Asa part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing INNA TULER.
Inna Tuler is the founder and CEO of Maintco Corp., a Burbank, CA-based general construction company specializing in turn-key service, repair, and remodeling of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, and other retail businesses serving California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. She founded the company 26 years ago with her late husband, Abraham, starting with a vision to help clients maintain thriving businesses that help support their communities. She is also active in several charities and a dedicated mother & grandmother.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
After having a career as a concert pianist in Europe, and moving to the United States, I made a life change when I took a position as a property manager and then a staff member in a large property leasing office. My success in both grew into a position as a property supervisor for a large amount of apartment complexes. This experience and growth provided an opportunity to expand my responsibilities and led to becoming a licensed realtor and a real estate broker. At that point I stepped in to assist my husband in a growing construction business. From there, the business continued to grow and ultimately transformed into the current Maintco Corp.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Life itself has been my most interesting story. Although life has never been something I consider “happening to me,”mthere have been situations that I have required strength and resolve, and situations that have created joy and laughter. The range is deep and wide, from losing my husband and partner to being blessed with my first grandchild and so much more in between.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It has been said the devil is in the details. Early in my career as a property manager, I was scheduled to show an apartment to a prospective tenant. There are certain preparations made in order to bring an apartment to the level of being ready to rent. In this particular case one of the preparations had not been completed by the maintenance team. I had made the assumption all was ready and I proceeded to show the apartment to the prospective tenant. As part of the preparation, the apartments are supposed to undergo a visit from a pest control specialist. As I was showing the apartment, we were standing in the kitchen area. My eye was drawn to movement on the floor just a few feet away from me. As I looked down, I saw a very large cockroach moving relatively slowly across the floor. I was directing the couple towards the kitchen cabinets and stepped over towards and onto the roach. I proceeded to show the rest of the kitchen area from the spot I was standing, which luckily enough was the final area to address. I began to point out a specific “spot of interest” in the kitchen, in the completely opposite direction, which gave me a brief second to slide the remains away and out of view. Needlessly to say I had the pest control company perform the work and I never forgot to completely check all preparation requirements for any project or scope from that day on. “Perfect preparation prevents poor performance”, which is a quote from James Baker, former Secretary of State, and one I have used and shared since.
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 about that?
There have been many influencers in my life and I have taken a great deal of care to apply the lessons they imparted. The most influential and important individual that will forever hold my gratitude is my late husband, Abe Tuler. We were able to challenge one another and work together to grow each other and our business. Abe had a vision and was able to see situations unfold better than anyone else I know, and always said that our people were our biggest asset. I have remembered that and still count on its truth.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
- A diverse executive team is essential to support diverse thinking within an organization. When leadership understands the value of different thinkers it uniquely prepares them to communicate and influence in a way that gets everyone on board with new ideas and new ways of doing things.
- Diversity expands creativity and problem solving options by creating an inclusive process. A diverse executive team can inspire the rest of the organization to consider how different people and groups relate to one another, as well as how decisions can be made in the midst of the differences, similarities and tensions among groups.
- Common characteristics of a diverse executive leader begins with self-awareness and the need to seek missing perspectives. Additionally, there is an inherent need to be open with discussing diversity and inclusion, and merge both into the larger message consistently. In combination, these traits provide for cultural intelligence and an improved perspective, leading to better business decisions.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
People often feel more comfortable and happier in an inclusive environment. They also tend to be more loyal and apt to stay longer at companies where their unique contributions are recognized and respected. Overall, workplace equality can increase confidence and encourage employees to achieve their best. Teams often have higher morale and are more productive and innovative. It is one of my proudest achievements to say that Maintco Corp is a diverse group of individuals with a shared goal. Meeting our customers’ needs and solving their problems is paramount. How we do that every day is directly linked to a diverse mix of genders, races, religions, experiences and skill set at all levels.
In truth, it is just as important to not only advocate for diversity, but to practice diligently and demonstrate a commitment to a diverse environment. Empowering individuals to be assertive in their workplace provides for better and more effective communication overall. An inclusive atmosphere of diverse thought constructs a path to reduce unconscious bias. Taking into consideration life experience, and a varied skillset, allows one to think about a specific problem in a different, and often more strategic way.
Diversity can be learned through training programs, however true diversity and inclusion must be experienced and practiced in everyday life. The positive results of a diverse strategy must be celebrated and highlighted by leadership to all levels of company personnel. This achievement can be taken out of the office and used in our personal lives as well. When inclusion is automatic, we have achieved something amazing.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The strength in a good leader is the ability to direct and influence personnel to meet desired goals. Within those strengths comes the need to listen, collaborate and empathize. However, that is only the surface layer. The executive leadership role includes being a strong communicator, approachable, a solid networker, a strategic decision maker and a calculated risk taker. An executive leader must have courage in their convictions and be prepared to make the tough calls when others are not. Directing the course of a business and taking responsibility for the livelihood of employees is not for the faint of heart.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
- Myth — The CEO makes no mistakes or CEOs shouldn’t admit when they’re wrong — Some CEOs have trouble owning up to a terrible mistake. Some see failure as a sign of weakness; others worry about how stakeholders might react. Weaker executives tend to blame others. Failure, though, is key to success. Those that can own up to their mistakes, and learn from them, are more likely to also be the ones with the strongest performance. The difference is to be the one that can review a situation and identify why it was a failure and make adjustments quickly and calmly to turn the next opportunity into a success.
- Myth — For a woman to make it to the top she must act like a man — The most successful leaders, many of whom are women, don’t try to be something they’re not. They are authentic and true to themselves, however they are always striving to be a better version of that person. True leaders always find the style of leadership that fits them. Adjustments can always be made through unbiased feedback from trusted individuals.
- Myth — The CEO acts Alone — A successful business was not meant to be run alone. Even though there is only one person with the title of CEO, the true CEO surrounds themselves with persons that share the vision and can assist in the execution of it. A CEO does not have all the answers but is able to find the answers through teams, research and networks. The mark of a good leader can be measured by the strength of the team with which they surround themselves. A CEO never acts alone, at least a successful one doesn’t.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Personal perspective is critical in deciding what to do within a business. Being involved IN a business is critical for leadership. It is even more critical for a CEO to work ON the business rather than in the business. For the longest time I worked in the business. Taking on what I determined to be critical components. Actually micromanaging the things I thought I could do better than anyone else. Although this might be true at some level, I found that this did not allow me to focus on the bigger picture. This change in perspective allowed me to identify problems, delegate the work and continue to focus on the higher level business goals and vision. Lastly, I had to learn to accept that I may not have all the answers and that it wasn’t a weakness to rely on and trust my team to work through issues and resolve concerns, but always with a watchful eye.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
A good executive is made not born. It is the executive’s job to direct, plan, and coordinate operational activities for an organization, to devise policies and strategies to meet company goals. Educational requirements will vary from industry to industry. The minimal requirement would be a bachelor’s degree, however some industries will allow entry level personnel to work their way to an executive position, based on proven performance and solid decision making. So I believe anyone with the drive and humble intelligence to learn, and work smart, can be a successful executive.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
The advice I would give to other business leaders is to stay true to themselves and the fundamentals to operating a successful business. The culture of a business begins from the top down. Beginning with a clear set of goals, both for departments and the entire organization. Promoting diversity and inclusivity is key to a strong and positive work culture. Taking the business seriously is required, but also is taking time to celebrate successes, have fun and promote respect. This will only prove to promote the company goals and vision. During an impromptu staff meeting, the topic of a serious concern regarding cyber security was discussed. Once the point was made and understood, the team began to discuss the 20% improvement of a specific department based solely on the efforts of five specific team members. The accolades left all present in a positive space but with an understanding that we must take care of one another when it comes to our security. A very strong meeting indeed.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Over the last several years, I have been very active in the community and have been challenging myself with distance bicycling and half marathons. I enjoy spending time supporting local and national organizations structured towards making a better world for many people. I believe that as a small business owner, I and my staff understand and believe in our obligation to be good members of the community, and practice this obligation in many ways.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The CEO reports to everyone. It is the responsibility of leadership to provide the tools needed for everyone in the company to have the best opportunity to succeed at their job. You can have the best person in the right position, but if they are not given support or the proper tools, they will not succeed.
- It is not necessary to know everything. It is not necessary to be a subject matter expert on everything. What is required is to have the right sources within your team and support structure. Understanding that the answer to any question is at the end of a simple phone call, conversation or staff meeting can provide a secure confidence that allows difficult decisions to be made.
- Every decision has repercussions. In every decision there may be calculated collateral damage. The short term pain for long term success. It is important to confirm the effects a decision may have on all other components of a business prior to executing the plan. Only then can one have true confidence in a course of action.
- “Inspect the expect.” Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management. It is a basic problem solving method. Create a plan based on a desired goal, set expectations along the timeline, and then inspect the expectations on a regular basis to confirm what was anticipated is in fact the outcome. This is done consistently with an understanding that if the expectation is not met, the process is refreshed and the plan may be changed quickly to put everything back on track to meet the desired goal.
- Course Correct is possible at all points. Being adaptive in business is a skillset just like everything else. Coarse correction is the ability to adapt strategies to changing business conditions. Being adaptive and having the foresight to adjust to the business environment could have saved many small businesses over the laws year or two. A pivot can be used to create growth opportunities in a related yet new direction. Responding intelligently to changing demands helps more adaptive businesses to flourish when others may fall. When COVID 19 hit, many of our customers were affected with dramatically reduced revenue. The retailers were still open for business but the customer traffic was greatly reduced. Maintco began a program to assist locations that may have been directly affected. We began training personnel to use a specific skillset they already had to provide a cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting program that met CDC guidelines. We were able to keep our clients in business or help them re-open safely.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I subscribe to the philosophy that to make the world a better place, we must become better people ourselves. Marie Curie believed that “You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”
Raising consciousness one person at a time. Aggregate improvement can grow quickly. By working on myself I will help those around me to begin their own process. This opens up a new world with better ideas and more connections between people and communities. The result is an entire community promoting self-worth and love.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t be pushed round by fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart” — Roy T. Bennett
The difference between motivation and inspiration…fear may motivate, but dreams inspire. Following my dream let me work hard and change my life. It helped me help those around me change and improve their lives as well. It is my goal in life to continue to better myself and continue to follow my dreams, whereever they may take me
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Jordan Peterson is on my short list of those with whom I would love to have a personal breakfast or lunch. His insights as a professor of Psychology and a clinical Psychologist are extremely interesting to me. Stated views on cultural and political issues have sparked many discussions. This would be an amazing opportunity to have a discussion with a remarkable person.
- Or Julia Roberts, I mean, c’mon… its Julia Roberts!