Adapting to Change Through COVID with Renzi Stone at Saxum

Given the current state of business, we all must be adapting to change. Leaders and the people’s willingness to accept the need for change is a sign of strength and courage. When your team is adapting to change, they are willing to see opportunities to navigate forward. The guest today is Renzi Stone, CEO at Saxum. This company was #4246 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Renzi gives us stories about adapting to change and the benefits to the business. Join us to learn from a nine-time Inc 5000 list company leader who knows the importance of adapting to change.

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Renzi Stone: The Transcript

Target Audience: Renzi Stone is the CEO and Founder, Saxum. The Saxum Visitor Center helps pilgrims to deepen their knowledge of the Holy Land through different multimedia resources in order to enrich each person’s Holy Land experience.

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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.

Renzi Stone
Change is not necessarily the formula for growth. I think it’s a healthy tension between being content and being anxious of what do we need to do to get better today, and being open to that and being humble enough to realize that you really don’t know what you don’t know. And so really working on focusing on what’s important, what’s not urgent and making progress against that at all times.

Intro [0:27]
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?

Gene Hammett [0:44]
Adapting to change is not something that just happens. It’s actually something that’s very intentional inside of our organizations inside of our culture, and our leadership. When you think about adapting to change, you think about what does it take for you as a leader To be the person that really does inspire people to be more adaptive, to be agile when necessary to to really accept changes as a good thing. Well, it all starts with you leading by example, you’ve got to be a leader who truly understands that change is the way forward. You’ve got to hire people that are willing to accept that change is good. And you’ve got to develop them and lead them in such a way that change and adaptation are a part of their natural way of growing. When I say all that, does it challenge you as a leader? Well, today we have Renzi Stone, he’s the founder of Saxum. They’re an integrated marketing PR company that has a lot of impact in the world, but also, they’ve had tremendous growth as a company 45 employees, and they’ve grown really fast, but what’s really impressive about their growth is nine-time consecutive, making it to the Inc 5000. Now it gets harder to Every year, one of the things that Renzi talks to me about was the need for a deputation adaptation to change is something that is baked into all of the ways they work, and why they work together as a team. And he’s learned this through working on himself first. All this inside today’s episode. Now, let me pause here for a second here, I want you to think about this podcast as the key for growth and leadership for your company. I’d love for you to think about someone that you would love to introduce this podcast too. We’d love to grow and reach the right people. It’s not about the vanity of reaching more people, but we want the right people to tune in and receive this and be a part of our audience. We’d love for you to think of one person to introduce growth think tank so that you can share that with them. Now here’s the interview with Renzi.

Gene Hammett [2:49]
Before we dive into the interview, I wanted to remind you that you can actually get a tool that I’ve been working with clients with for the last couple of years I’ve refined this tool has gone through several iterations. Now we have it completely automated, you can actually go online and fill out the leadership quiz. To get the leadership quiz. Just go to That’s pretty easy, right? What you will get when you do that is you will answer a few questions, you will see where you rate based on the core principles of fast-growth companies. If you’re ready to grow your company or you want to see where you are, then make sure you go to inside it you will get insight to where you are, understand where you want to improve. And you will get them mapped into the 10 areas that are most specific to fast-growth companies. Again, go to and you can get that right now.

Gene Hammett [3:44]
Renzi, How are you?

Renzi Stone [3:46]
Gene, doing great. Thanks for having me on.

Gene Hammett [3:49]
Excited to talk about leadership and culture in a fast-growth world when you decided to be a founder of this company, Saxum, tell us a little bit about what you intended to create at Saxum.

Renzi Stone [4:04]
Well, first of all, I’m an accidental founder, I didn’t set out to start a company when I was 25 years old, which is 17 years old this next month. And what I saw was an opportunity. And I had worked for a sports marketing company. I had also worked for a public affairs company out of Washington, DC doing quantitative and qualitative research. And here in the middle of the country, I’m in Oklahoma City, but in the middle of the country in general, in the early 2000s. I saw a couple of trends. trend number one, I saw that advertising agencies were really narrow in how they were serving their clients. If it wasn’t a media buy or a campaign. It probably wasn’t something they were interested in. Then I saw public relations companies and In this region of the country, there were more public relations people than public relations companies. And so I really loved all aspects of reputation, of the strategy of how to help somebody using marketing and communication, grow their footprint, whether it was getting somebody say yes to something, influencing a purchase decision. And so I created a business truly around what I thought my skill sets were, was pretty good on my feet, was a deep strategic thinker. did my homework I understood the context of how things fit together. I was smart enough to know what I didn’t know so I could plug a few of those freelancers in and I was able to, thankfully I feel very blessed. Take an idea, turn it into a business that had one employee me. And over 17 years we’ve been able to grow by adding One client here, one talented person. And if anything, I’m just I’ve just now surrounded myself with a whole bunch of very talented people that I get to work with on a day in and day out basis.

Gene Hammett [6:13]
One of the things that are really impressive about what you guys have done is nine times consecutive Inc 5000. You know, from a math flag, it’s harder and harder each year. What do you kind of attribute consistent growth like that too?

Renzi Stone [6:30]
Why I think you know, Covey’s first habit is to be proactive. And I think that maybe the thing that I’ve been best at over the years. Gene, I played college basketball at the University of Oklahoma. And we made the NCAA Tournament all four of the years that I played, I was Captain my senior year, really, really good teams. But one thing I learned from sports is that if you’re actually comfortable, it’s probably a pretty good indication that you’re on, you’re on the wrong track. And so having that tension between being content, and being anxious is a pretty good formula for growth. And so I think if I look back on 17 years of running this business and the nine years that we’ve been on the Inc 5000 list is I, I think, I’ve never rested on yesterday’s accomplishments. That’s not to mean that I just come into to the office every day on a tear about what we need to do different, because but because change is not necessarily the formula for growth, I think, I think it’s a healthy tension between being content and being anxious of what do we need to do to get better today, and being open to that and being humble enough to realize that you really don’t know what you don’t know. And so really Working on focusing on what’s important, what’s not urgent and making progress against that at all times.

Commercial [8:07]
Hold on for a second rinse I just said comfortable is the wrong track. Now, many leaders believe that as they’ve worked hard, they should have the payoff, right, they should have time to relax. And I understand the thinking because I fell into that too. In fact, I wrote about it in my book, the trap of success. But you’ve got to understand that when you are too comfortable, you’re not growing. When you are really seeking comfort. It is really a dangerous place behind the evolution of who you are, and by extension, the evolution of the business. So what do you do instead? Well, in my book, I wrote about to get comfortable being uncomfortable, get comfortable, being uncomfortable, make being uncomfortable, a more natural state, something that you understand that’s the direction forward. What Renzi was talking about was really saw the value of staying uncomfortable and that was really accepting a deputation and change inside of his own leadership and his own company. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [9:09]
I just had a conversation with a client around that very thing. Like literally before I got on to record this with you, when when you think about change and being adaptable. How important has that been to this whole COVID experience that you and your, your team has been going through?

Renzi Stone [9:28]
Well, the most popular world word in business communication right now is agile. Are you agile enough to make the changes that need to be made as realities shift? I would say. And I would say I certainly have subscribed to the idea that you have to be agile, but what I think we’re experiencing here it is something that was already there before COVID. Which is we truly are In the dawn of this new era, where technology and technology enable productivity, and efficiency, and communication in ways that we never imagined before. And as I, as I was sitting on zoom screens, looking at people like you all day long, Jean, including my clients and my colleagues, I think we really started thinking, what this latest iteration of this generational change looks like for our business for our clients business. And to answer the question, I feel like we’ve been very good at anticipating what the future may look like. And we’ve had enough courage to take a few steps that direction. And so I think what I’ve seen with a lot of our clients, as well as a lot of just human nature, in general, is we may see where things are going, but very few people have the courage to actually take action. Taking action requires commitment. And so I think we’ve been very good at taking action now. Have we taken as much action as we needed to? I don’t know. I mean, that will play out over time. I feel like we’re talking about the right amount of action. But every business book I’ve ever read said that coming out of arrows like this, there are incredible growth opportunities. And so I’m doing my best to try to participate.

Gene Hammett [11:26]
Well, I don’t think you’re wrong in that in a lot of people have been talking about opportunity for a long time. So now we’ve kind of get to really start to hopefully, as we’re pulling out of this COVID thing, hopefully, we don’t have this resurgence that that could happen. What are the opportunities you know, as a team, and what you’re doing within leadership that you could share with us?

Renzi Stone [11:50]
Well, the first thing I’m doing is I’m having 1000 small conversations with all of my key stakeholders. A small conversation beats a big conversation every day. An informal conversation beats a formal conversation every day. So, Gene, we set up this interview for today, I had a pre-screen where I talked to your producer for a little while now we’re having a formal conversation on your show. But if you and I were working together on a daily basis, you and I would probably text back and forth three or four times, and maybe we get on the phone three or four times. And then maybe we’d exchanged some emails, you know, sharing our ideas, and this interview would be even better than it was right now. Well, it’s no different than in the real world. I think we, we tend, because we’re, most of us love efficiency. We tend to want to have formal conversations, especially informal relationships. And so the thing I’ve done with my team, as well as my clients, is I’ve opened up the channels for informal, frequent conversation, informal, frequent conversation. And then I’ve reminded people that you have to listen as much as you talk. Unfortunately, in this scenario, I’m doing most of the talking. But if you get into the informal conversations that are frequent, and you’re a good listener, you can really uncover what people’s fears and anxieties are and then you as a professional services company, you can help hopefully help them solve those.

Commercial [13:25]
One of the things that Renzi just talked about was opening up channels to informal communication. I get asked all the time, what’s the right frequency to give employee feedback? Now, what they’re looking for is do we do this yearly? Do we do this? Twice a year? Do we do it more often? What the real answer to that is, feedback should come in more bite-sized elements. You should be telling people what they’re doing well, where they can improve, and visit small conversations, these informal conversations instead of waiting for the formality of an employee review. Now when I say that It troubles a lot of people because they like the structure of it. There’s a lot of work to prepare for this formal employee evaluations. But here’s the flip side of that. What if you didn’t have to do all that preparing? What if you were constantly tuned in with people, and you were having these small informal conversations, and they were able to grow from that, and you would be able to see where they are, what they’re troubled with, and you don’t they don’t have to belong. They can be very short, but you can have more informal conversations and allow people to grow back to the interview with Renzi.

Gene Hammett [14:30]
Renzi, one of the things that you’re highlighting here is what I get a lot of resistance from my own clients first coming to me they’re like, you know, I don’t have time for these small conversations. I don’t have time but I’ve got so much email to do. I’ve got so many meetings to attend. And when you hear that probably with your own leadership, what are your responses back to your team?

Gene Hammett [14:56]
Well, I empathize. First of all, you Name one, smart, accomplished driven leader, who says I’ve got all the time in the world. They’re very few and far between. We have a client who is one of the top 25 billionaires in the world. And he always seems to have time. Always has time. Anytime I email him, he emails me right back. And I’ve always been curious about how much time he has. This guy owns oil and gas assets. He owns banks. He owns, you know, dozens of companies. But then, during the pandemic, I asked him to come on and speak to a group that I was hosting. And he and probably a moment of weakness for him. He wrote three paragraphs to me about how he didn’t have enough time and I realized even him who I thought had all the time in the world doesn’t have time. So my answer is, it’s like anything else. You spend time with You want to. And so there’s a discipline issue with people that don’t have time. They do have time, we all have the same amount of time. They’re just spending it differently.

Gene Hammett [16:11]
So to take that a little bit further, these informal conversations take time, but what’s the real payoff for the community or the culture of the company?

Renzi Stone [16:23]
Well, the payoff is less chance of missing what the true motivation is behind other people’s actions, right. So if I talk to you five times, leading up to today’s show, I would have a better sense of what your true motivations are, because you and I would have lots of interactions I would be able to pick up on nonverbal cues. I’d be able to pick up on a language you use repeatedly. I’d be able to pick up on themes to the conversation when you just have one conversation. We all are watching To put our best foot forward, and we all have preservation walls that go up because you and I don’t know each other, and I want you to think the best of me, what do I really want to get out of this? So when we have frequent communication between us, I think you have a better chance to really understand people’s motivation, ultimately, that benefits the organization, because there’s less confusion about what expectations are. Now, I’ll tell you, I think that every small conversation can also be short. So I work really hard and not having long, frequent conversations, but short, frequent conversations.

Gene Hammett [17:44]
Love that. I want to take you into, I don’t know if there’s a new direction or not. But you know, I’m always looking for uncommon approaches. We’ve been talking about, you know, adaptability and flexibility inside of all these changes. What uncommon approaches have you taken Renzi.

Renzi Stone [18:05]
Well, I think another thing I have learned about high achieving professionals, which are the type of people that work at my company is that adults learn through doing. And so I can lecture them all day long about small conversations. And, and this is the best way to do task X, Y, or Z, or here’s a strategy we should do but people learn from doing their own, you know, experimenting and doing making their own decisions. And so one of the things I’ve done is just try to remain open-minded, that there are lots of ways to accomplish the big goal. And so as a leader, if I can give the framework and then really try to back up and let people solve problems in their own way, that’s one of the tools I’ve used. I’ve also just tried new things. things, you know, anytime you have a routine, the routine can invite in a complacency that I talked about earlier. And so trying to mix it up, keep people on their toes, not in a not in a bad way, but on in a good way that that tension that I talked about, there’s another thing I’ve used.

Gene Hammett [19:21]
When you think about your own journey of leadership Renzi, you’ve had this business for a long time you described starting small, it grew to one person, it grew again, a few clients here and there. But the consistent growth of this what are the things that have changed in the leadership model that you could share with us?

Renzi Stone [19:45]
Well, I’d say what’s changed in my leadership model has been directly correlated to my maturity as an adult and as a professional. You know, when you have children, you uncover a whole Knew part of who you are. You’re, you know, the good and bad parts of your personality. When you get married. You’re just when you have a failure, professionally. And Jean, before we got on, you shared with me a little bit of your story that you wrote about in your book. And so I would say that as I’ve matured as a person, I’ve, I’ve taken in all these inputs, all these experiences over the years, you know, I’d love to think that I’m more patient. I’m more humble. I am more open to new information than I was when I was younger. And I am sure when I look back at this moment in time, 10 years from now, I’ll think, Oh my gosh, all the things I learned. Since I was younger, you know, there’s a reason why in society, we have elders in every society and of all Time, the older people have these positions of wisdom. And it’s not because they’re any different than you or me, they just have a lot of miles under those tires. And so you know, there’s a lot to learn when you have mentors. So I’m always trying to pick the brain of people, usually about 10 years older than me because I think much older than that. whoever you’re talking to, can’t remember back, I can remember 10 years ago, a lot clearer than I can remember 20 years ago. So that’s another thing I’ve used is talking to mentors. And, you know, all those things combined, I think have made me a better leader. Hopefully, I’ve created value for my clients and my team.

Gene Hammett [21:45]
Well, it’s been a great conversation rinzai to talk about your journey of leadership, talking about no change in adaptability, and being agile. One final kind of moment here. How do you really developed a new class of leaders across your organization, what are the modes that you use that are found that work?

Renzi Stone [22:09]
Well, so every upcoming leader needs a mentor. So I just talked touched on that. So, you know, if you don’t give up and coming leaders the opportunity to grow in with the challenge, you’ll never develop them. I think a huge aspect of future leadership is, is really drive. And I’m not telling any leader, anything they don’t already know. If you’re not motivated, from within, to grow, it’s going to be pretty hard to grow into a leadership position. I certainly when I when I’m telling my kid to get out of bed or to do his homework, or I’m encouraging him to you know, get that worked out in the No, dad can’t be the one to make that motivation work. It’s got to be from within. And so, you know, my advice for any upcoming leader out there is, if you’re motivated from within first, then you can find the mentors that can help guide and shape, inform you and point you the right direction.

Gene Hammett [23:23]
As I thank you for being here on the podcast and sharing your wisdom.

Renzi Stone [23:26]
Gene, thank you for take care of be safe.

Gene Hammett [23:29]
Another favorite podcast of mine because I love talking to people in the trenches in the day to day helping their company grow, creating a great place for their employees. And adapting to change is something we all have to do through COVID.

Gene Hammett [23:44]
Now, when you think about what you’re doing, as a leader, make sure that you continue to evolve. You continue to work on yourself as hard as you work on your business. My job is to work with leaders and connect with them on a deeper level to find out who they are to really be the fullest expression. themselves to expand in such a way that they’re able to engage the team to expand. Now, that is key to your own growth. Make sure you reach out to me, you can check out more content. We have a or you can engage in a conversation with me. Just send me an email [email protected]. When you think about growth, you think about leadership, think about the growth, 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.


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