He has 39 years' experience in sales, business development, marketing, and general management. He created the marketing and business strategies for six companies – four of which were acquired for a total of $92 million. Hank has twice “reinvented” his career. Before heading offshore recruiting firms, he held senior management positions in venture capital-backed technology companies. The first phase of his career was with cutting-edge home automation and telecom firms.
Hank holds a bachelor’s in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s in management from the Sloan School at MIT.
In this episode, Hank shares two favorite mistake stories from earlier in his career at two different companies — one related to sales and one related to technology development. Why did the first story profoundly change how he views leadership? Why did the second story teach him to avoid the “curse of the expert?”
We also discuss his efforts to cultivate a culture of learning from mistakes at iPlace USA.
I also want to mention that Hank is mentioned and quoted in my book The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation, based on a previous interaction we had.
Questions and Topics:
- Putting the right person in the right role — a good fit
- Examples of putting that lesson into practice?
- Giving up on a person vs. finding a different role?
- Dealing with politics in an organization when you think they're wrong and you're right
- Turning around and mentoring younger employees based on his lessons?
- Tell us about iPlace – the business and the environment
- Core values of respect, integrity
- Try to make it safe to admit mistakes
- Methods or approaches to help learn and avoid repeating mistakes? Learning from mistakes? Spreading that learning?
Scroll down to find:
- Video version of the episode
- How to subscribe
- Full transcript
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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)
Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 219. Hank Levine, CEO of iPlace USA.
Hank Levine (6s):
Well, okay, So I would prefer not to call them mistakes. I would prefer to call them learning experiences.
Mark Graban (17s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes. But what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So, this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at MyFavoriteMistake podcast.com to learn more about Hank, his company, and more Look for links in the show notes or go to MarkGraban.Com/mistake219.
Mark Graban (59s):
Hi everybody. Welcome back to My Favorite Mistake. I'm Mark Graban. Our guest today is Hank Levine. He is the president and CEO of iPlace USA. They are a global recruitment process, outsourcing company. Hank has 39 years of experience in areas including sales, business development, marketing, and general management. He created the marketing and business strategies for six companies, four of which were acquired for a total of $92 million. Han has twice reinvented his career as he puts it. So before heading offshore recruiting firms, he held senior management positions in venture capital backed technology companies. The first phase of his career was with some cutting edge home automation and telecom firms.
Mark Graban (1m 39s):
So Hank holds a bachelor's in engineering, so it's good to talk to another engineer from the University of Pennsylvania. And he has a master's degree in management from the Sloan School at MIT. So we have that Sloan connection in common. So with, with that, Hank Welcome to the podcast, How, are you
Hank Levine (1m 57s):
Doing fantastic, Mark, it's an honor to be on your podcast.
Mark Graban (2m 2s):
Oh, thank you for being here. And I, I know we're gonna have a lot of interesting things to talk about. We'll come back to this later. I've, I've heard one of your favorite mistakes stories. I don't know if that's the one or kind of two stories that you're gonna share today. So maybe we'll just jump right into it, you know, of the, the different things you've done, different facets and phases of your career. Hank, what would you say is at least a favorite mistake?
Hank Levine (2m 25s):
Well, okay, So, I would prefer not to call them mistakes. I would prefer to call them learning experiences. So I'm gonna go back real early in my career. There's actually two that I thought of because these were things that profoundly changed how I think about management and how I interact with people. So we can go into two of them,
Mark Graban (2m 47s):
Right? Yeah, go, go. Yeah. And I, and I do appreciate that I mean, you know, the spirit here on the podcast is, you know, is to celebrate the learning. you know, not to shame anybody for the mistake. So yeah, go, go ahead
Hank Levine (2m 59s):
With, with that first story, Hank. Okay, so the first one, this goes way back into the late 1980s, so I'm aging myself a bit on that one, but this was my first company out of business school. It was a very fun company called Custom Command Systems. And we were developer and installer of very comprehensive, very expensive, high-end home automation systems. And we worked, you know, throughout the country and even some internationally and in very, very large homes. And I was, I was one of the founders of the company.
Hank Levine (3m 43s):
And initially I did all the sales and these were very elaborate systems. So when we sold them, we put together these beautiful bounded proposals. They were full of pictures. We, you had to be a good writer to put these proposals together because we tried to personalize them, talk about our client's home, talk about all those things that made their homes distinctive. And I was pretty successful at selling these systems, you know, using, using this elaborate proposal. Then we got a little bit bigger. So these systems were quite expensive, typically sold between two and $300,000. So in today's dollar, that would be over a half million dollars.
Hank Levine (4m 23s):
And we were up to about selling about 10 systems a year. We were growing nicely. So we hired our first other salesperson, I hired this gentleman named Chris. He was just a great guy. He was working for this national audio video home wide system installer. And Chris had just a great personality, a really big personality. Everybody totally loved him. But turned out that Chris was not a very good writer. And I was trying to have Chris do things my way where we had this elaborate proposal. You had to write very well to make the proposal good.
Hank Levine (5m 4s):
And Chris just couldn't do it. And I kept reworking his proposal to my mind, Chris was failing. We had a second employee. Her name was Dana. Dana was our accountant. She was very smart. She was meticulous as could be, very organized, a very good writer. and she was great at accounting. But being that we were a startup, Of course cashflow was very, very critical. And one of Dana's jobs was that she had to call people and make sure that we were being paid on time. Dana was, to this day, maybe the most shy person I've ever met. She even so shy that she couldn't really talk well to people within her own company.
Hank Levine (5m 49s):
And the thought of her calling clients and asking for money was just something she could not do. And I would tell her over and over, and that's an important part of our job. Cashflow is so critical. Please do it. Please do it. She just wouldn't do it. Okay. So in my mind, you know, she was partially failing too. Then, then something amazing happened. So Chris went out to a new client of ours to present our proposal. This was a client in Palm Springs, California. He was coming from our home base in, in Maryland. And in those days, this was before cell phones. So whenever Chris would go out and present a proposal right after the, the meeting was over, he would go somewhere, he would find a payphone and he would call me and he would tell me how it went.
Hank Levine (6m 36s):
So, I was expecting that he would be done about five o'clock California time, about eight o'clock my time. And I'm waiting and I'm waiting for Chris to call me. No call, no call. Guess to 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock. I figure Chris is on the red eye, he must be coming back. I'll talk to him tomorrow about 1130 I get this phone call and it's Chris. And I said, Chris, I was waiting for your call. you know, where are you? What's happening? He goes, well, you wouldn't believe it. The, the meeting went great. The client loves this, they're going forward. And we really hit it off. We're having such a great relationship that they asked me to stay over for the weekend, and I'm calling you from their sewing pool.
Hank Levine (7m 17s):
This was four cell phones, right? So to do this, he was calling on a cellular phone, was one of the first cellular phones in the country. Again, we had very wealthy clients, the cellular phones in this day, they had a receiver that was like in a big suitcase. The phone is like a big 12 inch block, costs about $3 a minute to make a phone call. And he's calling me from their swimming pool telling me that they asked him to stay at their house with them until Sunday. So that just my mind, sure. Cause I could never imagine any client liking me so much that they would invite me to stay for the weekend. And I just realized that Chris has this special skill where he can relate to people, he can build relationships so much better than I can.
Hank Levine (8m 4s):
That Monday he came back to our office and I had this brainstorm. I said, Chris and Dana, I am making you guys a team. Dana's a great writer. She is gonna write all your proposals for you, but you'll go out and build the relationships and present 'em. And Chris, you can, you could deliver the worst news to, to anyone in the world. And they would love you. They would take you out for a beer and all these collection calls, you will do her collection calls. And they both loved it. Yeah. They, the thing they hated doing, we took it off their plate. They worked together great as a team, and they were both phenomenally successful. And so from that point on, I, I just realized that I was really messing up because I was trying them to force them to do things, how I would do it, doing, you know, things that I'm good at or things that didn't bother me and I wasn't building on their strengths.
Hank Levine (9m 1s):
And once I let them do things that they love and put on their strengths, they, they flourish. And so now, now, whenever I put a team together, I first start with thinking about the team members, what they're good at, and partly developed the process around their strengths.
Mark Graban (9m 18s):
Wow. That's, yeah, I mean, that's a great story you make me think of. Yeah, this idea of the right fit. I mean, I'm sure, you know, with with, we'll, we'll come back and talk about iPlace, I mean, I imagine that's a, a question for clients. So finding the right fit. Like you have a lot of good people that might just not be a good fit for a certain role. And, and that's, that's a really vivid example of, of discovering it in that business. And, and like you said, that that's carried forward, that concept carried forward with you into other roles, other leadership positions. Can think of any other, any examples of kind of putting that into practice?
Hank Levine (9m 57s):
No. You, you, there's a great one in I place other one that our, our EVP of strategy. He was an originally a, a recruiter. He is a, one of the smartest people I've ever met. He, he has a brilliant analytical mind, a brilliant business mind. And when he started with us as a recruiter, he wasn't very good because he was just too analytical. He would study everything. He wouldn't submit candidates cuz they weren't perfect. He would, you know, he would actually draw charts. He was showing probabilities of placements. And I would, I would tell him, just submit the candidate. Just submit the candidate. And we, we had a leadership development program where he blew a run away.
Hank Levine (10m 41s):
He did all this research, he was, but he was just so analytical. So we started a data analytics team and he created this system for I place called Launchpad, which is a whole gamification system for how we run the, the company. And when we put Fred to the right seat, you know, took him out of being a recruiter and let him do things that are analytical and business strategy. He's just been phenomenal.
Mark Graban (11m 11s):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there's a, a leadership challenge there. A general business challenge of Trying to figure out if somebody's not performing in a certain role. If you can't coach them up in that role, do you, is it better off for everybody? Do they need to leave the organization? Or can you find a different role that's a better fit If you liked the person, their attitude, you know, you, you, you, you want them to be part of the team. you know, I wonder how often leaders would just give up on somebody as opposed to finding a better fit.
Hank Levine (11m 43s):
Well, if you're a really tiny company and you don't have flexibility in roles, maybe, but in my view, there, there are very few people that don't wanna be great employees. All right? People wanna be like, they wanna be respected, they want to feel smart, important and valued. And if you find someone that is smart and that person is working hard, that person is not being successful in their job. Nine out of 10 times, you can make them successful. If you get to know them, you get to know what they love and you put 'em in the right position. Not always, yeah. But almost always.
Mark Graban (12m 21s):
Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I mean, your, your story about Chris and Dana is one I've heard at least once from a previous guest in terms of, you know, a founder wanting others to do it, do the work in the way that worked for them and, and, and trying to force that fit. And, you know, I appreciate you sharing, you know, that, that lesson learned and, and, and partnering Chris and Dana, I mean, like for that client in Palm Springs, did, did Chris sell the deal without such a fancy proposal? Like, I, I could see the idea of pairing them up, but I'm just curious, did you ever experiment with like, was such a fancy proposal really needed?
Hank Levine (13m 2s):
Well, it, it was because, you know, these were so expensive and our proposals were good. Yeah. And they were very, but that one, I wrote the proposal, I wrote most of it. But after that, Dana wrote the proposals for him.
Mark Graban (13m 15s):
Okay. So Chris did. Okay. He did have the benefit of your partnership, but as a founder and doing other things, you, you needed to be working on your own deals, otherwise hiring Chris, you know, if you were pairing up, why, why hire another salesperson? You were trying to
Hank Levine (13m 29s):
Skip? I mean, I was, you know, wrongly on my part, I was probably resentful because I would've Chris do the first proposal. It, it wasn't, it wasn't very good. The writing wasn't good. And I would ge generally just redo the whole thing. Dana, a guy in the picture, I barely touched it.
Mark Graban (13m 49s):
And then, you know, was that company grew. Did, did you scale, like, you know, how many salespeople did, did you find other salespeople that maybe had both skill sets? Or was that pairing up model something that you kept using?
Hank Levine (14m 1s):
We, we, we, when we saw the company, we had three salespeople. This wasn't a large volume company. Sure. But, but you know, Dana, Dana was overseeing things, you know, doing the writing.
Mark Graban (14m 15s):
Yeah, yeah. Well, there, there, there was a second story, I, I assume Chris and Dana, that that was the two of them that wasn't, there's the second story coming, right?
Hank Levine (14m 27s):
Yeah. So after we, after we sold custom command systems, I had my first time working in a very, very large company. So this was a huge telecommunication company. And they were working in this very large joint venture with four other companies to develop a video service that was supposed to compete with the cable companies. And the cable companies were starting to get into telephony. And so they thought, well, we'll get them back, we'll get into, we'll get into video. And a big part of their system was a television based user interface that would be, you know, run through a remote control.
Hank Levine (15m 19s):
And it turned out, you know, I was hired to do, you know, the project management? So this was about a 2 billion project. And I was running the project management, but I knew a lot about user interfaces. Cause I can't do custom command where we built touchscreens. Yes. And, and, well,
Mark Graban (15m 36s):
And, and for, for context, so what was the timing of this? Was this very early days of onscreen interfaces. I mean, I remember back even in the nineties, you'd flip channels and you might see the channel number and that's it.
Hank Levine (15m 49s):
That's, yes. So custom command was in the late eighties, and this was in the early nineties. Okay. All right. So, so even though I was, you know, supposed to be doing project management, I had all this knowledge in my head from custom command, you know, we control things, the remote controls, we control things with touchscreens. I knew how to build this interface. So I wrote this 80 page specification on my own time. And then I went around telling everybody how my user interface was so much better that I had this real world experience. I knew how people use this stuff and we should replace the one that this team is building with mine.
Hank Levine (16m 29s):
Yeah. And, and I was sure mine was better and it probably was better. Right? Yeah.
Mark Graban (16m 34s):
So, but that wasn't your job.
Hank Levine (16m 35s):
That wasn't my job. Yeah. One day I get this message that the e v P of the company wants to meet with me. And I admit this guy, probably one time he reported to the CEO of the company, So. I, go into his office and he says, Hank, I'm sitting, I wanted to talk to you cuz I'd like you and I've heard really good things about you. I heard that you're really smart. I hear that you're a really hard worker, but I'm also here to tell you that you're very close to getting fired. And I was amazed by that. How could I be really close to getting fired? So he, he takes out this piece of paper and he draws two dots. He label was one A, one B. And he goes, I want you to show me, but the fastest way is to get from point A to point B So.
Hank Levine (17m 19s):
I wasn't really sure what was happening, but I did the obvious thing. I drew a straight line from point A to B, right? And he says, well, if that's how you do things in this company, you'll get fired. So then he draws former dots, he draws and he goes from C, D, E, and F and he goes, here's how you get from A to B in this company. So he goes to A, and he drives the line to B, then the C, then the D, then the E. And and finally, you know, F to back, back to B. And he goes, in this company, if you just forge your hand and go from A to B, there's all these decision makers, there's all these people with big egos. You're gonna be encroaching on their budgets.
Hank Levine (17m 60s):
You're gonna be encroaching on their turf. They will gang up with you and they will make sure what you're doing never happens. And you can get fired even if you're doing a great job. And I sat there, I have to tell you, my first reaction coming out of my startup was, what a terrible company. What a big bureaucracy this is. I can't, you know, that's why they can't make decisions. But then I thought about it more and I realized he was absolutely correct because to be a leader, you absolutely have to have followers. And you can't just command people to follow you.
Hank Levine (18m 45s):
you know, this is what I call the, the curse of the expert. I had a lot of expertise cuz I came from this world, but nobody knew I had this expertise. They didn't know what I understood. They all came with their own beliefs. And you know, these very senior people had hired this user interface group. These people were supposed to be, you know, very good at their job. And I'm essentially telling them that their decisions were all wronged. Yeah. And I was better. And yeah. And they don't know why I would say that they, you know, I was just a problem for them. And so, you know, the more I thought about it, I, you know, realize that again, you can't be a leader without followers.
Hank Levine (19m 28s):
And I see business leaders make this mistake all the time, or I really see it as like with politicians. Cause politicians might be an expert in some, you know, arcane policy area, and they write a bill and they suspect, you know, because they know more, they expect everyone to get on board. And people get on board. They all have their political agenda, they all have their own beliefs. And so to, you know, get things to work, you know, you, you, you really, you do have to socialize your ideas. Developing followers is hard work. Yeah. And it's not, and you won't go from A to B if you do it. You have to give the other points. But if you don't bring followers along, you're not leading anybody.
Mark Graban (20m 10s):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, you talk about the curse of the expert, the curse of, you know, the great technical education. I, I and, and and, and then trying to navigate, like you said, being a founder in a startup versus coming into a huge corporation, very different environments. And you know, it, it sounds like thankfully that E V P was willing to try to educate you around the, you know, the, the reality of the politics of that situation. you know, the thing that I was gonna share, you know, having, you know, technical education and having fallen into, you know, kind have a similar pattern, especially early in my career, maybe even sometime today.
Mark Graban (20m 53s):
Hopefully I'm learning from that. But you know, I I, I, there's times where I, you know, complain to my wife who also has a technical education, but she has a, a higher e eq emotional intelligence, I think. And not, I think I know, but I would say, oh, oh, I hate politics. And she'd say like, that's the reality. You, you can't hate the politics. You can't wish it wasn't there. You have to navigate the politics. So, you know, good, good coaching from her, I think easier so than done for me. But yeah, that was the reality.
Hank Levine (21m 24s):
Yeah. And the, and the ironic thing, at the time, I didn't really appreciate the EVPs advice, but now I super appreciate it. And you know, one of the things I realized that in startups, you, this problem isn't as common because you have your founding team and you're own a room working together, and you, and you collectively develop your expertise. So you have that shared understanding. But if you take someone outta that startup and you put 'em in a big company, nobody else there has that understanding. And so you really do have to socialize it to get everyone at a, at, you know, at a common level where they can move forward.
Mark Graban (21m 58s):
Yeah. So then, so what happened? You had your proposal, your, you had your ideas. Did, did any of that move forward as a result of better navigating this? Or did the bureaucracy say No, hey, you know, Hank, thank you, but we already have a plan.
Hank Levine (22m 13s):
Well, I stayed more in my lane, but I did make friends with some of the people in the user interface team. you know, we started, they changed their development and process a little bit, you know, based on some of my recommendations being, you know, more rapid prototyping, iterative development. And I think that over times, you know, I, I still had their, I wasn't really pushing this, but I still had an open dialogue with 'em. And I think a bunch of my ideas to get into this design, but maybe not as much as I would've liked them to. Sure,
Mark Graban (22m 46s):
Sure. And then, you know, did, did you end up in a situation Hank where the tables had turned at some point where you were more in that position, like the E V p giving advice or counsel to somebody who is younger who might have been making some form of that same mistake?
Hank Levine (23m 3s):
Well, I think both these stories are things that I, you know, try to mentor people. And all the time when I, when I talk to them now, and, you know, certainly, and iPlace, you know, iPlace it is interesting because, you know, we have about 950 employees, but I'm the only person in the US so our employees are India and in the Philippines. And, but we have a very, you know, western work culture and very western understanding. And it's, you know, we really very, very much encourage people to, to speak up and express their ideas, not, not stay in their lane, but at the same time be politically aware, So, I, hope that, you know, the stories I just told are things that are pretty much in our work culture at iPlace like that I think they are.
Hank Levine (23m 59s):
Mark Graban (23m 60s):
Yeah. Or to keep working at that. And how, how would you, how would you help diagnose or understand the reality of, of, of your goal for the culture versus what's actually happening? Are, are, are there some ways where you sort of try to gauge are, are, are, are other leaders sharing that viewpoint that you have about encouraging people to speak up, making it safe to speak up, viewing Mistakes as learning opportunities? Like how, how do you gauge whether others are kind of following your lead on that?
Hank Levine (24m 33s):
Well, we, you know, I think most companies have core values. They're on their website and I think most of the times they're BS because in my experience is that with most companies, if they're in a situation where they have the option of following their core values, but making less money in the short run or ignoring their core values and taking the money, most companies take the money. But from day one, in fact, the very first thing we did in, in iPlace, so this is going back to 2006, we had four employees, but we had two clients signed up because there were people I knew who were doing these favors.
Hank Levine (25m 16s):
Not because we were, you know, we were a brand new company. So, I can't even say we weren't good. We didn't even have anything. Sure. you know, so on the first day of the company, I think, you know, everybody knew that we had these two clients. They were starting in two weeks. We had two weeks to get our act together. And I think everyone thought we were gonna go to the whiteboard and draw our recruiting process and do mock calls and practice and practice. But we didn't do that. We spent the whole first day about the type of company we wanted to be, what our advice should be, what would make people feel that this was a really special company where they were gonna build something bigger than they could build individually.
Hank Levine (26m 1s):
And we have always put our core values first. Everybody knows it. We have a lot of cool things. Like one of the things we have in our company is we have an I pledge wall. So it's a big wall where we have all our core values written, and every six months we do a presentation on our core values. And everyone in the company goes and signs the I pledge wall to reaffirm their commitment to it. And so we will always, we will always follow our core values, even if it means we're losing money in the short run.
Mark Graban (26m 34s):
Wow. And you said, I mean, that's great to hear and yeah, I mean, I agree with you, Hank. Some, some companies would Yeah. Just, you know, they want the statement that sounds good on the website. Sometimes healthcare organizations do the same thing, but is it really lived intentionally and consistently? But you know, you said earlier Hank, and I thought this was really powerful, paraphrasing a bit to be a leader, you have to have followers. You can't just tell people what to do. I mean, how, you know, as, as ceo tell, tell us more about that I, I'm, I'm guessing the idea applies, you can't just tell people they need to follow the core values or how, how, how do you gain followership amongst your employees?
Hank Levine (27m 17s):
Well, I think a lot of it comes from an example, right? So, you know, one of the things that, you know, we have the value a lot of companies integrity, you know, we've been in business 17 years, we have never ever paid a bribe one rupe. Now that might not sound so amazing to Americans. If you're running a company in India for 17 years, that's pretty spectacular. But if a vendor tries to bribe us, they are fired on the spot. And they're, they're told that the government in India, and especially the local government, will frequently look for bribes.
Hank Levine (27m 58s):
Usually though they'll tell you you're gonna get a big fine, but if you talk to a consultant, it can be solved for a lot lower money and they'll tell you who to talk to. We've had cases like that, we never do it. We'll fight it forever. And, you know, they, now, now we're pretty much left alone. But it's, it's more than that. you know, we have, we, we have a core value of respect. We've had two cases where we had clients where we're being very disrespectful to our recruiters, you know, literally swearing at them, calling them names. I fired both of them. Yeah. you know, we lost money when they did that.
Hank Levine (28m 38s):
Right. Who's gonna treat our employees that way?
Mark Graban (28m 41s):
Hank Levine (28m 43s):
So, you know, that that goes, that spreads through the company real fast when you do that. Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Graban (28m 50s):
I mean, it seems like one of these situations where there's a short term cost, you lose some business, but the long-term benefit is powerful in terms of employees being loyal to iPlace and, and, and helping reinforce that culture. That's, would you, would you agree it's a matter of like, think not just doing the right thing, but thinking long-term?
Hank Levine (29m 13s):
I would agree. you know, I'm a little more experienced now. I would agree that I would like to believe that, but I'm not sure that's actually the case. I've seen a lot of unethical companies do very, very well and make a lot of money. At the end of the day, it really comes down to how you wanna conduct yourself and what you believe in. And there's things more important than money. At least to me, So I would rather conduct myself the way I'm proud of and make less money. So I. I used to, I used to tell this story when my, you know about when my, my, I have two daughters and when they were very, very little and, and at the, you know, every night we did this ritual where they would, they would just like be in their bed screaming, you know, daddy, daddy, daddy, give me a kepy kiss, I kepy use your forehead.
Hank Levine (30m 12s):
So I would, So I would go and Id give them these kisses on their forehead and they would go, do it again. Do it again. And I would do it and do it, do it again. And, you know, when it came to ethical issues, you know, these were like my little angels and, you know, my test to myself was, when I'm sitting in their room giving my little girls Cappy kisses, if they understood what I did at work that day and how I conducted myself, would they be proud of their daddy? And the answer's no. And you're not doing it right. Even, even if you're making more money, getting the no answer So I, don't So I don't actually believe that companies are more ethical, do better in the long run.
Hank Levine (30m 52s):
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But I do believe that, you know, doing better doesn't just mean making more money.
Mark Graban (31m 2s):
Sure. Yeah. No, I, I agree. And you know, I I I wasn't, I didn't form the question real clearly. I, I wasn't necessarily necessarily suggesting, I I, I was trying to think of more of your situation that you are doing the right thing and there's short-term loss, and I admire, and, and it's, it's great to stand by those values, but I was saying like for you and for your companies, the long-term benefit, it seems like would far outweigh any short-term hit of losing a client or, you know, it's, it, it seems, it's just, it goes hand in hand. And I'm saying, I'm not saying for all companies that being more ethical would lead to more success, but it's, it seems like in your situation, it's, it's hand in hand.
Mark Graban (31m 42s):
It's maybe less of a tradeoff over the long term.
Hank Levine (31m 47s):
Yeah, I think I would agree with that. I think that best, you know, piece of evidence of that is just our management team. I, you know, if you look at our Tough 15 people, just like everyone of 'em has been with us over 10 years and most of 'em are working a night shift, right. So, you know, that's not, it's not the type of thing where, you know, people work night shifts and instead with the company 10, 15 years, but almost our whole management team has done that. So they, you know, they, they believe in what we're doing.
Mark Graban (32m 15s):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I wanna share a little bit for the audience. I mean, you know, in terms of leading by example and, and how I was able to see you do that Hank, you know, for the audience sake, I had my first exposure to iPlace was being invited. I wanna thank Akhil for, for doing that and helping me through the process, inviting me to, to give a short presentation for an internal iPlace event, a knowledge sharing session. And So I was invited to talk a little bit about learning from Mistakes and some of my reflections and, and, and thinking about how do we create this culture. you know, I didn't really know up until fairly, you know, I don't know, a couple days before the session or you know, that, that you were gonna be part of it.
Mark Graban (32m 58s):
Hank and the structure of the session by Ike was really good of keeping my presentation short and opening space for people within iPlace to share a favorite mistake story. And I appreciated that you went first, you told that story from the, the telecom company, So I. you know, I, I was curious your reflections around, you know, going your thought process of, of going first sharing that story, you know, what, what example you would hope that that sets and the influence that has on the culture of not just the story, but your willingness to share.
Hank Levine (33m 36s):
Sure. Well, so the no sharing session is, you know, that is actually something that I came up with and, you know, he, he created that. So he's our e v P of, of business transformation. Another really, really smart guy. And, you know, we, and, and so Knowledge Sharon is one of our core values created on day one. And so, you know, so when Akil came up with this idea of bringing in thought leaders and business experts from really all over the globe, we, we do one of these sessions every two months. They're, they're done over Zoom.
Hank Levine (34m 17s):
They're not mandatory that people attend, but we have probably about 85% attendance. Most of the people who don't attend, we have a big team that's in our Australian stuff. So they're, they're right in the middle of their sleep hours. So sometimes they don't attend and so forth, but we get very good attendance. And the cool thing about these sessions are that they're not, they're not about recruiting, alright? So they're usually about, you know, how to be a better leader, better manager, how to do with health and wellbeing and, and So I think the, you know, our employees really appreciate that, that, you know, this isn't immediately directly related to their job.
Hank Levine (35m 3s):
It's really to, you know, make them not only better employees, but but but better people. I thought it was important to go first because we always tell people that they're hired for their brain. They were hired cause they were smart. And if they have great ideas and they stay in their brain and they don't share them and they don't do anyone any good and that, you know, my belief is that Mistakes are not f
Hank Levine (35m 60s):
And So I thought it was important to go first to just make it a little bit more of a safe space for, for people to speak up. Yeah. I do think we have a culture where that happens very regularly.
Mark Graban (36m 13s):
Yeah. Yeah. And I remember you saying some of those same things in that session to your team, and I thought that was really powerful. Like, you know, this idea of if you learn from 'em, it's an investment, the mistake can be an investment, the learning is an investment as opposed to being just a cost. you know, I thought, I thought that was great and then, you know, you know, I, you know, 4, 5, 6 people, I think, you know, there was time for other people to share stories and I thought your reactions to to the stories were, were very, you know, were kind and, and constructive and you know, I I I I told you when we, we chatted, you know, privately afterwards that, that your body language and attentiveness came through very clearly, even through a little zoom window and whether your employees not, I, I'm sure they did.
Mark Graban (37m 4s):
Like I thought, you know, it wasn't even just what you said in terms of thanking them for sharing the story, but like I, that that was noticeable and, and I thought that was a another great example of leading by example. Yeah.
Hank Levine (37m 18s):
Yeah. Well thank you. you know, and we also, you know, besides our external Speakers, if anyone at iPlace wants to present to the company, they can do that. So we've had I think three cases where we just had employees, not generally the most senior employees, and they just go and they talk about, you know, something that they've done in recruiting and how it's helped them. And they, these sessions are usually shorter, maybe 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. But, you know, we bring the whole company in and you know, we tried very hard to reinforce that, you know, we have these shout outs that you can do to the whole company. And you'll see after someone does that, they get probably 20 shout outs from people just saying how great it was that they had the Courage to talk about that in front of the whole company.
Mark Graban (38m 3s):
Yeah. And you know, I wanna thank you Hank, you know, from that internal session for giving me permission to share a little bit of your story and, you know, especially that, that thought about learning from Mistakes as an investment. I'm holding up, this is just a mockup, but you know, for, for the book, the Mistakes that make us, you know, thank you for allowing me to include some of that and, you know, for today, not just sharing your own favorite mistakes story, but to have this opportunity to, to delve into, you know, culture and what you're, what you're doing there at iPlace. you know, I think that's, that, that sets a great example and I'm happy that you could share your thoughts around all of that here today too.
Hank Levine (38m 42s):
Well, as I mentioned to you when you asked me permission to be, have a short section in your book, I I was, I was shocked. And, and, and so flattered and Of course, you know, and that we'll buy 900 copies for our employees. Well
Mark Graban (38m 56s):
That was not my intent.
Hank Levine (38m 59s):
I'm only joking Of course. But it was, that was really, really, yeah, kind of you and, and as I said, very fluid.
Mark Graban (39m 6s):
Yeah. Well maybe one other, you know, question Hank, you know, when you talk about learning for Mistakes are, are there methods or like how, how, how do you make sure the learning sticks in terms of not repeating Mistakes and then helping lessons or ideas spread so others can learn from a mistake somebody else made?
Hank Levine (39m 30s):
Well, just in learning in general, at least at, at, at iPlace, we have a pretty extensive professional development department. We have a great learning management system. I think there's over 400 courses in it. Some are mandatory for new employees, but where, you know, always encouraging people to take the courses. And our professional development team, one of the best thing is when people take courses, they follow up with 'em for about six months to make sure they're implementing the courses. Cause you know, I, I do agree that in, in my experience, probably the biggest problem with training is you learn great things and then you go back and just do your job the way you've always done it and you don't really implement the, the, the things you've learned.
Hank Levine (40m 14s):
So Lisa, at iPlace we have a big emphasis on implementation and follow up by a professional development team.
Mark Graban (40m 24s):
And, and then there's, do I remember right that there was a mechanism for sharing lessons learned within the company as well? Or is that my mistake? I thought that I thought this had been mentioned.
Hank Levine (40m 38s):
Well, you know, we, we, you know, the knowledge sharing sessions, we have the little mini sessions that people can, can talk about. I'm not sure if we have a, a formal process, but we, you know, we, we do encourage people over and over and over. you know, one of the things about communication in a company is you can't say it too many times because, you know, there's always new employees, there's always people who weren't paying attention. There are always people who for forget. So, you know, a lot of our marketing communications is internally focused and you know, these sort of messages are, you know, we hammer on 'em.
Mark Graban (41m 22s):
Yeah. So that reinforcement and the, the leading by example, you know, thank you Hank for doing that and sharing with us today. And then, you know, quickly about iPlace, you know, you mentioned that you're the only US-based employee. Where, where are your customers based and and what types of companies do you serve?
Hank Levine (41m 43s):
So, so we have, you know, as I said, about nine 50 employees. We're working on five continents and we've placed people in 30 countries. I would say the both of our clients are in the US but a lot of them are global. So we have, you know, one of our bigger clients, we work with 'em in eight different countries. And you know what our business is is recruitment process outsourcing. So companies outsource our part of their talent acquisition function to iPlace in most cases. That means that we provide big teams of recruiters for them.
Hank Levine (42m 22s):
But you know, we also have clients where we do, you know, research and administration all around the re you know, recruiting process. One of the things we specialize in is in these large hiring projects. So if you're a company that has to hire hundreds of people, you had to do it in two or three months. You don't wanna hire a team of 50 recruiters internally. And then when the project's over let 'em go. So they'll hire us, we'll put on a massive team and when the project's over, hopefully we'll get more work. Sometimes we, sometimes the project's over and the project's over. But you know, that's one of the things that we can really do for companies and we can do that in countries all over the, all over the world.
Mark Graban (43m 4s):
Yeah. Well that's, that's, that's great. Thank you for sharing a little bit about that. Hank, I'll make sure there's a link to the website in the show notes. Again, we've been joined by Hank Levine, CEO of iPlace USA, global recruitment Process Outsourcing Company. Hank, thank you so much for what you're doing and for sharing so much here with us today. Really appreciate it.
Hank Levine (43m 26s):
And mark this, this was fun. So thank you very much for inviting me. I really appreciate it.
Mark Graban (43m 32s):
You're very welcome. Thanks. Well, thanks again to Hank for being a wonderful guest today. To learn more about him and iPlace USA, look for links in the show notes or you can go to MarkGraban.Com/mistake219. As always, I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own Mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive. I've had listeners tell me they started being more open and honest about Mistakes in their work, and they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me MyFavoriteMistakePodcast@gmail.com.
Mark Graban (44m 15s):
And again, our website is MyFavoriteMistakePodcast.com.