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7 Questions with Bill Harper
7 Questions with Bill Harper
Name: Bill Harper
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: wmHarper
“If you asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford
Consumers buy/buy-in emotionally, then justify their decisions logically. They can’t tell you what they want, but they can tell you what they don’t want and, more importantly, what they value. Using creative business strategies to turn their insights into traction for brands - via compelling stories that surprise and delight - is what I spend my days trying to achieve.
I believe that the most effective and awe-inspiring work comes from simple ideas executed in simple but elegant ways. The process itself is anything but simple or elegant. Fortunately, I love this sort of challenge. In fact, I live for it. It’s been described by some as a sickness and, if I’m being honest, it’s probably closer to an addiction – one that I’m just unusually comfortable having.
I’ve had the pleasure of struggling over simple and elegant solutions for clients like Carfax, Denny’s, Delsey Luggage, Precision Tune Auto Care, and Music & Arts to name a few and have had the pleasure of being recognized more than 100 times for the effort – including one textbook mention, which I’m particularly proud to call my own.
I’ve been fortunate enough to start four successful agencies and shared the joy of working alongside the insanely talented people who have joined them. When I’m not pouring over the latest Discovery Survey or chasing the next creative strategy, you can find me at home with my amazing wife, three beautiful children and our nearly-Wookie-of-a-dog, Oreo.
It really doesn’t get any better than this.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Internally - defining and implementing a process that is appropriate for Now, but can scale to Then - and finding the talent to use it effectively across the growth curve.
Externally - Managing perceptions to avoid limiting growth.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My first business partner talked me into it. Left to my own devices, I wouldn't have found this path until much later. I am forever indebted to you, Eric. Thank you.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
The bigger question to answer is: are you working In or On the business. With that safely solved, staying in your lane and creating a calendar of efficient and effective duties is significantly easier.
My days are as singularly focused as humanly possible. I block several hours at a time against initiatives to give myself the greatest chance of seeing each responsibility through - and I am relentless about protecting that time.
I think it matters less which activity you choose than that you can protect your time to ensure you do that activity well. Once you have the luxury of surrounding yourself with others who can similarly dedicate their time to their respective duties, growth accelerates quickly.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It's not about me - and it never was.
The more I take myself out of the picture, the faster and more profoundly the team comes together and succeeds.
Ultimately, I have exactly two functions - coach and mentor. Both are in complete service of my team.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
There are three books that were separated at birth and shouldn't have been:
- Traction - Gino Wickman
- The E-Myth - Michael Gerber
- Start With Why - Simon Sinek
The combination of insights in these three books can give anyone a working knowledge of business structure, leadership goals and pitfalls, and how to maintain a sense of purpose on behalf of the business.
This is more than enough to keep you learning for a lifetime and as successful as you ever wanted to become.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Personally, I put the construct in place (the Vision and Purpose of the company) and then I hand the responsibility to the leaders of my team. When needed, I support this with external coaches who benefit from the greater wisdom and third-party objectivity that make truly beneficial leadership training possible.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
A client once came to me telling me that my approach wasn't in line with their belief about what would work. They had significantly less experience than we did with what they wanted to achieve and I knew what they were asking wouldn't work.
Rather than say 'yes' to their request, I told them that I was unwilling to do what they requested and suggested, kindly, that they go find an agency that was willing to take their money and do what they asked.
But I asked with a caveat. "My one request is that when it fails, you are brave enough to come back to us and let us do it right."
A year later we had an enthusiastic client who had the benefit of that experience and an appropriate appreciation for the expertise we brought to the table.
The client was significant, and we felt the loss of the dollars they would have brought to the table, but the wait was worth the temporary pain in that we avoided a significantly greater pain had we agreed to their request and been fired with the misperception that we lacked the ability to perform.