“If you’re lucky, you’re going to be like your father and find something you’re passionate about. Otherwise, it’s just a job.”
-Howard Spiess, Sr.
Stepping into a role someone else has occupied for years can be daunting, especially when it’s your father’s big shoes you’re filling.
Growing up, I never imagined I would follow in my father’s footsteps and one day helm the company he launched more than 20 years ago. Yet, that’s exactly what I did. After 15 years of learning from my dad and the talented people at The 180 Group, I took the helm as CEO and President this year.
My father — Senior, as we call him — encouraged me not to settle for a career I wasn’t passionate about. He prepared me for this role by teaching me how to succeed in business, be a great leader and create my own legacy. I recall those lessons on Father’s Day — and every day — as I put them into practice.
Like many fathers and sons, Senior and I are alike in some ways and different in others. He’s assertive and owns the room, while I tend to take a quieter, more calculated approach. Yet, we’re both inherently competitive, and we both love the energy of a flawlessly executed event. We also take pride in our work and treat our employees like family.
At times, though, it was challenging being the son of the boss. I worried some people didn’t take me seriously, and I felt I had to prove myself. With my father’s advice ringing in my ears, I realized I didn’t need to live up to other people’s expectations or be a carbon copy of my father. I needed to be myself and develop my own leadership style. Lesson learned: Every leader is different, and by being authentic, you can earn respect, squash comparisons and be successful in your business.
Another important lesson my father taught me was to be patient, calm and prepared if and when things go “off script.” There are many moving parts in our business, and many elements have to sync in order for a production to go off without a hitch. Early on, Senior encouraged me to know every show front to back. He taught me to put everything down on paper and to be incredibly detailed about what would happen, what could happen and what could possibly go astray. That way, the second something does not go as planned, we’re able to adapt and keep the event moving forward with the audience none the wiser. As they say, the show must go on — and to us at The 180 Group, that means exceeding our clients’ expectations during their event and executing their vision precisely. Lesson learned: As an entrepreneur, you will inevitably face challenges; however, it’s how you prepare for, adapt to and overcome those challenges that can impact your overall success.
Senior also taught me to be honest with people about my expectations and feedback. When I first started working at The 180 Group, I avoided confrontation because I didn’t want to upset anyone. I often softened my communications to avoid making people uncomfortable. However, Senior taught me that it’s beneficial to go outside of my comfort zone and have the tough conversations with colleagues. If I have concerns about someone’s performance, I need to share them. Lesson learned: By being honest with people, you encourage open communication as well as personal and professional growth.
Be Present & Grateful
Not all of his lessons were about running a successful business or productive teams — some were how to be a better father. When I became CEO and President, Senior encouraged me to take time for my family. He reminded me it’s important to check out of work and check in at home every day so I can be fully present with my wife and children. He often tells me to, “Slow down. Be grateful. Be happy.” I truly value the time I spend with my family and at events like my daughter’s softball games. Those moments are equally as energizing as the thrill of creating outstanding events for our clients. Lesson learned: It’s imperative as a leader that you maintain a healthy balance and be present in and grateful for the day-to-day moments.
I’m grateful for everything my father has taught me. He’s passionate, opinionated and committed. In life and business, I’m proud to be advancing the legacy he has created while building my own.