An Introduction to David C. Baker
Blair interviews David about who he is and why people should pay attention to what he has to say - if they should at all...
BLAIR ENNS: Okay David, I guess this is a thing now, this podcast is live, right?
DAVID C. BAKER: As far as I know it is.
BLAIR: I mean it's not live, but Marcus has put them online.
DAVID: This isn't something my therapist has asked you to do, just to make me feel important and nobody's listening, but...
BLAIR: We'll talk about your therapists, plural, in due time. I thought we should, because we've never really done this properly, we should do an introduction. So, I want to interview you briefly about who you are, and why people should pay attention to what you have to say.
DAVID: This will be short.
BLAIR: If they should at all, so let's start with, your business is called Recourses. What is Recourses? What do you do?
DAVID: So, it's a management consulting firm, and we work, or I work, it's really just me, work with principles of small to mid size marketing firms, and been doing it for 23 plus years, so since 1994.
BLAIR: Okay, so management consulting, small to mid size, you said marketing firms. 20 years. How many firms have you worked with?
DAVID: Goodness, I've kind of quit counting, but it's over 900 now, just because, and that's through the total business review process, so that's, it's an onsite process where I do a lot of prep work, and then visit with them in a very structured way for several days, then give them written recommendations, and then I'm around for several months helping them implement the changes that I'm recommending that they make, and so I do typically two to four of those a month. If you add that up, you know I take time off, obviously, but two to four months, so about 40 a year, and multiply that by the number of years, it's more than 900 now.
It's amazing there are enough victims out there for me to keep doing this, but yes, many of them. I'm usually coming and cleaning up after you've worked with them.
BLAIR: There has been quite a bit of overlap. We've never really stopped to count it, but how many of these firms that you work with I've also worked with as well, maybe, now we'll never count it, but it's curious.
DAVID: Yeah, well because we used to do an event together, and so yeah, they would either work with you first or me first. Yeah, its been good.
BLAIR: Right. That event was called the New Business Review, sorry Business Summit. The New Business Summit. I don't even remember the name anymore. It's purged from my memory, because I don't... So, you mentioned the core product for Recourses is Total Business Review, it is what it sounds like, but why do people, your phone rings, "David, I need a Total Business Review", why? What's going on?
DAVID: Well, usually there's something that they can't quite figure out and they've often tried solving it on their own, and they're looking for a couple things honestly. They'd like to not reinvent the wheel, so to speak, or reinvent the flat tyre as I sometimes joke. They'd like to just get a head start on solving some of these issues, figuring that hey, we can't all be that unique. There must be somebody out there that's worked through this before, so that's one thing they're looking for is just some perspective.
The others are looking for objectivity, so they, and I often tell them it's like, you know, you haven't really, I'm not going to see something for the first time. I'm not going to raise anything that you're not already aware of, but, and I'm actually not even going to pull any tools out of the tool box that I haven't used before, it's just I'm going to use the tools in a new combination and try to help you focus on the most important things to solve, and help you see how they're interconnected. You pull this lever and what happens over here?
The big subjects that I'm usually working with them on are positioning and then lead generation so that would be one, so they have a steady flow of the kind of business they want. The other is structuring roles, particularly their own role as the firm grows and changes, and the other, the third one, these are the three big ones anyway, would be just understanding how to benchmark their firms performance. What it means, how to impact it, change it, all of that.
BLAIR: Gotcha. Okay, well lets shift gears a little bit and let's talk about you. Who is David Baker, aside from the fact that you've worked with over 900 firms, I guess the question is now redundant. I wanted to say why should anybody care or hire you.
DAVID: Yeah, right. Did my clients ask you to ask me that question?
BLAIR: All 900. I have a petition here.
DAVID: From change.org.
BLAIR: So tell us a bit about you.
DAVID: I'm, what, 57, so I was born in 60. I grew up overseas. My parents were medical missionaries. I came to the US when I was 18, and married, been married for 30 some years now, have two kids, two daughters in law, multiple grandchildren. I just say multiple so that if I lose track of the number I don't get anybody upset.
I was in graduate school for many years, as most graduate students are I think, and about half way through I was just flipping through the newspaper one day, and was looking at how much the ads sucked, and I just thought "Goodness, gracious. How hard can this be? I think I could probably do a better job than that." I was a little bit dissatisfied with the job I was in to pay for my graduate school at the time, even though I was a full time student I was working full time too.
So, I thought I'll just start a firm, and so that was the beginning of a firm. This was in Indiana, Northern Indiana. Did that for six years, and through a strange set of circumstances, fairly accidental really, and at someone else's suggestion I began to help other agency principles and when I let myself walk down that path, it just quickly overwhelmed my business life, and within just a matter of months that's what I was doing full time, so it was a fairly accidental start. I'm not guiding agency principles because I was an amazing agency principle. I was a very pedestrian average one honestly. It comes more from just learning as much as I can by seeing the inside of other firms, so that's sort of the overlap between the personal and the business side.
BLAIR: Okay, and I know you fairly well. We've known each other for about, I want to say 15 years or so. Somewhere around there. I know you to be a really high achiever. Tell us about some of your, I think people would be interested to know some of your passions outside of work. And if you forget any I'll list them off, but go ahead.
DAVID: Yeah, right. Well I really enjoy photography. My Dad was an amateur photographer, and he had, we didn't have electricity or running water where we lived, but we had this little generator, and we would run it every once in awhile, a few hours every couple of days so that I could use a like and larger back during film days, obviously, and so I picked up a love of photography, and I still really do enjoy it. I take lots of trips internationally every year, just to kind of get lost in my own photography pursuit. An aeroplane, helicopter pilot, that was more for business purposes, although we did use it a lot for personal vacations and so on.
I love fine woodworking. It's one way, I find that my hobbies have to be something that is so intense that it takes my mind completely away from business. I can't afford to be thinking about business when I'm doing some of these hobbies, so like if you slip up, you cut your finger off, that's a pretty good incentive to pay attention and not think about business.
BLAIR: Or crash a helicopter.
DAVID: Yeah, that'd be another, it could be, it could wreck your day completely. I taught motorcycle high performance riding and racing at the world's super bike school for awhile, and have done a lot of motorcycle riding around the world, and so that's how I keep myself busy. I love reading as well. That's not a very dangerous hobby. Well I guess some of the books are. No, I do enjoy, I tend to throw myself all in to whatever I'm doing, so if I'm on a racetrack it's all I'm doing. If I'm consulting with a client that's all I'm doing. I tend to be sort of, have somewhat of an addictive personality. Really deep into something.
BLAIR: So, you're basically a boring individual with no hobbies.
BLAIR: You mentioned books. You are both an author and a publisher. You're my publisher. Do you want to tell us a little bit about Rock Bench, and why you launched Rock Bench and it's purpose?
DAVID: Yeah, that was in 2009 I guess. I had for my, I think third book, I had three written proposals from publishers as an author, and reading through them I thought they were just ridiculous. It's like, what they were requiring, the money I made as an author, how long the process took, how little they did any marketing, I thought "Well, that doesn't make sense" and the publishing industry was really broken at the time. It's even more broken now, but self publishing made no sense to me either. That's sort of like, I always thought of it as wearing sweatpants to work. It's like you've given up. There's, you've completely given up. So, I thought "Well, there needs to be some sort of a hybrid path to this" and so we created Rock Bench Publishing.
You can go to Amazon and search Rock Bench Publishing and see the dozens and dozens, piles we published including your book, which is our best seller. So, my most recent books are published under that imprint and we've been able to, not all of the authors are clients. Some of them are not, and all of them have been really good for the authors, for their careers, and their, giving them a bigger platform, bigger presence, so it's been really fun to do that. I write primarily for myself in the sense that it really helps clarify for me what I think. Now, obviously it has other benefits. It helps my career, but I find that it's just every time I write a book I'm just so grateful for the effort and the precision that it requires, so I'm very excited about this next one. It's called The Business of Expertise, and it's a book that's very different than anything else I've written, put a lot of work into it. I'm very proud of it. Can't wait to see it.
BLAIR: So, the book is called The Business of Expertise, How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact and Wealth by David C. Baker. Published by Rock Bench Publishing, and it's available on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and a few other places, and you've got a couple other books still in print, so one is Managing Right the First Time. Is that correct?
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Managing Right the First Time, right. For first time managers.
BLAIR: Yeah. And the other one?
DAVID: Is Financial Management of A Marketing Firm. It's a large textbook sort of a book. The ratios inside it are licenced to several software providers for this field, and it was really meant to fill a gap. There wasn't anything out there at the time. Still isn't really. So I wanted to provide some sort of a benchmark source for principles of firms so they could get a sense of how well their firm is doing, or how well their firm should do.
BLAIR: Okay, great. I wanted to ask you, I've gone longer already then I'd planned, but I wanted to ask you about the biases that you bring to your work. It's something I think a lot about these days, my own biases. As people are listening to us and maybe they're not previously familiar with us, are there things that they should know about you that they can, like filters that they might want to apply that you are aware of and keen to share?
DAVID: That's interesting. I don't know that I've ever thought about that question exactly. I would say that I'm, I love small talk with people with whom I can have a deep conversation at any moment, so I despise small talk otherwise. I'm a deep introvert for one thing, so I'm really drawn to substance of any kind, and I am very open to learning and I really hate lack of substance, which is why I've struggled honestly with the marketing field, because so much of it is bullshit that I'm constantly having these visceral reactions against what marketing firms are doing. That would be one. Another I think is I'm pretty much an anarchist. I'm waiting to join the movement until they're a little more organised, I guess. I think it comes a bit from my parents, the kind of people they were, and the environment I lived in, which was very much a survivalist sort of mentality.
I don't believe much in government interference in our lives, I'm okay with evolutionary forces. I'm a very caring person, but I also can be, I'm okay making really tough decisions and when I compare my own perspectives with perspectives of my clients, many times I wished they were more courageous. I find them sadly lacking in courage, and I try to I guess step alongside them and help them in that way in any way I can, but I do wish- I also as I get older, I'm less and less afraid of consequences, so I feel more and more like we should all just do the right thing and not worry about the ripple effect and just let it happen, whatever that happens to be.
I also find myself just totally committed to a particular direction in my life, even if commercially I fail and I have to live in a van by the river, like the motivational speaker on Saturday Night Live. If that's what it takes, fine. I really am just totally committed to what I'm doing.
BLAIR: Wow, great. I want to wrap up with one final question. It's not a spirit animal, and it's not what would you, these are common questions these days. It's not what would you ask your, what would you tell your 20 year old self. Can you articulate a personal motto, or philosophy that kind of guides you? Are you able to distil, and it's probably more than one, but is there something that comes to mind that makes sense to share?
DAVID: Hmmm, I do think that my impact on the world is going to be mediated in very small ways through individuals, and while there are times when I'm lying in bed and wish for a larger platform, I think that's just sort of a natural human cry that we all have, but in the end I feel like I, the impact I'm going to have is going to be on the people closest to me and will have very little to do with my business life, I think. So, the conversations that I have, the stepping into situations that are messy, that's really what drives my life more than anything I think.
BLAIR: So, you think you'll be remembered not so much for the books that you wrote, or the actual information that you passed on, but the experiences that people had with you?
DAVID: Yes, and I don't even know that many of those will occur from a business setting. I'm grateful for the business life I have, and the impact I do have, but I have fairly low expectations for that. My expectations are more around my kids, my family, some close friends, and whatever else happens beyond that is just extra. It's just gravy, but I don't count on that too much. I think I just need to do what's right, and keep playing the game the right way, but most of the impact I'm going to have is going to be from the people that I rub shoulders with constantly.
BLAIR: That's a great philosophy. It reminds me of Mother Theresa's, might be an apocryphal story, I don't know, but her response to a business man who said "How can I change the world?" And her answer is "Go home and love your family."
DAVID: Wow. Yeah. Exactly, and the beginning of the Managing Right book is that. It's like, your clients are not going to remember you, your vendors aren't going to remember you. I think the people that are going to remember you are the people that work for you, and they'll remember what impact you had on their lives and on their careers, and that's where most of the focus should be it seems.
BLAIR: All right, well thank you very much for this introduction to David C. Baker and Recourses.
DAVID: Thank you, Blair.