Rod McDermott image

Business Owners Talk Burnout

Rod McDermott, drawing from his own experiences, sheds light on the profound impact burnout had on his business.



In this week’s episode, Julie sits down with Rod McDermott, the esteemed CEO of McDermott and Bull, to uncover the hidden realities of being a business owner. Together, they explore a pervasive challenge that plagues entrepreneurs and employees alike—burnout.


[00:00:00] Julie Bee: Got it in all the spaces. Okay, so here we go.

Hey friends, this is Julie B and you’re listening to They Don’t Teach This in Business School, a podcast where we discuss business ownership lessons that are learned through experience, not in a classroom. Today I’m really excited to welcome to the show Rod McDermott, the CEO of McDermott and Bull, and he also runs a few other companies like Activate 180, and he’s going to share more about that with us in a minute.

And I’m really looking forward to having this conversation because I know we’re going to learn a lot from Rod. So, Rod, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. 

[00:00:37] Rod McDermott: Thanks, Julie, for having me. I’m excited to be on it with you. 

[00:00:39] Julie Bee: Yeah, so let’s just start off with a, with an overview of, of what you do and what you’re into.

And we’ll just start there and see where the conversation takes us. Yeah, 

[00:00:48] Rod McDermott: yeah, it’s kind of a mixed bag. So McDermid and Bull is an executive search firm. We’ve been around for a little over 22 years and we started another company, gosh, probably about 10 years ago called [00:01:00] McDermid and Bull Interim Leaders, which is kind of fractional executives.

You know, we, I call it rent an executive, you know, a company needs a CFO. Their CFO left or they just made an acquisition and they need extra hands on deck. We can rent them a CFO on a weekly basis or an hourly basis. And, you know, it’s not just CFOs. It’s, it’s pretty much anybody in the C suite. And we started that business.

That’s been a really nice fast growing business for us over the last 10 years. And then you mentioned activate 180. That’s an exact. Well, I’d say executive coaching is actually a coaching company, an all employee coaching company. So we’re trying to kind of change the nature from executive coaching to.

Giving everybody a coach and we created a model that makes it affordable for companies to say anybody on my payroll Should have a coach. It’s kind of like a Professional team of some kind, you know football baseball, whatever they all have coaches So the various right and if you want your people performing at a high [00:02:00] level not just your high potentials, right?

A lot of companies say let me identify my high potentials and get them a coach No, no, everybody on your payroll is a high potential or they shouldn’t be on your payroll. And we want everybody leveling up. So it’s really an employee performance development and improvement company. And it’s our latest. We started about three years ago and we’ve got, we’re coaching over 400 people.

We’ve got some really, really big companies that have started with us in the last six to 12 months. Unilever, we’re in two different divisions there now. We’re starting to scale there. And. As one company, um, and so it’s, it’s kind of cool to see the growth and you kind of see the lives that we’re changing.

So that’s a, that’s a fun 

[00:02:38] Julie Bee: company. And it’s very interesting to me because I actually, I do coaching with business owners, usually smaller businesses, but one thing I’ve recently. Gotten into is, and I’m actually finding that I can help the business owner more. If I work with their leadership team and their key employees, then if I’m working directly with the business owner, [00:03:00] you know, there, there are some times where the business owner needs coached, but I’ve, I found that the, the top level person often needs leadership backup.

And, and that is. How I’m coming in and I’m really, you know, helping out there, but it’s, you know, you’re doing that on a very big scale with, with some big companies. So that’s pretty cool. 

[00:03:17] Rod McDermott: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been great to see. And, and, and exactly what you’re doing is what we saw too in our company. We had an executive coach that we’ve used for 20 years.

And my partner and I used them and sometimes people say, Hey, can I get an hour with him? And we could do that, but you know, he was pretty expensive. And so here’s an hour for the next three months. Maybe somebody goes there and it was life changing. And we’re thinking, okay, how can we do this? Yeah. Right.

How can we do this regularly? How can everybody have a coach? And so we created a model. That’s an affordable model. It’s on average for rank and file employees. It’s like 1, 500 a year for the company to help them level up. That’s It’s, depending on what you’re paying your people, it’s like one to 2% for individual [00:04:00] contributors.

And all I need to do is improve performance by those people by one to 2% and it’s paid for itself. That’s pretty easy 

[00:04:06] Julie Bee: to do. Yeah, absolutely. So that’s, that’s a, that’s a fantastic business model. So Rod, I want to ask you, this is a question I love asking business owners, especially ones who’ve been in business for a while.

What is your favorite part of being a business owner? 

[00:04:23] Rod McDermott: Uh, you know, it’s funny. I, we, we just had an all hands meeting today. We do quarterly all hands meetings and we had about 90 people around the world. So we have about a hundred people, but we have an office in Europe and another one in Canada and then throughout the U S where there are various companies.

And it was actually a sentiment I shared with folks, you know, we have this. Let’s call it an uncertain year, right? We’ve got an economy, we’ve got a fed that we just don’t know what they’re going to do. And companies that are people running companies right now are uncertain and they’re being cautious.

And so one of the things I shared is these are the years that we get to show up, right? These are years that we don’t [00:05:00] know what’s around the corner, but we get to show up and take it on. So I would say, you know, my answer to that question is the, just the new, you know, things that are thrown at us, the new challenges that, that, that we face, you know, remote or hybrid work is a whole new thing.

And so I, you know, this is kind of fun. I mean, I look at this, you know, life journey as a series of experiences and they could all be really easy and you can make a lot of money, which usually doesn’t happen,

but, uh, there are years where it’s easy, right? Those are never my best years from an engagement perspective. Usually my best engagement years are the really hard years, the challenging years. So I love the fact that we’re facing new things all the time and you know, you can call them growing pains as we grow businesses, you know, we face these challenges and that’s probably the biggest thing is I don’t know from one week to the next.

What the biggest thing on my agenda is going to be [00:06:00] I might have plans But oftentimes those plans go out the door because something happens and we’ve got to respond to it. So I did I really like that 

[00:06:08] Julie Bee: Yeah, yeah, and I when it comes to planning I’ve learned that I Go into every week thinking about three only only three things that I want to get done which sounds You know, even if you’re working a 40 hour a week that you should be able to get, I feel like I should be able to get more than three things done.

But because of the nature of running a business and doing all the things that you do, I think it’s, that helps me prioritize at least. It helps me make sure I’m getting stuff done. So I totally hear how, you know, you just never know what’s coming at you. You just never know what’s going to happen. 

[00:06:40] Rod McDermott: I’ll share this little thing.

I mean, you reminded me of this. I sat down with my head of marketing yesterday who runs marketing for all our companies. And we were going through her, you know, basically requirements, basically. She’s got a team of six people, and what are they working on, and how do they budget their time? And one of the things she said is, she [00:07:00] budgets 12 to 15 hours per week for each person to take on an unknown.

And she said to me, the only thing that we know is that every single week there will be unknowns. That’s the one thing we know. We don’t know what they will be, and we don’t know who they’ll be from. But we know we’re going to get some unknowns and we have to budget for that. And my, my head of finance, she’s got a finance and accounting team.

She oversees, it’s the same exact thing. And I said, you need to budget for like 25 or 30% of your team’s time to take on these unknown things that happen. And so oftentimes we don’t, we sit there and we make these plans. We’re like, okay, I can get that done. But then you’re faced with something that becomes a bigger priority, and those plans have to push.

[00:07:44] Julie Bee: Absolutely. You’ve got to manage it so that you have, your people always have some capacity. I think that some, some white space, some capacity to take on those things that you just don’t know. And they could be problems or fires they have to put out, or they could be opportunities that you need to chase down in that minute.

But you want to have [00:08:00] capacity to be able to do that for sure. Rod, what, what is your biggest win in business so far? Gosh, you know, I 

[00:08:09] Rod McDermott: think it’d have to be promoting some of the folks that we’ve been lucky enough to attract to our company over the last 10 and 15 years. As I said, we’re, we’re 22 years old.

You know, the first five to 10 years was a grind and a battle. And we probably weren’t as good about developing people, and I say probably, that’s being nice to us. We weren’t as good at developing people, we weren’t as good at thinking of their futures. We really just focused on, we got this company, we got to build it, do this, and I think we kind of spun that around 10, 12 years ago when we said, we want to grow our company, we got to grow our people.

And if we show our people that their development is important to us, they’ll stick around and they will give us more and more. I’ll give you an example. My COO [00:09:00] started with us in kind of the second lowest job in our industry that you can have in an executive search company. Not quite the lowest. Yeah.

But in, in, in, you know, another example is we just made a, uh, a guy, a partner who’s been with us about seven years who started in the lowest job and has worked his way up. Now he’s a partner in firm, which is kind of the highest level you can be on the executive search side. And so I’d say that’s been the biggest win is really taking a look at our people and saying, okay, we’ve got this great brain trust here.

How do we tap into it? And how do we give them opportunities that even they themselves probably don’t think they’re ready for, but give them the space to make mistakes, to fail for, right, and be able to grow from it. And since we’ve done that, we’ve seen our growth just multiply, you know. It was, it was less about go get somebody who’s perfect for that job today, which is what we used to do.

And kind of forget about developing the people [00:10:00] that were already on the bus, right? And it showed them that opportunity for growth was limited because we’re always recruiting their bosses Yeah, right now we’re saying well, we’re not going to do that We’re going to go ahead and develop you and promote you and sometimes we have to recruit from the outside That’s our business And we’re doing some senior level searches right now for our own company But for the most part we look within I would say that’s been the biggest win.

I mean Our head of finance started in the lowest job in our company right out of college and she runs a pretty big team now and, and she, she’s my right hand, you know, so those are, those are fun. 

[00:10:33] Julie Bee: Hey, this is Julie B and you’re listening to, they don’t teach this in business school. I’m here with Rod McDermott and we’re talking about wins and growing and just promoting from within and how important that is to you.

And, but Rod, you said something a little bit ago that the first five to 10 years in your business. They were really a grind, and I was wondering if you during that time experienced burnout at all, and if you [00:11:00] did, would you be willing to share a story with us? Oh, 

[00:11:02] Rod McDermott: absolutely. Yeah, burnout was A common theme, not just among me or my business partner, but a lot of the folks in our company and, you know, we set these lofty goals, but we didn’t think about preparing ourselves to be ready to come in and play our best game every week.

And so, you know, now, when we started Activate 180, we were our, the first client of Activate 180, McDermott Ball, and we really kind of owned the business model before we took it to other companies. And one of the things our head of coaching has taught us is, we do not give… opportunities for people to recharge their batteries.

You know, we give unlimited vacation. We’ve been doing that for seven or eight years now. So that was kind of a new thing back then, at least in our industry. But people weren’t taking it right. And now we’re literally forcing people to do that because we know it’s not in our best interest for them not to And it’s not in their best interest for them [00:12:00] not to.

Nobody shows up bigger when they’re not recharged. And so burnout was absolutely a constant theme. And we didn’t show up as our best selves. And so, when we started prioritizing taking more time and allowing our people to take more time. It gives time for reflection too. I was just on spring break last week and you know, I read a book and I started, I read maybe a book and a half and it gives you time to reflect on things and really think about things without being sucked into business at that moment.

But it’s one of the things we talked about on our All Hands meeting today. People are not taking vacation. They need to take time off. And we’re going to sit down with them every quarter and ask them when they’re taking time. We have some people that are only taking one big trip a year. They do more than that.

[00:12:45] Julie Bee: I read recently, it was, I can’t remember, I think Harvard actually did the study, but it was on Harvard Business Review that In order to actually combat burnout, there’s this study about how taking one week off actually isn’t enough and they’re, they were really pushing the [00:13:00] sabbatical thing and, and, you know, that got me thinking, well, how, how does somebody, how would somebody integrate that into a, into their.

You know, and to their company, I’m thinking like, how do we give somebody six weeks off paid every three years and make sure they take it because the, the gist of it was you have to miss your job to want to come back to it basically. And that it was one week didn’t cut it and they needed at least two in a row.

And I just thought that was really interesting. But yeah, you got to start by the use it or lose it vacation policy, I think is, um, it’s one thing that has helped, at least in my own business to make sure. That my people are taking vacations because it’s so important for them to get away from work. 

[00:13:46] Rod McDermott: Well, you know, you’re hitting on something that just came up in the last month in our senior leadership team.

We had a meeting probably a month ago, actually. We talked about this and burnout around the table and our senior folks are. [00:14:00] And they absorb so much and, you know, and, and they, they, they actually protect their teams pretty well. So burnout among the teams hasn’t been as bad, but burnout among the senior team, the people that reported to me has been not great, it’s been pretty bad.

So that’s on me. And so one of the things I’m telling everybody is I’m going to sit down with you once a quarter, I want you taking a week off every quarter. And I want you to take one two week trip at least. If you trip three, I’m okay with it. We have one, one of our folks, she’s not in our senior leadership team.

She took five weeks off. And this is her second five week trip in four years. And she’s going around Europe, and the Middle East, and Israel. I actually Facetimed her when she was in Europe about a week and a half ago, and she was showing me some stuff in London where I used to live over there, and we had a good time with that.

But these are experiences that people, you know, they’re life changing experiences, and they’re certainly lifelong memories that they’re creating. So, they need to do that. And then, I know she will come back incredibly [00:15:00] refreshed. So, I’ve done that too, by the way, Julie. I’ve taken… A month off four different times and rented a house in Spain with my family.

And it’s been amazing. And it’s been too long, actually. Last time it was 2012. We need to do it again. 

[00:15:15] Julie Bee: But that’s the point is that you, you, you miss work. That’s the whole point. It’s like, you’re ready to get back into your regular, by the time you’re done with your sabbatical, you are looking forward to going back to your regular.

You know, whatever your routine is, you’re looking forward to getting back to it. I think, I just thought that that was really interesting, or the conversation made me think about that. Yeah, 

[00:15:34] Rod McDermott: yeah, that’s 

[00:15:35] Julie Bee: good. So, Rod, you have around 100 employees, it sounds like. And with such a big organization, you’ve got a leadership team as well.

And you’ve got, you know, multiple businesses. But I’m wondering if you ever experienced the phenomenon of it being lonely at the top. Do you ever get lonely in your role? 

[00:15:57] Rod McDermott: There are moments, you know, but [00:16:00] fewer and fewer. So, you know, I’ve got… The president in the U. S. I’ve got a COO. As I mentioned, I’ve got my head of finance.

I talk to you probably twice a day. She’s also a dear friend. Same with the other, the other folks. I was in my president’s wedding. I walked my COO down the aisle when she got married. We’re all really tight. We’re all good friends. My head of coaching in Activate 180 is also my coach now, and for the last three years.

And he’s become a dear friend. So I would say it’s less and less lonely because I surround myself by other senior folks and it’s advice I give to, to, to younger or newer entrepreneurs. You know, people are always afraid to hire up for a role because they’re afraid of cash flow and we were too, uh, but you know, our business was kind of built on a house of cards up until 2009 when the great recession hit and we had to scale back when we started ramping up again in 2010, 2011, [00:17:00] 2012, my partner and I made a decision to hire up, hire more senior, hire, and it was going to cost us a half a million a year for, um, Paying higher compensation for better people kind of the top five roles in our company and so we did that and it made our lives Dramatically better and the growth in the company went through the roof because we had a better team around us So I would say it felt like that the first let’s call it eight nine ten years of our company But then after we started rebuilding after the Great Recession We made that decision go hire really good people that have incredible capacity and they’ll help you grow your business So it doesn’t have to be and you know My son started a business two years ago and I’m an advisor to him We sit down probably every every two weeks and talk about stuff and I always tell him go hire the best people you can He goes, yeah, but I can’t afford I said it’s gonna cost you an extra 25, 000 It’s worth it.

Trust me, and your business will grow faster. 

[00:17:58] Julie Bee: You’re listening to [00:18:00] They Don’t Teach This in Business School. I’m Julie B., and I’m here with Rod McDermott today. And we’re talking about all things team, and burnout, and hiring, and just all of the things. So, Rod, you’ve brought up your team a lot. And I love having these conversations around teams.

What, when you, let’s just look at. The last year or so. What are you the most proud of your team for over the past year? 

[00:18:27] Rod McDermott: You know, I would say we had very significant growth between 2019 and 2022 in our company. If I look out, you know, my partner and I did a transaction back in 2015. And based on our numbers then to where we are now, we’re about seven times bigger, right?

So that’s in a seven year span. That’s pretty incredible growth. The thing that makes me really proud is we, number one, handled the growth and number two, we [00:19:00] scaled our organization to, to meet the needs that we had internally. I wouldn’t say it was always elegant. I mean, I would say that for moments, it felt like the wheels were falling off, you know, and to give you an example, you know, as we started scaling our accounting and finance department, we would hire good, strong athletes that were a little bit junior.

And then we realized, okay, that’s not going to work. We got to go hire talent that actually knows more and bring them in. We started doing that. And we kind of completed the development of that department at the end of last year. And this year, as we move through tax season and all that, has been the easiest, most smooth that we’ve ever had because we have a great team.

So, I would say I’m most proud of, not just my leaders, but them as leaders, right? They all reported to me, but, but them running their own teams have now learned to develop their organizations and hire smartly and hire the right people so that their teams have depth. And it’s making lives easier. And so we’re [00:20:00] continuing down that path in every one of our organizations.

[00:20:03] Julie Bee: That’s, yeah, that’s really, you’ve almost made it like that. The leader of leaders there on that team is. There is they’re running their own business basically within their you know, they’re the CEO of that of that function in your business And that’s a really great. It gives them, you know, they have ownership over that and that’s just a fantastic way to organize it Yeah 

[00:20:26] Rod McDermott: I tell them often Julie, I said my life is really great because of you guys I want you guys to have really great lives because you’re people.

[00:20:33] Julie Bee: Mm hmm Absolutely. It’s all 

[00:20:36] Rod McDermott: about your teams. Sorry. 

[00:20:38] Julie Bee: Oh, it’s great. It’s good stuff. So Rod, how do you, this is a question that I love to also ask people like you, how do you define success? 

[00:20:48] Rod McDermott: Hmm. So for me, you know, I have a purpose, right? And I’ve had this purpose for probably the last 15 years, I was working with an executive coach who I still work with along [00:21:00] with our head of coaching at Activate.

Who, who really taught me the, the, the concept of having a purpose. And for me, my purpose has been to create opportunities for people to live great lives. And that’s inside our company. That’s in charities that I work with and other, other organizations outside. And for me, it’s really provided the kind of shock absorber, right?

When you go down these roads, sometimes you hit a road, you know, that’s got a lot of potholes, you know, you’re going to, you’re going to encounter some things that you weren’t expecting. Yeah. By having that shock absorber, it, it, it, it smooths out those things that you face on a daily, weekly, annual basis that, that could be potholes.

And for me, it helps me be more on purpose. So, so success for me, as I look at my purpose, is really seeing my people live great lives. To see them develop into the professionals that I know they can be. To see them, you know build their families [00:22:00] to see them, you know buy houses hard to do in southern california By the way, it’s really expensive I mean, you know a condo here is like six hundred thousand dollars for a two bedroom condo and in you know, whatever area The median home price is a million dollars now So people have to be making good money.

Oftentimes you have to have dual income. So to be able to see them achieve that At all levels in our company, that to me is success. And ultimately, you know, we started this a year ago with our interim company, probably four years ago, we started employee shareholders, right? We, we created some ownership pool for the employees and, and they get distributions on profits every year.

And it’s been really phenomenal. It’s, it’s actually life changing money for a lot of folks. And we did that in our main business, our executive search business, a year and a half ago. And we’re in that process now of seeing people, you know, build net worth outside of a home or outside of other things.

Because now they can have net worth in our, in our company. That to me is success. If we can [00:23:00] create a nest egg for people that they’ve helped create, they’ve helped build, not just for me, but for themselves. That would be success. And I, I walk around the company often say, let’s all win together. So 

[00:23:13] Julie Bee: I enjoy that.

And how about for you personally, do you have like a personal that’s separate of business or is it just, you know, I know we have all of our business and our lives are often so integrated together, but do you have things that you look at in your personal life that you consider? Uh, as a success. 

[00:23:34] Rod McDermott: Yeah. You know, uh, so we have four kids, uh, have, uh, one who’s in college right now and graduating, uh, next December.

I’ve got another one who’s a junior in high school. So she’s, we’re actually talking colleges. At this point, which is kind of fun, the other two are out and working and successful. One’s married, the oldest, the other one’s engaged and getting married in a couple months. So, you know, for me personally, success is, I want my kids to be [00:24:00] happy.

I want to be happy. I want my wife to be happy. And so we, we look at, you know, this life journey pretty simply, you know, if every day. We can end the day and say this was a nine or a 10 out of 10. That’s success, you know, and, and, you know, you have all these things like last week was spring break for us and, you know, the airline canceled our flight.

We’re supposed to spend half of it in Florida and half of it here. Check out colleges and flights got canceled. We couldn’t get rebooked because it was spring break. Every flight was like, well, let’s pivot. Let’s do something else. And we did. And so, you know, and we had a great time. So for me, part of it is also, I’ve learned this concept of releasing attachment to expectations and sometimes saying, The best thing is the unknown.

And what are you going to do with that time that you just got and how are you going to use it? And we did, we had an amazing time. And so that’s success to me in my personal life is just happiness for myself, my wife, our kids. [00:25:00] And I think we’ve got that. So, you know, I would say one other thing is, is we have this concept of this, you know, big life that we talk about in our family.

We want all of our kids to go for it. We want all of our kids to, to think that they, they are capable of whatever they want to go after. Don’t don’t create limiting beliefs, by the way, all of our kids have a coach, which is interesting. And my wife and I both have a coach and our kids off and we’ve done it now for two and a half years and it has been phenomenal.

And the in law, the, the, the, you know, my daughter in law and my future son in law have a coaching. My other daughter’s got a serious boyfriend and so he’s gonna get a coach. 

[00:25:40] Julie Bee: You get a coach and you get a coach. Everybody 

[00:25:42] Rod McDermott: gets a coach. And it helps people really see into possibilities. As human beings, we create these limiting beliefs.

Mm hmm. And, you know, they’re, they, we create them. They come out of thin air and they’re into our head and we’re like, Yeah, that’s not for me. Why? [00:26:00] Why not? Why isn’t that for you? So, that to me is success also, is seeing our kids go for it and live their biggest lives. Hmm. 

[00:26:08] Julie Bee: Well, Rod, this has been such a great conversation.

And, uh, as we’re coming to the end of it, I always ask this question of business owners. If you were going to teach a class to future entrepreneurs, future business owners, what is the one main thing that you would really want them to take away from your class? 

[00:26:26] Rod McDermott: I love that question. I do talk about this a lot.

As I mentioned, my son started a business a couple of years ago, so I give him this advice and I’ve sat on a number of boards and I say the same thing. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with. As I said earlier, hire up, not down. Often times, we kid ourselves and say, Well, we’re going to hire the strong athlete.

And that’s code for somebody who has no experience. And you hope and pray that they’re going to grow and live up to that job. My advice now is go hire the person who’s the proven strong athlete. They’ve actually won games, they’ve actually done stuff. [00:27:00] And get them attracted to your company based on your culture.

But look at what your growth goals are and who you need around you and go bring that team in now. It doesn’t have to be overnight. Don’t, don’t flip your cashflow model on its head where you’re losing a bunch of money, but hire for what your needs are going to be over that next year or two years so that you’re not lonely.

So you’ve got other leaders there and when you hire great people, they will achieve great things and they will grow your company. That’s the, to me, that’s the number one thing. If you hire small, you’ll play small. If you hire big. We’ll play big and it’s been proven in sports too. When they go out and they get superstars, teams get superstars, they win super bowls, they win world series.

[00:27:41] Julie Bee: Rod, I have so enjoyed this conversation. It’s been fantastic. And I just want to thank you for being on here today, sharing your wisdom, sharing all the background that you have. It’s been great. 

[00:27:52] Rod McDermott: Julie, thank you for having me. This has been a lot of fun. 

[00:27:55] Julie Bee: And that is it for this episode, but stay tuned because I’ll be back more with [00:28:00] lessons learned on the business ownership journey.

I’m Julie B and they don’t teach this in business school.