Management • Operations • Productivity • Business Tips • 64 minutes

Dropout to Nexstar CEO: How the Trades Make It Possible

August 3, 2021

Episode Overview

“As a leader, know who you are, know what your mission is, know what your direction is.”

— Julian Scadden

Rising from ditch digger to CEO of the Nexstar Network, Julian Scadden says wherever and whoever he is in life is a product of the experiences and the journey that got him to this point. Member-owned Nexstar is a trade-industry coaching and training organization.

In a wide-ranging discussion on “Toolbox for the Trades,” Scadden talks about the importance of human observation, a no-regrets lifestyle, and the culture of leadership strategy.

Here are Julian Scadden’s profound and introspective tips for managing and leading a successful trade company:

Join the Be-Dumb-Quick Movement.

Scadden says the Be-Dumb-Quick Movement is about not being afraid to ask questions. 

“When you say something that I don’t understand, I just say, ‘I don’t understand,’” he says. “Just say it as quickly as possible. Add: ‘Could you please explain that to me?’ It took me a long time to figure that out for fear of being found out I’m a high school dropout, fear of being found out I’m not as smart as you, fear of losing my position. I wasn’t asking questions.” 

He believes there's humility in having the ability to say, “I don’t know it all and I’m seeking more.”

Read the room when doling out advice.

There are times when a coach needs to give corrective advice to somebody not ready to receive that advice. 

“Notice behaviors, especially when someone is down,” Scadden says. “When they’re in that state, it’s best to be concise, direct and specific. 

“When someone is struggling and you have to say something corrective, that’s not the time to be all theoretical and big-brained. In positive times, when things are going great, that’s when you expand on the theory of the concept.”

Believe in the no-regrets lifestyle.

Scadden says his own personality and outlook has evolved over time, but that doesn’t mean he wishes he’d necessarily done things differently. 

“It’s a no-regrets lifestyle,” he says. “Learn the lessons and take ownership and give yourself compassion for the things you’ve been through. There are things I don’t want to repeat: Avoiding giving customers refunds. Avoiding warranty calls. Not caring about employees’ family issues. 

“You have to live your life. And you realize things through your experience.”

Get over bias toward generational workplace attitudes. 

Every generation thinks the following generation has it easier than they did and that the kids don’t want to work as hard as they did, Scadden believes. 

“I really wish people would stop banging their heads against the wall, just get on the front lines and start inviting young people into their business,” he says. “Have more of an open door versus a rigid stance of, ‘Well, you don’t want to...’ That’s bias. We’re going to go out there and find people who want to work hard.”

The first step in leveling a business is pricing correctly. 

Don’t ever devalue your expertise and what you do in the trades, Scadden says.

“There’s the line of thinking of ‘this is a $10 part and I can do it in an hour, so, I guess, give me 150 bucks and we’ll call it fair,’” he says. “There’s that, versus running an astute business.

“Focus on pricing correctly. What are your efficiencies? What are the processes and systems you have?”

Looking to expand? Create a scorecard to accurately measure metrics.

Every business is different, Scadden says, but each one needs to have a scorecard to show people where they’re at and what their deficiencies may be. 

“Metrics should be a benchmark, not a goal,” he says. “It’s not aspirational. A benchmark just makes sure you don’t die. So just start there, get your baseline health and then employ somebody to take you to the next level. 

“We all need trainers. We all need coaches. We all need somebody to help us see what we can be.”

Picking the right trainer is a whole process in and of itself. 

Scadden is naturally biased toward Nexstar, but he says it’s important to analyze what you’re looking for when seeking training assistance. 

“You need to think about the resources you have and the time you have to commit,” he says. “We vet prospects in their ability to engage as well as their attitude. 

“You may need to move in stages. There are groups that can help you through those early adoptive stages. And after that, Nexstar has everything for you.”

The ultimate advice for a great leader: Know thyself. 

Scadden has worked at very different companies with a range of cultures. He believes that different types of leadership styles suit different people—but whatever your style is you should be transparent about the choice. 

“As a leader, know who you are, know what your mission is, know what your direction is,” he says. “The worst thing to do as a leader is to be in the middle, to be unsure. No. Have direct conversations about where the lines are. Know what your principles and values are. And then live them, act on them daily. And allow your staff to call you out when you miss it. 

“If you do that, you’re winning. I promise you that.”

Recommended research and reading

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

The Private Equity Playbook by Adam Coffey

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About the Show

Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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