Paul Galvin on leadership: There is only one way to lead - by example
Paul Galvin graduated from Le Moyne College in 1984 and dove into caring for homeless people, patients with AIDS, and children suffering from poverty and trauma.
His parents' reverence for Jesuit traditions, his own faith, and his Le Moyne education shaped that mission and led him to found a non-profit for his work.
The need he saw and his entrepreneurial bent inspired Galvin to look for new and affordable methods of construction. That's how Galvin came to ring the NASDAQ bell on Wall Street last summer as he took the company he founded, SG Blocks Inc., public with a successful IPO.
Galvin likes to talk about people who influenced him, people like Mike Lee and John Beilein, his basketball coaches at Le Moyne. He asks if he can mention one more inspirational leader: "I hope you can fit her in somewhere.
"Mother Teresa had a single encounter with the divine as a young woman. It inspired her to live with the Sisters of the Poor and to start a global movement to help the disenfranchised in Calcutta. Talk about an example of a leader!
"Her diary came out a few years ago, and I read that she spent the rest of her life trying to have a second encounter with the divine. She prayed every day. She sacrificed every day. She writes in her spiritual diary that she was somewhat depressed at times because she couldn't have that second divine encounter.
"Despite that, she kept that energy her whole life and she literally changed a country, changed the world, and became a saint."
Tell me about leadership roles growing up.
I was basically the captain of every basketball team I've been on.
A point guard has a lot of the responsibility, and that seems to be the way I found myself in peer groups and organizations. It's sort of a symbol of the way I take charge and lead the team whatever it is.
When you think back to childhood or high school, who were influences on your journey to leadership?
My dad and my brother, who's a few years older than me. They were very good role models. My dad (Robert) was successful in the insurance business, and he was an ordained Catholic deacon who ministered to cancer patients even while he himself was dealing with cancer. He passed away in 1994. My dad taught me a lot about leadership, just by the way he conducted himself.
My brother (also named Robert) is an enormously successful businessman. He is on the board of Lands' End. He's been president of other companies.
My dad taught us the value of hard work. And, quote-unquote, anything worth doing is worth doing your best at. If you're not going to do your best at it, then don't even do it. Do something else.
My mom (Lois) is a Third Order Franciscan, which is the highest lay position you can get in that order.
My mother has spent her life bringing communion to homebound people, bringing food and meals to homebound people, and bringing community to people that are homebound.
My mom and dad were both daily communicants their whole life.
Given those influences, it makes sense you attended a Jesuit college.
Oh yeah. My dad attended Brooklyn Prep, which was Jesuit, for high school. My brother went to Fairfield. I grew up on Staten Island and attended Monsignor Farrell High School.
Tell me about some of the influential people at Le Moyne.
The coach that recruited me was Mike Lee. Mike is a good, gentle soul, and you can always learn from that.
Then, Coach (John) Beilein. In a condensed 18-month relationship with him, I learned an awful lot. He taught me the value of preparation, and humility, and focus, and hard work.
He taught a valuable lesson - the way to be successful is to practice and prepare for success. And to do best practices over and over.
What advice would you give for effective leadership?
My dad taught me this. My brother exemplified this. And Coach Beilein reinforced it. There is only one way to lead: That's by example.
Maybe that doesn't require elaboration, but would you please?
Ultimately, people don't care what you have to say; they watch what you do.
If you're in a leadership position, and you conduct yourself properly and you work harder than everyone else, and you sacrifice more than everyone else, you will find good, smart, hard-working people to follow you wherever you go.
I practice that every day.
When you think about practicing that every day, what goes through your mind? How do you prepare yourself in the morning?
I start every day the same way. I make a list of things that I'm going to accomplish that day in every area of my life. The list could be anywhere from 40 to 100 items. I start with the first one and I go down the list until it's finished, which insures that I pushed every single actionable item to its furthest destination on a daily basis.
I do the same thing over and over and over again. And I do that seven days a week.
You literally try to get through every item on your list?
I don't literally try. I literally do.
The courage comes in how you make the list. You gotta put everything on it, even things you're procrastinating about. Like the dentist. (Laughs)
If it takes courage, I suspect you mean you're not listing easy, fluffy things to do.
The things that you have to do to be successful are not easy.
So you gotta do the easy ones, and you gotta do the hard ones.
I taught a few classes (this fall) at Le Moyne, and the kids said: Give us one practical advice. I said: It's advice my father gave me on practicality and implementation. You make a list. You make it thoroughly and honestly. And if you get through your list every day, and it's an honest and thorough list, you can be nothing but successful.
What qualities do you see in effective leadership or in leaders you admire?
The thing that makes all the difference is that the person has to walk the walk. There is no amount of talking - it's what you do every day visibly in front of others.
Good leadership is leading by example. Being goal-oriented. It's being team-oriented. The leader has to be willing to sacrifice for the team. That sacrifice can take a hundred forms.
Good leaders get followed. People want to join you for your mission. That's generally the sign of a good leader.
And then, just to finish that thought, you have to be honest with the kinds of people that you're working with, the kinds of people you're attracting.
If you're a good leader and you're pure of intention, then you'll attract the highest quality people to join your cause. That's how I think leadership manifests itself.
Let me flip that question: What attributes do you see in poor leadership?
Look at Washington right now. It's full of people who say: Do as I say, not as I do.
Look at Obamacare. Forget about your position for or against Obamacare. One of the things that disgusts me about Washington is that Congress exempts themselves and their staff from being subject to Obamacare. That's the opposite of good leadership: Do as I say, not as I do.
Poor leaders find themselves surrounded with not the highest quality people. Not the highest caliber.
If nobody you admire is following you, if you're the smartest person in your group, then you're doing something essentially wrong.
Give me the elevator speech for SG Blocks.
We're the premier provider of code-compliant shipping-container-based construction. We're building sustainable buildings made out of a much stronger material in a financially advantageous way to people.
SG stands for Safe and Green.
When you spoke at Le Moyne, you described how these ocean-going liners hold up to saltwater and are designed to withstand a hurricane and earthquake - at the same time.
We're seismic rated, and we design to Miami-Dade wind standards. Our containers, the structural integrity of our buildings will survive these storms.
When you think about the earthquake in Mexico City and kids getting trapped in schools, it's heartbreaking.
The containers are designed not to collapse, unlike the stick builds or the loosely built concrete.
You can be sure that I'm letting everybody know the capacity of our product throughout the Caribbean and Texas and Florida and the suffering souls of Puerto Rico.
If you did not use those shipping containers, what would happen to them?
Well, the ones we're not using are a good example. They're sitting at the ports, stacked up.
The containers themselves aren't really a great scrap candidate, because they are Cor-Ten steel (a special weathering steel made for external uses). The U.S. is a big net importer, and that's why the containers aggregate on our side.
Your company found an innovative approach. How can leaders spark innovation in their organizations?
Innovation sparks leaders. If you hire smart, creative, dedicated people, you'll have no shortage of great ideas, and many more of them will come from the team up than from the leader down.
SG Blocks is a clear example of that.
The team at SG Blocks is filled with creative entrepreneurs who want to join the team. The innovation that first prompted us to get into the container business didn't come from me. That idea, that creativity, was brought to me, and then I memorialized it in a company and brought it forward.
How do you hire the quality people you describe?
I like to hire people that have played team sports or have been in performing arts groups. I like people that participated in group activities. Because I think those are invaluable life lessons about teamwork and camaraderie and the dynamics of a group and how they learn to work together.
Additionally, I've noticed over time that people that grew up in big families tend to be resilient and tolerant and able to overcome.
That's interesting. How big was your family?
I'm one of four.
Robert was number 1, and I have an older sister who's a loan officer for the Bank of New York, and I have a younger sister who's a special education teacher.
Tell me about a tough challenge in your life and what we can learn from how you met it.
When we started SG Blocks in 2007, people were not expecting that we could build apartment buildings, and hotels, and schools out of shipping containers.
We knew the potential of this product to be transformational. We had to prove it to a skeptical public.
Over the course of nine years, every day, all of us, worked toward that goal of mainstreaming this really great, safe, and green technology. Safe because it's made of heavy gauge steel, and green because it's recycled. We didn't go at that problem or go at that goal or overcome that obstacle for a day, or a week, or a year, or two years, or three years, or four years, or five years or eight years. At 10 years, March 29 of this year, the International Code Council gave SG Blocks the first and only ESR number in the history of construction for a recycled material. (ESR is an evaluation of structural strength, wind resistance and similar qualities.)
The attributes that were exhibited were complete surrender to the mission and refusing to be denied the outcome.
What's next for SG Blocks?
We want to become the Kleenex for regular, affordable, every-day housing for ordinary Americans. Be it houses or apartments. We want to be urban in-fill lots. We want to do safe and green housing and help address the massive housing inequality and housing shortage in our country, for families living on modest incomes, for millennials who've graduated and are sitting on student loans.
One of SG Blocks' big missions is that we're going to help charities around the world execute their missions in a cost effective and green way.
The reason we went to the International Code Council was because we wanted to be internationally approved. There is a whole world of need and a whole world of opportunity for our investors.
The weekly "CNY Conversation" features Q&A interviews about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. To suggest a leader for a Conversation, contact Stan Linhorst at StanLinhorst@gmail.com.