Empowering Leaders to Lead for Fast-growth with George Azih at LeaseQuery

The opposite of micromanaging people is empowering leaders. Most people have a shallow understanding of empowering leaders. My research on fast-growth companies has shown me the nuances of empowering leaders the right way. Today’s guest is George Azih, CEO at LeaseQuery. Inc Magazine ranked his company #26 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. LeaseQuery is built by accountants for accountants to ensure compliance with the new lease standards. George openly talks about what he has learned about empowering leaders through the quick pace of growth his company has created. He owes much of the company’s success to empowering leaders so that he can focus on other elements of company growth. This conversation will not only improve your understanding of empowering leaders but give you a roadmap to follow.

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George Azih: The Transcript

About: George Azih is the Founder and CEO at LeaseQuery. LeaseQuery is lease accounting software that helps companies easily comply with the new lease accounting rules by accurately preparing all the required disclosures and journal entries with a click of a button for GAAP and IFRS. We work with companies that have as little as 15 leased assets to ones that have over 25,000, operating both domestically and internationally.


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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.

George Azih
I want to be the least powerful CEO in Atlanta. And what that means is, I don’t want people coming to me for things, right? Um, I need I want people to know that, my, my, my, my, my, our people speak for me. Right? They are empowered to speak for me, and they’re empowered to make decisions. Now here’s the challenge, right? I can’t scale. As I’m just joining, I’m an individual, right? If I, if I’m the one still making all these decisions, then I become a bottleneck for the growth of the company. Right? And so so you, I need to make sure that I’m dealing with the only things that only I can make those decisions, right. For instance, if we need to, if we need to get raised money, right, or if we need to go acquire a company.

Intro [0:56]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of 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 [1:14]
Today we look at empowering employees. When you think about empowering your employees do you have it all dialed in? Have you truly let go of all the things that you can so that your employees feel completely empowered. Today, we have a special guest, he is the CEO of lease query. He’s a co-founder there, George Azih. George goes through some of the details behind how he empowers people and some of the elements around empowerment that are necessary for you to create a company where people feel like they can make decisions. In fact, he even shares a story about how they wanted to open an office in Birmingham. And he was on the Eiffel Tower. And he gets notified that the office is opening with all these new sales reps, all these new managers everything put in place, because his team just took the ball and ran with it.

Gene Hammett [2:03]
Now he does tell the story about he wanted to be a part of it. You’ll see that inside the interview here on the podcast. When you think about empowering your employees, I want you to remind yourself that it’s not just about you, talking to them about what they’re doing. And being a part of that it is letting them own the process, own the goal, and own everything that they come in touch with it the challenges the issues and collaborating with others around them. That’s the example that George shared inside this interview. But also I want you to think about that inside your organization. Could you take empowerment to the next level? Could you as a leader, have more confidence and trust in your people so that they truly feel empowered, and things get done without you even being there to touch it and make those decisions on a daily basis? Well, when you think about leveling up as a leadership, I want to make sure you go to the resources that will take you to the next level, you can go to genehammett.com. We have some free resources for you some training there. But you can also get a conversation with me if you want to start your journey to being a visionary leader and really connecting with your people in a different way from leadership, then make sure you go to genehammett.com go to start your journey. Now here’s the interview with George.

Gene Hammett [3:13]
George, how are you?

George Azih [3:15]
Doing well, how are you doing?

Gene Hammett [3:17]
I am fantastic. excited to have you on the podcast? I say this, we rescheduled about seven times to get you on here. So you must have been really important.

George Azih [3:28]
Well, I’m sorry for all that we just had a lot going on so.

Gene Hammett [3:33]
As we all do so water under the bridge, absolutely excited to have you here to talk about this topic. Before we dive into the topic at hand, let’s talk about the company that you’ve created and grown so fast lease query.

George Azih [3:47]
Yeah. So lease query, it’s a compliance play. What we do is we help companies adopt the new lease accounting standards. Prior to these changes, these new rules, companies have treated lease lease transactions as off-balance sheet transactions. So nowhere on the balance sheet would it say that Papa John’s for both some landlords, you know, millions of dollars over this period over a certain period. It’s all about transparency. So so the board’s changed the rules to make sure that companies recorded their lease obligations on their balance sheet. Our software helps us companies get the math right.

Gene Hammett [4:32]
Well, I can appreciate that. And you’ve grown fast through this journey. Is this your first time being an entrepreneur?

George Azih [4:39]
This is my first time taking the reins and doing it. Right. My first my first entrepreneurial journey started with a company that my brother founded. And I was the I’m an accountant, right, which means technically, I’m allergic to technology. Right? And the challenge that I had there Is is well, what that startup did for me was it made me It killed my fear of technology that made me realize you know what you’re given you can build software. Right? So so without that startup without my brother, there’s absolutely no way at least we’re exist, right? So So I like to say you learn from everything. And for me that first startup course was, that was my first time learning about how to help them build software.

Gene Hammett [5:29]
I want to go a little bit further with that, because not only are accountants typically, you know, allergic to technology, but they really don’t embrace leadership, the way that I think that you have to this, the typical accountant has a very much I get to do it, I get to see it happen myself. Is that fair?

George Azih [5:46]
To say? No, no one likes a creative accountant. Right. So, yeah, that was very challenging for me. But But as I said, that first experience really helped me become who I am now.

Gene Hammett [6:01]
You’ve grown really fast across this 29th on the ink list. 200 employees, you’ve learned some things about being a leader. But what has been the driving force of least query?

George Azih [6:57]
Well, the driving forces is frankly, our people. Right? I, I truly believe that happy employees give you happy customers. There’s a difference between eating at at chick fil a, and eating at McDonald’s. Right. And I frankly, believe that it’s just it’s the people. So people factor. Oh, my, my, my, my philosophy when it comes to this is let your managers manage, right? You can’t hire people. You can’t hire people and tell them what to do. If I told them, if I tell my people, okay, this is what you should do. And this is why you should hire and it doesn’t work. Whose fault is it? Right? You can’t hold people accountable if you’re the one making decisions for them. So So that’s basically my philosophy and fitness. It’s funny, I got a text from a lady two days ago. And she was from ADP. And she wanted us to switch to ADP to do something I really don’t even I frankly, didn’t know what she was what she wanted. But I told her I’m not the one that does this.

George Azih [8:03]
And she goes, I know Lori is your VP of HR. But I feel but I’m sure that you’re when it comes to the final decision, you have a final decision-maker. And I go, No, Lori is the final decision maker like you should talk to her. And she goes, so you have no involvement in this, like absolutely not 00. And this is for changing our entire HR system. Right. So So which is true, right? I mean, we just we switched mics, right to this other bank. And, um, and I had zero involvement, right? And that’s because, once again, you have to empower your leaders to lead, right, you have to empower your people. And what happens is, then it trickles down, right, because then they empower their people. And then they, the those below them, empower them. Right. And then all of a sudden, you have this, I let’s see, everyone rolls the boat, we have these, this group of people that make decisions, and are held accountable based on those decisions, whether they’re successful or not.

Gene Hammett [9:06]
I love this concept. You had said something earlier, and I want to go back to it. Because we had a technical difficulty. And so we had to cut it out. But you said something about being the least powerful CEO is that I get that right?

George Azih [9:18]
Yes, I want to be the least powerful CEO in Atlanta. And what that means is, I don’t want people coming to me for things, right? Oh, I need I want people to know that. My, my, my, my, my, our people speak for me, right? They are empowered to speak for me, and they’re empowered to make decisions. Now here’s, here’s, here’s the challenge, right? I can’t scale as an I’m just George, I’m an individual, right? If I’m the one still making all these decisions, then I become a bottleneck for the growth of the company. Right? And so so you I need to make sure that I’m dealing with the only things that only I can make those decisions, right?

George Azih [10:02]
For instance, if we need to, if we need to get raised money, right? Or if we need to go acquire a company, right? Those are the decisions that I will make. I’ll tell you a story. Last year, in July, our CFO came and said, We need to open a new office somewhere, right? And this is Chris, one of my business partner. And I was like, Okay, let’s, why do we need to open a new office? And he goes, Well, we need Atlanta, we need we need an SS a new sales office. Right? There’s, there’s, there’s there were at the time. There were, I guess it was, I think it was 50,000, open, SDR jobs in Atlanta. And we needed to hire more SDRs. So he said, we need to move out. And we need to branch out to Atlanta. And I said, Okay, so let’s open up a new office. So they did an evaluation and decided, Okay, Birmingham is the best place to open a new office, because if there’s too with, there’s eight schools, right universities within two hours of Birmingham, Alabama, so we opened a new office there. Now, here’s the crazy thing. When we open the office, I happen to be in Paris, right? And I’m sitting in the Eiffel Tower, literally on the Eiffel Tower. And I get this email is like, pictures of them opening the office and everybody’s, you know, celebrating and you know, getting to work. And I got except, you know, and I find out an email to the management team. And I’m like, what, what the hell? Why would you? Why would you open an office on a day off? during the time when I’m in Paris, and I can’t be there.

George Azih [11:39]
And Chris fell on the sword. Chris was like, George, I’m so sorry. Like, I mean, I know how you operate. You want fast, fast, quick, quick. You know, you want us to keep moving. And, and we just figured we’ll open the office and continue business as usual. Like, I didn’t think that you needed to be there. Um, and I was like, Oh, you know, that’s, that’s interesting. And that night, I reflected. And I said, you know, what, here’s, first of all, we’ve scouted a look a city. Right. We identified the city, we went and got a space. We hired 15 people, including two managers, and I did not have to do one thing, not one thing. All I said was, okay, let’s open a new office. That’s all I had to do. What I have preferred the opposite, where I had to do everything, right. So so that’s the beauty of our management team. Like they literally just ran with it. Open the office, found space hired 15 people, including two managers, I don’t think me hiring people is a hard thing to do. Right? finding people, ah, and found an office in and we all of a sudden, here we are. We have an office in Birmingham, a satellite office in Birmingham. And I literally did not do one thing, George. That’s it. That’s what I mean by empowering people.

Gene Hammett [12:56]
I love that story, actually, because I can see why you want to be there. Because it’s a cool thing.

George Azih [13:01]
Yes. But it was just my ego. That’s all it is. It’s my ego. Right. And I have to recognize that and I think that’s the problem with a lot of CEOs. Right. The thing about CEOs is you are the decision-maker. Right? You are the one making these decisions. And the challenge is, oh, you have to let that ego go. Right. I mean, I was on this podcast the other day, and someone talked about don’t boss, the boss. Right? I said, Don’t tell me what to do. And I’m like, that’s actually the crazy opposite of me. Yeah. I mean, as you know, Kayla tells me what I need to do, where I need to be when I need to be there. Right. She handles everything for me. So it’s an ego mentality that, that I think people just have to let go, because, once again, you now will create a bottleneck if you don’t, you know, expand that and let other people make those decisions for you.

Commercial [14:03]
Did you catch that George has talked about letting employees make decisions? It’s very important for you to understand as a leader that if you continue to make the decisions for your team, that they will come back to you to look for the next step, they will look for you to approve or give them permission to whatever is going to happen next. But if you empower them to make the decisions, and you truly let them make these decisions with the right guardrails in place with the right support, then they know that they can make decisions. They know that they’re not going to risk being fired because something not working out because sometimes things don’t work out. You should teach them and train them to have the confidence and the courage to make their own decisions to understand the area which they should play in before they bring you other challenges and other issues. And before they even you know cc you on emails. I say that with a smile because you hate to be getting all these emails in your inbox. empowering your employees is really a critical part of you being a stronger leader and being the visionary that your team deserves. Back to George.

Gene Hammett [15:04]
George, let’s go into this ego thing because I think that is what gets in the way, a lot of times in leadership because we have these ideas, and we start, you know, hiring people and we start getting traction, ego can get in the way of a lot of things. How have you learned, to understand your ego? And maybe, you know, what are the right words that you do to manage that ego?

George Azih [15:26]
Well, I mean, I think, once again, it’s it. This is a surreal experience. Right? Every morning, I wake up, and I’m like, this is a dream. And I say, oh, wow, look at my ego wants to say, George, look at what you’ve done. Right? look at what you built. Did you build this thing from nothing from scratch? And the honest, the God’s honest truth is, I didn’t I mean, all I did was I had an idea, right? And I, I didn’t even build the software. Right? There were people that helped me, but I can’t code. The people that helped me do that. Right. And so so it’s all about the team. That’s the thing. It’s all about the team. I mean, I’ll tell you when we, when I started. The first 10 I landed our first 10 clients, and and we were going along, you know, we were about $300,000 ar, I’m actually we’re probably like 30 $30,000 first time that $300,000.

George Azih [16:31]
In the next year, we went from $300,000 to 1.1. Point 5 million, we went from 1.5 million to 8.6 million, we went from 8.6 million to 17 million. And then now we’re over 20 million right AR. Now, why did that happen? It was because Chris came in my business partner, who knows how to sell who knows how to build teams, who knows how to build enterprise, who knows how to sell to enterprise companies. And that was really what catapulted our growth. So what kind of ego Can I have when I know what I did? I know what he did, right? It’s all about the team. And I always say this, everyone’s job is important. No one’s job is more important than the other. Right? marketing is important. Engineering is important. Sales is important. Customer Success is important. Implementation support. Everyone rose the boat. That’s a big philosophy that I have. And in what we do is we show it, right? When we were celebrating in 2000, January 2019, we flew the entire company, the entire company to Las Vegas, just to celebrate our success. Most companies only fly the salespeople, or whoever wins presidents club or something. And as I said, I’m going to count it. So in most organizations, accounting is simply a cost center. Right? It’s where the redheaded stepchild, right. It’s a call center, and no one really appreciates us.

George Azih [18:01]
So whenever all these other companies that will take people on trips, and it will be only presidents club people or, or, you know, the sales that have the highest revenue generators out, thanks. I guess my job is important. That’s what you’re telling me? Let’s delete. That’s what you’re saying. Right? So we do not operate that way. Everyone does. Everyone goes when you talked about the Inc 500-500-5000. I guess we were number 26. We to celebrate that we gave every single person a bonus. And it wasn’t a weighted bonus based on if you’re an executive or no, every single person got the same amount. And that’s to show that we are all equal. No one’s job is more important than the other.

Gene Hammett [18:43]
George, you know, you’ve touched on a lot of things that I have been able to pull out of founders and CEOs, which is something I want to kind of go over with you. It’s inclusion, yes. And where this fits into everything in my work is I found that fast-growth companies that are operating at a high level really want people to feel like owners across the board, whether they have a financial stake in the company or not, but the way they feel about their work the way they feel about the customer way they feel like their project, they take ownership. And you’ve talked about empowering and inclusion and those are two of the powerful factors of people feeling like owners. Do you think about that, as the concept of people feeling like owners across your company?

George Azih [19:25]
I feel up what I mean, it’s not. For me, it’s not about feeling like an owner. It’s about doing your best. Right? It’s about doing your best. And what that means for me is how do you as a contributor, make sure that you are doing your best possible job. And the way you can bring that out of people is to show that you care about them, right if people understand this Company cares about me as an individual, they will do, they will care about you, they will take care of you. Right? Oh, we have a stipend where after you’ve been here for six months, at least great, you have 2000. It’s either 2000 or 2500, I’m not sure. Where you can go out there and just learn something new, we will pay for you to go out and learn something, right? Where you that’s a stipend that you get every single year, when you go out, and you take a class or you can go take a course or whatever it is, you know, you can travel to somewhere and take an I know one of our engineers use his two years ago, for this hackathon. Right? It was actually pretty cool, right? where they go into just go hack stuff, right? And that makes them better people, it makes them individually better at whatever they do. But then that also helps us write what they learn. So having things like that, where people feel appreciated, people feel like they’re you’ve got their back. Yeah, I mean, that will breed excellence. It’s not about once again, for me, it’s about making them be better, or whatever they do.

Commercial [21:18]
One of the things Joe just said was talking about showing that you care about your employees. I remember one time when I was given an executive presentation about working with the team. And I brought up this fact that you should really care as a leader, I remember the CEO looking at me and saying, you know, can’t you care too much? Well, the answer is yes, you can. But the opposite of caring too much is not don’t care, you have to understand that that right balance of caring for your employees, making them feel cared for and appreciated, is exactly what they need to do and play at their best. Your job as a leader is to get people to play at their best who have the highest level of competence and the courage in themselves. You can’t do that unless you truly care about them. If you want to create a place where your employee experience is very important. And you know, that’s important as a company is scaling forward. And you want to hire more people in to make sure that you have time, and you put forth the effort to care for your employees. Now back to George.

Gene Hammett [22:13]
I really appreciate you sharing all this. George, I want to give you one last kind of question. Is there anything we haven’t hit on today that you feel has been very important, and you empowering your people and you letting go of the day-to-day so that they can feel that impact sense of empowerment? Anything we’ve missed?

George Azih [22:31]
Well, I think, I think one of the big things is is is you know, especially now with diversity being a big issue, right? All in this in this in these times in our country? Oh, that’s a big part of this, right? giving people a shot, right? Understanding that, that at the end of the day. You know, everyone is equal. But people are not born equal. Right. Um, I had my kids for four. So I’m divorced. And I have twin daughters. Right. And so I get them every other weekend. And I had them for a week because of Coronavirus, we, you know, things, things have got crazy. I had them for a full week. And obviously, I’m a working dad. And in that week, I had to do everything. And I thought to myself, Oh my god, there are people out there single moms that have to live with that this is their life, right where the entire time they have to be working and taking care of kids. Right? That blew my mind. And what we did was, you know, I what I wanted to do was say, Hey, listen, all single moms get this bonus. Literally, that’s what I wanted to show that appreciation. But legal told me I couldn’t do that.

George Azih [23:59]
Right? Because it’s discriminatory, you know, like, even though they’re meant like, you can just say single moms get this. So single dads get this right, you can’t do that. So so what we did was we started a program called beats, query cares. And what it is, is everyone gets on, because I wanted it to be for people who need it. Right? I’m a big believer in impact, as opposed to just doing things. Right. So so the VPS doesn’t get anything directors don’t get anything. C-level executives don’t get anything but based on your salary, right. You get a stipend for education for your kids. When you can use that for tutorship or, you know, practice for the essay, whatever it is, you can give that to your kids use that and at least it helps you you know you can do it virtually or they can come to your house they will tutors or we will wear masks. You can use that to help right it’s just all about helping our people. So So once again, I mean, I can’t beat this drum pretty much good. But we always look for ways where we can, we can help our people.

Gene Hammett [25:11]
This goes back to how much important caring is as a leader. So, George, I really appreciate you being here on the podcast, sharing your journey of leadership, and all of these new details that you’ve been able to put the spotlight on today. Thank you.

George Azih [25:26]
Thank you. Thank you for having me, Gene.

George Azih [25:28]
Well, we’re wrapping up this episode with another great leader that’s been on the Inc list. And hopefully, you picked up on some new ways to look at leadership, that caring is not something that you just kind of sorta do. It’s something that comes from the heart. The examples that George shared with you today hopefully will change the way you look at leadership, how you even look at yourself, letting your ego go, and empowering your leaders to lead. So if you are looking to level up as a leader, make sure you’ve come to genehammett.com/free-resources to be the visionary leader that your team deserves. When you think about growth, you think about leadership, think Growth Think Tank, 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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