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Going from agency coach to agency leader (Part 2 of 2)

In this second part of a two-part series, Zach Hyder explains what it has been like to transition from agency coach to president of the agency founded by Ward Hubbell.

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In this second part of a two-part series, Zach Hyder explains what it has been like to transition from agency coach to president of the agency founded by Ward Hubbell.

Zach and Ward explain how they transitioned from an advisory relationship to one in which Zach joined the firm to help lead the day-to-day operations and give Ward a chance to begin to phase out.

There are also some interesting insights into what it was like to make the transition just as the world was shutting down in 2020 — and what the future looks like for Zach, Ward, and Hubbell Communications.

Key takeaways

  • Zach Hyder: “I saw enormous potential. I equate it to flipping a house. I saw a house that was in a great neighborhood. It had great bones. It had enormous potential. Ward just didn’t really want to stick around to do the fix up and turn his little investment into a bigger investment. And I love doing that.”
  • Ward Hubbell: “Zach is really working on the agency. He’s working on our putting out interesting content, our doing things that have us in the middle of important conversations. His focus is promoting Hubbell Communications. Whereas mine was really relying on the connections I had to personally grow the business. His is a much more sustainable approach.”
  • Zach Hyder: “Ward and I are two of the most dissimilar similar people. We think a lot alike. Our general views are kind of the same, but the way we approach a problem or the way we operate stylistically can be very different. He is a firefighter. He is brilliant at it. He is one of the best I know in a crisis, whereas I am more like a fire prevention specialist. How do we make sure the building doesn’t catch fire?”

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The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Chats with Chip. I’m your host Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance. And I am delighted to have back with me for part two of a two part series. And if you haven’t listened to part one, go back, listen to the last episode, Ward Hubbell of the CEO and founder of Hubbell and Zach Hyder, the president, CMO, janitor, chief bottle washer and everything else also at Hubbell. So, we had a great conversation in the last episode, talking with you Ward about the, the transition that you made and thinking about succession planning and the decisions that you made and how you basically beat Zach up over the head.

And he finally agreed to go from being your coaching advisor to coming in house full time. And so that’s where we’re gonna pick up the conversation today. And, so Zach, why did you give in?

Zach Hyder: Ward is, Ward is very persuasive and as evidenced by the last, you know, 19 years of his success, very charming in getting what he wants. So, no, it, I mentioned this in the last episode, Chip. I mean, it just… so, you know, I’ve worked with, you know, 25, 30 ish agencies in the time that I was consulting in different sizes, some big ad firms, some national, some local, some, you know, firms were more like a Hubbell, kind of a, you know, 15 ish person, you know, small PR firm.

Ward is the… and I had many clients who I really loved and still, you know, talk with regularly. In fact, I just talked with one this last weekend, who’s kind of become my coach, but Ward was the only one that I, I looked at him and thought it’s really not so much… it was, he was the only one who I thought I could see myself working with.

I think I’m at the point in my life where I don’t really wanna work for anybody. That’s one of the things that Ward and I have in common was, you know, we’re very independent people. I think we, we do our best and, and work our best outside of, you know, really rigid corporate environments. But no, I just, you, like you said, you know, he shared in the last episode, you know, I’m kind of the yin to his yang and it, and it worked. It just felt, it just felt right.

And, as he said, I mean, I saw enormous potential. I always, you know, sometimes equate it to like flipping a house. I saw a house that was in a great neighborhood. It had great bones. It had enormous potential. You know, he just didn’t really want to kind of stick around to do the fix up and, you know, make it, you know, turn his little investment into a bigger investment.

And I love doing that. That’s, that is where, you know, he gets excited about starting things and I get excited about taking something like diamonds in the rough and, you know, polishing them off for the world to see.

Chip Griffin: Mm-hmm so. You you’ve agreed to join. You’ve gone through the process that we talked about in the last episode about, you know, you know, putting together a contract and all that.

So you it’s now your, your first day on the job. What’s that like?

Zach Hyder: Well, Chip, my first day on the job was like the day the world ended two years ago. So Ward and I, you know, we’re so we’re busy. This is, you know, early, this is like January of 2020. We’re busy doing our thing over here. And, you know, there’s this virus that everyone’s kind of talking about in the news, but, you know, blah, blah, blah, right.

You know, it’s, it wasn’t really affecting us. So we were kind of head down making decisions about how this was gonna work and the timing and what were my needs, what were his needs? And I mean, we signed the contract two days before, like the universe shut down and even still, I think we were kind of like, really? Is that, is that happening?

So my, my initial, in fact, all of my time, up until just the last few months we have been, restructuring, transitioning, rebranding an agency in the middle of a global pandemic virtually. And I will, I will tell you if I had known that, you know, maybe would have hesitated just a little bit, but you know, you just keep going.

You know, from the first day that we started, you know, doing this, I, I will say this. I don’t know that I could have made it through that whole process without Ward. And I’m willing to bet he’d say the same about me. You just kind of look at each other and you go, okay, I guess this is what we’re gonna deal with.

And, you know, we were very cautious. At the same time that I think we were, we moved quickly and did things we needed to do to kind of get the company where it needed to be to… it’s hard to think back Chip to those early days when, I mean, a lot of bad things happened in a very short period of time and businesses had to make very quick decisions.

I was very grateful and very lucky to have someone with Ward’s experience and his fortitude. You know, with me to kind of, you know, give me good advice and, and help us kind of work through things. And you know from there, I think a great partnership was born. You’re just forced together in a crisis.

And you, you it’s either like this is gonna bring us closer together, or this is gonna push us apart really fast and very, very grateful that it, it pushed us closer together.

Chip Griffin: And I mean, the timing of it, obviously there are a lot of bad parts of the timing, of you taking over some of the day to day, but was it, were there benefits to it as well?

In other words, did, did sort of were you able to take advantage of the crisis with, you know, not, not in a bad way, but to, you know, maybe break things, move faster than you might have otherwise been able to?

Zach Hyder: Yeah. I mean, you know, Ward and I hatched this, you know, transition plan, you know, before COVID was even on the, the map. I mean, no one had when no one was even talking about it, when he and I were kind of finalizing this plan. so, yeah, and I think I would say Chip even up until the day, I, you know, they announced I was taking the job and then ultimately my first day, you know, we were all were saying like, oh, this, oh, they might close schools for a couple days.

Can you believe that? So, one, I will say it was not easy taking over a company, in terms of the day to day operations and doing it during a pandemic. You know, as the world was shutting down, it was not easy to do virtually. I’d never managed anything virtually much less been announced as a new manager to a team that I was now going to have to manage virtually.

But I will say, you know, the pandemic, the, you know, remote work, all the things, it, what it kind of allowed us to do Chip is, you know, anytime you’re going through a transition, it’s very disruptive. And I wanted obviously to have some disruption in terms of changes that we, I knew we were gonna need to make, but they were gonna have to happen in due course.

So the fact that everyone’s working remotely, people were kind of, they were paying attention to their issues and their struggles. And we kind of got to fly, I would say a little bit under the radar in terms of, you know, people not necessarily knowing the things we had to do and the changes we had to make.

But it wasn’t easy. I mean, I will say, you know, Ward always calls it. You know, we kind of had a year to sharpen our saws while nobody else was really, you know, paying much attention. And you know, I think it brought the team that’s here that we kind of restructured, I think is probably stronger for having been through, you know, those dark years, those dark days of when is this all gonna go back to normal?

Chip Griffin: And, Ward, let me bring you in here because I, I’d like to hear sort of your take on what the, the dynamic is between the two of you on a day to day basis. You know, it is, you know, when you’re talking about…

Zach Hyder: You’re gonna ask him that question, Chip?!

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Well, as, as we’re talking about succession planning and, you know, you’ve…you’re succession planning, but you’re still right down the hall and so there is this working together and, and anytime you’ve got a new business partnership, whether it’s for purposes of succession planning or just because you’re running a partnership, you have to work out that dynamic between the partners and who has responsibility for what, how you handle disagreements.

So I’m, I’m curious for, you know, your take on, on how you both approach that, going forward.

Ward Hubbell: I think first off and most important, our relationship, we, we laugh a lot. We really do laugh a lot. I mean, that’s, that’s kinda, if I had to think of one thing we do more often than anything else, it’s probably laugh.

That’s a pretty good, that’s a pretty good sign. You know what I had to do with Zach and, and, and let me just preface that by saying that, you know, this was made all the, all the easier by just the enormous respect I have for Zach and his abilities. You know, I always say, you know, I’m the, I’m the best boss in the world and I give you as much leash as possible if I trust you.

And if, and if I don’t, I’m in your knickers. I mean, it’s just this just the only two choices, you know? And so, you know, I have got, I’ve just got the, just enormous amount of respect for, for Zach and his abilities. And so, mainly what I had to do and have to do is just to understand that he’s gonna run this business differently.

He is going to, you know, where, where I, most of the business we’ve had in the 19 years we’ve been in business has been connected to me personally somehow. Because it’s just, you know, I’m out there, you know, I’m out there, you know, making things happen. Zach is, is really working on the agency.

He’s working on our putting out interesting content, our doing things that have us in the middle of important conversations. His focus is really promoting Hubbell Communications. Whereas mine was really kind of relying on the connections I had to, you know, personally grow the business.

His is a much more sustainable approach, right. Because, because, you know, the sky’s the limit. So, so if I’ve had to, if I’ve had to kind of bite my tongue a little bit and, and Zach knows, I mean, we’ve, he’s, he’s seen, he’s seen me kind of squirm….

Zach Hyder: He has a very specific look on his face, Chip and I’m like, yeah, I know.

Ward Hubbell: Yeah. But, but that’s, that’s why, because, because I have to keep reminding myself that, yes, this is a better way to do it. It is very unfamiliar to me, and sometimes uncomfortable to me, but I know, I know intellectually that it, it is, you know, the, the right, the right way to go.

Chip Griffin: So Zach, I, you know, now your perspective on, on how the two of you work together, because I’m, I’m determined to ruin the relationship between the two of you on this episode. I mean, it’s really my goal.

Zach Hyder: I got bad news for you Chip it’s, I think the world, the universe has tried, and I just don’t think it’s possible to fracture our, our relationship. You know, Ward and I are… you know, we’ve had some moments where I’ve said, look, the most important thing to me, no matter what happens, you know, if business gets so bad because you know, the world starts closing down and we just, you know, the most important thing to me at the end of the day is the friendship that he and I have.

And we’ve had many conversations about, you know, we’ll never let the business get in the way of our friendship. But you know, we have Ward and I are, and he’ll, I think he’ll agree with this. Ward and I are two of the most dissimilar similar people. We, we think a lot alike. I think we, we sort of see the world very similarly.

Our, our general sort of views are kind of the same, but the way we approach a problem or the way we operate stylistically can be very differently. He is a firefighter. He is brilliant at it. He is one of the best I know in a crisis, whereas I am more like a fire prevention specialist. You know, how do we make sure the building doesn’t catch fire?

What are all the things we’re gonna plan and prepare for to ensure that doesn’t happen? And sometimes it works really well for the two of us to complement each other like that. But what we have to do a lot of times is sometimes, you know, acknowledge to each other. Hey, okay, who’s leading here? And there’s moments where I’m like, Hey, I’m, I’m gonna lead this, but I need your support.

And there’s other moments where I’m like, you need to lead this, because you’re better at that than I am. But I think at the end of the day, we, we try to, you know, Ward always says, you know, I’m gonna try to stay outta your way. And I always worry sometimes that I’m like, don’t, don’t wander off just yet. But we’re still going through a transition and I think he feels an enormous obligation to me, which I am very grateful for, to help me and the, and the agency succeed, without necessarily getting in there and telling, telling us, you know, how to do things and, and how he prefers things.

And, you know, I’ll give, I’m gonna say something.

I’m gonna tell, I’m gonna tell a little story about that.

I think was an example of how our, our friendship and our business partnership, you know, really works is… you know, there’s obviously there’s a lot of things I want to do. I always say that Ward is Warren Buffett and I’m Jeff Bezos, right? Warren Buffett is about maximizing profits. He’s brilliant at it.

So is Ward. Jeff Bezos is about investing every ounce of profit back into the business to grow and scale. So we kind of naturally have this conflict of interest. But I’ve had to go to him over the last two years and say, look, I need, we need to invest in this. We need to do this differently. I know this is gonna cost more money.

And sometimes I’m so busy asking him for things that I think we need to grow, that I need sometimes for him to push back and he’s got an incredible business acumen and he said something to me once, you know, he’s like, you’re always so worried I’m gonna say no, but he’s like, think back over the last two years, Zach, when have I ever told you no? And I’m like, you know what, that’s absolutely right. But we have a lot of very good conversations about how to take whatever idea I bring him and make it really smart, make it really cost efficient. And that’s, to me that moment that comment that he made to me was such a great example of like at the end of the day, he and I are on the same page.

And that’s kind of amazing to have, I think, in any business partnership.

Chip Griffin: And how will that change when he is retired?

Zach Hyder: Well, I always joke that Ward will never allow me to use the retirement word. And he’s gonna get really mad if I ever throw a retirement party or invite people to celebrate his retirement.

I actually don’t really think Ward’s ever gonna retire because he’s, he’s got his hands in so many different things, you know, he’s, he’s got a lot of different business interests that he’s, you know, he’s continuing to manage. But I think, I think for me, as far as, you know, what I hope for him, and I hope for us at Hubbell.

Ward’s just one of those people who I hope I’m still going down to Oxford, Mississippi, and you know, sitting on his front porch and you know, having a sweet tea and, you know, getting his advice, you know, 10, 20 years from now. That’s one of the things he’s great at. What’s really interesting, about Ward and I, Chip, and I’m not sure if I said this earlier, in our conversation, but you know, I started as Ward’s business coach. That was how our relationship began. And what’s really interesting is that now Ward is kind of my business coach, right? Because he has many more trips around the sun than I do. You know, he’s done this for 20 years.

He built this thing from scratch. And so the fact that we can kind of coach one another is pretty, is pretty great.

Chip Griffin: And so you you’ll be going down there and sitting on his front porch, whether he likes it or not, huh?

Zach Hyder: Oh yeah, I’m already. So I’m going down for the Alabama Mississippi game in October and I am pretty, I’m very, that’s gonna be like this religious experience, because I’ve never been. But, yeah, he may have a room with my name on it, whether he likes it or not.

Ward Hubbell: That’s ok. No, you’re, you’re more than welcome.

Chip Griffin: So, so as, as we, as we start to, to wrap up our time together here, Zach, I think, you know, one of the other things that I just, like to get your perspective on is as someone who spent a number of years, advising agencies, looking inside them and, and understanding them, you know, what has that overall helped you in what you’re doing now, has it been a hindrance because you’ve seen, I mean, you know, one of the things we often say about young entrepreneurs is, you know, they, they don’t know what’s not supposed to work, so, you know, they’re willing to take more risks and try things and, and get things done.

You’ve obviously, having been inside a lot of agencies seen a lot of what doesn’t work. Do you feel like it’s overall an advantage or disadvantage, the experience that you had, as an agency coach and advisor?

Zach Hyder: Yeah. I mean, I, I always think having, you know, different experiences within this business is gonna be, is gonna be an advantage. I mean, I will say to all of my, my fellow agency coaches out there, including you Chip and, you know, my very good friend, Jody Sutter and others is remember on this side of the fence, it is really flipping hard.

Right. It sometimes can be very easy to see issues, problems. Oh, you need to do this. You need to do this. But mobilizing and managing and, you know, making, dealing with the realities of, you know, people in a business, different personalities, different motivations, different skill sets, getting everybody to do what you want ’em to do is hard.

And this is a very competitive business, you know, a lot, our, our VP here, Gina Maffei, who’s amazing. You know, she often says, you know, at the core, every agency’s the same, it’s what you choose to do with that, that matters. And I think that, you know, we talk a lot in the kind of coaching world about the importance of positioning, you know, really figuring out who you are and what you stand for.

And I think that element of it has been a strategic advantage as being able to come in and say, this is really critical to our growth. This is really critical to how we’re gonna define ourselves as we go through this pivot and transition. But I don’t think being a coach prepares you for, you know, the financial headaches that you’re dealing with sometimes, or the administrative burden of just running a business, and dealing with filing taxes and, you know, having to talk to your insurance agent, because rates are going up. I mean, I don’t think anything about coaching ever really prepares you for just the, the grind of it. And I’m very blessed to have a very experienced, you know, business person like, like Ward who I think kind of, I think he kind of likes that stuff.

He might tell you he doesn’t, but I think he does. And yeah, I will, but, and, Chip here’s one thing I will say. Having done this again. I mean, this, this is my last rodeo, no question. I tried to retire from this business and just do the coaching thing and it it’s like the Godfather line just when you’re out, they pull you back in.

This will make me one day, this will make me a better coach for sure. Having, having taken over this, this company and hopefully grown it will make me a better coach in the future.

Chip Griffin: Well, great. This has been a really, I think, enlightening discussion over the last couple of episodes.

I want to thank you both for opening up, a lot about your relationship and, and the, the thought process that you both went through to get where you are today. I wish you both, obviously the, the best of luck as you continue forward with this process. And Ward, if someone is, is interested in, in learning more about you guys, talking to you about the experience or learning more about Hubbell, where should they go?

Ward Hubbell: Thinkhubbell.com. Think like with your brain, hubbell.com,

Chip Griffin: I encourage you all to check it out again. This has been a, a very enlightening conversation. I appreciate the time that you’ve taken, and what you’ve shared.

Ward Hubbell: Thank you.

Chip Griffin: Thank you everybody for listening. And I look forward to seeing you all back on another episode very soon.