Leading in Fast Growth: Insights from Scott Allan of Hydroflask

Hydro Flask, a beloved Bend, OR based company acquired by Helen of Troy in March of 2016, continues to grow and thrive as they meet their awesome mission: “Saving the world from lukewarm.” We had the chance to ask Moementum client and Hydro Flask General Manager (former CEO) Scott Allan to share with us his philosophy on leading a company in fast growth. Enjoy his astute insights and thanks, Scott!

  1. Lead from the front – don’t expect people to do things I would not do

You can tell who feels they are royalty or too good to do anything. People are more inspired to follow leaders that set good examples, pick up a shovel and help dig when appropriate and don’t create an air of superiority. Of course, there is a risk to using this as an excuse not to delegate or let people run on their own at the right point.

  1. Have an exciting vision and win over their hearts as well as their minds

Great achievements never happen out of some deductive, logical reasoning. They happen because people get fired up about the future. Having an exciting vision and the emotional backing of a team helps them tremendously when the inevitable challenges arise.

  1. Stay focused on the 3-5 most important things and tirelessly and continuously improve

Growth companies have way too many opportunities and things to do. They are always outgrowing processes and structures and if they are lucky, their momentum and growing reputation attract more growth opportunities. Great leaders are defined not by what they chose to do but rather what they chose NOT to do at any given time. Great leaders also recognize when a tried and true way of doing things has run its course.

  1. Hire great people, get out of their way (be there when they need you)

Everyone says they do this but not everyone does. Some are not confident enough to hire people smarter and/or better than they are. Others don’t attract “A players” for whatever reason so they hire the best B player available.

  1. Aiming high then stretching, failing and learning beats aiming low (safe, overly cautious, highly analytical risk adversity) and “overachieving” any day

If you’re doing the other items on this list, your teams will achieve more than they think they can. So unless there is some strong reason to set the bar low, I find building a “going for it” approach creates the best outcomes over the long term.

  1. Make a difference from the inside out:
    • Build a good, committed, diverse and functional team (beats superstars and solo operators every time)
    • Recognize, respect and take care of your people
    • Take care of your community and those less fortunate
    • Take care of our resources and environment

The keys to making #5 work completely is to celebrate and recognize people when they do overachieve and help dust them off when goals are not met. The best way to dust people off is to focus on what was learned from going for it in the first place. This should be part of an inside – out view of the company where company health is built on diverse and highly functional teamwork as well as being a healthy part of community and environment.

  1. Stay disciplined financially  with profit margins and cash flow (many potentially great companies fail here!)

There is a yin and yang to the business. This could be brand/culture and P&L/Balance Sheet. You can err too far to one side or another. For example, you can invest in esoteric brand and organizational initiatives that don’t match the size and scale of the business, which can jeopardize the business. Bankruptcy does not help your brand or culture! Or you can focus optimizing short term P&L at the expense of building your brand. Good leaders respect the balance and surround themselves with people oriented more one direction and others oriented the other. The healthy debates help illuminate where the right center point is at any given moment towards building a longer term, sustainable and healthy company or brand.

  1. Be tough AND fair

Tough means conflict but not unhealthy conflict. I’ve sometimes struggled with this given my upbringing (Chinese mother!) but have started adopting a new appreciation for conflict. The best way to look at this is to consider that two people have very different ways of looking at things (their “truths”) and healthy discussion towards examining reality and understanding perspectives and assumptions is always fruitful. Tough might be a consequence of #5 above – achieving amazing results is never easy so by nature, everyone signs up for “tough” here. Reminding people about expected outcomes and their accountability for results makes a leader tough by nature. Tough can also mean making difficult decisions but if you are in balance on #7, a leader knows what needs to be done. Follow through is part of leadership and doing things in a manner also consistent with #6 means treating people with respect. These are elements of being tough but fair.

  1. Reputation matters – all industries are much smaller than you realize

I’m constantly stunned when people burn their integrity and reputation to stay in a role an extra 3 months. Or they completely unravel after being asked to leave a company. It’s amazing how the “A players” you worked with in the past open doors or pull you into awesome opportunities 15 years later. You are your own brand so what are you doing to enhance it–especially when the going gets tough or things don’t work out.

  1. Smile and have fun – you could be stuck in an ordinary job within an average company

Attitude is everything. With some amount of time applying the above, you might be fortunate to work in an amazing company, with amazing people doing amazing things. Subjectively speaking, that puts you in the top 1% of companies. The vast majority of workers NEVER work for an amazing company doing amazing things. This is a privilege not a burden. Try and remember that when your plans unravel and the proverbial runaway garbage truck hits your business. You could be holding down an average job at an average company. Now it’s not so bad, is it?

Jim Morris