Sean Wenger is a consummate professional and someone I’m fortunate to count among my friends for nearly a decade. He was kind enough to answer my questions as the first in a new series of advice from executives. Read below to glean knowledge from his success professionally in Fortune 100 companies and small businesses alike. Sean is blessed with a beautiful wife Katie and two children, Alec and Meredith. Sean is the CEO of Precision Communications.
What is the best money/financial advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it to you, when, how have you implemented it, and has it changed over time?
The best advice I have been given on this topic is a very simple one: Always live below your means. Early in my career, I was fortunate to work for an incredible leader named Dave Peters. He was the type of manager that didn’t just teach you how to be successful in business, but also taught you incredible life lessons. I recall him telling me one of the best things he ever did was to make the decision to always live below his means. This was a guy that had signed over $1B in contracts during his career.
At the time, he told me the story of a steel company in his town that was struggling and the pain he saw when the executives were forced to sell their massive homes. He shared there were many opportunities for him to upgrade his lifestyle, but he knew that would have an impact on his long-term goals. I have really lived this advice, and at many junctures surrounding big deals or promotions, I have chosen to invest in my long-term goals over upgrading the “things” in my life. As a result, when investment opportunities presented themselves, I was in a position to benefit from that discipline.
What book or books have you gifted/recommended most often. Why this/these ones?
I have a few staples that I like to recommend. The first is the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. This is a business parable that teaches the power of investing in relationships. Over time, when applied consistently this powerful approach can change one’s trajectory. A more recent favorite is Will Power Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy. This fascinating book gives clear and actionable guidance on how to develop systems in your life to ensure long-term success.
You bought your company this year. How will you preserve the culture while making it a reflection of your personal attitudes and beliefs?
This year, I was fortunate to lead the acquisition efforts of an incredible organization called Precision Communications. One of the main reasons I was drawn to this particular company was their amazing culture and founder. My partners and I have studied high-performing organizations extensively and have built award-winning cultures with other companies. 1
When you find yourself in a situation where there is a strong and vibrant culture, I feel the biggest job is to preserve the elements that make that company great. Leadership is not about me. It is about helping others see and reach their potential. When I keep my focus on the team, the business results usually follow. One of the first steps is to go from implied values to defining them. From there we can move to talking about them and making decisions with these values serving as the North Star. With Precision Communications, we have quickly defined “who” we are as a culture and are now enjoying the fun process of mapping the future. 2
What makes you respect a person?
This is a great question for all of us to reflect on. I am in an industry where respect is a big deal. My team does work that very few people in the country can do and I am constantly reminded that respect is earned. For me, I think this comes down to being a genuine person. Are you someone that is the same at work as you are with friends? Do your values drive your decisions? Do you do what you say you will do? Do you treat everyone like they are valued and important regardless of title?
I have seen leaders abuse their teams and lead from a position of power. There was even a line in a show that said “you don’t have to be nice to people on the way up the ladder if you don’t plan on coming back down”. I would prefer not climbing as high if it means doing it the right way. Given how quickly we make judgments on if we like or respect others, it is important for us to be on the top of our game. If you are a leader, people are always watching.
You’ve lectured at the University of Akron, you’re a father and managed large corporate teams. What advice do you commonly give to young people?
- Get clear on your goals! The more specific you are the easier it is for people to help you. Many times, I speak with people that are not happy with their job or company. I often ask people that are not clear on what they are trying to solve for to invest four hours in themselves and do a personal retreat. Find a coffee shop, park, or quiet spot and really get clear on what are their strengths, what roles they would like to have, what skills do they need to develop (operations, sales, networking, writing, public speaking, P&L, etc.), and most importantly, what do they enjoy doing.
I also ask them to get specific about which companies they would like to work for. They can do a quick search of the top workplaces in a community, best tech companies, best family-friendly environments, etc. If someone comes to me and says I am looking for this type of job and these are the five companies I would love to work for, I can give them much better guidance on how to gain that experience and make introductions with those exact companies to increase their chances of success.
- Crush it where you are at and enjoy the journey. Throughout my career, many times I pegged my happiness and value on future roles. I would say “I will be really happy when I get this promotion, or make this dollar figure, or buy this company”. I think there is risk in this thinking because you may not be bringing 100% to your current role. Success breeds success. When you crush it where you are, new opportunities present themselves. The fun is in the journey. I recall being on an awards trip for a corporation I worked for in a fancy location. At this event, I was daydreaming about my next steps and business ownership. I wasn’t fully present to the wonderful situation I was in. Even though I am a business owner today, not all days are life on the beach with free drinks!