Scott Moorehead use culture to drive success at The Cellular Connection to the tune of $600 million in sales

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When Scott Moorehead became the CEO of The Cellular Connection in 2008, he thought culture was just what people knew about art.

“If you had culture, then you drank your coffee with your pinkie in the air,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about culture. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know if it was important or not.”

But after being in the driver’s seat for a short time, and networking with some other companies, he realized that a company culture was a crucial matter.

“Now I believe that no matter what your company sells, what it does, no matter how many inventions you have or patents you have, your only secret sauce that nobody can steal is your culture,” he says.

While you might say Moorehead’s mind-set makeover sounds like a dramatic enlightenment, it was more of a shift in what he knew about the company already but hadn’t quite put together all the pieces.

While growing up, the ebullient Moorehead knew that one day he was expected to take the reins of the company that was founded by his parents. So over time, he worked 32 positions in the organization — nearly every one — to earn his spot at the top so everyone would know it was not just given to him.

“Because of having worked my way up through the company, I could see there was a cultural difference between the people who worked in the stores, and the people who were in the corporate office, and the people who were in executive positions,” he says. “It didn’t match, and it didn’t feel like we were all on the same page. That was the feeling I got before I knew what culture was.”

The Cellular Connection is the largest Verizon premium retailer in the nation with more than 800 locations across 28 states. Annual revenue went from $191 million in 2009 to $606 million last year under Moorehead’s leadership. Here’s how the culture Moorehead drives plays a big part in the company’s success.

 

Make order out of chaos 

Starting a company and building a culture from the ground up is one thing; merging two cultures is another matter; and the hardest job of all may be sorting out a disorganized culture. That’s what was facing Moorehead. The de facto culture created a lot of barriers walls that one had to hop over constantly to get things accomplished, and Moorehead realized it was a tall order.

“We didn’t even talk the same language, man,” Moorehead says. “It was a constant battle because the stores were speaking a different language than the executives because the executives didn’t have a lot of transparency at the time. They had the right intentions, but the transparency wasn’t there.”

Once Moorehead found the weaknesses in the primitive culture that was in effect, he took time to consider the journey ahead.

“You have to take a step back and look at what your values are,” he says. “Then you can build your culture around that. Trying to force a culture that doesn’t exist, from a value perspective, is impossible.

“It’s a constant battle to make sure that your culture is right and you have to do research, and you have to have opinions from all levels of the company, and you have to figure out how to get people to speak up on their own behalf. It’s tough. Otherwise it’s just one person’s point of view. That’s not really a culture; that’s more of a directive.”

Moorehead’s major goal was to build one team out of several disconnected ones. That meant getting the big picture to be accepted by 1,400 employees.

“Somebody’s got to raise the sail, and somebody’s got to paddle, and somebody’s got to steer, and somebody’s got to make sure we are cooking the food to feed everybody who’s hungry, to keep them healthy; it takes a crew to run this ship,” Moorehead says. “Everybody has a job — but everybody realizes everybody else’s job is just as important.”

When you explain the big picture, it likely will be easy to get employees to buy in. Moorehead found that his good fortune was to follow the excellent vision his father, who co-founded the company with his mother, had laid down: he wanted a company where people wanted to come to work each day, he was not going to manage by intimidation, and there would be a family aspect of the company.

“When you put all that together — customers matter, employees matter, no management by intimidation, and family feel, and let’s just make a company where people want to come to work,  — and you say that out loud, it sounds like buzzword bingo!” Moorehead says. “So getting people to believe in it wasn’t hard. It wasn’t hard at all. Now, getting it actually executed is a whole different story. And that is hard.”

 

Let your culture be your filter

What makes it difficult to get everyone on the same company culture page is how each employee views his or her personal role in the process. So a key feature is to keep the explanation simple.

Moorehead conveys the message this way: the culture serves as a filter through which every decision must flow.

“You have to build the culture around what you believe in, making it the first thing that you filter all your decisions through,” he says. “It’s hard, because you have to try to get every person to do that. And without a doubt, it is not perfect here. You can’t have several thousand employees and make it perfect every time, but we are getting a heck of a lot closer.”

While you make the essence of culture real, make it regular as well. Repetition leads to mastering the process.

“You have to really make it habit,” Moorehead says. “If you can make it habit, then you’ve got a chance. But if you just talk about it just once a year, when the annual sales rally comes around, and you don’t live it, then you’ve got no chance.”

Part of making the culture real is transparency when it comes to the company goals and how the team is going to reach those goals.

“I don’t keep anything from anybody,” he says. “They know the corporate goals and they know where we are trying to get to and then ultimately, they need to know what every department is doing to help everybody to get to the same place, so we are all headed in the same direction, talking the same language. That makes everything pretty easy.”

One other cultural feature that can be effective is to appeal to employees on a family level.

“We do ultimately feel like we are a non-blood family, and when you feel like that, you feel like you want to help your family out,” Moorhead says. “I think they are absolutely bought into being part of bigger than just themselves.”

 

Nurture the entrepreneurial spirit

While it is not necessary for all employees to have it, an entrepreneurial spirit is sought for all high-level execs at The Cellular Connection.

“If you don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit, then you probably should not come work here because you may not be completely fulfilled with your job,” Moorehead says. “We are not going to hand you a piece of paper with a bunch of boxes to check. And that’s empowerment.”

With empowerment there is a lot of trust involved, so you have to hire the right people.

“Then every now and then, you have to check up on everybody and make sure things are smooth, but there is a ton of empowerment, and that is a thin line to walk on. Things can go awry pretty quickly and if you’re not engaged, as a boss, you can have things fall apart on you very quickly.”

If you are not good at it, empowerment can become a reactionary style of management.

“But if you’re taught how to be a great leader, and you’re taught how to stay out front, and be that person who motivates the team and sets reachable goals and who works together with a plan that’s built by everybody instead of just from the top down on how to achieve these things, then you can do it,” Moorehead says.

“It just takes the right person. Not every person is right to come work at our company. Not everybody likes it. But we have found that the people who we have brought on board have been yearning throughout their entire career to have their thoughts and their personality to be heard. It’s like they’ve been set free.”

Moorehead cites the example of a TCC employee who was a new hire into a management position, but wasn’t feeling fulfilled.

“It took him a while to really jump into the fact that his opinion mattered now,” he says. “As soon as he figured that out, he developed a program called the Rock Star Sales Process. Customers have to feel like rock stars, that’s the point.”

In short, his suggestion became the standard sale process for the company — and he got to be in charge of it.

“He was just beside himself with the fact that one good idea rolled into something that thousands of people across the country now use has their technique to do sales in our stores,” Moorehead says. 

 

Takeaways:

  • Make order out of chaos
  • Let your culture be your filter
  • Nurture the entrepreneurial spirit

 

The Morehead File:

Name: Scott Moorehead
Title: CEO
Company: The Cellular Connection

Birthplace: I was born and raised in Marion, Ind.

Education: I’m a Boilermaker. I went to Purdue University, and I graduated from the school of business, majoring in business management.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job ever was bagging groceries at a grocery store. No tips. This was beyond the days of tips. I learned that I didn’t want to do that kind of job forever. My first, I would say, job was for my dad on the wire line side, when we were pulling in local area networks. I didn’t know any better at that point in time, so when I got to work, I worked hard. And not everybody liked the fact that I worked my butt off. It was like maybe you should slow down and have a cigarette, or something, man. But I don’t smoke! One of the jobs that I worked the whole summer was when we were wiring the state hospital in Richmond. There are several buildings that are 100 years old and I had to work through difficult spaces. I told my dad, this wasn’t all that great, and he said, “If you don’t graduate from business school at Purdue, this is what you’re going to do the rest of your life!”

What was the best business advice you ever received? A lot of the guiding principles that I use as a manager, and I feel like I’m a pretty good manager, a pretty good leader, have been from my dad. My mom and dad, Phyllis and Steve Moorehead, shared a lot of the same practices. My dad told me you always take care of the company and the company will take care of you — essentially, don’t make selfish decisions. That’s the fastest way to lose your staff. This is business advice that you can’t just send to everybody; this is from an ownership perspective. But I have given the same advice to my leaders, and I think it’s worked for them.

Who do you admire in business? There have been several people who made an impact on me, in a lot of different ways. My dad, first and foremost; both my mom and dad actually. In my early years at Verizon, I had a lot of people who had a positive effect on me. Nick Pyros had a huge impact on me, and a woman who is actually the COO of Verizon Wireless now, Marni Walden. Every time I am around her I seem to take way something from her that makes me better. Then from an ownership standpoint, and building your business from small to big, I’ve latched on to a guy who I have partnered with recently, and his name is Marcelo Claure, founder of Brightstar Corp. He is an amazing business person. If there is one person on the planet who was in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of business people, it’s him. Being in the same room with him and watching how he conducts himself is like getting a master’s degree.

What is your definition of business success? A lot of people ask me what my goals are, and when I want to quit or move on, or do something different or whatever, and I say, man, I wake up every single morning, and I want to come to work and have fun, and I do. And the day that I wake up and am absolutely sick of this whole thing, then I know it’s time to quit. But I’ve never felt like that. Ever. I mean every single day since I have started this, I’ve never dreaded going to work. Ever. Not once. It didn’t matter what’s going on. It’s fun around here. I don’t have a financial resolution or any particular saying other than I want to stick to my morals, and I want to come to work. Those other two things that I feel like if I can stick to that, then I have success.