Rob Price, CEO of School of Rock on Mentors, Feedback, and Callings
Rob Price is the CEO of School of Rock. He has extensive experience building brands in the consumer, franchise and retail sectors. Prior to School of Rock, Rob served as President of Edible Arrangements, which integrates an online business and 1,300 franchised stores worldwide. Before that, he was SVP, Chief Marketing Officer at CVS Health.
In this episode Rob and I discuss:
- Do you have a job or a calling?
- The power of a good mentor
- Receiving and using tough feedback. "Digging for greater truth."
- A powerful experience Rob has after receiving a promotion at HEB
- And much more.
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Like, "You are not as smart as you think you are." I remember distinctly saying that and I remember arguing with him. I was like, "I'm every bit as I think I am." So thankfully I have a lot of people who just beat the crap out of me, and it helps.
Welcome to Seeking Excellence. I'm Brett Pinegar. This podcast is all about understanding the experiences, the mindsets and the skills of people who are working hard to make a difference as leaders, people who are seeking to live up to their full potential. We work to get to the root of who they are, what makes them tick, and to draw out insights we can all use as we seek to live and lead with excellence. I hope you're inspired and motivated by what you hear. My work is all about helping leaders and teams become their best. The results I've observed are dramatic and tangible. Increased productivity, higher levels of engagement, less stress, and frankly a lot more fun. You can find out more about my work and get the show notes to each episode at brettpinegar.com. You can also follow me on social media, @brettpinegar. Check the show notes for all the specifics. In this episode I interview Rob Price, the CEO of the School of Rock. The School of Rock is the largest music education company in the world. They combine individual and group instruction with the opportunity for students to take the stage in front of a live audience in an authentic concert setting. It's an amazing concept that does so much more than teach musical skills. It fosters leadership, teamwork, and builds confidence. Rob brings humor, passion, and plenty of lessons learned to our discussion. I love what Rob has to say about taking in the tough feedback. It certainly isn't easy, but it's so essential to becoming our best. Let's jump right in.
Well Rob, it is great to see you, buddy. It's been a very long time since offices at Monitor.
I know. You probably recall, but we were roommates, Brett.
I do remember that. You had a sleeping bag that was stored underneath your desk that you often used, I thought.
I'd like to say that was the secret of my success but I think that it was more a tribute to me getting my work done very last minute.
Yeah, there you go. There you go. Well, hard work has certainly paid off here. Well, thank you for spending some time with us today here, and looking forward to getting to know you and your leadership style a bit better. For the purposes of my audience, if you take just a second or two and talk a little bit about the School of Rock and about what you do there and about the nature of the business.
School of Rock is the leading music education company in the world. It uses the appeal and the popularity of rock and roll to teach real and substantial music concepts. We teach nearly 29,000 students around the world in 207 schools. We're about to enter our 10th country and we're very proud that our graduates go on, many of them go on to become professional musicians, but just as importantly we're proud of all the ones that don't, but that still have a lifelong passion for music and creative expression and creation. It's an incredibly gratifying place and I'm blessed to work with some really amazing people who are very committed to the creative development of kids and adults as well.
That's fantastic. The opportunity to give back and to make a difference in kids' lives I'm sure must be very gratifying, as you mentioned. It's quite a pivot, though, from looking at your previous work here. You've been involved heavily in retail, places like CVS and Wawa and other places, and here you are at the School of Rock. What was it about the School of Rock that really motivated you to make a change in the direction of your business focus at least?
Yeah, in some ways School of Rock has a lot in common with many of the other places that I was lucky at which to work, so strong brands looking to become stronger. Brands that had a pool of assets that they wanted to unlock and exploit. Brands that were looking to make transformations. You look at CVS Pharmacy which now became CVS Caremark and then became CVS Health and nowAetna, is kind of a prototypical example of a company that was a massive transition, and in that transition there's a lot of marketing mechanics. School of Rock is in a very similar situation at kind of a cold objective, distant commercial level. I think it is definitely a enormous career pivot in many other ways, not just because it's my first CEO opportunity, but because it's the first role that speaks to me at a very, very, very personal level.
Hmm, tell me more.
Well, I was a musician all through my childhood. My experiences in music, both instrumental and vocal music, and my love of music from performing to writing music was always very central to my development and my experience, my friendships, how I grew as a person, and similarly for my own kids. I've got three boys who are now 20, 18, and 16.
Yeah, I'm sure that's shocking for you to imagine that I've been given the right to -- But indeed the experience of my boys, along with my wife, of infusing music into their childhood and going so far as to play as a group, so we have a family band a la Partridge family for some time.
When I got the opportunity to talk to School of Rock about potentially stepping into the CEO role, it felt so familiar and it felt so incredibly energizing. I can say now I've been in since July of last year, you can help me count the months, but I can say being on the other end of what was a decision largely driven by passion, not so much commercial interests, it's never been more gratifying to be in a role. Because what I feel is driving me now is not just the same intellectual curiosities, but something that's very, very much more a calling than it is a job.
Boy, I can completely relate to that. Certainly that ability to inspire yourself can give you tremendous amounts of energy and dedication that are different. It's not that we're not dedicated when we're doing it because it serves an intellectual curiosity, but when there's a real deep-seated emotional curiosity or interest or passion about it, it just is a whole nother level of dedication and commitment from what I've seen here.
Yeah, and I think that what it does, it lets you draw on a deeper pool of resources when you're dealing with an exceptionally complicated issue or challenging issue where sometimes it's not fun. Business is not always fun. Fun businesses are not always fun, as I know you know and the listeners know. The reserves that are created through the sense of purpose really let you have greater resilience during those challenging times.
That's great. Let's go all the way back here. You talked a lot about how you were really influenced by music growing up. Wondering if you could broaden that a little bit and talk a little bit about the key influences in your life from a leadership perspective, whether they be musicians or others. Who were the key people that influenced what you are today as a leader?
I think that it probably was a little different at different stages in my life. I have a very, very, very strong memory early on of the influences obviously of my parents and my brothers. I was the baby of four, all of whom were interesting, still are interesting and complicated and ambitious guys in their own right and very, very different. Watching my mom, who was largely a stay at home mom but was an educator by training and did a lot of teaching still, she was raising the four of us, and my dad who had been kind of this second generation kid, coming to ... Well, first generation born in the U.S., going to city college in Columbia. This real craving for learning. My earliest influences were very much about the ambition to learn from my folks, from my brothers, and then certainly from my teachers. It's cliche, but we're at an age where I'm sure you can appreciate that you do get sentimental for those earliest teachers who really had an incredible influence on you. I would say that when I came out of college, that continued when we were together doing consulting at Monitor Company, it was a bit of a salad bar in regards to different learning styles, different intellectual challenges, and the absorption of a lot of different skills to let you approach those intellectual challenges. You probably have a fonder memory of me and a more elevated memory of me through my incredibly sophisticated use of LinkedIn and Facebook But I was a pretty mediocre consultant at the time, but I was surrounded by extraordinary minds. Folks who always wanted to come at problems in a different way, and watching how in a consulting environment the partners in that firm and the folks for whom we worked, our teammates, navigated through those complicated challenges. I think that you and I were both very blessed early in our career getting that kind of inspiration. I think it reshaped the way we think, and still I reflect on the intellectual discipline and the intellectual honesty that we learned in those early stages.
I certainly couldn't agree more, although I would counter your mediocrity. You were a tremendous consultant at Monitor and certainly enjoyed learning from you as well.
Well, I clearly have done a great job on brand management over the years.
There you go, there you go. But it does speak to humility, and certainly that's something that's sort of flowing out of our conversation so far today here. You don't walk around with a chip on your shoulder here. You're talking in a way, you're communicating in a way that suggests a curiosity, a humble curiosity of the world. Where do you think that came from, Rob? Where did that lack of excessive ego emerge from in your experience?
Well, to be perfectly fair and perfectly honest, I think that that's a relatively late bloom for me. If anything, I think that the reason I am in a CEO seat now and in this kind of CEO role is that that part of my persona and experience and sensibility grew through some really interesting experiences, including some of those that we talked about. I had some really amazing bosses who were really generous with praise, and that didn't always feel so good.
I'm going to pause my discussion with Rob to share a story he told me after we finished our formal interview about an experience he had working for HEB. It fits perfectly with the theme of receiving praise that doesn't feel so good. Then we'll pick up right where we left off.
Charles Butt at HEB. Great, great leader. Amazing, amazing guy. I had just been promoted to VP of Own Brand, the private label business. He brings me into his office 10 days after the promotion and he says, "So Rob, you've been in the job for 10 days. "Tell me what you've learned. "I'm interested in your strategy," and da-da-da. Really hams it up. I'm like, "Wow, this guy really thinks I'm hot shit." So I start waxing poetic and I go on and on and he's taking notes. I'm like, "Wow, I'm really amazing. "This is incredible how finally somebody gets it, "how awesome I am." I don't know how long this went on. Finally he says, "Rob, may I interrupt you?" Remember, this is a billionaire who owns this company, who has built this company. He says, "I just have one question. "When are you going to stop talking?"
Then he lambastes me and never raises his voice but he said, "Are you interviewing for the job that I just gave you? "Are you trying to impress me?" He said, "The appropriate answer to my question, "'What are you thinking after 10 days?' is, 'I don't know.' "That's the only thing I want to hear is, 'I don't know. "'Charles, what do you know? "'What can you tell me?'"
He said, "I see the seeds of your failures right now."
Wow, Rob, that is ...
Oh, it was incredible.
What a blessing to get that kind of feedback.
Oh my gosh. There's a punchline to it, a punchline to this. I leave his office. I'm a shell of a man. The very next day I get a note from Charles, as you were prone to do. He was a real note guy. In this case, typewritten, which means he really put a lot of effort into it, but hand signed. I'll paraphrase it, I won't get all the details right. He said, "You know, I have incredibly high hopes "and expectations and confidence in you. "You're going to do an amazing job for this business." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "If you just get this listening bit under control."
Then he signed, "Your fan, Charles."
[Brett] What a powerful story. Now we'll get back to where we paused our interview.
As time went on, I must have done something right in a previous life because I was blessed with an interesting assembly and some incredibly competent and skilled and generous managers that had this common theme of if I asked for feedback, I would get it. I would get it unrefined, straight between the eyes. But then I had some really challenging bosses that almost, it was as if they were assembled to all teach me lessons. They were all competent and great at certain things, and some of them were not so good at certain things that I could very clearly say, "Gosh, do I sound like that? "Do I make others feel like I feel right now?" Over time I would say that rather than it being natural for me, I collected a set of skills about a little bit more of a humble approach to leadership, more of an understanding of my own deficiencies, leading with those, being honest about those, even making a little bit of light of those deficiencies, but also working at resolving some of them. It was rocky at points.
I guess that what worked more naturally to me is that I do tend to be self-deprecating. I do lead with a sense of humor. I take the work very seriously, I don't take myself very seriously, and I think that people cut me a lot of slack over the years because I could make them laugh.
Well, having fun is pretty important here. We spend far too much time working to not have some fun.
Yeah, I think that that's right. It's been a really interesting journey to get to that place that we always read about early in our career, the humble. I feel like I'm just becoming in some respects eligible to think of myself more in those terms, which is more outwardly focused, more other focused, more the question and not the answer.
Interesting, interesting. Any particular people that you may not know closely but that you truly admire their leadership? You could talk about maybe somebody in a book, a historical leader, somebody that would really represent a strong sense of leadership and what you aspire to in your own leadership.
Well, it's interesting that that question's juxtaposed with the previous one because I think that ... I admit that I'm a bit of a history sucker, so forgive me for turning on the way-back machine. Of all the various founding fathers and mothers and presidents, et cetera, in U.S. history, the one that really connects with me is John Adams. An unlikely figure in some respects.
What I identify with in John Adams is obviously he was deeply competent and he brought it, as they say. He really brought an enormous amount of substance to every interaction that he had. What I really like about Adams is that he was keenly aware of his deficiencies. He evolved over time. He admitted ... It took him some time often, but he admitted his mistakes. Look at the Alien and Sedition Acts. He was not proud of those. You look at the gracefulness with which ... The grace that he and Thomas Jefferson showed as they ...
They came back together late in life, after what would seem like an irrecoverable problem in their relationship. The John Adams story, to me, is very appealing because it's a story of imperfection and it's a story of somebody addressing it, navigating through it, succeeding in spite of it. Folks always talk about courage is not being the absence of fear, but the ability to approach fear, and I think about that with Adams as well. He was somebody who didn't have it all, but didn't allow himself to be paralyzed by it or confined or anchored by it. I think the other thing that I like about him is that Adams' story is a story of "Adams and." It's John and Abigail.
It's Adams and Jefferson and many, many others through his career. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction, the product of co-creation, so I thought he was somebody who even though it wasn't always smooth ... What does a world look like without Franklin and Jefferson and Adams?
Indeed. I'm not sure, but not good most likely.
Certainly different. I think that historically I'm a bit of a junkie on Adams, and I look for others with traits like that in my everyday experience. I try to emulate that. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.
Interesting. Any modern books that you use as well that augment your leadership style? That you go, "Wow, this is a great read, "a great book that has really informed my view "of a particular leadership principle."
I sort of led a little bit with my junkie status. I tend to read more biography, more nonfiction. I think that whether it's Walter Isaacson, David McCullough, that tends to be where I go. For what it's worth, and maybe this is interesting to others is that I find very, very deep analyses of complex figures in biography, for me, the most gratifying. You'll more often find me reading a biography of Truman or Adams or Franklin or Jefferson or Lincoln. I'm distinctly a little bit backward looking, I must admit, in regards to a lot of the reading material. I do read, there's a lot of works now on behavioral economics that I read almost for snacks. I believe there's a book out there called The Undoing Project.
Hmm, I've heard of that one.
If I'm getting that title correct, which is very interesting. Looking at how everyone needs to look at the more unclear sides of behavioral economics and how it affects everyday life. Then if I can plug one other book that I really, really enjoyed, it was The Boys in the Boat, which was ... I read it at a time where I was really trying to inspire a team, one of my teams. It's a great story about perseverance and unlikely teamwork amongst a group of crew, college crew teammates.
It reminds me of the book Endurance. It's the story of Ernest Shackleton and his remarkable, almost miraculous return from Antarctica.
Yes, that would be amongst my top 10 or 15 as well. If anyone has not read Endurance, you absolutely should. It's extraordinarily inspiring. The thing about Endurance, and maybe there's something interesting in here, is that you could contrast those two books. You have Endurance on the one hand, which is an extraordinary set of odds, almost irredeemable odds, and a lightning strike upon lightning strike of experience for Shackleton and his fellow explorers, and then you have The Boys in the Boat, which is a very pedestrian situation. You got these freshmen, these clunky freshmen, sophomores, et cetera, and they're in what's a very, very common situation. Storming and forming and norming into a team, into a crew team. What's interesting is it's in the context of the Berlin Olympics and their unlikely rise to tackling the Berlin Olympics. Anybody's who's interested in an interesting contrast, I might recommend those two in rapid succession.
Great suggestion. Now let's take what you learned from those leaders, from the books, from your upbringing, and from all of your experiences to capture the leader you are today here. What would you describe, maybe at a high level, your leadership philosophy is? Is there a phrase or a paragraph that would describe your approach to leadership today?
Well, I guess you and I were ... Had a career that was launched on efficiently expressing things in bullet points, perhaps, instead of paragraphs, so maybe I can bullet point instead of paragraph.
A couple of the components that I would say define how I lead and how I aspire to lead is steadiness above all. You're right, I do draw that from Endurance, I do draw that from Boys in the Boat, from historical figures, is that steady above all. There's so many peoples' livelihoods tied up in what you do, is that you cannot panic. It's not just that you cannot let them see you panic, because they will see you panic even if you don't think ... Leaders have a unique ability to leak. I would say that that would be bullet point number one. Bullet point number two is advice that I had been given years ago, which was, and I think I may have used this phrase before, being the question and not the answer. It's paralyzing to an organization if you're constantly saying, "This is the answer. "This is the answer." As a peer, as a subordinate, and certainly as a leader. There's a danger, if people sometimes convinced you you're the smartest person in the room, for you to always act into that. What you find out is that you never allow yourself to discover when you're not the smartest person in the room.
Indeed. Let's take these first two bullet points here because I think that there's a unique connection between them. There's an abstractness. When we're not panicked, when things are going crazy, when the world is beginning to implode or explode, and here we are with introspection asking questions about what's happening here. It sets a really unique stage for the people around us as they see our curiosity in the face of real stressful times.
How do you cultivate that sense of curiosity when the stress is high, when the stakes are big?
Well, I would say some of it is a little bit like -- So I'm in the rock and roll business to some extent, so there's a lot about production values and bands and levels and lights, et cetera, in regards to the experience that we give our kids at the School of Rock. I think that honestly a lot of how you cultivate excellence in those kinds of environments is that you think about setting the stage. Who do you have on the stage? Who's in what position? What's the tone? What's the song order? Et cetera, so I think a lot of it is when a crisis emerges, which is at a CEO level, almost a weekly phenomenon, what the normal world would call a crisis. There's always something brewing that's on the verge of it. How do you get folks together, either literally or virtually? How do you start the conversation? How do you get everybody engaged? How do you get people re-anchored? There's a lot of inquiry which is required to get to that right place. Always helping people distinguish between the goal and doing the best versus doing what's realistic. I would say there's another dimension, and maybe if I could sneak in a third bullet point, which I think binds it all together, is that all of these kinds of complicated situations and the steadiness that are required to address them are about helping people become the best versions of themselves. That's a phrase that a lot of people use today, but it very much describes how I work with my teams, is that it's in those environments where I see them as training exercises. My team will often hear me, "What do you think we should do?" They'll often see me not turning over the reins of decision making, but turning over the reins of decision articulation. What is the nature of the problem? How could we approach this? What do you think? Finding the quietest person in the room, asking them to offer their point of view. I think steadiness is not just, "Calm down. "I got it under control," but it's returning authority to the people in the room and say, "Okay, no, no, no. "We're gonna all navigate. "Just everybody stay in their section of the boat "where it'll settle down, but use your full weight. "You're important."
You're part of the solution. That's how I try to navigate through and cultivate excellence in times of challenge.
What do you think that quiet confidence comes from your perspective? That's hard to do. Boy, we've all been in situations, I've certainly been in situations that are incredibly difficult. The stress levels are through the roof. How do you ground yourself? Maybe think about for a second what kind of practices you use outside of work, or in getting ready for work that allow you to bring your best to your team and to your company.
Yeah. I think some of the answer to that question just comes through time and age, where you've been through enough situations where you've got effectively a sample of experiments and you know that it works in this circumstances and it never helps to panic. It never helps to panic. I will tell you there's a certain mindfulness is that I will sometimes mantra that to myself. I will say, "Don't panic, don't panic. "Take a step back, count to 10, think."
Love it. I love it, that's great.
I think that physical separation from an issue is sometimes a good idea. If you're feeling overwhelmed by a topic, I think sometimes literally just getting up, moving, step into another room, collecting yourself, coming back. Understanding that it's those first few moments which will define the persona that people read into the navigation of a problem. I think that facing challenges with a group together as quickly as possible is really, really a good thing. If you let people isolate in their own individual cubby, figuratively speaking.
And they brew and they steep in the panic or the concern, they fill in the void. I think assembling quickly, confronting the issue, calling it by the right words, and then getting to problem resolution very quickly is really, really, really important.
That is brilliant.
I think that that's I think so important. I think it's the same thing is parenting. Describe what it is so that all of your team doesn't allow it to say ... There are very few crises which are existential for a business, but everyone can seem that way if you don't articulate to your team it's not.
Right, right. You know, it's interesting, during my first opportunity to be a CEO several years ago, we bought a pool table and put it in a conference room. We had a particularly difficult crisis dealing with funding and cash flows for the company, and I remember sitting around and playing pool around this $500 pool table with me and the other members of my team, and actually just calming each other down. I only see it now in hindsight here, but boy, the power of a pool table or a place where we could gather and take off the armor of the business and yet still talk about the business was really important.
It's a great tangible example of what I think is important. I think the challenge that we have as leaders now, to a large extent is that in our world, we have a relatively small company growing very fast, but our 207 schools are fragmented or are decentralized. We have three offices in the United States and we have remote staff above and beyond that. What is the virtual pool table?
One of the things that ... Technology certainly helps, but it's what you do with the technology. I think the other thing that brings people together is to get them re-anchored about what is it that we're trying to do? I'll often ask people who are the most stressed to say, "Tell me what music's meant to you in your life." By the way, even my non-musician team members can answer that question, but my musician team members speak ... They'll almost go into a trance. They get re-anchored in what it is that music has meant to them, and then I grab onto that and say, "Okay, remember that now. "This is why we're doing what we're doing. "This is why it's important to navigate through this." Then everybody starts digging back into that reserve we talked about before, that is all exuberance. It's all good, it's all peaceful. That helps people get back together. That's the moral equivalent of a great combo shot or a bank shot into the side pocket.
Love it, love it. Back to your getting ready. You talked a little bit about mantras, you talked a little bit about just some phrases in your mind and things like that, taking a step out of the room. Many leaders have rituals or habits or things they do every day to get ready for the day here. How would you describe what you do to get ready for your work day?
That's an interesting question. I'm not sure I've thought about it so scientifically. I almost need to reconstruct it. I guess one very fundamental issue that I've discovered through an enormous amount of physical abuse of my body through travel and complicated jobs is that there's probably no more important ritual than sleep. There's a certain hysterical paranoic wave that comes over you when you're not well rested that projects to your team in unpredictable ways. On the one hand they could think you're cranky. On the other hand they could think you're panicking. The other other hand, they could think that you're worried about them or you're angry with them. Again, it's probably not advice that is particularly novel for your listeners, but I cannot tell you how much more effective I am sleeping. I think making even job choices about how you're going to be able to sustain the level of energy. I was blessed earlier in my career when I was at CVS to go to an outfit called the Human Performance Institute. I'm not sure if they're still --
I've heard of them.
Yeah, they may be still in motion. A lot of the principles of nutrition and rest and mindfulness and exercise are still very much part of my life since doing that, and I think that's very, very important to be there now, to be very, very present in the moment, so you burn off all the other stuff. Not over caffeinating, not over sugaring, not under exercising and not under sleeping.
I love this concept of presence and being there in the moment with your team or whatever it is you're doing here. That's hard to do. Mindfulness certainly is a part of it for me as well. How do you help your team remain present? What do you do to ... You mentioned here getting back into the music here. Are there other things you're doing beyond that to help them gain that same perspective? As you know and as our listeners know that one of the big benefits of leadership, one of the big responsibilities of leadership, is building leaders. How do you then transfer this knowledge of presence and things of that sort to your team?
Yeah, and it's hard because the temptation, even when you're physically present, to be emotionally and psychologically present, it's really very difficult to do with technology and with distractions. I think one of the ways that our team is growing is we put ourselves out there much more with each other and with our franchisees than had historically been in the past. I'll give you an example. We utilize technology from Facebook Workplace, and it's really just an internal version of Facebook. A secure version of Facebook. There can be different cohorts, et cetera. One of the things that I have done and asked the team to be done is be much more present in that environment and put questions out, participate, offer comments. Then you're stuck. Then you have to actually be part of the conversation.
And raise your hand. It's a little bit exposed in regards to you're the CEO commenting on a certain topic, your franchisees and staff from 207 schools around the world, but that forces presence because you're now in. You can't get out. The moment you ask a question or pose an answer, you're in the dialogue. The other way that I've done it and looked to model it with my team members is that my very first week at School of Rock I sent a note to all the franchisees. I articulated what my goals were with them. I said, "If you have any questions, "here's my cell phone number. "Here's my phone number." This would be an issue, I think, of great debate and discussion amongst other CEOs with whom you talk, whether that's a line you want to cross. My view is that when you ask people or invite people to invest as much as we have and take as much risk and put as much heart and soul into our business as our franchisees do, the least you can do is give them your cell phone number to let them call.
I could not agree more. I think that at some level the relationship between company and customer is democratized in today's environment. Social media certainly is a part of that.
Using the internal Facebook tool. The playing field gets leveled in a way where you're listening more. If you're not, you're in trouble. You're also more personally invested, as you mentioned here. I certainly have found it beneficial. In fact I remember just a few years ago, putting my cell phone, my direct dial number on the bottom of an email that went out to all the customers at the company that I was with.
I got a call and I answered the phone. It didn't go through my assistant or anything. I picked up the phone and said, "This is Brett Pinegar." He goes, "Whoa, I didn't think that would happen."
I think that once you do those sorts of things and they get to know you as a human being, it brings this level of engagement and commitment and it humanizes the company to the customer as well.
I think that's right. I guess the caveat is if it's done as a gimmick, it will be perceived as a gimmick. If you never pick up your phone or if you don't actually call somebody back, but my view, going back to this presence, is that the most important call I will ever get in a day is from a franchisee. If I got a call from a foreign leader, I would call the franchisee back first. My board knows that that will be my sequence of calls as well. If one of them calls, they'll expect me on the basis of the conversations that I've had that franchisees first. That also extends to actually visiting your operations. You used an interesting term, democratized. Things get democratized whether there is actual democracy or not.
It's very important to actually be there with your franchisee, be there with your general managers, in our case music directors, your instructors, your parents, your students, and watch and see and understand their experience. I'm on the road quite a bit. By the end of next week I'll probably have seen about 75 out of our 207 schools all throughout the country and the world, and that will continue. It's very old fashioned, but that's one of the elements of democratization. You have to be with the people.
To be with the people.
And for them to be with you. You learn an enormous amount, and it is inevitable because I will tell you something, especially in the world of rock and roll, a guitar instructor has no sense of hierarchy when they have an issue that they're frustrated about. When you expose yourself to that interaction with that guitar instructor, you get the very best feedback you can as opposed to going through the more traditional channels.
I think attorneys are the same way. I put guitar instructors and attorneys in the same category. The last company I ran was a software company supporting attorneys that are doing estate planning. Same situation. Certainly can resonate with that as well.
Yeah. I think that one of the things about being in places like HEB Grocery in Texas and Wawa, great regional family-owned companies, is that that was instilled very early in my career. The most important thing happening at the company is at the checkout or at the coffee bar.
Right, that's right.
Getting as close to that as possible, and the CEOs of those companies were very inspiring in regards to reminding me that that's where it is. That's where you always have to return to, constantly, constantly, constantly.
Well, I think maybe that's a great pivot here to the last thing I'd really like to dig into, which is the unique opportunity that School of Rock has to teach not only musical skills, life skills, but also leadership skills as well.
At some level you're teaching kids how to come together in teams and to form, norm, storm, perform, all those sorts of things here that we talked about here. What's it been like to see that happen? Any observations from seeing kids come together, not knowing each other, forming those bands and accomplishing something remarkable?
Well, I was in Brazil just two weeks ago. We have six incredible schools in Brazil and many more coming. It's an incredible market. I was actually with a prospective franchisee in Rio de Janeiro and he had a fascinating comment. I asked him, "What's drawing you to this concept?" Very successful business person. He said something which was so much more articulate than what I had been saying about the business. He said, "School of Rock is in the rescue business. "We're rescuers." He went on to explain in a world where this is seen as socialization and interaction, and in a world where individual learning has become the norm. Many of us, if we think back to our music lessons, what we principally learned in our conventional music education environment was how to hate learning music. It's not fun. I did it and I persevered through it and I had some really great teachers that within that pedagogy did their level best, but it isn't the fun way. It's as if telling a child, "Before you can speak "you must demonstrate the ability to use the alphabet." No, we just start speaking.
It's a social learning technique. We feel very, very passionate because what happens is in this environment where folks are going very inward and kids are learning how to close up, we immediately thrust them into an environment where they get the opportunity to play music with other children that they love and they play songs that they love or learn to love, and it's not just about the weekly lessons that they get, because we give weekly lessons as well. It's those performance programs where they're challenged to negotiate through, at a very early age, who's the leader on this song? Often it's not the lead guitarist. It's the drummer who's the leader because there's a very unusual time signature. The idea can come from anywhere in a rehearsal room about how to present a song, how to string them together, how to put them in show order. Presence, collaboration, negotiation. What you hear consistently from kids who are emerging from our program is that the number one thing we give them is confidence. Not just the confidence to be a leader, but the confidence to be led. The confidence to work with other leaders, to know when they need to step back and let somebody step forward. It's very interesting to see that come to life repeatedly and you hear our students, whether they're going into music or not, say that that's a common theme.
Wow, wow, that is incredible. I love the way you talk about confidence not just being to lead, but to be led.
That's such a powerful insight here for all of us as leaders is that we can't do everything, and as we come together and work with our teams then we can accomplish great things, but it is almost always the team, it is never the leader to lead.
Great example. In fact maybe, Rob, that brings us towards the close here. I've got some questions that I'd love just to use to compare our leadership styles between different leaders that we talk to on the podcast here. Would you say that you are more of a lead from the front or lead from the back kind of leader?
I'm more lead from the front. As much as I would like to say that I've perfected my humility, I still do like to be at the front yelling charge.
Got it, got it. What is it about being in the front, besides being in charge, that you find very effective for you?
Well, I think that it probably leverages certain characteristics and personality traits that I have. I will tend to be the one, as we talked about before, to be able to interpret the situation, dissipate some of the negative energy, but I also hold people to strong account and the proverbial rallying of the troops comes very naturally to me.
Fantastic. Are you happiest working on the big picture or down in the details?
That's a funny one. I would like to say in the big picture, but the reality is I've learned that I actually really love the details. I really love sitting down with my team members and I find that sometimes there's really magic in the linking of details or the testing of certain details, testing of the data. I've had to confront over the years that I'm actually more a detail guy when it comes to individual initiatives.
Wow, that is so interesting.
Yeah, I don't know if that means I need to be withdrawn from this podcast, but --
Not at all. In fact --
I actually end up kind of feeling like there's so much executional risk in an absence of understanding of the details that I've gotten to enjoy and appreciate and delve in more there.
Well, you know, I think about it from a music standpoint, and I love music. I don't perform, I don't play, but I listen and listen avidly. Telling the difference between two different performances of the same piece of music, one where the details are executed flawlessly and in a very cohesive way, versus one where it's all there but not quite flawless. The difference is massive.
It's something you turn on and turn up, versus turn off and walk away from.
I think it would be interesting to ask somebody, if we had the privilege to do some of Jimi Hendrix, was it about the big picture or the details?
Musical proficiency is a good example. You can have an extraordinary idea for a song, but you got to deliver it.
You got to execute.
I would say that running complex organizations, you have to be able to dig in. I'm surprised in answering that question that that's probably where I go.
It's a great answer here. Would you say you're more of a structured person or more flexible in your approach to life and leadership?
Yeah, I think that I probably am more on the balance structured. Even going back to our shared time at Monitor and consulting, I'm very, very drawn to rigor and intellectual discipline structured decision making. I like to approach problems in very, very, very structured ways, but I do have a healthy dose of appreciating serendipity, and when something comes along, reshuffling the priorities a little bit. On the balance I'm more structured.
Sensitive or thick skinned?
Thick skinned. Thick skinned. I think that it's hard in this business not to get swept into the incredible emotional intensity and passion of the business, so the reality is that's always there and my sensitivities are so tuned in to the business that we are doing now and the mission that we're on and the passion that we all have. There's a lot of moving parts, there's a lot of livelihoods involved, and so I think being thick skinned is part of the reason that I'm well positioned to help navigate this journey.
Well Rob, this has been a fantastic conversation and we could go on and on for a much longer time. I know you've got a lot going on today and just really appreciate your spending time with us here on the podcast. Any parting words? Any advice to aspiring leaders, somebody who wants to take their game to the next level?
Yeah, I guess that if I summed up what's been the most transformative component of my leadership experience is being far more open over time to solicit and absorb, believe and act on critical feedback. Especially people coming up, digging for greater truth in the feedback that you're getting, confronting it more honestly, acting on it in really, really meaningful ways, forgiving yourself sometimes in regards to when you screwed up, being able to move on and approach the feedback. If there's any common theme that's gotten me the incredible privilege to have this CEO role that I have now, it's navigating with that in mind. Hopefully that's helpful.
That is sage advice, sage advice. Rob, what's the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Everybody can link in with me. I'm very open to invitations on LinkedIn, and then naturally follow our activities at SchoolofRock.com. Listen, it's great for adults too, Brett. If you or your listeners want some guitar or bass, we're always looking for bass players particularly. That's another way to keep in touch with me is become part of our community.
Fantastic. Rob, thank you so much for your time today. Again, thanks for sharing your leadership with us and for helping us make this podcast a better podcast for everybody.
Happy to be part of it.