Legal lesson learned

Acquisitions can help a company grow, but as Joe Gillen learned,
they can also be an unexpected source of aggravation.

Gillen did not see the danger that lurked as he sought to
acquire a financially insolvent company and make it a part of
Pinnacle Financial Strategies.

“I never knew that people would invest in lawsuits and that
third parties, who had nothing to do with either side, would put
up money to buy a lawsuit,” Gillen says. “I was pretty naive.”

Despite the litigation, Pinnacle acquired the company. But
the experience taught the founding partner and CEO a valuable

“Not that you want to spend a portion of your revenue on
legal matters, but it’s the way of American business,” Gillen
says. “Whether you like it or not, it’s part of the landscape.”

Pinnacle, which provides guidance and solutions to financial
institutions, grew from $32 million in 2004 to $37 million in
2006 with 125 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Gillen about how to be a strong
leader and still have fun with your job.

Q: How does culture play a part in your success?

We wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts if the temperature is
right. I wear a Hawaiian shirt almost every day of the week.
That doesn’t change the way (employees) do their job. There is
just a little more relaxed feeling that the casualness gives you.

It drops the curtain, which I call a suit and tie. You can dress
people up, but it doesn’t really tell you who they are. (Our culture) allows people to meet their cohorts on a more level basis
and understand maybe a little more about them than just the
business side. Hawaiian shirts tell you a lot about a person with
the colors and designs you choose. They tell you a lot about a
person’s personality.

Q: How does a leader get employees to buy in?

You can have the greatest idea in the world. Unless people are
willing to believe in it and execute and continue to provide the very
best your customers can expect to receive and hopefully exceed
their expectations, you’re not going to be successful.

It’s all about the passion and belief of the people in the organization who all have one common goal of providing the best service
to your customer.

The key element is leadership and passion for what you do. All
the CEO can do is try to guide it and be a step ahead so everyone
has something to look forward to.

Be willing to lead. Be willing to step out there and show them
that this is the right way to go. Be willing to take the risk to get the
company there.

Q: Where can a CEO gain an edge?

Spend time with the receptionist. He or she knows more than
you probably do because everybody walks by the receptionist
every day.

That tells you how the attitude of the company is going. Talking
with more than your direct reports and spending time with your
customer base is key to really understanding where you’re headed
as an organization.

It’s wonderful to sit in your office and believe you can read the
tea leaves of where the industry is going that you work in. But it’s
certainly a lot better to go out and spend time with some key customers and understand where they think their business is headed.
That will give you the road map of where you need to be taking
your organization.

Never pass up the opportunity to meet someone new who just
may be your replacement. Every CEO’s goal one day is to walk
away from the organization that they run and leave it in the
hands of someone more competent and capable than they were.

Q: How do you deal with failure?

Pinnacle wouldn’t be here today had I not failed many times
before. Every morning, you have two choices when you get up.
You can get up with the attitude that today is a great day and I’m
going to do what I can to make it the best day possible. Or you can
get up and say, ‘Today stinks, and I’m going to be miserable all day.’

Failure is an opportunity to know what not to do the next time. I
don’t think I’ve ever been scared of failure. That’s probably why I’m
sitting here today because I was able to fail quite a few times and
not quit.

The difference between people who reach the long-term goal versus those who didn’t is they failed one time more and then finally
got the solution. It’s not that people who are that successful are
that much more brilliant than the people who haven’t been as successful.

HOW TO REACH: Pinnacle Financial Strategies, (866) 737-1235 or