Nancy McCullough on Collaborative Problem Solving

Hosted By
Alana Muller
Alana Muller

Founder & CEO 
Coffee Lunch Coffee

Podcast Guest
Nancy McCullough
Nancy McCullough

Founder & CEO
e2E, LLC

Episode Summary

In this episode, Nancy McCullough, Founder and CEO of e2E, LLC, joins host Alana Muller to share her perspective: be open to meetings and leverage your network to help others solve problems."Are there any of those challenges that I can be useful with? Who do I know that I highly respect that I think could come and potentially solve a problem?"

 
Transcript

Alana Muller:    Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank and Trust that's empowering business leaders, one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank and Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
    Well, hello and welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. So great to have you with us today, and I am so happy to welcome a longtime friend and colleague of mine, Nancy McCullough. Nancy is founder and CEO of e2E, which serves growing businesses by providing business management strategies to assist at various life stages along the path from entrepreneur to enterprise. Nancy, welcome to Enterprise.ing.

Nancy McCullough:    It is great to be here, Alana, and excited to catch up with you a little bit here.

Alana Muller:    So happy to have you. I want you to start by telling our listeners a little bit about e2E and what the organization does.

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. So e2E was formed in 2013, we're about 10 years old now, and our primary focus is businesses under a hundred employees, really the small businesses who often don't get the attention they need and where an owner is wearing multiple hats in areas of finance, HR, marketing, which often is not their area of expertise, and so we can bring a team of folks to help those businesses and kind of wear those hats for the owner and advise and consult along the way, in addition to doing all the detail work that goes along with that, so all the bookkeeping and accounting and payroll and HR work, and really support the entrepreneur in their business.

Alana Muller:    Well, you know that I love your business model, and we're going to come back and talk a little bit more about that a little bit later in the program. I want to turn sort of to the matter at hand, which, of course, you know my favorite topic is networking, and I want to hear from you, how do you actively manage your network?

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah, so I actually do a few things. One, I really try to organize and prioritize my connections. So I always take meetings. I was surprised at what network that I had coming from the last I was in. I think that I just really understated the value or even the range of my network, and so I found that there are a lot of folks that want to make introductions that are really good at this, and I just always take meetings. I always take meetings and really try to understand how I can provide value in that meeting and think of it less about myself and more about the person I'm meeting with, how can I help them, and especially when it comes from trusted contacts, I want to be sure that I'm figuring out what value I can provide.
    I try to attend social events with former colleagues that I enjoy being around, so just continuing to pour into those relationships, and then also being on various kinds of advisory boards and attending sponsored events. Really just trying to meet as many people as I can and get to know them, and see how I can be useful with them. I think it's important to always have your network be a two-way street.

Alana Muller:    Well, you know I completely agree with that, and in fact, I want to press on that a little bit more. What are some ways that you make connections mutually beneficial? I know that you give back, I know that you are so good at showing mutual appreciation. Talk a little bit about some tactical things that you've done to ensure that not only are you gaining value from these interactions, but that you're certainly giving value.

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. Well, the first thing I really do is try to listen and really get to know the person and any challenges that they're facing, and then I try to think very hard about, "Are there any of those challenges that I can be useful with? Who do I know that I highly respect that I think could come and potentially solve a problem?", because I certainly have my areas of expertise, and sometimes there are things that I can do to solve their problem, and sometimes there aren't. So I try to think about, "Who do I know that can solve that?", and I'm a problem solver at heart, so I'm always looking for that.
    But I think the biggest thing is to really listen and understand, "What do they need?", and sometimes I think both parties may come to the table with a different thought of what they're looking to get out of it, and I think it's always fun to watch sort of the unintended issue or resolution or challenge that maybe gets solved or addressed, and I've been surprised by that so many times. Yeah.

Alana Muller:    Well, I can attest to the fact that you are, have always been, in fact, one of the most eager to accept a connection and to really dive in and say, "Yes, I would love to meet with this person," and so I know from when I've always appreciated your openness to that, and the fact that you genuinely do bring value, so thank you for that. In fact, I feel compelled to share with our listeners that you and I have been friends for a number of years. We met when we both worked at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which, for anyone who's not familiar with Kauffman, it's the most well respected institution in entrepreneurial education, and at that time, you served as chief financial officer, and in particular, you helped Kauffman's subsidiaries to excel. So our listeners may not know that I was a direct beneficiary of your innovative and supportive approach to partnership.
    What I'd really love to hear from you about is a little bit about your experience and how your entrepreneurial mindset helped you to know how to best serve the needs of your colleagues, clients, and contacts.

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. So in kind of my tenure there, sort of late in my tenure, the foundation started, yes, taking to market some of its operational programs, and the folks that were often put in place to run those programs had been internal program officers, and there was a varied level of sort of business experience. You were certainly on the end of the more business savvy. Some had a higher level of business savvy, and some lesser, and it wasn't long after we'd kind of rolled some of these programs out that the board really wanted to know how they were doing, and I just didn't have a lot of great information. We had really kind of sent them off on their own to find and figure out how to do accounting and how to get financial reports pulled together and track metrics and do marketing and handle HR issues and governance issues, and often, we were getting knocks on the door of, "Hey, we need help with this," but I had a list of other priorities.
    So I just kept thinking, it's kind of my problem solving, "How do we solve this issue and get this kind of information in a really efficient manner?" So I had approached the CEO at the time and said, "What if we created a shared services organization? None of these organizations are big enough that it makes sense that they would each have their own CFO or accounting person, director of HR, marketing executive. What if we created a shared services organization and gave them a place where they could come and get those answers and have those services available?" So we did that.
    He said yes, and we set that up, and it wasn't long before we had some organizations knocking on the door. So at the time, Jane Chu used to run the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. She came knocking on the door and said, "Hey, we would love to be a part of this." Well, they weren't affiliated, so we couldn't help her, and then I just was impressed with the thought of, there's a need for this out in the marketplace, not just nonprofits, but small businesses, startups that really could benefit from a shared service organization across unaffiliated companies, and so it was that time that the wheels kind of started turning, and I started thinking about e2E.

Alana Muller:    I just love it. Honestly, it was the first time... I had long been, as you said, I'd been long in corporate life, I understood sort of the various components of running a business, but as you were describing, I remember the company... For our listeners, the company that I was running at the time was Kauffman Fast Track, which is an organization that trains entrepreneurs to start and grow companies successfully, and the shared services organization that you designed within the four walls of the Kauffman foundation provided finance and HR and IT and legal and facilities. Basically all of these different services that, as a small business, I could not have afforded with the level of excellence that you were providing, and I remember thinking how grateful I was that now I could afford it for a very reasonable cost, because those costs were being shared with other affiliates like Kauffman Fast Track, and the fact that you were able then to, as you described, leverage your network, leverage your relationships, both inside and outside of the foundation, to then create your own company is so remarkable, and again, another testament to the fact that relationships are so important. So thanks so much for sharing that.
    What I'd like to ask you about now is... Talk a little bit about an interaction or a relationship that you have that resulted in a breakthrough for you, either personally or professionally.

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. So I was thinking about this, and I think what I would share is there's one relationship in particular that opened a lot of doors for me, and I learned a lot by observing how he handles sort of his relationships and networks. So early on in the development of e2E, we came across a prior colleague of mine that had worked at the Kauffman Foundation and started up a tech software company, and one of his former employees left, they were in Silicon Valley and started his own tech startup, and reached out for help. We worked with him for about a year and suddenly found that he was sharing our name kind of all over the San Francisco bay area with various other founders of tech startups, and he would talk about me in a way that was almost embarrassing. He was the most enthusiastic sort of super fan of Nancy, which I just really didn't understand, and really felt like he's way overstating our capabilities and we're going to end up falling flat on our face with someone.
    But what I found is it really made me want to live up to that, and he obviously had had a great experience with us, so I began to understand kind of the real power of a strong referral partner. So networks and communities can be physical, but they can also be more virtual, and so we had this strong connection, and I bet we worked together for two or three years before I ever saw his face or physically met him in person. This was sort of pre-Zoom days, where you didn't have Zoom or really much in the way of video conferencing, but I think what was really powerful is that we were aligned from a value standpoint. There was reciprocity involved, so he was helping us grow, we were helping him grow. We had a genuine interest in each other's success, and our relationship and our networking was not about name dropping or card collecting or anything along those lines. So for me, it was really kind of the breakthrough of, this is what networking is really about. It's not just trading cards with someone you've recently met and then suddenly sharing all of your contacts with them when they haven't even sort of proven themselves or shown you what they can do.

Alana Muller:    Okay. I love this story. It is quintessential networking 101, what a great relationship looks like, and especially, I get asked a lot these days about networking in this Zoom world or this hybrid world, and I think so many people are skeptical that networking across the miles can be valuable when you're not sitting face to face with somebody, and as I always say, I genuinely think there's no replacement for face to face interactions. There's something really important and special, right?

Nancy McCullough:    I agree. When I met him for the first time, really, even from there, the relationship grew, but it was [crosstalk 00:11:58].

Alana Muller:    It was probably emotional for you, right?

Nancy McCullough:    It was.

Alana Muller:    Well, but what you're showing us is that it's possible. Not only is it possible, but it can be fruitful and productive and efficient and effective, and then when you are able to come together, it's even better. Even better. So thanks so much for sharing that.
    I want to keep talking about this. So what I want to know now is, how has networking impacted your business overall? So for example, we've talked how you leveraged ideas that had been brewing in your mind and that you touched on in other parts of your career, and now you're using those ideas at e2E. What role did the people around you play in helping you to get your company off the ground and growing?

Nancy McCullough:    Well, I honestly consider the key to what our success has been we virtually have spent nothing on marketing, and we've grown at a rate of 40 to 45% almost since inception. Of course, that took a little bit of a downturn in 2020 and 2021, but even in those rough years, we were at a 20% growth rate, and it's entirely been referrals, and the referrals have come from our clients, it's come from our staff, it's come from partnerships we've created in the business. So again, we have expertise, but I still consider us somewhat generalists. So when we get into certain topics of expertise that we don't specifically have, we've partnered up with other CPA firms that have expertise. We partner with bankers, we partner with insurance brokers, resources we can bring to the table for our clients, and I think, again, kind of had understated the power of maybe my own network, but I think when you do good work and you are a person who provides value, people want to stay connected with you, and then they're happy to introduce you to others.
    So our entire business grew based on that and that alone. That is 100% the reason for our growth and success today, and there's work involved in that, right? So sometimes with our off, when we're introducing them to a client they haven't worked on before, we're explaining, "Hey, this client knows this person at this client," and if we were to ever draw the map, kind of the network map of how clients came to us and who they know at our other clients, it's very tangled web. It absolutely would look like a web. So you have to tend to that every day, because if someone within that network is not getting a hundred percent of your sort of value and genuine interest, the whole web collapses.

Alana Muller:    Yeah.

Nancy McCullough:    So it's good and bad, but I enjoy it, and I genuinely love kind of people and relationship.

Alana Muller:    What that's done for you... Your reputation is staked on it, but you have an amazing reputation, right? So what you've done is you are building solid relationships with a number of people, and those people know each other, or if they don't know each other, they know other people, and those people are talking. So again, it sort of speaks to the importance of, you have to provide that value, you have to retain and maintain these relationships. So great point.

Nancy McCullough:    Right, and anytime I hear even somebody point that out, which is such a nice compliment, thanks Alana, but then my head always goes to, "But we don't always get it right either." That's why reputation is hard. Sometimes we do make mistakes, but then it's, "How are we handling that, and what are we doing on the back end to make things as right as we can possibly make it?"

Alana Muller:    So true, and it's such an important point. In fact, what advice would you give to someone who wanted to grow or cultivate their own network?

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah, I think advice would probably run along the lines of, and you might kind of see a thread here, but being genuine, genuinely interested, not self-serving in, "What am I going to get out of this?", but more so, "What can I help them do?", because I do believe it comes back around in spades, whether directly or indirectly, and so always then giving more than you expect to get, but also being selective. So kind of what I was saying about... You can join a lot of the organizations, and there are some out there, and I'm sure they are successful, but the ones where it is a lot of, "Hey, let me open up my rolodex," would be the old term, "And start introducing you to a bunch of people, when I literally just met you at some event, or we both joined the same organization that's about sharing contacts, and we haven't even gotten to know each other, nor have we used each other's services or done our due diligence with customers to find out what kind of value do you provide."
    So I think it's being selective, being genuine and giving more than you expect to get in return.

Alana Muller:    Great, and important points. All of them. So I appreciate that. I have to ask you a couple of fun questions here, as we're beginning to wrap up. So what's currently on your nightstand?

Nancy McCullough:    Well, I think, actually, what I'd rather say is what is not on my nightstand.

Alana Muller:    Okay. What's not on your nightstand?

Nancy McCullough:    So what is not on my nightstand is any kind of alarm or clock.

Alana Muller:    Is that right? Okay, I have to ask, so do you get up at the same time every morning, or do you not?

Nancy McCullough:    Pretty much. I get up at the same time every morning, and what's really fascinating is on the weekends, I sort of naturally even wake up a little bit later, and I can't really figure out quite what to attribute it to, except that when we had done, my husband and I, many, many years ago, some international travel, and I kind of saw the different pace at which some of these other countries run, I stopped wearing a watch and I stopped setting an alarm at night and stopped really ... You can't avoid it anymore. It's on your computer, it's on your phone, it's everywhere, but I stopped wearing a watch and I stopped sort of... I don't even like to wake to an alarm. It's startling.

Alana Muller:    That's amazing.

Nancy McCullough:    I figure I run hard all day. I'm going to let my body tell me when it's time to start the run.

Alana Muller:    Okay. Honestly, we could all use this sort of get your rest and advice, and the fact that you can operate without a clock or a watch is amazing to me, because I cannot, so I may have to discuss this with you further, but that's awesome. So what do you... Do you use your phone so you can get to meetings on time or what?

Nancy McCullough:    Sure.

Alana Muller:    Okay.

Nancy McCullough:    Yes. Well, yeah. So certainly it's not that I don't ever look at a clock. I just decided... Now, honestly, with the watches that are tied to the phone and you get all the notifications, my husband wears one, and I'm like, "That would be like a shock collar to me. I do not want that thing on my wrist."

Alana Muller:    I guess you would know what barriers you can go in and out of, right? Can't go too far out of the yard. That's hilarious. Okay, and so if you could have one network interaction with anybody, living, dead, fictional, nonfictional, who would it be and why?

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. Actually, I would love to meet Oprah.

Alana Muller:    So awesome.

Nancy McCullough:    I think that she has... She's fascinating. She's fascinating. She's broken so many barriers, she believes in hope, she inspires people, and talk about a network and the way that she interviews and then has used what she knows and connected people, and how many... If you look back at how many people she has helped make successful, even, or has contributed to them being successful, and then even just... I happen to watch stuff on her network, and even what she's doing today in light of some of the social justice, the things that she is bringing to the forefront in her programming, I think is also fascinating. So I just enjoy watching her, and I would love to be the interviewer that she is. I would love it, and I wish that I could interview her.

Alana Muller:    So great. That's a really good choice, really good choice. Well, I have loved talking with you in this venue, Nancy. I have long admired you. I think of you as a dear friend, and it was so fun to have you.

Nancy McCullough:    Likewise.

Alana Muller:    Thank you. Tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about you and e2E.

Nancy McCullough:    Yeah. If you would like to learn more about us, you can certainly go to our website at e2Ekc.com, but I would actually prefer come to me through my LinkedIn connection. So you can go to our page, but even my personal LinkedIn, or call or email me. I would love to connect with anyone that wants to reach out and learn more about us.

Alana Muller:    Well, Nancy, thank you so much for joining us on Enterprise.ing. Everyone, you have just heard Nancy McCullough from e2E, and I hope you'll join us next time on Enterprise.ing.

Nancy McCullough:    Thanks, Alana.

Alana Muller:    Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website, enterprisebank.com/podcast, to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing. Powering business leaders, one conversation at a time.
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