As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Lively.
Brooke Lively is the CEO and Founder of Cathedral Capital, a team of CFO’s and Profitability Strategists who help entrepreneurs turn their Businesses into profitable companies. She, and her team, work with Hall of Famers, INC 5000 businesses, CEO’s, and Entrepreneurial Small Business Owners.
With expertise in growth management, creative problem solving and profitability strategy, Brooke has been the named ‘Top 25 Women to Watch,’ and ‘Fort Worth’s 2016 CFOs of the Year’ and is a highly regarded speaker and author. Brooke has been featured in international media including CNBC, Forbes, Fort Worth Business Journal, Diversity Journal, and Attorney at Work.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my business by accident! I was running a law firm and hired a consultant to help with marketing and sales when his other clients started coming to me asking if I could do for them what I was doing for the law firm. It was then that I learned that most small businesses aren’t making data-based decisions and that many business owners don’t know anything about their financials and are intimidated by them.
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?
That would have to be our name. I was an analyst at a hedge fund and one of my co-workers and I were talking about going out on our own. We came up with a great name — Cathedral Capital — and bought the domain. Two years later when I started my business, I had to incorporate quickly as all of a sudden I had clients and needed an entity. There was CathCap, sitting there, with a valid email address, just waiting to be used. I grabbed it without any thought about whether or not it was a good name for a fractional CFO consulting company. The answer is a resolute no, and I dread every time I have to explain our name and the fact that no, we don’t do investments.
Here’s the lesson: it’s great to grab an opportunity and start a business, but when it comes to your name, spend 15 minutes thinking it through. If I had done that, it would have saved me hours and hours and hours of explanations.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier has had a huge impact on my business, my team, and my personal growth. It discusses 7 questions that allow you to have shorter and more productive conversations with coworkers and with clients. In addition, it teaches you how to grow your people using the questions so they become more independent. One of our Core Values is “Be a creative problem solver open to change”. The Coaching Habit taught me how to instill problem solving in every conversation.
Another big takeaway in today’s “busy” world is Stanier gives you a question to help you truly evaluate your decisions and the resulting actions. He asks, “What will you say No to, if you’re truly saying Yes to this?” If that becomes your guide, it is easy to evaluate new projects and not get overloaded in a world where taking on more is seen as a show of strength instead of the distraction it really is.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I think the overarching message of our company is, “It doesn’t have to be so hard.” Most people who start a business do it because they have a passion for what they do or sell — but many don’t have the financial background to support that side of the business. Knowing how to read your financials and understanding how the numbers work in your company can be intimidating but is relatively easy if you have help. Watching entrepreneurs with great ideas struggle, experience shame, and feel out of their depth strikes a chord in me and makes me want to help.
Everybody in my family owns their own business. My grandfather joked that he was in venture capital before it was popular. Because of this, I grew up in an entrepreneurial, but also analytical, world where we talked about what was happening at work. I had a leg up on most founders because the business side of running a company was not foreign to me. I want to provide that same kind of education to our clients so they can feel empowered to achieve everything they want with their business.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Our Core Values are the guiding light for CathCap. In any situation we can go back to those 6 principals and they usually answer all our questions. We hire and fire by them — not just employees but also clients. They help keep us on track when shiny objects pop up that one of us wants to go chase. And they ultimately remind us that the reason we are in business is for the benefit of our clients, so if we do what is right for the client, the company will be just fine.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m single so moving home and setting up on the kitchen table hasn’t posed many problems. The biggest issue was needing to upgrade my internet service. My team, however, was in an interesting position. We run a virtual company and I am the only one who goes into an office on a regular basis. While the team is set up and used to working from home, what they weren’t used to was their families being there too. Some of the more interesting conversations included:
- Designated work zones
- Conference Call Rules — no wandering and talking — stay in your designated zone while on calls
- Don’t steal my webcam
- No, I won’t make your lunch everyday
- Just because I haven’t finished my lunch doesn’t mean you can eat it
- Sorry I have a baby on my lap during a team meeting, my husband is on a call and she woke up from her nap.
I think these are the types of discussions every family is having though I definitely got a kick out of some of them.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I was amazed at how the disruption of having their families in the house affected our team. I expected to see children on laps during calls and wouldn’t have been surprised at interruptions from husbands and children. What did surprise me as the emotional toll the pandemic took on everybody and how that knocked the whole team off kilter. The disruption to our schedules and the uncertainty heightened the intensity of every interaction. Everybody’s sensitivities were heightened which meant fuses were shorter and everything was being taken personally. We use a book among our team called I Said This, You Heard That by Kathleen Edelman to facilitate communication. In it, people are divided into 4 different communication styles, which are then assigned colors. Each style has strengths, weaknesses, and preferred modes of interaction. We went back to the beginning and during our team meetings would say things like, “I’m red, and I just need you to bottom line this for me”. Or “I’m blue and need to dive into the detail some more”. Having this as a common language helped us navigate the turbulent times and emerge a stronger more cohesive team.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think the first thing is turn off the TV. The media tends to sensationalize things. Consuming media in moderation helped my family and myself keep on an evil keel during this time. I also think humor is important. We started a Corona virus website when this began and one of the most important parts of it to me was the Humor page. We put all kinds of funny memes and videos up to try and relieve some of the pressure we were all feeling. I still laugh every time I think about the British woman in the sparkly 80’s lycra leotard singing and dancing to a Corona version of I will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. Humor is a great way to break the tension.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Anybody who is online is seeing a huge increase in their business. People are stuck at home and looking for ways to entertain themselves and find variety in their lockdown life. I don’t believe this is going to end when the lockdown does. I think people are going to be used to the ease of the internet — even more so than before — and they might be slow to return to life outside their family units.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The biggest lesson many businesses are learning from Corona virus is that location is less important than they thought. The technology now available means that you don’t have to have your whole team in one room to have a productive meeting. You also don’t have to have employees in the office to get work done. There have been great articles in the HBR and Inc about a study out of Stanford and others that found remote workers were more productive than in office employees. Reading a study is one thing, the experience many companies have had in the past 3 months makes the increase in productivity real.
In addition to increased production, companies can save money on office space. If half of your team is working remotely you can have half the office space and cut that expense. Zoom meetings cut down on travel expense — my bottom line has certainly seen that in the past few months. Even paying to upgrade employee’s home office equipment can save money in the long run. Working and meeting remotely is not only safer, but less expensive so I believe it we will see more of it going forward.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
More than anything, this experience has taught me to meet clients where they are. Before Coronavirus I spent a lot of time on planes speaking to groups of entrepreneurs around the country about how to not be afraid of the numbers in their business and to learn to make data driven decisions. During the lockdown nobody was going to events — but they are online. The sense of community on Facebook and other social media channels has been incredible. At the beginning of COVID-19 our team made a commitment to helping as many people as possible by giving away as much of our knowledge as was possible. We started twice a week Facebook Lives and/or webinars, we committed to answering people’s questions on social media, and we set up a website full of free resources to help people through this time. We wanted to be a contributing part of the incredible community that developed.
Zoom has made people feel closer than ever — without getting on a plane to go see them. I used to spend a couple of weeks a month on planes and in hotels. Zoom has enabled me to cut all that out and still build relationships. My company is more profitable and I waste less time sitting in airports.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
This is a great time to take stock of you company. Many of us have spent time during lockdown cleaning out closets — do the same for your business. What products are really geared towards what your clients want and need, not just what you like to do? Which are profitable and which should be cut? Is there a better/faster/cheaper way to deliver that product or service? Can you do more online and less in person? How would that affect your business model? Do you have employees who aren’t pulling their weight or aren’t a good Core Values match? This is a great time to let them go. What expenses aren’t really necessary? We all have the opportunity to come out leaner and stronger than when we went in.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh there are so many that my team says I use. One is “$h!t happens”, because it does. But the one that best sums up my life and my business is the unofficial motto of my high school, “Function in Disaster, Finish in Style”. During the Corona virus everything has been up in the air and we are all making decisions based on information we KNOW is going to change in just a few weeks. The best we can do is scramble around, do as much research as possible, and give the best opinion we can at the time.
Life, and by extension your business, is rarely smooth sailing. If you are willing to take the risk, do the messy stuff, make a commitment to what you believe in, ultimately it will come out all right. That is exactly what “Function in Disaster, Finish in Style” is all about. It might not be pretty behind the scenes, but the results shine.
I want to add one last thing here. Not every project or idea is a winner. You will fail. Only through failure can you learn and improve. Brene Brown gave a great graduation speech at the University of Texas this year that talked about that. She said your ability to create change only happens “if you’re committed to getting back up and beginning again, the exact same number of times that you fall, trip, and get pushed down.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find us on the web at www.CathCap.com and through social media:
Facebook: Cathedral Capital, Inc.
LinkedIn: Cathedral Capital, Inc.
YouTube: Cathedral Capital CFO