Episode 281: Lead by Creating Positive Environments with Bob Marquardt, President, MTC

Episode Summary

Running a successful organization can become a power trip for some people; they make it about themselves and not the organization in some cases. That is why for Bob Marquardt, humility is the number one characteristic every leader should focus on. Be aware that no one is irreplaceable and give proper credit to every team member and appreciative words about the work being done by them.  


Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger and we have a special guest with us today. I’ve been looking forward to this for a number of weeks. He’s the president of a second-generation family business, Management and Training Corporation that goes by MTC and it is a leader in corrections, education, and job training. They have 10,000 employees in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. So, welcome Bob Marquardt.

Bob Marquardt: Thanks, Steve. It’s good to be with you.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, same here. And before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about MTC and Bob, so you have a feel for this. This is not just an ordinary guest. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Bob for 35 years and when Bob and I first met – it was through the Young Presidents’ Organization – we both had brown hair. Now, we both have white hair. And Bob was running a printing company and that will put in context, the experience that he’s had with MTC. Management Training Corporation provides an at-risk population with job training programs that include vocational, academic, social skills. And as the largest contractor for the US Department of Labor, MTC runs 27 Job Corps centers and sites that offer this kind of training in a variety of programs such as auto mechanics, office skills, welding. And that number may have changed in the last couple of years, but that gives you a feel for the scope. And they’ve built upon that, and they are the third-largest manager of prisons and jails, correctional facilities throughout the United States, and really other parts of the world. 

Steve Shallenberger: A little bit on the personal side for Bob, he’s been active in the Young Presidents’ Organization for about 35 years. This is an organization that is dedicated to executive education. It’s about the whole family but really focuses on CEO education. There are 22,000 member presidents throughout the world and Bob has held a number of leadership roles in YPO. He’s also been active in leadership and industry associations, higher education, and government boards. He served on the Utah State Board of Regents for 12 years, and this is one of Bob’s passions. He’s worked extensively to improve funding and outcomes for the Utah system of public education. He likes to ski, hike, bike, swim, loves the outdoors, he’s focused on nutrition and fitness and has a very close family, spends a lot of time with them. So, as you can tell, I’m pretty excited to have Bob with us today. It’s been said that an organization is really but the shadow of its leader. MTC is one of the very best organizations anywhere in the world, and that is definitely a reflection of Bob. He is an excellent leader, a caring person. I’m grateful for his friendship. So, Bob, are you ready to rock and roll today?

Bob Marquardt: Let’s do it.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, let’s just start off, Bob, as you reflect on your experiences in life, what are some of the key lessons learned, professional lessons that have helped you and your business be successful?

Bob Marquardt: Well, thanks, Steve. I talk about this subject a lot. We have a management development program, leadership development program within our company. And so, with close to 10,000 employees, we’re always looking for who the upcoming leaders are going to be and we have a structured 18-month program that we have potential leaders go through, our future leaders. And so, this is a topic I talk about a lot. The first one I’m going to mention is one I don’t really talk about so much, but I think one of the most important things you can do to approach a leadership position is to have a little bit of humility. So often, running a large organization becomes kind of a power trip for some people and it’s about them and not the organization. And I hope I attest the opposite of that. I think you really depend on the team of people you have put together for the success in the organization, no one person is not replaceable. And that’s an important lesson to learn, I think, for everybody to have a little humility and give other people the credit for accomplishments and make sure you’re appreciative of what they’re doing and not so focused on what you personally did. And that’s definitely true for me because I have got a lot better people around me than I am and that’s what makes our organization strong. 

Bob Marquardt: But the thing I really talked about is what’s made a difference for our company, is performance. All of our businesses operate in government contracts, but this is, I think, true of any organization, in that you’re signing people up for some service or good, and performing on that contract is the most important thing you can do. There are always a set of expectations that are defined in a contract and the contracting agency wants to see that those obligations are met. And so, performance is number one for us. And that’s really been the secret to our growth since the beginning of the company, we’re now celebrating our 40th year. So, we’ve had 40 years of performing on contracts, and we have a good reputation for that. And that’s how we grow because in any industry, the people making those kinds of decisions, it tends to be a small group of people and they tend to talk to each other and compare notes. And so, if you’re performing on contracts, that’s number one. 

Bob Marquardt: The second thing that we really try and focus on is innovation and what are we going to do beyond the requirements of the contract. What’s the wow factor? How are we going to exceed expectations? And bringing innovative ideas to anybody’s, or any group, any organization’s problems is going to make you more valuable to them. So, we’ve always tried to be a very innovative company coming up with new ideas, new methods, that can take the performance of the contracting organization further than it’s been before. 

Bob Marquardt: And then the last one, and probably the most important one that I like to talk about is integrity. Because there’s nothing more important than the integrity of an individual and particularly the integrity of an organization. So, my worst nightmare is an employee that cheats on behalf of the company. So, whether that’s in government procurement, or in terms of the way they treat our fellow employees that can lead to litigation for us, loss of business. For a government contractor, if it becomes a pattern, you can be debarred from ever bidding on a government contract again. And so, that’s kind of the death knell for a government contractor. But, it’s just the right thing to do, to treat people with respect and dignity, and operate as you’d want your mother to see you operate or have your actions reported on the front page of the local newspaper as something that would make you proud. So, integrity is critically important. So, I think those three or four things are what I would put at the top of the list of lessons I’ve learned and the lessons I try and pass on to our employees and my family for that matter.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, those are so powerful. I’m just interested, Bob, with a larger organization like that, how do you create an environment where there is innovation across the board that they see problems and are able to solve problems? How do you create that culture, and not only that but also the integrity? But how about innovation in a large company? How does that kind of come along? And I love these ideas, the culture of performance of that’s the reason you’re in business and delivering on those contracts.

Bob Marquardt: Yeah, well, I mean, the culture of performance or the culture of innovation, is something that you have to work hard to create. But if you get a group of leaders who are really talking about that and rewarding that and recognizing that, other people want to become part of the group that’s being recognized and rewarded. And so, it’s definitely something that you can build into your organization. Innovation is something that we reward, we recognize, we have programs to recognize individual innovations that employees come up with. With the different facilities that we operate, we take some of the more critical issues that we’re facing and have an annual contest on who can make the biggest outcome to the issue that we’re facing. In the past, that could be an environmental program, it could be learning outcomes, it could be retention of students in a program. There’s a lot of different factors or measurements that we could focus on and we change those from year to year. But we have a year-long program. A group has to say, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to try and do. We’re going to increase retention from 80% and 90%. And these are the steps we’re going to take to do it.” And then at the end of the year, we see if they did it, and what steps they have taken, and the ones that make the biggest impact, get $5,000-10,000 rewards for their facility. And so, it’s a big contest, people get really excited about it and work hard to beat that. And that’s just an example of innovation, it’s not the only innovation. What we want to do is just create a culture where everybody is looking for better ways to do their job. Are there more effective ways, more efficient ways that we can do it and improve the outcomes that we’re measuring as part of our various contracts? But it takes a lot of work and a commitment, but if the leadership of the organization is talking about innovation and recognizing it, it becomes pretty easy for the rest of the group’s employees to fall in.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, yeah that’s great advice. It really starts at the top and then goes through the whole organization, doesn’t it? 

Bob Marquardt: It does.

Steve Shallenberger: So, would you mind, as you reflect on these things that you’ve talked about, and we’re going to have listeners from all over the world, and leaders will have employees that will be listening to this, people that want to make a difference within their organizations. And as you reflect on where you gained these insights, where it formed or impacted you to say “Hold that. I would like to be a humble leader. And respecting other people and providing dignity and integrity is a big deal.” Do you mind taking a moment and maybe share an experience or two on how you learned these lessons?

Bob Marquardt: Well, I mean, I think it’s kind of the same lessons you would apply to your family in how you’d want to raise your kids. So, fortunately, I got some of this from my parents – or probably actually a lot of it from my parents. And that’s the background that I came into employment with. And I came into work into a family business, so my dad was involved. And so, the values that I learned as a child just kind of spilled over into the values I have at work. But our business is a little bit unusual, it’s 100% trying to improve outcomes and overcome challenges that at-risk people have. So, the population that we deal with are people that have dropped out of school for one reason or another, they may have mental health issues, they may have behavioral issues and they’re frequently from a no-parent or one-parent family, they could have been homeless, there’s a lot of different issues that people come to us with and they tend to put up walls. If somebody is not performing well in school year after year, and people are laughing at them or saying “You’re never going to make it”, or putting them down, that’s not an environment people like to be in. And so, what happens is people start to put up walls. And in a classroom, it could be putting your head down on the desk and pretending you’re asleep or being the class clown, or not even coming to class. And so, our job is to try and give people that self-confidence and self-esteem that they’re willing to risk in a classroom environment again. And so, we’re looking for any positive outcome and celebrate it and say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s just so phenomenal what you did this week in this class.”, and raise expectations for people who haven’t had anybody set them that high from before. So, we’re trying to set higher expectations than they’ve had before. And not everybody reacts to that because some people have just been through so much or have some chemical or genetic issue that is hard to overcome. But by far, the majority of people thrive in that kind of environment, people like to get positive recognition. And so, when they have had a life without it, and they come into an environment where it’s there, it’s such a positive atmosphere to be in.

Bob Marquardt: And so, I mean, the best part of my job is visiting our facilities and when I do, I tour around and go to the health services, food services, dormitories, places like that. But where I find I learn the most is going to visit classrooms. And so, you’re talking to 15 or 20 people in a small group and just ask them about their experiences, it’s pretty surprising how appreciative they are, and how many people say thank you. And I’m talking about also people who are in prison. So, this is not someplace you would expect people to be appreciative of being there. And obviously, they would rather be home with their families, but they’ve been in other correctional environments where that kind of environment doesn’t exist. And it’s such a welcome relief for them and such a positive experience to come into a positive environment that it’s very rewarding. The same thing is true with the teachers that we employ. More often than not, they’ve come from the public school system, and so they’ve been a teacher before. And I frequently say, “Why did you come to a prison to work?”, and it’s an emotional experience for them and they say, “I’ve never had such a group of students who are so appreciative of what I’m doing and try so hard to meet my expectations or the challenges I set for them.” And for a prison, that’s pretty amazing. I’ve been doing this for decades, and to have teachers in a prison classroom talk like that it’s still to me surprising to this day. But I hardly ever talk to a teacher who has a different reaction than that and they really like coming to this facility. And you see the inmates and the offenders who are in these classrooms and they’re big, tough guys with tattoos all over their body, and somebody you think you’d be afraid to walk down the street next to and they just tell these personal stories about how much the teacher has done for them and how they explain it better than other teachers explain it or encourage them. And it’s incredibly rewarding to be in that kind of environment.

Steve Shallenberger: Bob and I have long shared a passion, and that is to help people become the very best that they can be. And you can hear that in Bob’s voice as he’s describing how rewarding it is to see people change and realize becoming their best if you will. Bob, from your point of view, how do you bring out the best in people – your employees, people in the prisons, people in the job centers? How do you do that? How do you bring out the best in others?

Bob Marquardt: Well, I mean, there’s probably a lot of different approaches to that. But the approach we use within our organization is creating a culture that brings out the best. And it all starts with what you said earlier, treating people with respect and dignity. People that come to prison are not used to being treated that way. They’ve created a felony and been convicted of it and that’s how they ended up in prison. And so, people along the way, have just said “You’re no good, you’re a criminal, you’re a bad person.”, and then that’s how they tend to act. And our role, we have nothing to do with who comes to us. The court system, the criminal justice system, police are the ones in charge of that. And so, when they come to our facilities, our job is to get them ready to come out. And 99% of them are going to come back on the street and be your neighbor. And so, that’s our complete focus, is how are we going to get them to buy into a new program. And if you treat people with respect and dignity, almost always that’s what they get back to you. And then that’s the platform to build on to try and set higher expectations and talk about becoming their best and help them think of things that they may never have thought of in their life that they could do as a career or as a spouse or as a parent. And there’s a lot of different ways people can choose to become their best, but I think having a culture that creates that whether that’s in your family, in your work environment, or wherever it exists, it makes all the difference in the world.

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, great. And it sounds like you also give them a skill set of a new way to think of several new directions and goals or whatever it might be. 

Bob Marquardt: Yeah. I mean, we have very structured programs to deal with that. And the people that get in trouble get in trouble for a lot of different reasons. So we have cognitive behavior classes, anger management classes to try and assess what the issue is that got somebody in trouble in the first place and then have programs specifically addressed to help them overcome that. Pretty much no one in prison likes where they are and they don’t always have the tools and haven’t had the enriching family experience, for example, that most others have had, and so, they lack the tools to make changes in their lives. So, if you give them the tools and the encouragement to use those tools, they become excited about it. And that doesn’t mean they still don’t have a lot of challenges, both while they’re in prison and particularly once they get out and go back to their home or community they came from. But more often than not, they react very positively to that and it’s very encouraging to see.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s exciting. So, Bob, if you had the chance to sit down with someone who was just joining your team, what would be one or two things you would say to them about what it means to be a great team member? 

Bob Marquardt: Well, I do talk to a lot of new employees, and one of the things that I think really makes a difference is not everybody has all the experience you need to take on a new job or all the skills that they could to be successful. But if somebody comes with a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn, there’s almost no employer that wouldn’t be really happy to work with that person and help them get the experience and the skills to have a successful career. Everybody wants to work with people with positive attitudes. And I should say that Steve Shallenberger is probably the most optimistic, positive attitude guy I’ve ever known. And so, he’s been a mentor for me for decades. And I watched Steve and the way he approaches people, and I want to be like Steve, and emulate that. And I talk about it a lot because some people have a mental health issue or something that prevents them from being positive every day. But for most of us, it’s kind of just a decision. We all face adversity and have bad things happen to us and if you can just say, “Hey, guys, this is really a problem, but here’s the path forward. And here’s where we’re going.”, and present a positive spin on a negative situation, or hopefully a positive spin on a positive situation that’s so infectious with other people. And to have an eagerness to learn and admit, “Hey, I need some help, I don’t understand this” or “I really don’t get this”, that’s the ideal employee that you want to be specific about what help they need, and that helps the employer provide that help. So, I think at the very top of the list would just be to have a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn. I guess the second thing I would talk about is one of the things I’ve already talked about – integrity. Because this means so much to be honest, and truthful and helping other people with the same issue, and just creating a culture of integrity, it’s critical for any successful employer. And so, an employee with a lot of integrity is the most valuable employee we could ever have.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you so much, Bob, those are great recommendations for any employee anywhere. That does make such a difference because we always encounter challenges along the way, but we have the attitude that we’re going to take this thing on and figure out ways to solve it. And then the other one is treating people right, that’s a big deal. And thank you for your comment, I feel the same way about Bob, of course, and he’s been an amazing influence in my life. I was very impressed with Bob. And I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up and maybe you can describe it, Bob, but they really work hard to have ongoing training within their own company. And so, this is an active program that they have and Bob shared that they’re trying to teach their own employees to be sensitive to discrimination and not to have discrimination of any type. I mean, this goes right along with what Bob was talking about, of having respect and dignity for all people. What he decided to do – and maybe you can talk about this, Bob – is you pulled together a panel. Would you mind sharing that and what one of your employees shared, this one lady that agreed to be on the panel?

Bob Marquardt: With the whole Black Lives Matter issue before us over the past year and the issues underlying that go way back before the last year, but it’s a big topic in the workforce now. And so, we’ve tried to be sensitive to that and had focus groups with different groups of people, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, whatever and just kind of say “What kind of employer are we and what are the challenges that you have to face?” One of the things we did a couple of months ago is we have a monthly all-staff meeting and it’s now done by Zoom, we have about 200 people participate in it. And we asked five of our employees who are all African American to talk about their experiences and any issues, racial bias, prejudice that they faced and it was one of the most compelling emotional in-service meetings we ever had. Because these are people we know and work with that have never really talked about this at work before because just doesn’t seem to, in their minds, productive to do that. But we invited a few people to do it and they told personal stories that were heart-wrenching about being treated by neighbors or by the police and specific instances. And one woman who’s about 60-year-old African American woman was traveling for MTC, she was on a work trip and was in a small town in the South and was pulled over by the police and the policemen asked to see her car registration, and she’d rented it. And with COVID, a lot of car rental agencies have gone paperless. And so, she didn’t have it because she had it on an app on her phone. And she said to the officer, “I don’t have one. It’s a rental car, I can show it to you on my phone.” And he thought she was being disrespectful or was just a jerk, but started giving her a hard time and made her get out of the car and then threw her up against the hood of the car for not having the car registration. I mean, it’s just a horrendous treatment of a wonderful person. And so, to hear her tell her story of what just happened a month or so ago when she was on company business and just doing or minding her own business. But stories like that were heart-wrenching, but it opens up everybody’s heart to what somebody else is going through, so we can work harder to have a positive work environment for every one of our employees, whatever their background is.

Steve Shallenberger: Thank you for sharing that, Bob, and creating that opportunity. That’s a great example for all of us to think of ways to sensitize our own employees and educate them. Well, we’re in the wrap-up now, and on a personal side, what are two or three of your biggest lessons learned in life?

Bob Marquardt: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of lessons.

Steve Shallenberger: I know there are.

Bob Marquardt: But I think a couple of good ones are just – and Steve Shallenberger is again certainly emulating this – to maintain a positive relationship with everyone. I mean, you’re not going to agree with the tactics or the acts of every other person, but it’s frequently best just to keep your mouth shut in those situations and let it pass. I mean, that doesn’t mean if it’s causing a problem that’s in your workplace, for example, of course, you have to deal with it. But if it comes to a situation where you have to let an employee go because for whatever reason – I mean, I always go out of my way to try and maintain a positive relationship when someone’s leaving and call them up and just say, “I’m so sorry this didn’t work out. I wish you the best of luck in your future career, and if there’s any way I can ever help you, I hope you’ll give me a call.” And I seldom get a call back but I think everybody appreciates that kind of thing. And it’s surprising how often people who leave our company come back to work for a competitor or get hired by the government and become our boss on some future contract. People who have access to grind that are out there are not your friend, they’ll bad mouth you to other people and it’s just better to do everything you can to maintain a positive relationship with everyone. And even in challenging situations you can try and take a step back and avoid the situation altogether if you can, but just to be everybody’s friend is one of the best things you can do. 

Bob Marquardt: And the second thing is something Steve mentioned in his introduction but I become more and more health-focused as I grow older. Maybe that’s because death gets closer as well but I don’t think there’s ever been as much scientific evidence of the positive benefit of physical good health and you have such control over that through what you eat and your fitness regime. So, it just would be crazy not to be focused right now on good nutrition and physical fitness. And then also to be aware of the emotional side because everybody’s got emotional issues, stress that we’re dealing with and to learn about that and learn strategies to maintain a healthy emotional side as well through good sleep, and it could be meditation or different things like that – and nutrition and fitness, obviously play into that as well. But protecting your health is the best thing you can do to improve your academic potential and to improve your work potential. So, it’s a lot better to have a longer life at a healthy pace than a shorter life of being sick a lot. So, I’m very focused on that right now and I encourage everybody I come in contact with to pay attention to that as well.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, Bob, thank you so much for being with us today. What a delight! This has just been the best. Really appreciate your time.

Bob Marquardt: Thanks, Steve. And keep up the good work. What a great podcast.

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet. And well, I’ll say one other thing about Bob, we’ve mentioned it earlier, as you can tell he is a remarkable individual. One of the things I’ve learned from Bob, among many other things is how important education is. He has been such an advocate at all levels. You can see that he does it professionally, but he does it within every area that he’s in. He recommends it to people to keep gaining knowledge, new experience, but also with our education systems, that they’re properly funded. So, thanks, Bob, for that example.

Bob Marquardt: Thank you. Yeah, I’m very passionate about that, that’s true.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, okay. Well, Bob, we wish you all the best. The world’s a better place because of Bob Marquardt. Thanks a lot, Bob.

Bob Marquardt: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And we wish all of you, every one of our listeners the very best. We’re privileged and honored that you joined our show, and I am really certain that today you’ve gained some great lessons. So, this is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Bob Marquardt

President, Management & Training Corporation

Leader, educator, and job trainer

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