As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Phillip A. Lew.
Phillip Anthony Lew is the Founder and CEO of C9 Staff. He helps investors, business owners, executives, and agencies all around the world leverage the power of overseas staffing in order to save up to 70% on their monthly payroll while expanding their operational capabilities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My name is Phillip Lew and I am the founder and CEO of C9Staff.com. I have a degree in business from Boston University. I’m originally from Los Angeles but I have had the privilege of travelling around the world, working on various businesses and enterprises of some my friends. And in the process, I have built my own company that has allowed me to move forward with this lifestyle and work setup.
It was when I moved to the Philippines several years ago to work on the thriving Business Process Outsourcing industry there that the idea for my current company was born.
I was invited by a friend of mine who was starting a call center there and asked me if I’d help him run it. I said yes and that was the start. I remembered arriving in the Philippines and thinking, “What if this venture doesn’t pan out? What if I fail here and I end up having to stay here for a long time figuring out how to make money and surviving on my own?” I have seen and heard of other Americans who had that exact experience and I felt this mixed sense of dread and excitement. I was embarking on a new adventure but deep inside, I knew I was well-prepared for most eventualities. So I said, “C’mon, Phillip. You got this!”
Fortunately, my friend’s venture became successful. Soon enough I got the idea of starting my own company and a couple years later, I’m getting interviewed by Authority Magazine. So I guess, I did well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing that happened to me since I started my career was when I was personally thanked by the Director General of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA, which is a government agency in the Philippines attached to the Department of Trade and Industry created to help promote investments in the export-oriented manufacturing industry into the country by assisting investors in registering and facilitating their business operations and providing tax incentives), Dr. Charito B. Plaza, for starting a company that immediately provided above average income for 80 individuals in the Philippines. And as soon as I shared my plans with her, she was even more ecstatic by the fact that my company, C9 Staff, will be generating even more income and revenue for Filipinos. This was very interesting to me because she immediately understood the paradigm behind my business. We don’t have to treat life as a zero sum game, wherein in order for you to be successful, someone else should fail. Success shouldn’t have a see-saw effect. I can grow my business and become successful while providing opportunities to other people to succeed as well. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that makes this business worthwhile.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite quote is one from Paramahansa Yogadanda, and he said, “He who can conquer his mind can conquer the world.” This is why I believe the most important frontier that we have to conquer is our own minds. I apply this to practically every aspect of my life. When I’m feeling lazy to go to the gym, I simply force myself to think of the consequences if I fall out of shape and become unhealthy. Whenever I’m unsure about a business decision, I simply take a step back and step inside my own mind to think things through.
Think about it; all great inventions, all great discoveries, all great feats of human achievement, all of those came from the mind. So if you want to accomplish great things, the first step is always to conceptualize what you need to do in your mind. And once you’re able to do that, you’re halfway there.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
I believe Neville Goddard’s “The Power of Awareness” has been the most influential piece of literature that has had the most impact on me, not just as a leader and entrepreneur, but as a person as a whole. I believe it’s the most important foundation you can have for your mindset and belief system — Everything you want and need is already inside of you. You just need to be aware of it. I’ve always said that “The Power of Awareness” is my operating system. One basic application of this that has become subconsciously programmed in me is that whenever I have a meeting — whether it’s with my people, clients, business associates, etc — I imagine myself on the meeting, what I’m going to say, how I’m going to manage it, how the people I’m going to meet with are going to react, how I’m going to react to their reaction, and the whole dynamic. I imagine the meeting to be successful in such a way that everyone walks away from it with a positive feeling — whether it’s my employees feeling empowered and learning something new, or a prospect being a step closer to becoming a client after learning something about me and how my company conducts business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes C9 Staff stand out from other similar organizations is our competence. We take pride in the systems we’ve developed that allow us to find and recruit only the best and most competent professionals in any given field and any given position.
I remember one of our very first clients, who’s now one of our biggest, used to only look at their partnership with C9 Staff in terms of providing them with remote staff. That was the extent of their expectation. But as soon as our remote teams started working for them, they were blown away. They were surprised at the quality of output and results that their remote staff were capable of delivering. But more than that, they were ecstatic about how we structured the relationship where it’s almost plug-and-play. They said it felt like they had a duplicate of their in-house team that’s capable of the same kind of results at less than half the cost.
Since then, they have scaled their business operations several times already with C9 Staff and as of the latest reports I received, they experienced a 300% year-over-year growth and saving up to 70% in operational costs. So there you go.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Something I realized when I became an entrepreneur is that the quickest way to NOT make money is to do something because you want to make money. You have to figure out what you are passionate about first and how you can use that to be of service to the world — not to yourself. Envision yourself leading a lifestyle that serves this passion and higher purpose, and then build your business around that. Doing it this way, you’ll never run out of fuel, ideas, and motivation for your business because you’ve built it around something you love doing. Now, this may not bring you the financial riches you’ve been dreaming off quickly, but I can assure you, you will never be in financial want and you’ll live a more fulfilled and meaningful life than the stressed-out billion-dollar entrepreneur who’s working 100 hours weekly, living unhealthily and miserably, and who has all the money in the world but none of the time and energy to enjoy it.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
One of my earlier mentors taught me to build my lifestyle around my business. I followed his advice, and because I was working hard on my business, I ended up eating unhealthily, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I was always stressed, and I was always tired and burned out. I kept thinking, maybe this was the price I have to pay in order to have a successful business. But it was all working counter-productively and as a result, my business failed and I became a mess.
Looking back now, I shouldn’t have followed that advice. Instead, I should have built my business around my lifestyle — which is what I’m doing right now. As a result, I’m relaxed, I have plenty of time to do the things I want and still have enough time to work on my business. I’m not stressed and business is booming as well.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I believe the three character traits that were most instrumental to my success are:
- Mindset — just like I learned from my mentor, Darren Matloff, success starts with your belief. If you truly believe you’re going to be successful, then all of your energy and all of your actions will be determined and directed by that belief. Your entire being will be shaped by that belief and it will serve as your motivation to keep working and keep striving until you turn that belief into a reality.
- Work Ethic — I am a firm believer that your diligence, determination, and hard work is directly proportional to your success. No one wakes up successful one day. I can tell you right now, that person who wakes up to find himself successful hasn’t gone to bed yet. He has spent the night (and probably several nights before that) working on his dream and his craft.
- A Good Moral Compass — I believe that the more successful you become, the greater your obligation to help others become successful as well. People tend to look up to successful people for inspiration and even hope. Therefore, if I am a successful entrepreneur, I have the moral obligation to be the inspiration they seek and be the example they can emulate.
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 C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
Regular, for lack of a better term, leaders work in the business, while a C-level executive works on the business. And what I mean by that is while the former performs an important role which is to make sure projects are on-schedule, quality is uncompromised, clients are satisfied, employees are happy, and the company is profitable, the latter performs and even more important role which is to make sure the business grows and becomes resilient so it lasts for a long time and is able to support everyone dependent on it. As a CEO, my responsibility is creating products and services that are innovative enough to last decades. To do that, I need to synthesize what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in the industry, what our customers are doing, what our competition is doing, and a million other things that lend to me making decisions that can literally spell the longevity and success of the company. It is both an awesome and frightening prospect.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Perhaps, the most common myth surrounding a CEO is of someone that sits in a posh penthouse office, wearing a power suit, giving motivational speeches to thousands of employees, sitting in high-roller meetings all day, signing multi-million dollar deals, enjoying all the expensive toys money can buy, and rubbing elbows with the society’s rich and famous. Yes, just like what people see in movies. But in reality, being a CEO entails plenty of hard work and an enormous amount of responsibility. And the bigger the company, the larger these responsibilities become. One wrong decision of a CEO can mean the loss of jobs of hundreds or even thousands of employees. And if you take that into perspective, that’s not something to be taken lightly. But even with smaller companies with less than 50 employees, the work of the CEO is no less important as it includes the direction of the company, its growth, and how long it can remain profitable. So it’s not really all glitz and glamour like Hollywood wants us to believe.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think the most common mistake C-level executives make, especially those who have just been promoted to the position and have spent a large part of their careers as part of middle management, is still thinking as a middle manager. It takes me back to my earlier answer on the difference between regular leaders and C-level executives — that the former work in the company while the latter work on the company. It is quite common for newly promoted C-level executives to retain and apply the middle-management skills that have made them successful as middle-managers into their new roles as C-level executives. While some of these skills may work, a lot won’t because the scope and focus of the responsibility is so much different and a whole lot larger. That is why it is important — even for C-level executives — to continue learning and continue being open to new information, new experiences, and new knowledge. That being said, I believe the most important form of intelligence for C-Suite executives is not his IQ but his ability to adapt to his environment.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think this depends on the person in question’s natural abilities and proclivities. For example, in my case, I’m not a numbers guy. Accounting and finance is not my strong suit so I’d rather pay someone to do that for me. However, sales and marketing have always been in my blood and I have always excelled in those fields. It can be an exact opposite for other executives. I believe what’s more important is the ability to recognize your strengths as a person and as an executive and capitalize on that. And on equal attention, also identify your weaknesses so you can build a team that can supplement and complement that. This way, it doesn’t matter whether a specific element of the executive’s job is underestimated. What’s important is that all bases are covered and the welfare of the company is put in the forefront.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Integrity is Your Gold — in business, you can suddenly find yourself in all kinds of cutthroat situations — Someone you’ve worked side by side with for years will turn on you in exchange for a promotion; your superior will pitch your brilliant idea to his superior and get credit for it; you’re afraid to accept a C-Suite promotion because you’ve spent a great part of your career as part of the rank and file you know that the people under abhor the people above; etc. But if you maintain your integrity whether you stepped into the company from the mailroom and worked yourself up the executive floors, got hired right in the middle of the corporate ladder (and smack in the middle of an alien culture), or was onboarded as part of top management, you’ll have an easier and less stressful time navigating the corporate waters. It’s never a good idea to compromise your principles.
2. Relationships Matter — no matter how good and how brilliant you are; you don’t operate in a vacuum. You need to cultivate positive relationships with the people around you because sooner or later you’ll need someone’s help whether it’s to run interference while you get a proposal revised in the last minute or simply someone to hold an umbrella for you as you’re getting out of the company car. Strive to be a people person.
3. Trust Yourself — let’s face it — you won’t be considered for a C-Suite position if you’re not good. That being said, when faced with a situation where everyone is unsure and they’re turning on you for answers but you’re also not sure you have them, don’t panic. Take a step back, analyze the situation, do your best to cover all angles, and trust your judgement. Believe in yourself. The moment you start doubting yourself and what you’re capable of, that’s the time you give other people permission not to trust you as well.
4. You are Part of a Whole — as you go higher through the executive ranks, the more you should realize that your responsibility also becomes larger — not just to the company but to the people directly under your influence. Each action you make will have consequences and repercussions that will affect more people in the company than you sometimes expect. Know that as a C-Suite executive, you are part of a whole and a big one at that. You have the power to shape lives and careers. Use it well.
5. Love What You Do — one of the biggest (and most dangerous) mistakes an executive can make is be trapped in an important position that he cares very little about. When you take a C-Suite position for any company in any industry, make sure you are passionate about the business you’re in. As a C-Suite executive, you’ll constantly find yourself working long hours, sitting in conferences, holding meetings after meetings after meetings, and spending hours on strategy. That’s taxing. And the only way for you to be able to stand it is if you love what you are doing.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Modesty aside, I’m a pretty good judge of character. As such, when I interview candidates for various positions in my company, I’m already on the lookout of personality clues from the way they speak, the way they answer questions, the way they react to scenarios, and all that. If I sense that an interviewee is only asking for a paycheck — meaning he’s only going to treat the company and his role as a job, no more no less, then I don’t hire them. I only hire people whom I feel are looking for growth and can see their relationship with the company beyond the paycheck. So far, this has been serving me well. So my first advice is for business owners to take an active role in the hiring process.
And inside my company, I only let my people do what they love. When I hire writers, I make sure they’re truly passionate about writing and they can do it tirelessly. If I hire programmers, I make sure they love what they do. This way, I reduce the possibility of employees getting burned out. How can they get burned out if they love what they’re doing? Yes, they’re allowed to take breaks and leaves, but I can be sure that as soon as they get back on the saddle, they’ll be performing like rockstars because they love what they’re doing. So that’s my next advice: hire people who are passionate about what they do.
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. :-)
Instead of starting a new movement, I think I’ll just use my influence to get more people educated and interested in blockchain technology and the idea of decentralized and autonomous organizations. I believe this is one of the biggest keys to achieving a better distribution of wealth among people.
With the way the current capitalist system works, it is extremely difficult for ordinary entrepreneurs (or even ordinary people) to invest and get in on big businesses. It’s always the angel investors, hedge funds, venture capitalists, and all other high-net worth investors. They’re the ones who are able to get into the ground floor level or seed capital level of big investments and they tend to hog these and keep it to themselves until these investments are made public. By that time, thes4e investments already have billion or trillion dollar valuations that make it very difficult for average joes to get in on the action. As a result, these rich hedge fund managers and angel investors continue to get richer while middle class entrepreneurs strive to make do with the leftovers.
With blockchain technology and decentralized applications, this will change as the idea of tokens and coins can ensure that each holder shares in the success of an investment. Just look at how many millionaires are being created through Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies. These movements are towards decentralizing, not just the control of companies, but the actual creation of wealth. And from a broader perspective, this is a movement that’s beyond just making lucrative opportunities more accessible to more people. This is a movement that gives us a peek into what the future looks like as far as business and finance is concerned.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn at https://www.facebook.com/phillipalew, https://twitter.com/phillipalew , and https://www.linkedin.com/in/phillipalew respectively. They can also follow my company Facebook and LinkedIn at https://www.facebook.com/C9Staff and https://www.linkedin.com/company/c9-staff