As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Selzer.
Scott Selzer is the CEO and Chief Product Architect of StruXure. Founded in 2011, Scott had simply set out to design a better pergola to improve the outdoor space for one of his clients. A middle-school teacher at the time, with a part-time remodeling business, Scott created his own product, a pivoting louvered-roof structure that the user could control, when he couldn’t locate one on the market. Scott has since led the company to creating more innovative outdoor living experiences across North America and beyond.
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?
I was a school teacher with, what today would be called, a side hustle construction business. One of my customers was looking for a shade solution that wasn’t static, meaning it could provide shade but could also let in the sun when needed. When I couldn’t find a good option, I decided to build one. Word got out locally, and the next thing I knew I had a manufacturing business. I gave up teaching to run it, and today the business has grown far beyond what I ever imagined.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are many interesting stories…like meeting famous people and being on HGTV shows, along with getting out of my comfort zone and being on CNBC’s Blue Collar Millionaire show. That was a crazy time!
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?
There was nothing funny about it at the time, but I can tell you a story that taught me a valuable lesson. When the company was still very young, I wore many hats, one of which was to send out orders. A couple of times I got orders wrong (wrong size, wrong color, etc.) with the only remedy being to resend the correct orders at the company’s expense. Since it was my business, I felt the financial hit personally. It taught me that no matter how well you think you know the inner workings of your company, you need to make sure you are double or triple checking everything. Better yet, have someone else check your work. Just because you’re the CEO doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes.
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?
I am incredibly grateful to my Dad. Not only has he been a great mentor to me my whole life, but when I was starting my business, he had a lot more business and manufacturing knowledge than I did. It was a great way for us to reconnect as adults. And, as the company started to grow, I was able to bring him on as an advisor.
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?
Diversity and inclusion are so much more than race. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, and we, therefore, have different perspectives. It is these varied viewpoints that make a company great. We are creating a product that can be used by anyone, so including ideas from the broadest group possible is critical. This should not be a new revelation to anyone, though it seems to be for some. I’m not a bandwagon guy. I don’t subscribe to diversity, equality, and inclusion because someone is telling me I should, I endorse it because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve always looked for the best person for the job, not based on race, gender, or anything other than capacity to perform the duties. Leaders shouldn’t have to try so hard to achieve diversity if they are naturally doing the right thing.
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.
Step one is to have an open mind. If you aren’t open to thoughts and ideas that differ from your own, you are never going to grow a business. Having the humility to know that you don’t have all the answers is also key. And, as previously explained, hiring capable people to perform each specific role, regardless of race, gender, or other factors, will lead to an equitable workforce and society.
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?
There are multiple leaders within a company, but the CEO is the visionary. He or she is not just looking at the tasks at hand for the day or leading a specific team, but looking weeks, months, and years into the future as to where the company needs to go.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One myth is that once you become a CEO, the staff takes over day-to-day duties, which frees up the CEO to network — travel, play golf, and socialize. In reality, CEOs are responsible for the company’s bigger vision, which means they are always working on the margins, figuring out ways to solve problems — both large and small, looking for ways to improve. The CEO never truly shuts off, because the business is you.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I never thought the company would be where it is today, to have grown exponentially year after year (StruXure has been on the Inc. 5000 List of fastest growing privately-held companies for seven straight years). In the early days, I was doing everything from marketing to sales to production to installation. But, as the company has grown, I’ve had to fire myself from multiple roles and hire more and more people to take those on, which means my role changes constantly.
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?
While I believe anyone who has the desire to become an executive can make it happen, not everyone is cut out for it. To be an executive, you have to be a self-starter and a great people-person. You have to know how to treat people. Someone who is unmotivated, dislikes people, and cannot handle stressful situations is not a good candidate.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
People who talk too much about work culture probably don’t have a good one. Culture is what happens when nobody’s looking. It starts with the CEO, and flows to the work force. How the employees interact with each other and leaders defines a company’s culture. To have a fantastic culture, the CEO must look within. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Lead with integrity and that’s going to shine through in good times and in bad and permeate to all employees. Work culture isn’t a mandate, it’s built over time. I think it’s as simple as “being good and doing good.” Know who you are, hire a diverse group of people who share your integrity and vision and let them champion it while you lead the company.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The larger the company gets, the more people we can hire, which returns a positive impact to our staff and their families through steady employment. In the context of growth, “more” is one of my favorite 4-letter words. The more we grow, the more jobs we can offer, and the greater number of people we are impacting. Also, since we sell a product that promotes outdoor living, which research has shown improves quality of life, StruXure is making the world a better place.
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.)
- “This is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life.”
I’m a realist, and wouldn’t have been scared off by this brutally honest insight, but it may have better prepared me for what was to come.
- “Running a business doesn’t get easier with success or growth.”
While some things do get easier (larger staff means more hands on deck to carry out the many facets of a business), other things get harder (more people to manage, more materials to secure, ever-increasing risk).
- “You will never fully shut off work.”
Hearing this wouldn’t have dissuaded me from starting my company, because I think it’s a God-given gift to have the passion and drive to do something that’s bigger than self. However, it may have helped friends and family understand me a little better.
- “You’re in the people business.”
No matter what business you’re in, you must understand the importance of people. Staff, clients, vendors, partners, are all human beings. People aren’t perfect, and you have to be able to deal with them: the good and the bad.
- “Always do the right thing.”
While this is a mantra that’s instinctive to me, it can never be reiterated too many times. If I or my company screws up, then we’ll fix it, even if it’s a financial pain-point or I don’t really want to. I believe doing the right thing builds confidence among staff and customers, and is one of the primary reasons a company flourishes.
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.
If you are a good person, good decisions will follow. You won’t have to spend time trying to achieve whatever the “of the moment” status is. Start a movement to be a good person. The world could fix a lot of its problems if everyone began doing the right thing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My parents always said, “You win or lose by the way you choose.” Growing up, I think it was mostly a reminder about choosing the right friends, but as an adult it still applies. Choosing to spend time with other successful CEOs, provides opportunities for continued learning and growth. Making good choices, in general, continues to help grow my business.
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.
I would love to meet Elon Musk. As far as I’m concerned, he is the GOAT. What he’s been able to accomplish is tremendous. He functions under the notion that “if something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” Doing what is right, not what is popular, is a great lesson for everyone, not just CEOs.