031: Jeff Furst: I had little confidence in myself
Jeff Furst Show Notes
Jeff Furst was elected as the Alumni Chair, as a sophomore, of a historical fraternity chapter at Northwestern University called Phi Kappa Psi. Instead of doing the typical homecoming duties and the once a year meeting Jeff decided take on the needs of a deteriorating chapter house. Over the next two years Jeff spearheaded the fund raising of over 1 million dollars to help restore the chapter house. Listen to Jeff tell his story of how he overcame low confidence, low engagement and high doubt and flipped things over.
Jeff Furst was born in Freeport, IL and raised in Rockford, IL with his younger sister. Rockford which is known as the screw capital of the world is also the home of the legendary rock band Cheap Trick.
Eventually Jeff found his way to Northwestern University where he earned a degree in Economics. Jeff especially enjoyed his economic history classes with Joel Mokyr and Charles Calomiris the most.
Following graduation, Jeff worked in commercial banking for American National Bank which is now part of J.P. Morgan Chase. After three years, Jeff enrolled full-time at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, now called Booth School of Business, where he earned his MBA.
After graduation, Jeff was recruited by AT&T and moved to New Jersey to work in marketing and product strategy at AT&T.
After a short period of time Jeff decided to follow in his parents, grandfather, and great-grandfather’s footsteps and started his own company. Today, Jeff is the founder, President, and CEO of FurstPerson. FurstPerson provides pre-hire assessment tools and services to help companies that hire customer contact employees improve the chances of making the right hiring decision.
Jeff wants to leave a legacy of having raise kids that are good citizens of the earth and to have been a value to his customers.
Jeff still resides in Rockford with his wife and three kids. And he spends his free-time providing taxi services for kdis and volunteering for various organizations and teams that his kids are involved with. Jeff also enjoys belonging to the cult known as CrossFit.
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch by Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“I was able to show I was committed…it helped to get buy in from others.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“Be patient and work through things…growth and opportunity come from that.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“If you don’t do this the repercussions can be dramatic.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“I did not want to be a member of a chapter that went out of business.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“You always have to be looking forward.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“What needs to happen tomorrow to make today even better?” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“Hire smart people, give them what they need and then get out of their way.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“Create an environment to empower people.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“What are the gifts each person has; give them what they need to capitalize on them.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“If everybody agrees with you something is wrong.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
“Be careful of universal agreement and look for the counter-intuitive argument.” -Jeff Furst Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Jeff Furst was elected as the Alumni Chair, as a sophomore, of a historical fraternity chapter at Northwestern University called Phi Kappa Psi. Instead of doing the typical homecoming duties and the once a year meeting Jeff decided take on the needs of a deteriorating chapter house. Over the next two years Jeff built an incredible movement that ultimately raised over $1 million dollars to help restore the chapter house. Listen to Jeff tell his story about getting over the hump so you can move onward and upward faster.
Advice for others
Hire smart people, give them what they need and then get out of their way.
Holding him back from being an even better leader
Focusing on clear goals and strategies. Instead of creating clear goals and strategies I spend too much time in them.
Best Leadership Advice Received
If everybody agrees with you something is wrong. Be careful of universal agreement and look for the counter-intuitive argument.
Secret to Success
Cross Fit and working out. I am a better person because of it.
Best Resources in business or Life
I love reading about business people and historical figures and what they did. Those lesson never die and can be applied in many ways.
email: jeff.furst [at] furstperson.com
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we uncover the leadership like hat that help you to experience, break out performance faster and rocket to success. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
Jim Rembach: Thanks, Kimberley. Okay, Fast leader legion you will want to make sure that you actually go to iTunes and download and subscribe the fast leader show, if you haven’t already because today we have somebody who I’ve known for a very long time and I’ve looked up to for a long time and it’s just one of those people that gives a unique perspective and insight on a lot of topics and you’re going get to learn a little bit about what he’s doing today coming up in the show.
Jeff Furst, was born in Freeport, Illinois and was raised in Rockford with his younger sister. Jeff ultimately found his way to Northwestern University where he earned a degree in Economics. Following graduation Jeff worked in commercial banking for American National Bank. After a couple years Jeff decided to enroll full-time at the University Of Chicago Graduate School Of Business and he earned his MBA. After graduation Jeff was recruited by AT&T and moved to the Garden State of New Jersey where he worked in Marketing and Product Strategy at AT&T. After a few years he decided to follow his parents, grandfather, and great-grandfather’s footsteps and start his own business. Today, Jeff is the Founder, President and CEO of FirstPerson. FirstPerson provides pre-hire assessment tools and services to help companies that hire customer contact employees, improve the chances of making the right hiring decision. So Jeff Furst are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Jeff Fursts: I am Jim. Thanks for having me.
Jim Rembach: I’m glad to have you Jeff. Now I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you but could you tell us what your current passion is, so that we get to know you better.
Jeff Fursts: Sure Jim, happy to do so. So I think, put aside having my own company and working on that which is obviously a great passion of mine, I really become quite interested in education and particularly teachers and how teachers are evaluated in the quality of teaching in schools. Obviously, having three kids that are all school-age probably is a big contributor of that. So, I am really interested in what’s going on in the world around teaching, not only here in the United States, but also what else is happening outside the US and other countries and how they approach education.
Jim Rembach: You know, I just had the opportunity to prior to you and I speaking, meet with a professor who is also on that same journey and has that same passion right now. It is amazing to see how much change focus and passion is being put into education, education reform and really creating that next generation of both workforce and leaders and really community leaders and citizens. What are the things you’re working on right now specifically that are really giving your energy towards that particular pursuit?
Jeff Fursts: Sure. The first thing that I’ve been doing a lot of research in and trying to understand and then even taking it back to the schools that my kids are involved in, just trying to understand, for example Jim, what is a good teacher versus a not so good teacher? And what is that mean to an individual student. There’s research out of Stanford, a guy name Eric, I probably won’t pronounce this right the last name correctly it’s I think it’s, Hudecek, but he’s in a lot of research showing that for example a teacher who is above average can accelerate the learning path in the classroom by six months or so versus a teacher who is a below average or isn’t quite up to the capabilities of delivering education could actually have a regression of six-month, right.
For example, kid inner-city schools and kids that are in those environments cause they don’t have any choice, you have five years of bad teachers, well now, that’s 30 months that their potentially behind. So, no wonder once those kids reach the workforce that they’re not—they have a challenge finding jobs, they have a challenge in putting food on the table and obviously the implications to society because of that. So, we’re just kind of focusing on that teacher question and how do schools identify teachers who can be the right fit for the classroom and capable of delivering, at least average if not above average, in the classroom. Obviously, there’s a lot of things that go into that Jim but that kind of links to what I do day-to-day and there’s a natural gravitation or easy path for me to look at that and really get excited about it.
Jim Rembach: As I was listening to you give that answer, and thanks for sharing is, some of the work that you’ve been doing in regards to identifying the right behaviors, the right characteristics of people who actually conserve others well, teachers kind of, like you’re saying, easily fall into that servitude or supporting or helping others type of realm and being able to identify their characteristics is important. While definitely this is a huge issue and is one that we can afford to lose in a lot of different ways and so I hope that you continue to find the passion and the drive to do that. One of the ways that we find drive and passion here on the Fast leader show is that we lean on leadership quotes. Leadership quotes can give us that extra ‘umph’ and that extra focus to help continue on and persevere and get pass. Are there some quotes for you that do just that, can you share them?
Jeff Fursts: Sure Jim. There’s one in particular that I came across early on after I started FirstPerson and found it to be a really helpful. It’s Jack Welch, I’m sure it’s one of many business quotes that he’s probably contribute over the years. So it’s: “Face reality as it is not as it was or as you wish it to be.” I really think that whether you’re leading a company or you’re in a volunteering capacity or whatever it might be, to me that’s really instrumental because a lot of people, and I was early on was one to go this route, you envision how you want things and you kind of pretend the way that that’s what it is, but that’s not reality.
In order to improve your own reality of whether that’s your company’s growth or how they’re at home or a group you might be involved that’s a volunteer even the example we’re talking about like teaching and how do you face reality of what that environment is today but what can you do to move forward. I think unless you’re grounded in that reality and not thinking about how it may have been in the past or how you wish it was, you start with where it is today the reality what it is and then you can work towards helping, lead the organization or being a contributor to others that are leading the organization to get where you want to go. Of course, that means setting goals and such and understanding what that vision ultimately is. But I really found that to be a very practical and helpful quote when I came across that many, many years ago.
Jim Rembach: And I would dare to say that oftentimes we have to essentially sip from that saucer of reality and make sure that we do focus in on what we have to do with what we currently have in front of us. Oftentimes we talked about getting over the hump on the fast leader shows because that’s our dose of reality, to say: “Okay I’ve got to move forward with whatever this particular hump is and get over it.” There’s going to be learnings from that and oftentimes there are things that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Is there a hump that you remember that you had to get over and that it actually made you be a better person better leader, can you share that story with us?
Jeff Fursts: I sure can Jim. Yeah, so this goes way back to my college days a matter-of-fact. I was a little hesitant to say, well is there anything in college that really makes us who we are and I think obviously the education and classes you take and people you meet are part of that but to me college was also broader experience and so in Northwestern, I belonged to a fraternity Phi Kappa PSI. While most people think of the fraternity environment—parties and lot of fun and certainly there was that, but more importantly Phi PSI was a historical chapter at Northwestern one of the early chapters there and we had a great legacy, but when I was there in the late 80’s we had a lot of problems. The house was falling apart, the chapter house was falling apart, there wasn’t lot of money, and our alumni group was not existent. I was elected as the alumni chair, which probably in most cases is kind of—you have a meeting once a year and you go to homecoming, so that’s what I really need to do. But I got excited about the needs of the chapter house had and thinking through, what are we going to do to fix this? I was probably in my sophomore, so I said there are couple of more years left there and it was really a problem for us. So, my role as an alumni chair, I’m saying, “Well, there’s got to be a way for us to get some more alumni involved for creating a broader network. Fortunately, Northwestern and that was Illinois, a lot of our alumni were very local to the North Shore, Chicago to the city itself and to the other suburbs, so we were geographically in good position but I really felt that there’s a challenge.
You know, the undergraduates they don’t really care what was going to happen. They’re going to leave in two to three years and we obviously had not done a good job of involving the alumni base back into the house and getting them to campus to visit with us. So, for better for worse I took it upon myself to figure out a way, how we can get alumni back involved. I had met this older gentleman who had graduated from Northwestern was a Phi Psi, call him Brother Al, and he had this little pancake business. What he did is he brought in a little equipment and set it up and he made pancakes and he’d do this pancake breakfast. And I thought, well, this is may be an interesting idea, a hook, a gimmick maybe to get—host a breakfast, organize it and bring alumni back to that. I knew I could get the undergraduate members, my fraternity brothers there because on a Saturday, Sunday where we usually eat breakfast, at the kitchens clubs and they’ve been out probably all night and everybody’s hungry. Bottom line is, I setup to organize this first breakfast and work the phones and got about ten or fifteen alumni there. And then we did another one and that grew and we did a third one and that grew and ultimately we had 30, 40, 50, people that had come to these breakfasts at various points. And from there, I was able to get a small advisory group put together and that helped us get a little more framework around more, higher level organization and then ultimately and eventually a year or two later led to a more detailed fundraising campaign.
We ultimately put about $1 million back to house we raised that through working with the University and through alumni donations. But what I learned Jim is, coming back to the hump and the leadership example is that, one is, at that time I had little confidence in myself around leading others especially when you think of your fraternity brothers who, there’s a wide range of interests and thoughts around what should be done and people kind of live their own lives about their studies and we collect together and there certain common bonds that we had but I really was not that confident in how I could lead that group and this was an opportunity to step in and actually try to help the house to be better and try to create a better environment for next year and the year beyond and I think with that I also learned about perseverance.
This took a long time to put together but once I was able to show that I was committed to it and it can create results that focus help to get buy-in from others with other chapter members and such. And it also help me understand how to be creative and—a pancake breakfast that’s kind of ridiculous but it was a nice little gimmick that worked. It was different and it worked to get the alumni’s attention and get them back. That epiphany was really about setting goals and working to them but also how to communicate them over and over and over with that message and understand how to get other people to get bought into it and that really help me—maybe step outside of my shell, being 18, 19 years old and that experience ultimately helped set up eventually when I decide to leave AT&T and start my own company.
Jim Rembach: That’s a great story Jeff. I mean for me, when you were telling it I started coming back to the quote that you said that you like from Jack Welch because to me it was all summarized in which you just shared with us in regards to the hump that you got over with going through that fundraising process and getting so many of those different stakeholders involved with helping to bring that house back to a better sound footing and you know being in better shape, that’s awesome. I think a lot of times it seems that folks want to have that quick turnaround, that short injection, that quick win, that silver bullet all of those things that were told and that are glamorize in news and entertainment and all that. But at 18, 19 especially 18 year 19-year-old today, that’s exactly what they think how everything happens. What was different for you in thinking that, “Okay, start this idea but then let’s expand it, let’s expand it, let’s expand it” because that’s what you kept doing and you didn’t stop. What were some the things that you were thinking about that next step? How did you do that?
Jeff Fursts: Sure, you’re absolutely right. Just to make a quick comment about thinking of today and the world, everything is so quick. If you don’t respond to your e-mail immediately or anything with social media it certainly drives a very responsive world versus taking a step back and thinking things through and having the ability to be patient and work through things. I do get concerned sometimes that we lose that and to me ultimately that’s where growth and opportunities do come from. Going back to your question and the experience back in Northwestern was, it came down to understanding that if we don’t do this the repercussions could be dramatic. The university could come and say, “Look, your house doesn’t meet certain code things and if it doesn’t certain code things were going to shut it down.” “Or you guys can’t live here anymore” that would displace 40 or so people that live in the house. We wouldn’t be able to serve meals there and all of sudden that physical structure becomes a gathering in a point for everybody, and so it doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t go there, we can’t use it and that was going to be a challenge, so that was one thing. Back to reality of what could happen if you play the [16:07 inaudible] a little bit in terms of potential scenarios. The other thing I guess I thought is, for whatever reason if nobody else’s is going to do it or if nobody is thinking about it then this is the things at a higher level that Phi Psi talks about at the national level and such in serving others and being a contributor to your community. And I certainly didn’t want to be a member of a chapter that was the one that went out of business, so to speak. So, taking that approach and coming back to—I didn’t really talk about that initially it was more of people making fun of me about—Oh, we’ll give you pancake breakfast, and Look at what Jeff’s doing. And, “Okay, fine,” you live with that. But the first one once it was partially successful and then the second one was even more successful it just stick in to that and then start and talk about, “Look at this, this is where this could go” we get more alumni here they’re going to help us. They were here in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and they don’t want to see that legacy go away and they want to help and make sure that the chapter continues forward.
And so, it was starting to resonate that craft that message, I give myself probably more credit today than maybe able back then, but crafting a message, “Look, we need to do something and the alumni are the ones who are going to help us get there cause certainly undergrads we don’t have that and university isn’t going to care one way or the other.” So, not only do we need the alumni because of the financial opportunity they could bring but also because they can intervene at the university level and in those types of things. So, just building on that message, and building on that buy-in and continuing to get suggestions as more and more of the chapter members got involved and then once the alumni got involve they had even more ideas and we got things organized. So, really it was just kind of that service component and it’s— you also had to be looking forward. And also, I know I said, I accomplish this today that’s great but what needs to happen tomorrow to make today better, that makes sense.
Jim Rembach: It definitely does, and I appreciate you sharing that story. It makes me even more excited about while you were talking about your current passion around the education efforts and all of the things that you’re doing there, that with the success that you had here, I know you’re going to make a big impact on education, I appreciate that. So if you were to think about what you’ve been doing with the education piece, that story that you had shared about creating that movement, what is one piece of advice that you would give to the fast leader legion?
Jeff Fursts: Sure. Well, this is related a little more to the business side of things but I think it could be expanded to anything. When I first started FirstPerson back in the late 90’s, I had some older individuals who had been, around the blocks so to speak, and the advice they gave me which I’ve took to heart and really think a lot of is: “Hire smart people, give them what they need but then get out of their way” and you think about what does that mean? Well, you create an environment to empower people, whether that’s in a business like you’re not involve in or volunteer work and he was there just because they want to be there and want to try to help. Understanding what are the gifts that these person has? And then giving them what they need to capitalize all those gift but then getting out of their way and let them do their thing. Now, having said that it’s important that there’s a lot of work around communication, the vision of what we’re trying to achieve so you don’t have everybody walking off their own individual path and then the organization can move forward.
Jim Rembach: Well, I appreciate you sharing that piece of advice. Now, we talked about FirstPerson and the work that you do at FirstPerson in helping companies select those right people and hopefully they’re getting out of their way once they do that, but what is really exciting you about some of the work that you’re doing at FirstPerson right now?
Jeff Fursts: Sure. There’s a couple of things, Jim. One, is the application of technology. What we do is we’re helping organizations hire people and we do that because we help them to find a job, we help them create a model that can be measured. In other words, can it come to a process that can be measured and then evaluated against some type of performance outcome? So technology today is really exciting and create a lot of passion in our side because the ability to use different types of web based tools, the ability to interact with data sources and do that in real time has enabled us to do so much more around serving our customers and helping them do things not only at a lower cost but on our faster delivery standpoint. At the same time back to the candidate, and candidate experience were able to create a more engaging a more immersive experience so it’s fun for the candidates. For example, think about using—you create like simulations or kind of game-like tools that a candidate can go through, that’s not only create a much more engaging process for the candidate, it helps maybe the customer promote their brand in a better way, it’s also really predictive performance. And so, technology is really enabling us to do a lot of things. Even five years ago we couldn’t do that because of cause implications or development timelines those types of things, so that’s one thing, And then the data, it already talks about analytics and how to use data and so and so forth and I realize it’s a big buzz word and overused quite a bit. But there are some really neat opportunities to pull various data back to the process. And so where human resources, recruiting and hiring ten years ago, it was kind of a feel good thing. Today there’s an opportunity to quantify the hiring decision, put a financial model around that and so HR can go back to the executive team and talk about, “Look, we’re making these investments and how people are hired.” and as a result we are contributing to business outcomes in a way that it were driving retention from an improvement perspective, we’re hiring people who are better at delivering that customer experience, our C SAS scores are improving, our resolutions improving and now the sudden is becoming an opportunity for that chief Human Resources officer to be an equal at that C Switch level as the CTO or Operational Leaders and such because they can demonstrate a talent strategy in a quantifiable way. It’s great to be a part of that it’s exciting to be part of that, and I think for us in particular the work we’re able to do with our customers and to see how that creates real results is really powerful for us.
Jim Rembach: Well, the Fast leader Legion wishes you the very best. Alright! Here we go Fast leader legion, it’s time for the—Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Jeff the Hump day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Jeff Fursts, are you ready to Hoedown?
Jeff Fursts: I am.
Jim Rembach: Alright. So what do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
Jeff Fursts: Thing that’s holding me back Jim is focusing on clear goal. So, instead of working on clear goals and strategy, I spend too much time working in them and got to get away from that.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Jeff Fursts: I think, it had something that’s somebody told me. It’s a quote from Mark Twain, if I’m not mistaken, “If everybody agrees with you then somethings wrong.” And so, it’s time to take a step back and find out what really is going on and think through all the angles. Be careful of universal agreement and look for the countered truth of argument there.
Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Jeff Fursts: Cross-fit and working out, believe it or not. So, I find that just with the day-to-day and the amount of stress that incorporate in the business and be responsive and balancing work and family, so the ability to escape for 30 minutes to an hour and exercise really helps me clear my mind refocus on goals and such. So, I find that I’m a better person because of that.
Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best resources that helps you lead in business or life?
Jeff Fursts: I love reading. I think in particular I find that—during the introduction you mentioned economic history class, I love reading about business people or historical figures and what they did. For example one book is heightened Ron Chernow, which is about JD Rockefeller and talks about how he grew up and built his business and there are things maybe I don’t agree with that, but a reader might not, but the lessons learned from his perseverance and understanding of the strategy, of the oil business and gas business how he got there, I just love that historical contacts because I think those lessons never die. They can be applied in any timeframe even today with the technology we have, there’s a lot of parallels.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader listeners, you can find links to other bonus material and that book on the show notes page which you’ll be able to find at Fastleader.net/Jeff Fursts. Okay, Jeff this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills you have back with you but you can’t take everything you can only just take one thing, so what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Jeff Fursts: Jim a piece of knowledge, if I go back to 25 and have this piece of knowledge and start from there be able to control my own destiny and not let others control it for you. The back channel there, decisions that I made post 25 where maybe, we let other partners or other people have too much influence of what we were doing versus controlling ourselves. From a company perspective it would’ve made a huge difference and if I go back and take that one piece of knowledge in terms of controlling my destiny and not letting others influence it, I think my path forward would’ve been very different.
Jim Rembach: Jeff, it was an honor to spend time with you today. Can you please share with the Fast leader listeners how they can connect with you?
Jeff Fursts: Sure! You can connect with me on Twitter @furstsjeff or on Linkedin or my E-mail address is Jeff.firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Rembach: Jeff Fursts, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. The Fast leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump.
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
END OF AUDIO