Embrace failure and limit risk. — To be resilient, you must also understand the circumstances that nurture this trait. For example, failure and risk are common to resilience and are often the reason for building a layer of resilience. Those who embrace and understand that failure is a stepping stone to success are the ones who impact our world, but it takes someone resilient.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Smeltzer.
Bryan Smeltzer is a successful consumer products business executive, author, and entrepreneur. He has held executive-level roles in business development, product, and marketing with some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including; Oakley, TaylorMade, Adidas, K-Swiss, Schutt Sports, among other international brands. Also, Mr. Smeltzer founded an apparel brand, successfully running a profitable business for ten years, eventually selling to a VC firm.
He recently finished his first book: The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands, and currently oversees LiquidMind Inc., a global brand strategy firm that partners with both start-ups and established international CPG brands to empower their businesses to think different, be different, drive a passionate culture, and execute relentlessly.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Having grown up in a blue-collar family environment in North Dakota, we were taught how to be independent and find a way to always provide for ourselves. However, having two hard-working parents who, month to month, we’re trying to make ends meet, it was a tough life for a family of five living a small trailer through brutal winters.
I always knew I would leave at some point. I just needed to find the moment to propel me into this new world outside North Dakota. This moment came during my last semester at the University of North Dakota, where I would make a move to California to finish my engineering degree, never looking back and with nothing in hand. I survived my first year, eventually finding a role with an aerospace company in Manhattan Beach.
After five years in the aerospace industry, I found my true calling was in consumer products. At this point, I started my apparel company, UTOPIA, an upper-tier men’s apparel collection. But, again, I started with nothing in an industry where I knew virtually nothing, eventually building it over ten profitable years into a brand that I sold to a VC firm.
After selling my apparel brand, I transitioned into consumer products, moving from my own company to working for some of the world’s most iconic brands. I started with Oakley, successfully building the Athletic Division, then I would move on to K-Swiss, where I would lead their global apparel/accessories and licensing. Eventually, I would end up at TaylorMade/Adidas Golf as their Vice President of Global Softgoods and Accessories product lines. Also, I would lead several international brands such as; SKINS performance apparel out of Australia, ARENA swim out of Italy, and ZAMST bracing/supports out of Japan.
Each was a unique experience, eventually leading me to LiquidMind, a global brand strategy firm out of Southern Cal. Having been with so many international brands, I found that this served me very well in founding LiquidMind, as I knew there was a significant void of brand services available to these companies.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In building my first company, one of the first orders from a massive sporting goods retailer, we mistakenly interpreted the quantities on the purchase order. Funny, but it turned out to be a mistake and one that affected our cash flow position.
Lesson learned, “MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE,” always double-check to ensure your calculations are correct.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We purposely built LiquidMind Inc as a “plug n play” Brand Strategy firm. A firm where both global brands and start-ups have access to experienced former executives and services across all functional areas and international business development.
When I was working with several global brands, TaylorMade and Adidas, as an example, I found the marketing and branding agencies we would engage had great book smarts, but not the understanding of what it truly takes to build, run and execute an internal brand strategy. I needed a partner who had been in my shoes and instinctively knew what I needed and could get the job done proactively. This ongoing issue is why I built LiquidMind Inc.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife is my rock and the one I turn to when I need support. Having someone who knows you can be honest with reality and encourage you when needed. To succeed, you need someone who can provide honest feedback and can be there to both listen and intuitively know when something is not correct.
When I started our first company, she supported my Vision and was my biggest fan and advocate. But, she was also my reality check when I did not realize what was ahead and was blinded by what I thought was real.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is facing the continual crashing waves of business, the ever-changing tide of the day-to-day, and keeping head above water while continuing to progress forward.
The leaders of both companies and teams who have this resilience trait are calm in the midst of a storm, provide visionary leadership during the darkest time, relax those with the greatest fear, and take the body blows without going down for the count. This is a lot of acronyms, but I find the visuals of resiliency are as crucial as the words. The main characteristic is staying calm and providing leadership during these times when all seems lost.
It is a rare trait, similar to visionaries, and those who possess it are the ones others seek for calm. Resilience is one of those “tangible” traits and is usually part of someone’s DNA and not necessarily learned. I find leaders react or respond; resilient leaders always respond; they can anticipate what is going to happen or what the future may hold and adjust, adapt, or pivot along this path. While others are paralyzed by fear, or the unknown, the resilient leader pushes forward.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
In my new book, The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands, I have a chapter that discusses Courage. Courage is similar to resilience but in many ways very different.
Resilience is your ability to continually take on what is KNOWN; Courage is your ability to take on what is not KNOWN, the UNKNOWN. A big difference and very significant.
Courage is risk-taking, while resilience is risk avoidance. While a leader may need both, Courage is a very rate trait and takes someone with significant foresight, embracing risk, having a vision of the future, and clearly explaining the result.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I will go back aways, and there are many, but Andre Carnegie is one I felt was persistent and persevered through some very challenging times while building the steel industry here in the US. He was faced with many challenges throughout his life. While looking to create, develop and grow the US steel industry, he would have to pivot from one industry to the next. However, he would never lose sight of the future opportunity and keep the vision to execute it in the real world.
Carnegie was faced with building infrastructure, pushing through labor issues, dealing with riots, all while building what was to become one of the most significant industrial creations of all time.
Carnegie led the development of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and became the richest man in America at the time.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Yes, early on in my Entrepreneurial life, many people who had been in the same situation felt the odds stacked against me. So I ventured into a career where I had no industry experience but knew this was the path I wanted to take and decided to persevere and knock down each barrier along the way. This would be the most challenging time of my life, but I was young, humble, and willing to learn. I also had the most supportive wife a person could ever ask for…what a blessing.
In almost all instances where people fail, it is not because of talent or money, and it is because they either were not humble enough to ask for support or did not have the DNA to break down barriers to success continually — leading to poor decisions, most monetary, and extreme stress. True Entrepreneurs inherently are not “risk takers”; they are “risk limiters.” They understand the need to take risks and plan to limit its impact when failure arrives. It is not a matter of “if,” but instead, when “failure” comes, no great product or company has ever succeeded with having failed first!
Had I taken this advice, I would not have had a successful ten-year run building an apparel brand, eventually selling to a Venture Capital firm, gaining the required industry knowledge, and creating the foundation needed to realize a long career in consumer products.
As I look back, this “reality” advice was needed to realize this is a difficult situation, prepare for these set-ups, and not get discouraged, for even the most influential brands have fought the same battles.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes, when I was working on my first product for my start-up company, I would say. Initially intended to be a sport sandal brand, I had secured the patent for a dual-density, strapped sport sandal and was prepared to go out for funding with the product commercialized and business plan in hand.
Unfortunately, as I was going out for funding, an economic recession took hold in the US. So no one wanted to look at opportunities that we were not generating both revenue and profitable, neither of which I had at this point.
With this reality, I had to pivot into a category that would build revenue, lower the required capital threshold and gain profitability. This pivot was into apparel, specifically, a premium men’s apparel collection. Again, we would target underserved niches with an affinity for what we were offering. We can offer this apparel collection, sub-branded with collegiate logos, to the business community through UTOPIA. To date, all university apparel was casual, core basics; we would provide clothing worn in the executive board rooms.
I was fortunate to have made this pivot, as this presented an opportunity I may not have usually seen unless I had this setback early on in my business.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any growing experiences that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
From a farm in North Dakota, my upbringing in a true blue-collar family taught me how to persevere and make it on my own. Being resilient, intelligent, and knowing how to limit your “at-risk” is key to your success.
Life, in general, is not easy, and when you purposely choose to disrupt the status quo, you must be willing to have the drive to succeed, work through the barriers you face, re-fill your tank, fuel your Passion, lead others and let go and let God take care of everything else. Have the faith that all things do work together for good.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
5 Steps to Building Resilience
- Embrace failure and limit risk.
- To be resilient, you must also understand the circumstances that nurture this trait. For example, failure and risk are common to resilience and are often the reason for building a layer of resilience. Those who embrace and understand that failure is a stepping stone to success are the ones who impact our world, but it takes someone resilient.
- It also takes someone who understands risk is an element of failure, so you must find ways not to eliminate but rather limit risk. Without risk, there is no failure; without failure, there is no success.
2. Be proactive vs. reactive.
- No one could have anticipated this pandemic, and those who had prepared for this disruption were dealt a much softer blow than those who did not prepare. Resilience is knowing the situation, finding a path forward, and setting the vision to execute its reality.
- Those who built the road before it was needed found a path through the storm and succeeded.
- Being resilient is understanding the past and preparing for the future.
3. Master your emotions, be a leader.
- Emotional fortitude is a trait most resilient leaders possess. They stand tall when everyone is down. Those who let their emotions get the best of them lose the respect of those around them and the company as a whole.
- You need to be the pillar during tough times; even if you are emotionally drained, do not let it spill out on your brand and team.
4. Remove barriers to success for you and your team.
- Being self-confident, humble and a true leader means you provide yours with all the tools necessary to succeed in their role and grow in their career. In teaching your “HOW” to fish vs. fishing for them, you will have built a solid foundation that will stand during the storms. Resilient leaders build a solid foundation around them, so when tough times come, and they will, you are fighting as a team, not as an individual.
5. Keep learning, being humble, and compassionate.
- Always be learning; this builds character, resilience, and leadership. This ability for a person to grow, learn how to be a better person, and be known as humble leaders build long-term loyalty with your team. These traits are infectious and authentic, and both are needed from a resilient leader.
- These traits will serve any leader well, both personally and professionally.
- Resilience is a situation or battle fought over and over, but as was said by Sun Tzu in The Art of War;
- “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There is not enough support for the Entrepreneurs community, true Founders, starting with nothing and building something of value to others.
I know the struggles they face and the trials or barriers they have to overcome daily. This stress sets in and eventually bleeds into their professional and personal lives. They need support and may not always know where to turn or find a trustworthy resource with no ulterior motive.
This is why I started the Christian Entrepreneur Leadership Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Yes, the same church was led by Pastor Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life.
I hope this Ministry provides a valued service to those in need of support and a trusting environment of other Entrepreneurs with no ulterior motive other than to serve others.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
- Elon Musk
- Jony Ive
- Clint Eastwood
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands.
- Bryan Smeltzer Books: The Visionary Brand
- Amazon: The Visionary Brand
- Barnes & Noble: The Visionary Brand
PODCAST; The Visionary Chronicles
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!