What does it look like when a company has a purpose beyond profit? Rather than focusing on merely making money, Otter Products—the world's leading maker of mobile device protection—has a higher purpose: "We grow to give."
In this episode, I talk with the CEO of Otter Products, Jim Parke. Join us to hear his amazing stories and learn about what happens when a company believes business should be a force for good in the world.
About Our Guest
Jim Parke is the President and CEO of Otter Products, the world's leading manufacturer of mobile device protection. He has extensive experience in corporate structure and finance, as well as experience developing and mentoring start-up and early stage companies. Prior to Otter Products, Jim was an estate and tax attorney. He earned his JD at Gonzaga University, and his LLM in tax from NYU.
Otter Products Corporate Site: https://otterproducts.com/
Otter Box and Lifeproof products: https://www.otterbox.com/
The OtterCares Foundation: https://ottercares.org/
More about Servant Leadership: https://www.cio.com/article/303848/what-is-servant-leadership-a-philosophy-for-people-first-leadership.html
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[00:00:00] Jim: And that's one of my personal missions is to, to prove that, to show that to the world, that business can make a difference for good.
[00:00:07] Aaron: I think if I had asked anybody, if they would ever hear a tax lawyer say that , they would've said "no way."
[00:00:17] Jim: Yeah. Well, I try to be a reformed tax lawyer, not practicing anymore. But, you know, I, I'm a human being before I'm a lawyer and before I'm a CEO and at some point I'm not gonna be a CEO anymore. Right? And I hope that my value doesn't come from my title. I hope that my contribution to the world isn't related to what I, you know, what I get paid to do. I hope it's from how I treat people. And I hope it's from the difference in the impact that I make. My hope is that the day that I retire and I don't have this lofty title anymore, that I'm not worthless in the world, that my contribution stands regardless of what's on my business card.
[00:00:58] Aaron - Narration: Hi, I'm Aaron Miller. And this is How to Help, a podcast about having a life and career with meaning, integrity, and impact. This is season two, episode three, Purpose beyond Profit.
This episode of How to Help is sponsored by Merit Leadership, home of The Business Ethics Field Guide.
Earlier this year on June 16th, a Thursday, the United States' largest maker of phone cases closed its doors. If you have a case for your smartphone, as most people do, there's a really good chance that this company made the one that you own.
The company is Otter Products, and the closure wasn't what it sounds like. You see, this isn't a story about the latest corporate casualty. To the contrary, this is a profitable, vibrant company.
[00:01:51] Jim: So Otter Products is, you know, a global company. We've got offices and employees in 28 different countries. We're best known for our brand of mobile accessories, the Otter Box brand as well as the LifeProof brand.
So in the US, we have, depending on the time of year, between 40 and 45% market share, and we're distributed in all the major carriers' US retail stores. I mean, there's 40,000 points of distribution within the US alone where you can buy our products, not to mention online as well. You know, we have even a larger presence in Canada, really high market share in some countries like Ireland and the UK and Germany and Israel and Australia and market share not quite as high in South America or Africa or Eastern Europe.
[00:02:41] Aaron - Narration: A company with this kind of reach employs a lot of people. And these people didn't show up to work on June 16th.
[00:02:49] Jim: So Otter is a company of about 1200 employees. We have contract manufacturing that we do all over the world. And through that, we provide jobs for tens of thousands more that are not direct employees, but work for our contract manufacturers.
[00:03:04] Aaron - Narration: So what happened on June 16th? It was actually the same thing that had happened a year earlier. And again, the year before that. In fact, this was the sixth year in a row that Otter Products picked a regular day of work and told everyone not to come in. It wasn't a holiday. Everyone was still expected to work, just not for Otter Products that day.
[00:03:28] Jim: Our corporate mission is one of the things that's really unique about us. It's four really simple words: "We Grow to Give." And what that means is growth is important. It's part of who we are, but there's a reason for that growth. And that reason is we want to give back. We want to make the world a better place.
[00:03:46] Aaron - Narration: The nearly 1200 Otter employees were out serving in their local areas. Everyone was still paid by Otter, but paid to help 53 different community organizations around the world. It was a day of giving back, the kind that many employers hold on an annual basis. And many employers then stop there. Otter Products, however, does more.
[00:04:10] Jim: We start by giving back to our employees. We give back in terms of profit sharing on a monthly basis. We give back in terms of volunteer time off and actually wanting them to go out and, and like they're expected to go out and use time to volunteer that we pay them for. But we found that people are just better human beings and they're happier and they're more productive when they are living a fuller, richer life.
And we have all the regular benefits that you would think of. But we're trying to look for ways that we can do things that would uniquely help our employees, to teach them and help them to grow in their careers.
[00:04:48] Aaron - Narration: And they don't stop with their employees either like a much smaller group of companies here in the US, Otter also dedicates a large chunk of their profits, 10%, to charitable purposes.
[00:04:59] Jim: On a monthly basis, 10% of all of our profit goes to charitable causes throughout the world. And that involves a lot of things. Like humanitarian programs, it involves education. But that's something that all of our employees know about that they're excited about, that they feel a sense of pride and enthusiasm for. And it's a, a great reminder to them that when they come to work, it's not just about making money. It's about making the world a better place.
[00:05:29] Aaron - Narration: My guess for this episode is Jim Parke. He's the CEO of Otter Products and the former CEO of its parent company, Blue Ocean Enterprises. He's going to show us what it means for a company to operate for a purpose beyond profit. And I hope as you listen, you can imagine what things would be like if all companies worked in a similar way. To begin, let's take a moment to get to know Jim Parke a little better.
[00:05:55] Jim: By training, I'm a lawyer and, and the worst kind, a tax lawyer. I figured if I'm going to get an education and, and put some time in, I need to do something that's going to put me in a good spot for the future. And everybody always says death and taxes aren't going away. Being a business attorney with a focus on estate tax seemed like a really good recession proof way to make a career.
And I started working with clients all over the country. One of my clients ended up being the, the family that owns Blue Ocean and Otter Box.
[00:06:23] Aaron - Narration: That family is the Richardsons, Curt and Nancy. Otter Products was started in the nineties after Curt wanted, and couldn't find, a waterproof gear box to his liking. So he designed one in his garage. Otter quickly grew under his leadership. And then just over 10 years ago, he decided it was time to step down. Jim had been working for Curt as the chief legal counsel for just a short time.
[00:06:48] Jim: After working with them for a couple of years, they asked me to leave my practice and become their chief legal officer. So I moved my family to Fort Collins, Colorado, from Denver, about an hour away and started working with them.
And I'd been doing that for about a year when the owner of the company said, "Hey, I'm tired. It's time for me to retire." And my immediate thought was, "Oh my goodness. I just moved my family. I left my legal practice to come work for this guy. And now he is gonna retire."
[00:07:15] Aaron - Narration: Worried about how it might be reporting to a new CEO, Jim was shocked when Curt Richardson told him that he was planning to name Jim as his replacement.
[00:07:27] Jim: And I, I turned to him and I said, "As your attorney, I have to tell you that is just a really bad idea. I've never been to business school. I've never run anything in my life. Being a lawyer is great because all I have to do is make suggestions, but I'm never responsible for whatever decision you make."
And he looked at me kind of funny and he said, "You know, I think you're the right person." And, and he's a person of faith and I'm a person of faith. And he said, "Why don't you go home and pray about it, talk to your wife and we'll touch base again next week." And I said, okay.
And as the meeting ended, I was walking across the street to my office and I called my wife and I said, "Oh my goodness. I think he just had a stroke. He asked me to be the CEO." And my wonderful, angelic wife that we've been married for 20 years now, she laughed out loud and said, "Oh my goodness, that would never work. Can you imagine that?"
And as I was talking to my wife, I, I noticed that there was another call coming through and I looked down and it was the owner of the company. And so I asked my wife to hold for a second and I switched over to that call and he said, "Hey, I just talked to my wife about it. She loves the idea. We're going to make an announcement this afternoon. I gotta go. Bye." and hung up. And so, within a matter of 10 minutes, I went from living my dream job of being a chief legal officer of a great, innovative company to all of a sudden being a, a CEO that I had never wanted to be, never intended to be. And then that puts you in kind of one of those situations where you say, "Can I really do this? Like, is there anything in my past or my experience or my skill set, that's prepared me for this?"
And I think we all go through moments like that, every once in a while, where opportunity stands and opens the door for us and, and says, "Come on in." And we have to ask ourselves the question, "Are we gonna do this?"
[00:09:15] Aaron - Narration: This was a moment of deep reflection for Jim, and laced with self doubt. He was young, just barely into his thirties. On top of that, he had very little business experience other than his legal background. Being a CEO of an entire family of companies, that included the country's largest maker of device protection, wasn't the kind of job you take on a whim
[00:09:38] Jim: In business, everybody's heard of this thing called the Peter Principle, which is you rise to the level of your incompetence. And that little voice in the back of my mind was screaming pretty loudly at me saying you've got a really good thing. You've, you've reached exactly where you want to be in your career. Are you really gonna do this? Are you really gonna take this next step?
Self doubt is the, the companion of everybody, right?
[00:10:00] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:10:00] Jim: I don't know anybody that can escape that all the time, but man, this was one of those times that I really had to stop and think and, and in honesty, get on my knees and, and do some praying and talk to my wife and talk to my dad and say, can I, can I do this?
And ultimately, at 31 years old, I became the CEO of Blue Ocean Enterprises, which was managing assets and companies all over the world. And yeah, I've had to do a lot of studying and a lot of learning to, to make up for the time that I didn't have to prepare on the front end.
[00:10:34] Aaron: Wow. Yeah. What amazing and unique experience. And actually, I think a lot of people, underappreciate what they're capable of and sometimes it just has to be a moment of crisis that helps them realize that.
[00:10:46] Jim: Yeah. And you know, sometimes crisis and opportunity look a lot alike, right? Sometimes the things that we are most terrified of are also the biggest opportunities. Oftentimes it's in the moment that you can't distinguish between opportunity, crisis, and adversity. Some of those things can only be distinguished through the rear view mirror.
[00:11:05] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:11:05] Jim: And, and this was a panic moment for me, but it's also one of the biggest opportunities I ever received.
[00:11:11] Aaron: You said this wasn't something that you had deliberately prepared for, but did you find there were experiences you'd had up to that moment that did prepare you, maybe in ways you didn't realize?
[00:11:22] Jim: The interesting thing is, is I stopped to think what tools do I have that could make me successful here? I, I had confidence in a few things. I knew that I could learn. I knew that if I was humble enough to ask the right questions and not pretend like I had all the answers, there were people around that that could help me.
I also knew that I had a good kind of strong center that had come from my family in terms of, I knew what was right and wrong or, or I knew how to find what was right and wrong. And I, I think that's what they were really looking for when they asked me to step into that role, is they trusted me and they knew that I would do what was right for them and for their, for the employees of the different companies.
[00:12:02] Aaron: So I think some people might define what you're describing as discernment. They were hiring you for good discernment. Where did this ability, to sort of observe and see things clearly enough to know what was a good idea and a bad idea, where did that come from for you?
[00:12:19] Jim: So I, I grew up in Ogden, Utah. And my dad was kind of a big fish in a small pond. In our town, he was a member of the school board. He was on the city council. He was a religious leader. It, it seemed like everywhere we went, everybody knew him. Like, we'd go to the store and five people would stop and talk to him. And they were people that I'd never seen before, but it was apparent that he had made a difference in their lives.
And you could just see the gratitude on their faces by the way that they interacted with him. And by the way, my dad was not a wealthy man. I mean, my parents had 10 kids. And at the height of his career, my dad was making $32,000 a year.
[00:12:56] Aaron: Wow.
[00:12:56] Jim: This was not something where he was in these positions because he was wealthy and powerful. This was because he was good and, and that goodness kind of showed through. And it became a, a great example for me, that doing the right thing, even if it's not always the profitable thing in the moment, builds you into the type of person that you want to be. And that's how I want to live my life. That's who I want to be like.
My faith has also played a, a big role in that. I hope to get better at discernment. I hope to get better at decision-making, but at the same time, I'm really grateful for the experiences that have helped me to, to get where I am.
And I've had the privilege of being around a lot of really influential people during my career. One of the attorneys that I worked with in my first job was just an amazing person, dedicated to giving back, dedicated to make a difference for other people. And it's important to have mentors. It's important to have heroes, because that's where you can have an example of who it is that you want to be and how you want to pattern your life and try and be that for other people too.
[00:13:57] Aaron - Narration: So let's learn more about the company Jim leads. We'll start with something that you don't find in many offices, something inspired by the animal behind their name.
[00:14:07] Jim: We have in the lobby of our headquarters, there's a slide that goes from the second floor down to the first floor. Every time somebody comes to visit that's one of the talking points. I think I've had four US senators go down that slide. I had a previous governor of Colorado go down the slide, with a full glass of beer and he didn't spill any of it. But yeah, Otter, we, we try to be a fun environment. If you've ever watched otters in nature, they're fun playful animals. I mean, you can sit and watch them for hours and they're just entertaining.
And one of the really interesting things is when they sleep, they tend to lock arms together to keep themselves from floating away from each other. And there's a community aspect that we, we love in that symbolism there.
[00:14:48] Aaron - Narration: In addition to a fun and connected culture, there's also a no jerks policy. It's a minimum requirement to not be a jerk before you're even considered in the hiring process.
[00:15:00] Jim: My personal motto is I don't want to work with jerks. And so on the front end, before anybody gets hired, before they even get an interview, they go through what we call a cultural interview, which is somebody from our human resources department just sitting down with them and trying to figure out what type of person they are.
We don't want jerks within our company. If you get stuck in an airport lobby with somebody for a few hours, you want to be able to stand being around them. And so trying to find people that are going to do the small, simple things of treating other people well, of being kind, being considerate, being polite and respectful, that weeds out a lot of really rough things that could happen later on.
[00:15:42] Aaron - Narration: Beyond just having a no jerks policy, Otter Products focuses on a leadership model called Servant Leadership. This was popularized by Robert Greenleaf back in the 1970s. Servant Leadership emphasizes the responsibility to help others grow and develop, rather than focusing on our own success. Multiple studies show that this approach leads to more engaged and creative employees.
[00:16:07] Jim: At Otter, we talk about this idea of servant leadership, which is treating other people the way that we want to be treated, kind of a golden rule thing. More than that, the person at the top of the hierarchy should really be at the bottom. It's kind of an inverted pyramid type of structure where it's not everybody else's job to make me successful. It's my job to make them successful.
And it makes for a really good talking point. Putting that into action, though, is, is really complicated. But it, it changes the culture of an organization when people know that they can really trust their leaders.
And Curt Richardson who's the, the owner of this company is one of the best examples I've seen of this. A phenomenally talented and wealthy individual who treats everybody with respect. And everybody knows that he cares about them, like on a personal, individual level. And that gives him so much runway as a leader to do things that he would never otherwise be able to accomplish. People tend to follow what they respect and, and if you live your life so that people respect you, you can get a lot of things done.
[00:17:13] Aaron: If everybody's focusing on treating each other with kindness, serving each other, there might be people who argue, "Well, that just leaves room for low performers to keep going. They're never getting criticized. They're never getting called to task. They're never being held to a higher standard." What would you say to somebody who is cynical about the culture that that creates, as it relates to performance?
[00:17:35] Jim: Yeah. Well, I'll give you an analogy that I used within our company all the time. If I'm walking around with spinach in my teeth, I don't want people to be kind and pretend like it's not there. I want somebody to care about me enough to say, "Hey Jim, you've got something in your teeth," right? We all have spinach in our teeth, behaviorally. There's things that all of us do that get in the way of our performance, that get in the way of our leadership.
And if we really care about somebody, like really care about somebody, we're not gonna just let those things pass. We're gonna talk to 'em about it. We're gonna be the one person that is willing to bring those things up and, and have a level of accountability, both for the people that we work with as peers, as well as those above us, as well as those that we may be managing.
But if you, if you really care about people, you're not gonna let them get by with low performance, but you're gonna coach 'em with, with love, with concern, and you're gonna do it in a way that motivates, rather than shames.
[00:18:31] Aaron - Narration: I asked Jim about dealing with poor performance because the research on Servant Leadership indicates that this is a potential weakness. The approach, when done well, requires a lot more time and attention that managers sometimes give to their employees. Jim finds that he needs to address this feedback issue directly in training.
[00:18:52] Jim: I do a training and it's called our servant leadership training. But everybody goes through this, not just leaders. And I start by going around the room and asking every single person, tell me about a leader who's made the biggest difference in your life. I would say about 80% of the people will list either a teacher, their mother, or their first boss. But when you ask them why, it's never because they told them how pretty they were, or how smart they were, but they were the people that were willing to help them see something bigger in themselves and give them the feedback to allow them to become what they have the potential to be.
And if you really stop and think about it, who in your life has made the biggest impact on you from a leadership perspective, it's probably not the person that just gave you hugs and told you how wonderful you were every day. It's the person that cared about you enough to help you grow and become what you have the potential to be.
[00:19:48] Aaron - Narration: Feedback doesn't always work though. If you're practicing Servant Leadership, what about when you need to let people go? I asked Jim to describe that process at Otter.
[00:19:58] Jim: We're looking at two things. We're looking first at how they live our values. And second how it is that they do their job. If we find somebody that's really good at doing the job and really poor at living our values, this is not the right company for them. They can be a high performer in any company in the world, but they're not gonna fit in here. And having that tough conversation with people is, is not an easy thing, but it's a base level expectation of our leaders.
On the other hand, if we find somebody that's really good at living our values, there's a lot we can do to teach them and train them. And oftentimes what we find is they are a high performer. They just may be in the wrong seat. That doesn't always translate super well into very small companies where you have a limited number of seats, but in a bigger company, man, if you've got somebody that's really living your values and is passionate and, and loves the company and wants to win, there's usually a place for them to contribute in a meaningful, positive way.
And one of the things that I always ask of my people is if you're gonna be let go, that should never be a surprise. If that's a surprise to the person being let go, then we have broken down in a massive way, somewhere along the chain. There should be consistent feedback going to that person from the moment that any challenges arise.
Feedback needs to be kind. It needs to be compassionate, but it also needs to be timely. And when I say kind and compassionate, I'm not talking about love, like hugs and rainbows. I'm talking about honesty in a way that motivates and allows people to, to perform well.
[00:21:28] Aaron - Narration: You'll notice that Jim repeatedly mentions the Otter Products values. Here's what they are: the Golden Rule, passion, innovation, integrity, and giving back.
Now, when you hear that list, you might have rolled your eyes and thought, "Got it. The exact same values I would see on the webpage of any other company." And it's true that most companies have "values," but at the end of the day you would never know it based on how people there behave.
I complain about this exact problem all the time. Values described on a webpage might as well be values you keep locked in a safe if you don't deliberately use them to make decisions. That's one of the things that makes Otter different than most companies.
[00:22:16] Jim: And then our values are so important to us. Every company has a handbook and every handbook has this page that says, these are our core values. And I bet you, if you were to interview your listeners, the vast majority of them, if you said, "I'll give you a thousand dollars, if you can name your company's core values right now," you would pay out almost nothing. In most companies, it's just a page in the handbook.
[00:22:41] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:22:41] Jim: But at Otter, we, we try and make it real. They're on the wall in every conference room. They're posted all over the building. And we talk about 'em in just about every company meeting. But the values can't be the thing that tie you together unless people know what they are and, and have an understanding of how you actually live them as a company.
[00:22:59] Aaron - Narration: Like I mentioned, their first value is the Golden Rule. Jim finds that he can use it widely, and people of all different backgrounds and beliefs latch onto it.
[00:23:08] Jim: Another one is the Golden Rule. And that's one that we, we talk about a lot. But how you treat other people matters and people have from time to time criticized this, because that has a little bit of a religious connotation. But the reality is it has a connotation in every major world religion. And it has a strong secular meaning as well. I think the vast majority of my executive team has no religious affiliation at all, but the Golden Rule or the idea behind it, is something we can all get behind and say, "This is how we're going to treat each other when we're at work."
[00:23:41] Aaron - Narration: One of the recent moments that put this value to the test was COVID. Global supply chains were disrupted and so many people lost their jobs. How did Otter live its values in the middle of a worldwide pandemic?
[00:23:55] Jim: We've just come out of this or, or hopefully are coming out of this pandemic right? And it's, it's been a really complicated thing. And, and for the first six months, it had a major impact on our business. We do a lot of our manufacturing all over the world and not being able to get the product that we needed and, and even when we did get it, having almost all of our retail locations closed throughout the world meant that we didn't have a lot of revenue and we had no profitability for a significant amount of time.
And what do you do in a situation like that? Well, a, a typical company's gonna say, okay, let's cut expenses. Who's first on the chopping block. And one of the first things that they go to is layoffs, right?
[00:24:36] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:24:37] Jim: And I, and I'm not saying that layoffs are bad or immoral, but I am saying that there's an obligation that I think we have from a moral perspective to say, "Is that the first option?" And, and that's one of the things that we did with our company is say, "How can we weather this storm and keep everybody? Like, is there a way that we can do this?"
And that meant cutting a lot of other things that maybe were near and dear to our hearts, but not quite as important as the people that were near and dear to our hearts. And asking the leaders at the company to take significant pay cuts so that the people at the bottom could get extra pay to accommodate for some of the additional risks that they were taking.
That's what I mean, when I say kind of an inverted pyramid. When there's pain to be felt, it needs to be, felt the most at the top in a way that protects the people that are on the front lines.
[00:25:25] Aaron: How did that work out? I mean, that is very uncommon, sadly, in the business world for that to be how the decision is made to allocate resources. How has that worked out for you guys?
[00:25:37] Jim: Tremendous. I mean, we've been able to make it through the entire pandemic. Not only did we not have a single layoff, didn't lose a single employee to anything like that. We're at a point where everybody's back to their full pay and, and we've actually found a way to grow through this experience.
And we've got our employees that know that we care about them. Like they, they know and they understand that we want to make money. We want to be profitable, of course we do. We're in business. But at the end of the day, there's a reason for that.
[00:26:06] Aaron - Narration: This is where you'll hear a CEO say things that you don't expect a CEO to really believe. Most chief executives will say that there's a higher purpose to the business, but in most cases it's just lip service. Jim, for his part, is a true believer in the power of capitalism to do something more.
[00:26:27] Jim: And I, I'm a really firm believer that capitalism is not an evil thing. Everything can run to excess, but if you do capitalism, right, if you do business right, it can be a force for good in the world. And that's one of my personal missions is to, to prove that, to show that to the world that business can make a difference.
[00:26:48] Aaron: I think if I had asked anybody, if they would ever hear a tax lawyer say that, they would've said "No way."
[00:26:57] Jim: Yeah. Well, I, I, I try to be a reformed tax lawyer, not practicing anymore. But you know, I, I'm a human being before I'm a lawyer and before I'm a CEO, and at some point I'm not gonna be a CEO anymore, right? And I hope that my value doesn't come from my title. I hope that my contribution to the world isn't related to what I, you know, what I get paid to do. I hope it's from how I treat people. And I hope it's from the difference and the impact that I make. And, you know, my, my hope is that the day that I retire and I don't have this lofty title anymore, that I'm not worthless in the world, that, you know, my contribution stands regardless of what's on my business card.
[00:27:39] Aaron - Narration: Jim Parke does benefit from an important advantage. His company is privately owned. That is to say, he doesn't have to respond to a wide range of shareholders, including big institutional ones that have the sole priority of financial returns. Faced with intense shareholder complaints, Jim might not have been able to adopt a similar COVID response. Now that said, investor preferences are shifting, especially among individual investors. More and more want to be sure that they invest in companies that reflect good values. There's every indication that this trend is accelerating and companies like Otter Products are showing the way.
Now let's take a break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Research shows that one of the risks of Servant Leadership is that when a servant leader shows poor ethics, the negative impact is even greater than under standard leadership models. This happens because unethical behavior makes a leader appear inauthentic and, therefore, even less trustworthy. If you know your boss is in it for himself, then bad ethics don't seem that out of place. But if your boss tells you that you come first, you'll see right through him when his behavior betrays that. At Otter Products integrity is a core value, and there's abundant evidence that they do their best to live this value.
[00:29:58] Jim: Integrity, depending on who you are and what family you came from, it can mean so many different things. And so the definition we put on it is doing the right thing when no one's watching. And there's always this, well, what is the right thing? My answer is almost always, whatever your kindergarten self would've said is probably the right thing. In most cases, your gut knows what the right thing is. It doesn't take a philosophy professor to tell you what that right thing is.
[00:30:26] Aaron - Narration: So how do people at Otter actually behave when it comes to the value of integrity? Jim shared a fantastic example that illustrates how to encourage and reward people for showing ethical courage. I love this story.
[00:30:42] Jim: One of the things that I have seen is that there are a lot of examples of bad behavior in the world. And it's very rare that somebody gets called out for good behavior, that we make a big deal about that. And that's one of the things that we try and do, and we try and do very publicly and frequently.
And let me give you just an example of that. I mentioned that we do contract manufacturing all over the world, and sometimes the standard of ethics is not quite what we expect. We had a, a situation in China where we found out that one of our contract manufacturers was employing some workers that they shouldn't have been employing, that probably weren't old enough to be working. We said there's no way we're doing this. We cut ties with that factory. Stopped working with them.
And they decided to send a delegation of people to meet with us, to tell us that it was all a mistake, it was a misunderstanding. And they came in and they brought a box of cookies for each person in the meeting. Now we don't usually accept gifts, but a small box of cookies seemed like it would be okay.
So, well, when our director of supply chain got home and opened that box of cookies, not only were there cookies, but there was $10,000 of crisp, hundred dollars bills in this box. Now think about that for just a second. Like what could you do with $10,000 and, and nobody's ever gonna know about that by the way, because the people that are bribing you are never gonna tell anybody. You never have to tell anybody. It's kind of free money. And all that costs you is your integrity, right?
Well, in, in this instance, this person had the integrity that we, we try and hire for, and he called us up and he said, "What do I do? Oh my goodness. I opened this box. There's all this money in it. I didn't even eat the cookies. What should I do here?"
[00:32:28] Aaron: He didn't even eat the cookies.
[00:32:32] Jim: He was, he was panicked, right? But I know this individual and they're a person that can be trusted. And we went through a process of returning this failed bribe, which by the way is not as easy as you might think.
But this is a pretty remarkable example, and we wanted to tell this story in a powerful way. And so we brought this person up on stage, and I've got 1200 people in the room, and I, I tell this story and then we have a, a special award that we made for this person to give to him. And then also a check that after taxes would yield $10,100 that we presented to him in front of the entire company.
And the reason is we wanted to send a really clear and specific message that A) doing the right thing matters. B) it's, what's gonna get you recognized and it it's, what's gonna get you ahead at our company, and C) over the long term, doing the right thing is always gonna be the more profitable thing. It's gonna make a bigger difference for you.
Now that employee's gone through a whole bunch of promotions, seen a ton of bonuses since then. I would make the case that they could have kept that $10,000 and missed out on the opportunity and they would, for the rest of their life every time they looked in the mirror, had this big chunk of regret.
[00:33:52] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:33:52] Jim: Not wanting to know who they really were. And instead choosing to do this right thing, the person has made far more money and advanced much further in their career, because I know that I can trust them, then they ever would've been able to had they kept that money.
[00:34:06] Aaron - Narration: Here's another story to serve as an example. Someone who worked in facility management was doing maintenance in Jim's office. One evening, he looked down at a paper on Jim's desk and found private salary information for a number of other people at the company. He paused to read it, knowing that this was probably something he wouldn't normally have access to. Listen to how this employee handled what he had seen.
[00:34:30] Jim: But I had left a, a paper on my desk that showed some salaries for some individuals, and he had picked that paper up and he'd looked at it, set it back down, and left. But that bothered him so much that he had taken the time to look at that and to expose himself to information that he shouldn't have had, that the first thing that next morning he was waiting outside of my office to tell me, with the expectation that he was gonna be fired.
[00:34:58] Aaron: Wow.
[00:35:00] Jim: Wow. That guy is my hero. Like, that's the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person that has so much integrity. I can't even countenance the idea of, of making the wrong decision and, and just pretending like it didn't happen. That guy's been promoted so many times since that experience and he's working in his dream job.
Now, none of that would've happened had he not listened to that little voice inside that says "Man, you made a mistake now it's the time to fix it." And, and he did that and it's, it's literally changed the course of his career.
[00:35:35] Aaron - Narration: I really don't love it when people describe ethics as simply a matter of that little voice inside. While I do believe that listening to your gut is important, not all ethical dilemmas are easy. In fact, many of them are thorny and confusing and sometimes overwhelming. So I pressed Jim to share a time that he found himself unsure about the right way to act.
[00:35:58] Aaron: What are the really complex or thorny issues that you've had to wrestle with in the past, the ones where the kindergarten-you didn't know the right thing to do, at least right away?
[00:36:10] Jim: Yeah. A few years back, we were in the process of buying a business. And as we were negotiating this, I came to an agreement with the CEO of the other company and we shook hands. And then it's up to the, the lawyers to like paper the deal and, and make sure that it all reflects the agreement.
Yeah. Well, my legal counsel came to me and said, "Hey, I've got a problem. The other attorneys on the other side made a mistake in the document. And it's gonna make it so that we don't have to pay about a million dollars to the other side."
And you think about it for a second, there's a chance there that I can save a million dollars, right? It's not the right thing to do, but you could rationalize your way into saying, "Well, they're the ones that made the mistake. It's on them, right?"
[00:36:53] Aaron: Yeah.
[00:36:53] Jim: That's not the way that we do business. And so I, I talked to our attorney and said, "You need to go back and ask them to fix this." He did. And then he came back to me a little bit later and he said, "Hey, their attorneys, aren't gonna fix it. They're embarrassed about the mistake. And don't want to go back to their client and tell him that they made a mistake. So they're just gonna let it ride the way it is."
So like, what do you do there? Like you're, you're trying to do the right thing. You're refusing to take unfair advantage of somebody. And they're just making it really, really, really difficult.
So I had to call up the CEO of this other company and say, "Hey, I've enjoyed being around you. This has been a great conversation, but we're not gonna be able to consummate this deal because I'm not going to put my name on a document that doesn't reflect our handshake. And so unless you can tell me that this is the new agreement, I'm not gonna sign this document and the whole thing's gonna walk away."
And when I explained to him why the documents didn't reflect what was there, he he wasn't super happy with his attorneys. But man, sometimes doing the right thing isn't easy. And we almost lost out on a, a great opportunity there because we refused to take advantage of somebody else.
Now I've talked to several people about this and the response has always been, "Why didn't you just sign it and pay the money anyway?" I don't want to be in a position where there's even the appearance that I'm trying to take unfair advantage of somebody else. What I have at the end of my career is my name, right? My integrity. And one of the most important things for me is that when I look in the mirror that I'm happy with what I see. And I'm not talking about male pattern baldness here. I'm talking about really looking at myself and saying I'm comfortable with who I am. I've got five kids and they look at me like I'm their hero. They deserve to have a dad that makes the right decision. I wouldn't expect them to do any less. So why should I hold myself to a lower standard than them?
[00:38:49] Aaron - Narration: The last value that Otter Products lists is "giving back." In fact, they would say this is their purpose beyond profit. Like their other core values giving back is one that they live very deliberately through their philanthropy. But listen to how it also became real in a unique chance to come to the rescue of an entire island nation.
[00:39:13] Aaron: A lot of the good we do in the world is strategic, but some of it is just unplanned because we're in the right place at the right time. Can you share some experiences that you've had that relate to both of those, where the giving you've done is strategic, you planned on it, and then also the good you did was just because the right thing happened at the right time.
[00:39:31] Jim: Some of the strategic giving that we do is like feeding programs in disadvantaged countries. It's working with school districts in the areas of the world where we have employees to make sure that they have the technology that they need. And we put a lot of money, a portion of every case that people purchase goes towards those things.
But then there's this extra profit that on a monthly basis we donate to charity. I haven't told this story other than just in a few smaller speaking engagements, but it is one that makes me proud of the company and the people that I work with and work for.
We have a lot of employees in the Caribbean, and in 2017 in the fall, there were a series of hurricanes that went through and just decimated much of the Caribbean. And there were also similar storms or that some of the same storms ended up hitting Texas and Florida. And so everybody's attention in the US was focused on the devastation here. And nobody was really thinking about some of these small islands.
Well, there was a particular island of about 20,000 people. Usually during that time of year, there could be another 10,000 of tourists on the island. We had a good number of employees and every single one of our employees lost their home in this storm. And it was a couple of days before we could get in touch with them.
And finally, one of them was able to find a satellite phone and call us up. And they said, basically, "Not only have we all lost our homes, the government isn't functioning anymore. There's no internet, there's no cell service. We're running out of drinking, water. There's riots. Nobody has food." And they painted a really dark picture of what was going on there.
And we decided that we were in a position where we could act. We had a good number of boats that most of them were destroyed, but we had one boat down there that was kind of a larger passenger ferry boat that didn't get destroyed in the storm. And we thought we can use that boat to get relief supplies to this island and the closest place that hadn't yet been hit was Puerto Rico.
And so we decided that we were going to send money to Puerto Rico, buy supplies, and shuttle them over to this other island. We, over the course of several weeks, spent several million dollars getting as much food and supplies as we could from Puerto Rico to shuttle over to this other island. And for a period of about two weeks, we were the only relief supplies that 20,000 plus people had.
[00:42:00] Aaron: Wow.
[00:42:00] Jim: Then the storm comes along and hits Puerto Rico. And we all remember that and what happened there in the devastation that occurred there.
[00:42:09] Aaron - Narration: One of the most miraculous parts of this story is that a local church in Puerto Rico was partnering with them, and had been warehousing supplies for the company while they waited to be shipped over.
Then when the next hurricane hit Puerto Rico, the company already had a church full of supplies in place and ready to help with the next disaster. It's important to note that I knew about this story and encouraged him to share it in our interview. He probably wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise.
[00:42:39] Jim: This is one of those things where we never put out a press release saying we're doing this. Matter of fact, we've gone out of our way not to really tell this story.
But I think there's a lesson here for business, which is business can make a real difference in the world. If you're doing it responsibly, if you pay attention to this age-old Maxim that where much is given much is expected--we've been given a lot and we have an opportunity to make and do a lot of good in the world. And I'm just so proud to work for a company that cares enough to do that, that cares enough to realize that people and profits are not interchangeable, that we need to prioritize the wellbeing of people and make a difference where we can.
[00:43:28] Aaron - Narration: It's now been over a decade that Jim has been leading Otter Products, doing a job that he never even wanted. I asked him to reflect on his experience.
[00:43:38] Aaron: When you think back on when you were young and where you are now, what do you think the young-you would be saying? I imagine that the young-you growing up in Ogden and in a family of 10 kids didn't see this coming.
[00:43:53] Jim: Not at all. I read a John Grisham novel when I was in fifth grade, but thought, man, it would be fun to be an attorney because I thought it was all like intrigue and espionage. And nobody had ever told me that that was a bad idea. And so I didn't actually ever meet an attorney until I was 21, but ended up going to law school and that's what I thought I wanted to be is just be a really good lawyer.
So I think the younger me would look at what I'm doing right now and say, "Wow, that sounds cool. But why are you not practicing law? LIke that that's been our dream forever." And the truth is some days I ask myself that same question, so...
[00:44:31] Aaron - Narration: You know from my other episodes that I like to ask my guests to give advice, especially to the next generation like the students that I teach at my university. Jim's advice focused on how we have to be deliberate in becoming the person that we want to be, especially when it comes to our integrity.
[00:44:49] Aaron: What advice do you have for people that want to do good with their career in business? There are a lot of pressures that make that hard. I have a lot of students actually that are in this exact situation. They want to go into business. They're drawn to it because it fits their passions and skills, but they want it to do it in a way that that does good in the world. What advice do you have for them?
[00:45:08] Jim: You know, there, there's a lot of advice that I could go through there. I think the first is decide now what kind of person you want to be, and then choose your business career in a way that allows you to be that person.
So often people coming out of college, just take whatever job that they can get. And for a lot of people, based on the school they went to or how the economy's doing at the time, that's really the only option that they have. But then they get shoehorned into positions where they start making really small moral compromises. And pretty soon they're looking back and, and saying, "I never thought that I would get to this spot where I am."
Nobody starts a job saying "I want to be fired." Everybody wants to do the right thing, but people just start making these small little compromises. And the best advice I could give there is resist the urge to rationalize. Your gut instinct 95% of the time will get you to the right answer. And if you think that this is one of those other five, make sure you're talking to somebody else that you trust because of their ethics to get their take on the situation. If you do that, you'll get it right the vast majority of the time. And if you make a mistake own up to it and fix it. That's a really powerful combination. And the idea of living without regrets is a pretty amazing thing.
It's a really amazing thing.
[00:46:25] Aaron - Narration: When we stop to think more deeply about business, the idea that profit should be the end goal is obvious nonsense. Because what is profit for? All of us have a purpose beyond profit. It might be an entirely selfish one, or it might be an entirely generous one. For the vast majority of people, I suspect that it's somewhere in between.
But if we lose sight of the purpose and forget what the money is for, then a focus on profit alone distorts our decisions in all kinds of ways. It turns money into a way to keep score, something that money wasn't designed to and that squanders its potential.
That's the genius in a corporate motto like the one at Otter Products. "We grow to give" reminds everyone there to consider the purpose behind being the world's leader in mobile device protection. We're all drawn to think about why we should do the things we do. Growing to give is a purpose that's worth getting behind.
I want to thank Jim Parke for his time, experience, and wisdom. If you're interested in learning more about the company he leads, visit otterproducts.com. You'll find the motto "We grow to give" right there in the middle of the homepage.
In our next episode, we'll be talking to Dr. Dale Hull. 23 years ago, he delivered his last baby as a doctor but he didn't know that it would be his last. Because of an accident, he was paralyzed entirely from the neck down. These days, not only can he walk again but he's helping thousands of other patients regain their ability to move and live their lives. Dr. Hull is going to tell us about the challenges, systemic and personal, that people with paralysis have to overcome. And how it can get better.
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Our production team for this episode included Ty Bingham, yours truly, and Joseph Sandholtz, who also mixes all of our audio. Our music comes from the Pleasant Pictures Music Club. And if you want to use their music in your projects, you can find a link and a discount code in our show notes.
Finally, as always, thank you so much for listening. I'm Aaron Miller and this has been How to Help.