S8E16: The real job requirements for a CEO, with Kelly Schmitt (CEO, Benevity)

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S8E16: The real job requirements for a CEO, with Kelly Schmitt (CEO, Benevity)

Kelly Schmitt (CEO of Benevity, a certified B Corporation and the global leader in corporate purpose software) speaks with Xquadrant's Founder Richard Medcalf.

We are continuing our season "The CEO Learning Curve". Interesting and inspiring CEOs reflect on what got them the top job, what they've learned over the first few quarters in the role, and what lies ahead.

In this conversation, you’ll discover:

  • Why Kelly never wanted to be a CEO, and the circumstances that made her change her mind.
  • What you DON'T need to be amazing at to nail the role - why her two CEO predecessors failed within weeks - and what IS important.
  • The importance of purpose in modern corporate culture - and how to make doing good fun and easy.

"Stop telling yourself what you can't do ."

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You can watch this episode and discover more videos on strategy, leadership and purpose over on the Xquadrant YouTube channel.

Transcript

Richard Medcalf
Hi Kelly and welcome to the show.

Kelly Schmitt
Great to be here, thanks for having me.

Richard Medcalf
Hey, Kelly, I'm looking forward to this Benevity seems a really interesting business is there, it's a company with a purpose, it's a B Corp. and I'm looking forward to finding out about it. But I'm also really curious as to find out, you know, your own role you became CEO. Just over a year ago, and before that you had a finance career, and you told me just before we started recording that you never even wanted to be CEO, it's gonna be a fun one. And first of all, you want to give us a just a quick description of what is Benevity, right? And also what attracted you to, to join in the first place?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, for sure. So Benevity, we are the global market leader in what we call corporate purpose software. So our platforms used by, you know, more than 800 companies around the world, including companies like Apple and Google and Amazon and Nike to power their community investment in their employee giving and volunteering programs. So the whole premise behind Benevity was to democratize giving back. So take it from something that was a once a year arm twisting exercise where your company, you know, pressured you to give to the United Way, or whatever they thought was important to take that and change it into an experience where individuals could support the causes and the issues they cared about and they could do anything from, you know, give money in an amount, however big or small, they could give their time, they could do things like reduce their water usage, or their carbon footprint, or just do you know, simple acts of kindness, like, like helping out a neighbor and so, you know, the neat thing is, you know, our, our own data of users within our platform shows that companies who engage their people in these activities around giving and volunteering, they actually experience 57%, less employee turnover. So there's a really strong desire of young people today to connect their passions for making a social impact with their work lives, rather than it being something that's done sort of separately in your spare time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's interesting. It's a real trend, right? I mean, it's definitely there. I was talking with some leaders just the other day, and you know, they're all let them do what how do we, you know, we've always got to, like, make sure we don't over rotate, because it's like, there's so much there is so much energy around purpose and you know, this leader was saying, you know, I love it all and I'm there were there a B Corp as well, you know, everything else, there's like, we've also got to keep the commercial focus, because otherwise, there's so much energy that gets put around it, which is really interesting views about incentives, great that's a problem that you're having to hold people back and to some degree and so it's obviously highly motivating. I'm sure it's, you know, it's a motivating mission that you're on right helping companies deploy this and actually build out that, that purpose side. So tell me about how did you you know, how did you end up joining? What's the story there?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, so I actually had a career in finance and so I originally joined Benevity, about three and a half years ago as the CFO and, you know, kind of a funny story, because the first reach out I got from Benevity was less than a week after we had our second child. So I was definitely not, you know, out in the market looking for one new role but you know, I guess, you know, some say my career claim to fame is I've been the CFO of three Calgary tech unicorns, and they're very few tech unicorns, here. So smart technology, Solium and now Benevity but I think my true claim to fame is actually the other piece, it's, it's that, you know, I had both of our children as a CFO and actually took eight months off, you know, with each of them and they're, they're six and three now. So I'm very passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and at Benevity. We are 54%, female and 60% of the exact level, which is extremely rare for a tech company and so a lot of what attracted me to Benevity in the first place, of course, the mission is very compelling and that's what attracts many people to the company, but it's also the culture and the values fit there. Like, you know, the fact that you could find a company that's doing definitely walking the talk on on things like diversity, it was really important to me.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's pretty exciting. So, okay, so you come in, you know, you juggle this, this, your children and then the role of the CFO, and I'm always interested, you know, what, what was it that ended up making you the CEO, right, because that's always the jump right? Not everybody makes the jump from CFO to CEO. So what was your story there?

Kelly Schmitt
Yes. So, you know, to be honest, as you as you mentioned earlier, it's Not a role I was striving toward or actually even wanted, I would say, in fact, the first couple of times it was suggested I outright resist and said, like, look elsewhere, that is not me and so, you know, for me...

Richard Medcalf
I'm gonna slow you down mechanist say down a second, because I'm fascinated. Why didn't you think it was you?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah. So, you know, I was getting to that. So I was really happy, I was kind of a combination of a CFO and a Chief Operating Officer. So I had quite a broad role. I loved being the number two and sort of being that internally facing person who just executed and made stuff happen and so the reasons I didn't see myself as the CEO was mainly because I didn't want to be in the spotlight. So I didn't want to be the person on stage. Speaking at the conferences, I also thought to be a CEO, I had to be the company's best salesperson, or I had to be a great product, visionary. You know, I looked at what our founder did and he was amazing at all of those things and I just didn't see myself as those things and so how it kind of ended up happening is, you know, as a company, we tried twice, to hire externally to find a CEO successor for our founder and, you know, both times we hired, you know, US based executives with impressive resumes, and both times, we experienced what I would I call organ rejection, where the folks we hired were great people, but they weren't a fit with our culture, or values and so, after sort of living through that experience, and witnessing it firsthand, I really just came to realize that the job is all about people. So what's the role that I have as the CEO, it's continue to build a great team and, and foster a culture that people want to be part of and once I decided that, I could do that and also, I could just build a great exec team around me to handle some of the things that were my weaknesses, it was a lot less scary to make that leap.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, thank you for sharing, because I think it's helpful because other other people put in the same boat, like, do I have what it takes? Can I be a CEO? And I think your point is, right, it's, I like to talk to my clients are often CEOs or aspiring CEOs, and it's all around, like, what's actually your zone of responsibility, and what's not. And so I'd love to say to people, like, don't make don't make functional decisions, because you've got an executive team with those functional responsibilities. So as soon as you start to exercise your CEO power in that way, you're just stepping on people's toes, demotivating people, right is, and don't even make cross functional decisions because they should be just, you shouldn't be playing referee, right, they should be figuring it out between them and so they're like, Well, what's left, if I can't make functional decisions, or cross functional decisions, what's left and my point is, well, you know, building the leadership culture of the company, right, championing the vision, articulating it being, you know, being the embodiment of it. Making sure that, you know, managing your, your own team, because people need managing, even if they're super experienced, you know, creating a harmonious leadership team who can work effectively together, you know, all the things. One of my clients was making an acquisition, and it was like, well apply the same principle, your job is not to do the due diligence, that's your CFOs responsibility. It's to understand the the leadership culture that you're acquiring, and is that going to actually be feared and everything else? So really fascinating that yeah, you've come to that conclusion that actually you didn't have to be the chief product officer or the chief sales officer. You had to manage people dimension.

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah. And in the end, we actually had a, you know, a pretty robust succession plan in place for our founder. So our founder had been the CEO for since the company's inception, so for 13 years, and, and so by the time I took the reins, just over a year ago, I was already responsible for pretty much everything in the business except product and tech, so my scope grew and then when I shifted into this role, you know, our VP of Finance became the CFO or VP of Marketing became the chief impact officer out doing thought leadership and, and our founder also continued to be involved in the business part time, so it's actually made the whole transition pretty seamless.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's fascinating. So one of the questions I was going to ask you, but I think we've already got on to it really is what were the biggest surprises that you discovered about being CEO? And in a sense, one surprise might have been that you didn't have to be the chief product officer or, or whatever but what else have you you know, what else took you bit by surprise as you entered into this into this role?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, I don't know how much this first one is a surprise, but because I definitely knew the job would be really hard and for sure, it is the hardest job I've ever had and I get why CEO 10 years are often pretty short, you know, four or five years, on average, because, you know, being responsible for 900 people, five private equity firms that we have as investors and then running a business that has to meet the bar and the expectations of some of the biggest companies in the world like it's it's an incredible challenge. It's not an easy challenge and so, you know, I have to be really careful about ensuring, you know, my physical and mental health is taken care of, or it can, it can feel quite crushing. You know, maybe some of the surprises in the first year were, you know, just when you think about a roll that's really all about people like how much time I would spend debating things like what our COVID vaccination policy should be, and whether it was safe to reopen offices, when you've got people on all sides of these debates and tricky issues, you know, how much time would be spent worrying about the mental health of our team and what we could do to support them? As you know, we're now two years into a pandemic and maybe the biggest surprise of all is just like that I would actually enjoy being client facing and speaking at conferences, because I didn't view myself as that externally facing ambassador but actually, I'm quite enjoying it.

Richard Medcalf
Isn't it fascinating that sometimes we ended up pigeon holing, we ended up pitching holding ourselves, and we, you know, because of what we've done in the past, or the way we've operated in the past, and yet, there's always a new thing to come out of this is what I love seeing in my clients, you know, it's like, what's the next? What's the next version of you coming through? Right? What's the next thing you want to bring out? And it's often a new facet. Sounds like, yeah, you're on this crazy podcast. So you must be two of us to, to doing the things these days.

Kelly Schmitt
Absolutely.

Richard Medcalf
So, um, so what's your, you know, have you had this couple years of experience? You know, what would your top tip be for new CEOs as they enter the role? You know, what would you how what, what advice would you give them?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, hard to narrow down to one. So, you know, one, one would be that what I mentioned earlier, it's making sure you take care of your own mental and physical health above all else. So, you know, my routine is, I work out every morning, I drink, what you might call, like an adrenal cocktail, that boosts my energy and my immune system and I also meet regularly with a mindfulness meditation coach, even though meditation is not really bad thing, the platform, this piece really helps because, you know, ultimately, like your company, your team will go through tough times and so even when you feel like curling up in a ball and hiding under a pillow, you're the one that has to show up and inspire them and give them hope and a path forward. You know, I also think it's great to be authentic and show vulnerability with your team. You know, for example, I cried during a company town hall last week over the situation in Ukraine, because our team is, you know, working directly with clients and users to support the humanitarian efforts, the works been really challenging sort of round the clock, very emotional and when people see you're right in it with them, it just goes a long way to, you know, making them feel they can share their emotions, like they're really tied to the culture and feel a little bit less alone.

Richard Medcalf
Let me pick up on that point, because it's a hard one for me. My, I've said it before my sister's severely mentally handicapped and I always felt I had to be realize at the time, it was normal as life right but I always actually realized I always felt I had to be basically have it all together, because my parents had enough to deal with, you know, and one thing I've had to learn on, on my own journey, I think, is to actually not just pretend I'm the smartest person in the room, we're all together, you know, all the time, and whatever, and have it all together and actually, actually, I think one of the things I do often I did it with my co group, just the other day, I started off by saying, what I don't want you to know about me is dot, dot, dot and at that point, you can't prepare it for her areas fake if people see through it, you actually have to stop and go. What's the thing I actually don't want to tell these people. What it does is it just brings you through to another level, because when you actually share something that people can see emotionally on your face, this is a painful. Yeah, this is hard for you to say. Then suddenly, this is energy that wasn't there before.

Kelly Schmitt
I love that I'm gonna use that. Yeah, you mentioned Richard not, you know, having to be the smartest person in the room, right? I think I'm rarely the smartest person in the room. Most often one of the hardest working rarely the smartes and actually, you know, you've reminded me another tip I would give to new CEOs. In that same vein is get your dream team in place as soon as possible, like do not waste a minute starting the process because it can take time to find the right people. So of course, you want to hire strong people to cover your own gaps in your own areas of weakness, but also, if you know in your guts that some of the current exec team don't have what it's going to take to get the company to the next level, you know your best to move them on and, and go find you do need and so I actually spent most of my first year adding key people to the exec team plus the leadership team. one level down, it felt like for a while, all I did was interview and sell the Benevity story to potential hires, and it is paying off, you know, in a big way now, because my roles now a lot easier. I'm not spending time as you alluded to jumping into other jobs that I can focus on what I need to do as a CEO. You know, one interesting story on that front is it, it took me 11 months from the first time I met our chief people officer to when she joined us last summer and, you know, she came to us from Shopify, she had all the experience, we needed to scale our team, globally and, you know, she's given me in our team a massive lift and was worth waiting for and convincing, but could have I hired someone in a shorter time, I totally could have been, I would have been settling and it's really important to sort of like, get those great people in and, and build that dream team so that you and the company can be successful.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah, it's laying foundations right for everything else and the nice foundations take a lot of put in, but it's investment, right, you get it, you make the investment, it's painful at the start, and then you get the return going forward. So yeah, it's a great point. So let's, let's shift gears a little bit, I'm gonna move into a little quickfire questions. Section. What's your favorite quote that governs how you lead or how you how you show up in the world?

Kelly Schmitt
Ah, the one that I was reminded of recently, that just makes me smile is Steve Jobs. That's, if you want to make everybody happy. Don't be a leader go sell ice cream and I just love it because, you know, leadership is hard if you do it well and being a CEO, I think is the most difficult leadership role of all.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's a good one people say that people were driven. Yeah, it's easy to be driven by people pleasing and, and I always try to remind people, whenever you're saying yes to somebody saying no to somebody else, it's just that they're not in the room at the time normally, like you're saying no to kids, you're saying no to your kids to other customer, you're saying no to whatever, right but it's very hard to hear that voice at the moment. What's the favorite app on your phone or something that's, you know, that you you turn to You know, it's not your, it's not your standard set of apps but what's something which, which you rely on?

Kelly Schmitt
Most highly used with would be my two workout apps. So Beachbody on demand and peloton, but I'm also currently addicted to Wordle. Along with you know, half of the planets, not the nap.

Richard Medcalf
Okay. Yeah, there we go. So when when you're not when you're not busy being CEO, you get to push your brain push your brain a bit more. That's good and what about a book that has really influenced you? Over the years?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, I, I really give of sort of all the leadership reading I've done I like Brene Brown, dare to lead and it's it's about the benefits of leading with vulnerability, which I was speaking earlier. So that's definitely one.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah. That's, that's a good one. That's a really good one. What advice would you give your 20 year old self? To go back in time?

Kelly Schmitt
Oh, you know what I would, I would probably tell her to, you know, get out of your comfort zone and talk, stop telling yourself what you can't do? No, I became the CEO, because other people saw in me what I didn't see in myself, but really, you know, you can do anything, but you do have to get out side of that comfortable box, and really push yourself to get there.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's, yeah, it makes me think of, I often tell people, this is like, think of imposter syndrome as a feature, not a bug. It's showing you that you're playing big, you're pushing yourself out your comfort zone, and you're Yes, when your competence exceeds your confidence, but often we've shut ourselves down, right, you know, Bill will will say that it's not for us, or see our role is not for us, or whatever it is. So yeah, I think, yeah, self limiting beliefs, right? It happens happens easily. Another question I got is, is Who inspires you? Yeah, many, many of our best guests on the show come from referrals, right. And so I'm always curious to say, you know, who's somebody who you've encountered in your career, who, you know, a CEO who's inspired you? And that's given you a bit of a role model for what, what leadership might be like?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, so, you know, my, my biggest inspiration and best mentor has definitely been, you know, Brian de la ville who is the founder of Benevity. So, so hands down, and just the way that he was so thoughtful about building an inclusive, diverse culture with a real focus on values and you know, kind of our top one being humility, meaning, you know, you're really self aware, you know, there's always better you're always open to learning and improvement like that. You know, that has really shaped me. You know, one one CEO that I've run into recently is a smaller company. Her name is Bob be reset. She is the CEO of a company called virtual gurus and she is just really inspired me she is a female, lesbian, indigenous CEO who's built a company, building a great business, but with a strong social mission, including doing things like employing people, like single mothers and people of color, who often overlooked for roles and so she's got kind of an amazing personal story and also her business is growing like crazy.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's fantastic. Yeah, fantastic. I love this kind of stories. It's so it's always been hard for me as some, you know, white male to? Yeah, I feel always bit inferior when it comes to that but I think it's, it is it is a, it's great. So you've got a funny story about being Oh, I'm always like, living in France, I occasionally does very occasionally and I find it hilarious, but it happens. Occasionally, I look around the room and go, You know what I am, I'm the diversity candidate in this room. It's just fine. Like, I'm the only person it's not, whatever French or you know, whatever it is. It's just funny but it's yeah, there's a bad room to be in probably.

Kelly Schmitt
About a year ago, our Chief Technology Officer, who's also a white male pointed out to me is like, Kelly, if we want to diversify the exec team at Fidelity, we actually have to go hire more white males.

Richard Medcalf
Brother, there you go. Yeah. Fantastic. So Oh, no matter how much you've achieved, there's always a next level to go to right. Why go the podcast, the impact multiplier, because there's always we can always multiply our impact and and find a new way forward. So where does Benevity go from here as a business, what's going to be your stretch as a business?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, we actually went through a really fun exercise recently, where we drafted a 10 year vision for the company and I've never done that anywhere. And so we thought about how the world would be different if we are successful in sort of our goodness mission and so if you think about where we are today, people use Benevity, to do good and to give back as part of their work lives, because their companies purchase our platform, and they the company matches their donations, or they support volunteering, whatever the thing is, but the reality is, you know, people do good in many aspects of their lives, you know, whether that's their kids schools, their sports teams, or churches, you know, and so I get excited about a future, you know, where people think of Benevity, and sort of pull out the app on their phone when they think of doing good in any aspect of their life. So, you know, Benevity is a verb, it's a household name and honestly, we live in a world where doing good is like brushing your teeth, like, Did you brush your teeth today? Yep. Did you actually do something good today? Yes. Because if everyone who could did just one small act of goodness or kindness daily, you know, it adds up to massive social impact, and it would make the world a much better place and even in our sort of microcosm of it, you know, the average donation to us giving money as an example on our platform is like 50 bucks us. But yet, we moved $2.3 billion last year to causes around the world and so that's a lot of small acts that that add up. So when you think about that on scale, that's what gets me excited.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah and it's interesting as well, isn't it? Because sometimes it's just imagination is often our biggest failure to act like we just, it's not in front of us. We don't see it, it's the same in business, you know, it's not in front of us, we often don't see it, we focus on the here and now what's going on in front of us and I think doing good is a bit the same. You know, it's like, if you're, when it's easy, when it's things are relatively convenient and easy, we're much more likely to do it than if we've got to, like, come up with the idea from scratch implemented all that all in all, in all in the hour or two, that we've got three or five minutes that we've got free or whatever it is. So I think it's definitely fitting fitting a need right there potentially change behaviors on a wide scale. So...

Kelly Schmitt
When we sort of dial back that that 10 year vision into kind of like a three year time horizon, that that's really our goal is what you just described is just make it easy and frictionless for people to do good. Like that is that that's my goal. Right? So

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah, that's that's fantastic. Yeah, so yeah, stopping because it reminded me of a remind reminded me of a phrase, oh, edited. He came from a religious context, actually, somebody who said anybody who thinks that a lack of prayer is down to a lack of time. I'd obviously not looked at social media or something to that effect, you know, they were just like, yeah, we is it that prayer could be that all sorts of things, you know, but it's like, often we go, Oh, we don't have time and then of course, suddenly we look at what we do spend our time and we spend so much time on our phones, but I was like yeah, of course we would have had time to do to do exercise or to do you know, meditation as you said, or prayer or any of these other things, you know, are doing good, right? And it's often because well, social media or whatever, it is so easy and frictionless and people it's it becomes instinctive and if you can apply that to more wasteful activities. That's fantastic. So let's turn it to you, Kelly, I love this. I love this question, which is what do you what's your stretch as you go forward? Right? What are you personally going to need to do differently? reinvent yourself a bit more? To multiply your impact, right, and to lead at a new level as as Benevity moves forward?

Kelly Schmitt
Yeah, it's a tough question to answer I, I feel like.

Richard Medcalf
That's why I like it, I put it at the end.

Kelly Schmitt
You know, just there's always more to learn, I, I actually feel like I've barely scratched the surface on what it means to be a great CEO. So, you know, I do spend a decent amount of time actually just learning from others, and, you know, parts of different CEO groups and just just try to learn, learn from others who have gone before me but if I think about just like multiplying my own impact, it kind of ties back to something we talked about earlier, which is, I just, I have to be very judicious about how I allocate my time to ensure it's, it's the things that, you know, make the most impact to Benevity business, but also, you know, to my children, my family and kind of ultimately to the world, like time is just that one, you know, sort of resource that isn't infinite, you can't make more of and I just, I try sort of each day and each week to really think about like, what am I investing my hours in? And is this the biggest thing that will move Benevity forward? And if you sort of always keep that lens? I hope that over time that that helps to multiply by?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's, yeah, time is always you know, it's always the thing, right? I think for almost every CEO has said at some point, you know, if I do need to ever level up where I spend my time, it's just, it's the only one. Hey, well, it's been fascinating talking to you, you can see by the light in my room that it's getting late here and I should have put the light on so excuse me for my slightly luminous figure here for those of you watching video and but Kelly, it's been it's been fantastic to talk to you I love the mission that Benevity is on I think it sounds like you're really onto something here and there's a huge amount of I guess of Vistage ahead right. Opportunities to seize and so many more places that this this can This can then be deployed. So thanks for coming on showing this to these really fun stories right about the way you came on board not wanting to be a CEO and actually realizing that the job was a bit different and actually was for you and you actually you know, you've really warmed up to that. So it's been a fantastic conversation and and really inspiring. So thank you and I wish you all the best in in your 10 year plan to get us all brushing our teeth doing good on a daily basis. It's fantastic.

Kelly Schmitt
Amazing. Thanks, Richard.

Richard Medcalf
Okay, thanks, Kelly. Take care. Goodbye.

**Note: This transcript is automatically generated.
Please excuse any errors.

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