It is hard to believe that a week has gone by since attending the Inc. 500/5000 Conference in Washington, DC. To represent our company at this gathering of the most brilliant entrepreneurs from around the country was an eye-opening, valuable, and fun experience. This is the first year that Emergenetics International made the list (we checked in at number 3,357 in case you’re wondering – really great, but we’re looking to move up next year!) and I could not have had a more positive experience.

The reason for my enthusiasm is truly based on learning from others – the conference was a forum for soaking in ideas, and the beauty was that ideas were flying in from all directions, not just the keynote speakers or breakout sessions.

I talked with fellow entrepreneurs in industries completely different from ours, who had never heard of our firm, yet who, in the course of a short conversation, gave me several great ideas on how to continue to move forward. I hope I was similarly helpful to others.

With that said, the speakers were excellent and I caught a few key themes.

My Biggest Lesson – The Power of People:

The biggest theme I came away with was the power of people. This may seem obvious – great companies need the best leaders and employees – but think about this for a second. To come away from a conference filled with the most entrepreneurial people in the country and realize the #1 insight is not about innovation or creativity or leadership but rather about human relationships is significant. Organizations are getting it—the bottom line starts with a top-line focus on human capital.

From Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan, who said that “evaluating talent all the time is essential” and that success, to him, is born of an “obsessive focus on managing and working with people.”

I especially love this quote from Ryan: “The idea is worth very little; in one year, my former company DoubleClick had 37 direct competitors—execution and success gets to people.” Wow…powerful and a little unexpected, but tough to argue with.

Lesson – Ideas Happen When Trust Happens:

Patrick Lencioni also culled down organizational success to a crystal clear focus on what makes a healthy, productive organization. It’s smart of course (with great ideas and ways to execute them) but it’s also healthy. Healthy organizations get beyond ideas and go to cohesive culture, communication and alignment to a higher degree than ever before, and—this is the key—an ability to TRUST.

The ideas are there; the key is finding ways to create and instill trust at all levels of an organization—starting with leadership. One of the breakout sessions (Tackling Team Alignment – which leaders of awesome Inc. Honorees spoke from the heart and their experience) echoed this sentiment as the panelists said things like

  • Teamwork is the ultimate competitive advantage.
  • The best organizations operate 1) with strong teams 2) with teams that have trust and accountability.
  • Team alignment isn’t about everyone agreeing—conflict is valuable if managed the right way. YES! I loved this one point and tell our clients this every day – it is all about recognizing and utilizing the cognitive diversity that your organization possesses!

Culture is King—Know Your Organization:

After finding and cultivating the most talented people, creating a culture that you can embrace and build is the foundation – it can make or break your organization.

Notice…still not about ideas and innovation. Of course, ultimately, the culture a company can build can be based on high innovation potential, which is what I got from keynote speaker Seth Goldman of Honest Tea.

What a speaker and a leader…you can tell the guy just absolutely lives the mission. He spoke with candor and clarity about how Honest Tea was able to build a culture that created a successful business—so successful that they were bought by Coca Cola. More challenging, though, was how to keep the independent culture and spirit in the midst of being part of a much larger (and admittedly different) corporate culture at Coke.

What was incredibly interesting to me was that he noted that it was critical to convey the change to his employees first and foremost, but that once this happened, the culture at Honest Tea both stood apart from and integrated with Coke. It wasn’t a case of looking at the “big, bad corporate HQ” and our “little, mission-driven organic company” but rather how the two could coexist and actually make each other better. Honest Tea, with Coke’s culture of growth and drive, is now in more markets than ever before. Coke, now with Honest Tea’s social impact focus, has organically certified production facilities.

It’s a great case study on how leaders can communicate a vision and impact companies in new ways.

In countless conversations with fellow honorees, the concept of an empowered culture came up over and over again. It is something that we know propelled Emergenetics International onto this year’s list.

Of course, the conference provided me, as our Director of Marketing, with a wealth of ideas on how to better use social media, create new web strategies, be a better manager, and more.

But, as I said at the start, it comes down to finding great people, leading those people forward, and putting them into the kinds of teams where they excel. This is how I saw all of the great companies on the Inc. 5000 list making their growth happen.

Mark Miller
Director of Marketing