Recently the CEO and Founder of ActionCOACH, best-selling author and entrepreneur, Brad Sugars, embarked on a series of interviews with some of his organizations most successful Business Coaches and Franchise Partners. Here is one of the interviews with Brad Sugars and Bill Gilliland from North Carolina.
Brad Sugars: Well g’day and welcome to My Coaching Story, I’m Brad Sugars the chairman and founder of ActionCOACH and having a team of coaches all over the world delivering amazing results to business owners comes down to recruiting not only great coaches but amazing coaches, and today we get to meet Bill Gilliland. Hey Bill how you doing?
Bill Gilliland: Great Brad, you?
Sugars: Fantastic, now Bill the first question on this what is my coaching story is always what do you love about being a business coach, what is it that you love about it?
Gilliland: I really like it all there’s a there’s a couple of things you know i really love watching our clients have success. that to me that’s the best you know? It’s nice when we win awards but it’s really nice when our clients win awards. And it’s really nice to see someone go from eight employees to 70 employees, or someone 10x their business over a couple of years so that’s the big thing. The other thing that I really like is sort of the fact that we have to always be growing ourselves. We always have to be on our game, we always have to be staying on top of our learning. We always have to be up with whatever the latest is you know as it comes to business so a couple of things that’s a personal side and then the other thing is the client results.
Sugars: Yeah I love both of those too and if I was to go back to pre-becoming a coach… was it something where you woke up and said you know what? I want to be a business coach, or is it just something that naturally occurred?
Gilliland: Yeah it’s interesting I remember back in probably five, maybe seven years before I ever heard of ActionCOACH, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about what executive coaching was. And I was like huh that’s pretty cool… and I just remember that one little instance and that’s the only instance of anything about coaching until of course you and I got together so, yeah.
Sugars: Yeah, so tell people a little bit about your career pre ActionCOACH and what led you to becoming a coach?
Gilliland: Yeah I was actually trained as an engineer, and mostly because my dad thought it would be good for me. And so I worked in corporate a couple years and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to do corporate, so got an MBA, went to work for a family business of which I wasn’t part of the family. And I was lucky enough to be put in charge of a large division quickly. And so I kind of learned business the wrong way. Sort of top down, and yeah it was kind of funny. (laughing)
Sugars: Seems to be a lot of our clients do that too, yeah. (laughing)
Gilliland: Yeah that’s right, long story short a family business – I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be long term, I had an opportunity to open a business back where I’d grown up in my hometown.
Sugars: Which was where, where was it that you grow up?
Gilliland: Yeah I grew up in a place called Greenwood, South Carolina. Yeah a textile mill village town. So we opened up a western auto store, it wasn’t a franchise but it fell under the franchise laws. So it was kind of a dealer situation. We grew it fast, did well for about seven years. And then sort of didn’t do well for a while… and it would have been nice to know what coaching was then. It really would have been.
Sugars: The number of people though and you must hear this all the time, “I wished I’d had a coach back…”
Gilliland: Oh yeah I’ve never had anybody say that they wish they’d hired me later… (laughing)
Sugars: (Laughing) I like that line.
Gilliland: Yeah so anyway, from there my wife looked at me one day and said, “you’re miserable we got to do something different, I want to take a job a ways away” – so long story short we transitioned out of that business. We eventually sold the building to the Salvation Army, which was kind of cool. The Salvation Army by the way is an army, they have Generals… it was a General that had to sign off on it. So I got involved in… we moved to Virginia and I got involved in a couple of poultry related businesses. We ended up, we did okay in that for a while, and then we ended up selling one of the main parts of it, I didn’t really have anything to do. So I was looking for another business to buy, or a sales territory or a job or something… and I actually came across ActionCOACH. I got a call and the call said… I remember it well because it said, “have you ever thought about being in business for yourself but not by yourself?” – and I was like yeah you know I did that once… so the more I looked into it, the more it just felt right. Everything just lined up.
Sugars: If you look at all of that business experience and all that knowledge running someone else’s business or running a division of someone else’s business, fast growth in your own business, picking a couple of other businesses there… you know, maybe the poultry business you didn’t have as much passion for, as you have for coaching. (Laughs)
Gilliland: No no no, I didn’t have as much passion for any of them. You know, I always say that you know, until I found ActionCOACH, I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
Gilliland: So, it became super clear that we get to help people, and we get paid well for it, so it’s a win-win.
Sugars: You know when you think about the clients you’ve helped… how many years has it been?
Gilliland: It’s been almost 15.
Sugars: I was going to say, 15 or 16 years…
Sugars: If you think about that, 15 or 16 years.. any favorite client stories in that time? Like one or two where you just go, you know what? This is what keeps me coaching… because to me, I remember back to getting the wives or partners or husbands of the businesses the owners that I was coaching, and then the staff of them. Those were some of the things that kept me going as a coach I guess, and kept me passionate about it.
Gilliland: Yeah I mean I’ve got plenty of stories. I mean a couple that come to mind… I mean I’m deep into some of these clients. Some of these clients I have been coaching for over 10 years. I mean I’ve coached the owners, sometimes we’ll coach for a little while, then won’t coach, … but I’ll be coaching the sales people or the managers, but when I look at taking a company from seven or eight employees to multiple, bought two other companies. You know, gone from around 800,000 let’s say, to over 10 million. One of the partners now, a minority owner of the business, is the general sales manager. He started on the roof, you know? Those kinds of stories are amazing. I’ve got another client who, he told me the other day and I can’t say his name because he didn’t want anybody to know, but you know he said, “Bill what I’m trying to do now is to figure out how to give away $100,000 every year, out of his business. That’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.
Sugars: Yeah, the whole learn earn return.
Gilliland: Yeah! So you know those kind of things are like, yeah we’re making a big difference not only to the business owners families, but to their employees family, to their whole communities.
Sugars: Yeah I love that about that, and you’ve actually been nominated a few times for community impact in the number of jobs you create and the extra revenue for the community you’re in. Let’s talk about that community aspect of it because as a coach, you’re a leader in the community in many ways. How’s that played out for you?
Gilliland: It’s been interesting because I actually started this business twice. Because I started in Virginia and then we moved to North Carolina. It’s been interesting, to start it twice because it kind of had to start over with a new community. And I think it’s partially why we do what we do. We have to be ingrained in the community. I believe as a business coach I have to be a leader in the community, I have to be looked up as a leader, I have to be out there. I mean people have to know who we are, you know? I know Beth, who’s come to work for me in the last eight months, she says well Bill everywhere I go, people they know you, and I’m like well good. That’s where we want to be.
Gilliland: You know that’s where we want to be. We want to have them have heard of us, even if they don’t really understand what we do yet that’s okay, at least we can get into the door. You know there’s something there. So yeah we look at giving back, I mean I tend to do that on a personal side. I mean I tend to do more giving back to the community personally than through the business. We’re out there – that’s just how I tend to run it.
Sugars: Yeah. Well our business our business by nature gives back to the community the nature of our business is a giving business like, you think back to this pandemic, I look at all the work you did during the pandemic of educating people for free just to help them survive this thing. The number of hours just on zoom calls helping people survive was phenomenal. I mean I love that stuff too.
Gilliland: I just I want to, I want to acknowledge you here, I appreciate your leadership there because you know in the pandemic, I remember at the first couple of weeks, people were scared… and they didn’t know what to do… and we got on it like right away. You got on it and then we got on it like next day. Here’s what we need to be thinking about, here’s what we need to be doing, here’s what we need to be getting out of there, and it was a good kick in the rear for me. It was a good kick in the rear for a lot of people, and I think it really did. I mean we really did help a lot of people. I got a lot of comments. It was it was super interesting because I was getting,.. and people were like yeah you know what to do? Great! We’ll take you to do a webinar. We’ll sponsor, we’ll send it out to all our people. I was getting chambers, I was getting real estate associations, all kind of people were calling us saying hey you know? Once they figure it out, we had a bit of a plan.
Sugars: Yeah it’s given that we’ve been through what? Four economic downturns as an organization and you go back to 2008 when we got on the road teaching people in 2008 to get through that one… and I think that says a lot about if you add our foundation of what we do with kids, and you add Coaching For a Cause what we do with non-profits, but just naturally our business grows community and grows economies. I want to talk about you personally though and your growth during the 15 years of being a coach, because you know I know when people come to be a coach they’re like okay I’m going to teach people what I know. But you said it in the beginning you have to keep growing and you have to keep learning and stuff, how’s your growth and how’s that impacted you and your family and the people around you?
Gilliland: Yeah before, pre-Action, I got a lot of education, but it wasn’t intentional. It was what came with what needed to be learned for the job I guess. So there were courses, there were seminars, there were books, but I wasn’t on this sort of personal development track that Action got me on like right away. You can see the books, that’s not even half of them. (gestures) You know that’s all I can fit on those…
Sugars: I see something from a really cool author there sitting on the shelf (laughing).
Gilliland: Yeah there’s some good authors there (laughing) They’re good still to this day, I mean I use the books, we give them out to new clients, I send books to clients all the time. Here’s what we’re doing… so that that has been, you know we have a saying, and I don’t know maybe you coined it, but we have to be ahead of our clients. We don’t have to be real far ahead of them, but we have to be ahead of them. It’s super important for us to be up on whatever it is we’re working on. You know I think it presents itself. If my sales are not going well, well then I need to do some learning on sales. If my marketing isn’t getting any leads, I need to go learn some more marketing.
Sugars: Yeah now taking community to the next level, I want to talk about two aspects of it. One is the community you’ve built of business owners and the second is the community that you’re a part of with the business coaches, being the ActionCOACH team. Take me through both of those and what that means to you, because your community that you’ve built and the community you’re part of, they’re both phenomenal aspects of being a coach.
Gilliland: Yeah I know I love our clients, and I love ActionCOACH. Both are super important to me, but my favorite thing now is getting my clients together for say a 90-day planning a growth club. You know that’s my favorite thing, I love getting in there and facilitating that day. That to me, is the most fun thing. One of the most fun things that we get to do.
Sugars: And watching them at the end of the day be friends, they’re friends with each other now these business owners!
Gilliland: Oh yeah they do business with each other, and you know we’re a bit spread out around here. So, Zoom has been brilliant. I mean we have been, we’re going to probably be on some kind of hybrid for a long time…between something, some people who want to come live, find people that don’t want to travel or whatever, we’re probably going to be doing that so that’s super good. Now, the other surprising thing to me, so other than the internal learning and all that, about ActionCOACH was how cool the culture was. I mean, I meet regularly with other coaches to talk about how to be better coaches. Three of us; I get together with the North Carolina team every Monday morning; and right after that three of us get together. I’ve got friends all over the world now. I’ve been to conferences in Australia and Ireland and you know, all over the UK of course, Scotland, that was that was golf with a conference tied on to the end… but it was awesome you know? (laughing).
Sugars: (Laughing) Travel is a great side impact…
Gilliland: Well it’s brilliant and I’d be so glad when we can really get back to that. But I do, I have friends and I have never, right up to anybody in Action; I don’t care who they are, where they are, I have never called anybody and not had them say, “help me out.” If I had a question about an industry or some specific thing I didn’t know about, every single one of them has always helped me out.
Gilliland: Plus when we get together we have a good time, it’s fun.
Sugars: (Laughing) Bill, finishing your coaching story, I started with what you love about coaching. What’s your plans now? Where do you see yourself going with this thing, where do you see yourself building? Because there’s so many business owners that need help; and we try and get to all of them as many as we can. Where do you see yourself building this thing? Because maybe one day Bill’s going to retire, I don’t know! (Laughing)
Gilliland: Yeah maybe (laughing). Well, Ian McFarland is one of my one of my heroes so that’s sort of my…
Sugars: We need to explain to everyone who Ian McFarland is.
Gilliland: Yeah well Ian’s a mentor of mine too and he’s… I don’t know, he must be 80.
Sugars: He’s about to yeah, he’s about to be. And he’s still coaching, and still coaching, and still coaching.
Gilliland: And he’s doing it well. Every time I talk to that guy, even if it’s for like five seconds, I learn something. So it’s super good. That’s not my plan, I actually have been working on this pretty hard. I’ve, having moved and had a business partner in the business and had some other things, I’ve done this business a lot of different ways. We’re going to be adding. Right now I’m building up marketing capacity. I’m spending a ton of time building up. We’re revving up to create so many leads that there’s no way I can potentially even handle them. So I’m adding that, I’m going to add sales capacity and we’re going to of course be adding a couple of coaches.
Sugars: Maybe anyone watching this video wants to join your team at some point. Hopefully, because it’ll be a phenomenal thing to be learning at the feet of the master.
Gilliland: It would be it would be awesome. I’ve had people that I’ve talked to over the years and I said you know what are you going to do with the business? And he said well I’m just going to close it down. And I’m like what?! You know? That makes no sense to me. So I don’t really have retirement plans I love this business for that aspect too. My original retirement plan was to get a sales territory until I found ActionCOACH, and then I realized that you can scale this business… I can build a business and then take some clients that I like to hang out with, and we can do that.
Gilliland: So yeah that’s the plan right now.
Sugars: Bill congratulations on everything you’ve done so far, and I’m really looking forward to watching over the next 10 years the more clients that you help. Because every one of your clients that I’ve met so far has been a raving fan but also they’ve got such phenomenal results in their business and their life. I’m glad that you found ActionCOACH, I’m glad that ActionCOACH found you.
Gilliland: It’s been a good fit, thanks Brad!
To learn more about Brad Sugars, visit Bradsugars.com and for ActionCOACH go to actioncoach.com.