by Jason Forrest
Forrest Performance Group
In college, Sunny Vanderbeck was a world away from the disciplined Army Ranger he would become. He was 20 pounds overweight, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and just plain unhappy. It was time for something completely different. He quit school, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as a Ranger for four years. As Sunny describes it, “Apparently, I jumped in the very, very deep end of the pool.”
Sunny’s low-key description of what was anything but a low-key experience feels like the essence of who he is: refreshingly understated, seemingly unflappable, quietly confident. And, courtesy of the Army, persistent. He says the experience taught him that “the difference between a good outcome and an extraordinary outcome is that moment when you want to quit, and you just don’t quit.”
I think of such moments as “run toward the roar” opportunities. They are the times when we feel we have the most to lose, but actually have the most to gain. The idea comes from big male lions—whose role is to provoke fear with their intimidating teeth and deafening roars. What the hunted don’t know is that the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s roar sends prey scattering away from the startling noise—right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. The roar doesn’t represent the real danger.
Likewise, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away from pursuits that look and sound scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best (or only) way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential, while those who turn and face the fear thrive.
Sunny has built his life on running toward the roar. After leaving the Rangers, he started a company, took it public, sold it, bought it back, and sold it again. Then, with longtime friend and fellow 30-something CEO Randy Eisenman, he co-founded private equity firm Satori Capital. Like its owners, Satori operates well outside the box. Here’s how Sunny describes the company’s origins:
Randy and I noticed there was something missing in capital. Many of the companies that provided capital to entrepreneurs and to mature businesses had a view of the world that was very short-term and really only focused on hard metrics like P&L, and missed things like culture and the long term.
The big idea was this: What if we could bring an investment firm into the world that was able to take into account strategy and operations and finances and all those things that are very important, and also could take into account things like: “What does it mean to a company to have a great culture? What does it mean when a company is a good citizen in its community? And how does performance change if you can think about 10, 20, 30 years instead two, three, four quarters?”
Sunny and Randy faced an uphill battle selling their value proposition. “We were going to make a new investment fund that had a totally different investment philosophy than any fund had ever had. In fact, many of the things that were held as core truths and deep beliefs about investment we believed just weren’t true.”
Potential backers who heard, “We have a totally different strategy. Would you like to invest?” didn’t even give them a chance. New investment funds rarely make it—let alone ones with completely unconventional investment strategies. They were too young and inexperienced. Their core principles defied conventional wisdom. Still, Sunny and Randy audaciously launched their enterprise at what seemed like the worst possible time—early 2008—during the middle of the worst financial crisis in our lifetime. Sunny says, “There were three lions roaring at us at once.”
And yet, they had to do it, Sunny says. “The way you know it’s time is not when you see the perfect moment in the market, or this thing happens or that thing happens, it’s when you can’t stop thinking about it.”
So they did it. Sunny, whose given name suits him well, has a very hopeful view of the role businesses can play as global citizens and how Satori’s unorthodox investment style can help:
The way to make the world a better place at scale is to change how investing is done. Because if you can change the minds of investors just a little bit, you’ll change the way companies behave, and if you change the way companies behave, you’ll change the experience all of us have. What if every company in the world was just 1 percent better as a place to work? How much impact did we just have on the world?
Don’t for a minute write Sunny off as a pie-in-the-sky optimist detached from reality, though. He believes in the big idea behind Satori strongly enough that he’s fought to see that it gets traction. “That’s not a thing you get done by telling,” he says. “You pick up the machete and start hacking a trail through the jungle—make a trail so that others can follow.”
As he talks about the heavy lifting required to win acceptance of a new idea and a new way of doing business, the lesson Sunny took from his experience as an Army Ranger bubbles to the surface. He embodies the “do not quit” mantra and understands the why behind it:
Part of the idea underneath “do not quit” is learning about yourself and what you’re capable of, and your team and what they’re capable of. One of the most rewarding things as a peer and as a mentor is helping someone through that moment they didn’t think they could get through, where they can look back and say, “I had no idea I could pull this off, but I did.” So being able to compound those moments over your life can really make for some extraordinary outcomes. As a leader, those are my best moments.
If, as Sunny believes, profit is what you create, not what you take, his profit is multiplying with each investment, each employee who achieves more than he or she thought possible, and each investor who changes his or her mind about what’s important. This kind of profit far outlasts a person or a business, and it only comes from running toward the roar.
Want to learn how to lead your organization towards a customer-centric culture? Sign up at fpgseminar.com for Jason Forrest’s Human Performance Unleashed: The Event in Fort Worth, Aug. 1-4.
Jason Forrest is CEO of Forrest Performance Group, a global leader and designer of sales, management, and corporate training programs. He grew up “under the influence” of his father, a business owner and professional salesman, and his mother, a persuasive speaking professor. Jason is a regular contributor to FW Inc.