Put People Over Profits to Drive Growth with Josh Levin at Empowered Electric

Most leaders that profit and revenues are the most crucial factors for company growth. These same people often have a limited view of what it takes to grow a business. However, putting people over profits has proven to drive growth. My guest today is Josh Levin, Founder of Empowered Electric. His company was ranked #210 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. His success in company growth is hard to deny. But Josh is most proud is that his company clearly puts people over profits. In our interview, we talk about the strategy of people over profits. Learn how Josh sees his job as a leader. Discover the importance of caring for people. If you want your company to grow fast, put people over profit.

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Josh Levin: The Transcript

Target Audience: Josh Levin is the Founder of Empowered Electric. Empowered Electric is bucking tradition, infusing unexpected creativity into electrical contracting. Its Instagram account surpasses 14,000 followers and features its projects, from restaurants to retail.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Josh Levin
I would say anytime you hear that there’s a labor shortage in the construction industry that could help is hard to find. I say well craps all that. I think there’s not enough good construction companies out there and social media is exposing those crappy companies that want to exploit their workers and care more about profit over people. And that’s where the real problem with construction is it’s not that there’s a shortage of caring hardworking dedicated disciplined people that want to impact the world in positive ways.

[00:00:28].920] – Intro
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

[00:00:46].470] – Gene Hammett
People over profits. Do you realize that that is the formula for growing your business. A lot of people think it’s the other way around. They think about that measuring the profits measuring service factors and all of these things that go into why how we make money. And I totally get that. But what if you thought about putting people first. And what if you actually put people first. And what if you actually create a culture where they knew and they felt cared for heard seen valued. That’s what we’re talking about.

[00:01:20].730] – Gene Hammett
That changes the dynamics of the entire business. And that changes the trajectory of growth. That’s a tough word to say but I bring this to you because I really excited to share this episode with you. I have Josh Levin the founder of empowered electorate. We’re number two 10 on the Inglis in 2019. They’ve grown at an astronomical pace almost 2000 percent in three years. They’ve done little over 8 million in revenue and they’re still continuing to grow because they put people first. What I love about this is we talk about some specific strategies that you could use and it’s coming from an industry like construction that this is unheard of. And that’s one reason why they’re growing so fast because they put people over profits. Well here’s the interview with Josh.

[00:02:05].700] – Gene Hammett
Josh how are you?

[00:02:07].120] – Josh Levin
Doing well. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:09].290] – Gene Hammett
Well excited to have you here at Growth Think Tank. I wanted to let you have a chance to talk about the company to give some context to to the audience. So tell us about Empowered Electric

[00:02:20].960] – Josh Levin
So Empowered Electric is a full service commercial electric company. We dabble in residential and service but predominantly what we do is we light up or bring power to all despite all the spaces that you would go on a date night too. So restaurants coffee shops bars all hospitality locations hotels. If you’ve gone on a date there it’s probably untouched by us in Kansas City started five years ago have grown to 10 million dollars in revenue this year and roughly 50 employees so it’s gone well.

[00:02:54].690] – Gene Hammett
Well you were one of the fastest growing companies in the INC last year your number exactly.

[00:02:59].850] – Josh Levin
Number 210

[00:03:01].270] – Gene Hammett
210. I mean that’s an impressive number to do this and you’ve been only in business a short amount of time and you’re young.

[00:03:11].160] – Josh Levin
Yeah well I mean older older than some I guess. But yeah yeah it’s been it’s been a lot of fun it was really fun. I think we were number four fastest growing in Kansas City which was a really fun honor. Third in Missouri because Kansas City most people when they think Kansas City they think Kansas The Wizard of Oz. But Kansas City Missouri is actually three times the size of Kansas City Kansas. So we’re on the Missouri side and it’s been it’s been a great honor.

[00:03:37].260] – Gene Hammett
Well I want to dive into this because one of the things that have really driven your company to the level of millions in revenue and fast growth has not been a maniacal focus on money and profits. So what did you focus on to create this kind of growth.

[00:03:59].160] – Josh Levin
Well so I had worked at a previous electric company and I’d been in the construction industry for a long time. Basically my entire adult life. And if you think about it when you think about construction you don’t think about loving caring individuals. I mean you’re a you might be like politically correct and be like No no no I do.

[00:04:18].750] – Josh Levin
Usually when people think about construction they think of you know a dead end job someone that probably dropped out of high school someone that doesn’t have a lot of things going for them. You think about maybe topics of illegal immigration it’s not an industry that’s known for loving and caring for its people for social impact social good. Those types of things. And so as I worked at a company that kind of I saw a lot of that same similar construction stuff happen I thought to myself I wonder if you could start a company that cared more about people and less about profit in this industry and would it work.

[00:04:56].640] – Josh Levin
And so when I jumped out in the water a lot of things leading up to that but when I jumped out I always say it was almost like a science experiment of like if I cared more about people and less about profit in the construction world could I be successful. And so I had no desire or no goal to be on the Inc 500 list. It was literally either it’s going to work or it’s not and I’ll know and I think you know on this podcast we figure out it does work.

[00:05:25].320] – Gene Hammett
Well that was in the early days that you didn’t learn that over time you came into this with this premise of cannot create something totally different than the norm in this industry. Which is putting people first. That would would it be viable. Mm hmm. That’s where you started.

[00:05:45].170] – Josh Levin
Yeah. It really started there and you know that whole Simon Sinek start with y thing I think the reason that some people talk about culture or they talk about caring for people and it’s more about people and less about profit could make a lot of profit. Like the end goal is still profitability and money for most people and that’s the strategy. So like you know you hear GaryVee say like if your company culture strategy is just a foosball table you suck. You actually have to care about people and for me. And we don’t have to get into it but I came from a pretty rough past that was very characterized by poverty addiction and self defeat.

[00:06:20].000] – Josh Levin
So fill in those words. Go watch Good Will Hunting and you get a snapshot of my life. And because of that I was able to volunteer at this juvenile detention center and I would see these kids ages 12 to 17 years old some boy some girls and I would talk to them about their past not dictating their future and I would get them all fired up to leave the juvenile detention center and re-engage in the world and have a great social impact and change their lives and change the narrative when they would get out and I would meet them at coffee shops because I love coffee right here man I gotta to drink coffee addict when I would meet with them at a coffee shop.

[00:06:57].890] – Josh Levin
Nine times out of ten. Their biggest fear was it’s running drugs and asking a girl to the prom and all this kind of stuff. It was finding a job because if they didn’t find a job the recidivism rate is astronomical. If whether it’s a juvenile detention center or later convictions if they don’t find meaningful work they’re going to resort to what they know. And it was kind of that I was like Man if I cared more about people less about profit in a real way I’m thinking about you know Marc Well I’m thinking about John I’m thinking about Josh I’m thinking about these kids faces.

[00:07:31].010] – Josh Levin
If I cared more about them could it be know could it work. Could it be successful it wasn’t this like idea of me just like saying these words to like you know does it make sense.

[00:07:43].130] – Gene Hammett
It does. I mean I want to zero in on something because a lot of people listening in here go you know I do care about my people but how far do you take it to truly care about the people that work for you.

[00:07:57].140] – Josh Levin
I think all the way. Yeah I mean you care all the way because this I was thinking about this when people say because I mean I’ve been burned a lot and we’re not a halfway house we’re not a re-engagement program like we are a 100 percent commercial electric company but for every five awesome dudes we hire do we hire someone that has maybe a checkered past maybe someone that needs someone to believe in them. Absolutely. But we always have this overwhelming ratio and dedication to our customers and our clients that their house is going to burn down right. That the lights are going to work.

[00:08:32].240] – Josh Levin
But I think one of the main reasons that you have to care all the way. So we’ve done things like we’ve laid people not lay people off. I’m sorry we’ve suspended people for poor performance or poor punctuality with pay. We’ve given severance pay to electricians I’ve never heard of a construction worker getting fired and getting severance pay. We’ve paid for counselling sessions we’ve paid for hospital visits we’ve paid for time off that they didn’t do like we’ve gone to overwhelming extents to show these people that we cared deeply about them as human beings as individuals not just as numbers on a on a profit and loss statement and what it’s done for us this is two things.

[00:09:13].010] – Josh Levin
Even if the person didn’t work out and they got fired what it’s done is it’s made me a better person. It’s made me a better leader because I think I need to be the kind of leader that cares no matter what. Now if they don’t respond well they’re going to get fired. That’s it regardless whatever but the kind of heart that I have. There’s been times running I’ll tell my wife I’m like man I could I could really see how not caring would be so much easier and she’s like you have it you don’t want to be an easy person you want to be a strong person don’t take the easy way out.

[00:09:42].860] – Josh Levin
And the second thing it does is it enforces our culture so that people know whenever I say we care more about people and less about profit they’re thinking about those crappy electricians they got fired with three weeks paid vacation you know like severance pay or whatever it was they think about those people that we sent to counseling those that they think about those people and they know that it’s not just a cliché word that we’re saying and they can get behind what we’re what we’re what we’re preaching.

[00:10:10].970] – Gene Hammett
I would bet that you have no problem with employee retention.

[00:10:15].590] – Josh Levin
We’ve had a great retention we’ve had. I mean so that’s what that’s what’s funny and this is a completely different topic but I would I would say anytime you hear that there’s a labor shortage in the construction industry that could help is hard to find. I say bull crap to all that. I think there’s not enough good construction companies out there and social media is exposing those crappy companies that want to exploit their workers and care more about profit over people. And that’s where the real problem with construction is it’s not that there’s a shortage of caring hardworking dedicated disciplined people that want to impact the world in positive ways.

[00:10:50].750] – Josh Levin
I mean what better thing to do than build like we get to build schools and hospitals like you want to impact the world in a great way. Like we’re building those things like Millennials Generation Z they want to get on board with that but they don’t want to do it. So that you can buy your 15th lake house while they’re driving a 1995 Honda Civic. You know.So anyway.

[00:11:09].840] – Commentary
Let’s pause here for a second. Josh talked about caring and he’s talked a lot about caring but a lot of people don’t have the courage to truly care for their people. And when I say truly care I mean truly getting to know them at a personal level. There is this that some content of thinking about the business where you’re just gonna stay business and we’re gonna talk about business but people want to feel appreciated. They want to feel heard. They want to feel valued. And that really takes them caring. And it takes you taking the time to do that. So make sure that you’re taking the time as you need to to make sure people feel cared for. Now back to interview.

[00:11:50].600] – Gene Hammett
Well I wanted to dive a little bit deeper with this because you know it’s those benefits that you mentioned and there’s much more than just as regular benefits. What else do you do to truly let people know how much you put them on a higher level than profits.

[00:12:10].880] – Josh Levin
So I mean that’s that’s the thing is like once again like I’m not trying to juke this question but it’s like I think it’s more about who you are you know what I mean. It’s like imagine if you’re married. It’s like well what do you want to do to like show your wife you lover or your spouse. It’s like well clean the kitchen. You pick up and don’t take a nap. And you know do anything. And it’s going to be impactful to people. And so we use language but we also just it’s who we are so we text our guys. We know our people’s people’s names their spouses names their kids names we know their hobbies. We ask about them as people we engage with them if we go to a job site.

[00:12:50].810] – Josh Levin
We bring red bulls like you know we just any kind of effort matter because I think that’s what people want is they want to be seen. They want to be you know so seek your people and know them. So what do we do. Do we throw parties every month sometimes. Sometimes we don’t do we buy pizza sometimes sometimes we don’t like. I don’t think tactics matter as much as intent. And if you care about your people show them. I mean I was just at a seminar where they were talking about like this new communication software to it to create like employee engagement.

[00:13:23].720] – Josh Levin
And I was like Do you really what you’re describing is a group text message like that’s free on you. Group text all your guys and say like yo did you see the Chief’s game that sucks we lost like you know like you don’t need some app for ten thousand dollars to send a group text you know. So I think that’s what more we do and I mean we we have lofty goals I mean I’m not going to lie I mean I would love a company like how. I mean thinking big picture dude is gonna sound goofy but like I want a company like house where when after you’re here for a year you can afford a complete you know paid vacation to the lake house.

[00:13:58].260] – Josh Levin
Boats build fridges stock because in the construction industry you know people do live somewhat paycheck to paycheck like you know they make maybe you don’t think they can afford a really lavish extreme vacation and I would love to give that to our guys.

[00:14:12].070] – Gene Hammett
I want to share some research with you because I’ve been thinking of a better way to phrase this and I want to kind of test out with you. I talked to probably 450 right now because every conversation I have like you adds to the number. But after 450 conversations about five out of 10 people would answer that. It’s more important to put their people first over their customers. And the reason I say five out of 10 because five out of 10 would say it’s a really close decision but it has to be people over customers. Now four out of 10 would adamantly I think you’re probably on the side with your adamantly you’ve got to put your people first would you agree that you’re in that four out of 10.

[00:15:11].060] – Josh Levin
That’s interesting you say that because I feel like it’s. Well the reason I say it’s interesting is I think like whenever it’s so whenever I say What if we cared more about people and less about profit. What I’m not saying is what if I cared more about my employees than profit. So I actually kind of ventured out further to say what if we would care about our employees but if we care about each other what if we cared about our community and our customers more than profit. So I haven’t not separated our customers from our people almost in any category of anything I’ve said up to this point. And I think there sometimes. So I think he would have to be 50-50 and that’s going to sound weird but I think sometimes.

[00:15:51].170] – Gene Hammett
It where you come down. But I will tell you. Nine out of 10 of all the conversation I’ve had will pick employee first.

[00:16:01].470] – Josh Levin
No offence.

[00:16:03].030] – Gene Hammett
And it’s really because it’s I’m asking the question as a leader what’s more important. But as a company you’ve got to put that customer first you get to that customer customer centric but employees that don’t feel taken care of. It’s really hard to do that. Would you agree.

[00:16:21].790] – Josh Levin
Yeah. No you’re 110 percent right.So I do I would adamantly agree I remember hearing about the Pony Express where the founder of the Pony Express said hey what’s more important the ponies are the mail and everyone said the mail and he said absolutely not it’s the ponies because if the ponies aren’t taking care of the mail is delivered. I guess where I was going is I care massively about my employees but sometimes I need to kick in the pants and say hey did you know you can’t be a jerk to the customer. You can’t you know like if the customer asks for an extra hug. Come on you know.

[00:16:49].500] – Gene Hammett
I totally get that you have to have those direct moments but that’s for them to learn and see a perspective. Right.

[00:16:57].370] – Josh Levin
And just you know you know that’s. No actually I have a story about that. So I we there’s a company all one way that we show our people appreciation is we always kind of outreach to their families and their spouses. That’s why I said we know our spouses there are people’s spouses name and kids and like at our company Christmas party we like decked out our spouses in nickel and suede apparel so nickel and suede is a local Kansas City company close friends with them. They they made the list for the second year in a row. Amazing people and we’d like battle their spouses these teardrop other earrings. But anyways we’re doing their new store and it’s like very beautiful very swanky. You know just an amazing store.

[00:17:36].760] – Josh Levin
And one of our guys had less than appealing bumper stickers all over their vehicle. Just kind of goofy right young kid and they kind of really ticked off our customer. And I had this conversation with him and he’s an amazing electrician he’s a young kid he’s super ambitious he’s catching on everything. And we kind of got onto him and he felt really really bad.

[00:18:00].870] – Josh Levin
And I said hey is name’s Dakota and I said Hey Dakota I want you to realize this the reason that we’re getting on to you isn’t because of bumper stickers or vulgar or anything like that. It’s we see you as a massive part of this company’s growth. We see you as a future leader and you need to realize now that there’s a lot of eyes on you because of how skilled you are because of how great you are. It’s communication like your going places. And as you go places people are going to look to tear you down start thinking about it it was a great teaching moment rather than just like writing them up and saying hey you can’t have this kind of stuff on our company’s job sites. It was this moment to like empower him and say do we see you up here you know rise up to that occasion.

[00:18:43].110] – Gene Hammett
Now you mentioned empower. What role does that play in the growth of your company empowering your employees to really think for themselves. Do the work take care of the customers. How do you do that.

[00:18:54].840] – Josh Levin
Yes. So whenever we started I talked about that juvenile detention center and all credit to my wife I was thinking about all these goofy names like break the cycle electric which if you break the cycle of electricity doesn’t work. So it’s a stupid name. My wife pointed that out very very passionately and this this theme of empowering people came up and originally it was you know we wanted to empower at risk young adults to break the cycle of poverty addiction and self defeat by learning kick ass electric work. And it kind of morphed into we want to do empower people through electric opportunity. That’s a more P.G. business sounding statement and empowered people I think you know it’s kind of been in all our culture that people feel the most empowered when they feel educated most construction companies the biggest complaint of workers is I wish our company trained us.

[00:19:45].440] – Josh Levin
OK. So we’re gonna make education extremely important when we are a company of four people. We enlisted two of our guys into a national apprenticeship program and I remember the school and kind of laughed at us and said like hey we’ve never enrolled 50 percent of a company and I said are we gonna let our size dictate their potential. Like we’re not going to always be a four person company so we need to start teaching them. You know I think one of the other things about empower people is they feel safe.

[00:20:09].790] – Josh Levin
And so we’re always very proactive on letting people know where they stand in the company both good or bad. You know having tough conversations of hey if this continues you know you’re gonna get suspended if you get suspended multiple times are going to get fired you know having those tough conversations that are very unpleasant rather than just writing them off. It’s been a big theme for us you know empowered people see the potential. And so we kind of always are casting vision on where we’re going as a company and how they play a part in it.

[00:20:37].320] – Josh Levin
And so these kind of all these kinds of themes are something that we try to hit on people all the time. Security you know having multiple you know another complaint about construction companies is man. I haven’t had a raise in two years or I have every raised I’ve got I’ve had to ask for and for the most part we’ve never had someone ask for a raise because twice a year we sit down with them for 30 minutes up to two hours and go over these things and we’ve never missed an evaluation and we just kind of carve out these themes that people know what to expect. They know me and my business partner Paul are as individuals and as leaders and as bosses and people get behind that and get behind that hard.

[00:21:15].090] – Commentary
Hold on. Josh has talked about empowered. Now he’s got a t shirt on it talks about empowered electric empowerment is a big part of why his company is growing so fast. You’ve got to trust your employees. A lot of people think that they’re not micromanager so let’s assume that you’re not a micromanager but are you empowering them. Are you trusting them enough to be able to figure out their own path for the process or you give them the tools. Are you allowing them to invest money in themselves and training. Empowerment comes in many different flavors. But when you empower your people they will learn to think for themselves. They will learn to operate make great decisions for the company and you will have a better company because of it. Empowerment is one of the big factors that go into a growing company. But it’s also a big factor into increased feeling of ownership. It’s a big part of my work. I love to share that with you today. And back to the interview with Josh.

[00:22:13].350] – Gene Hammett
Well Josh I want to wrap this up a little bit because I’m impressed with the company I’m impressed with the way you think. But you went into this not knowing it. You think the words you said this is a kind of science experiment. And it took courage to do that. What would you tell other leaders that would like to maybe shift their culture to put people over profit right now.

[00:22:40].110] – Josh Levin
So like I said man. I mean I make more money than I ever thought imaginable and that happened about I started making more money than I ever dreamed I would make ten years ago before empowered electorate started. Whenever I interviewed to be a journeyman electrician I remember sitting at the table where the guy told me hey is a journeyman electrician in four years if you go to the apprenticeship program you get license like 25 bucks. And I thought fifty two thousand dollars a year. Oh my gosh dude. I’m rich. Like that’s gonna be more money than I ever imagined. And so ever since then I’ve been. I feel like I’ve been playing with house money.

[00:23:15].210] – Josh Levin
You can have cars you can have houses you can have whatever you want but having the ability to impact people in real way so literally last week on Thursday I kid 20 year old kid I say kid he’s you know young adult sorry if that’s me. I don’t know how to turn that off. He came in and he said he kind of had that look in his eye and he’s like Hey I need to talk to you and I was like man. I think this guy is going to put this two week notice maybe he got offered a job for two dollars more now.

[00:23:41].660] – Josh Levin
Like maybe something happened. And so I went out to the warehouse and he’s like Hey man. Dude I know and I know this is my job I know I clock in seventy three thirty I know. You know honestly man I’m just putting in plugs and lights and stuff like that. Dude I just got to say super awkward for me to say and you know I’m kind of building it up like I’m like What. Come on spit it out. And he’s like this company’s changed my life.

[00:24:04].980] – Josh Levin
He’s like every time I walk into this office and I see you and Paul it’s just like you and Paul and Daniel I think to myself those are the guys I want to be. Those are the guys I want to be like. And I just want to say thank you. And it was just this dude is amazing. Like that’s better than any bonus check ever like. It’s phenomenal to know that you’re impacting people’s lives in real tangible ways. And you know that’s a positive experience. But you know I shared about those juvie hall kids we had one juvie hall kid that got out was doing the right things.

[00:24:33].600] – Josh Levin
We hired him and he worked for us for a year and started acting stupid and started breaking my heart. And it didn’t go well and we ended up firing him. And it was the hardest thing. Literally just this firing this kid was the hardest thing the pinnacle of like carrying isn’t worth it. This sucks. Well we fired him in like six months later he gave me a call and I’m like oh crap you know he’s probably on drugs if he needs money. Something in the works. And he answers and I answer the phone and he’s like yo josh it’s Markwell and I’m like Hey what’s up. And he’s like Hey man I just want to say I’m sorry for being a shithead and I was like Oh yeah. And he goes yeah dude he’s like whenever you guys fired me I realized I just wasted the best the best opportunity I’d ever been given in my life. And I immediately went out and applied at every electric company I could possibly find. He said I got on with this company. He said Josh I never left my neighborhood. I’ve been to six states. I’m going all across America and I’m killing it.

[00:25:31].590] – Josh Levin
And I just want to say thank you for believing in me. And it was just like you know this heart wrenching situation. But man I promise you I don’t give a crap how cool of a job or I don’t think that story is better than Inc magazine’s number 210. Knowing that Mark Wells out there killing it and is on the right situation you know I mean?

[00:25:52].520] – Gene Hammett
I’m with you because I can see it in your heart and this is what makes great companies great is when you you’re able to put your heart out there and you shown us what you stand for and what the company stands for so much success to you going forward. And if you keep this up you know I really can’t see how this changes anything from a downside it’s no longer experiment. This is the way you operate. It’s that fair to say.

[00:26:20].150] – Josh Levin
Yeah absolutely.

[00:26:21].640] – Gene Hammett
Well thanks for being here at Growth Think tank. Really appreciate your your wisdom and insight.

[00:26:26].500] – Josh Levin
Awesome thanks.

[00:26:27].770] – Gene Hammett
Fantastic. Love this whole conversation. Everything about it. I love his energy and his soul as a leader. So I love to bring in a brand new interviews just like this to tell the story of this science experiment of would this company work in this industry and telling you the story about how it’s turned out. And good news. It turned out really well for not only for Josh but also for every employee that’s in the whole touching his company and the families involved because they feel cared for and they have no problem with their attention they’re continuing to grow all because they put people over profits.

[00:27:03].960] – Gene Hammett
Well my name’s Gene Hammett. I’m the host here a Growth Think Tank. And I’m really excited to have you as a member. Listening in here make sure you keep tuning in. Keep listening these great stories if you can think of one person to share it with. I’d love to grow the audience just by you mentioning this show to them to go to GrowthThinkTank.com. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT Featuring Josh Levin



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