Podcast: Why Buying Back Your Business Can Be a Good Move, an Interview with Rob Dube

By Ryan Tansom
Published: February 22, 2018 | Last updated: April 1, 2024
Key Takeaways

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes buying back the business you sold is the best decision you’ll make.



About the Host

Ryan is an entrepreneur, podcast host of the show Life After Business and the co-owner of Solidity Financial. Having personally experienced the hazards of selling a business, he joined up with his friend Brandon Wood to educate others on the process. Through their business (Solidity Financial), they provide a platform for entrepreneurs called Growth and Exit Planning that helps in exit planning, value building and financial management.

About the Guest

From Blow Pops to Forbes Best Small Companies! Rob Dubé started his first business in high school selling Blow Pops out of his locker. For the last 27 years, he’s served as President and Co-founder of imageOne, ranked as one of the Top 25 Small Businesses in America on the 2017 list of Forbes Small Giants.


Throughout Rob’s entrepreneurial journey, he’s developed an unwavering passion for delivering extraordinary experiences that positively impact the lives of his team members, the goals of their customers, and the fabric of the community.

A unique approach to business that has driven the company to success in its industry, and as a top workplace. ImageOne is the leading organization in Managed Print Services and Document Software Solutions, and is well-known as an exceptional company, receiving local and national recognition for its multi-award-winning culture. Rob is an avid meditator of 13 years, the author of donothing™ : the most rewarding leadership challenge you will ever take (set for release in early 2018), and organizer of the donothing™leadership silent retreat.

If you listen, you will learn:

  • Rob's’s early business experience.
  • The bumps and setbacks along the way to imageOne.
  • How Rob was able to find his company’s focus.
  • The events that led up to the 2004 sale.
  • The reasons why Rob and his partner bought imageOne back in 2006.
  • How Bo Burlingham’s book Small Giants helped Rob restructure his company.
  • The 6 qualities of “small giant” businesses.
  • Rob’s relationship with Bo Burlingham and what he has learned.
  • Other books and tools that have helped Rob build his business.
  • The long-term goals for imageOne.
  • How meditation has helped Rob get focus and clarity.
  • Silent retreats, what are they?
  • Rob’s leaders silent retreat event.
  • Rob’s advice to listeners.

Full Transcript

Announcer: 00:06 Welcome to Life After Business, the podcast where your host, Ryan Tansom, brings you all the information you need to exit your company and explore what life can be like on the other side.

Ryan Tansom: 00:17 Welcome back to the Life After Business podcast, this is episode eighty one. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sell your company and then buy it back and what you would do differently? Well, that's exactly what we were going to be diving into today because we have Rob Dubé who is the owner of Image One and an author that is coming out with a book called Do Nothing on this show today and he is going to share with us why he sold his company, what it was like working for the acquirer, and then why he ended up buying it back and what were some of the big triggering events that helped Rob recalibrate who he was, what he wanted from his business and why, and then how he's prioritizing the things that are important to him and using his business to have one of the top cultures in his industry and creating a legacy for himself that is nothing short of amazing. I had a blast on this interview with Rob because it's my old industry the managed print, the managed it space, so I can single-handedly tell you that Rob is really doing amazing things given the industry and what he's got with his business and being able to create something that is extremely special. So I hope you enjoy the interview with Rob.


Announcer: 01:24 This episode Of Life After Business is brought to you by Solidity Financial's growth and exit planning. Their proven process gives you clarity on all of your exit options and how those options impact your financial success, timing and future happiness. Sell your company on your timeframe to the right buyer at the price you want.

Ryan Tansom: 01:42 Rob, how you doing today?

Rob Dubé: 01:44 I'm doing well, Ryan. Thank you for having me.

Ryan Tansom: 01:46 I am super pumped to have you on the show because as you and I were just chatting we have a lot of backdrop that is connecting us and lead us to today. So maybe before we kinda dive into all that and have a bunch of inside stories, maybe for the listeners that are not familiar with your back story, maybe can you go back to how you became an entrepreneur and maybe a couple of milestones where you got to where you are today?

Rob Dubé: 02:13 Sure. Early on, my best friend Joel Perlman and I actually started selling blow pop lollipops out of our locker in high school. This was in ninth grade and we found a place where we could buy them in bulk, five cents each. We would resell them for twenty five cents. Great margins, fun business, great product. People were lined up, uh, the students were lined up and down the hallways to purchase them from us at lunch and we just became known as the blow pop guys and we'd be walking around the school after lunch with these baggies of quarters in our pockets. It was hilarious, we had a great time. We knew then that the entrepreneurial bug had bit us. We had a bunch of little ventures through high school and in college we were coming out of college with not much in the way of job prospects. We, uh, Joel actually read a classified ad in the back of Entrepreneur Magazine about these new things called laser printers and I think they were around three years old at the time and the cartridges that went into them were very expensive so that much hasn't changed. But we would go and learn how to remanufacture these toner cartridges and we thought it was a great idea. We did, we learned, we started the business out of our basement and although we're much different business today, that was our roots. The first year we did $6,700 in business. The second year we did 40,000. The third year we did a 110,000. So suffice it to say we were making no money whatsoever. It was pretty depressing.

Ryan Tansom: 03:52 So that's where the backdrop comes in. Where our first- because I think we were, you know, from imaging pad buying- we was used to buy remanufactured toner, whether it was from Caton, and I think you're actually one of our, one of our suppliers at one point.

Rob Dubé: 04:04 Wow, that's crazy. Thank goodness we don't do that anymore, by the way. So yeah, that was a tough business.

Ryan Tansom: 04:12 So then, you know, as you were, as you guys jumped headfirst into becoming entrepreneurs. And first of all, what about what year was that?

Rob Dubé: 04:12 That was 1991.

Ryan Tansom: 04:22 Because then you guys, the whole industry evolved a lot and you guys built a very sustainable business and kind of walk us through some of the milestones because you ended up selling the business in the early 2000s. So kind of maybe, you know, give us a couple of the highlights and how you know, you were going about that journey and then kind of what led up to you guys actually selling the business.

Rob Dubé: 04:46 The first 10, years we were just figuring things out and tripping over each other. Um, there was no structure to the company whatsoever. Joel and I were just pounding the pavement, trying to sign up new customers, trying to manage a small team and grow the business. But, uh, it was, we were really challenged on top of that being such close friends. We're best friends, we're like brothers. And uh, that, that was certainly stressful. We purchased a small IT company around 10 years in. We thought it would be a great business add-on to what we were doing. And we quickly found out it couldn't be more different. And so I know you can relate to this on some level. We were talking a little bit before. And a friend of ours – we were struggling – and a friend of ours said, hey, there's this guy named Gino Wickman.

Rob Dubé: 05:37 He just sold his company. He's very reasonable and very practical and maybe he could share some words of wisdom for you. And he's created this process for running a business so that might be useful for you, too. So we met with Gino and, first and foremost, he gave us some great advice and he just said the best companies around are super focused. And uh, he even gave us a book called Focus by Al Reese. And so we just had to put our egos aside, get rid of that IT company and chalk that up to a learning experience and stayed focus ever since. So the next great thing…

Ryan Tansom: 06:16 Can I interrupt just a little bit because I think it's. It's. I want to peel that back a little bit because I did that exact same distraction probably about 15 liters er 15 years later than you, but we never actually had that, that eye opening, hey, this is a different business because I think our old industry or your current industry is a flashy object. And I know a lot of entrepreneurs are the flashy object, but you know the, the copier managed IT. That whole like you, a lot of these companies spread themselves so thin with all these different business units. How, how did you guys go about whittling that down to figure out what your focus was? Was it about value creation in the business? Was it just because there was stress on the different types of operations? How did you guys go through that process and land on where you should actually focus?

Rob Dubé: 07:01 Yeah, it was the second part of what you said. We thought it would be a very similar business, so for example, when a printer was down, we would have, we had a brand, a guarantee, we would be out within four hours or the call was free. That wasn't, it wasn't like that in it services. Oftentimes you'd be out there for a full day and some jobs were more critical than other jobs because people's servers would be down and they couldn't work where printers, they, they didn't have the same level of urgency. So just so many things are so different. Even the hiring, the types of technicians you needed, you know, they, they were just totally different than a printer technician. Um, you know, I could go on and on, but we just realized this is such a different business and we were just struggling.

Ryan Tansom: 07:51 Well, how did you. Yes, I agree because I've been through that turmoil, you know, how did you, was it tough making that decision with all the sunk costs of, you know, the actual capital and emotional energy to actually sunset that? Especially as you and I had been at the same trade shows where all these people just pumping you with this idea that you need to be in this because that's just what you need to do. How did you fend off that, that pressure and, or you know, the, the sunk cost fallacy that you had to deal with?

Rob Dubé: 08:22 Well, first of all I was, I kept saying we gotta make this work. We can make this work, were smart enough and I'm just glad that throughout my career I've been able to bring in people that weren't as connected to it as I am and where the ego doesn't play in. And in this particular case, Gino was that person and he said some things that resonated with Joel and myself. And so, uh, it was kind of the kick in the butt that we needed. And we knew that the sunk costs, that was painful. We knew that going to the team and saying, this didn't work out. We knew, you know, that all this excitement we created was all, you know, for we might say for nothing. But I would say it was for, it was actually for the greater good and I learned a ton from it, um, but it was worth it and sometimes you have to swallow your ego and that's what we did and it was a great decision because we went back to what we were doing really well and it was really refreshing to say you know what? We saw something shiny. We went for it, now it's out of our system, let's stay focused because we learned that lesson.

Ryan Tansom: 09:36 So yeah, and explain maybe a light brush stroke on the traction methodology and you know, what your business was like before that obviously with IT services, but like, you know, what was the business like the internal atmosphere when you guys were running Traction and how did you guys use it to my trajectory or your forward strategy?

Rob Dubé: 09:59 Before Traction, we just, we had no way of running the company. There was very little in the way of a structure and accountability. You know, people had their roles in the company, but where they measured, how are they held accountable? We weren't even doing one-on-ones. We didn't have a set of core values, uh, we were a couple of nice guys running a nice business, but it was just really all over the place bringing EOS in brought everything to light for us. So starting with creating our core values and then having to take a look at our team and once those were defined going through, you know, easily a three year process of saying who we thought was right, really isn't right for the company anymore. Right fit, right seat. And uh, so it was a challenging time, but it was also an exciting time because we just kept getting clearer and clearer about what we did well and who we were as an organization.

Ryan Tansom: 11:02 So how did you know, what was that for you guys? You know, what was the, what did you guys land on, on the future vision of where you wanted to take the business and who you guys were and who the company was and how did that align with your future strategy?

Rob Dubé: 11:18 Well, we, we never had any thoughts per se of selling. So we just were looking out when we first got started with EOS, we really just focused on the three year picture. So we'd have our one year goals, our ninety day – what EOS calls our rocks. They're basically 90 day initiatives or mini-goals and then we'd have our three year picture. So we were always moving toward that three year picture. We had a B-hag, which was part of the vernacular of EOS at that time. I think they call it the 10 year target now. But that wasn't really for Joel and myself at that time. So as we were taking baby steps into EOS and integrating it into the company, you know, some things were clicking really well. Some things work and I'm glad that we had the um, I'm glad that we had the attitude that we didn't have to be perfect at it right out of the gates and that we knew it would be a journey and it really has been.

Rob Dubé: 12:16 And so as time, went on we really dialed in and got very strong with all the components of EOS. You asked about the vision. Actually, we ended up creating our vision at a place called Zing Train, which is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it's part of, um, it, it's roots come from a deli called Zingerman's Deli, which has this extraordinary level of service that they bring beyond really wonderful food. And they took what they were doing at the deli and they started training other companies and entrepreneurs or business people on how to provide extraordinary service. They also had a very unique way of creating a vision and we learned how to do that visioning process with them. And um, and that's what became, I guess what you could call our B-hag. And so for us right now it's our 2026 vision.

Ryan Tansom: 13:10 Got It. So, you know, I'm, I'm curious when you're going through that, that vision process, was it a vision for the business or was it a vision for you and Joel or a combination of the both?

Rob Dubé: 13:18 The, it was we have our individual visions, each one of us, that have to play into the company's vision. So as part of the Zingerman's vision process, it's actually fully collaborative with the entire company. So everybody's involved in crafting it. Now, the shareholders being Joel and myself because Joel and I are shareholders in the company, but we also have jobs there, CEO and president. So there's, we, we, we separate those two. So as shareholders in the company, the team needs to understand what Joel and my visions for our future are because it is our business and if we're going to create this together, they have to have that in mind. Our team members do. And so that's part of Zingerman's process to the shareholders come to the front and they talk about important things that relate to their future. And then we start crafting the vision for the company.

Ryan Tansom: 14:15 So as you, as a lot of this stuff is becoming clearer and your business is becoming a little bit more systematized with traction, you know, where, where in this process did the triggering event, what triggered it for you guys to originally sell because if selling or exiting wasn't part of, you know, all of that stuff, you know, where did it come to fruition in the conversations?

Rob Dubé: 14:37 It's, it's funny, I've been thinking about it, talking to you and I thought to myself, I don't know if you get this story very often, but this is our story. So basically what happened was on a fluke we received a web inquiry back in, I think it was 2002 from a very large hospital system in Columbus, Ohio. And we happened to be in Detroit, so it was outside of our market and they wanted to talk to us about what's now called managed print services. So we followed up on the lead. We ended up getting a meeting. The whole time, we're thinking there's no way we're getting this accountant. It's a huge deal. I mean we, we're up against national companies and we're this little company up in Detroit. Well, fast forward, we won the business. I still can't believe we won the business. And that was, that was around 2004 when this all happened.

Rob Dubé: 15:38 And we beat an incumbent that happened to be in there. That was a national company. And they contacted us about six months later and said, uh, hey, we, you beat us out at this hospital system. And frankly, we can't believe it. What are you guys doing? And can we meet? We just want to meet. So Joel and I are open. I mean there's not a ton of secrets, you know, in our, in our particular industry, it's pretty, you know, there, there isn't a lot of secret sauce as far as I. So we invited them in and great people got to know them a little bit. We later learned what their real motives were, which was not too long after that they contacted us about the idea of a potential acquisition and they were a copier, a traditional copier-based company, and they were looking to get into the managed print services business.

Rob Dubé: 16:32 And uh, we were a potential very simple way for them to do that. We weren't huge. They could leave us as a wholly owned subsidiary and let Joel and I run it. No synergies, keep all the team intact. And so, uh, we got into discussions with them. We, Joel and I just said, let's just say a number. We didn't go off on multiples or anything like that. We just set it, just, you know, and then the conversation kept going on literally after, I think it was four months, we finally engaged our attorney. He said, he said, he said, wait, you've been doing this for four months. And so that was another lesson that we learned, which was, you know, don't wait for months to start engaging your attorney. Um, and then just one thing led to another and we sold the business. There was a cash payout up front for Joel and myself. There was a three year employment contract which had cash payouts each year. And so that was at the end of 2004. And for the first time basically in our lives, we were employed by someone other than ourselves and we had vice president titles and our job was to run Image One again as a wholly owned subsidiary and train their 500 sales reps around the country on how to sell managed print services.

Ryan Tansom: 17:58 Oh my gosh. Like, so first of all, I wanna I wanna appeal back into so many parts of that story because I love it. But like, I'm just having this vision of trying to train 500 copier reps and I kind of have a stomach ache. I'm like, I'm sure it's like solutions, solutions, solutions; sell boxes, sell boxes, sell boxes, [Rob interjects: you know, too much!] I know… Oh my gosh. OK. So let's actually for the rest of them, like I said, we'll try and avoid some of the inside jokes here. But let's back. I'm curious because a lot of businesses and owners have the out-of-the-blue offer, which is how the conversations start. Whether it's, you know, going to a trade association or golfing or like, you know, an inquiry like that, you know, when you guys had some pretty clear visions of where you wanted to take the company, everything like that. What led you. So you got the number and what led you to continue the conversations because did you, did you, did your vision of your future change and how you like… I think a lot of us entrepreneurs we go for growth and then all of a sudden something like that kind of shakes us a little bit. Like, Oh, I didn't know there was other options out there. So what about it intrigued you and why did you guys end up going through with the actual acquisition?

Rob Dubé: 19:13 We thought we had something special and we had high aspirations. We, we were talking, you know, we could take this company national. Joel and I, we just had big ideas and this was a platform for that 500 sales reps. I didn't know what we were getting into and I like to say, and Gino taught me this phrase, "vision without execution is hallucination." So it was a great vision, but to your point training 500 copy or salespeople to sell solutions-based services and products. I had no idea. And it just was that clicking with down on top of the fact that they couldn't be held accountable because we were a wholly-owned subsidiary and here was this big company on a big system, oracle, and you know, everything was driving through that system and we had our little system that they didn't change. So the sales people's behavior wasn't changing. So out of the 500, you know, we might have had five percent that grabbed it and said this is a great way to ingrain myself into my customers, so they really got it, but everyone else, it just wasn't working. Their behaviors, I don't blame them. Their behaviors and how they were compensated was being driven a totally different way so who, who could blame them?

Ryan Tansom: 20:34 So I totally, totally agree because I've tried to train an IT service rep, and a managed IT rep, and a software and a copier rep and it's just like that is a, that is a, that is a challenge only for saints that have patience. But I'm curious, you know, when you were in those conversations, because I think this happens to a lot of people where they end up selling their business because there's all these conversations or these kind of the honeymoon of what all the things that we can do and then things just are executed differently. Do you believe that they wanted to actually do that and then they just weren't able to overcome some of the, the back end challenges? Or do you think it was kind of like a bait and switch?

Rob Dubé: 21:16 No, no, I think their, their heart was in the right place. They really did see a great opportunity there and unfortunately again, it was a bigger company so there was executive turnover so then somebody new would come in and then they'd be trying to take them like three or four months just to figure out like, OK, what's Image One and you know, why did we buy them and how does this fit and you know, by the time they got themselves up to speed and we started to make a tiny bit of attraction, somebody would change again. I mean that's actually what happened. I think we had four different people that came into the role that oversaw our division over the period of time that they owned us.

Ryan Tansom: 21:59 So I can't imagine how frustrating that must've been. [Rob interjects: Very frustrating.] So how did you guys deal with it? Now that you're employees, you can't dictate the outcome as much as you used to be able to. I mean, how did you guys deal with it emotionally?

Rob Dubé: 22:11 Honestly, I had to go to therapy, so that's one way I did it. I was an anxious person to begin with and by stress was just going through the roof and so I'll never forget. I like to tell this story that in 2005, so this was literally less than a year into the three year employment agreement. It was the summer of 2005 and I was on vacation with my family and they were outside. They were enjoying the day, it was beautiful and I was inside. I was working and I was very frustrated. I felt like I had no control and I was really actually on the verge of tears and I being an anxious person by nature, I'd read about different ways of, you know, kind of how you could cope with this, therapy being one of them. Another was meditation and I, but I'd never tried it. And that particular day, I don't know what it was other than the fact that maybe I was just sort of that point. I looked over at this chair that was in the room and I just told myself, Rob, go sit in that chair and breathe in and breathe out and breathe in and breathe out. And that's what I did for about five minutes and when I was done, my problems didn't go away, the frustrations were still ever-present, but I felt a little bit calmer. I felt a little bit clearer in my mind. And so that was another way that I started to be able to handle the situation that we were in and it resulted into a practice that I've had ever since.

Ryan Tansom: 23:46 I want to go back to that because you ended up writing a book that's coming out soon called Do Nothing and you've been meditating for a long time now and I think I want to peel that apart, but I want to continue on the, the, the story for a second cause I, how did the meditation and this, this, uh, you know, clearer mindset. How, how did you go back and how did you decide to resolve your problem that you were in with this lack of control? Where did you fit in this big picture? Who are you, if you're just an employee, how did you end up, you know, tackling that problem?

Rob Dubé: 24:21 Well, it was certainly a process and I'm not sure that I ever really figured it out, but I was starting to let go and not be so attached to how I felt it needed to go. I'm a results-oriented person and when the results weren't there, that's frustrating to me, but I also knew that where I started to realize that there were things well beyond my control. I can only do what I could do and if I could look myself in the mirror and know that I gave my full effort and my full, you know, my best, that that's all I could really do. And that was very helpful. So I'm now since that time I started meditating, which was in the summer of 2005 as these executive changeovers started to happen, a new CEO came in in March of 2006. And when that happened, Joel and I got on the plane and went and visited with him right away and we just said, here's what's happening. What's going on, what are your thoughts? And he was a real, you know, real reasonable, practical person. I've always appreciated that about this person and he listened to what we had to say. He gave it some thought. He spoke with his leadership team and he contacted us literally I think two weeks later and they made an offer to have us buy the company back. What that meant was we would just forego the last two payments and so Joel and I decided to do that. So we actually got the company back in June of 2006. The this whole thing was an 18 month journey.

Ryan Tansom: 26:08 That's amazing. So I've got a couple of questions on that. One is good for the whole purchase price, did you get a significant amount of the cash up front?

Rob Dubé: 26:21 Yes, the majority was up front.

Ryan Tansom: 26:23 Did you guys. OK, so that's awesome. First of all, just for all the reasons that it is awesome and then, but you know, when you, when you have this offer and you kind of now got this, you know, little bit of a different life lens that you're starting to see through. What did you think about in your head or what was the dialogue with, with Joel and whether you wanted to take in on again?

Rob Dubé: 26:44 That's a great question. We actually questioned whether we want to do at, first of all we were foregoing two payments and all we had to do was hang out for another 18 months. We already had ideas for other things that we could do. So there was that component. And we were exhausted with the industry after this whole situation. So, you know, there was that part of it. But this book, you and I were talking before about this book, Small Giants was ended up on my desk and to this day I don't know who sent it to me and I probably, I don't even know why I started sort of flipping through it, but I did, I picked it up. I started flipping through it, and I saw the names Zingerman's. And Zingerman's, as I mentioned before, such a impactful part of Joel and my education and they've been a mentor to us and I read the section on Zingerman's and then I read the book and Joel read the book and we thought, wow, we can build a different kind of company that's more in alignment with who we are as people and so we said, let's do it. Let's take the company back and let's be really focused on these core qualities of Small Giants.

Ryan Tansom: 27:56 So I love that because for the listeners, what episodes they've listened to or not is. I've interviewed Norm Brodsky from Citistorage on the show too, and he's an amazing individual because he went through a similar story where he had a first company and then he reinvented a different kind of company for the second one. And Bo Burlingham and Paul Spiegelman are all these people that are surrounding the Small Giants, but for the people that haven't heard those episodes or have little tidbits of this Rob, can you explain to them what a small giant is and how the company operates and the different things that they take into consideration versus some other kind of company?

Rob Dubé: 28:32 Yes. So there's six qualities that they look at in companies that are small giants. And the first thing is they have to have a strong purpose, a vision, a powerful mission, core values that can be brought to life. There's strong leadership and typically the leaders are what you might call a servant leaders. And they lead by, through the values. The culture is usually intimate. The employees, the team members are put first. Um, we care for employees in the totality of their lives. Finance. Companies that protect their gross margins without compromising the company values is a very key, uh, there's the, the costumers in cultivating these meaningful relationships with them as well as suppliers and anybody who has a stake in the business. And then the last thing is community and just really having deep roots in their communities. So you know, I always like to think about this and I learned this from the small giants community is if we, if we weren't around anymore, would anybody notice in the community?

Rob Dubé: 29:41 And so that's the bar that we set for ourselves. So we use those six qualities. Now I share a story with you real quick where it's just lucky. And I went to a Zingtrain workshop on visioning and while I was there, it was their first one in while I was there, Ari Weinzweig, who is the founder of Zingerman's, was teaching it and that was great and he's an amazing person and I was in line at lunch during the break and I struck up a conversation with this person and he was asking me all kinds of questions and he was very interested in this whole acquisition situation that had just taken place and the buyback and all that. And I thought, wow, this guy is so curious. But he also knows his stuff. And so I turned the tables. I started asking him some questions. Well, it turned out to be Bo Burlingham the author of Small Giants.

Rob Dubé: 30:35 And I thought, wow, you have no idea Bo. Like three months ago, I read your book. It really, it, it, it got us to buy the company back, this is crazy. And so Bo and I stayed in touch and about a year later he contacted me and he said, I'd like to invite you to be part of 10 entrepreneurs, part of a group of 10 entrepreneurs and I'm going to take you and these, the 10 entrepreneurs, around the country twice a year we're going to pick a city and we're going to go visit small giants. The, the founders, the, their leadership teams and uh, it all from all from the book. And then so many that didn't make it into the book that told totally could have. And so we had been traveling around twice a year since that time with Bo and wow, you can't imagine the wisdom that I picked up. These little nuggets, you know, every single trip that I could just bring back and slowly integrate into our company. And um, wow. It's crazy even just thinking about it

Ryan Tansom: 31:47 Bo is just like the most amazing person ever. So much wisdom. And so much care for these people. So I mean just following him around like that would be amazing. So but then you've got the exposure to these other small giants. You know how Rob, you said you got lots of gold nuggets. What are some of the bigger takeaways that you've had? Have some, cause I'm, I'm pitching. You get this different relationship with your business and your people and the culture and your purpose. You know, what are some of the major gold nuggets that you brought back that have stuck with you and how you've realigned all these different dynamics in your life?

Rob Dubé: 32:23 There's a few things. The first is caring for people, for the people that totality of their lives. They're humans. There is not a, a structure where you know we're the smartest and they just come work. This is a life experience that we happen to be together in and they get to choose as much as we get to choose. And I'm nothing without the team. And, and so that was really neat to see these companies around the country who operate with that principal. And so who care so deeply about their people. So we did things like, for example, all of our team members each year fill out and, or update a vision and goals worksheet and so they create their vision for the future and then they break it down into five year and three year in one year increments. And then our leadership team is responsible for working quarterly with every one of our team members to help them reach their life's goals.

Rob Dubé: 33:31 And sometimes it might have and usually it doesn't have much to do with our company, but that's great because we want to be lifter uppers. And so that's what we do. And that is an idea that, you know, I picked up along the way. Here's another one. I met Jack Stack through Bo who wrote the book the Great Game of Business and that the Great Game of Business teachers system for open book management, which I resisted for years. But when I realized that, uh, dealing with just regular people like myself and the more information that they have, the more they can be empowered and make smart decisions. Jack convinced me or that and we opened up our books and if I would have never done that and that was, that was one of the best decisions we ever made. It's a turning point for us.

Ryan Tansom: 34:27 So I'm, that's awesome. And I know there's a lot of complications being able to open up the Kimono like that when you're the owner and then all of a sudden you got questions getting everybody on the same page, how much does Rob make? Why does he make it? And all that kind of stuff. Even teaching people financials and you know, you're, you're aligning a culture, which I'm both talks a lot about along with Jack Stack and that booking. And I'm curious Rob, so you haven't mentioned the book Finish Big yet, but I know you were mentioned in that book, that Bo wrote. So maybe. I guess one of my questions for you, I want to maybe talk through it because I was talking to Bo on it when I interviewed him is can you finish big and be a small giant? You know, how does your, how does Rob and your vision for who you are, your business, what the relationship you have with your business, how does that fit into the long-term vision of you while keeping the integrity of being a small giant? I don't know if you've figured that out or if it's a process that you're going through, but um, yeah, I'm, I'm curious on what your thoughts are on that.

Rob Dubé: 35:29 It's definitely a philosophical question one that Bo and I had a lot of back and forth with when he was writing Finish Big. Um, because I just don't have the answer to that. I look at Paul Spiegelman a whom you and I spoke of and Paul sold his business Barrel, which was a call center for healthcare for the healthcare industry. And certainly he was, his company was a small giant, got integrated into a gigantic company. I don't know what it looks like today, but Paul certainly lived by those values, but also understood that he had decisions personally that he had to make in his life that made sense for him and his family. So I don't know if that means all of a sudden he's not a small giant. I don't look at that as being the case. And I'm very close with Paul.

Rob Dubé: 36:21 Um, and so I know Paul to be an amazing person who cares deeply about people and takes care of them, you know, in, in big ways all around. So yeah, I don't know the answer to that. There are ideas about employee ownership, esops, that's a way potentially to finish kind of big. Jack Stack would, would advocate that. And he's certainly doing well with that philosophy. And then there's companies that struggle with that philosophy where there are complications that, that, you know, have made it a situation where those shareholders are finishing big. So that's something we investigate, but I don't have the answer right now.

Ryan Tansom: 37:07 I think it's uh, you know, thinking about it is, you know, that's the whole purpose of this show here too, cause they, you know, for the listeners that have have heard some of my backdrop too, you know, like in our old world, in your current world, you know, a lot of times there's a strategic acquisition, the first one you were lean as a wholly-owned subsidiary, but a lot of times it's a strategic purchase and there's a lot of redundancies. So like what I struggled with huge and I'm curious on how that fits into your, you know, you're very much like me where I cared so much about my employees and all this, but all of a sudden in a strategic sale, you don't need them or most of them. So how do you deal with that and does that work with me and what I want? And you get the financial, all these dynamics that play together. I don't know. How do those play into kind of your vision of, you know, how you're going to be treating your second exit whenever and however that looks?

Rob Dubé: 37:57 I mean, I think what I, what I have the philosophy, the, the, the discussion that I have with Bo is that life takes on different ebbs and flows and so what might be important to me when I was 35 and we sold the business now I'm 48, you know, these are different things and so life takes on different paths and so I just don't know a hundred percent how I, how I will feel. So when I, when I've written my vision, there are certain pieces to it and the company has access to it so they know exactly where I stand, how I get there financially. Uh, I don't 100 percent know if that's a complete sale and what I'll be grappling with at that time about if, if there were redundancies and people might lose their jobs, I, I, as I stay as a talk to you today, that makes me sick to my stomach and I just don't. I don't think I have it in me at this moment, but I don't know what the future holds. So I always share with our team that is just the honest truth. I don't know what my, what my mindset would be down the line. Ideally, honestly, I'd love to tie people into the company that, that would be like a dream for me. It would be a win-win all around.

Ryan Tansom: 39:12 Well, uh, yeah, and that's because you're checking a lot of boxes that are important to you and that actually kind of is a perfect mom migration into you have done, you know, when you've, you've done a lot of interesting reflection, Rob, on what is important to you. I mean, a combination of reading all this stuff and meeting all the people that I found out after we sold, you've done it all while you've got your business, which is extremely, uh, amazing, but you know, you've got, you've, you've started doing that and practicing meditation and you know, some of the people that I've had on this show, what we're dealing with these entrepreneurs that we can't sit still, right. I mean, your mind, your mind is always going, you're, you're, this is perpetual whirlwind and even pausing to think about what's important is a common unfortunate scenario that people have where they don't realize what's important till after the fact, but you started practicing this meditation and can you explain how that's changed your life and how you've integrated it and how you use that to help guide you to where you are today?

Rob Dubé: 40:13 It's, it's definitely been a progression over time and it will never end. It will be a continued journey, but one thing that I'll just point out right out of the gates, which is I've come to be OK with what's happening in the moment right here, right now. It doesn't mean I have to like it. I just need to show up to it so I can make changes in my life. I have to look at the bigger picture. So if something's frustrating me, if there's too much coming at me at once, I get to decide and I get to decide right here right now and start taking the steps to make the changes if I need to. And so that's been really eye opening for me because I want to control the future. Maybe sometimes I dwell on the past too much and so you know, you can't dwell- you can't change the past, you certainly can't control the future even though we like to think we can. So all you can deal with is the present moment.

Ryan Tansom: 41:20 So how were you taking like actually practically doing that because I think, you know, a lot of… me included. Someone actually called my bs on. You literally just got to stop and when do you take the moment? Because I think a lot of, you know, some people that maybe are. I think meditation has kind of been demystified lately, which is good, but when and how long do you do it? What are the benefits that you see before afterwards? I mean like practically how does that fit into your day-to-day world?

Rob Dubé: 41:49 So let me just preface it by saying I'm probably on the far end of the spectrum in terms of how often I do it and so it can. You can get great results by not following exactly what I do, but I wake up very early. I wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I meditate for 45 minutes. In the evening, before I go to bed, I meditate for 20 minutes and I'll tell you what those two times do for me. The the 45 minutes in the morning, for myself, I would wake up in within seconds I'd be thinking about my day already, like how does that happen? I just woke up and so sitting and allowing those thoughts to flow and then reminding myself to come back to the present moment, my breath, and then the, you know, inevitably the thoughts start coming back and bringing myself back to the present moment.

Rob Dubé: 42:45 It is a practice. That's why they call it that. You're constantly practicing because it's very difficult to do it and in the evening I can't tell you how often I'm just wiped out. I'm ready to just be horizontal, on my bed and just vege. But I've never once never once regretted sitting down for 20 minutes and doing the same thing as all these things that were happening throughout the day are coming through my mind and as I practice coming back to the present moment and focusing on my breath, so that's what works for me. But you… people can start with five minutes, 10 minutes, once a day, twice a day, whatever works in the schedule. I mean, even if you could just stop for a couple minutes, imagine that. I mean sometimes we even have a hard time. Let's just say we have all these breakout conference rooms. Let's just say you go in a conference room, shut the door and just sit there and focus on your breath for like two or three minutes. It seems like an eternity, but it's so helpful.

Ryan Tansom: 43:46 Have you ever heard of the APP called Headspace?

Rob Dubé: 43:49 Yes, I have.

Ryan Tansom: 43:50 That's a great way to get started where there was a guy with a ridiculously awesome accent that kind of helps you through it. For sure. Is there. You know, Rob, when I think about what you've gone through and the crazy decisions of selling a company, not selling your company, who we are, who we want to be as an individual, as a company, the culture, all that stuff. How has your meditation and the, the, the do nothing philosophy, how has that changed how you make decisions?

Rob Dubé: 44:19 Well, first of all, I look to empower the team to make the decisions as often as possible, unless it's something that's my role and I need to be responsible for it, but then I want to collaborate with the team and I want us all to be bought in, be the same page and I want to be able to hear what everybody has to say on the subject. One of the most impactful things for me, and I'm quite sure for the team is that I worked much harder at being fully present and aware when I'm with them. So when the, when we're meeting and there's a challenge out there, an issue that they're dealing with. I'm listening intently, but I'm not trying to solve in my head and there's a big difference there. I think as leaders we're, we're always thinking I've got to get, give this person good direction, I've got to come up with a way to solve this for them and, and you know, that's my purpose and I would argue actually our purpose is to just show up, listen, be present, be aware, they'll feel that energy, they'll know that you are fully, fully engaged in what they're talking about and you're not off thinking about, you know, the, the next meeting or an email that you just read before you walked in the room or anything like that. And guess what? Usually by talking it through they usually have the answer. So what a gift. What a gift for me, for them.

Ryan Tansom: 45:47 I mean that's gotta be, I mean everybody knows that intellectually what you said, but it's very difficult to do. [Rob interjects: Gosh, that's so true.] I know I should do this, but then I'm still going to sit there and think about it. So I think, you know, the, the meditation is the practice that it's just like working a muscle and you're about to your book's about to come out. So can you give us a little bit of a rundown of what's the book about what, you know, why should someone pick it up and do you wrap in a lot of these philosophies?

Rob Dubé: 46:15 Yeah, definitely. So Do Nothing: the Most Rewarding Leadership Challenge You Will Ever Take is the name of the book. Bo Burlingham actually wrote the forward for it, which I'm very grateful to him for doing. He's been meditating for over 40 years and a big proponent of what that's done for him in his life. And so what I do or what I share in the, in the book is really a little bit of background on my story and then just giving the reader the practical tools for how to get started in sticking with it. I also interviewed people from- business leaders from all over the country who have a meditation practice and who are highly successful. Uh, an example would be Mark Bertolini who is the CEO of Aetna Insurance with 30,000 employees and he credits a ton of their success to his meditation practice.

Rob Dubé: 47:06 So he's a great example, uh, and one that I write about in the book. Um, the other thing I talk about, and this is, this is a stretch for most people, but a number of years ago, uh, I read about and learned about the benefits of taking an extended silent retreat anywhere from a day to 10 days. I started with one day and I found it to be very impactful. So I started doing seven-day silent retreats and then the last one I did was 10 days. And so just as a kind of what does that look like? Because a lot of people ask me. So first of all, there's no talking at a silent retreat. This is where people start to go, like their eyes start to glaze over. There's no reading, no journaling or writing. A typical day, you're sitting and meditating for maybe 20 minutes at a time.

Rob Dubé: 48:02 You'll do some stretching to stay limber, mindful walking. And this is where you walk back and forth or in a circle, very slowly. Mindful eating is similar, but you're eating. You're eating very slowly, you're tasting every last taste of whatever it is that you have in your mouth and you're thinking about where it came from. It just really raising your awareness. And what I started to find in doing these is something really remarkable. I started to feel my brain again and I forgot… I don't think I actually ever do what my brain felt like until I went on a silent retreat because I've been so busy since I was five years old. How could I remember? So this is an example that I'd like to share with people. I, uh, I'm a runner, I've run 14 marathons and so I know what it's like to train and have a lot of aches and pains and do something, you know, that's a bit of endurance and then recover from it.

Rob Dubé: 49:01 And when you recover from that. And when I recovered from that, I start to feel my body again. Yes. Oh my gosh. It's so great to not walk away and feel my legs like, you know, feeling so Jell-o-y or whatever the case might be, and others might just be out gardening or going for a walk in and they have aches, pains, and then as they, as their body recovers, they go away. And it's very similar with your brain. So a few days in you start to feel your brain and when you start to feel your brain, your thoughts become clearer, your awareness goes up. And so all these things that you're challenged with that are going on in your life, so many of them come to you and all of a sudden you have more clarity about it and it's really remarkable. And then you come out of it and you're in a different sort of state, uh, and uh, you go back into the world with a whole new outlook on things until life starts heating up again, and it is time for me for the next one.

Ryan Tansom: 50:03 Well, I think it's important, right? Because I mean, honestly, that's on my wish list. I've got two twin girls that are one years old and so I don't know how much my wife would appreciate me just dipping out for a week, but, uh, you know, I think it's so important because as entrepreneurs we're running a business and all these dynamics and stressful situations come across. Having a clear mind is one of the most important things that we could have because then you can go in to the future with eyes wide open. Otherwise you're just reacting instead of actually understanding and making the decisions intentionally.

Rob Dubé: 50:40 Yes. And you mentioned demystifying it before. For me that was really important because I'm not a religious person. I definitely am a spiritual person, but I don't follow any particular religion. And it was, you know, it was something that was on my radar screen. And um, and, and so when I learned how it is demystified, I mean I'm over-simplifying it probably, but to me it's just really taking some time to sit down and follow your breath and allow these thoughts to go and it's hard to do, but it's a simplistic idea. And um, and, and so that was part of my purpose for writing the book and, and doing the retreat. I wanted to do the same thing. So I organized a silent leadership retreat. It's taking place April 23rd to the 26th and it's, it's only leaders, entrepreneurs, business leaders, some non-profit leaders, and it's solely focused on people that have these sort of similar things going on in their lives and they will experience this for four days.

Ryan Tansom: 51:48 That's awesome. I love it. So as we're kind of getting towards the end here, Rob, we talked about a ton and you've got a lot of gold nuggets that you left us with. Um, but is there one thing you want to highlight that we'd talked about or maybe one thing that we didn't, that you want to make sure that we leave with the listeners?

Rob Dubé: 52:06 Well, I'm going to go back to the meditation and the do nothing because to me that's, that's a real gold nugget. Might be a platinum nugget. It's a very, it's a very simple practice that could be put into your lives. And um, yeah, I've seen it time and time again, be so helpful for people to just slow things down a little and I'm just convinced with everything coming at us. You mentioned you have two one year olds. Yeah, I mean, imagine their world. It's, I mean it's, everything's coming so fast, it's probably going to be faster. So I think that by, by, uh, just taking some time during the day to slow down and do nothing, I think is, is, that's the best way I could conclude.

Ryan Tansom: 52:51 So if our listeners want to get in touch with you, want to buy the book, want to look at the retreats or whatever, what is the best way for everybody to get in touch with you?

Rob Dubé: 53:00 So, uh, the website is donothingbook,com and all the information on everything I shared with that is, is right there. There's also links to all the social media and you can contact me through the website or the social media and I will a hundred percent get back to you. Um, also any resources that you want for your business in terms of the tactical stuff that we're using at Image One, I'm happy to share. I'm a Forbes contributor and I have a weekly column a couple weeks ago or three weeks ago we talked about the vision and goals process and if anybody wanted our process and our worksheet to just message me and we were inundated with requests, which was awesome. I'll get back to you, I promise.

Ryan Tansom: 53:50 And I'll put all this stuff in the show notes, too. So Rob, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Rob Dubé: 53:54 Thank you for having me. You're such a pleasure to talk to and I love the background and connections. That was unbelievable.

Ryan Tansom: 54:02 I'm glad we spared the listeners with most of the stuff.

Rob Dubé: 54:02 For sure.

Ryan Tansom: 54:05 All right. Thanks Rob.

Rob Dubé: 54:06 Absolutely.


Ryan Tansom: 54:10 Thanks for sticking in there. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Rob. Had a ton of different takeaways, especially because I was so personally attached to the industry and some of the things that Rob was doing and what he's been exposing himself to. But if I were to pick three, the first one would be is that rob has spent the time, the second go round in his company, to invest in himself. His vision and who he surrounds himself with. So the small giants community and the book by Bo Burlingham, the Finish Big book by Bo Burlingham and using traction and the Zing. All these different methodologies has given rob the ability to see his business in a clear light and understand who he is and in relationship to his business and really understand what he wants out of his business in the next exit should and when that ever happen.

The second takeaway was how Rob prioritizes his culture and his employees and really had a servant leadership attitude because he now knows that it's not about the money and it's about the people and changing lives and he's able to really make a difference in his employees lives and all the customers that they touch.

And then the third major takeaway, which I struggle with personally, is that Rob is able to do nothing, meditate, and he's able to clear his head and understand what he wants because of the clarity that he's seeing in the ability to go into situations with some focus and an understanding of what's important to him because he's got his principles. So I really hope you enjoyed the interview with rob. If you enjoy the episodes, go on to itunes and give me a rating. And until next week I'll talk to you later.

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Written by Ryan Tansom

Ryan Tansom

Ryan runs industry-specific podcasts on his website which pertain to mergers and acquisitions, and all the life lessons he wish he had known then. He strives to bring this knowledge to his listeners in a way that is effective and engaging by providing new material each week from industry experts.

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