Louis Efron’s career has spanned industries from theatre to medical devices, and from software to electric cars. Throughout his journey, one thing has become abundantly clear, a life of purpose matters more than anything else.
Here’s the highlights from the interview:
What’s so fascinating to me is how your career has progressed over the years. Can you share where you started your career?
My career has been non traditional. My undergraduate is in theatrical directing. Once I graduated from California State University of Fullerton I flew out to New York to pursue my dream of working Broadway theater. On the road of interviewing and trying to get in the door I waited tables. I was a bellhop. I was a conference supervisor. I did a whole bunch of little things and finally landed my dream job managing Broadway shows in New York City. I had about a 8-9 year career in New York both managing shows, producing and directing. Even managing actors.
I had a slew of different experience and opportunities while I was in the arts. After spending 9 years in the arts and realizing that I wanted to be able to pay rent someday, and have a family, I decide that while theater was a labor of love, I needed to make a little more money in my life. I was looking around for things that fed my purpose. I always liked the humanitarian side of things. In the arts I was able to move people to laughter and tears. I wanted to do the same thing in a corporate job.
I looked around specifically in the medical industry because I knew medical would have that connection to helping people live a better life. I also knew that the medical industry would be more of a solid career move both financially and as I grew in my career. So I went from being in the arts, to a labor relations specialist at Stryker Medical Devices. A lot of people think that was a huge jump. But the fact of the matter is that I was doing a lot of labor relations in the arts. When I switched over I was basically doing the same thing as I was in the arts, only for manufacturing workers in a corporate environment.
The jump wasn’t too crazy, but I did discover quite quickly that there was a little more drama in HR than there ever was in acting and theatre.
After spending 11 years at Stryker, I got an opportunity at a company called JDA Software to be the head of international HR. I got to experience a totally different industry. Spent a couple years at JDA Software and transitioned back into my own business. I left JDA, completed my book, continued writing for Forbes and Huffington Post, did some purpose-based consulting around aligning core purpose with corporate purpose.
In my own business I decided to move back to Europe with my family and got my wife a little closer to her parents and some of her friends. About six months after getting there – and a month and a half after unpacking – I got a call about an opportunity to launch an employee engagement initiative at Tesla Motors. I jumped at it. Remarkable opportunity. My wife was incredible and we packed everything back up, including a baby grand piano, and shipped it back to the Bay Area. I spent last year doing that, and now I’m back in my business full time in Arizona.
It’s been a huge roller coaster career and I feel very blessed to have had a chance to experience several different industries in many different roles. At the end of the day, I had the chance to experiement. That’s what my book is about. It’s about experimenting, trying different things and getting the chance to find your path.
There’s a lot of data out there that draws the connection to purpose and better business results. Why is leadership still in a fog on how important purpose really is in driving better results?
There’s research that shows huge growth in purpose-based organizations. One thing I cite in my presentations is a study in the book Firms Of Endearment that was done between 1996 and 2011 where purpose-based companies grew 1646% versus the S&P 500 at 157%. Despite that hard research showing that purpose matters, and that purpose actually grows businesses for top and bottom line growth, the essence is so simple.
If you go into a retail store and you connect with an employee who is highly engaged and have a remarkable experience, most likely you’re going to spend money there, you’re going to return there to spend more money, and you’re going to go out and tell all your friends. The more that employee is connected to their purpose, the more it impacts their engagement because they’re waking up each morning thinking they’re in a space that connects to why they’re on earth.
You have the exact opposite experience when you go into a store and interact with an employee that just hates life. They’re in the wrong role, the wrong space and give you poor customer service. You may leave the store without spending money. You’ll never return to the store. And you’ll tell everyone you know not to shop there either.
It’s such a simple concept. Business results are connected to employee engagement and purpose. Imagine if everyone in your organization was connected to their purpose and applied that energy to your business. Imagine the productivity, the care, the engagement. It’s just a basic principle.
I firmly believe that the organizations with leaders who can’t think outside of the box and move into this space of purpose – no matter how big or established the organization is – I think it’s Darwinism and they will die. They will not be able to compete for the best talent coming forward in the future. By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be millennials that care about purpose. If people are ignoring this, they ultimately will not be able to compete for the best talent. And they will die.
If people don’t get it now, I think in 5 to 10 years they will absolutely understand it.
Every organization starts with purpose. They just lose it over time. They forget why they’re in business when they start chasing a P&L. Which we need to get. We need to achieve top and bottom line results, but the way you get it is why you started your business in the first place. But people forget about it.
What tips do you have for our listeners who know they’re in the wrong spot, but don’t necessarily know what the “right” spot looks like?
Most people don’t wake up in the morning immediately thinking about what their purpose is. What I recommend is asking questions. Respond to those questions honestly and thoughtfully. That is what helps get you to where you need to be. Most people are on a treadmill in life. They are moving a million miles an hour and don’t take a breath during the day to say, “Am I doing what I should be doing?” “Am I doing what I’m best at?”
By taking that time to start asking those questions, you start coming to some realizations. For example, one question I love to ask is, “If you didn’t need money, what would you spend your day doing?” My theory is that if you find something you really love and it’s aligned with your purpose, you’ll make more money than you ever imagined versus just getting a job.
If you can answer that question honestly, of what you’d spend your time doing if you didn’t have to worry about money, then you can figure out a way to make money doing that.
A question I also like to ask is, “Where do you get the most praise?” When people say that they don’t know what they do best, most people know. They just don’t take the time to think about it. If you think about your day and your year, what things have people commented on to give you the most praise. That’s usually an indication of what you do best in life.
There has to a be a strategy in life. If you’re not succeeding, you need to change your strategy. One of the strategies around purpose is just asking yourself questions. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want the world, your friends and family to remember you for?
Just give yourself a ten minute treat to fantasize about what you would do if money wasn’t an issue. Those are the type of questions that will help guide your thinking into where you need to be. And then what you need to do is start experimenting.
Listen to more episodes from the Built On Purpose podcast at yscouts.com/podcast.