As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Mackel, CEO and Managing Partner, Weaver.
John Mackel, CPA, has nearly 20 years of experience in public accounting and currently serves as Weaver’s managing partner and CEO. John began his career with a Big Four firm and, over the years, has dedicated his practice to providing high-quality audit, attestation and advisory services, primarily in the oil and gas, renewable energy and investment management sectors.
Prior to his role as CEO, John led Weaver’s industry practice groups for five years, and was responsible for leading and transforming the firm’s go-to-market approach and growth strategy across its focus industries. He also served as the partner-in-charge of the firm’s oil and gas practice and has been a member of Weaver’s executive committee since June of 2009.
The combination of a tenured career with Weaver, longstanding client relationships and his role as a committed leader in the accounting industry have served John well and support his initiatives and strategy as the firm’s managing partner and CEO.
John is an active member of numerous industry associations, helping him remain on the forefront of industry and regulatory changes. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from Sam Houston State University.
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 career in audit at one of the Big 4 accounting firms. Overall, I had a great experience and worked with some incredibly smart people that remain close friends of mine today.
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?
This is not a mistake but a funny memory. My first audit client was tight on office space, and all of their vendor invoices were stored in a room that doubled as a restroom. I spent the week doing a “search for unrecorded liabilities” while sitting on a closed toilet. I was so happy to be working in public accounting that this didn’t bother me. I always tell our new hires to just start with a good attitude and be ready to learn and ask questions, and your teams will love you.
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?
So many people believed in me enough to invest time in my development. Looking back, I appreciate the people who were brave enough to give me honest, constructive feedback. I am most grateful to my wife Amber for all of her positive support and advice. A career in business has many ups and downs, and you can get frustrated at times. Amber always provides me with sound advice that usually helps me realize that problems are not as big as I may initially make them out to be.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
A key aspect of Weaver’s purpose is the development of our people. One of our core values is to “help each other succeed at work and in life”. Public accounting is a career with incredible upside. I believe, at some point in your career, you should get more satisfaction from the success of others than your own personal success.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
My partners and I want Weaver to be a source of strength and comfort for our people during tough times. This year has been particularly scary, so we have focused on communicating consistently and honestly. Our communications started with a complete financial health check for Weaver that we have updated monthly. We have also connected with our remote workforce regularly to provide support, tips on staying healthy during the pandemic and much more. In addition, we encourage our people to be there for each other as we all work to overcome the challenges of the current environment, including working remotely, parenting while working, supporting their children’s virtual learning, and talking through feelings about today’s realities.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I have never considered giving up, but there have been many times when I have been frustrated. During those times, I think you have to sit back and think about ways to do things differently. My motivation mostly comes from my passion for the public accounting profession. I really enjoy serving Weaver’s clients and working with smart, driven people. Many of those people have become some of my best friends, and I don’t want to let them down. The environment works with my personality and has always kept me motivated.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It is important to lead by example and be a stable role model. It’s also critical for leaders to be present during challenging times. Leadership is 24/7, especially during tough times, to make sure you’re doing everything possible to help your customers and employees succeed.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
You have to provide some certainty and hope within what you can control. We have consistently communicated a “cautiously optimistic” outlook for Weaver. Our clients need us more than ever, and it’s exciting to focus on how we can provide solutions to help them through issues and challenges. I also think it really helps your state of mind when you avoid the media and simply focus on facts and solutions.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Many times, we stress about communicating issues that we did not create. It becomes your problem when you don’t communicate about an issue clearly and timely. Do not be afraid to communicate difficult news, and be ready to provide solutions to help your teams or your customers.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
During the pandemic, we have tried to bracket this period and worry a little less about the long-term future, and just manage through this difficult time. Your main goal should be to outpace your competitors and exit this period stronger. With that said, we are seeing opportunities to add talented team members and clients that could significantly affect Weaver’s future. Great things can come out of tough times if you are financially healthy and willing to act on the opportunities that make sense.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
In turbulent times, you do not want to make any decisions that could jeopardize the future of your company. Make sure your company is set up to succeed through the worst possible scenarios. That may mean saying “no” to deals that stretch the company too far and put it at risk.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Take advantage of all the resources available to you. The government has provided an incredible number of lifelines through the CARES Act and other programs designed to help companies of all sizes. Great leaders are reaching out to firms like Weaver to educate themselves on all of the available options.
- Be adaptable. Strong leaders find creative ways to run their business in tough times. During this pandemic, you cannot put your head in the sand and operate as if nothing has changed. Find creative ways to sell your products and services, and manage your workforce. In addition, don’t be afraid to leverage the personal networks across your organization. People want to help, so let them do it — and use your resources to do the same for others.
- Be Opportunistic. Great leaders know the game has changed, and they seek opportunities that may not have been available over the last 10 years. Don’t be so conservative, or greedy, that you miss these opportunities.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Weaver is a full service, national CPA and advisory firm. Companies hire us for many reasons, but mostly because we are technically proficient to meet their compliance or consulting needs. They also hire us because of the relationships we develop with our clients. We work in a very relationship-driven business. Our partners and employees with strong networks are doing extremely well in this environment. It is important to educate yourself on all of the tools available, and then reach out directly to your customers and contacts to help them through this pandemic. If you are proactive, you can be highly successful as a practitioner in this environment.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Complete a health check on your company that you update daily or weekly. Communicate regularly about how you’re doing to your employees, and even your customers and vendors. Stability brings peace of mind in difficult times, and communication is key.
- Take advantage of all the resources available to you. The government has provided an incredible number of lifelines through the CARES Act and other programs designed to help companies of all sizes. Many leaders are reaching out to firms like Weaver to educate themselves on all of the available options.
- Be adaptable. Strong leaders find creative ways to run their business during tough times. During this pandemic, find creative ways to sell your products and services, and manage your workforce.
- Be opportunistic. Great leaders know the game has changed, and they may see opportunities that were not available over the last 10 years. Don’t be so conservative, or greedy, that you miss these opportunities.
- As the CEO or other executive, be available 24/7. Now more than ever is a leader’s time to build trust and show they are available to work side by side with employees and customers to manage through this difficult time.
Can you please give us your favorite”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.” Elon Musk
The world is full of smart, hard-working people that need leaders and companies to inspire and believe in them. I am amazed every day with what Weaver’s partners and employees are able to accomplish. If you believe in your team and their capabilities, it will provide you great peace of mind no matter how difficult the times. If you try to accomplish everything yourself, you will become tired and frustrated. Surround yourself with smart, driven people that live your core values, and you can accomplish almost anything.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visit Weaver.com for information about our services.