw some of the Website; he saw my LinkedIn. And he calls me right away and says can we have lunch; I want to see what you're doing. It looks really so interesting. And so I took the time to meet him. And he is an engineer engineer. Very talented, a little older than I am, and is trying to figure out whether he could do this. And I let him know that there are two parts to this that you have to do when you become a consultant, and that is you can't be afraid about marketing. You've got to market yourself and you have to sell yourself. And so those two things are something that if anybody wants to do this, if you don't know how to do either one of those two you 're going to have to learn how to do those two things. It's got to be part of your daily activities.
Betsy Jordyn: Yeah, and I think that what's interesting too is as you've gotten more clear that that concern or the challenge around that just has decreased. You know the more that you got dialed into who this was – and that's why that clarity equals power is I feel it different. You know from where we're at now even from a few months ago is once you do that then yeah, marketing is not easy and nobody likes to put something out there and get crickets and nobody wants to get the rejection. But if you get really, really focused on the person that you want to serve; I imagine that if there's a product driven company that is trying to scale up to the next level, maybe even break into a new market or break into number one in their industry; and they can't do it because the product that they have just isn't sufficient to get them to this level; I know you'd be all over finding them. Not because you're marketing yourself. You're serving them because this is the authentic passion connecting way back into your past, which is why this is such an important part of the process and why it's so hard to go do this on your own without digging in and seeing all of this. I can't imagine that you would not be super excited about serving them.
And by the way; if you're people like me I couldn't help but refer you to these kind of people because I know that you have the skill set. But more importantly you have the passion to help them and I think that's what will separate you from all the other consultants that are out there. Great passion is who you are and what you're putting in your business. And that's what's so beautiful here.
So congratulations on this humongous milestone. I could not be more thrilled for you and I are so excited; so excited for the amazing success that is going to be coming your way.
Dave Saliaris: I am crazily excited myself. This has been a journey. It's been a fulfilling journey that's just really beginning because it was all about putting this all together and making it ready to be on the launch pad. And I can't tell you how much I thank you and all the consortium of people that were in your group to help put this all together. And I look forward to continuing our partnership as time goes on.
Betsy Jordyn: Thank you so much for doing this little interview with me, and thank you for allowing me to celebrate this achievement with you. And anybody who's listening in, if you want to experience it – not even just the results but the satisfaction. Like what you said at the beginning Dave: take control of your career, your time, your earning power, and create success on your own terms. This is a great path for you; especially for those of you who are high achievers. If you are an executive and you're nervous about making the transition because you don't want to have to do all the work again, there's people who can support you and there's things that you need to do yourself and there's support that's available to you. So definitely consider this as a massively satisfactory – satisfying path for you.
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