Success as an Organization

633 Days Inside by Greg Lindberg


Success as an Organization

“You shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”

—Maya Angelou

Define Your Offer

As you think about your “burning desire” in life while you think about what you want to achieve, start first with how you are doing good. Global Growth starts with Global Good.

What is “good”? Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who studied positive qualities and the lives of exemplary people. In 1954, he created his “Hierarchy of Human Needs.”

In Maslow’s hierarchy, each need must be met before you can move on to the next. It starts with physiological—breathing, food, water, sex, sleep. Next is safety—whether that is employment, health, family, or property. Next are love and belonging—family, friendship and intimacy. Esteem is next—confidence, achievement and the respect of others. At the top is selfactualization—morality, creativity, acceptance of facts, and lack of prejudice.

What are you going to offer that meets one or more of people’s needs? When I think of acquiring a company, I always consider what need it meets:

  • Food, water, shelter, health
  • Energy, education, ICT
  • Health span, freedom

The success of Global Growth was based on a significant percentage of investments related to healthcare. Healthcare is an infinite good and will consume an ever-greater portion of the world economy in the future. Within 50 years, healthcare will quite possibly be north of 50 percent of the GDP of advanced economies.

What kind of return will this bring for your business, and what kind of return will this be for the world? This is not just an altruistic concern; companies that add value attract the best people, and they are more likely to thrive.

  • Cure blindness
  • Provide healthcare
  • Conduct research to increase healthy lifespan
  • Ensure freedom of the press
  • Make personal information secure
  • Protect financial security
  • Make healthcare more efficient
  • Improve the quality of healthcare
  • Advance people’s careers through training and certification
  • Encourage investment in the environment
  • Share technological advancements

Each Global Growth company must contribute to its humanitarian impact by creating value and social good. Before I acquire a company, I ask, “How does this company add value?” And this is not only because I believe it is important to contribute to improving the world; companies that make the world a better place are more likely to thrive.

Each Global Growth company must seek out and contribute to social good in order to have a positive humanitarian impact on the world. Global Growth companies and their affiliates have donated millions of dollars to causes and provided many hundreds of volunteer hours. Here are just a few examples of the work we do—outside of work hours:

  • We have committed to providing one million meals worldwide to areas affected by the global pandemic. Our companies operate in
    more than 20 countries, and our giving program must do the same. We have delivered meals via nonprofits in the United States, Europe, India, the Philippines, Costa Rica, and the Ukraine.
  • We have partnered with the Akshaya Patra Foundation in India and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
  • We also invest in eye care and eye surgery for underserved populations. Through sponsored free clinics and events, adults and children who would otherwise go without the means to maintain and correct their eyesight can get proper care and eyeglasses.
  • In 2019, Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) officially received recognition as a “Healthy Community”—a distinction from Special Olympics, Inc. that denotes a year round focus on advancing the health of people with intellectual disabilities. SONC’s nutrition focused health programs and resources provide opportunities for athletes to learn about the benefits of healthy eating. We support these initiatives of this distinction through “Gold” partnership status. Our contribution as a Healthy Communities partner helps promote nutrition education among SONC athletes, as well as allow for engagement opportunities among Global Growth employees.
  • We provided startup funding for Interrogating Justice, which since 2021 has helped more than 400,000 people facing prosecution understand their rights under the law and the resources available to them. They have done so with a staff composed mostly of people who have spent time in prison.

Embrace ‘And’ not ‘Or’

In Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

All progress belongs to the unreasonable person. We are taught to be reasonable, to accommodate, to be polite and negotiate. But, there are times when you must demand the unreasonable. You must ask for more than anyone thinks is possible.

  • Turning a bankrupt publishing company into a thriving online business that makes $15 million a year.
  • Delivering record results, despite COVID-19, legal battles, and pending incarceration.
  • Growing organically at over 15 percent per year over 15 years straight.
  • Keeping the team together and motivated, despite all manner of adversities, false allegations, and negative media attention.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past 29 years I have heard “You can’t” and gone on to prove the doubters wrong. I’ve been told:

  • You can’t launch a newsletter company from your dorm room.
  • You can’t start a company without outside investment.
  • You’ll never be able to buy that company because the big players want it.
  • You can’t just buy an insurance company.

Fundamentally, when someone tells you, “You can’t,” and this conflicts with a commitment you have made to yourself, you have a choice: honor your own word, or listen to their feedback. If you have made a commitment to yourself to achieve the goal you have set out or die trying, you have no choice but to prove the doubters wrong.

Often, doubters will say that you must make a choice. Instead, Jim Collins encourages us to embrace “and” not “or.” Here are some “ands” that we embrace:

Profitability and growth: Most managers say they can turn a profit or invest in growth. I ask all my leaders to do both. Get creative. Figure out how you can get your development done cost-effectively while keeping costs down elsewhere.

Customer-focused and employee-centered: The customer should be the focus of every business decision. Where does that leave the employees? It leaves them working as part of a customer-focused, thriving organization that offers them almost unlimited opportunities for growth.

Fearlessness and compliance: We are aggressive. We are also compliant. We push boundaries but understand that we must do so in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. We can develop game-changing products while maintaining a robust quality system that ensures we still meet the letter of the law.

Strategic thinking and execution: We always plan for the future but insist on operational excellence. We break molds and try the impossible, but we are still workmanlike in our pursuit.

Organic growth and acquisitions: We grow through acquisition, but that should never be the only way. When we acquire an asset or company, we expect its leader to show sustained growth as well. Acquisitions are exciting, but they cannot take a leader’s eye off the mandate for the strategic growth of existing companies.

Do the Impossible

I began in 1991 as a 21-year-old student reading a newsletter and thinking, “I can do better.” My main competitor didn’t take me seriously until it was too late. My newsletter, Home Care Week, became a significant competitor in the industry.

By 1998, my company, Eli Global, comprised 12 people working out of one big room full of folding tables and computers. We published Home Care Week and Rehab Report and had just launched Home Care Compliance Alert.

That same year, cuts to home care funding from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 hit us hard and made us grow up. We let go of quality people. We worried about meeting payroll and paying our printing bill.

We built up our products in the healthcare space and started looking at acquisitions. Our first acquisition was the Travel Research Bureau in 2000. We bought the company for the price of taking over the owner’s debts and cleaning out his office. My IT director and I rented a U-Haul and came back with a pile of files, furniture, a glass pumpkin candy dish, and a microwave. The microwave was a handy addition to our poorly-equipped break room. However, the most valuable thing we got from the acquisition was a tough lesson. The Travel Research Bureau addressed the complex connection between travel agents and ticketing entities—just as companies such as Travelocity were transforming the industry.

Our next big step was buying The Coding Institute in 2002. We had to deal with prima donna writers who were extremely expensive and modestly talented. They left the company, thinking they had dealt us a fatal blow. We then hired brilliant people with great attitudes and gave them two weeks to master material that took most people a year. Ninety percent of them succeeded and became the core of Global Growth’s editorial excellence. Some of these writers are millionaires today because of the stock appreciation rights in our group of companies that they received.

Our third big step was completing a $40 million acquisition in 2006. We’d had our eye on the company for years, as did several other suitors. But we were scrappier. We found the owner’s contact information from a colleague of a colleague. We e-mailed him to say, “We are going to be on your front doorstep Monday, and we will do what it takes to buy your company.”

Our first India office was a real game-changer. We found a new way to live by our “and, not or” philosophy. Opening our Faridabad office in 2007 allowed us to cut costs while investing in growth and product development.

After Faridabad, our globalization strategy really took off. We opened offices in the Philippines and Malta. We bought our first non-U.S. company in Ireland. In the meantime, our publishing business was faltering. Workflow products and information in real time were replacing newsletters. So, we transitioned our products into software that integrated into the customers’ daily activities.

Our health care business grew, while our print-based competitors faltered.

In 2012, we saw we had a knack for growth. We were successful in taking “okay” businesses and making them great. Our growth was limited by two factors: access to great leaders and access to capital. We invested in leadership development, bringing in robust executive coaching to grow internal leaders while creating an aggressive recruiting team to find them externally.

I learned some hard lessons during those early years:

  • Have the financial discipline to run your company as if there is about to be a recession.
  • No matter how good the deal, you must look at long-term market-drivers.
  • Build a loyal community, and you have built a barrier to entry for your competitors.
  • Ignore people who tell you that you won’t succeed. Just prove them wrong.
  • Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
  • Embrace a location-agnostic business philosophy, or you will get left behind.
  • Innovate or die.