by Jason Forrest, Forrest Performance Group
He’s a serial entrepreneur, a maverick in the oil and gas industry, and one of seven Eagle Scouts among his brothers and sons. Spend five minutes with Glenn Adams and his conviction that Scouting teaches invaluable skills and values for life and business will become yours, too.
When young Scouts burn their first breakfasts over an open flame or watch their just-pitched tents collapse in the rain, they learn problem solving, he says. And as they play with knives, build fires, and camp out with their buddies, they learn leadership, team-building, entrepreneurism, values, and ethics (the five pillars of Boy Scouts). While all they think they’re doing is having fun, Scouts are being equipped for the challenges they’ll face in business and life ahead. Adams’ own track record backs up his claim.
Adams graduated from college with a few very specific and very ambitious goals: become an officer at a public company by the age of 30, run a public company, and go independent. He’s achieved each one. He’s also an enormously successful serial entrepreneur with expertise in the oil and gas industry. As he’s checked off these and other accomplishments from his life list, Adams has gained a unique perspective on the valuable life lessons he learned from Scouts—and how broadly applicable they are in building a winning business career and company culture.
The unique hook the Boy Scouts offer, Adams says, is offering fun with a purpose.
“You can’t go to a second grader and say, ‘We want to teach you about values, ethics, and leadership,’” he says. “They’ll turn around and run the other way, because they want to play and have fun. If instead you say, ‘We’ll let you play with sharp knives and fire,’ you’ve really struck a chord with almost all young boys. We embed in an exciting program our values, ethics, and leadership. They aren’t beaten over the head with it. It just becomes a part of who they are.”
Consider the potential of a workforce stimulated to perform on the job because everything about their work lines up with who they are.
One of the most important values Scouts learn is how to get back up after failing (as in, “Never, never, never give up.”). This should resonate with every entrepreneur, businessperson, and human being who’s had any measure of success. After all, as Robert Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
On their very first campouts, young scouts have opportunities to learn and exercise this value. First-time chefs try their hand at cooking breakfast over an open fire and end up burning everything to a crisp. Novices enthusiastically pitch their tents, only to have them fall over as soon as they take up residence. Young boys start pining for home. But the leadership doesn’t send them running to their parents. Instead, they invite first-timers to get with older Scouts to learn cooking basics and proper tent peg placement. Adams says these “Aha!” moments teach Scouts how to turn a failure into a learning experience, while also providing the older Scouts leadership experience. In business, there’s no substitute for learning to continue fighting for success after failure.
Adams knows this lesson personally. One of his most memorable examples came about when he and his brother owned a small oil and gas company. Around 2000, they identified an opportunity they felt was based on inaccurate technical studies, and therefore, undervalued. They invested in their own research and came away convinced the Barnett Shale formation could be the largest on-shore natural gas deal in America and could yield more gas than the U.S. uses in a year. They went on record with their claim and set out to raise money to invest in the project. Nobody believed them. After months of being flatly rejected by every single potential investor (more than 70), they had a tough decision to make: cut their losses and move on, or stand by their conviction that they were sitting on a goldmine regardless of what anyone else said. Care to guess which option these two Eagle Scouts pursued?
They decided to do something small oil and gas companies simply don’t do. They took the results of their technical studies and published them in the leading journals in their field. Within six months, their outside-the-box approach had changed opinions among the industry’s thought leaders. The money started coming in, and they raised $187 million over the next seven years, eventually selling their assets for a half billion dollars.
One of the most important values Scouts learn is how to get back up after failing. This should resonate with every entrepreneur, businessperson, and human being who’s had any measure of success.
"Eagle Scouts always run to challenges," says Adams, who was CEO of Wolverine Exploration Co. in the early 1990s, principal with his father in an energy partnership after that, co-owner of the Barnett Shale pioneer Adexco Production Co., principal in a company exploring and producing in the Eagle Ford Shale, and, today, CEO of Texas Shale Gas Resources, LLC, a specialist in unconventional oil and gas plays.
While learning never to quit exemplifies what Adams considers the single greatest benefit of Scouting, it doesn’t stop there. Every business culture can benefit from the Boy Scouts’ five pillars and 12 principles. The five pillars that all Boy Scouts’ programming are built on are leadership, team-building, entrepreneurism, values, and ethics. Fortify these with the principles that make up the Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent”), and you have a pretty good recipe for business success.
After his decade as a Scout during his formative years, Adams has stayed on in leadership positions for more than twice that long as an adult. With that kind of passion and history, he’s highly aware of how scouting-inspired principles can be incorporated into any setting. He’s consistently done so in his business ventures, and says, “If you take those characteristics and embed them into any organization…, it leads to a very high level of success, because people feel good about themselves, they feel good about the team they’re working with, and they want to pull together to make money for everybody.” The Boy Scouts’ five pillars, plus the 12 principles of Scout Law equal one unbeatable culture.
Adams is in touch with what Scouting did for him as a child, and his passion for the program runs so deep that he’s since held every leadership position in the Longhorn Counsel. The counsel, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, serves 900 Scout units, 26,000 Scouts, and 10,000 adult volunteers. Adams, his brothers, and his three sons are among the five percent of boys involved with Scouting who eventually attain the rank of Eagle Scout. And they’re in good company. A veritable Who’s Who of prominent leaders have benefited from some of the same experiences he had as a boy and who have integrated what they learned into their work. Among them are Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil; Joe Landy, co-managing partner of Warburg Pincus, one of the largest private equity funds in the world; and Robert Gates, former defense secretary and CIA director.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic or more convincing advocate for Scouting than Glenn Adams. You also won’t find many who have been more successful at internalizing the important life lessons he learned as a youth and drawing on them both to achieve personal/ business success and to inspire everyone around him. The results this Eagle Scout CEO continues to produce speak for themselves, and he’s got me wishing I weren’t too old to join. Scout’s honor.