Season 2: Impact Investing Inglenook with Tom Doescher #55
Romy catches Impact Investor, Tom Doescher, for an interesting conversation on how he thinks about laser outcomes of creating and keeping jobs, the opportunity for impact in Flint and why advisor support is so critical in impact investing. Tom leaves the conversation with great advice for people transitioning from traditional careers to supporting impact investing as a second stage career. Listen to the great artist, Eryn Allen Kane, and her song, Sunday, to close the episode.
Barbara & Tom Doescher
Romy: Welcome to the Impact Investing Inglenook of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise Show. This is our first Impact Investing segment of Season 2, and we plan to publish monthly.
Now, I am going to be a little disruptive here to some of the impact investing conversations. While financial capital is critical in impact investing, it is certainly not the end all and be all solution. You see, a truth I have come to understand is that without people support in the form of skill building, advice, brainstorming, networking, it is almost impossible for the social enterprise to succeed. I am not saying that it can’t happen. What I am saying is this: I have watched capital placed into social impact ventures over and over again for the last five years. My truth is this; the best outcomes are smaller dollar amounts put in over-time with high-powered people support to walk through the decision matrix of everyday business planning. So, my point here is that lending time and advice and people skills are just as important, if not more important than the money. The scenes have played out in front of me like Hollywood movies. With as much as I have witnessed, you would have thought I would have done a show on this earlier. Haha, sometimes it takes me a minute to realize it is an actual pattern.
So, on this episode, you are going to meet Tom Doescher. Tom is a great friend and has been a council to our firm, Gingras Global, for a long time. I am so thankful. Tom and his wife, Barbara, use their financial capital to both support non-profit charities and impact investing. They have a long history of sharing their resources with others around the world. I have asked Tom, for this episode, to hone in on what impact investing means regarding giving your time and helping with skill-building and advice.
You will learn that Tom’s focused outcome of impact investing – whether it is his time or money – is to create and sustain jobs. He is very interested in supporting the city of Flint, Michigan, specifically.
And, as a treat for any of you that may be listening that are leaving a long somewhat traditional career – thinking about transitioning to support social enterprise, he gives some great tips at the end on how to navigate that transition.
Okay, let’s listen in to my interview with Tom Doescher.
Tom Doescher : My business background is I was a partner in a consulting firm for over 40 years and worked in the last 20 years with manufacturing in businesses, auto suppliers, and built a very substantial practice and really loved working with businesses. On a personal side, Barbara and I led over 30 mission trips all over the world and we did medical teams, construction, children’s ministry, and other sundry activities so that was the other part of our life.
Really as we were looking at what we call our next season, we said “What do we feel that we’re being called to do?” Believe it or not we melded together our business activities with our ministry activities because really we’re all about helping businesses create job. We have to have profits to have jobs, but our real focus is on creating jobs as it relates to helping people here locally say in Flint, I don’t know what I can do for someone that needs a job. If I can help a businesshere be successful and be a good employer and create jobs, then I’ve fulfilled my mission.
Barbara and I started together in Doescher Advisers. She has an assessment tool that she administers that’s been very helpful with us, with working with clients, and team building et cetera. Helping young owners understand different personalities et cetera in building a stronger team.
Romy Kochan : Tom, how did you start to land and narrow it in to employment being one of your key qualifiers for your impact investing?
Tom Doescher : Again, I guess we, Barbara and I stepped back and said, “How can we have our greatest impact in this next what we call, this next season of our life?” We felt that it was really jobs wherever we were at would be getting for profit jobs created would be the best impact that we could have.
Romy Kochan : Why would that be if we keep going there? What does that end up meaning in your opinion if you follow that out?
Tom Doescher : Yeah, if you follow that out, kind of the way I look at it would be if you can create jobs where people … Good jobs where employers treat their employees with respect and dignity. You have someone that does something meaningful. They feel good about themselves, they’re in a wage, they pay taxes, they’re able to buy a house, they pay property taxes, maybe local city taxes. They maybe are involved at their local church, maybe at a not for profit. Just the whole community is stronger if we have people employed is my point of view.
Romy Kochan : The overall economic development of the community.
Tom Doescher : Exactly.
Romy Kochan : Sustainability where they don’t keep needing more right?
Some people view that that’s pouring in to a community in the form of donations. Some people that means only investment, some people means time. How do you start to view impact investing?
Tom Doescher : I would say that a lot of it is in our case would be time, so I’ll give you a recent example. I have a new client that I’ve discovered is actually has financial difficulty and they employ about 40 people. They’ve been in business for 30 years and so when I discovered their financial situation, I elected to I’ll say donate some of my time for now. I told the owner that I’m doing this for those 40 people and their jobs.
It’s just really clear to me why I’m doing what I’m doing and it keeps going back to employment and for more people to be employed long-term in how they feel of themselves.
Romy Kochan : I know you might not be an expert at all the data around Flint. What’s your perspective on the demographic needs of Flint, why it needs impact type investing?
Tom Doescher : Flint, I’m told was one of the most affluent cities in the United States back in the 40s and 50s, and maybe even into the 60s. We all know that General Motors who used to have 60% market share in the US is now down to I don’t know 21% or something like that. All of those jobs that used to be in Flint disappeared and people that could move somewhere did but others were just left there. It’s a very sad story of a town that was really depended on one major corporation who essentially downsized substantially because of the market.
Romy Kochan : I’ve always felt that’s what your specialty is this the high achievers if you will. You want to help those who are really working hard to help themselves right?
Tom Doescher : Right, exactly. They’re out there and one of the things that I have observed my whole career is there’s a lot of business owners that are great employers that are having huge impacts in their community but you don’t even know them. You don’t know their name, you don’t even know what they’re doing. I’m really looking for them in this community, that really what I’m all about is I want to get connected to those people which I know are out there.
They just don’t go around pounding their chest. They’re just quietly being effective and being great employers and helping their community. Most of those people are the backbone of a local charity usually, if you get into their lives. They don’t go around talking, bragging about it, they just do it.
Romy Kochan : What would be a scenario of a win when you find a typical candidate that you just described? What would be a sample of a win where you says, “Man, either my capital and my time was effective there.”
Tom Doescher : I guess it would be where I’m wise enough to come up with some ideas that would be beneficial to them. One common idea that I have is often in a business, there’s a cycle where the owner can get it to a certain size but really needs to bring in what I call a number two. A lot of times we cal lit a COO. I’ve been helpful in helping people see that, okay.
In helping them get the help they need to identify and bring in a number two person into their business so they can continue to grow. The owner can do the things they’re good at and the COO can do many of the other chores that can be handled by someone like that.
Romy Kochan : Tough to make that transition from working in a business to working on the business. I think everybody battles with it when they’re making a transition from a micro business to a small and then becoming a large small business. It’s a tricky thing to transition too. In your opinion in those scenarios when they are at that level trying to take that next step, do they often need just skill building and advisement or do they also need capital, or does it even range depending on the situation?
Tom Doescher : I think that’s more people to me, I think the good businesses can get the capital they need, it’s really the people. I just mentioned the COO concept. I also work with people on I’ll call it the opposite issue which is maybe their top number two or three people in the business have outgrown the business. Maybe the owner has people that have worked for him or her for a long time where in positions that they shouldn’t be in.
The owner is struggling because the people that I work with are very loyal to their people sometimes to a fault. I’ve helped them with either repositioning that person to another position inside the company or sometimes depending on the attitude of the person, they maybe need to even move out. The reason that I say that is that’s a blockage for them to grow because when I think a successful business it’s very simple. Just get the best people you can and things will happen.
If you have someone at a high position who doesn’t deserve to be there, you’re not going to get the best talent I’ll guarantee you that. Now, you get somebody in that job who’s really is an Olympic athlete using your word, they’ll attract more good people and good things will happen to that business. I think it’s more people. I think as I look at organizations, it’s more about having how many good people, how many A-players do you have at high level in your business. Companies that have more A-players are going to do really well.
Romy Kochan : A term that’s used so much in this impact investing space, everyone anchors on a familiar parable of you can teach a man to fish. It’s better to do that. As you play that out in this world of impact investing, I can say “Okay. They might know how to fish or they might have some basic skills. They do need a little capital to buy the pole maybe or little bit of equipment, their place on the lake.”
Really from there on out, they really do need to be surrounded by experiences and others who teach them all the different techniques. That doesn’t really stop, you’re hitting on one of the points here in 2016 that to me is really specific about impact investing that we’ve figured out will last five years. Everybody thinks it’s a 100% financial capital that needs to be inserted and you just got to wait a little bit to get it back. It’s actually a little capital on a lot of skill- based support advisement is what we have found is really working.
Tom Doescher : Right. I mentioning to you earlier, I just read the Elon Musk book and I didn’t know much about him before I read the book. He’s brilliant. What he’s doing isn’t just marketing. He is a scientist and so when I think of that and I think of businesses in each of the positions in your business you need to attract people that really do love and are passionate about whatever that area is.
If it’s shop floor, if it’s making this, if it’s selling, having people that just love to sell, love to help customers out. That’s what you’re looking for is people that’s just are really at the top of the class in each of their respective areas, HR. People that just love to have the right procedures, and processes, and development programs, and et cetera. When you see them in a business, you see that area of the business just thriving because you have someone that just is credibility talented and passionate about what they’re doing, it’s not just a job.
Romy Kochan : Do you feel Tom that any of the … I mean you have also invested, I don’t want anyone to think that you haven’t. Do you find that the actual capital investment gets glamorized a little bit more than … Let me see if I’m saying this the right way. Maybe a little bit more credit goes to them, the money contribution and the talent piece, the advisement can’t get left behind?
Tom Doescher : Yeah. It’s more obvious. If I have a good idea, how does that really play in. Most people won’t even know it’s my idea for starters. I’ve had several situations with clients, again using your word Olympic athlete clients. I have a CEO who is in a buying data client and he shared the story with me and so I thought about it, I came up with a very non-traditional solution for him.
I even told him, I said “You’re not going to like my suggestion but think about it and you do whatever you want to do.” He called me up about a month later, he had taken my advice and did something that was really not the path that he would have come up with and it worked. I’m happy for him. I was happy with the joy in his voice and when he shared with me how it did in fact work but no one sees that. It’s different thing, I invested a million dollars in whatever product, or company, or whatever.
Yeah, but it’s my calling. What I’m really at peace about today is clearly my calling is to come up along side of these owners. The ones that are open to advice. As you know my recent blog series talk about in my adviser a coach. In my blog series I make the case that … Because people want to call me a coach, and I’m not a coach, I’m an adviser, I’m a partner. I come up along side of a CEO as if I’m in it with him or her and the advice I give would be what I would do if it was me. There’s risk which is part of what I like about business.
It’s all about you don’t know if you’re right or wrong, you’re hoping you’re right. You go down a path and when you’re in it together, there’s a degree of camaraderie and fun about it that, “Hey, we were right,” or, “Guess what, we were wrong.” We’ll know, we’ll find out whether this is a good idea or bad because it’s going to be either be successful or fail. I think some of my clients like just having me next to them as they’re going through it and realizing that I understand the whole thing, I have the whole picture.
I had a client recently had a issue with their largest customer that was extremely sensitive and the CEO only told one person inside the company and me about it. We worked through that together. I go, “Okay, he decided to get me involved in it. I guess I must be offering something of value him.” This was my conclusion.
Romy Kochan : Yeah, you’re a trusted partner, you’re a great listener too.
Tom Doescher : Thank you.
Romy Kochan : About a year ago maybe a little longer now, I sat down with you and I was talking with you about these proposals I kept getting asked to write. They were large dollar amounts for the size of our business was. I think I remember telling you, remember that one of them was like a million dollars and I said, “Gosh, I’m writing this. I was writing the best presentations I thought I could make.” You said something to me that was brilliant, you said, “Romy, agree to move in dollar amounts of 5,000, agree to do that next amount of work at the most.”
It was one of the best pieces of advice you gave me, because I started getting the deals because even though they were demanding to know the price all the way until the end. When I give them the price, they’d even say, “I know that’s about a million dollars Romy, just tell me what it is.” When I stopped doing that, they started moving forward. At that moment, I had this light bulb about impact investing actually about that 5,000.
Everybody is saying, “What’s the total need? What’s the total need?” Often, putting all that capital at once, can sort of give the entrepreneur a whole new problem. Solving it all at once doesn’t give that business owner or the team a way to walk through some of the problems that they might solve without it. Now, I have a mind sense that meeting about a year and a half ago that let’s put little bit in and see what happens to the rest.
Because, capital changes other variables, it’s not just the one that you see in front of you. I found that my biggest resources were the other skill building services that I put around it. I don’t know how that will develop but I now have my brain on put capital in a little bit at a time and then put the talent around it, put the skill building, the advisement. That is what I’m witnessing is really moving the needle forward. I don’t know if it’s the same and other parts of the country, it’s just something I’m watching right now.
Tom Doescher : There is we talked about money, I recognize that money is limited. By the way, whether you’re big or small, there’s never enough money. I love being in these meetings and I go, “Well if we were a bigger company we’d have more money.” It’s like you’d have bigger list of things you want to do. There is no difference. Part of it is I guess the way that I think is have a picture where we’re generally heading. Then put in place some steps, I’ll use the word invest money in time and then keep assessing are we going in the right direction.
Working it all out at the beginning, you have no idea until you actually put it in play where it’s heading because it may take you as a business. If you may go somewhere that you didn’t anticipate, that’s even better than what you really had as your original picture. You have this big picture, call it a strategy, or whatever you want to call it, label it however you want to label so I know generally where I’m headed.
I know a company that went into China with a strategy and actually the strategy failed, but because they were engaged in China, they came up with a different business model that is driving today. It’s like the big picture maybe in their case was doing business in China maybe, just kind of a mouthful. They started down a specific path by engaging in China. They paid attention to the results. By the way, I think another problem that business owners, successful have is knowing when to cut and run. “Okay, we were wrong.”
I think good business people know that they’re going to be wrong. I believe it might have been Elon Musk or maybe it was in Branson’s book that I read, you will make mistakes. Let’s recognize you’re going to make a mistake. Mistake is even the wrong word, it’s just like you guessed wrong about the market. Now, have the courage to say, “Okay, this is not going to work.” Don’t just keep doubling down as they say. Cut it, but did we?
Maybe we’re on to something that’s even better than what we had. This company in China, that’s what happened with them. They came up with a business that was different than what they’ve started with thinking about that they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t engaged to begin with taking that little step. I’m all about taking … Another word I love to use is pilots, instead of creating some massive let’s have these all figured out and say, “Let’s do a little pilot.”
That gets everyone thinking even differently. Now they think, “Okay. This is an experiment so to speak.” Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong. Sometimes people are just afraid of making a mistake or having it fail if it’s a pilot to begin with, versus saying, “Okay. The company is going to completely start going in another direction.” That’s kind of scary, versus, “We’re going to try this little pilot and see what happens.” Maybe it’s a good idea, maybe it’s not. I don’t know that’s why I love business because you don’t know. You don’t know for sure. You don’t know if the market really will accept what’s you’re offering.
Romy Kochan : It’s really applicable to impact investing that mostly goes into businesses that have a lot of employees or are trying to create. You got a lot of human beings running around in these things. They’re not typically a tech program or a company full of robotics that are programmed. There’s a whole lot of shenanigans that can change by the moment that you have to both be forward thinking and manage how the team is perceiving your new venture, or your pilot, or your department, or whatever you’re attempting to do.
Everybody has got to be on board, so all the more reason to tie this to incremental capital and a good amount of people support.
Tom Doescher : In listening to you, the good employers know how to get the best ideas out of their team members. They don’t say that “I have all the good ideas.” They go, these people are on the frontline, but they’re the ones that ones that really are seeing what’s going on. Creating an environment where people are willing to bring up those crazy ideas that aren’t so crazy. They are the ones talking to the customer everyday, and they know where the rubs are.
If the owner can’t get that information back to them, one of the things that we like to say is as I say, “You want to have as many of your team members behaving as if it was they were the owner of the business.” If you can make that happen, that’s what you want to have happen. I just wrote a blog about an experience Barbara had recently where she went in with our leased vehicle into the dealership to have some maintenance done.
The person that the service check-in person looked us up in the computer and said, “I noticed that last time you were in, you were charged for something that you shouldn’t be charged for. It’s part of your lease program. I’m going to do the paperwork to get you a refund of the service that you had done two months ago.” I thought, “Are you kidding me?” Just think of that story and I mean I’d love to go tell his boss that he’s got like a diamond here because that guy that just I’ve told this story to probably 20 people already and I’m writing a blog about it.
That’s the kind of impact you can have if your people behave as if it’s their company. Those are the best company, Southwest Airlines is a great example of that. It’s just an amazing company.
Romy Kochan : Would you say that those tightly oiled teams, if you will, would make the best candidates for capital investment?
Tom Doescher : Absolutely. Yeah, that’s where I would put my money on the team. It’s the people team. You get the ideas and no matter what industry you’re in. I was in a meeting the other day and they were commiserating on how their industry is changing and whatever, and whatever, and whatever. It wasn’t my part of the agenda so to speak, so I was just thinking about it and listening and I thought, “You know what, all your competitors are exactly the same place.”
I mean if it’s changing, it’s changing for all you guys. It’s like, “Who’s going to figure it out?” It’s up to the people that listen to their clients or customers and really understand what do they want and what are they willing to pay for what they want. You need to deliver that to them because that’s the reality. Most of us aren’t going to have something proprietary that we have, that no one else can offer. We’re going to have competition.
In everything I do with clients, I assume there’s competition which is the famous Edward Deming who is the king of quality was quoted this saying that, “Competition is actually good.” When I first heard that, I thought “What is he talking about?” Then the more I digested it and soaked in, it’s like, “yeah, with competition we’re all better.” If I thought what I did I had no competitors, I might not be as good as I known that I have all kinds of competitors. That’s all part of business to me. That’s business at its essence.
Romy Kochan : You reminded me of back in one of the communities in Southeast Michigan when they put up one of these first automotive malls where all the different dealerships from all of the different makers, all landed in one strip. The normal mindset, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, all the competition decided to be together.” Really, that’s so smart. They made a market for all of them, some sort of multi-plan.
Tom Doescher : Yeah. There’s actually a concept called beer on the beach. If you put two beer stands at either end of a beach, they will get less business than if you put them next to each of it.
Romy Kochan : Really?
Tom Doescher : Yeah. Restaurants. In the local town where I live right now, we’re seeing it, we had one or two really prominent restaurants. There’s several new ones. If you go interview the original restaurant owners, they now have more business because the other restaurants that have come in have attracted more people that dine out. It’s counter-intuitive but it is the way that it works.
Romy Kochan : I’ll change gears for a minute.
Tom Doescher : Yeah..
Romy Kochan : You successfully transitioned from what many would call a very successful but very traditional career as a CPA. We get questions from some people who are now retired or about to retire and they say, “Hey, Romy. I know you’re working this new social enterprise, impact investing thing. Is there a place for someone like me?” What advice would you give to somebody that might have been in a traditional career track and is thinking about how they would get involved?
Because you did that so gracefully, I know I might not have felt that. From an outside perspective is very thoughtful and very graceful. A lot of people are fearful of entering into this space with their traditional education and experiences.
Tom Doescher : It’s a huge subject, and by the way I didn’t do it gracefully just for the record. I’ve actually written on the subject because I don’t think at least I’m not aware of much that has been written yet. Again, what I called the next season. I think this maybe is going to sound a little bit consultant-ish.
The first thing I would do is really assess who are you, and what are your strengths? What is your calling? What are you really good at? Really be honest with yourself no matter what you did as a career. What are you really good at probably in the same category would be what are you really passionate about? You’re really good, you’re really passionate. I start pre-thinking about where could that be utilized?
Then what I say is I would have do some piloting or experimenting back to my comment earlier. I have learned more about myself since we’re in our fifth year of Doescher Advisers. I’ve learned probably more specifics about myself in Doescher Advisers than I had learned prior to that. For instance, this whole concept of that you’ve coined about dealing with the Olympic athletes. I’m really not very good at giving advice to B and C players. Sometimes they don’t even understand me and I’m just not very good at it.
I’m smarter about excluding myself from situations than I was before. As I reflect back on my career, I’d think, “Yeah, okay that’s why that was good and that’s why that worked out, that didn’t worked out, so on and so forth.” What I’ve done in Doescher Advisers say I’m only going to work with Olympic Athletes. Experiment, here’s another thing that I think is really huge for people in this next season is they don’t listen to any … How do I want to say it the right way?
A lot of people have advice for you, most of it I wouldn’t listen to would be my advice to you to those listening that are in similar situation to me. Blaze your own trail. Let me just, as I’ve studied this, as I led up to what became Doescher Advisers I did a lot of research. For instance, retirement is a relatively new concept that came about after World War II. It’s really the industrial age created it. If you think about it when we are agrarian, farmers didn’t retire. I think farmers died and their kids took over.
There wasn’t a thing called retirement. We’ve sort of created this thing number one. Number two, back then when somebody decided that 62 or 65 was some magic age. If you look at the statistics today, if I make it to 62 or 65 more than likely I’m going to live another 30 or 40 years. I’m going to just do what? Think about it as if it’s another career or another life, or another what do something with it.
Do something with that time, I believe I said earlier like my goal is to get … I’m hopeful I can get maybe a 25, 30 year career with Doescher Advisers. If I can stay healthy, keep my mind crisp which in my world be the most important thing would be my mind. I just really would challenge people to do something meaningful and it could be, maybe somebody’s done acts and it might be tutoring students. I don’t know, that’s just not my thing.
It’s just really clear to me what my calling is. I would just challenge people that are listening, that are thinking about it. What is your calling and I don’t have anything against playing golf, or whatever. There’s probably something a little more for you out there if you really go at it.
Romy Kochan : Impact investing needs it and all of the areas of the ecosystem where there’s a place for the wisdom, and a place for the passion. My only option is to go serve a nonprofit or a faith based organization, sort of put out to the pasture. There’s a lot of opportunities in the business.
I think the next season can look however you want it to look. It’s just, if you just be honest with what you are and what you aren’t, don’t worry about status, don’t worry about what Charlie’s doing, or what Mary is doing. Do what you feel you’re called to do. It will just accelerate you. I’m more accelerated than I’ve ever been in my whole life, because I feel like what I’m doing really it’s all integrated, and I have a purpose, and I’m using the word impacting the people around me.
Barbara and I have in our mission statement, we say that we would like to add value to someone’s life. Everyday, I’d like to do it with at least one person and that’s how we try to live our lives and we’re not always successful but that’s kind of our vision for it.
Romy Kochan : Yeah. You’re keeping it simple.
Tom Doescher : Keeping it very simple, yes.
Romy Kochan : How would they reach you at Doescher Advisers? Maybe give them your website and couple of ways to reach you if they are going to raise their hand and say, “I’m an Olympic athlete and looking for services.”
Tom Doescher : Yes. For those of you that are business oriented people, Barbara and I write a twice a month blog which you can subscribe to at our doescheradvisers.com. I think it’s some good eyed practical, ideas of real life stories which may catapult you and do getting an idea of how you may do something. I think it will give you a great idea.
If you do go on our website under the resource section, for those of you who are in your next season, we actually have put together a whole outline of things that think about in the next season. I’ll say if you were to read it, I did some of those things right and some of those wrong and back to your word earlier. This was anything but graceful.
Romy Kochan : That’s an air of hope and excitement around you. You’re contagious. Thank you for the interview.
Tom Doescher : You’re welcome. Great to be here.
Romy: What a great perspective on transitioning. Thanks again Tom, for such an intimate peek into a superstar’s mindset. You have helped so many!
As I reflect on this interview, I don’t want anyone to leave this thinking that we are somehow now going to call impact investing, time serving or people helping only. Not at all! As a matter of fact, financial capital is a critical part of the equation. It’s just that; we don’t want it to be the star. The truth is that money is only one of the tools in the toolbox that is put to use frequently. What I hope was highlighted here, is that people helping people with skill building and strategic thinking is a larger factor than anyone acknowledges. Tom was right, many great supporters remain unknown, behind the scenes, never taking the credit for helping with the lightbulb moments that changed the path of some of the companies forever. I submit to all of you that the perfect combo of impact investing is some cash and some people help. I have found that putting both together reduces the amount of money needed and blows away the original goal, moving the enterprise from average to Olympic athlete.
Well, that’s all for now. I am going to introduce you to another Detroit artist curated by Assemble Sound to close out this episode. We love this artist, Eryn Allen Kane with her song, Sunday.
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