12 May Flexing The Ironman Mindset For Your Business With Robert Clinkenbeard
Football coaches, basketball coaches, or rugby coaches are very different from business coaches. While many people don’t expect business coaches to be as hard or as demanding as those other types of coaches, Robert Clinkenbeard begs to disagree. Robert used to be a rugby player and is a four-time Ironman. He is also the CEO of The Radix Group LLC and the author of Ironman Mindset for Entrepreneurs. Join Matthew Sullivan as he talks to Robert about his business coaching career and how he fits his Ironman triathlon training into his coaching. Learn how Robert balances his career while having time to practice in order to level up his business.
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Flexing The Ironman Mindset For Your Business With Robert Clinkenbeard
On this episode of Hooked on Startups, I have none other than Robert Clinkenbeard. Robert used to play Rugby and did a lot of gardening. He decided that it would be much better to do something else. I’ve got the list of your achievements here, which is frankly, far too long. It seems too much into a lifetime, so you’re greedy. You’re taking away from other people. You’re being too successful.
I’m an overachiever.
We need to talk about the Rugby thing more than anything else.
I’ll chop you’re waiting. I love it.
This is my indifference to both you and the game. I dug out of my wardrobe, which is a closet over here. I’m not sure if anyone will understand a word that we’re saying on this.
We should throw in different words as we go through this.
It will confuse people with English. I used to play Rugby for Crowborough, which is this town in Kent. I was part of the if there is a ZED team, but I was one of the old farts playing. I used to be a coach for the under 9s because I couldn’t do anything more than that. They would rumble me. I started playing at school and I picked it up again and stopped when there’s 21-year-old giant decided to try and throw me headfirst in the ground. It took me about a month to recover but I kept the jersey.
You don’t tell people that you played for the ZED team. You tell them that you play Rugby.
This is between you, me, and our reader.
I love playing Rugby. I tell people that Rugby is one of the few sports that you could turn up at any Rugby Club around the world and suddenly, you have 15, 20 new friends. They’ll put you up in their house. They’ll set you up with a job. There are few sports that have that type of culture in the community.
It’s like going into battle for eighteen minutes, isn’t it?
It’s true. You shake hands with them and you have a pint.
Those are some of the memories. We used to play on Saturday mornings and the idea is you would turn up as overhung as possible. People would be sitting there drinking vodka and Red Bulls before the match to get some pulse going again. The other thing I remember is, you go back into the changing room and the first thing that guys would do would break out a pack of Marlboro reds and inhale an entire cigarette. Those were the days.
If you don’t go in with the right techniques, whether it be in business or sports, inevitably, you’re going to get hurt one way or another.
Did you ever experience the shared deep baths?
Yeah. We had showers in our place, which were always cold. The baths are always good fun for seeing how long people could hold their breath when you sat on them underwater.
There’s this layer of dirt.
That’s a part of it. I’m sorry to all of the people reading this, it doesn’t matter, because there are probably three readers now. They’ve gone off to have a cup of tea or something. He was and it’s funny the things you say because there’s this piece on your website about Rugby and it is absolutely true because you cannot hide. You can’t make excuses. You do stick out a sore thumb if you’re not performing. It’s amazing. If you then bring that across to a business which you run is the same thing. If you manage to find yourself in a big organization, you can hide.
You can hide in a big organization. If you don’t go in with the right techniques, whether it be in business or sport, then inevitably, you’re going to get hurt one way or another.
Your story is quite interesting because I will probably get it completely wrong so please correct me. You build a business with a huge turnover with 350 employees in a competitive, aggressive, and difficult area. I would imagine you started small and probably didn’t imagine that you would end up with five locations, 350 employees, and all of the learning that needs to go with that. Is what you’re doing now a result of that rapid learning by experience process that you went through with your landscaping business?
I started off in a garage or a lock-up. It’s what we say over here. I didn’t have a clue when I was first starting. We were starting early in the morning. Part of the reason why I do my coaching now is because I want people to quickly learn all the things and mistakes that I made through life. If I’m able to give back and hopefully, people will make less mistakes because they listened to me, I feel like I’m achieving my goal.
That’s quite a challenge, because as everyone knows, people only learn by experience. People love going to courses and to education. I’m not sure I’ve managed to take anything away from it. The real challenge is trying to do something which people act on whether it’s investment advice, coaching, or mentoring. What are the biggest things that you’ve noticed when you’re delivering pearls of wisdom to people that probably paid a fair amount to listen to you and want to get the advice?
A lot of people come to either my events or meetings. They’ll take pages of notes away and I stall them at the end and said, “That’s great that you’ve written all these notes, but I only want you to apply 1 or 2 things well over the next 90 days. I don’t need you to try and achieve all these things. Work on 2 or 3 of these things, these nuggets might go deep and do them well, come back and work on the next 2 or 3 things.”
Was it harder doing this than it was running a business?
I see running a business as a challenge. A lot of people now are seeing the challenges with hiring people. That’s part of the reason why I got out of it, which is because I could see that coming down the horizon, which is tough to try and find people. Initially, it was cashflow issues and it was finding the right people that moved into the management level and towards the end, there was finding laborers. The year before I sold, we were down sometimes 40, 50 people, which is tough to try and keep.
This means that the jobs run late and it upsets customers.
Also, the quality is terrible, which is tough.
It’s a different business, the business that you’re in now because there are all sorts of challenges with the business that you were in. When it works, you get that huge sense of satisfaction. Does that work the same way? You’re distancing because you haven’t got control over these people’s lives. When you’re running a business, you have control? Does that lack of control lead to a lack of fulfillment? Does it give you the same buzz when you finish the day?
There’s a lot of days I am frustrated because I feel as though they haven’t listened to me but I try to shake that off and I try and look at the bigger picture. I’ll reflect back over the last 6 months to 1 year. If I see them make progress over the year in terms of either increasing the revenue and increasing the profit, I still feel as though they’re moving the needle. When I go into a client back to back in a month to month, and I still see them struggling with those same issues, they’re still much in the weeds. It could get frustrating. It’s funny because I’ve even had the point where they can see the frustration all over my face. I’ve seen on a monthly basis how people say, “Why don’t you come and work here part-time? Why don’t you take over part of the business?”
In some respects, it’s funny because there is this perception that there are so many people out there providing training, coaching, and courses, but it’s incredibly difficult to be good at it. Everything that I read and I’ve seen about you indicates that you are good at it. The question is, is this more of a challenge in terms of than you thought it would be to be good at this? Because you strike me as a person that wouldn’t want to start something and drop it in and try something else.
Is it trying to educate and guide people? Is that far harder in reality than running your own business over something where you’ve got more control?
I would say absolutely, 100%. Going into the coaching, I thought that everybody would automatically listen and do everything I said because I had that experience. Owners all have an ego. They all think they know the right thing, so it usually takes a while.
You need that as an entrepreneur. You need ego and a sense of, “I’m the only one who knows how to do this.”
It’s true that you do need that. I usually take some satisfaction away from helping them hold them accountable. Be that thorn in their side and tell them things that they don’t necessarily want to hear.
That’s the hard thing. To be good at this is much harder than most people think because of what you can do, and I’ve seen this over and over again, where people will deliver a pre-scripted course which may have no relevance to the person. I read that you’re a real estate investor, you run peer groups, and that’s all connected but is there this central mindset that you feel that you have that is lacking? Is that what you’re teaching? Is it this approach, as opposed to the technicalities of the job? Is that the common thread with all of the people that you work with?
You’ve hit the nail on the head there. I can go in and tell them, do my scaling up or my EOS guidelines and principles but definitely, the mindset part is key to everything I teach people. As everybody knows, we all face challenges every single day in life, whether it be business challenges, personal challenges, or family challenges. People are always trying to knock us down and it’s how you react to that. How you get back up after being knocked down. That’s what’s weird about the Scottish determination.
Going into doing all my research and my businesses. I used to drive into my work and it’d be 100 trucks sitting at the end of the day. I could take the mindset of getting upset by seeing dents in the trucks, mess everywhere, and everything untidy or I take the mindset of, “I’ll deal with that tomorrow.” I’m going to go and talk to my next prospect. I’m going to try and get my next job. How can I improve the overall company? How can I get 1% better? It’s a little bit of a different mindset.
You mentioned a keyword which is determination. That’s a common thread. An Ironman Triathlon is one of the hardest one-day races. I had to stop after my seventh. My knees couldn’t do it anymore. I watched seven of them on TV and I kept getting up to get more coffee so that’s the thing. You have a marathon. There’s a rather long bike ride as well and probably a bit of swimming involved.
You start off with their 2.5-mile swim and you jump on a bike.
Shake off your frustrations and look at the bigger picture.
Do you get to change?
Yeah, you have to change. If you’re wet from the swim, and you’re trying to peel off and put on clothes is brutal. You jump up on a bike for 112 miles that take five-ish hours, your strip again, you jump into your running gear, and you run a marathon. It’s a long day when you’re faced with weather challenges, nutrition issues, bathroom issues.
The only thing you’re up against is yourself.
Apart from the swim, it’s almost scrum in Rugby. Everybody is beating the crap out of each other with their elbows, their legs and goggles are flying everywhere. That challenge, especially for me. I’m not a swimmer. I’m a rugby guy. I could swim one length and here I am jumping into the sea or a lake and trying to swim against 2,400 other people. It’s brutal.
That’s a lot of business owners. I’m not sure if they run out of determination or they forget why they’re doing it. A question that a lot of people ask entrepreneurs is, “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?” The common thread seems to be this concept of, don’t give up. Don’t let failure or whatever you want to call it, bad days, a snotty email from a customer, or dents in your trucks but you’ve taken that to a much greater degree, rather than building this thing. Where do you see this going? Is it a coaching program that you see that expanding? Are you going to bring in other elements? There’s you, but did you find that there are other psychological elements that you uncover that you would love to be able to bring in?
As I’ve gone into the coaching, I have definitely gone in different directions and now have expanded my team. As we go into companies or realize that they have some challenges in different areas, maybe they’re struggling in the financial part, so now we have our financial fractional CFO. I now have a recruitment person who helps fulfill the placement of people. I also have a leadership coach who helps me with people needing some leadership development. For me, personally, I’ve moved more into working with people to become higher performers because I feel as if all people only perform at 40% or 50% of the capacity.
It was funny because I was on a call with a bunch of entrepreneurs from around Europe. I did a poll in the beginning. All these are highly accomplished people and they’re still rating themselves to that 40% and 50%. When I dug a little bit deeper, a lot of them don’t necessarily plan their day. They don’t say many goals for the day. They get caught up in social media, so there are so many things that they tend to get pulled in different directions. A lot of them live their schedule through their inbox and are pulled in different directions.
It’s reacting as opposed to defining the policy.
I’ve been focusing more on trying to make sure people are better organized and more intentional on a daily basis, and celebrate those little wins along the way because you’re right. A lot of people get knocked back every day by crappy customers. They get bad emails.
What are the worst habits that you see that are most common that are easiest to fix for anyone that’s reading?
A lot of daily huddles. I’m a huge fan of it in the morning. Have a quick 10 minutes to 15 minutes huddle with your team. The second thing is having real planned out meetings with your team. Nothing that drags on for 1.5 to 2 hours and it’s unstructured. You look at your numbers, you look at the issues, even trying to stand up, so they’re quicker. I’m more of a fan of having quicker and more intentional meetings.
We’re talking about bad habits. You mentioned being driven by your inbox. Tony Hsieh, the guy who sadly passed away who was the Founder of Zappos, had this great idea. It was called the Yesterbox, where anything that he felt didn’t need an immediate answer he would push that and deal with it tomorrow. Do you find that there are some commonalities across entrepreneurs as a group, whether it’s they’re reacting because they’re afraid of their position? This ties into what you were saying with your European friends who were rating themselves perhaps lower than they were. There’s that sense of imposter syndrome. Even when you’re well, you think you’re doing badly.
I don’t feel that people go into their daily routines being intentional and set themselves goals. I love people who, either at the beginning of the day or even the night before, set up 3 to 4 small goals that they’re going to focus on. They make sure they’re revisiting those goals during the day, so they’re not getting pulled in different directions by other people. Tied in with that, to help achieve those goals, set aside what I call quality time blocks. If you could set aside a couple of hours a day or 1 or 2-hour blocks to allow you to focus on the things that are going to move the needle within your company, I’ve seen having huge results.
You’re absolutely right. I’m thinking about myself. You do try every morning to think about what I am going to do today that is going to move the business forward. At the end of the day, I try to have a recap. I hope this isn’t a confessional, Robert. What have I done today? I’ve done this, let’s move that forwards, that’s a move that forward, that’s moved along a bit, that clicks a bit forwards. The reality is that the real advantage that you have is having been through this sporting background and this intense and competitive Ironman challenges that you’ve done over and over again. The training for that has to have an outcome. In other words, if you have an Ironman challenge in four weeks’ time, you can’t go down the pub every night and be like, “I’ll cram the night before.”
I’m talking as if I know what I’m talking about but I’m imagining here. What would work well when under pressure and cornered like a rat in the trap. You need to have that incremental growth, otherwise, you don’t get there. It’s bringing that training in your mindset. What other areas of business have you mentioned? You mentioned real estate investing and peer groups. What are the things are you involved with or does this take up all of your time?
It takes up a fair amount of my time between the coaching and the nine peer groups that are based all around the US. They’re like mastermind groups mainly in the green industry, landscape, pest control, and tree companies. It almost acts out like the board of directors. I’d go ahead and facilitate those meetings or benchmark them. Coaching people I work with could be all over the spectrum. I have distributors, plumbing companies, different contractors, and real estate. Even though a lot of them are different market segments, they all have similar challenges with either the cashflow or people. People are probably the biggest thing. When I go into a company, I typically see that they don’t necessarily have the right people or the right training, or the people they have to take the company to the next level.
Most of these businesses, I would imagine, have grown organically. In other words, they’ve started with that driven individual who hasn’t had training. He’s an excellent landscaper, knows that business inside out or whatever part of the green industry you work with. When it comes to human resources, financing, marketing, growth, and managing those things, that can be overwhelming. I suppose the support that you bring could be incredibly important to some of these people.
The support and almost that confidence to be able to jump to that next level because there’s some crazy statistic that only 4% of companies that start when they get over $1 million. A lot of it is because they don’t necessarily have the skillset, confidence, or some of the structure to take the company to the next level, whether it’s to bring in a coach or some type of expert or mentor. I was a big part of a group called Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO. That was instrumental for me growing my business and learning from other business owners. I talk about that in my book. Whether you’re doing training for triathlons or in business, you have to surround yourself with other experts to help alleviate some of the weaknesses that we all have.
Tell us more about the book and what drove you to write. What are some of the key messages that someone will pick up when they get it?
Writing a book was always on my bucket list. My dad is a Presbyterian minister back in Edinburgh. He’d written 4 or 5 books, so I had this desire to make my dad proud, I suppose. When I saw the business, I tried to figure out what we’re going to write about. I finished my fourth Ironman and I started to piece together the similarities between business and Ironman races where every business should have a strategic plan. Where is the company going in the future? It’s similar to a triathlon. You’re not going to do a triathlon in four weeks. You’re going to plan that out for 6 months or 1 year from now. You have to build a plan to be able to get there. I started talking about that and trying to break it down per quarter, per month, and surround yourself with the right people.
You would never plan that event without the help of other people. Yet entrepreneurs dive in headfirst. It’s far more complex in some respects things to run a business because you’ve got so many more moving parts. In the book, which is called Ironman Mindset, you can see the parallels there. You must have some real lightbulb moments from people that you’re working with when they suddenly realize, “I’ve been doing it. I’ve been so stupid over the years. Why on earth have I done it this way?”
Lightbulb moments, meaning I love it. It was around people. Maybe the people they’ve had working for them are not necessarily the right people to take them to the next level. It does not necessarily have any goals set for the people below them, KPIs, or any type of matrix to push them. A lot of people owners especially will enable the team that works below them because they’re so hands-on and trying to keep control of the business, whereas a lot of them have that desire to level up to go to that next level.
Changing the mindset when somebody comes into your room asking for advice, which I used to be. I had that ego where I used to be the go-to guy, give advice, and feel great about myself. There was some lightbulb moment that came one day where I said, “I’m not doing them any favors.” I changed my approach from, “How would you deal with that?” As soon as it happened, I started to see those leaders begin to flourish. They eventually became my branch managers for my different branches around the country.
I suppose one of the biggest challenges with the Ironman metaphor is the feeling that there’s no way I can do this. There’s no way I could swim 1.5 miles, run 26 miles and cycle 112 miles. Not in that order. There’s no way that my business can become a multimillion-dollar business. I’m going to stay at this level because this is my Cognitive Dissonance.
They’re staying in their lane or in their comfort zone.
Do you have one shining example of a company that you’ve helped, which you were such a catalyst that you made a monumental change to the business and the guy’s life?
A lot of people these days live their schedule through their social media inbox.
I’m not giving any names away. I went into one company up in Fort Collins, and they were doing roughly $100,000 in revenue. They were fumbling away. They didn’t have any direction. They’re struggling with cashflow. I went in and I’ve been working with them for years. In 2020, they’re nearly $3 million in revenue. In 2021, they’re going to be close to $9 million, by building in a strategic plan to work with them to get a plan 3 years or 10 years out. We brought in the right leadership teams and hired the people. We’ve got them involved in building and executing their strategic plan. Everyone is looking at the numbers. Everybody is looking at a scorecard. They now have the right marketing person so the person is going out to the marketplace and using social media. They’re exploding. They’ll be probably $50 million within 5 or 6 years. That’s a tremendous example.
Now that you’ve got this process, do you see yourself expanding and becoming? Forgive me for these wrong examples, but people like Brian Tracy had been incredibly successful at building global training programs. Is it the Sanderson Method or the Sandler Method or the Sales Method?
The Sandler Method.
They have some incredible success stories where these formulas have been identified and people tease them. With this unique view that you have with the experience that you have in the track record, do you see this becoming something that you could build, franchise, and expand? You already have operations in the UK but is that your plan, do you think?
I definitely like to have a global presence. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, in terms of whether it’s franchising or having some type of a license model. I’ve already had calls with people in India, Asia, and Australia. People resonate with that mindset part. I’m going to start introducing and talking about Rugby and Ironman. People relate to that quickly. That’s how I differentiate myself from other coaches. There are a lot of great coaches out there but what I feel is all I bring to the table, along with my Ironman, is the fact that I’ve grown my business to such a big size.
You’ve walked the walk not only with the successful business that you’ve had, so you’ve got that. You’re not one of those guys that haven’t quite done it, but you’ve done it, you’ve sold it and you’ve got that incredible sporting background where you cannot hide. You can’t fake that. That’s a tremendous thing. It sounds like this is an exciting time where you’ve got that foundation, the momentum, the book, and the optics. Are they exciting times ahead for you?
There are. I want to keep pushing myself not only physically. I’ve had a break from some of my races when I had my twins. I moved my family across the country.
They probably like the weather. Was it Glasgow to Phoenix? It’s a bit sunnier there.
That was a year before I moved out to the States. We had two weeks of good weather the whole year. It was so depressing. I had a trip to Scottsdale and the weather was incredible. One part of the northern part of Arizona had snow. The other part was mountain biking and skydiving, so I thought, “Life is too short.” When I started to see how people live the cross and especially Scottsdale, it’s a 2nd or 3rd house. I thought, “What are these people doing wrong? What are these people doing right compared to how I’m living my life?” Within six months, I moved, I packed two bags. That’s why I feel so passionate about being in a privileged position to be able to help other people, share my experience, and tell people that when I came across the stage for when I first started my business. I had no idea where I was going to end up and anything is possible.
That’s the part of the fun, isn’t it?
We’re going to move on to the quickfire round. Hopefully, you got my email. This isn’t going to be a complete surprise to you and if it is even better.
I am prepared.
I have ten questions. I’m going to mix them all up. In my quickfire round, which I stole from James Lipton, I’m not sure if I have to say that because I changed four of the words. He can’t get me. Question number one. Robert Clinkenbeard, what is your favorite word?
Number two, what is your least favorite word?
What are you most excited about right now?
I’m excited about the opportunities ahead of us. It’s a changing world there. There’s a lot of acquisitions and business opportunities ahead between or after the coming of COVID.
Number four, what turns you off right now?
You’ll like this. Politics.
Can we please talk about something else? Number five, what sound or noise do you love?
Surround yourself with other experts to help alleviate some of the weaknesses that you have.
I love upbeat music. I have even electronic trance music to keep me going.
There’s an energy in there. What sound or noise do you hate?
Unfortunately, I have to go to all the politicians’ BS. I can’t stand it.
It’s these little well-worn records. Number seven, what is your favorite curse word?
It’s three words. For fuck’s sake.
It’s great because it has a beginning, an end, and a punch in the middle. You can spurt it up for days.
Every time I hear it, it cracks me up.
I hear that word so many times in so many different scenarios. It is a true gift to the English language. Number eight, what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
To be paid to travel the world like a travel journalist and see all these exotic places. I thought that was the best job ever. To be able to travel, get paid for it, and experience the world.
Number nine, what profession would you not like to attempt?
I would hate to do accounting or CPA work.
It’s a desk job with one of those green visors that they have in movies.
Sitting in a dark room and looking at numbers.
It’s from 9:00 to 5:00. Number ten, last question. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
He would say, “Welcome. You’ve had a wild ride and lived life to the fullest.”
What a wonderful answer. Robert, it has been a humongous pleasure having you on the show. How do people get hold of you? How do people find out more about you? How do they get hold of your book? How do they learn about all of the things that you’re up to?
There are a couple of ways. They can email me at Robert@TheRadixGroupLLC.com. They could go to my website, TheRadixGroupLLC.com. They could go to LinkedIn and check out Robert Clinkenbeard. For your readers, I’ve got a special gift for them. If they want to text me the word RADIX to 33777, I’ll send them a PDF copy of my book.
Thank you once again. It’s been wonderful talking to you.
Thank you, Matt. I’ve enjoyed it. I love talking to a fellow Great Britain and Englishman.
Not European anymore, sadly.
That’s definitely a sore subject for me.
Maybe on another show. We’ll do the politics next time.
- Robert Clinkenbeard
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization
- Ironman Mindset
- Robert Clinkenbeard – LinkedIn
About Robert Clinkenbeard
I’m Robert Clinkenbeard, founder and CEO of The Radix Group. “Pure dead brilliant” is a Scottish saying that means ‘wow – that’s exceptionally good’. And that’s what I specialize in – “being pure dead brilliant” at coaching CEOs, Presidents, and business owners to become their best selves.
I was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1999, I moved to Arizona seeking a better life, new opportunities, and wider travel horizons. In 2001, I co-founded Integrated Landscape Management (ILM), a commercial landscape company servicing Arizona and Nevada. Over the years, we grew ILM into one of the largest landscaping companies in the Southwestern United States. By 2016, we had five branches, 350+ employees and revenue of more than $20M, making for quite a successful exit.