As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Newman.
Brandon has a dynamic, 25-year leadership career spearheading strategic business growth, revenue, and sales performance at emerging and established companies. He has run many high-growth environments, including start-ups, turnarounds, and multi-billion dollar businesses with full accountability for business success. He has a proven record of closing and managing annual multi-hundred-million-dollar revenue and profit growth goals. He is the driving force for new market strategy, revenue growth, technology development, and partner alliances in addition to his primary leadership role as CEO of Xevant. He has the proven capacity to identify and capitalize on new market trends, translate market value into profits, as well as launch and grow successful products in established and emerging markets. He is an exceptional motivator, speaker, and leader of cross-impact teams, including C-suites.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
Despite being born in the 70s, I’m clearly the product of 80s. The icons from the 80s in music, sports, and entertainment shaped many of the interests I still enjoy today. They planted an idea deep within my subconscious that has been a primary motivator my entire life: success demands repetitive failure. As a teenager I heard a common theme from the embodiment of basketball perfection, Michael Jordan, that he later quoted as: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life…that’s why I succeed.” It’s a profound sentiment that floored an impressionable kid who had plenty of failures stacking up. The concept took hold and my life’s mission turned towards the pursuit of progress through trial and error so that success was the only viable final result. This was an incredibly freeing idea that gave me a license to dream big.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a problem solver. Deep down I knew that with enough work, time, and ingenuity, solutions would be found to any challenge. Fast forward to my first “real job” as an account manager in my early 20s, the job forced me to search through countless files to verify system results, making it painstakingly difficult to manage dozens of clients. Although I had no business building software, I knew this was just a problem that “work, time, and ingenuity” would solve and I set off to create software to automate the process. After a few weeks of late nights, trial and error configuration, and consulting every “real programmer” I knew, an automated “software” tool was born that improved our team’s efficiency and was used by the company for many years. I stumbled into the realization that solving problems through data, software, and automation would serve my career well. Nearly 25 years and a number of start-ups later, I’m still at it, attempting to solve some of the largest healthcare problems of our day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early in another start-up many years ago, we didn’t have the capital to fly our team to a conference, so we opted to drive instead. Four of us piled into my brand-new car and traveled 400 miles to Las Vegas in the middle of summer. Arriving at the hotel, I foolishly took pride in handing the keys to my new car to the valet attendant of a luxury hotel, as if this were some kind of demonstration of success and importance. After returning to pick up my car for dinner that night, my pride turned to horror when I realized my unopened can of soda that I had left in the cup holder of my car console had violently exploded while it previously sat parked in the 115-degree Las Vegas weather. Every inch of the car was covered in sticky dried dark syrup. At that moment, and for many years to come, I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t ever let your ego be a substitute for leadership. Ego creates blind spots, stifles innovation, and tears teams apart. Ego also left me with a car that never fully recovered, but now serves as a constant reminder to my kids who still drive it today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are countless people I am grateful towards for assisting me with each company I was lucky enough to start. However, it would be careless not to credit my wife, Misty, as the single most helpful person to help guide me through the impossible task of growing businesses. Although I admit that each of the businesses would have grown 10x larger if she had led them, she accepts the much more difficult task of tackling a family of five kids while patiently supporting me by being an amazing listener. Throughout our marriage she has remained engaged and interested in the intimate details of each business and consistently asks about the ongoing challenges I face. Having a spouse who is a skilled sounding board to face off with before walking into a room of investors, board of directors, or a complex prospect has consistently proved to be the single best asset I’ve had throughout my career.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
During the first few years of an earlier start-up company, I had underestimated the effort, time, and money required to turn a profit. Since cash was tight, I eliminated my compensation to ensure our employees and vendors were paid while sales ramped up. Weeks turned into months without pay and our family’s cash reserves had dwindled. As we got closer to the holidays, my wife and I knew we would not have the money to pay for many gifts for our four (now five) young children. I still vividly remember the night that we sat around the kitchen table to tell them the grim news. Somewhat dejected, our children went to their rooms. Surprisingly, within a few minutes they ran back to the kitchen table, unloaded all the money they had pulled together, and asked if they could buy all the gifts that year. My wife and I sobbed tears of joy that night. Our tragedy had turned into our family’s greatest memory and to this day, our grown children still remember the lessons learned that night.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
This is a good but difficult question for me to answer. I’ve attempted to answer this for myself over the years in an effort to harness my “why?” for future challenges, but deep down I think my drive comes from two main sources: a primal place of wanting to produce more than I have been given and a strong passion for transforming the cost of healthcare for the greatest number of people. Maybe this is evolution’s way of ensuring the survival of our species, but I find great satisfaction in producing more value from the resources given me than the resources are worth alone. Also, there is suffering in our own backyards. We don’t need to travel cross-continents to find poverty-stricken people who cannot afford medicine to curb or even end their suffering. Effectively using the resources entrusted to me to help others find relief is something I feel an urgency towards.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
My motivations have drastically changed since the first start-up I was a part of 21 years ago. Back then it was all about generating profit, and my much younger body kept pace with my voracious appetite for financial success. During this time, I made countless mistakes, suffered my fair share of failures, and endured some of the most painful experiences of my life. However, I couldn’t possibly attempt to rewrite my history without changing the outcome. The trials and errors have served as life’s references to guide me through the challenges I face today. Several years and many life lessons later, my focus at Xevant has turned towards people before profits. As I’ve given my all to serve, empower, and trust the amazingly talented people who are committed to Xevant’s vision, they create incredible solutions that deliver tremendous value to our customers that naturally result in success and profit. The more I pour my effort and energy into our people, the more collective success we see.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the hardest steps in any start-up is finding a business name. We already had a product and paying customers, but we did not feel we had a name that represented our unique offering of automated prescription analytics. We landed on a name that has since been the source of many raised eyebrows. Xevant’s interesting name is an invented conjugated word from the Mayan word “Xel: a spring” and “Savant: intelligent or person of learning.” The combined result is a natural spring of intelligent and informed people. Xevant’s passion is focused on the automation of vast amounts of prescription data analysis to immediately and autonomously find issues deep within the data, identify root causes of the issues, and inform people with as much intel possible to assist in reducing prescription cost and improving patient health. Analytic automation combined with the industry’s largest suite of prescription analytics are the key elements to our unique approach to reducing costs and improving health. Our business model of enabling others to be empowered to intelligently make decisions on behalf of millions of Americans is core to Xevant’s unique offering.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I grew up a swimmer. Hours and hours every day of watching a line beneath you in the water. Although there were days I was ready to literally throw in the towel, swimming taught me many lessons in perseverance. Certainly, the success of winning races motivated some of the hard work, but the endless hours in the water gave me time for quiet reflection about life as well as a much stronger body to excel in many other areas of my life. Swimming taught me that the journey is infinitely more important and valuable than the destination. Most of my trophies are long gone but the lessons learned while logging thousands of laps are impossible to assign a value to. Similarly, in a business requiring long hours of sustained top performance while analyzing billions of rows of data, the best tip I could offer is to find joy and satisfaction in the process of creating insights out of chaos to help solve some of the most difficult issues of our generation. That daily realization motivates me to work hard and do my best for the greater good of our societies.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A passion for me and my family is being a resource for reducing or eliminating human suffering. We used to think we had to travel to third world countries to achieve this, but we have turned our attention to our backyards. A recent local newscast from Salt Lake City announced the arrest of a large and organized human sex trafficking organization operating right under our noses within our own neighborhoods. These were businesses operating within just 3 miles of our suburban community. We were blown away to see the human suffering so close to home. This is compounded by increased poverty due to economic difficulties caused by COVID or other factors. We’ve concluded that it doesn’t require a non-profit charity or a disaster-invoked effort to relieve suffering, even though they are admirable solutions to the problems. It requires the simple effort of opening our eyes and hearts as we go about our day to deliberately seek out those who need help and offer a hand. If we can all influence and help a single person then the collective result would be epic in eliminating suffering. It requires all of our attention and effort.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Fortunately, start-up businesses are a breeding ground for “lessons learned” opportunities. The nature of building something from nothing forces entrepreneurial businesses to find every conceivable way to beg the forces of nature working against you to give way for your budding venture to break free. As a sort of “note to myself” the following are the things I wish someone had told me before starting my journey:
- Listen to the trailblazers: ironically, I am writing the 5 things I wish I had known, but when I first started out I thought I had all the answers and likely wouldn’t have listened anyway. Having been trailblazer myself by making more mistakes than I should have, experience has trained me to know where to look for hidden obstacles that will trip-up the best-intentioned entrepreneur or toxic situations that will sour entire teams of people. These are the people to seek out to guide your successful strategies.
- People are all that matter: all the products, systems, software, and solutions combined pale in comparison to the power of people working towards a common purpose. By empowering and trusting your people to create and execute a plan, your business will take on a life of its own; something much greater than you could have ever imagined on your own. Just don’t forget to give them credit for their success as well!
- Be vulnerable: your team, your board, and even your customers do not expect you to an inspirational leader who has all the answers. They want you to be you; they want you to admit you have flaws and make mistakes. They want you to be real and authentic while doing your best to learn from mistakes and remain committed to progress. There is something so pure about vulnerability that elicits the best performance out of entrepreneurs.
- The Rule of “X”: No matter how well-informed business plans are, most often there is an unknown multiple of “X” that was missed in estimating the capital and time required to enable your business to succeed. For me X was usually a multiple of 2, as it was usually twice as expensive and twice as long to get my past start-ups to break-even and beyond. This isn’t to say that forecasting is flawed, but we live in a world of uncertainty that won’t always result in a series of best-case scenarios. Plan for the worst and expect for the best. This will yield more success than the prospect of begging for more capital and more time down the road.
- The journey is more important than the destination: having sold a few businesses at the completion of a long hard-fought battle to succeed, I’ve found that the journey getting to the end result has always been infinitely more valuable to me than the final result. The people you meet, the experiences you have, and the lessons learned over a sustained period of time are building blocks for future opportunities and exponential growth that are tremendously more valuable than any financial exit from a business will be.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I tell my team and prospective employees often that what we learned early in life during grade school needs to be the foundation for our approach to business. Most of us leave grade school with an understanding that the more we help others succeed, the greater our own successes will be. Unfortunately, we enter the business world and the first thing we are told are: “these are YOUR goals, YOUR objectives, and YOUR responsibilities.” I’ve learned however, that we need to go back to the fundamentals of human development where we focus on “OUR goals…” The Outward Mindset (Arbinger Institute) is an approach our company has embraced and has transformed how we work towards our collective vision. When you realize there are dozens of people contributing towards your objectives (and vice versa) miracles unfold every day that when combined together have the power to achieve greater success than doing it the “corporate way.” Culture really does matter and if done right, your team will become the culture evangelists in order to prevent anything disrupting the results achieved with an outward mindset.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
Going back to the first question, I deeply believe in Michael Jordan’s premise that failure, experience, and trials create the person (and people) required to achieve success. I’ve had a few people ask me how I got my job. After a quiet chuckle, I usually respond that the only way into the seat of a successful CEO is to start at the bottom and work your way through every conceivable experience along a long and tedious pathway so that eventually one day you have the skills needed to successfully thrive at the head of a thriving business. Every successful entrepreneur knows that you must wear nearly every hat within the company at some point and to wear that hat well, you need experience. Skipping all those life’s lessons just so you can sit in the CEO seat will only result in extremely difficult situations, years of failure, and missed opportunities. Don’t skip the journey, it’s the best part!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
There is human suffering in our backyards. Nearly 30 years ago, I made the conclusion that in order to create the most amount of good I would need to make it my life’s profession to reduce suffering and I would need to dive deep into population health. Helping one person’s health is deeply satisfying but when your solutions and products help millions of Americans to achieve better health outcomes and lower the cost of medications on a daily basis, I rest at night that we are doing much more than running a business for a profit. My career aspiration is to help people every day to live more healthy lives and do it at a lower cost through optimized technology and data solutions.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I provide regular thought leadership as a contributor towards Xevant’s blog that is posted on both our website and on LinkedIn. Feel free to follow me at LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/brandonnewman/) or follow Xevant’s ongoing blog contributions covering healthcare innovation and technology topics at www.xevant.com.